Growing Throughout the Year
What is the end of the Christmas Story?
Perhaps when Mary was treasuring these things in her heart and the shepherds were returning and praising God? (Luke 2:19,20)
Or maybe when the magi were worshiping and presenting their treasures? (Matthew 2:11)
Too often, that is where we stop celebrating in December. A sweet baby (the Son of God) is born in humble surroundings and certain segments of the population respond with fitting praise and wonder. The end. But, as we have seen in our devotions this week, that is far from the end of the story. I have enjoyed reading through Luke especially at this time of year to see once again what we are REALLY celebrating.
Jesus came as a baby – and what a great opening act that was (you, know the opening act that followed thousands of years of God setting the stage)!! And 30 years later all sorts of people (fishermen, tax-collectors, sinners, chief priests, foreigners, the sick and diseased, teachers of the law, governors and kings and politicians, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, men, women and children) all prepare to meet this traveling preacher, teacher, healer, miracle maker, story-teller, leader, servant. His favorite topic is always the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 8:1). Through his teaching, his parables, and his miracles, the world sees a clearer picture of God than they have ever seen before. The son truly has his Father’s resemblance.
And, he also is committed to doing his Father’s will – even when that means death on the cross, crucified as a criminal, to take away the sins of the world. His followers are crushed as they were sure this Jesus was going to set up the Kingdom on earth and begin his reign right then. How could they have been so wrong?
Thankfully, that is still not the end. Three days later…the tomb is empty! Joy to the World!! Jesus appears to his disciples and uses Scripture to explain to them again how the Old Testament foretold what must take place.
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. Luke 24:22-28
A way was needed for both Jews and Gentiles to be washed clean before they could be full citizens of God’s Kingdom. And Jesus’ death made the way. And his resurrection gives the hope for a future resurrection. For there is one more key element that must take place before Jesus will begin his reign over all the world and the Kingdom of God will fully begin. This is hinted above in Luke 24:47 and spelled out in Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
There have been many godly men and women who have died while preaching the gospel – but still the good news has not reached all people in all nations. The Church of God mourned the death of a very special and faithful pastor, Rex Cain, just this week. But the mourning was not without hope because the Christmas story isn’t over yet.
In the final verses of Luke (24:51), Jesus ascends into heaven. When the same event is recorded in the book of Acts (Luke’s sequel) the disciples are told, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11). The best is yet to come!
The end of the Christmas story is a new beginning. A beginning that is still to come. When Jesus breaks through the clouds at his Second Coming this will be the start of his reign on Earth over all who have been faithful. The dead in Christ will rise and we will see Jesus coming – not as a babe but as a triumphant warrior and king. A new heaven and a new earth will worship him and his Father.
I pray I will be found ready. And I pray you will be found ready. Let’s get to work and tell the nations!
“Come, Lord Jesus!”(Revelation 22:20 b)
In yesterday’s devotion, Jesus died. And the world – the centurion, the sky, the women, the crowd – took notice and responded. Even the crowd that had not been Jesus’ followers, some of whom may have earlier shouted, “Crucify Him!”, now, “beat their breasts and went away” (Luke 23:48). There was something very different about this man Jesus and the way he died. Though they did not understand at the time that he had died for their sins – and not only theirs – but the sins of the world.
If Luke’s gospel story had ended there, we could still be forgiven people today – able to have a relationship with God because of the sacrifice of Jesus carrying our sins to his death because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). BUT – there is even MORE good news to come in Luke 24! A great gift of God is set before us – eternal life in Christ Jesus our RISEN Lord. Without a risen Lord there would be no future hope for a resurrection for his followers.
When the women brought news to the disciples that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, “they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb.” (Luke 24:11,12). He was going to search it out and find the truth. Likewise, the two on the road to Emmaus had many questions and were confused about what they had seen and heard. Jesus walked with them, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27).
Today, news of his resurrection and the resurrection to come still brings great joy to his followers. There are those who say it sounds like nonsense. There are those who are questioning. Be like Peter and seek out answers. Like Jesus, dig into the Scriptures and reveal them to others. Declare the good news of Jesus’ birth – but then so much more – his death and resurrection. Share the Joy!
Accusing chief priests
Informative sign: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS
Dead righteous man
So much could be said and written about any one of these elements of Luke 23. Much of Luke and the gospels – and even the Old Testament – point to this moment in history: the Crucifixion of the Son of God. Which character do you identify with most today? Which adjective describes you this year? What do you find the most amazing? How does this chapter of Jesus’ history add to the Christmas story of Luke 20 we discussed earlier this week? In an effort to become more Christ-like, what characteristics do you see in this chapter that you want to work on this week?
Keep Reading and Growing
Yesterday, in Luke 21 Jesus was warning the disciples (and those who would follow) of persecution while encouraging them to stand up under it. And today, in Luke 22 Jesus himself is cast into a fierce storm of persecution. He will now be showing – not just telling – the disciples, his contemporaries, and all those who would come after him how to stand up under persecution.
But first, a private dinner with his closest disciples to commemorate the Passover – when God saved his people from slavery by the blood of the lamb. And very soon a new lamb would be sacrificed to save God’s people from slavery to sin. Jesus tells his disciples that he will not eat the Passover meal, or drink of the cup again, until the Kingdom of God comes. Communion services are a great reminder of this promise. At the dinner, he uses the opportunity to remind them once again the secret to great leadership – be a servant. Stop fighting over who is best…just serve.
I love how even though Jesus knew ahead of time that Peter would fail him, he had still prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. And even though Satan would have the opportunity to “sift all of you as wheat,” Jesus saw a future for Peter in which Peter would be using those painful experiences to help strengthen his brothers.
And then, in the garden while Jesus is pouring his heart out in prayer – his disciples are sleeping. I wonder how many times he would prod me and say, “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” How much better would Peter – or I – stand Satan’s arrows if he – or I – were fully filled up with prayer rather than whatever feels good or most urgent at the moment?
Enter, Judas – and the chief priests and the guards and the great betrayal! And even in the midst of the hurt and personal persecution – Jesus gives healing as he restores the servant’s ear.
Early the next morning, Jesus is brought before the chief priests and elders and is questioned about who he is. Is he the Messiah?
Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”
He replied, “You say that I am.”
They didn’t expect the Son of God to have appeared as a baby in a manger. They didn’t expect the Son of God to have a rag-tag group of followers in the countryside. They didn’t expect the Son of God to be persecuted at their own hands. Beware of what you expect from the Son of God. Keep reading the gospels – and all of God’s Word to see who God really is, and who the Son of God is!
Yesterday our devotion centered on the Christmas story – as presented in Luke chapter 20. Today takes us into Luke 21 which begins with a few verses concerning giving gifts. How fitting. But here it is a slightly different type of gift which Jesus is referring to. “As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4). Giving to God’s work is indeed a great place to give your gifts – whether you are blessed with a lot to give or very little to give. God sees the heart and is delighted in the heart that joyfully gives all to Him.
The rest of this chapter is devoted to the future – including some rather troubling events: earthquakes, wars, famine, and hatred, prison and persecution as a result of believing and testifying about Jesus. But hope is given. Jesus says he is telling us these things so that we will know what must take place before the end will come. A hard day of dirty work is always made easier by knowing it will not continue forever. At the end there will be a time to enjoy the rewards of working hard. So too, those who are faithful through the end times can look forward to reaping the reward when the Son of Man comes again.
Jesus says do not be afraid; rather, “Stand firm, and you will win life.” (Luke 21:19). Even while our neighbors are fainting from terror at the surrounding events, Jesus tells us to stand tall. He says, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:27,28).
Keep Giving – and Stand Firm!
May your day be full of sweet reminders of God’s love. And may you pass along that love to others.
It is easy to lose sight of the whole picture of Jesus when we gather to feast and exchange presents amid the tinsel, lights, tree, and nativity scene. A pregnant virgin, a faithful fiancé, a holy night, an angel assembly, a crew of shepherds, traveling wise men, pass the ham, and unwrap the presents. But wait . . . why??? And then what????
It appears Jesus didn’t spend time preaching about his miraculous and incredibly true birth. In fact, only two of the four gospels record bits and pieces of his birth story. But here in Luke 20 Jesus taught the Parable of the Tenants. And while it isn’t likely used in very many Christmas sermons or devotions, it actually paints a very fitting picture of why Jesus was sent – and what was “the rest of the story” – beyond the shepherds and wise men.
In this parable God plays the role of the vineyard owner. He entrusts his vineyard (earth) to mankind as farm tenants to care for his vineyard. The owner sends back several servants (Old Testament prophets) to the vineyard to retrieve some fruit for the owner. Instead the selfish, greedy tenants mistreat the servants and send them back with nothing for the master.
“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ (Luke 20:13). And so, the Son of God is given a mission for his Father: go to the vineyard to represent his Father to attain what belongs to his Father – the fruit of the vineyard. God could have done this in so many ways. He could have sent a violent and powerful son to use force to swiftly get the Father’s work done and repay the tenants for their selfish, greedy wickedness. But instead the Son was given – a baby – as the Son of Man and Son of God. And the angels rejoiced. And the shepherds were in awe as they found things just as they had been told and then joyfully shared the news.
And the Son of God “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” – the tenants of the vineyard. (Luke 2:52). And the son of the vineyard owner teaches and preaches and performs miracles to display and prove the goodness and sovereignty and master plan of the vineyard owner. But, they still don’t get it. Forsaking the master’s plan, as well as his very son, they conspire together and the tenants kill the son. Now, they figure, the vineyard will be theirs. There is no longer an heir. And so, the tenants triumph for a time and seem to have free reign of the vineyard.
But, that is not the end of the story. In his parable Jesus now switches from past tense to future tense as he says, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” So, too, there is a future in our Christmas story today. And, there is a price that will be paid for all tenants who have chosen to forsake the son.
In your celebrating today, and in your work tomorrow, in your heart and mind and actions, in your time, in your giving, in your whole living – do not forsake the son.
Jesus is Coming! What preparations do we need to make before Jesus comes? Climb a tree to get a good vantage point? Put his money to work? Spread your cloak on the road? These were all mentioned in Luke 19 as ways people prepared for Jesus’ coming.
The wealthy, though short, tax collector Zacchaeus was curious about this Jesus who was coming into town. Not wanting to miss out he climbed a tree to make sure he could see Jesus.
In the Parable of the Ten Minas, during the master’s absence most of the servants took what had been entrusted to them (a mina – about three months wages) and put it to work to earn more – and were rewarded for their work.
When the crowd heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem they gathered to pay him honor as they spread their cloaks in the road in front of the colt carrying Jesus. And with loud voices they joyfully praised God for the miracles they had witnessed Jesus perform: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest”. (Luke 19:38)
This greeting reminds me of the words spoken by the great company of the heavenly host about 33 years earlier when the angels were telling the shepherds of the birth of Christ. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14).
No doubt, today, Christmas Eve, many many preparations will be made – supposedly in preparation to celebrate the birth of a King. In the midst of our busyness how will we actually prepare for Jesus? What will we do and say and give and pray TODAY to celebrate his FIRST Coming in a way that will honor him? Perhaps there will be some things that we decide we will NOT do, in order to better celebrate Jesus’ coming.
And, EVERY day – how will we prepare for his SECOND coming?
Will we take the time and effort to seek out Jesus as Zacchaeus did? Will we joyfully accept his invitation to meet together and then find ourselves changed – repentant and obedient – because of the time we spend in his presence?
Will we take the talents, time, possessions and minas/money we have been given and diligently be trustworthy in using them to prepare for the coming return of our Savior – spreading the word, growing the church, and caring for the lost? Or will we be like the scared servant who just hid away the treasure that he was responsible for – and even what he had was taken from him?
Will we work at honoring Jesus, the Son of God who is indeed coming to be crowned king in a kingdom like no other. Will we give of ourselves, not afraid to get our clothes a little dirty, not ashamed to speak boldly, not persuaded to keep quiet by the Pharisees in our midst? For if we don’t speak – even the stones will tell of his greatness (Luke 19:40).
I pray we celebrate his first coming well while we wisely and diligently prepare for his even greater second coming!
Jesus is Coming!
In case you have missed part of this week’s study, here is a quick summary of each of our daily devotions this week:
Sunday – Luke 13 – The Kingdom of God is Like – Like a virus, a mustard seed, or yeast is the Kingdom of God. The smallest amount can cause a giant reaction in your life. You are called to be contagious; constantly build and spread the hope you have in Christ.
Monday – Luke 14 – Counting the Cost – We are to take account of all we hold valuable. We may be asked to trade those things in to live within the will of God as we seek his Kingdom. Entry may cost us everything, but it is a meager price to pay by comparison.
Tuesday – Luke 15 – The Parable of the Lost Ring – God will not stop searching for those who want to be found. He desires that all men are saved, having a home awaiting in His Kingdom. The whole of heaven rejoices when the lost sheep are restored to their shepherd.
Wednesday – Luke 16 – The Master and Manager – God is the master of all wealth. He wants us to be faithful in small ways before we are given more responsibility. When we acknowledge that we are mere managers, we look at our fortunes differently, as the master’s talents to do his bidding.
Thursday – Luke 17 – One Thank You – Like the lepers, we have been restored; we now can enter the eternal city, The Kingdom of God. We need to acknowledge God’s restoration through Jesus Christ; no longer are we outcast. A deliberate and thoughtful thank you is a life that turns to Him.
Friday – Luke 18 – The Power of Persistence – We should not give up our hope that our Father is listening to our appeal. Perseverance is the outcome of faith. Stay the course. Appeal to the Lord. He will turn His ear and answer you.
As we have taken a closer look at the six chapters of Luke, we see that it all comes back to the Kingdom of God. Parables, teaching, healing, reproach – They all point towards the eternal hope that all men can have when they accept Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of their life. Jesus does not dilute the truth of the price of admission. He says we must be faithful with what we are given; it could cost us everything. Consequently, the reward isn’t necessarily immediately. The crown of life is not for those who casually follow commands, or openly do good works to receive their inheritance in this present age. The Kingdom of God is for those who become infected with His love, truth, and message and spread His hope at all cost. Each of these teachings have been immeasurably challenging and equally thought-provoking.
It has been a great opportunity to write for you this week. I hope my narratives and notions have resonated in some way to the circumstances and challenges presented in your own life. I pray you have found connection, truth, and hope in these handful of chapters for the Good News of Luke because these works speak the greatest of truths. Continue to read, grow your faith, and pray for His Kingdom to come soon.
~With love, your brother in Christ,
Persistence is like the spraying surf or the whistling wind; it erodes away even the most hardened rock over time. Battle-hardened generals, the most well-meaning of parents, the most demanding of bosses all will give into persistence. Why? Like the irritating gnat buzzing around our head, like an adjacent whistling hearing aid, like the canker sore lingering in our gums, we just want to settle the annoyance so our attention is no longer divided.
Luke 18 begins with Jesus telling a parable about a widow who most desperately was seeking justice, so she would seek out the king of her and tell of her request. The king wasn’t a God-fearing man, or a man-fearing man for that matter, but he eventually gives into the never-ending nagging just to make it stop. His exasperation becomes her blessing. He did not even care about the woman, yet he fulfills her incessant request. Jesus compares this to the matters of our own heart, and how we might constantly convey needs to our Father in prayer. Jesus states, “Will he delay long over (our requests)? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily” because he is a loving Father, who is loftier than any king, but is most desperately desires a relationship with the lowliest of men.
Nearing the end of the chapter, Jesus models his Father’s care for the determined. A blind beggar recognizes the “King of Kings” is passing by, and recognizes his opportunity to be healed. He is unrelenting in his pursuit. He cries out “Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me!” The crowd tells him to shut up – a nuisance such as this is not worth the time of Jesus. Instead, the man cries louder, longer, and harder, emphatically declaring the Lord to have mercy on him. Finally, he has the attention of Jesus, and he declares the desire of his heart: sight. This time it is not an unkind king who yields to petition, but a truly benevolent one, acting on behalf of the Father, because this blind beggar has believed.
We serve a Father who does not hide in shifting shadows from petitioners, but makes it clear that He is ready, willing, and able to meet our every need if we would so choose to let him. Not only this, he will also give us the desires of heart if we are attuned to His will and purpose; however, we fail to recognize that we must be faithful and persistent in our request. Now, I don’t think we can annoy God into submission, but there are more than a few faithful followers in the Bible who petition the Lord Almighty, and there is a change of course. James Chapter 1, which I highly recommend you read alongside your assigned daily devotional, speaks of the great rewards awaiting those who do not surrender in their pursuit.
God is most certainly in control. He is also a gracious and loving heavenly Father. He is awaiting your appeal and ready to meet the desires of your heart – yes, even those, that are locked away, wrapped in doubt, and shouted down. Unashamedly shout them and ask in the name of the King, Jesus Christ, and He will hear your cry.