The Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

Luke 17:20-37

The Coming of the Kingdom

The Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is one of the most comforting doctrines of Scripture and foundational to any understanding of the Christian faith.  I do not say that everyone must know everything that pertains to this doctrine, and there are many details on which we may disagree, but that our Lord shall return – that is a non-negotiable teaching of the Christian faith.

So some Pharisees ask Jesus “when the Kingdom of God would come?”  Why they asked, we don’t know, but it was a relevant question given that the Kingdom was what Jesus spoke most about.  Now before Jesus starts talking about his return, he tells us something important.  His answer to the Pharisees was, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”  This is all to say that in our Lord’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection, and then the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost – this is all to say that the Kingdom of God is a present reality.  We are at this moment “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession” (1 Peter 2:9).  And we need to realize this and rejoice in that knowledge.  When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom as a grain of mustard seed, or a hidden treasure, or a pearl of great price, or any number of things, he is speaking of the Kingdom as it is now in this world, and of us as citizens of it (Ephesians 2:19).  So let us praise the Lord for the blessings He has bestowed on us this day.

But then he tells his disciples that the time will come when they “will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man” (Jesus’ favorite self-designation), but would not see it.  Why?  Because he must suffer and die, first.  And we share this same desire, do we not?  Do not our hearts long for his coming?  Do we not wish for our translation away from this world into his glory (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18)?  But he warns us not to be deceived by those who say that he has already come or who know the date.  His coming will be like a flash of lightning across the heavens.  And it will not be expected: It will be like the day when Noah entered the ark, or when God destroyed Sodom – people were buying, selling, eating, drinking, and, of course, sinning.  Two will be working or walking together; one will be taken, the other left.  And what will be left of the earth will be all death and destruction as Judgment Day arrives and God’s Son and His people finally vindicated.  So the Kingdom is both a present reality which we experience in the down-payment of the Holy Spirit, but which also awaits its future coming in all its fullness.  Rejoice!

Saturday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

Luke 17:11-19

It Was the Foreigner Who Praised God

As odd as it may sound, sometimes unbelievers and pagans outdo followers of Christ in rendering praise to God.  I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us; after all, the seas roar, the rivers clap their hands, and the hills sing for joy before the Lord (Psalm 98:7-9).  God has created man in His own image, so that even those who hate Him must acknowledge Him when they pause and think on eternal matters, which such rational beings must do from time to time, even if through darkened minds. But still, it shouldn’t be this way.

Today’s passage records the healing of ten lepers.  We know the plight of these poor creatures in ancient times: segregated to live by themselves, pelted with rocks, and thought to be cursed by God; theirs was truly a miserable life.  And so these ten call out to Jesus from afar.  Unlike a previous leper who took courage to approach Jesus (5:12-14), these keep their distance.  Perhaps they did so out of humility or respect; maybe they didn’t really know how Jesus would respond to them, living with nothing but contempt all of their lives.  Or maybe their disfigurement made them ashamed and unwilling to let anyone see them.  If so, Jesus respects their dignity.  They asked that Jesus would have mercy on them.  I know of no place in the Bible where someone asks God for mercy out of a desperate and sincere heart that God did not answer.  Jesus responds, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  This was what a leper was supposed to do to show that he had been “cleansed” (Leviticus 14:1-9).  In other words, Jesus pronounced that they would be healed; in response, they were to act on faith by obeying his words to go and see the priests to prove it.  So they went away, and as they were going, they were cleansed, as Jesus said.

Then something unexpected happens.  Upon seeing that he had been healed, one of them turned back, praising God (loudly), and fell at Jesus’ feet giving thanks.  One!  It’s impossible to know what the other nine were thinking, but Jesus’ words are convicting: “Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Jesus calls him a foreigner because he was a Samaritan.  But where were the other nine?  Maybe they were so excited they wanted to get to the priest as soon as possible.  Maybe they were so overcome with joy they forgot.  Who can tell?  But it’s still shaming.  We must never let “foreigners” (in this case, unbelievers) outdo us in rendering praise to God.  This is especially the job of believers in worship and prayer every day.  Life is full of joys and sorrows, but we must never forget to render praise to God.

Friday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

John 11:45-54

When Your Eyes Are on Worldly Things…

I’ll confess a sin to you: I can sometimes border on being a “political junkie.”  Now we don’t watch television, with the exception of a few ballgames, and have never paid for satellite or cable.  But there is the Internet, and so I go to my favorite websites and read political commentary.  The sin is that, if I don’t guard myself, that stuff will consume my thoughts, and, before long, I’m all worked up because my mind is focused on worldly matters.  And what’s worse, when our thoughts are spent on worldly matters, we concern ourselves with things like power, and our hearts turn to schemes.  We’ve taken our eyes off of Christ.  Paul prayed that God would fill the Christians in Rome (the political capital of the world in Paul’s day) “with all joy and peace in believing” (15:13), and Isaiah tells us that “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (26:3).

Here, we see how the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day had completely sold themselves out to their Roman lords.  They are worried because, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  There is no concern in this statement for godliness, truth, or justice, but only self, graft, and power.  And then Caiaphas takes it to the nth degree: “[Don’t] you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, [and] not that the whole nation should perish?”  (John goes on to tell us that he “did not say this on his own accord,” implying that the Spirit was prophesying through Caiaphas, proving once again that God can speak through a donkey, as in Numbers 22:22-35.  John then adds that in dying, Christ would gather into one the children of God from all the nations, as foretold in Hosea 1:10-11.)

And so were their concerns, and so did they contrive affairs, and so did they spin their web, and so did they catch their prey, and so did they kill him, and so did they retain their hallowed political turf (until A.D. 70).  And it began with rationalizing their place: “But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed” (7:49).  The people needed them, so they reasoned.  And they couldn’t defeat the Romans so best to get along, and getting along placed them at the highest rung on the ladder.  People at the upper echelons of society don’t like Messiahs; they turn things upside-down, and say things like, “The last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).  I’m not saying that politics is evil in and of itself, and I’m sure there are well-meaning people who serve.  But Christians must beware of the dangers of power, and keep the Kingdom first, above all else (Matthew 6:33).

Thursday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

John 11:28-44

Jesus Is Greatly Troubled – By Our Lack of Faith

The account of the raising of Lazarus hastens to its climax.  Martha runs and tells her sister, Mary, that “the Teacher is here and is calling for you.”  Mary runs to Jesus and, falling at his feet, repeats the words of her sister, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  The crowd which had followed her to Jesus joins the crowd that was already there in lifting up their voices in loud lamentation.  At this point, the Bible says that Jesus “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”  Then he says, “Where have you laid him?”  They begin to lead him to that place.  Then comes what some say is the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”  Seeing this, the people around him were moved, saying, “See how much he loved him!”  But there are others who say, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”  And just after this, we read that Jesus was “deeply moved again.”

I am going to state my opinion of what Jesus is “deeply moved” about, which happens to be a minority report.  I certainly agree with those who claim that Jesus is deeply moved whenever he sees human suffering and sorrow.  Jesus is deeply moved when he sees others weeping over the loss of loved ones.  Jesus hates death and came to destroy death and take away the keys from the one who held us in death’s clutches (Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 1:18).  But the passage makes clear that Jesus knew exactly what he was going to do even before he got there.  He has now twice been tacitly blamed by the grieving sisters for their brother’s death.  He told Martha, “Your brother will rise again,” but Martha did not understand what Jesus was telling her.  And now the crowd is wondering aloud if he could have kept Lazarus from dying – implying that he can do nothing about it now.

It has always been my sincere belief that Jesus is deeply moved and troubled in spirit because the crowd, including Martha and Mary, still did not really believe in him.  Martha could even call him “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” but when Jesus commanded, “Take away the stone,” she objected, “He has been dead for four days.”  In other words, “He’s done died dead!  And there’ll be an odor.  What are you thinking?”  And then Jesus speaks those majestic words, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”  Then after praying, Jesus thanks the Father out loud, so that after the miracle, the people would know that the Father had really sent him.  Jesus calls Lazarus forth, and Satan loses his grip.  Jesus demands more than lip service; he demands resurrection-style faith.

Wednesday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

John 11:17-27

He Literally Is The Resurrection and the Life

Continuing from yesterday, Jesus arrives in Bethany, just two miles southeast of Jerusalem, from where many Jews had come to comfort the sisters.  Of course, funerals are important events in our lives, but they were much more so among the Jews of Jesus’ day.  Mourning was accompanied by much wailing and weeping, and crowds of mourners would gather around the family and stay for several days.  That’s what Jesus meets when he arrives in Bethany where Lazarus had already been dead for four days.

Upon hearing of Jesus’ arrival, Martha arrives first: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Then she adds, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  Whatever Martha means, she does not mean that Jesus could or would raise Lazarus from the dead as is obvious from the conversation which ensues and her response to Jesus when he commands that the stone be rolled away from the tomb.  But let us turn our attention to the conversation between the two.  (I am indebted to the notes in my ESV Study Bible for some of my thoughts in this devotion.)  Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again, which she understands to mean “in the resurrection on the last day,” an orthodox belief that any Jew (minus the Sadducees) would have approved.  But Jesus’ response is one of the most crucial statements in all the gospels, even lies at the very heart of the gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”

In these immortal words, Jesus says plainly that he is, in himself, both the Resurrection and the Life – not merely the cause or means thereof – but the very thing itself: Resurrection and Life.  We tend to think of Jesus as the means of getting somewhere, like to heaven or to the Father.  And in a very real sense, he is.  But he also is the thing itself: Not just the means to resurrection, but the Resurrection; not just the means to life, but the Life.  And we could add, the Grace, the Love, the Joy; indeed, the Everything.

One last point: Jesus says that our linkage to him is by believing in him.  And an interesting thing here is that the Greek word behind our word, “in,” is εις, which literally means, “into.”  The Greek language has a word for “in”; it’s εν, but Jesus didn’t use that word.  Jesus requires that we believe “into” him, which speaks of a more intimate and personal relationship than even, “in.”  May our faith and trust “into” him be so deep and personal.

Tuesday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

John 11:1-16

God Loves Us in Order to Display His Glory

Here we have the account of the most dramatic miracle Jesus ever performed (with the exception of his own resurrection, of course).  And the purpose of the miracle is clearly stated by Jesus: It is not to bring Lazarus back to life and end the suffering of Mary and Martha, nor is it to impress the people.  Jesus’ purpose in this miracle is “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  A second purpose of the miracle is so that his disciples may believe, or be further confirmed and strengthened in their faith.

So the sisters send a message to Jesus saying, “He whom you love is ill.”  Now a most intriguing line is recorded in the Bible at this place: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”  Did you notice that?  Jesus loved that family, so or therefore, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer where he was!  If you heard that a dear friend of yours was ill such that you knew he was near death, would you not immediately pack your bags and get to his bedside as soon as possible?  But Jesus intentionally waited until Lazarus was dead.  Jesus knew exactly what he was going to do.

Now at this juncture, there are some legitimate questions one might ask – questions concerning personal anguish and suffering.  What of poor Mary and Martha who had to watch their brother die?  When Jesus finally does arrive, they say to him, almost with reproach, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”  Granted, Jesus is not unconcerned about human suffering; indeed, most of his miracles involved healing someone who was suffering.  But, as we discovered at the very beginning of this account, his raising of Lazarus will not be about Lazarus or Mary or Martha; this miracle, as well as every other miracle Jesus performed that had the effect of eliminating human suffering, would be about magnifying God and glorifying the Son of God.

And this is the purpose of our lives.  Paul said: “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s,” and “… who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him (Romans 14:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:10).  For us then, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).  His glory is our salvation.

Monday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

Luke 17:1-10

We Can Only Hope to Do Our Duty

Temptation.  It was temptation that brought us down in the Garden.  Adam and Eve were doing quite well, that is, until the tempter came along: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”  And from that primal twisting of God’s word, Satan planted the doubt and even suspicion that the One who created them would dupe them.  And then the sin was committed.  Temptation is an awful thing.  We are all tempted in various ways.  Some even become addicted to their temptations.  The “Desert Fathers” of the early Church said that we can be sure that we shall be tempted until the day of our death.  So we must be ever vigilant, knowing our own weaknesses, and when the tempter is afoot (1 Peter 5:8-11).

Now we expect Satan to tempt us; he’s made it his primary task.  But the really terrible thing is when we do his job for him.  That’s what Jesus is talking about here: “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come.”  Woe to the one who becomes a “Satan” to someone else.  And we must sadly confess that there have been times when we have been just that.  We must be very careful to watch ourselves that we give no cause for someone else to stumble, especially a little one, or someone newborn in the faith.  We are to shepherd one another in the faith, not hinder, and certainly not lead into sin.  The consequence is quite dire.

But Jesus comes right back with the good news: there is forgiveness both for us and the one who sins against us.  Such requires an active faith; after all, some things really hurt.  But if we would only exercise as much faith as a grain of mustard seed, what amazing forgivers we could be.  Being a forgiver is a wonderful thing, both for the person we forgive, and for ourselves.  And being forgiven is more wonderful still.  Strive to be forgiving.

Jesus then shares the parable in which a servant comes in from working all day.  Does he rest?  No.  He must rise and serve his master dinner.  Now again, the meaning of the parable is not that anyone should be such a master.  Jesus tells us the meaning: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”  Now, blessed be our God and Father that He is not such a master; indeed, He serves us every day with blessings innumerable, and much more than we could ever serve Him.  So it is true: We could never repay Him for all He has done for us, and at the end of the day, we have only done our duty – if that much.