What Say You? – Luke 22:63-71 [Daily Devotional]

Luke 22:63-71tissot-the-morning-judgment-626x719

Although the phraseology seems awkward by modern standards, when a jury has returned a verdict in a trial the judge will ask, “So say you all?” The judge is asking the jury whether or not this is truly the verdict each one of them has reached. News commentator, Bill O’Reilly’s lead question in most interviews is, “What say you?” This strange phrase, like the one above, has its origins in the courtroom. The phrase has been used in English courts since the 1400’s to inquire how one will plea to a charge.   It is generally thought of as being very formal. It is also regarded as a very aggressive question because it demands an answer.

What one says in court is very important, as the opinion of jurors will be swayed by the words of the witnesses, lawyers and the defendant. In capital cases, where the life of the defendant hangs in the balance, what is said becomes of paramount importance.

In our text today, Jesus is standing trial before the council of Jewish leaders (Sanhedrin). The debate over whether or not this was a full blown trial need not concern us here. We need simply note that legal proceedings in a capital case against Jesus took place. Both the chief priests and the scribes asked Jesus questions, two of which are recorded in our text today. Note that Jesus is very clever in how he phrases his answers. When they asked him if he is the Messiah, he answered by not answering. He said, “If I tell you, you will not believe…” His answer to the question is not a “no,” and yet it is not fully a “yes” answer.

Later their questioning continued with, “Are you then the Son of God?” As we read this text it may seem that Jesus again evades answering the question by saying, “You say that I am.” We are surprised at their response to his answers. They treat it as if Jesus had confessed and they say, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!” In our modern English translations it sounds as if Jesus is only acknowledging their charges against him. “You say that I am” does not sound like a confession. Jesus has carefully and masterfully turned both questions back on his interrogators.

However, the phrase “you say that I am” was a traditional rabbinical response in debate used to acknowledge that the accusation spoken is true (H.D.M. Spence, Pulpit Commentary, Luke, Volume II). In other words, Jesus’ answer could be translated, “You say that I am, and it is true.” Note how Jesus answers Pilate when asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king (John 18:33-37).” He then goes on to explain his kingship to Pilate.

In both trials, the one before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate, Jesus acknowledged that the things his interrogators said about him were true. He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. He is the King of the Jews. This being a capital case against Jesus, the things that were said about him had life and death consequences. The things said about Jesus were true, and that led to his crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.

What is said about Jesus was important during his trials, and indeed it was important during his ministry. Perhaps you remember that early in Jesus’ ministry, while in the region of Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27–30 and Luke 9:18–20) Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” After they answered, he asked a much more aggressive question, “Who do you say that I am?” What followed has become known as Peter’s Confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

What is said about Jesus was important to those who would follow him as his disciples. What was said about Jesus was important in the judicial proceedings against him in his trials. What is said about him is still important today, especially in our personal lives. What say you?

The painting above is titled “The Morning Judgment” by French artist, James Jacques Tissot (1836-1902). The medium is opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper. It is part of the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY. Luke is the only Evangelist who tells us that the proceedings against Jesus took place after sunrise (Luke 22:66).

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Standing in the Shadows – Luke 22:52-62 [Daily Devotional]

Luke 22:52-62St_PetersDenial

One of the most universal of all religious symbols and images is the struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. The dualistic struggle between these two symbols, representing good and evil, is present in all major religions and mythologies of the world. Nowhere in scripture is this struggle presented more clearly than in the passion narratives of the four gospels. Throughout most of the narratives it appears that the forces of darkness will prevail, and historically most of the story takes place in the hours of darkness. During the actual crucifixion, we are told that darkness covered the whole land (Luke 22:44-45a).

At his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus draws the distinction between himself and those who have come to arrest him by casting their actions as part of the dark kingdom of this world. He said, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness (Luke 22:53)!” There is a clear divide between the two kingdoms presented in the gospels. Jesus, the true light that enlightens everyone (John 1:1-13) breaks into the world bringing the kingdom of God to humanity. The kingdom of this world is ruled by Satan, “the prince of this world” (John 12:31) stands in direct opposition to Jesus.

In our western thought when we think and speak of the dualistic struggle between light and dark believe that there are areas of grey, where it is difficult to determine the divide. This is not so in scripture which presents a clearly defined divide between the darkness and the light. Perhaps we want grey areas to exist in order to excuse the acts that arise from our sinful human nature. It is natural to be ambiguous when we are presented with an absolute dualism. We always prefer a “both-and option” over an “either-or option.” However, the division between the kingdoms of light and darkness are presented in scripture as absolute.

If there is an area between the two kingdoms it is not grey, but rather an area of shadows, which is where we find Peter in our text today. There is a great struggle taking place within Peter, as he stands in the courtyard of the high priest. Standing by the fire in the courtyard, Peter is partially in the light and partially in the darkness. Shadows partially veil his face and his identity. We are told that a servant girl stared at him in the firelight, finally identifying him as one of Jesus’ followers. Peter denied that he knew or had anything to do with Jesus three times while standing there by the fire. His face was lit well enough for Jesus to recognize him and look at him as the cock crowed.

In the realization of his sinful failure, compelled by shame and grief Peter turned away from the light and walked into the darkness of the night weeping bitterly. Like Judas, who turned away from the light and walked into the darkness (John 13:30), Peter was overcome with guilt. Unlike Judas, Peter returned to meet the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. Peter was once again able to walk from the darkness back into the light of the love of Christ where he found forgiveness and restoration.

Like Peter, we often find ourselves standing in the area of shadows when making decisions. We can do the right thing and step forward into the light of God’s kingdom or turn and walk away into the darkness. The good news is that when we fail, our Risen Lord Jesus Christ still calls us and welcomes us in the forgiving love of his light.


The painting above is “The Denial of St. Peter” by Dutch painter, Gererd (Gerrit) van Honthorst  (November 4, 1592 – April 27, 1656).  While working in Italy he became famous for his depictions of artificially lit scenes.  He was given the nickname, “Gherardo delle Notti” (Gerard of the Night).  This painting reflects his masterful use of light and dark and was painted in 1623.

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Dirty, Stinking Sheep – John 10:1-18 [Daily Devotional]

John 10:1-18

When I was about eight years old our church called a new pastor, who was fresh out of seminary, the Rev. Billy Rutrough.  Now if you have ever had a pastor straight out of seminary, you know how they are filled with wonderful new ideas and theories they have been mulling around in their heads all though their time in school.  Well, Pastor Billy had one such elaborate idea that he brought to life as the Christmas season approached. 

His idea was to take an 8mm camera (state of the art in that day) and film the Christmas pageant.  Rather than have children act out the nativity story in a chancel or fellowship hall against a background of cardboard cutouts, he decided to film outdoors, on location as it were.  For every scene in the beloved story, he took child actors and placed them in appropriate settings and filmed the action.  Narration and music would be added later, when he played the movie for the congregation.

He took the actors who played the Wise Men to the Knoxville Sand and Gravel Company.  Then, as the sun was setting he had them walk to the crest of a sand dune, stop and point to a star in the distance then proceed to walk down the dune out of the frame.  Ultimately, the congregation would hear the story of the Wise Men from Matthew and sing “We Three Kings,” as they watched this segment of the movie.  The plan was to do the same for every scene, having the congregation sing appropriate carols while watching the other scenes.

Then he came to the scene that is perhaps the most beloved part of the Christmas story, the shepherds watching over their sheep in the fields.  For this he drove several of us to a farm when they actually had a large flock of sheep.  I was one of the actors chosen for this scene and I was placed in my costume, given a small shepherds staff, and about five of us were led across the field to the flock.

From a distance the flock looked pretty against the green grass of the pasture.  However, as we got closer the sheep began to change in their appearance.  They became huge, dirty, stink and unruly animal.  In their defense, from a great distance they might have mistaken me for Charlton Heston, but up close I was a tiny 8 year old boy.  The sheep were huge and they had massive, ugly, green stained teeth.  They were enormous  beasts, and Pastor Billy just placed us right there in the middle of the flock.  As I stood there in absolute terror I tried to think about everything I had been told about sheep.  Well, there was Sherry Lewis and her puppet Lamb Chop.  There were the tiny cotton ball sheep we had glued to construction paper in Sunday School. 

I realized that I had been duped.  I knew nothing about sheep….were they strictly herbivores?  If not, they could make short order of me before Pastor Billy could get there.  While I was wrestling with these thoughts, one of them stood on my foot.  Sure I had a staff, but what would become of me, if I used it. 

I could have gotten the Academy Award for Best supporting Actor by the time the angels appeared, because I was truly afraid, and it showed on my face.  As with most traumatic childhood experiences, I was scarred for life.  In fact, to this day I do not like sheep at all, …not even with mint jelly.

So when we come to this beloved passage of scripture where Jesus compares himself with a shepherd and us to sheep, I am not flattered.  Couldn’t Jesus have picked an animal that is a tad more majestic?  What about an analogy where we are powerful like horses or noble like eagles?  But the more I have thought about it, the more I understand just how perfect the analogy is.  As sinners, we are all stained and dirty.  Spiritually, we stink.  We are certainly unruly and prone to wander off and get lost.  Face it; there are times in our lives when we are every bit as stupid as sheep.  It is the perfect analogy.

If we are honest, we have to admit that our sinful human nature makes us very much like sheep.  Now that I have destroyed your self-esteem, there is good news in this passage.  Here we are told that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  God loves his dirty, stinking, smelly flock so much, that he was willing to give his life for our salvation.

In Romans 5:8 we read these words “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us..”  Because of Christ Jesus, God does not see us the dirty stinky sheep we are.  Clothed in the righteousness of Christ, with our sins forgiven we look like a beautiful flock of sheep against the green pasture of the world.  Spotless – just like the spotless Lamb of God.

The photo is from the 2007 New Zealand movie, “Black Sheep.”  It is a comedy-horror movie about genetically engineered sheep that turn on humans.  The movie was produced by the New Zealand Film Commission.


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The Hard Work of Preparation – Luke 3:1-9 [Daily Devotional]

Luke 3:1-9

One of the hardest parts of any job is the preparation. The hardest work involved in painting a room is getting everything ready to receive the paint. If it is a new house and the walls have never been painted, there is much that must be done. The walls will need to be sized and sanded to insure that the surface is as smooth as possible. In a sense, “every valley shall be filled in,” usually with a spackling compound. “Every mountain and hill” will need to be made low, usually by sanding them down. Once smooth, the walls have to be coated with a primer to ensure that that they receive the paint properly and uniformly. Only then can the walls be painted. If the room and house is not new, there is even more preparation in moving furniture and spreading drop cloths to protect things.

The purpose of this devotional is not to serve as a “how to paint a room,” but rather to draw our attention to the role of John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus Christ. The purpose of John’s ministry was to prepare the way for the coming ministry of Jesus. John did not literally level every hill and mountain, nor were the valleys exalted so that the way would be level and smooth. John sought to pave the way by calling people to repentance. Those sinners who found themselves in lives crippled with sin and decadence could find forgiveness and be raised to a right relationship with God. Those who thought too highly of themselves could find forgiveness for their self-righteous attitude and be lowered (in their minds) to a right relationship with God.

If there is one word that we could use to summarize the ministry of John the Baptist, it would be “repent.” While people were called to live lives that produced the fruits of repentance, the message was received by the people as good news. Repentance meant that there was an opportunity to set things right. It was a message that revealed God’s love for His people. John told them that God would forgive them of their sins and allow them to start anew, with a clean slate. Those who set things right with their lives would be prepared for the coming of the Messiah, which was at hand.

We, like John the Baptist are called to prepare the way of the Lord to come into the hearts and lives of people in our time. Our dress and appearance may be different than John’s, but our message is exactly the same one. We have to call people to repentance. Remember that I already told you that preparation is always the hardest part of the job. In our western society the good news message of repentance is interpreted as “bad news” by our ears. Many think that when you call for people to repent, you are judging them. And what right do you have to judge others? If you call for someone to repent, you are insinuating that he or she is doing is sinful. To call others to repentance and amendment of life is to imply that there is only one acceptable way to live. How dare you judge us, what gives you the authority to determine who needs to repent anyway, you judgmental hypocrite! (There, don’t you feel better?)

It is a fallacy of human nature to think that some people are judgmental and others are not. In fact, to call someone judgmental is to judge him or her. We are all judgmental. The question is this, “By what standard will you judge.” Will you judge according to you own feelings, setting yourself up as the great lawgiver? Will you judge by the ever changing standards of society, basing truth upon the prevailing attitudes of the polls? Will you judge by the unchanging love and law and truth of God? It is the only judgment that is born of the love of God and His desire to have all humanity in a right relationship with Him.

If I point to a car driving through my neighborhood at 90 miles per hour and I cry out, “That driver is speeding,” I am not being judgmental, I am telling the truth. If I admonish him to slow down for the safety of himself and others, I am not trying to make him conform to my driving dogma. Likewise, when we call people to repentance, we are not so much being judgmental as we are telling them what the truth is. Why? Because it is the most loving thing we can do for them. It isn’t easy, but it is the only way we can pave the way for Christ Jesus to come into the lives of others. Really, think about it. If they have no concept of sin, then there is no need for a forgiving savior to come into their lives.
So, let us begin the hard work of continuing the ministry of preparation that John started. Repent!

Image is from Lowes.com

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Sunday of Joy? – Philippians 4:4-6 [Daily Devotional]

Philippians 4:4-6

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent and on most Advent Wreaths the candle that will be lighted is uniquely rose colored. While purple (violet) or blue is the color ordinarily associated with Advent, the candle and this day are different from the others. It has been traditionally called Gaudete Sunday, or Joy Sunday. The Latin title for this day comes from the introit that was traditionally sung on this Sunday: “Gaudete in Domino semper; iterum dico, gaudete.” This is the familiar Pauline passage from Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say rejoice.” This obvious emphasis on this day is the joyous anticipation of the coming of our Lord, as we are half way through our Advent preparations.

Today, however many of us do not feel any joy in our hearts. Evil struck an insidiously powerful blow to our collective hearts and minds on Friday when a gunman took the lives of 27 innocent people in Newtown, Connecticut. The pain is intensified for most of us because 20 of the victims were small children between the ages of 6 and 7 years old. How can we speak of joy and celebration when such a dark pall has been cast over us as a people? We are still sorting through our emotions, as they run the gamete from despair to anger, and from guilt to sorrow. We do not really know what to do, but to celebrate a day of joy may seem to be insensitive.

And yet nothing could be further from the truth.

There is a powerful and literally diabolical force of evil at work in our world. Some do not want to speak of the evil in our world in a personified way, but Jesus most certainly did. Satan, the prince of this world and father of all lies, delights in the darkness, despair and fear wrought by human tragedies. Psychologists, criminologists and law enforcement profilers will struggle to make sense of what has happened. (I applaud, admire and appreciate their work.) They will speculate about motives and forces at work within the life of the shooter. However, few of them will venture to even discuss the ultimate issue of the spiritual warfare that is ongoing between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. It is not scientific and cannot be supported by empirical evidence, so talk of Satan or the devil is passé or outmoded.

While that may be their truth, it is not the truth of scripture, nor of Christian experience. I promise you that on Friday, while you and I were heartbroken over the horror that unfolded before us in the news, Satan laughed with delight. While we stood dumbfounded and perplexed that someone could even imagine committing such an unspeakable crime, Satan celebrated the darkness that descended upon us. How can such a deep darkness be dispelled?

In J.R.R Tolkkien’s Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers there is a fierce battle between humans and mindless Uruk-hai at the Hornburg in Helms Deep. When everything seems to be lost and the remaining humans are waiting to meet their doom, King Theoden reflects over the destruction that has come upon his people and he asks, “What can men do against such reckless hate?” Aragorn answers, “Ride out and meet it.” Like Theoden, we find ourselves in despair, asking his same question. We need to take Aragorn’s advice to ride out and meet it. While we cannot draw swords, mount up and ride against Satan and the evils of his kingdom, we are not helpless in this struggle.

If we were looking at the 6th chapter of Ephesians, this would be an excellent place to discuss putting on the full armor of God (check that out on your own). What we are looking at today is joy and celebration in the face of evil and darkness. It is fitting that we should rejoice today, and celebrate the joy of our coming king, for He alone is the light that will drive out this darkness that has descended upon us. To even tone down our celebration would be to give the victory to Satan and the forces of evil.

There was a report on the news that some people were taking down their Christmas decorations, because it seems wrong to celebrate during such a tragedy. While I understand their sentiment, to do so is to give in to the darkness that would envelope us. In the face of this tragedy we should join with Paul in saying, “Rejoice!” We should decorate as much as we can! Light festive candles and lift our voices as we sing our carols, songs and hymns louder and longer than ever! This is Gaudete Sunday and we will not yield to the forces of darkness! We will mourn our losses and shed many tears, but even with broken hearts we can rejoice.

(Photo by Reuters/Adrees Latif)

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What Will be a Sign? – Luke 21:5-19 [Daily Devotional]

Luke 21:5-19

Missed It Again!

One of the great themes of the Advent Season is that of hope. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, with means coming. This season is therefore a time of preparation for the coming of our Lord at Bethlehem. However, our Christian hope is focused on the Second Advent, or Second Coming of Christ. Jesus promised that he would return for us, and that Advent is cast as our future hope. This means that you and I are a people living between the Advents of our Lord. During the season of Advent, we celebrate the truth of both and we prepare for both.

Many people in the world are currently obsessed with the possibility that the end times are upon us. (There have been such people throughout Christian history. Read I&II Thessalonians) People in every age, since apostolic times have seen the possible fulfillment of the biblical prophecies and signs for the end times. Joining those people this year are those who have come to believe erroneous teachings about the Mayan calendar ending on December 21, 2012 (might want to check those Christmas travel plans), or that some other “internet spread” disaster awaits us all. One of the disasters foretold by some, who claim they received the information through alien channeling, is that a (nonexistent) rogue planet named Nibiru will collide with the earth this year. I think that the loss of Hostess Twinkies could be a sign of the end times.

In our text today, Jesus gives us signs of the end times and tells about the persecutions that will precede them. The signs of earthquakes, famines and wars have always been present, so it makes it difficult to use them as markers to help pick dates. Disasters of monumental proportions have occurred in our time, as well as in every time of human history. The ruins of ancient cities bear testimony to the truth of this.

Jesus also tells us of the persecution that is to come upon the Christian family. We know of the persecutions that took place during the time of the Roman Empire. We should also be aware that there are more Christians being persecuted and martyred today than in any time in Christian history. Persecutions of Christians have taken place in every age and will continue as long as the Church remains. This also makes it difficult to pick a date for the end times using persecution as a marker.

While there will certainly be signs that accompany the Second Coming of Christ, we cannot know when it will be. Jesus makes it clear that neither he, not the angels in heaven, know when this event in human history will occur (Matthew 24:36). If the Father has not let them in on it, I think it is a safe bet that there are probably no human beings who know the date. “No one knows about that day or hour…” And I think it is a safe bet that no one knows the year either. I feel very confident in my plans to watch College Football Bowl Games on New Year’s Day, 2013.

So, why are we given signs of warning that could come from the headline of tomorrow’s newspaper? I think that the point is this: it could actually happen at any moment, so we must live our lives with that sort of expectation. Jesus admonishes us to be prepared saying, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matthew 25:13). If we are living our lives in a prepared manner, we will be busily about our respective ministries when Jesus returns.

We think of Advent as the season of preparation for the coming of Jesus. Therefore, our entire lives are spent in the season of Advent. We need to all claim the Boy Scout motto as the resolution by which we will live our lives in this Advent: Be Prepared. If we live our lives in a state of preparedness, we will accomplish so much more ministry for the Kingdom of God, than if we spend our time in idle speculation.

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Preying for the Poor – Isaiah 3:8-15 [Daily Devotional]

Isaiah 3:8-15

In our sheltered existence, many of us do not notice the plight of the poor. We know that they are there, and we see them from time to time, but we know little of their existence. While we all have struggles, theirs are different than ours. Many people strive to alleviate the sufferings of the poor, especially at this time of the year. The Christmas Season is a “time when Want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices,” said the gentleman attempting to get a contribution from Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Then there are many who prey on the working poor, because they are an easy target. In fact, it is a growing industry in America. There are many individuals and businesses that have amassed fortunes by taking advantage of the poor. It is usually done in the guise of providing them financial services or other forms of assistance. Payday lenders provide expensive cash advances against a customer’s next payday at outrageous interest rates. Rent-to-own stores and “pay here” car lots offer to help people get the things they want, at prices and interest rates that are twice as high as what wealthier consumers pay. Check cashing stores and banks that offer overdraft protection (at a high price) for low income people encourage the working poor to dig deeper into debt.

These practices often lock the working poor into a debt cycle that prevents them from becoming upwardly mobile. The working poor are targeted by these companies and are being encouraged to live beyond their means. Why are there so few consumer laws to protect the poor from those who would prey on them? This is really big business that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars, and is growing every year. These businesses are backed by well known banks and financial institutions. Since political campaigns need financing, there is little incentive by elected officials to stop businesses from preying on the poor. The practices are defended as being “simply an exercise of capitalism.” Perhaps even more egregious than these examples are “prosperity preachers,” who victimize the poor seeking to grow their ministries. The poor have no champion.

In our text today from Isaiah, God speaks of his great displeasure with the leaders of his people who are benefiting from abusing those who are poor. “The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord GOD of hosts.” Obviously, we are not the first generation to abuse our poor. The practice is thousands of years old. However, one thing that has not changed is the heart of our God.

Jesus spoke against those who prey on the poor (see “Widow’s Mite II” from June 16, 2011). In Luke 4:18, while in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read from Isaiah 61 which begins “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” Jesus went on to tell them that he is the fulfillment of this prophecy. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, we are shown that Jesus paid special attention to the poor and the outcasts of society. As the Church has been called to continue the ministry of Jesus Christ, we are to display that same love and attention. Where is the voice of the whole Christian church in these matters? Why are we not the champions for the poor?

Yes, there are untold numbers of Christians, who work in soup kitchens, homeless shelters and food banks; but where is the collective voice crying out against the abuses? Major denominations seem to be too caught up in other matters to offer any significant leadership in this area. Collectively, the Church could bring pressure to bear on government regulatory agencies and elected officials to create and enforce law that protect the poor from the predators who stalk them.

The gentlemen who came to solicit a contribution from Ebenezer Scrooge were right. We do need to make some provision for the poor at this time of year. However, we need to remember them not only at Christmas. We need to be their champion every day of the year!

The photo above is from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Celina, Ohio.  it can be found on their website http://www.spcelina.org/ .

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The Resurrection Debate – Luke 20:27-40 [Daily Devotional]

Luke 20:27-40

The twentieth chapter of Luke contains three different stories of Jesus engaging in debate with religious leaders in Jerusalem. If the chapter were scored like a debate, it is obvious that Jesus wins these contests “running away.” First, they approach him with questions about his authority (Luke 20:2-8), and Jesus trumps their question with one that they cannot (dare not) answer. Second, they try to trap him with a question regarding the legality of paying taxes to Caesar (Luke 20:20-26). Again, Jesus out maneuvers them and they look like fools for trying to trap him with their question. In today’s text the Sadducees take their turn with a trick question, and they too end up with egg on their faces.

Obviously, Jesus was a very smart and quick witted man. He was a skilled debater and more than a match for the religious intellectuals in Jerusalem. In fact, we are told at the close of today’s lesson that “no one dared to ask him any more questions.” If Luke’s purpose in writing this chapter was to show us Jesus as an impressive debater, we could read the passages, shake our pom-poms while shouting “Yea Jesus!” and move on to the next chapter. While many of us enjoy watching Jesus match wits with self-righteous, religious leaders that is not why Luke recorded these stories. Each of these stories communicates something different about Jesus and the kingdom.

In our text today the hapless questioners of Jesus are “Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection.” The sect of the Sadducees, were predominately the upper-class, wealthy, priestly families living in Jerusalem. They were responsible for the temple and its upkeep, which made them responsible for collecting the temple tax. They were responsible for keeping good relations with the Romans, and for maintaining the temple guards.

As a religious group they held very strictly to the Books of Moses (first five books of scripture). The Sadducees held that there were not references in the Books of Moses to resurrection. Therefore, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, or an afterlife of reward or punishment. This belief (or lack of belief) reveals their question as a planned trap. (For more information on the background of their question see “Whose Wife?”  6/15/2011.) There are those of us who find the history of first century Jewish sects fascinating but this is not why Luke included this story.

As a minister I have performed my fair share of weddings, and as a father of five daughters I have suffered through weddings and plans for weddings. This text is full of weddings. We tend to view weddings in light of romantic love. In weddings people pledge their lifelong love for one another. Many pledge their love to last through all eternity. And while love most certainly abides, Jesus makes it clear that the sons and daughters of the kingdom are not given in marriage. While this seems to be a blow against eternal romance, Luke did not record this story to teach us anything about marriage.

So, why did Luke record this exchange between the Sadducees and Jesus? Luke shares this story from Jesus’ ministry in order to emphasis the good news message of the reality of the resurrection. Jesus makes it clear that teachings and evidences of this part of God’s plan for us have always been there, even in the teachings of Moses. Jesus points out that the truth of the resurrection has to do with the very nature of God Himself. Jesus says that “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

In Exodus 3:6 God introduces Himself to Moses by saying, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Jesus tells us that Moses’ father, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob still exist in the presence of God. Everything is cast in the present tense including the name of God, which is given eight verses later as “I AM.” For God, it is as if death does not even exist.

Luke records this story for us in order that we too might come to the realization that “I AM” is the God of the living! He is the God of Rachael, Ralph, Andy and Harold. He is the God of Bob, Beatrice, Lloyd and Jack. He is the God of everyone whom we have loved and lost. They are all alive in His presence. And when our last day shall come, He will continue to be our God as well!

Considered one of New Zealand’s most famous artists, Colin McCahon (1919-1987) interjected his spiritual intensity into his works. This painting is titled, “I AM.”

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The Things That Are God’s – Luke 20:19-26 [Daily Devotional]

Luke 20:19-26

(This was originally posted on June 14, 2011, as “Render Unto God.” The introduction has been modified due to recent events.) As the United States approaches the mythical “Fiscal Cliff” there is much talk about taxation. One political party has pledged not to raise taxes on anyone, while the other wants to raise taxes on the wealthy. Battle lines have been drawn and both sides vow that they will not back down. A compromise must be reached in order to keep the nation from falling off the aforementioned cliff. It is like watching an exciting movie, as heroes race against time against incalculable odds. It is turning out to be a real cliff hanger (pun intended).

Taxation is one law that affects almost every individual, and is therefore watched very closely by almost everyone. In fact, the United States of America was born in a revolution which began primarily because of taxes levied by the British Parliament. It is very American (or insert the nationality of your choice) to gripe about taxes. If you want to be elected to public office, you must promise to cut taxes or at least promise not to let them be raised. Apparently, the trick is to find a way to create a new tax so that you can keep your promise not to raise taxes.

At least most of us are paying taxes to our own governments and not to a government of occupation, as were the people of Israel in Jesus’ day. As part of the Roman Empire, taxes were collected to run the machinery of occupation. Roman soldiers had to be fed and paid. The highways that connected the empire had to be maintained. Procurators and other officials had expenses as well. It would be one thing to pay taxes if you were a citizen of Rome. It was quite another thing to pay these taxes to an occupying army. The tax collectors were the most hated of all individuals. (St. Matthew was a former tax collector.)

The enemies of Jesus attempted to use this situation to their advantage. They asked Jesus what on first hearing seems to be a silly question. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” The smart aleck answer would have been, “Don’t pay them and see how lawful that is?” Given their situation in first century Palestine, it is a trick question designed to entrap Jesus. If Jesus’ reply is that they should not pay taxes to the emperor, he could be charged with sedition and treason against Rome. If Jesus answers that they should indeed pay taxes to Rome, his own people would see him as a traitor and Roman sympathizer (equal to a tax collector).

Jesus’ clever answer is one of the most quoted verses in scripture. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” It has been used primarily by those in government to justify everything from collecting taxes to imposing a military draft. In short, it has been used to encourage people to “render unto Caesar.” I have never heard anyone use this well known verse to encourage people to give to the church. Our respective governments really do not care what you “render unto God,” as long as you keep receipts for your tax deductions. Our respective governments do however have the power to force us to render what is due them.

There is no power however, to force any of us to “render unto God the things that are God’s.” There is no Internal Revenue Service branch of the church, nor any police or military to enforce our giving, should we decide not to give. Due to the prominence of television evangelist, when we hear about giving to God, we automatically think of money. Indeed, money is an important part of our giving to the church. We invest our money in the things that are most important to us. But God is looking for more they just our money. God wants you. As a Christian, if you render unto God what belongs to God, you will have to stand in the offering plate.

God desires your heart, soul, mind and strength (all of you). We are to give our time and talents, as well as our money to support the ministries of Jesus Christ and his church. These offering to God should flow from our hearts, and therefore bring joy to the giver. St. Paul tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9:7) Caesar really doesn’t care whether you are cheerful or not. “Render unto Caesar,” because you really do not have a choice. “Render unto God,” out of the love and gratitude within your heart.

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What’s In a Name (Title) – Luke 20:9-18 [Daily Devotional]

Luke 20:9-18

Titles can often be misleading. Newspapers are notorious for being intentionally ambiguous with their headlines, because they want us to read the article. An article might read, “Experts Say Dates are Good for Teens.” Then, once you begin reading the article you find that they are taking about the fruit, not a social event. Titles can also emphasis the wrong part of a story.

Jesus did not give titles to his parables. He did not begin them by saying, “Now listen to this one. I like to call it ‘The Parable of the Lost Coin.’” Nor were the titles of Jesus’ parables given by the evangelists who wrote the gospels. The titles were given by scholars and church leaders through the centuries, as a convenient way to discuss and preach about such passages.

The parable in our text today is known as “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants.” In this parable we follow the dastardly deeds of the tenants of the vineyard as they mistreat and insult the emissaries of the vineyard owner. Finally, they kill the son of the vineyard in a bid to gain the son’s inheritance. This is seemingly the final straw that will move the vineyard owner to action (not included in the parable). Now, those evil and wicked people will finally get what is coming to them for their evil actions.

The parable, however, is not about the tenants. They are important characters but they are not the main characters of this story. As I said before, titles can be misleading. This parable begins with “’A man planted a vineyard…” The vineyard owner is the main character in this story. As the story progresses, there are more references to him than to the wicked tenants. The story even ends by asking a question about the vineyard owner, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do?”

If I had a chance to name this parable, I would call it “The Longsuffering Vineyard Owner.” We are so familiar with this parable that we do not give it a lot of deep thought as we read through it, but what vineyard owner would exercise as much restraint as the one in this parable? If I were the vineyard owner, the parable would have been much shorter. After the first altercation with my representative, I would have been all over them. They would have been removed from my vineyard and punished to the fullest extent of the law (and more, if I could get away with it). There would have been no second or third person sent. We never would have made it to the fourth incident, where I send my son.

Let’s face it, this vineyard owner is crazy. Even the meekest milquetoast person among us would not be this longsuffering, tolerant and patient. Perhaps an even better title would be, “The Wimpy and Crazily Spineless Vineyard Owner.” By concentrating on the wicked actions of the tenants, we miss the insanely generous actions of the vineyard owner. In focusing on the tenants, we miss the most beautiful part of the story: the image of God that is presented.

Jesus’ Jewish audience would certainly have known that throughout the scriptures Israel was presented as a vineyard and God was the vineyard owner. The longsuffering vineyard owner is God himself. How fortunate we are indeed that God is tolerant of our foolish responses to him. How fortunate we are that God’s love is so intense that He does not give up on us despite our continual rebellion against him. How fortunate we are that he loved us enough to send his son!

The photo is of a news headline regarding a contest of tight rope walkers doing solo crossing of the Han River in Seoul.

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