One nation under God



Moses speaking to his people about the good land God was bringing them into.  The first half of the chapter he reminds them of all God had done for them since leaving Egypt, how they had to rely on God himself for their very food, water, and protection coming through hardships and dangerous terrain.  But now they are coming close to their promised land, and Moses can foresee what will come – spiritual amnesia.  They will forget all God has done for them once their personal situations get better and they begin enjoying the fruitfulness of the land God is giving them.
This sounds like Moses is talking directly into our lives today.  Our nation, just like Israel, went through struggles in becoming a great nation.  Our forefathers claimed to book of Joshua in the westward expansion of our nation (I would say incorrectly so).  Our nation was founded with a deep faith, belief and reliance on the bible and Christian values.  We believed in and relied on God to get us through.  
And get us through He did.  But, just as Moses foresaw for his people, we have decided it was our own goodness that got us through to where we are today.  We are all “rugged individualists”, we don’t personally feel as though we need help from anyone, we can do it all.  That carries over to our national psyche, we are America, blessed by God, and we don’t need anybody else. 
Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God…   We have certainly eaten, gotten full (fat), built good houses to live in, and multiplied our herds, our silver and our gold.  And we have certainly forgotten the Lord our God.  Actually, I would say not so much forgotten, we still know God is there.  We have outright rejected God, as a nation we have banned Him from the public square and the classroom.  And we choose to embrace anything in that same public square that challenges and turns people away from faith in God.

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.   We certainly also believe it is our own power, works, and intelligence that gives us the power to earn our wealth, both individually and nationally.  We forget that God is in control, he gave those souls on the Mayflower the spirit and the heart to search for their own promised land.  That he brought us to our own land of milk and honey.  That he set the laws of nature for us to discover and use for our benefit.  That, for us today specifically, we WERE born in the USA and no where else in the world, to have all the opportunities we have, to have all the comfort we don’t even realize we have.

And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.  Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.  What God’s are we as a nation serving?   It’s hard to make a case we are serving “the Lord your God”.   It seems we are serving the Gods seen on our paper currency over anything else, along with all the things that paper can buy.  The warning for us is the same as the warning for the Israelites back in Moses day – Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.   All the nations, all the empires before us.  Romans, Greek, Persian, all the empires through history, most recently the British Empire, the Soviet Union.  We are so convinced we are different.  We are no different.  The faith of a nation we once put in God we now put into our own perceived power in the world.  Our faith now resides in our currency, our bombs, our technology and our guns.  We reject the very God on whose principles our nation was founded on.  We forget that we were intended to be one nation, under God.  Instead we are one nation,  rejecting God.  History tells us how it will end…
 

“”Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.”
‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭8:11-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬
http://bible.com/59/deu.8.11-20.esv

 

John Lewis

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There’s only us!!


Reading the Gospel of John this morning, I can’t help but notice that this particular Gospel is just so full of….Jesus.  The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke contain plenty of the words of Christ also, but they have more history along with Jesus’ own words.  John tells the story in his own way, and let’s his Christ do most of the talking.  And talk He does.  Sometimes it is difficult to simply pick something to write about, that seems to be speaking to me on a particular morning.  This is what I found today.
 

  And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.   God the Father gave witness to the Son in two different ways – through His scriptures written down by Moses and the prophets in what is now the Old Testament, and through the works and miracles performed by Jesus.  All the scriptures that His audience here were so familiar with had given testimony to His coming all along.  And God the Father had Himself guided and empowered all the miracles Jesus had shown.   This is not to mention the Father’s testimony at Jesus baptism – And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.””‭Mark‬ ‭1:10-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 
His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.   The Jews at this time knew God only through the teaching handed down through the generations, they did not have any direct experience with God themselves.   The people during Moses time did actually hear God at Mt Sinai, but received their law and testimony through Moses.  Between Moses and Jesus, there were prophets and wonders done by God, giving the people more direct experience with God.  The last400 years before Jesus came, there were no prophets in Israel.  This generation only had the testimony of God through Moses and the prophets.  By rejecting Jesus, the Pharisees and others are rejecting the testimony of Yawheh Himself.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.   The Pharisees loved their bibles, but they didn’t love God.   They though that by following the tiniest detail of the laws and regulations handed down through Moses, they were gaining their own salvation.  But in following all the commands of God in the scriptures, they forgot the two most important – love of God and love of neighbor.  The test for love of God IS love of neighbor.  We love God in this life by loving our neighbor, all of whom were created in His image.  What is the test case for love of neighbor?   Love of enemy.  How do we love those who don’t love us back?   Who are against us?  Who might actually seek to harm us?   Jesus modeled this for the Pharisees and for us, and directly told us this in His Sermon on the Mount.  “”You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:43-45‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   So yes, the Pharisees knew all the rules, but they forgot the love.  They forgot to love God and love their neighbor.  They were caught up in a broken system, a system where they were holy and everyone else was unholy.  An us versus them system, where unfortunately the savior of the world became one of “them”.   We follow the law of Christ, not the law of Moses.  The law of Moses got us started on the path to Christ, but it is not the final destination on that path.  Under the law of Christ, we would do well to remember the lyric from a U2 song from a few years ago – “There is no them, there’s only us”.


“And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
‭‭John‬ ‭5:37-40‬ ‭ESV‬‬
http://bible.com/59/jhn.5.37-40.esv
John Lewis

Let the world be the world…

 
As followers of Christ, indeed as his body, we should be doing things differently from those around us.  Instead of following the patterns laid out by the world around us, we should be laying down our own patterns and methods to be followed.  There was a time, when the church was very young, when Jesus’ church actually showed the faith to follow the patterns set by Him and not the world around it.
 
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. James was one of Jesus’ “big three” disciples, along with Peter and John.  Those three were Jesus’ closest confidantes, the three Jesus would take with Him when He wanted to get some quiet time.  (Jesus  almost never worked or travelled alone).   He was a big prize for the anti Christian Jews of the time.  This King Herod simply wanted to be popular, and Peter was the next big prize to get if he wanted to keep his popularity up.  

This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people.   So this was during the week after Passover, the Jews would not have wanted an execution during their Holy Week.   But we see what an important prisoner Peter was, he had 16 soldiers assigned specifically to him, that they might be able to hold him for execution after the week was over.

So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.   How about that??  No demonstrations, no protests, no bullhorns, no threats, no violence.   They prayed to God on behalf of Peter.  It doesn’t specify, but these were Christians, I’m sure they were praying in the name of Jesus.  It must have seemed silly to those around them, seriously.  Peter is being held for execution, and these people are praying for his release! What did they hope to accomplish by prayer?

Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison.   Think about this.  The night before his scheduled execution, Peter is sleeping like a baby.  No worries, no stress, no anxiety.  I’ve been kept up all night stressed over far less than my very life being taken from me.  

And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.”    Not the first night of his incarceration, or the second, or the third.  God waited for His own time to answer these prayers.  The church stayed faithful in their prayers, God heard them, God listened.  
Peter, sleeping soundly, had to be smacked by the angel to wake up!   Get up and get dressed!!

And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”  Peter thinks he is still asleep.  But the Angel of the Lord is delivering him from the evil that was coming his way.  The church was very young at this point.  Would it have survived if Peter had been taken at this point?  Maybe, but maybe not.  He was a new leader of new believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul had been converted, but was not yet ready to be used.    We know the Jewish leaders would have loved to eradicate the church, and that’s just what they were trying to do by going after Jesus “main men.”  The church was still young then.  Lucky for Peter there was no TV or social media at the time.  The believers probably would have grown bored after about 5 minutes of pretending to pray while checking their phones, then would have given up the prayer altogether to look at Facebook.  They would have organized a protest, petitioned the king, maybe used a few choice words when talking about him.  Peter would have remained in jail.  Our protests might have grown more intense, we would accuse the Jews of whatever we could think to accuse them of.  They would have outnumbered us, and majority rules, right?  One man, one vote!  The mob would have gotten it’s way, Peter would have been executed.  
But Peter didn’t live in our time, he lived in his.  His church stayed faithful in their prayers.  God delivered Peter, and probably the church as a whole.  Peter would ultimately be martyred, but obviously at a point when God saw fit, not Herod.  God used Peter after this to grow His church, He ultimately used Peter’s death for His own glory.  

Peter lived in his time, we live in ours.  Today instead of creating the pattern, we follow the patterns of the world.  We protest, fight, campaign, throw mud.  We want to beat the world at being the world.  We forget what Paul told the Corinthians 2000 years ago – “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭10:3-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  We know we are in a battle, a spiritual war.   But we should not be fighting that war using the same patterns and strategies as the world around us.  Instead, we should be using the weapons our commander in chief has given us – “…the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication…” Ephesians‬ ‭6:17-18‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Praying.  Just as the church prayed for Peter under King Herod.   Using the helmet of salvation and sword of the spirit, acting as if we knew Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior.   In other words, be the church even when we are under attack.  Let the world be the world.




 

“About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.””
‭‭Acts‬ ‭12:1-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬
http://bible.com/59/act.12.1-11.esv

John Lewis

Love Nature, Love God!


One of the overarching themes of the bible, seen again and again throughout the New and Old Testaments, is idolatry.  What do we put first in our lives?  What are we worshipping?  Do we worship the God who created it all, or do we instead worship some small part of His good creation? 
 
Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire…The people of Israel had never actually seen God.   When He actually appeared before them, they saw no form – “And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” Exodus‬ ‭19:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  They had never actually seen God, and so they were prone to create their own images of whatever they thought He might look like (not unlike today).  
 
beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.   The cultures around Israel would create their own images to worship, and it was a great temptation for the Israelites to follow suit and do the same.  After all, seeing is believing, and maybe the thought of an abstract, distant God just wasn’t satisfying to them.  The Canaanites and Egyptians would create idols in the form of all kinds of creatures, whether man and woman, or the beasts of the earth.  The Egyptians in particular would worship idols in the form of oxen, cows, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, hawks, cranes, crocodiles, frogs, beetles, and any and all of the fish of the Nile.  So, here we have a specific warning not to follow suit and worship these idols as their surrounding cultures did.  This is a warning not to worship any living thing created by God, but to worship the God who created it.

And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.   The stars above us have been worshipped from the beginning of time.  These hosts of heaven here are actually being referred to as Gods to be worshipped by the nations Yahweh rejected as His own.  The Israelites are His people and they are to worship Him only.  
This really brings me to my point today.  The creation of God is awe inspiring in its beauty and majesty.  We look at the variety of life in our planet and wonder how it all came to be.  But we look at the beauty and majesty of the world we live in, and we come to worship the creation rather than the creator.  We may not make idols of an ape, or an eagle, or an elephant, or a mountain, or the sky above.  But we certainly fall into a trap of idolizing the whole of creation.  We worship our good Mother Nature, learning all we can about her laws and how she works, forgetting the creator who made it all.  We create alternative religions worshipping the delicate balance that’s required to keep it all going.  We marvel at the intricate, precise design of it all.  But we forget the designer of it all.  We can’t comprehend the intelligence behind it all, so we simply declare it to be some kind of random chance happening multiplied over time.  But look at the world around you.  Look at all the life in the oceans and rivers, from the smallest phytoplankton to the 100 foot blue whale.   The minnow in the stream to the great white shark.  Look at the land and the skies.  The insects to the mouse to the cat to the lion to the elephant to the giraffe.  The hummingbird to the crow to the vulture to the falcon to the eagle.  To us.  The mountains and the valleys.  The smallest dandelion to the Redwood Forest.  They want to tell us it all comes from a random amoeba, which itself appeared randomly from nothing.  
Seriously, take a breath.  Oxygen.  Exhale, carbon dioxide.  Just look around you.  Love nature.  But know that it is not some random accident.  You are not a random accident.  
Love God!!
 


“”Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.”
‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭4:15-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬
http://bible.com/59/deu.4.15-19.esv

 

John Lewis

They saw Him!!


 Paul reminding the church in Corinth of the whole key to their faith – the resurrection of Christ.  
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  Paul is always exhorting the believers to stay in the Gospel of Jesus, to not forget how it is they are saved. 

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.   The resurrection of the Messiah was predicted in the Old Testament scriptures, and for Paul that is the most important witness.  Two examples of the foretelling are – “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” Isaiah‬ ‭53:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  This one even specifies the Christ will himself be the sin offering for His people.   Also, the OT says – “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”
‭‭Hosea‬ ‭6:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬, predicting the death and resurrection on the third day.  This one refers to the raising of us, further predicting our joining in the suffering, death and resurrection through our faith and our sacraments of baptism and communion.  
 
These (and many more) predictions in the Old Testament are more key for Paul, but probably not for us.  We are much more interested in verification and knowledge than faith and belief, so maybe these next verses were included for our future age.  First, in the above passage, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.   The resurrected Christ was actually witnessed in His resurrected body.  They didn’t simply take it on faith.  When they were first told, they didn’t even believe.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  He appeared to more than 500 people at one time, many of whom were alive when Paul wrote this!  In other words, many of the people who would read this (or, more likely, hear it read), would possibly actually know some of these witnesses personally.  They could talk directly to them and know that this happened.  It was not just a rumor, myth or ancient story.

Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.   James, half brother of Jesus, refused to believe until he actually rose from the dead until he himself saw Him.  He appeared to all 12 apostles.  Paul doesn’t even mention the 125 in the book of Acts.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.   And, finally, he appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road, bringing about the conversion of the church’s biggest opponent.  It was this appearance that set the tone for what God was really doing – bringing salvation to the entire world, not just the Jewish world.  Saul of Tarsus was not just in opposition, he was waging a religious war against those who believed Jesus was the Messiah.  Persecuting, arresting, stoning, he was going to end “The Way”.  Instead, he met the resurrected Christ and became the greatest of the Apostles.  

There are many theories and stories that attempt to discredit and disprove the resurrection of Jesus.  Some say His body was stolen, some say he never actually died on the cross, some say the wrong man was hanged on the cross.  Some try to claim these hundreds of people all had the same hallucination overs and over, at different places and different times.  None of these theories stands up to any logical reasoning.

The resurrection happened.  Jesus Christ rose from the dead, appeared to hundreds of people in different places at different times.   The only real question is – what does it mean?  It means we had better pay close attention to what He said…



“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:1-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬
http://bible.com/59/1co.15.1-11.esv

John Lewis

The eye of the needle…

 

The tale of Jesus meeting Zacchaeus (a wee little man!!).   As always, Jesus was speaking to Zacchaeus directly, to all within earshot, and to us for eternity.  This takes place on Jesus’ last journey back into Jerusalem, it is recorded in Luke within the same chapter as his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem.  
 
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.  First thing – Zacchaeus was rich.  Not poor, not downtrodden, but rich.  We see over and over again, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, God (including Jesus himself) favoring the poor and downtrodden.  Jesus famously said some things regarding the rich – “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark‬ ‭10:25‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  As chief tax collector in the town of Jericho, he certainly had plenty of opportunities to line his own pockets at the expense of others.  Even if he tried to keep to the straight and narrow, even unintentional abuses would be difficult to avoid at certain times.  We can be sure of this – that as a chief tax collector, he was hated by his fellow Jews.  They would have viewed him as a traitor to his own people, selling out to the Roman Empire.  But – a guys gotta make a living, right?  And a good living he earned…
 
And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.   He was seeking to see Jesus.  He might not have even known who Jesus was.  But Jesus had grown quite a following by now, and coming into Jericho there was probably a lot commotion around He and his disciples.  Or, maybe Zacchaeus knew exactly who Jesus was.  Maybe he had heard of this rabbi who eats with tax collectors and sinners and thought to himself “This is my kind of rabbi!!”  
Side note – what’s with that detail about Zacchaeus being small in stature?  It seems odd for that to be included.  Luke was very thorough, whoever he got this account from probably threw that in out of contempt for the little tax collector.
 
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”  Little Zacchaeus must have been surprised Jesus knew his name.   “…The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” ‭‭John‬ ‭10:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  But not only does the Good Shepherd know his name, he just invited Himself over for dinner and to spend the night!!
 
So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”  So little Zacchaeus has the joy of the Lord himself choosing him right out of the sycamore tree.  He chose Zacchaeus over over others who felt they were more deserving, and they didn’t like it!  Who is “they” anyway?  Probably a bunch of Pharisees and beautiful people, ticked off Jesus chose to stay with a sinner.  Of course, no matter who Jesus chose to stay with, He’d be staying with a sinner, right?  So, here ‘sinner” really means Zacchaeus was an outsider, that those watching this scene didn’t approve of his sin.  Zacchaeus was, in their minds, a traitor to the chosen people, worthy of contempt, and contempt they felt.

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”   Now this is interesting.  Why do we assume Zacchaeus is simply promising to begin giving half his goods to the poor?  That is not what it says.  Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.   It says, half my goods I give to the poor.  Not…half my goods I will give to the poor.  Has little Zacchaeus been doing his best to live a righteous life, in spite of being a tax collector, all along?  Has he been doing his best to take care of the poor among his people, as he is commanded to in his bible, all along?  Maybe it is simply our own prejudices and biases that make us think Zacchaeus really was the dirty rotten sinner his fellow Jews accused him of being.  Maybe the point if this little story is to show us that you CAN live a good and righteous life even if you work in a “dirty” profession.  Who do we look at and assume they can’t be living a “good” life because of the work they do?  Maybe you work in a job and think you are held back from God’s graces because of your profession.  Jesus is showing us here, if we have our eyes to see and ears to hear, that you can live for Him no matter your profession (maybe he even likes the beer man!!).   Just because people look at what you do and think there is no way (or you look at someone else and say “no way”), He knows if you are living righteously despite what those around you assume.   And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.  Now, this IS a promise going forward.  Zacchaeus seems fully aware of who Jesus is, and is trying to be worthy of the honor given him by the Son of God coming to his house.  Interesting again, instead of clinging to Mosaic law of restoring the defrauded amounts plus one-fifth, Zacchaeus promises to go above and follow the Roman rule of four times the amount taken.

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”   Today, not tomorrow.  On the profession of faith, not the completion of works, is Zacchaeus saved.   Jesus throws in much for those listening around Him, stressing this little tax collector and sinner IS a son of Abraham, just like they are.  Jesus came for all of us, while many in His audience here would have limited the redeemed.  And, apparently, sometimes a camel can fit through the eye of a needle…
 

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭19:1-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬
http://bible.com/59/luk.19.1-10.esv
 

John Lewis

Pay Close Attention!!

 

The writer of Hebrews, whoever it was, certainly had much to say.  In chapter 1, he had established through the Old Testament exactly who Jesus was (the Son of God) and that He was worthy of worship.  In chapter 2, the writer gets right into the point that since Jesus is the Son of God, in a position higher than all the angels in heaven at the right hand of the father, then we had better be listening to the word He brought.
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.   That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!!  If we don’t pay close attention to the word of God, we will (and are) drifting away from it.  These days it’s actually much worse than simply drifting, as a society we are actively seeking to silence the word of God in favor of other “theories” of how the world both came into existence and continues to exist.  Evolution is taught as scientific truth to our children despite the fact that, as hard as they look for it, there is no science actually backing it up.  The truth is that the more we discover, the more we know that evolution as taught in classrooms is simply a blatant lie.  Yet, like I said before, it’s taught to our children and presented to the people as a whole as scientific fact.  God and creation, which scientists are more and more having to acknowledge as the only logical conclusion to the data we are gathering about the true miracle our planet and the existence of any life really is, is strictly prohibited from the schoolroom.   And we are not simply drifting, but running, away from the word of God.

For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?   The message given by angels would be the Mosaic law.   Exodus doesn’t speak directly of angels being present when the law was given, but Moses himself references it in Deuteronomy – “He said, “The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand.” ‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭33:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  According to our writer here, the message given to Moses proved reliable.  I’m guessing he’s referencing the long history of the Hebrew people coming in and out of God’s favor, as they themselves moved in and out of faith and belief and following the law given to Moses.   If this law was proven true through course of history…then it’s still the truth now.  And if it’s still the truth, how can we escape the consequences if we simply ignore God’s plan of salvation?  What are the consequences for us if we go through life living as if Jesus Christ did not live, die on a Roman crucifix, then rise on the third day?  What are the consequences if we even acknowledge these things, yet choose to live our life as if we don’t?  If we simply blend into the rest of the world?  We want to claim Jesus as savior, but we have drifted (run) away from the true gospel originally preached that Jesus is Lord.  Remember Romans 10:9 – “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭10:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Just declaring “Jesus is Lord” then living your life just as you always had before is neglecting our great salvation.  If Jesus is now Lord, that means He is in charge, right?  If He is in charge…are those His words coming out of your mouth?  Is that His anger coming out in you?  Was that His feet that kicked a hole in my wall?  Is that His computer screen you’re watching porn on?   Salvation is not about works but faith, this we know.  But how can we claim to have faith if, in our lives following that proclamation, nobody else knows about it?  If our words and deeds are the same after our salvation as before, do we have any salvation?  This is what James meant by “…as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” ‭‭James‬ ‭2:26‬ ‭ESV‬‬
 
It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.   Our great salvation was first declared by Jesus our Lord.   We, like the writer here (I say it’s Paul!) did not actually hear directly from Jesus, but heard about it through through those did.  We know the miracles that were shown through Christ.  We know he raised from His grave on Sunday morning.  We know we all have gifts to use in His service.   Hadn’t we better put those gifts to use in the purposes He set forth for us?    I’d say so.  We’d do well to put those gifts to use in spreading His word of salvation…


“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭2:1-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬
http://bible.com/59/heb.2.1-4.esv

John Lewis