Fire From Heaven

Going to finish what I started in the last couple of messages..  I had made the statement that What happens at the start of his final journey to Jerusalem  is shocking,  if we will allow it to shock us.  I made this statement but never actually got to this point, so today I will get to the point.   (And all God’s people said Amen!)

Yesterday we finished up at the point in Luke Chapter 9 where Jesus, having detected the spirit of competition and power among his disciples as they argued about who would be greatest in the Kingdom of God,  set down a little child among them and said to them “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”” Luke 9:47-48 ESV.

Jesus is completely challenging their whole systems of comparing and competing, us vs them, and the disciples resist this, maybe they even resent it.   They, like us, were very committed to their us vs them framework of seeing the world.  Jesus subverts their system, their way of competing and contrasting and picking winners and losers, and the disciples don’t like it.

In my previous message, I had looked more specifically at verse 49 which comes next after Jesus shows them that greatness is not to be defined as they had thought.  “John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”” Luke 9:49-50 ESV.   Still showing his commitment to his us vs them way of seeing the world, John doubles down and tells how, despite their own failures in casting out demons earlier, they had come upon a man who was having no trouble casting out those demons in the name of Jesus Christ.  He had no trouble accomplishing what the disciples could not, but since he does not follow with us, the disciples stopped him.  And of course Jesus rebukes them and tells them “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

I’ll reiterate again, then get to the point.  You’ll never cast out many demons by sticking to us vs them because that’s the game demons play.  

Now, back to verse 51, that demarcation point from which Jesus has entered the last two weeks of his earthly ministry.

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. ” And they went to another village.”

Jesus has steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, he is determined to stay faithful in announcing the Kingdom of God even though it means going through his own crucifixion to do it.  Notice that they do not go around Samaria as most Jews of the time would have, so hated were the Samaritans that they would add days to their journey just to avoid all contact with them.  But, again, Jesus refuses to recognize boundaries constructed in hostility toward others.  He does not have the spirit of Satan with him.   He goes straight through Samaria in his journey up to Jerusalem.

Now, he sent messengers ahead of him to go into Samaria to find somewhere to stay.  But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.   The Samaritans hated the Jews right back, anyone who was set upon going up to Jerusalem to worship, who thought that they only had the one true God and said the Samaritans had no part in that God, even though the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all worshipped God upon their great mountain, Mt Gerazene.  The Samaritans resisted and resented this and would not receive Jews into their territory any more that the Jews wished to pass through.

And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. ”.  James and John are having a tough time in Luke Chapter 9.

Samaria at the time was the same area as the Palestinian West Bank.  The geography and relationships and hostilities remain about the same to this day.  Most Jews took the long route around Samaria, Jesus goes straight through.  But the Samaritans won’t receive them, and it is an insult.

In response to this insult, James and John, the Sons of Thunder, wanted to burn them up with the fire of God.  In their desire to burn the Samaritan them, James and John cite the Bible.  Like the Bible says Jesus, you want us to burn them up like Elijah did?   Immediately James and John cite the story in 2Kings chapter 1.  You can read it for yourself, but here’s the point – when the king of Samaria, centuries earlier, sent troops to arrest the prophet Elijah, Elijah twice called down fire from heaven and burned them up, thus killing 100 Samaritan soldiers.  This is immediately what James and a John gravitate to.  We remember when Elijah let them have it.  Let’s go shock and awe on them, let’s drop the nukes, call down fire from heaven and burn them up!!!   Jesus let’s do that!!

This is what Elijah did when the Samaritans opposed him.  But guess what??!!   JESUS IS NOT ELIJAH.  The disciples clearly thought violence was on the table for Jesus. They’d been with him, walked with him, learned from him.  They knew his ways, but ultimately they still thought when it all hit the fan, Jesus would grab the sword and go to war.  They thought Jesus would resort to violence to usher in the kingdom of God, just like Joshua, like David, like Elijah.  They are wrong,  flat wrong.

Jesus tells them they are wrong with a very strong rebuke.  But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.”  It was the spirit of Satan they had within them.   While fantasizing about the vengeance of God falling upon your enemies, make sure your not just fantasizing about your own vengeance and thus giving yourself over to the spirit of Satan.  This is what James, John and the disciples did.

James and John could have gone to another bible story.  Elijah had a protégée, Elisha, who had the double portion of the spirit of Elijah.  On one occasion, Elisha found his house surrounded by Syrian soldiers coming to arrest him.  When Elijah had this situation, he called down fire from heaven.  Elisha is capable of this, but does not do it.  He asks God to render them temporarily blind.  He takes them to the king of Israel.  “And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria. As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the Lord opened their eyes and they saw, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. As soon as the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?” He answered, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.” 2 Kings 6:18-23 ESV.  What to make of this?  Elisha had progressed beyond Elijah.  It’s a journey.  We have to stay on the journey, both individually and together in community.  Elijah’s way of dealing with enemies was to burn them and kill them.  Elisha’s way of dealing with enemies is to bless them, share a table with them and have a feast, then send them home with bellies full.  And the Syrians never again invaded.

Elijah’s way is to burn his enemies and kill them.  Elisha’s way is to bless his enemies and share a table with them.  Which one is the Jesus Way?  But the disciples had a hard time with that…

Jesus’s way of changing the world is not on a battlefield but at a shared table.  This is why we see Jesus enacting the kingdom of god from table to table.  Jesus disciples kept thinking Jesus would resort to violence, which is what Peter said in the garden of Gethsemane.   “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”” Luke 22:49 ESV.  To which Jesus says, as he always had through his entire life and ministry, NO.  Yet to this day many Christians believe, that ultimately, in the end of things, Jesus is still going to resort to violence to fully advance his kingdom.  He’s going to come down like Elijah, breathing that fire from heaven, burning all of those sinners up!!  We wait, we expect wars to come, and we think these are good because it must mean Jesus is coming.   Man, we have so missed the point, and the message, of the Gospel.  Gospel means Good News, does it not?   Why would we think Jesus bringing fire from heaven to burn up all the sinners would be Good News???

We are still infected with the spirit of Satan.

Jesus will go to Jerusalem.  He will confront the principalities and powers, and he will never resort to violence.  Jesus will allow his body to be broken.  He will allow his blood to be shed.  He will respond with forgiveness.  And forgiveness only.

Thank you Jesus.

John Lewis


Winners and Losers

Luke 9:51 is a very important demarcation point in the gospel of Luke.   It almost seems as though it should be the start of a new chapter.  It is from this point that Jesus begins his final journey to Jerusalem.   Luke 9:51 to the triumphal entry in the middle of Luke 19, 10 full chapters, takes place over 4-5 days, certainly no more than a week, then what follows is Jesus passion week and the resurrection. So From Luke 9:51 to Jesus resurrection is no more than a two week period.

“Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 

To be received up, most translations now say to be taken up, is kind of a double entendre.  It is  referring to his death, being lifted up on the cross, but also refers to his resurrection.  He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem….why does it tell us this?  Think about it. He was determined, absolutely determined.  This took great courage.  How much courage??  He knew what would happen. He knew he would be killed.  Jesus knew he’d be put to death.   He could have avoided this by fleeing, or so many other ways.    But he doesn’t.  He had, indeed, steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.

How did Jesus know this, that he would be killed when he went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival?  It was not necessarily divine revelation, a word from the Father.  It may have been, but not necessarily.   Jesus understood that Jerusalem was the center of the principalities and powers.  If he goes to the center of that power structure, where  Caiaphas,  Pontius Pilate, and King Herod hold their power,  and proclaims the alternative of the kingdom of God, he will be killed.  But he also knows it’s the will of the Father for him to be faithful in proclaiming the kingdom of God even if it leads to his death.  By the way, it is in his death that he reveals God’s love and overthrows those same principalities and powers.

What happens at the start of his final journey to Jerusalem  is shocking,  if we will allow it to shock us.   He finds within his own disciples a remnant of that same spirit that will kill him in Jerusalem.   In the powers of Jerusalem, within Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod, the  religious powers, government powers, and economic powers, there is a spirit present. It will cause them to kill Jesus.   It is the spirit of Satan.  The Unholy Spirit.  The spirit of accusation, of hate.  The Spirit of Us vs Them.   It is this same spirit he finds within his own disciples.

Let’s back up just a bit.  They are in Galilee.  Jesus is praying, he’s always praying, Luke brings this out especially.  “Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”” Luke 9:18-20 ESV Who do the crowds say I am?  Maybe John the Baptist, maybe Elijah.  Remember, the guy who launched this movement (John the Baptist) is already dead, it’s a dangerous thing they are involved in.

Jesus responds to Peter affirming him as the Messiah, “And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.””  Luke 9:21-22 ESV

This is the first time (at least in Luke) that Jesus has told his disciples that he would be rejected and killed in Jerusalem.  They couldn’t understand this.  They just couldn’t get their minds around this.  It’s what we call cognitive dissonance.  They had a picture of messiah, an expectation of what was coming, and nowhere in that picture does Messiah get crucified.   Crucifixion would be massive failure.  A crucified Messiah is a failed Messiah.  Jesus told them plainly what would happen.  The language is not complicated.  But as plainly as he tells them, it just does not set in with them.

Move forward a few verses.  “And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” Luke 9:43-45 ESV.  Jesus breaks it down, again, that this journey to Jerusalem will not finish as his disciples expected….

And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.   Well, they were afraid to ask him any more about it. Maybe they did understand, and just preferred their own picture and expectation over the realities Jesus was explaining to them…

“An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.” Luke 9:46 ESV.   The twelve disciples have signed up with Jesus.  They are learning his way, but the expectation remains the same.  The goal is for Jesus to become king.  When Jesus becomes king they will be right there with him.  So they are jockeying for position in the future government of Jesus.   They are arguing about cabinet positions, who will be the Secretary of State, who will be the Secretary of Defense.   They don’t do this in front of Jesus, but Jesus is aware of what’s happening.

“But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”” Luke 9:47-48 ESV.  Jesus flips the script on his disciples, turns things upside down.  Jesus is always turning things upside down, isn’t he?   This child is the least of all, but Jesus tells his disciples that in receiving this child, they will receive him.  And the one who sent him, because that’s what God is like.  Don’t forget who Jesus identifies with in Matthew 25 – “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’”  Matthew 25:35-36 ESV.  These disciples are arguing over who is the greatest, who deserves the greatest power at the right hand of the one they expect to emerge victorious in Jerusalem.  They don’t yet really understand the Kingdom of God Jesus is enacting.  Jesus grabs a young child, and sets the child down among them.  Most of our translations identify this child as “him”, but the Greek actually says Jesus took a child and put IT by his side and said to them.  So we don’t actually know if this child is a boy or a girl.  Let’s says today that this is a little six year old girl Jesus sets among them.   Jesus says to them, You guys are all wondering who’s going to be my Secretary of State in the Kingdom, I might just make this little girl Secretary of State.  

As we see in Matthew 25, Jesus identifies not only with the little children, but the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, and the imprisoned among us.  Jesus identifies with everyone, but especially the least.  When you allow someone into your life, maybe someone beneath you,  maybe someone from the lower economic classes, maybe someone who doesn’t speak your language so well, maybe someone whose got a history we don’t like to talk about, when you allow someone into your life and don’t overlook them, Jesus says when you receive them you receive me, and you also receive my Father, because this is what God is like.

Jesus is breaking down all the ways we compare and compete.  We have our systems of comparing and competing with one another, our system of winners and losers.  Jesus is trying to subvert all of that.  We still completely believe in our system of winners and losers.  We have our place for Jesus in our life, our little shoebox we like to keep him in.  But the more we actually read the Gospels, the more we immerse ourselves in the story being told, the less he seems to fit into that shoebox.

Yet, we will continue to keep Jesus locked away in that shoebox.  Because while we believe in Jesus, we believe in our system of winners and losers more.  We believe we need more, we know we want more, and to take Jesus out of that shoebox might get in the way of what we want.  Because we believe all these things that we want. If we could just get them, might, finally, make us happy.

So we will continue in our own systems.  Jesus comes to us.  He comes to us in ways and through people which we simply do not see.  “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” John 1:10-11 ESV.  If you met Jesus yesterday, did you know it?   If you meet Jesus today, will you receive Him?   If he comes to you tomorrow, will you walk right past him?  Will you even look Him in the eyes and acknowledge that he’s there?   ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ Matthew 25:45 ESV

Funny thing.  I never did get to the point I thought I was getting to today.  We will have to look at the spirit of Satan within Jesus own disciples tomorrow I suppose…

John Lewis

The Prostitute, The Pharisee, and The Rabbi


Finishing up this story of Jesus eating in the house of Simon the Pharisee.


“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”    Jesus gives Simon a short parable, very simple.  Easy to understand.   One debtor owed $50,000, another $5,000.   The creditor cancelled the debt if both.  By the way – don’t get it twisted – forgiveness is NOT a debt paid.  Forgiveness is a debt cancelled.   Forgives is not a complicated exchange with somebody finally getting paid off.    Forgiveness is not a debt paid, but a debt cancelled.  Whoever is out is out, in this case the creditor, who just says, don’t worry about it, I cancel the debt.  That’s the parable.


Now Jesus asks Simon a question.  Now which of them will love him more?    Simon realizes he’s probably being worked into a corner, being set up.   He’s kind of hesitant.  The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.   To which Jesus says EXACTLY!!    And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.   Now, Simon has been judging the whole time.  He’s judged Jesus, not a prophet.  He’s judged the woman, sinner.  And he’s been judging wrongly on both counts.

Woman Opens Windows And Enjoys The Landscape

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”     


Question – Why has this prostitute done this lavish thing?   Why has she shown up weeping and kissing Jesus feet?  Is it in response to a miracle?  I don’t think so.  But I think we get a clue if we look at preceding three verses in Luke, just before this whole scene at Simon’s house.  “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”” Luke 7:33-35 ESV.  Jesus is talking about how people ridiculed both John and himself in different ways.  John was austere, he neither ate nor drank, and they said he had a demon.  They saw Jesus, look at him!   Eating and drinking with the sinners, they said he was a drunkard and a glutton.  A friend of tax collectors and sinners.  But we’ll see, because wisdom is justified by its fruits, by what it produces, by the children it brings forward.

I believe this woman is responding to the love she has seen in Jesus.  She’s lived a life excluded from the wider society.  She’s always been ostracized and rejected, and Jesus, a prominent rabbi, is changing all that.  He is accepting, and loving, and willing to dine with people like her.  It breaks her.  She can’t stay away.  She’s risking much, as a prostitute you just don’t go into the Pharisees home uninvited.


Up until now, Jesus has not referred to the woman.   He’s discerned the thought of Simon the Pharisee and gave him the parable which is a new lens to see the whole situation.    Then he says Do you see this woman?   Which is kind of comical.   You mean the woman at your feet sobbing hysterically with her hair down, kissing your feet and anointing them with perfume.   Yes I happened to notice her!! 

But the fact is that Simon had not seen the woman.  Simon do you see this woman?  Simon didn’t see a woman.  Simon saw a category.  He saw a prostitute.  Simon saw a sinner.  Simon saw a label.  Jesus saw a woman.  We don’t know her back story, we don’t know what led her into that life.  But Jesus saw her as a person, as a woman.  He’s trying to get Simon to see her as a woman.

your sins are forgiven

Strange thing is, because Simon saw this woman as a category and not a human being, he misjudged her.  The one who actually did act inappropriately in all this was…Simon.  Jesus brings that up, saying, you invited me into your house, as a rabbi, for your symposium, and you didn’t give me the customary basin with a towel for my feet.  We always do that, but you didn’t even do that for me.  But don’t worry, she had made up for your sin by how she has bathed my feet in her tears and dried them with her hair.  And, Simon, I arrived and you wouldn’t even give me the formality of the customary kiss on the cheek.   You were so suspicious of me, you wouldn’t even give me the customary greeting.  But don’t worry.  She’s made up for your sin, since I arrived she has not ceased to kiss, not my cheek, but my feet.

kiss on the cheek

I came to your house, you didn’t offer the customary, plain old olive oil for my head.  But don’t worry about it Simon, she’s made up for your sin by anointing my feet with costly perfume.   Jesus is giving Simon a new way of seeing this whole situation.  Was he capable of it?   Was he saying to himself, “Oh, my god!  I’ve gotten this all wrong!  I can’t believe, this blows my mind!”   Do you think Simon was saying this to himself?  Probably not…

pointing finger

When we are in the habit of labeling others and categorizing others and labeling ourselves, and having to live down to our label, we will constantly be misjudging situations and circumstances.  Jesus tries to save us from that by seeing people and not categories and labels.

There are two ways of looking at this story.  One is that this is the story of a sinful woman in the presence of two religious leaders.  This is quite clear from the story.    We have a sinful woman in the presence of two religious leaders, one a Pharisee and the other a rabbi.


The righteousness of one of these religious leaders requires him to categorically exclude the sinful woman.  He labels her, this woman is a prositure and a sinner, I categorically exclude her from my world.  His righteousness required him to do this, to exclude this woman from his world.

The righteousness of the other, though, compels him to receive and forgive this sinful woman.  Only one of them is enacting the kingdom of God and announcing the gospel.  You’ll have to decide which one that is.


Too often we have heard it preached, proclaimed and enacted as though the gospel was how well we can categorize who the sinners are and who is to be excluded.  That is one approach, and one of these religious leaders took that approach.  Another religious leader, in the same situation, chose instead to receive and include the sinful woman, and also to forgive her.  Only one is an enactment of the kingdom and announcement of the gospel.

That is one, true way of looking at this story, but there is another way as well.  This is the deeper meaning of the story.  It’s not that we have a sinful woman in the presence of two religious leaders, but instead we have two sinners in the presence of Jesus.  One sinner refuses Jesus his due honor, then proceeds to judge and label others.

Open bible with man and cross

The other sinner makes no judgment about others, but simply gives Jesus extravagant love.   Only one of these sinners places herself in a position to receive the forgiveness of Jesus.

Jesus now speaks directly to the woman.  And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.   Her sins are forgiven.  Not paid off, but cancelled.  This brings a reaction, doesn’t it.  Now we hear from everybody else at the dinner.  “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”   Who indeed.  Who is this who forgives sins?  Jesus forgives sins because he can.  He can because he is the incarnate expression of the father.

This is what the father is like.  We haven’t always known that, but now we do.  We thought God demanded sacrifice.  It turns out he doesn’t want sacrifice, he wants mercy, because that’s who he is.

This is the. word, the logos, the logic of God, made flesh.  The logic of God says I will respond to sin with forgiveness.  Jesus only does what he sees the father doing.  Everything, every act, every miracle, meal, healing, teaching, and parable that Jesus did was an expression of the father.   Remember this exchange between Jesus and Phillip in the upper room.  “Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” John 14:8-9 ESV   Jesus forgives sins because he can, because that is what God is like.

The only thing that keeps us from forgiveness is our refusal to turn toward the love of God, and our refusal to turn toward others in love.  This is why we always pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others…

Hell is to argue with love.  Don’t argue with God’s love.

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

John Lewis

More on Labels

As Soren Kierkegaard said “Once you label me, you negate me”.

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 

Luke depicts in a wonderfully artistic way how Jesus challenges all of our labels and categories we like to place other people, and ourselves, into.  This scene is very dramatic.  The scene, as set, probably about has ten to twenty people reclining around the table, but it focuses on three principal characters – Jesus, a Pharisee, and a prostitute.

The drama begins when a member of the Jewish pressure group,  the Pharisees,  invites Jesus to attend a banquet at his home.  It appears that it’s a kind of symposium, a meal followed by reflective discourse.  The idea being that all would enjoy a nice meal followed by serious conversation.  Maybe of a very serious philosophical or theological kind.  It looks like this is what Simon has in mind.  It appears he’s trying to figure Jesus out.  He hasn’t got him classified yet.  He knows he’s a controversial figure, and some say he’s a prophet.   But is he a prophet or is he not?   For this Pharisee, the jury is still out.

It appears as though this Pharisee is at least suspicious of Jesus of Nazareth, because we find out later he forgoes even customary, basic hospitality.  There were set procedures of hospitality.  When you invited a rabbi to your house, it was expected that you would provide a basin and a towel for his feet to be washed.  Perhaps a servant would do the washing for him, but at the least a basin and a towel would be provided to clean your feet.  But the Pharisee did not do this.

There was to be the customary greeting of the kiss upon the cheek, this the Pharisee did not do either.   Because you were coming into the home for a meal together, you would be offered olive oil to anoint your head with.  This also Jesus did not receive.  All three of these customary acts of hospitality were withheld by this Pharisee, as if he’s a bit suspicious of Jesus and he doesn’t want his own pressure group, the Pharisees, to get the wrong idea that he’s already endorsing Jesus when this dinner is arranged.  He really just wants to check him out, to do his own background check and due diligence, to see what this Jesus was really about.

The drama at this dinner is heightened when an uninvited guest shows up.  She is a prostitute,  a woman of the city, who was a sinner.  She has certainly not been invited by the Pharisee for dinner, but she comes anyway.   She is very emotional, weeping, sobbing.   She is at the feet of Jesus, washing his feet with her tears.  She is not under a table.  Jesus is reclining at table, but this was a very low table, symposium style, Jesus would have been leaning on a cushion with his feet slightly behind.  This woman comes in, very emotional, she positions herself at the feet of Jesus, drying his feet with her hair, which means she is letting her hair down, which was very inappropriate.   This woman, a prostitute, with her hair down, kissing the feet of Jesus repeatedly…

Think about it.  This is a prostitute, who’s come uninvited into the home of the Pharisee, letting her hair down, kissing the feet of the rabbi.  Finally, she brings out some expensive perfume which she has, and she anoints the feet she has been kissing with this very expensive perfume.

The Pharisee has noticed this (!!!!).  The Pharisee has arrived at a judgement.  He apparently wished to discern whether or not Jesus was a prophet, as some had claimed.  Now he has reached a definitive conclusion.   Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”   Notice how the Pharisee likes to sort people out, loves to categorize them, and this woman is a sinner!!  He’s judged Jesus, not a prophet, has labeled and categorized this woman, a sinner.  He has labeled everyone and has it all figured out, he’s feeling pretty good about himself.  He’s done it all in his head.  Problem is, he’s all wrong.  Jesus is a prophet.  So Jesus answers him, even though he’s said none of this out loud.  But Jesus knew his thoughts…

And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”   Notice what Luke has been doing here.  Up until now, this Pharisee has no name, he is simply “the Pharisee”.   He has no name until Jesus addresses him directly.  Jesus does not address him by his own self imposed label, does not refer to him as “Mr. Pharisee”. He calls him by his name, and his name is Simon.   Simon, I have something to say to you.   

Simon had not only labeled Jesus, not a prophet, and labeled the woman, a prostitute, he’d also labeled himself, a Pharisee.  As such, he had to live up, or down, to certain expectations.  He had to exclude certain people from his life and from his concept of grace.  Jesus wants to cut through all of that and addresses him by name.  Jesus is attempting to rescue (save) the Pharisee from the prison of his self imposed label.  It’s as if Jesus is saying I don’t want to talk to this pressure group label called Pharisee, I want to talk to Simon I want to talk to you.  Let your guard down.  You don’t have to live up to the pressure group mentality.

Because Jesus can’t save the Pharisee.  But he can save Simon.   He says to Simon – you hiding behind the mask of Pharisee.  Put that down a minute.  Let go of your label.  The human being called Simon, I have something to say to you.    And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

Jesus has something to say to Simon.  Jesus has something to say to me.  Jesus might even have something to say to you.  But Jesus wants get past our masks, the labels we throw out into the world.  The labels we put in others…and ourselves.  To Simon the Pharisee, Jesus was not a prophet, this woman was nothing but a prostitute and a sinner, and he himself was a Pharisee…which meant that he could not have anything to do with Jesus or this woman.  Because of the label he had put upon himself, Simon was restricted and prevented from the salvation which was being offered directly to him by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He could not hear the message, was prevented receiving from the love of God because, after all, there are standards to be kept.  He was a Pharisee, after all!!   He knew his bible, he knew whom God approved and whom God did not.  He knew who to associate with and who to exclude.

And he knows that If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.   He knew so much.  Yet he did not know the love of God, the Word made Flesh, when he was reclining at his own dinner table.   His labels were keeping him from those two most important commandments as laid out by Jesus.  They kept him from loving God even as God himself reclined at table with him.  They kept him from loving his neighbor, this woman whom he could see past his judgment of her.

Who have your labels kept you from loving.  Whose love have you kept yourself from receiving by those same labels?

John Lewis

Found Difficult, Left Untried


Well, let’s finish up the sermon on the plain from Luke…


“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”


Jesus is preaching on loving enemies, turning the other cheek.   We don’t much care for this teaching.  Pastors don’t want to preach from this.  It causes trouble for them, people get mad at this.  People leave churches because pastors preach passages like this…


We live in a world built on a foundation of violence.  It’s the way the system is.  It’s violence we are taught to sanctify and cherish.  Even if we don’t sanctify and cherish it, we at least sanitize it and conceal it.  To critique the cornerstone of violence in our culture will draw the wrath of many.

Ukraine Protest

This is why pastors don’t preach from this.  But at least one pastor preached, and lived,  directly from this teaching of Jesus.  I shared from this sermon a couple of months ago, during the week in which we celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday.  I’m going to share it again.

dexter avenue

It was near Christmas in 1957 in Montgomery, Alabama, when Martin Luther King Jr was 28 years old, he was the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.  This 28 year old pastor in Dexter, Alabama preached a sermon from this passage called ‘Loving your enemies”.

cross burning

When Martin Luther King, Jr preaches about loving enemies, we must remember that for he and his congregation enemies are not theoretical.  They are not people who’ve said mean things about them on Facebook.   They have real enemies.  These are persecuted people.  Two years earlier, Mlk had his house bombed even while his wife and ten month old son were in his home.   These people have been beaten and unjustly dragged off to jail.   To preach a sermon on loving your enemies to that congregation has consequences, it has teeth.  It means something.  It’s not theoretical…


Here are some excerpts from that sermon –

bombed home

The evil deed of the enemy neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is.  An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy.   We must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy, but to win his friendship and understanding.   Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Violence multiples violence.  Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.  Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies or else?   The chain reaction of evil hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars, must be broken or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.  

endure suffering

To our most bitter opponents we say we shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.  We shall meet your physical force with soul force.  Do to us what you will and we shall still continue to love you.  Throw us in jail and we shall still love you.  Bomb our homes and threaten our children and we shall still love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour to beat us and leave us half dead and we shall still love you.  But be the assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.  One day, we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves.  We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.

only love

That’s how you change the world.  But – you might have to die in the process.   Ten years later, Martin Luther king did.  If you’re going to change the world like that, you might have to die, which probably has something to do with why Jesus said take up your cross and follow me.   But that is how you change the world.

die trying

But here’s the sad part – Martin Luther King had to learn to use creative non violence to change the world from Ghandi, who used creative non violence to drive the British Empire out of India. Where did Ghandi learn it?  From Jesus.  So, a Baptist pastor had to learn from a Hindu how to live and change the world the Jesus Way.  Why?  Because Christians (now more that ever) have largely given up on the Jesus Way, exchanged it for sanctifying the ways of force.  We’d much rather change the world with bullets than the cross.  We much prefer other people’s suffering to our own.


We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.  We don’t want that.  We’re not interested in that kind of Christianity.  Those aren’t the promises we line up on Sunday to claim.


We must understand that the Kingdom of God is without coercion.  The Kingdom of God persuades by love, witness, reason, rhetoric, and if need be, martyrdom, but never by force.   G.K. Chesterton once said the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, but difficult and left untried.

Kikuyu tribe members burn properties belonging to the Luo tribe during ethnic clashes in Naivasha town

Martin Luther King’s Sermon was not given in an academic, theoretical state.  Do to us what you will and we shall still continue to love you.  Throw us in jail and we shall still love you.  Bomb our homes and threaten our children and we shall still love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour to beat us and leave us half dead and we shall still love you.  But be the assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.  One day, we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves.  We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.  Two years earlier his own home had been bombed while his wife and son were inside.    Think about how angry and retaliatory we become when someone cuts us off in traffic.  Or insults us in Facebook.  Martin Luther Kings very family was physically attacked.  He had enemies who meant he and his family physical harm.  Yet he still preached, and lived, by the ideal of loving them.  Was he a madman?  Or Jesus?


Changing the world by embracing suffering.  How very Christlike.  This sermon is nothing less than a call to live the Jesus Way, a call to live the sermon on the Mount.  And it changed the world.  We keep arguing that the Sermon on the Mount is not practical, it doesn’t really work.  We get to this part about loving enemies and we have all our arguments about why we can’t do that.  It is practical, it does work, it just takes more time than the way of Satan.  But the way of Satan doesn’t change the world, it only recycles the sin.

way of satan

Martin Luther King changed the world.  That’s why we have a holiday in his honor, because he changed the way we see the world.  He didn’t just liberate African Americans, he also liberated white Americans from out intolerable burden of enacting injustice upon other people.  He had the courage to follow the Jesus Way.  Do we?

jesus way

Before I wrap this up…from Matthew.

“”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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48 ESV.   Jesus is talking about loving enemies.  He sums it up by saying You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.    Keep that in mind as we wrap up the sermon on the plain in Luke.

merciful father

“”If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36 ESV.  Jesus says we will be like this because it is how we will be like god.  God is merciful.  In the sermon in the Mount it is ended with be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.   We can misunderstand this as a call to some sort of flawless perfection we know we are incapable of.  But Luke helps us to interpret this a little better, Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  The perfection Jesus is calling us to is a maturity in mercy, where we are merciful because God is merciful.  We begin to have the supreme characteristic of mercy that characterizes what God is like, and what is revealed by Christ.  We begin to have that worked into our own lives.  Jesus says now, you’re becoming sons and daughters if the most high God, because you are mature and perfected in mercy.


The Jesus Way, the way of mercy, does work.  It’s been proven to work, from St Francis of Assisi, to Ghandi, to Martin Luther King, Jr, where it is tried, where it is practiced, it changes the world.  But it’s also difficult.  You might even die in the process.

Question is – are we even willing to try?

John Lewis

Woe to You…


We began to look last time at Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain.   As we look at this sermon, as well as the Sermon on the Mount, we need to realize that these are sermons for changing the world.  Because despite our tendency to want Jesus to take us to heaven while leaving our world alone, we must understand that Jesus fully intends to save our world by changing our world, and he’s willing to die to do it.  In fact, he did die to do it.


What Jesus preached in his Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain, and what he did on the cross, are basically the same thing.  One is an announcement of the Kingdom of God, one is the enactment of the Kingdom.   What Jesus preached in the Sermons on Mount and Plain was an announcement of the kingdom of god.  When Jesus stretched out his hands of love upon the hard wood of that cross, he was enacting his kingdom.  But they are the same thing.


In the sermon on the Mount and on the cross, Jesus reoriented the world from an axis of power enforced by violence to an axis of love expressed in forgiveness.  The sermon is the announcement, the cross is the enactment.  But they are the same thing.  With that understanding, let’s look at the sermon itself.


And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.    These are the beatitudes.   Beatitude means “blessing”.  They are not commands.  Jesus is saying these are the people who will be the most happy with what he is bringing.  Jesus is bringing the reign,  rule, government, administration, the Kingdom of God.   These are the people who will be happiest of all in the Kingdom of God.

blessed are you

Matthew gives eight beatitudes.  Luke’s Sermon on the Plain cuts that in half to four. More significantly, there is a subtle change in the way they are presented.  In the Sermon on Mount, it is blessed are “those”.  He’s talking to his apostles about those who will hear this good news of the gospel of the kingdom. When he comes down from the mountain, the  Sermon on the Plain goes from blessed are “those” to  blessed are “you”.


Jesus has been up on the mountain with his apostles  preaching about preaching.  I’m about to begin to announce and this is what I will say to them.   Then he comes down the mountain to that coastal plain by the Sea of Galilee and preaches straight to the people.  Blessed are you who weepBlessed are you who are hungryblessed are you who are poor.  Why are the poor blessed?  Because when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.  There is not much to hinder you from jumping completely on board with what Jesus is doing.


Blessed are you who are hungry now.  Matthew expands this to Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for rightness in the world.  Those of you that have a dull ache inside you that something is profoundly wrong in the world, you’re going to be happy with what I’m doing.


Blessed are you who weep now.   It’s obvious Jesus is talking about big changes that are coming.  Jesus then goes to a future reference.  Blessed are you when (the future) people hate you on account  of the Son of Man.  Why?  Because that’s how they always treat prophetic people.  People who are with God ahead of the time, they are always persecuted.  So when people persecute you for the son of man, leap for joy because that just shows you are truly becoming a prophetic people.

full now

Unlike the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, the Sermon on the Plain in Luke balances the four blessings with four “woes”.   Woe, woe, woe, woe.  This is in keeping with the Hebrew prophetic tradition.  The Hebrew prophets often spoke “Woe”…. We too often here this as a word of condemnation.  It’s not really a word of condemnation but lanentation.  It’s a word of Oh…alas.  It’s a word of lamentation over the plight people find themselves in, not a word of condemnation.  But it’s very strange the things Jesus is lamenting.

woe to rich

 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.   These woes kick us in the gut.  But woe to you who are rich.  Why?  Jesus repeats this throughout his ministry.   He says things like “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.  There is humor in this.  It’s ok to laugh here.  Jesus is using something ridiculous and absurd.  But he’s making a serious point.  The disciples then ask – And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?   Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.   Try to squeeze that camel through the eye of the needle.

full now

Woe to you who are full now.  When you are satisfied, you’re not really interested to big changes.  You tend to resist those bringing change because you are satisfied with the current system.  Woe to you who laugh now…who was laughing?  Maybe the Pharisees, maybe the Sadducees, the Herodians with all their wealth were laughing.  The Romans were laughing loudest of all.  Jesus says alas…changes are coming and you may not be laughing nearly as much.  


Another anticipation of the futureWoe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.  People that concur with the falseness prevailing in society, when we speak so well of that, we fail to be a prophetic people.


The sermon on the plain seems to hit a little harder than the sermon on the Mount.  Am I the rich?  Am I full?  Am I satisfied with the present system?  Am I laughing now (usually I am).  Do people speak well of me?  Why?


Is it wrong to to be rich, full and happy?  No, don’t misunderstand.  There nothing wrong with being rich full and happy.  In fact, may you be rich, may you be full and may you be happy, but know it’s dangerous.  Most of us would like to be rich full and happy.  May the lord bless you with richness, fullness and happiness, but be careful. These are the things that can seduce us away from real fervency from the government and the kingdom of god.  Too easily we will find ourselves in the same plight as a certain rich young ruler – “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Mark 10:21-22 ESV.  Will we, too, love our stuff so much that we walk away, disheartened, from the call of Jesus on our lives?   Woe to you who are full now.

John Lewis

Leave My World Alone

“And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.

Jesus had spent all night in prayer.  “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” Luke 6:12 ESV    What was primarily on his mind was the selection of his twelve apostles.  The morning after that all night vigil of prayer, he selected the twelve that would be his apostles.  “And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles:” Luke 6:13 ESV. Jesus had many disciples, but he selected twelve to be his closest associates, to whom he would entrust his message of the gospel.   The number twelve is not random, there is a reason Jesus chose that number.  Jesus is reframing, reforming, redefining Israel.  Just as Israel had twelve tribes, Jesus had his twelve apostles.

So Jesus upon the mountain had spent the night in prayer.  While still upon the mountain, he called his disciples to him and gave them his definitive teaching on the kingdom, the reign, the government of God.  We know this as the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5, 6, 7.  After giving his disciples this teaching on the nature of the kingdom and how to live it, he came down from the mountain, like Moses came down the mountain.  He comes down the mountain where he was met by a large crowd of would be disciples.   These were a large crowd of people wanting to be healed by Jesus and learn from Jesus.  And Jesus then gives them the Sermon the Plain, recorded in Luke.

Matthew gives us sermon on the mount to the twelve, Luke gives us the sermon Jesus gave on the coastal plain by the Sea of Galilee to the vast crowd of would-be disciples, you might say to the masses.

Luke’s sermon is only 1/4 the size of that recorded in Matthew, but it is the same sermon.  And it is a sermon to change the world.   But – the degree to which the church throughout history has ignored the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain is scandalous.

Why has the church been so steadfast, so deliberate in ignoring this teaching of Jesus.  Because what we really want is Jesus to die for us but to leave our world alone.  We want Jesus to give us our ticket to heaven but leave our world basically alone, especially if we find ourselves somewhere situated near the top.

If our class, our race, or our nation finds itself in an advantageous position in this world system we really don’t want Jesus messing with it too much.  That’s why we might be very nervous, or intimidated by, these two sermons and we largely ignore them.  We want Jesus to die for us and leave our world alone, but Jesus has no intention of leaving our world alone.  Jesus intends to save our world by changing our world.

As I sit on my leather couch, with a blanket on to keep my feet from being too cold as the wind blows outside and my heat blows inside to keep it nice and comfy, I’d have to say that I’m mostly pretty comfortable with my life as-is.  As I think about what I think my plans are for say, twenty years from now, and how I’ve taken steps to get there, I’m pretty comfortable with life as it is.  As I think about the struggles I have in my life and the things I might ask Jesus to help me with, I’m pretty sure I’m pretty comfortable with the world mostly as it is.  It seems to have mostly worked out pretty well to my advantage.  Sure, others may have more, but most in the world have far less.  Being honest, I would just as well make a few adjustments to “accommodate” Jesus rather than have him change it all.   I’ve made many changes in my life, I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about these things.  I’ve come a long way, baby!  But, what if Jesus tells me something like this – “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Mark 10:21 ESV

Am I willing to give it all?  Am I willing to actually take up my cross, and follow?

Are you?

John Lewis