John 6:1-15 ESV
Still turning water into wine here…
Mary, despite not actually asking her son to fix the problem of the wine running out, clearly shows a trust in him to be able to do something. So when Jesus says to her “What’s that for us?”, “His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” So Jesus looks around and notices there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. He notices these six stone jars, or water pots. These water pots are empty, they are for the mikvahs. They use these water pots to fill the mikvahs. If we ever were to visit Jerusalem, you will see these around. Mikvahs are dug into the ground, into the stone, with steps leading into him. What they are is baptistries. They are not bathtubs, they are not ancient hot tubs. They are used for ritual purification. Several times a week. an observant Jew would properly fill his mikvah with the proper kind of water blessed, by the rabbi. Then he would go down into the water, repeat the prayers, dunk himself seven times, and observe the rituals that he might be ceremonially pure.
So at this wedding we had some of these stone water pots used for filling the mikvah. They are empty. Each one has between 20-30 gallons of capacity. If you fill six of them it’s between 120 to 180 gallons of water, so let’s call it 150 gallons here. So Jesus tells says to the servants “Fill the jars with water.” To which I can imagine these servants rolling their eyes. “Oh brother. Another super religious guy. Instead of partying all night we’re all going to have to go down to the mikvah and get baptized again.” But they do it. It’s going to take a while. Remember, they don’t have hoses or spigots to use and easily fill these things up. This required drawing the water out of the well, it takes a lot of time and effort to draw 150 gallons of water.
“And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” Ok Jesus. Sounds a little strange. But they do it anyway. They take water out of the stone jar for ritual purification. They put it in a wine cup and take it to the chief steward, but somewhere in transit, somewhere along the way, a miracle happens. The water has turned to wine.
The steward doesn’t know anything that’s been going on. He just knows the wine has run out. But the servants come to him, “Here you go, try this out.” “So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Think about the baffled bridegroom. He has no idea what the steward is talking about. All he knows is that he’s heard rumors that they are running out of wine, and all of a sudden now there’s tons of it. The master of the feast is poking him in the side, grinning – “Oh, you’ve really fooled us! You kept the very best wine until now!” To which the bridegroom said what? “Praise the Lord!!??”
But Jesus has done it!! The little wedding in Cana of Galilee, on the verge of catastrophe, suddenly is supplied with 1000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. And Jesus gives a wink to his mom. “This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” John 2:11 NLT. And John says Jesus revealed his glory. Jesus revealed his glory, which means his beauty. Imagine being one his 6 disciples there. Imagine following this rabbi, just starting to follow, then you see the sign, you see the water turned to water.
And Jesus revealed his beauty. This is a beautiful story. There is something fun, something whimsical about this story. Later, most of Jesus’ miracles are framed in a life and death scenario. A leper, his life ebbing away. Disciples in a boat, threatened with imminent death from a storm. Here’s a little girl who’s in fact already died. There’s a deep, dark frame around a lot of Jesus’ miracles. But this one, there’s none of that. Yes, we might want to save the family from social embarrassment, but there is no way this is crucial to anything. This is just a whimsical miracle, where Jesus, in order to keep the wedding going, gives a sign. It’s not just a party trick, it’s a sign.
What’s the sign pointing to? In the Old Testament, the abundance of wine was often symbolic of God’s favor and blessing. Likewise, ruined vineyards and a scarcity of wine was symbolic of the absence of God. So as the prophets began to imagine the time when God would come through his Messiah, anticipating the day when messiah would come and bring the righteous reign of God with all of its blessing and abundance, they use language like this – “…the vats shall overflow with wine…” Joel 2:24 ESV, “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” Amos 9:13 ESV, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine…” Isaiah 25:6 ESV. It’s as if they are saying Oh, and the rivers will flow with wine…
That’s the anticipation, the prophetic vision. So, in a beautiful and artistic way, Jesus, in turning the water to wine and providing an abundance of it, has announced that the reign of God at last has arrived. Remember, in the story, the steward says to the bridegroom But you have kept the good wine until now. John’s gospel is very sophisticated. It’s as if he knows and trusts his readers will read this over and over in a thoughtful way, and he hides all these gems in it. So, Jesus is also the bridegroom, is he not? Jesus is the bridegroom…
So think of it like this – in previous days, in earlier times Israel had had some good wine. In the days of Moses, when they are brought out of Egypt, and God is present in a cloud by day and fire by night, giving them the Torah, they had some good wine. In the days of David, when the kingdom was coming and the sweet psalmist of Israel was reigning and ruling, they had some good wine. But then, the exile. For about 500 years, all you could say is, they have no wine. The wine has run out. The good days are gone, they have no wine.
But now…JESUS IS ON THE SCENE!!! Not only is there wine, it’s the best wine!!! We can say, We had some good times with Moses, we had some good times with David, but the BEST has been saved for now!! AMEN!
When Jesus is on the scene, good things are about to happen. Why was Jesus at this wedding? Because he was invited! Hey, remember that carpenter guy over in Nazareth? He did some work for us, he’s a cool guy. What’s his name? Oh yeah, Yeshua of Nazareth, 101 Olive Street, Nazareth. And just because they invited Jesus, they got the miracle. So when you’re going through your struggle, your thing, your situation, your problem, and you’re going through it, invite Jesus. JESUS, want to come to my party, my mess, my marriage, my addiction, my life, my business, my thing? I got this thing going on Jesus, want to come? And don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him. Because you never know what Jesus is going to do. Think about it, nobody would have thought I know what to do, we’ll invite Jesus and he’ll perform a miracle and turn all this water into wine. Nobody would have ever dreamed that up. Only Jesus. So don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him to your thing. Because where Jesus shows up good things are about to happen. But Jesus tends to show up where he’s invited.
So invite him.
One of the absolute deepest longings of human beings is that death would not be the end. That somehow love might overcome death, and loved ones we have lost, or even loved ones we’ve never met, we would somehow be able to meet again. One of the deepest religious longings that human beings have is that death be not final. That death can be overcome.
One of the most basic things that Christians believe is that life is good. We believe that when God created the heavens and the earth and all that fills them, he looked upon it and said it’s good. He said it’s good, it’s good, it’s good, and finally He said it’s very good. And we have come to believe that. We believe that even though life can be hard and difficult and challenging and sometimes filled with pain, nevertheless life is worth living, because in its essence life is good.
We are surrounded by beauty. But we can become numb to it. We sometimes need to be reminded to wake up to it and be aware of it. But just think of waking up in the morning. You open your eyes, the sun is shining. That’s good. You might hear something, the birds are singing. That’s good too. Maybe you’re like me and set the timer on the coffee pot, because that smell when I’m waking up in the morning is very good. Maybe you have have a nice breakfast, and it tastes good. Maybe you share a touch with your husband or your wife or even a pet. So you get all the senses involved, and it’s barely daylight outside, and we are reminded once more that life is good. It’s worth living. It has capacity for mystery and wonder and exploration and discovery, that leads to more mystery and wonder and exploration, that leads to more discovery, and it really is a beautiful thing, and life is worth living.
But then we run into a problem. Life is so good that death threatens to make life absurd, and in the end rob it of its inherent meaning. Life is so good that in one sense we are tasting and seeing that God is good. We are having some encounter with the divine, and 100 years is not enough. I would say that if you lived 120 years and then died, you died too young. Of course, the way it works out is that death begins to draw near, and the body begins to fade away and fall apart, and there is a sense in which, in that case, death can be a kind of a rest, a release, or escape.
But that’s not what was intended. That’s not what God had in mind. When God breathed upon man and man had the capacity to be God-aware and self-conscious and be able to contemplate the goodness of life, God did not intend for that to ever be lost. But the effect of sin has been death…
So we run into the problem of having tasted enough of life to know it’s good, but we want it to go on forever. We don’t want the ride to be over. We don’t want it to end. We don’t want it to stop. But we know it does…
And thus, the problem. The problem of mankind being subject to futility and death. That though we find out that life can be good, and there are moments so precious and so wonderful and so good, yet we know that death constantly stalks us. So the Gospel of Jesus Christ primarily addresses itself fundamentally to that problem.
The primary problem that the gospel addresses is not the problem of personal sin, though that is included. But the problem problem the gospel addresses is death. The wages paid by sin to the human race is death…forgiveness is included, but the primary emphasis of the gospel is that we are saved from the tyranny and dominion of death.
“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” John 5:19-21 ESV
Here are two fundamental, most basic truths of Christian theology. Theology is simply how we think and what we say about God. Theology is important because how we think and what we say about God matters. 1). God is immutable. God does not change, is not subject to change, never will change. If God himself is subject to change then we’re all in trouble because then we’ve lost our constant, we’ve lost our rock, our foundation. We’ve lost that which doesn’t change when everything else changes. This is undeniable, I haven’t heard of anyone who really disputes it. One of the bedrock foundations of Christian theology is that God is immutable, He does not change.
2). God is fully and perfectly revealed in Christ. It is as we look at Jesus Christ that we discover what this unchanging God is like and has always been like. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” John 1:18 NRSV. Jesus says in the earlier passage in John 5 that When I’m doing these things that I do, all I’m doing is I am looking at the father, and seeing what the father does, and I am doing them so you can see it, what the works of the Father are. So if we want to know what God is all about, what God is interested in, what God does, what the work of God is like, we look in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we see what Jesus is doing, because he always does the works of the Father. He reveals to us the works of the Father. Then He says “…and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.” John 5:20 NASB.
Of course, the greatest sign that Jesus gives us in his ministry are the raising of the dead. When Jesus raised the dead….
In Capernaum, the ruler of the synagogue there is a man named Jairus. He has a little daughter, she’s been deathly ill, now she’s died. Jesus comes to the home, the mourners are already there. She’s died not long ago, but have no doubt, the girl is dead. Jesus said she is not dead, she is only asleep. “And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.”” Luke 8:52 ESV. The people began to mock him, Jesus put them out. He took the father and the mother, went into the room, took the child by the hand and said “Child, arise.” And the girl woke up, and he gave her back to her parents. “And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.” Luke 8:53-56 ESV
Why did Jesus do this?? Because that’s the work of the Father. What does the Father do? He gives life to the dead! Because the great problem facing humanity is death, and the work of the Father is to give life to the dead…
More to come…
Five days after the crowds waved their palms and cried their hosannas as he entered Jerusalem, Jesus was on trial. The Prince of Peace had come, but they didn’t want a prince of peace, they wanted a hero.
They wanted a hero. Like Barrabas. Mel Gibson misrepresented Barrabas. He got Barrabas all wrong. Barrabas was not just a bloodthirsty cutthroat criminal. He was a national hero. He was a freedom fighter. He had led an insurrection against the Roman occupation. Some Roman soldiers had been killed. He had been arrested. He was a political prisoner set to be executed. And he was a hero among the Jews.
He had a first name. Jesus. Jesus Bar-Abbas. Jesus, son of the father. He was a false messiah. Jesus Barabbas? Or Jesus of Nazareth? Pilate says which one do you want? Do you want the violent freedom fighter hero?? Or do you want the peaceful, riding on a donkey too small for him messiah from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth? Give us Barabbas. As for Jesus, crucify him.
The Palm Sunday crowd said all the right things, but they said them in the wrong way. It’s not enough to praise Jesus as king, we have to know what kind of king he is. If we think that Jesus is a king after the model of the conquering pharaohs and Caesar’s, we actually are rejecting Jesus. And refusing the Price of Peace always has terrible consequences. That’s why Jesus says a generation from now Jerusalem will become a fiery Gehenna where the worm never dies as it eats those corpses, and the fires are never quenched.
That’s what Jerusalem did to itself in rejecting Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace. Jerusalem did not want the new Kingdom of God, they just wanted to win at the old game of payback, get even, and vengeance. The old game is power enforced by violence. They didn’t want God’s new kingdom, they just wanted God to help them win at the old game. But God had already said through the prophet Zachariah that he was done playing the old game. That when the messiah comes, god is done with the old game. No more old game, behold I do a new thing. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19 ESV. And I send my son, the Prince of Peace to teach peace to the nations. “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Zechariah 9:10 ESV
But Jerusalem did not want the new kingdom, they wanted to win the old game. Their desire to play the old game led to their destruction. The Prince of Peace had just ridden into town offering a new way of being Israel and they had missed it. Their desire to beat their enemies at the old game had blinded them. They got Jesus wrong, and it set them on a wrong path that ended in their destruction.
If you had asked the chief priests if they believed Zachariah’s prophecy will ever be fulfilled, if they believed that someday the son of David, the true king of Israel, would ever really come humble and lowly, riding on a foal of a donkey, that he will come and teach peace among the nations, do you believe that will ever happen?? They would have said yes, but not now. Now is not the time for peace. Now is the time to fight. Now is the time for war.
This is not a history lesson. This is a warning for every follower of Jesus. Do we want Jesus and his new way of peace, or do we want Jesus to help us win the old game? Are we making the same mistake? Do we say that someday the prince of peace will come, we believe he will come someday, but not now!! If we do, we play the same game the chief priests played when they led Jerusalem to hell.
But the Prince of Peace has come!! The prince of peace HAS COME! Christmas, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday HAVE HAPPENED. The Prince of Peace has come. But do we want the Prince of Peace? Or do we want our heroes? When we play the game of saying we believe the Bible, believing it’s all going to happen, but NOT NOW, that’s how we play the game of rejecting Christ but still believing the Bible…
The chief priests would have told you they believed in Christ. They would have said they accept Christ, they believed in Messiah, they believed Messiah was coming, but NOT NOW. NOT NOW. Yes, we believe the Bible, but it’s not for NOW. We believe all those verses, but they’re not for now. Someday, but not now. Now we fight.
And Jesus said there’ll be hell to pay, and he weeps over Jerusalem. It’s not enough to praise Jesus. We can do that and still get Jesus wrong. We get Jesus right when we confess Jesus as Christ and King. We get Jesus wrong when we see him as for us and against them. We get Jesus right when wave the palms as if to welcome the worlds true king. We get Jesus wrong when we wave the palms as national flags. We get Jesus right when we acclaim him with the word Hosanna!! Save now! We get Jesus wrong when we say it’s hurray for our side…
“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.””
Luke 19:37-40 ESV
Looking at a central scripture for those of us in recovery, especially if you’re like me and participate in the Celebrate Recovery ministry. It’s a verse that reminds us all how close we are to relapse at any and all times.
That verse is 1 Corinthians 10:12, So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! This is part of a larger section which includes verses 11-13 – “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV. Israel had a long history of rebelling against God and chasing after idols. Paul points out several of these instances leading up to this passage, as well as the consequences suffered because of their idolatry. Consequences such as being scattered across the wilderness, kept from entering the promised land until most of a generation had passed away. Consequences like 23,000 dead in one day. Dying by snakes. It even recalls that some were killed by the destroying angel. 1 Corinthians 10:10.
As Paul says, These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us. The consequences of sin, idolatry, our addictions, is real. Sometimes, we forget this. We get a little bit of sober time. We get a lot of sober time. We get clean, we stay clean. We claim the victory over whatever ails us. But we forget. We forget that those consequences are still out there. We forget that the wrath of God, aka the consequences of our sin, our wrong decisions and choices, await us.
We forget. We forget Paul’s warning – So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! We forget how close we are to falling. In recovery, we call this relapse. For me, it’s just one drink, one bet, one click away. That’s all it took, was just one look. That’s all it takes.
People ask me, how do I keep from drinking?? I don’t get asked about my other issues so much, maybe because they don’t relate or it’s just taboo. But, I do get asked about the drinking. Y answer is always the same. It’s not a matter of never drinking again, or how do you deal with not drinking in a world where drinking is just normal. I’m not not drinking 12 or 24 or 30 drinks. I’m just not drinking one. The first one.
Whatever your temptation (whether you’re “in recovery” or not), No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. You are not the first, or the last, to struggle with that. It may seem that way, that no one could possibly know what it feels like to be in your shoes. And in a way, that’s true. None of us walks the same walk. Each of us has a unique story. But our struggles, this is what we have in common. We all struggle with something in our lives. And very often, it is in this struggle that our greatest victories might come. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV. But that, I suppose, is a discussion for another day.
And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. We all struggle, we all have some form of temptation in our lives. But God is faithful, we are not tempted beyond what we can bear. Paul makes this clear, so does the apostle John is his first letter – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 ESV. Paul says he will provide a way out of temptation and failure so that we may be able to endure it. John tells us what that way is. “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 8:17 ESV. Our way out of temptation, our way out of sin, is to confess our sins. If we take the way out God has provided, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Want freedom from your temptation, from that sin that is overcoming you? Confess it. To somebody. On this point, those of us in recovery have the advantage, we have the support of others that we might be able to share with, whether it’s an accountability partner, or better yet a sponsor. So quickly we forget that if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! We think we have our time, we have the chips, now we have it all together. Until we don’t.
Those consequences, remember them? They are still waiting. You might forget them, they will not forget you. Relapse, a fall, is one drink, one hit, one click away. Think you are standing firm? Be careful that you don’t fall. Find someone you trust, and talk about it. Don’t hide. “”Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18 ESV. It’s those things we keep hidden that run scarlet.
“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV
Going to be looking at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, but before that I’m going to look at what comes right before that parable. In other words, I’m going to set up the context in which we find that third of the most famous parables of Jesus. We’ve already looked at the story of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the third of these most famous parable of Christ is, indeed, the rich man and Lazarus.
Jesus doesn’t just give his parables in a vacuum, and the rich man and Lazarus is no different. The parable is given in the context of a particular debate and it’s given to a particular people. As was almost the case with Jesus parables, his target was….the Pharisees.
So Luke 16:13 says “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Did you hear that? I hope so. Jesus is speaking pretty plainly on this point. You can not serve both God and money. The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. [or ‘everyone is trying to attack it.’ I’ve read this may be a better translation here.]. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”
This is the setting for the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. I’m going to say again, Jesus’ entire ministry is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God. He is announcing that kingdom of God has arrived and is arriving, and he is enacting the kingdom, showing us by action what the kingdom of God looks like. This is the ministry of Jesus, to announce and enact god’s new government, God’s new arrangement for human society.
Jesus knows that the greatest obstacle to entering into and living in the kingdom of God instead of under the reign and rule of man is our own economic self interest. When we are dominated by economic self interest it’s like squeezing a camel through the eye of the needle, and it’s hard. In fact, we need Jesus help to do so, because as Jesus says, with God all things are possible.
He also says that the law and the prophets were doing their work of preparing a people who would love god and love neighbor, anticipating the coming of the kingdom of God. But then he says The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone [is trying to attack it] (again, this may be a better translation). The law and the prophets were anticipating the kingdom of god, but with the arrival of John the Baptist and now Jesus the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world, it’s being announced, it’s on the scene, but everyone is not happy about it. Many are trying to attack it, because many do not like what Jesus is announcing and enacting about the kingdom of god.
So when Jesus says You cannot serve God and money, what happens? The Pharisees attack that – The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. The Pharisees were unabashedly lovers of money. They would say they loved God as well, but they would also say “we love money too, and there’s no problem, you can do both.” They had a theological foundation, a particular theology that endorsed that way of thinking. Their theology came mostly from the way they read and interpreted the book of book of Deuteronomy.
The Pharisees believed that if you obeyed God he would bless you in both war and commerce. You can read the book of Deuteronomy that way, and that’s what they believed. If you obeyed God, you would be blessed in war and commerce, you would be successful and prosperous (sound familiar?).
The Pharisees therefore believed that success and prosperity were in fact a sign of god’s blessing. On the other hand, poverty and failure were a sign of God’s disfavor.
Jesus disagreed. Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees theology that success and wealth equals blessing. Now, Jesus does not see wealth as inherently evil. Just one example, we’ve seen the parable of the Prodigal Son, and in that parable the father, who is a wealthy man, is in fact a good man. So Jesus does not see wealth and money as inherently evil. In fact wealth, all things being equal, is a good thing. But Jesus does see our economic self interest as the greatest single hindrance to our entrance and participation in the Kingdom of God.
This is why In Luke Chapter 6, Jesus begins his kingdom announcing sermon on the Plain with “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 ESV. When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose. That little eye of the needle for the rich man, is a wide open gate for the poor man. He’s got nothing to lose, it’s easy to get in.
The Pharisees also viewed sickness and suffering as punishment for personal sin. Human suffering would be seen as divine punishment. Don’t we still have some who work from thus theological system? Don’t we hear from those to this day who twist earthquakes and tsunamis and epidemics into divine punishment for some great sin “those” people have been guilty of?!
Jesus’ disciples were working from a very similar paradigm on this as the Pharisees. Again, Jesus disagrees. “And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:2-3 ESV. Who are we going to blame here? The man or his parents? Jesus says “neither”. It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. So, for us, when we see episodes of human suffering, we are not called to assign blame, but to relieve the suffering…
So, such is the context and background of the rich man and Lazarus…
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”
Luke 16:13-17 ESV
More on the Prodigal Son…
It’s very easy to reduce the parable of the Prodigal Son to a two act play, but it’s a three act play, and the third act is the most important. The first two acts, the Prodigal Son and the Compassionate Father, are really just setting up the real point Jesus is making. So we can’t stop after the second act, we must go on to the third act, the Angry Brother.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”
This is a three act play because there are three characters, and there are three characters because in the whole problem that necessitated Jesus telling this story, there were three actors. There were the tax collectors and sinners who were coming to Jesus. There is Jesus who is receiving them and eating with them. And there are the Pharisees who were upset, offended and angry about it.
The sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes are the prodigal son. Jesus is the one enacting the will of the father, he’s playing the role of the father. It’s the Pharisees who are acting out the role of the angry brother.
In the parable, the elder, angry brother sees the extravagant hospitality of the father as an injustice. For the elder brother justice must involve punishment or it’s not fair. In his estimation it’s not fair, he won’t come to the party, and because of this he will not experience the kingdom of god.
The Pharisees talked about the Kingdom of God all the time. It’s what they were waiting for, they wanted the Kingdom of God to come. But because they didn’t understand how the Kingdom of God would come, when it actually was coming through what Jesus was announcing and enacting they missed it. They didn’t enter into it. This is why Jesus says to them …“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” Matthew 21:31 ESV
But look at what the story tells. We have an ungrateful, profligate sinner younger son who insults the father in many ways, squanders his resources, comes back home, and is graciously, extravagantly received as if he’s coming home a hero. A robe, a ring, shoes, a fatted calf, a big party. We look at this, but what is it? Is it reconciliation to be celebrated? Or is it injustice to be protested?
This story can be told in such a way that you will be sympathetic with the angry older brother. Some might already be. Seriously – all he ever did was think about himself. He brought shame and disgrace upon the family, sold off part of the estate, and wasted it on drink, prostitutes and partying!! He was just living recklessly, having a good time, then when things get bad he comes crawling back home, and we treat him like he’s a hero??!!
How many, when we read it like that, think “Hey, that older brother has a point!” That’s the little Pharisee in each one of us. And yes, “He’s got a point!”
The Pharisees thought of justice as punishment instead of reconciliation, and that was their undoing. The Pharisees missed the Kingdom of God because when it actually arrived it looked like a welcome home party instead of mandatory sentencing. Their idea of the Kingdom of God is when people get what’s coming to them!! It’s about time! Getting their just desserts!!! That’s what the Pharisees are looking for…
But instead of mandatory sentencing, it’s a welcome home party, and they just could not recognize it as the kingdom of god…
More to come.