A Bible Lesson on Daniel 1

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The date as the book of Daniel opens is 605 BC. It’s before the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Exile. Recall that the final destruction of the Kingdom of Judah came about in 3 stages. In 605 BC, after the battle of Carchemish where the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians, Nebuchadnezzar made a pass through Palestine and subjugated Jehoiakim, who was a vassal of Pharaoh. Judah became a vassal of Babylon and a first small wave of captives was taken to Babylon. She rebelled and Nebuchadnezzer returned in 597 BC, this time carrying off Jehoiachin and a much larger contingent of Jews. Finally, he was forced to return and raze Jerusalem and carry off all its remaining residents in 586 BC. This book opens at he time of the first visit of the leading world power to Palestine and the first deportation.

Daniel 1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.

2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.

The victory of the pagan Nebuchadnezzar over God’s people Judah, was God’s doing, and came to pass just as the prophet Jeremiah had promised. The people of Judah were largely apostate and paying no attention to the prophets God had sent to warn them. And now the time of judgment has come, in the form of foreign military might.

Think about the mindset of the people of Judah at this time. To this point, they had considered Jerusalem invincible because of the presence of God’s temple. But here are articles from the temple being carried off by a pagan to be placed in his pagan temple. Sadly, not even this shock is enough to cause the nation and her leaders to repent.

3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility,

Nebuchadnezzar was a great military guy, and he was also a wise and often semi-benevolent despot. He apparently had a Babylon Diplomatic University operating, and for many reasons saw it advantageous to enroll the best and brightest from the nations he conquered. The intention was almost certainly to make Babylonians out of the enrollees, loyal subjects to serve in his government, and yet to provide him insight into the peoples he ruled. They could give his new subjects reasons not to cause him trouble by rebelling. This was a full ride scholarship and training for a good job with the #1 world power, the kind of opportunity that in most countries he conquered likely produced lots of applicants.

4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

Youths/young men were taken. The best guess here is that we’re talking about kids 14 or 15 years old. These were kids from leading families who were healthy and good looking, who had already proved themselves capable as students and had applied themselves so that they already knew some things. These were kids that could clearly be counted on to develop into capable civil servants. First, however, they had to learn the Babylonian system. We need to be realistic here. The Babylonians knew a fair amount of good solid real stuff: mathematics, architecture, agriculture, law, astronomy, meteorology, linguistics and so on. But their “literature” also included much pagan mumbo-jumbo, incantations, astrology, and the like. All of this, these young Jews were to learn. Exactly how many were to be taken, we’re not told, but it seems like “some” probably means more than the 4 that we see standing true in the rest of this chapter. If there were indeed others, we’re not told what became of them. But again it seems likely that they didn’t come through this indoctrination with their faith intact.

5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.

This was a “full ride” proposition. In fact, their food came straight from Nebuchanezzar’s kitchens. The training was supposed to last for 3 years, and then there was a guaranteed civil service post. Whatever else we hear here, it should be clear that this was calculated to win these kids’ allegiance and hearts. Now enter our young heroes.

6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.

Daniel is God’s prince or God is my judge. Hananiah is mercy of Yahweh. Mishael is Who is what God is? Azariah is Whom Yahweh helps.

7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

The Dean of Students at Babylon Diplomatic University gives these kids proper Babylonians names. The best guesses at the meanings of these names seem to be Belteshazzar/Bel’s prince, Shadrach/command of Aku, Meshach/who is like Aku?, Abednego/servant of Nebo. These names include the names of Babylonian “gods.” The purpose was pretty clearly to say to these kids “you’re Babylonians now.” Boice said, “Nebuchanezzar changed the men’s names, but he could not change their hearts. They remained faithful to the true God of Israel …”

It is worth noting that these young men didn’t buck the system on this point. Jeremiah had been preaching that Babylon was going to be God’s punishment on Judah and that Judah wasn’t to resist. And for example, in Jeremiah 29 he writes to the second wave of captives

Jeremiah 29:5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.

6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.

7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

This is part of God-ordained submission to the conquering power in a matter that was not really a matter of faith. If the Babylonians wanted to call them by Babylonian names (even ones that included references to their pagan deities) this was not a point worth contending.

Daniel 1:8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.

But now here is a different matter. Daniel “resolved.” He firmly decided ahead of time how it was going to go. There is going to be no compromise here at all. If it costs him his scholarship, or even his life, there’s no taking part in this. This is the most important verse of Chapter 1. Daniel leaves nothing up to the whims or pressures of the moment. He resolves beforehand.

He resolves not to “defile himself.” In exactly what way? The standard answers given to this question are 1) the food had probably been offered to pagan deities, 2) it probably wasn’t kosher (the pagans didn’t distinguish between clean and unclean animals, and animals weren’t slaughtered in accord with the Old Testament requirements). These may be the point, but I’m not so sure. Really, there wasn’t going be ANY food in Babylon that was ritually clean by Jewish standards.

Ezekiel 4:13 And the LORD said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations where I will drive them.”

Another possibility that seems more plausible is this: it may be that to eat from the king’s table amounted to a kind of loyalty oath, an unreserved commitment of oneself to a covenant relationship with the king. (See Daniel 11:26, where it seems that it is especially treasonous that people who eat from a king’s table would turn on him.) It may be that Daniel rejects this symbol of dependence on/loyalty to the king, because he sees it as potentially in conflict with his primary loyalty to God. It may be that he simply can’t promise to bind himself to this pagan in all things he might decide to do. He’s no rebel and not going to make a federal case out of the little stuff. But when it comes to making a commitment of absolute allegiance to the earthly king, that’s not something he could do under any circumstances.

Calvin’s commentary on Daniel offers yet another slant on this “resolve.” One must eat regularly. By choosing to eat differently from the Babylonians, Daniel and friends were setting up a constant reminder for themselves that they were, in fact, Jews, part of God’s elect. not Babylonians. They were reminding themselves that they were instead, part of God’s own special people.

It is remarkable that this teenager has this kind of discernment and fortitude. Talk about “peer pressure”! But it’s this kind of resolve from the very beginning (in something that maybe others wouldn’t consider a big deal) that later allows Daniel to face the lions and takes his friends into and through the fiery furnace. We all want to be faithful in the big things. But faithfulness is learned in the small things, and Daniel was resolved in this seemingly small thing.

9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs,

Daniel resolved and God gave. Daniel is not calling the shots here, but when Daniel and friends are obedient, God moves on the heart of this pagan official. “favor” is love or loyalty based on a mutual commitment. Daniel felt he could confide in this Dean of Students.

10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.”

Not only was this guy worried about Daniel’s health, but if the interpretation of eating from the king’s table amounting to a loyalty oath is right, a refusal to eat might be taken as treasonous … something that surely would cause one to lose one’s head. It seems he has sympathy for this kid from Judah, recognizes that he’s not a trouble-maker or a rebel, but he doesn’t dare OK such a thing. It can’t be an official policy. So Daniel turns to the steward immediately in charge of his case.

11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,

12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink.

13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.”

Look at how humbly and politely Daniel approaches this thing with this fellow. Daniel had resolved and was ready to go to the wall over this, but he didn’t force a confrontation. The wisdom of this kid is truly from God. Most of us aren’t this wise by 65, let alone 15. This whole story speaks to us about how we should behave as strangers and exiles as we wait for the return of Christ and our great redemption. Daniel and friends didn’t contend with the Babylonians over those things that didn’t really matter. In the things that did matter they were firmly resolved, but didn’t try to create a fight where one wasn’t necessary.

The steward agrees to the experiment.

14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days.

15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.

Are vegetables inherently righteous? Surely not. Is this a sermon on healthy eating? Surely not. What is relevant here is that these kids trust God in a real and deep way. He has led them to abstain from the king’s food. If God is God, then He will vindicate that obedience and trust. And that is what He does. He vindicates them for His own glory.

16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

Not only does God keep them healthy, but He gives them miraculous clarity of mind, wisdom and abilities. Why? Because they’re getting superior nutrition? No, because they trust Him.

18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar.

19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king.

20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.

These four joined the Babylonian civil service. They graduated and got good jobs and lived peacefully and happily ever after. Right? Hardly! They did graduate at the top of their class and get good jobs. But the end of all this is not their comfort, but God’s glory and purposes. They have jealous colleagues, lions, and fiery furnaces yet to face.

21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

But the fact is that Daniel outlived the empire! He was still in its service when the Persians supplanted the Babylonians. What is real and permanent is God’s providence and mercy, not the kingdoms of man.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Ephesians 6:10-20

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is a most serious passage. The Puritan pastor William Gurnall’s 1655 commentary on these verses ran 3 volumes, 261 chapters, and about 1500 pages. Martin Lloyd-Jones’ 20th century commentary on these verses runs 736 pages. This short lesson will be only a few paragraphs and clearly only scratch the surface.

Paul has to this point in Ephesians provided a grand, sweeping view of the eternal purposes of God in redemption of fallen humanity, has described a single church/family of God made up of redeemed Jews and redeemed gentiles, laid out the harmony that is to be in that family through mutual submission and concern, painting a most wonderful and attractive picture. And now as he readies to close, he brings us back to the daily fight and the reality that we are not yet home.

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Finally/henceforward/for the remaining time … What Paul has described is true and real. But it is also the case that until the 2nd coming of Jesus, you and I are in a war zone. The old nature doesn’t want to hear that, preferring instead to think of Christianity as a comfortable religion, quite at home in this world, additionally the solution to all our personal difficulties. But the apostle is going to tell us otherwise. So, for the remaining time, be strong in the Lord, or more literally, “be strengthened” in the Lord. In fact according to the Greek tense, it is “be constantly strengthened” in the Lord. We don’t strengthen ourselves, it is God’s strength. The words used here to describe God’s power provided to His servants are exactly the same Greek words as Paul used in 1:9 in reference to the power that raised Jesus from the dead! We, in and of ourselves, are not up to the task. We must rely upon the kind of power that raised Christ. But then we DO have a part to play. We are to

11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Put on the whole armor of God. This is NOT “let go and let God”! This is NOT “now that you are part of the Christian club, let’s go have a nice warm premium drink at a comfortable café.” This is a command given to a soldier of the cross to prepare for a real battle. This is “prepare for combat, you’re in a war zone, and you face real enemies of your King that would defy Him and ruin you!” All that has gone before in Ephesians is wonderful and grand. But as sure as God is at work for good to bring these wonderful things to completion, there is a real devil that hates God and His servants, and is at work to oppose God. It’s surely not fashionable to speak in these terms these, even in supposedly conservative Christian circles, but this is what Scripture is telling us.

It is in two senses the armor “of God” that is to be put on. It is this armor that God provides to his servants. And it is the armor the Old Testament pictures God Himself as wearing.

Isaiah 59:14 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.

15 Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.

16 He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.

17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.

God’s armor is to be put on that His servants may “stand.” The picture here is not of a march or attack. It is one of holding the fort of the soul and of the church. There is genuine danger here, and the enemy would slay us. Commentators point out that in this conflict there is no Geneva Convention, no army field manual. There is an insidious, hateful, real foe that will use any and every means to destroy a servant of the King. He won’t play fair and he won’t relent. The believer’s protection is in the armor of God.

The rendering “schemes” is probably too light and devious-but-non-lethal sounding. Involved are cunning stratagems devised to destroy. An older and perhaps more appropriate rendering would be “wiles.”

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

The enemy is fundamentally a spiritual enemy. Sure enough, that enemy makes use of his own human servants, and Christian people must resist them in various ways. Some Christian people will be persecuted and even killed by fellow humans in this fight. But at the center of things is a non-human enemy of our King, and his demonic cohorts.

And this is no abstract thing. The brief change of image in verse 12 to that of wrestling makes this very up close and personal. You and I, whether we recognize it or not, are personally up against the hosts of hell. And except that our King provides for us, we’re no match for the enemy of our souls. Luther knew it

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

This is not home. Paul speaks of this situation in which we live as “this present darkness” and says plainly that believers struggle in this life with real evil that has behind it beings that are “spiritual forces” in “heavenly places.” This does not sound like a safe, easy stroll through the park.

There is a famous sermon of JC Ryle (the text is easily found online) titled “True Christianity is a Fight” Here are a couple of quotes from it: “The true Christian is called to be a soldier and must behave as such from the day of his conversion to the day of his death. He is not meant to live a life of religious ease, indolence and security. He must never imagine for a moment that he can sleep and doze along the way to heaven, like one traveling in an easy carriage. If he takes his standard of Christianity from the children of this world, he may be content with such notions, but he will find no countenance for them in the Word of God. If the Bible is the rule of his faith and practice, he will find his course laid down very plainly in this matter. He must ‘fight.’ … It is a fight of perpetual necessity. It admits of no breathing time, no armistice, no truce. On weekdays as well as on Sundays, in private as well as in public, at home by the family fireside as well as abroad, in little things, like management of tongue and temper, as well as in great ones, like the government of kingdoms, the Christian’s warfare must unceasingly go on. The foe we have to do with keeps no holidays, never slumbers and never sleeps. So long as we have breath in our bodies, we must keep on our armor and remember we are on an enemy’s ground. ‘Even on the brink of Jordan,’ said a dying saint, ‘I find Satan nibbling at my heels.’ We must fight until we die. … ”

13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

This being the case, the way things are, you and I would be well-advised to not show up for duty in our flip-flops and pink boxer shorts. Rather, we had best come dressed for combat. We had best come dressed in the whole armor of God, that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand firm.

14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth. This is the basic item or foundation that holds one’s fatigues on and provides a hanger for one’s sword. This is where we start dressing for combat. There are two possible meanings for “truth.” Paul may have in mind the Gospel truth, or he may have in mind truthfulness. Either is possible and appropriate, but it seems most probable that since there is no definite article (it’s “truth” not “the truth”) and because Paul has already spoken at length about the Gospel, that it is “truthfulness” or integrity that is primarily intended here. And indeed, integrity/truthfulness is basic. God is truthful, always representing things as they really are, and His servants are therefore to be truthful if they are going to survive in His service in this cosmic conflict. We are to have integrity.

And we are to put on the breastplate of righteousness. Again, there are a couple of possibilities. The intention might be Christ’s righteousness positionally imputed to sinners, or it might be holy living. Again, either is possible and appropriate. But as something beyond what has been already discussed in the letter, it seems probable that it is primarily holy living that is intended. If Christian people are going to stand firm in the battle that is life in this world as servants of the King, they must be truthful people and they must live right.

15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.

As shoes for your feet there is readiness given by the gospel. Apparently this verse is a bit obscure and it is hard to make out exactly what is under discussion. But a decent guess is that the picture is meant to be that of the sandals of a Roman soldier that have hobnailed soles that provide sure footing and the ability to join the battle on any kind of ground. It’s an interesting paradox that in this description of battle, there is reference to the fact that the Gospel is one of peace. The ultimate peace that believers have in knowing that God is the sovereign and blessed Controller of all things gives them a basis for courage and the ability to face anything in His service. It was said of Cromwell’s armies that they were completely fearless (and were never defeated) because they knew that all was in God’s hands.

16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;

In ALL circumstances/to cover all the rest, take up the shield of faith. The word here is not the one for the small round shield that you think of being used in one-on-one hand-to-hand combat (as in gladiator movies). Instead it is the huge bowed rectangular-shaped thing that effectively locked together with others as Roman soldiers advanced side by side in the famous phalanx formation, each protecting his neighbor and all protected head to foot. To cover all the rest Paul points at a constant and consistent reliance upon God, a casting oneself on the mercy of the Almighty. The person who relies upon, trusts in, casts himself or herself wholly on Christ, can withstand ALL that the legions of darkness throw at him or her. But note that the emphasis is that the soldier is wholly covered in this reliance upon Christ.

17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

Recall that Isaiah sees God Himself wearing the helmet of salvation. The salvation that He gives believers allows His servants to hold their heads up, knowing that they are protected and able to fight and see things for what they are.

Psalm 140:7 O LORD, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle.

And finally, there is the word of God. This is not the “logos” “Word” of John 1:1. Rather it is the smaller “rhema” word of God. This refers not to the grand scale revelation of the Father in Jesus, but rather to more specific individual Scriptures. That is, specific Scriptures relevant to circumstances in which the servants of the King find themselves, are weapons of the King’s soldiers as they fight the good fight. One is reminded of the temptation of Christ and His answers to Satan in the words of Scripture.

Having listed these weapons of Christian warfare, Paul now emphasizes the centrality of prayer in this life in the battle zone.

18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

Praying at ALL times, with ALL prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with ALL perseverance, making supplication for ALL the saints. As Ryle put it, this is a fight of perpetual necessity. It is constant, and our prayer must be constant. In all things the King’s servant ought to pray. They ought to pray for each other and Paul asks that the Ephesians pray for him.

19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,

20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

What matters to Paul and matters to all true soldiers of the King is the King’s cause, not the temporal safety of the servant. Paul’s concern is not that he be spared persecution, but that he not fail the Master. He asks that the Ephesians pray that he faithfully executes his duty as the King’s soldier.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Luke 10:25-37

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is the parable of the good Samaritan, a parable preserved for us only in the Gospel of Luke.

Luke 10:25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

The NIV begins “on one occasion.” The ESV says “and behold.”  There is no context given here.

A lawyer stood up. This is an expert in the law, one learned in the Law of Moses, an official interpreter of the Law of Moses. His duties were to study, interpret, expound and teach the Law in the schools and synagogues, to decide questions of the Law, to act as a judge in matters of the Law.

The body language here tells us something about what’s going on here. This guy is an aggressor, he has also drawn attention to himself and thus stands to lose face if the exchange goes badly. We’re at a news conference, with a question asker not really asking a question to learn something so much as to trap the speaker and establish his own importance and agenda.

“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” It appears that this matter was a big topic of academic debate at this time. See the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30. It is, after all is said and done, one of the few central issues of life. The man’s manner and intentions weren’t worthy, but the question is an essential one. How does one present oneself to a holy God? Note the phrasing of the question. What to “do” to “inherit”? The lawyer’s thinking is mixed, but with some understanding of the truth. There is “doing,” but probably not in the way the lawyer is thinking. It’s not cause and effect. It’s not a matter of works by which we’re made right with God. Rather, as he goes on to imply, eternal life can only be given by God as an inheritance.

26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

Jesus, in good Jewish Rabbi fashion, answers a question with a question. The ball is back in the lawyer’s court. Jesus seems to be saying that the lawyer has asked a question whose answer is clear from the Law if this guy knows his stuff. Note that Jesus refers the man specifically to the Scriptures. Not to any other supposed authority. Not to his own reason. Not to the opinions of rabbi so and so. Not to latest book on Oprah’s reading list. Not to the testimony of some crazy movie star. But to the Scriptures. They are the first and last word on the matter.

27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

The lawyer replies with Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. This is the correct and orthodox answer. The Deuteronomy verse was recited every Sabbath in synagogue. Jesus Himself used the combination of verses in reply to the question of which of the commandments is most important when quizzed by a teacher of the Law (Mark 12:28-34). The guy has it right, in theory. One should love God with all one is, and in turn love people. The word translated “neighbor” is more than one who lives nearby. There is in it the thought of community or fellowship. Note the order. The second is a corollary of reality in the first. Love God truly and you will love people truly.

28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Jesus says that the issue is following through on what is clear from Scripture.

John 13:17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

This is not a new form of salvation by works. This is a statement that if we truly love God in the sense of really relying upon, trusting in, cleaving to Him, then we will truly love others and there will be real eternal life. Real everlasting life, real life that God’s life. This statement is that relationship to God is life itself. The lawyer is asking for a set of rules to follow to assure heaven. Jesus is saying that there is no such set. There is real relationship to God, that necessarily brings with it love for people.

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

What is meant by “to justify himself”? There are two possibilities. 1) He’s now on the defensive, having asked a question with a simple answer or 2) he is lashing back at the implication that he has not been “doing.”

With this question he’s really saying “Listen! It’s not as elementary as you make it sound. What do the commands mean? I’m looking for a precise interpretation here!” The lawyer has in theory made the right answer to the big question, but is now attempting to limit the scope of its implications. It’s interesting that the lawyer blows past first part of the correct answer to the “How do I present myself to God?” question and wants to debate its corollary. He doesn’t argue about “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” but rather about the implications thereof. In our time and place, all kinds of people want to say that they “believe in God” without any evidence that they love Him in any way that distinguishes their lives from those who profess no love for Him. But love for God is never some abstract thing without implications in behavior. Jesus tells the parable in response to the lawyer’s attempt to limit the applicability of the “love your neighbor as yourself” and make love for God an academic matter.

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.

Jerusalem to Jericho is about 17 miles and a drop of elevation of around 3000 feet. This was rough terrain, infested with thieves. According to some commentators, at the time there were about 750 priests per week and 420 Levites per week making their way to Jerusalem to take their turns serving at the temple. Apparently Jericho was a favorite place for such people to live.

A man was going. The presumption would be that he is a Jew. The robbers stripped him and beat him. The guy has injuries, is probably in shock and is exposed to the elements. He’s half dead, and looks the part.

31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.

A priest was going. Why did Jesus use a priest as an example? Why not a civil official or a merchant? Because without question this guy knew and presumably subscribed to the Scriptures that the lawyer had just quoted.

It’s worth contemplating what good and what not so good reasons the priest might have for not stopping. It’s worth doing because those are probably like our reasons for not helping those in need. He’s busy. The guy may look dead, and if he is dead, touching him would make the priest unclean. And if he’s headed for Jerusalem that would be awkward for his temple service. Stopping might make the priest late. And perhaps in stopping, he might expose himself to attack by the thieves. In our lives it is mostly a matter of inconvenience and being afraid that helping will use up resources that we think we need for our own families and selves. I’ve only got this little amount of resources, and if I use it on you, there will be nothing for me and mine. We think as if they we ours to begin with and as if the God we serve has only so much Himself.

32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

A Levite came. These were assistants to the priests, doing things ranging from singing to acting as janitors in the temple. This fellow also passed by on the other side, apparently after looking him over more closely than did the priest.

33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.

But a Samaritan came. This is on ne of the half-breeds that had been settled in the territory of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians. They mixed their own pagan religions with the worship of God in a way that the Jews despised.

2 Kings 17:41 So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day.

This Samaritan “had compassion.” Why use such a person as an illustration of compassion? First, there is no family/nationality reason for him to stop. In fact, he’s the last person that might be expected to stop. If the lawyer was hoping for some limits on the meaning of “neighbor,” this choice destroys those hopes. If a Samaritan is a neighbor, there are no limits. Second, there is a good chance that the Samaritan would not have been expected to know the orthodox answer that the lawyer had given to the big question. The point is not the “knowing” of the answer in some abstract intellectual sense, but the DOING of it.

The word pity/compassion is a deep feeling of sympathy. This is a wonder. The story teaches that true brotherly love and compassion are rare things. And here they are found in one who isn’t even a countryman. Ryle said, “We have in this striking description an exact picture of what is continually going on in the world. Selfishness is the leading characteristic of the great majority of mankind. That cheap charity that costs nothing more than a trifling subscription or contribution, is common enough. But that self-sacrificing kindness of heart, that cares not what trouble is entailed, so long that good can be done, is rarely met with …” And it is this kind of self-sacrifice that is the character of our God. He, in Christ Jesus, voluntarily took on our misery and real guilt, and at infinite expense to Himself dealt with our sin.

34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.

Where was this guy going to get bandages? By tearing up some of his own stuff! Olive oil and wine were the common medical practice of the day. The alcohol in the wine made a disinfectant. Note that the Samaritan didn’t simply take the guy to the inn and figure that he had done his part. He stayed and nursed him.

35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

He took out two denarii. The NIV has “two silver coins.” It’s not completely clear how much this is. One source I read said 2 days’ wages, another said enough to keep him for up to 2 months, another said both. At any rate, the Samaritan took something significant out-of-pocket. BESIDES, he essentially gave the innkeeper a blank check! The Samaritan not only felt for the man, but substantially put himself out for him.

36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Consider how Jesus is now using the word “neighbor” in comparison to the way the lawyer is trying to use it. The lawyer wants it to be a static matter of limiting responsibility, a definition applied to separate up others into groups. Jesus makes it a matter of doing. AND HE APPLIES IT TO THE DOER, NOT THE DOEE!

37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The lawyer couldn’t bring himself to even say “Samaritan.”

Again Jesus brings it back to a matter of action. The real question is not “Who is (passive) my neighbor” but rather “Am I acting as a neighbor?”

Jesus is not teaching in this parable that all that is required for right standing with God is self-sacrifice. That would make salvation a matter of works rather than grace, and potentially qualify rebels who really at the core hate God. He’s rather insisting that genuine love for God will be seen attitudes and actions. Attempts to make limits on how far the implications of love for God extend have to be seen for what they are, denials of His character, things that make a mockery of His great mercy toward us.

It’s one thing for us to hear this parable. It’s another to act on it. How do we avoid finding ourselves to be in the place of the Priest or Levite, concerned about only ourselves and perhaps our families? It is a matter of premeditated cold-blooded decision to depend upon Christ and not look the other way. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Our LORD spoke this parable and meant it to be taken seriously, not simply to be agreed to in some abstract sense. The work the good Samaritan did, is the work of all those truly rightly related to God in Christ.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Hebrews 4:14-5:10

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

In this passage, the writer of Hebrews returns to his thesis of the utter superiority of Christ. He speaks of the priesthood of Christ in comparison to the Old Testament Levitical priesthood (and by implication, with its system of dealing with man’s fundamental problem of sin). At the end of Chapter 4, the writer states his main theme.

Hebrews 4:14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

Since we “have” … The “have” is emphatic. We have a “great” high priest. He is great in His essential nature, both truly God and truly human. And He is great in His work. What He has done is far beyond that of any other priest. And this high priest has truly ascended to the Father. He has passed through the heavens. This, is in contrast to the Levitical priests who only once a year could pass through the veil into the Holy of Holies. This great high priest now sees the Father face to face, and this high priest is the man Christ Jesus.

There is a man at the right hand of the Father. That, says the author, ought to cause us to buck up and hold fast. In light of His victory we should be encouraged to carry on. The verb is “to cling to” and indicates that determination is required on our part. Let us hold fast to “our confession.” He’s talking about something public, a public identification of oneself with Christ. We’re given the opportunity to publicly declare ourselves to be His through Christian baptism. And we are daily given opportunities to either confess or deny Him in what we do and what we say. In light of His great essential nature and His office as our high priest, we ought to be resolute and consistent in our confession. And in fact, this is not just an appeal for endurance, but a call for fearless witness.

The writer begins to lay out the qualifications of a proper high priest. A priest is one that stands between God and man, and represents humans before a Holy God. What qualifications ought a high priest then have?

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

A high priest must be of the same stuff as those he represents to God. What good would it do us to have a high priest that didn’t have the first idea about our condition? We’ve gone overboard in our time with the notion that between humans “unless you’ve had the exact same experiences as I have, you can’t possibly understand” and routinely use that as an excuse for wallowing in our misery and thinking our situation is uniquely tough, rather than getting on with life. But there is a truth here that if a priest is to represent men and women to God, that person must be of the same stock as us. This Jesus, both fully God and fully human, is qualified.

Christ is able to “sympathize,” literally, “to suffer along with.” With what? To sympathize with our weaknesses. He was subject to the same “weaknesses” we experience. He knew weariness. He had the thoughts “well what’s the use of going on?” He didn’t like pain (of body and of spirit) any more than you and I like pain.

Further, in sharing our humanity and weakness, He has known temptation. That’s one for pausing and thinking over carefully. If indeed, God is the very definition of all that is good and right and true, it would be a contradiction in terms for Him to be tempted. The Father (or pre-incarnate Son, or Spirit) being tempted to evil is nonsense. For the One who is the first cause and center of all things to be tempted to be or do something else is silly. But, the Son chose to share our condition, and as such knew temptation! Yet He came through it without sin. Commentators rightly point out that indeed His temptation was more intense than ours. For one thing, we cave in as temptation is ramping up. We rarely see it at its peak intensity, because we give in early in the climb up the mountain. He did not.

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Having a high priest that is qualified as knowing “how it is” we may come to the throne of grace. Notice, by the way, that the writer has added a statement here about Christ’s qualification as priest. He is both high priest and king. There’s a throne involved! There’s royal authority here. As the catechism says, He’s prophet, priest, and king.

We need at least two things, mercy and grace. We desperately need forgiveness. And we need strength. Both of these are available to us in Christ.

Hebrews 5:1For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

Again, a priest functions between God and man. He acts on God’s behalf among humans and upon behalf of humans before God. To do so, he must be of the same stock as those he represents. Not only must he be “from among men,” but the author will elaborate a bit later that he must be “appointed.” And a high priest must offer sacrifices to God to somehow deal with our sin. His main function is not to somehow wrangle goodies from God, but rather to deal with what is fundamental, our basic need of forgiveness.

2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.

He can deal gently. This is something that is hard to get right in translation. It means taking a middle course between apathy and anger. Our sin is serious business. It is not to be yawned or winked at. But Christ, being of the same stock as we sinners, can take this middle course and deal with us gently. This He can do, as He has experience with “weakness,” with frailty. His frailty was physical frailty. A human high priest had both physical frailty and moral frailty. So he too was in a position to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward. In fact

3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people.

A human high priest was in the same boat as those he represented. He was guilty by reason of weakness and giving in. And as such, he had to bring sacrifice for himself before dealing with the situation of the people.

Leviticus 16:11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself.”

The Levitical priests were in the same condition as those they presented before God. In this matter, Jesus was, a completely different case. But the point here is the solidarity between a high priest and his people.

4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So here is another point. A proper high priest doesn’t get the job because he applies for it, or because some human appoints him to the office. It is something that can only be conferred by God Himself. That was the case with Aaron and his descendants. Sadly, this was not the case in Judah at the time this was written. The high priesthood had become a corrupt thing handled by politicians. But a pious reader knew that this was not the way things should be.

So too, argues the writer of Hebrews, Jesus is qualified on this account.

5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;

The writer quotes again (as in Chapter 1) from Psalm 2.

Psalm 2:7 I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.

Paul quotes this in Acts 13:33 in his sermon at Pisidian Antioch, as he argues that the resurrection is God’s stamp of approval on Jesus, that in the resurrection, Jesus was “begotten” to a new status as the exalted Man. He is “Son” not only by virtue of His deity, but also by virtue of His status as the first raised by God to live eternally. And it is only the Son of God that can have a rightful place at the right hand of God. If this is just an ordinary man, it makes no sense for Him to be at the right hand of the Father.

6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

The writer quotes another Psalm.

Psalm 110:4 The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

This Messianic Psalm is quoted here to argue that Jesus didn’t campaign for the position of high priest, but was, rather, appointed by the Father. This mysterious person, Melchizedek, was the king and priest of Salem that Abram met and paid tithes to upon rescuing Lot and his family from raiders (see Genesis 14). He’s not described in Scripture as having either forbearer or a successor. He stands alone and he wasn’t of the line of Levitical priests. The author here points to him as God’s special appointment. In this, he was an Old Testament type of Christ. He didn’t get the job because of human choice or succession and he didn’t pass it on. Christ’s priesthood is not only something that came as a direct appointment from the Father, but it is an eternal/permanent matter.

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

This is surely a reference to Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. And He was heard. He was heard because of His reverence/Godly fear. Christ prayed recognizing that the path that the Father had set, while genuinely the best, certainly would be full of misery. But He also prayed with full commitment to follow the will of the Father. He was heard. He was heard not in that the path was altered or made less painful, but in that He was strengthened for the task. That, because His heart was one of reverence/godly fear.

8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.

“Although he was a son” might be better rendered “Son though He was.” The point is that because of His Sonship, we might have not expected Him to suffer. Christ is eternally the Son. And His will has from eternity past been completely in line with that of the Father. He didn’t “learn obedience” in the sense that human children learn obedience as we train them and punish disobedience. Rather, He experienced as a human what it is like to obey in a context where there is temptation to not do so. One of the commentaries I was looking at put it this way: There is a difference between innocence and virtue.

There is a certain quality involved when a required thing has been done, that isn’t yet present before the fact, when there is only a readiness to act. Jesus carried it through, and in a sense, post-Calvary has knowledge/experience He didn’t have pre-Calvary.

9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,

“And being made perfect” doesn’t mean that before suffering Jesus was flawed and somehow suffering purified Him. That’s silly. What it does say is that there is a difference between being ready to suffer in the doing of God’s will and the actual suffering to do God’s will. And Jesus carried it through. He carried it through, and thereby became perfect in the sense of being qualified as Savior and Priest. His suffering accomplished something real and tangible. He didn’t just “learn a lesson.” Rather, His obedience and suffering accomplished eternal salvation for you and me. His obedience learned/experienced accomplished God’s salvation for all humans who will adopt the right heart toward Him, who will bow the knee and share His attitude and continual practice of reverence and godly fear and dependence upon God.

10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Again, He’s high priest like Melchizedek, both priest and king, without successor, being designated directly by the Father.

Here’s what Raymond Brown says in closing his chapter on this section[1]:

“Before we leave this passage with its moving description of Christ’s total submission, we need a further reminder that obedience was not only necessary for him; it is expected also of us. Salvation is for those who obey him. It is important for us to see that when Jesus surrendered himself entirely to God’s will, he obeyed not only in order to honour God but also to help us to see what obedience is all about. In his exposition of this passage, Calvin says: ‘He did this for our benefit, to give us the instance and the pattern of His own submission. . . If we want the obedience of Christ to be of advantage to us, we must copy it.’

These verses are particularly important at a time when some Christians may find themselves tempted to bypass the con­stant discipline Christ demands in favour of the ‘instant’ or ‘immediate’ holiness offered by some exponents of the Chris­tian life. This is the ‘instant’ age; if a thing is to be had, it must be had now. The idea goes something like this: The promises are there, claim them at this very moment and the prize is yours, whether it is instant sanctification, instant power, or instant healing. We live in an impatient society and the idea of humble submission, patient waiting and steady perseverance does not make a ready appeal. But the way of Christ was the way of persistent obedience. All his life was given to it. He strongly resisted the temptation to have it effected in a spectacular and supernatural moment. He re­solutely pursued the will and purpose of God. He knew that it could not be achieved in a magical minute.

Moreover, he made it clear to his followers that his way was to be their way. There was no other. The only possible route to holiness of life was by way of the cross. When the disciples expressed their horror about his cross, he told them about theirs. ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ The act of taking up the cross may well occur initially, and decisively at a precise moment of time. In that sense there is a crisis. But following after Christ and denying oneself is a daily, painful, costly reality that cannot be achieved by a sudden crisis, but only by a lifetime of constantly renewed dedication and obedient responsiveness to all that God requires of his people and equips them to do.”

[1] From The Message of Hebrews, Raymond Brown, 1982, Inter-Varsity Press, ISBN 0-87784-289-2, pp. 101-102.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 17

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is the high priestly prayer of Jesus. It’s essentially the last thing the disciples hear from Jesus before the crucifixion. From a human perspective, we have here a most undistinguished rag-tag bunch of no-accounts huddled for a last time with their Master (who has failed to gain any huge acceptance or understanding of His real purpose or identity) on the eve of His embarrassing execution at the hands of the Romans. In truth and in the eyes of God, this is the Son of God about to accomplish a glorious salvation for you and me, praying for Himself and disciples chosen of God, who will by the strength of God, turn the world upside down with the message of the cross.

Jesus prays. This is formally addressed to the Father, but is in fact meant as much to instruct the disciples and us about the relationship of Jesus to the Father and us to them as it is to be a set of requests made to the Father.

Jesus begins by praying for Himself.

John 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

“Father” is “Abba,” an intimate form of address. The time has come. The time has come for the crucifixion and resurrection. The time has come for the plan of redemption to be completed.

Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you. The Father’s glory and the glory that Jesus will have in being perfectly obedient and bringing men to God are inseparable, all part of the same whole. There is no place for Jesus to have glory apart from the Father. (If we have any sense we will realize that there is no place for us to have any glory outside God’s work in and through us. If we do anything well, it is only His doing and ought to be only for His praise.)

2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

you have given (already in the past)/that he might give/to all whom you have given. Here again is the intertwining/inseparability of the actions of the Father and Son. Jesus gives eternal life, but it is in the context of the Father giving to Jesus.

The tense in “all whom you have given” is the perfect tense. It is completed and is still in effect. The disciples have been given to Jesus and He is still in possession of them.

Jesus gives eternal life. It is eternal in the sense of being everlasting and eternal in the sense of belonging to the eternal God. It is God’s life.

3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

What is this eternal life? It is to be in right relationship with, to have intimate knowledge of, the one true and living God. To know God is not only to know what He is like, but to be on the most intimate terms of friendship with Him. And this is only possible through the Son. Knowing the Father is inseparable from knowing Jesus. The tense of “that they may know you” implies that the knowledge is a continuing action.

4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.

Jesus is so committed to the will of God that He can speak of the work as already completed. There is no question that He will endure it for you and for me. The die is cast. Jesus is going through to the end.

In the case of Jesus, it is His obedience to the Father and willingness to do things His way that brought glory to the Father. It’s no different for us. Actions speak louder than words.

5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Jesus anticipates His return to the position that He had with the Father before the beginning of time. His obedience has honored the Father and the Father will honor Him for the obedience. Truly, providing the way for countless multitudes of us to come to salvation will bring Jesus glory and honor. It’s always the hard thing, not the easy route that brings glory. You honor a good student by giving him or her the hard task. A general sends his best units to do the most difficult assignment.

Jesus says what He has done.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

This is in some sense an amplification on verse 4, another way of saying the same thing. In completing the work given Him by the Father, He has brought the Father glory and revealed God to the disciples. The Father’s name is His character. The obedience of Jesus has produced obedience in the lives of the disciples.

7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

Only as people see the Father at work in the Son, do they have a right concept of both the Father and the Son. The disciples had gotten to that point.

8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

The disciples may not have it all together, but their hearts are right and they recognize Jesus and what He’s told them for what they are, God’s word to man and God’s provision to man. They believed. They put their faith in, relied upon, trusted in, cleaved to Christ.

Jesus now prays for His little group of disciples.

9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

At this point Jesus is praying specifically for the disciples. It is obviously not the case that Jesus has no concern for the rest of humanity. But it is those the Father has given Him, the ones that have chosen to follow Him, those who are going to be His instruments to address the rest of humanity for whom He prays here.

When Jesus does (somewhat indirectly) pray for the world in verses 21 and 23, it is essentially that the world would cease to be worldly.

10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

Again, the Father and Son are in perfect harmony. Regarding “yours are mine” Luther said, “This no creature can say with reference to God.”

I am glorified in them. Again, chronologically this has not yet come to pass. Indeed, in human terms, it is totally unlikely! This rag-tag bunch of fellows is going to bring glory to Him and the Father? But Jesus looks at this as an accomplished fact.

11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

Holy Father, protect them. Antagonism between the work of God and the world system (human society organizing itself without God) is real and simply to be expected. Persecution of God’s people will come. Jesus doesn’t ask that the disciples be taken out of the world. His mission was in the world and so is theirs. What He does pray for is their protection (see verse 15).

The name of God not only stands for His character, but for His power.

Psalm 20:1 May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!

Psalm 54:1 O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might.

Proverbs 18:10 The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.

Jesus prays “that they may be one as we are one.” The basis for Christian unity is the unity that already exists in the trinity. We ought to think about the nature of that unity and by implication our unity as believers. It is unity of purpose and heart and will. It involves submitting oneself to the Father. It brings God glory. It is not organizational ecumenisms, or somehow looking like peas in a pod.

The sense of the disciples being one is not that they become one, but that they continually be one. Christian unity is already a fact. It is God’s doing, not something that we must achieve or for that matter could achieve by any of our own means. We sometimes talk as if it is something for us to manufacture in order to please God. It is instead something that already exists. We’ve got the power to destroy it by falling into the ways of the world and letting the old man have his way in our lives. Instead of praying for unity, we ought to pray to be delivered from evil ways and selfishness.

12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

Christ had protected them by virtue of who He is, God incarnate. The “son of destruction” points to character rather than destiny. The expression means Judas was characterized by “lostness,” not predestined to be lost. Calvin said, “It would be wrong for anyone to infer from this that Judas’ fall should be imputed to God rather than himself, in that necessity was laid on him by the prophecy.”

13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

Looking at the reality here truly ought to bring us joy. Our salvation is about to be finished on Calvary. God is our protection in the present world.

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.

16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

Again, it should come to us as no surprise that believers suffer the persecution and antagonism of the world. Its system is at war with God. We are not of the world because we don’t have its mind set independent of God. We’re not hostile to God and are thus are going to suffer the world’s disdain.

17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

“Sanctify” them. The word has two related meanings. There is “to set apart” for a special task. There is also “to develop in a person the qualities of mind, heart, and character necessary to complete that task.” It is set apart and equip them “in the truth.” Jesus Himself is the truth.

18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Salvation is not just for the purpose of being saved. The disciples are consecrated, sanctified, set apart, equipped for God’s service and to do what He asked. So too us.

Jesus prays for you and me.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,

This is good news for us. We today are a part of this prayer.

21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Unity (opened in verse 11) has to be seen. The world is supposed to see Christian unity and take note. There has to be here community, forbearance, patience, kindness generosity, real love, or it won’t be visible. Real unity is God’s. If we don’t destroy it, it is a beautiful, attractive thing, something that draws people to Christ. There is in this verse the important cycle that faith produces unity produces others coming to faith.

22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,

The “as” here has two dimensions. Our unity is as/like the unity between the Father and Son. It is also caused by the unity of the Father and the Son. Again, if our unity is to be like the unity between the Father and Son, it will be a singleness of purpose and heart, and a submitting of ourselves to God.

23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Again, ultimately this has its basis in verse 3 above. And here is our heavenly destiny:

24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.

26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Luke 11:1-13

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This passage includes the shorter version of the model prayer, a parable about persistence in prayer, and two short sayings concerning God’s side of prayer. We begin with the model prayer. Note at the outset, that while it has relevance as a private prayer, the pronouns are all plural. It is fundamentally a corporate prayer.

Luke 11:1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.

“Father” is the Aramaic word “Abba.” This is the address of a child to his or her dad.

“Hallowed be your name.” May God’s name, which represents His person, be honored and accepted in the world of men. May He be given the reverence that is due Him. Ryle said, “We declare our hearty desire that God’s character, and attributes, and perfections may be known, and honored, and glorified by all His intelligent creatures.”

“Your kingdom come.” This is a prayer for God to act, to hasten the coming of the Day of the Lord, to swiftly bring about His rule of peace and righteousness. Ryle again said, “In so saying, we declare our desire that the usurped power of Satan may speedily be cast down,–that all mankind may acknowledge God as their lawful King, and that the kingdoms of this world may become in fact, as they are in promise, the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.”

3 Give us each day our daily bread,

It is in the context of God’s name being honored and His purposes being accomplished that we are instructed to present our needs. The “give us” is “keep giving us.” The petition is “daily.” The implication is that this petition is to be made again and again. We are to look to God constantly. This serves to remind us of our complete dependence upon God for everything, our dependence upon Him for life, breath, all.

We are to ask for “our daily bread,” the provision of our daily needs, that which is needed to sustain life.

4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

There are those who don’t like this one, that think that somehow we get beyond sin in this mortal life. But that view doesn’t square either with experience or with this Scripture. We are instructed to confess our sins. Ryle said, “In so saying, we confess that we are fallen, guilty, and corrupt creatures, and in many things offend daily. We make no excuse for ourselves. We plead nothing in our own behalf. We simply ask for the free, full, and gracious mercy of our Father in Jesus Christ.”

We are to be forgiving because we have been forgiven by a Holy God, and our expectation of forgiveness is contingent upon our forgiving others.

Matthew 6:14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,

15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Mark 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Luke 6:37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;

Daily forgiveness is necessary for open communication with God.

“lead us not into temptation”  God tempts no one. This is a petition for deliverance/strength in the face of temptation. Again, Ryle wrote, “… we entreat Him who orders all things in heaven and earth, and without whom nothing can happen so to order the course of our lives, that we may not be tempted above what we can bear. We confess our weakness and readiness to fall. We entreat our Father to preserve us from trials, or else make a way for us to escape. We ask that our feet may be kept, and that we may not bring discredit on our profession and misery on our souls.”

Jesus now, having provided a model, gives instruction on persistence in prayer. Leon Morris calls the parable “humorous”/a bit of irony to get us to see how praying just a little bit and quitting is silly.

5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves,

Which of you? We are drawn into this parable and made participants. A “friend” is meant to be a genuine friend. But even if it wasn’t, the notion of hospitality of the day made the entire community responsible for the well-being of a visitor/traveler.

The time is midnight. Presumably we are to understand that the visitor has just arrived, traveling by evening/night to avoid the noonday sun. This is not a capricious thing that the guy has partied until midnight and is now avoiding a trip to QT.

6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’;

The situation of the man with the guest is that he stands to be embarrassed by failing to be a proper host. He turns to this friend for help, for the saving of his reputation. He asks for 3 small loaves/rolls, enough for one person.

7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’?

This is not a completely bogus reply. The listener should be picturing a one-room house with kids scattered around on the floor to be stepped on, no convenient lighting, with a door bolted shut with a heavy timber. It will involve considerable inconvenience to help the friend. The man in the house is not being especially selfish, and, to his credit will eventually come through. But notice the Scriptural contrast between the friend and God, in basic ability and readiness to help. There is no wrong or inconvenient time with God.

Psalm 121:3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.

An alternate translation of “impudence” is “persistence.” The idea is one of unblushing persistence, literally barefaced shamelessness. The man is coming confident of his relationship to his friend, knowing his friend, and sure that eventually he will help even if it is a pain in the neck. It is the kind of reverent boldness that brought Abraham to intercede for Sodom. It is the kind of persistence in Psalm 55:16-17

Psalm 55:16 But I call to God, and the LORD will save me.

17 Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.

Wilcock said, (this story) ” … teaches us to pray persistently, not because God will not answer otherwise, but as if he would not. In other words, it is about the practice of prayer, or our part in it. It does not illustrate God’s side of the matter. The basis of prayer, or God’s part in it, is the subject of the sayings about a father who naturally will not give his son a serpent or a scorpion if the boy has asked for a fish or an egg. At the receiving end of our importunate prayer is a Father who does not need to be importuned, but is only too eager to give the best of answers.”

9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

“ask, seek, knock” The tense is apparently one that means to keep on continually asking, seeking and knocking. Again, this is a teaching about persistence in prayer. What is to be learned through such persistence?? What is the virtue in it? It draws us to our Father. It is a purifying thing. We often become aware of selfish/wrong aspects of our praying that ought to be eliminated. It prompts us to work out matters of obedience that stand in the way of quick answers. James says that perseverance produces maturity and completeness in the faith.

We know that verse 10 is not a blank check. Where are the qualifiers? The model prayer is just before this, giving the proper context, but the qualifiers largely aren’t here in this passage. They are not the point of this parable. The point is to encourage us to come and come persistently to our Father.

Now follow two short sayings about the One to whom we speak.

11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;

Some translations include a phrase about a loaf of bread and a stone. Apparently the oldest manuscripts don’t have this, although it does appear in Matthew 7:9. A stone may look like a small loaf of bread, but it is of no value.

What is the fish and snake? A snake might look like a Galilean-style skinny fish to an unsuspecting small child. But instead of being helpful it could be extremely harmful.

12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

What is the egg and scorpion? This is the same message as in verse 11. A scorpion resembles a small egg when it rolls up into its shell. Its appearance might fool a naive child.

So what do these verses have to do with the boldness/persistence? We can be confident in our praying that even if we are stupid and wrong in our asking, our heavenly Father will give us only that which is for our good. He is not in the business of passing out snakes even if we want them!

13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The best gift is the promise of His own presence in and with us, His Holy Spirit.

Hendriksen said, “The point is this: if even an earthly friend would certainly extend help, whatever his motive, then will not the heavenly Father, about whose motivation there can be no question, generously answer our petition?”

Morris commented, “People ought not to think of God as unwilling to give. He is always ready to give good gifts to His people. But it is important that they do their part by asking. Jesus does not say, and does not mean, that if we pray we will always get exactly what we ask for. After all, ‘No’ is just as definite an answer as ‘Yes’. He is saying that true prayer is never unheeded. It is always answered in the way God sees best.”

In sum, we have the invitation to be persistent in prayer, knowing that we are heard and that our Father will act on our behalf in accord with His purposes and for His glory.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Luke 2:1-20

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

We’ve all heard the Christmas story hundreds of times. But it is never old or tired. Instead it is always one of great joy and wonder. Let us again reflect with gratitude and thanksgiving on these verses.

Luke 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.

Caesar Augustus was the first and greatest of the Caesars. His reign saw the Roman Empire expand to the entire Mediterranean world. It brought with it the famous Pax Romana (Roman Peace) and the flowering of the Roman arts and literature. By standards of the ancient world, Augustus was a benevolent and good ruler and these were decent times.

The censuses were made for both taxation and military conscription purposes. However, the Jews were exempt from Roman military service, so the purpose in Judea was only to gather taxes.

2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Quirinius seems to have been in charge in Syria (of which Judea was a province) twice, once about 10-7 BC and later after 6 AD, at which time he was officially governor. This is a reference to the earlier period, when he seems to have not had the title officially.

Note that Luke is naming times, places and people. This is eyes-open history, not some fairy story he’s telling. He intends for people to check his real facts about real events.

3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

This detail of Scripture apparently was at one time challenged as implausible by critics (in spite of the incomparable reliability of the Scriptures). But it was corroborated in the 20th century by the recovery of papyri in Egypt from this period indicating that things were done this way in Egypt as well under Roman rule.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,

Nazareth is 80 miles, at least a 3 day journey, away from Bethlehem. Joseph, as a descendant of King David, went to be enrolled to the town of David. Joseph was no rebel. He was a descendant of the king, but went obediently to pay tax to the ruling authority. (Remember the question that Jesus got 30 years later about the morality of paying tax to Caesar.) And in Joseph’s submission to the God-ordained authority, God used the decree of the pagan emperor to bring about His purposes and the fulfillment of the prophecy through Micah that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

In Syria women of age 12 or more were also subject to a poll tax and required to register. It is likely that Mary needed to go to Bethlehem as well. Even if she hadn’t been absolutely required to go with Joseph, her condition is such that he wouldn’t leave her to fend for herself while he was gone.

Mary travels with Joseph, and the indication is that they were living as if married except for sexual relations. Luke says “betrothed” and we recall that the Jewish betrothal of the day was a serious, binding, matter. And Mary is with child by the direct intervention of God.

6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.

How long were they there? Had they just arrived? We’re not told and don’t know. We have our mental images of Mary just making it to town on the back of a donkey before going into labor. Maybe it was that way, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe they had been there for a week visiting relatives, but being the least prestigious ones, there was no room to stay in the crowded homes of the relatives. We don’t know.

What we do know is that at an inconvenient time, in inconvenient circumstances, the baby Jesus was born. The KJV says “the days were accomplished.” The fullness of time had come, not only for her pregnancy to be over, but for the Old Testament promise of Messiah to come to pass.

7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The picture is humble and most ordinary. There’s no comfortable place for the baby to be born. It’s not even obvious from this verse that they had the advantage of shelter for the birth. Many commentators see here a large circle of stalls with only 3 sides, open to a common courtyard with a central fire provided by the inn keeper for the poorer travelers. All that is absolutely certain is that the circumstances were most humble. The baby is wrapped up like any other poor child of the time and placed in the feeding trough of domestic animals.

Ryle points out that the fact that this took place at an inn guarantees that it is not something that could be dismissed in a few years’ time as a fairy story. This happens out in the open, all eyes open, with ample witnesses.

In 7 short verses, with remarkable economy, Luke has told us the story of the birth. But the birth, without what God has revealed and will reveal about the One who is born, would mean nothing to us. So Luke goes on to show us what the Father had to say about the event.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Tradition tells us that these flocks were the flocks kept for the temple sacrifices. These shepherds who watched the temple sacrifices were the ones chosen by God to be the first outside His family to see the newborn Lamb of God, the Savior of the World. They were the first to see the One who would grow up and be the final and complete sacrifice for our sins.

It is notable and fitting that these were ordinary and humble men, men that in fact, careful Jews looked down on for their rough ways and lack of careful adherence to the ceremonial law. It was to such common people that the announcement came. These were men that were busy doing what they had been given to do. They were at work.

9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.

An angel of the Lord appears. A messenger of God appears to them and the visible presence of God shines around them. These fellows are common folk, but they are not dull. They have sense enough to recognize their vulnerability in the presence of the messenger of God. Literally it is “they feared a great fear.” Think about this one. One second you are camped out on the hills on a dark night, and the next, it’s bright as day and there is a powerful being from God there, having business with you.

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.

The angel announces “good news of great joy.” The word translated “good news” is related to the one that gives us our word “evangelism.” The point is that indeed the proclamation that the angel brought is good news to a world under the curse of sin. It is news that will be for all the people. To the shepherds’ ears “all” probably means “the Jews.” But in fact, something much more glorious than that was meant. All is all!

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

A Savior is born. It is Jesus, literally “God saves” who has been born. He is Christ, the anointed one, Messiah. He is the Lord, God Himself in human flesh, the rightful King of the universe.

12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Apparently a more literal rendering of this verse would be “And this will be ‘the’ sign for you.”  There were probably other babies in Bethlehem wrapped this way on this night. But there was only one in a manger. This might seem like a most unremarkable sign, but it marks the one of the 2 or 3 most remarkable and important events of all time. And this humble, quiet signpost is all that the shepherds were given or needed.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

If Mary and Joseph had been at home, the local musicians and relatives would have gathered and greeted the announcement of the birth of a boy with music of joy and congratulation. Here near Bethlehem, there was instead the sound of angels praising God.

“and on earth peace/shalom/well-being among those with whom He is pleased.” This is not a “hold hands and sing kum-bah-ya” statement about world peace. It’s an announcement that there is eternal well-being and wholeness, peace with God now available.

Ryle said, “Now is come the time when God’s kindness and good will towards guilty man is to be fully made known. His power was seen in creation. His justice was seen in the flood. But His mercy remained to be fully revealed by the appearing and atonement of Jesus Christ.”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.

The shepherds didn’t need to be coaxed into the trip into town. They recognized that there was nothing any more significant than the news that they had been given. They didn’t delay, they didn’t worry about who was going to see that the sheep didn’t wander off, or who would keep the wolf away. Instead they left those things in God’s hands, acted on the news, and found things just as God had promised. And in so doing, they were the first after Mary and Joseph to behold God’s Savior.

17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.

18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

Think about this. This is a wild story that these men have to tell: Messiah, born to poor parents in humble circumstances in Bethlehem, announced first to rough shepherds. But there is no hint that these guys were either reluctant to share the story or that people were inclined to dismiss their testimony. It’s wild and wonderful indeed, but it’s just not the kind of thing one would be inclined to make up and then persist in broadcasting. The story just simply rings true, with a beauty unmatched by any other in all of history.

Indeed, all who heard it were amazed.

19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Consider the young woman Mary and all that must have raced around in her mind in these early years. What indeed was in store for her and Joseph and this baby? And there is continually in what we read about Mary this remarkable modesty. In this little phrase Luke convey to us the gentleness of a young woman to whom amazing things have been promised and who, rather than blabbing all over town, quietly ponders them privately.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Our proper response to all this is indeed to glorify and praise God. What else could they do? What else should we do?

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Psalm 95

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is a most familiar Psalm, a wonderful call to worship. We post-moderns like the first 6.5 verses best, and some liberal commentators even go so far as to want to separate them from the last 4.5. But it is the last 4.5 that are commented on extensively in Hebrews 3 and 4. We’ll do well to hear the Psalm as a whole and heed all of it.

Psalm 95:1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

The Psalmist invites us to sing to the I AM, the self-existent and self-revealing One. He invites joyful noise on the basis that this I AM is also the Provider and Guarantor of our salvation, both in time and in eternity.

2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Real worship will include expression of thanksgiving: thanksgiving for our very existence, thanksgiving for a great salvation that has set us right with the very Ground of Being. Real thanksgiving will be accompanied by joy in the person of God and praise to Him. Genuine praise is of necessity built on an accurate Biblical understanding of who He is, what He has done, and how we are to relate to Him. Otherwise, it’s not His presence we enter, but rather that of an imaginary and unreal “god.”

3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

Who is the I AM? He is a “great” God and absolute Sovereign over all that is. It seems the ESV translators hear the first phrase of this verse to speak of majesty of His person. He is the most honored and worthy person imaginable. And truly, while there really is no other “god” in the universe, all pretenders (or ones we would treat as “gods”) are not close to being in His class. He is the exalted King over/above all He has created. He is the absolute Monarch of the universe. Who else could claim to be King of everything?

4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.

The entirety of all that exists is His. Our notions of vastness fail in capturing the extent of His rule and reign, the extent of His sustaining power. Every inch of all that is, the natural world that we hold to be wondrous, vast and even forbidding are but things that He made, sustains, and figuratively holds in His hand. They are nothing in comparison to their Maker.

5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

Sea and dry ground, every bit of earth’s surface were called into being by Him. They have the form they have because He made them and sustains them. He made and is the rightful Owner of all. Of course He’s King! All we see is His to begin with. In light of that:

6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

This is a call for humanity to prostrate ourselves before the I AM, our Owner and King. Our English meaning of “worship” is first “attributing worth” to one. Apparently the Hebrew (and Greek) meaning is much less abstract and far more focused on making a concrete public act of grateful intimate homage to our God who has so graciously saved. It’s really “bow down.” It really is “kneel.” In light of what really is, if we feel that such would be too much to ask, a bit too hard on our pride, then we don’t get it. Humans will bow before “important” people. Someone far bigger than a mere human is here. This is the I AM.

7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice,

This is the One who made and owns us. We are no more independent of Him than are sheep of a shepherd. We are completely dependent on Him and his good will and gracious protection. Shepherds direct and care for their sheep. So it is absolutely appropriate and natural that hearing what God says and obeying Him is essential to real worship. Post-moderns don’t really like this so much. We like things on our own terms, not His. But this Psalm makes clear that all real worship will be on God’s terms. Without obedience, there is none. And if there is to be obedience we’ve got to hear His voice.

8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

Meribah and Massah are literally “Dispute” and “Testing.” These places represent humans going their own way, presuming to have a better way than God. That, in light of what has been said about God, was simple insanity. Really? I’ve got a better idea than the I AM? I dare to ignore His revealed Word?

9 when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

Biblical religion is a religion built on a history of revelation and the acts of God. The history of the Israelites is that they had been shown God’s great deliverance from bondage … and presumed to have a better idea. The writer of Hebrews points at this Psalm and essentially says “Like your ancestors, you’ve experienced the great salvation of Christ, and now you have a better idea?” This is truly dangerous stuff, and not some light thing. It’s not light here and it’s not light in Hebrews 3 and 4.

10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”

Kidner says that exactly the right tone of what the ESV renders as “loathed” is “was disgusted with.” He says “It is deeply personal, but has no suggestion of caprice, only an outraged sense of what is fitting and what is shameful.” The point is that in light of what has been said in the first 6.5 verses, to be indifferent and disobedient to His Word would be just outrageous. To be disobedient is to not really know Him.

11 Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.”

There was no promised land for the rebellious Israelites. Even Moses paid the price for the nation’s rebellion. The writer of Hebrews says the same of Christians that would turn back and decide that they have a better idea. God has revealed Himself and acted to save us in Christ. To ignore His Word means that is being ignored and there is no real worship. And in that case, there is no good end, no Gospel rest.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on James 4 and 5

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson is a whirlwind trip through the last two chapters of James. James has been talking about selfish ambition, self-promotion, and worldly wisdom as antithetical to the wisdom of God that sees all of life, the pleasant and the unpleasant, as from the gracious hand of God and patiently lets God do His work growing us up into lovely mature beings. One of the things that self-centeredness produces is constant conflict.

James 4:1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?

James is talking to you and me. This isn’t about international politics, it’s about you and me and the people we deal with daily.

2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.

It really just doesn’t wash when I try to blame bad relationships with others on them and pretend that my hands are clean. This is strong language, but it is the same kind of language Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount. Speak dismissively to another person, call him or her a fool, and we stand in danger of the fire of hell. At the heart of arrogant speech and action is self-centeredness that gives away a mind that is not satisfied with God’s generous provision. And that is worldliness.

3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Discontent and covetousness is rebellion against God. We can’t live lives promoting ourselves and genuinely be His. It’s just not possible. It’s our natural state, but it is enmity with Him. Wretched beings that we are, who will help us?

5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Thanks be to God!   There is grace for all circumstances. This is not a “get out of jail free” card that would allow us to continue at war with Him, but rather grace to stifle our selfishness!

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

If there is grace available, we have no excuse if we do not avail ourselves of it. That means submitting ourselves to God. But notice that grace is also not some kind of magic that wins the battle with our selfishness for us without any effort on our parts. No, look at the verbs in verses 7-10. Resist, draw near, cleanse, purify, be wretched, mourn, weep, humble yourselves. This is agonizing warfare.

8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Purify your hearts you double-minded. We’ve seen before how little James thinks of a supposed faith that is not consistent, that wants to play both sides of the street. There is no being two-faced with God. He will not have it. We’re either wholly His or we are not His.

9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

An arrogant self-concerned self-promoting attitude gives itself liberty to demean others.

11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

“Do not speak evil” would be better rendered “Do not denigrate” or “Do not defame.” It doesn’t say “Do not falsely defame.” It just says “Do not defame.” James in 2:8 has reminded us of the royal law, the King’s law, that we are to love our neighbors. To denigrate another made in the image of God is to make the royal law out to be wrong. We set ourselves up as being above it, as if it doesn’t apply to us, as if we’re right and it’s not. That makes us little “gods.” WRONG because

12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

This is not about being gullible or failing to address sin. It is about an arrogant, unloving, condescending, dismissive attitude and manner. All of us stand at the foot of the cross. How do I decide that I’m above you?

Arrogant self-centeredness shows itself in how it thinks about and talks about tomorrow.

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”–

14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

This isn’t about not ever planning for anything. It is about presumption. It’s about a way of thinking that doesn’t consider God’s absolute sovereignty over His world and acts as if we small creatures were somehow in charge and independent of Him. It’s about an attitude that doesn’t live in light of eternity. Independent of God, we aren’t even a mist. We have no existence.

15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

We’ve all heard this said in a mindless, rote, almost superstitious kind of way. But James isn’t giving us a little jingle to add to our daily speech. He’s telling us to soberly and quietly in all things be humble about our planning and living.

16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James isn’t telling us anything new here. What he has been saying about an arrogant self-centered attitude is the plain teaching of Scripture from beginning to end. And he’s told us again. We know what is right. Will we follow through and obey and humble ourselves? To fail to do so is obviously sin.

James now addresses again a hardness of heart toward one’s neighbors and its relationship to wealth.

Jamess 5:1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.

2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.

3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.

There is this sickening picture of one hoarding up stuff, somehow thinking it’s of value, when all it does is harm the one who gathers it. Tolkien got it somewhat right with the twisted picture of Gollum corrupted by the ring. But it’s not the wealth itself. It’s how it is acquired, the hoarding of it, the arrogance it produces, the indifference towards others it invites, the temptation to crookedness that it promotes.

4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

You have lived in self-indulgence. What we have is God’s held as stewards. It’s not ours in the first place. To figure that we are free to use it as we please is complete foolishness and evil. Misappropriation of funds held in trust in a business context is a big deal. This is far, far more serious.

6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

Some that James is writing to those who have had it rough, particularly at the hands of unscrupulous wealthy people. James tells them to hang on. In doing so, he returns again to the opening injunction of the letter, to count it all joy.

7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.

8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Again, we don’t live for this life only (or even primarily). We live for eternity and look for the coming of the Lord.

9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

James is concerned that we keep on in every twist and turn of life in humble dependence upon our coming Lord.

12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

Our speech to fellow humans should be modest/spare. And whether what we experience is painful or pleasant, in all of it, we should be talking with our Father. We are to be in fellowship with Him, praying for help, thanking Him for the good things in life.

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Pray for one another. We don’t need a specialist or human priest. We are to pray for each other. The “righteous person” is certainly not so in the sense of being individually perfect in conduct, but rather in the sense of being in right standing with God, counted as righteous by faith in Christ, by humble dependence upon God.

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.

The rendering “fervently” is maybe not so helpful. It is literally “with prayer he prayed.” It’s “he just prayed.” He prayed and nothing more! Praying was precisely what he did! Elijah was like you and me, not completely unwavering. But he prayed and God answered!

18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,

20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James wants Christian people to care for one another. And the praying and gentle correction that we render one another can be the difference between heaven and hell, not because we have anything in ourselves, but by the work of God in and through us.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 25

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is a very long lesson covering two well-known parables and a straightforward teaching, all concerned with the last day and how we should live in light of it. It continues Christ’s teaching on the end times begun in Chapter 24.

First, the parable of the ten maidens.

Matthew 25:1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.

To give the disciples some understanding of how it will be at that time, He tells a story set a familiar and wonderful context, a wedding.

The customs of the time seem to have been these. A wedding was an occasion for a whole village to celebrate. The Rabbis even taught that it was permissible to temporarily put aside the study of the Law to join in. A newlywed couple didn’t go away on a honeymoon, they stayed home and were congratulated by everyone in town and for a time were treated like a prince and princess. Following the ceremony itself there was a procession through the town, taking the longest possible route, so that all could offer their good wishes.

Here’s the especially interesting/relevant part. In that time and culture, no invitations were sent out, or at least if they were, there was no time printed on them. Instead the bride and her party waited at her parents’ home for the bridegroom to come and get her and take her to the wedding. Maybe that would be tonight, maybe tomorrow night, maybe next week. The bride didn’t know. In fact, part of the festivity of the whole scene was a playful attempt to catch the bride and her party unprepared. They had to be ready to go to the wedding at any hour of the day or night. Instead of playing games hiding the car so that it didn’t get decorated with shaving cream, part of the scene at this time was that all the warning that the bride’s party got was the sound of the groom’s man in the street shouting “Behold, the bridegroom is coming!”

The picture we have here is that in the bride’s party, especially invited to the wedding ceremony, especially honored to be part of the festivities, were ten bridesmaids.

2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.

Now a parable isn’t an allegory and we shouldn’t expect every particular detail of the story to match up one to one with a detail of reality. There’s no reason to worry about the fact that the church is called the “bride” of Christ while here we are concerned with “bridesmaids.” And we should not read anything into the detail that there were 5 and 5. What we MUST hear is that among those especially invited and honored to be included, were some that were foolish and some that were wise.

The foolish ones were foolish in a Biblical sense. They didn’t see things the way they really were. They were reckoning from the wrong point. “The fool says in his heart that there is no God.” The fool reckons from himself and what pleases him at the moment. The foolish maids were simple, slow, thinking like a child, in the sense that what they were concerned with was themselves.

The wise maidens were wise in a Biblical sense. This is not an endorsement of their abstract reasoning capability or even their facility with systematic theology. It’s the fear of the LORD that is the beginning of wisdom. It’s a matter of the heart. It’s seeing things the way they really are and reckoning from the right point. It’s being and doing what is in line with the will of God and what makes sense in the light of eternity. It’s being prudent and practical in light of what really is.

3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them,

4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.

There were no street lamps and nobody was allowed on streets without a light. And once the bridegroom came and got the bride and the ceremony began, latecomers were not allowed in. Everybody knew this including the bridesmaids. Some of them came fully prepared and some came at best only half prepared.

We should think hard about this. What’s the job of the bridesmaids?  The job here is to be ready, to be ready today, tomorrow, next week, whenever the announcement comes. Some are, but others are presuming upon the situation, thinking that half-ready is good enough. They want to be part of the scene, but really, it’s on their own terms and at their own convenience that they want to be part.

The maids here are not recruited because they had oil or could be counted on to produce it when needed. They are recruited by the couple because of what they mean to the couple. They are people with whom the couple wishes to share the joy of the wedding celebration. That’s the reason they’re in the group. But, given that recruitment, great privilege and honor, the job, the responsibility, is to be ready. Some take that seriously. Some do not.

Consider what the foolish bridesmaids have done. The bride has recruited them because of her desire to share this great occasion with them. They don’t take it seriously enough to show up ready to participate. What have you really said to a modern day bride if she asks you to take part in the wedding and you say “sure,” but then when the time comes your favorite team is playing ball or your favorite soap opera is on the tube and you decide that it’ll be OK if you show an hour late, after the game or the soap is over?

5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.

Jesus has already told His disciples that the time of His coming is not known and that they must be ready at all times.

Matthew 24:36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

Matthew 24:42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

Matthew 24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

We laugh at folks that name times for the second coming and go gather on mountain tops in white sheets to wait or put up billboards on the highway promising the date. But on the other end of this waiting, do we take our Lord seriously when we hear Him say “Keep watch … you do not know”? Once invited, the job of the maids was to be ready.

6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

The bridegroom is coming, not on the schedule of the maids, but on His own schedule. All the warning they get is the general understanding that He could come at any moment and this cry of the herald at midnight.

7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.

Here’s a pathetic picture. Everybody wakes up, the prepared and the unprepared. And even now, the unprepared are oblivious to the fact that they are unprepared. These “lamps” are almost surely torches, and they set about trimming the charred rag off the ends of them, just as if nothing is genuinely wrong.

8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

A torch of this type is going to burn a large amount of olive oil. It has to be re-dipped in oil every 15 minutes or so. That’s a given. The foolish don’t have enough and now ask the others to bail them out. They are even now not taking responsibility for their lack of preparation. They’re thinking from their vantage point, for their personal benefit, figuring that somehow their dereliction can be covered over. They aren’t thinking about the impact of what they’ve done or not done on anyone but themselves.

9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’

This is no mean or selfish reply. There truly isn’t enough for the foolish. The responsibility of the wise is to the bride, not the foolish at this point. They are to provide light for the procession and celebration through the town. If they try to bail out the foolish, all are going to run out and leave the whole party in darkness half way through the parade. Essentially, what the foolish are asking them to do is impossible. The wise cannot transfer their own preparation to the foolish. All they can do is point the foolish to where oil can be obtained. It is available, but the foolish must buy it for themselves, just as the wise have done earlier.

10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.

The bridegroom Himself arrives on His schedule. Those who are ready, go to the wedding. And there is a sickening thud in the closing of the door. This should have been an occasion of great joy for the whole town, but the door is now shut and the foolish are on the outside.

11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’

12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

Our muddled hearts rebel at this. “Cut them a break!” we cry. But it can be no other way. There is no real relationship between the foolish and the wedding couple. The foolish didn’t even think enough of the couple to make preparation for their procession. And that wasn’t accidental, it was done in cold blood. It was in truth a flagrant, selfish choice to not consider the interests of the bridal couple. Of course they are strangers, of course the groom doesn’t know them. And the wedding, the celebration, the joyous occasion is to be shared with friends, not indifferent strangers. That only makes sense. The wonderful wedding celebration is for friends.

13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

So the advice of Jesus to His closest followers is “keep watch.” If we have any sense, we’ll hear that injunction for ourselves. You and I are waiting. We’re waiting for His return and the great wedding feast that St. John saw. Every one of us has been offered a place at the table. Every one of us has been invited to eternally enjoy all that is really good. This wedding feast we’ve been invited to isn’t just one that we can skip and pick up another some other time or place. It’s the only one that ever will be. Outside the door to the banquet hall there is nothing but darkness. There’s no good at all outside the banquet hall. And the invitation we’ve been given is to a banquet for friends. It’s based on relationship with the groom.

The rub for our fallen human hearts is that our invitation has implicit in it a job. The job isn’t the basis for the invitation, but it is implicit in the invitation. And as we wait, it is possible to by neglect fail to do the job, to fail to keep watch and in the end, be shut out as a stranger. We dare not take the edge off of this. Jesus is talking here to the 12, not somebody outside the fold. We dare not blunt the urgency of this warning. This is serious business. We’re being warned to not be laid back and lackadaisical.

What are we talking about? What is involved in the watching? What is it that the wise will have and the foolish will not bother to go and obtain while there is yet time? What is it that the wise can tell the foolish where to buy, but cannot give them when they have not come prepared themselves? I think we know if we’ll be honest with ourselves. It’s stuff like right living, like prayer, like attention to God’s Word and assembly with His saints. It’s stuff like demonstrations of real love and kindness, development of real Christian character traits like humility, patience, gentleness. It’s stuff like integrity, and Godly self-discipline. It’s stuff like real dependence upon and submission to Christ. In the end, it’s genuine salvation.  Those are things that can’t be had at the last moment. They are things that can’t be transferred.

The warning of Jesus, the message of this parable is that it’s possible to take the job of waiting and watching too lightly. It’s possible to presume upon the situation, to be lackadaisical and indifferent and in the end have no relationship to the groom. It’s possible to know the facts, to apparently be part of the bridal party and in the end miss the wedding.

“Therefore, keep watch.” Let us take the job seriously.

 

Next is the parable of the talents.

Matthew 25:14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.

Trusted family servants in ancient times were often given substantial responsibility. Of course, they were not independent free agents, but neither were they mindless automatons. Instead they were people who were authorized and expected to act intelligently on the behalf of their masters. They made investments on behalf of their masters and managed some of their property. That’s what we have here. The master has entrusted to these servants some of his property.

15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

The English usage of the word “talent” as a skill, ability or mental power actually derives from this parable. A talent was originally a unit of weight. When applied to a weight of a precious metal it came to also be a unit of coinage. We need to understand the magnitude of what has been entrusted to the servants here. It appears that a talent was as much as 6,000 days’ wages for a day laborer of the time. That’s 20 years’ worth of labor for a common man. These servants have been entrusted with fortunes amounting to from 20 to 100 man-years worth of labor. These are huge resources. But it’s the case that that God willing, we will live and work many years ourselves, either squandering those years or using them to God’s glory. Not only have we been entrusted with the precious treasure of the Gospel, but we each have a life’s worth of resources to invest for the Master.

The master does not give each servant the same number of talents. He does not give each the same resources and responsibility, but rather he judges the abilities and faithfulness of the servants according to what he knows they can handle. Notice that this may not sound so much in tune with our modern egalitarian ways of thinking. But the truth is that the servants are not equally capable, and the master doesn’t give them equal resources and responsibilities.

The master went on a journey. The disciples seem to have been expecting the end times to come immediately. This was not to be so. The master went away, for an indefinite, but finite period. And he left the servants with differing, but nevertheless precious resources to use on his behalf in his absence.

16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more.

17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.

The 5 become 10 and the 2 become 4. These two servants are not equally capable, but they are equally faithful and end up being equally commended. They both make vigorous use of what has been entrusted to them. Notice, by the way, that by the time the master returns, the second servant has worked to the point that he has nearly the resources that the first servant had at the beginning.

18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.

The guy digs a hole. Burying a valuable was about the safest thing a person could do with it in ancient times. He has not lost his master’s resources, he’s simply failed to use them in the way the master intended. And the choice to sit on the master’s resources was not one that he had been authorized to make. He’d been given the talent to invest, to use on the master’s behalf.

19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

The master returned after a long time. Exactly how long we don’t know. What’s clear, however, is that the master returns at his convenience, not at the convenience of the servants, and does so without warning.

When the master returns, the first thing he does is to settle accounts with the servants. In our thinking about the rapture or what happens after death, we typically buzz past this, thinking immediately about the welcome that awaits us. But before the master does anything else, he evaluates what has been done with his resources.

20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’

Listen to the properly humble view of this servant. He knows who owns the riches. He understands that he’s simply had temporary stewardship over them. He doesn’t say that he’s used his own resources to enrich the master, but rather, humbly says what profit the riches of the master have produced.

Notice also that it is for the profit of the master that he has labored and doubled his portion. He has no legal claim to anything that his investments have produced. He understands that although (through the generosity of the master) he will benefit, that is only the byproduct of his faithfulness, not its object. He’s had charge of the property of the master, for the benefit of the master. If we don’t have that view of what God has given us, then our view is sub-Christian. If we think that this whole business of life is primarily for our benefit or comfort, we are sadly wrong and fail to be Biblical people. By God’s grace there is great benefit for His children, but that is only a byproduct of Him getting the glory that is due Him.

21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

“Well done.”  This is what the master expected. What the first servant has done is neither surprising nor extraordinary. It is, instead, completely in line with the way things ought to be. The master has left the servants in charge of his resources and he has expected them to use them.

“good and faithful servant” he says.  This is the key phrase in the whole parable. The parable is about faithfulness. The master has commended the servant for over the long haul, in a consistent day by day fashion, using the master’s resources for the sake of the master. That is faithfulness. That is what brings the commendation of the master.

“faithful over a little” he says.  This is 100 man years of labor! This little is exceedingly precious. But the point is that in comparison to what is to come, 30,000 days’ wages amount to very little.

“I will set you over much.” The reward here is more responsibility and more work to do on behalf of the master. The master does not say “good work, now take some time off and indulge yourself.” Our whole self-centered modern concept of deserving to be catered to on the basis of our contributions or accomplishments is simply not Biblical. Instead, faithfulness brings with it more opportunity to be faithful. It also brings with it fellowship with our Lord Jesus and a sense of well-being, as we know that as far as it is in our control, all is as it should be.

Now the second servant comes.

22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’

23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

This should give us all great hope and confidence. This second servant, who is substantially less capable than the first, is nevertheless commended in exactly the same way as the first. The issue is not how much he had to work with, or the total amount of the return on his work, but rather how faithful he has been. The issue is what he did with what he had to work with. He was not expected to turn his 2 into 10. He was only expected to use his 2 to produce 2 more.

Again, we see here that the reward for faithfulness is not a trip to the Bahamas, the right to order the master around, or even a large mansion. Instead, it is increased responsibility and additional work to do for the master, and joy that comes when a true heart honestly serves the master. This is the kind of joy that was evident in the life of the Lord Jesus.

John 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

 Now we hear from servant #3, the guy who has taken it upon himself to bury the master’s resources instead of using them in the master’s service.

 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,

25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

Let’s keep clearly in mind that this guy is in no way incapable of what he’d been commissioned to do. The master had given these guys responsibilities in line with their capabilities. They were being asked to do things they could handle.

What’s this guy been thinking? Was he perhaps jealous that the other two were given more responsibility than himself? Was he miffed and sulking that he only got one portion, thinking that in comparison to the others, his contribution wasn’t really needed anyhow? Or was he thinking to himself “I don’t want to put myself out for this guy anyway. If I gain anything, it’s going to be his. I might as well go to the beach or perhaps work on painting my own house.”

Whatever his excuse for disobeying, the servant seems willing to impugn the character of the master in order to justify his own laziness. The picture he gives is of the master somehow making out unjustly from the efforts of others. That’s simply not the situation. The talents belong to the master to begin with. The servant has just been asked to put them to work on behalf of the master.

26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?

The servant may well have considered himself to have been honorable. After all, he had preserved the master’s talent. It was all there, he’d lost none of it. But look what the master has to say. “wicked and slothful servant” To fail to use God’s gifts to bring Him glory is not some small matter. It is in fact to rob Him. The master pronounces the servant to wicked, evil, immoral, deserving of severe punishment.

Do we believe this? Or do we really think that our talents are really our own, to use or squander as we see fit?

27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.

Without at all agreeing that he was as the wicked servant made him out to be, the master condemns the servant with his own words. The wicked servant knew that the master deserved a profit/increase and should/could have seen one way or the other that he received such. But instead, for his own reasons, he chose to deny the master his rightful increase. Whether that was based on timidity, laziness, envy or whatever, that is wrong. It is evil.

The servant had been given the master’s resources but sat on them. We have been entrusted with the treasure of the Christian Gospel and with personal abilities and strength of life. To live any way other than to bring Glory and increase to the God of the Universe is, to us as well, a great evil. And we do so at our own great peril.

28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.

29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

Here are some universal, inexorable principles of life. For one, if you don’t use what God has entrusted to you, you lose it. If you do use it, you will be increasingly capable and valuable to your master. There’s no standing still in life. You are either progressing or degenerating. There’s nothing in between.

For another, it is the one who has been faithful with the 5 that is ready to handle the 10 plus 1. Would we be willing to do something great in the Kingdom of God? Would we be willing to turn the world upside down for Christ? Then what about the small things? The principle is that if we won’t do the small things, forget about the big ones. There’s no point in planning on turning the world upside down for Christ if we’re known as an irresponsible flaky people that no one can count on.

30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

He is a :worthless servant.” Indeed. It is the essence of being a servant that the master calls the shots. A servant who sees himself as in charge, willing to ignore the expressed will of the master is of no use to the master. He’s not a servant at all. He’s genuinely worthless.

How serious is this whole business? It’s the stuff of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Christian people are, in fact, servants of the God of the universe. If we don’t see ourselves as that, then we are not His at all. We dare not rob our God of his rightful increase by sitting on the wondrous treasures that He’s entrusted to us. If we do, we have no place with Him at all. That ought not put Christians into a frenzy to go out and make up for lost time. The faithful servants didn’t double the master’s funds overnight. What they did do was to consistently plug away for him over an extended period. That’s what we’re called to be and do. To plug away day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. That’s what produces the master’s approval. That’s what turns the 2 into 4 and the 5 into 10. We must plug away, growing in faithfulness, being increasingly consistent in His service, conscious that we are only using what is His to begin with and which ought therefore to be used to bring Him glory.

 

Now we come to the teaching on the sheep and the goats. It’s not really a parable so much as a straight and pointed description of Christ’s judgment and of what really matters in the end.

 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.

“When” says Jesus. There are various interpretations of “when” is when, which judgment this is etc., tied to various systems of eschatology. Let’s just focus on the fact that at some time in history the events described here are going to take place. That’s true, and enough for us to know.

Jesus refers to “the Son of Man.” This title plainly alludes to Daniel’s vision.

Daniel 7:13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.

14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

This is a title Jesus took for Himself that reveals Him as both fully human and fully divine. Verse 25 is meant to be an awe inspiring picture. Jesus is the King. Jesus meek and mild is not the whole story. This is Jesus in His majesty as rightful King and Judge. This is a picture of the Last Day, and the central figure, the one with whom we all must do is Jesus, the Son of Man.

32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

“all the nations” are gathered. Jesus is King over all peoples. Earlier Jesus had talked of letting the weeds grow together with the wheat, to be separated at the harvest. Here the whole flock is going to be separated. It is all people.

Apparently, the origin of the picture here is that during the day, the flock all ran together, but at night it was necessary to separate out the goats because they had less fat and fur and needed to huddle together in the night cold for warmth, where the sheep did not. It is a common, matter of fact thing, perfectly sensible and natural. It could not be otherwise. Of course the shepherd separates.

33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

The right hand is always the place of honor and favor. Note that there are only two groups here. Sheep are sheep and goats are goats. This image should not catch any listeners by surprise. This is completely consistent with the revelation of God in Ezekiel 34.

Ezekiel 34:17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.

18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet?

19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.

21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad,

22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.

 

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Again, Jesus is the King. He is not just like a king, but is The King. And it is He who judges and gives the inheritance prepared from the beginning, to exactly 2 groups: the sheep and the goats.

Ephesians. 1:4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him …

This thing has been planned from the foundation of the world. It is not something that might happen. It will happen.

35 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,

36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

We must each face this for our self. There are plenty of other people that we could point fingers at on this stuff, but we dare not give ourselves that luxury. We must ask: How big are these acts? How visible are they? How much of our resources do they require? Are they of such a nature that any of us is unable to participate? Are any of us then without excuse? … These are acts that common people do with their own time, capacities and compassion. These acts aren’t necessarily the ones our carnal selves think of as great acts of spirituality. But they are the ones that Jesus remembers. They tell Him and tell us who we really are. They are not the self-conscious things we do when we realize that others are watching. These are the actions of sheep being sheep.

It’s quite a thing that Jesus puts Himself into this picture as the one helped. It’s not “just” others we help, but Christ Himself. These acts voluntarily involve us in the suffering and need of others, particularly other believers. God could have short-circuited this and made it unnecessary for us to be involved. He didn’t. There is a point in us taking part in this. God voluntarily involved Himself in our desperate situation, and in turn we are given the chance to take on the character and work of Jesus, both to our good and as a continuing testimony to the nature of our God.

37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?

38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?

39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

This is a thing of real beauty and virtue. The good works of the sheep are completely unconscious, coming from the character of Christ in them. And it is the evidence of regeneration that these works provide, that is the basis of separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep cannot be depending upon the good works for their salvation. They don’t even recognize them! There is no attacking these works as done for legalistic purposes, they are not meant by the sheep to be a means of salvation, but are rather an expression of who the sheep are.

Luke 6:45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good …

40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

The fact that Jesus purposely mentions “the least” makes this universally applicable. It is also true that God promises special protection for the weak and downtrodden throughout the Scriptures. And there is also in the “my brothers” special emphasis on how Christian people are treated. There is a sense in which Christ is the elder brother of all people, but most fully and truly, He is the elder brother only of those who have bowed the knee and embraced God’s gracious offer of salvation. The issue here is not just philanthropy, but the reaction of people to the person of Christ in the “least significant” of His people.

Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

He says, “you cursed.” The OT usage of this word was “those who are irretrievably condemned and devoted to death.” There are only two groups and the judgment is final. There is eternal fire. Ryle said, “They would not hear Christ when He said ‘Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.’ And now they must hear Him say ‘Depart into everlasting fire.’ They would not carry His cross, and so they can have no place in His kingdom.”

42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,

43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

The goats are not charged with anything that we would recognize as “major/awful” sins. They are charged with negligence, sins not of commission, but of omission. They are charged with being goats instead of being sheep.

James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

The contrast is in failing to do the simple things that testify to the character of Christ and that the love of God is really part of our being. Earlier, Matthew records Jesus saying

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Those condemned claim some pretty flashy “evidence” of their “spirituality.” But it isn’t the real thing. Jesus says that the real thing is seen in whether we do the “small” things, and in particular whether or not we extend the love of Christ to the least of His brethren. The real thing is seen in the absolutely unconscious nature, whether out lives reveal the genuinely self-giving character of Christ or whether they are really calculated to promote self.

44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’

There’s real surprise and a kind of horrible symmetry and irony here. These are almost exactly the same words as from the sheep. But they have radically different meaning and consequences. They come from a radically different heart. Instead of a real genuine humility that is unaware of its own goodness, these are words of arrogance that reveal a cold calculation about life. This group says with genuine surprise “But when did we miss you? If we had seen you we would have acted!” But think about what this says about their motivation for good works. They are essentially saying “Do good only if you’re being watched and get credit.” Think about what it says about their understanding of their relationship to other people. They really think “Other ordinary folks really don’t matter much.” Think about what it says about their real relationship to God. In the end, they really had none, they don’t share His self-giving nature. These are goats. Goats have the nature of goats and the concerns of goats, not those of sheep.

Ryle said, “The last judgment will be a judgment according to evidence. The works of men are the witnesses that will be brought forward, and above all their works of charity. The question to be ascertained will not merely be what we said, but what we did: not merely what we professed, but what we practiced. Our works unquestionably will not justify us: we are justified by faith without the deeds of the law; but the truth of our faith will be tested by our lives. Faith which hath not works is dead, being alone. James 2:11.”

The Apostle John put it this way.

1 John 3:17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘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.’

46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

There are only two groups, and Jesus says that there are only two corresponding eternal destinies. One is in the presence of the gracious eternal God. The other is in the presence of all others whose only concern has been themselves.

Ryle’s point #4 on this passage is as follows.

“Let us mark, in the last place, what will be the final results of the judgment day. We are told this in words that ought never to be forgotten: ‘The wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.’

The state of things after the judgment is changeless and without end. The misery of the lost, and the blessedness of the saved, are both alike forever: let no man deceive us on this point. It is clearly revealed in Scripture: the eternity of God, and heaven, and hell, all stand on the same foundation. As surely as God is eternal, so surely is heaven an endless day without night, and hell an endless night without day. Who shall describe the blessedness of eternal life? It passes the power of man to conceive: it can only be measured by contrast and comparison. An eternal rest, after warfare and conflict; the eternal company of saints, after buffeting with an evil world; an eternally glorious and painless body, after struggling with weakness and infirmity; an eternal sight of Jesus face to face, after only hearing and believing,–all this is blessedness indeed. And yet the half of it remains untold.

Who shall describe the misery of eternal punishment? It is something utterly indescribable and inconceivable. The eternal pain of body; the eternal sting of an accusing conscience; the eternal society of none but the wicked, the devil and his angels; the eternal remembrance of opportunities neglected and Christ despised; the eternal prospect of a weary, hopeless future, –all this is misery indeed: it is enough to make our ears tingle, and our blood run cold. And yet this picture is nothing compared to the reality.

Let us close these verses with serious self-inquiry. Let us ask ourselves on which side of Christ we are likely to be at the last day. Shall we be on the right hand, or shall we be on the left? Happy is he who never rests till he can give a satisfactory answer to this question.”

This is truly sobering stuff, for us and for those we love. We ought to pray. We ought to live humbly in the light of these truths.

 Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.