Luke 20 – Religious Authority

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The moment Jesus’ authority is questioned shows up in both Matthew and Mark, and in all three circumstances, after putting them in their place, He speaks a warning about the religious leaders.  They may hold a high place in society, but, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

Jesus’ comment at the end of his warning is telling, for those of us in places of authority, we will be judged “more severely.”  I’ve often wondered what this really means and what it looks like in today’s culture.

It is pretty clear throughout Scripture that those God calls to be leaders, those with knowledge and wisdom, are held to a higher standard.  Jesus shows us how we are to live into this through the model of humble service to one another and sharing God’s love and the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven to all He encountered.  When Jesus sends out the seventy-two and the twelve, He commands them and gives them authority in this way.

I wonder what Jesus would have to say about the leaders of our day.  Some go around touting their status as “reverend,” all the while stirring up trouble, division, and dissension in the name of religious rites, demanding perfection from some while excusing the sins of others.  Others find the use of vulgar speech and emotionally manipulative tactics to be the way to more power.  Sadly, almost every leader that we see in the news or seeking an office does less of the humble serving and much more of the “devouring” that Jesus mentions.

Leaders that say that we need to “help” and “serve” without showing it with their actions (or their pockets) should probably heed Jesus warning here.  Like the parables, when much is given, much is expected.

Luke 19 – Zacchaeus

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The Zacchaeus story coupled with that of Jesus’ visit to the Temple caps off a series of teachings largely relating to money, wealth, and blessings.  Jesus puts things in perspective, talking about not serving two masters, giving away wealth as part of entering into the Kingdom of God, and now we see a concrete example of this in Zacchaeus.

It is entirely possible that Zacchaeus had been following Jesus in His approach to Jericho and now that He was inside the city, wanted to get a look at Him.  I’m sure He didn’t expect Jesus to ask to come over to His house.  However, the transformation that takes place in Zacchaeus’ life in the presence of Jesus and the application of His teaching is profound.

Contrast that with Jesus’ entrance into the Temple after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Whereas salvation had come to the house of a “sinner,” the Temple, the place where the people worshipped and sacrified to God was anything but the picture of salvation.  In fact, the Temple had become a place in which exploitation was the way of life rather than worship.  Think about what Jesus said just a few chapters earlier, “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.”

God’s Temple had become a place where people were exploited for their religious duties and desires.  To sacrifice, you had to have the “perfect” animal that only they sold.  To donate, you had to use the Temple currency which you could get, at a price.  The difference between God’s economy and that of humans is stark: while Zacchaeus is giving away and repenting, the religious leaders continue to cheat, exploit, and hoard money in God’s name… and we wonder why Jesus is angry?

Luke 18 – Receive Your Sight

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At this point in His ministry, Jesus is moving toward Jerusalem for the Passover celebration and His eventual arrest, conviction, and death.  On this journey, Jesus continues to teach His disciples and those around them, seeking to help them reframe their way of thinking and seeing the world.  As He has been teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus gives practical examples about what it looks like to see things from that perspective.

In everyday culture, justice, humility, and the innocence of a child are not readily rewardable qualities.  Yet Jesus speaks parables that point to how God’s economy works, that in the Kingdom of Heaven, these things will be the norm, not the exception.  In the same way, the reception of and entrance into God’s Kingdom comes in the form of childlike faith and innocence.

This is illustrated in the parable of the rich man that follows.  He has great wealth and finds himself unable to part with it when push comes to shove.  And while it seems impossible for the very wealthy to be able to give that up for the Kingdom, Jesus also affirms this: “What is impossible for man is possible with God.”

Perhaps Jesus is making a statement here about all of what He has just taught them.  The rich man can follow the commandments to the letter, but that still does not imply faith.  Only through the work of the Holy Spirit can someone come to the saving faith in Jesus Christ.  When the Holy Spirit works in our hearts we receive a new kind of sight, seeing the world differently, through God’s eyes instead of our misguided human perception.

Maybe this is what Jesus is alluding to when He tells the blind man that his faith has made him well.

Luke 17 – Duty

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Jesus talks here about our duty as His followers.  The most obvious one of these duties is that of service, something Jesus lays out in verses 7-10.  Another one is God’s call on our lives to forgive each other, and to be thankful to Him for the blessings He has given to us and for things such as healing.  All of these could fall under the label of “duty.”

But when we talk about duty we often liken it to a requirement.  When we go to work we have duties to perform.  This can feel similar to the Law, us setting up requirements for Christian living.  When we start to think about it that way, though, we move away from Jesus’ message of grace and dangerously close to what we call “works righteousness,” the notion that we can earn our own salvation.

Often, when we hear “works-righteousness we are quick to deny it.  Of course we aren’t trying to earn our salvation!  We want to live a life that honors God in response to His grace.

This is true; very true in fact and it is important for us to remember that God calls us to a life that reflects His love, living in “grateful obedience” to the grace that He has shown us.  However, all too often, this begins with good intentions but later on starts to become ridgid and unforgiving.  We find ourselves judging others for the way they are living and comparing them to our own “righteous” life.  When we do this, we fall into the trap of self-righteousness and works-righteousness all over again.

What’s so bad about that?  Works-righteousness takes salvation out of God’s hands and puts it back in ours… it minimizes the power of the Cross and the work of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 28:1-10 "Is There Hope?"

At the very core of all the questions that we ask, we want to know that there is hope for something better.  On Easter morning, God answers this question with a resounding “YES,” bringing Jesus back from the dead and conquering death forever.

Pastor Sarah Farkas preaching.

Luke 16 – Shrewdness

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It almost seems as though Jesus is promoting shrewdness and material wealth in these teachings.  That doesn’t seem to jive with much of anything when it comes to what Jesus teaches.  Yet when we take a closer look, the manager that Jesus is speaking about is shrewd (sharp-witted, smart, astute) on several levels.  One of the reasons why these debts had not been paid is likely because the manager had compassion on those who could not pay back the debt.

The actions that he took after he was fired were just as good!  He used the position he had to help those indebted to the master which allowed for a continued relationship with these people and for them to be free from their debt.

So the manager is cheating the master?  Actually, probably not.  If these loans are between Jews, and we are able to think that they are as Jews had very little relations with other cultures, the Law of Moses says that they should charge no interest!  (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)  This manager may be shrewd, but he is also righteous in his actions.

Jesus then encourages His disciples to use their places of influence and what material wealth they had to “gain friends.”  It would seem that Jesus is promoting material gain yet He couples the teaching with a warning: “you cannot serve both God and money.”

God has blessed each one of us; we are encouraged to use those blessings to bless others.  This has always been the call of believers: Blessed to be a blessing.  We should use what God has given us to that end.  In this way we will not become a slave to our possessions, serving them rather than God; instead we serve God through the right use of His blessings to us.

Luke 15 – Party Time

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Every time I read these parables I find myself indignantly siding with Jesus against the Pharisees.  They look down on Him for hanging out with “sinners” and even sharing a meal with them.  How could these religious leaders think that?  They know God’s Word and how Israel was called to be a light to the nations; what’s wrong with them?

Yet when I find myself interacting with people around me, even in the community that I live in, I am more likely to play the role of the Pharisee than that of Jesus.  Certainly it’s not intentional, but we as Christians do this all the time.

There can be many different reasons why we tend to only associate ourselves with those who are like us, but the fact of the matter is that we are called, as Christians, to those outside of our Christians circles.  We are the light of the world; we are the salt of the earth.  So why is it that we are so much better at keeping the light to ourselves, even judging other Christians for whom they associate themselves with?

Too often we wait until people “get better” or “act right” before we are willing to associate ourselves with them.  We have this notion in our mind that Jesus came to make bad people good.  Jesus points out that this whole concept is as ridiculous as a doctor coming to see you when you are well but refusing to treat the sick.  The greatest celebrations in heaven, Jesus says, are not when bad people start to be good, but when those who are dead find life!

Who do you know that is lost?  Perhaps that is the person to whom God is calling you to… no matter what others might think or say.

Luke 14 – All In

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Jesus teaches that those who would truly follow Him must have an “all in” mentality.  His words are straight forward, even seeming harsh at times.  Those that follow Jesus must hate their family and their own life?  That seems somewhat contrary to other teachings.

Yet what we see here is that Jesus is not telling us to literally hate everyone, including ourselves, but rather that we need to make sure that our priorities in life are straight.  If we are to follow Jesus, we cannot do it half-heartedly.  He came with the “all in” life that ultimately led to His death and resurrection and our salvation; He asks the same from us.

He illustrates this by addressing humility and the priorities of would-be followers.  He also demonstrates this through once again healing on the sabbath in the face of the religious leaders, the tradition, and the law.  The point?  Those who would follow Jesus must be “all in.”

What Jesus is making sure we understand is that following Him means doing so 100%.  We cannot say that Jesus is Lord of our lives, but then live our lives following any number of “lords” that we typically have.  Our relationship with God must come first; when that is in place all other things will fall in line well.  Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God… and all these things will be added to you.”

There are many practical applications to this.  Some would say that being in church on Sundays is how one puts Jesus first, but then live the rest of each day as if He doesn’t exist.  However putting Jesus first requires true sacrifice, one greater than an hour of sleep once a week.  There is a reason Jesus refers to this as “taking up your cross.”

Luke 13 – Time Limit

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One of the things that I like to impress upon my congregation when we celebrate the Lord’s supper is that the invitation to the Table is always open.  When we use the traditional communion plates that have covers on them, I leave them off at the end as a symbol to this effect.  Jesus is always calling to us, desiring that we would turn to Him, declaring Him as our Lord and Savior.  John 3:16-17, the most famous verse in the Bible, speaks to this as well:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

God’s desire is that none would perish, that none would be left out of this salvation.  Yet there are three facts here that Jesus also addresses, ones that are much less popular.  The first is that we are all sinful and no one’s sin is more sinful than the others.  Jesus addresses this in his questions at the beginning of Luke 13.

The second is that, for us to be forgiven of our sin and for our relationship with God to be restored, we must place our faith in Jesus.  He is the narrow door through which we enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  There is no other way.

Finally, while this invitation is available for all, is not one that will be extended forever.  At some point, Jesus Christ will return for His people and at that point, there will be a judgment.  This too is not something that is very popular, it is a truth that Scripture teaches and therefore one that we must heed.


Luke 12 – Be Alert

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These warnings of Jesus ring true for us, even in the 21st century.  There are innumerable forces and influences in the world today that offer us a “path to salvation.”  Proponents of such messages are new, exciting, sometimes even vulgar, playing off of the emotions of people who thought the last new and exciting thing would save them, or those that knew it wouldn’t and are seeking an alternative.

It may seem like I am talking about politics here, and that wouldn’t be a wrong assumption, but this is also true in many other realms of life.  Jesus writes in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 that “many will come in my Name…” and that we need to watch out for this.  Jesus also says here, that we should “have no fear.”

Jesus is getting at a deep application of our faith in practice.  Those that are trusting in Jesus should not be looking elsewhere for hope or salvation.  Believers aren’t so concerned about making a country great but rather about caring for the widow and the orphan.  We don’t buy into the notion that a political party can make a country “whole,” because we know the true path to wholeness comes through Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.  And we don’t latch on to the ideas of Socialism because at its very core, the Church should already be doing these things in their communities, showing deep concern for the marginalized.

Seeking any party, program, or other sources to do these things for us is not simply a matter of laziness, but a matter of salvific preference.  Do we turn to Jesus and follow Him and His great commission?  Or do we place our trust in others to do it for us… and in place of Him?

Matthew 27:27-31 "What About Suffering?"

The question of suffering is always before us, especially the question of why God allows it.  Some questions we don’t have the answers to, but the Bible is very clear that, no matter what comes our way, God will be there building us up and through it, making us more like Christ.

Luke 11 – Bath Time

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I always enjoy reading a narrative where Jesus calls out religious leaders for the different things that they do and say.  It’s like seeing someone known for corruption being caught in the act and brought to justice; it is wholly satisfying.

Everytime I read something like this passage though, there is a little twinge in my heart.  I know that, in my heart of hearts, I am too am a hypocrit, guilty of many of the things that Jesus calls the pharisees out on.  Seeing others’ sins brought to light may seem satisfying until we realize that we are guilty of the same thing.

For many of us, this is of what it means to be Christian.  Sunday mornings are full of arguments, threats, screaming, yelling, crying, and anger until we get out of the car at church, then everything is fine with us.  At the same time, while we are walking around with our masks on to hide our imperfections, we are more than happy to call out others for things they aren’t hiding quite as well.

This epidemic of illusion is something we as the Church cannot continue.  In many ways, those outside of the Church are much better at being authentic than we are, understanding their own imperfections whilst calling us out on ours.  We are no different than they are… except for one crucial fact: We Are Forgiven.

Jesus doesn’t call for us to hide our sin from the world.  In fact, the Light of the World shine into the dark corners of our lives for the very purpose of cleaning them out so that, rather than being a slave to that sin, forced to wear the mask, we can live in freedom from it, washed and clean both outside and inside as well.

Luke 10 – Sending God

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Luke 10 is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible.  Especially in the first verses, where Jesus sends out people ahead of Him, we get the beginning of a developing picture that is the “Great Commission” of God’s people.  The notion of being “sent,” though, is not a new one for God’s people.  In fact, God’s people have always been a “sent people,” through whom God reveals His love, grace, and goodness.

Yet the words that Jesus uses from the very beginning here are telling; “the Harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few…”  How is it possible that those words can ring true today?  The latest estimates are that somewhere around one-third of the world’s population is Christian; that is somewhere between 2-3 billion people!

How is it then that, when we look across the religious landscape, particularly in North America, the church is dying and the harvest seems to be left in the field?

The Church in North America are those who have seen and heard the power of God over and over again, and yet fails to bring that message to others.  How is it that we can carry the message of grace and yet not care to deliver it wherever we go?

I wonder what would happen if we were to change the emphasis of our worship services?  In the past 30-40 years, such importance has been placed on music, a rousing and uplifting opening song set that get us energized and excited to be there and hear the message.  When it comes time to go with God’s blessing, however, it is nothing more than a nice bow to top off the wrapping paper.

What do you think would happen if we took God’s message of sending seriously?  Many laborers make for an abundant harvest!

Luke 9 – Who is Jesus?

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Here at Hopkins Community Church, we have been going through a sermon series examining 7 Essential Questions for faith and life as we journey through Lent.  We began this series examining the question that Jesus asks His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”

This is an important question that Luke has to examine for his audience, the answer of which is the crux of the whole book.  If Jesus is not the Messiah, then Luke is simply chronicling the life of a religious leader.  The whole purpose of his writing revolves around this.

What we see in this chapter, in response to Jesus’ question and particularly Peter’s response, is a series of incidents related to Jesus’ question.  More important are the different sources from which the consideration comes.  Herod, a Roman official is perplexed at the news of Jesus.  Could a prophet really rise from the dead?  Obviously, it can’t be John.

Later, in the scene of the Transfiguration, we see the Divine affirmation of who Jesus is, followed by another spiritual affirmation of Jesus’ identity from a demon.

I think the point that Luke is trying to make here is two-fold.  The first, and probably more obvious, is that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son, our Lord and Savior.  Yet the second, and perhaps the one we often miss, is that the answer to the first may not readily be obvious to everyone.  Peter is the only one of the disciples that confess Jesus as Lord.  Later Thomas will still doubt Jesus even after He appears to them.

This is a question that we all must answer at some time in our lives.  God in not afraid of our questions.  In fact, He welcomes them as an opportunity to show His true love to us.

Luke 8 – This Little Light of Mine

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The children’s Bible song “This Little Light of Mine” is certainly memorable and a fun way to help kids learn a piece of Scripture.  I wonder, however, how often we take its message to heart in our lives.

Jesus, talking about the Parable of the Sower speaks specifically about parables and understanding Biblical wisdom, and then specifically directs the disciples in the fact that they need to share this knowledge and wisdom with others, a part of “bearing fruit,” which is a common theme in Jesus’ teaching.

It seems like this would be rather self-evident given what Jesus tells His disciples: some are given to know the “secrets of the Kingdom of God,” while others aren’t.  For those that are, it is imperative that we share what we have seen and heard with those around us.  Yet Jesus knows well that we aren’t given to this sort of thing.  Whether it makes us uncomfortable or it is simply not something that we readily think about, “letting our light shine” is often times the thing we struggle with the most.

Contrast this teaching with the narrative of the demon possessed man later in the chapter.  Once healed, he couldn’t be stopped from telling what Jesus had done for him.  When something miraculous happens like this, it seems natural to tell everyone, but what about the “mundane” everyday faithfulness and blessing that we experience every moment of our lives?  How quick are we to tell others about that?

Sometimes we think that it is those who have stories of dramatic healing and change that warrant being told, yet Jesus says here that it is important for all believers to share their faith and the Word of God so that it is like a lamp on a stand, giving everyone light!