No one likes a hypocrite. The English word hypocrite has its origin in the Greek word for actor and like actors, hypocrites typically love the applause of the crowd – as they say one thing and do the opposite

Come with me to a scene we find in Luke’s Gospel as Jesus traveled towards Jerusalem. The details speak of its historical authenticity – a woman crippled with an incurable sickness and a pompous leader of a synagogue with his high-minded rule-keeping. The scene unfolds in Luke chapter 13, verses 10 following.

Teaching in a synagogue one Sabbath, Jesus noticed a badly crippled woman, bowed and helpless – possibly with spondylitis deformans. It may be her infirmity itself drew attention or she may have used it as an excuse to be noticed. Certainly she had a problem.

Luke the physician tells us that a spirit – an evil spirit – had caused this physical infirmity for eighteen years. Inviting her to come over to him, no doubt so that everyone could see, Jesus said to her, “Woman you are set free from your ailment” (13:12). Luke tells us that Jesus laid his hands on her and immediately she was able to stand up straight again. Feeling strength and health in her body, the woman’s first response was to praise, glorify God (13:13).

The moment of joy, however, was brought to an abrupt halt when the synagogue ruler angrily stepped in: ‘You have six other days in the week for work. You are not to practice medicine on the Sabbath,’ was the force of his harsh words (13:14).

But Jesus was not deterred. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”

For Jesus, her healing symbolized something more than God’s power and compassion at work. It symbolized her release from the power of sin and evil. Furthermore, in saying that it was right to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus was pointing out that the Sabbath was consecrated for the ‘good and proper end’ of creation.

Two parables that follow underline this (13:18-20). Both highlight the prolific and pervasive growth of God’s kingdom. The parable of the mustard seed shows how, from a tiny insignificant beginning, God’s kingdom would become immense. From the modest beginning of twelve men, and one of them a traitor, in a tiny province in the Roman Empire, would grow a group numbering millions upon millions. The final return of God’s king is in mind.

If you have ever made bread, you will know how the yeast finds its way through the dough, doubling its size or more, if left long enough. Similarly, God’s kingdom will find its way right through society, into the lives of insignificant men and women as well as into the corridors of political and economic power.

The healing of the crippled woman was a sign of God’s power and of Jesus’ authority. It was a sign of the decision God had made: to liberate men and women from their bondage to sickness, to sin and to Satan. This was God’s purpose.

It was the choice Jesus had made. He had come to liberate men and women from their slavery to self and to sin. And God’s vision is big. Countless millions will be affected. We can be completely confident about this.

And look how Jesus treated this crippled woman. She was a nobody, an outcast, and yet he was prepared to put his reputation on the line for her. Ignoring the potential reaction of the religious elite, he made available for her the benefits of the kingdom of God.

What an encouragement this is for us. Everyone is acceptable. It doesn’t matter who we are: there are no exceptions. And that is why there will be many surprises on the final day.

Prayer. Lord God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many great dangers that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: grant us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to He Will Hold Me Fast from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

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© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

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’The Hinge of History…’

In The Weekend Australian (August 6-7, 2022), Dr Greg Sheridan, well-respected foreign affairs writer, observed: ‘The world moved a few steps closer to war this week – war of unimaginable consequences between the world’s two superpowers. We’re still probably a long way from war, but war got closer, more possible, more imaginable’.

Is a day coming when the decades-long relative peace we have enjoyed in the West is broken?

In every age people are looking for meaning and security. Jesus of Nazareth understands our needs, our longings, and not least our desire for peace. Yet in Luke chapter 12, verses 49 though 56 we encounter some of his toughest words.

In verse 49 we read: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

Fire and water were symbols of judgment in the Old Testament. Water devoured the people of Noah’s day and fire destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus is saying that with his coming amongst us the time of divine judgment is set. Our cry for justice will be answered.

But we have to understand that all of us are the problem. Humanity has made incredible strides in the fields of science and technology. We can communicate with one another in nano-seconds, but we still have problems in our relationships – the tension and conflict, between nations, between ideologies and philosophies, between the sexes and amongst family members.

William Golding, the author of Lord of the Flies, was once asked why he wrote it. He responded: I believed then, that humanity was sick – not exceptional men and women, but average men and women. I believed that the condition of humanity was to be a morally diseased creation and that the best job I could do at the time was to trace the connection between their diseased nature and the international mess they get themselves into.

Is there a God who will clean up the mess? Jean Paul Sartre commented: ‘That God does not exist, I cannot deny; that my whole being cries out for God, I cannot forget’.

In Luke’s narrative we find teachings that many agree are the finest in history. We encounter a debater who outclassed the finest minds around him. We also discover the most impressive miracle worker the world has known: he could heal the sick, still a storm, and even raise the dead to life.

Jesus’ life reveals a God who stands at the heart of the universe.

But there is something much more: “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” he says (12:50). His baptism is a metaphor for the event that would totally consume him – his crucifixion.

Now it’s important we think this through: why did Jesus die?

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul speaks of Jesus’ death:  For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart” (1 Corinthians 1:18f).

In the cross of Christ the power of God is at work. Paul is saying that God, in his wisdom, has used his power to provide a solution to our dilemma in a way that nothing else could.

We are not here by chance simply to make the best of our fleeting life.

The Western nations at present don’t seem to be able to govern themselves. The problem is none of us want others to govern us. We want to be in charge.

And our natural inclination is to have the same attitude towards God. ‘God,’ we say, ‘if you are there, don’t call us, we’ll call you when we need you’. But you see what we are doing? We’re breaking the first commandment: ‘You shall love the Lord your God …’.

“…What stress I am under, or, how I am straightened, until it is accomplished”, Jesus said. His death supremely reveals God’s selfless love, for it opens the door to life for a lost and unlovely world. To use the language of the Prayer Book, Jesus’ death is ‘the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world’.

Having died the death we deserve from God, Jesus Christ is now the defense barrister who never loses the case for anyone who turns to him and belongs to him. Jesus has an infinite willingness to hear our prayers of confession.

How easy it is in the busy-ness of life to overlook Jesus’ deep desire to serve us. It’s worth etching in our minds his words, I have a baptism with which to be baptized… for they remind us of his deep love for us. They will also awaken us and alert us when we are tempted to drift away from the good that he would have us do.

So then, what should we do? Look at vv.54-56: He also said to the people: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (12:54-56).

As a child I learned the lines: ‘Red sky in the morning sailors’ warning; red sky at night sailors’ delight’. While weather forecasters don’t always get their predictions as accurate as we might like, there are certain principles that are timeless.

‘Why is it’, Jesus asks, ‘that you can forecast the weather, but you fail to understand the signs of the times in which you live? You fail to discern events in your midst that impact the deeper realities of your life’. People either choose to ignore or fail to understand events that point to the reality that we are not just material beings, but that our existence has come about through the work of a Creator.

So many fail to see the significance of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. Revealing God to us in person he is the turning point, the hinge of history.

Jesus’ words here are challenging and yet encouraging. They tell us that there is a God who has started a process that will lead to a final day of judgement. But the good news is that God is not only committed to justice he has done everything needed to restore our broken relationship with him. Turning to Jesus Christ is the key.

We need to pay careful attention: The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Let me encourage you not to rest until you have found forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ who is our one true hope.

A prayer. God our Father, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding: pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you above all things, may obtain your promises which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.


’Don’t Waste Your Life’

Don’t Waste Your Life is the title of a book John Piper wrote in 2003. Recounting something of his own teenage and early adult experiences in the late 1960s, he observes, ‘existentialism was the air we breathed. And the meaning of existentialism was that “existence precedes essence”. That is, you first exist and then, by existing, you create your essence. You make your essence by freely choosing to be what you will be. There is no essence outside you to conform to. Call it “God” or “Meaning” or “Purpose” – it is not there until you create it by your own courageous existence’ (p.14).

Today, almost 20 years later, I echo Piper’s 2003 comment, ‘this sounds strangely like our own day…’.

In the Gospel of Luke chapter 12, verses 35-40 Jesus of Nazareth draws out a bigger picture of our existence: “You must also be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour”, he says (12:40).

In speaking about an unexpected hour of his coming, that is, his return, Jesus implies that we are much more than the sum of our parts – that we exist, not by happenstance, but by design. Despite the voices in the western world today, there is something, no, someone, far greater than we can imagine – who has given us life (existence) and who gives our life meaning (essence).

Contrary to many in our society who refuse to take Jesus seriously, eminent historians such as Dr. Edwin Judge comment:

‘An ancient historian has no problem seeing the phenomenon of Jesus as an historical one. His many surprising aspects only help anchor him in history. Myth or legend would have created a more predictable figure. The writings that sprang up about Jesus also reveal to us a movement of thought and an experience of life so unusual that something much more substantial than the imagination is needed to explain it’ (EA Judge, emeritus professor of history and director of ancient history at Macquarie University, Sydney).

To treat the four Gospel accounts of Jesus as authentic is key to understanding who we are.

Today and over the coming Wednesdays we’ll be looking in advance at the lectionary Gospel readings for the upcoming Sundays – all from the ‘travel narrative’ in the Gospel of Luke. So come with me to Luke 12:35-40.

Be prepared. In speaking about a day of his coming Jesus uses the metaphor of a wealthy man who was away from home at an important wedding. The man’s servants, Jesus says, must be ready for his return no matter how late the hour: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him when he comes and knocks” (12:35-36).

It’s easy to miss the force of these words. In the same way the servants needed to be ready for the return of their master, we need to be prepared for Jesus’ return.

There is something special here we often overlook: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes,” Jesus says. “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (12:37). To be blessed by God is to be the beneficiary of his goodness and open-handed generosity.

Furthermore, Jesus is saying that on his return, he himself will serve his faithful people who are alert and actively preparing for his coming. “If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!” (12:38)

Deep Joy. We can only begin to imagine the deep joy that we will experience if Christ finds us faithful when he returns.

Jesus’ imagery here indicates three things about the timing of his coming. It is imminent, the master could return at any time; there is delay, the master seems to be taking his time. And there is a third element: surprise. In 12:39 Jesus references a householder not knowing when the thief will come.

We are seriously mistaken if we think we know the time of this. Yes, some who profess to be God’s people are constantly looking for signs. Some even set a date and give away all their possessions. But they ignore Jesus’ words: ‘When the day comes, it will come as a surprise’.

The reality is that one day all men and women will stand before God. While this is a frightening thought, it is also encouraging, for it means that justice will be done and all wrongs in the world throughout the centuries will be perfectly addressed.

But this is not Jesus’ focus here: he is addressing his people. The sobering thought here is that all of us who profess to be his followers are answerable to him – not just for the things we have done, but also for the things we have not done.

He is challenging us all to ask, What kind of life am I living? Am I growing in the faith? Am I simply serving my own interests in life or am I honoring the Lord in my thoughts, my words and my actions? How do I use the gifts, skills and material resources the Lord has given me? And what about my relationships – with my family and my friends, my colleagues and in the wider community?

Am I prepared for the Lord’s return? And am I helping others to prepare for the return of the King – using the opportunity to introduce them to him before it’s too late? How am I using the time the Lord has given me? Will I find on that final day that I have lived a wasted life?

A prayer. Lord God, you know that we cannot put our trust in anything that we do: help us to have faith in you alone, and mercifully defend us by your power against all adversity as, through your grace, we endeavor to serve you faithfully throughout our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.


’Ambition …’

I have a simple question: What is your ambition in life?

With the celebration of the seventy-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II, attention has been given to her commitment to serve her people. Service, not self-service, has been a characteristic of her reign.

The themes of royalty and service stand out in Dr. Luke’s record of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. One of the constant features of Jesus’ public life is his service. Although, he is God’s king, he never used his divine powers out of self-interest or self-aggrandizement, but for the good of others.

In the opening lines of Luke chapter 10, we read that Jesus sent out seventy (or seventy-two) of his followers on a training mission so they could experience first-hand what ministry in his name means. Three themes stand out.

1. Prayer. In sending out the seventy Jesus wanted his disciples to involve others in their ministry. Because God’s good news is for all peoples, many more than the disciples would be needed. The harvest is plentiful, Jesus said, ‘but the laborers are few; pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field’ (10:2).

The Book of Revelation tells us that in the last day the Kingdom of God will include a huge multitude, drawn from every nation and tribe and from every generation. It will be as countless in size as the sands on the seashore and the stars in the sky.

A vast international company like this will require the involvement of thousands – people who are willing to leave their comfort zones and commit to serving the cause of Jesus Christ; people who, left to themselves, would sit comfortably in church on Sundays and in front of the television during the week.

In Reformation Anglicanism Archbishop Ben Kwashi writes, ‘In much of the world today there are churches seemingly everywhere and very many Christians, yet with little positive impact on society’.

How important it is that we pray the Lord of the harvest to stir up amongst his people a gospel mindset and the resources that are needed for the work of gospel ministry.

2. Partnership. Jesus’ instructions Luke records here were specific to a particular mission. The seventy were to ‘carry no purse, no bag, no sandals’ (10:5). Rather they were to trust God to provide for their material needs.

Jesus also impressed on them the urgency of their work: ‘Greet no one on the road,’ he said (10:5). Saying Hello to someone in the Middle East can be time-consuming. Jesus is saying that someone with a job to do can’t let themselves be caught up in small talk with everyone they meet. It doesn’t mean God’s people are to be dismissive and discourteous. Rather, Jesus draws attention to how easily we can be distracted from the ministry he is passionate about – namely rescuing the lost, giving them new life and hope in his name.

How then were the seventy to find bed and board? Jesus answered by saying: ‘Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’’ (10:5-8).

People who are involved in ‘full-time ministry’ are to receive their support from others who are not so called. But ministers are not charity cases: ‘They work as hard as anyone,’ Jesus is saying, ‘and they deserve their wages’.

However, he also sounds a warning. Our ministry may be rejected: But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near” (10:10-11).

None of us likes rejection. But Jesus warns this is a real possibility. Christian ministry can be unpopular, even dangerous work. ‘I send you out as lambs amongst wolves,’ he says elsewhere. ‘Not everyone will want your message: in some places whole societies will reject you.’ And, Jesus adds: ‘You are to accept the rejection; but warn those who reject you that the kingdom of God is near.

Ministry is about life and death issues. Men and women can reject other views about life with impunity, but when we reject God’s Messiah we put our souls in jeopardy. The stakes are high when we hear God’s gospel and when we open a Bible.  We are given a choice: will we reject or accept the message? “He who listens to you, listens to me” Jesus said; “He who rejects you, rejects me; and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (10:16).

3. Warning. The seventy returned from their mission trip and were enthusiastic about the way God had changed lives. Their ministry was authenticated as they saw people from all walks of life receiving the message of God’s kingdom. Who wouldn’t be excited?

But Jesus has some sobering words. He not only alerts his young followers to times of ministry disappointment, he also alerts them to the perils of ministry success. Taking them aside he points out that the arrival of God’s kingdom heralded the downfall of the evil powers. ‘Ministers of God’s good news will see signs of my greater power and lives being changed for good. But don’t let this success go to your head. Remember Satan himself fell because of spiritual pride. Your greatest reason for joy is that your names are written in heaven’ (10:20).

Three very important themes emerge in 10:1-20. We see that God’s ambition is to draw into his kingdom countless numbers of people from all walks of life. We also see the conjunction of ministry and prayer. Alongside the ministry of God’s Word is the ministry of prayer.

What is your ambition? Jesus challenges us to ask how can we serve in God’s plan to rescue men and women and bring them into his kingdom.

A prayer. Lord, give your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only true God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Teach us, gracious Lord, to begin our works with reverence, to go on in obedience, and finish them with love; and then to wait patiently in hope, and with cheerful countenance to look up to you, whose promises are faithful and rewards infinite; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may enjoy listening to Across the Lands from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason


’Surprising Expectations’

In A Call to Spiritual Reformation Dr. Don Carson comments: ‘When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs­­ – and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfilment.  God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfils our aspirations. We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us’ (pp.15f).

Three brief scenes in the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth alert us to some surprising aspects of God’s nature and his expectations of all who call themselves his people.

In Luke’s record a significant turning point occurs in Jesus’ ministry: when the days drew near for him (Jesus) to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). We feel the graphic power of Luke’s words. Jesus was not to be dissuaded from the task ahead as he transitioned in his work from the region of Galilee to Jerusalem. His determination to see his mission through was evident in the flint-like set of his face. This provides the context for what follows.

Scene 1. As they were going along the road, someone said to him (Jesus), ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (9:57-58).

The man’s words looked promising: ‘I will follow you wherever you go’. What more would a leader want? But Jesus was aware that the man was not truly committed: ‘Have you really thought about this? Do you understand what’s involved?’ Jesus was aware the man would have expected security and even privilege because he was offering to join the company of a celebrity. But Jesus indicates that the road ahead for his people will not be easy: ‘Come with me and you will have no guarantee of home comforts and security’, he is saying.

One of the misconceptions Jesus needed to correct was the Jewish view of the Messiah. Even his closest followers considered Messiah to be primarily a political figure who would bring the nations under his rule. They had rightly recognized Jesus as God’s Messiah, but it may be that they had taken this to another level: they would be nobles in Jesus’ court.

Jesus uses a powerful metaphor to shatter the man’s dreams, as well as instruct his disciples: ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’. Jesus was born in a manger and died on a cross and in between had no fixed home, let alone a palace, where he could lay his head. So he challenges us, ‘How important are comfort and security, and even celebrity to you?’

Scene 2. A second man’s request to Jesus seems reasonable: ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father’ (9:59). Middle Eastern society required a son to remain at home to care for aging parents. Clearly this man’s parents were still alive for if his father had died, to be true to his word, he would have immediately returned home to attend to the burial.

More likely the man’s parents had some years to live, but he was using their ultimate demise as an excuse. And so Jesus challenged him, ‘Let the dead bury the dead,’ implying that the spiritually dead can attend to the family or cultural expectations. ‘But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’, he said (9:60).

Jesus’ words may seem heartless, but he saw through the man’s request. Children do have responsibilities to parents. The Scriptures command us to honour them and care for them, but we should not allow such care to distract us from the walk with Christ.

Jesus is a demanding leader to follow, as we see even more in a third scene.

Scene 3. Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me say farewell to those at my home’ (9:61). Once again, the request seems reasonable: ‘I need to go and say goodbye to the folks before I come and follow you’. However, Jesus knew how a lengthy Middle Eastern family farewell could be used to overturn the man’s resolve to leave home and follow an unlettered rabbi like Jesus. ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’, Jesus responded (9:62)

Many today might be impressed with Jesus and greatly attracted to him. They may even want to follow him but are not always willing to do so – just yet. Augustine, the 5th century bishop of Hippo said, O Lord, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.

Jesus wants our total commitment. He calls us to be willing to leave the security of a home, of family and friends, and of status. We have to make a choice.

Jesus sometimes creates tensions in families where adult family members have no regard for him. It may not be a parent, but a husband or boyfriend, a wife or girlfriend, who prevents us from hearing and obeying Jesus’ call to follow him. Jesus calls on us to join him on his rescue mission of a lost humanity.

Through the centuries God’s people have often been seduced by the attractions of privilege and prestige. Churches and denominations are often cluttered with celebrated office bearers and wealth. We need leadership and order, but celebrity and power can become more important than serving Jesus Christ.

If we adopt the principles that lie behind Jesus’ words, our relationships with one another as God’s people and in the wider community will be turned upside down. Are we known for our willingness to reach out to newcomers at church, for our care for the sick and suffering, the lonely and the bereaved? And, in our world where everyone is encouraged to bring their ‘full self’ to work, are we willing to bring our ‘Christ-centered self’?

As Jesus says elsewhere, ‘What does it profit a man or a woman to gain the whole world yet lose their own soul?’

A prayer. Heavenly Father, keep your people in the truth of your Word; so that those who lean only on the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

You may like to listen to For the Cause from Keith and Kristyn Getty.