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’Where Is Our Hope…?’

’Where Is Our Hope…?’

The world around us seems to be growing more selfish and corrupt. The values that spring from a general acknowledgement that we are the special creation of a personal God are gathering dust on the shelf of history. Parents are concerned about the influences of social media and the impact of gender issues. Drugs and alcohol, homelessness, violence and rape seem more prevalent.

Is it possible to feel hopeful?

Two and a half millennia ago hopelessness was staring the little kingdom of Judah in the face. In the 8th century BC the Assyrian imperial army rampaged through the Middle East and sacked the northern kingdom of Israel. A century later the Babylonian armies were on the rise, and it was only a matter of time before Judah received the unwelcome attention of those powerful forces.

How would Judah survive? She had no army to speak of, no money and no allies. Greater nations had already been cut down. Political obliteration seemed inevitable. Yet despite the odds, Judah’s morale was not destroyed. A glimmer of hope was on the horizon.

It was Isaiah, one of the prophets who had spoken of doom and despair, who wrote about a special leader who would be raised up. In Isaiah chapter 11, features of God’s promised king unfold.

A leader after God’s own heart. Isaiah was disappointed by the politicians of his day. They were corrupt: they took bribes, ignored the poor, and turned a blind eye to justice. King Ahaz, for example, had broken every trust given to him. He had even used the gold of the Temple to try to bribe Assyria and prevent her march on Jerusalem. He’d failed. He was another ruler who’d let his people down.

Time and time again, rulers and governments do that. In most western democracies today election promises are constantly consigned to the trash.

In chapter 11, verse 1, Isaiah offers hope: A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

Jesse was the father of King David, the great king in the Old Testament. Just as David himself had come out of obscurity, Isaiah is saying, so too a new king would emerge, and he would be greater than David and his son Solomon.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, Isaiah says, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2-3).

Wisdom, understanding and knowledge would characterize this king’s rule. But fundamental would be his willingness to learn from God. There would be no political blunders in his rule. Furthermore, corruption would not plague his government; the media wouldn’t be able to destroy him – either over his personal integrity or his policies. No one would be living in poverty or without a home.

A leader who would use his power for peace. The metaphors in verse 6 are vivid: The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. Peace would be the mark of this leader’s rule.

Periods of world peace are fleeting. The war in Ukraine has expunged the view that the world had at last entered a time of safety, security and prosperity. Yet Isaiah insists, under God’s ruler there will be no incompetence, no corruption, no violence – only peace. Could it be true?

A leader who draws his people from the nations. Isaiah doesn’t stop there, for in verses 10 though 16 he portrays people coming from all parts of the world, like a scattered army, to rally around this ruler. It will be a victorious, redeemed community, he says (11:15). People will come from the East and the West. Highways will be built to God’s City so that people from every nation can come. It’s a vivid and poetic picture.

Understandably we ask, ‘Could it happen?’ ‘Who is this root of Jesse, this ruler to whom the people rally, who will restore creation to its pristine harmony?’ Jesus.

Some seven hundred years before Jesus came, Isaiah predicted the first coming of God’s king as well as his return. This is one of the amazing things about the Bible that convinces me that it is what it says it is – namely, God’s deliberate, progressive, self-revelation.

Centuries before Jesus came, Isaiah opened a window on Jesus’ life and work. Wise men did come from the Far East to pay him homage at his birth. And people from around the world have been coming to him ever since his death and resurrection.

The Gospel writers reveal that Jesus not only taught but backed up his words with action that showed God’s compassion for a sick and sorry world. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and dealt with the powers of evil.

As the New Testament unfolds, we learn that the coming of God’s king is in two parts: his first coming was a rescue operation; his return will reveal the king in all his might, majesty dominion and power. He will bring his perfect justice to bear and, with the unveiling of his own glory, will reveal the glory of all who have truly turned to him.

His first coming we celebrate at Christmas. In the season of Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, we focus on the reality of his return.

Our hope is bound up in God’s king. For the death of the king on the cross comes between God’s good creation, ruined by human sin with which the Bible begins, and the promise of a restored creation with which the Bible ends. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes… there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4).

A prayer. Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, so that, encouraged and supported by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

You may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith and 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.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

’Where Is Our Hope…?’

’Thanksgiving’

‘Thanksgiving’ in America is one of the delights Judith and I experienced when we moved to New York in 2001. Despite the evil events of September 11 that year, people at the Thanksgiving Dinner we attended expressed their thanks for the way the Lord had used the events of 9/11 to build their trust in him.

When we think about it, thanksgiving is a theme that permeates the Bible – especially the Psalms. And while we do live in an uncertain world, there is still much for which to be thankful.

Come with me to Paul the Apostle’s Letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 4 through 9.

Rejoice: Rejoice in the Lord always; Paul exhorts. And, as he doesn’t want us to skim over this, he repeats it, Again, I say, Rejoice.

Paul was in prison when he wrote these words. He is repeating his earlier exhortation, Rejoice in the Lord (3:1). God wants us to so value our relationship with Jesus Christ that we long for the smile of his approval in all we do. Nothing else matters. He is our joy.

Now notice Paul doesn’t say we are to rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances – some situations may be evil. Rather, we should rejoice that the Lord still has his hand on the helm of the world’s events and our personal affairs, working out his good purposes for his people. It challenges us to ask if we trust him in every situation – be it the loss of a job, disappointments, or sobering medical news.

Furthermore, in exhorting us to rejoice, he is not speaking about our being happy, always having a smile on our face. The joy he speaks about is the deep inner peace and contentment that springs from a personal trust in Jesus.

For this reason, he urges us to pray with thankfulness in our hearts: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Don’t be anxious … Timeless words and a universal remedy for anxiety.

So, Paul urges us to pray for concerns about life; petition the Lord with our particular needs, with thankfulness in our hearts for his goodness and mercy. Here is the antidote to anxiety and the prelude to the experience of peace. Such prayer and thanksgiving express trust in God in every situation.

Let me ask, can you honestly say you are assured that Jesus is not only in control but that he truly loves and cares for you?

Peace. In verse 7 we read: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, and in verse 9: …And the God of peace will be with you.

Peace, Shalom is a word of security. Paul was in prison for his faith when he wrote these words. He knew what it was to be anxious, even fearful about life’s disappointments. He knew the barbs that can hurt – be they lies or literal persecution.

Encouragingly he speaks about God’s peace guarding our hearts and minds. Guard in this context conveys the positive idea of protection. As a Roman citizen, he may have had in mind the Praetorian Guard. It’s a great thought – God’s ‘Praetorian Guard’ providing security for our hearts and minds, and so giving us peace.

Furthermore, heart is the Bible’s way of speaking of what is deep within us – our desires and will, our emotions and our very soul. And mind refers to our thoughts that spring from our inner longings.

Now, if we remove God’s promise of peace from its biblical context, the idea of peace is lovely but without substance. Peace in the Bible is meaningful and profound, true and full of strength. The God of peace is the one who has made peace possible between himself and you and me.

On the day of his resurrection, Christ met with his disciples in a locked upper room. ‘Peace be with you’ were his first words. It wasn’t a conventional greeting, for he immediately repeated it.

The God of peace is also the God of power. It is the God of peace who brought again from the dead, our Lord Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is the New Testament standard for God’s mighty power. Peace is associated with the kind of power that not even death can stand against. These great promises are grounded in the peace that God himself has secured. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection he is the author of just and everlasting peace.

How much there is for which we can be thankful. Is this real for you? How often do you express your thankfulness? Just at Thanksgiving? Or every day?

A General Thanksgiving.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all people. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your amazing love in the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.

And, we pray, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be truly thankful, and that we may declare your praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

You may want to listen to the song, May the Peoples Praise You from Keith and Kristyn Getty

© 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.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

’Where Is Our Hope…?’

’Gramercy’

No, I’m not talking about Gramercy Park, New York City – although I’ll come back to that. I’m referring to an old English word, gramercy, used by Shakespeare, that is derived from the French, grand mercy, meaning ‘heartfelt, big thanks’.

That said, the name ‘Gramercy’ for the only locked private park in New York was derived from the Dutch, Krom Moerasje, ‘little crooked swamp’ – which is what the park originally was.

Now permit me a personal note about Judith’s and my ‘heartfelt thanks’ following September 11, 2001. That day we were living Downtown in the New York City financial district, quite near the Twin Towers. With the destruction of the towers, our apartment building was in the original Ground Zero. We needed to find a new place to live.

Unexpectedly, I received a call asking if we would be interested in moving to an apartment in the Gramercy area. ‘Yes, please!’ How heartfelt our thanks were – to the Lord and to the phone-caller. For us ‘gramercy’ took us back to the earlier English meaning. It also reminded us of the ‘big thanks’ everyone of us owes God.

Consider the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion in Luke chapter 23, beginning at verse 33.

Two others, criminals, were crucified with Jesus at a place known as The Skull (which in Latin is calvaria, hence our ‘Calvary’). The positioning of Jesus between these two seems a deliberate way of implying that he was just another criminal. This also fulfilled the prophecy: He was numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12).

We can identify two important themes – a prayer and a promise.

A Prayer. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ (23:34).

Everyone watching that day knew Jesus was innocent. They knew the injustice of it all. So, for whom was he praying? Some suggest his prayer was for the soldiers, but in that case he might have said, ‘Father, understand their situation’. They were doing their duty. Others say his prayer was for the Jewish leaders who had stirred events that led to his crucifixion.

We make better sense of the prayer when we read it all: ‘for they do not know what they are doing’. Jesus was praying for people who shut their minds to the voice of truth. Yes, he was praying for the Jewish leaders who taunted him (23:35). And he was praying for the Roman soldiers who mocked him as the ‘King of the Jews’ (23:36f). Significantly, with his prayer he was putting into practice the law of neighbor love that he had spoken about in his parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:28-34). In his hour of crisis, he prayed for others and forgave them their ignorance.

But, he was also praying for his followers and the watching crowd. And, let me suggest he was praying then for you and me now. At one time or another we have all have mocked the dying Christ. Deep down all of us have rejected his claims to be our Lord.

An inscription stating the charges against Jesus, was put over his head in accord with normal Roman practice. Significantly, Pilate wrote: This is the King of the Jews (23:38). He quoted back to the Jewish leaders their accusation against Jesus. In doing so, the Roman governor was also stating the deeper truth we find in Luke’s narrative: Jesus is the king of the Jews. He is the Messiah and the Lord. This theme is illustrated in the conversation that follows.

A Promise. One of the criminals being crucified with Jesus was contemptuous: ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he mocked. ‘Save yourself and us!’ (23:39). He chose to die as he had lived – dismissive of anything religious. Even his colleague was shocked, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?’ he said (23:40). As a minister who has been at the bedside of many dying people, it is tragic to witness this kind of death. There is no peace and no hope of the future.

The second criminal chose another path: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,’ he asked (23:42). Now this man’s life was no better than his colleague’s. He freely admitted that he and his colleague deserved to die – ‘receiving the due reward of our deeds’ (23:41). Yet, as he died, he reflected on his own unworthiness compared with the innocence he recognized within Jesus. His conscience was stirred.

Something about Jesus impressed him. It may have been the sharp contrast between Jesus’ prayer and the bitter anger of his colleague. He knew Jesus was innocent: ‘This man has done nothing wrong,’ he said (23:41). However bad his life may have been, he feared God enough to recognize his need.

The simplicity and directness of his requests are striking. He isn’t religious or pretentious. He may have remembered what he was taught as a boy about God, and about God’s promise that one day he would send a successor to the great King David. Perhaps he began to see that Jesus was that king, and so he asked the king for a place in his kingdom – when Jesus was enthroned.

His repentance came in the closing hours of his life; his faith may have been no bigger than a mustard seed, but Jesus made a promise: ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (23:43). Paradise was a Persian word meaning garden. Found a number of times in the Old Testament it had a special reference to the Garden of Eden. Used here, it is a metaphor for the experience of God’s blessing in the world or age to come.

Jesus was assuring this man of the blessing he would know on his death. His dying would not be without hope. And his experience would be immediate: ‘Today’ you will experience this. There would be no purgatory or hell. We can hear the echoes of King David’s Psalm 23: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for you are with me… To die with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is very different from dying without him.

The repentant criminal would have died that day with hope in his heart. With heartfelt, big thanks to Jesus who made that promise he could have said from the depth of his soul: Gramercy!

Which brings me back to a personal comment. Having been given sanctuary after 9/11, Judith and I used gramercy in its old English sense to express our heartfelt thanks to the Lord for protecting us and for providing us with a new home and, in turn a place where we could launch what became Christ Church NYC and later, in 2010, what is now Emmanuel Anglican Church NYC.

In God’s mercy, the ministry that ‘God is the Lord whose nature is always to have mercy’, continues in both churches today.

A prayer. God our Father, whose will is to bring all things to order and unity in our Lord Jesus Christ; grant that all the peoples of the world, now divided and torn apart by sin, may be brought together in his kingdom of love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith and 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.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

’Where Is Our Hope…?’

’Expect the Unexpected…’

History and archaeology documentaries have made us more aware of past civilizations and the splendor of their buildings. However, while ancient buildings can be awe-inspiring, they testify to the rise and fall of nations. No matter how great an empire may have been, no matter how rich its accomplishments or powerful its armies, it didn’t last.

All of which makes Jesus’ response to his disciples comment about the magnificence of the Jerusalem Temple significant. During the week leading up to his arrest, they remarked on the magnificence of the Temple: …Some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings (Luke 21:5).

At the time, the Jerusalem Temple was some fifty years into an eighty-three year reconstruction facilitated by Herod the Great. The temple was immense, constructed of massive stones – some over sixty feet in length. It covered a thirty-five acre site, more than twice the size of the original World Trade Centre Twin Towers site in New York City. Tacitus, a contemporary Roman historian, commented on the grandeur, the beauty and wealth of the Temple (History 5.8.1). Luke himself notes the extensive decoration that adorned it.

The unexpected. Jesus’ response to the disciples’ comment was unexpected: ‘…the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down’ (21:6).

Just as it would have been outrageous for anyone to have predicted the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City before September 11, 2001, it would have been even more so for Jesus to say the temple would be razed to the ground. As N.T. Wright observes, ‘The temple occupied central place in the life, religion and imagination of the Jewish people’ (Wright, NT., Luke for everyone (2001), p.251).

The temple signified God’s presence with his people. It was also the place where sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people were made. Foreshadowing its destruction, Jesus pointed to the obsolescence of what the Temple materially represented in terms of God and his people.

Earlier in his ministry, Jesus warned of catastrophic events yet to come (Luke 12:35-48; 17:20-37). It’s therefore not surprising the disciples asked: “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7).

Their words, these things, are key to the themes that unfold. Three of the Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke, record Jesus’ words about the last things.

However, there are differences. Matthew and Mark for example, weave together Jesus’ words about Jerusalem and the end of time, making it difficult to unravel the themes. Luke however, sets out the two scenes more clearly – perhaps because he writes primarily for a non-Jewish readership.

Central to Jesus’ response about the timing of these things are his words: ‘…And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once’ (21:9). He restates a tension he had already spoken of, namely the tension between immediacy and delay regarding the timing of events (Luke 12:41-48 and Luke 19:11-15).

He expands this by identifying the first two sets of events that we should expect as, under God, the world moves towards an end time: convulsions and persecutions.

Convulsions (21:8-11). He begins with a specific warning about false prophets who will come in his name making predictions about the end of time. Don’t be taken by surprise, he continues. There will be an end of time, but before that ‘nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven’ (21:10f).

Jesus warns of wars and conflicts. Three years ago, who would have expected a global pandemic and, twelve months ago, the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Furthermore, Jesus also warns of natural disasters and upheavals.

Consistently he taught that by our own efforts we are not good enough to create a world of universal peace. Nor can we control the massive forces that lie beneath the earth’s crust – forces of such magnitude that cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

We should not be taken by surprise by the rise and fall of nations as well as seismic and climatic events. As Paul the Apostle writes in Romans chapter 8, verses 21 and 22, the present creation is subject to decay and groans in travail awaiting the day when we will enjoy the perfect fulfilment of all God’s promises. Why is it that we live with our eyes so focused on life now that we fail to walk in the light and wisdom of the Lord?

Persecutions (21:12-19). Jesus also warns of occasions when God’s people will be marked out as undesirables – some will be imprisoned and even brought before the heads of state. However, he assures us, we will not be alone. He will equip us with any defence that might be needed: ‘settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer’. To which he added a promise no one could make, except by the authority and power of God: ‘for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict’ (21:14-15).

While Christianity offers light and love, joy and hope to the world, it is the faith the world loves to hate.

We need to take hold of Jesus’ words of warning and encouragement when we encounter the unexpected – praying for his grace and wisdom to remain strong in our faith, secure in his promises. No matter what we may experience, our life with him is assured (Luke 21:19).

Let’s also pray for and support those who are persecuted for their faith and look for opportunities to talk with others about the joy and the hope that can be found in Christ.

A prayer. Almighty and most merciful God, out of your bountiful goodness keep us from everything that may hurt us, so that we may be ready in body and soul cheerfully to accomplish whatever you want us to do: through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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

© 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.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

’Where Is Our Hope…?’

’Testing Times…’

One of the conundrums of life is the oft irrational hostility towards the Christian faith. Yes, sadly some professing Christians have carried out terrible abuses. But the big picture is that over the centuries God’s people have shown care and compassion for the poor and the needy – exemplifying a facet of the public ministry of Jesus – seeking the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7).

Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, the media in all its forms chooses to overlook such welfare. I say ‘not surprisingly’ because people in every generation want to cut down anyone who threatens them. The Jewish leadership felt threatened by Jesus of Nazareth. So much so that they endeavored to trap him with gotcha questions which could discredit and destroy him. This was increasingly evident during the days before the Passover – at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.

In Luke chapter 20, verse 25 Jesus had responded to the question, ‘Teacher, … is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?’ with ‘… Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s’.  Confounded by his answer they were silenced (Luke 20:26).

Nevertheless, despite this unexpected setback, the aggressive questioning continued. This time the Sadducees, another group of Jewish leaders, pressed him on the subject of the resurrection.

The Sadducees were conservative aristocrats. The high priests were drawn from this group. Willing to work with the Roman authorities, their privileges were protected.

However, they were treated with suspicion by Jewish loyalists and pious Jewish people. In his Antiquities Josephus tells us that the Sadducees only accepted the written Scripture, not oral tradition which the Pharisees accepted (xiii.297; xviii.16). However, the Sadducees denied life after death and therefore, resurrection. This was the question on which they challenged Jesus (Luke chapter 20, verse 28).

Using the law that required the brother of a man who died childless to take his brother’s wife in marriage (levirate law), the Sadducees framed their question. Yet, given that there are only a few recorded occasions of levirate marriage – one being that of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4:5, 21) – and that the practice seems to have been dropped by the time of the New Testament, their question was more hypothetical than real.

They posed the situation of seven brothers successively marrying the same woman. None of the marriages produced any children. In turn they asked Jesus whose wife the woman would be in the resurrection (20:29-33). Implying there could be no answer to their question, they used it to argue there could no resurrection.

But Jesus responded: ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage’ (20:34). His implication is clear. Given the successive marriages portrayed by the Sadducees, Jesus affirms the norm and the appropriateness of marriage between a man and woman. Significantly, in saying this he also confirms the creation order of Genesis 2:24.

But he didn’t stop there. He continued by contrasting our present experience and that in the life to come: “Those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage…” (20:35). In a tightly worded sentence he affirmed the reality of life beyond death and also the resurrection.

‘Life in the age to come will be significantly different for all who are considered worthy,’ he says. Not everyone will experience the new age and the resurrection.

His words here are consistent with the movement of thought that unfolds in Luke: only those who have been rescued (Luke 19:10) will enjoy life and resurrection in the coming age. Marriage as we know it will no longer apply. It will no longer be needed for ‘they cannot die any more…’ (20:36b).

One of the reasons for marriage is the procreation of children in a world where everyone dies. But in a world where death no longer reigns, marriage and the birth of children is unnecessary.

Notice Jesus didn’t say they no longer die but rather, they cannot die. In the coming age we will share something in common with the angels: ‘… they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection’ (20:36c).

So important was the question of resurrection that Jesus used the opportunity to point out that it was implied in the Old Testament. Drawing from the scene when God revealed his name to Moses (Exodus 3:15), Jesus drew attention to God’s description of himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (20:37). Jesus then drew out the logic of God’s words, saying: “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive” (20:38).

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were long dead when Moses was alive. The statement that God is the God of these men, can only be true if they are alive, even though they have died. The alternative is to say that God is the God of people who no longer exist, which is nonsense.

Luke then includes words not found in the other gospels, ‘…for to him (God), all of them are alive” (20:38b). To us they are all dead, but that is not how God sees them. Death cannot break God’s relationship with them.

The Sadducees were silenced! And at least one other group the scribes, who did not necessarily like the Sadducees, agreed: ‘Teacher, you have spoken well’ (20:39). They were pleased to see the Sadducees silenced: For they (the Sadducees) no longer dared to ask him another question (20:40).

The 17th century mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal commented in his Pensées, ‘… The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Christians, is a God of love and of comfort, a God who fills the soul and heart of those whom He possesses, a God who makes them conscious of their inward wretchedness, and His infinite mercy, who unites Himself to their inmost soul, who fills it with humility and joy, with confidence and love, who renders them incapable of any other end than Himself.’

A prayer. Merciful God, it is by your gift alone that your faithful people offer you true and pleasing service.  Grant that we may so faithfully serve you in this life that we do not fail at the end to obtain your heavenly promises; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed from Keith and Kristyn Getty

© 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.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

’Where Is Our Hope…?’

’Curiosity…’

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn lived at the time when Soviet communism sought to harness human engineering to create a new society. The goal was to develop a new kind of human being. Greedy, competitive and alienated individualists were to be transformed into co-operative and generous altruists. Capitalist men and women were to be changed into a socialist society.

Even before the fall of the USSR, Solzhenitsyn concluded the experiment had failed. It suggests that dreams of a better world and a better life based on human invention and force will founder. But let me suggest that we don’t have to despair. A ray of light shines in the darkness of our world.

Come with me to an unexpected encounter that changed a wealthy money-grabber into a benevolent philanthropist. The man’s life was changed more rapidly and more radically than even Karl Marx would have believed possible. We read about it in Luke chapter 19, verses 1 through 10.

Zacchaeus was very rich, yet his wealth didn’t earn him respect. In fact, the reverse was his experience: he was a social outcast. He was a chief tax collector.

Jewish tax collectors were regarded as traitors because the money they collected went to the treasury in Rome. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, it was reckoned that 99% were crooked.

But there seems to have been something appealing about Zacchaeus. Short in stature, there was a touch of humorous eccentricity about him. And this was evident when Jesus of Nazareth came to town.

As do celebrities today, Jesus drew huge crowds wherever he went. Zacchaeus wanted to see him but, pushed back by the crowd, he discovered he couldn’t. Thinking outside the box, he climbed a tree.

We easily miss the incongruity of the scene. Here was Zacchaeus, an eminent, affluent public servant, shinning up a tree to get a look at the man who, himself, was considered an outsider by the elite. Zacchaeus risked being ridiculed by the crowd.

What prompted Zacchaeus? Curiosity?  He certainly wanted to see the celebrated miracle-working teacher from the north. People have always been attracted to celebrities and heroes, and encounters with Jesus often begin like that — curiosity about a celebrity.

But consider what happened: When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down; for I must stay at your house today’ (Luke 19:5).

We can only imagine how startled Zacchaeus must have felt. It was a critical moment. He didn’t expect this. How would he react? He hurried and came down and received him joyfully (19:6).

Perhaps it was more than curiosity that prompted Zacchaeus to climb the tree that day. He may have felt growing regret over his lifestyle.

Over the years in ministry, I’ve encountered people like this. They find life doesn’t turn out as expected — a broken marriage; difficult children; money ill-spent; a lost reputation. They feel trapped. But they know they can’t turn the clock back.

Zacchaeus may have felt this sense of despair. But maybe he’d heard how Jesus had changed other people’s lives – Matthew, another tax-collector, for example. Whatever prompted him, Zacchaeus jumped out of the tree and without a moment’s hesitation took Jesus in for lunch.

It was a life-changing moment, for clearly Jesus impressed Zacchaeus. So much so that during the meal Zacchaeus stood up and said, ‘Behold Lord, the half of my goods, I give to the poor;  and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold’ (Luke 19:8).

Zacchaeus’ promises are specific and immediate. There’s no fabrication. We can almost hear him turning the key in the lock of his safe. Meeting Jesus led this self-centered wealthy, but probably lonely man to a radical change within. He turned away from greed and revealed compassion for the poor and powerless. He also demonstrated a sense of justice.

What caused the change? Zacchaeus suddenly understood who Jesus really was: he called him ‘Lord’. This was more than a courtesy title. He knew he was in the presence of greatness.

In his work Zacchaeus would have experienced the deceitfulness of human nature in paying their taxes, and the dishonesty of tax-collectors in collecting taxes. He now knew he was in the presence of someone who could see right through deception and fraud. Jesus was the one man with whom you had to be completely honest.

There’s a transparency and humility about Zacchaeus’ reaction. His awakened conscience had led to his heartfelt repentance.

‘Today salvation has come to this house…’ Jesus said (Luke 19:9). It wasn’t good works or making amends for past wrongs; it wasn’t his generosity to the poor, that saved Zacchaeus. Rather it was his personal encounter with Jesus and his genuine repentance.

It was a significant moment: a man’s life was transformed. It’s the kind of transformation that politicians try to achieve through economic and other strategies. Revolutionaries use a gun. Jesus did it by inviting himself to lunch.

You may be thinking this kind of change can’t really take place in our world today. But consider Jesus’ further words: ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham’ (19:9b). Because of his repentance and the evidence of that repentance, Zacchaeus, formerly an ‘outsider’ was now an ‘insider’ in his relationship with God and his people – he could now be called a true son of Abraham.

Significantly Jesus goes to the heart of the reason for his coming: ‘For the Son of man came to seek out and to save the lost’ (19:10).

Let’s think about this. From God’s perspective every one of us is lost. Created to know and love God and enjoy him forever, we have all succumbed to self-worship: we fail to love him first. However, God didn’t reduce us to the particles and dust from which he had formed us. Rather, he spoke to one man, Abraham, and made three promises: ‘I will give you a land’; ‘I will make your name great’; and ‘I will bless all the nations through you’ (Genesis 12:2-3).

The history of Abraham’s family and their dealing with God is not a pretty one, but God persisted. He had a plan, and at the right time came amongst us in person. It was this God/man whom Zacchaeus encountered. Jesus came into the world to awaken us and rescue us, by laying down his own life so that we might enjoy life in all its fullness now and forever.

When we know Jesus, we will want to fall on our knees in repentance and love. In turn we will surely also want to find ways to arouse the curiosity of others – perhaps inviting them to coffee – so that we can introduce them to him too.

A prayer. Almighty and eternal God, grant that we may grow in faith, hope, and love; especially make us love what you command so that we may obtain what you have promised; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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

You may like to listen to Magnificent, Marvelous, Matchless Love from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© 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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