Jesus, the Better Prophet. Hebrews 3:1-6

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession,who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house.For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.(For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.)Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later,but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” (Hebrews 3:1–6 ESV)

Billy Graham passed away last February at the age of 99. At the funeral, Graham was honored and described over and over again by others as a faithful servant of God until the end. He was a faithful servant of Christ who was sent all over the world to proclaim the name and the Gospel of Jesus. But we know, and Billy Graham knew, that while he was faithful, he didn’t deserve any of the glory for what he did. And he never pointed to himself. Instead, Graham always pointed to Christ as greater, and to the cross of Christ for his hope in this life and in eternity. True, Billy Graham was a great and faithful man sent by God, but Jesus is so much greater.

This is the message of Hebrews chapter 3. That when compared with the most faithful of God’s servants, Jesus is always, and has always been, superior. This week we get to see how Jesus is the better prophet, better than THE superstar of the Jewish faith, Moses! So, let us open our bible together and read from the letter to the Hebrews. We are going to read from chapter 3, verses 1-6. If you are using the white bible, you can find this text on page 775.

We are about to see why the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus, not Moses, is the better prophet— meaning he who proclaims the words of God to mankind. But first let’s look at how he begins his argument. Who is he talking to here? He is talking to a people who are family that has been set aside….that is what it means to be holy…set aside with a heavenly vocation…being a part of God’s plan of salvation and given eternal life with God. These are believers.

They have a shared confession of faith—our confession. And in this confession Jesus is to be considered their Apostle (a title meaning the one who is sent) and their High Priest (the One who represents men before God and offers a sacrifice for their sins). They are being told to consider THIS FACT, to fixate their minds, not on Moses anymore, but on JESUS as the Apostle and High Priest of their confession.

In these two titles, Apostle and High Priest, we see a summation of what we have learned in the first two chapters of this letter. That Jesus is superior in his celestial relationship with the angels, and he superior in his earthly relationship with men. That Jesus was Sent as God’s son (1,1-3) to be the better helper (1,4-14), offering HIMSELF as a perfect sacrifice for mankind’s sins so that God’s people might be made HOLY (1,3; 2,10-11). And that through God’s grand salvation, and the help of our better big brother, we can become members of God’s family (2,1-4, 15-18).

So, likewise brothers and sisters in the faith, we share in this confession. So, God is also speaking to us in this passage. And we are being called right now, tonight, to consider Jesus, to fixate our minds on Jesus, as the perfect Apostle, our High Priest, the better prophet, worthy of more glory than Moses. Jesus is the better prophet…

1. Because He is the Apostle par excellence

Moses was indeed a faithful servant of God (v 2, 5). He was sent by God to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. He was God’s faithful servant, sent to stand up against Pharaoh. He was sent to lead God’s people towards the promised land. He was sent to give them the Law, the instructions for building God’s dwelling place and establishing a sacrificial system that would allow the people of God to find temporary atonement for their sins. Moses was sent to lead a nation of people that constantly complained and criticized him. And he did so faithfully. There was not a man more faithful than Moses.

In Numbers chapter 12 God said that Moses was faithful in all His house (Num. 12,7). Therefore, Moses is worthy of honor for his faithfulness as a great prophet and as a faithful servant sent by God. But what the author of Hebrews is saying here is that Jesus is worthy of even more glory (v 3).

Jesus is the Apostle par excellence. We never have, and we never will be able to enjoy the help of a mediator more capable than faithful son, Jesus. Why would we want to look at someone else when we can consider Jesus?… Fixing our eyes and minds on Jesus as the faithful son of God sent by the Father.

You see, where Moses was the faithful servant sent by God, Jesus was the faithful Son sent by God. Where Moses was sent as God’s servant to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land, Jesus was sent as God’s Son to lead God’s people out of slavery to sin and into the presence of God Himself.

Where Moses was a sinful man who represented mankind to God, Jesus was the sinless God-man who represented God to mankind.

Whereas Moses was a great mediator between God and Man, who spoke to God face to face on behalf of the people, Jesus is God in the flesh and he speaks to us.

While Moses is the greatest of the prophets in the Old Testament, he is still inferior to Christ, because Jesus is the faithful sent Son. This would not have been a surprise to Moses! In fact, in Deuteronomy 18:15, we read about the time when Moses prophesied that God would raise up a prophet like him from among God’s people. Which leads us to our second point. Jesus is the greater prophet because…

It was Jesus who sent Moses. Brothers and sisters, it is Jesus, the Apostle par excellence who also sent us, Breccia di Rome, into this city to be His testimony in Rome. That brings us to our second point. Jesus is the best Prophet because…

2. He plays the leading role (all others point to Him) (v 5)

This Bible here in my hand was written over a period of 1500 years by different men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It tells a unified story that points to one man, Jesus Christ. It is not where we look to finding God’s favor at work, financial success and freedom, or how to have our best life now. It is about Jesus. And all of the stories point to Him. All of the prophets pointed to Him. If we are to consider Jesus as the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, as the better prophet, we need to stay focused on His word.

Verse 5 tells us that Moses was called as a servant “to testify to the things that were to be spoken later”. The same is true for the prophets that came after Moses, they testified of the things that were to come…the faithful Son, Jesus. Luke 24:27 recounts a conversation between Jesus and His disciples. Listen to what He said, “And, beginning with Moses and throughout all of the prophets, He explained to them how all of the Scripture was spoke of Him.” Jesus plays the leading role in Scripture, therefore He is greater than Moses, and all the other prophets.

Whereas the prophets declared, Thus Sayeth the Lord, Jesus declared, But I tell you…! Whereas the other prophets proclaimed the truth of God as mere men, Jesus proclaimed the truth of God AS THE TRUTH (Gv 14,6). Do you know what this means? You should listen to him.

It also means that if anyone tries to point us away from his words, we should refuse to listen to them, maintaining firm in the confession of our faith (v 6). It means that if anyone places Jesus as equal among many prophets, they don’t speak for God.

There are many voices to listen to in this city. To what voices are you listening? Are they echoes of the greatest prophet and his message? Or do they stand opposed to it? We need to be aware of what voices we are listening to.

If there is a voice of “truth”, a person or an institution, new or historic, that would claim Christ as their own but ultimately change the very message of the Gospel he came to proclaim, it is a false prophetic voice. And our response is not to ignore it…but to reject it, refute it, and expose it so that people would not be led astray in the name of Jesus.

Brothers and Sisters, Just as the prophets, our ancient brothers and sisters in the faith pointed to Jesus, we are to do the same. We are members of the household of God in this city where we point the lost to Jesus, that he might redeem them and make them colleagues in our heavenly vocation. You have been sovereignly sent into your family to point your spouse and your children to Jesus. You have been sent into your place of work, your classroom, your community center, your gym, your supermarket….to point others to the one who is greater.

Jesus is the better prophet because all of the prophets pointed to Him, He plays the leading role. He is better than Moses because Jesus is the Apostle par excellence, the faithful servant sent. And the final reason that Jesus is the better prophet is that while Moses was a faithful servant in the House of God, Jesus is Head of the Church.

3. Jesus is Over the Church (v 6)

John Calvin wrote,
“Moses so ruled the Church, that he was still a part and member of it; but Christ being the builder, is superior to the whole building, — Moses while ruling others, was ruled also himself, as he was a servant; but Christ being a Son possesses supreme power.”

In verse 4, the author reminds us again that God is the Creator of all things. God has been building His house, His covenant people, the Church, the family of God. Moses was a faithful leader in God’s house (v 2). But over is better than in and Jesus, the greater prophet, is over that house and therefore worthy of far more glory that Moses. Without Jesus, there would be no Moses! There would be no me. There would be no you. There would be no house!

When you walk around this city you see ancient walls, beautiful and glorious monuments, fountains, basilicas, ecc. And if you are paying attention, you will see the name of the emperor or the pope that commissioned the building project. Why is that? Why would they want to put their name on it? Because they knew that the builder gets more glory than the building.

Brothers and sisters, God is building you and shaping you (Ef 2,22; 1P 2,5). His name is written on you to declare his Glory for saving you, transforming your heart from a heart of stone to one that can experience true love, joy, peace. When people look at you, do they see and glorify Him? Is there a stamp on your life that says “built by Jesus”? “Soli Deo Gloria”?! To God be all the glory?! Or is there another name?

Friends, are you trying to build your own house, or trying to live in a house built by someone else? It is a house with a weak foundation that will not last. Today I would ask you consider the ruler and the builder of God’s house. His foundation lasts for eternity and you may find security within it. Maybe today is your day to lay down your tools, set aside the blueprint to your own house. Repent of your sins and believe in the faithful Son, Jesus, for your forgiveness. He is able to take away your sinful rags and clothe you in his righteousness. He is the only one that can lead you into God’s house because He is over the house, the Church. There is no better house to be a part of.

In concluding, brothers and sisters, the author tells us in verse 6 that if we are God’s house if we HOLD FIRM our confession until the end, boasting about our hope in Jesus. Now, we don’t believe this means we can lose our salvation. The Bible teaches us otherwise, and our confession of faith explains that clearly. But this should remind us that we are called to be faithful to the very end and that our only hope is in Jesus.

So, where is your hope? And about who or what do you boast about? Someone or something besides Christ? Your job? Your economic source? A steady job? Those are not evil things, but they are not prerequisites to being able to put our hope and trust in Jesus and seeking his will for our lives. They don’t offer us hope. Only the better prophet can do that, He is the one leading us out of our bondage to sin and into the house of God. We boast in Him.

By God’s grace we have been saved through faith, and it is by God’s grace that we are enabled to hold firm to this confession. And when we fail, we can remember God’s grace on display in the faithful son who was sent BECAUSE we have all failed, and we still fail at times. But let his amazing grace motivate you, and us as a church, to hold firm to this hope and to boast about it in this city!

This week we have a great way to boast about our hope in the Jesus as we participate in the My Hope project. Pray for this event. Invite your friends to see a film that proclaims the gospel message, and that gives importance to the Apostle par excellence, to the main actor who plays the leading role, to the one who is Over God’s House, the church…without Jesus we would not have salvation.

Another opportunity we have to stand firm in our faith and boast about or hope in Jesus is the reformation walk. Last year we celebrated the 500the anniversary of the Reformation. We celebrated Martin Luther and the legacy that he left behind and how God used him to launch the Protestant Reformation. And we will get to do it again this year! Praise God!

Last year we shared the Gospel with over 500 students and teachers from our city through the presentation of the 5 Solas. The reformation walk is a time to celebrate our heroes like Martin Luther, Vermigli, Zwingli, Calvin, and Spurgeon. But the message we want to proclaim isn’t, “Look at Martin Luther!” “Look at Calvin!”. It isn’t a time to give glory to Luther or any of our favorite Reformers. Rather, it is “look at Christ! Look at the Son of God and what HE has done and give God all of the glory.” This was the message the reformers clung to, that they held firm to the end. May we do the same.

Consider Jesus the greater prophet because he was Apostle par excellence. Consider Jesus the greater prophet because He plays the leading role, and all the others pointed to Him—may our lives do the same. Consider Jesus the greater prophet because He is over God’s house—may we faithfully live as his children who submit to his loving rule, holding fast to our hope in him, and boasting in him in this dark and corrupt city.

-Clay Kannard

Paul’s Personal Relationship with the Thessalonians

Why does Paul give so much attention to his personal relationship with the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 1-3?

Paul’s emphasis on his personal relationship with the Thessalonians was strategic. This relational emphasis was used to insure the church of his affections for them, remind the church of the loving and blameless service demonstrated amongst them, even in the face of persecution, in order to lay a foundation for exhortations regarding Christian living and doctrinal instructions to promote peace and clarity regarding the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead (DPHL, 932).

Paul’s introduction is filled with gratitude for the Thessalonian example. Their acceptance of the Gospel, love and service for one another, imitation of Paul, and joy in persecution led to a strong testimony for Jesus Christ that became known in all of Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess. 1:2-10). Paul then reminded the Thessalonians of his coming to them in gentleness, without creating a burden, and not only in sharing the message of the Gospel, but also in sharing their lives. Paul, then, expressed his desires to return to Thessalonica and explained the reason Timothy was sent—to express this desire for continuing the work that had been started by establishing and exhorting the church in the faith (1 Thess. 3:1-5).

Paul concluded his letter with instructions on Christian living regarding sexual morality (1 Thess. 4:1-8). Additionally, the Thessalonians had lost several members who had passed away, leaving them grieving and concerned about the resurrection and the second coming of Christ. Perhaps they had missed it? Paul instructs them on the coming of the Lord and its significance for all who are in Christ whether dead or living that they might have peace (1 Thess. 4:13-5:11). Finally, Paul offers further instructions on how the Thessalonians should avoid idleness, encourage and lovingly serve one another with patience, pray without ceasing, and participate in the sanctifying work God had started in their lives (1 Thess. 5:12-28).

 

Bibliography:

“Thessalonians, Letters to the”, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press, 2009. Accordance Bible Software Version. 931-938.

How Paul’s Eschatology Informed His Exhortations

A brief answer for how Paul’s eschatology informs his exhortations within the Pastoral Letters.

For Paul, the Kingdom of God was an already not yet reality made possible through the work of Jesus Christ. God, through the Gospel had already provided salvation from the penalty of sin, was continuing to save Christians from the power of sin, and would upon Christ return, save Christians from the presence of sin (Vandersteldt, Kindle Location 782). When it comes to Paul’s eschatology the resurrection of Christ is central, for it provides the hope and the motivation for living a life of faith in the Gospel (DPHL, 265). A proper understanding of this Gospel and the person and work of Christ is crucial for salvation and proper worship of the God who delivers men from bondage to improper worship and sin’s curse.

The Gospel of Christ and its implications for living must be believed, proclaimed, held to, and defended from any perversion that threatened to destroy it or dilute it. An erroneous view of the Gospel, Christ, or His return would inevitably lead to confusion and perhaps sinful behavior. This was the case in the Thessalonian church who misunderstood the imminent return of Christ, leading some to a misguided understanding about work (DPHL, 266; 1 Thess. 5:12-14).

Paul commanded church leaders such as Timothy to teach sound doctrine and defend the faith (2 Tim. 2:15; 4:2; Titus 1:9). Exhortations for this and for cooperation in the sanctifying work of the Spirit flow from Paul’s eschatological understanding of the Christ event in God’s salvific history, the identity that Christians now have as being in Christ, and the future hope that Christians have in the resurrection and Christ’s return (DPHL, 665). False teachers were to be refuted and the Gospel continually proclaimed as motivation to obey—not just its past or present implications, but the future implications for those believing in the Gospel.

 

Bibliography:

“Eschatology”, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press, 2009. Accordance Bible Software Version. 253-269.

“Pastoral Letters”, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press, 2009. Accordance Bible Software Version. 658-666.

Vanderstelt, Jeff. Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017. Kindle Edition.

The Importance of the Imago Dei in the MK’s Quest for Identity

Missionary kids, also known as MKs, belong to a special group of people known as third culture kids. David Pollock, co-author of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, describes a third culture kid as,

…a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any(13).

Cross-cultural experiences in the lives of MKs can lead to a rich, successful, and fulfilling life. However, these experiences can also lead to a life full of bitterness and unresolved grief in a troublesome quest to find one’s identity. Growing up in a mixture of cultures can complicate the MK’s quest for this answer.

Since personal culture is developed within the home, how is home defined when it constantly changes, and what affects does the change have on MKs? While it may be exciting to move to another culture, there is much loss, and not just on the first move. Moving back to the passport country after spending many years away also comes with loss. If the loss is not dealt with in a healthy way, MKs may suffer from unresolved gr ief. Pollock and Reken discovered that, for TCKs,

The biggest problem is unresolved grief. Grief that is not dealt with directly emerges in some way—in forms that are destructive and that can last a lifetime. That’s ‘bad grief,’ and it needs attention and resolution (83).

Parents and mission agencies must help their MKs deal with grief in a healthy way so that unresolved grief does not affect the development of personal identity. For a MK, home may change many times during childhood. Once integrated into a new culture, the new culture may become home. Some MKs still consider their passport culture home, yet they may feel lost when returning to their passport culture after spending time developing in a foreign culture. It is not hard to see why the concept of home can become complicated for MKs and how this can lead to challenges in the quest for identity.

ENTER THE IMAGO DEI…Picture2

Jeffrey F. Keuss, PhD professor and associate dean of Seattle Pacific University, and Professor Rob Willett believe MKs should move beyond an identity grounded in culture to an identity founded first within the doctrine of the Imago Dei—the Image of God. In an article titled The Sacredly Mobile Adolescent, Keuss and Willett have created a potentially helpful label for MKs called the sacredly mobile adolescent. This label establishes identity within the doctrine of the Imago Dei. They argue that when identity is understood in this manner, the transcendent rather than the physical cultural context, MKs can find greater purpose and security when dealing with the challenges of mobility. Rather than fixing their identity on culture, they find their identity in Christ. A MK that truly finds their identity in Christ is able to view the world with a missional mindset because they understand their role as being incarnational, as was Christ, in order to fulfill a higher purpose in being God’s ambassador to a lost world.

Sacredly mobile adolescents see the integration process as the incarnational means to bringing a message of hope to the world. This mindset also helps when the time comes to relocate because “sacredly mobile adolescents exemplify a new breed of youth that rather than fearing change can embrace change as normative within God’s economy” (22). Grief then is managed easier because the MK treasures their sacredly mobile role in taking the gospel to the nations. Keuss and Willett write,

Thinking of these young people as ‘sacredly mobile’ will help us challenge cultural fixity as the primary determinate of healthy and robust identity formation and replace it with the centrality of Imago Dei as the signifier to which the sign of youth should reference in both word and deed (23).

Parents can help their MK understand who they are according to Jesus Christ through regular discipleship in the home and a gospel-centered lifestyle that teaches children, 1. the benefits of grounding their identity in CHRIST, and 2. that our home is ETERNAL. In order for the message to take root, parents must clearly articulate the family’s divine calling to another culture in such a way that the MKs understand they too are missionaries. MKs are not simply missionary kids because they are kids of missionaries, they are truly missionaries themselves, and the mobility that comes with this divine assignment is sacred.

Parents then must exemplify the gospel of grace they are proclaiming within the temporary homes they occupy. The faith being proclaimed in a foreign culture must also be lived out in the temporary homes of missionary families. Any disconnect between the two can lead to a false understanding of God and potential doubt in the minds of MKs.


Works Cited:

Keuss, Jeff and Rob Willett. “The Sacredly Mobile Adolescent: A Hermeneutic Phenomenological Study Toward Revising Of The Third Culture Kid Typology For Effective Ministry In A Multivalent Culture.” Journal Of Youth Ministry (Fall 2009): 7-24. Print.

Pollock, David C and R. E. Van Reken. Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Pub, 2009. Print.

Lost Opportunities…or Opportunities Lost?

A New Testament Devotional

Luke 15:1-32 – Lost Opportunities…or Opportunities Lost?


Luke 15:1   Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Luke 15:3   So Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 Then when he has found it, he places it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 Returning home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.

Luke 15:8   “Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search thoroughly until she finds it? 9 Then when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:11   Then Jesus said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that will belong to me.’ So he divided his assets between them. 13 After a few days, the younger son gathered together all he had and left on a journey to a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle. 14 Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He was longing to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.”’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him. 21 Then his son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Hurry! Bring the best robe, and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let us eat and celebrate, 24 because this son of mine was dead, and is alive again—he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:25   “Now his older son was in the field. As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening. 27 The slave replied, ‘Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got his son back safe and sound.’ 28 But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. 32 It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.’”


Historical and Character Background

Luke’s gospel was written to a highly respected individual, Theophilus. Luke’s gospel is a historic account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. In this passage, Luke is providing the reader with a clear example of Christ’s love for the lost and the failure of certain religious leaders—the Pharisees. Luke does this by recording the parables Jesus taught when the Pharisees and experts of the law growled at His interaction with those considered impure—tax collectors and sinners. Each parable describes something that was once lost being found again.

Tax Collectors

In the time of Christ, tax collectors garnished taxes for the Herods who then paid tribute to Caesar. They were an identifiable social group and corruption was the norm in their daily operations. Usually tax collectors were looked down upon because they would garnish wages off of the top of taxes collected. Because the money passed through many hands it made stealing easy.

By the 3rd Century in Rome, a cadre of tax collectors was well established because of their keen ability to track down tax evasion and corruption.  Josephus even mentions tax collectors in the account of the conquest of Antiochus Epiphanes. When Pompey conquered Judea in 63 BCE, the Jews ended up having to pay taxes to Rome…on top of their existing tithing and offering system. At the time of Julius Caesar, Jews paid a produce tax of 12.5% of the total crop!! With all other taxes combined, a Jewish farmer was taxed around 30-40% of his income. Jews also paid a tax called the angari which allowed Rome to use their human and animal labor for public works. Paying taxes to Caesar was viewed as treason by many Jews. Tax collectors were viewed as Jews that actually enabled Rome to rule over God’s people.

Pharisees viewed tax collectors as sinners who had no part in God’s kingdom. They were placed on the same level as the ‘unclean’ Gentiles.

Sinners

“Sinners” was a word used to represent people incapable of being redeemed, and this word is almost always paired with tax collectors in the Gospels. Protestant tradition views the word as being used to describe those who fall far outside of the purity regulations enforced by the Pharisaic mind.

Jesus ate and spent time with sinners, who were viewed as genuinely wicked in the eyes of the general populace.  Jesus seemed to accept sinners simply through the act of eating with them.  There was a cultural and spiritual significance attached to with whom you ate.

Pharisees and experts of the Law

Sourced from the IVP Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels:

“… a distinct party in Judaism of the late Second Temple period, with their own vision of what Israel’s standing as God’s covenant people entailed. Characteristic of the Pharisaic position was their adherence to a body of traditional material (Gk paradosis) handed down “from the fathers,” which defined correct behavior in a number of ways and which represented both an interpretation of and a supplement to Pentateuchal Law. In the Gospels Pharisees are generally (though not quite universally) depicted as opponents of Jesus, critical of his behavior, hostile in their questions, malicious in their deliberations. In turn, their piety is attacked as hypocritical, their spiritual leadership is declared bankrupt, and they are charged with leading the nation to its doom. Through all the polemic the significant role played by the Pharisees in Jewish life in first-century Palestine is apparent.”


Five Pains, Four Joys

shepherd
Shepherd with a flock of sheep Source: Holman Bible Dictionary

The Lost Sheep – Luke 15:3-7

Our first pain is found within the heart of a shepherd, who having 100 sheep, noticed one had been lost. Out of his role and responsibility of being a shepherd, and his care for his flock, the shepherd left the 99 sheep in open pasture so that he could restore his lost sheep to the flock. The sheep was lost, without guidance, and possibly experiencing pain and anxiety in its lost state. The shepherd ultimately found his lost sheep and carried it back to the flock atop his own shoulders. His reaction can be understood as full of joy, and evident in his proclamation to all of his friends and neighbors that his lost sheep had been found, and in his invitation to come celebrate the good news with him.

 

 

The Lost Coin – Luke 15:8-10

014-lost-coin
Source: http://www.freebibleimages.org/

The second pain is found in the heart of a woman, who having 1o silver coins lost one of them. She searched her home, every nook and cranny, until she found her lost coin. Like the shepherd, she invited all of her friends to celebrate what had been found.

While many might have viewed this small coin as something insignificant, she did not. It is also possible that this silver coin belonged to a headdress which would signify she was engaged. In losing one of these coins she could have been seen as careless or as not valuing her future husband.

 

 

The Prodigal Son – Luke 15:11-32

The third pain is found in the heart of a father whose youngest son declares complete disinterest in remaining within the family. He asks his father to give him his inheritance early so that he may leave home. The fourth pain had to have been within the heart of his father when he realized that his son did not want him, but rather his possessions.

prodigal
Gustave Doré (1832–1883): Return of the Prodigal Son Source: The Accordance Gallery of Bible Art

Pained, the father granted his rebellious son’s wish. His son left for a land of unclean sinners where he squandered his possessions. Once hitting rock bottom, the son found himself in painful, lonely despair. He then decided to return to his father to beg for forgiveness and to offer his labor as a hired servant so that he might pay his father back. In doing so, the son is not asking to be reinstated into the family.

But before the son reached home the father saw him on the road and ran out to greet him—something considered classless for a man to do. The father greeted his son with a kiss—a family greeting—and rejected his son’s offer of hired labor. Instead, he lavished his grace upon the son, placed a coat around him, a ring on his finger—probably signifying the family crest—and declared a party to celebrate the return of his prodigal son. The servants were commanded to prepare the fattened calf—a meal of a lifetime to which the whole town would have been invited. Imagine the joy in the hearts of this father and his prodigal son! What was lost had returned.

But the story does not end with the lost being found, as did the previous stories. Rather, we find our fifth pain within the bitter cold heart of an older brother. When the brother heard that his little brother had returned, and that there was a party, and that the fattened calf was to be cooked, he became disgruntled and refused to go into the home to celebrate. In doing so he disrespected his father—something punishable by beating. However, his father did not beat him. Rather, he went out from the party to ask his son to join them. The oldest son, who would receive a double portion of his father’s inheritance, questioned his father’s decision. He professed his unrelenting service for his father and wondered why he had received nothing while his brother had received such blessings.  In doing so he revealed that he held the same desires his brother had held but in a different a way. This brother was not interested in the father either, he just wanted his father’s stuff and he was trying to gain this stuff by being the good son.

And this is where our stories end—With Jesus Christ accusing the Pharisees and experts in the law of behaving like the bitter-cold older son—in what must have been a crowd of furious Pharisees and religious leaders.


Lost Opportunities

The purpose of these parables was to rebuke the religious leaders for failing to do what God had intended them to do. It was the job of the priest to shepherd God’s flock. The priests were to connect people to God. Rather, they became blinded by their own self-righteousness and lost their ability to love those who needed them most. The tax collectors and sinners were the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. A good shepherd searches for the lost sheep. A poor woman or a bride-to-be would search for a precious lost coin. And they celebrate when the lost is found, inviting others to join them in the celebration.

The Pharisees lost their opportunity to fulfill their calling. Why? Because they looked down their noses at those opportunities. A good brother would have gone out to search for his lost little brother. A good brother would have pleaded with his little brother to return home. It was his job, and one of the reasons he would receive the larger inheritance. He was to become the leader of the family. It was his job to reconcile differences between the father and his sons. But rather than performing his role as big brother he became angry at his father’s gracious reception of his little brother back into the family.

And this is where we find the Pharisees, the bitter, cold-hearted big brothers. But this is also where we find ourselves left with a desire for the perfect big brother—Jesus, the good shepherd. Jesus left His home to search for the lost brothers despite the cost He knew it would have on Him to restore the lost sheep to the fold of God. He is teaching us through the story of the prodigal son, not only that we should rejoice when the lost brother has been found, but also that he came to save not only those who have tried to gain his blessings by being very bad, but also by being very good. We must repent not only for the bad things we have done but also for the reason we ever did anything good in the first place. And we must trust in the work of our perfect big brother Jesus alone, for He came to save us, the lost.


Examining Ourselves

Will you be a sensitive seeker of the lost and recognize “lost opportunities”? “Lost Opportunities” are the people around you that do not know Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior (the lost) and your ability to demonstrate God’s love to them (the opportunities).  Or will you end up with opportunities lost? Ask yourself:

1. Do you find yourself looking down upon sinners or do you find yourself full of compassion toward them?

2. In what ways have you been like the big brother? In what ways have you been like the little brother?

3. Are you willing to invite the lost into your home, dinner table, and community of believers? Will you go to them in their homes, dinner tables, and communities?

4. Specifically, will you find yourself so aware of what God has done for you that you are sensitive to the needs of sinners to experience God’s forgiveness and grace and…

5. Will you join in the search for the lost? No matter how wretched or self-righteous they may be?


Prayer

from John Calvin (1509-1564)

…we pray, most gracious God and merciful Father, for all men generally. Since you desire all men to acknowledge You as Saviour of the world, through the redemption won by our Lord Jesus Christ, may those who do not know Him, being in darkness and captive to ignorance and error– may they by the light of Your Holy Spirit and the preaching of Your gospel, be led into the way of salvation, which is to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. May those whom You have already visited with Your grace, and enlightened by the knowledge of Your Word, grow in all goodness, enriched by Your spiritual blessing, so that together we may all worship You with heart and voice, giving honour and homage to Christ, our Master, King and Lawgiver.

Amen

*John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, trans. by Robert White (Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth, 1562/2006), p. 83-85.


Recommended Reading

Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. Penguin Books, 2016.
Tunstall, Frank G., and Robert E. Coleman. The Master Plan of Evangelism. Advocate Press, 1990.
Wright, Nicholas Thomas. Simply Jesus: Who He Was, What He Did, Why It Matters. HarperOne, 2011.

The Pharisees’ Rejection of Christ

The Roman rule of Judea began in 63 BC with the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey. After capturing the city, killing the priests, and entering into the holy of holies, Pompey appointed a new high priest. A tax burden was placed on the Jews requiring tribute to Caesar. Antipater became governor and the city walls were rebuilt. From Antipater came Herod, who was briefly ousted in 40 BC by the Parthian revolt. The revolt did not last long however, and Herod the Great returned with Roman soldiers to reclaim his Judean throne. Thus began the reign of the Herods under Rome’s authority, to maintain order in a Jewish religious culture led by the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and occupied by Jews longing for their Messiah to come and establish God’s eternal Kingdom as promised in the Davidic covenant. However, the Jewish longing for a Messiah was guided by misconceptions, which ultimately led to the religious leaders’ rejection of their eternal King and His Kingdom.

The Roman occupation of Israel affected the lives of the land’s Jewish inhabitants in both positive and negative ways. On a positive note, although the Hellenization of the western world continued, Jewish culture remained the same. Jews were not forced to worship the Roman state cult, nor were they required to speak Greek. Plenty of opportunities existed for “aspiring social climbers to adopt the ways of the world” (Tomasino, 278). With such adoption came career paths that led to prosperity. The religious activities of the Jewish people continued, allowing the religiously pure Pharisees to continue their strict adherence to the Law and the temple activities continued. Furthermore, there was peace, stability, and a level of security for Israel, so long as they did not cause any problems that might have required Roman intervention or discipline.

On a negative note however, Hellenization was continuing to spread, posing a threat to Jewish religion and culture. Roman soldiers could at times oppress the Jews by requiring their forced labor for State projects. But oppression was mostly realized in the pocketbooks of the Jews. The Roman Empire was an expensive operation to run, and the Jews had to pay in order to keep it running. In addition to the existing Jewish laws for tithes and offerings for their priests, there was now tribute to be paid through various taxes. These negatives resulted in a general disdain by the Jews for their Roman rulers.

Disdain led to resistance of various sorts. There was passive resistance by some Jews that played out through murmuring, complaining, cursing, cheating on taxes, and the occasional secretive cheering for groups of bandits who robbed the Romans (Tomasino, 283). On the other hand there was active resistance through various groups of freedom fighters. Josephus records these groups as the lestai, the sicarii, and the zealots. The lestai participated in a form of social banditry by steeling from Rome in order to give back to the Jews. The Sicarii were deadly assassins that targeted people in power, both Jewish and Gentile (Josephus, Jewish War 20.8.10). The zealots, so called for their religious and political zeal, were those who sought to restore God’s chosen nation through revolting against any foreign force ruling Israel (Josephus, Ant. 18.1.1).

Israel was God’s favored nation and race, leading Jews to wonder how much longer God would allow Rome, the massive pagan machine, to rule His chosen ones. The paganism of the Gentiles was being spread throughout the world and there was nothing that Israel could do on their own to stop it. A supernatural intervention was required (Tomasino, 289). There was a longing for the messiah, the super king who would restore the throne of David as God’s anointed one. This king would reunite Israel, defeat the unrighteous, and establish God’s righteous reign on earth forever (2 Sam. 7; Is. 9:1-7; 11:1-10; Jer. 23:5-6, Amos 9:11-12). To the Pharisaic mind, this would require a mighty warrior who held an ultimate value and strict adherence to God’s Law, for it was a low value and loose adherence to the Law that led to the previous destruction and oppression of God’s people by various nations. Thus the timing was ripe for this Messiah because the temple system had been restored, along with an outward commitment by the religious leaders to maintain purity and righteousness.

Surely the coming Messiah would greet the Pharisees with enthusiasm, offering praise for their strict commitment to remaining pure and protecting themselves from law. Their dedication to obeying the law by creating additional laws, or fences, to protect them from sinning would be seen as honorable by the coming super king. The Pharisees’ rejection of sinners and lack of engagement towards them guarded God’s chosen ones from impurity, thus being ready to usher in the reign of David’s heir. All of these visually righteous deeds flowed from a remembrance of covenant disobedience and a desire to avoid the same fate in the future. It was this understanding of the Messiah, and the conceived idea about how to remain obedient to the Law, that led to the Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus; for He did not meet them with enthusiasm, but with rebuke (Luke 7:29-35; Matt. 12). He tore down their guardrails and taught about a spiritual kingdom that even a tax collector could inherit.

The Pharisees did not accept Jesus’ actions and His teachings were often used to point to the self-righteous, unloving behavior of the Jewish religious leaders (Luke 18:9-14). Jesus taught against aggression towards Rome (Matt. 5:41). He violated their understanding of the Law—especially the Sabbath laws (Mishnah, Tractate Sab. 7.1-4; Matt. 12). He taught a message that reversed the social order put in place by the religious elite. He taught a message of servant leadership where the first becomes last and the least becomes the greatest. Those that had been deemed unclean and rejected—the sinners, tax collectors, Samaritans, and women—were being accepted into the coming kingdom of God. Jesus ate with these sinners, thus appearing to defile Himself through communion and fellowship with impure people.

When Jesus offered rebuke, it was often directed to the Pharisees for their self-righteousness and obsession to the law that led to the exclusion of the very people who needed them most. Rather than being ambassadors of God’s grace to the lost, they looked down their noses at the lost as unworthy, thus placing themselves on a pedestal and diminishing their own sinfulness. Christ was controversially fulfilling the Law and drawing attention back to the original purpose of God’s Law—to love God and to love others. When the people failed, the religious leaders should have been the tools of grace God intended them to be, to help draw them into the repentance God made possible through the sacrificial system of the Law. But not even the miraculous signs of Christ could melt the cold hearts of the Pharisees; the leaders unfit to lead God’s people (Zech. 11:4-6a).

Ultimately however, it was the sovereign plan of God that led to the Pharisees’ rejection of Christ (Isa. 53:1; 53:3; 49:4; Ps. 69:8; Zech. 11:12-13; Matt. 27:21-23; 26; 14-15; John 1:11; 5:43; 19:13-15 Acts 4:25-28; Eph. 1:1-11). The Pharisees’ hearts were hard (Isa. 8:9-10a; John 12:37-40). Jesus was the prophesied stone rejected by the Jews (Ps. 18:22; Matt. 21:42-43), and their unbelief led to the Messiah’s rejection of their own self-righteous behavior (Zech. 11:8a; Matt. 23:33). Jesus was saddened by their unbelief and stopped ministering to them (Zech. 11:9; Matt. 12:10-11). But it was through the hard hearts and inability of the Pharisees to lead people into a right relationship with God that Jesus came to fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham. He become the perfect sacrifice and blessing for all nations. The super king had come, but to establish a spiritual kingdom in which all who believed in His name could take part (John 5:24).

 

Works Cited

Elwell, Walter A. and Robert W. Yarbrough. Readings from the First Century World. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. Print.

Danby, Herbert. The Mishnah. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933. Print.

Ferguson, Everett. “Jews in the early Roman Empire.” Pages 427-430 in Backgrounds of Early Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. Print.

Josephus, Flavius. The Works of Flavius Josephus, Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1987. Accordance Electronic Version.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version with Key Numbers (ESVS). Crossway Bibles, 2011. Print.

Sailhamer, John H. “The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible.” Pages 5-23 in Journal of the Evangelical Theolgoical Society 44.1 (March 2001). Print.

Skarsaune, Oskar. 165-171 in In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008. Print.

Tomasino, Anthony J. “Oppression, Resistance, and Messianic Hopes.” Pages 278-306 in Judaism Before Jesus: The Events & Ideas that Shaped the New Testament World. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003. Print.