This Man Welcomes Sinners

255911Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2).

The way the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were mouthing these words was with much venom and disgust. They muttered together about him. The Greek word diagongyzō is used, a stronger word than the simple Greek word gongyzō, which is used more often in scripture, and it meant to complain or grumble (aloud). They were voicing their disdain so much that those that He was seeking could hear them.  I’m sure Christ’s heart went out to the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ that he was seeking to reach, that they might know God’s heart towards them is one of love and mercy extended.

The Jews saw tax collectors as being turncoats. They were making money hand over fist working for the Romans in taxing their Jewish brothers and sisters. They were sometimes ranked with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32), being thought of as the lowest of the low. The religious elite uses the word ‘Sinners’ to describe those who were held in bondage to a sinful lifestyle. The Greek word translated is harmartolos. It speaks of one not careful at all about the observance of ceremonial duties, an irreligious person. The term was used of either an immoral person or a person whose occupation was not ceremonially clean.

There were many of the population that had given up on trying to keep all the rules and regulations that the Oral Law, the traditions of the elders, had imposed on the general populous. It is the same today in many countries—it is just different religions these days. The rules were so numerous and nonsensical that it became a heavy burden to the people. Many felt alienated and far away from God. When Jesus came preaching about God’s love for lost and unloved sinners, they were drawn to Him like flies to rotting fish. We don’t know what Jesus looked like, but his personality was and is attractive, He is altogether lovely (Song of Solomon 5:16). When those who were caught in their sin looked at the Scribes and Pharisees, their scowls showed no godliness or grace at all. There was no accepting attitude. They did not see God’s love in the religious leaders. People know when they are loved. When they looked at Christ, He had an inviting heart and welcomed sinners eagerly. The orthodox Jews had written off the tax collectors and sinners as worthy of the fires of hell, but God is gracious and extends kindness to men. He takes the initiative in seeking those that are alienated from Him.

But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him (2 Samuel 14:14).

What a beautiful truth the above passage communicates. The creator of the Universe has devised ways of reaching out to each of us.  I believe that God has arranged situations in your life and mine so that through the painful trials we undergo, God reveals Himself to us. The trials you are experiencing are used by God to shake you out of spiritual lethargy, forcing you to wake up to the reality of a God who is seeking to draw you closer to Himself. How far will you go before you turn to the One who welcomes sinners?

Keith Thomas

The Prodigal Father

anak-yang-hilang-pulangIn Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells us a story about two sons who really knew little about their father’s love for them. One just wants to give vent to his lower nature and sin to whatever depths he can, the other elder son is also a stranger to his father’s love and thinks that he can please his father by keeping rules. The story is more about the father of the two than about the boys themselves. The father is a picture of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and all who call upon Him. He is the prodigal Father. Now before you throw me an electronic stone, let me explain by saying that the word “prodigal” is not mentioned in the text and actually means:

Rashly or wastefully extravagant:” as in prodigal expenditures on unneeded weaponry; a prodigal life. Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse: prodigal praise.” [1]

Yes, the younger son was wastefully extravagant, but the father was even more so with his grace, mercy and acceptance of his son back from the distant country. Let’s look at the parable with that view in our mind, the father’s lavish kindness toward his lost son. When the younger son comes to himself and decides to return to his father, he makes up his speech and turns in the direction of home:

20And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:20-24).

We are told that the son had gone to a distant country (v.13). Certainly there was no need in Israel for pigs, so he was probably amongst Gentiles (non Jews) in an adjacent country. Wherever he was, we can figure out that he was several miles from home. The father in this story is a picture of the Father who loves each of us. He also was a long way from home, waiting, looking for his son. We are told that as soon as the son turned for home, there was the father, a long way from home (v.20). There was no anger within the father; the immediate emotion within the father even before he got up to his son, was compassion. Dictionary.com says that compassion is: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. As soon as the father saw his son he ran to him. The father has been in pain for his son while he has been away from home.

Upon the son’s turning toward home, this father is so ready to forgive that he does not even give the young man a chance to speak his words. This is a father in great love with his son. He runs to him. No self-respecting aged father runs in the Middle East. But here we see the father is unrestrained in kissing his son.  The English King James Version says, “he fell on his neck, and kissed him.” There is no thought about the stench of the pigs that still hangs on the boy. He is just so pleased to see him! The Greek tense says that he threw his arms around him and kissed him again and again and again. The father expressed his kindness before the son expressed his repentance. This speaks of God’s kindness and His readiness to be reconciled to those that have been apart from His love. Finally, the young man, in the midst of sobs, I’m sure, manages to get out part of his speech that he had prepared. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father cuts him off, and speaks to his servants to bring some things.

They were told to bring the “best robe.” There is a double emphasis here in the Greek text, the robe, that principal robe. We are not talking about a coat here; this robe speaks of the son being restored to a place of honor. It speaks to us of a robe of righteousness that covers over our pigsty of sin. The ring speaks of authority and power of attorney. In that day, rings were used to sign official documents.  Often the ring had an impression on it that, when pushed into hot wax, was the official seal of the family. Pharoah gave Joseph such a ring when he was elevated to second in command of Egypt, after interpreting Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:42). We too are given authority by our God to do the works of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). The son was given shoes. No slave ever wore shoes, and the father would not let his son go barefoot. He was a son, not a slave.  Our feet are shod with the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). We have been made sons of God. The servants were told to kill the calf that had been fattened ready for this day. This father had been slowly fattening the calf that he may celebrate when his son would come home. These were all gifts of grace lavished on the slave returning home to be restored to sonship.

Keith Thomas

[1] Dictionary.com

The God Who Graciously Stoops

5da0d8f2262b553cb19f33a20683e82eThe Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

The Great Creator God, who made all things, is a God of grace. It was His plan from the very beginning of the ages to bring forth a bride for His Son, the Lord Jesus. This bride is composed of all who are born-again of the Spirit, and who bow the knee to receive God’s gift of a complete pardon for rebellion and a life of sin. When one considers our rebellious and sinful nature and our corrupt hearts before God, this is wonderful grace. To understand the full meaning of grace, we need to turn to its usage in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word chen means “to bend or stoop.” It has the idea of “condescending favor,” the kind of favor that a King has for one of his people.

Queen Victoria of England, when she was a girl and had just become queen, was asked to sign a death warrant for a person who, by court martial, had been condemned to death. It is said that she said to the Duke who brought her the warrant, “Cannot you find any reason why this man should be pardoned?” The Duke said, “No, it was a very great offense; he ought to be punished.” “But was he a good soldier?” The Duke said he was a shamefully bad soldier, and had always been noted as a bad soldier. “Well, cannot you invent for me any reason?” “Well,” he said, “I have every reason to believe from testimony that he was a good man, although a bad soldier.” “That will do,” she said, and she wrote across the warrant, “pardoned”—not because the man deserved it—but because she wanted a reason for having mercy.[1]

God has stooped down to you and me in grace and mercy bestowing His wonderful favor upon us, writing across our warrant, “pardoned.” This He did not do grudgingly, but lavishly and joyfully. It was what He purposed in His heart to do! That which we couldn’t do, that which was impossible for us, He has accomplished in Christ. This is self-sacrificing love, agape love. Justice demanded that the soul that sins must die, but God in His love for us came in the person of His Son, Jesus, to take our place, to die our death instead of us, to taste death for every man. “Jesus…by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).

Allow me to say something very important and let it sink into your soul: there is not one thing that you could do to make God love you more, and there is not one thing that you could do that could make Him love you less. Read that again and let it sink in. Paul the apostle, before he was converted, was complicit in the murder of Stephen. Also, he attacked Christians and thought He was doing God a favor. Do you think that offended the Holy Spirit? I cannot think of anything worse. Yet, while he was self-righteous and persecuting God’s saints, God the Father had mercy and extended grace to him while he was a murderer. He did not wait for Paul to clean himself up before He had mercy on him. God gave him a new heart! Don’t think that there is anything too terrible for God to look at or to forgive. Don’t think for a moment that there is any sin that could possibly hold you back from experiencing the grace of God. Let His grace break through to you, wherever you are, be aware of His favor upon you right now!

Keith Thomas

[1] Charles Spurgeon, Human Depravity and Divine Mercy, http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols10-12/chs615.pdf

Stretch Out Your Hand!

healing-of-the-man-with-the-withered-hand6On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. 8But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward. 9And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?” 10After looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!” And he did so; and his hand was restored. 11But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus (Luke 6:6-11).

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. The secret police were out in force again, watching his every move. They were watching Him like a hawk as a man with a withered hand comes into the synagogue where Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath day. Did you know that Satan uses religion to control and bind people from experiencing real grace, and love and the mercy of God? The religious folk were there to try to stop the flow of God’s grace on the Sabbath. Of course, the Bible never says that healing and reaching out to others in love is not allowed on the Sabbath, that’s just religion with all its rules.

Try to picture it, Jesus is there in the Synagogue. Does the man just walk in? He is noticed by everyone including Jesus. The Lord did not heal him straight away. He calls the man to stand up so that everyone could see that he had a withered hand. With him standing in front of all, Jesus questioned the Pharisees as to what they believed about God. Should the man not be healed on the Sabbath? The Pharisees represent God as being law centered and not caring for God’s people. The religious people were totally silent at His question. Deep in the heart of every one of us, we know to do right and to take opportunity to do good, no matter what day it is. Without touching the man, Jesus tells him to do the impossible, “Stretch out your hand.” With all the people looking on, the man obediently stretches out his hand and before everyone’s eyes, the bones start cracking and opening the hand up, new flesh appears around the joints of his hand, until the hand is totally healed! All without Jesus touching him! How humiliated the religious leaders were. In fact, they were furious (v.11). They didn’t care about the man and his withered hand; they were angry at Jesus’ defiance and showing up their religious rules that was absent of the heart of God.

What religious rules do you have to deal with? Do they have the heart of God in them? These religious leaders knew the Word of God and yet they did not know the God of the Word. They thought more of the recipe than the meal itself.  The Bible tells us about how to have a living relationship with the God of the book. Let’s be careful to seek the God and His heart that wrote the book.

Keith Thomas

The War Between Brothers: Jew and Arab

palestine122There is a recent study that proves genetically that Jews and Arabs are brothers one of another, and descendants of Abraham. Esau, Jacob or Israel’s brother, intermarried with Ishmael (Genesis 28:8-9) and became the Arabic people, that God said would be a great nation of countries (Genesis 17:20-21). There is a great love by the Most High Creator God for the Jewish and Arabic peoples. God tells of a time that is still future when there will be a highway all the way from Syria across Israel to Egypt. It will be a time when Arabs and Jews will worship the Lord together. Even though we cannot see it right now, the Most High God will bring it about. Egyptians, Syrians and Israeli’s will have a true peace and experience the blessing of the Messiah. This is what the Lord says:

23In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance” (Isaiah 19:23-25).

We cannot see it now because of a great war that is going on over the Middle East. This war is being fought on a spiritual plane, but has consequences on Earth. Paul the Apostle wrote, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). What was Paul saying? He was saying that behind the things that are going on in the political world are invisible spiritual forces of evil that are competing for control over people’s minds and hearts. These invisible spiritual forces of evil plant thoughts and influence the minds of political leaders for a worldwide agenda to be brought about—a One World Government under a dictator the Bible calls the Antichrist. The hatred that has been pushed by the media between Jews and Arabs is of unseen demonic origin. It is just being used as a ploy for gaining control of Jerusalem, and at a time in the future, a world leader, the Antichrist, will sit in a newly rebuilt temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and proclaim himself as God (2 Thessalonians 2:4), seeking for all the world to worship him. The prophet Zechariah spoke 2500 years ago of the time that we are in right now:

2“I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. 3On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves (Zechariah 12:2-3).

It is important to understand that the name “Jerusalem” never appears in the Koran. The claim to Jerusalem came years after Mohammad’s death. Writer Hal Lindsey, in his book The Everlasting Hatred, The Roots of Jihad, says, “The justification for this comes from a verse which says Mohammad travelled to the “uttermost mosque,” (which is the meaning of Al Quds in Arabic) shortly before his death.” There is no evidence that this was Jerusalem—the legend of a visit to Jerusalem first appeared in the days of Khaliph Omar, the Muslim who originally conquered Jerusalem in April of AD 637, more than 560 years after the Jews were banished from Jerusalem by the Romans. There will come a time when the Arabic people will see that they have been manipulated by dark invisible forces and turn to the Lord for the free gift of His salvation that Christ won on the cross for all those that will come to Him. They will see that He has a great love for them just as He has for the Jewish people. He will have mercy on all who call on Him—for He will forgive them of their sins when they cry out to Him. What a difference on Earth that will make! Oh God, bring it about soon!

Keith Thomas