The Dispute at the Last Supper

We are continuing our meditation on the last Passover meal that Jesus had with His disciples before His crucifixion. They are all reclining around the table when an argument began among the disciples:

24Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:24-30).

In Jesus’ last hours, the disciples were bickering over their positions in the Kingdom of God. In the book by Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,[1] Edersheim seats Jesus in the middle of the end, with John and Judas at the places of honor alongside Him to one end of the U-Shaped triclinium table. Could the reason for the dispute be because Peter was not seated in the other place of honor to the left of Jesus? (Verse 24). We are not told who instigated the dispute, but one wonders if it was Peter. It is possible that Jesus allowed or initiated the seating arrangement to reveal something to Peter as to his desire to be the greatest. It could also have been that Jesus wanted Judas close and did not want him slipping off too early in the evening. With the dispute going on, it could have been the same time that John tells us that Jesus got up from the table and modeled true servanthood to the disciples by washing their feet (John 13:1-17). The Lord still gave opportunity for Judas to back out of what he had planned to do. How humbly the Lord Jesus washed the feet of Judas.

The Lord upended the values of this world to His disciples by teaching them that greatness by heaven’s standards is to take the lowliest stations in serving each other. He said the greatest among us should be like the youngest. We are to serve each other by taking on the jobs that others do not want to do. There is nothing small that is ever done in service for our Lord Jesus Christ. C.H. Spurgeon, the great English preacher, once said: “The meanest work for Jesus is a grander thing than the dignity of an emperor.” Look at every opportunity for menial service as a test of God to see if you will live as the youngest. Jesus modeled this to them as He lovingly washed the dirt and dust off their feet. Their sandals had been left at the doorway. In all things, Jesus is a model to us as to how to live in this world. Phillips Brooks once said, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.” We should not seek to be great men and women of God, but just to be men and women of a Great God. He does not need our talents, our strength, or our wisdom, He is only looking for men and women who in their own weakness will appeal to His power and abilities to flow through us by His Spirit. He is looking for those whose will is bent towards His, and will do the lowliest of tasks in service to Him and those around us.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. To view, click here. Click on study 59. The Last Supper (Luke 22:7-34). Keith Thomas

[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Published by Hendrickson Publishers, Page 815.

The Sin of Pride

In his narrative on the life and teaching of the Lord Jesus, Luke describes the conspiring of the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders against Messiah. Their goal was to try to discredit the Lord before the crowds listening to His teaching and preaching in the courts of the Temple Mount.

20Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. (Luke 20:20-21).

They sent spies (v.20) and were hoping that they could catch Him out by using His own words and teachings against Him. Jesus had silenced them once already and spoken a parable which focused on their plans to kill Him (Luke 20:1-19). Their response was to look “for a way to arrest Him immediately” (20:19). Why immediately? Their religious money-making schemes were threatened. Jesus had overthrown the tables of the moneychangers and stopped them selling in the Temple Courts. Those in power, the religious elite, could not give up; there was too much money, power, and authority at stake. They decided that they would come at Jesus again; this time, it would be on the issue of taxation imposed on Israel by the Roman authorities. If they could get Him to say something against paying the tax, they could tell the Roman governor that He was a rebel against the state and should be executed.

They assembled together certain individuals that were good actors. Some of the leaders were sent to keep a close watch on Him, no doubt taking note of His every word. In verse 21, Luke calls them spies. They were sent to appeal to His pride by flattering Him, attempting to gain trust among His followers before asking their questions. (The word translated “pretended” (Verse 20) in the NIV, comes from the Greek word hypokrinomai, which means to play the role of an impersonator or actor. We get the word hypocrite from the root of this word. The enemy masks his motives by using flattery to appeal to a man’s pride. They were hoping that Jesus would not detect their true motives or see where they were going with their questions by inflating His pride. It was a classic misdirect! A man or woman can be blinded to the enemy’s attack by his or her own pride. Many a minister has passed the test of outright sin but fallen easily to the sin of pride. CS Lewis wrote about this in his book, Mere Christianity. Lewis wrote:

If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual; The pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power, and of hatred. For there are two things inside me competing with the human self which I must try to become; they are the animal self, and the diabolical self; and the diabolical self is the worst of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig (a person who demonstrates an exaggerated conformity or propriety) who goes regularly to church may be far nearer hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it’s better to be neither.[1]

Pride is one of God’s greatest enemies. Pride is what caused Satan to fall (Isaiah 14:12-17). If you would like to please your enemy, just begin to admire yourself. Pride is so hard to see in ourselves but easy to see in others. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. There will always be grace issuing from our lives if we will seek the best for others rather than elevating self. Jesus never gave in to a spirit of pride for one minute. Christ took every opportunity to humble Himself and show us the way. See Him as He washed the dirty grimy feet of the disciples. Watch Him as He touched the leprous. He was not worried that men would see Him weeping over Lazarus even when He knew that He would raise him from the dead. He would look for the lowest seat when He was invited to a meal. There was none humbler than the Lord Jesus. Be careful of the sin of pride.

Taken from the series on the Book of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. To view, click here. Click on study 54. Luke 20:20-47. Questions About Eternity. Keith Thomas

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Macmillan, 1986).

Zacchaeus, Come Down Immediately!

1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ” 8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:1-10).

Zacchaeus had a problem in trying to see Jesus–he was small of stature. The crowd along the road would not let him push through. I am sure that when people saw who was pushing to get through the crowd, that there was an elbow or a kick designed to hurt him, but his curiosity could not be satisfied until he had seen Jesus. He ran ahead along the road to the place where there was a large Sycamore Fig tree and hastily climbed up the short trunk and hid in the wide branches. Which one was Jesus? Zacchaeus did not know Jesus but Jesus knew him. Perhaps Christ had come this very way because he knew exactly where Zacchaeus would be waiting.

Do you think he knew which one was Jesus as he looked down from the tree? I’m sure his heart skipped a beat when the crowd stopped as the Lord looked up into the tree, saying: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

I am amazed at the condescension of Christ. Not only did He look down from heaven but He also came down and entered into our painful world. Furthermore, here He is looking up to Zacchaeus and asking him to come down. God always humbles a soul before he brings him to heaven. We must let go of every branch that we hold on to and come down. There is a need for all of us to come down in our own estimation of ourselves. Zacchaeus would have felt very humbled that the Lord knew him by name. He had lived his life climbing to the top of the ladder and realized that the ladder was against the wrong wall. He had chased money all his life but had become hated by the people around him. He had lost all self-respect due to the way he had treated people, yet Jesus valued him so much that Christ would come to his house!

Do you realize that the God of the universe knows you by name and values you highly? He wants to come and live inside your house. He values us so highly that He calls each one of us individually in the midst of our own circumstances. Zacchaeus was singled out by Jesus and directly called by name. He is told by Christ “I must stay at your house today.” There doesn’t seem to be any act of faith that brought Christ to his door, except, perhaps, his curiosity in wanting to see Christ. Jesus deliberately came to the place where Zacchaeus was and initiated the conversation that brought a saving response. The phrase “must stay” (NIV) or “must abide” (KJV) is used. It denotes a compulsion of any kind, such as unavoidable, urgent, compulsory necessity.”[1] It seems that it was all written into God’s plan, the calling of Zacchaeus.

He directly calls each one of us: “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The Bible tells us that God has ordained (To prearrange unalterably; predestine: by fate ordained)[2] beforehand those who would be saved. We may think that we are the ones searching for God, but He is the Shepherd, searching for His lost sheep. God orders our circumstances to cause us to call out to Him. We cannot say that the depths of sin that we got into were ordered by God, our own choices were involved, but the Bible declares that God uses all things to work together for our good to bring us to Christ (Romans 8:28). What do we mean by the word election? Wayne Grudem in his book, Systematic Theology, defines election as “an act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any unforeseen merit in them, but only because of His sovereign good pleasure.”[3]  Zacchaeus and all those of us who have been born again, were called and chosen before the foundation of the world to be His elected ones.

4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Ephesians 1:4-6).

What wonderful grace God has lavished on us! It boggles the mind to think that He has planned calling us out before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless, adopted as His sons and daughters. Zacchaeus and you and I were called before the beginning of the world ever took place. He had us on His mind and heart. Zacchaeus was one of the last people would think would be saved. This encounter came about in the city of Jericho, a cursed city (Joshua 6:26), yet Christ came there and called Zacchaeus. He called the worst of sinners from the worst of cities with the worst of trades. Maybe He’s doing the same for you today!

Keith Thomas

[1] Key Word Study Bible, AMG Publishers, Notes on Page 1604.

[2] Dictionary.com

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Published by Zondervan, page 670.

Pride vs Humility

We are continuing from yesterday to meditate on the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector–especially on the sin of pride.

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10″Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’13″But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14″I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14)

Pride is an ugly sin to God. “The devil is content that people should excel in good works, provided he can make them proud of them” (William Law). “Pride is the idolatrous worship of ourselves, and that is the national religion of hell” (Alan Redpath). To be full of self is to be empty of God. Grace and humility bows the knee to a Holy God who alone can sustain and keep us free from the corrupting influence of self. The highway of holiness is a valley trail in the direction of humility. The trail will lead you on a path of death to self. If we can daily see tests that we are going through, that give us opportunity to humble ourselves, we are on the right highway. “The higher a man is in grace, the lower he will be in his own esteem” (C.H. Spurgeon). Learn to welcome the opportunity to die daily to self. What is humility? “Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all” (Andrew Murray). William Barclay tells a great story about how we should all live as a Christian:

There is a story of a monk in the old days, a very holy man who was sent to take up office as abbot in a monastery. He looked so humble a person that, when he arrived, he was sent to work in the kitchen as a scullion, because no one recognized him. Without a word of protest and with no attempt to take his position, he went and washed the dishes and did the most menial tasks. It was only when the bishop arrived a considerable time later that the mistake was discovered and the humble monk took up his true position. The man who enters upon office for the respect that will be given him has begun in the wrong way, and cannot, unless he changes, ever be in any sense the servant of Christ and of his fellow men.[1]

If we really want to maximize our effectiveness, prayer is vital. God has gone to great lengths to make it possible for us to be a kingdom of priests to our God. The Temple curtain has been torn in two for us to enter into the very presence of God offering spiritual sacrifices of prayer. The graces of humility, persistence and perseverance will bring the power of God through us to a needy world.

Keith Thomas

[1] William Barclay, Daily Study Bible, the Gospel of Mark, Published by Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh. Page 301.

 

 

The Man Justified Before God

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10″Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’13″But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14″I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14)

This parable is on the subject of prayer and concerns itself more with the inner attitude or heart of prayer. In this parable, the contrast is between a self-righteous Pharisee and a penitent tax collector; no two people could be further apart than these two. Jesus shocks his audience by saying that the penitent tax collector went away justified rather than the Pharisee.

Both men were praying in the temple precincts. From the way the passage reads, I can picture the Pharisee standing up close to the front of the Temple Courts. His posture was that of standing up straight and looking up to heaven, congratulating himself out loud. I’m sure that others nearby could hear how he so righteously lived his life. It is mentioned that the penitent tax-collector stood at a distance, perhaps at the back of the Temple courts near the entrance, because he felt so unworthy. He could not even look up to heaven, which was the normal posture of prayer. (Our tradition today when called to prayer is to look downward, mainly due to the words of this parable.) It is interesting to note that often when Jesus is mentioned praying, it records that He “looked up to heaven.” In the Pharisee’s case, his posture of looking up to heaven is seen as his own self-righteousness and self-importance, which the parable later points out.  In the Pharisee’s prayer, the Greek words record him saying 5 times “I—I—I—I—I.” We find him praying “about himself” (verse 11), the literal rendering of the Greek is that he’s praying to himself. This man certainly was not maximizing his time of prayer, his prayer never got off the ground! His self-righteous attitude never brought him into a true relationship with God, he has no appreciation for grace, and in fact he disdains it. He’s far too righteous to need the grace of God! His life is all about keeping various laws to earn his right standing before God. He fully expects that his eternity is secured with a great mansion, but fails to look deep within himself to see his own character flaws. His boast was that he fasted twice a week. William Barclay tells us:

“The Jewish law prescribed only one absolutely obligatory fast- that on the day of Atonement. But those who wished to gain special merit fasted also on Mondays and Thursdays. It is noteworthy that these were the market days when Jerusalem was full of country people. Those who fasted whitened their faces and appeared in disheveled clothes, and those days gave their piety the biggest possible audience.”[1]

Like a good Pharisee, he tithed even on his spices, the mint, dill and cumin (Matthew 23:23), but yet he had no regard for the tax collector, in fact he despised him as he looked back at the man who could not even hold up his head. The man who has standing before God is one who has genuine humility and sees his need for mercy and grace from God:

“These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).

Keith Thomas

[1] The Daily Study Bible, Gospel of Luke, William Barclay, Page 223.