One of the leaders of the ultra-orthodox sect known as the Pharisees decided to invite Jesus to his house for dinner. I imagine it was both a friendly gesture, as well as a risky one, since Jesus could say some difficult things. Jesus didn’t seem to care that he offended people who took their religion so seriously. Perhaps Jesus was just concerned about refining those who had grown too comfortable in their religion. They thought that they had “arrived” and ought to be admired for it.
As the other invited guests began to take their places, Jesus noticed how the places of honor were the first seats to go. Jesus responded to what He saw by saying, “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8–11)
What Jesus was teaching was more than just good wedding guest etiquette. He was teaching about life. We all long for recognition, but the best way to obtain recognition is to not seek it in the first place.
It was one of those uncomfortable, “awkward” moments. A Pharisee named Simon had asked the new rabbi to come to his house and share a meal. After they sat down to eat, an uninvited guest showed up. Simon knew this woman had a reputation in town. She was definitely not one of the “nice” people. As she approached Jesus at the table, she began weeping, washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, and then pouring perfume on His feet. Luke goes on to record what Simon was thinking at the time – Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)
What Simon didn’t realize at the time was that this woman was exactly the kind of person that Jesus was looking for. You might even say that Jesus lived and died for moments like this. It’s not that Jesus just liked to live on the wild side or that He liked the attention of this particular woman. The truth is, He came to forgive and help “sinners” turn their lives around.
I think that the older I get, the less bothered I want to be. I want things to be safe. I want them to be predictable. I want to surround myself with people who look, think, and act like me. The problem is that Jesus’ ultimate goal for my life isn’t just about me being comfortable. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. There are times when a hand needs to be extended to the person sinking in life’s storms. There are times when that hand needs to be mine. It may be uncomfortable, but it also may be right.
When Bezalel was building the items that God told Moses to make for the Tabernacle, one of the items was a “laver”. Some modern depictions of the bronze laver look something like a large commercial coffee urn with multiple spigots. The laver was part of the process the priests would go through each time they served, each time they would approach God. The laver provided water to wash what was dirty. It’s not that God is a germaphobe, there is a deeper kind of cleansing that God is interested in when we draw near to Him. Moses recorded that Bezalel made it … from the bronze mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting (Exodus 38:8). Ancient mirrors weren’t made of glass, but of finely polished bronze. With a laver made of mirrors, I imagine the priests could see themselves when they washed.
James tells us a little something about another mirror when he writes, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James1:22-25). Beloved, when you open God’s Word, do you see yourself in the reflection? Do you know what needs to be washed? Take a look in the mirror. Be careful to do what it says.
I am so awesome. You did know that I’m awesome, didn’t you? Sometimes when I think about my own accomplishments, I just amaze myself. Just the other day I ordered one of my many employees to do the most embarrassing thing, and you should have seen the look on his face as he reluctantly obeyed his boss. Awesome, right? Sometimes my greatness is most apparent when I pick some unsuspecting person to compare myself to, and I realize just how amazing I am. Why just the other day I challenged a five year old to a basketball game, and I bet you can’t guess who won! I am just so awesome.
Jesus’ disciples were a little like me. On one of their trips, the fellows had apparently been in some sort of rigorous debate. When Jesus asked what they had been talking about, things got unusually quiet. They had been debating which one of them was the greatest.
And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)
If I think my measure of awesomeness is based on how many people I can order around, I’m mistaken. If I think my measure of total coolness is based on my ability to crush others to win in the race, I have a problem.
Jesus seems to think that greatness is about being last. It’s about serving. It’s about putting others first. Get yourself out of the picture and stop trying to be “something”. Just serve Jesus. Just serve others. That’s what makes true awesomeness.
When God called Moses to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, there was just a little tiny problem. The Egyptians weren’t about to let the Israelites go. After all, the Israelites were free slave labor. It was going to take something powerful before Pharaoh would agree to let them go, and that’s when the battle of the “plagues” began. It started with Moses turning the Nile into blood, something that the Egyptian magicians were able to somehow reproduce. Then came the frogs, which the Egyptians were able to simulate. When the flies showed up, the magicians began to choke. They had a sense that there was something bigger than man behind these things. For the Egyptians, things went from bad to worse. Livestock died, people were covered with boils, and enormous hailstones fell from the sky.
People have always tried to follow the path of the magicians, trying to explain away what God does. Like the magicians, they will even try to copy the kinds of things that God can do. In doing so, people miss the lesson that the Egyptian magicians themselves learned with the flies – it was the finger of God (Ex. 8:19). The magicians were able to copy the first two plagues, but they were powerless to replicate the next eight.
Just like those first two plagues, men can indeed do amazing things. There are self-help books and support groups that can accomplish much. Yet when it comes to true, powerful, and lasting deliverance, we will always stop short until we bring God into the picture. There is someone greater than you. There is someone able to help. His name is Jesus.
Jesus did not have many kind things to say about the scribes and Pharisees of His day. They were judgmental, hypocritical, mean-spirited spiritual leaders of a nation that needed desperately to know God. They did have one good quality, which Jesus did not disparage. Regarding the Pharisees, Jesus said, “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do” (Matthew 23:3).
It is very important that spiritual leaders live what they preach. We live in a very dark world that needs to see the light of a person whose “walk” matches their “talk”. So why didn’t Jesus just say, “Ok everyone, completely ignore everything connected to the Pharisees, because they’re just a bunch of hypocrites”? Jesus actually encouraged His listeners to pay attention to the words of the Pharisees. Why? Because despite all their faults, they taught from God’s Word.
God’s Word is true, despite the flaws of the person who is speaking it. God’s Word is powerful, even if someone is abusing it by living a hypocritical life. There are going to be times when a favorite pastor or leader will have a very public fall. That doesn’t mean that the things they taught from God’s Word were necessarily bad. I’m not trying to excuse the flaws of men who have stumbled, but I do want to call to your attention that God’s Word is true, no matter who is speaking it. God’s Word is the baby in that old saying: “Don’t throw out the baby out with the bath water”.
Jacob had a reputation of being a deceiver. With all the trouble he caused, he left home a lonely, broken man. He found God at a place he named “Bethel” (“house of God”), and he promised he would follow God if God would help him.
Jacob ended up in his mother’s distant home town, living with his Uncle Laban. While Jacob had been a bit of a deceiver, he was nothing like his Uncle Laban. Having fallen in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel, Jacob negotiated a contract where he would work for Laban seven years in exchange for the hand of Rachel. Laban tricked Jacob and gave him his other daughter instead. Then they negotiated for Jacob to work another seven years, and this time for Rachel. The third contract with Laban was to allow Jacob to build up his own family wealth, but along the way Laban kept changing the terms of the contract. First it involved one kind of goat, then another. When it became obvious that Jacob needed to leave with his family, God spoke to Jacob in a dream, ‘Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. (Genesis 31:12)
All through Jacob’s life, God knew what was going on. All along the way, God was working behind the scenes to provide for Jacob. All along the way, God was keeping His promises. God does the same for us, beloved. Like Jacob, we may not realize it towards the end of the season, but it’s still true. God hasn’t forgotten you. He sees. He works.
Abram was a man with an amazing history. While the rest of the world followed after silly idols, Abram chose to worship God. A man of faith, he left the land of his fathers and followed God to a place he’d never been before. As a warrior, he led his small group of servants to fight with the kings of the east in order to rescue his nephew Lot. He was a man of promise, God having promised him that he would one day have a son. He was also quite flawed. When it began to look like the promised son would never come, he took things into his own hands and fathered a son through a slave girl instead of his wife. The not-promised-son (Ishmael) and his descendants (Arabs) have caused trouble for Abram’s family ever since.
Things got back on track when God renewed His covenant with Abram. This covenant was so significant that God even changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Within a year after this covenant, Abraham would have his promised son. What changed? God said, “and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Genesis 17:11). Both literally and figuratively, circumcision is a “cutting off of the flesh”. I find it interesting that the promised blessings followed the dealing with the flesh. Too often God’s hopes for my life get sidetracked when I live after the flesh and give birth to Ishmael-sized problems. The blessed life is not just about having more of the Spirit, it’s about choosing to live less after the flesh.
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. (Genesis 3:4)
There’s really not much new in this world when it comes to temptation. Oh the things we get tempted with might look a little different, the sins might get new names, but it all still works the same. The pattern of temptation and sin stretches all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
The serpent first comes to make you question what God has said. He will ask you if God really meant to say that the thing you struggle with is actually a sin. He might tell you that God actually didn’t mean what He said, and that the thing you are contemplating isn’t all that bad. He might even tell you that you have a genetic disposition towards this thing, and if God made you that way, then what could be so wrong?
The second thing the serpent does is to claim that the rules have changed. Even though God warned Adam that eating of the forbidden fruit would result in death, the serpent knew better. One of the things that gets twisted in our minds when we face temptation is that we begin to think that somehow we are different. We think that somehow the rules don’t apply to us. Yet, when Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit, death did indeed enter the human race.
You can learn from Adam and Eve’s sin. Choose to treasure God’s Word. God means what He says. The rules haven’t changed. You can avoid the consequences when you just say no. God’s ways are best.
In seeking to impart wisdom to his son, King Solomon warned about several kinds of people, people he did not want his son to emulate. One of those types of people is known as the “lazy” man, or the “sluggard”. The lazy man is the one who likes to sleep (6:9). He might have lots of dreams and goals, but never accomplishes any of them because he is … lazy (13:4). The sluggard might have a bowl of food before him, but he is too lazy to even feed himself (19:24). The lazy man doesn’t work hard when he’s supposed to be working, and hence he doesn’t have much to show for his life when harvest time comes (20:4). The sluggard actually has desires and goals, but they end up causing him only hurt because he is too lazy to do anything about them (21:15). The lazy man isn’t even all that stupid, in fact he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else in town (26:16). Yet one of the things that strikes me about the “lazy” man is the fact that he hides behind his excuses. Solomon wrote, “The lazy man says, “There is a lion in the road! A fierce lion is in the streets!”” (Proverbs 26:13)
Now just because the lazy man says there is a lion in the streets, doesn’t make it so. He might elaborate on the probability of panthera leo stalking the neighborhood and impress you with his Latin at the same time. He might protest as you challenge the legitimacy of his “excuse”. He might say, “But what if there is a lion outside?” My friends, wouldn’t you agree that the fears we have of the great “what ifs” rarely pan out? We all might do a little better if we learn to drop the excuses and just do our best.