Well here we are again December. Sometimes the days and months seem to fly right by, and sometimes they seem to move so slowly. The fact is the length of a minute, day or week doesn’t change; it is all about our perceptions and expectations. Do you remember when you were younger--or maybe not so much younger--waiting for Christmas? You had asked for something you really wanted, and you could hardly wait until Christmas morning to see if Santa / a parent / a sibling… had listened to your request.
The Israelites had been waiting for not weeks or months, but years, centuries even, for the Messiah who had been promised to them. As a matter of fact, God gave them a hint in Isaiah 7:14, and it was still about 700 years before the promise was fulfilled. As I said in my last post, waiting can make you doubt. Some of the Israelites may have even forgotten what they were waiting for. But a man named Simeon didn’t. (Luke 2:25-32) He was very devout, and he was waiting patiently for the Lord to reveal His gift, the Messiah. He had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died. (Luke 2:26) Just as an aside: isn’t it a good thing that Simeon recognized when the Holy Spirit was speaking and then listened to Him? That is what brought Simeon to the temple the day that Mary and Joseph arrived with Jesus. The Bible doesn’t tell us how old Simeon was, but it does tell us that now that he had seen the Messiah, his life purpose had been fulfilled. He was ready to depart from this world. (Luke 2:29)
The people of Israel had been waiting an incomprehensibly long time for their Messiah to be revealed, and many of them, like Simeon, remained faithful to the task. The very same Messiah is here knocking at our door, and all we have to do is open it and let Him in--no waiting required. (Revelation 3:20) It can be Christmas morning for us at any time. All we have to do is accept the gift.
It saddens me to see how little some people care about others. They are intent on getting the best for themselves even if it means manipulating others, stealing from them or lying to ruin their reputations. Why do these people think that their desires are more important than anyone else’s? Why are they willing to hurt others to reach their own goals? Is getting what they want really worth that? If we were truly worthy of the best, we shouldn’t have to resort to these tactics to get it, and if we are not worthy of the best, sooner or later, someone is going to put us in our place.
Jesus was obviously upset by similar self-serving behaviour. In Luke 14:7-11, He tells a parable in response to those who wanted to elevate their status by pushing and shoving their way to the best seats at a Sabbath meal. It would be as if they were invited to a wedding reception, but decided to take their seats at the head table which was reserved for members of the wedding party. How many times do you suppose that someone could do that without being told that they would have to move? On the other hand if the guests had chosen to sit at the equivalent of the kid’s table, surely someone would ask them to move to a place of higher honour. Jesus was warning them against the dangers of pride, something that Solomon had taught long before. (Proverbs 16:18)
This parable can apply to other situations besides seating plans. How often are you willing to do the things that don’t get recognition or appreciation but still need to be done? How often do you help someone else with difficult or unpleasant tasks? Are you willing to help even when it’s inconvenient for you? D.L. Moody once said that, “There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord; but few of us are willing to do little things.” Jesus said that whatever you do for the least fortunate you do for Him. (Matthew 25:40) If we love our neighbour as ourselves, (Matthew 22:37-39) we won’t try to get ahead at their expense.
I think many of us, when we pray, give up too soon. If we don’t get the answer we are looking for right away, we assume that we won’t get an answer. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. (I Thessalonians 5:17)
In Luke 18:1-8 Jesus tells the parable of a persistent widow. Jesus didn’t always give an explanation for His parables, but He tells us the purpose of this one right up front: You should always pray and not lose heart. In the days when Jesus walked on earth, a widow was about as unfortunate a position as one could be in. In that male-dominated society, a woman depended on a man for her livelihood. The widow in this story obviously had no one to care for her, or that person would have also been the one to plead her case before the judge. It is likely that this woman was destitute and desperate. But she did not give up. When did she stop asking the unrighteous judge for justice? After she received justice.
Jesus used the example of an unrighteous judge because if a poor widow could get justice from him, how much more likely we are to get justice from our Heavenly Father. We are not widows; we are children of God, co-heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:16-17) And our God is a just Father who wants to give good gifts to His children. (Matthew 7:11) He not only invites us to ask Him, but He wants us to ask Him. Matt Chandler emphasizes this in his discussion of prayer.
James 4:2-3 says that we do not have because we do not ask. Perhaps we ask with the wrong motives, or perhaps we do not ask with enough passion and persistence. Perhaps we give up too easily. Galatians 6:9 tells us that we will reap if we do not give up. Don’t give up on God. Trust in His answers, trust in His timing, and trust Him to do what is best.
I am constantly amazed at the love that God has for us. You may feel love from your family or friends, but nothing on this earth compares to how much your Heavenly Father loves you. Of course, there will be some of you who don’t feel that from anyone, and so it will be even harder for you to fathom, but I hope that today’s verses will help.
In Luke 15:3-7 Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep, which is actually just the first part of the three part parable told in Luke 15. It was in response to an accusation from the Pharisees and experts in the law who were accusing Jesus of socializing with “sinners” (Luke 15:1-2), something that just wasn’t done by upstanding Jewish men. Talk about bullying. You can’t associate with her because she’s from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s not cool enough; what are you talking to him for? To be honest, it was more like he is not noble enough so he is not worthy of your attention, but it made me think of a schoolyard bully. Jesus, however, gave His attention to the most despised of society, and He called the Pharisees hypocrites. (Matthew 23:13) In reality, the Pharisees were just as lost as the rest of the “sinners”, but they were in denial, and refused to see their need for Jesus.
The shepherd in the parable believes that one sheep out of a hundred, one per cent of the flock, is worth searching for. What did he have to go through to find that sheep? Did he have to cross streams, climb rocky crags, crawl through thick brush? When he finds the sheep, it is obviously too weak or tired or hurt or confused to find its way home on its own. He picks it up and carries it home on his shoulders. Was one sheep out of a hundred worth that effort? Yes. Jesus feels that way about us. Every one of us is worth enough that Jesus gave up His life for us. His search for us took Him to the cross. There is no greater love than that.
Do you ever have days when you just don’t feel like doing anything? I think that’s okay as long as they are balanced with days where you are all fired up to do something great too. I know that I always feel better at the end of a day when I’ve accomplished something, and preferably several things. Just like the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9, we are meant to be productive.
The fig tree in this parable was planted in a vineyard. That means that it was in a place where it would be tended by a viticulturist—the gardener. It received better care than most fig trees, so one would expect it to be healthy and fruitful. In the same way, we are cared for by God, given His grace, blessings and power. Philippians 4:13 tells us that we can do all things through Christ’s strength. We, however, have to act; we need to make use of that power.
When the owner of the fig tree saw that the tree was still not providing any fruit after three years, he decided it was time to get rid of it. The gardener asked for a reprieve, for one more chance, and he would work even harder to help that fig tree. We serve a God of second chances, a God of mercy. We often get another chance just as that fig tree did. In the same way that the gardener interceded for that tree, Christ and the Holy Spirit (and often friends and family) are interceding for us. (Romans 8:34, Romans 8:26) But the chances won’t last forever. At some point we need to make a decision about whom we will serve; if we choose not to serve God, we will be cut off from Him.
And it will be God who decides. The gardener was the one who asked for the reprieve, and he was the one who would do the extra work to try to make the tree more fruitful, but in the end it would be the owner of the tree who would cut it down. We are not the judges who will determine each other’s fate; God is.