Luke 19:1-10 – Looking Up into the Tree

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Luke 19:1-10

1 Hezacchaeus-in-the-sycamore-tree entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

For a long time, the residents of Jericho had watched as Zacchaeus climbed the ladder. Though Zacchaeus was small (lit. mikros), he had a big gig. The little runt of a man was the chief tax collector in the lavish, Palm Springs-esque vacation destination of the royal family, Jericho. He would make his way through the city fleecing taxes from the citizens. In all likelihood, only Zacchaeus knew how much the empire wanted in taxes from Jericho. Rome expected tax collectors to earn their wages by collecting more than was owed.

You can imagine the citizens’ disapproval as they watched, year after year, Zacchaeus’ house getting bigger and fancier, his gardens plusher, and the catering ridiculously expensive. Zacchaeus had made a pretty good life for himself at the expense of his neighbors. All the residents of Jericho knew that it was their hard-earned money that was paying for those luxuries, and they also knew that they couldn’t do a blessed thing about it.

Anyway, Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was. But it was going to be hard for him to get a view. Everyone hated him, so they weren’t going to let him get close to Jesus. And Zacchaeus was short so he couldn’t get a view from the back. [You know of course that Zacchaeus isn’t the shortest person in the Bible. Some think it is Ne-High-Miah, but they are wrong too. The shortest person in the Bible is in the book of Job, Bildad the Shuhite.]

Anyway, trying to get close to Jesus would be too risky for Zacchaeus. A huge crowd is thronging around the Man who had just healed the blind (Lk. 18:35-43). The hustle and bustle surrounding Jesus would be an opportune time for someone who was sick and tired of watching his money pay for Zacchaeus’ life of luxury to jab a knife into the chief tax collector’s back. By the time the crowd thinned out, Zacchaeus would be deader than dead and no one would care.

So Zacchaeus tries Plan B. He runs ahead of the crowd to the other side of town, finds a sycamore tree, which had branches low enough for the little pipsqueak to reach, and climbs into it. As Jesus exits Jericho, He looks up into the tree and spots Zacchaeus. The Savior looks at Zacchaeus. Though Jesus was initially passing through Jericho, Jesus invites Himself over, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down. I must stay at your house today.”

So Zacchaeus does. He hurries down and receives Jesus joyfully. The rest of Jericho hates this. Jesus goes in to be the guest of the most deplorable resident of Jericho. The whole town is grumbling. But in his house, Zacchaeus gives his little speech about how he is going to give away his wealth. Half of his goods he will give to the poor, and if he has defrauded anyone (and he certainly has) he will restore it fourfold. For as much money as he had, Zacchaeus wasn’t very good accountant because this would have been impossible.

Jesus closes out the text, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

So what do we do with Zacchaeus? Do you teach our kids to be like him? Should you seek after Jesus and then make sure you do good works?

luther-roseToday, our congregation is focusing on missions. But today the church also celebrates the Reformation. The Reformation was certainly a rediscovery of the Gospel. But it was more than that too.

The Reformation was also a rediscovery of how difficult it is to be saved. You see, the church in Luther’s day taught her members to be like little Zacchaeus. They taught that Jesus was nice, but to be saved, you had to get to work. Put your money in the right place. Buy this indulgence to get yourself or someone you love out of purgatory. Make a pilgrimage. See these relics.

The Reformation rediscovered the truth of the Scriptures. You cannot work your way to God. You cannot climb your way up to Him. The Reformation rediscovered that with man, salvation is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God.

Sinner, the more you realize that you cannot do anything to make yourself right with God the more comfort you receive in what Christ has done for you. The story of Zacchaeus isn’t about Zacchaeus; it is about Jesus.

Zacchaeus got more than he bargained for. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but Jesus decided He was going to be Zacchaeus’ Savior. Zacchaeus climbed to try and get a glimpse of God, but he couldn’t get any higher than the branches. But Jesus had already descended to save sinners like Zacchaeus and sinners like you.

Zacchaeus climbs down from his tree, but Jesus will climb up to Jerusalem and ascend another tree. Jesus takes and becomes sinLook up into that tree because on that tree, Jesus will bear Zacchaeus’ sins and your sins. On the tree of the cross, Jesus died for all the thieving and conniving of Zacchaeus as well as for all your sins.

Salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house because Jesus – the way, the truth, and the life – was there. Zacchaeus gets to host Jesus because Jesus invites Himself over. Jesus always ends up being the true host.

Jesus invites Himself here today. The Gospel says that Jesus has come to seek you. Salvation comes to this house today as Jesus absolves you and removes your sin as far as the east is from the west.

Jesus will leave Zacchaeus’ house and walk up the steep and dusty road to Jerusalem. The grumbling of the residents of Jericho, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner,” will soon change to, “Crucify Him. Send Him out of the city to die with the rebels.” Which is precisely what Jesus came to do.

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus has come to seek and to save you. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Luke 18:9-17 – How Do I Look?

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Luke 18:9-17

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: pharisee-tax-collector‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus told this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. In other words, Jesus tells this parable to us. We are the ones who trust in ourselves. We trust our righteousness, or – maybe to put it better – our righteousness in comparison to others’ unrighteousness.

We have to understand that, in Jesus’ day, tax collectors weren’t just your regular, run of the mill IRS agents. The tax collector in the Temple was a truly evil man. You could compare the tax collector to an abortionist going into the poorest neighborhood and becoming fabulously rich by killing the unborn. The tax collector had done some truly vile things, and he had earned the disgust he received from the Pharisee.

But the Pharisee had equally earned God’s anger and disgust. The problem is that Pharisee looked into the mirror God’s perfect Law to see how he looked in comparison to others, “Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the sinlessist one of all?”

When the Pharisee prayed, “God I thank You that I am not like other men. I am not like those extortioners, unjust men, and adulterers.” Imagine if God responded, “I didn’t ask you to be like other men. I commanded you to be holy as I am holy.”

But the Pharisee responds, “Look at all these swindlers and cheats. Why are You going to be mad at me? Don’t You have more important sins to worry about?” The answer is, “No.”

When you are confronted with your own sin, don’t point to the sins of others and try to convince yourself and God that you are not that bad. It won’t work.

violent-men (1)Imagine that you joined a rebellion against a king and killed his advisors and judges. When you stand on trial before the king, are you going to say, “I know I did some pretty bad things, but I didn’t kill as many as the other rebels. And I killed my victims quickly. I made sure they were dead before attacking the next guy. Those other guys left your friends to suffer and die slowly”? That isn’t repentance. It is pride cloaked in humility, and it isn’t going to fly.

The Pharisee’s problem was twofold. First, He was looking at himself in comparison to other sinners. And second, the Pharisee looked at the tax collector and saw him according to his sin and not according to his need.

The Pharisee forgot that the purpose of the Temple was to make sinners, all sinners, clean and restore them to God’s mercy. God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. The truth that, in Christ, God has won and purchased salvation for all sinners. Because of this, because he had forgotten that God desires mercy and not sacrifice, the Pharisee went home damned.

Now, here’s the rub: When Jesus told this parable, it would have been unthinkable that the tax collector goes home justified rather than the Pharisee. The mindset of Jesus’ day was that tax collectors were bad news. Today, we flip it. In our minds, a Pharisee equals bad news. And you are just as quick to judge the Pharisee as he was to judge the tax collector. Your prayer goes something like this, “God I thank you that I am not like other men, self-righteous jerks, elitist, holier-than-thou pigs, or even this Pharisee.” Repent.

We should be sympathetic to the Pharisee. Imagine if you came into church and had to be in the same sanctuary and pews as the one who had robbed you and humiliated you.

The Pharisee was hurt. The Pharisee had been betrayed. He had been slandered. For all his self-righteous, pompous, holier-than-thou attitude, we know that the Pharisee had felt shame, guilt, and regret. No temptation – even the temptation to view yourself as holier than others – no temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man (1 Cor. 5:13).

We are all too easily offended. We know what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. But we quickly excuse our lack of charity and love toward others and hold everyone else accountable when they look crossly at us. All of us will admit that we behave badly, and we would all like a little understanding and sympathy. But the sympathy you want from others is the same sympathy you should show to them.

Instead of being annoyed or angry when someone is rude to us, cuts us off in traffic, or even spreads a nasty rumor about us, we should have pity for and be kind to them. Of course, pain and bitterness doesn’t excuse bad behavior. But wouldn’t life be better if we did unto others as we would have them do unto us? I think Jesus said something about that.

Anyway, the Pharisee went home damned. He didn’t ask God for mercy because, in his mind, he didn’t need God’s mercy. The Pharisee looked into the mirror of the Law to see how good he was. And since he saw the tax collector in the corner of the reflection, he figured he was just fine. But mirrors aren’t for looking at others. The mirror of God’s holy and perfect Law is meant to show you how sinful and disgusting you are. The mirror of God’s holy and perfect Law shows that even all your righteous deeds are like filthy rags (Is. 64:6) – like the stuff you see through the hole of an outhouse.

Crying to GodThe tax collector was sorry for his sins. He was humble before God as he beat his chest and cried for mercy, and he was humble before man as he stood far off. The tax collector confessed (out translation misses it), “God be merciful to me (lit.) the sinner.” The sinner. He didn’t know about anyone else’s sin, just his own. He begged for mercy and went home justified.

The tax collector threw himself to the mercy of God, and it was a good bet. Jesus came not for the righteous, but sinners. Sinners know that all thing they bring to God is sin and resistance. “Here God. All I have to give You is my sin.”

Brothers and sisters, you don’t have to be a big sinner to need forgiveness. You can be a little sinner. Your God loves both sinners with public shame and Pharisees with secret pride. You have a God who is always more ready to hear than you are to pray and who gives more than you desire or deserve.

Jesus died for you and rose again for your justification. Jesus absolves you today. He restores you and sends you home justified, declared righteous for His sake. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Luke 18:1-8 – The Cries of the Elect

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Luke 18:1-8

1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. Judge2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today, Jesus tells you this parable for two simple reasons. First, He tells you this parable so that you would always pray, and second, so that you would not lose heart. That, right there, is enough to cause us to fall on our knees in repentance.

For us, prayer is reserved for when we lose heart and despair. When we have tried everything, when we don’t know what more we can do, when every other avenue has failed – then, we pray. What Jesus offers us is so much better. Pray always so that you don’t lose heart.

Prayer isn’t an easy thing because prayer is fighting against unbelief. Prayer and faith go together. When you pray, you are trusting in God that He is in control of everything, even the smallest thing. Cast all your cares and anxieties upon God because He cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7). Prayer is like Jacob wrestling with God in our Old Testament text (Gen. 32:22–30).

Fourteen years before, Jacob had stolen his brother, Esau’s, birthright. As Jacob traveled home, he learned that Esau was coming to meet him. Jacob was sure that his brother was out to kill him, and God shows up to meet him alone by the river. But God isn’t there to teach Jacob or comfort him. God is there to wrestle.

After a whole night of scrapping and grappling, God tries to get away, but Jacob holds on. Even after God touches Jacob’s hip socket and dislocates his hip – couldn’t have felt good – even still, Jacob won’t let God go until God blesses him.

This picture is also what Jesus puts forward in this parable. The widow in the parable is giving the unrighteous judge a serious beat down.

There once was a judge who neither feared God nor respected men. You could not reason with this judge. You cannot appeal to the fact that he will, one day, be accountable for his actions. And he’s like the honey badger, he doesn’t give a rip about anything. If you ever ended up before this judge, there is only one way to ensure a judgment in your favor. You have to out-bribe the other guy.

Enter into his courtroom, a widow. She has no one to speak on her behalf, and she has been wronged. According to the law, she has been swindled, and she is there to get justice, but the deck is stacked against her. Because she is a woman, she has little standing in society. She has no one to speak on her behalf. She has no money to bribe this judge who is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. But this widow still has her voice. She can nag. The way Jesus tells the parable, you could almost imagine that nagging was what killed her husband.

persistent-widowShe shows up day after day before the judge with her constant, persistent nagging. The judge’s response is despicable but hilarious, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” That is where we get the same picture of prayer as wrestling with God like Jacob did. The phrase beat me down means, “give me a black eye.”

Now, the judge isn’t worried that this widow would physically attack him, and he’s not worried about this widow ruining his reputation. He is like the parent who has been audibly beaten down by a child asking question after question. He is sick and tired of hearing this woman day after day, night after night crying out to him demanding justice.

This is the image of prayer that Jesus gives. The words of the unrighteous judge should teach you to not lose heart.

Like the widow, when you appear in God’s courtroom, you don’t have a case against your adversaries. The devil, the world, and your conscience all testify against you that you are guilty. Even God’s Law points out your guilt. You are sinful in thought, word, and deed.

Imagine that you are a wanted criminal with all sorts warrants are out for your arrest – murder, assault, fraud, perjury, etc. – but you go strolling into court trying to get out of a speeding ticket. The judge will take a look at you and have you arrested on the spot.

But that is why the parable should give us hope. The unrighteous judge doesn’t give the widow justice based on the law, he gives her justice to get rid of her. The judge, who is a mockery of justice, still ends up ruling justly. And if that is how things work in this world which is full of injustice, how much more will God, who is just, give justice to you, His elect? Will God do justly to you, elect believer as you cry out to Him? You can bet the farm on it!

Romans 8:31b–33, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

Baptism 2Believer, you are justified by God. God has made you, His elect, baptized children just. If God declares that you are just, who could dare say otherwise? And because God declares that you are just, you can have the boldness to cry out to God for justice.

Last week, ten lepers cried to Jesus for mercy. All ten were healed, but nine went on their merry little way and healing was all they got. One, a Samaritan, returned to Jesus and got so much more. Jesus told that Samaritan leper, “Your faith has saved you.” That man was saved declared just by Christ, elect by God. And so are you, believer.

Because of what God has done for you by sending Jesus to die for your sins and raise again for your justification, you can boldly pray to God asking Him for justice.

Pray. Wrestle with God. You can demand that God keep all of His promises to you. You can nag Him. You can take even swings at Him and try to give Him a black eye. Go ahead. He can handle it. In fact, that is what faith always does. Faith says, “God you have made a promise to me. You have promised to be my God. You have promised to deliver me from this world full of sin and disappointment. Do it.” And He will. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Luke 17:11-19 – Faith Turns Back to God

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Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”ten-lepers

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

They were far off, as they should have been. These ten lepers are being devoured by death. Their skin is rotting, so they should be separate from the rest of society. Together the little congregation of ten lepers lift up their voices, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us.” When they cry out for mercy, what were they asking for? Did they want some food, water, or money? Were they crying out for healing? Did they know that Jesus was a miracle worker and had cleansed lepers before? We don’t know, and maybe the lepers didn’t even know themselves.

What is important is that they were asking the right one – Jesus – for the right thing – mercy. God in His mercy answers imperfect and imprecise prayers in exactly the right way. In fact, “Have mercy,” is the perfect prayer. “Lord, have mercy,” distills everything you need down to a single petition. Mercy is always what you need.

When you feel guilt over your sin, “Lord, have mercy.” When you, or someone you love and care about, is sick, “Lord, have mercy.” When your bank account is deep in the red, “Lord, have mercy.” When your car breaks down again, “Lord, have mercy.” When a hurricane kills hundreds in Haiti and is swallowing up a region of our nation, “Lord, have mercy.”

Crying to GodWhen you stub your toe. When you are running late for that important appointment because you had to scrape frost off your windshield. When you are worried that beets are going to fall out of the truck, smash through your windshield, and kill you. Whenever you don’t know what to pray, when you can’t find the ‘right’ words, when you don’t see how anything good could come from a particular situation, “Lord, have mercy,” is always appropriate. Because that petition is asking God to be who He says He is. The most common description of God throughout Scripture is that He is the God who has mercy (Ex. 34:6).

Jesus sees the lepers. He doesn’t ignore them. He doesn’t walk by on the other side of the road. He hears them and answers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Now, their leprosy had made them unclean; they couldn’t go to the Temple unless they were healed. So their going is actually evidence of their faith. They obey Jesus expecting that they are going to be healed and begin the necessary steps to be declared cleansed (see Lev. 13:2-14:32) – a process that took around three months. You had to do all the right sacrifices and certifications. Then, and only then, could you return to your family, your job, your worship.

But one of them doesn’t go. It is somewhat surprising that he doesn’t go, but he couldn’t do what Jesus told him to do anyway because he was a Samaritan. No matter how healed he got from his leprosy, Jesus could have made his skin fairer than Snow White, he wasn’t going to be declared clean and fit to enter into the Temple and worship.

This Samaritan starts off to Jerusalem with the other nine, but as he travels, he notices that he is clean. The disease is gone, his body healed. So he returns to Jesus which looks like he is disobeying, but he’s not. This Samaritan realizes that Jesus is the Messiah, the one to whom the priests and sacrifices and Temple were pointing. He returns to Jesus the true, great High Priest, to the Temple built without hands (Mk. 14:58). He falls at the feet of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world who has shown him mercy.

What about the nine? Why didn’t they return? They had been cleansed. They had been healed. They too had received mercy. But they disappear, and we have no idea what happened to them.

Martin Luther has an interesting theory about why. The theory fits in well with the context of the beginning of Luke 17 (our text from last week) where Jesus says, “Temptations to sin  (scandals, things that destroy your faith) are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”

Luther’s theory goes like this: These nine, cleansed Jewish lepers come into the Temple to show themselves to the priests and tell their story.  “We cried out for mercy to that Jesus guy, and He just told us to show ourselves you and, wholla.” But the priests, out of their bitterness, hard hearts, and unbelief, convince these men that it wasn’t really Jesus who had healed them. They point the lepers that their own prayers or piety had healed them. “Whatever it was that healed you, it couldn’t have been Jesus.”

Again, we can’t know, but it certainly is an interesting theory. The priests knew the Scriptures. They were looking for the Messiah who was promised – the one who would heal diseases, cast out demons, set the prisoners free. All the stuff that Jesus was doing. So why wouldn’t they believe in Jesus when everything is pointing to Him being the Messiah?

Because when people won’t repent, they recruit. When people are afraid to believe that God really, truly forgives, they make excuses and try to justify their sin. They select a jury of their peers to rule in their favor – even though, when judgment day comes, they won’t stand on trial before a jury but a Judge. And the easiest way to convince yourself not to believe something is to find strength in numbers. If you can align yourself with other people who don’t believe what you don’t believe, it is easier to believe a lie. That’s why atheists evangelize. If atheists really believed there was no God, they wouldn’t care if others do. But atheists find comfort and security when more people share in their atheism. They find shelter in en masse.

Whatever it was that lead the nine Jewish lepers away from Jesus, it killed their faith. Believer, you too will face obstacles to your faith. Will they trip you up like the nine? Will you, like the nine, go on your merry little way, content with just one word from Jesus? Jesus doesn’t want that.

Christ of St John on the Cross Salvador DaliInstead, Christ wants you turning back to Him, always crying to Him, “Lord, have mercy,” because that is who He is for you. He is the place where you find mercy. On this side of glory, faith is never satisfied. Faith wants more of what Jesus gives and wants to be where Jesus has promised to be. In this life, there will be disappointments, sorrows, and plenty of reasons for repentance. But faith continually turns back to Jesus and cries out, “Lord, have mercy.” And Jesus’ mercy endures forever.

Jesus’ statement at the end of this text hits on this too. Our translation misses it. What gets translated “Rise and go your way,” is only two words in the Greek. The word Jesus uses for ‘rise’ is also the word for ‘resurrection.’ And what gets translated as ‘go your way’ can either mean ‘go’ or ‘come.’ And it would be really odd for Jesus to praise the Samaritan for coming back and then tell him to go away. Instead, Jesus is calling the man to journey with Him to Jerusalem where he will see Jesus’ love and mercy. And the last phrase, “your faith has made you well,” is a curious translation. Literally the word there is ‘saved’ – “your faith has saved you.”

So, Jesus invites this man and you, to follow Him. To stay with Him as He continues to travel toward Jerusalem, toward the cross. Because there at the cross, you see God’s mercy for you on full display. You see your salvation purchased with the holy and innocent blood of Christ. You see Jesus, the one who had mercy upon you, the one who still has mercy upon you, the one whose mercy for you endures forever. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Luke 17:1-10 – Asking the Right Person the Wrong Question

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Luke 17:1-10

1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

scandalYou heard Him. Jesus guaranteed it. They are coming. Our translation says, “Temptations to sin,” but that is very weak. Scandals, snares are sure to come. The image is something that causes your faith to fall flat on its face. This is eternally serious. Jesus is talking about things that trip up your faith.

Jesus tells us about three scandals to our faith.

The first is your forgiveness. Not the forgiveness you receive from God, that is perfect, complete, as-far-as-the-east-is-from-the-west forgiveness. No, your problem is your lack of forgiveness toward others. Your unforgiveness can cause you to doubt the forgiveness you receive from God. When someone sins against you, how do you respond?

Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.” You’re fine with that. “Hey, man, you stepped on my toe.” “Oops. Sorry, dude.” “Ah. It’s alright. I forgive you.” No problems there. But what happens when he steps on your toe again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again – seven times? You start to wonder if he’s doing it intentionally. It doesn’t matter if it is intentional. Jesus says, “If he sins against you seven times in a day and says, ‘I repent.’ You must forgive him.” It isn’t an option. Forgiveness is never an option.

Your lack of forgiveness is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to faith. Don’t fall for the trap. Don’t get tripped up. Don’t scandalize yourself. You can always find reasons to not forgive someone. You can always find ways to justify yourself for not forgiving others. But then you pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive me as I forgive others.” And you are caught.

If you can’t forgive others, you can’t be forgiven. When you don’t forgive others you perpetuate a lie. You are, in fact, trying to redefine forgiveness. You believe that forgiveness has limits. When you don’t forgive others you only hurt yourself because you call into question the fact that forgiveness is never earned or deserved. Forgiveness is always about grace.

God forgives you knowing that you will turn around and do the same thing again. God forgives you because of Jesus’ blood, Jesus’ death, and Jesus’ perfect life. Forgiveness does not and cannot originate with you. Instead, it flows from the fountain of God’s forgiveness. Jesus reconciles you first to the Father and then to the one who sins against you. Unforgiveness is the first stumbling block to faith.

We’re going to skip over the second scandal for now. So the third scandal to our faith is the idea of merit and worthiness.

Jesus warns us about this scandal by asking a question with a little parable. “If you have a servant who works in your fields or tends your sheep, when he comes in, do you make supper for him? No! Instead, a master tells his servant, ‘Ok, Frank. Now that you’re done in the field, clean up and make me some supper.’ And a master doesn’t need to thank the servant because that is what a servant is supposed to do. So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Don’t pat yourself on the back for doing what God commands. Don’t compare your obedience to others’ obedience. Whenever you do what God commands, you are simply doing your duty. God isn’t going to reward you. And remember the kind of Master you serve – the one who came not to be served but to serve you. On the Last Day, when Jesus says to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” you don’t say, “Finally, You notice all the work I have done for You.” No! Instead, you say, “I am an unworthy servant. I have only done what was my duty.”

Now, back to the second scandal, which is likely the most common scandal you and I face. It is in v. 5-6. The disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith.”

Now, it is important here to understand what the disciples are doing right and what they are doing wrong. They are asking Jesus for faith, and that is right. Faith is a gift that comes only from God. But they are asking Jesus for more faith, and that is wrong. Here’s why:

looking-at-your-belly-buttonFirst of all, faith isn’t something that can be measured. And secondly, if you ask God for more faith, what you are saying is that the gift of faith that God has given you isn’t enough. You are saying that God needs do something more for you. When you ask for more faith, you aren’t looking at what God has done; you are looking at yourself, at your belly button.

Be careful here. Do you remember the story (Mk. 9:14-29) of the father who had a son with a demon that made the boy mute and threw the boy into terrible seizures? The father had asked the disciples for help, they couldn’t. The father brings the boy to Jesus, and says, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus responds, “’If I can,’ all things are possible for the one who believes.” The father says, “I believe; help my unbelief,” which is very similar to the disciples’ request, “Increase our faith.” But there is a massive difference.

When the father says, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief,” he is asking Jesus for forgiveness – even if he doesn’t know it. Romans 14:23 says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” But when the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, they were looking in the wrong direction. They were looking at themselves, their own faith, instead of looking at Jesus.

Faith always believes in something. Today, many people sound like the disciples. “I just wish I had more faith.” “I just need to trust God more.” Do you see how that puts the comfort, the assurance, back on yourself? Repent. Turn away from thinking that your faith is insufficient. Don’t fall over that stumbling block, that scandal.

Faith is God’s gift to you. God grants you faith that you might be full of faith. When you look at your own faith, you won’t find much because there isn’t anything to look at. But if you look to Jesus, you see the author and perfector of your faith (Heb. 12:2).

entsWhen the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, Jesus didn’t say, “Yes,” or, “No.” Instead, Jesus says, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could tell trees to jump into the ocean and they would.” But God isn’t interested in you being a horticulturalist. Christians would have the best yards. “Hey, tree, you are really nice. I like you. Come over here to my yard.” Instead, God is interested in justifying you.

Jesus puts the kibosh on you looking at your faith. Jesus wants you to see that He is always faithful. Don’t ask yourself, “Do I have enough faith?” That is the wrong question. The only answer to that question is, “Do I have enough Jesus?” Because you can never have a little Jesus.

And Jesus is here today to give Himself, Body and Blood, to you once again. Jesus is always faithful to you. Look to Him and His faithfulness today and always. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.