Luke 15: Extravagant love and two lost sons

<11>Jesus continued, ‘There was once a man who had two sons. <12>The younger son said to his father, “Father, give me my share of your estate that will come to me when you die.” [In this way, the son was basically saying, “I wish you were dead.”] So the father divided up his inheritance between the two sons.

<13>‘Soon after that, the younger son cashed in his inheritance, packed up all his belongings and left home. He travelled to a country far away, where he spent his new-found wealth on a binge of wild, reckless living. Boy, did he have a good time! <14>But after he had got through all his money – down to the last penny – a severe famine devastated the whole country, and he was left with nothing … absolutely zilch. <15>So he went and linked up with a local farmer, who sent him out into the fields to feed slops to the pigs. (Because Jews considered pigs unclean, this menial work would have been deeply humiliating for him.) <16>He became desperately hungry: he even longed to eat the pods in the swill that the pigs were feeding on, but there was no one he could turn to who would give him anything to eat.

<17>‘But when the son hit rock bottom, he finally faced up to reality. He came to his senses and recognised his own guilty wretchedness. He said to himself, “How many of my father’s servants, who are paid a pittance, are better off than me? They’ve more than enough food to eat, while here I am starving to death! <18>I’ll get up and go back home. I’m going to turn back to my father. He’s my only hope. I’ll not put it off a moment longer. I’ll throw myself on his mercy. I’ll confess to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against God in heaven and against you. <19>I no longer deserve to be called your son, but because I know that you’re generous even to your paid servants, make me like one of those.’”

<20>‘He knew that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, so he acted on his decision, got up, left the distant country and went back to his father. But while the son was still a long way from home, his father saw him. His father had been in anguish ever since his son had left home. But now he saw his son – this thin, weak, dirty, smelly, miserable figure – but nevertheless still his son! – walking along the lane. The father threw all caution to the wind big time and jumped for joy! He felt the deepest mercy and compassion for his son, ran out at breakneck speed to meet him, gave him the biggest hug in the world and kissed him tenderly over and over again!

<21>‘The son began the confession he’d rehearsed, saying to his father, “Father, I have sinned against God in heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son …”

<22>‘But the Father interrupted his son, telling his servants to welcome him back home, “Quick, we’ve got to honour my son! Fetch the best robe and put it on him. Of course I take him back and accept him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet to restore his full dignity as my son. <23>Bring out the fattened calf, the one we’ve been keeping back for special occasions … well, if this isn’t special, then what is? Pull out all the stops! Let’s have a party and celebrate his homecoming, <24>because we thought this son of mine was dead but he’s now alive. He’s come back to life again! Once he was lost, but he’s now been found! I’m going to give him a fresh start.” And they began to celebrate.

<25>‘But the elder son was out working in the field, and as he came close to home, he could hear music and dancing as he caught the smell of roast veal wafting through the air. <26>He called one of the servants and demanded to know what was going on. <27>The servant told him, “Your brother’s come home, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he’s got him back safe and sound.”

Emotion in Luke 10

I’ve just completed my draft of Luke 10. I was surprised at the depth of emotion that contained:

<17>The 72 followers later came back tingling with excitement. Their mission had been successful! They reported back to Jesus, ‘Lord, when we drive out demons in your name – with your authority – even they submit to us!’

<21>At that time, Jesus revelled in the Holy Spirit and prayed, ‘I praise and thank you, Father, sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these truths from those who think they’re wise and clever and you have revealed them to those who are as humble, teachable and trusting as young children. Yes, Father, because this was your generous purpose.

<27>The lawyer knew the answer to that one so he quickly replied, ‘“Love the Lord your God with your whole being: with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” And, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”’

<33>But then a certain man, a Samaritan, came across the man. [Now note that Samaritans and Jews were enemies; a Samaritan was the least likely person you’d expect to help a Jewish man.] When the Samaritan saw the man was in need, he was filled with deep compassion for him,

<37>The lawyer replied, ‘The one who showed him compassion.’ Jesus told him, ‘Yes, you’re right. Now, go and do the same. Stop talking about it – and just get on and do it!’

<39>She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet riveted as she listened to everything that Jesus said, drinking it all in deeply. She enjoyed spending time quietly with Jesus, listening closely to his teaching and wanting to learn from him. <40>Martha, however, was getting more and more flustered and upset as she was taken up with everything she had to do. Tension erupted between the two sisters. So Martha went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, aren’t you bothered that my sister has left me to get on with everything all by myself? Don’t you care? I’ve been slaving away in the kitchen while she’s just sitting there, not even lifting a finger to help me! You know, I’d love to spend time just listening to you but someone has to get the dinner ready! Tell her to come and help me at once!’

<41>The Lord answered her tenderly but firmly, ‘Martha, my dear Martha, you’re stressed out and overwhelmed by about many things. <42>Choose to slow down from all your busyness. There are a few things that need doing but only one thing really matters, which is simply being with me. Mary has chosen what is better, which won’t be taken away from her.’

Matthew’s Gospel: now complete!

I have just completed Matthew’s Gospel: something of a marathon. Here is my draft of the final few verses:
<18>Then Jesus came up and encouraged them. He declared to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. My resurrection confirms that I am the unique sovereign Lord of heaven and earth.
<19>Because this is so, I command you to go out now and make disciples in every people group. Be bold and step outside your comfort zone. Train people throughout the world to follow me. As you go, baptise the new followers in the one name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Wash the new followers with water as a sign that they have abandoned their old way of life and are committing themselves to follow me.
<20>Teach those new followers to not just listen to, but also to put into practice, everything that I have commanded you. As you do all these things, never forget my promise that I am present with you always. I will equip you with my personal resources of power and encouragement. Remember that I am close to each of you every moment of your lives, wherever you are, right to the very end of this age.’
I wanted to include “Be bold and step outside your comfort zone,” as that seems necessary for many of us, not least me. The further challenge was: am I only a disciple of Christ or am I making disciples?

Progress on Matthew

I’ve been beavering away through recent months and am currently drafting Matthew 13.
Readers have appreciated my version of Matthew 9:35-38:

<35>Jesus went throughout all the towns and villages in that area, teaching in their synagogues, declaring that the good news that God’s reign had now come in him. He also healed all kinds of diseases and disabilities that people were suffering from.
<36>As a result, crowds of people flocked to him. When he looked at them, he had deep compassion on them. His heart went out to them and he felt intense sympathy for them because he saw their desperate need. They were stressed out and struggling to cope with life, wandering round with no one to look after them or lead them, like sheep without a shepherd. <37>Then he told his apprentices, ‘I see a bumper harvest that is ready to be gathered in, but at the moment there are only a few workers. Many more workers are needed. <38>So co-operate with the Lord who owns the harvest. Pray urgently to him that he will thrust more workers into his harvest field – workers who will roll up their sleeves and gather in the crop.’

Readers have appreciated my version of Matthew 11:28-30:
<28>‘Come to me, all of you who are worn out, overwhelmed and weighed down by the stresses and strains of life. I will relieve you of these heavy burdens. <29>Submit to me; live your life harnessed to me. Follow me and become my apprentices. Let me teach you and train you because I am sensitive and humble in heart and you will find spiritual strength and refreshment <30>because following me is pleasant and a joy, not a chore or heavy burden.’

To listen to a message I preached on Matthew 11:28-30, go to:

The Beatitudes

Jesus teaches on the hillside

<1>When Jesus saw the crowds following him, he went and sat down on the hillside. His apprentices came to him, <2>and he started to teach them.

The challenge of true Christian character

Jesus told his followers that they were to be distinctive, radically different from the people around them. The attitudes and actions of his followers could become like this only because God’s power was at work in them. If they lived in such a way, they would enjoy the privileges God would give them now and in the life to come.

Jesus taught them:

<3>‘Other people say, if you’re self-confident, you’ll be happy. But I say to you, it’s those that humbly recognise their spiritual need who are truly happy and fortunate. They will draw on God’s resources, so the kingdom of heaven already belongs to them.

<4>‘Other people say, don’t worry about sin. But I say to you, it’s those that mourn and grieve over their sin and failures who are truly happy and fortunate. God will comfort and encourage them.

<5>‘Other people say, it’s the arrogant that are successful. But I say to you, it’s those that humbly trust God who are truly happy and fortunate. They not only enjoy the blessings I give them now but they also look forward to inheriting the new earth that God will create.

<6>‘Other people say, if you do your own thing, you’ll be fulfilled. But I say to you, it’s those whose deepest desire is to lead lives that are right with God who are truly happy and fortunate. They long to see justice prevail throughout the world. Their appetite for God will be satisfied.

<7>‘Other people are successful by bullying their way to the top. But I say to you, it’s those that are merciful, kind and generous towards others who are truly happy and fortunate. God will be merciful towards them and forgive them.

<8>‘Other people say, it’s OK to deceive others and see what you can get away with. But I say to you, it’s those that are fully devoted to God and let him clean up their inner life who are truly happy and fortunate. They catch glimpses of God’s glory now and are ready to see him in all his fullness in the life to come.

<9>‘Other people fight and make war. But I say to you, it’s those that seek and make lasting peace who are truly happy and fortunate. God will recognise them as his children, because they reflect what he is like.

<10>‘Other people say, don’t get too committed to God. But I say to you, it’s those whose lives are so right with God that they provoke hostility who are truly happy and fortunate. They will suffer persecution but the kingdom of heaven already belongs to them. <11>You’re truly happy and fortunate when people insult you viciously, persecute you and make false accusations against you because you follow me. <12>Don’t be miserable but feel on top of the world at such times because a great reward is waiting for you in heaven. That reward will more than make up for the suffering you’re now going through. Remember that the prophets who went before you were also persecuted.

Contemporary translations in Romans

Romans 1:17
This is because the gospel reveals the way we are put right with God. How does this happen? It’s all about trusting God from start to finish. This is what the Scripture confirms, ‘Those who are right with God by trusting him will live. They’ll live by trusting him through thick and thin.’

Romans 3:23
Every person who has ever walked this planet has sinned and disobeyed God. Each of us has rejected him and rebelled against him. Everyone falls short of the glory of God. None of us can live up to God’s best for us, his glorious standards. We all fail miserably to display his radiant majesty.

Romans 3:24
God puts us right with himself only because of the generous gift of his special love, kindness and favour that we don’t deserve in the slightest. The death of Christ Jesus was the price he paid to set us free from slavery to sin. Let me spell out what this means. We’ve been put right with God: we’re declared righteous in God’s sight!
We’re declared ‘not guilty’, acquitted of every accusation made against us. This is because Christ faithfully obeyed the law and his righteousness is credited to us.
We’re considered righteous before God. We’ve been rescued from God’s judgment. We do not dread condemnation. Our sins have been forgiven. We’ve been set free from slavery to sin, sin’s controlling power. Wow! Praise God!

Romans 4:2
Because if Abraham had been put right with God by obeying the works of the law, he would have had something to proudly boast about to people, but not in God’s presence, because as I’ve just written, all boasting is unthinkable, completely out of the question.

Romans 4:20
He did not waver in his faith by distrusting God’s promise but as he focused on God and what God had promised he became stronger in his faith – he took his trust in God to the next level as he praised and honoured God. He focused his whole life on God, overcoming any doubts as he applied his knowledge of God to his circumstances.

Ephesians 6:18 — Paul’s four ‘alls’ of prayer

I am now at Ephesians 6:18: Paul’s four alls of prayer: all times; with all prayer; with all perseverance; for all of God’s people. The one that proved most difficult was ‘with all perseverance’, which I rendered as ‘with unflagging commitment’.
So my draft for Ephesians 6:18 is:
‘The other weapon to use in attack is prayer, but prayer is more than that: we are to put on each part of the armour with prayer. In spiritual warfare, prayer is absolutely vital. Grow in a vibrant relationship with God. Keep praying in the Spirit on every occasion, using every different kind of prayer and request. Turn to God in worship, praise and thanksgiving, confessing your sins to God and asking him for what you and others need. Allow the Holy Spirit to energise you and keep you fresh in prayer. May the Spirit guide and prompt you as you pray. Pray with faith. Pray when you feel like praying … and pray when you don’t feel like praying. Pray naturally. Pray by yourself; pray with others; pray out loud; pray silently. Become excited as you wait to see how God will answer your prayers. Come to know God more deeply through prayer, discerning and aligning yourselves more and more with his will. To do all this, remain alert. Don’t give up, but persevere in prayer with unflagging commitment, keeping in touch with God and praying for all of his people.’