3. The Good Friend

Meditating on the Parables of Luke:  3. The Good Friend

Luke 11:5-8  Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

Purpose: The purpose of this parable is apparently to motivate us to pray, if for no other reason, than just do it to get results. I’ll open up on this shortly.

Context: The chapter starts with, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Lk 11:1) which is followed by the teaching we often refer to as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. That perhaps doesn’t help us a great deal but what follows the parable certainly does: So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Lk 11:9,10) Note that word ‘So’ at the beginning which links it to the parable before it. It is all about prayer – the disciples’ desire to pray, the prayer outline given by Jesus, and then the direct teaching to ask and keep on asking (as the verb tense indicates)

Facts of the Parable: The story or illustration includes the following:

  • there is a person in need of bread (quite a lot actually!).
  • he has a friend who he feels might be able to help out.
  • he goes to him at the middle of the night, knocks on his door and explains his need.
  • his friend, put out by the time of night, replies, ‘Don’t bother me.’
  • he explains that the house is locked and the family asleep; it is inconvenient.
  • yet (implied) the original person continues to ask.
  • the friend inside, to keep the peace, opens up and gives him what he wants.

The Teaching: Jesus explains the following:

  • friendship was not enough to get him to open up,
  • however shear audacity, keeping on asking in the middle of the night, did.

A Picture of God? If this is about asking in prayer, doesn’t the home-owner / friend appear as God? And doesn’t this put God in a poor light? The answer to this comes in verses further on: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:11-13) In other words, these verses should be read with the parable to conclude, ‘If the home-owner will respond because of his friend’s audacity, how much more will God respond to His children calling out to Him. We thus have a parable that gets its full meaning only by being read in the light of the surrounding teaching.

Repeated Teaching: First of all there is the repeated asking. In the parable the first man asks and asks, and eventually gets. In the teaching of v.9,10 the tense of the verbs indicates it should be, ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, and knock and keep on knocking. But then there is the repetition of the teaching itself: the parable says keep on asking, the verbs say keep on asking and the conclusion that the Father will give good gifts to His children implies keep on asking. (Later on in chapter 18 there is the parable of the unrighteous judge which teaches the same thing – keep asking).

Why the Need? We often have to ask, why would Jesus tell a parable like this, and the answer has to be to meet a specific need. The need in this case, I suggest, is that prayers don’t always get immediate answers. I have several reasons for this, I believe. First, sometimes constant and continual prayer is an indicator of the urgency and reality of the person praying and the Bible indicates that God looks for such reality (Deut 4:29). Second, I believe spending time in God’s presence deepens our relationship with the Lord and so He holds back a while to ensure this happens.  Third, I believe sometimes we have to pray and pray before we get to the point of realising what God’s will really is and we ask for it (and then get it) in his name (Jn 14:13). Fourth, there is clearly spiritual opposition sometimes (see Dan 10:13) and we don’t always get what we want (see 1 Thess 2:18)

The Encouragement: For these reasons above, we find we need that encouragement to keep on praying. This particular parable seems to suggest, don’t go on logic, but just keep on praying even if (and especially if) you think God is getting fed up with it. There are times in scripture when God says don’t pray, but until you hear Him say that to you – keep at it!

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2. The Good Samaritan

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 2. The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:30-37  In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”   The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Context: We have said that context is often important in understanding the purpose of the parable. Here a ‘smart-alec’ expert in the law sought to test Jesus by asking about how to get eternal life (v.25). Jesus directed him to the Law summarised by “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” Having established that he then asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” The parable comes as the answer.

The Facts of the Story: The story that Jesus tells comprises

  • a traveler going from Jerusalem who was attacked, beaten and stripped and left for dead.
  • a priest passes by and ignores him. So does a Levite.
  • then a Samaritan arrives, stops and cares for him, takes him to an inn and pays for ongoing care.

The Punchline: The story provides a not unfamiliar situation but the crucial point comes with the question that follows: ”Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The right answer is given, “The one who had mercy on him.”

The Point of the Parable: Now I suspect many of us have heard this parable preached on so many times that we have heard that the injured man was ignored by the two religious Jews but was cared for by someone who would have been considered an alien by the legalistic Jews of the day. But how can we summarise the story in a meaningful way? Perhaps we should simply say that ‘your neighbour’ has nothing to do with location, race, etc. but is all to do with need. Having said that, the ‘neighbour’ was not the injured man, it was the Samaritan. In Jesus’ eyes, therefore’ anyone who sees another in need becomes their ‘neighbour’.

Pertinent  Questions: Now if we say that, and I believe it is right to say that, it opens up the whole world before us. Picking up on the story, it suggests that being religious can be a stumbling block to our becoming a ‘neighbour’.   So here is the logical first uncomfortable question that arises here: is there any criteria that excludes anyone in need and lets me off the hook from being their ‘neighbour’? No.

It is possible that the two passers-by thought a variety of things that let them off the caring hook, for example, I’m too busy to stop / this might be a trap to catch me / it’s probably his own fault that he didn’t take care / he’s not from our culture and we have problems with his people / I might be accused of taking advantage of him and get dragged into this / I’m not medically trained (or trained in any other relevant way) to be able to help in these circumstances / this is going to need ongoing caring and I already have too many calls on my time. There is another crucial question that arises here: isn’t love just feeling good about someone, and the answer has to be, no, love is demonstrated by actions.

Modern-life Confusions: We live in a very confusing world today. Everything is not always as it seems. For example, here is a family on benefit who come to a weekly Saturday brunch our church provides. After a number of weeks when they eventually open up, it turns out the father actually earns more than our pastor; their apparent poverty is because they spend a lot. Another family called and asked for help because they were having trouble making ends meet, and when the Pastor visited he found both parents with iPhones and each of four children with an iPad and a large modern flat-screen TV on the table. Sometimes the truth is that being a neighbour means loving in such a way that channels of communication are opened up so that offers of lessons in budgeting is more appropriate than just handing out food or money.

The Heart of the Parable: The thing that opened up the way for this story was the command to love. My starting point has to be, how can I love? To this I must add, how I can I love people I don’t know, and the answer is in theory but practice can only be with those I encounter, talk to, get to know, in such an unjudging way that they open up to me. At that point love needs supplementing with wisdom: what is the right way to offer help here? That then may open a door to a whole load more considerations that only a whole church can hope to handle.  So, probably a very familiar story, even learnt in Sunday School, yet one which raises serious questions to be thought through by us as individuals and as church.

Beat-Up People: The man on the road was beaten up and left on his own.  In this fallen world many people have been beaten up by life and desperately need a good Samaritan to come alongside, yes some because of their own folly but is God put off by that? No. When we look back over our lives we maybe see a battlefield that involved loss of loved ones through death, loss of loved ones who walked away, illnesses that had to be fought, operations that had to be endured, accidents that were unforeseen with ongoing trying circumstances. Then there were hopes that were dashed, expectations that were never fulfilled. Some suffered the identity conflict we call the midlife crisis. Marriages broke up, individuals fell in with wrong company and crimes were committed – and then paid for. Injuries, ailments, hurts, disillusionments. All of these things – and we could no doubt find many more – are the things that characterize this fallen world. And God’s answer? You and me, to be there for one another and for whoever He brings across our path. He is the healer, the restorer, the comforter, the encourager, but He looks for ‘Samaritans’ like you and me. May we collectively be a healing force in our communities.

1. The Two Debtors

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 1. The Two Debtors

Luke 7:41-43  “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”  Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Purpose: The purpose of parables, generally, is to convey a truth through a simple story, usually involving everyday life that would be understood by all. In this series we are picking up the nineteen ‘parables’ (although we’ll deal with two of them together) that appear uniquely in Luke’s Gospel. Why these ones do not appear in the other Gospels is unknown but we must assume that the people Luke spoke to in gathering the data for his Gospel (see Lk 1:1-4) picked them out, and it also may be that these are stories he heard passed on that particularly touched him as a doctor. This present one certainly has a very personal content.

Context: I think we often forget to check the context of Jesus’ parables which is a shame because often they specifically respond to something that has just happened or just been said, and so if we observe that we will more fully understand the parable. The context here in Luke 7 is that Jesus has just had a meal in a Pharisees house (7:36) when a women with a very dubious reputation comes in and weeps and pours perfume over Jesus’ feet (v.37,38) Jesus picks up that the Pharisee is criticizing Jesus for allowing this sinful woman to do this to him (v.39) and it is in response to his negative reaction that Jesus speaks this parable to him.

The Facts of the Parable: In this short story / illustration we see

  • two people who owe money to a moneylender.
  • one owed a lot, the other a lot less.
  • neither of them has the money so he forgives both debts.

Those are the simple facts of the story. The punchline of this, if you like, comes in a question that Jesus then asks his host, the Pharisee: “Which of them will love him more?” It’s a pretty obvious question with a pretty obvious answer: “the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

The Immediate Application: This is seen in what he says in what follows: “Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (v.44-47) Jesus compares the woman to the Pharisee: he hadn’t provided water to wash guests’ feet; she had washed Jesus feet with her tears. He hadn’t welcomed them with a kiss, but she kept kissing Jesus’ feet. He hadn’t provided oil for the heads of his guests but she poured our perfume on Jesus’ feet.

In three ways the Pharisee showed his almost indifference to Jesus. In three ways she showed her love for him. Now we don’t know why she felt this strongly; perhaps Jesus had met her earlier, perhaps she just realised the wonder of who he was. The cutting point of the account follows: “whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.” Simon the Pharisee was no doubt a righteous man, but does not appreciate Jesus, has not entered into any meaningful relationship with him, really does not see his own failings and sees little need for forgiveness. The women, by comparison, is hyper aware of her failings but is also hyper aware of the sort of person Jesus is – one who has come to forgive sinners. Her actions stand out accordingly.

Wider Application: Perhaps we might start by saying that a person’s response to Jesus when they become a Christian, is an indicator of the depth of understanding they have about their plight. The person who thinks they had been a righteous person will rarely get excited about their salvation. The person who – and they may or may not have been a ‘bad’ person in the eyes of society – catches a sense of the reality of their lostness without Christ, is going to rejoice and celebrate over their salvation.

We tend to focus on the ‘badness’ of a person in this sort of instance, which then creates a difficulty for the person who came to Christ as a child, say. I had heard such a person bemoan the fact that they never knew what it was like to live a sinful life because they were saved at such an early age, but the truth is that the outward acts may or may not be indicators of the heart of our sinfulness. I define sin as self-centred godlessness which results in unrighteous acts. A child can be just as self-centred and godless as an older person who has lived a dissolute life. It’s not the acts, it’s the heart.

Now Application: If you struggle with this, ask the Lord to show you the reality of your ‘lostness’ before you turned to him, regardless of what you did or did not do. Ask for the revelation of what he saved you from in your future as well – and rejoice. Rejoice in the wonder of God having dealt with your past, provided for your present living now, and the wonder of your eternity with Him to come.

Snapshots: Day 77

Snapshots: Day 77

The Snapshot: “I will wipe them out” (Ex 23:23) How we fail so often to read our Bible completely. We grab a few words and complain without understanding. Here we have the source of so many complaints in God’s intent for Canaan – but read it in its entirety, read on to verse 30. See: the word ‘drive’ that follows. God will drive the enemy out – but not completely. “wipe out” = totally remove current existence. How? By driving them out. It will be their choice. Leave and survive. Stay and fight Israel and risk death. You will find the idea of ‘driving them out’ well over thirty times in the records. This is not genocide as so many foolish people say. This is God who says, “This is my land for my people, take your terrible and horrible pagan practices away – and stop them!”  Be understanding.

Further Consideration: How often we find the critics rolling out this complaint about a God who commands genocide. How such critics reveal both their own poverty of spirit and poverty of knowledge!  Check the facts and then speak. Note the options again.

Option 1: Leave and survive. This actually was the most sensible choice and perhaps a few took it. The records show that the fear of the Lord went ahead of Israel, the reputation of Israel’s early conquests in the south as they approached the land from the south and the east. These were a victorious people. It’s time to leave! Clearly the word went out ahead of them, followed by fear. Most people forget this.

Option 2: Stay and fight.  It says something about what holds you when a Tsunami bears down on you. You have to be pretty stupid to stay – but then that is the effect of the occult which bound this land, occult fueled by godless, merciless sacrifices of children and many other occult practices. The demonic always seeks to extend Satan’s desire to destroy mankind.

Option 3: Join Israel.  Again most people forget that Rahab and the Gibeonites were examples of those who responded wisely to the fear of God and aligned themselves with Israel and became part of them, part of the people of God.

So, ‘wipe them out’ actually means remove entirely this old life dominated by the world, by Satan and by Sin. It will be achieved initially by seeking to ‘drive out’ these things but where they refuse to capitulate, they will be put to death.  Failure to put them to death will mean they will remain as pockets of resistance that will cause ongoing problems, things which God will in fact make use of to discipline us. There is so much here, so many truths to be understood, so much that unfortunately we so often allow the enemy to cover with a smokescreen of self-righteous indignation built on our poverty of spirit and poverty of knowledge. Let’s resist, learn and be changed.

(As we consider these in blocks of ten, tomorrow we will move on to a new series on Parables)

Snapshots: Day 76

Snapshots: Day 76

The Snapshot: “Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.” (Ex 23:14) Life, even five hundred years ago, was much harder than it is today. The struggle was to survive (ours is how to make the most of life and get meaning out if it), but the clue to success then as now, was how to maintain a relationship with the Lord and follow His leadings (laws, prophets etc. Today for us, His word and His Spirit). But that ‘remembering’ God was not a hard, legal thing, it involved feasts, major times of feasting and celebrating. Imagine Independence Day and a coronation celebration all rolled into one and lasting a week. These were reminders of God, of His goodness in the past and in the present. We are a people of remembrance and celebration and feasting. Let’s do it!

Further Consideration: The apostle James wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” (Jas 1:17) In that he was presenting in shorthand the truth that all good things we have come from God. Israel – and all humanity for that matter – could not believe that. When God delivered them from Egypt, they grumbled at every turn. They could not believe that the One who had done such amazing things in dealing with Pharaoh and releasing them from slavery in Egypt, could now provide for them all the way through the desert and then into the Promised Land. All they had to do when things ran short, was ask! Instead they grumbled; they had not realized that the God of deliverance is also the God of loving provision.

He promised them His presence, He promised them His provision, and He promised them His protection, and yet they failed again and again to believe that. Now whenever I say this, I have to add the rider, this was not because they were uniquely bad, it simply meant that they revealed what we are ALL like. Now we are Christians we may have forgotten that (to our peril!) but the thing about sin is that it blinds us to the truth.

So one of the ways the Lord sought to overcome this was to institute these three feasts to be celebrated each year: (a) the Feast of Unleavened Bread to remember the Exodus (held pre-harvest), (b) the Feast of Harvest, or Pentecost or First Fruits (part way through harvest) and (c) Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles at the end of harvest. At each Feast, every celebrant had to come aside from the daily round of work and whole-heartedly give themselves to the current celebration. Note they are celebrations appreciating the Lord and appreciating His provision for them. I wonder if we have let our ‘religion’ become too ordinary? I wonder whether we need to institute more celebrations and thanksgivings to overcome that?

Snapshots: Day 75

Snapshots: Day 75

The Snapshot: “These are the laws you are to set before them.” (Ex 21:1) Many people don’t like ‘laws’ but the Laws of Moses are a sign of God’s love. They were clues to how He had designed us to live, how a community can live at peace, how things can be put right when we mess up, how to live differently and distinctly from the pagan nations surrounding them, how to live healthily dealing with various health problems that crop up in this fallen world  and, of course, how to relate to Him. They were specifically for Israel (and not us – many people don’t realize this), an agrarian society that was uniquely called to be God’s people. As Christians we have different ‘laws’ in the New Testament, all enhancing the wonder of our relationship with God through Jesus.

Further Consideration: We have been considering the ‘rules’ we find in the New Testament that guide us in our walk with Christ, rules which, I would suggest, reflect the laws of Moses in their purposes. They tell us how He has designed us to live in Christ, (e.g. Eph 2:1-10) forgiven and cleansed by his work on the Cross, now empowered by His Spirit. They show us how to be put right with God when we mess up (1 Jn 1:9, 2:1,2), how we can live differently from our neighbors (Rom 12:2), how to deal with health issues (Jas 5:14-16) and how to relate to Him (e.g. Phil 4:6,7). As you read through your New Testament watch out for these things and you will see many more instances of each of them. But there are two important things to be said.

First, keeping these laws or rules are not what enables us to be a Christian. We do not earn our salvation by rule-keeping; we receive it by believing in Jesus, that he is the Son of God who has died and risen again and is seated at the Father’s right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies. The ‘rules’ are just ways we live out this new relationship with God that Jesus Has earned for us.

Second, these ‘rules’ distinguish us from our non-Christian neighbour and our call to him or her is not to follow the rules but to believe in Jesus. Our ‘rule-keeping’ is to demonstrate the wisdom and way of God that has been opened up to us through Christ. Don’t expect your unbelieving neighbour to follow and understand these same rules, because they cannot do that except as an outworking of the faith they have come to accept (hopefully) in Christ. The Laws of Moses and the rules of the New Testament reveal the love, goodness and wisdom of God. Some of those laws are strange to us because they reflected the pagan lives and practices around them to be avoided. Another reason why they are not for us. We have our own in Christ.

Snapshots: Day 74

Snapshots: Day 74

The Snapshot: “I am the Lord your God.” (Ex 20:2) God introduces the Ten Commandments with this description of Himself. He continues, “who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”  As we said previously, not just a title but the experiential reality. Yes, the title is right. Even if He had done nothing else, He was still their Lord, but He had actually demonstrated it. When He says to the Christian, “I am the Lord your God,” it is a statement of reality but He can also add, “because I have delivered you out of that old sin-driven, guilt-laden, self-destructive life of a slave to the enemy.” Because of that He now has the right to declare the way we are made or designed to live. Let’s heed His directions.

Further Consideration: In the previous study I recounted how, in my early days as a Christian, I began to learn that my New Testament was full of exhortations on how to live under the Lordship of Christ, ways to live the new life and receive all the goodness God had for me – and that came as I followed or obeyed those exhortations that I found there in His word.

As I look back now to these words from Exodus 20 I realize the same process is operating today in me as operated back then. Back then the Lord established His credibility with the people of Israel by reminding them what He had done for them by delivering them out of slavery in Egypt. He had, if you like, proved Himself. They could trust Him and rely upon Him because He had clearly shown that He was for them in the way He had delivered them out of Pharaoh’s hands and started them on the journey to the Promised Land. It was still early days but there was plenty to remember about what God had done.

But now, the same is true for us. When we read through the Gospels and we see what Jesus went through in dying for us, we start to catch something of the wonder of God’s love that could go through all of that – Jesus leaving the wonder and security of heaven to come and live as a human being down here, going through the rejection he experienced from the religious world, being betrayed, falsely tried, condemned and crucified and for a moment appearing to be utterly cut off from the experience of the love of his Father that he had known throughout eternity. This is love!

But then we come across all the instructions on how to live out this new life that we find in the New Testament, that we referred to in the previous study, and we realize all of these are founded on the same love that took the Son to the Cross, a love focused on us, looking all the time for our blessing.  That is what is behind all these instructions and so I would be foolish to ignore this incredible love in these