Jesus Still Defends Us

Two incidents in Luke 5 illustrate not only Satan’s tactics but the way Jesus speaks up for His disciples.

The chapter begins with Jesus calling Peter, James, and John out of their vocations into his mission: to seek and save the lost (Luke 5:1-11; Luke 19:10).

Next, Luke records the healing of a man with leprosy and a paralytic and the calling of Levi the tax collector to follow Him.

This is when the Pharisees come in. And this is when they begin to attack Jesus, not directly, but through His disciples.

When they see Jesus and the disciples eating at a great banquet hosted by Levi, they come not to Jesus but to the disciples, grumbling, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’? (v. 30) The Greek word for “grumbling” here means “to murmur, mutter, say anything against in a low tone,” indicating they mean their words for the disciples’ ears only .

Why complain to Jesus’ disciples? Because the Pharisees have seen Jesus’ power and don’t want to confront Him? Because the new disciples have little experience with being challenged?

Whatever the reason, Jesus answers the challenge: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

The Pharisees direct their next criticism directly to Jesus about His disciples: “The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink.” 5:33

Again, Jesus defends their actions. “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

Two observations here: 1) The opponents of Christ attack Him through His disciples; 2) Jesus is aware of what is happening and steps in to defend His followers.

Is it any different today? When opponents of God attack His followers for alleged ignorance, for our unwillingness to follow society’s lead, for our stances on moral issues, we must ask ourselves: Is their problem with us, or with God?

First, we must be sure that we are indeed pursuing God’s cause and not our own political ambitions. If it is for God we live, then Paul in his eloquence gives us confidence.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

…Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?

Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. (Romans 8:31-34)

Satan is still attacking vulnerable disciples through criticism. And when he does, we tend to take it personally.

If we know His Word, Jesus is still in us and will defend us – much like He defended Himself from Satan’s temptations by reciting Old Testament Scripture (Luke 4:1-13).

As long as the Word of Christ is part of us, as long as we have access to Him through prayer, He will continue to answer on our behalf and protect us from evil. (Matthew 6:13).

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What God Doesn’t Want – or Need

While you may resent paying taxes, you may also commit another 10 to 15 percent of your income to the church. You answer with generosity when you’re presented with a genuine need. While others sleep in on Sunday morning, you dedicate that time to Him — and not just for the worship hour – but for Bible class, too!

Surely God is grateful when you and I make such sacrifices of our money and time for Him!

Not so fast, writes the poet Asaph. In Psalm 50 he portrays a courtroom to which the Almighty God comes out of the perfectly beautiful Zion in the midst of a devouring fire and a mighty tempest. He summons His covenant people from heaven and earth to a trial where He is both the judge and the witness against His people.

And what does He testify against them? Not that they neglect sacrifices to Him, but that they think that’s all He wants.

His words are pointed and harsh. “I will not accept a bull from your house” because “every wild animal [and] the cattle on a thousand hills” (NRSV) are Mine already. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it are Mine.” You think that because you offer these burnt offerings to Me, you are acceptable to Me. (9-13)

Some of you – and I will call you wicked – are fond of quoting My law, yet you are undisciplined. You don’t hesitate to bend the law when it suits you; you’re not ashamed to openly associate with adulterers. (16-18)

You make Me in your image and suppose that if you’re righteous in your own eyes, you must be righteous in Mine, too. But you are wrong. (21)

I rebuke you for your foolishness. I lay this charge before you: Even as you offer sacrifices, you have forgotten Me. “Mark this, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.” (21-22)

Yet there is still hope – even for those of us who, in our misplaced devotion – have forgotten the object of that devotion.

We can still see the salvation of God, if we remember this: God wants us to honor Him with thanksgiving as our sacrifice. He wants us to recognize our dependence on Him, to call on Him when we’re in trouble. (23, 15)

When we recognize our dependence on Him, we’ll see those perceived “sacrifices” of money and time with a different attitude. For they will not be sacrifices at all, but natural responses born out of gratitude and love.

Never an Orphan

It was only in February this year, shortly after my mother passed away, that I heard the word orphan applied to an adult. Before that, I thought of orphans only in terms of children, destitute without parents to care for them. Even though both of our parents were gone now, my sisters didn’t feel like the term applied to us, either.

Yet there stayed with me the concept that my siblings and I stand – next in line, so to speak – without the parents that had been there from the moment we were born. No one else can take their place. They had always been there, and somehow – even though I knew better – I thought they always would be. Their abiding presence was my only experience. When mother died, I did feel orphaned, or at least abandoned.

Now I have no one around who knew me the way they knew me. My older siblings knew me from when I was a baby – but they were children then, too. They weren’t the ones who watched me grow – they were growing as well!

Are We Orphans?

I realized the other day that there is someone else who was with us when we were born, watched us grow up, knows us better than we know ourselves, has always been available to us, is available to us even now. He has a quality our parents could not have. He will always be there – not just because He wants to be, but because He can be.

We have a Heavenly Father, to whom we can talk any time, night or day – who was, is, and will be with us yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He has promised to be our Father. He has all the qualities of a caring parent, and more.

He provides for us. “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

He is always ready to hear from us. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

He is our Eternal Father, always there through the Son. “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

He will always welcome us back, even when we fail him. “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:21-24

He loves us unconditionally. “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:23 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Because He’s Eternal

He can forgive our sins. “…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” Colossians 1:12-14

He can provide us with all spiritual blessings. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 1:3

In the absence of our parents on earth, it’s now up to us to continue to build a relationship with our Heavenly Father through prayer, through acknowledging our total dependence on Him, through faith in His Son, and through studying His written Word to discover how to live a better life here and to bless our children with an eternal legacy.

“…the disciple whom Jesus loved…”

Although he was one of the characters in the book he wrote, he never mentioned himself by name. It is generally understood, however, that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in the Gospel of John was the apostle himself.

In referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” was John saying that Jesus loved him more than the others? He certainly held a special place among the disciples. He was the one reclining next to Jesus at what we know as the Last Supper. As he was dying on the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother into John’s care. After the resurrection, John was the first apostle to look into the empty tomb. Then he was the first disciple on the fishing boat to recognize the risen Lord on the shore. At the end of his gospel, John identified himself not only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” but as the one “who testifies to these things and wrote them down.” (John 13.23; 19.26, 27; 20.2; 21.7; 21.20, 24)

As I read the gospel of John, I don’t believe John saw himself as a favorite of Jesus. I believe John saw himself as special not because Jesus loved him best, but because Jesus loved him at all. He had been one of the “Sons of Thunder” who asked Jesus to destroy an unresponsive village. He and his brother James had had the audacity to ask for a special place in Jesus’ kingdom. But through his faith in Jesus, he later became “the elder” writing to his own disciples and the one who was chosen to pen Jesus’ last words in the book of Revelation. (Mark 3.17; Luke 9.54; 3 John 1; Revelation 1.1)

When John wrote that he was loved, he was expressing a gratitude for the special love that Jesus has for every one of his disciples, a tender spot in his heart for each one of his children. I am that disciple “whom Jesus loves.” And if you follow Jesus, then you can say with the same eternal gratitude and joy that John had that you are also that disciple “whom Jesus loves.”

“Show us the Father”

It wasn’t enough that Philip had been chosen by Jesus to walk with him during his ministry, witness his miracles, watch him heal and care and serve. Philip wanted to see God the Father for himself.

Jesus had just told his disciples that he would soon have to leave them to go back to his Father. He was going ahead to prepare rooms for them in his Father’s house. He told them there was only one way to that house — Jesus himself.

“No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Then Philip makes a request: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”

You can almost hear the frustration in Jesus’ voice in his reply,

“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8, 9)

Philip was like so many of us at times — we would really like to see God for ourselves — up close. We want him to show himself. But God has shown himself — in the person of His only Son. If we want to see the Father in the flesh, all we have to do is open our Bibles to the first four books of the New Testament.

There you see God’s compassion as he heals the sick, gathers the children to him and mourns for the city that will soon crucify him. You see his power as he calms a raging storm, opens the eyes of the blind and raises a young girl from her deathbed. You see his wisdom as he instructs the simple and confounds the scholar. You see him face temptation without sin, cruelty without revenge and rejection without depression.

You see him wrongfully accused, humiliated, tortured, and crucified. You see him rise from the dead and ascend back to heaven.

You realize you have seen God in the flesh.

And that is sufficient.

Rejoice, anyway.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18

The terms are pretty demanding, aren’t they? Always — without ceasing — everything. How could anyone rejoice, pray, and give thanks in every circumstance, every minute of the day?

Yet that seems to be what God through the apostle Paul is requiring of believers. And in context, these exhortations are among other verses that also use absolute terms: “be patient with allalways pursue what is good…test all things…abstain from every form of evil.”

From what we read in Acts 17 about their early history, this young church in Thessalonica was undergoing some heavy persecution because of their faith. Yet Paul praised them at the beginning of his letter for their “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope.”

In light of their situation, we might understand why they were told to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. They needed to be reminded that no matter what their circumstances, 1) they could rejoice because they had salvation through Jesus; 2) they had constant access to their heavenly Father through prayer; and 3) they could be thankful even during hardships, knowing that trials produce patience, and patience leads to perfection (James 1:2-5).

What does that mean for Christians today? It means that in all circumstances,  God asks us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. It means we replace our complaining with rejoicing. It means we overcome anxiety and despair through prayer. It means that in our prayers we not only ask God to bless and help us, but we remember to thank him for all things physical and spiritual with which we have been so richly blessed.

Learning by Heart

“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119.11

If you grew up going to Bible classes every Sunday morning, it’s likely you were expected to learn memory verses each week. We called it knowing verses “by heart” — remember? According to the dictionary, that means to “learn something so well it can be written or recited without thinking.”

Somehow we leave memorization behind as we grow into adulthood. But Psalm 119:11 indicates that adult believers may need those memory verses more than ever — to help us remember who we are and to whom we belong and to keep us from offending the God we serve.

Jesus was able to use scripture to defend himself against sin when he was tempted in the wilderness. With every temptation, Jesus answered, “It is written” (Matthew 4.1-11). Likewise with our every temptation, God has promised a “way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10.13).

Could it be that memorizing Bible verses is one of those ways?

Bible verses we can recall at a moment’s notice can be used not only to keep us from sinning but to give us spiritual courage: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

“Love your neighbor as yourself” will help us live at peace with one another; “Cast all your cares on him” comforts us; “In everything give thanks” reminds us to view the world with gratitude.*

Whatever your situation, hide some appropriate Bible verses in your heart. Remember those you learned as a child, or even better, memorize new ones that will help you handle life’s unexpected turns and temptations. Write them down on a 3 x 5 card and put it in your pocket or tack it to the front of your fridge.

Make them such a part of you you don’t have to even think about them. Then, like having God standing beside you, they’ll be there when you need them.

*Romans 8.31; Luke 10.27; 1 Peter 5.7; 1 Thessalonians 5.18