Wednesday 1st June
In the previous verses (9:49-50) the disciples tried to stop someone acting in Jesus’ name ‘because he is not one of us’. In today’s passage, James and John want to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village which did not welcome Jesus. Jesus rebukes his disciples for their violent intentions. In both cases, the disciples were being urged to exercise love. There are still some Christians (and denominations) who will condemn a genuine believer ‘because he is not one of us’ and there are still those who want to call down judgement and fire from heaven on those who reject their message. This was not the way of Jesus. Condemnation from Jesus came only for immorality or false doctrine, not for differences between believers.
Thursday 2nd June
In a day of falling church numbers, when we want to see people coming to Christ and joining our congregations, it is instructive to notice that Jesus often seemed to turn people away, or try to put them off. There are several examples of this in these verses. Jesus set the bar high for discipleship and would not settle for the half-hearted. He wanted men and women who were whole-hearted, truly committed and who would persevere in the faith. Do we have that single-minded devotion to Christ and his Gospel which puts everything else in life in second place, compared to following him?
Friday 3rd June
Having earlier appointed his twelve disciples, Jesus now appoints seventy-two more and then sends them out on mission, two by two. He points out that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few and urges them to pray that more workers will join them in bringing in the harvest of souls. Today we face similar problems. There are not enough workers. There is a shortage of Ministers, it is often difficult to get elders and deacons and many members and adherents in churches are unwilling to commit themselves to weekly service for the kingdom. They want to be free to come when they please and do what they want. We must pray for more dedicated and enthusiastic workers to join us in the work of bringing in the harvest.
Saturday 4th June
When I was young and invited to take part in mission and outreach teams, the recruitment message was, ‘Join the team, you will have a great time’. Jesus’ message to the seventy-two was that he was sending them out ‘like lambs among wolves’. Elsewhere he told his disciples that they would be persecuted. Once again, we see Jesus forcing people to count the cost. It was not easy to share the gospel in Jesus’ day and it is not easy to share the gospel today. The opposition we face as Christians today (like the opposition in Jesus’ day) often comes from the State, or from minorities with loud voices, or from secularists and atheists. Like the seventy-two, we must recognise the difficulties and dangers but press on with the work, so as to win people for Christ.
Sunday 5th June
The seventy-two were to go out with the good news about the kingdom of God and some people would welcome them, listen to the message and believe in Christ. Others, however, would reject the message. Jesus makes it clear in these verses that, to reject the message brought by the disciples, was to reject him. Also, in rejecting Jesus they were rejecting the Father who had sent him and only judgement follows such a rejection. One striking point is where Jesus says that the miracles done in certain cities ought to have brought them to repentance. When we think of all the amazing things that God has done in Scotland since the Reformation in 1560, the same message surely applies. The failure of our nation to fall before God in repentance will inevitably bring judgement.
Monday 6th June
The seventy-two return to Jesus, rejoicing in all that they had seen and done. The demons had been cast out and miracles had been done. You can sense their excitement at being part of this. Jesus explains that Satan had fallen like lightning from heaven. Some see this as a reference to the fall of Satan and his fellow angels, prior to the fall of humanity in Genesis 3. In that case, Jesus would be reminding them that, although Satan (the devil) is an enemy, he has been cast out of heaven and has only limited power compared to the great power of God. Others see this as a reference to the fact that, when the followers of Jesus go out with the good news about the kingdom of God, Satan is not able to defeat them. Either way, it is an encouraging message about the power of Almighty God compared to the puny and short-term power of a mere fallen angel.
Tuesday 7th June
We read these verses again today, lest we miss an important point. Jesus tells them that he has given them power over evil and power to do miracles but then says, in verse 20: ‘However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’. Do you see the point? The seventy-two were rejoicing in the power they had been given to do miracles and to defeat evil spirits but the greater cause for rejoicing was that their ‘names are written in heaven’. The greatest cause for rejoicing was their names were written in the lamb’s book of life (see Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23; and Revelation 21:27). Miracles are great but to belong to Christ is greater still.
Wednesday 8th June
There is a great deal packed into these verses. First, Jesus praises God that the truth about the kingdom of God has been understood by children rather than the wise. That is to say, only those with a simple child-like faith will see and understand what God is doing. Many intellectuals, on the other hand, will scorn and demand more evidence. The second point here is that Jesus is the one who reveals God to us. Only the Son truly knows God (because he is God) and we can only know God is Jesus reveals him to us. There is no other way to God except through Jesus. Finally, Jesus points out to his disciples that they are truly blessed because they have seen things that no-one else has seen. They have been blessed with that child-like faith which recognises Jesus as Lord and so they have come to know the Father through him.
Thursday 9th June
This parable, like most of the parables, has a context. We are told in Luke 10:25 that ‘an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus’. We’re not told the man’s name or anything much about him but we are told about his qualifications and his motives. First, his qualifications: he was well able to ask a question because, we are told, he was an ‘expert’. Second, his motives: he was trying to test Jesus. That is to say, he was trying to trick Jesus, to trip him up. In my experience, there are four kinds of questions which people ask. First, there is the genuine question seeking information or explanation; second, there is the question designed to show off how much the questioner already knows; third, there is the hostile question, going straight into the attack; then fourth, there is the question which is designed to trip you up. It is this last kind of question which we find here.
Friday 10th June
Although the question asked by the expert in the law was intended to trip Jesus up, it was a good question and one that ought to be asked: ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus immediately turned the question back on the expert: ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ The expert than gave a fine answer. He quoted two passages from the Old Testament. First, from a passage known to the Jews as the Shema, in Deuteronomy 6:5 and then from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus commended the man for his answer. Indeed, he had used a similar answer himself in an encounter mentioned in Matthew 19 and Mark 12. It was a good answer because it was an excellent summary of the law of God, as represented by the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments can be divided into two parts: the first part, which tells us to love God and the second part which tells us to love our neighbours. Love God and love your neighbour: that is what is required of us.
Saturday 11th June
We continue to consider the parable of the Good Samaritan. The expert in the law wanted to justify himself, so asked who his neighbour was. In answer, Jesus tells the well-known parable. A man is attacked, stripped, beaten, robbed and left for dead. A priest passes by on the other side. A Levite also passed by on the other side. Then finally a Samaritan comes, who ‘took pity’ on him and helped him. It is difficult for us to catch the sense of the shock this parable would have had without understanding the hatred that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. If Jesus had been telling the story to some Jews in Jerusalem today, he might have said, ‘And along came a Palestinian…’ Do you see the point? The help came from the most unexpected source and those who might reasonably have been expected to help were found wanting.
Sunday 12th June
Last day on this parable. When he had finished the parable, Jesus confronts the lawyer again. Jesus said, ‘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’. Notice the words go and do likewise. The lawyer wanted a theological argument but Jesus was telling him to practice the truth. On many occasions when people want to argue about aspects of the Christian faith, the real issue lies behind the argument and very often the real issue is obedience and submission to God. Go and do… As Christians, we are inclined to want to talk and theologise and argue but are often lacking in the ‘Go and do’ department!
Monday 13th June
It is easy to feel sympathy for Martha. An important visitor had arrived and there was much to do. Food had to be prepared and everything made ready. She was rushing around doing everything and her sister was doing nothing! Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to him. No wonder Martha complained to Jesus, perhaps expecting him to tell Mary to help her. Instead, Jesus tells Martha that Mary had chosen the better way. It is possible, for the very best of intentions, to rush around madly in the service of the church and to miss what is most important. Are we too busy to stop and listen to what God is saying by his Spirit through his Word?
Tuesday 14th June
The disciples of Jesus want to learn how to pray. Jesus teaches them to pray by giving them a ‘model’ prayer, which we today call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and which in other churches and in some other countries is simply called the ‘Our Father’. It has a simple but important structure. It begins with worship, focussing on God. Then it turns to our needs (daily bread). Next there is the request for forgiveness and the promise to forgive others. Finally, we ask God to help keep us away from temptation. This is not only a useful prayer but a useful structure for all of our praying. For example, how often have we rushed into God’s presence asking for things before we have worshipped him?
Wednesday 15th June
In these verses, Jesus continues his teaching on prayer. In the story, a friend arrives unexpectedly at midnight and the host has no food. He goes to a neighbour at midnight and asks for help. The neighbour is in bed but through the sheer persistence of the man at the door he gets up and provides what he needs. The message is clear. We must be as persistent in our praying as the man was in calling to his friend at midnight to get up. That man was clearly determined. He was not going to go away until his friend came to the door. In the same way, we must be persistent in our prayers. There is a similar story told in Luke 18:1-8, the Parable of the Persistent Widow. God wants us to be persistent in prayer. It is his will that we should come before him day by day with our prayers and petitions. Are we persistent in prayer or do we give up easily?
Thursday 16th June
Verse 9 of this passage is very well known. It contains the wonderful promise that God will answer our prayers. In making this point, however, we must be careful about what we mean. In particular, we must stress that God is sovereign in the answers he gives to prayer. Although God always answers prayer, ‘no’ is just as much an answer as ‘yes’. There are those who believe that God must answer their prayers in their way and in their time. This is not faith it is simply arrogance. On the other hand, we must not user the mantra that ‘God is sovereign’ as an excuse for a lack of persistence in prayer. Pray persistently and believe in a God who answers prayer but respect his answers.
Friday 17th June
Jesus is accused of being an agent of the devil. Some of those who saw him casting out demons believed that he was possessed. Jesus pointed out that, since he was casting out demons and actively engaging in spiritual warfare against the devil, how could he be in league with the devil? A house divided against itself cannot stand. In our day perhaps the important lesson to learn from this is that there is a spiritual world of evil which stands against God. In our modern, western culture we have been so affected by the Enlightenment (so called) that many people are inclined to play down the supernatural side of things and view Christianity as a religion about doing good and seeking peace and justice. This is a very bad mistake. If you don’t realise that you are engaged in a spiritual war, you will lose!
Saturday 18th June
In these two verses we have a fascinating exchange between Jesus and a woman in the crowd. She shouts out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you’. Jesus responds, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it’. Jesus was not undermining the significant place of his mother in God’s plan for the salvation of the world but he used the occasion to say something vital. There are many people who refuse to listen to the Word of God. There are others who listen to the Word of God but do not obey it. Jesus makes it clear that we are to listen and to obey. As we read in James 1:22: ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says’.
Sunday 19th June
The Jews were always looking for signs to prove that Jesus was really the one he claimed to be. They wanted miracles. Jesus refused to ‘perform’ for them. He reminds them that when Jonah preached to the Ninevites, they responded and turned to God. Also, when the Queen of Sheba heard of the wisdom of Solomon she travelled a long way to hear him. Jesus says, ‘now one greater than Solomon is here… now one greater than Jonah is here’. These Jews were listening to the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity who had taken flesh and come to this earth. As William Barclay puts it, ‘The condemnation of the Jews would be all the more complete because their privileges were so great’. Have we recognised Jesus for who he really is? Have we believed in him for salvation? Have we submitted to his Lordship?
Monday 20th June
We have already seen Jesus use this illustration of the lamp being useless if it is covered over, in Luke 8:16. Here he uses the same illustration to make a different point. He says that, if our eyes are not functioning properly, then we shall be in darkness. Similarly, we must be careful that the ‘light within’ does not become dark. Jesus came to bring light to the world and to deal with the spiritual darkness brought about by sin and disobedience. When we become Christians our eyes are opened and we are flooded with spiritual light. As we read in 2 Corinthians 4:6: ‘For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’. Are you living in the light or are you trapped in spiritual darkness?
Tuesday 21st June
Jesus here confronts the Pharisees and the experts in the law. He provides a stark analysis of these religious leaders and castigates them for their many failings, in the strongest possible language. Those who speak of Jesus as meek and mild, someone who never passed judgement on anyone and spoke only of love and peace, need to read this passage carefully. Jesus’ criticism is that they were concerned with outward things but neglected the things of the heart. They tithed and did everything according to the law but they neglected justice and the care of the poor. In short, everything was for show and there was no reality behind it. It is very easy in the church to go through the outward practice of our religion but to fail completely in spiritual and moral living.
Wednesday 22nd June
A crowd of many thousands had gathered to hear Jesus and in these verses he provides them with some valuable teaching. In verses 1-3 he warns his own disciples against hypocrisy. They are not to be like the Pharisees who do one thing in public and another in private, who are outwardly religious but inwardly are spiritually dead. Then, in verses 4-7, he tells the crowd that they should not fear those who could hurt them physically. Rather, the only one they should fear is God, who has the power to throw them into Hell. At the same time, they should know of God’s love and compassion. Even the hairs of their heads are numbered, God knows them so well. Finally, in verses 8-12 Jesus calls them to be bold in testifying to him. If they deny him, he will deny them. They are not to worry about what to say when they are challenged because the Holy Spirit will give them the words to say. All of this is a great encouragement for us and is advice for us to follow.
Thursday 23rd June
We read these verses again because of what it says about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which will not be forgiven. We looked at this theme in these Bible readings when we considered a parallel passage, Mark 3:28-30. Jesus says there that all sins can be forgiven except the sin against the Holy Spirit. This is a subject which has troubled many Christians over the years and some have become truly anxious lest they had inadvertently committed this sin. Such people should be reassured that their very anxiety over the matter indicates that they have not committed this sin! In order to understand what Jesus meant, we have to consider the context of his words. The teachers of the law were saying that he was an agent of the devil, even possessed by the devil. In other words, they were so far gone in sin and their minds were so darkened because of sin, that they could look into the face of Jesus and see only the devil. The one who commits such a sin, whose mind is so darkened, would never worry about having done so.
Friday 24th June
In these verses we are given the context for the parable which follows, thus helping us to understand it. A man came to Jesus and asked him to intervene in a family dispute over money. Instead of getting involved in the dispute between the two brothers, Jesus makes two striking remarks. First, ‘Be on your guard against all kinds of greed’ and second, ‘a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’. In this way, Jesus was challenging the brother about two things, first about his sinful attitude towards money (he was greedy) and second about his priorities (life is about more than what you own). This is a challenge from Jesus that all of us need to hear. If, at the end of our lives, we are quite well off but in poor shape spiritually, how will we feel about that? On the other hand, if we end up with very little in the way of money and possessions but are rich in spiritual life, will we regard our lives as a success or a failure?
Saturday 25th June
As we think about this parable, the question we have to ask is this: what did this man do wrong? He has just experienced a bumper harvest. It is so good that he will not have to work any longer. He can store up all that he has earned, take early retirement and enjoy a life of leisure and pleasure. Is this not what most people would like to do? Work hard, earn enough money to take early retirement and enjoy your last years, living on your income. So what is the problem with that? The answer is in verses 20-21. Read those verses again. Do you see the problem? For the man in the parable, all that mattered was his own happiness and fulfilment. He was living a self-centred life instead of a God-centred life. The end of that life came suddenly and unexpectedly and he was not ready to meet his God. He was rich but he was not rich towards God. Are you ‘rich towards God’?
Sunday 26th June
Having told the parable, Jesus then tells them not to worry. This command not to worry is found repeatedly, in verses 22, 25, 26 and 29. These words of Jesus are also found in Matthew’s Gospel, in the Sermon on the Mount. The basic message is ‘do not worry’ about food and drink and clothes and all of these matters, because God knows that you need them and will provide them. Jesus’ message is about being God-centred and not self-centred. Notice, this is not saying that food and drink and clothes and shelter are unimportant. In fact, it says the opposite: these things are important and Jesus assures his disciples that their heavenly Father knows what they need. We don’t need to worry about such things because God will provide. Above all, Jesus is telling us that if we focus on living a God-centred life, then all will be well. In other words, trust in your heavenly Father.
Monday 27th June
Having told them not to worry, Jesus goes on to tell them what they ought to do. They are to seek the kingdom of God. The same teaching is found in Matthew 6:31-33. Notice the two matters which are to be the preoccupation of every Christian: the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God. We might sum up everything we have seen in verses 13-34 in this way: God has provided everything that we need. We must give thanks for these good gifts but we must not become preoccupied with them. Instead we must seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God. Our focus and priorities are vital. If we do not get this right we shall be like that man, who was greedy and self-centred. He died a fool and was not ready to meet his God. Are we ready to meet our God? Are our priorities correct?
Tuesday 28th June
Over the next three days, we are thinking about the Second Coming of Christ. The first lesson is that we must be ready for his return, as we see in these verses before us today. Jesus explains the parable to the disciples in verse 40, so that they would understand it: ‘You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’ Jesus regularly spoke about the need to be prepared for his return. If Christ were to come today, would we be ready? If we knew that he was going to return soon, what changes would we make to our lives? Perhaps we ought to do those things anyway. Jesus’ Second Coming isn’t only about judgment, of course, it is also about salvation. If we are believers, ready for his coming, we can rejoice in the knowledge of the salvation which God has prepared for us.
Wednesday 29th June
In our passage, at verse 40, Jesus speaks about the coming of the Son of Man. He is referring to himself and to his return. We know this because of the many other passages of Scripture which say the same thing. The whole Bible is packed with references to the ultimate end of the world as we know it, when God will break into history in all his power and will bring an end to that history. On that day he will judge the wicked, redeem the righteous and purge the world of all evil. In the Old Testament this was known as the Day of the Lord. One of the most striking verses about this Day of the Lord is found in Isaiah 2:12, ‘For the Lord of Hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high,’ and the prophet goes on to enumerate all the various things which will face God’s wrath on that day. In the New Testament this great Day of the Lord is spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 and elsewhere. In Matthew chapters 24 and 25, we have a great deal of teaching from Jesus on this subject. Do we believe that Christ will return and are we ready?
Thursday 30th June
In these verses the picture is painted of a Master who judges his servants who failed in their duty and acted in a way which brought judgement upon themselves. This is a theme which Jesus returned to on a number of occasions, most famously in Matthew 25:31-46, where we have Jesus’ parable of the last judgement. Jesus is the one by whom the world will be judged. Paul said this in his speech to the Areopagus, as recorded in Acts 17:31. He said that God ‘has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.’ The picture which Jesus paints in Luke 12, in Matthew 24, and which is echoed by Paul in 1st Thessalonians and elsewhere is a frightening one. We often stress the love of God and the assurance of salvation, but it is right that sometimes we should emphasise judgment and hell. Everything Christ is and everything he has done culminates on that final Day of Judgement and the ensuing division of all people to either Heaven or Hell. Where do we stand in relation to that forthcoming judgement?