October 21st, 2007 Scripture: Luke 18
"That's position there for a reason or Patty interrupting me. On a serious note though, if you'll turn with me to Luke 18 and we'll get started because it's a long, it's the entire chapter. "And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, 'In a certain city there was judge who need to fear God nor regarded men and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Vindicate me against my adversary. For while he refused but afterward he said to himself, 'Though I need to fear God nor regard men, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her or she will wear me out by her continual coming.' And the Lord said, 'Hear what the unrighteous judge says and will not God vindicate his elect who cried to him day and night? Will he delight long over them? I tell you he will vindicate them speedily."
"Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?' He also told his parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others. Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other tax collector. The Pharisee stood and thus prayed with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.' 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.' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. But he who humbles himself will be exalted."
"Now, they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 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. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.' And the ruler asked him, 'Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments; 'Do not commit adultery. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother.' He said, 'All this I have observed from my youth.' When Jesus heard it, he said to him, 'One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven and come, follow me."
"When he heard this, he became sad for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and he said, 'How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.' Those who heard it said, 'Then who can be saved?' But he said, 'What is impossible with men is possible with God.' Peter said, 'Lo, we have left our homes and followed you.' And he said to them, 'Truly I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time and in the age to come eternal life.' And taking the twelve, he said to them, 'Behold, we're going up to Jerusalem and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. They will scourge him and kill him and on the third day, he will rise."
"But they understood none of these things. This thing was hid from them and they did not grasp what was said. As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a multitude going by, he inquired with this men. They told him, 'Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.' And he cried, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.' And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me.' And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 'What do you want me to do for you?' He said, 'Lord, let me receive my sight.' And Jesus said to him, 'Receive your sight, your faith has made you well.' And immediately, he received his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people when they saw it gave praise to God." The Word of the Lord."
Class: "Praise God."
Dr. Dan Foster
"I said at the beginning of this series that I was not going to pick the most popular chapters when we talk about great chapters from the New Testament. It would certainly be true that 18 Luke is not in most people's repertoire of being one of the great chapters but in fact, it is. I'm going to make six points from it. I think it's extraordinarily important for the faith. Just because of time, I'll skip over a few things. The third prediction of the passion, I'm not going to cover nor the promise to the disciples that they will have eternal life. I should warn you that this lesson is not going to be like probably like any commentary, most of the commentaries that you read. I still want to do it this way. The first thing that the lesson says is that disciples ought always to pray and not lose heart."
"The first parable here is almost certainly due to the fact that Jesus is aware of the period of martyrdom that is going to come to the church. In the 16th chapter of John for example, he's already told them that they're going to be killed. He has seen the death of John the baptizer. He knew that he was beheaded. In the chapter before this in 17, he's talked about the end of the time when he would come again. His mind is on the fact that there will be great martyrdom and deaths of the church. Then it's against that background that he says "disciples ought to always pray and not lose heart." He begins with a parable which has no religious intent at all. It's about a secular judge who is not religious and does not respect humans. He's troubled by a widow. He keeps coming back to try and get justice. Finally, he says, "Just to get rid of her, I'm going to give her what she needs."
"There's no religious illustration here at all. Jesus simply wants to pose the question about continual prayer and what that does mean religiously. The judge by the way is not a symbol or a model of God. He's just as he oftentimes does in parables talks about situations that people would understand from real life. He then trades this and turns it in to talk about God and says, "God will vindicate his people who cried to him day and night. Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily." What does that mean? It certainly does not mean rescue or prevention of death for the martyrs. The statement does not apply primarily to our desire for rescue in trouble. It's not going to be that. It has to mean something else because all of us know that we frequently pray. We're told that we're to pray for and ask anything we want and yet people get killed in wars and they die from cancer. The martyrs, as I say, will all go down to death."
"He must be talking about something else and I think that is correct, when he talks about this rapid vindication, something that comes quickly. I think what he is saying here is that what will be unequivocally and quickly given to you is the sense of the presence of God in your life. What he will give rapidly in the midst of difficulty is his presence, his transcendental presence in the life which gives courage and hope if not rescued. Ralph Harper and his wonderful little book on presence which he capitalizes says, "Presence is central to one trying to find and exit from boundary situations." That's a phrase that comes from Carl Barth that the serious questions are in boundary situations. The most serious boundary that we face is the boundary of impending death. Harper says, "Presence is central to one capitalized presence."
"God is central to one trying to find an exit from boundary situations. Boundaries are the threshold of mysteries. None of us know in detail what life after death is like. It's a mystery there, where they're hints, we have clues to it. Boundary situations are at the border of mysteries, things that we don't fully understand. God the presence of being itself is the point of intersection between timelessness and time. The presence of God sits at the intersection between that which is timeless and that which is real time. He is at that intersection of all boundary situations. He is at the boundary between fear and courage. He is at the boundary between faith and sin. The presence is the symbol of God's participation in the lives of his followers. He says as "pray ceaselessly and do not lose heart."
"The demand for us to do that is a connectional demand. When you are in a boundary situation, the one hope is to feel connected to the God who is God. I came across one comment that [Heidi Grath 00:12:55] think said at one time. He said, "At the very deepest of what I am is God." This parable is about that. What's absolutely fascinating to me, he's anticipating the time of the martyrs and they are about to begin is that when one looks at the records of their death, they never pray for rescue. They only pray that they can praise God in their death. It's very fascinating. If you look at all the records that have been put together, that going through what Jesus is predicting, they do not pray for rescue. A classic example when perhaps the best known and I know that I have read portions of this before is the great prayer of Polycarp of Smyrna in the arena. I'm going to shorten it for a time."
"He says, "Oh Lord, omnipotent God. I bless you because you have taught me worthy of this day and this hour. To have a share amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of your Christ. May I be received this day among men before your face as a rich and acceptable sacrifice. Hence, I praise you and I bless you and I glorify you above all things through that eternal and celestial high priest Jesus Christ your beloved child, to whom glory to you with him and the Holy Spirit, now and forever in the world to come." Of course, we are also instructed to pray for rescue. I do not mean to imply that the emphasis here of connection and not rescue means that we should not pray from delivery, from the difficulties that we are in. Those are not promised to be fulfilled. The connectional presence of God is promised in answer to every prayer."
"The first thing that comes from 18 is that we are to pray without ceasing and not to lose heart. The second thing that I want to say is that a profound question is whether faith will survive on earth. A yes answer is dependent on us. Having just assured the disciples that God would vindicate them speededly, Jesus then asked the most poignant question of his entire life on earth. Having said that God will hear the prayers of his people and rapidly vindicate them by coming, he asked the question, "When the Son of Man comes,' using his favorite title, 'will he find faith on the earth?" A very poignant question. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? I want to ask you today, is it possible that that will be true? Is it possible that at the Perusia the end of the world, the coming of Christ, there will be no faith or little faith in the world?"
"Most religious people if you ask them that would say, "That's impossible. God is God and he would not allow that to happen." That's a misinterpretation of the structure of the universe at least as biblically provided. In the structure of human life according to Scripture, God has made humans in his image. As we noted when we were studying in Genesis, that meant that humans were free to choose about everything in life. God interacts with humans. He makes demands on them. He gives them great hope and reward and in the end, this turns out to be invitational. He commands us and blesses us and asks us to serve Him but it's invitational. Given the freedom to choose, one can say no to God. We see that all the time. It is possible to choose on faith instead of faith. Therefore theoretically, it is possible that faith in the world will disappear and be gone at Perusia. It is entirely possible. There were examples, illustrate to these examples."
"At the time of Noah, faith had disappeared. In Sodom and Gomorrah, faith had disappeared. There is much in the world today that suggest faith. At least in the developed world, fading away. It is possible that there maybe no faith but it would be awful if that were true. One commentator said that if every memory of Christ were expunged from the world and every gift of Christ destroyed, the world would be worse than a morgue. If every memory of Christ was expunged from the world, if every gift of Christ like love was destroyed, the earth would become worst than a morgue. A yes answer to the question that there will be faith at the end when the Son of Man comes is dependent on the followers, is dependent on the disciples. It is dependent on those who serve Him because they pass the faith on. As people always say it's a generation away from disappearing. This is a very profound thought to me that salvation in the world, that faith in the world, the great gift of God is saved, will be saved by disciples. That's a very profound thing. We have no control."
"Salvation come from God. It's his gift. It is his gift to the entire world, salvation is. To save it, to save salvation requires yes [sayers 00:21:39] to God in the faith. That's a very profound thought that salvation of salvation depends on the followers who continue to say yes. The third thing that I want to say is may sound strange. The danger of merit in any discipline including religious faith has the appearance of arrogance and pride. The danger of any merit is it renders the person of merit to have a sense of arrogance and pride about self. In the next discussion, there is a comparison between a religious person of merit and a person of no merit religiously speaking. There are variety of ways to look at human society. One of the ways is as a meritocracy, not widely held but by many great scholars as a desirable form of society."
"The guiding principle of [meritritions 00:23:14] is the statement of the great English sociologist [inaudible 00:23:19] who said, "All humans are deserving of respect but not all humans are deserving of praise." In a meritocracy, there are persons who are deserving of praise. They are judged by the peers as being good or even the best in the world. There's a danger in merit as I've said. That danger is the arrogance and pride that comes from being recognized by peers and others as having merit. What it oftentimes results in is a looking down on those of lesser or no merit. Jesus detested arrogance and pride and hence this parable. The parable indicates that the pharisee is a man of religious merit. He follows the faith beyond what the faith demands. He fast twice a week, not once. He tithes everything."
"Another passage in Matthew talked about the pharisee's tithing even the herbs that they grow, not just their money. He was a man of religious merit. Because he recognize himself as a man of merit, he thanks God that he is better than others, not just extortioners or the unjust or adulterers but also the tax collector who would not raise his eyes to heaven and beat his chest because he was so aware of his sin and asked God to be merciful to him. "Be merciful to me, God, a sinner." Jesus says that the tax collector was justified and the man of religious merit was not. He had cancelled his merit because of pride and looking down on those of lesser faith. One of the most important things that has to be recognized... I fairly often give a talk to honor students at medical schools who are being elected to honor societies."
"I oftentimes start by talking about merit and then I warn of arrogance and pride. Most of what sets a person up for merit is out of their control. One may have high intelligence but one had no choice of one's genes. One maybe thankful if one is rich for the fact that one was lucky enough to be born in a developed world, developed country rather than in Bangladesh or Sub-Saharan Africa. The gift of religious faith oftentimes comes because one is lucky enough to have been born into a family of faith, where one learns at an early age about God and faith. Or that one has been gifted with knowing other people of faith or has heard of preacher of great promise or was lucky enough to go to a Billy Graham Crusade sometime. Almost everything that allows merit to occur is gifted. Now this is not to say that people of merit do not work."
"You can have an intellect that's out of this world but you still have to study. That's true about faith too. The merit of faith develops because of work. As oftentimes I tell the students, one can take a quiet sense of pride that one used one's gifts to improve them but never arrogant. One understands that there are less gifted people because they did not have the gifts to start with. Jesus was intent on saying that humility was a very important thing in the Christian life. That's the third point why he use the... It was not that the Pharisee was not merited in his religious faith, it converted him into an arrogant and uncaring person who felt he was better than other people."
"The fourth thing that the chapter says is that to be a disciple, one must be childlike but not childish. Reading was as follows, "Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them." Just in passing and people have turned to this passage and others like it to justify infant baptism. For example, since he's seeing infants who have no moral choice and so forth and he's touching them and receiving them people, I'm not taking this view at all. I mean, baptism is a symbol for infants but I'm saying that this passage has been used by those who feel that it's acceptable to dedicate a child by baptism. He was seeing infants and the disciples saw it and they rebuked him."
"Jesus called them to him the children saying, "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them for to such belong the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." Jesus thought the children were very important to take care of but also illustrate of the kind of people that he wanted in the faith. Now, I want to defend the disciples here. I don't think they were being mean. They've been hearing Jesus talk about all these serious things, the end of the world, about the martyrdom that's coming. They saw children as being trivial compared to the importance of this eternal thing. He said, "Look, let don't bother the Master here." He didn't think children were trivial and so he pulls then into his arms. He says, "Listen, this is a way you must be if you're going to be inherit the kingdom."
"Children are trusting and dependent. In general, things are working well. They trust their parents and love ones and are dependent on it and know they're dependent on it, well, as with God. Children ask serious questions. I've quoted several times over the years here, Peter Medawar, the late Nobel Laureate who said that, "The only serious questions are the questions children ask." Is there a God, mommy? Where did we come from, daddy? Children ask serious questions. Jesus thinks we ought to ask serious questions. I post one earlier today, will there be faith at the end of the world? That's a serious question and they asked serious questions. Children are loving and respond to love which is what God wants from us, and finally, in their youth at least they're innocent. They have not devoted themselves to sin or evil. Jesus wanted his disciples and us to be like that, trusting and dependent on God, open to serious questions, innocent of major sin and loving God who is Father and all the siblings who are the neighbors."
"Childlike but not childish. The fifth point I want to make is this, that the issue with Jesus, his issue with humans is not what we are but what we are not. Great is expected of us. The importance of the story of the rich man has to do with them. There is no question that is important, just covered in all three of the synoptic Gospels with little differences; he was young or he was a ruler and so forth. The same question and the same event is described. This ruler or this young man was a good man. He was a very good man. He was asking a serious question, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus says, "You know the commandments." He lists six of them in Psalm 5 and the others. The young men said, "I've kept them since my youth.""
"Mark says that Jesus loved him. He loved him because he was a good man who had kept the commandments since his youth. He was a good man as Jesus saw but Jesus also saw that he could be better. Jesus is not interested in what we are, he's interested in what we are not. He saw what this young man was not. He was not a person who was using his wealth and substance for the kingdom of God. Jesus thought that he could be better than he was. He never lets us be satisfied with what we are. He could be great. That's a phrase from Carl Barth. He says, "Christ calls us to be great." Not in sociological terms but in terms of the faith. He tells that the young man in essence, "You can be great. You're good not but you can be great. What I want you to do is to sell your wealth." He didn't say, "You can earn wealth again." He's just saying, "Use your wealth now and take care of the poor." He always looks to see what we can be and not what we are."
"Now, it's interesting at the start of this he calls him good teacher. Jesus says to him, "Why do you call me good? There's only one who is good and that's God." Most of the commentators think that what he's saying is because he's been called good, that he's trying to say that he is also God, that he is also God. I wanted to find goodness in a different way. I said this in a speech last Friday night actually. I think it fits in with what I'm saying here. I'd said that I would define goodness not as a difference between good and evil in a moral sense. I defined goodness in God's sense as wanting to make things better, that we want to make things better for the poor. We want to make things better for the faithless. We want to make things better in every aspect of life. That's what Jesus was doing with the rich, young man. He was good to him because he wanted to make him better."
"That's what the church is about, making things better. He couldn't do it, at least at the time. We don't know what happened that and he left feeling very sad. His staff kept him from being great, his staff did. That's not just the sadness, as Luke says it's a tragedy. It's not just a sadness, it is a tragedy to stop where one is when God calls us to greatness. The last thing I want to say from the chapter is that the fundamental duty of the church is to restore sight to the spiritually blind. These last verses are very beautiful. A blind beggar sitting by the road and a crowd is coming by and he says, "What's going on here?" Somebody says, "Maybe a disciple. Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." The beggar begins to cry out and says, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." The crowd told him to be silent but he cried again, "Son of David, have mercy on me," and Jesus stopped."
"I think that's a great statement. Jesus is a Savior who stops. He stops wherever there is a need and the blind man had a terrific need. He says, "What do you want me to do for you?" He switches from Son of David, he says, "Lord, let me receive my sight." Jesus said, "Receive your sight. Your faith has made you well." Immediately, he received his sight and followed him, glorifying God. All the people when they saw it gave praise to God. When the church is faithful, what it does, day after day, month after month, year after year, century after century says Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. Every act of mercy, every kindness, every verbal or other witness says, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.""
"The aim of the church in saying that is that the person who hears this and is still spiritually blind will come to faith. The language of the church in a single sentence is that Jesus of Nazareth still passes by to the ones who have said yes to him. Every act of mercy as I say gives an eternal vision to the spiritually blind. One of the sadness is that sometimes the church is led it's language become trivial and is forgotten what it's core language is, that the Savior of the world is passing by. In summary, what this very powerful chapter says, we ought to always pray and not lose heart and aim in praying is to have the transcendental presence in our hearts and minds to give us courage and hope. That the salvation of salvation to put it that way is in our hands. If we are faithful in the message that I have just said, if there are in the world people who keep the faith, who says yes to God, there will be faith no matter how long the world last."
"Thirdly, arrogance and pride are anathema to God. Charles, I said something about having an okay lesson last week and Charles can't bless his heart. He sent me an email and says, "Yeah, it's okay. You know me." The point is, the reason I say something like that is that there should be absolutely no sense of pride or arrogance when one is just trying to do what one's doing, one understands that it's not anything worthy of arrogance or pride. Thirdly, we're called to be children in the faith that is open, trusting, loving towards God. Fifthly, Christ is primarily interested not in what we are but what we're not, are the reverse of phraseology what we can be. Lastly, the language of the church or should be is that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by to give sight to the spiritually blind. It's a very powerful chapter."
"I'm going to close, I read a good bit of Barth last night and very early this morning. He had a statement in the letter to the Romans that I thought was really good. In the sense of Jesus of Nazareth passing by, he said that, "There's a great truth." He says, you know, he says, "The Gospel is the question mark against all truth." That's not what I'm going to say but I remember that too. He said that, "The Gospel is the question mark against all truths, particularly all philosophies and faith." He said, "Here's a great truth, that the world is incapable of redemption." It's incapable of redemption, but there is redemption in the world through Christ. The world is incapable of saving itself. Look around us today. The world is incapable of redemption but there's redemption in the world."
"Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for the reading today. We thank you for the great promises that are contained in it and the great lessons that you would have us see. We ask today, Father, very simply that you would make us better about saying yes to you and that we would have a vision of greatness in the faith with whatever talents we have. We ask that for the church universal. We ask that for our local church here because Father, we think it would be an awful tragedy for Christ to have been expunged from the world. We pledged ourselves like the martyrs of ancient times to invest our lives to see that this does not occur. Give us strength, in that we pray through Christ our Lord, Amen."