The Sign of a Grumpy Prophet and Bad Preaching?

As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah.  For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.  The Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.  The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”  (Luke 11:29-32 NASB)

When I think if my favorite prophets or stories from the Hebrew Scriptures, Jonah only makes the list because of he’s so amusing.  I don’t know of anyone who uses him as an example of how to live or as a positive example of any sort.  Yet Jesus uses this prophet as a “sign” of His ministry to this generation.  So, how is this reluctant prophet a sign of anything but “DANGER! Grumpy Preacher!”?

In Matthew 12:40, Jesus says the “sign” of Jonah has to do with Jonah’s time in the fish, and Jesus’ time in the grave being 3 days.  Mark just says Jesus refused to give a sign of any sort.  Luke seems to “split the difference” and refers to the sign of Jonah, but explains it a it differently.  I think that by coupling Jonah with the Queen of the South, Luke redefines the way Jonah is a sign to the generation of the people to whom Jesus ministers.

On a side note, I think that Matthew simply defines the sign one way and Luke another.  I think what happened is Jesus merely says, “No sign will be given to this generation except the sign of Jonah” and Matthew interprets it one way and Luke another.  I don’t think either is wrong, and I think a good case could be made that Jesus meant both ideas in the sign.

Luke seems to understand the sign of Jonah relating to the reception of the Ninevites versus Jesus’ reception by this generation.  Whereas Jonah preaches what has to be the worst sermon in Scripture and the Ninevites repent, Jesus preaches and the people reject Him.  The Ninevites are pagans, and the people to whom Jesus preaches are supposed to be God’s people.  It’s possible that Luke wants his audience to see the inclusion of Gentiles by God, but I think it is more directed at those who should know better but still reject Jesus.

So, the application is really for those of us who should know better but still seem to reject the testimony of God.  In churches today, this happens way too often.  But I don’t think we need to look around to see examples.  Even the church I attend, where it’s mostly healthy, we still have examples of those who seem to be more in love with their own ways than interested in hearing of Jesus’ ways.  Who wouldn’t be more comfortable with the ways they have always addressed and lived in this world versus the ways Jesus taught?  The alternative may require them to reject the ways of their righteous parents, change how they treat certain people-groups, or even what they do with their money.

One of the most difficult things to accept could be the context of this passage where Jesus is casting out a demon of muteness from a man.  The miraculous often makes modern American believers very uncomfortable.  But we don’t even need to go there to find other elements that make us uncomfortable.  Love your neighbor as yourself coupled with turning the other cheek works just as well.  Forgive seventy-time-seven perhaps will drive some to squirm in their seats.  “What, give up my resentments? Why, I’d rather give up my children!”  It’s crazy, but seems sane for those encumbered with resentments.  Been there, have the tee shirt, discovered “denial” isn’t just a river in Egypt. But that’s just me, right?

What do you learn from the sign of Jonah?


Tough Crowd of Stupids

And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute; when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed.  But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.”  Others, to test Him, were demanding of Him a sign from heaven.  (Luke 11:14-16 NASB)

We’ve all been there.  We go to church, and we either hear obliquely or directly a complaint followed by a challenge or threat.  It could be about the preacher, the music, the pews, chairs, children’s leader, teachers, floors, windows, Bibles, or whatever.  Somethings wrong, and if it doesn’t change I’m going to do something really mean to some unsuspecting person there to either lead worship or worship.

It’s Christian terrorism in the church.  But it’s not evil it’s justified by whatever is wrong.  In fact I’m in the aftermath, the words, “It wasn’t my fault, if they had (or hadn’t)…” will most likely make up the response of the accused.  Let me help you out here.  This is stupid.

If you’re offended by “stupid”, well…you, if you hadn’t…no I’m not going there.  The word fits because it is some what offensive.  Such activity should be considered more offensive, but it’s not.

Of course, it’s not new either.  I have had several people over the years, even some in school, tell me they want to be part of a church like the early church.  People who say that usually mean the church described in Acts 4.  But what they end up with is the church described in the rest of the Christian Scriptures, especially the ones Paul writes to.

But even before Paul wrote to his first church, before Paul was converted to following Jesus, this same Jesus had a crowd of people with loud stupids.  Not the whole crowd, but some were down right silly.  For instance…

Jesus casts a demon causing a man to be mute out of him, and the man finally speaks.  The crowd’s response? Jesus is either doing this by the prince of those He’s casting out (brilliant, you have to admit, of course He is!), or, even more sensibly, the exorcism isn’t really enough, would You please show a sign from heaven to prove Your validity.

Yes, folks, out comes a demon cast away to who knows where (until you read verses 24 through 26), but still, it really doesn’t mean this Jesus fellow is from God.  Of course not.  What’s even more ironic is that those most caustic in their vociferous condemnation of these people will then behave this way in church.  Wait, what?

Oh yes, things that deviate from my “comfort zone” in church worship (Worship of the Almighty God, the Holy Spirit, and the Son, our Creator and Savior) should be condemned for the “sin” they are, because I couldn’t get the sleep, the peace, the tranquility I need from such practice of worship.

There should be no use of passages of Scripture in worship that require me to change my ways to conform to someone else, you know, like God.  What is that about?  There should be no loud music!  There should be no soft music!  We must have pews!  What is a worship center without chairs we can move around?

My church has a lead worshiper who plays guitar barefoot and has tattoos.  Oh the ignominy!  Oh the shamelessness!  Oh wait, aren’t those both qualities of Jesus?  Wasn’t He publicly humiliated, yet felt no shame?  Seriously, how can we be so STUPID?  The very accusations we level at those leading us through this life with our Savior are the very things that prove their validity as leaders!

Okay, let me step down from my soap box for a second.  When we, as affirmed followers of Jesus, behave in ways contrary to the things He taught, and consider ourselves justified in such behavior and attitudes; I believe we have stopped following Jesus and have begun to follow someone, who from behind, merely appears to be Jesus.  The robed creature before such followers will be shown to be the Satan, not the Savior.

Back to the soap box!  You can tell this by the results of such behavior.  The church, instead of enjoying unity of the Holy Spirit, is fractured by the hate and lies of the enemy.  That’s the fruit of such deception.  In Mark 3:28, 29 this same event is described, and Jesus uses it to point to what has become called the “unpardonable sin”.  This is not to be taken lightly.  This is serious. The fruit of such behavior and attitudes of a crowd seeking to denounce their leaders is demonstrated to be divisive, abusive, hurtful, and selfish.  When we see this, and even feel this, we should take it very seriously.  Such feelings are not from God!

Let’s not be the “stupids” in the crowd.

So what do you learn from the crowd’s reaction to Jesus’ miracle?


Light Prayer, A Third Less Filling?

And He said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.'”
(Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

In a study I lead every Thursday, I had someone complain that Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (or Model Prayer if you like) was so short and choppy.  Most in the group preferred Matthew’s version (Matthew 6:9-13).  Several in the group asked which one was right.  Some talked about using it as a model rather than as a rote prayer.

Clearly one of the struggles we face studying this prayer in Luke is the differences between, and the general familiarity and preference for the version in Matthew.  It’s really strange to compare the two.  I remember first doing that on my own while in the Army.  I had a hard time with the differences.  Why was Luke’s so short? What was that all about?  I didn’t know, and commentators explanations seemed more confusing not less (at the time).

But in the study I came up with a slightly different reason.  I suspect that Matthew used the model, and Luke had simply read the prayer model in one of his sources.  So while Luke probably records a more accurate account of what Jesus actually said, I believe Matthew preserves the model as he used it so many years later.  So he had added elements that expanded on the model from his growth in understanding and experience with God in prayer.  Such an interpretation adopts the “model” view of the prayer, which is probably not how the disciples understood it nor what they asked for.  But since we don’t know why, I like to think of Matthew’s version as personal to him.

Yet while the differences are stark, and Luke’s is definitely more choppy, the basic elements are still the same: God’s name is holy (He sanctifies it), His Kingdom comes, request for daily sustenance, forgiveness of sins, and protection from temptation. The elements in Matthew’s version can be assumed, and their absence is missed but not necessary for meaning.  The real problem for me is how much more easily Matthew’s version seems to roll off the tongue.  Luke’s version does seem more choppy.

So, having said all that, the point here is that a model or form for prayer is important, yet using it is more important.  If Matthew’s version is his own from years of loving use, then it shows that this bare bones version in Luke can become a base for greater understanding and experience for us.  Perhaps God will show us something different than Matthew experienced through his use.  Perhaps the elements we add will be focused on different aspects of God and His work in our lives.  For Matthew the point was forgiveness.  For Luke it was persistence in prayer.  What will it be for us?  The only way to find out is to pray.

What do you learn from Luke’s “Readers Digest Condensed Version” of the Lord’s Prayer?

Prayer Interrupted

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1 NASB)

Jesus has been leading His disciples for 3 years now? And He’s on His way to die on a cross, when His disciples finally ask to be taught a prayer for their group.  The rabbis teach their disciples prayers, John taught his disciples, and now Jesus’ disciples want one.  I see two really strange things here.

I see that Jesus never really felt the need to provide His disciples with a prayer.  That may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but when you consider that the culture would then use this prayer as a method (as opposed to a “model”) it may make more sense.  Jesus didn’t seem interested in providing a “rote prayer”.  He refers to prayer a lot, and in Luke He seems to be always off by Himself praying someplace.  We’re not given a sense Jesus used memorized prayers.  Yet He provides a prayer for His disciples.  We call it a model, but they didn’t.  He provides one so simple, yet so complete it was easy to memorize and effective to use.  So while He didn’t feel the need to suggest one, Jesus acquiesces to their request for one.

Second, Jesus’ prayer, while simple and short, could not have been what He used when they constantly found Him praying alone.  He didn’t give them what He used.  Now, chill out, I know Jesus is God and has a relationship with the Father that is qualitatively different than ours, and all.  But He is also human with human needs, and human physical weakness.  What I mean is that while Jesus may have used a sort of framework like what He provides to His disciples, it’s not certain.  He doesn’t say, “Do like I do in prayer.”  He says, “Pray in this way.”  There is a difference that was probably not lost on His disciples.  Jesus gives them a glimpse into the reality that prayer is a developing experience, not a formula.  I believe this is because prayer drives our relationship with God, which, as it develops and deepens, then informs our prayers.

What do you learn from the disciples question?