Bitterness On the Tongue Lingers After the Feast Has Begun

Try to picture the scene: Jesus is at Matthew’s party with sinners, and the judgmental Pharisees are shaking their heads at the lost son’s rebellion… However, as Jesus told this story, He shifted gears on his audience. Suddenly he changed the narrative from the younger son’s foolishness to the older brother’s secret bitterness. It’s the part of the story that is most often overlooked by church-goers, but perhaps applies to them more than the well-known prodigal son’s adventures…

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:25-30)

bitterness

Two Audiences, Two Applications

Picture the scene: the feasting in Matthew’s house has paused while Jesus continues his parable about the two sons… As He tells this story, his audience leans in, shaking their heads at the foolishness of the younger son, and also at the permissiveness of the Father. The tax-collector/sinners, reflecting on their lives, wonder quietly if they could go actually choose to go back to God having wandered so far from home.

The lifelong church member/Pharisees in the group now have to put themselves in the shoes of the older son. They keep the law. They’ve done their duty. The Pharisees imagine walking up the driveway only to hear the sounds of feasting from the house. What the heck is going on here!? Has the world gone mad? They share the older son’s indignation over his brother’s return. They can easily relate to the bitterness expressed by the Prodigal’s big brother. They barely hide their disgust at the Father’s wimpy attitude, and they look around the room feeling somewhat superior.

Wait, What?!

Then Jesus explains more about the older son, and there is as much about him in what Jesus DIDN’T say as there is in what he said. He points out that while the older son has stayed home and done his duty, he doesn’t love the Father any more than the younger brother did. He is more concerned with the waste of resources (technically, now, HIS resources, by the way) than he is about his brother’s safe return. In fact, he is harboring bitterness against the Father that bubbles to the surface in quiet rebellion over this welcome home party.

It’s not just wild partying and blatant sin that separates us from the Father; Proud, self-sufficient superiority and bitterness can be just as destructive. Jesus’ parable illustrates that “doing your duty”, being right, and self-sufficiency are no substitute for love, forgiveness, and vulnerability. The Father loves both sons, and both are invited to celebrate. Let’s not be those Christians who stay in a holy huddle away from the party, finding community mainly in the rules they DON’T break together. If you think about it, we are all sons, and we are all sinners. Let’s find joy at the Father’s party with son and sinner alike.

The Bitterness of Being Right

The younger son returned to see them kill the fatted calf;
This younger son was happy–but not so his other half.
The older brother sulked and of this party wanted none:
His bitterness remained long after feasting had begun.
Ask yourself, when sinners prosper and you hear the news,
Could you judge those sinners? Do you think that’s what you’d choose?
Are you ever standing in the older brother’s shoes,
Critical of your Father’s grace, and anxious to accuse?
Be careful that your judgment doesn’t circle back to you…

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Sinners Seem to Throw All the Best Parties. Should We GO?!

“Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And the scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32, NIV)

What’s so Bad About Tax Collecting?

When Jesus called Levi the tax collector (known to us as Matthew), he sent ripples of social indignation through the synagogue. It was a dramatic cultural statement about values, righteousness, and the gospel. Tax collectors were a totally unacceptable social group in Judea. Most folks viewed them as turncoats who collaborated with an occupying enemy. Their job basically amounted to legal extortion on behalf of Rome, and they made lots of money. Tax Collectors lived comfortably in large, opulent homes with richly dyed fabrics and plenty of first century bling. (Think “The Godfather” meets “Scarface” in terms of style and general social acceptance…)

Because their wealth was built on Roman oppression, they were despised by their fellow Hebrews as traitors and criminals. I would imagine that as they sat by the pool in their private courtyards, the tax collectors took solace in the creature comforts their lifestyle provided (even though they weren’t welcome at church anymore.) When Jesus called Levi from the tax collector’s booth at the city gate, it was a radical move. It was one thing to call fishermen, or John’s disciples, but it was unthinkable to good Jewish citizens that Jesus would call someone like Levi. To make it even worse, Levi went and threw a big party for Jesus at his place!

sinners party

He invited his friends—the OTHER tax collectors and their girlfriends, and Jesus ACTUALLY WENT. Ok Christians, here’s a couple of things to chew on. How many friends do you have who would even qualify to go to this kind of party? If most of us Christians threw a party, wouldn’t it be too lame for any non-believer to want to attend?

What Kind of Party Do Sinners Want to Go To?

And of course the big question: when was the last time you threw a party at your house for sinners? A party that had other folks at church questioning your motives and behavior? There’s an Australian church called “Matthew’s Party” that reaches out to street people. I love their name and their mission. Tell me: Is their mission any different than ours? Jesus said, “It is not the righteous but the sinners who need to be called to repentance.” Is your life so insulated among the righteous that you’d have a hard time coming up with a good guest list of sinners who needed to come? Maybe it’s time to throw a party!

Sinners Party

Matthew threw a party and invited folks he knew;
According to the Pharisees, these friends were less than winners.
So, they threw shade at Jesus there, and his disciples too,
Criticizing them for hanging out with such big sinners.
Jesus said, I’m here because the sinners need me most;
Besides, I like this party and I really love the host.
You should be glad I’m here instead of being mad I went;
I came to call the sinners–not the righteous–to repent.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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A Little Yeast Leavens the Whole Loaf. What Does that Mean?

Should we be keeping the law to avoid Guilt? Aren’t we supposed to be righteous? Shouldn’t Christians be better than other folks? When Paul speaks about circumcision he is referring to keeping the law, which he says has no real value under grace. To those who feel some sort of satisfaction in keeping rules, he reminds us that a little yeast leavens the whole loaf. I used to think he meant that a little sin contaminated the whole body, but I think if you look closer it may be that he means something else. Something that righteous folks need to keep in mind…

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast [leavens] works through the whole batch of dough.” (Galatians 5:6-9 NIV)

yeast

The Yeast of the Law

In the early church, many of the recently converted Hebrew Christians felt like Gentile believers from outside the Jewish faith should have to follow the law (like circumcision). In the Jewish system, following the law was so ingrained into their lifestyle that it became pervasive. Folks like the Pharisees had already replaced God’s love with the law, and when they became Christians they felt like everyone else should, too.

Cultures who worship following the rules in order to gain salvation elevate punishment over compassion, and legalism over love. In Romans 4:13, Paul reminded them, “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” Paul did not nullify the law, but said in Romans 6:1 that right living should be a result of salvation, not the author of it. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!”

Paul warned the Galatians against replacing grace with deadly, soul-killing legalism. Keeping the law is not the end game, even though most religion is focused on that. Tell me, if YOU were the devil, wouldn’t you rather have everyone equating God to keeping rules rather than loving each other? Wouldn’t you rather involve people in self-righteousness and recrimination rather than Grace?

The Yeast of Offenses

We live in a culture that selfishly grasps at offenses, that holds others in judgment for things they haven’t even done; if I think you’ve offended me, then you have. If I feel offended, then I’m right no matter what. Holding onto wrongs real and imagined, present or past, is just another expression of legalism. It nullifies forgiveness and grace by wallowing in feelings and perceived wrongs. Just like yeast, a little bit of offense goes a long way.

Paul says that keeping the law can NOT provide our salvation. Legalism doesn’t save. He does say, however that our only hope of attaining the righteousness required by the law is a result of being saved. Here in Galatians he unpacks the notion that Christ died so that we can express faith in love, not so we can get caught in the chains of legalism and pompous self-righteousness. It is so easy to lose sight of that.

We get caught up in how right we are, or who we are better than, and we get swollen with the pride of self-sufficiency. And I don’t think it will be a popular thing to say, but I’ll say it: it works on both sides of the aisle. It contaminates red and blue, black and white, and both those who are insulting as well as those who have been insulted.

The Yeast of These

When I look at the tensions dividing America today, I see pompous self-righteousness among bullies who marginalize and belittle others. There is an assumption of superiority that casts insults and refuses to acknowledge real pain borne by wounded parties. It is easy to cast blame on self-righteous bullies.

But you know, Satan wants the leaven to impact the entire loaf. The yeast permeates ALL of the dough. So when I look at marginalized and wounded people, I see the supremacy of feelings over facts, the absence of forgiveness, and the self-righteousness of judgment: “You wounded me, so you are wrong. I must cloak myself in offense. I cannot forgive. I will always remember, and you owe me.”

The whole loaf is tainted and the flour will continue rising until doomsday unless the accusing parties somehow find the means to forgive, to reconcile, and to live differently. Paul says the law provides no means to do that. Only forgiveness and grace will move us to a better place.

yeast

Paul points out that (KJV) “a little leaven leavens the whole loaf.” Even a little bit of yeast can influence a whole batch of dough, making it an entirely different type of bread. In the Jewish world, where unleavened bread was the staple, a little yeast ruined the whole batch, making it puffed-up and unsuitable. Conclusion? Eat the bread of life. Don’t be self-rising flour.

A Little Bit Goes a Long Way

Paul reminded legalists who keep the rules the most
That leavened bread resulted in a different kind of toast.
He said that yeast would permeate the dough with all its power,
And puffed-up bread resulted from contaminated flour.
Run the race with love, and don’t let legalism in–
Claiming to be righteous is another kind of sin!
Just obey the truth, and keep the law within its place:
The path to righteousness is found not in the law, but Grace.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Dishonor: What Is It? (Hint: It’s the Opposite of Honor)

Jesus was debating with the Pharisees when they decided to throw out the demon-possessed dishonor card. As often happens in social discourse, the side with the weakest points resorted to insults rather than intelligence.

“The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” (John 8:48-52, NIV)

dishonor

The Strategy Almost Every Loser Resorts To

Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees took place in the open courtyard of the temple, surrounded by observers and passers-by. Jesus’ opponents had already called him an illegitimate child in verse 41, so it is no longer a theological discussion or discourse. (Hmm, still happens in “debates” today, doesn’t it? People often resort to name-calling when their viewpoint has obvious flaws…)

Since they could not overpower his claims or his civility, they made it personal and attempted to dishonor him. It probably doesn’t translate to us as well as it should have, but by calling him a Samaritan, they were throwing out something more inflammatory than the N word at a civil rights demonstration. Then they piled on with demon possession. Suffice it to say that they insulted his family, his momma, his legitimacy, his teaching credentials, and his mental health right there in public, in front of God and everybody.

The Answer Only a Man of Integrity Could Give

Jesus kept as cool as ice in a Yeti, and reminded them that:

1) He honored God with his words and behavior, even while they dishonored him;

2) His Father would ultimately judge their actions and their words (as He will for all of us); and

3) whoever obeyed his word would never see death.

I wonder, do we ever dishonor Jesus with our words or actions? Are there times when our language or attitude disregards him, and is more like the Pharisees’ than the Father’s?

The Real Question

The apoplectic scribes and lawyers, having unloaded all of their insulting vitriol against him, finished with a question, “Who do you think you are?” Given their frustration and their inability to debate, diminish or dismiss Jesus, it probably seemed like a logical question, the capstone on their attempt to dishonor him. Instead, it became a question for the ages: Who was Jesus claiming to be? Why did he make such incredible claims? What proof did he offer, and could he really grant eternal life to those who would follow him?

I’m sure that they felt smug and self-assured by asking that question, assuming Jesus was wrong and they were right… And that question is still being asked today by those who would seek to diminish his claims or deny his place in history. But what if Jesus was right, and his statements about himself were true? The dialog then forced the scribes and lawyers to consider whether their question had relevance or not.

While you consider their question, here’s a better one: “Who do YOU think he is?”

The Answer

The Pharisees believed that as a group they were the best,
And said that Jesus was impure, and probably possessed.
They threw dishonor at his mom, and called him a Samaritan,
But Jesus didn’t bat an eye. I don’t think he was scared of them.
They asked, “Who do you think you are?” although they made it plain
To anyone who listened that they thought he was insane.
After two millennia, that question still remains,
And I think it is worth consideration, just because:
Who did Jesus think he is, and who do you think he was?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Answer this Question Honestly: Do Your Preconceived Notions Keep You Blind?

Lawyers say that you shouldn’t ask a question if you don’t know already what the witness will answer. The Pharisees ran into that problem here: “So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:24-25 NASB)

Unusual Responses to an Unusual Event

Here, in John’s account about this particular Sabbath day, Jesus healed a man who had been born blind. This seemingly joyful occasion prompted some very unusual responses, and almost everyone seems confused besides Jesus and the man who received his sight.

People who observed it were so wrapped up in preconceived assumptions that they didn’t see the obvious answer. Friends weren’t sure what had happened because the man didn’t look or act the same; his parents didn’t respond because they were worried they might get kicked out of church.

The Pharisees, who were concerned with the fact that Jesus may have broken the Sabbath, could not fathom how a man who broke their law could perform such good works. Their rigid legalism did not accept the possibility that Jesus might be from God, so they refused to give him credit. Instead, they questioned his character… Their very assumptions about the truth kept them from seeing the truth.

answer

The Dragnet Response

The blind man, who knew nothing of Jesus’ past, took a “Dragnet” approach: just the facts. No assumption, pride, or agenda obscured his sight. The great irony in John’s account of what happened is that the man born blind could see clearly, but the Pharisees (who could see) were actually blind. They were so busy questioning God that they couldn’t even rejoice over what happened. Some of the most religious people are also the greatest skeptics when something falls outside of their dogma.

What effect does skepticism have on us? Can a real skeptic ever find the truth? Does a skeptic ever dance with joy? If you think about it, skepticism is essentially a selfish act, because it places one’s ability to doubt above the power of faith. Show me a cynic, and I’ll show you someone who has made an idol of their own intellect.

See, Look, and Ask

Do you have any assumptions that keep you from seeing the truth? Before you decide, take a real, unfiltered look at Jesus. Don’t look at him based on what I say about him, or what someone else says. And don’t let your own assumptions keep you from seeing Jesus the way he really was. Read what he said with your own eyes. Take a look at what he did. Ask some honest questions, and give yourself an honest answer. You might be surprised by who you find.

Now I See

The man born blind received his sight,
Which made the Pharisees start a fight,
Since all of them could not agree
On how this thing had come to be.
According to their theology
This hadn’t happened legally.
No evidence that they could find
Encouraged them to change their mind.
Though they could see, they stayed quite blind.

The man born blind was quite surprised,
Since he could see with both his eyes!
He said, “What is it with you guys?
I don’t know Jesus’ pedigree,
Or who has the authority,
But, I was blind. And now I see!”
And all of us are one of these,
Either the man who suddenly sees,
Or someone who just disagrees.
You say that Jesus doesn’t heal,
And there’s no proof that He is real?
Well, I would say, just look at me:
I once was blind, but now I see!
I was in bondage: now I’m free!
For the man they sent to Calvary,
What will your decision be?

To purchase my newest book Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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A Timeless Statement in Response to an Eternal Question

Who Is This Man? In the Book of John Jesus made a statement that defied human logic. If his statement was false, it truly deserves skepticism; but if it was true, it demands an investigation. Take a look at it for yourself and decide…

The Pharisees Did the Math…

[In a conversation with the Pharisees] Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:54-58, NIV)

statement

This is another of the “I am” statement from Jesus that is NOT usually listed as one of the seven great “I am” statements… Here he asserts not only connection with and validation from his Father, but also a present-tense existence BEFORE Abraham. When he said this, the Pharisees took up stones to cast them in judgment. This was heresy! How could this Galilean Rabbi claim to be equal with God, or use the name of the Almighty?

They were shocked and offended that Jesus would say such a thing. Jesus claimed he existed in the time of Abraham. How could that be? No mere man could say that he had lived hundreds of years ago! To falsely make this claim is to commit perjury or blasphemy; to believe this if it were not true is lunacy. This statement is a preposterous claim, so ask yourself: was Jesus immoral or crazy? Or perhaps you could just consider a third alternative: was he just stating the facts?

The Unspeakable Truth

Jesus uses the same statement here about identity that he did when he spoke with Moses: “I AM”. To the Pharisees, this claim directly tied Jesus to the name that YHWH used, an unthinkable thing to do. It links Jesus to the unspeakable name of God. And why on earth did God call Himself “I am”? Why do you think God identified himself this way?

Here are three things from this statement to consider about the nature of God: (which would be true about Jesus if they are true about God.) 1. He is the eternal God who transcends time, who pre-existed it and presides over it. The fact that Jesus Christ transcended time gives us assurance that we will, too. (I AM going to heaven…)

NOW is the Time

2. He is in the moment with you– not stuck in the past, or even pie in the sky when you die by and by– but NOW. He comes to us NOW, wherever and however we are. It can be said that the only time you truly experience heaven on earth is when you pray, because in those moments you are connected to the eternal Father, transported into heavenly time as long as you abide in Him. This statement claims that every bit of relationship you build with him here is eternal. It will outlive earthly time and connect you with him both here and in heaven. You don’t have to wait for eternal life because yours has already started!

And consideration number 3: He is the God who knows us and meets our needs… In a world full of temporary distractions and broken promises, He tells us, “I am sufficient for you”. Do you need forgiveness? That’s what I am! Do you need love? That’s who I am! Do you need encouragement? That’s what I am. Whatever you truly need… I AM.

An Eternal Statement

The Pharisees took up stones because
When Jesus told them who he was,
They didn’t believe, and couldn’t see
How such a thing could ever be.
The sheer impossibility
Suggested immortality
And, if untrue, was blasphemy.
They picked up stones with hateful scorn—
They knew when Abraham was born!
Yet Jesus said of Abraham,
“Before his life and birth, I AM.”
He must be mad to make this claim;
They grabbed their rocks, they all took aim—
But then they didn’t follow through;
No rock was thrown; no judgment flew…
It was as if they somehow knew
That everything he said was true.
If that’s the case, friend, what about you?
If Jesus was God, what will you do?
Since Jesus was God, what will you do?

To purchase my newest book Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread