“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” Luke 10:25

At this point in Jesus’ earthly ministry, we are told by Luke in the previous chapter that the time for Jesus to be taken up to heaven was approaching, so “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Jesus knew that he was on a mission. He was fully aware of what awaited him in Jerusalem and he was marching towards that end. Knowing that his time was short and with the cross set before him, you would assume that Jesus would capitalize on this evangelistic opportunity and clearly explain the cross, his atoning sacrifice, the resurrection, justification by faith and the way of salvation. Instead, Jesus pushes on the man’s assumptions by asking “what is written in the Law?” and “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26) The man responds by saying “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Jesus, commends the man for answering well and even tells him “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28).

Imagine that the story stops there. You might be thinking, “Jesus, you blew it! You had the opportunity to show this inquiring man the way to salvation. You could have just pointed to yourself and said "follow me," but instead you pointed him to the law, which he’ll never be able to keep! But why?” Did Jesus really believe that this man could keep the law perfectly and so obtain eternal life of his own merit? Thankfully, the story doesn’t stop there. Let’s read on.

“But he wanted to justify himself…” (Luke 10:29) The underlying motive of the man comes to the surface in this verse. He was an expert in the law. He knew what the law said and what the law required. He had staked his life on trying to understand, interpret and live according to the law. Standing in front of the great teacher, he is probing to find out where he stands. Is he justified? Was all that effort enough? Does he measure up? He asks “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Jesus responds with the parable of the good Samaritan. In the parable, a man on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho is attacked by robbers. He is beaten, stripped and left for dead. Later, a priest and a levite traveling the same road, see the man, and pass him by on the other side of the road. Shockingly, a despised Samaritan becomes the hero of the story. He stops to bandage and treat the man’s wounds. He puts him in an inn on his own dime until he has recovered. Jesus then concludes his parable with a question, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (Luke 10:36) At this point we must remember that the context for this entire dialogue began with the question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We are still only a few minutes into that dialogue. Jesus has not taken a rabbit trail and forgotten that this man’s eternal salvation is hanging in the balance. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus is marching towards the cross, but first he must expose this expert in the law’s underlying assumptions about the way to eternal life.

The expert in the law is under the assumption that he can be justified under the law. He is probing Jesus, but Jesus is probing back. Jesus is showing this man who has dedicated his entire life to understanding, explaining and practicing the law that he has not measured up. He has not loved his neighbor as himself. He is not justified under the law. Surely Jesus could have more directly answered the man’s question out of the gate, but he preferred to take the long way in order to unravel the man's faulty assumptions. The bottom line of the parable is “show mercy.” It is practical. Jesus says, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). But it is also informative. In the unfolding of the parable, the expert in the law would have recognized his own need for mercy and all the ways he has failed to live up to the perfect standard of the law.

Is the parable of the good Samaritan a moral teaching, an evangelistic parable, or both? I believe it is both. I firmly believe that Jesus was not providing this man an alternative route to eternal life apart from the very reason he had come to earth. However, I also don’t believe that all of Jesus’ teachings on righteousness were set-ups only for the purpose of making us realize our need for grace. Sadly, some have reduced the most profound teachings of Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount, to not be taken literally or practiced seriously. Jesus’ teachings on righteousness are meant to be lived into. They are meant to be practiced and applied. We are not only to hear and consider but also “go and do.” Often we create false dichotomies. Jesus, through his teachings, atoning sacrifice, resurrection, ascension and the outpouring of His Spirit has made it possible for us to enter into His righteousness, both spiritually, as justified before the Father in heaven, and practically through the process of ongoing sanctification being played out daily in our lives.

Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us mercy. Thank you for the righteousness that is available apart from our best efforts to meet the requirements of the law. Help us to fully rely on your grace for our justification. Help us to partner with your ongoing grace at work in our lives to produce the type of righteous living that is pleasing to you. Thank you for filling us with your Holy Spirit, who works in us to perform your will and to conform us into the image of your Son. Help us today to look a little more like Jesus. Amen.

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“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Acts 11:26

Have you ever considered what it means to be called a Christian? What place does being a Christian hold in a person’s life?

Recently while driving I noticed in the lane next to me a vehicle with several bumperstickers that caught my attention. The first was a picture of a cross, with a person next to the cross holding a heart. Less than two feet away on the same vehicle was a cartoon figure peeing on the name Hillary. Is this a snapshot of what Christianity has come to mean for many in America? Does Christianity occupy a space right next to or in many instances below our political affiliation and personal opinions? Is “Christian” a title we claim or a title that lays a claim on us?

Many people believe that they were simply born Christian although the clear testimony of Scripture demonstrates that this is impossible (John 3:3-8, Romans 3:22-24). Some believe that they are Christian because they regularly attend church. Some believe they are Christian because they live in a certain part of the country. Some believe that they are Christian because they hold conservative values and vote Republican. The understanding of what it means to be a Christian makes a significant impact on the value, priority and place Christianity holds in a person’s life.

To fully understand what it means to be a Christian, we must travel back to where the term was first introduced at Antioch. New Testament scholar Craig Keener offers that “The title seems a political nickname (resembling Pompeiians - members of Pompey’s party - and other titles of political parties). Those who believed that Christ was king could be accused of treason, and the title “Christians” became a legal charge (1 Peter 4:16), though it was soon embraced by Jesus’ followers as a welcome title. Here it was probably merely ridicule; Antiochans developed a reputation for mocking people.” It is significant that the title “Christian” was not originally put forth by believers, but neither was it rejected. It was embraced.

The early use of the title “Christian” feels reminiscent of the sign that hung over the crucified Messiah. "Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is Jesus, the king of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). This nature of the charge against Jesus is very similar to the indictment leveled against his followers. Fittingly, Jesus called anyone who would come after him to "deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). These early Christ followers were being accused of treason. They were claiming allegiance to a different Kingdom and thereby a different King. They embraced the title and with it the suffering and discomfort it brought. They were walking in the footsteps of their Master.

The original disciples and the early church were not silent about their allegiance to an otherworldly Kingdom. It was not a secret coup. They openly and boldly preached the Gospel of the Kingdom, while honoring and submitting to the appointed authorities. The Gospel of the Kingdom is the original message entrusted to the disciples by Jesus and the message we are called to take to the ends of the earth before Jesus returns in clouds of glory. "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). The Gospel of the Kingdom includes the message of salvation, but does not stop at the forgiveness of sins. The early church eagerly looked forward to the return of the King, the consummation of His Kingdom, and our active present and future participation in it. They lived their lives in light of this event and as citizens and ambassadors of the coming Kingdom.

Christianity is more than a system of beliefs. It is also a way of life that causes followers of Jesus to become salt and light. When this way of life is lost and the values of the Kingdom are not present in the hearts of believers, Christianity loses its saltiness (distinct qualities) and gets trampled underfoot. In other words, it is rendered useless. True Christianity is anything but useless. Christianity is the answer for a lost and dying world.

In order for the world to take this claim seriously, we must reclaim what it means to be a Christian and be wary of becoming so diluted by the world that we lose our potency. By asserting that we are followers of Jesus, we are not claiming to be superior people. In fact, Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom” (Matthew 5:3). We recognize that we are helpless sinners completely dependent on the mercy and grace of God. We have nothing within ourselves to boast about. By embracing what it means to be a Christian, we fully identify ourselves with Christ. We identify with his suffering. We identify with his resurrection (this has happened spiritually the moment we were born again and if we have not been born again, we do not belong to him! But we also eagerly wait for a bodily resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus). We identify with his Spirit at work within us (we participate with the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit towards sanctification or being made to look like Jesus). We identify with His corporate Body in the earth (we are members of His church). We identify with his mission in the earth (we actively proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom). We identify with His coming Kingdom (we understand that we are living in a great tension, an age of groaning between now and not yet). We recognize Jesus’ rightful place in our lives as King. He is preeminent. He is first in all things. He is before family. He is before any dream or ambition. He is before any opinion. He is before any political party. He is before any nation. He is above all and before all.

Let us be sure to embrace more than just the title. Let us fully embrace Christ our King.

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I believe that Joseph, the husband of Mary and Jesus’ earthly father, is a Biblical hero and his story is a narrative that deserves more attention. Matthew 1, the first chapter of the New Testament, traces the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to David (each of which had received an eternal promise about the Messiah coming from their offspring) to Joesph. This is a genealogy of adoption. Joseph, biologically speaking was not the father of Jesus. In order for Jesus to be the rightful heir to David’s throne (the Messiah or the Christ), his paternal genealogy must trace back to King David. One problem exists humanly speaking, Jesus is the eternal Son of God. How can one who always existed descend from a human lineage? The significance of the patriarchs rests not only in the fact that Jesus is through them, but also that he is before them. Jesus is both the root of David and the heir to David’s throne. Of Abraham he said, “before Abraham was, I am“ (John 8:58). While this represents a difficulty in our minds, it presents God with an opportunity to display his brilliance with ever increasing glory. God would have his own Son seated upon the throne, while remaining true to his covenantal promises to the patriarchs, but he would do it through adoption. Joseph became the sovereignly selected means of that adoption. Such a man is worthy of our attention. What caliber of man would God select for such a task as this? And what can we stand to learn from him?

Joseph was a deeply righteous man 

There is a righteousness that catches the eyes of God and reaches much deeper than outward observances. I believe that men like Enoch, Noah, and Abraham possessed this type of righteousness long before the law was given at Sinai. I believe that Joseph possessed this type of righteousness. Matthew 1:19 says, “Because Joesph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” At this point in the story, Joseph has every right to believe that his fiancé has been unfaithful. He would not only be permitted to divorce her according to the law, he would also be encouraged to do so. But Joseph had a righteousness that reached deeper than that. He was prepared to obey the law, but to do it in a way that would not bring public disgrace or shame upon Mary. What a picture of someone understanding the true character of the Father even before it would be more vividly expressed in the account of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. Joseph understood what it meant to show mercy. 

Joseph immediately responded to the Word of the Lord

Before Joseph divorces Mary, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and reveals the nature of Mary’s pregnancy. He is given further instruction to not be afraid of taking Mary home as his wife and is told that the child Mary is carrying is going to be the Savior of the World. Verse 22 tells us that “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” This is not the only instance of Joseph readily obeying the Word of the Lord. Three different times in Matthew 2 Joseph receives prophetic direction from the Lord in dreams. In the first dream, Joseph is told to take Mary and the child and head to Egypt. “So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt…” (Matthew 2:14). Joseph didn’t even wait until he woke up and had his morning cup of coffee to act on the Word of the Lord. He left in the middle of the night. Imagine packing up all of your belongings and leaving for another country for an indefinite amount of time with your new wife and baby boy before the sun even comes up. That is radical obedience. The next dream Joseph receives instructs him to go back to Israel because those who wanted to take Jesus’ life were now dead. “So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel” (Matthew 2:21). Once again, Joseph just gets up and immediately does what he is instructed to do. In a third dream Joseph is warned about where he is to settle and raise his family, so “Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene” Matthew 2:22-23). Joseph lived a consecrated lifestyle that allowed him to hear from the Lord with great sensitivity and almost play-by-play detailed instruction. If Joseph had failed to obey the Word of the Lord, at least one of two major things may have gone wrong: Jesus’ life would have been in jeopardy prematurely and certain prophetic promises might have been aborted. But God found a man to work with and through. God had Joseph’s ear and his heart. 

Joseph accepted responsibility

Technically speaking, Joseph could have looked at Mary and the child in her womb and said, “not my kid, not my responsibility.” Instead he decided to stay and raise Jesus as his son. I can only imagine how unfit a lowly carpenter felt knowing he was being given the responsibility of bringing up the Messiah under his roof. This was also Joseph’s first child. He didn’t get a practice run to perfect his parenting skills. Joseph was thrust into a situation where he would be forced to rely heavily on the Lord’s leadership and recognize his own insufficiency for the task. Joseph could only fully accept responsibility after he came into contact with his own inability and his extreme dependency on the Lord. There is a huge lesson in this for both men and women. Our largest assignments from the Lord will be things we are radically unqualified for and things that require our total commitment. Joseph could break his engagement before the wedding, but once he took her as his wife, he would be bound by covenant. He was entering into a deep and lifelong commitment. Our greatest assignments from the Lord require deep and lasting commitment. We must get to a place where we leave ourselves no plan B. Joseph knew that if he walked away after saying “yes", he would be walking away from the Lord. He stayed. He committed. He took responsibility. He became a hero in the process. 

Joseph was humble 

We have no record of Joseph reveling in the dreams or angelic visitations he received. He just acted on them. He was a carpenter. He worked with his hands and apprenticed his son, the creator of the universe, in this trade until it was time for Jesus to enter his earthly ministry. Joseph is almost always in the shadow. Even throughout history he has received very little attention. He was content to be a great dad and a great husband. He was content to practice his righteousness in secret and live close to the Lord in the process. 

I believe that Joseph is a hero that deserves more attention. I believe that this narrative needs to be shared in our generation. He was not a random man, chosen at a random time in history. He was hand selected by God for a most important task that came in the fullness of time. Men and women of faith I encourage you to learn what lessons you can from his life. Be righteous. Be sensitive to the Lord’s voice. Live a life of simple obedience. Take responsibility. Commit. Be humble. Men, I exhort you to hear the Word of the Lord for your family, follow his leadership, and be good dads and husbands. Women, I encourage you to look for Josephs who will cover your shame and make room for what you carry. Children, I encourage you to follow the example of Jesus and honor whoever God has chosen to be your father or mother. Show them love and respect, but in light of all their imperfections, never forget who your true Father is in heaven. He loves you deeply and he is able to fulfill every good promise and bring you into the fullness of all his plans and purposes. 

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