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All Christian History Church Development

The Power of a Story

Author: Charles Hegwood

There is power in a story. Stories can slip past our defenses and engage our hearts. In some ways, God designed us to engage with stories. It is no wonder that the gospel is presented as a grand story woven throughout all sixty-six books of the Bible. Jesus also loved to tell stories called parables. He used parables for a variety of reasons. Some of the parables were relatable to the culture. Others were only meant for His disciples to understand. And others were shock-factor parables, meant to expose sin in the listener’s hearts. Today let us look at one such parable. It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. We see that God is merciful to those who come to Him in humility.

The Shock Factor

 In our modern culture, we lose much of the sting of this parable in Luke 18:9-14. If you grew up in the church setting you instinctively view the Pharisee as the ‘bad guy’ in every story. Even in the culture outside the church, the word Pharisee carries a negative connotation from years of Christian cultural impact. However, to Jesus’ audience, Pharisees were seen as the spiritual role models and the standard for whom God approves. In some ways, they were the highly esteemed spiritual rockstars of their day. Jesus, however, was not impressed. And that shocked the crowd. When Jesus then told a parable about a Pharisee and then contrasted him with a tax collector, it was jarring. They would have naturally picked the Pharisee to be justified. We must ask, why.

Shocking Characters

You see after the exiles returned to Jerusalem, they began to study the scriptures. The leaders realized that the reason they were exiled in the first place was because they disobeyed God’s commands. So, call it a slight overcorrection, but a group formed called Pharisees, who were determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. They built fences of commands around God’s commands. And while their method missed the point of God’s Word, their hearts initially were in the right spot. However, over time the added rules became more important than God’s law. Their laws became a burden that God never asked His people to carry. By the time of Jesus, many Pharisees, though not all, had become arrogant and proud of their perceived ‘spirituality’.

By contrast, tax collectors were some of the lowest in the social order. The tax collectors were often placed below ‘sinners and prostitutes.’ They were seen as traitors for giving their countrymen’s money to Rome. They were also thought of as cheats, taking more than their fair share of tax money. So they were social outcasts. How could a tax collector even pray? And if he did, how would God listen? And yet we have this parable where the tax collector is justified over the Pharisee. They asked the same question we should be asking, “why would God listen to the prayer of the tax collector over the prayer of the Pharisee?”

The Heart of a Worshiper

Jesus was addressing a crowd, who as Luke stated trusted in themselves for righteousness. This context clue is key to understanding the ‘why’ of the parable. Jesus is telling the people and us what kind of heart a true worshiper of God must have. And we quickly see that job and behavior have nothing to do with it. I find this intriguing as a story. Back in the first century people were doing the same thing we still do today. We find ourselves trusting in our job status and morality. You may call it human nature, but Jesus called it sin. If you are trusting in your righteousness you are not worshiping God. The shock in this story sneaks past our defenses and self-righteousness and confronts us with the brutal truth.

We can dress well, say the right things, and show up to church every time the doors are opened, but none of these things will save us. If you trust in those things, you will find that the sin of arrogance and pride are quick to follow. The Pharisee is doing all the right things in life. He is somewhat generous, he is moral from an outside standpoint, he fasted twice a week, and gave the tithe. He was dedicated to His religious life. You would see him and think he is good and that God is with him. However, Jesus’ story has the Pharisees praying a prideful prayer. He trusted in all of those things to justify himself before God. While actions are important Jesus is saying that our ‘good works’ must come from a humble heart. We are justified through Christ’s blood as we seek God with humility.

Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector does not even go into the temple. He would not even lift his eyes to God. He knew that he was a sinner and felt the weight of that sin. He felt the weight of shame that sin brings. And yet he was undeterred. He called out to God. It was not a flattering prayer, but it was a heartfelt and passionate prayer. He knew he could do nothing to redeem his state. So he called for the mercy of God. According to Jesus, and the shock of the crowd, God justifies the humble prayer of the tax collector because his heart humbly sought after God.

Bridge it

Now, this story has slipped by our defenses. We are face to face with a raw mirror image of our spiritual state. Maybe we see the Pharisee looking back at us. We know we must respond by crying for God’s mercy. When I see the Pharisee looking back at me, I become the tax collector calling for God’s mercy and forgiveness. If you see the tax collector staring back, what do you do? You do just what the tax collector did. Call to God for mercy. God seeks the heart that is humble before Him. Trusting in Him alone for grace, mercy, and hope. Stare into the mirror of scripture through this story today and have a humble heart. God seeks such people.

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All Christian History

Christmas Thinking

Writer: Rachel Kidd

Who do we serve and why?

Luke, an accurate historian and scholar, provides us with the manifesto of the messiah in his gospel. Luke reports the life and ministry of Jesus to us, demonstrating how Jesus proclaimed, proved, and applied His manifesto.

Like the manifestos of other world leaders, it is intended to be a guide to life, a lens of divine providence through which to view the world. We are meant to ask God, what will you have me to do? Viewing Luke through this lens, understanding it as a report of Jesus’ manifesto, helps us understand Him better.

Do Your Christmas Thinking Early

You’ve probably heard the old adage, ‘do your Christmas shopping early,’ but what would happen if instead, we did our Christmas thinking early? As I write this in January with the very last of the Christmas decorations still lingering around the house, I think about how sad I usually am this time of year. With the holiday celebrations and gatherings over, I tend to feel let down in the gloom of winter. And yet, the book of Luke reminds me that Christmas is not just a season, it’s a message that rings true all year round.

According to Luke, when God intersected human history and became a man, He invited certain people to participate in His great miracle. Luke gives us a detailed look at the birth of Christ in an extensive 132 verses that can be divided into six paragraphs. This tells us how important the story is, how crucial every detail is to the message of the Gospel. The first paragraph tells the story of the Birth of John the Baptist, the last of the messianic prophets. He pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ and baptized Him in God’s will.

John’s birth was a precursor miracle, if you will, of the virgin birth of Jesus. Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were elderly and unable to conceive. The angel Gabriel tells the priest Zacharias that his wife will bear the last messianic prophet and herald in the birth of Jesus. Zacharias is dubious, unable to believe the angel’s prophecy. In turn because of his unbelief, Gabriel strikes Zacharias mute until the birth of his son. This priest has a great vision for God’s people, and yet is unable to share it aloud. How difficult must it have been for Zacharias, to be given this great message but unable to share it with others? I can imagine it was an incredible burden to carry for him over those nine months, likely a deep shame he felt in his unbelief. How can we learn from Zacharias?

The angel Gabriel then appears to a young, virgin peasant girl, Mary. He tells her this same good news, that God is going to become man and that she is highly favored among women. He tells her that God has chosen her to bear the child and be the mother of God. Mary is confused and disturbed, she is unsure what the angel could mean. She asks the angel, “how could this be? I am a virgin.” Here we see a distinction, between sincere questioning and even doubt and a lack of faith or unbelief. Mary is not punished for her questions, rather she is reassured by the miracle of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist. The baby in Elizabeth immediately recognizes Mary as the mother of God, leaping in the womb with joy. We see Mary opposite of Zacharias as someone who faithfully and dutifully believes in God’s call on her life. How can we respond like Mary to God’s calling, no matter how impossible it might seem? We also see that God encourages our sincere questions, wanting us to wonder and be curious. He doesn’t seem to expect a blind allegiance, rather a secure foundation of faith anchored in reassurance.

The next event in Luke details the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, giving us precise historical details. He tells us that Cesar Agustus issued a decree for a national census when Corinueus was governor of Syria. The records tell us that while the Roman emperor at the time Corineus was governor was a man named Octavious, he was given a name that signified divinity; Augor or Augustus. This tells that Luke is incredibly accurate and his history can be verified. Because of this census and based on Old Testament prophecy, Mary and her fiance Joseph are required to travel to their ancestral home of Bethlehem.

And on the night that Jesus was born, God sent angels to tell shepherds to go see the newborn King. All of these people experienced the miracle of the greatest event in human history. The miracle of Christmas is that God became man so that He could bring salvation to mankind.

Why the Shepherds?

There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” —Luke 2:8-11

We see here that the message of the Christ is not just for one tax bracket, race, color, or nationality. The Good News is for everyone, for the entire world. The shepherds, low of status as they were, are the first to hear of the birth of Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. Jesus wasn’t born in a palace, instead He was born in a stable and placed in a feed trough. Everyone who was brought into the story of Jesus was told for a reason, and informed for a specific, divine purpose. So, why the shepherds? Because they stopped and told everyone they possibly could. We can only imagine how fast and far the news from the shepherds traveled.

The hope of the Christmas story is knowing that God became man. The Old and New Testaments tell us that Jesus will physically intersect human history again in the miracle of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Just as the first Christmas was the only hope we have for salvation, His Second Coming is the blessed hope of the Church and the only hope of the world. We must follow the example of the shepherds with sincere belief and faith, telling everyone this Good News before we see it for ourselves.

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