Luke 7:37, 1 Timothy 1:15

We Are All Sinners!

In Luke 7, we encounter two characters when Jesus dines with Simon. One sees themself as a sinner and one does not. Simon the Pharisee, did not see himself a sinner. This becomes obvious throughout the story that Luke tells. First, we see the contrast between the way sinners see Jesus and the way non-sinners see Jesus. Simon’s lack of hospitality was a dead giveaway. Jesus points this out in the story. It was customary to provide water for foot washing for guests. This custom was established as early as Genesis 18-19. Often, a servant would be appointed to remove the sandals from the feet of honored guests and wash their feet for them as Jesus did for his disciples at the last supper. But Simon didn’t even bring water. Simon did not greet Jesus with a cordial kiss as was the custom as well. It’s interesting that the kiss of greeting is what Judas used to betray Jesus in the garden. It was also customary for the host to provide oil for anointing of their guests.

Next, we see the woman. The text goes out of its way to note that she was a notorious sinner in that city and well known as such. The passage is crystal clear. Luke 7:37 reads, “And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner…” the phrase “woman of the city” carries with it the connotation of being well known for what she does. And what is that? It is being a sinner. Some identify this woman as Mary Magdalene but we don’t know her identity for sure, but we do know she was a sinner and unlike Simon, she knew she was a sinner. Luke wants us to understand this and makes it clear that what was lacking in Simon, a warm and loving welcome, was lavishly provided by the woman. She washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed his feet repeatedly and then anointed them with expensive perfume.

Simon had no love for Jesus as seen in his lack of hospitality because he did not see his need. It was a matter of perception. This is what repentance truly is. It is the comprehension of our sinfulness. When we grasp this truth and find forgiveness in Jesus we now can truly love but not until then. Paul understood that truth when after 40 years of ministry, he writes to his young disciple Timothy saying, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). St. Francis of Assisi understood this too: “There is nowhere a more wretched and miserable sinner than I.”  Kent Hughes notes this statements and says, “Their greatness, their spiritual health, rested upon the knowledge that they were sinners in need of the constant grace of God. This is true of all of us. Do not succumb to the self-righteous delusion that God’s grace has been so effectual in your life that you don’t need it anymore”.[1]

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Luke: That You May Know the Truth, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 282.

Luke 7:34-36, 1 Timothy 1:15

Jesus Accepts All Invitations!

Jesus was often criticized for eating and having contact with sinners. The religious leaders were his primary critics. John the Baptist was rejected by them because he was this wild, crazy man living in the wilderness like Elijah, and fasting and abstaining from drink. In Luke 7:34, Jesus confronts the religious leaders by contrasting their rejection of Him with their rejection of John. It says, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Yes, Jesus eats with sinners and he wasn’t particular regarding what “kind” of sinner he reclined at table with. In verse 36 we read, “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.” Jesus accepts invitations from anyone. You see, everyone is a “sinner.” Paul makes that insight known in his letter to the Romans when he says, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s standards” (Romans 3:23).

To get into the context a little more when we consider Jesus’ dinner with Simon the Pharisee, look at Luke 7:35. Jesus seems to be quoting from the book of Proverbs when it talks about “wisdom” calling out to her children. The verse immediately preceding the meal with Simon says, “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” Does Luke expect some connection between this obscure statement and what follows?  In Proverbs chapters 5-7 we learn about the morally loose woman who calls from the street for the young men passing by. She corrupts their moral standing in the community. Her lips drip honey but bring only disgrace. Then in Proverbs chapter 8 we see wisdom crying out to her children who know sin when they see it. They are not deceived by the temptress. Children of wisdom see sin for what it is and acknowledge it as such. The deceived are blinded by its subtle ways and fall prey to its wiles.

Now Luke presents us with an episode of a self-righteous pharisee who saw himself as “wise” and a woman of the street who saw the depths of her sinfulness. But going even deeper into Luke’s context we see that Jesus made it clear concerning his mission. Luke writes in Luke 5:31-32, “And Jesus answered 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.’” Arnold says it right, “The self-righteous Pharisees see no need to repent because they don’t think they have done anything wrong. They respond not with love, but with indifference and rejection to God’s offer of forgiveness through Jesus.”[1] Towards the end of his life, Paul writes to his young disciple Timothy about an attitude that is worthy of acceptance by everyone. I think that means it should be seen by everyone as true of themselves. In 1 Timothy 1:15 he writes, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

[1] Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 388.

John 15:4-17, Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 3:17-19

The “Fruit” of the Spirit is Love!

To understand John 15:4-8, we must leap forward to John 15:9. It says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” Jesus is talking about God’s Love expressed through himself to them and how receiving and abiding in that love brings about the spiritual fruit of love in the branches who “abide” in it. When commenting on the “Fruit” of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, most writers talk about the “fruits” (plural) of the Spirit and then quote the passage which says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Please notice that every translation gets it right when it uses the singular for fruit. It doesn’t say the “fruits” of the spirit “are” love, etc.… It says the fruit of the spirit “is” love. Love is the fruit and joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, goodness and self-control proceed from love.

The fruitfulness that Jesus is speaking of in John 15 refers to the spiritual fruit of love. Jesus is the branch and through him flows God’s love that reproduces itself in us. This is what Paul meant in Ephesians 3:17. He prays that his readers, “…being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” The fullness of God is “Christ.” The fullness of Christ is love. It is love that nourishes and brings forth joy. This is what Jesus concludes in John 15:11. He closes this part of his passage by saying, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” He’ll then move into a deeper discussion about “love.”

John 15:12-17 says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” I hate to admit it but the Beatles were right: “All you need is love.” Paul (the Apostle not the Beatle) says in Romans 13:8 to owe no man anything but love. Then in verse 10 he says that love fulfills the law. 1 John 4:16 says, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Faith and hope are important, but love is greater than both according to 1 Corinthians 13. Paul (The Beatle not the Apostle) is right: “Love, love, love! All you need is love.”

John 15:3, John 13:10-11, Romans 5:8, Ephesians 3:17-19

Jesus is the “Message” of God’s Love

In John 15 verse 3, the word that was translated as “prune” in the previous verse is now translated as “cleanse.” It reads, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” A study of this word points to the predominant meaning of “cleansing.” But since the result of this cleansing is the production of “more fruit,” it’s not hard to understand how in gardening the idea of “pruning” is preferred in this context. But regardless of whether it is “cleanse” or “prune” it is clear that the disciples Jesus is addressing have already gone through that process. Some argue that the “pruning” that has been done had to do with Judas who betrayed Jesus and was cut off from the other twelve.  This is supported by Jesus’ washing of the disciple’s feet in John 13:10-11. Peter said he wanted Jesus to wash all of him and not just his feet. But “Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’” Judas was not “purified” (or cleansed) by God’s Word.

Like most commentators, Guzik suggests that the “word” in this passage is referring to the entire Bible as the “word of God.” He writes, “The word of God is a cleansing agent. It condemns sin, it inspires holiness, it promotes growth, it reveals power for victory.”[1] It’s definitely true that the Bible does all those things, especially “condemning sin,” but I agree with other commentators who see the “word” referring to the Good News of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Kysar says, “In 13:10 it is Jesus’ act of surrendering his life which cleanses the disciples; here it is his word (logos). Word means the whole of Jesus’ message, including his life and death as well as his spoken proclamation.”[2] Jesus’ “act of surrendering his life” is the clearest expression of love. Romans 5:8 says “God demonstrated His love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” As we see a few verses later in John 15:12-14, it’s about “abiding” in Jesus’ love as Jesus abides in the Father’s love and “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

The “cleansing” that Jesus is speaking of isn’t a physical cleansing of dirt from the body. This was even clear in the washing of the disciple’s feet in John 13. It was only symbolic of a deeper kind of “cleansing.” We must remember that the purpose of God’s gardening is that “fruit” and then “more fruit” will be produced. Cleansing is the removal of anything that prevents production of fruit. The fruit referred to in this whole context is not apples, oranges or grapes! He’s referring to the Spiritual fruit of Love. He is going to address the drawing of nutrients by abiding in him, the branch, is what Paul meant in Ephesians 3:17. Paul prays that his readers, “…being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

[1] David Guzik, John, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), Jn 15:1–3.

[2] Robert Kysar, John, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986), 237.

Luke 7:47, Romans 3:20-23

We’re all “face touchers”

Over the last month or more there have been a lot instructions on how to avoid catching the Coronavirus. You are to stay about six feet apart and some of the stores have laid out tape to be sure that the distances are observed. You need to not gather in groups of more than 10 and actually everyone was instructed to stay home and even work from home. We should wash our hands frequently during the day and do a thorough job. Oh yea, and don’t touch your face! I have to tell you that if staying healthy for me was dependent on my not touching my face, I’m going to die! I find myself touching it more and more now that I’m not supposed to. Why can’t I stop touching my face? Because I’m a face-toucher! I just can’t stop doing it. I find myself touching my face without even thinking about it! It’s just part of who I am. I rub my eyes! I scratch my nose. I handle my beard. I just can’t keep my hands off of my face. The harder I try, the more impossible it seems. These are laws I just can’t keep.  It’s a lot like sin.

If my going to heaven was dependent on my not touching my face, I’m doomed for all eternity. I can’t do it! This gives me a somewhat clearer understanding of what Paul was talking about in Romans 3:20. He said, “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” The law presents us with standards too far out of reach for any of us. Thus, the Romans passage continues, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Through the law which tells me to “not touch my face” I see how sinful I really am. If I’m going to be acceptable to God and gain entry into His kingdom there has to be another way for me. And that’s the way that Jesus offers to us all.

Wow! I’m so grateful for a salvation that’s not determined by my own righteousness. I’m a face toucher. That is what I am. I have never been able to stop touching my face and I never will. But God in his great mercy has forgiven me. It seems that true repentance is understanding that we are all “face touchers.” Face touchers know how much they need forgiveness! Every time I touch my face, I am reminded that I am a face toucher and cannot stop myself. It is who I am, and I need a savior. The woman in Luke 7:47 knew that she was a face toucher. When she heard that she was forgiven she was filled with gratitude and love for the forgiver. Her “face touchings” were many, just like mine. And recognizing that led to great love for Jesus. Jesus tells Simon, the Pharisee, in Luke 7:47 “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

John 15:2, Galatians 5:22-23

Make me fruitful!

Jesus is the true vine and according to John 15:1. God, the Father, is the vinedresser or gardener. John explains the gardener’s work in verse 2. He writes, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” “Takes away” in the first half of this verse is an unfortunate translation. Jesus says these branches are “in” him but they bear no fruit. I believe there are true believers that don’t bear any fruit. What becomes of them? Does God “take them away?” I put cages around my tomato plants because when they crimp over, they can’t draw the nutrients from the roots and never produce fruit. But when I “lift them up” the branches are straightened out and the production can flow again. What do you do with branches that crimp, like a garden hose, and don’t produce fruit? If fruit is the desired outcome, you don’t cut them off and throw them away. You “lift them up.” God’s desire for us, his branches, is that we bear fruit. Jon Courson gets this right. He writes, “The word translated ‘takes away’ in verse 2 is airo – a word in which three of the four definitions deal with lifting up, raising up, or pulling up. Yes, the fourth definition in the Greek lexicon is take away. But there are three that precede it…Thus, the idea here is not ‘take away’ but ‘lift up.’”[1]

According to Guzik, “The idea is that the Father lifts up unproductive vines off of the ground (as was common in the ancient practices of vineyard care). They lifted them up off the ground that they might get more sun and bear fruit better.”[2] Boice[3] also agrees with this translation. Jesus speaks of the love and compassion the Father has for his children too often for this not to be the case. As a loving father would “lift up” the head of a fallen and discouraged child, so too does God lift up the head of the fruitless ones. I would argue this makes perfect sense when we realize we’re not talking about physical fruit, but spiritual. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us what this fruit actually is. It says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

When the branches do produce fruit, the gardener wants more! He therefore embarks upon a strict discipline of pruning. As we see pruning in our lives, we know it’s not very pleasant. There is always some pain involved. This is how the author of Hebrews describes this pruning process that produces fruit. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” We often think of God’s interest in increasing our fruitfulness as something at odds with our own desires, but when we realize it’s the fruit of the Spirit we’re talking about, we see that the branch and the gardener are on the same page. Who wouldn’t want more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness and self-control? These are the real treasures of life! Give me fruit!

[1] Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 563.

[2] David Guzik, John, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), Jn 15:1–3.

[3] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 1162.

John 15:1, Hosea 10:1, Jeremiah 2:21

Jesus is the “True Vine”

John 15:1 opens Jesus’ discussion with him calling himself a vine and his Father the gardener. It says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” What did Jesus mean by referring to himself as the “true” vine? The word is used in other passages with other metaphors. It’s used in the same way back in John 1:9 where Jesus calls himself the “true” light, then again in 6:32 where he calls himself the “true bread.” Also, in the book of Hebrews he’s referred to as the “true tabernacle.” That last reference might be instructive in understanding what is meant. Jesus was the true tabernacle in contrast to the earthly one that was simply a picture of what Christ would fulfill. We must remember that Israel was the vine according to the Old Testament prophets. God refers to Israel as a very productive vine that prostituted itself to foreign gods. Hosea 10:1 says, “Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars.” It was not a “faithful” vine to the one who planted it. Then Jeremiah speaks similar words. Jeremiah 2:21 speaks of Israel as the vine. God says, “But I planted you as an entirely trustworthy, fruitful vine. How have you turned to bitterness as a foreign vine?” We see that the productive vine became and unfaithful vine. When Jesus says He is the “true vine” he means he is the vine planted by the master that has remained faithful. He is the “true vine.”

There have been many suggestions regarding the setting for this statement by Jesus. Some think it was delivered in the upper room, after the meal when Jesus took the wine and blessed it and then established the communion service. He had just taken the wine and the idea of the “vine” from which the wine came, representing his blood, to teach the disciples about their connection with himself. Others see this speech delivered on the steps of the temple before the doors which were adorned with vines all around. Others see it as being delivered at the Garden of Gethsemane which is covered in vines. We don’t know for sure, but the point seems clear. All these other vines are only illustrations. Barnes observes, “The point of the comparison or the meaning of the figure is this: A vine yields proper juice and nourishment to all the branches, whether these are large or small. All the nourishment of each branch and tendril passes through the main stalk, or the vine, that springs from the earth. So, Jesus is the source of all real strength and grace to his disciples.”[1]

Not only is Jesus the true vine, God the Father is the “vinedresser.” Some translations use different words: gardener, farmer, etc. Köstenberger tells us what the gardener does. He uses a passage from Isaiah to explain. He writes, “Isaiah’s first vineyard song, which constitutes the background of this parable, depicts God as spading, clearing, planting, and taking care of the vineyard, only to be rewarded with sour grapes (Isa. 5:1–7; cf. Ps. 80:8–9).”[2] But Jesus is about to expand on this parable by explaining how all that Israel failed to do, He has accomplished on our behalf. We will not produce the fruit that the gardener desires on our own. We are incapable of doing so. But by attaching ourselves to Christ, we enable His life to flow in and through us. Then we cannot help but bear fruit that will honor the Father.

[1] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Luke & John, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 336.

[2] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 451.

John 15:1, Genesis 2:2-3, Matthew 11:28

Jesus said, “I will give you rest.”

The number seven shows up a lot in the Bible. Coincidentally (or maybe not) the number seven is mentioned over 700 times! It is an important number in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Many commentators suggest that seven is the holy number of God and of perfection and completion. It’s often contrasted with the number six, which seems to be the number of incompletion and imperfection. The number six always leaves something undone that number seven fulfills. Six is said to be the number of “man.”  Man was created on the 6th day and he was to do all his work in six days but to stop all his work on the 7th day because God had completed all His work. The children of Israel were to march around Jericho six times. It was on the 7th time that God himself brought the walls down and conquered the city. It’s interesting that 666 becomes the number of the beast and it’s said to be the number of a “man” in Revelation 13 as if to repeat the idea of man’s imperfection three times. Without looking at all 700 uses of the number seven, it appears that the commentators are correct in seeing it as the number of perfection and completion.

John, the Apostle, was fond of the number seven. He features it in the book of Revelation: seven churches, seven angels, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls and seven stars. These sevens serve to wrap up God’s “work” with mankind in general. In his Gospel, John speaks of seven miracles that Jesus performed and called the miracle of changing the water into wine “the first sign” that Jesus performed. The last one was the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. John also gives us the seven “I am” statements of Jesus. This is what those seven “I AM” statements are:

“I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51)  As bread sustains physical life, so Christ offers and sustains spiritual life.

 “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) To a world lost in darkness, Christ offers Himself as a guide.

“I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7,9) Jesus protects His followers as shepherds protect their flocks from predators.

“I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) Death is not the final word for those in Christ.

“I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11, 14) Jesus is committed to caring and watching over those who are His.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the source of all truth and knowledge about God.

“I am the true vine.” (John 15:1) And the 7th great “I AM” statement is from our passage today.

I just finished a study of Hebrews and I neglected to talk about the focus on the sevens. The first chapter gives us 7 reasons Jesus is superior to the Angels and quoted seven Old Testament passages that show this was in the Bible all along.  But we must go back to the very beginning to get the real impact. The first use of “seven” is seen way back in Genesis with the creation account. God created everything in six days and then on the 7th day he rested. The seventh day became known as the “sabbath” or the “rest day.” Literally though, sabbath in Hebrew means “seven.” This creation account became the basis for the “Shabbat shalom,” the day of rest directed by God in the ten commandments.

Genesis 2:2-3 says, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” Further, in giving Israel the 10 commandments, he wanted them to focus on the finished work that God did and to do no work themselves. Exodus 20:11 says, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Man wasn’t to work because God has done all the work and there is nothing man can add to it. He should not attempt to but rather rest in and celebrate God’s finished work.

The writer of Hebrews attached the idea of “rest” with the idea of the sabbath. In Hebrews 4:3-4 we read, “I swore in my wrath that they will not enter my rest although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.  For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’” This is critical in understanding the book of Hebrews because the “rest” is the rest that comes to believers in Jesus the Messiah. That’s God’s rest. On the cross Jesus said It is finished. Just as God finished the work of creation in Genesis and no more was to be added to it but it was only to be enjoyed, so too Jesus finished the work of redemption and no more can be added to it. It remains only to be celebrated! Our “Sabbath Rest” is the rest from wearisome religious observation and rituals as Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” I like the way Eugene Peterson translates this verse in “The Message.” He says, “come to me all you who are weary and burned out on religion and I will give you rest.”

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