Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes

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The Bible is not like any other book.  It was written by human authors, but at the same time is the result of the miraculous work of God (2 Timothy 3:16).  The Holy Spirit guided the authors in their work.  The result is that the Bible is the Word of God.  We must always approach the Bible in this frame of mind, and particularly with prayer.  We consider such a prayer in Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes.

1. The need for divine teaching

The prayer ‘Open’ indicates that our eyes are closed.  Scripture often uses the language of blindness to express the spiritual condition of people.  That is true before conversion – we are unable to understand the truth revealed in Scripture.  Regarding the things of God, we ‘cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Corinthians 2:14).  It can also apply after conversion – we remain limited (2 Peter 3:16) and our sin clouds our understanding, hindering our engagement with the Word.  We need divine teaching.

2. The agent of divine teaching

The very fact this is a prayer shows the agent of instruction is the Lord.  From the wider context of Scripture we can say that it is particularly the role of the Holy Spirit, as the channel of revelation.  He gave the revelation (2 Peter 1:21) and because of our limits and sins we need him as our Illuminator.  The promise of John 16:13 ‘he will guide you into all truth’ applies to the apostles but in a secondary sense to all believers.  We need a divine teacher:

            Only God fully understands the ‘wonderful things’ (1 Corinthians 2:11)

            Only God can apply truth to the heart.  He graciously enables understanding and an appropriate response of faith, repentance, awe and rejoicing, beyond human power.

3. The nature of divine teaching

The Spirit’s ministry relates to the written revelation, ‘your law’, covering the entirety of the Scriptures.  The Spirit illumines the word he has already given, enabling us to understand and submit to God’s truth.  When Psalm 119 was written, much of God’s Word was still to be given.  The apostles were the final channels of God’s revelation.  With their passing, the age of new revelation has passed and we are not to seek fresh revelations, but to give ourselves to the study of the Word given.  The result of the Spirit’s work is love for the Word (v97).

4. The content of divine teaching

What are the ‘wonderful things’ we seek to see in ‘your law’?

  • Concerning God: God’s law is primarily a revelation of himself.  He tells us the kind of God he is – sovereign, holy, gracious, compassionate, a Trinity.
  • Concerning ourselves: we need a proper understanding of humanity as created, fallen, deserving judgment, capable of a new life of obedience by God’s grace.
  • Concerning salvation: a gracious God provides salvation, foretold in the Old Testament and fully revealed in the New, salvation through the work of God’s Son incarnate.

Luke 7:36-50 The wonder of grace

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If a special meal has been arranged, the host wants everything to go smoothly.  How the event goes will say something about the host.  If something unforeseen happens, if something or someone else becomes the focus, it could be a disaster.  Such a threat arises at Simon the Pharisee’s dinner.  We turn now to consider Luke 7:36-50 The wonder of grace.

1. Striking action

Such a meal would be quite a public event, with people able to walk in.  A woman comes in – she very deliberately wants to meet Jesus.  We gradually discover the reason.  Note ‘a woman of the city, a sinner’ (v37 ESV) – it is generally assumed she was a prostitute.  Certainly, she was a notorious sinner whose presence was unwelcome to respectable guests and an offence to a Pharisee.  She showed courage and determination – meeting Jesus really matters.  Her action is shocking.  An ‘alabaster jar of perfume’ (v37) is very expensive – a really extravagant gesture.  There is deep emotion – ‘weeping’.  Her loose hair (v38) is not ‘respectable’.  The dinner guests were probably stunned into silence, but Jesus understands.  The key is v47 ‘she loved much’.  Her actions are tokens of her love because ‘her many sins have been forgiven’.  Jesus will focus on her actions as a forgiven sinner.

2. Stinging criticism

Simon was a pillar of the religious establishment.  Perhaps he had no serious interest in Jesus’ message.  His focus is the sinfulness of the woman.  He puts her in a category to which he is sure he does not belong.  He has no sense of his own sin.  Regarding Jesus, Simon thinks, ‘If this man were a prophet’ (v39) – he does not believe Jesus is a prophet.  If he were a prophet, Simon thinks, he would not associate with people like her.  The Lord knows his heart.  Simon has no sense of spiritual need, but is hardened in loveless self-righteousness.

3. Strong rebuke

Jesus knows Simon’s thoughts – he makes his point by telling a story of two debtors (v41).  The point is clear – ‘which of them will love him more?’ (v42).  Simon’s ‘I suppose’ suggests reluctance to answer.  Jesus drives home the lesson regarding ‘this woman’ in a series of contrasts (v44-46).  Simon’s religion was, at best, keeping rules.  The key issue is ‘she loved much’ (v47).  There is no evidence of love in Simon’s heart.  He has not experienced grace and has no sense of need of forgiveness.  Jesus exposes the emptiness of loveless religion.

4. Saving grace

We must be clear on what Jesus says.  This is not a case of love earning salvation.  The woman’s sin is not glossed over – ‘her sins, which are many, are forgiven’ (v47) – sin needs to be forgiven, but ‘forgiven’ is in the perfect tense (also in v48) – her sins were forgiven before she loved.  Her love was proof of God’s forgiveness by grace.  She wept and anointed Jesus’ feet as a forgiven sinner.  Good works follow forgiveness (Ephesians 2:8).  As God, Jesus forgives and the crowd wonders (v49).  ‘Your faith [God-given] has saved you’ (v50).

Luke 7:18-35 John and Jesus compared

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There is no pleasing some people, or so it seems.  No matter what is done for them, it is never right.  This applies as much in spiritual things as in any other area of life.  A Christian little involved in society and one thoroughly involved are criticised equally.  We see this with regard to John and Jesus.  We turn now to consider Luke 7:18-35 John and Jesus compared.

1. Healing the sick

            (i). John’s struggle.  John is in prison for his faithful witness to Herod (3:19-20).  Through his disciples he asks Jesus a strange question: ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ (v19).  Why such a question from the man who knew Jesus was ‘the Lamb of God’ (John 1:29)?  Perhaps it was discouragement due to harsh imprisonment.  Maybe John is puzzled by Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus preached good news but where was the judgment also spoken of in Isaiah 61:2?  Why were the enemies of Israel not defeated?  Perhaps John was disappointed by the results of Jesus’ ministry.

            (ii). Jesus’ signs.  Jesus is very gentle with John.  He continues to perform miracles (v21) as a deliberate answer to John.  His disciples are to ‘report what you have seen and heard’ (v25) – healings, raising the dead and especially ‘good news is preached to the poor’, fulfilling OT prophecies such as Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1-2.   These are signs of the Messiah’s identity as the transformer of broken lives and the giver of salvation that is the key to all other blessings.  Hence ‘Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me’ (v23) – a challenge to commit to the Messiah as he truly is, not as we might imagine him to be.

2. Raising the dead

Jesus takes this opportunity to ‘speak to the crowd about John (v24).  Note:

            (i). False expectations.  ‘What did you go out into the desert to see?’ (v24) – the crucial question.  John was not a ‘reed swayed by the wind’ or a ‘man dressed in fine clothes’, but rather a prophet ‘and more than a prophet’ (v26).  A prophet was expected before the coming of the Messiah – but what did the crowd do with his preaching?  The call to repentance was ultimately refused.  Revelation requires a believing response.

            (ii). Fulfilled prophecy.  John’s role did fulfil prophecy, especially Malachi 3:1, the messenger preparing for the Messiah’s coming (as John realised, John 1:23, quoting Isaiah 40:3).  But John was not the Messiah, but a kind of bridge between OT and NT.  Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of prophecy.  Through him alone sinners enter the kingdom.  Hence the least in the kingdom is greater than John (v28) – our privileges in the kingdom are great.

            (iii). Fickle crowds.  There was a degree of positive response to John’s ministry (v29), but ‘the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves’ (v30).  They were hardened in self-righteousness.  In v31ff Jesus probes beneath the surface of ‘this generation’ – they rejected John’s ministry and also Jesus’ very different ministry (v33-34).  But godly wisdom could see God at work in both ministries, when grace opens our eyes (v35).

Luke 7:1-17 Issues of life and death

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Among the many trials people have to bear, the greatest hardships are often caused by sickness and death.  Serious illness and death come to all, Christians included.  Both bring burdens that may cause the sufferer and others to struggle.  In such a world Jesus exercised his messianic ministry.  We turn now to consider Luke 7:1-17 Issues of life and death.

1. Healing the sick

As Jesus enters Capernaum, a remarkable incident takes place, concerning ‘a centurion’s servant…sick and about to die’ (v2).  This Roman soldier, a Gentile, is no ordinary centurion:

            (i). The compassion he had for the servant.  This is in fact a slave, a piece of property in Roman law, yet the centurion ‘valued [him] highly’.  He placed enough value on the servant to go to considerable lengths to contact Jesus – he ‘sent some elders of the Jews’ (v3).

           (ii). The respect he enjoyed among the Jews who regard him highly.  They ‘pleaded earnestly with Jesus’ (v4) – note he ‘deserves to have you do this’.  The reason is surprising – he has built their synagogue (v5) – possibly he was a ‘God-fearer’ who attended synagogue.

            (iii). The faith he expressed.  This is more than curiosity.  Note he is humble – ‘I do not deserve…’ (v6) and he has faith – ‘say the word and my servant will be healed’ (v7).  Jesus’ evaluation is crucial – ‘I have not found such great faith’ (v9).  He responds to the need.

We see clearly Jesus’ authority in the healing.  As Messiah he demonstrates his identity as the One who transforms lives.  The healing is a sign that he is able to change sinners and give them ‘life…to the full’ (John 10:10).  To have that life, we must look to him in faith.

2. Raising the dead

Jesus next confronts death as he come face to face with the tragedy described in v12.  Note:

            (i). A fallen world.  The main reason for the presence of suffering and death in the world is man’s sin (see Romans 5:2).  The material world is implicated in human sin and death has intruded into God’s good creation, bringing sorrow and many other evils.  At Nain Jesus confronts the consequences of the fallen state of the world.

            (ii). A compassionate Messiah.  This is vividly expressed in v13 ‘his heart went out to her’ – the word that expresses a deep physical response on Jesus’ part.  This is both human and divine compassion, responding to sin and its consequences.  Jesus willingly becomes ceremonially unclean (v14).  He gives the son back to his mother – a tender and gracious act.

            (iii). A mighty Lord.  The Messiah’s authority is revealed in raising the dead, giving life in place of death.  In speaking to the dead Jesus speaks with divine authority, enabling immediate obedience.  God’s word brings fulfilment.  Jesus is ‘the Lord’ (v13, first time in Luke) – in a more wonderful way than they realised.  God and man, he defeats sin and death.

Luke 6:43-45 Being and doing

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Some preaching can leave the hearers discouraged.  The message often seems to be ‘Try harder’, ‘Do more’.  Trying harder and doing more, however, seems to produce little or no spiritual progress.  As Jesus shows in this passage, this approach begins in the wrong place.  We turn now to consider Luke 6:43-45 Being and doing.

1. The root

What is the problem with the ‘Try harder’ message?  It is not entirely wrong – Scripture exhorts us to committed effort in godly living, but this approach begins in the wrong place.  It deals only with ‘bad fruit…good fruit’ – what is outward and visible, but if change is to take place it must begin with the nature of the tree.  That is the reason why the tree bears the fruit it does.  We must first consider the internal, which explains the fruit that is borne.  The nature of the tree is crucial, indeed determinative: ‘People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briars’ (v44).  No matter how hard a briar tried, it could not produce grapes.  The lesson relates to people – ‘The good man…the evil man’ (v45).  What we do flows from who we are – the fundamental issue is the nature we possess.  Jesus sums it up in the language of the heart – ‘The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart’ (v45).  The good man is not good because he does good: he does good because he is good.  The Lord is concerned first with who we are.  The ‘heart’ in Scripture is the core of our identity.  ‘The good man’ is regenerate, being remade in Christ’s image; ‘the evil man is still a sinner under God’s wrath.  There are only two ‘hearts’ in biblical thinking.

2. The fruit

Although the Lord’s first concern is with who we are – the issue of the heart – he is also concerned with what we do – the issue of fruit.  The fruit a person bears is the result of the nature possessed (v45).  There is a fundamental consistency between root and fruit, heart and behaviour.  What kind of fruit would we expect from a ‘good man’?  We can at once think of ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22-23), a description of the character of Jesus.  From a heart renewed by grace will come a life that reflects the Saviour and is shaped by his Word applied by the Holy Spirit.  In contrast, from an ‘evil man’ we would expect the ‘acts of the flesh’ (Galatians 5:19-21), a lifestyle governed by the fallen sinful nature.  In both cases, every aspect of life is involved.  Often words reveal the reality – ‘’Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’ – a reminder of the power of the tongue (James 3:1ff).  Believers are imperfect in this life and we can be inconsistent, but there will be no final contradiction between root and fruit when we appear in the Last Judgment.

3. The examination

The NIV misses ‘For’ at the beginning of v43 – there is a link to v41-42 regarding planks and specks.  The Lord calls us to self-examination, instead of examination of others. What kind of tree are you, bearing what kind of fruit?  Note ‘stored up’ (v45) – we must store our hearts with God’s Word, from which a godly life will come.  Change in a man’s nature is also always possible by the grace of God, making him a new creation in Christ.