Friday, March 27, 2020

Luke 15

Key Verse:
Luke 15:24
Big Idea: The Son of Man pursues us wherever we run.

When you think about the major blockbuster movies, novels and TV shows in our day, you will find that many of the biggest, most captivating are love stories or stories of redemption. These two kinds of plots connect with the human heart in a special way, because they speak to a basic need we have for relationship and acceptance. With that in mind, it is no surprise that Luke 15 is among the most loved chapters in the Bible. It tells two short stories to set the scene and a final parable that tells a story of love and redemption, with a subplot of envy and bitterness.

Older kids: What is your favorite movie? What about the plot connects with you?

Our setting: the Pharisees opposing Jesus, because of how close He is getting to sinners. The setup: Jesus tells two short stories. If you lost a sheep, you would go find it, and would be excited when you did. If you lost some money, you would tell all your neighbors when you found it again. The angels of God rejoice like that when a sinner is reclaimed by God, yet the Pharisees (who would be excited about a sheep or a coin), are angry that this person is found again.

To hit the nail squarely on the head, Jesus tells a final story. A man has two sons. The younger comes and asks the father to liquidate his assets and give him his inheritance now. Unthinkably, the father does so, and the younger son takes and wastes it all. He goes from being wealthy to slopping pigs and starving himself. He ‘comes to himself’ and decides to return to his father. But before he can get close, his father’s watching eye sees him and his father runs to throw his arms around him, forgiving him and restoring him. Although the son walked the road away from home alone, the father pursues him there when he returns. God’s love is like that. Although we might be excited about a sheep or a coin, how much more a child! Even though we have rejected God, He is still overjoyed when we return to Him, and He ran down to Earth to reclaim us.

Yet, there is a dark ending to the story. The older brother does not come to the celebration, but sits and sulks outside, although he would certainly have joined in celebrating a sheep or a coin recovered. When his father comes to him to bring him in, he is resentful and disrespectful. Like a spoiled brat, he ignores the blessings his father had given him to complain about the love being shown to his prodigal brother. The Pharisees  who acted this way when Jesus came to the notorious sinners to reclaim them revealed they did not understand God’s heart. Like Jonah, they loved the material things of the world and resented people. The Son of Man did not come with that agenda. He came to love and to bring us home.

Discussion idea: Do you ever get resentful when you see someone forgiven for something they have done wrong? Why do you think that we, forgiven sinners, do not value mercy more?
Prayer focus: Praise God for reclaiming us with joy and pray we could see people more like He does.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Luke 14

Key Verse: Luke 14:11
Big Idea: The humble are exalted by the Son of Man.

Have you ever seen someone waving at you, smiled and waved back, only to find out they were waving at someone else? There is a particular kind of embarrassment that comes from thinking we are more important than we are and getting cut down to size. When it is some small social slip up like a wave, we get over it quickly, but the feeling is real. The first parable Jesus told in today’s chapter was hardly a parable at all. He saw the way that the people at the dinner party He was attending were trying to position themselves in the places of highest honor, and gave them a very simple instruction: “Knock it off.” It is better, Jesus taught them, to put yourself in a low position and get invited to come up higher, than to put yourself in a top position and get asked to move over for someone else. It is always better to let someone else pat you on the back, rather than to do it for yourself.

This is good advice for us in every arena. Don’t tell other people how great you are: be humble and let someone else lift you up. But Jesus connects this to a fundamental theological principle: God will lift up the humble, and oppose the proud (Proverbs 29:23, James 4:6). There is no better example of this than Jesus Himself, who came and associated with the people who were rejected and mistreated. He humbled Himself, all the way to dying on a cross between two thieves. But because He humbled Himself, our Heavenly Father raised Him up again, seated Him back in His rightful place in the throne of Heaven and gave Him dominion over all things. He is our example.

When we try and fight our own way to the top, we are working against the only King’s will and plan. Instead, if we trust Him and admit our own weakness, we are given freely what we could never take. The same one who was exalted for humbling Himself, exalts us too.

Discussion idea: Why is pride such a powerful enemy? How can you be humble with your friends, following the example of Jesus?

Prayer focus: Thank God for humbling Himself to rescue us from our sin. Ask God to help you see the areas in your own life where humility is needed, and for help seeing Him clearly enough to put ourselves into perspective.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Luke 13

Key Verse: Luke 13:34
Big Idea: The heart of the Son of Man is broken when people refuse to hear His call.

In Luke 13, Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders begins to escalate. He compares them to a fruitless fig tree, ready to be cut down, heals a woman on the sabbath day and warns that the apparent outsiders will eat at the table with Abraham, while the insiders will be cast out. As the heat turned up, Jesus was told that His life was in danger and He ought to flee. He responded instead that He would continue His work as He made His way to Jerusalem, and then cried out over the city with a broken heart. Like a hen shelters her chicks beneath her wings, Jesus said that He had tried to pull the people into safety and security, yet they rejected Him time after time. He warned them that they were out of time, and would not see Him again until they were ready to receive Him (Psalm 118:26).

The picture here is complex. Jesus is loving, patient and ready to receive His people. He is heart broken that they refuse to come to Him, yet there comes a time when their time is up. They are left desolate: a fig tree ready to be uprooted by God. Yet, there is a third layer. In the future, they will say: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The door has closed for this generation, but a future generation will see Jesus for who He is. Jesus was truly the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, and while His own generation rejected Him all the way to the cross, one day the people will return to Him, when the fullness of the Gentiles have been saved (Romans 11:25).

In our own lives, we can be reassured of God’s patient love. For most of us, we hear His loving call and break His heart many times before we respond. But, eventually, we have our last chance. Maybe you have been trying to go to church and trying to be good for a long time. Yet, the need to be saved is something you resist. Jesus has called you over and over again to admit you are a sinner and that your works can never save you, and cry out to Him for forgiveness. Maybe He is calling you now. But don’t reject Him, because there will be a last chance for you.

Discussion idea: What does it mean to be patient? Does patience mean that someone is never punished for their mistakes?
Prayer focus: If you are a Christian, pray for the salvation of the lost, especially the nation of Israel. If you have resisted Jesus’ call, pray something like this: “I know that I am a sinner, and I deserve your judgment. But I believe that Jesus loves me enough that He died for me, and that He rose again because the penalty I deserve was paid in full. I am sorry for that sin, and sorry for breaking your heart. Please forgive me, and change my heart forever.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Luke 12

Key Verse: Luke 12:37
Big Idea: We ought to live with priorities that reflect the Son of Man is coming.

Luke 12, like Luke 11, is a chapter rich in warnings against anxiety. The birds are fed by their Maker, but He is your Father; don't you realize He will care for you? But the sharpest warnings against worry in this chapter seem to be rooted in the fact that the most important things are the ones we could not stockpile anyway. How many smiles can you deposit in the bank? How many hugs from someone you love can you put off today so you can have them tomorrow instead? The things that we can pile up are the very things that we cannot keep anyway. Either they will rot, moths will eat them, or we will die. All the things we can worry about, we are going to lose.

Younger Kids:
When you are playing hide and seek, how high do you normally count? How would you play differently if you did not know how high the person was counting? Would you get ready right away, or take your time looking for the best spot? If we do not know when Jesus will come again, how should we act today?

Older Kids:  When your parents leave you at home with chores to do and say they will be back at a certain time, when do you start working? What do you do with the rest of the time? What would you do if you did not know when they would be back? How do you think God will respond if He has told us He is coming and we waste the time He has given us?

If we realize that Jesus is coming again to set up His Kingdom, we will live with a sense of urgency and purpose. If He finds we have been serving faithfully, then He will come to serve us, giving us rewards which we could never dream of. But if when He returns, we have wasted our time on games, we will lose everything we thought we had. Jesus left us when He died on the cross and took the punishment for our sins, then He rose again on the third day and ascended up to Heaven. He has told us He will return, although we don't know when, and told us to be about the business of making disciples in the meantime. If we are fishers of men, then we will have nothing to worry about, because the things we love will be the things we can never lose.

Discussion idea: Why do you think that people who believe in God are still tempted to live for the physical stuff of this world like money, prestige and power?
Prayer focus: Pray that Jesus would let us live with the joy of security in Him and the passion of expecting Him to return at any moment.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Luke 11

Key verse:
Luke 11:26
Big Idea: The Son of Man demands obedience from the whole man.

Luke 11 is largely about hypocrisy. Prayer that asks God for things, but does not trust His goodness. Claiming to believe in God, but asking for a sign and then refusing to respond to the sign. People who wash the outside of their "cups," but not the inside - their behavior looks good, but their hearts are rotten. People who count the leaves on a mint plant to tithe every tenth leave, yet who care nothing about justice or mercy. Undermining the prophets will they lived, then building them monuments when they died (like the United States trying to discredit Martin Luther King Jr. while he lived, then giving him a holiday when he died). Hypocrisy! Hypocrisy Hypocrisy!

Jesus is not impressed. The Son of Man knows what is in the heart of a man, and He is not satisfied when we merely remove external acts of sin. But in the middle of this passage (Luke 11:24-26), a fascinating parable sheds a lot of light on this situation. If a demon is cast out of a person, Jesus says, then he may depart the person for a while. But when the demon returns, he finds the person an empty house, neat, clean and ready to inhabit. So the demon goes, finds seven demons eviler than himself, and the man who had one demon cast out is not possessed by a posse.

The discussion of demons is interesting but is not Jesus' real point. Instead, he is pointing out the problem with the religious hypocrites is that their hearts will not stand a vacuum. When evil is cast out, it must be replaced with something, and if not, all of your self-discipline in resisting sin will just make you into a better sinner: a house swept, dusted and ready for a bigger party. Only one thing is going to keep the demon from returning in the parable: someone stronger already living in the house. When we try and fight off our own sin, we are sweeping a dirt floor. When we instead give our whole selves to Jesus, inside and out, He fights our battles for us. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and He will add everything else.

Discussion idea: Many people are struggling with anxiety right now. If that anxiety is resisted head-on, it will simply be repalced by a different worry. How do we replace it instead with the indwelling power of Jesus? What is a specific anxiety in your life, and how can you replace it with seeking the Kingdom?

Prayer focus: Pray that God would empower us and transform us to serve Him with our whole hearts, exposing any hypocrisy and leaving only devotion.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Luke 10

Key Verse: Luke 10:36
Big Idea: We are not like the Son of Man until we love our neighbor.

An expert in the law came to Jesus and asked what it took to be sure of eternal life. Jesus offered him the only thing that anyone can do. Love God completely and love your neighbor as yourself. If someone did these two things perfectly, they would be perfect in every way and, being sinless, could enter into Heaven. Like everyone trying to make themselves look good, the man searched for a loophole: if I am supposed to love my neighbor as myself, who is my neighbor? How far does this obligation stretch?

Older kids: List some sins. Which ones violate love of God and which ones violate love of our neighbor? 

In first century Israel, many people thought that love should be restricted along racial, class or behavioral lines. In fact, many of the rabbis interpreted “love your neighbor” as implying that there was someone who was not your neighbor whom you should not love. What do we learn from this man’s question? He had already missed the first law of love. Love does not ask “How far must I go?” Love asks “How far can I go?” By asking the question about who we must love, we show that we do not understand love. This is especially clear when the Teacher is already on the way to the cross to die for the wicked.

To answer the question, Jesus tells one of the most well-known parables is the Bible. A man was traveling down an extremely dangerous road, where he was attacked, stripped naked and left for dead. A priest and a Levite (both “insiders” by race, class and behavior because of their tribe of birth) ignored him. Perhaps they knew that attackers often used the injured as bait. Perhaps the man was not Jewish and so they felt no obligation to him. Whatever the reason, they walked past on the far side of the road. like someone refusing to make eye contact with a beggar..”Not my problem; not my neighbor.”

A Samaritan, a group of people hated by the Jews for their religious corruption and intermarriage with the Canaanites, stopped and showed compassion. At great risk and cost, he took the injured man to an inj to recover. The Samaritan and the inn keeper, both considered shady outsiders, show love, while the insiders did not. Jesus then simply asked the law expert: ‘who was a neighbor to this man?”
Obviously the neighbor was not defined by any social boundaries, but by the one who acted as a neighbor. The call to love your neighbor as yourself is the call to realize we are all neighbors, by virtue of our humanity and our need of love. Jesus told the man to go and do that - show compassion without boundaries.

It is that problem which shows clearly why we can never earn our own salvation. Our love is never total or complete, so our actions never fulfill the law. So rather than seeing ourselves as the Samaritan, we are instead the helpless one on the side of the road, who is nursed to health again by the One who was despised and rejected of men, the One who chose to become our neighbor. The Som of Man has shown that great love for us, and our relationship with God depends on faith in that alone. But if we recognize that love, we must know that being like Him means passing it along.

Discussion idea: Is it possible to love someone without action? Why or why not/ Who is hard for you to love? Why?
Prayer focus: Praise God for loving us when we were unlovable. Ask God to help us love the ones that He loves, but we do not, not based on their worth, but on His faithfulness.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Luke 9

Key Verse: Luke 9:58

Big Idea: The Son of Man calls us to follow Him in sacrifice.

Wouldn't it be nice if life were always easy? If the stock market were always up, if pets lived forever and if brussels sprouts tasted like cotton candy? Of course, this is not reality. Life is hard. Sometimes it is made hard because of other people and their sin, sometimes it is hard because of the kinds of diseases and disasters that we have in a fallen world. But sometimes, life is hard because following Jesus does not always mean taking the easiest path.

Younger Kids: Have you ever been tempted to take the easy way out or to half do something? How does that hurt your witness for God? 

If Jesus is our example, then it is obvious that He did not take the path of least resistance. He left the riches of Heaven to be poor on Earth, and those who wanted to become His followers on Earth had to choose radical faith. They did not know where they would sleep that night, they just knew that Jesus was leading them. If we are led by Jesus, who loved others so much that He gave His life for them, then we must love others more than we love our own comfort or pleasure. We must be willing to sacrifice alongside Him, knowing that ultimately being with Him is greater than anything we could ever give up.

Older kids: What are you most afraid of losing? What would be worth giving that up? 
This chapter includes several people who wanted to follow Jesus on their own terms. In other words, they wanted to be labeled as Jesus' followers, but really be their own leaders. We can't do that. If we do what God wants when it is also what we want, it is not God we are following, but ourselves. Jesus does not call us to be half-followers, but totally devoted to Him. Sometimes that means ordinary life, like the man who had been possessed in Luke 8. Sometimes it means great sacrifice. Sometimes it is something in between. Every time it is worth it.

Discussion Idea: A famous missionary and martyr, Jim Elliott, wrote: "He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." What did he mean by that? Do you agree?

Prayer focus: Pray for Christians who suffer persecution around the world (check out for some examples) as they give up so much for Jesus. Pray that God would break our love of the things that keep our eyes on this life, and turn us to Him.