If you caught this yesterday, my sermon text for Sunday is Galatians 4:8-20. A text that reveals Paul’s heart for the Galatian house churches and his perplexity (v. 20) over why the Gentile Galatians would even consider adopting—even more so, getting circumcised and identifying with--the Law and, thus, old age, living in exile, under the covenant curse Israel current position before God?
Breaks his heart (as this text reveals).
In this section, Paul also tells the Galatian house churches what his goal is. This is found in verse: “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (V. 19).
Most English readers take the “you” as “you individuality,” assuming Paul means “I desire to see each Christian looking like, acting like Jesus.” While this is a good thing of course—and would be if that’s what Paul meant here. But it begs the question: What does looking like and acting like Jesus look like? And, is Paul referring to the individual Christian?
Here in this text, not only is the “you” plural, it is a part of a prepositional phrase: ἐν ὑμῖν (“among you,” i.e., among you, the house churches in Galatia). So, Paul is saying, “My little children [those whom I led to Christian among the house churches in Galatia], for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Messiah is formed among you.” It is so much more preferable to take the “in” (of most English translations] as “among,” a perfectly reasonable rendering of what Paul wrote.
Now we should ask what does Paul mean by formed “among” the house churches in Galatia? The apostle has already told us in chapter 3. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (vv. 27-28).
Since the Law has fulfilled its purpose (which is why it was temporary and why it is so perplexing you--Galatian, Gentile Christians--would even consider circumcising yourselves to this Law), additionally, you all have been baptized into Christ, listen, and now there is neither Jew nor Gentile; there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female—you all are in Christ and you all are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise [given to Abraham].”
This is what is means to have Christ formed among them, namely churches that present “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female” (3:28); house churches where “you are all one in Christ Jesus” (v. 28d).
This observation makes me think that when our churches are majority peer-like congregations, I wonder if we are then returning to the elementary principles that govern the world—or, as Paul says in our text, we have returned to idol-worship.
The risk everyone took in the apostolic and early church period (till about 300ish AD) was immense and totalling. Saw this quote and thought how unlike the young church we have become: “Church should be your excuse for missing everything else.”
I recently had the privilege of meeting and eating with some Chinese believers who are a part of China’s underground church. In a broken English conversation, I asked one elderly gentleman:
“What would happen to the church in China if the Chinese government made church legal?”
Without hesitation, understanding me completely, he replied:
“It would destroy the church.”
Since here in America there is little to no risk at doing church, we act as if it’s an option among many options of our week.
Four years of Bible college with weekly Missionary Cabinets focused my attention on the foreign (overseas) mission field and calls to be a missionary to the ends of the earth. Then, another two years of chapels at Seminary to remind me of the importance of listening to God and keeping in step with the Spirit in God’s world-wide mission. And to top it all off, five years as a Bible College professor with weekly chapels with the students and two large missionary conferences (which I had the privilege of helping to design and set up) to keep before me the regions beyond, the burden to reach the unreached around the globe. Hundreds of great speakers and preachers and missionaries, but I will not forget one particular illustration that was used at all three venues a number of times.
A speaker, missionary, or preacher would ask 25 or 50 or even 100 of the students to join them on the platform with prearranged chairs set up, each with a 3x5 card on it—the students would sit randomly, for it was what was on the cards that mattered. Here’s the gist of what happened during the illustration:
The speaker would explain that the United States and Canada provide and train missionaries for the world, but most seemed to be called to stay and minister in the United States and Canada. The students represented those responding to God’s call to minister. The speaker would have the students respond to the cards on their chairs: a certain number of students would stand to represent those “called” to areas unreached by the gospel and unchurched—the lowest percentage out of the 25, 50, 100 (whatever number the speaker was using at the time)—two percent (2%). Then, students would stand representing the number “called” to foreign fields where the gospel had already been preached and churches planted—a little larger, but still a small percentage of the 25, 50, 100 students—maybe three (3%) to five percent (5%). Then, students of these two groups would sit down and the rest would stand—the vast majority, 90% to 95% of the number of students, would stand to represent the percentage of students “called” to stay in North America.
Then the speaker would look at us and say something like, “95% stay and minister to 5% of the world’s mostly already reached population and 2% to reach 95% of the world and its unreached people who have not heard the gospel or have a gospel-believing church in their community. Broke my heart every time—convicted me.
This always made an impression. The vast majority of Christians “feel” called to stay where the gospel had already been preached and the land was plentiful with churches. And only a small, very small percentage heeded the call to go where the need was greatest.
Now, the reasons for this are various and complex, ranging from comfort level to potential places and platforms for potential success, from levels of commitment to fear and discomfort. And to be fair, I am sure some honest personal calculation as well. (This isn’t judgment, for I have used the same criteria for “spiritual” decision-making as well. Plus, it’s simple reality.)
I often think about this illustration when I talk about the need for church planters in uncool places and the need for lay-folks to join, support, and go to our own inner-city, poor neighborhood churches. The vast majority still “feel called” to go or be among their own in places and neighborhoods that have the resources for church ministry. I have more than a few times been told (mostly by young, abled-bodied Christians settling in the burbs), “The wealthy and those in the suburbs need Christ, too, you know.” I am well aware that most will go to where there is less need and there is already an abundance of resources and claim God’s leading. I get that. It was and is true of missionary “callings” and it is as true for reaching those in neighborhoods of scarcity and lack in the uncool places in North America (or anywhere for that matter).
While it is true we are dependent on the gracious gifts of those with resources, that is, outside funding, so that we can both build up our church and reach our Hill neighborhoods (couldn't do this with out them), I am still praying that God moves (calls) into our neighborhood and into our church those who have resources—to actually be a part of the daily, weekly ministry of our church and mission to the Hill. I still am hoping, praying for some of our able-bodied, young adults to hear God’s call to minister among our Hill teenagers. I am still praying that those with skills and resources to come join us to reach Hill children (and their parents) with the gospel. I still pray that God would burden the hearts of those with musical talent to come among us to develop a music ministry—both for church and for the street.
Still, I realize that 95% of Christians within the sound of my voice, who read my Wasted Blog posts, and my prayers will “go” to the 5% that already have the resources and platforms for success; and, 5% will go to the 95% who are under-resourced and have little to no platforms for success. Combine this with the uncomfortable tension that well-resourced folks have with the poor and unsafe neighborhoods and the disparity in percentages are even worse.
Yet, I still pray. And, I still make the appeals. Hear God’s call.
I think of Keith Green’s old song, “Here am I, Send Me,” and two of the lines:
Oh Lord, you said the harvest was great,
The bottom-line: I’m looking for able-bodied Christians to come be a part of our Hill ministry to minister to Hill kids, Hill teenagers, to develop a music ministry, some to bring resources to the ministry. This isn’t one of the cool-places nor is it a typical venue for success. It’s a messy ministry. It is an under-resourced ministry in an under-resourced place. It is a place of great need. Still, the harvest is great. It is a call to ministry that is against the odds.
PS Anyone interested in a ministry against the odds here, please email me at ChipCPCtheHill@gmail.com or friend me on Facebook (Pastor Chip) and IM me.
PSS You can check out our Hill ministry through my webpage: Pastor Chip
PSSS Check out this Wasted Blog as well: Open Air Preaching and the Forgotten Elect: Not doing ordinary
Luke 21:13: “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.”
Luke 21:10-38 is my text for the Saturday sidewalk and Sunday sermons. Usually—at least when I have been in the pew listening—this text is a “let’s get the timing of the second coming right” (i.e., when is Jesus coming back and let’s prepare for it) text. Luke isn’t asking (or telling) the timing on the second coming, but that soon all hell is going to break loose and you need to stay faithful to Me through it all.
Luke 21:13 stands out—and it’s not usually a verse covered too much when Luke 21 is viewed as a “timing of the second coming” passage. Here it is: “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” More straight forward, this verse, after all the disaster that is described to take place, this verse is actually, like a pause . . . like this:
“There will be wars and natural disasters and before all this you will be jailed, persecuted, and brought before authorities on account of Me . . . an opportunity for martyrdom.”
This takes all the power from us. Something even as Christians we shun and do whatever we can to retain our power. Still . . .
Yep, that’s the word here: μαρτύριον, martyrdom. Makes sense this word can be martyrdom or testimony, witness (which is how the ESV and most Bible translations render it). But we can’t loose sight over the fact this word conveys being a martyr.
When all hell breaks loose and you are persecuted and jailed and killed for being my followers, all this will present an opportunity for you to be a martyr, an opportunity for a witness.
When Jesus goes on afterward, saying don’t plan on what you’re going to say at your defense, I will give you the words (v. 14-15). Many use this to take back the power, to retain our power. Many take this as God will supernaturally give you words to say. We all like to be able to claim that—makes us out to be powerful, special to God, a force to be reckoned with; heck, God is speaking through me! Yea. No. It points in another direction: “Don’t try to defend yourself when brought before the court because you’re a follower of Me. Testify—witness, be a martyr—of Me. This will be your opportunity to be my witness, my martyr.”
This speaks. We are too prone to defend ourselves. To claim power. Rather we are called to testify (to loose all power) of Jesus, even when all hell breaks loose. Perhaps we can fathom this type of bearing witness in places like Afghanistan, Syria, China, Iran, Venezuela. Maybe, someday we’ll be in a place like that. But what about now? We can’t even take the tough times here and now and see the opportunity to be a witness, let alone when all hell breaks loose.
This is an opportunity for you to be a witness, a testimony, a martyr.
As people are gathering in Asbury and now other campuses, whether this is truly a revival or not, people are still praying and confessing confessing sin and committing themselves more deeply to God.
Many people appeal to the “Spirit” texts in Acts as both rationale (proof) that what is happening in Kentucky and other campuses is a “revival” and, also, among the sincere prayers that truly want God to do it again (like in Acts).
I'd like to give you, however, some prayers based on the contexts of thees “Spirit” texts in Acts, which have the marks of these Acts chapters (2, 4, 8, 10, 13, and 19), that are faithful to the text, and underscore the theological intent Luke wanted to pass on to the church long afterward . . . so, let us pray . . .
Acts 2: The promised Spirit falls and gives birth to the church in the presence of witnesses from all the known nations, i.e., all the corners of the earth. Yes. Do this again: may the church rediscover the falling of the Spirit so that it in its local expressions it will bear witness to the nations. And, may the Spirit renew the church’s desire for apostolic teaching, fellowship, and concern for the poor—and for what it means to be gathered together as church.
Acts 4: May the Spirit fall to shake us, the church, that we might learn to bear witness and boldly proclaim the gospel despite the nations raging. And may we, again, develop a concern for the poor, and as well hold all things in common as a witness to those that rage against us.
Acts 8: May the Spirit fall on us in such away that we accept the Samaritans among us, those who are different, unclean, born of the “wrong” ethnicity, may the Spirit throw us out of our temples and into new hinterlands to proclaim and live out the gospel.
Acts 10: May the Spirit fall on those whom we hate, our enemies, those who are among the “raging Gentiles,” so that we, the church, may rediscover the gospel is also for the “raging Gentiles.”
Acts 13: Although very rarely it is included in the revival proof chapter lists, it should be: May the Spirit might fall on us so that missionaries would be called and set apart and sent to the unreached around the globe and to those who are among us even now, the unclean, dirty rotten Gentiles so that they may hear and have opportunities to respond to the good news of Jesus Christ; may the Spirit drive us out toward the hinterlands and the ends of the earth.
Acts 19: Though not a falling of the Spirit part of the narrative, still may the Spirit move us toward unknown and unreached places and fill us in such a way to confront idolatry (even our own idolatries and the idolatries we kind of like having around so our identities as church can be maintained in this land).
Hear our prayers. Amen!
At the end of my summer Bible college internship at my church, I had the privilege of giving a sermon at our evening Sunday service. Back then, most folks showed up, so it was a nice sized crowd who’d come to hear this rookie preacher-in-training. My text was 2 Chronicles 7:1-3, when the fire came down and filled the temple after King Solomon’s prayer.
“As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD'S house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.’”
Now I certainly would preach this a little different now. Then I took a look at all the places God filled his temple. I think I did alright. But what happened at the end surprised me and I’ll remember it until heaven.
I had asked for no closing hymn after sermon and my closing prayer, just a thank you and good night . . . I remember Olive simply played a song as I moved from the pulpit to the steps down from the platform . . . when I had gotten down the steps, I saw a long line of people streaming up front to the altar. More than half the congregation (about 100 folks) was down on their knees at or near the altar, with the rest simply not moving from where they sat. No one left the sanctuary. I had gathered with the elders in the back and we all were kind of stunned.
My preaching was good, but not that good!
Now if only all my church work and special guest preaching times throughout my years had similar effect. Hasn’t happened since.
I have been in a number of church service settings with similar reactions to the sermon and/or simply the whole service. There were a few times at chapel or a “deeper life” with varying lengths of duration when I was a professor at Prairie Bible College in Three Hills, Alberta.
I do believe in moments like these, when it seems God is doing something far beyond the normal come and go of a church (or a chapel) service. I have read and studied the big, historical movements and moments in our American church history. From Jonathan Edwards to Charlies Finney to Timothy Dwight, as well as such moments on Christian college and seminary campuses.
So, I know that God is able to do beyond the normal at or after a service—sometimes we can explain why, most of the time it just happens and we can’t explain it. It just happens with varying after effects. So, I do not want to play down or diminish what God could be doing at Asbury right now; but, I do want to give some perspective that I am not hearing from our various Christians folks in-the-know about “revivals.”
These are what I am thinking right now.
I do hope new commitments are being made by these students and faculty. I do pray new missionary movements will be born. I do pray they will never ever be the same. And, I do hope many unsaved will be saved as a result.
Yet in the age of the internet, I am also concerned that we’re making more of this “Asbury revival” than ought to be made of it, that somehow God is not at work where we are at, moving in mysterious ways, unnoticed by social media . . . yet He is still working.
It’s not what you think.
I am not speaking about church folk being addicted to porn or anything like that. In fact, I am not writing here about sexually explicit porn. Nonetheless, to be frank, I am concerned about something less obvious, as harmful, maybe even more dangerous. Especially to the church.
We seem to know the common definitions of the words “porn” or “pornography” as images of sensuousness, sexuality, and sex. Interestingly, there is a definition that puts porn/pornography on a whole deferent level beyond the easy to identify “sexual porn.” Merriam-Webster also defines “porn” as the “depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.” Most immediately pivot to the sexual implications. However, while that can—as it should—definitely be understood to be the sexual nature most associated with porn/pornography, this definition makes it possible that more than sex can be in the arena of porn. In fact anything “emphasizing the sensuous or sensational aspects of even a nonsexual subject and stimulating a compulsive interest from their audience” is, well, porn.
Here I’d like to focus our attention on what I will call “church porn.”
I am borrowing from the so-called image-based sexual revolution that has been afoot since 1916, when ladies began displaying knee-high bathing suits above the ankles and men showed off their muscle-building on the beach to display their fit bodies for public consumption. (And you thought it was a sixties thing.) It’s taken decades, but the sexual revolution has created everyday habits and associations that form the way you and I think, literally about everything.
As teenage boys (and sadly, girls, as well), by the time they are young adults, are exposed to thousands of hours of sexual imagery (explicit and soft and suggestive), mostly depicting that women are there to meet their needs and pleasure, the same is also true of those entering ministry. Here I am not just focused on sexual porn, but the porn of success, images of desire and expectations that have formed a whole narrative about the world and how it works. This has created sensational and, yes, sensuous feelings, expectations, and imaginations in those training for ministry, who will be praying and seeking for “a call,” and, as well, those simply picking a church and looking to meet his/her (or family) needs—informed and shaped needs created by those thousands of hours of exposure. As individuals seek “God’s will,” they have been, already, exposed to hours of imagery of what will meet one’s needs, bring success, and be affirmed by one’s felt peer group. These thousands of images have shaped the imagination of what that “call” or church should look like.
This is the porn that is molding the expectations of both their choice of a church and “the call” one feels when looking for a pastoral call, a potential place of ministry (lay or pastoral), or simply “being led” to a choice of church to attend. This is a problem. A problem for the church. A problem for churches that don’t stimulate that compulsive interest that has been embedded into us, culturally, socially, or personally.
This type of porn is not obvious, but it is ubiquitous. This type of porn is everywhere, in advertisement, in TV shows, movies, social media . . . heck, it is even used in advertising one’s church or church event.
We are at a place where we should, as Supreme Court Potter Stewart said of obscenity itself in 1964, “I know it when I see it.” We know this cultural and social image-based porn is bombarding us. We should. But do we? Perhaps, somehow, we feel, as Christians, as mature Christians, we are above this ubiquitous sensual bombardment of cultural and social images and free to let God be God in our thinking, especially as it relates to church or a call to ministry. We are not. And, that’s a problem.
This cultural and social porn is not even considered as a factor that plays a role in our decision-making process as we consider a call to ministry or what church to choose. Mostly, that call or that church has been chosen for us—we just don’t know it—of course, we’ll affirm we’ve been led by God in that choice. Yet, there is a good chance that God has not. Church porn has.
In part 2, I will address how such church porn, the amassed thousands of embedded cultural and social images we are inundated with, molds what we think is God’s leading when it comes to “the call to ministry” or simply choosing a church to attend. In part 3, I will offer a counterstory as a path of recovery from addiction to church porn.
While working on sermon prep on my text (Acts 4:1-31) for the weekend sermons (at the Saturday Sidewalk Church & Sunday service) a small part of the text hit me: “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 4:10b).
Back in my early years as a Christian, I spent hours memorizing Bible verses (and sometime paragraphs and even whole chapters). One of the first verses committed to memory was Acts 4:12:
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Although I have studied the passage and preached on Acts 4 many times, it never occurred to me that the “no other name” is not simply “Jesus” but “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” For, basically in one breath (short 2 verses), we learn that the man in the story was healed “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” and this is the name “given among men by which we must be saved.” Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Of course, “Christ” means Messiah, the anointed One, the long awaited promised One of Israel. The little preposition “of” (before Nazareth) has to be explained, defined. Probably because the following noun is a small village, it is fair to render Acts 4:10b, “by the name Jesus, the Messiah, from Nazareth.”
“Jesus of . . . Nazareth” is more common than one realizes in the New Testament. Obviously, not the most common title, but still 17 or so times. In Acts, Luke uses it seven (7) times in relationship to Jesus (Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 6:14; 10:3, 8; 22:8; 26:9); and, once Jesus’ followers are referred to as “Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).
Identifying Jesus as being from Nazareth would not have been good PR, nor would it ingratiate the accusing crowd toward Peter and John. In other words, it didn’t help the situation at all. There would have been shame not honor in being from Nazareth.
The significance of attaching “Nazareth” to Jesus’ name is further affirmed in the gathering of the Jerusalem aristocracy in the Acts 4 scene—“Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family” (4:6) verses Peter and John who “were uneducated, common men” (4:13b). Furthermore, let us not overlook this whole incident is the consequence of Peter and John healing a lame beggar (Acts 3:1-10). Note that this healing—the actual occasion in chapter 3—was “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (3:6b), the very name under heaven by which we must be saved (4:12).
The reference here to Jesus being from Nazareth and the power to heal and the gospel preached in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is not incidental. It is central to the story—and to the word being spoken here.
We should stop to consider what it meant to refer to Jesus as the Nazarene or from the village of Nazareth. Remember (we all remember) Nathanael’s words to Philip after he was told they had found the Messiah: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46). This alone gives the impression that Nazareth was not a big deal, more likely an inferior place, low socially. The bad side of town. Nazareth was a very small, insignificant Galilean village. So much so that one, more recent, writer put it, “God grew up in a forgotten town.” The fact that we know very little about Nazareth from ancient writers is telling, in that it was an uncelebrated, forgotten little village, “off the beaten path, even for Galilee.” Being called a “Nazarene” would have been a stigma that Jesus would carry his whole life and, literally, beyond.
Yet, this is the only name under heaven—the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth—by which anyone can be saved.
The gospel early on was attached to the two worst social aspects imaginable: the cross and where Jesus was from, namely an insignificant, small, lowly village in the dark Gentile land of Galilee, Nazareth. Naming Jesus from Nazareth would have been, not only geographically a faux pas, but a social blunder, something that would have discredited “the name.” And, thus the messengers.
But it is the name we must be saved. No power in palace, privileged place, nor powerful earthly names. The gospel—right away—in the story is associated with a lack-luster, shameful, insignificant name. Luke’s story tells us immediately that the gospel was associated with the poor and insignificant. It was essential to the story. Luke made it so in the name.
In the church world, this seems to be the opposite now.
We announce there is another name by which we can be saved, one not necessarily associated or from Nazareth. But we must for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved, and that is the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
This spoke powerfully to those at the Saturday Sidewalk Breakfast & church and reminded our Sunday congregation of our mission and purpose in the Hill.
Some musings on Paul's Christmas text (Gal 4:4) and why it isn't "Sons & Daughters of God" but all are "Sons of God"
Some sermon prep thoughts . . . the fuller text is Galatians 3:23-4:7 . . . and yes, this is a Christmas Season Sermon text . . . See Galatians 4:4. The part I am reflecting on is the well known Galatians 3:27-39:
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:27-29).
I am not sure that we fathom how radically deconstructing these words would have been for the Greek, Roman, and Jewish man, especially male head of households, who were also masters of household slaves . . . nor can we (but we should) grasp the radical reconstruction and liberation these same exact words would have been to the Greek, Roman, and Jewish women and slaves and free (emancipated) slaves, who had no home or legal status whatsoever . . . interestingly we forget that Paul just mentioned sonship (“you are all sons of God, through faith,” v. 26) and will soon talk again about sonship and heirs (Gal 4:1-7), that is, being sons of God.
I know we like to be modern and relevant and say “sons and daughters of God,” attempting to get past the so-called ancient gender-bias; but this is both unwarranted and does injustice to the text in its culture—depriving the Christian, especially the female Christian, of its impact. “Sons” were everything in the Greek, Roman, and Jewish world. They got everything. They had far more respect. They got citizenship. And if you were the first born male, an heir to family wealth, possessions, land, and legacy. The goal of marriage to the Greek and Roman was to produce a legitimate male heir citizen for the Empire. So, to deprive the female Christian direct title “son” with all of its rights and privileges (as it would have meant to the ancient world reader) would simply be not right, unfair, unjust, unbiblical . . . it would not be Christian.
The impact of such sonship on the Jew, the Greek, slave or emancipated slave is left with no contemporary translative spin—as it should be. Yet, our cultural sensitivity (although sincere and well-meaning at times) toward the gender-bias we have robed the sister in Christ of the applicable impact on her status as a “son of God.” And, for sure, this simple slight of hand turning “sons” into “sons and daughters” makes us (you know I mean, us brothers) feel as if we’ve (they’ve) solved all the gender-bias (male-dominating, male-centrism) within Christianity and its religious systems, habits, and attitudes with one easy “translation” fix. In some since, this translative adaption helps to lessen the power of this text to deconstruct our male-centeredness and robs the church from allowing the place of the female to be reconstructed into the place of a “son of God.”
It is no wonder the early church grew as it did . . . and it is no wonder why women were especially attracted to the fulness of time when God sent his son, “born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4).
More thoughts on Luke 18:15-30: Infants, a Rich Young Ruler, and the Kingdom of God--and you and me and some more blunt (maybe dangerous) application
“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as one receives a homeless person will never enter it.”
Here are some streams of thought that sprung from my sermon prep on Luke 18:15-30 (which is posted fully at the end). For now, this passage is two stories that are most definitely linked together: Infants and children being brought to Jesus for a blessing, being told that the kingdom of God belongs to them, and a rich young ruler who asks how he may obtain eternal life.
Additionally, the previous Wasted Blog post is a part of this stream of sermon prep thought: A blunt text, rationalizing, and a confession: a brief reflection on Luke 18:22.
There is little doubt that this is about the gospel and the poor: who are we?
The wider section of Luke 14-18 that we have been journeying through during the Saturday Sidewalk Sermons and Sunday morning sermons reveals whom we are to seek and welcome to the Table of God‘s Kingdom--that is, whom are to be invited to salvation in Christ, that is eternal life.
There is little doubt, the invitation is for the least among us . . . don’t get me wrong, of course, the wealthy and well-off and those who have the privilege and blessings of this age’s systems and structures are invited to come sit with them (it seems this is the Gospel process).
In our current passage (Luke 18:15-30), the young rich ruler is instructed to give his wealth to the poor . . . two things to be noted here: 1) for those that didn’t catch this earlier on my facebook feed, this principle was understood by both Jesus and his disciples as a principle to be followed broadly by the rich if they were to be followers of Jesus; and 2) this was what Jesus was modeling--something this young rich ruler could not, in the end, imagine doing, for he walked, sadly, away from Jesus’ gracious invitation to enter the kingdom of God.
Perhaps on this Day of giving thanks, we can find a way to give away what we have to the least among us. Most of us will give thanks around a Thanksgiving table for the bounty God has given to us--often accompanied by a comparison to those who have little or nothing (“Lord, we thank you for what we have, for we know that so many are not as fortunate,” et al.) . . . this is more in line with the Pharisee in the preceding parable, who compared himself to others.
The parallel in the Luke 6 Beatitude: The kingdom of God belongs to the poor
A thought from my sermon text, Luke 18:15-30: the reference to the kingdom of God belonging to the children means these two stories are a poor vs. the rich contrast and we should suspect that deconstruction, a reversal, is afoot:
V. 16: But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ).
Note the parallel: Luke has already told us back in chapter 6 that “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. 6:20).
And surprise, surprise, the very next thing is a scene of a rich young ruler wanting eternal life (i.e., entering the kingdom of God), who is then told to give to the poor, and walks away from (eternal life!) “because he was wealthy.” Recall how Luke presents the Kingdom Beatitudes back in chapter 6 . . . he parallels the poor/kingdom (6:20) with “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (6:24).
I’ll leave it right here . . .
Love God, Love Your Neighbor
Luke 18:16 (just a verse from my whole text, Luke 18:15-30): “But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’”
When the rich young ruler had heard Jesus say that the kingdom of God belonged to incomplete adults, those not fully human, that is children, this begged a question pertinent to his station and social status (which was good because he was wealthy, which meant he had a name that counts and a status that allowed all the privileges and, of course, he was a grown male which made him fully human). That question was, “Good Teacher, then how do I inherit eternal life*?”
He obviously knows how to inherit riches: be born in a legacy family and be a grown male—this is the Rome-way. It is not Jesus’ way . . . this is what concerns that rich young ruler. As it should. As it should also concern us.
While Jesus is far more than a mere Teacher as the rich young ruler had addressed him, he picks up on the word “Good” to help the young rich ruler grasp he is asking a first-commandment question—God is the only good, so remember, Love the Lord Your God first—but in the next breath Jesus directs the wealthy ruler to the second--which is like the first (cf. Matthew 22:39)—command, namely to Love Your Neighbor.
Thus, give-God-all-you-got is to be met with selling-all-you-got-and-giving-it-to-the-poor, these are the twin sides of inheriting—not earthy riches, that’s easy, just be born with a name and have the right address—of inheriting eternal life.
Not sure we’ve actually come to grips with this side of the gospel . . . it’s there, right in our text for Sunday morning (Luke 18:15-30).
*The kingdom of God, eternal life, and being saved are all interchanging terms and concepts in Luke.
An ellipsis: whoever models Jesus gets to enter into the kingdom of God
I grant the last of this thread is far more application than exegesis (but it’s that, too), yet it is an application that is a faithful reading and dynamic equivalent [you’ll see I do some translating here] to Luke’s and Jesus’ narrative intent (and of the Greek) found in Luke 18:15-30, specifically, verses 16-17: “But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it’” (ESV).
There are a number of things that are before us in the text, for they would have been before both the original audience of disciples and Pharisees, and, as well, those to whom the Gospel was written, namely Theophilus’ church community:
1) As already mentioned, infants and children would have been considered not fully human, incomplete adults, one the lower tiers of human hierarchy, both in the Jewish and the Greco-Roman world;
2) Children/infants simply would not have been presented, especially in public, to any Rabbi (and I note that Jesus is referred to by the rich young ruler as Teacher, aka a rabbi);
3) There would be ritual impurity amid the presentation of the infants that would have been improper for Jewish Rabbis, but obviously Jesus is impervious; and
4) Finally, there is an ellipsis in verse 17 that needs to be understood.
Allow for an explanation of the ellipsis before moving on to my application (which reveals the intent of Jesus and Luke here): a grammatical ellipsis, whether written or spoken, is when some words are missing yet assumed, offering some balance to the thought or sentence that is implied by the author and supplied by the hearer/reader.
Examples: “John saw two hawks in the sky, and Bill saw three” and “Amanda is managing the restaurant Thursday, and Joseph is Friday.” The second example is like our Luke 18:17 ellipsis, in that the verb “manage” is left out but is clearly intended. The ellipsis in Luke 18:17 is the verb “receive.” The ellipsis is masked by the English word “like” (i.e., “like a child”). The word “like” implies to the English reader that it is the children we should be like. However, the ellipsis being crafted here is to imply that it is the “receiving” that we are to be like. Here’s my translation so you can here and see how the ellipsis works:
The “infants” and “children” are not coming or receiving Jesus in this story. They are not coming to Jesus because of something about them--we infer this, but it is not there in the text and the social/cultural location suggests otherwise. And, it is the parents who are bringing them to Jesus and Jesus is receiving them. Thus, the set up for the intended ellipsis. We should make a narrative link to what Jesus is doing. This is exactly what Jesus is modeling, “receiving children.” He is not receiving children as a child or like a child would--that’s our hallmark-card spin on it--but Jesus is doing the receiving, the welcoming of the children.
This reading of the text, and hearing the cultural view of humans that is at play, allows us to apply this warning concerning the unavailability of the kingdom to those who do not welcome/receive children because Jesus has reversed the poles in His kingdom. Now, if we read--as we should--the other aspects before us in this text, namely infants/children would have disturbed the piety of a rabbi (i.e., the clean vs unclean) and the view that receiving them counters the tiered humanity prevalent at that time . . . it would be fair to render this verse:
“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as one receives a homeless person will never enter it.”
Of course, you can change “homeless” to be anyone whom you believe is less than human or unclean . . . and not only believe, but live in such a way that your modeling is nothing like Jesus’ model . . . and the danger? You will not enter the kingdom of heaven. This is affirmed by the next story of the rich young ruler choosing not to model Jesus and turns away from the kingdom.
Luke 18:15-30 (ESV)
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.