When Christ becomes central, not Christmas

Growing up as a child in England, Christmas was the highlight of my year. Out came the Advent calendar with its little windows to open each day, with some sort of picture, message or treat on offer. Out came the boxes of ageing decorations, followed by a sliced off fir for the Christmas tree and dangling all sorts of odds and ends from its branches.  

It was a tradition we followed year after year, always the same, and I never questioned why we did it, or what all the rituals meant. And even though I grew up in a Christian home and went to church every week as a child, none of what we did at Christmas meant anything more than an exciting, look-forward-to time of getting gifts and eating the best meal all year. 

We sang carols, and I remember vaguely of being something in a nativity play at school, but none of what we did ever made Jesus real or personal to me. And then I hit teenage and began to lose interest in Christmas. I even stomped out of a family Christmas dinner in a snit, because Christmas was all such a “put on” to me. We all had to pretend to be happier than usual, and be thankful for gifts we didn’t like, and decorate the tree with frilly nonsense, etc. 

So for all that tradition and growing up in church, Jesus meant little to nothing to me. I had no idea why Jesus was born or what difference it made. At age eighteen I gave up on Christmas all together, and never attempted to celebrate it with anyone for the next thirty-five years or more. I was glad of the rest at Christmas, and not having to join the frenzy of gift-giving, parent hopping, Christmas parties, and eating sugary junk. 

When grandchildren turned up I tried joining in with the typical festivities, but it all felt so empty. Gifts and wrapping paper were scattered all over the floor, food was gulped down in twenty minutes, and then in overfed stupor we gradually melted into a heap of sleepy bodies until it was time to go home. And that was Christmas, having taken up the best part of an entire month preparing for it, and in five hours or so it was all over, and then up early next day for more frenzied bargain shopping, or back to work.      

I yearned for something meaningful. And one day, about ten years ago, it came. It was in a song about Simeon and his reaction to seeing Mary carrying the eight day old Jesus into the temple. Simeon cried out in Luke 2:30-32, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel,” a quote from Isaiah 49:6. So this was a promise Simeon had looked forward to seeing fulfilled and here it was – in his mind – being fulfilled in that baby in Mary’s arms.

Questions raged in my mind. What was this “salvation” he saw in this tiny baby, for instance? And how could it be seen by Jews and Gentiles alike? And since I’m a Gentile too, can I see this salvation as well? Could it actually become real and personal to me too? 

Fortunately, Simeon came to my rescue because he’d also partly quoted from Isaiah 42:6-7, that “I (God) will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” And when Jesus later read this same promise from Isaiah 61:1-2 he made it clear that the ‘you’ in Isaiah 42 was him. The hope for Jew and Gentile alike, then, would be these promises being visibly answered in him.  

For Jews and Gentiles (like myself), therefore, these were three clear promises that must happen because of Jesus’ birth. The three promises mentioned were: 1) The blind will see, 2) Prisoners will be set free, and 3) Darkness will be turned to light. So did Jesus being born make those promises happen for the Jews, first of all?

Yes, they did. The Jews witnessed with their own eyes the healing of helplessly crippled people and madmen being released from their demons. A man who’d been blind from birth was healed too. The walls of his restricted world suddenly expanded. The darkness he’d only seen since birth was now filled with light – exactly what Isaiah and Simeon had said would happen. But did it happen to Gentiles too? And that part I really wanted to know, because I’m a Gentile. 

Well, in Acts 26:15-18, Jesus himself said he’d do the same for us Gentiles, when he recruited Paul and told him, “’I am Jesus….I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.” Jesus himself now was promising the same three things to the Gentiles that were promised to the Jews: opening eyes, freeing us from evil, and turning darkness into light.   

So, what was I “blind” to that now I see? It’s that everything I need to know about God is in Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6). It’s not in Christmas; it’s in him. And what evil have I been freed from? It’s from traditions that teach nothing about Jesus, like most of what Christmas is about today. And what darkness has been turned into light for me? It’s been the dawning in my mind that if I was alone on a desert island without any Christmas celebration being possible I still have Jesus close to me and in me, and that’s all I need. 

Now I know the source of “life and godliness,” and the “divine nature” that makes it possible for me to “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3-4). And it all began to happen for me when Christ became the highlight of my year. If only Christmas could make him the highlight too, then. 

Where do we see God’s glory in the church today?

In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, we’re given the reason why God “chose us to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit,” and why he “called us through the gospel.” The reason given is “that we might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

It was Jesus’ expressed wish too that we “see (and share) his glory,” John 17:24. But not just see his glory, it’s also his wish in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that we “reflect” his glory too, as we ourselves are “transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” by that “sanctifying work of the Spirit.” 

We also see in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that the purpose of the “god of the age” is to “blind the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” But in the church, verse 6, God “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”   

So Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory, enabling us to see it, and we in the church are the reflection of that same glory as the Spirit transforms us into Jesus’ likeness, so that others can see it.   

The obvious question then becomes, “But how does the Spirit enable the church to reflect God’s glory so that others can see it?” And that takes us back to 2 Thessalonians 2 and verse 15, that by the sanctifying work of the Spirit we in the church “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings that Jesus’ apostles passed on to us.” So we reflect God’s glory by the Spirit enabling us to stick like glue to the teachings of Jesus passed on to us through his apostles. We also have the “Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,” verse 16, “encouraging our hearts and strengthening us in every good deed and word,” verse 17. 

So not only are we sticking like glue to Jesus’ teachings, thanks to the Spirit, we are also displaying clear fruits of Jesus’ teachings in our every word and deed, thanks to Jesus and our Father keeping us encouraged and strengthened – which clearly we in the church need, because, verse 7, “the secret power of lawlessness is already at work,” whose aim is to “oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God” (verse 4).   

So there’s also a power at work that wants to hide and mess up “everything that is called God,” and replace God’s glory with his own. And the means by which he does it is to “unsettle and alarm” and “deceive” the church into “refusing to love the truth” and “not believing the truth” through counterfeit lies (verses 2 and 9-12). 

Is it any surprise, then, that there are times when the church does not reflect the glory of God very well? But at least we know the clear cause of it. Somehow our focus has been taken off the teachings of Jesus by other things that seem more important, or more exciting, like “all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” (2:9), or worse, verse 10, “every sort of evil” being pushed by the culture that creeps into the church too, like sexual abuse of children. The result of drifting away from Jesus’ teachings will be very visible too, therefore, but visibly reflecting Satan and his likeness (verse 9), not Jesus. 

But just as visible is the result of sticking like glue to Jesus’ teachings, and being transformed by that by the Holy Spirit into Jesus’ likeness. The result is stated clearly in Chapter One, verse 3, when Paul writes: “We thank God for you, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.” These are the “miracles, signs and wonders” that visibly display the Holy Spirit at work in the church. They are trusting in Jesus and what he taught, and our love for each other is increasing. 

They’re the total opposite to feeling unsettled and alarmed caused by “refusing to love the truth” of Jesus’ teachings and ”not believing” in them, that the spirit of lawlessness creates. And we see that in churches today that are divided and splintered into opposing factions, where Jesus’ teachings don’t even enter the picture, and their love for each other is visibly decreasing, not increasing. 

“With this in mind,” then, Paul continues in verse 11, “we constantly pray for you, “that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”

Faith in Jesus’ teachings releases God’s power in us so that every word and deed of ours fits those teachings, which is what God called us for in this age to properly reflect his glory. It’s also what Paul prayed for in verse 12, “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.”

It’s clear, then, where we see the glory of God in the church today. It’s in churches, or individuals in churches, who are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into Jesus’ likeness through having their noses thoroughly buried in Scripture – the clear, visible fruits of which will be trust in Jesus and his teachings and trust in him and the Father strengthening and encouraging us when we’re unsettled and alarmed. Our love for each other in the church is really growing too.

And that’s what makes God’s glory visible to others as well.  


“Today salvation has come to this house”

In Luke 19:1-9 we have a story about a tree, a sycamore fig tree to be precise, that in Palestine literally grows figs on its branches, unlike the sycamore tree in Europe and North America. The story behind this particular tree is tied in with Jesus travelling down to Jerusalem to die, which he knew was his Father’s will for him, and part of his journey meant a stop in Jericho because this too was on the Father’s itinerary for him, just as everything else in Jesus’ life on earth was.

It was totally intentional in the Father’s itinerary, therefore, that Jesus pass right by this sycamore fig tree in Jericho, because a little fat tax collector would be climbing it to get a glimpse ofJesus when he arrived. And fortunately for the tax collector the limbs of this type of tree spread outward very low down on the trunk so that even a child would find the tree easy to climb. 

I wouldn’t be surprised, then, to discover that God himself had planted this tree, or made sure someone planted it – and at this very spot too, close to where Jesus would be walking – just as he’d planned for Zacchaeus the tax-collector to climb it. And that’s because of the message he wanted to get across about Jesus, that explained the reason why Zacchaeus found himself wanting to get a look at Jesus, and why he got desperate enough to climb a tree when the crowd blocked him out, and being so short he couldn’t see over them.

It was then, to Zacchaeus’ immense surprise, but exactly according to the Father’s plan, that when Jesus arrived at the tree he stopped, looked up at Zacchaeus and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately: I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).  

The fact that Jesus knew Zacchaeus by name, and that he was in the tree, and that out of that entire crowd he selected a much-despised agent of the hated Romans, clearly means something worth taking note of here. But what?

Well, when Jesus arrives at Zacchaeus’ house, followed by a grumbling crowd who were also surprised that Jesus would allow himself to be “the guest of a ‘sinner’” (verse 7), he says to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house” (verse 9). 

And why was it so important to the Father that Jesus say that? “Because,” Jesus continues in verse 9, ”this man too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man,” verse 10, “came to seek and to save what was lost.”

As a Jew listening to that my mind would be reeling, I imagine, because Jesus had lumped this despicable ‘sinner’ in with them as being a “son of Abraham” too. To Jesus, however, Zacchaeus was no different to the rest of them, despite him choosing to work for the hated enemy.

It gets worse, though, because Jesus then says “the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost,” meaning, that although Zacchaeus was “a son of Abraham” he was lost and needed saving. Well, no Jew thought he was lost or needed saving, because as “Abraham’s descendants,” John 8:33, they thought they had it made as God’s children (verse 41).  

But here Jesus is hinting – in Zacchaeus being lost and in need of saving – that so were the rest of the Jews, and the only route to salvation was Jesus himself. Which is why Jesus announced at Zacchaeus’ house, “Today salvation has come to this house” meaning himself being the source of salvation for Zacchaeus, and therefore himself as the only source of salvation for the rest of the Jewish nation too. But to lump them in twice now with that traitor Zacchaeus, as both a child of Abraham and a lost sinner in need of salvation, must have shocked them to their roots. 

And for it to happen to a man who’d made himself rich at their expense, it must have been a bitter pill to swallow, but it certainly got their attention for Jesus to make his announcement that no matter what kind of person you were or what your ancestry was, salvation was possible through him.

But what kind of “salvation” was Jesus talking about? Well, that had become obvious in the remarkable change in Zacchaeus. The man really had been despicable, having deliberately chosen a job where he could make himself rich at his countrymen’s expense. He could overcharge for taxes owed and siphon off the extra for himself, and tax collectors were well-known for doing it. And Zacchaeus was “a chief tax collector” too, so he was probably getting a slice out of all the other tax collectors’ profits as well.

But here was Zacchaeus up a tree looking for Jesus, and when Jesus called out to him he “welcomed Jesus gladly.” So something dramatic had changed in Zacchaeus that had zeroed his mind on Jesus. This dramatic change in him then included a total turnaround in his attitude to his fellow countrymen too, because he was ready to give half his wealth to the poor and pay back fourfold to anyone he’d knowingly cheated. 

It was clear evidence of what Jesus’ salvation did to a person. It gave them a love for God and love for neighbour, and in a person like Zacchaeus too, whose heart had been as cold as ice to both God and people. 

It made me realize, then, that if the same dramatic change has been happening in me that “salvation” has come to my house too. Somehow the Father who calls us orchestrates circumstances so that Jesus becomes hugely important to us too, enough for us, like Zacchaeus, to seek out Jesus no matter how embarrassing that makes us look, or what other people think of us. And then we find our attitude toward people changing too, where reconciling with people we’ve had difficulties with, and healing old wounds, becomes top priority. 

And wasn’t love for God and love for neighbour what God created humans to enjoy forever, that we so sadly “lost” back there in Genesis? 

Zacchaeus up that sycamore fig tree, therefore, tells us just how merciful our Father is toward us, and why he had Jesus say these words to Zacchaeus on his way to die in Jerusalem to make the salvation that Zacchaeus was experiencing available to the whole world, no matter who or what we are. 

Halloween: a trick or a treat for Christians? 

So is Halloween just another trick by the devil to get Christians all in a dither as to whether it’s evil or not, so we’re divided as Christians and at loggerheads with each other? Or is it a treat that could be used and enjoyed by Christians to meet neighbours and join them and their children in an evening of fun, leading to some great connections in the future? 

Well, if we’re worried about Halloween being evil, I can’t see Jesus being upset at it, because in Colossians 2:15 he “disarmed the powers and authorities, and he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Or as The Message phrases that verse, Jesus “stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.” 

He made a total mockery of evil, exposing it for the cartoon it had become. And isn’t that exactly what all those kids dressed up as ghosts and goblins are doing at Halloween too? They’re transforming the devil and ghosts and goblins into cartoonish figures we snicker at. They’re making a “public spectacle” of them too, as nothing to be scared of. 

But isn’t evil something to be taken seriously? Yes, when stupid, blinded humans tune in to the devil’s twisted thinking and actually practice it, thinking it’s right. But Halloween isn’t about terrorists killing innocent civilians, or corporate executives drunk on greed and power, or dictators filling they bank accounts while their people starve. Halloween is a celebration of Jesus’ victory over evil, that started us on the road to restoration and healing. 

That’s what Halloween meant on the Christian calendar too. October 31st was set aside as “All Hallows Eve,” an evening of hallowed, or sacred, preparation for All Saints’ Day on November 1st, in which saints present and past, known and unknown, are honoured. It’s a wonderful day of celebrating those made holy by Jesus’ victory over the devil, including those – like our parents, grandparents or great Christian teachers, etc. – who led us personally to becoming saints as well.

It’s also a day to remember the power of Jesus’ name. Just the mention of his name sent evil scuttling for cover, or demons begging him to leave them alone. Jesus broke the power of the devil and our fear of death (Hebrews 2:4), so that we’d never have that cloud hanging over everything we do. It means that none of our well-intentioned, faithful labour is now in vain. It’s all a step along the way to us becoming labourers with Jesus to restore this planet and fulfill God’s plan for all creation. And if we are scared at any time, all we need to do is call on Jesus’ name for peace and comfort. 

We can also heed the advice in James 4:7-8 to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” In other words, if there is some evil being promoted at Halloween, like horror movies and attempts by others to “spook us out,” have nothing to do with them. I remember as a teenager we’d try to scare each other with ghost stories, or later on as adults, dabble with things like Ouija Boards and seances, or seek advice from people claiming they could contact our dead relatives, or try to figure out if premonitions that came true were from God or the devil. And I used to wonder if these things were truly instruments of the devil or flirting with the occult. James, by comparison, simply says, “Resist.” Have nothing to do with them. In other words, there’s no need to figure them out. Just ignore them and say to myself – or to others – “I’m not interested.”  

Should children, therefore, resist such things too? Of course, but they’re not what children are interested in at Halloween in the first place. They’re not seeking contact with evil or flirting with evil. When they visit a so-called “haunted house” they’re not giving it any religious significance. It’s simply good for a laugh with friends, just like it is when they visit a “haunted house” or any other make-believe world at Disneyland. Admittedly it’s an odd way to create fun, but to a child it’s like going to a fantasy movie with all sorts of weird, cartoonish characters with superhuman powers, or reading a children’s story with magic in it.

Children aren’t scared by these fantasy creatures, nor do they become open doors to the occult. They’re just mindless entertainment, much like so many of the movies and video games we watch and play as adults too. They’re just a bit of fun and relaxation. 

So when someone asked me how I thought Jesus would react to children coming to his door at Halloween seeking treats, it made me think he’d view it as a bit of fun and entertainment too. He might compliment a child with an especially imaginative costume, or invite the kids to answer a riddle to get an extra piece of candy. Kids loved coming to Jesus, because they could see he loved them. 

None of this means we take evil lightly, of course, because evil is real. And for those people who’ve experienced evil in the raw Halloween is an objectionable and stupid custom, and they want absolutely nothing to do with it. Which is where Paul’s comments in Romans 14 kick in, that we don’t judge or condemn each other when we have differences of opinion on touchy subjects. Rather, we should try to seek peace between us, which we can by putting ourselves in others’ shoes to understand where they’re coming from and why they feel so uncomfortable at Halloween time. 

Adults need to feel safe in what they think and do too, and a church that takes that into account is an attractive place to be. A church can also lessen the evil side of Halloween by coming up with fun events for children and their parents in a church atmosphere of fun and entertainment that’s even better than being out on a cold night and maybe having to deal with some truly weird people. 

So, is Halloween a trick or a treat for Christians? It can be either one, depending on where we’re at in our Christian journey, and we respect that in each other. And maybe we don’t celebrate Halloween for the sake of others, just like we would’t drink alcohol in the presence of a struggling alcoholic. 

Halloween can certainly get us thinking, then, as to how we can be as wise as serpents in this world, and as harmless as doves in our relationships with our fellow Christians, and, of course, with our children who think Halloween – fortunately or unfortunately – is just great.    

“That’s never what religion is for”

In Luke 18:9-14 we see the difference between a Pharisee and a tax collector in how they view themselves and what God thinks of them. 

And isn’t that where all our minds naturally lean – toward either what we think of ourselves, or to what God thinks of us? I grew up, for instance, without a thought in my head as to what God thought of me, because I was terribly self-conscious. I had a fairly dim view of myself too, based on how much more clever and sociable most kids my age were than me. It made me feel horribly inadequate and lacking, which wasn’t a pleasant experience. 

But when I started attending church regularly at the end of my teenage that’s when I switched to what God thought of me, based on what my church told me was expected of a Christian. But that wasn’t a pleasant experience either, because again I felt horribly inadequate and lacking, never being able to come up to the church’s standards. So now I was stuck with thinking I wasn’t likeable to either God or to my fellow humans, and that was the cloud I lived under for years. 

To deal with it I went the route of both the Pharisee in Luke 18 and the tax collector. I tried being very strict in my obedience to God like the Pharisee, so God would think well of me. But I discovered in doing so that I ended up just like the Pharisee, saying to myself as he did, “I thank God I’m not like all other men,” which for me included thinking I was far superior to other Christians too, because in my mind they weren’t obeying Scripture as strictly as I was. 

But when I met and mixed with other Christians, I discovered that many of them were wonderful people doing great things in their churches and in their communities, which thoroughly humbled me – to the point I too “stood at a distance” like the tax collector (verse 13) in my shame and embarrassment. I didn’t mix with other Christians (beyond the few I knew) for a long time, and I couldn’t “look up to heaven” with any feeling of confidence or acceptance before God either. But maybe that’s what I deserve, I thought, so I went the humble route of the tax collector in Luke 18, beating myself up and doubting I was even a Christian. 

It seemed I was on the right track, though, because in beating his breast and crying out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” the tax collector “went home justified before God” (verse 14). And “justified before God” obviously meant “accepted and approved” by God, because in verse 14 Jesus said, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

But does that mean I always have to be admitting I’m an abject failure in need of constant mercy to be accepted by God?  

Well, I could think that, and some Christians I know have thought it too, because they were constantly bewailing their inability to conquer some addiction they had, and they were always flagellating themselves for how weak and pathetic they were. And they kept on telling me that every time we met, in the hope, I suppose, that their humility regarding their condition would smooth over their sin in God’s eyes and make them not look so bad.

But that wasn’t the context of these verses in Luke 18. Jesus was aiming his story at “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else,” verse 9. He was talking to people who didn’t think they had any sins or unconquered addictions to flagellate themselves for. 

But it’s interesting what they thought made them so “righteous.” It was fasting twice a week and giving a tenth of all they earned, or received (verse 12). Both acts were on the fringes as far as being important and helpful, but they made the Pharisees feel superior to other people who weren’t so strict on themselves in such things. And what was their motive? Was it to be approved and accepted by God? No, it was entirely driven by the “right” they thought they now had to look down on other people. 

And how on earth did they think that made them “righteous,” or “justified before God,” when there wasn’t a law in the Bible that supported anyone looking down on other people? What these very “religious” Pharisees were doing was horrible. It separated people Into “us and them.” And hasn’t it been that way ever since? Dress a man up in religious robes, or closet him away in a monastery, and suddenly he’s operating on a “higher, deeper, more spiritual’ level than the rest of pathetic humanity. 

And such is the great danger of religion. It creates faith in self, and gives pious people the right in their own minds to judge others. On the other hand, don’t they have some right to judge those who aren’t doing anything but flagellating themselves for being sinners and aren’t doing any good religious works at all? No, because in Luke 18 it’s clear that’s never what religion is for.

“You can always pray, you know”

In Luke 18:1-8 a helpless widow manages to get her case heard by a judge who couldn’t care a hoot about her or what had happened to her. In context it was Jesus’ answer to the troubles his disciples would encounter in this world too.   

And it all came down to trust, as we see in Jesus’ last statement in verse 8: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” 

It’s a good question, especially in light of the Pharisees asking Jesus in Luke 17:20 when the kingdom would come, and Jesus answering in verse 21, “God’s kingdom is already among you.” So God’s kingdom had already begun, witness the amazing healings and other miracles Jesus was doing. Jesus was already putting their mess of a world to rights, in other words, so things were looking really good. But he also said in verse 22, “The time is coming when you will long to see the day when the Son of Man returns, but you won’t see it.” So that suggests a delay in Jesus’ returning with the kind of power they were really looking forward to, the result being in verse 26, that “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.” People would be living like things had never changed, and weren’t about to change either. 

Years would go by, therefore, when it would seem like Jesus putting the world to rights was just a pipe dream. And doesn’t it seem like that today as well? The idea that God’s kingdom is already here – and has been for the last two thousand years – is up against continuing violence and crime, horrible injustice for the abused, and a host of unsolved problems. If someone was to ask us, therefore, where is the proof that Jesus is making a difference, it can really knock the wind right out of our sails as his disciples. What can we say when this horrible mess continues unabated, and innocent people are still suffering? 

It can become awfully disheartening for us, because here we are trying to preach the good news that Jesus is putting the world to rights, but it all sounds pathetically hollow in a nasty world full of corporations ditching peoples’ needs for their own personal profit. People are now seeing little relevance in Christianity, therefore, and in many parts of the world we are hated. 

But Jesus then tells a parable to his disciples in the very next chapter, Luke 18, asking the question, “will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones?” Well, that’s what we long for, isn’t it? That everything we preach and labour for will be vindicated one day. It’s like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:58, that we “Always give ourselves fully to the work Jesus has given us to do, because we know our labour in his name is not in vain.” 

To those in Luke 18:6, then, “who cry out to him day and night” for this to be true, Jesus asks in verse 7, “Will God keep putting them off?” Will God ignore how disheartening it is for us living in this world, where our credibility and reputation are being battered, and our message has so little impact? To which Jesus answers: “God will see that they get justice, and quickly.” Rest assured, God is utterly aware of what’s happening to us, and he does not delay in answering us.  

And to get that point across to his disciples Jesus tells the story of a helpless widow who’d been thoroughly ignored by a thug of a judge. It was only after she’d badgered him again and again to put her situation to rights that he gave in – and then only because she’d upset his comfortable routine – but she got the answer she wanted.  

The point being, she never gave up. She certainly had reason to give up, because women in that culture weren’t even allowed in court, let alone badger a judge personally. She’d been wronged but no one cared, and being a widow she had no husband to fight for her either. She was helpless and alone. 

Talk about reason for being discouraged and disheartened, with no hope whatsoever of a solution or vindication. But she chose not to give up. 

And that took courage, just as it does for us to look hopelessness in the eye and say, “No, you’re not going to get the better of me, or turn my brain to mush.” But that brings us right down to the raw reality of our situation. Courage is great, but is there really a reason for it? Can we answer someone who asks us for the reason we have such hope when it seems insane to them (and us too at times) that we stick to being Christians? “You jolly well do have an answer,” says Jesus, “because you guys can always pray, you know.” 

That’s right; no matter how hopeless or helpless we feel, or what situation has us completely paralyzed emotionally, we can pray about it. And we’d be stupid not to, because who wouldn’t turn to the power driving this universe, when he’s so much more powerful than anything happening in it? Which is why Jesus says in Luke 18:1, “always pray and never give up” – or – never give up because we can always pray.” And isn’t that what Jesus longs for? It’s finding people when he comes again who realized there was no reason at all to give up, because it dawned on them from this parable that if a helpless widow got an answer because she didn’t give up, how much more would Jesus answer those who trust him? It made me ask, therefore, “Do I hear him saying to me too then, ‘You can always pray, you know’?”

Being introduced to a very different dimension

In Luke 17:11-19 Jesus healed ten lepers, which must have caused a few ripples, because nothing like the healing of ten lepers all at once had happened in the entire history of the Jews or Israel. But suddenly there they all were, knocking on the local village priest’s door, asking him to confirm their healing. 

And what was that? There’s a Samaritan among the ten too? What was he doing there? Samaritans would never be seen dead or alive at a Jewish priest’s door. So that was two shocking things the Jewish priest got hit with all at once. And now he had to blow the dust off Leviticus 13 and 14 and meticulously apply the detailed instructions ten times over to make absolutely sure all ten of them were healed. And rattling away in his mind, perhaps, was the Jewish tradition that full blown leprosy, the kind that had isolated and brought those ten lepers together in their own commune of misery, was only a disease the Messiah could truly heal, and now here were ten of them. And who was it who’d healed them? 

Oh, so that’s who it was. So what had Jesus actually done to heal them? Absolutely nothing, the lepers told him. After they’d begged Jesus to have pity on them, he’d simply told them to go to the local priest for conformation of their healing. And what was that the lepers were saying? They were saying Jesus hadn’t healed them before they left, but on the way to the priest’s house that’s when they’d been healed. And all ten of them at once too. 

And then, of course, the priest had to confirm the healing of the Samaritan, which was yet another shock to his already blown fuses, because what Jewish rabbi would have any dealings whatsoever with those rebel Samaritans, and why on earth would he actually heal one of them too? So, were there any more shocks the healed lepers had for him, or was that it?

Because in those first few minutes of the lepers’ arrival, the priest’s mind had been lifted into a very different dimension. He’d probably had a quite normal day up to that point, a morning reading and singing a Psalm or two at the synagogue, and then – this. 

What he did with it from that point on we don’t know, but we do know how one of the lepers reacted. After his healing was confirmed by the seriously shaken priest, he ran out the priest’s door and with a voice that sounded like he was shouting through a megaphone he yelled his thanks to God all the way back to Jesus, where he threw himself at Jesus’ feet thanking him over and over again. And well, well, well, wasn’t it the Samaritan too, the one person least likely to announce he’d been healed by a Jew. 

So it’s one shock after another, but there’s one more shock to come too, in Jesus’ reaction to the Samaritan. Jesus looks down at this one lone man at his feet and asks, “Weren’t all ten of you cleansed? So where are the other nine? Did none of them think to thank God except this foreign chap?” And now comes the shock, because Jesus says to the Samaritan, “Rise up and go; your faith has made you well.” 

Other translations use the word “whole” instead of “well,” because at its Greek root it means more than just the healing or “cleansing” of an immediate and single disease. It means “wholeness,” which is what Jesus had come for. He said so himself in John 10:10, that “I am come that they might have life, and that they may have it abundantly.” This is what he’d been sent by God to his fellow Jews for, and if they could only acknowledge that and turn to Jesus in total trust and obedience, this is what would open up to them. It went so much further than a physical healing. The windows would open to a very different dimension all together. 

And here Jesus was offering it to a Samaritan, of all people. And why was that? Because the Samaritan DID acknowledge this was what God had sent Jesus to do – his heartfelt gratitude to God and throwing himself at Jesus’ feet being the proof of it. And to Jesus this was terrific, because he could say to the man, “Rise up and go,” or “Hey, you’ve really woken up to the secret of life, old chum, so go on, get up and experience what happens next, now that your trust in why God sent me has opened up the windows to all the other blessings he sent me to bring you.” 

And shock upon shock, it didn’t matter if the man wasn’t a Jew. The abundant life was open to anyone. So wouldn’t we love to be able to say to any person today who obeyed and trusted Jesus with his desperate needs and came back full of gratitude to God for sending Jesus to do just that for him, that “Now, old chap, you’ve discovered the secret to abundant life that God sent his Son to open up to us. So, go on, go live your life, expecting many more extraordinary things to happen.”  

“In other words, my friend, you’re being introduced to a very different dimension.”