October 30 — Luke 17:11—18:14 — Finding Faith. Three times in this reading, people cried out for mercy: the ten lepers (17:13), the tax collector in Jesus’ parable (18:13), and the blind man (v. 38). These were cries of desperation from people who felt degraded and isolated. There are some interesting parallels in the stories of the lepers and the blind man. Both had heard about Jesus. The lepers were isolated from society but somehow they still recognized Jesus and knew His name. The blind man was visually isolated but also knew about Jesus, calling him “Son of David.” They were also similar in that they had faith. To both of them, Jesus had an identical comment: “your faith has made you well” (17:19; 18:42). The last similarity was that their healing resulted in worship. One leper “turned back, praising God” and fell at Jesus’ feet, “giving him thanks” (17:15-16). The worshipful response of the blind man was that he followed Jesus, “glorifying God” (18:43). In both cases, they knew they needed something that only God could provide, so they cried for mercy. But also, in both cases, Jesus said that it was their faith that healed them. God’s mercy and man’s faith. We know we need mercy from God but how much do we know about our need for faith? Jesus asked this question that remains for us today: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (18:8).
October 31 — Matt. 19; Mark 10 — Tough Love. Although the story of the rich man coming to Jesus in anticipation and going away in sorrow was shared in three Gospels, only Mark records something important about Jesus’ attitude toward him: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him …” (Mark 10:21). Jesus loved him but what He said next was tough to hear: “Sell all that you have … and come, follow me.” It was not a penalizing message but a loving one. The man had asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 17). He wanted salvation and Jesus wanted him to have it. In order to gain salvation, the man was probably willing to sacrifice somewhat but Jesus required surrender. He knew that the man loved wealth more than he loved God. It was keeping him away from the kingdom of God. Surrendering to God always involves giving up what is precious to us but it also provides what is of greater value, which we will recognize on the other side of surrender. What is holding you back from a greater relationship with God and a greater ministry to others? Lovingly but toughly, Jesus asks you to be willing to give it up.
November 1 — Matt. 20-21 — Fearing the Crowd. Twice in chapter 21, it was said that the Jewish religious leaders were afraid of the crowd. The crowd was composed of those who apparently were seeking what was right because they were following Jesus. When the leaders challenged Jesus’ authority regarding His teaching and healing, He questioned them about John the Baptist: Was his ministry “from heaven or from man?” (21:25). They did not believe that it was from heaven but they would not say that publicly because they privately admitted, “we are afraid of the crowd” (v. 26). After Jesus told the parable of the man who leased his vineyard to tenants that rejected and killed his servants and son that he sent to them, these Jewish leaders knew that the parable was aimed at them because Jesus saw they were rejecting God’s Son. Therefore, they wanted to arrest Him but “they feared the crowds” (v. 46). Ironically, they were afraid of the God-fearing crowd. In chapter 20, however, we find a different kind of crowd encounter. This crowd was attempting to shut up Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46) and his fellow blind man who were crying out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matt. 20:30). Did the blind men fear the crowd? No, “they cried out all the more …” (v. 31). Some of us may fear the culture crowd because they believe much differently than we do but we must “cry out all the more” with the message of truth.
November 2 — Luke 18:15 – 19:48 — Distributing Wealth. It is interesting to compare the ruler and Zacchaeus in these chapters. They were similar in that they were both rich and were seeking something good. The ruler was seeking “to inherit eternal life” (18:18) and Zacchaeus “was seeking to see who Jesus was” (19:3). The contrasts between them, however, were more numerous and significant. The ruler was considered to be a good man, having kept the commandments from his youth (18:21), while Zacchaeus was a tax collector who was known as a “sinner” (19:7). The ruler was “very sad” (18:23) when told by Jesus to liquidate and “distribute to the poor” (18:22), and he refused. Rather than being sad, when Jesus suggested going to the tax collector’s house, Zacchaeus “received him joyfully” (19:6). Instead of being told to be generous, Zacchaeus volunteered to “give to the poor” (v. 8). The rich man forfeited salvation (18:26) but about the tax collector, Jesus said, “salvation has come to this house” (19:9). Salvation comes to those who want what is good because they realize that they are not good.
November 3 — Mark 11; John 12 — Talking to Trees. Jesus talked to a fig tree and suggested that we could talk to a mountain. After finding no ripe figs on a tree, Jesus “said to it. ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again’” (Mark 11:14). The next day when He passed that now-shriveled tree with the disciples, He stopped to teach a lesson about faith, saying that we should “have faith in God” (v. 22), which shows that God is the primary factor in miracles and that He is the one who performs it but that it also involves our faith. To see the miracle of a mountain being moved, He said we should talk to it: “…whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea…’” (v. 23). Jesus then returned to the subject of our faith, that we should not be doubting but believing “that you have received it … [and] it will be done” (v. 24). It is our faith but God’s action. When I was in the Philippines, I asked a visiting Australian minister to pray for a disturbing lump that had suddenly appeared on my shin. When he prayed, he put his hand on the lump and spoke to it in the name of Jesus. That was a first-time experience for me and it provided a real connection to talking to fig trees and mountains in Mark. The lump began to shrivel up that day and soon was completely gone.
November 4 — Matt. 22; Mark 12 — Stumped. There were many opponents of Jesus mentioned in these chapters: Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, and a lawyer (“scribe”). They “gathered together” (Matt. 22:34) and “plotted how to entangle him in his words” (v. 15). But their best collective efforts were no match for their opponent, who was the Creator of their own minds! After being stumped with the question about paying taxes to Caesar, “they marveled … left him and went away” (v. 22). When the Sadducees brought their prize question to Jesus about the widow of seven brothers, He “silenced” them (v. 34) with His response. When the Pharisees conspired together later and sent another question to Jesus through one of their lawyers, Jesus asked them a question about how the Christ could be the son of David. They were so stumped that after that “no one was able to answer him a word … [nor did they] dare to ask him any more questions” (v. 46). It is futile to try to match wits with the Master. Some of us still attempt to do that, however, when we encounter something in Scripture that we don’t like and try to reason our way around it. Don’t argue with the Master; just do what He says!
November 5 — Matt. 23; Luke 20-21 — Dos and Don’ts. Jesus offers here three things we ought to do and three we ought to avoid. After one of his “Woe to you” expressions to the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, Jesus said that they lacked justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23). The first two things that we should do is to show justice and mercy, which are aimed at the needs of others. Do we neglect standing up for the genuine rights of people who are easily oppressed? Do we have attitudes of forgiveness toward people who are weak and have fallen? The third thing we should do is to show faithfulness, which is aimed more at ourselves. Are we being consistent in doing what we know is pleasing to God? The negative list of things to avoid was in the context of being alert to the anticipated Second Coming of Christ. Jesus warned us not to “be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” (Luke 21:34). Most of us have probably long ago put behind us the bondage of drunkenness but how about dissipation? The dictionary defines “dissipating” as spending wastefully or foolishly; being extravagant in pursuing pleasure. Are we being cautious about what we buy, what we eat, and how we are entertained? The last one should hit a lot of us, too: “cares of this life”—placing a higher priority on lower values.