The Testimony of Persecution

On no other point is the Chinese church and the Western church more different than the theology of persecution. The Chinese house church has even asked the Western church not to pray for an end to persecution, because it is the purifying fire of the Lord.

They have a point, actually. Not only do we see Jesus here in Luke 21 preparing the disciples for persecution to come, but within a few months it was already starting, and we see Peter and the apostles "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name" (Acts 5:41). Not only is it purifying fire, as the Chinese church states, but Jesus says here that persecution "will be your opportunity to bear witness".

Persecution is far from the minds of most of us. We struggle to even know how to approach the topic. Yet, many of the Dong are "hated for my name's sake". How can we pray for them? If we do not pray for an end to persecution, what do we pray for? Jesus himself gives some prayer pointers.


By What Authority

Mankind is all the same. We all strive to set up our own earthly laws because God's law is too much for us. We write our own set of rules so the game will go our way.

The chief priests strived to apply their rules to Jesus in asking him by what authority he spoke. If he says "by God's authority", they have him, because they know that they are the official priests of God's covenant on earth and some country rabbi cannot possibly supercede that.

In yet another witty and knowledgeable answer, Jesus not only confirms that God speaks through all kinds of people, but also establishes the true foundation of the priests' authority. Jesus brings up the example of John the Baptist, who was widely accepted as a prophet of God, yet was just some crazy guy in the desert. If the priests dared say he was not from God, the people would have mobbed them.

So, on what authority do the priests really speak if they fear the people's response? It is a dangerous game assuming God is on our side or that we have ascertained the mind of God. Mankind loves to set up little kingdoms, as if God was going to share some of his power and dominion with us.


When the Impossible Happens

In the last chapter, we heard Jesus say that it is next to impossible for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. The rich man walked away rich but lost. In this chapter, the same story comes to a different conclusion.

The chief tax collector, rich on other people's money, seems to have a complete change of heart. Before he even talks to Jesus, before he hears any wise or challenging words, the short man who everybody hates completely forgets himself and climbs a tree just to sneak a glimpse of Jesus.

Then, for some unknown reason, Jesus pays attention to him and says he wants to visit his house. Unlike the previous rich man story, Zacchaeus was not hunting for a free ticket to heaven. Jesus did not need to talk about the commandments or give any teaching at all.


Rules or Relationship

"What do I do to get eternal life?" The rich man is asking the same question all of us ask. What do we DO? How do we earn heaven? How good of a person do I need to be? We want easy answers, a step-by-step process, or a procedure to follow.

Jesus first tells the man to follow the commandments, to which he replies that he has followed them from birth. The rich man thinks of the commandments as a set of rules, but the Ten Commandments (and all the Law) are really about relationship. Just take a look; every one of the Ten Commandments speaks to relationship, whether with God, our parents, our wife, or neighbors.


Pay Attention to Yourselves

The way of the world, and the easiest way indeed, is to keep a very accurate record of everybody's sins but our own. We tend to downplay our own faults, but talk through every detail of everybody else's.

In verses three and four of chapter 17, Jesus keeps our involvement in other people's sins to a bare minimum. "If your brother sins, rebuke him". He spends many more words and explanation on forgiving. The opening phrase to these two verses sums up the key thought, "Pay attention to yourselves!"


Managing Earthly and Heavenly Resources

How do we begin to approach Jesus's affirming words of the shrewd money manager in chapter 16? Use money to make friends? We do not hear too many sermons on that one.

Not until we dig into the last few verses of Jesus's explanation of the parable do we begin to understand his point. Worldly wealth (mammon) in itself is neither good nor evil. Our use of it, however, is what is good or evil. Jesus tells us to use this world's resources to accomplish truly eternal purposes.


The Love of the Father

As much as we may try to understand it, the love of the Father remains a mystery to us. Even if we see a perfect example, our view of love is distorted by our past experiences with humans, who rarely love fully and unconditionally.

In chapter 14, we saw Jesus dining with the Pharisees, which did not go so well. Whether they were trying to persuade Jesus over to their side or just to figure out where he stood, by chapter 15, they have a much better idea of what they think of him. Now, they are grumbling about his choice of friends.

In answer to their questions, Jesus gave them three illustrations, not of the Father's laws, justice, or equality, but of the Father's love: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. The last story, that of the prodigal son, is so personal and applicable for all of us.