Demands of Faith

Scripture Focus: Luke 23.8-12; 42-43
8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

From John: As we prepare for Student Writers to take us through the book of Acts, we continue through the last three chapters of Luke’s gospel. Don’t forget that, beginning on July 15 and continuing through August 10th, approximately 90% of donations to The Park Forum will be directed to scholarships/stipends for these talented students. Give during this time to support our ministry and theirs.

Reflection: Demands of Faith
By John Tillman

Pharaohs, Herods, and Pilates demand a show in exchange for their faith. 

“Who is Yahweh, that I should obey him…?” (Exodus 5.2) “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Luke 23.3) “When Herod saw Jesus…he hoped to see him perform a sign…” (Luke 23.8)

Pilate and Herod, former enemies, bonded over their experience with this stubborn prophet who wouldn’t perform for them. Their cynical conclusions about Jesus drew them together.

Some people who claim to be looking for signs are really just looking for excuses for doubt. Some people demand that you “prove something” just so they can manipulate you.

The privileged and powerful often say to Jesus or God’s people: “I’m important.” “Don’t you see what I could do for you?” “What’s in this for me?” “You need me on your side.” “Show me something.”

It isn’t just the powerful who make demands in exchange for faith. On the cross, one of the rebels says, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

Jesus won’t trade miracles for faith. He did miracles out of compassion, that fulfilled prophecy and God’s will, and because of the faith of those who asked. But he never “proved himself” to a doubter, performing for them like a magician. Many people saw public miracles and believed but then fell away. Jesus knows that faith in signs is worthless and fades into nothing. 

After showing the cynicism of the powerful and the desperation of the powerless, Luke spotlights the simplest example of faith: “Jesus, remember me…” 

There are many personal statements of faith in the gospel accounts. John the Baptizer’s “Look! The Lamb of God,” (John 1.29) Peter’s “You are the Messiah,” (Mark 8.29) Thomas’s “My Lord, and my God” (John 20.28) are some that stand out.

The rebel’s “salvation prayer” is special because it shows us how deep the grace of Jesus reaches. It feels incomplete and imperfect. When I imagine standing there, I’m tempted to correct him, “Pray like this…” It’s exactly the kind of prayer Jesus leans in to listen to.

Sincere faith comes from sincere seeking, knocking, and asking, and listening to Jesus’ answers. People will always have doubts and questions and we should treat them gently and with respect. However, we should recognize that demands and ultimatums are typically used to deny or avoid faith.

Make space for people to explore and explain their doubts. Let them ask questions. Then leave room for the Holy Spirit to work.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off in his joy, sells everything he owns, and buys the field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.” — Matthew 13.44-45

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 41 (Listen -5:00)
Luke 23 (Listen -6:39)

Read more about The Crux of Repentance
If only our repentance looked more like the thief on the cross. Hands open, holding nothing. Naked, hiding nothing. Humble, asking nothing. He simply believes.

Read more about Resisting Herods
The Herods epitomize the kind of people that the Jesus community is so often drawn to in hopes of gaining their approval…

King on the Mountain, King on the Cross

Scripture Focus: Exodus 20.18-23
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” 
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” 
21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. 

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. 

Luke 23.38-43
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews. 
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Reflection: King on the Mountain, King on the Cross
By John Tillman

God presents himself to the former slaves as a glorious heavenly king.

There are many linguistic similarities between ancient vassal treaties between kings and subjects and the covenant language given to Moses. God tends to speak to us using language we are familiar with. 

Moses calls this a test. Will the people be faithful to this king? Will they trust God? Will they become God’s “firstborn son” that he calls them to become? (Exodus 4.22) The desert experience and hundreds of years of judges and kings would prove that Israel would fail to live up to the covenant until God sent the true “firstborn son” to fulfill the covenant. 

Israel fell into sin in the desert. Jesus would resist sin in the desert. Everything that Israel had lost or failed to do, Jesus would accomplish, including being a light to the Gentile nations.

When Jesus was on the cross, Pilate wrote “King of the Jews” and placed the sign over Christ’s head. The religious leaders objected to this. They did not want this naked, abused, bleeding man to be called their king. They wanted the intimidating king from the mountain, not the homeless carpenter from Nazareth.

If only their eyes could be opened and ours as well. The king on the mountain and king on the cross are the same king. 
The King from the exalted mountain, was exalted on the cross.
The king on the mountain demanded righteousness. The king on the cross provided it.
The king on the mountain made it a holy place by his presence. The king on the cross made it a holy altar by his blood.

Our God is a king, unlike other kings. 
Israel expected a king fitted for war. He came fitted to serve. 
They expected a king observing their laws. He came pointing out their sins.
They expected a king to cast out the Romans. He cast out the moneychangers.
They expected a king to banish the cursed outcasts and sinners. He brought them in and blessed them.
This is the kind of kingdom God is building because it is the only kind of kingdom we could be allowed into, sinners that we are.

The days of peering at God on a distant mountain top are over. Now, Jesus calls us close to his cross that he may save us and take us into his kingdom.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal anything from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are as one.” — John 10.27.30

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 20 (Listen – 3:21)
Luke 23 (Listen – 6:39)

Read more about Beneath the Cross of Jesus
Content to let the world go by,
To know no gain nor loss
My sinful self, my only shame,
My glory all the cross.

Read more about Way of the Cross 
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you assess your level of comfort, your level of acceptance of the suffering Christ…

He Invites Us — Love of Advent

Scripture Focus: Zephaniah 1.7
7 Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, 
for the day of the Lord is near. 
The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; 
he has consecrated those he has invited. 

Luke 23.42-43
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Reflection: He Invites Us — Love of Advent
By John Tillman

Zephaniah begins with a shocking image of uncreation. In a mirror image of the creation order, God will wipe away first humans and beasts, then birds of the sky, then fish of the sea.

This unmade world will be scraped clean of humanity’s idols, like a canvas being scraped clean for a new painting. But like many other apocalyptic visions, there is room for poetic exaggeration. Zephaniah’s purpose for his entire book is a call to repentance. Not all humans will be wiped out, otherwise there would be no reason for Zephaniah to call them to repent.
Evil on the earth is very real. No religion deals with it like Christianity does. Most don’t deal with evil at all. Some would prefer God wink at evil and pretend it doesn’t exist. Other philosophies try to explain away evil as if it is just some alternative that is “good” for someone. Moral relativism has overtaken not only the world but many prominent religious figures who have recently embraced “ends justify the means” mentalities.

Christianity condemns all these empty and gutless ways of dealing with evil. Only Jesus faces evil directly and destroys it. All the violence and darkness will be ended. Anyone who clings to that violence, who refuses to abandon that darkness, will be swept away.

In Zephaniah, he remarks, “he has consecrated those he has invited,” and some commenters feel this means that the nations being invited are consecrated to be slaughtered for their rebellion. This may be true in the final great day that Zephaniah is writing of, but on another day, Jesus invited the repentant thief…and on a day after that, he invited me…and he invited you.

The Advent we celebrate in these weeks is the gentle, loving call to be ready. Be ready for his coming. We are invited. Respond.

May we turn to him now in joy.
May we repent of the darkness we cling to.
May we be the light of the world wherever we are and may we be burning, glowing embers of invitation to the world to join us in the light.
For I tell you truly, they can be with us in paradise.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled. — Matthew 5.6

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Zephaniah 1 (Listen – 3:09)
Luke 23 (Listen – 6:39)

Read more about End of Year Giving and Supporting our work
Whether or not you choose to donate and support us, please be in prayer for our donors that they will give freely, without compulsion.

Read more about Unto Us, He Comes — Hope of Advent
The movements of the heavens tell a Heavenly story in which Christ comes in at our darkest point to turn the world back to the light.

Choose to Hope in the Cross—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, GT, Dallas
This post came out shortly after we started working from home this year and not only work restrictions, but ministry restrictions were tightened. I read, and was reminded, that in all times, through all things, our Hope is in Christ. I forwarded this on to some missionaries I work with to help encourage them. To this time they have continued to follow His leading and have continued wonderful ministry in the midst of it all because of Christ. Thanks!

Originally published, March 19, 2020, based on readings from Proverbs 6 & Galatians 5.

Scripture Focus: Galatians 5.5-6
For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope…The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Luke 23.42
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

From John: The very thing the disciples despaired at, became the source of hope amidst any despair—the cross. In this time when many are despairing, our source of hope is still the cross. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear, that hope is hidden in the despair of the cross. 

Reflection: Choose to Hope in the Cross—Readers’ Choice
By Matt Tullos

Hope: When we look toward the constructs of eternity and find our true selves apart from our feeble flesh.

The two thieves represent two choices. One thief demands proof. The other pleads for hope. One looks to escape and the other looks to eternity. These choices stand as constant reminders that the cross of Christ demands a response.

Hope is personal. Very personal. Whether through worship, adversity, desperation or pain, we collide into the reality that our only hope is Jesus.

We can’t hope eternally in friends. Friends will fail us.

We can’t hope in institutions. Institutions over the course of eternity will evaporate like the ephemeral mist of the morning dew.

We can’t hope in hidden treasures. All treasures, short of grace, are water through our fingers.
We can’t hope in flowery platitudes because there will be a day when they will all wilt upon the parched, unforgiving soil of our brokenness.

Our hope is in the One who suffers next to us and says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” This glimpse of the cross reflects the absolute power of grace to snatch anyone from the jaws of destruction.

Was there anything the thief could do? Absolutely nothing. He couldn’t start a small group, feed the poor, go to the synagogue or study the scriptures. He found himself at the end of his life and the only thing he could do was to confess his sin and cry out to Jesus.

“Hope is the word which God has written on the brow of every man.”
— Victor Hugo

Hope was born on the cross.
Because hope was born we don’t have to be ashamed because he bore our shame.
Because hope was born we don’t have to constantly obsess about whether we could be good enough because He is our righteousness.
Because hope was born we are free.
Because hope was born we have purpose.
Because hope was born we are going to be okay.
And that’s worth celebrating!

Celebrate this scene of the darkest day! Grace rules even when we have no more time. Grace ruled the day then and now.

Have you ever felt like God has forgotten you?
What do you hope God will restore in your family, your heart, your church or your life?
Where is your hope waning?

*From a series Matt Tullos wrote called 39 Words. A few of these posts are available in audio form via Soundcloud.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you  be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me O God of Israel. — Psalm 69.7– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Lamentations 5 (Listen – 2:03)
Psalm 36 (Listen – 1:29)

This Weekends’s Readings

Ezekiel 1 (Listen – 4:47), Psalm 37 (Listen – 4:21)
Ezekiel 2  (Listen – 1:38), Psalm 38 (Listen – 2:14)

Read more about Supporting our Work
The Park Forum is grateful to our donors who enable us to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads.

Read more about Peace in Crisis
Acting with prudent caution, we can fearlessly engage to aid our cities and communities, loving and serving with abandon.

The Context of The Widow’s Mite

Luke 20.47; 21.2-4, 6
They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely…
He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.””…
“As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”…

Reflection: The Context of The Widow’s Mite
By John Tillman

Many lessons about the widow’s mite focus on how beautiful her faith is. 

The widow’s faith is beautiful because it is centered on God, not on an institution that is corrupted by sinful leadership. Her gift is beautiful because it shows how deep her faith goes—all the way down to her last pennies. Her gift is beautiful because it shows where her treasure truly lies.

We should praise the widow’s faith, as Jesus did, but taken in context, this scripture has more to say about unscrupulous religious leaders than about generous poor people. It tells us that judgment is coming on leaders who take advantage of the poor. 

In Luke and in Mark, the widow enters in the middle of a scene where Christ is confronting the religious leaders’ materialism and hypocrisy and, just afterward, tells his disciples that the Temple they value so much will be torn down and destroyed.

Luke includes the detail that Jesus “looked up” and saw the widow’s deed in the midst of his teaching. The words just off of his lips are ones of judgement on religious leaders who “devour widows’ houses.” When Jesus points out the widow, he is showing us that his meaning is not metaphorical. The widow’s story gives us someone to emulate in faith, but also points out someone we should serve with action.

Scripture doesn’t tell us what happened to the widow. Some propose that God would miraculously provide for her. If forced to conjecture, I pray that one of Christ’s disciples, being as concerned about the destruction of the widow’s life as about the destruction of the Temple, would take her in. Sometimes miracles are simply disciples taking practical action. (I like to imagine that perhaps it was Mark.)

The bright light of the widow’s faith shines within the darkness of hypocrisy and abuse. What does the Spirit of Christ speak to you in the light of her faith? 

Are we like the religious leaders? Are we projecting piety while living extravagantly?

Are we like the rich? Are we giving because it looks good or until we feel good?

Are we like the disciples? Are we over impressed with wealth and success, equating it with God’s favor?

Can we learn to live like the widow? Are we able to live in faith, despite our systematic victimization, despite our poverty, and despite the existence of corruption? 

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let your loving-kindness be my comfort, as you have promised to your servant. Let your compassion come to me, that I may live, for your law is my delight. — Psalm 119.76-77

Today’s Readings
Exodus 19 (Listen – 4:04)
Luke 22 (Listen – 7:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 20 (Listen – 3:21), Luke 23 (Listen – 6:39)
Exodus 21 (Listen – 4:44), Luke 24 (Listen – 6:16)

Thank You!
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Read more from A Cry to God for the Poor from Zimbabwe :: Worldwide Prayer
It grieves us and must grieve you that so many defenseless people live without shelter, clean water, primary healthcare, education, food. Help us, Lord Jesus, to care and share with the less privileged the material resources you have graciously blessed us with.

Read more about Good News to the Poor
Our manifestation of Christ will be in direct proportion to our acknowledgement of needing him more than we need our comforts, our possessions, our luxuries, or even our daily bread.