Tag Archives: repentance

God’s People, part 218: Zacchaeus

Read Luke 19:1-10

“But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’”  (Matthew 9:11, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

By Niels Larsen Stevns – Own work (photo: Gunnar Bach Pedersen) (Randers Museum of Art, Randers, Denmark), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1428023

Part 218: Zacchaeus. This is one of those accounts in the Gospel of Luke that is very well known. Most people have heard of little Zacchaeus who climbed a tree in order to see Jesus over the crowd. In fact, he’s so well known that there is even a children’s song based on him entitled, Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man.

As with all well-known accounts, people easily gloss over the important details of the story. With Zacchaeus, there are number of layers to this account that help us understand what was really going on beyond the story of a short man climbing a tree to see Jesus. Within the first sentence of the passage, we learn the location of Zacchaeus and that location bears with it a whole socio-economic and religious context.

Jesus found Zacchaeus in the city of Jericho. Before we look at Jericho, let us first take a look at Zacchaeus. He was not only a tax collector, but he was the “chief tax collector for the entire region.” Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the Romans to collect taxes from their fellow Jews. To make a long story short, whatever the percentage was expected from the Romans, the tax collector would raise that price even higher so that they could make a profit. Thus, the tax collector was not only being paid for their job, but they were also taking a cut of the taxes the collected because they gouged the percentage that was owed. In essence, the tax collectors were robbing their own people blind and becoming rich off of their desperation. Zacchaeus was doing this very thing to the people of his region and thus, in a word, he was DESPISED by the Jewish people in and around Jericho.

The city of Jericho, itself, was one of the cities of the priests. It was 15.9 miles northeast of Jerusalem and it has been said that 12,000 priests and Levites lived there. Thus, this is a town where many temple elite were living; yet, Jesus does not seek an audience with any of them. Ancient Israel had a culture of honor built into it. For a teach or rabbi to visit the home of someone was a great honor. Instead of honoring one of the elite religious leaders in the city, jesus chose to honor wee little Zacchaeus.

To make matters worse, as was mentioned above, Zacchaeus was a “sinner” of the worst kind. He was in bed with the Romans and was robbing the people of what little money they had. So, when Jesus called Zacchaeus down and invited himself over the tax collector’s house, the people became indignant. How dare him! How could this rabbi associate with such a sinner, let alone honor him by going to his house?!?! This was a major insult to them.

Yet, Jesus paid them no mind. At the feast, while the priests were grumbling, Zacchaeus was so moved and honored by Jesus that he pledged to give half of his wealth to the poor. On top of that, he also promised to pay back 4 times the amount he took from those he cheated. Jesus then blessed his house and called Zacchaeus a true son of Abraham, reminding the people present that his mission was to come seek and save those who are lost.

This is a challenge for us as well. Do we view certain people as being outside the bounds of God’s grace? Do we view certain people as being to classless, or too inappropriate, or too secular, or too sinful to be worthy of God’s grace? Do you harbor any resentment toward those you think have cheated you or others? Remember, Christ came to seek and save those who are lost. In fact, we all were lost at one point and Christ has found and saved us. We should, with Christ, seek out the lost and include them in our fold with the love and blessing of Christ. After all, that is what Christ did and that is what he is calling us to do.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Jesus Christ in Matthew 9:13

Lord, forgive me, a sinner. Help me to see other people through your eyes, rather than my own. Amen.

God’s People, part 210: Unrepentant

Read Matthew 11:20-24

If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.” (Matthew 10:14-15, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

hardened-heart2Part 210: Unrepentant. Today’s passage deals with people in the collective. In other words, we’re not dealing with individual people, but entire cities (more likely villages) of people. To be specific, Jesus is calling out the cities of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Before going further, let’s investigate those particular cities. Korazin was one the Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee on the Plain of Korazin. According to the Babylonian Talmud it was known for its grain and may have been a region around Cana of Galilee and not just a single village.

Bethsaida was a city east of the Jordan River, where it emptied into the Sea of Galilee, located in an uncultivated area used for grazing. It believed that it might be the sight from which Jesus fed the 5,000 men (15,000 if you count the women and children present) with five loaves and two fish. Bethsaida was actually the hometown of Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

Capernaum was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee and was the hometown of Matthew the Tax Collector. This was also the place from which Jesus operated his Galilean ministry out of. In fact, Mark 2:1 implies that Jesus called Capernaum his home during his active years in ministry. So, Jesus spent a lot of time in Capernaum and performed many miracles there, as he did in the previous two cities/villages mentioned.

Yet the villages themselves did not largely accept Jesus. In fact, he met quite a bit f of resistance from the religious leaders and from the people. That is not to say that everyone in those villages rejected Jesus. Clearly, there were people who supported him; however, most of the people were moved to repentance by Jesus, his ministry, and his miracles.

Thus, Jesus says that it will be better for Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom on the day of judgment than it will be for those villages. Harsh, right? Why would Jesus say that. Actually, Jesus answered that question for us: “For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse…For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today”  (Matthew 11:21, 23, NLT).

What Jesus was lamenting over was the fact that they were witnessing the very presence and power of God before them and still there hearts were hardened. Tyre, Sidon and Sodom were rough places with wicked people; however, they did not have the benefit of seeing God face-to-face. Had they, Jesus concluded, they would have gladly repented and turned back to God. The sin of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum was their pride. They saw themselves as not needing a Savior, and they did not recognize God in Jesus because of their prideful, hardened hearts.

That should be a challenge to us. Where do we house the villages of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum within us. What parts of us do we deem untouchable? What aspects of our lives are we NOT willing to repent and let go of? Do we bear a hardened heart toward God? Are we unrepentant? Let us be challenged to head toward the light so such parts of us might be exposed and eradicated for the Glory of God and the transformation of the world.

“Sin leads to wickedness and to hearts that become hardened to things of the Spirit.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin

Lord, soften those parts of my heart that keep me from full repentance. Forgive me I pray. Amen.

God’s People, part 93: Joel

Read Joel 2

“’In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out My Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.’” (Acts 2:17 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Joel_-Michelangelo--58b5ce175f9b586046cfa311Part 93: Joel. As with the previous prophets, this devotion cannot really be focused on any character flaws the prophet might or might not have had. We know very little about Joel. Scholars are not even entirely sure what period the prophetic book was written in. As such, I am going with the traditional dating of the book the pre-Exilic time of the first Temple. With that said, please note that some scholars believe that it was written in the post-Exilic time of the Second Temple.

So, instead of focusing on the prophet himself, I am going to focus on the prophecy and on the character flaws of Judah (as a people) that led to the woes described in the Book of Joel. This is happening because there is zero biographical information given about the prophet in the book itself and I cannot begin to make character flaws up where they may or may not have existed. Prophets exist to hold the people accountable and to turn people back to God. Thus, the flaws that existed in the Kingdom of Judah are what led to Joel having to prophesy in the first place.

Joel is a rather short book that consists of 3 chapters (in the Christian Bible) or 4 chapters in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). It is the same exact text, word for word; however, the Christian compilers divided up the text into 3 chapters, whereas the Jewish compilers divided it up into 4 chapters. Keep in mind that, when these scrolls were written, there were not originally divided up into chapters or verses.

In Joel, the prophet laments the fact that Judah has experienced a great locust plague and severe drought, which affected Judah’s agriculture, farming, and even the supplies for agricultural offerings in the Temple. Joel also compares the locusts to God’s army, being sent by God to punish Judah for their sins. This comparison has led some Hebrew scholars to interpret the locust plague itself metaphorically, rather than literally. In this interpretation, the locusts are the enemy kingdoms that are constantly “swarming” and attacking Judah.

Following the lament, Joel calls Judah to national repentance in the face of God’s judgment. Joel proclaims that God will one day redeem Judah and will restore prosperity to the land. He also prophesies that one day God will pour out God’s spirit on all people (a clear prophecy of Christian Pentecost where the Holy Spirit entered and empowered Christians). One day, God’s justice will reign supreme and the enemies of God will perish and Israel will be justified!

How does this relate to us? Being that this is directed at the kingdom of Judah, let us look at “us” as a people. Keep in mind that I am writing in the United States of America, and so when I say “us” I am referring to the U.S.A. With that said, this can be applied to any nation or kingdom.

Let us look at our own nation. We are a people that perpetually claim our own greatness and we look to God in prayer and in song for God’s blessing. Yet, are we a godly and righteous nation? Are we just? Are we a people who mirror the Kingdom of God, or a people who mirror the world? I think, if we are honest, we will find out that we are a people who fall quite short of God’s standard.

We idolize other “things” above God. Don’t believe me, go into a house of worship on Sunday morning and see how many people are there. Worship attendance is declining because people are finding meaning in other things, whether they be sports, work, televangelists, or even sleeping in. Whatever we prioritize are ultimately what we worship.

In the last couple of decades we’ve declined from a people who prided itself as a melting pot of diversity to a people who are calling for “walls to be built” so that we can keep “those people” out. In a neighboring community to my own, this manifested itself in a high school basketball game where the “white” people in the audience booed at the Hispanic/Latino players and shouted, “Build that wall” and “go home.”

I could go on and on, but we have fallen far from where God has called us. How can we expect God to bless us when we are not honoring God? How can we expect good to come out of our actions when our actions are evil? Joel’s lament and call for national repentance is not just written for the people of Judah; rather, it is written for us as well. Of course, this message is NEVER popular, but I pray that people heed it and that the heart of our nation turns back to God.

There can be no forgiveness for those who don’t believe they need any.

Lord, forgive me for the part I have played regarding injustice. Turn me back to you and guide me so that I have the strength to stand up for what is righteous and just. Amen.

Repent and Believe

Read Hebrews 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26 NRSV)

repentAndBelieveToday is Ash Wednesday, and we are entering into the Christian season of Lent. During Lent, which is a forty day period that lasts from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, we enter a period of fasting and of reflection. Christians have traditionally marked the beginning of the Lenten journey by having Ash imposed on their foreheads, a dark and gritty reminder that we are both mortal and tainted by sin. As the ash is marked on the foreheads or hands of the faithful, people are told to “repent and believe the Gospel.”

This year, Ash Wednesday is having a different meaning to me. When I think of the ash that I will no doubt be imposing on the heads of countless people, and of the ash I will have imposed on my head, I cannot help but think of the Jordanian pilot who was lit on fire at the beginning January. When I think of the ashes today, I cannot help but think of the twenty-one Christians who were mass-executed this past weekend. When I think of the ashes today, I cannot help but think of the countless people who have been killed throughout the centuries and millenia for religious differences.

Recently, at a Christian breakfast, President Barack Obama called on Christian leaders to show humility in the face of the imminent threat that ISIL poses to the Middle-East and beyond. He called them to remember what Christians did during the Crusades, during the Inquisition, during American slavery and segregation. Some Christians got upset at this because, while there is no denying that some Christians have done some pretty evil things in the name of Christ, they believed his call to humility only served to play into the propaganda of the ISIL organization.

While this point can be argued, what can’t be argued is that many terrible things have been done by many people in the name of their religion. Honestly, with or without Christian history, people would be killing and maiming in the name of their beliefs. What is sad about this is that most of these belief systems speak much more about the need for peace, love, compassion, humility and mercy than they speak on the need for killing and maiming. But all religious systems can be, and have been, interpreted in ways that “justify” doing great acts of evil.

Rather than getting outraged about being called out on the atrocities of the past, we should be outraged about the atrocities of the present. Rather than pointing at the past as a way of reminding others of what people long dead have done, we should be reflecting on the ways in which we can help to stop the sins we are committing right here and right now? We don’t have to look at the middle-east to see that we have been complacent in the face of suffering, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a sagely oracle to realize that such complacency has us far away from the heart of the Gospel.

Today, on this Ash Wednesday, Christ is calling us to repent and to believe the Good News. Let us repent of the ways in which we have been complacent, and let us begin to live into the Gospel as if we ACTUALLY believe in it! Let us begin to live in solidarity with those who are suffering. Let us pray for the countless Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and others who are being put to death because of their beliefs. Let us begin to treat others with the respect that should be afforded all human beings, who are created in the image of God. If we live in such a way, we will have truly received the Lenten message and will have begun our journey to the cross. It is there, and only there, that we will truly die to ourselves and resurrect into a new and glorious life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY “Of all acts of man repentance is the most divine. The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.” – Thomas Carlyle

PRAYER Lord, today I repent and ask for you to reveal your Gospel within me so that I may believe and follow it. Amen.


Read Genesis 3; John 11:47-53


“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

GoatHave you ever read or seen the play, “The Crucible”, by Arthur Miller? It tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials, which happened from February 1692 – April 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts.  In the story, while dancing and casting spells in the woods, a group of girls were caught by the village’s minister, Reverend Parris.  Parris’ daughter was one of the girls and, upon seeing her father, fainted and did not regain consciousness.  Knowing that much of the town was divided over the effectiveness his leadership and ministry, Parris was fearful of what might become of the girls behavior and proceeded to interrogate the girls.

The girls, in turn, blamed Tituba the slave out of fear for being scolded and beaten.  Parris then brought in the Reverend John Hale of Beverly to interrogate Tituba and to investigate whether or not the devil had indeed been raised in Salem. Tituba was harshly interrogated, and after she had been threatened with severe beatings and death, she confessed to being in league with Satan. But that confession wasn’t enough. Her accusers wanted her to give up any names who might have also joined her in signing Satan’s black book.  Afraid for her life, and just wanting the nightmare that had befallen her to come to an end, Tituba calls out the names of four people who lived within the community.

The stage had been set, the spark ignited, the fire kindled, and the blazing flames were about to engulf the entire village of Salem. Historically speaking, by April of 1693 over 160 people were accused of Witchcraft, most of whom were jailed and deprived of their property and legal rights.  Fifty of those people confessed to witchcraft in order to save themselves from immediate trial and certain death. In the end, twenty-five of the accused died: nineteen were executed by hanging, one was pressed to death by stones, and five died due to the horribly unsanitary conditions of their imprisonment.

It seems to be human nature to scapegoat people in order to save our own hides.  We see this reflected in the Adam and Eve story, where Adam points the finger at Eve, followed by Eve pointing the finger at the serpent who, unfortunately didn’t have any fingers left to point. And this pattern of playing the blame game can be seen throughout history. Early Christians in the mid-first century were scapegoated by Nero for the fire that burned down a large portion of Rome. And let’s not stop with Rome, for we need look no further than the Inquisition, the holocaust and some of the reactions to the attacks on 9/11 to see that Christians have certainly done their share in scapegoating too.

Let us, in the spirit of Lent, remember that Jesus was a scapegoat and was executed for crimes that he didn’t commit. In the spirit of Christ, let us repent of the times we have participated in scapegoating others, whether it be as small as scapegoating our siblings to avoid a spanking or as large as scapegoating minority groups in order to maintain the socio-economic and political status quo.

God is calling each of us to swallow our pride, repent of our sins, and accept responsibility for what we have done.  It is only then that we can rise out of the water of our baptism with Jesus and follow him into the wilderness of preparation. It is only then that we can truly be his disciples. It is only then that we will can bear the Good News of God’s hope, healing and wholeness to the people in our midst.  During this Lent God is calling us, not to be perpetually guilty, but to repent and move forward in the direction God is calling us…the direction of witnessing to God’s unconditional love of us all!


“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Jesus of Nazareth, in Luke 5:31-32


Lord, bring me to the point of true, and liberating, repentance so that I may truly serve you and represent your unconditional love. Amen.