Hello Project Ezra! I pray that you are doing well, and enjoying the days leading up to the celebration of our Savior’s birth. The season is in full swing here, and by God’s grace I made it through another Black Friday. I’m very glad it’s over. With the long hours and exhaustion I wasn’t able to hit the streets for the last couple weeks. That’s not unusual around Thanksgiving time, but it’s always tough. This weekend, God willing, I’ll be back out on the streets with my team, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Our local Christmas carnival area is already packed, so I’m looking forward to the time and praying for divine appointments. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to check your own area for similar events. Even if Its a bit of a drive to find a good spot, the opportunity Christmas time provides and the privilege of sharing God’s truth makes it more than worth it. I look forward to hearing your testimony reports!
This week’s suggested reading is from Luke chapter 18. I was struck as I read this chapter, as I often am reading the stories and parables Jesus shared, at the contrasts that are presented. Contrast used in Biblical teaching is not unusual, but when looking at the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, and adding to it Christ’s encounters with the Rich Young Ruler and the Blind Beggar, I noticed something a bit more unusual. Often the contrasts made are between those who follow God and those who deny and turn from Him. Though there is a sense in which that is true here as well, all four of these men are, at least to the eyes of those around them, coming to God, not turning from Him. But Christ’s responses to them are very, very different, and I think this could very well show the difference between those who, in their own pride, come to their religious counterfeit of Christianity as opposed to those who actually come to Christ.
It is common for people to talk about having a relationship with God rather than a religion. While true Christianity can be rightly seen as both, I think this is an example of where the distinction is important. With the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, both were, without a doubt, wealthy and prominent members of society. But when coming before God the Pharisee made the mistake of thinking that the outward appearance that so impressed his fellow man would similarly impress God. In his prayers he actually laid out for God all the reasons God had for accepting him. The Tax collector made no such affectations. He simply cried out for mercy, and God forgave him because of His humility.
The contrast between the Rich Young Ruler and the Blind Beggar is similar. The Rich Young Ruler came to Christ, asking about the kingdom of heaven, and apparently actually believing that he had adequately followed most aspects of God’s law. Although he may have lived a life that outwardly looked clean and obedient, none of us is capable of living in obedience to God’s law, and his implication that he had done so was an incredible act of pride. On our best days we all fall far short of His perfect, holy standards, and this was made clear is the young man’s life when he was told he had to let go of his wealth to follow the Savior. It was not simply the fact of his money, but the grasp it had on him. He could not let it go. The Blind Beggar had no such hindrances. He had nothing, and therefore had nothing to lose in crying out to God for mercy and healing. And at the end of their encounter that beggar went away seeing, while the young ruler remained blinded by his wealth, and separated from the grace of God, the only riches he truly needed.
So after you read the passage in the open-air this week, I would encourage you to use these truths as your springboards. We have many, many people in the modern church doing nothing more than going through the motions. They play church, working hard to look and sound the part on Sunday mornings, or they talk about being “spiritual” or “religious” for the sake of appearances and respectability, but have no understanding of true faith, no desire for deeper understanding of God’s truth, and no desire to be pushed out of their comfort zones by the public proclamation of the gospel. They live in service to their idols, convinced that God doesn’t care about their sin. Those of you who have been on the streets for any length of time have probably had to deal with them. They are frequent hecklers. Encourage them to examine themselves in light of scripture, and to come to Christ in humility, trusting in Him alone. And pray that God will grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
I pray this is a blessing, and will be praying for all of you.