Two men who told God about their giving

Compare Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18 with what is recorded about Zacchaeus (a tax collector) and Jesus in Luke 19. One thing you will see is that the Pharisee in Luke 18 told God about how much he gave, but so did Zacchaeus in Luke 19. But one was justified (saved, received, accepted), and the other was not. What was different about Zacchaeus in the way he talked to Jesus about his own giving?

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(Luke 18:9-14)

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
(Luke 19:1-10)

Here are a few contrasts between the Pharisee and Zacchaeus:

  • Luke 18 says the Pharisee trusted in himself that he was righteous. The Pharisee was a religious man who wanted to look good and justify himself. Luke 19 shows that Zacchaeus had a humble heart that zealously sought out Jesus.
  • The Pharisee talked about his giving because he wanted to sound like an impressive servant of God. Zacchaeus was defending with himself against the accusations of those standing outside his house saying he was a sinner. The heart of Zacchaeus was not one to brag to Jesus, but he was pleading with Jesus saying how much he wanted to be right with God. He wanted to be in a relationship with God, he didn’t try to impress God.
  • Zacchaeus knew he was lost and needed salvation. We see in Zacchaeus that when he saw he had mistreated someone, he made it right. The Pharisee was too blinded to his own lost condition. He only noticed the flaws in others, not in himself.
  • Both men helped the poor, but one did it as a religious duty to check off his list and to show to all how awesome he was. The other gave because he truly had compassion for those in need.

Are we a Zacchaeus?

Daniel: 21 Days

Read the passages below from Daniel 10 and take note that Daniel was mourning, fasting, praying, seeking and reaching out to God. The spiritual messenger from God said that from the moment Daniel started doing this that the angel was sent to Daniel’s aid. But notice this in the verses below: that angel was delayed for 21 days. Daniel was praying for 3 weeks and the angel was delayed for 3 weeks. Think about that and read the passages.

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision. In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.
(Daniel 10:1-3)

Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”
(Daniel 10:12-14)

I don’t have to understand this, but I do accept that sometimes God’s angels are delayed in coming to my aid. The concept of angels being “delayed” or is just hard to wrap my mind around, but that is what this chapter teaches us. They are fighting a battle around me and for me that I can’t even begin to comprehend. There is an enormous spiritual war going on around us (Ephesians 6:10).

This also tells me that when my prayers are delayed in being answered that I can assume that there is more going on that might explain why I am not getting a quick answer. It is not that God is aloof or apathetic, He truly cares and is sending aid to us all the time. But there is more going on in this spiritual warfare that what I am personally undergoing. God will send me aid, He promised it, but it may take a few battles in the spiritual realm before I get the help I requested. In fact, those battles may be directly connected to the answers to my prayers.

Daniel: From the first day

Daniel 10:11-12 And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. (12) Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.

At the beginning of Daniel 10, Daniel is fasting, praying and mourning for 3 full weeks. He is torn up and he is reaching out to God, and God answers.

What I want to focus on for today’s article is what this spiritual being said to Daniel. “For from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.”

Notice what it did not say – This messenger of God did not say, “From the first moment you checked off every religious box and achieved religious perfection.” That’s the way a lot of folks try to live even when we say we are saved by grace. God doesn’t work like that. From the first day Daniel set his heart to understand and to be humble before God, God was hearing Daniel’s prayer and sending answers to them. Period.

This is like the Ethiopian in Acts 8 and Cornelius in Acts 10. Both men were humble, and both men were searching. God sent His messengers to both men. The same is true today, and we know that because of Jesus’ promise.

Luke 11:9-13 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (10) For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (11) What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; (12) or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? (13) If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Your God loves you, and from the very moment you decide to humble yourself before Him and to seek His truth, He is sending messengers to your aid. Count on it.

Angels Among Us

You ever get a song stuck in your head…it is all you can think of…it is distracting in that it is all you can hear when there is nothing said?  Well I don’t have a song stuck in my head but rather a scripture:

“Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10; NKJV).

Jesus is teaching his disciples of the importance of even one soul in what we call the Parable of the Lost Coin.  What strikes me about this verse is the awesome interaction between what we are doing in this world and what our Heavenly Father and His angels are doing in Heaven.

It is easy to lose sight of Heaven if we allow what we can see, touch, hear, smell, taste, smell…that is the physical world we live in…dominate our thoughts, speech, and actions.  Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom (Matt 6:33) and Paul tells us to seek those things which are above (Col 3:1)…because that is where Jesus is.  If we did this, wouldn’t that lower our anxiety…instill in us the awesome power of our Father…excite us about being in the Lord’s Body…fill us with peace and love for each moment God blesses us with?

Consider the boy with Elisha as the Samaritan army surrounded their city.  What anxiety he must have had…how certain he must have been that their doom was at hand.  After all, he could see it…he could hear it…he could smell it!  What did Elisha pray?  Why did he pray it?  What was God already doing?

He prayed that the boy’s eyes would be opened so that he might understand what was really going on…to have confidence in the Lord as Elisha did…to give him the rest of the story…that God was there…that He had sent His army.

“Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw.  And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”  (2 Kings 6:17; NKJV).

The mountain was full of a heavenly army…with horses and chariots of fire…they were all around Elisha!  Because “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.”  (Psa 34:7; NKJV).

God’s army of angels is innumerable…it cannot be calculated.

 “…many angels around the throne…and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands…” (REV 5:11; NKJV)

These mighty angels rejoice when even one sinner repents…and it doesn’t stop there.  They are not idle bystanders.  They are INVOLVED in our salvation.  They are “…ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation…” (Hebrews 1:14).

GOD’s angels serve GOD’s children…consider these examples:

Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego:  “Look!”  Nebuchadnezzar shouted.  “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire.  They aren’t even hurt by the flames!  And the fourth looks like a divine being!” (Daniel 3:25; NLT)

Peter:  “Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter.  The angel tapped him on the side to awaken him and said, ‘Quick!  Get up!’  And the chains fell off his wrists.” (Acts 12:7; NLT)

 We are not alone…not within the Body of Christ.  We have each other and we should rejoice in each other’s spiritual successes and rally around each other in times of need…praying always!  We also have our Father, our Elder Brother, our Comforter…and a host of angels who are watching, engaging, and talking about God’s eternal plan as it unfolds in our lives (Eph 3:10).

Pray to God that our eyes might be opened!  Praise Him in all His glory!

The Attacks Of The Devil

The Israelites never saw it coming!  By the time they realized what happened 24,000 souls were dead, Numbers 25:1-2.  Things seemed to be going well for Israel, but all of that would change.  How did this happen?  The devil attacked them.  He used Balaam and Balak to help God’s people to fall, Numbers 31:16.  The devil wants to defeat us, 1 Peter 5:8.  Sexual immorality is just one way that the devil will attempt to beat us.

Let me give you four other tactics that the devil has used against the church in the first century that he will use against us.  Let’s also consider how God’s people overcame those attacks.

    1. FEAR FACTOR:  Satan wanted to silence God’s people from speaking about Jesus, Acts 4:1-4; 5:17-23, 33, 40-42; 7:54-58.
    2. FAKE FACTOR:  Sadly, the devil achieved his mission with two Christians, Ananias, and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-5.  They lied to the Holy Spirit.  They were fakers.  While the devil won a battle, he had not won the war.  The people of God continued in their pursuit of spreading the good news, Acts 5:12-14.  They continued and so did the devil with his attacks.
    3. FUSS FACTOR:  The devil’s opportunity came in Acts 6:1-3.  Some complaints arose.  Certainly, the brethren would devour one another.  However, the devil’s plan didn’t work, Acts 6:7.
    4. FALSE FACTOR:  A controversy in the church occurred regarding salvation, Acts 15:1-11.  Some Jews believed the Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved.  The truth prevailed.  God’s people prevailed.  But how did they do it?  Here’s how.

They kept their focus on Jesus.

    1. This is how they overcame the fear factor.  They prayed for boldness to stand firm during persecution, Acts 4:29; 5:40-41.
    2. This is how they overcame the fake factor.  The punishment that Ananias and Sapphira received was death.  Discipline was given.  It had an impact among the brethren, Acts 5:11.  Discipline is necessary today.  Being honest is still necessary today.
    3. This is how they overcame the fuss factor, Acts 6:1-6.  The apostles were concerned about God’s work.  They devised a plan to preserve unity.  It worked!
    4. This is how they overcame the false factor.  They stood on the apostles’ doctrine, Acts2:42. This must be our attitude.  The devil never stops his attack toward God’s people, Luke 4:13.  Therefore, we must always be on the defense.

Daniel – He Understood by the Books

…I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.
(Daniel 9:2-3)

Yesterday, I preached on Daniel 9 and this amazing prayer Daniel makes before God. I’ve already written previously about Daniel’s understanding of the word and how it helped him in his prayer, but I wanted to make a few additional points.

Daniel understood God’s timing and accepted it. You know, Daniel 6:10 tells us that Daniel had been praying toward Jerusalem 3 times a day since he was a youth. So let’s just for argument sake say that Daniel didn’t miss a prayer in all those times. 365 days x 3 times a day x 70 years = 76,650 prayers! Daniel had prayed tens of thousands of times, but God said they would be in Babylon 70 years. The Bible says that Daniel understood the word of Jeremiah. He accepted that until the 70 years were over, he could not ask for God’s people to return home. God calls us to persisently pray, but He also asks us to trust His timing and purpose. He makes everything beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Daniel had his Bible opened when he prayed. He didn’t compartmentalize Bible study and prayer into separate “acts” or categories. His prayers were connected to his study of the Scriptures. If we’re not doing it, let’s get our Bibles open while we are praying and look at all the wonderful character of God so we can praise Him. How about we point to those promises of God in Scripture while we are praying? We can even quote prayers, because many prayers in the Bible are just as applicable to us today as they were back then.

Another simple point is that God’s word was not lost during the captivity. His word was preserved and traveled hundreds of miles to a heathen kingdom where Daniel was able to study that word while in captivity.

Daniel – His boldness in prayer

Today we will look at the boldness of Daniel in prayer. We again take our minds to the prayer of Daniel in the 9th chapter.

“O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”
(Daniel 9:16-19)

He trusted in the mercy of God. Daniel knew that they could not make a plea to God based upon their own righteousness, but all Israel would have to fall upon the mercy of God. This is something Daniel was confident in, that God would be merciful.

Daniel stood on God’s promises. Because he knew the promises of God, and because he knew the God who keeps His promises, Daniel felt very confident to call upon God to act upon those promises.

He was very bold in asking God to:

  • Let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem.
  • Listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy.
  • For your own sake, make your face shine upon YOUR sanctuary, which is desolate.
  • Incline your ear and hear.
  • Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by YOUR name.
  • O Lord, hear!
  • O Lord, forgive!
  • O Lord, pay attention and act!
  • Delay not, for your own sake!

Men, that is the same boldness that God wants us to have when we come to His throne in prayer. Trust in God’s mercy. Stand on His promises. Call upon Him with boldness and confidence that grows out of an understanding of God’s unfailing mercy.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Hebrews 4:16)

…in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
(Ephesians 3:12)

Daniel – His humility in prayer

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God,
(Daniel 9:20)

I encourage you to read Daniel 9 this morning and meditate upon Daniel’s prayer. Daniel, at the end of the 70 year captivity, turned to God in prayer and fasting with pleas for God’s mercy. There is so much to be said here from Daniel 9, and more articles will follow, but today I want to focus on the humility of Daniel in prayer.

As you look over Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9, take notice of a few things:

Daniel confessed HIS sin, not just the sins of the nation of Israel. He took ownership of his own rebellion against God. Whatever Daniel was like before he went into captivity, we don’t know, but it sure seems like Daniel had his own part in the sins that caused Israel to go into captivity. Maybe being taken into captivity sobered him up and straightened him out.

In his prayer, Daniel said “we” and “us,” not “I” and “they.” If you listen to good leaders talk, they use we and us much more than “I, Me, Mine.” This was a collective problem and Daniel could not distance himself from it.

Look at the understanding Daniel had of the whole situation. He knew the Scriptures. Moses told them what to do, and said that if they didn’t do it the people would go into captivity (1400’s BC). Several hundred years afterward, Solomon prayed/prophesied that when Israel went into captivity and recognized their sins, that they will pray toward Jerusalem and God will hear, forgive and bring them home (1 Kings 8, 900’s BC). Centuries later, Jeremiah added that they would go into captivity for 70 years, and that they will not come home a day sooner (Jeremiah 29:10, 600’s BC). Daniel was very discerning and knew that these things were written in the Scriptures. He knew the commands that he and the others had broken. It is plain he was aware of the consequences of their unfaithfulness. He also had come to learn and understand of the unfailing love and mercy of God for His people. But he also knew that Israel would not be going home until those 70 years were completed (538-536 BC). Once that time had come, Daniel began praying with all his might for God to act upon His promise. That wisdom and discernment does not come without first having humility.

May we all have the humble heart of Daniel. A heart like Daniel is one that looks in the mirror first before pointing fingers of blame. We will look at God’s word for guidance and light, even when it sheds light and the truth gets ugly. Daniel’s humble heart allowed him to see the ugly in his own life, but he also could see the outreached arm of God ready to forgive and take him back.

Daniel – While I was speaking and praying

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.
(Daniel 9:20-23)

This passage is so encouraging to me, and I hope it is to you. Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9 is just simply incredible. It is full of humility, love for God and a clear understanding of both God’s word and the history of God’s people. He made all the connections between God’s unfailing love and Israel’s unfaithfulness, but Daniel did not leave himself out of the mix, either. We’ll look at another time at the prayer of Daniel in chapter 9. But what I want to focus on is God answering this prayer.

God did not waste a second in responding to Daniel’s prayer did he? Go back and look over the passage and take note of a few things:

  • While I was still speaking – Daniel was in the middle of the prayer when Gabriel appeared. God didn’t say, “Well, let’s see how he finishes this prayer and then we will decide.”
  • Came to me in swift flight – Awesome…just awesome. I wish I knew more about angels, but it would probably scare me to death. Gabriel flew…and it took time to get to Daniel. Can’t say I understand that, but regardless, God sent Gabriel and told him to hurry to get to Daniel. “Daniel needs you, Gabriel.” That is our God, and in Hebrews 1:14, we are told that angels are ministering to Christians today. They come in swift flight to take care of God’s people today.
  • At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out – Jesus tells us that God already knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8). We still have to ask, though! But when we begin to reach out to God, that very instant God is running to us! It is like the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. The son had a prepared speech and was on his way home to give it to his father. The father ran to him and didn’t let him finish his prepared speech. That is our God, that is our loving Father. The moment Daniel prayed for mercy from God, God sent the word out through heaven and Gabriel rushed to Daniel’s side.

Passages like this help me see God in such a tender and loving light. He greatly loved Daniel and he greatly loves us.

Daniel – As He Had Done Previously

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
(Daniel 6:10)

What would you do if a law was signed in the U.S. saying that you could not pray to any god except the king for 30 days? What if the consequences were being thrown into a den of lions? Would we do what Daniel did?

I can imagine what might go through the mind of a person in such a situation. Well, it’s only 30 days, God will understand. He wants us to live a quiet, peaceable life and mind our own business. Maybe I can pray in my head and no one will know. A den of lions…that’s scary, stuff. I’ll just take a low profile for 30 days and ride out the storm.

On the other hand, Daniel wasn’t in your face rebellious, either. What I mean by that is that some Christians seem to be looking for a political fight and are trying to take it to the opposition any chance they get. Daniel didn’t do that. What did the text say? Daniel just did what he always did! He prayed three times a day.

Daniel was Daniel, and his prayers to his God weren’t hindered by changes in the culture, by his geographical location, by laws, or by any demands or pressures of life. Like Timothy was encouraged to be, Daniel was the same “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:1-4).

“What he had done previously,” says quite a bit to us. If our manner of life is not one that can be characterized by consistent prayer and devotion, then let’s take a lesson from the life of Daniel. Because Daniel was consistent in his prayer and relationship with God, he could deal with any change, law, pressure, etc. in the turbulent world around him.