Monday, November 30, 2015

Week Two: November 30-December 6, 2015 - Luke 1:26-45

Many of you asked me last week whether Luke was a Jew or a Gentile.  Eugene Peterson gives us an answer in his "Introduction to Luke" in "The Message" that also tells us of Luke's interest in including the marginalized and the dispossessed in the focus of Jesus' ministry.  Peterson writes: "Luke is a most vigorous champion of the outsider.  An outsider himself, the only Gentile in an all-Jewish cast of New Testament writers, he shows how Jesus includes those who typically were treated as outsiders by the religious establishment of the day: women, common laborers (sheep-herders), the radically different (Samaritans), the poor."

This week we pick up at verse twenty-six with Gabriel's foretelling of the birth of Jesus to Mary (the Annunciation) and Mary's response to this amazing news.  Here are a few things to consider as you read:

1. God sends the angel Gabriel to Mary who lives in Nazareth in Galilee (just as God sent Gabriel to Zechariah).  Verse twenty-seven tells us that Mary is a virgin pledged to be married to Joseph.  Here, Luke is sure to tell us that Joseph is a descendent of King David.  Later, in verse thirty-two, Gabriel tells Mary that her son will be given the throne of David and that his "kingdom will never end."  Why is this important?  This is important because God had promised David in 2 Samuel 7:16 that he would have an everlasting kingdom.  Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise to David and to God's people as a whole.

-Note that Gabriel tells Mary: "Do not be afraid."  The message of God throughout the Bible is that we are not to fear because God loves us.  I'm reminded of God's words to Joshua in Joshua 1:9 - "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (NIV)  David says in Psalm 27:1 - "The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?"

2. In the same way that Gabriel tells Zechariah the name that is to be given to John (the Baptist) in Luke 1:13, Gabriel tells Mary that she is to name her son Jesus in Luke 1:31.  Jesus' name is of Hebrew origin (Yeshua) and means "God saves."  Matthew's Gospel links Jesus' name with Immanuel from Isaiah 7:14 which means "God with us."  Isaiah 7:14 says, "Therefore the Lord himself with give you a sign: The Virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (NIV)

3. Mary's obvious response is to ask : "How will this be since I am a virgin?"  Gabriel answers in verse thirty-five by explaining the work of the Holy Spirit in her life to bring divine conception.  The angel explains that "nothing is impossible with God." (vs. 37) From the beginning, God, the Creator of life, has done the impossible and the miraculous from a human standpoint.  God is not limited as we are limited.  Jesus will be both "Son of God" - through divine conception and "Son of Man" - carried and born though a human mother.

-Prudentius, a Latin Poet and hymn writer of the fourth century, writes these words:

"A heavenly fire engenders him, not flesh
Nor blood of father, nor impure desire.
By power of God a spotless maid conceives,
As in her virgin womb the Spirit breathes.
The mystery of this birth confirms our faith
That Christ is God: a maiden by the Spirit
Is wed, unstained by love; her purity
Remains intact; with child within, untouched
Without, bright in her chaste fertility,
Mother yet virgin, mother that knew not man.
Why, doubter, do you shake your silly head?
An angel makes this known with holy lips.
Will you not hearken to angelic words?
The Virgin blest, the shining messenger
Believed, and by her faith she Christ
Christ comes to men of faith and spurns
the heart
Irresolute in trust and reverence.
The Virgin's instant faith attracted
Christ into her womb and hid him there till birth."
 - from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. III - Luke pages 15-16

4. Mary's response of faith is simple, yet profound. "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." - vs. 38  Upon visiting Elizabeth, her relative, Elizabeth says of Mary, "Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" - vs. 45.  Mary's faith is an example to us of accepting God's guidance in our lives through the Holy Spirit especially when we do not understand how the Spirit is working.

As you read this week, consider your own faith in the Lord.  Are you willing to surrender to God's work in your life - putting God's desires for your life above your own?  Do you trust that God can do what is impossible?  Are you experiencing a situation that requires you to trust God daily without knowing how the Spirit is working?  How can Mary's faith encourage you in your present journey?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Week One - November 23-29, 2015 - Luke 1:1-25

This week, we wade into the Gospel of Luke as a whole and into the first twenty-five verses which introduce Jesus in a way that is completely unique to Luke. Below is a list of observations about the first twenty-five verses.

1. Luke is writing to Theophilus (vs. 4) as he also does in the Book of Acts (Acts 1:1). It is the opinion of Ambrose (Bishop of Milan and teacher of Augustine c. 333-397) that Theophilus represents a particular audience, a community of those who love God - the baptized and those to be baptized.  He writes, "So the Gospel was written to Theophilus, that is, to him whom God loves. If you love God, it was written to you. If it was written to you, discharge the duty of an evangelist." - Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture - Volume III - Luke (ACCS)

2. Luke was a physician and companion of the Apostle Paul who is mentioned in the New Testament in Philemon 24, Colossians 4:14, and 2 Timothy 4:11.

3. Luke tells us that he received his account of Jesus from "eyewitnesses...of the word (vs. 2)" and writes "so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (vs. 4 NIV)."

4. Luke places Jesus in the historical period of King Herod of Judea (vs. 5).  Herod reigned in Israel until 4 BC.  Jesus was likely born in 6 BC and lived to 27 AD.

5. He tells us of two people who would become the parents of John the Baptist, Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Both of them are descendants of Aaron.  Zechariah serves in the priestly division of Abijah (read more in 1 Chronicles 24:1-10).  They were "upright" and "blameless."  This is important because we often say that there were no Jews who were able to fulfill the Law or fully live by the Torah.  Zechariah and Elizabeth are said to be blameless in this matter.

6. Zechariah is visited by the angel Gabriel (vs. 19) during his service at the temple in Jerusalem and told that he and Elizabeth will have a child in their old age.  This should remind us of the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18 who are visited by divine beings and told that they would have a child in their old age. The child that Zechariah and Gabriel will have will come in the "spirit and power of Elijah".  This is a prophetic and messianic reference from Malachi 4:5-6 which states that the Prophet Elijah would come before the "great and dreadful day of the Lord."  Zechariah and Elizabeth's son will complete the ministry foretold in Isaiah 40:1-5 making ready a people prepared for the Lord.

7. The strong point of the first twenty-five verses is found in verses twenty-four and twenty-five.  Luke is trying to tell us something in these verses...about the nature of this Gospel account...about the One (Jesus) he will be writing about...and the ministry that Messiah Jesus will bring.  Elizabeth's words in verse twenty-five hearken to the same words of Rachel in Genesis 30:23 when she became pregnant with Joseph.  It also echoes the words of the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 25:8. Jesus will come to fulfill God's ministry of removing disgrace from humanity.

Question: how does this passage (especially the words from Elizabeth in verse 25) relate to John 2:1-11 where Jesus changes water into wine?  How is Jesus' purpose in the miracle at Cana similar to God's purpose of giving Elizabeth a child?

Challenge: Read Luke 1:1-25 slowly as many times as possible this week.  Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you each time you read.  What will God say to you through this passage?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Year In The Gospel Of Luke

Simpsonwood United Methodist Church is beginning a new, year-long sermon series starting Sunday, November 29, 2015 (the first Sunday in Advent).  The title of the series is "Luke: Seeking A Jesus Shaped Faith."  If you have come to this page looking for information on the series, you've come to the right place.

The premise of this series is that we should take a closer, sharper, deeper, and more-intentional look at the words of Jesus.  When we slow down our reading and take in Jesus' words, His words begin to transform our understanding and our actions.  The more we read Jesus' words and apply them to our living, the more our faith reflects the faith of Jesus.

Each week, we will study a short passage of Luke (no more than 25 verses).  On Sunday, the passage will be the focus of the sermon.  I want to encourage you to read the passage in your daily devotion as many days as possible before Sunday.

Each Monday by Noon, I will post ideas and questions about the passage for the week. I will also list other Scriptures that are connected with the passage.  My first post will be this coming Monday, November 23.  The first passage is Luke 1:1-25.

Please feel free to post questions and ideas in the comment section.  You can also subscribe to this blog at the bottom of this page by clicking "subscribe" so that you are automatically updated when there is a new post.

Thank you for joining us on this year long journey of developing a faith that resembles Jesus, our Lord and our Savior.