Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Week 27 - May 23-29, 2016 - Luke 10:13-37

Who will inherit eternal life?

The lawyer in Luke's Gospel this week asks the ultimate question - what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10:25)  Before we get into Jesus' answer to this question, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone in Jesus' time nor in our time believes that there is eternal life.  Some believe(d) that life on this earth is the only existence.  Yet, if we truly open our hearts to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, everything in the four Gospels tells us that there is, indeed, an eternal life.  Just a few weeks ago, as we studied the Transfiguration story in Luke 9, Jesus revealed His eternal and divine nature as Moses and Elijah appear.  Men who were thousands of years removed from their earthly existence became present with Jesus on the sacred mountain.  Several weeks from now, we will study in Luke 16 the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  Both men continue to exist after their deaths - one (the rich man) in an existence of torment; the other (Lazarus) at Abraham's side.  Jesus revealed eternal life, taught eternal life, and ultimately provided eternal life through His death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus' promise to the criminal on the cross in Luke 23:43 was: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."  Therefore, let us be encouraged by Jesus to believe in eternal life, and let us pursue eternal life through Him.

As we delve into the question at-hand, the answer that Jesus provides us in Luke 10 should lead us to pause and reflect on whether we, ourselves, will inherit eternal life.  First, our reading begins with Jesus' pronouncement of woes upon three cities - Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.  The reason these woes should lead us to personal introspection is due to the fact that the Jews who lived there in Jesus' time were among the most faithful followers of God.  They studied and memorized the Torah. Rabbis came to be trained in the Law in Capernaum.  Many Pharisees and experts in God's Law lived in these communities.  Yet, Jesus makes a profound statement to them.  He says that the people of Tyre and Sidon (Gentile communities) will be better off than they will be in the coming judgment. (Luke 10:14)  The first century Jewish listener would have been seriously bewildered at this statement.  The Hebrew Bible was full of pronouncements against the people of Tyre and Sidon.  In one stretch of Scripture, God's pronouncement of woe upon Tyre lasts three chapters - from Ezekiel 26-28!  How could the people of Tyre and Sidon have it better in the coming judgment than the people of the faithful Jewish cities of Jesus' time?  We get an answer to this question in Luke 11:42-54 where Jesus pronounces six woes directly upon the Pharisees and teachers of God's Law.  In a nutshell, these verses tell us that some of the Pharisees, for all of their religious activities, neglected to love God. (Luke 11:42)  Jesus seems to be saying in these woes that the inheritance of eternal life should not be something that is assumed or taken for granted.  In the Kingdom of God, the world's norms and assumptions are "out" and God's estimations of who will inherit eternal life are "in".

Second, the question of who will inherit eternal life is answered through the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  This is one of those stories we know like the back of our own hand.  Yet, we should carefully chew upon it and not make assumptions that there is nothing new to learn from this passage. In excellent Rabbi fashion, Jesus answers the question, what must I do to inherit eternal life, by asking two questions: What is written?  How do you read it?  The lawyer gives a most perfect answer: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind (Deuteronomy 6:5), and, Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). The lawyer should have stopped with this answer. In fact, Jesus tells him to do this and he will live. But the lawyer wanted to justify himself, so he asked another question: who is my neighbor? To this question, Jesus tells the familiar parable of a man robbed and beaten on the road to Jericho. A priest passes by the left-for-dead victim of crime and every Jewish listener expects the priest to help - but he doesn't.  A Levite passes by the victim and every Jewish listener expects the Levite to help - but he doesn't.

The listener, spell-bound by Jesus' story, is now wondering who will follow the Law and love his neighbor? Instinctively, they are thinking that Jesus will say an Israelite passed by and stopped to help.  But lo and behold, the hero of the story is a Samaritan - an unclean, looked down upon, socially rejected Samaritan - the most unlikely of heroes.  Again, Jesus tramples all closely held assumptions and leads the lawyer to chew upon his answer for the rest of his life. As Jesus ends the story, he asks the lawyer the very question the lawyer asked him: who is/was the neighbor?  There is only one correct answer: the Samaritan who had mercy on him.  Jesus told him, Go and do likewise.

Who will be an heir of eternal life?  The penultimate answer of Jesus- not who you would assume.  The ultimate answer of Jesus - the one who not only knows to love God and neighbor, but the one who actually loves God and neighbor.  Go and do likewise!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Week 26 - May 16-22, 2016 - Luke 9:51-10:12

Jesus calls us to sense the urgency of His mission for our time!

Everything in this passage points to an urgency in Jesus' mission of rescuing humanity from sin and death.  The passage begins with a turning point in the Gospel of Luke as a whole.  In verse 51, Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem.  Confronting the self-absorbed leadership of His day, offering the ultimate sacrifice that would once and for all remove the barrier between God and humanity, and ushering in the Kingdom of God was Jesus' aim and nothing would keep Him from fulfilling His mission.
Jesus sent messengers ahead of Him to proclaim His approach to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.  We are to hear in verse 52 an echo of the Prophet Malachi's words: See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.  The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight - indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1 - NRSV)

Along the way, Jesus and His disciples are met with rejection (a foreshadowing of what will occur in Jerusalem) as well as people who are interested in becoming His followers.  Jesus' response to both indicate the urgency of His mission.  He tells His disciples that if they are not accepted to shake the dust off their feet and go on their way.  He tells potential followers that nothing is more important than joining Him in His mission - not even burying the dead.  Jesus also instructed His disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out laborers into his harvest (Luke 10:2).  His mission was too great, too big, and too important to keep it among a few.  He also instructed them to travel light and to ignore those along the way who would be an impediment to fulfilling His mission (Luke 10:4).

The Church today needs a renewed sense of the urgency of Jesus' mission.  Jesus has not called us to a static, status-quo membership in an institutional church.  Jesus has called us to a movement of the Kingdom of God.  Time is limited.  Opportunities won't be in front of us forever.  The Kingdom of God has come near.  Peter indicated in his sermon on Pentecost that the coming of the Holy Spirit was a signal to the Church that we are living in the last days (Acts 2:17).  Reading 2 Timothy 3:1-5 concerning the last days would also convince us that our time for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is now!

Our issue in the Church today is that we are prone to compartmentalize our faith.  We have a home-life, a work-life, and a church-life.  We tend to focus on one to the detriment of the other.  Jesus has called us to exercise a faith that is part of every aspect of our lives.  Our love for Jesus Christ is to permeate our home-life, our work-life, and our church-life.

Join me this week in praying that the Church would have an awakening to the #UrgentMission of Jesus.  God has called us for such a time as this!

Also, don't miss these links in this week's passage.  The story of Jesus and the Prophet Elijah coincide throughout this passage.  In Luke 9:31 (the transfiguration story), Moses and Elijah appear to talk to Jesus about His "departure."  As we pick up this week in Luke 9:51, Jesus is now making His way to Jerusalem for His "departure.  Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9 give us the accounts of Jesus being "lifted up" into heaven.  Elijah was also lifted up to heaven in a "chariot of fire" in 2 Kings 2:11.

In the story of Jesus' rejection in a Samaritan village (Luke 9:52-56), the disciples ask if Jesus wants them to call down fire from heaven on those who have rejected Jesus as Lord.  In 2 Kings 1:10-12, the Prophet Elijah calls down fire on representatives of King Ahaziah of Samaria when he rejects the God of Israel in preference for Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron.  The disciples of Jesus are simply wondering if they were to do the same as Elijah.  By the way, some scholars believe that James and John are named "Sons of Thunder" in the Gospel of Mark 3:17 because they ask Jesus this question.

In the story of the three would-be disciples (Luke 9:57-62), the last person Jesus speaks with is told that no one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62) Jesus is referencing Elijah's calling of Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21.  In the Elijah/Elisha story, Elisha tells Elijah that he wants to go and kiss his father and mother before he follows Elijah.  Elisha is plowing with twelve yoke of oxen at the time Elijah calls him - which is Jesus' point of reference in Luke 9:62.

The Old Testament and the New Testament are remarkable in their precision of speaking the truth of God in ways that completely complement one another.  We should not be surprised by this because the Word of God is a supernatural, living, breathing Word given to humanity as a gift which enables us to have relationship with God and to know God's ways.  Let us sense the urgency of sharing the Good News with others so that they don't miss out on a life-changing relationship with God. #UrgentMission

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Week 25 - May 9-15, 2016 - Luke 9:28-50

God calls us to HEAR and not SEE!

Trust me, there is A LOT to study in this passage.  The details of Jesus' transfiguration and the links to Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament are almost innumerable.  At the end of this article, I'm going to attempt to outline some of those details.  But I don't want you to miss the forest for the trees. What is Luke (and Matthew and Mark) trying to tell us in the story of the transfiguration?

First and foremost, the Gospel writers want us to know that Jesus' prophetic ministry is in the likeness of Moses and Elijah, but as the Messiah, Jesus' ministry far exceeds the ministry of Moses and Elijah. Jesus fulfilled Moses' prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15 - The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.  Luke points to Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy in Luke 9:35 when God's voice declares: This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.  Indeed, Jesus' ministry is in the likeness of Moses and fulfills Moses' prophecy, but Jesus' ministry is greater in that Jesus not only saves the Israelites, but Jesus saves the Gentiles as well.  The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament makes this point: Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. (Hebrews 3:3)

As we take a step back from this passage to see the forest, we find that Luke is also making another significant point in a very subtle way.  Peter, John, and James are given the great privilege of SEEING Jesus' transfigured.  The glow of His face and the brightness of His clothing overpower them such that they know they are SEEING the glory of God in the person of Jesus.  But the directive God gives to Peter, John, and James is not that they SEE, but that they HEAR.  In other words, they are to live faithfully as followers of Jesus not because they have SEEN Him transfigured but because they have HEARD the voice of God declare that Jesus is God's Son.

The greatest commandment God gave to Israel according to Jesus is the "Shema" which means "Hear."  Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)  Our faithfulness is a matter of hearing God's Word and loving God who graciously reveals Himself to us through Word.

We might be tempted to think that it would be easier to live a life of faith if we could only SEE Jesus the way that Peter, John, and James were able to SEE Him.  Yet, we have the same revelation that they were given; the revelation of Word; the revelation of God's voice in the Bible which declares that Jesus is His Son.  We should be reminded of Jesus' words to Thomas: Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have SEEN me? Blessed are those who have not SEEN and yet have come to believe." (John 20:29)

Let those who have ears to hear, listen!

Now for the details....

Jesus' transfiguration is wrapped up with Moses and Elijah.
1) Jesus went up the mountain with three companions - Peter, John, and James. Moses went up the mountain with three companions also - Aaron, Nadab and Abihu. (Exodus 24:9)
-A special note here: Notice that Luke orders the disciples' names as Peter, John, and James rather than Peter, James, and John as in Mark's Gospel.  Luke, who is also the writer of Acts, may have done this intentionally to reveal that Peter and John, not James, will become the primary apostolic leaders of the early church.  In fact, the ministry of James was cut short when Herod had James killed with the sword (Acts 12:1).  References to Peter and John's leadership can be found in Acts 3:1, 4:1, and 8:14.

2) Jesus' face is transfigured and His clothes become dazzling white.  The same thing happened to Moses' face when He encountered God on Mount Sinai in Exodus 34:29

3) A voice speaks from the cloud and declares that Jesus is the Son of God - the prophet long ago promised by Moses.  A voice speaks in a gentle whisper to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-13 and declares that Elisha is to succeed him as a prophet.

4) Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus about His departure...His exodus, if you the same way that Moses led the Exodus from Egypt.

5) Peter says that he will build three dwellings or tabernacles - one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.  Why?  It's actually a practical matter.  Peter knew that when Moses was on Mount Sinai with God, Moses stayed for forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 34:28)  Peter believes they will be on the mountain for a long time.

There other details, but I will end with this passage of Scripture from 2 Peter 1:16-18 in which Peter gives an account of what he saw and heard.  We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

Let those who have ears to hear, listen!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Week 24 - May 2-8, 2016 - Luke 9:1-27

What is church?

My favorite description of church is authored by Eugene Peterson in his book, The Pastor.  He defines church as "a colony of heaven in the country of death, a strategy of the Holy Spirit for giving witness to the already-inaugurated kingdom of God."  To summarize this definition, church is a people living out the Holy Spirit mission of helping people experience the kingdom of God on earth.

In our Scripture passage from Luke this week, Jesus sends out His disciples on this same mission that defines the church today.  What did Jesus call and empower His disciples to do?  There are three answers to this question in the passage.

First and foremost, Jesus called His disciples to BE with him.  Mark 3:14-15 describes Jesus' commissioning of His disciples which places time in the presence of Jesus as their first priority.  He appointed twelve - designating them apostles (sent ones) - that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.  Our passage in Luke 9 provides us with this same understanding of the disciples' priority to BE with Jesus.  Luke 9:10 says, When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida.  Jesus was always calling His disciples to remain with Him, follow Him, and simply BE with Him so that they could continue to learn and grow in their faith and in their understanding of His mission.

If we are to help others experience the reality of the presence of God upon the earth, we, too, need to spend time simply BEING with Jesus.  The church, the mission of Jesus, is a work of the Holy Spirit. Unless our hearts are in-tune with the Holy Spirit, we will flounder at the mission of helping others experience the kingdom of God.  As I've heard it stated many times and many ways, we cannot give others what we ourselves do not possess.

Second, Jesus called His disciples to PROCLAIM the kingdom of God.  Luke 9:2 says, And he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God.  Fulfilling this aspect of Jesus' mission is multi-faceted. While it includes preaching, teaching, and witnessing to others concerning the saving power of the Gospel, it also includes pointing others to the reality of the kingdom of God through acts of loving service.  Whatever we do that reveals Jesus as our King proclaims the kingdom of God on earth and helps others to experience God's presence.

Third, Jesus called His disciples to HEAL...driving out demons and curing diseases.  Luke 9:1-2 says, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases...and to heal the sick.  This aspect of Jesus' mission may seem overwhelming to us.  Can we heal in the way that Jesus and His disciples healed?  In short, the answer is yes.  In John 14:12, Jesus says, I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  Again, the fulfillment of Jesus' mission is a work of the Holy Spirit.  As we abide in Jesus and walk by the power of the Spirit, what is impossible for us becomes possible because of the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us.  In fact, our mission of making the kingdom present is incomplete unless it includes acts of healing.  Alan Culpepper says in The New Interpreter's Bible, "The work of the kingdom requires both preaching and healing so that if either is neglected the distinctive nature of the kingdom may be lost."

What is church?  A people propelled by the power of the Holy Spirit to BE with Jesus, to PROCLAIM His Good News, and to HEAL in His power.  May the Lord empower each of us for this Holy Spirit mission, and may the church of Jesus Christ in every place be a colony of heaven in the country of death.  Dear Lord, may it be so by your grace!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Week 22 - April 18-24, 2016 - Luke 8:4-25

How can we have a heart like Jesus?

Over the last few weeks, the passages from the Gospel of Luke have primarily focused on the teachings of Jesus concerning the condition of the human heart.  [For those of you who have been checking the blog weekly, I apologize for not updating it for a few weeks.]

Spiritually speaking, the heart is an important subject.  In Proverbs 17:3, we are told that the LORD tests the heart.  In Proverbs 21:2, we are told that the LORD weighs the heart.  In Jeremiah 17:9-10, God says, The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse - who can understand it?  I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

In our passage from Luke this week, Jesus goes into depth about the condition of the human heart as He teaches and then explains the Parable of the Sower/Soils.  It's important to note that Jesus is likely elaborating in this parable on Jeremiah 4:3-4: For thus says the LORD to the people of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, remove the foreskin of your hearts, O people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else my wrath will go forth like fire, and burn with no one to quench it, because of your evil doings.

In the parable and in His explanation of the parable, Jesus describes four types of hearts.

First, in verse 12, Jesus describes a heart that is like "the path."  Using an agricultural metaphor that would have been common in Jesus' time, Jesus describes a farmer sowing seed in a field.  In agricultural fields, the field itself was surrounded by a rock wall.  Inside the perimeter of the rock wall was a path (see picture below) on which the farmer and passers-by could walk without trampling the crop.  The path was worn and well-trampled.  Thus, the seed would have very little ability to get beneath the soil and begin production.  The issue with the human heart that is like "the path" is hardness of heart.  Although the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12)...the seed of God's Word cannot deeply penetrate a heart that is hardened toward God.  Famously, the Pharaoh of the Exodus had a heart that was hardened toward God.  But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the people go.

                                    Image below: The path around a field in Israel.

Second, in verse 13, Jesus describes a heart that is like "the rock."  Agricultural fields in Israel (and elsewhere) are filled with rocks.  When the seed of God's Word is sown on a heart that is "rocky," the issue is that the Word is not able to lay down roots in the heart.  When a time of testing comes into life (as it does in every life eventually), the Word isn't rooted in the heart and the person turns away from God.  More specifically, the person with a rocky heart is trusting more in themselves than they are in Christ.  The prophet Jeremiah explains this well when he describes a life of blessing and a life of cursing in Jeremiah 17:5-8.  A life that is not blessed is one in which trust is placed in the self and the heart turns away from the Lord.  A life that is blessed is one like a tree planted by streams of water, sending out its roots by the stream.  Even when testing comes, one who trusts in Christ will not fear and will remain anchored in Christ through faith.

Third, in verse 14, Jesus describes a heart that is filled with "thorns."  Agricultural fields in Israel become overgrown with thorns when they are left unattended (see picture below).  I believe verse 14 and the metaphor of thorns describes the great danger that exists for the believer who is seeking to follow Jesus.  In Jesus' explanation of the parable, He says that a person whose heart has "thorns" receives the Word of God and begins to produce fruit in their lives.  However, the issue is that the fruit never matures or rots because it is choked by thorns.  What are those "thorns?"  Jesus very plainly says they are 1) cares (worries and anxieties - trust in self rather than trust in God) 2) riches (the pursuit of wealth over the pursuit of God) and 3) the pleasures of life.  Believers in Christ need to seek first the Kingdom of God and pursue faithfulness in relationship with Jesus above these other worldly pursuits.  Otherwise, their fruit will never mature into a bountiful harvest.

                                    Image below: Thorns covering a field in Israel.

Fourth, in verse 15, Jesus describes a heart that is "good soil." (see picture below)  When fields are well-tended, they have the potential to produce a great harvest.  In Jesus' explanation of the parable, He describes a heart that can produce a hundredfold.  The work of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God in the human heart enables us to produce fruit both inwardly and outwardly.  Inwardly, we bear the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23 - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Outwardly, we bear the fruit of making disciples.  In other words, we multiply our faith, our witness, and our own walk with Christ by sowing into the hearts of others.

                                    Image below: Good soil in a field near Nazareth.

One final word on the Parable of the Soils.  Interestingly, the seed which goes into the soil of the heart and "the healing cure" for hearts that are hard, rocky, and thorny is one and the same = the Word of God.  Jeremiah 23:29 says, Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.  God's Word burns the thorns out of our hearts and smashes our rocks into pieces.  But one more thing is needed in order to have good soil.  We need accountability and relationship with Christian brothers and sisters who can help us see our rocks and thorns and help us rid our hearts of them.  John Wesley espoused the teaching of Jesus' brother, James, as the way to help each other find healing and remain faithful.  James 5:16 says, Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.  It may seem foreign for us to be transparent and confessional about our sins with other believers.  However, healing comes when we come out from our hiding and reveal our struggles with fellow believers who have wise hearts.  They can hold us accountable and heal us with acts of grace and support which encourage inward hope and greater faithfulness. Let us pray in our own walk with Christ for brothers and sisters who are wise and caring and will help hold us accountable.  #PrayForAHeartLikeJesus

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Week 19: March 29 - April 3, 2016 - Luke 24:13-35

How can we recognize the risen Jesus in our daily lives?  In the story of Jesus' appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke gives us insight into this question.

On the same day that Jesus rose from the grave, He appears to two disciples who are walking seven and a half miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Although Jesus appears to the two and talks with them, they do not recognize that it is Jesus.  Typically, we might wonder what is different about Jesus that keeps the two from recognizing Him.  However, I would encourage you to consider what is going on with the two disciples that blinds their eyes.

Verse seventeen says that their faces are downcast.  Other translations say they are sad.  The Greek word in this passage, skuthropos, means that they are gloomy, mournful, and even angry.  Have you ever been so down emotionally and spiritually that nothing looked the same...the sky looked grey even when it was blue...the world seemed dark even when it was light?  This is the outlook of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  They don't recognize Jesus because of their own attitude and outlook.

Into their gloom and doom mentality, Jesus reveals Himself to the two disciples in two ways that pull them up and out of their despair.

There are two key verses:

Verse 27 says, Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

First, Jesus shares the Word.  The Word-made-flesh explains the written Word.  He sets their understanding on a new foundation through the Word.  We, too, recognize the risen Jesus when we spend time in the Word.  The Word adjusts our attitudes, shifts our mentality, and focuses our emotions in the right direction.  Not only does the written Word bear witness to the Word-made-flesh Himself, but the reading of the Word brings the risen Jesus present to us.

Verse 30 says, When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  This simple act made them recognize Jesus.  Why?  Because they had witnessed this very same action before.

Jesus did the same thing when He fed the 5,000.  And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. - Luke 9:16

Jesus did the same thing at the Last Supper. Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." - Luke 22:19

We, too, recognize the risen Jesus when we receive the bread of His body - taken, blessed, broken, and given -  in Holy Communion.  Not only does the bread bear witness to the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, but the eating of the bread manifests the grace and presence of Christ in our hearts.

So let us return to the question at hand.  How do we recognize the risen Jesus in our daily lives?  We encounter Jesus as a daily companion through the reading/meditating/applying of the Word to our lives and through the act of receiving Holy Communion.  The key is looking for Jesus with the eyes of the heart.  Our physical eyes can be blinded by difficulty, struggle, attitudes, and despair.  But the eyes of our hearts are illumined by grace - in the Word - in the Bread of Life - enabling us to see Jesus through difficult circumstances and painful experiences.

I close with the words of St. Augustine: "Everything in those Scriptures speaks of Christ, but only to him who has ears.  He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  And so let us pray that he will open our own." AMEN

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Week 17: March 14-20, 2016 - Luke 23:26-49

Is there life after death?  Consider the tremendous promise Jesus makes to the criminal on the cross!

All four gospels tell us that Jesus was crucified with two criminals.  Matthew (27:38) and Mark (15:27) tell us that they were thieves.  John (19:18) simply mentions that there were two others crucified with Him.  In keeping with his focus on the poor, the outcast, and the lowest on the social scale, Luke gives the two criminals a place of prominence in the crucifixion story and highlights a promise that Jesus made to one of them.

In verse 42, the criminal makes a simple request: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  Jesus responds with a three-fold promise: "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Consider the three aspects of Jesus' promise to the criminal:

1) Today - the end was near for the two criminals and Jesus.  They would all experience physical death from their crucifixions.  In the minds of the criminals and in most of us, the question is asked: "what comes after death?"  Jesus begins His promise to the criminal with a marking of time.  Today, now, in this moment - you will be with me in Paradise.  Not tomorrow, not next week, not in hundreds or thousands of years, but today.  Jesus points to a reality of immediate, continued existence after physical death.

Once, Jesus responded to the Sadducees' concerning a question about the resurrection.  He said to them, "And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is God not of the dead, but of the living." (Matthew 22:31-32)  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had not lived on earth for almost two thousand years at the time of Jesus' statement, and yet, Jesus refers to them as "living".  Life continues after death, and Jesus points to this reality in His promise to the criminal.

2) you will be with me - Life is promised to the criminal, but it isn't a life void of meaning or relationship.  The criminal is promised that he will be with Jesus.  For those of us who love Jesus, there is no greater promise than to spend eternity in His presence.

This aspect of Jesus' promise reminds me of two other passages:
Psalm 23:4 (KJV) - Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
John 14:3 - And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

3) in Paradise - Not only will the criminal be with Jesus that very day, but he will be with Jesus in Paradise.  Jesus' reference to Paradise hearkens back to the Garden of Eden in the early story of Genesis. Life in the presence of Jesus will be a restoration of the peaceful existence humanity shared with God in the Garden of Eden before the great fall.  Jesus mentions this in Revelation 2:7 - To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.

Eternal life is a mystery, but Jesus' promise to the criminal gives us insight into the reality of continued life after death.  Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are given the promise of spending eternity with our Lord (John 3:16).  Jesus' promise is a source of great hope and excitement.  All of us are dying.  Life on earth is temporary.  But life with God, that begins now through faith, will last forever. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Week Sixteen: March 7-13, 2016 - Luke 22:24-30

What is Jesus really saying in this passage?  Is Jesus telling us how to be great?  Or, is Jesus giving us an alternative purpose and pursuit that is opposed to the pursuit of greatness?  Maybe it's both.

The disciples had been arguing about which one of them could be low enough to betray Jesus. (Luke 22:23)  In the context of this argument, they begin to dispute which one of them is the greatest.  It's almost comical and yet sad at the same time to think about this scenario.  The dispute is about rank and order.  There are twelve of them.  One of them has to be #1, and one of them, sadly, has to be #12, right?  This passage reveals our human tendency to define a pecking order.  Who is greatest? Who is lowest? Who is average?

On a deeper level, the dispute is about much more.  It's about worth...self-worth.  Perhaps the thoughts of the disciples are something like this:  If I'm #1, if I'm Jesus' right-hand-man, if I'm second-in-command, it must be that I'm a better human being than the other eleven.  Maybe it even means that Jesus loves me more!  If I'm #12, if I'm the last person Jesus would call upon to lead, if I'm even low enough to betray Jesus, it must be that I'm a lousy human being.  Maybe Jesus doesn't really love me at all.

The disciples missed the point!  Think about it.  This dispute is in the upper room where they have just finished eating the Lord's Supper.  Jesus has just finished telling them that He is giving His body and blood for them.  His love for each of them is so great that it is almost incomprehensible.  But instead of receiving His love and basking in it, they began aiming at the superlatives.  It wasn't enough that He loved them.  They wanted to be #1.

So Jesus cut through the dispute by telling them how it is in God's Kingdom where there is only One who deserves to be #1.  Jesus tells them that in the Kingdom of God, the eldest is like the youngest, the leader is like the servant, and the greatest is like the least.  In other words, the values of the Kingdom are flip-flopped and turned upside down.

And the midst of their dispute...He gives them a statement of clarity about the whole situation:   I am among you as one who serves. (vs. 27)

So back to our opening questions:  Is Jesus telling us how to be great?  Yes, but not greatness from the world's point of view.  Greatness in the Kingdom of God.  Greatness as defined by Jesus' life.  He is also giving them an alternative pursuit.  Instead of pursuing worldly greatness which is wrapped up in pride, power, position, and money, pursue the life of a servant.  In serving, we become like Jesus who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God.  In serving, Jesus becomes present to us.  In serving, we find freedom from the rat-race pursuit of greatness. In serving, we escape the self-focused prison of the never-satisfied pursuit of greatness to experience the others-focused freedom of blessing others through service.

Andrew Murray's words on Humility provide us with a closing thought:  "Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is, from the very nature of things, the first duty and the highest virtue of the creature, and the root of every virtue.  And so pride, or the loss of this humility, is the root of every sin and evil.  Jesus came to bring humility back to earth, to make us partakers of it, and by it to save us.  His humility is our salvation.  His salvation is our humility."

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Week Fifteen: February 29-March 6, 2016 - Luke 22:1-23

Why is Holy Communion so important?

Our Scripture passage from Luke this week invites us to consider this question.  No one could give us a better answer than Jesus in His own words.

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
-Matthew 11:28
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. - John 6:35
This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. - 1 Corinthians 11:24
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. - John 6:56
The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. - John 6:63b

In Holy Communion, the ordinary becomes extraordinary, the physical becomes spiritual, and the mundane is invaded by the sacred.  All of these things transpire during Holy Communion because Jesus spiritually becomes present in the giving of the bread and in the drinking of the cup in Jesus' remembrance.

The eating of bread in Holy Communion becomes a means by which we share in the sinless, perfect body of Christ.
The drinking of the cup in Holy Communion becomes a means by which we share in an eternal covenant created with God through the sacred blood of Jesus.
Holy Communion is a means of grace through which the Holy Spirit feeds our hungry souls and nourishes us with the life of Christ.  Just as Jesus says in John 6:56, we abide in Jesus and He in us when we eat the bread and drink the cup of Holy Communion.

Luke places Holy Communion in the context of the Passover meal.  The Passover meal was observed annually by the Jews as directed by God (Exodus 12) in remembrance and celebration of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  Jesus shared in this meal with His disciples before going to the cross.  He took the unleavened bread and equated it with his body.  Leaven in Judaism is a symbol of sin.  The Jews were to rid their homes of leaven during Passover and eat only unleavened bread.  Jesus took the "sinless bread" and equated it with his own life.  He asked His disciples to eat the bread in remembrance of Him.  Jesus also took one of the cups of wine (four were typically shared in the Passover meal) and equated it with His imminent shedding of blood on the cross saying, This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:20)  Again, He asked His disciples to drink it in His remembrance. (1 Corinthians 11:25)  The disciples, ourselves included, were not to simply remember Jesus as One who lived in the past, but in eating the bread and drinking the cup, they were to remember His presence among them in the present moment and feast in His grace offered to them without price.

The Apostle John doesn't place the Last Supper of Jesus in the context of the Passover meal.  Instead, the Last Supper is shared with the disciples before Passover.  Theologically, John is trying to tell us that the Passover Lamb who is slain on the day of Passover is Jesus, Himself.  John wants us to see that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

One reason, among many, that Holy Communion is so important is that it is a Sacrament we can participate in regularly which spiritually connects us with Jesus and binds us in a covenant with God that is eternal.  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, encouraged people to receive Holy Communion as often as possible for this very reason.

With grateful hearts, let us share in Holy Communion and rejoice in the transforming grace of Jesus that is offered to us at His table of grace!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Week Fourteen: February 22-28, 2016 - Luke 6:46-7:17

The very first verse of this week's passage is deserving of our time, reflection and prayer:  Jesus says, Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I tell you? (vs. 46)

Read this verse a few times slowly.  As you read it, ask the Lord this question: Jesus, where in my life do I not practice what you teach?  Pray about this question until the Lord reveals to you where you need to adhere to His teaching.  As the answer(s) is revealed to you, ask God for the grace to bring your life into alignment with His teaching.  Reflecting on last week's passage from Luke 6:27-45 may help you answer this question.  Do you love your enemies? Do you do to others as you would have them do to you? Do you judge and condemn others? Do you forgive? Do you give generously to meet the needs of others?

The issue in verse forty-six is "true discipleship."  Can we be a disciple of Jesus if we only confess to know Him?  Or does being a disciple of Jesus require more?  What defines true discipleship?  Jesus leads us to consider in this verse how right confession needs to be joined with right practice (obedience).  What good is it to call Jesus "Lord" and not treat Him as "Lord" by following His teachings and commands?

Verse forty-six leads us into the familiar words of Jesus (vv. 47-49) which admonish us to build our house (our lives) on the firm foundation of the rock.  To build our lives on the rock of Jesus, He teaches us that we must hear His words and act on them.  I'm reminded of the words of the Psalmist David who said, For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:5)  Such is the joy and confidence of those who build their lives upon Jesus and His teachings.  Alan Culpepper says in the New Interpreter's Bible, "We do not choose whether we will face severe storms in life; we only get to choose the foundation on which we will stand."

Luke 7:1-17 tells us of two healing stories.  The first, in verses 1-10, tells us of a Gentile centurion whose servant is healed by Jesus.  The miracle beyond the miracle is that Jesus never actually sees or talks directly with the centurion or the servant who is healed.  This teaches us an important lesson: we do not have to be in front of Jesus (physically) to receive His healing.  Through prayer, Jesus can bring healing to ourselves or others in the same way he healed the centurion's servant.  Just as the friends of the centurion served as mediators between the centurion and Jesus, we can serve as mediators between others and Jesus through our prayers.

Second, in verses 11-17, Luke tells us of a healing that mirrors a healing story in 1 Kings 17.  For "extra credit" this week, read the story of Elijah healing the widow's son in 1 Kings 17 and see if you can find all of the similarities between the two stories.  Luke frames Jesus' raising of the dead man in Luke 7:11-17 to make a very important statement: Jesus is the Messiah who is greater than a prophet (like Elijah).

The Luke passage this week leads us to consider the foundation on which we stand.  Is your life firmly rooted and grounded in Jesus?  How does your heart need to be transformed by His grace so that you can answer this question in the affirmative?  How do your actions need to conform to the teaching of Jesus?  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. - 1 Corinthians 3:11

Monday, February 15, 2016

Week Thirteen: February 15-21, 2016 - Luke 6:27-45

Jesus' teaching this week in Luke 6 is a continuation of the "Sermon on the Plain" that began in verse 17 of last week's reading.  As we study this passage, we might find ourselves being overwhelmed with how we actually put these words into practice.  There are two realizations that might keep us from becoming overwhelmed.

1) Only a life that is transformed by the grace of Jesus can implement these teachings. All of Jesus' teachings in this passage are the opposite of how we normally act and react to negative treatment by others.  From our sinful nature, we typically meet the aggression of an enemy with retaliation and violent force.   Only a heart that is being transformed by Jesus can meet the aggression or unfair treatment of an enemy with mercy and forgiveness.  (The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart. - vs. 45)  Thus, these are heart matters and not simply matters of action.  When our hearts are captured and transformed by the grace of Jesus, we find ourselves looking at enemies and those who harm us with love and mercy rather than hatred.

2) The application of these teachings make us like Jesus.  It doesn't makes sense initially to allow someone to strike us without retaliation or to pray blessings for those who curse us...until we realize that this is exactly the way God reacts toward humanity...including ourselves.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful - vs. 36  We become "sons of the Most High" (vs. 35) when we show mercy to those who do not deserve it.

Here is an outline of this week's reading:
1) vs. 27-36  - Jesus gives a simple command, love your enemies, followed by three variations of it.
Jesus then provides four applications of the command.  One of those applications is the Golden Rule in verse 31 - do to others as you would have them do to you.

2) vs. 37-38 - Two negative commands are given that relate to the authority of God to do what ONLY God can do - judge and condemn.  Two positive commands are given that relate to actions of God that we are both allowed and commanded to emulate - forgive and give.

3) vs. 39-45 - Three parables highlight the need for us as disciples to be guided by the Master who transforms our inner nature so that we can carry out these teachings.

How do we apply these verses: we need to ask ourselves, with whom do I need to put these teachings into practice?  If I did, what would be the outcome? We will likely find that putting these teachings into practice leads to better outcomes in the long-run than reacting with violence and retaliation.  We will also find that practicing these teachings will reveal the glory of Christ to those who mistreat us.

A Jesus-shaped faith is defined by the actions of love, mercy, and forgiveness toward those who least deserve it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Week Twelve - February 8-14, 2016 - Luke 6:1-26

Luke began his Gospel account by giving us these words from Mary: He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. - Luke 1:51-53 (NRSV) In summary, Luke tells us that the Gospel of Jesus will bring about a new framework, a new reality, and a new set of values.  The old order of the world based on human rituals is out.  The new order of God's Kingdom has become present in Jesus.  As you read Luke 6:1-26 this week, how does Jesus present the value system of the Kingdom of God?

In Luke 6:1-5, Jesus and His disciples pick grain and prepare food on the Sabbath.  The Jews of the first century had placed a rigid rule of refraining from food preparation on the Sabbath above the human need to eat.  Jesus in His actions and teachings reveals that human need (hunger) is given priority over ritual observance/religious rules.  

Luke 6:6-11 adds to this teaching as Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath.  The Rabbis wrote in the Talmud that only someone who had a life threatening illness should be healed on the Sabbath.  Jesus highlights the error of placing rituals and rules above human need by healing a withered hand (not a life threatening illness) on the Sabbath.  In the Kingdom of God, meeting human need and bringing healing to others is the way we show love to God - not by simply observing man-made rules.

In Luke 6:12-16, Jesus chooses disciples from a group of men who were not the elite of Jewish society.  St. Ambrose writes, "He chose not wise men, nor rich men, nor nobles, but fishermen and tax collectors, whom he would direct, lest they seem to have seduced some by wisdom, or bought them with riches, or attracted them to their own grace with authority of power and nobility."  Jesus teaches us in His choice of disciples that in the Kingdom of God, God scatters the proud and lifts up the lowly.

Luke 6:17-26 gives us a glimpse of Jesus teaching His disciples.  What did He teach them?  Jesus taught them that the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are persecuted for His sake will inherit the Kingdom of God and receive great reward.  On the other hand, He taught them that the rich, the satisfied with self, the laughing, and the revered will be left empty.  From the beginning of Luke's Gospel, Luke has been telling us that Jesus has come to give His Kingdom to those who are on the outskirts and fringes of the elite of society.  A poor, young virgin will give birth to Jesus.  Shepherds will be the first to hail Him as King.  Lepers will be cleansed and paralytics will be healed. The low-in-status will be His disciples.  Jesus has come to bring the Kingdom of God, and the world order will not align with it.

In the Kingdom of God, we find life when we love God and love neighbor.  Our life is not found in money or food or the high opinion of others.  Our life is found in joining Jesus' mission to heal the broken-hearted and to let the oppressed go free.

One final note: the Kingdom of God is not a reality Jesus invites us to realize after death.  The Kingdom of God is a reality Jesus invites us to join here and now.  Jesus invites us to submit our lives to His Kingship and to live by His values...the values that lift up the lowly, scatter the proud, and love God through loving the neighbor. How does this reality clash with how you presently live and see God...yourself...others?  How is God calling you through this passage to join His Kingdom in the here and now?

For final reflection, here is Luke 6:20-26 from Eugene Peterson's The Message:
You're blessed when you've lost it all.  God's kingdom is there for the finding. You're blessed when you're ravenously hungry. Then you're ready for the Messianic meal. You're blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning.  Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens-skip like a lamb, if you like!-for even though they don't like it, I do...and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.
But it's trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you'll ever get. And it's trouble ahead if you're satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long. And it's trouble ahead if you think life's all fun and games. There's suffering to be met, and you're going to meet it. There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests-look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Week Ten: January 25-31, 2016 - Luke 4:38-5:16

Over the last few years, I have learned through the grace of God that Jesus had a method or strategy for making disciples.  Two great, extra-biblical resources have informed my understanding of how Jesus made disciples.  The first is a book entitled, The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman who is a Professor of Evangelism and Discipleship at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  The title of this book could well be, "How Jesus Made Disciples."  The second resource is a book by A.B. Bruce entitled, The Training of the Twelve.  Bruce, a Southern Baptist preacher of the 19th century, compiled an incredible book on Jesus' method of making disciples.

Dr. Coleman outlines eight steps to Jesus' plan of disciple-making: 1) Selection 2) Association (sharing of life) 3) Consecration 4) Impartation 5) Demonstration 6) Delegation 7) Supervision and 8) Reproduction (what we often refer to as multiplication).  I highly recommend this accessible and easy-to-read book for anyone interested in learning and executing Jesus' method of making disciples. I also highly recommend Discipleship Essentials from Greg Ogden as a small group study that helps teach disciple-making.

In our reading this week in Luke, we see Jesus ministering in the lives of Peter, James, and John before He calls them to be His disciples (which we will read in a few weeks in Luke 6:13-16).  Primarily, we see Jesus preparing Peter to become His disciple.

First, it's helpful to have a little background about Peter.  Peter's given name was Simon.  He was a fisherman who lived in Capernaum, a food processing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The Gospel of John tells us that Simon was introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew (John 1:42).  Andrew was following John the Baptist as his disciple when he first met Jesus and became convinced that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.  Upon meeting Simon, Jesus changes his name to Peter, meaning "rock", signaling that Jesus' work of disciple-making was going to primarily focus on His work in the life of Peter.

Some time after meeting Simon Peter, Jesus begins living with Simon and his family in Capernaum.  During this time of what we might call pre-discipleship in Peter's life, Jesus is spending time with Peter and getting to know all about his character and his life.  It is during this pre-discipleship that Jesus is already actively and intentionally beginning to disciple Peter by giving him demonstrations of His ministry and signs that He is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.

One demonstration given to Peter is the healing of Peter's mother-in-law in Luke 4:39.  Another demonstration is Jesus' preaching in Luke 5.  We notice in verse three that Jesus chooses to preach to the crowds from Peter's boat.  We can rest assured that Jesus' choice of Peter's boat was no accident.  He wanted Peter to hear His message, but Jesus had more in-mind.  After the message was given, Jesus instructs Peter to let down his nets for a catch of fish (vs. 4).  Now take into consideration the fact that verse two tells us that Peter was already washing his nets.  He had fished all night and had caught nothing (vs. 5).  Peter is tired, he's finished, and he's ready to go home.

It is here where we learn some very valuable characteristics about Peter.  In verse five, even though Peter is finished fishing for the day and doesn't expect to catch anything, he is humble enough to follow the Master's command to let down his nets again.  Jesus, no doubt, had called Peter to be his primary disciple because Peter was humble, coachable, approachable, and willing to learn.  It is helpful for us in our own disciple-making to look for people who have this same characteristic.

Upon letting down his nets, Peter is overwhelmed with a catch of fish so great that it is heavy enough to sink two boats.  In response, Peter says, Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.  Peter realizes his own inadequacy in fulfilling the Law as he stands in the presence of the Living God.  Nevertheless, Jesus calls him to freedom in a discipleship no longer based upon the Law, but based upon His life-giving grace and faith in the One who will take away his fears and enable him to "catch people" (vs. 10).

Throughout the remainder of Luke, we will see numerous examples of the relationship between Jesus and Peter, and we will witness Jesus equip and mature Peter to become a triumphant preacher of the Gospel.  Jesus' relationship with Peter teaches us that disciple-making is exactly that...a relationship.  Disciples are formed over time through intentional, active relationship where the disciple-maker continually points the disciple to Jesus through the sharing of his/her own life and the Gospel.

Reflecting on Jesus' command to Peter to put out his nets for a catch, Maximus of Turin, Bishop of Turin during the fifth century writes:
       The church is called out into the deep, delving, as it were, into the profound mysteries of
       the heavens, into that depth concerning which the apostle says, "O depth of the riches
       and wisdom and knowledge of God!"  For this reason he says to Peter, "Put out into the
       deep," - that is to say, into the depths of reflection upon the divine generation. For what is
       more profound than what Peter says to the Lord, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living
       God?"...This boat (the church) sails upon the deeps of this world, so that, when the earth is
       destroyed, it will preserve unharmed all those it has taken in.  Its foreshadowing can be seen
       already in the Old Testament.  For as Noah's ark preserved alive everyone whom it had taken
       in when the world was going under, so also Peter's church will bring back unhurt everyone
       whom it embraces when the world goes up in flames.  And as a dove brought the sign of
       peace to Noah's ark when the flood was over, so also Christ will bring the joy of peace to
       Peter's church when the judgment is over.
                                          -Ancient Christian Commentary, New Testament III, Luke, pg. 88

Dear disciple, dear church, let us put out into the deep and catch people for the kingdom of God as we follow Jesus' method of making disciples!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Week Nine: January 18-24, 2016 - Luke 4:14-37

As you read this week in Luke, I want to encourage you to think of three major themes

1) Synagogue 2) Ordering of Chaos 3) Authority

First, let's consider the theme of synagogue.  The "scene" for this week's reading is the synagogues of Galilee - primarily Nazareth and Capernaum.  However, Luke 4:15 says, He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.  This leads us to believe that Jesus taught in most if not all of the synagogues of Galilee at one point or another in His ministry.

The synagogue is important as we try to understand the first century context of Jesus' ministry.   Synagogue worship was brought to Galilee as Jews returned from Babylon after the Maccabean revolt (167 B.C.).  Synagogues were not in competition with the temple because Jews still went to the temple in Jerusalem each year for the three Jewish feast days of Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkoth.  Synagogues were the centers of daily teaching and worship in the Jewish communities of the first century.  The only Torah scrolls in most communities in Galilee would have been at the synagogue.  Jesus' ministry in the synagogues would have brought Him into contact with the greatest Torah scholars of His time.  The synagogue in Capernaum would have been comparable to the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton of our own cultural context.  His impact at these centers of teaching and worship cannot be underestimated.  As Ray Vander Laan teaches, Jesus would have been at the synagogue because that is where the Word of God was located.

Another important theme in this week's passage is the ordering of chaos.  Jesus proclaims in His hometown synagogue of Nazareth in Luke 4:18-19 that He has come to bless those who are poor (poor in spirit), captive, blind, and oppressed.  He is reading from the Torah scrolls the words of Isaiah 61:1-2.  After reading these words from the scroll, Jesus gives the shortest sermon imaginable with six Hebrew words saying, today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.  Jesus' sermon tells us that He has come to order the chaos that plagues human life through our sinful nature.  We see this theme clearly when He goes to the synagogue in Capernaum and heals a man who is possessed by a demon.  St. Ambrose in the fourth century points out that Jesus' healing of this man at Capernaum on the sabbath reminds us of God's acts of Creation that ended with the sabbath.  Jesus is the Creator-in-the-flesh who came to earth to complete the work of Creation.  In the same way that the Word was with God ordering Creation in the beginning, Jesus the Word-made-flesh ordered the Creation by His healing at the synagogue.

Finally, consider the theme of authority.  Above all else, I believe this week's passage is about Jesus' acts of establishing His earthly and heavenly authority.  Coming from His temptation in the wilderness in which the devil offers Jesus worldly authority (Luke 4:6), Jesus goes to Galilee in the power of the Spirit to reveal that He possesses God's authority.  The Greek word is "exousia."  As Jesus teaches in the synagogue of Capernaum the people are astounded because His teaching is with "exousia" which means force, mastery, and power.  Matthew, the Gospel writer and disciple of our Lord, teaches us that "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus." (Matthew 28:18).

We should note that Jesus' authority is one we are left to accept or reject.  The people of Nazareth rejected Jesus' authority.  Why?  Because Jesus proclaimed that His work of ordering the chaos was not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles as well.  In every person's journey, a decision must be continually made to either submit to the authority of Jesus or to reject His authority.  Submitting to Jesus' authority is not the rejection of life to its fullest.  Quite the opposite!  Submission to Jesus' authority orders the chaos of our lives and brings the life giving Spirit of God to us.  What areas of your life do you need to submit to Jesus' authority?


Monday, January 11, 2016

Week Eight: January 11-17, 2016 - Luke 3:23-4:13

Caution: As you read through this week's passage, you may be tempted (chapter four is all about temptation) to breeze right past Jesus' genealogy and chalk it up with those passages we often ignore in the Old Testament book of Numbers.  Instead, take some time this week to turn to Matthew chapter one and read Matthew's genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17).  Afterward, spend some time reading Luke's genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23-38).  The key question to ask about both of these genealogies: why does Matthew and Luke list the names they do?  Could there be theological reasons?

Without delving too deeply into all of the differences we see in Jesus' genealogies, allow me to give you a few hints to look for as you read both accounts:

1) Matthew starts with Abraham and moves forward in time to Jesus.
Luke starts with Jesus and moves backward in time all the way to Adam.  Frank Beare in The Earliest Records of Jesus says that Luke goes all the way back to Adam to show us that Jesus' mission embraces the entire human race.

2) Matthew tells us the Joseph's father was Jacob (Matthew 1:16).
Luke tells us that Joseph's father was Heli (Luke 3:23).  A.T. Robertson and other scholars tell us that Luke's genealogy of Jesus could be through the line of Mary.  Although Joseph is listed, Heli was believed to be Mary's father.

3) Matthew tells us that Jesus was born of David's line through Solomon (Matthew 1:6).
Luke tells us that Jesus was born of David's line through Nathan (Luke 3:31).  Some scholars suggest that Luke is interested in telling us Jesus' priestly lineage through David rather than Jesus' royal lineage through King David and King Solomon.

The most interesting thing to consider about Luke's genealogy of Jesus, perhaps, is the fact that he ends the genealogy with Adam and picks up in Luke chapter four with the story of Jesus' temptation which reminds us of the temptation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.

There are several allusions to the Genesis 3 story in Luke's telling of Jesus' temptation.  The serpent in Genesis 3 plants doubt in the mind of Eve (Genesis 3:1), and the devil tries to plant doubt in the mind of Jesus about his divinity in Luke 4:3.  Adam's sin in Genesis 3 is eating the fruit he was forbidden to eat.  Jesus conquers the temptation to turn a stone into bread and eat.

There are also important parallels with the temptation story in Luke 4 and the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy whose theme is worship of God alone.  Each of Jesus' responses to the devil are from the Book of Deuteronomy.  If you would like to look them up, here are the quotes: Luke 4:4 is equal to Deuteronomy 8:3.  Luke 4:8 is parallel to Deuteronomy 6:13. Luke 4:12 is equal to Deuteronomy 6:16.

Most of all, the temptation story in Luke foreshadows the conflict of the passion and Jesus' victory over evil on the Cross of Calvary that we will see again later in Luke.

Temptation is something we all face in life.  Jesus faced the temptations of humanity without sin.  His victory over evil and the temptations of the evil one give us hope that through His Spirit alive in us, we too have power to overcome the temptations we face.  We overcome these temptations by knowing the truth of God and living by it.  The evil one will tempt us to doubt God's truth and make up our own truths.  When we know the truth and live by it, the truth of Jesus Christ will set us free from temptation.  Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." - John 8:31-32

Monday, January 04, 2016

Week Seven: January 4-10, 2016 - Luke 3:1-22

The first chapter of Luke told us about the origins and birth of John the Baptist.  As his father, Zechariah said in Luke 1:76, John would prepare the way for the Lord.  Whatever else we might say about John the Baptist, we learn in Luke 3 that John came to shake things up.  John was a fiery desert preacher who called people to repent of their sins and to take actions that showed they truly wanted to be righteous. Wearing the clothes of the Prophet Elijah (Mark 1:6 and 2 Kings 1:8), John came to baptize and to tell those who would listen that the Messiah was coming.  What would the Messiah (Jesus) do in John's estimation?

According to John, the Messiah was bringing judgment.  He says, The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. - Luke 3:9 NIV  He goes on to say, His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. - Luke 3:17  This doesn't sound much like "good news" does it?

David Flusser, now deceased, was a professor of early Christianity at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  Flusser contends that John the Baptist was confused about God's timeline.  Flusser writes in his book The Sage from Galilee that John the Baptist thought the end of human history was at hand with the coming of Jesus.  Jesus, on the other hand, understood His purpose differently.  Instead of imminent judgment, Jesus was coming to bring salvation.  Flusser points to Jesus' teaching in Matthew 13:24-30 as proof of Jesus' alternative point of view.  The harvest was yet to come at a future date.  The judgment was not imminent as John the Baptist taught.

Whether Flusser is right about John the Baptist or not, we have much to learn from John the Baptist's ministry and preaching.

1) John was clear that our salvation is not related to our ancestry.  In verse 8 he says, And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  We need to heed this teaching.  Our salvation is a matter of our own faith in Christ and not our parent's or our favorite preacher's.  We are each called to repent of our sin and to turn to Christ in faithful relationship.

2) John taught us how to "produce fruit" in Luke 3:10-14 which is a passage totally unique to the Gospel of Luke.  In summary, John is saying we need to love our neighbor.  I hear the words of Micah 6:8 echoed here...what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

As you read this week's passage, remember that Jesus, like John the Baptist, called for us to bear fruit - fruit that will last (John 15:16).  Remember also that we are not to live in fear of judgment, but rather, we are to live by faith in Jesus Christ who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. (1 Thessalonians 1:10)  A Jesus-shaped faith is marked by repentance and fruit.