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.