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!