Category Archives: Devotional

Luke 6 -Treating Other Like You Want To Be Treated

Moving into Luke 6 we find Jesus walking with his disciples. It is the sabbath and they find themselves hungry so they pick some of the grain from the field. Once again he finds himself confronted by the Pharisees who insist that it is against the law to do “work” on the sabbath. Jesus’ response is not to correct them directly, but instead, he tells a story of David and his men eating the consecrated bread in the temple when they were hungry. This account is found in 1 Samuel 21. Luke tells us that Jesus then quotes David as saying that ““The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” His point is that all the rules that they insist on enforcing were made by man, but He is the source of the sabbath. What this means further is that as the Lord of the Sabbath, how can his actions toward the sabbath be in violation of the law.

To further drive home the point that these man-made rules of the sabbath are misplaced Luke tells a second story of healing a man who had a withered hand. In this situation, the Scribes and Pharises were waiting for him to break the rules of the sabbath by working (healing) on the sabbath. Jesus knew what they were up to so he ask them a question. “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?” (v. 9) The answer, of course, is that it is always right (lawful) to do good and so Jesus healed the man. As Jesus’ question had left them speechless, they felt humiliated and angry so began to discuss what they could do to him.

From here Luke tells us that Jesus chose 12 of his many disciples to fulfill the role of apostles. The distinction is that a disciple is a student who sits under a particular teacher, where an apostle is a representative of someone such as an ambassador is the representative of King.  This is a significant step up for these 12 and Jesus knowing the magnitude of this decision first went off alone to spend time in prayer before making his decisions. We often drop this ball and fail to put serious prayer ahead of decisions, but if Jesus himself dit it, how much more should we do so.

After naming his apostles, Jesus returns to the rest of the disciples with them. As they returned they found a very large crowd of people who had also come to hear him and to be healed by him.

We next find Luke presenting his own account of beatitudes or blessings teaching. We are probably most familiar with this message from Matthew 5. What is unique in Luke’s account is that he presents both the positive and the negative sides. An example of this is found in verse 22 which reads, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” and it’s counter in verse 25 which reads, “Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.”

I have to ask why Jesus would put these negative positions in the discussion. Is it wrong to be well-fed? Is it wrong to laugh? I think his point is that things being ideal in this life are transient and even false on many occasions. This is his point in verse 26 when he says, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.”  This why Jesus transitions from these tit for tat statements to telling us how we are to live.

His discussion of how we are to live in relation to others is summed up in two verses. The first is in verse 27 where he says, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” The second is in Luke’s presentation of the golden rule, “treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (v. 31)

He finishes this discussion with a parable and a few more teaching which can be summarized as saying that we can not expect to help others with their issues when we have our own issues to clear up.  We can only produce “fruit” as good as we are.  Jesus says, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (v. 45)

Jesus concluded with a parable about the foundation on which a house is built. If we expect our lives, our behavior, and our examples to stand strong, then they must be built on the foundation of Christ’s teaching.

My takeaways from this chapter: 1) While many of the rules that were put in place were intended to help people live Godly lives, we need to realize that these rules are not more important than doing what is right in God’s eyes. 2) Doing the right thing in God’s eyes, whether making decisions, helping others, or living our lives must be bathed in prayer. 3) If we are to treat others the way we want to be treated, then we need to not be focussed on ourselves, but be founded on the teaching of Jesus.

Luke 5 – Following Jesus as an Act of Faith

At the end of chapter four, we read that “He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.” (Luke 4:44 NASB) This is where we begin in chapter five with Jesus preaching throughout the land. As the crowds gathered around him, he sought a good place to teach from. As he was on the shores of Lake Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee), he asked the fisherman to row him out a little way so he could teach, being seen by the whole crowd. While we are not sure why, they agreed. If their compliance in this seems a little unusual, the next point is even more so.

They had been out fishing all night with no success, yet when Jesus tells then to go out a little further and drop their nets, they do it. The result is amazing. They catch so many fish, they are unable to pull in the nets. In fact, they have to call out their partners to help them pull in the nets. This serves as a sign to Peter, as well as John and James that Jesus is no ordinary teacher and so they leave their nets and follow him.

It is here that Jesus tells them what he is calling them to do. They were fishermen, so what they knew was fishing. Jesus drew on this image when he told them, “Do not fear, from now on, you will be catching men.” (v. 10) Jesus came to reach people, and he would do this through people. This has not changed. Even today, Jesus’ method of reaching the lost is through those who follow him.

Luke next presents us with two miraculous healings by Jesus. In the first, Jesus is approached by a man suffering from leprosy. The man asks Jesus to heal him, which Jesus does. Yet after this act, Jesus tells the man not to say anything to anyone except what is required in the purification ritual.  I have to ask, why would he not want the man to tell anyone. If, indeed, his purpose was to call people to himself, would not stories of such miracles do the trick? My best take is that he wanted to be sure that people were coming to him not merely for the healing, but because they wanted to know him.

The second miracle involved a paralyzed man. While Jesus was speaking to a group of people, which included Pharisees and teachers of the law, the most unexpected event occurred. A paralyzed man was lowered through the ceiling on his mat so they could get him close to Jesus in hopes that he would heal him. Jesus first words after seeing their faith (interestingly, Luke says “their” faith and not just his faith) were not to heal him, but “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” (v. 20) After all, this is why Jesus came. He knew that the greater need of the man, as with all of us, was forgiveness.  After this, Jesus heals the man, but he has another reason for healing other than just the man’s desire to be healed. Jesus knew that the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law were questioning his forgiving sins, after all, only God could forgive sins. So Jesus says, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”—He said to the paralytic—“I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.”” (Vv. 22 – 24)

Luk concludes this passage with the calling of Matthew as a disciple. Matthew (or Levi) was a tax collector. A group of people who were as despised as the Romans. Yet upon seeing him, Jesus “said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.”(Vv. 27 – 28) Just like Peter earlier, it appears that without question, when Jesus called him to follow, he simply got up and followed. It is clear why he would have done this, but we can probably assume that Jesus’ reputation had preceded him and that the authority with Jesus spoke compelled Matthew to follow. 

The first thing that Matthew does is throw a party and invite his friends, many of whom were also tax collectors. Again, it is the Pharisees who question Jesus’ actions. In this case, why would he eat with tax collectors and sinners? Jesus’ response is very poignant. He says, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Vv.31 – 32) It is an interesting image, but the truth is that we are all sick. The Pharisees may have followed the rules, but they were often as far from God as anyone. We are no different. We can get what we call a “holier than thou” attitude and miss that the same Jesus we believe came for us, also cam for those who are living in sin. Jesus came to heal the sick. The whole world is sick. Jesus came to save the world.

We conclude with a final question that Pharisees put forth. They ask why Jesus disciples do not fast like those of John the Baptist. Jesus then lays it on the line for them using the image of a bridegroom at a wedding. When they are with the bridegroom, it is a time for celebrating, not for fasting. This imagery will be picked up later by Paul identifying Jesus as the bridegroom and the Church as his bride. The point is that the presence of Jesus is a thing to celebrate.

My takeaways from this chapter are that: 1) Jesus not only calls people to follow him, but he also uses those he calls to reach others who are in need. 2) Jesus is looking for those who genuinely desire to follow him and not merely those who are trying to “get something out of it.” And ) Forgiveness comes from faith in Christ alone.

 

Luke 4 – His Ministry Begins

Here in chapter four, we find an interesting turn in the launch of Jesus’ ministry. Having just come off the glorious events of His baptism, Jesus finds a complete turn of events. From the height of the Father declaring, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” Jesus finds himself alone, hungry, and tempted by the devil.

In the first temptation listed, the devil strikes at both the humanity and the deity of Jesus. He says, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (v. 3 NASB) He challenges the deity of Jesus by questioning his identity as the son of God and feeds on the humanity of Jesus by playing off the hunger that Jesus is feeling after 40 days of not eating.

In the second temptation, the devil again plays off the humanity of Jesus by offering him an easier way to reach his goal. In verses 6 – 7, he says, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” This temptation is reminiscent of the temptation faced by Adam and Eve when the serpent said to Eve, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”(Genesis 3:4 – 5) Just as told Eve that they could become like God with a simple action, so too, he is telling Jesus that He can reach full earthly glory through a simple action.

 In the third temptation, the devil again challenged Jesus’ deity. In verses 10 – 11 he says, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written,He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’ and, On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’” Here the devil quotes Psalm 91:11 – 12 to re-enforce the power of his challenge to his identity. 

Each of these temptations reflects the temptations that we face in life: physical needs, power and glory, and to manipulate God for our benefit. We know how easy it is for us to succumb to these, but Jesus withstands them. We might be tempted to say that he is fully God, so it was easier for him. But to do so is to forget that he is fully man as well, so the temptations were real.  This is why Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus’ response to each temptation is not to resist or push back in his own power, but to quote scripture from the book of Deuteronomy: 8:3 “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”; 6:13 “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.”; 6:16 “Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.”

This account of the temptations ends with a small phrase that it is easy to overlook. We speak of Jesus being tempted, but we often confine the temptations to this time, but the final phrase shows something different. Verse 13 says that “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.” So we to need to realize that just because we resist temptation once, it does not mean that it is over. The temptation can, and probably will return when the timing is right.

From here, Jesus begins his public ministry. Early on in his preaching in Galilee, Jesus finds himself in his hometown of Nazareth in the synagogue for the service. As he reads from the scripture found in Isaiah 61, he finishes by telling the people that it has been fulfilled in their presence. Jesus identifies himself as the fulfillment of the prophecy.  The first reaction of the people is amazement and to speak well of him, but that quickly changed after Jesus’ next statement. He knows that they will want to see him do the miraculous things he did elsewhere, there in Nazareth. But he points out that the “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.” (v. 24) And proceeds to give several examples of God working outside of Israel through great prophets. Now the response of the people is quite different as they seek to kill him, but Jesus is able to slip away.

From here we come to the first accounts of his miraculous works. He finds himself in Capernaum, where it reports that he performed many miracles. Two are specifically described. The first is casting a demon out of a man. What is striking in this story, apart from Jesus casting out a demon is his insistence on silencing the demon when it identifies him as “the Holy One of God!” (v. 34) The passage goes on to indicate that he does this other times as well, but I have to ask why. It would seem to tie back to the temptations and the opportune time. Jesus once again could have allowed this to get out taken the easy way to out and to claim power, but instead, Jesus resists this temptation and follows the path before him.

The second specific miracle described is the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. In these two miracles, Jesus demonstrates His authority over both the spiritual and the physical realms.

Following these events, Jesus slips away to a secluded place. It does not explicitly tell us why, but it should not be surprising. After all that he had done and the people who had come to him, it is reasonable that he would need to get away so he could recharge. But the people tracked him down and seeking for him to continue there. Jesus tells them that he can not because he “must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” (v. 43) And so he began to travel to other cities.

As I look at this, my takeaways from this chapter are 1) Jesus faced temptation just as we have. 2) The only real way to resist temptation is through God’s power, and this can be found in the scriptures. 3) Jesus had power over everything. And 4) We must be faithful to God’s calling, despite what challenges and opportunities may stand in our way.

Luke 3 – Inaugurating His Ministry

As Luke moves on from his childhood account, he now jumps over an eighteen-year gap. Here Luke begins to lay out the inauguration of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Yet once again, it is not Jesus he starts with, but John the Baptist.

Just like in chapter 1, where Luke begins with the announcement that John would be born to lay the groundwork for the announcement and birth of Christ, here we find John moving into his ministry that is literally laying the foundation for the ministry of Jesus.

Interestingly, Luke appears to want to make it clear that there is no question of the historicity and accuracy of his account. He spends the first verse and half explaining exactly when these events occurred by referencing various leaders, both political and religious, over the region, including the Emporer.

John is the classic portrayal of a prophet, calling the people of Israel to repent and return to genuinely worshiping and honoring God. He wants us to clearly understand that this is itself a fulfillment of prophecy. Luke reminds us of the very words of Isaiah that had looked forward to this day.  In verses 4 – 6, he quotes directly from Isaiah when he writes that John is “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ready the way of the Lord, Makes His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, And every mountain and hill will be brought low; The crooked will become straight, And the rough roads smooth; And all flesh will see the salvation of God.’” (NASB)

John confronts the idea straight on that merely being part of the nation of Israel does not make one a child of God by using a rather unusual image. He says that God can raise up children from the stones if he wants and that trees that do not produce fruit will be cut down. His point is that it does not matter who your ancestors (parents and beyond) are, it is beholden on each of us to turn ourselves to God and follow him.

John then gives us a glimpse of what this true repentance looks like. It is not just something that can be kept inside, but it is demonstrated on the outside. He presents a series of images that those who are genuinely repentant will care for those in need. I am reminded of the word in James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” True repentance is a change of the heart, that can not help but be lived out in caring for the neediest.

To further make his point, John implemented the practice of baptism. This was not a new concept for the people of that time. Baptism served as a physical demonstration of one’s commitment to a particular teacher or teaching. John uses the practice to challenge people to make a public profession that they are genuinely repentant and want to turn back to God.

It is no wonder that many people thought John may well have been the promised messiah. He was shaking up the status quo, forcing people to re-evaluate what it meant to honor God. But John understood that it was not about him. This is a challenge that many of those in ministry find themselves facing. As people look to us for answers, and we find ourselves leading others, it is so easy to begin to think too highly of ourselves. Each of us should seek to maintain the humility of John who tells the people in verse 16 “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This strikes me as a precursor of what we find to be one of the last statements by John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

But everything was not all positive for John. Yes, many were repenting, but we are told that his call to repentance made some enemies. Most notably, Herod, the Tetrarch, or governor of Galilee. John had confronted him of his sin, to which Herod reacted by throwing Joh in prison. This marked the end of John’s ministry, but Luke first takes a step back in verses 21 – 22 to present us with the point of John’s ministry, to inaugurate the ministry of Jesus.

Luke tells us that Jesus himself was baptized by John. Now clearly, Jesus did not need to repent of anything, but rather his baptism identified himself with this new repentance that John had called people to. As such, Jesus now transitions to the lead role in this new teaching, and to solidify this, Luke tells of a unique aspect of Jesus’ baptism. In verse 22  we read, “the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” In case we have missed it to this point, Luke wants to make it clear to us by recording this public declaration. Jesus is the promised Messiah.

Luke finishes this chapter by recapping the genealogy of Jesus through his adopted earthly father of Joseph. The point is to lay out how Jesus fulfills the prophecy to be the messiah. Through this line, he is a descendant of David, giving him the legal right to be king. But this genealogy goes all the way back to Adam, showing that Jesus meets the original prophecy given after the fall in Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman. And between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”.  Beyond this, taking the genealogy to Adam shows that Jesus is not just the savior of Israel, but of all people.

As I look at this passage, my take away is Luke’s emphasis that salvation was not simply for the children of Israel, but of the true Children of Abraham. And that the true children of Abraham are not defined by blood, but by faith. A faith that is not just in the heart, but demonstrated in the actions of life. This is the point of the words of the angel in chapter 2, “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”

Luke 2 – Jesus Childhood

Countless volumes have been written on the life of Jesus over the last 2,000 years. Starting with the Gospels to studies of today. There is, perhaps, no person of whom more has been written yet probably 99% of what is written covers only the final three years of his life. We are told very little about the childhood of Jesus. In fact, it is only here in Luke 2 and in Matthew 2 that we find any description of the childhood of Jesus.

Here in Luke 2, we begin with a story that is so familiar we can recite it. Actually, most of us probably do as we listen to Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. This is the account of the birth of Jesus. Yet what is fascinating to me is that many times as we have read and heard this account, how much we get wrong or how much we have unknowingly added to it.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.  While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:4 – 7(NASB) Look at this and tell me; Where is the donkey that Mary road? The passage makes no mention of a donkey, yet every picture we see shows Joseph leading a donkey while Mary rides. How far along was Mary in her pregnancy? The passage says that “while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.” Yet once again, we have an image of them arriving just in time to deliver the child that night. Where is the Innkeeper? It says that there was no room in the inn, but there is no innkeeper who turned them away, but once again, we have vilified this non-existent innkeeper as being uncaring. What is interesting is when we realize that the word for inn is actually better understood to mean guest room. It is the same word used later to describe the room in which the last supper took place.

This is a reminder for us. There is an old expression, “familiarity breeds contempt.” The saying means that the more comfortable we become with something, the less reverence and respect we have for it. In this case, we have become so familiar with the story that we have allowed these misconceptions to creep in without returning to the source. It is crucial that we regularly spend time in the scriptures and do not simply rely on our fallible memories of what they say.

Another thing that strikes me is how we so often end this passage with verse 15 “ When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” We remember that the shepherds went to see Jesus, but we forget that after seeing him that they take it a step further. Verse 17 tells us that “When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.” The shepherds did not merely keep this information to themselves. Instead, they began to tell everyone what they had been told. It makes me rethink the word of the “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The second line says, “how still we see thee lie.” But imagine being one of the shepherds. Imagine seeing what you have seen. How quite could they have really been as they spread the news? No, it is quite possible there was a lot of energy in the streets that night.

Luke then tells us of Jesus’ dedication at the temple. Here we are introduced to two individuals for the only time. These two elderly individuals, Simeon and Anna, have each independent of one another, faithfully served God awaiting the fulfillment of prophecy through the arrival of the Messiah. Simeon declares in verses 30 – 32, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” Simeon knew that God had been faithful and allowed him to see the Messiah. I make special note that Simeon did not see the Messiah as a gift only for Israel, but for the gentiles a well. Anna, for her part, was a prophetess, and God spoke through her to proclaim Jesus to those who were present.

Luke then skips ahead 12 years to present another visit to the temple by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This time Jesus stays behind at the temple when his parents leave. Since they were traveling as part of a large caravan, it took a while for them to realize they had left Jesus behind. When they return, they do not find a lost and forgotten child, but instead, they find in listening to and questioning the teachers of the law at the temple. For the first time, we hear Jesus speak, and what he says is quite telling. He says, “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house (or about my Father’s business)?” Jesus was far from a lost child but rather was seeking to honor his heavenly father in what he was doing.

As I read this passage, a few things stand out to me. First, we find a particular expression repeated twice in this passage in verse 19, following the shepherd visit, we read, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” And then again in verse 51, after they find him with the teacher in the temple, we read, and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” This reminds us of the words found in verse 1:29 “But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.” For all Mary had been told and for all she had seen, it was still so hard for her to comprehend what it all really meant. She knew what the angel and had said, and she had heard the words of Simeon and Anna, yet still there remains that disconnect of comprehending. I think this is where we often fall short as well. But we too often make the mistake of saying, “I am just going to believe it, even if it does not make sense” rather than doing as Mary did and pondering things in our hearts.

The second thing I take from this passage is once again a reminder that God is faithful to his promises. Not only had the promised Messiah come, but we have a clear example of God being faithful to his promises in the person of Simeon. In verse 26, we read that “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” And so we see a clear and tangible example of God’s faithfulness to his promises.

The third, and perhaps most important, is the understanding of the humanity of Jesus. We speak of the incarnation, of God becoming flesh. We can describe Jesus as fully God and fully man, but too often we downplay the humanity of Jesus and focus on his being God. Yes, he is fully God, but thankfully he was fully human as well, facing all that we face. If he were not, then he could not be a sufficient sacrifice for our sins. Luke, a physician by trade, emphasizes the humanity of Jesus not only in the description of his birth, but also in verse 40, “The Child continued to grow and become strong, [r]increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” and again in verse 52 “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke points us to the truth that Jesus grew just as we all do; mentally, physically, and spiritually.  If I were to sum up the most essential point of chapter 2, this would be it. That Jesus truly became human.

Luke 1 – Hope that God is Faithful

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well …” Luke 1:1 – 3a (NASB)

With these words, Luke begins to tell the story of Christ’s life. Today is December 1 and is the first Sunday of advent. A time of year set aside to prepare for the coming of Christ. The very word “advent” derived from the Latin means coming. So today, we begin our looking forward to the coming of the messiah. Yet we do it with a two-fold purpose. First, we look back to the first coming of Christ when he was born in a simple stable with not worldly fanfare or pomp and circumstance. Just a simple child who entered the world in the most seemingly meaningless way. And second, we look forward to his triumphant return.

This first Sunday of Advent is, known as the Sunday of hope. On this day, in many churches around the world, a purple candle is lit on the advent wreath as a symbol of this hope. Hope for a world in darkness that God’s promises will not fail.

This Advent season, I want to take each day and look at a chapter in the Gospel of Luke. There are 24 chapters in Luke, and there are 24 days that lead up to Christmas. I invite you to join me as I travel through the Gospel of Luke to see Christ in action and to prepare to meet Him in a new way the Advent and Christmas season.

So as I begin I borrow from the words of Luke and say, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well.”

It seems unusual that Luke begins his account of the Life Jesus not with his birth, or even with the announcement of his coming, but rather with the announcement of the coming of another Child.  Luke tells us the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth and the announcement that they would have a baby. We learn from the angel Gabriel that this child will be set aside for a particular purpose and that this purpose was to prepare the people for something significant. Gabriel’s exact words in verse 17 are “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

What is striking, and missed when we look at this in English is the importance of the name John. Two things stand out to me. The first is that the very act of naming the child John, a name that was nowhere in the family history, is a sign to those around that this child is different. Something new is happening. Just look at the reaction of the others when they are told the child’s name in verses 60 – 66 “But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. And he asked for a tablet and wrote (We need to remember that Zacharias’s voice had been taken away for the duration of the pregnancy, but I will look at that in a little bit.) as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. And at once, his mouth was opened, and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. Fear came on all those living around them, and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.”

The second striking point of the name John is missed in modern English. When we see John, we see a name. But in ancient settings, names carried meaning to them, and John was no exception. The name John, in fact, means the LORD is gracious. That is what John symbolizes, the graciousness of God. Not only had he given a child to Zacharias and Elizabeth in their old age, but he stood as a symbol of the incredible grace God was about to bestow on the world through his son Jesus Christ. This is why Luke starts his account with the announcement that John would be born. As John would prepare the way for Jesus in ancient Israel, so too, the graciousness of God prepares our hearts to receive the promised Messiah into our lives.

I mentioned that I would address Zacharias losing his ability to speak. This served to drive home the importance of the message to Zacharias, who found it hard to believe and to those who were outside witnesses of both the miraculous voice loss and return. I find it interesting that Zacharias’ reaction is quite similar to that of Abraham at receiving similar news. “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:17) Yet in each of these cases, God is faithful to his promise first ushering in a new people he has called as a nation, and then calling in people from all nations to follow him in spite of the apparent doubt expressed by those who received the promise. I am reminded that we can be confident that God will be faithful to his promises, even when we see no way for it to happen.

This is a long chapter, but two other key items need to be observed in this chapter. The first is the proclamation to Mary that she would have a child, and the second is Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.

While I am quite familiar with the announcement to Mary, it is her responses that really makes me stop and think.  The Bible tells us that she had four responses to the message. The first comes immediately following the angels greeting where it says in verse 29, “she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.” This was not an everyday happening, and she was a simple young woman. This comes at her out of nowhere. The idea that she was “perplexed” and was trying to figure it out should not come as a surprise, yet I think we to often get this image of Mary as someone who has it all together and took everything in stride. But if we are honest, her confused response is no different than any of ours would-be if an angel suddenly spoke to us.

The second response is after the angels relays the message that she would have a son. In verse 34, “Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Again, does this response surprise me? No, but it does again remind me that Mary was just like any other young girl, and in her mind, what is being told her is impossible.

So the angel explains it to her and even tells her about Elizabeth having a baby to make the point he sums up in verse 37, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Mary’s third response is now one of acceptance. Yes, in her mind, this is impossible, and she is nobody special, why should it happen to her, but she now accepts that God can do anything and so declares in verse 38 “may it be done to me according to your word.”

I mentioned that there are four responses to the angel’s message, and while the first three were verbal, that final one is in action. First, she was confused; second, she questions, third she accepted, but it is the fourth response that truly demonstrates her belief. Picking up after the angel leaves, we read in verses 39 and 40 “Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.” Mary did not simply take in what she had been told, she acts on the information. Why did she go visit Elizabeth? One reason may have been to verify what the angel told her, and if this is the reason, then she receives her confirmation immediately. In verses 42 – 45, we read that upon hearing Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth “cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” Here we return to John, who is yet unborn, and still, he is already preparing the way of the Lord as he confirms for Mary what she has been told by leaping within Elizabeth’s womb. To this truth, Mary is overcome and prays the prayer we know as the Magnificat in verses 46 – 55.

So what is the biggest take away from this chapter? I would have to say it is that God is faithful and will do all that he says because “nothing will be impossible with God.”(V37) We see an elderly barren couple conceive and have a child. We hear an angel announce to a virgin that she will conceive and have a child. We hear the promise that Mary’s son would be called the son of the Most High and that he would be named Jesus, meaning “God saves.” So on this First Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Hope, we are reminded that God had promised hope to the world in his Son, and today, in a world that often seems so dark, we can still find hope in Jesus Chris.

Act Your Age

1031121453Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Philippians 1:27 – 30

 

Every kid has heard it at some point whether from a parent, a teacher or even a friend. You know when your just having lots of fun and your behavior begins to cross the line between silly and crazy. What is it they say, “Why don’t you act your age!” This of course leads to the inevitable question, “how is someone my age suppose to act?” It is a reasonable response, I mean who knows what the proper way to act is for someones age. (Well apparently mothers know, but none of the rest of us do.)

The truth is that there is no clear definition of how people act at a certain age. The real meaning behind what is being said is that your behavior is embarrassing me. When you are out in public, you represent this family and you behavior is making all of us look bad. Your conduct is leaving a bad impression on people who are seeing you . It should serve to remind us that the way we conduct ourselves can effect the way people view us or those we represent.

In Philippians 1:27 Paul reminds believers of this fact when he says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” He is saying, “Don’t forget that you represent Christ to the world around you. What you do, will reflect on people’s impression of Christ.”   This is the same message that Peter reminds us of when he writes, “ but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15 – 16)

This is what we are called to do. To “conduct (ourselves) in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And so that is what we do as a Christian. We always act the way we should. . . . That would be nice, wouldn’t it, but far to often we find ourselves not living in a manner worthy of Christ. Instead we find ourselves caught up in our own self-interest. We worry more about what people will think of us, than what they will think of Christ. We find ourselves caught up in petty squabbles with those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. As a result the world does not see the unity in Christ that should abound, but a people divided and tearing each other apart. We allow our self-righteous indignation to replace the love of Christ. As a result, the world sees only judgement and not forgiveness.

Paul reminds the Philippian believers that when their conduct is worthy, it will be evident. He writes, “whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit.” Yet at the same time, we are to stand for the truth. We must strive “together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose” the gospel. It is only when we stand solid in God’s truth, while “conducting (ourselves) in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” that the world will see Christ in us. It is through seeing Christ in our lives that the world will come to know Him.

So the next time you catch yourself acting in an unworthy manner, stop and ask yourself. Is this really how I want to represent Christ? Will people know Christ for who he is and what he offers through my behavior? If not, then take a step back and choose a new course of action that is worthy of the gospel of Christ.