Tag Archives: faith

Bible Open to Book of Luke

Luke – Thematic Takeaways

So, after reading through the book of Luke for Advent, I decided to summarize what my initial takeaways were from my reading. I have worked to consolidate what I have found and to narrow them down as much as possible. Again, this is not intended to be an in-depth study of the book of Luke, but rather my initial thoughts on the book. The numbers in the parenthesis indicate the chapters from which the preceding takeaways came.

  1. Jesus’ resurrection is an actual physical/bodily resurrection. (24). What is more, it serves as a further confirmation that there is a resurrection of the dead. (20)
  2. The whole of the Old Testament, the law and the prophets, remains and points to Christ. (16 and 24)
  3. Jesus’ death and resurrection open the door of forgiveness to a sinful people separated from God. (13, 22, and 24) What is more, there is nothing so wrong that it cannot be forgiven and is never too late in this life to be forgiven. (23)
  4. The world that Jesus has sent us into is a dangerous place. (10 and 22) Even the most committed followers can succumb to fear, which should not surprise us as even Jesus expressed fear of what was to come. (22) But God can give us the strength to persevere when we ask him in prayer. (21 and 22)
  5. To reach people, we cannot hide but must be involved in people’s lives. (19)
  6. Following Christ means leaving things behind, taking up your cross, laying down your life, and holding him above all others. (9 and 14)
  7. Our actions are to help the neediest, including keeping others from stumbling, and restoring those who do stumble. (14 and 17)
  8. We need to regularly and continually bring things to God in prayer. We do this by letting go of the things of this world and bathing our lives in prayer. ( 6 and 18)
  9. It is always good to what is right, and it is more important than imposed rules. (6, 13, and 14)
  10. We need to come before God in humility and with the innocence of a child. (18) What is more, we need to serve others with this same humility, making ourselves the least important. (9, 21, and 22)
  11. Faith is the key to following Christ. Even in the smallest amount, it can accomplish much. (7 and 17) With faith, we can come before God. (18) With faith, we can trust in God. (11) And with faith in Christ, we can find forgiveness. (5)
  12. Christ will come at any time and without warning. (12 and 17) But there will be signs for which we are told to be watchful. (21)
  13. The mission of Jesus was and still is to reach the lost. (15) Jesus calls people and, in turn, uses those he has called to reach others. (5) Our role, as believers, is to share the gospel with those who will listen. (8) God will give us what we need to reach others. (10, 16 and 19)
  14. Salvation is for the true children of Abraham by faith, and they will come from all corners of the earth. (3 and 13)
  15. We are not to judge people based on their past but rather rejoice with them when they come to Christ. (15)
  16. There is a cost to following Christ, and if we are not willing to make the sacrifices, we are worthless to God. (14)
  17. The only real way to resist temptation is through God’s power, and Jesus demonstrated for us that this could be found in scripture. (4)
  18. God is faithful to his promises and will see them through to fruition. (1 and 2)
  19. Christ has promised that he will never leave us. (24)
  20. We are to be zealous for the righteousness of God. (19)
  21. Jesus is fully God, having power over everything, and fully man, having faced all that we face. (2, 4 and 8)
  22. We are called to treat others the way we want to be treated. To do this, we must recognize that our neighbors are anyone in need and base our actions on the teaching of Jesus. (6 and 10)
  23. We are called to be faithful to God’s calling and, therefore, must be wary of things that harm or walk with him and be prepared for the challenges that may stand in the way of our desire for heavenly things. (4 and 12)
  24. We need to meditate on the truths of Christ that have been revealed to us so that we can embrace them and make them a genuine part of our lives. (2)
Abrecht Curer - Praying Hands, 1508

Luke 18 – Coming Before God in Prayer

In chapter 18, Jesus begins with a parable of a Judge. He tells that there “was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.” (v 2, NASB)  He also tells that there was a widow in the same city who repeatedly came to him asking for legal protection. The judge was initially resistant, but after several times he chose to give her what she wanted because she kept bothering him.  Jesus explains that the point of the parable is that if even a man like this judge would give a person what they asked for just to get rid of them, how much more with God, who is just and righteous, give people what they need when they ask. I think it is interesting that Jesus chooses to use a negative example to emphasize the goodness of God.

The next parable that Luke recounts, Jesus used to address people who believed that they were righteous. He tells the story of two men who went to the temple to pray. The first was a Pharisee, and the second was a tax collector. Jesus explains that the Pharisee prayed in such a way that seemed to emphasize how much better he was than others, specifically the tax collector. In other words, the image seems to imply that he is thankful that he does not need God to make him better.

The tax collector, on the other hand, prays in an entirely different fashion. He is unwilling to lift his face to God and was saying, “was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’” (v 13) Jesus explains that it is the tax collector, not the Pharisee, who is justified in his prayer because he came before God with humility.

In one of those abrupt transitions between accounts, Luke begins to tell about people bringing their children to him. He tells us that there were so many that the disciples started to discourage them and turn them away. Jesus promptly corrected this, telling them to allow the children to come. He says to “not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ (v 16) Jesus is telling them that these children are not a bother, but are an example of how we should be when we approach God. We enter the kingdom of God through the innocence of a child.

Continuing with the question of entering the kingdom of God, Luke gives the account of a rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he needed to do to get into heaven. Jesus tells the ruler that he knows what the commandments say. When the ruler says that he has kept all of these Jesus ups the ante by saying, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (v 22)

This, however, proves one step too many for the young ruler. He was very, very rich, and loved his possessions. To give things up, was too much of a challenge. Jesus sadly points out that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (v 25)  I think this is something we all see far too often in the world today, and sometimes in our own lives.  Our love for money can be overpowering. As a result, those around him asked who could be saved.  Jesus answers by pointing out that “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” (v 27)

Peter’s response to this is to point out that they, the disciples, had given up everything to follow Jesus. His underlying question seems to be, what does this mean for us? Will we receive eternal life? Jesus’ response is that those who have given things up will receive much more “at this time and in the age to come.” (v 30)

Jesus then took them aside and told them that they were going to Jerusalem. He told them that there he would be handed over to the Romans to be beaten and put to death. But he also told them that he would rise again on the third day. But even though it was spelled out to them, they could not understand it. The meaning had been hidden from them.

Finally, Luke closes the chapter by telling of Jesus and his disciples traveling to Jericho. On the way, they were met by a blind man who asks Jesus to heal him. Jesus tells him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” (v 42)

My takeaways from this chapter are: 1) We need to regularly and continually bring things to God in prayer. 2) We need to come before God with humility. 3) We need to come before God with the innocence of a child. 4) We need to come to God by letting go of the things of this world. And 5) we need to come before God with faith.

Luke 8 – Responding to Jesus

Today is December 8 and is the second Sunday of advent. The second candle, known as the Bethlehem candle, is lit representing faith. In Luke 7, we saw many examples of the power of faith. As we continue in chapter 8, Luke looks at some other items in the ministry of Jesus, but will again conclude the passage with a look at yet another act of faith.

Luke begins by discussing a more practical side of the itinerant ministry of Jesus. To do ministry cost some money, today or two-thousand years ago. Luke points out to us that Several women had been impacted by the ministry of Jesus and in return, had become followers. These women had significant resources available and chose to share what they had to help cover the cost.

We then find Jesus sharing the parable of the sower. He tells the listeners that sharing the gospel message is like a farmer planting seeds. After finishing the parable, there is an interesting response from his disciples. They did not seem to understand the parable and began questioning him about it. Jesus’ response to this is even more interesting. He says, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” (v. 10 NASB) Why is it that Jesus says this.? Why would he intentionally say things in such a way that many could not understand it? Perhaps the intention is not to hide the truth, but it is evidence of those who are open to Christ’s message.

Jesus then explains the meaning of the parable. The point is that there are four kinds of people with whom the gospel is shared. The first are those who hear the gospel, but then it goes away. Sort of an in “in one ear, out the other” idea. The second is those who excitedly accept the message, but it stays shallow and eventually fails. The third are those who receive the message but then find the message choked out by the things around them in life.  The final is those who accept the message and flourish.

Continuing on, Jesus gives a second parable. Here he describes the gospel as a lamp. You do not hide it, but instead, you set it out for all to see.

After this, we are left with a story of Jesus speaking in a house. While he was speaking, he was told that his mother and brothers were standing outside waiting to come in. Jesus’ response here is very telling. He says, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” Jesus is re-emphasizing a point made earlier in Luke, that family is not necessarily defined by blood, but by a commitment to following Christ.

After this, Luke presents a story that many of us are familiar with. While traveling across the lake, Jesus falls asleep in the boat. During this time, a storm arose. It was such a great storm that they were sure they were going to die. They work Jesus, asking if he even cared. Jesus got up and order the storm to cease, and it did. He then looks at the disciples and asks, “Where is your faith?” (v. 25)

Luke next tells of Jesus’ encounter with a demon-possessed man. The demon, upon seeing Jesus, cried out, “Where is your faith?” (v. 28) Jesus asked the demon its name, and it said legion, meaning it was actually a great many demons who were in the man. Interestingly, they asked Jesus to allow them to go into a herd of pigs rather than being sent into the abyss. He agreed, and the pigs proceeded into run into the water. The reaction of the people from the region was fear, and they asked Jesus to leave. Before doing so, Jesus instructed the man home, but unlike other times, he told him to tell others.

Finally, Luke finishes this chapter by telling of two concurrent miraculous healings done by Jesus. We start Jesus being approached by a Jewish elder named Jairus. Jairus had an only daughter who was dying. Jesus agreed to go with him but is briefly interrupted by a second healing.  A woman who had a hemorrhage for 12 years. She knew Jesus could heal her and believed that if she could only touch the hem of his robe, she would be healed. She did and was, but Jesus, despite being surrounded by so many people, knew that power had gone out and asked who. The woman came forward and told him, to which he said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

He then continued on the way, but they were approached by people from Jairus’s house, Telling him to bother Jesus as the daughter had died. Jesus said, don’t worry; she is just sleeping. While the others in the house scoffed at this, Jairus and his wife, along with Peter, John, and James. He then told the girl to get up, and she did. He then instructed the parents to not tell anyone.

My takeaways from this passage; 1) As followers of Christ, our role is to share the gospel message with those who will listen. 2) People’s response to the gospel is contingent on their receptiveness. 3) Jesus defines family by common purpose and not blood. And 4) Jesus has authority over nature, the supernatural, and life itself.

Luke 7 – The Power of Faith

As we begin chapter seven, Jesus continues his travels now coming to the city of Capernaum. In Capernaum, there lived a Roman Centurion who was a friend of the city. It even tells us that he was responsible for the building of their synagogue. He becomes the focus of Luke’s first account. His slave, whom he held in high esteem, was extremely sick and dying. As he heard that Jesus was in town and had listened to the stories of what he had done, the Centurions sent some of the Jewish elders to ask Jesus to come help. Jesus was moved by the request and proceeded to with the elders. Notably, the Centurion acted out of respect for Jesus even at the beginning by having the Jewish leaders ask Jesus for help and not merely having him brought by those under his authority.

While Jesus was traveling to him, the Centurion again sent some friends to meet him with a message. He told him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason, I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” (Vv 6 – 8, NASB) Jesus himself appears to be amazed at this statement. He tells the crowd, following that, “not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” (v 9) And when the people return to the Centurions home, the slave has been healed. This story serves as a reminder that while Jesus came to Israel, he came for all who would believe.

Jesus then moves on to a city called Nain, where he encountered a funeral procession leaving the city. We are told that the dead man was the only son of a woman who followed along with weeping. Jesus was moved with compassion and raised the young man back to life. The people responded by exclaiming, “God has visited His people!” (v. 16). As a result of this miracle, the stories continued to spread throughout the land of what Jesus was doing.

As the chapter continues, John the Baptist makes a short return appearance.  John’s followers reported to him what Jesus was doing. He, in return, sent two of them to ask Jesus if he was the one promised one, or if they should continue to wait. Jesus’ response is “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sightthe lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. 23 Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” (Vv 22 – 23)

In short, his answer is yes, I am the promised one. But Jesus realizes how easily people miss what is before them because it is either not what they expected or wanted or they doubt everything that is before them.  He describes the people as children who say, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.” (v 32) In other words, you did not do what we wanted you to do. Jesus makes his point by using John and Himself as examples when he says, “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Vv 33 – 34) Some people will never be happy unless they get exactly what they want.

Luke ends this chapter with Jesus receiving an invitation to dinner by one of the Pharisees. What would seem to have been a simple meal quickly gets turned on its head when a woman of ill-repute crashes the party.  She had heard that Jesus was there and was so moved by him that she fell at his feet crying. IT tells us that the tears wet his feet, and she was wiping them with her hair, after which she anointed them with the expensive perfume she had brought.

This Pharisee, who we learn is named Simon, is indignant and appalled that Jesus is allowing such a woman to touch him. So Jesus replies with a parable about forgiveness. He asks that if two people are forgiven, one of two months’ debt and one of 17 months debt, which would be more thankful. Simon answers that it would be the one forgiven of 17 months. I imagine Jesus smiling, as he says, “You have judged correctly.” (v 43) He then proceeds to explain to Simon that he had provided none of the standard host roles; washing feet, greeting kiss or anointing with oil. This woman, on the other hand, had done each of these and so much more; washed his feet with tears and dried with her hair, continually kissed his feet, and anointed his feet with perfume. In case Simon missed the point, Jesus draws the clear parallel to the parable when he says, “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (v 47) Jesus then turns to the woman telling her that her sins are forgiven and “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (v 50)

The biggest takeaway from this chapter is the power of faith.  The chapter begins by presenting that the Centurion, while not part of Israel, showed more faith and, as such, was rewarded. It concludes with showing that the “immoral woman” had more faith than the Simon the Pharisee and, as such, received great forgiveness.

The accounts in between only re-enforce the gap between those with faith and those without. This is what I see as Jesus’ point when he says, “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John. (Vv 28 – 30)

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 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 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.

“Risen”: A Fresh and Moving Perspective on the Resurrection

I just came back from seeing the new movie, “Risen”.  I recommend it highly.

I have seen a lot of Bible-themed and faith-based movies over the years. Risen is something encouragingly different. You see, the problem with most bible-themed and faith-based movies is they fall short in at least one of the major category. Either the writing is transparent, the acting weak, the directing is misguided or the production is cheap. Risen is a clear difference, hitting on all four cylinders.

Joseph Fiennes solid portrayal in the lead is moving and draws viewers into a well-told story. The story is summed up with one statement. When asked, “What frightens you?” Clavius (Fiennes) responds, “Being wrong. Wagering eternity on it.” Yes, Clavius is a non-biblical/fictional figure, but he becomes the personification of each and every person who has faced the truth of the resurrection and said, it can’t be true. As he proceeds on behalf of the Roman empire in an attempt to prove the false claims, we are reminded of the words of Sherlock Holmes, in The Sign of the Four “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” This is where Clavius finds himself.

For those who are familiar with the account of Jesus resurrection, “Risen” provides a fresh perspective. For those who are not, they will find a compelling investigation as they see events through the eyes of a skeptic who must reconcile what he believes to be true with all the evidence that is laid before him.

Standing on The Promises of God

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.
Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.
Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God.
Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.
Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.
Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

Words & Music by R. Kelso Carter, 1886

 


let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:22 – 23

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
1 Corinthians10:13

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Mark 16:16

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Hebrews 13:5


 

“But you promised!” Parents have all probably heard these words at some point from their children. Why is this the case? Because sometimes parents, just like all adults, say things without thinking them fully through. Sometimes a parent may absent mindedly make a promise to a child when they are not really paying attention. Sometime it is because the child has pestered them so long they have become worn down. Other times they may have made the promise with the best of intentions, but then circumstances changed and they could not follow through.  Another words, there are legitimate and illegitimate reasons for from breaking a promise.  But to a small a child, they are all illegitimate. To them, a promise is a promise. Thankfully, we have been given promises that we can trust. Promises that were not given without thought. This is the message of R. Kelso Carter’s “Standing On The Promises Of God.”

The second verse begins with the words “Standing on the promises that cannot fail.” This seems something that is unimaginable.  After all, our life experience is that of the child from earlier.  Promises are capable of failing.  But we are not talking about the promise of a fallible human being. We are speaking of the promises made by God himself. Surely the one who created and sustains the universe, is capable of keeping his promises. This is what we are told in Hebrews 10:23 where we read, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

God’s promises can be trusted. But what are these promises. They are too many to count, and I do not have the time to try and list them all. I have, however, chosen five promises to look at. These are promises that we can have confidence in. Promises on which we can stand.

  1. God has promised that He will meet our needs.  Philippians 4:19 tells us “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” If this is the case, then why do we worry? Because we forget that He is faithful and His promises can be trusted. Yes, God can and will meet all of our needs. This is not to say that He will give us everything we want, but we can know that in His wisdom, He knows what we need.
  2. God has promised that His grace is sufficient to see us through, even when we find ourselves unable in our own strength. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Yes, sometimes we will stumble, but when we face our trials and find ourselves ready to give up, we can rest in the strength that comes from the His grace.
  3. God has promised that He will always provide us a way to withstand temptation. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Temptations will come our way.  There is nothing we can do to avoid them. When they come we can either stand up to them or lie down and give up.  It is our choice. And when we put our trust in God, we can stand up to temptations
  4. God has promised that if we put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will know salvation. Mark 16:16 declares, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved . . .” We all look for salvation in different places, but salvation comes from one place, belief in Jesus. When we put our faith Him, we will be saved.
  5. God has promised that He will not abandon us. Hebrews 13:5 tells us that “. . . God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” We need not fear being alone.  We can have confidence in the fact that God is always there with us.  We need only turn to Him and remember that He will never leave.

Yes, God has made promises. But they are not the empty, absentminded promises we have to often experienced in our lives. The are promises in which we can trust.  God’s promises are true and stand the test of time. For this reason I say with confidence, “I’m standing on the promises of God.”

 

 

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‘Tis So Sweet, To Trust In Jesus

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
And to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus says the Lord!”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
And in simple faith to plunge me
’Neath the healing, cleansing flood!
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

Words by Louisa M. R. Stead, 1882
Music by William J. Kirkpatrick

 


Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.
John 14:1

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:11 – 14

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20


 

Why? This is a favorite question of little children. They want to learn. They want to understand things. But, there is something else that goes right along with their question, why. Little children seem willing to accept what they are told without further question. It does not cross their mind that the person giving them the answer may not be telling the truth. They simply trust.

Somewhere along the line, we loose this ability. Our default is no longer to trust, but to question. We view trust as something that is earned, not simply given. This is exemplified in the Russian proverb, “Trust, but verify.” It is commonly tied to President Ronald Reagan in association with his dealings with the Soviet Union. Simply put, it means that we want to trust what somebody tells us, but we need to have proof before we do.

The question is then, do we really trust? When we truly trust, there is a peace that comes from knowing we do not have to worry if we are being told the truth. This is the theme of Louisa Stead’s hymn, “ ‘Tis So Sweet, To Trust In Jesus.”

Stead writes, “just to take Him at His word..” Think about, what peace there really is when you do not have the need to question. I am not talking about questions of understanding, but of truth. The simple reality that you do not need to doubt that what you are being told is the truth.

For this reason Stead goes on the right, “And in simple faith.” That’s what trust boils down to, simple faith. But do we have faith because we trust, or do we trust because we have faith? If we do not have faith in the person, then we can not trust them, but how can we trust someone, if we do not have faith in them. These things seem to go hand in hand. Faith and trust are two sides of the same coin. This is why John 14:1 read, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” in some translations and “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” in others.

So trust and faith (or belief) walk hand in hand. It is this trust that allows us to place faith in Jesus sacrifice for us. Because of this trust, I can turn my life over to Christ. I can rest in Him “Just from sin and self to cease.” So that I can get from Jesus, “Life and rest, and joy and peace.”

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 1:13 – 14, “ When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.”

We can trust in Jesus. So we are able to sing the final verse of this hymn.

“I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.”

 

 

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