Sunday, November 21, 2010

Luke Part 22: The Beatitudes

Text: Luke 6:20-26

This section begins what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. Luke's version of this sermon is much shorter than that recorded in Matthew. Both versions can be regarded as a condensed version, or summary, of the actual sermon. So how does this version in Luke differ, and why? Luke, we remember, is writing primarily to the Gentiles, so the summary of this sermon provided in his gospel is oriented more for the Gentile reader. There is no discussion of Moses' Law. Rather than mentioning "publicans", this version refers to "sinners", which would include all of us.

Matthew records Jesus saying they are blessed to accept persecution "for My sake", while in Luke's version Jesus refers to Himself as "the Son of Man." We have seen that this is the title He chose to refer to Himself as a representative for people of all nationalities and backgrounds.

We see at the beginning of this section that Jesus "looked at His disciples." What a thing it must have been for this Man, who spoke with such great authority, to be looking among His people, in their faces, speaking directly to them.

These first four beatitudes, the "blessed art thou" are things that are true of the people of God. God's people will always be those who submit to the Lord's leadership; they will always be distinct from the people they are living among. If they are not distinct, if there is a blending of the world and the church, it is not real Christianity.

"Blessed are the poor." The people of God are poor in all respects. Frequently they are economically poor; they are poor in spirit; they are not self-sufficient. They are not enriched by the world's goods, rather they are looking to God for their delight.

"Blessed are those who hunger now." Again, God's people find their satisfaction and fulfillment in Christ. They are not filled and satisfied by the things of this world.

"Blessed are those who weep now." This world is a sad place! God's people shed tears over the degradation of sin, over seeing Christ held in low esteem.

"Blessed are you when men hate you." Have we felt this hatred of men? Have we felt what is like to be separated, ostracized, regarded as evil? This is part of being one of God's people; this is what Christians are supposed to be experiencing.

After these four "blesseds" there are four "woes". Jesus condemns those who are satisfied with the world's goods, who are constantly jovial and amused. Woe are you when men speak well of you! Countless men have perished in their sins due to their love of others' approval!

Note how Christ's message is balanced -- it's not a weak "Smile, God loves you!" message, rather there is equal emphasis on judgment and blessing. Also see the passion in His message. A total love for Him is required. It is not optional; you must live for Him totally.

Also, we again see the "doctrine of twos". It is the world vs. Christ, there is no middle ground. You will be either blessed with Christ or cursed with the world. There is no room for blending and compromise.

There is nothing that compares to Christ! Seek Him and you will be comforted. He is a Savior for sinners!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Luke Part 21: Jesus calls the disciples and apostles

Text: Luke 6:12-19

As we have been seeing, this section of Luke describes Christ's teachings about the New Covenant and how it is radically different from the Old. In this particular portion, we see Jesus calling his apostles. He chose these men to perpetuate the new thing He was doing.

First, we see Christ going up on the mountain to pray. We don't know how He prayed or what the nature of His prayers were. But we do see Him spending the whole night in communion with His Father. Amazing!

After His night of prayer, Jesus called the disciples and the apostles. What is a disciple? A disciple is a follower of a particular person.

Jesus called many disciples, but he only called twelve apostles. The word "apostle" means "sent one" and these twelve were a special group of men, given to the church to lead and guide.

We know almost nothing about some of the apostles. They did their work without much acclaim and were not recorded in the annals of history. Yet they were faithful servants. We should keep this in mind when we read about the history of the church. We certainly no little about many other significant people who served God faithfully.

Perhaps we will one day find that the men who did the greatest works in church history were neglected by the historians. Particularly, we know that by the 3rd or 4th century, much error had crept into the church. Were there any true Christians? Of course! But the enemies of the truth were the ones in power, and they were the ones writing the history, so of course we don't hear much from the faithful believers!

Jesus was establishing the method by which truth would be handed down. He would speak to the apostles. Then the apostles would teach other men directly, who would in turn teach other men. This pattern can be seen in 2 Tim 1:13,14 where we see Paul telling Timothy to guard the teaching he was receiving from Paul. The pattern is always one of one individual passing on the truth to another. It's an organic and real thing -- the giver and receiver of the truth have a relationship with each other. This has been turned on its head with the modern seminary approach, where students are taught in classrooms without the close relationship to the teacher that we see in the Bible.

The early church lived a lifestyle that was completely different from those around them. When asked why their lifestyle was so different, they responded, "We are followers of Jesus." Simply embracing the objective facts of the gospel will not produce life. Perhaps this is why we see deadness in the churches around us -- the pastors have been taught in a system with an overemphasis on the learning of facts and skills, but without the emphasis on the changed life of a life of faith. Faith must be mixed with knowledge to produce a fragrant life.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Luke Part 20: Jesus, our Sabbath of the New Covenant

Text: Luke 6:1-11

The purpose of this section of Luke, beginning with the previous passage and continuing on for a few chapters, is to show how the New Covenant is radically different in every way from the Old Covenant. This passage continues in that vein, with two incidents recorded that are related to the Sabbath. It's important to remember that these incidents were collected to teach certain points; they are not necessarily in chronological order.

What is the main teaching here? Jesus Christ is our Sabbath in the New Covenant. We are resting in Him, resting from our works. This is covered more directly in Hebrews.

Note Jesus' response in Verse 5: "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" Jesus frequently described Himself as the Son of Man to indicate that He was a Savior, not just for the Jews, but for people from all of mankind. This Sabbath of the New Covenant was a rest, not just for the Jewish people, but a rest for all.

We have examples of the sabbath in the era before Moses -- After God created the world, He rested. But Adam was not able to abide in that rest; he still had things to do. Is it too much of a reach to suggest it was on the Sabbath that Adam walked with God in the cool of the day? The Sabbath was instituted as a time to rest from labor and to enjoy God fully without distraction.

The Sabbath was commanded before Moses -- God told the people to rest from collecting manna on the seventh day in Exodus 16:28,29.

In Exodus 20, Moses was given the Ten Commandments, including the Fourth Commandment: "Remember the Sabbath". This "remember" meant to remember the past and to keep as a remembrance, to observe the Sabbath in time. We should remember Adam's communion in innocence and remember our rest in Christ.

The Jews turned the Sabbath into a thing of ceremony -- a list of explicit rules for refraining from labor that had to be kept. But Isaiah 58:11-14 explained what God meant for the Sabbath to be: a time not just to turn away from work, but to turn towards Him.

The Pharisee's interpretation of the law was wrong, because they had turned the Sabbath into a ceremonial thing. The disciples eating of the grain was an act of necessity; it was not wrong. Likewise, healing the man's hand was not wrong. The Pharisees had made their ceremonial, legalistic interpretation of the Sabbath more important than this man's hand.

Finally, we should note that the priests still did work on the Sabbath. The fact of the Christian's sabbath rest in Christ does not eliminate the work that we have to do. Although we are resting in Christ's merit, we still have sin to conquer and good news to spread.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Luke, Part 19: A great change; something new

Text: Luke 5:27-39

This section, as well as all of Luke 6, teach that Jesus had come to fulfill the Old Covenant and to establish the New Covenant. The idea here is of something new, both something new for individuals, and something new nationally and corporately.

First, we see with the example of Levi, a change in the individual -- the individual made new. Levi was a publican, a collector of taxes for the Jews' Roman overlords. Furthermore, most publicans overcharged. They were generally crooked, wealthy, and despised.

The story of Levi begins with "the call." Jesus called out "Follow Me!" and Levi left everything behind. Christ's call was certainly effectual. Levi, we read, "left everything behind." For a wealthy tax-collector, this was quite significant.

Next in Levi's story is "the change." Levi was changed radically. The first thing he did was to hold a huge feast, a royal reception for Jesus to thank Christ for receiving Him. He invited his friends -- probably other publicans; what friends did tax-gatherers have? The stingy Levi was changed to a hospitable man focused on sharing his goods and sharing the gospel with others.

Finally, we see "the Cure," the reason for Levi's great change. Levi was changed by Jesus -- He is the reason sinners are turned from their sin. He has the means and the power to cure the sickness of sin. Jesus told the Pharisees that He came to heal sinners, that He was a physician for those who know their sin, and acknowledge their need. This is the pattern; there is no other way of salvation.

Next, we see corporate identity change, beginning with the question over fasting. The Pharisees asked, "Why don't your disciples fast?" The Old Covenant was a legalistic system. The Jews were constantly mindful of their sinfulness and condemnation. They were constantly looking at themselves, leading to despair over sin. The same thing can happen to us if we fall under the bondage of legalism. The New Covenant is not one of condemnation and gloom! The norm for a Christian should be rejoicing because there is mutual joy -- Christ is rejoicing in us, and we are rejoicing in Him.

Of course, anytime when we are caught up in sin, if we feel as though Christ has withdrawn, this may be a time for fasting. But these are not the normal thing! We don't have to do penance or beat ourselves up. We can know forgiveness NOW.

Finally, Jesus gives a couple of parables to show the great change wrought in the New Covenant. First is that of a new patch of cloth on a old garment. The new cloth represents the new teachings of the New Covenant and the old cloth represents the teachings of the Old Covenant. The parable tells us that you can't pick and choose -- you can't take some of Jesus's teachings and combine it with some of the Old Covenant.

We see this kind of picking-and-choosing all around us. Islam includes Jesus... but only part of Jesus. Armenianism combines Jesus with works-religion. Some others take the Bible as a guideline for moral rules (Jesus is a "good teacher") but leave out the gospel.

Next we have the picture of new wine in old wineskins. The Jews were willing to accept Jesus; they wanted Jesus + the Old Covenant. But you can't have Jesus plus works-religion or Jesus plus a civil religious order or Jesus plus anything.

And last we have the picture of new wine in a new wineskin. Christ represented something totally new and He would only belong within the system of the New Covenant, a covenant of faith, liberty, and security in contrast to the Old Covenant with its fasting, bondage, and continual sacrifice.

There is a warning here: we have a tendency to accept the old as "good enough." People may not receive the gospel because they are happy where they are. We must be patient with them and keep sharing. Also, we may be stubborn and not see new truths and learn when we should. God will bring us along and teach us new things. We will conform more and more to His image as He shows us more truth. We must not cling to the comfort of our "old" ways of thinking.

Finally, to sinners: the old is not better. Learn from Levi! Jesus calls all sinners, and only sinners, to Himself. Repent and believe, and celebrate all Christ gives us in the New Covenant era of joyous relationship with Him!

Then Jesus

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jesus’ Farewell Prayer: Part 3, Jesus’ Relationship with the world

Text: John 17

This final discussion regarding Jesus' farewell prayer centers on how Jesus views the world. From His perspective, we can gain insight on how we should interact with the world.

The word "world" (Greek: "cosmos") is used in the Bible, and in this passage in particular, in several different senses. It may refer to the entire created universe (v.5) or to Planet Earth, or to the human population of the world.

Or, as is found most often in this passage, it may refer to the spiritual forces in human society that are opposed to and alienated from God. This is the "evil system" controlled by the devil and all the institutions used to advance this agenda. This would include systems of government, art, music, and media. The Bible says, "The whole world lies in the power of the evil one." What is valuable to the world? Money, power, pleasure, and the advancement of self.

Here are six things that can be learned from Jesus' prayer regarding the world:

1. Christians have been saved out of the world. (v.6) Every person starts out as part of this evil system. Every person starts out lost. Every person is in need of salvation.

And, every person is either still part of this evil system or part of Jesus' kingdom. Jesus contrasts His people against the world (v.9). He states that He is specifically NOT praying for the world; He is praying only for His people. He states that His people know Him and the world does not (v.3, v.25). This is the Doctrine of Twos -- there is no middle ground; you are either for God or against Him.

2. Jesus has left Christians in the world. (v.11,15) Christians are not taken out of the world as soon as they are saved! This is the place God wants for us to be. He wants us here, in the world. He has work for us to do.

3. The world hates Christians. (v.14) The world hates Christians because they hate Jesus. The Christian's righteous life is a rebuke to the world. The gospel is deeply offensive to the world -- it says, "You need Christ!" The Bible says, "All those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Tim 3:12)

4. The world is a spiritually dangerous place for Christians. (v.15) The devil makes the world look attractive. In 2 Timothy, we read of Demas, who, "having loved this present world" deserted Paul. We are exhorted in 1 John 2:15 not to love the world or the things in the world. The world can tempt or discourage us. But, the power of God is within us to help us to escape the devil.

5. Christians are in this world, but not of this world. (v11, v16). We are pilgrims here in this world; it is not our home. There is a uniqueness and a separation for Christians. We are different, and we are supposed to be so. How does this separation occur? Not merely through rules and regulations. We should look to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus describes His people and how unique and radical they will be.

6. Jesus sends Christians into the world. We are on a mission! In verse 20, Jesus prays for those who are yet to believe on Him, the future fruit of His disciples. Jesus prays that the world may believe (v.21) and know (v.23) Him. This is our calling, what we are here to do. Let us do it with our whole heart!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jesus’ Farewell Prayer: Part 2, Jesus’ Relationship with His Children

Text: John 17

Consider the things Jesus says regarding His desires for us, His children, in the prayer listed in John 17. Remember that this is the prayer He gave right before the events of His crucifixion. Be encouraged to remember that Jesus always prayed with perfect faith and always prayed exactly the will of God; all Jesus' prayers are answered.

Let us consider six things that Jesus prays for us:

1. That we may know God. (v.2-3). Knowing God, Jesus says here, is the very definition of what eternal life is. Knowing God is not just a mental assent to the facts about God; it is a very personal and intimate relationship with Him. We know God through Jesus; He is the Way to God, the only true Way.

2. That we might have fullness of joy. (v. 13) What joy? "My joy," Jesus says. This is the result of the gospel: joy made full. And it's not just a trickle of joy here and there, but fullness of joy. In heaven our joy will be made complete, but joy for the Christian begins on earth. Joy is essential to the Christian! It was important to Jesus here, and we have the example of the apostles constantly talking about being joyful.

3. That we might be kept safe. (v. 11, 15) Jesus prays that we would be "kept" -- kept to God, close to Him, His truth, and all of Him. He also prays that we would be kept "from the evil one". We must not be deceived -- there is a spiritual battle raging around us and Satan and his evil hosts want to bring us down. Jesus prays that God would preserve us. We have confidence (James 4:7) that if we submit ourselves to God, resisting the devil, we will be kept.

4. That we might be sanctified in the truth. (v. 17, 19) Sanctification is defined as being "set apart" from the world unto God, for holiness. Jesus here prays for God to do it. We are not passively sitting by, but ultimately sanctification is a work of God. (Philippians 1:6) How are we sanctified? "In the truth" -- through the Word of God. The more we know of the Word of God, the more we let the Word "dwell in us richly" as Colossians talks about, the more sanctified we will become.

5. That there would be unity among believers. (v. 11, 22, 23) Note that every time Jesus refers to our unity, He relates that to the unity of Himself and the Father. We are joined together with Christ, and, through Him, are joined together with the Father. Ephesians 4:3 is an exhortation to "preserve the unity" of the saints. Note that unity is a natural thing; we should be careful not to do anything to mess it up. Preserving unity requires humility and self-sacrifice. It is so important to have love for other Christians, it is given as a test for authenticity is 1 John.

6. That we might be with Him. (v.24) We want to be with Jesus. The amazing thing is, He wants to be with us, too; He desires for us to be with Him. Even as He was looking ahead to the cross, and considering all that He would suffer for us, He was looking to the final end result, and praying that God would bring us all to glory with Him. The essence of heaven is being with Jesus where He is, that we might behold His glory.

Jesus’ Farewell Prayer: Part 1, Jesus’ Relationship with the Father

Text: John 17

This passage in John 17 contains Jesus’ longest recorded prayer.  Jesus made this prayer in sight of His coming death on the cross.  In this first part, we will look at six things this prayer teaches us about Jesus’ relationship with the Father.

1. The Father and the Son have an eternal relationship.  This is made clear in verses 5 and 24.  The Father and the Son shared a love and a glory before the world existed.

2. The Father loves the Son.  See verses 23, 24, and 26.  This is a boundless, eternal, perfect love.  Love begins with God the Father.  Because we are made in His image, we can also know love.  The love God the Father has for the Son is the same love that He has for us.  We can be brought into this love relationship thr0ugh union with Christ.  Note that this was prayed with the cross in view; this great love is even in view of the wrath to be poured out upon the Son by the Father on the cross.

3.  The Father and the Son are in unity.  They are one.  See verses 11, 21, and 22.

4.  The Father has sent the Son on a particular mission.  (v. 3, 4, 8, 21, 23)  The Father initiated and sustains His work.  Jesus was totally obedient to His Father.  Even the content of His teaching was received directly from His Father.

5.  The Father has given a people to the Son.  (v. 6, 9, 24)  The Father has selected certain souls out of the world have given them to the Son.  This is important to Jesus.  See also John 6:37 and John 10.  Jesus keeps referring to this gift from the Father – it is especially important because it is a gift from Someone He loves so dearly.

6.  The Father and the Son glorify each other.  (v. 1, 4, 5, 22, 24)  What is “glory”?    It is manifested excellence.  Even the cross, with its humiliation and scorn, was a glorious thing.  Jesus displayed the love and mercy and grace of God clearly in His death.  We see in Philippians 2:8-11 that Jesus humbled himself in obedience to suffer and die on the cross, and it was for this reason that the Father glorified Him highly.  And then, in verse 11 of that passage we see that the glory is returned to the Father.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Luke, Part 18: Jesus cleanses a man with leprosy

Text: Luke 5:12-16

This passage describes an incident in which Jesus heals a man with leprosy. This incident is also recorded in Matthew and Mark, demonstrating its significance. The encounter that the leprous man had with Jesus is a model for our encounters with the Lord, both for Christians and for the unsaved.

This leper, who was he? We don't know; his name isn't recorded. He was probably just a normal, ordinary man until he contracted leprosy and became cut off from normal civil and religious society. Leprosy was an exceptionally fearful disease at that time. A person with leprosy had to live apart from society; whenever an uninfected person approached, the leper had to shout "Unclean!" and cover his face. So when Jesus met this man, it was probably at a time of day when fewer people were around, perhaps late at night or early in the morning.

We see five things in the way the leper approached Jesus:

1. He saw Jesus -- he knew enough about Jesus to recognize Him when he saw Him. You have to know who the real, biblical Jesus is, not just someone of your imagination. The real Jesus is the only one who can do us any good.

2. He fell on his face. The leper prostrated himself and took the lowest possible position. He humbled himself, worshiped Jesus and begged Him for help. He claimed no merit of his own and didn't seek to engage Jesus as an equal.

3. He acknowledged Jesus as Lord. He recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the God-Man, Christ. Or conception of Jesus must be of Him as Lord.

4. He realized Jesus' all-sufficiency. He knew Jesus had the power to heal him. He knew his own need, and knew Jesus could meet that need.

5. He was subject to the will of God. He said, "If you will."He knew Christ was under no obligation to help him. God is free in his administration of sovereign grace.

What did Jesus do? Jesus healed and cleansed him. Five attributes of Christ's response are given for our encouragement, and for our example in doing good to our fellow man:

1. Jesus put forth His hand. Ordinarily, people would tell a leper to stay away. Christ opened up to this man and and encouraged him. Jesus even went so far as to touch the man. Christ made himself one with the man in the same manner that, in salvation, He makes Himself one with a sinner.

2. Jesus revealed His will. We cannot find out God's will purely through our own searching. We are dependent on God to reveal it to us. We should pray that God would make it simple so that we can understand His Word and His leading.

3. Jesus healed the leper. In this, He showed that He is the Son of God. He demonstrated that He has dominion over sickness, disease, and sin. Jesus is not teasing. None who come to Him are refused.

4. Jesus sent him to the priest. Under the Law, the priest had the duty to testify when a person was healed of leprosy. Jesus sent the cleansed man to the priest; this made the priest have to testify to who Jesus was.

5. Jesus got alone with His Father. Jesus did great miracles, but he was still completely human. He needed to frequently draw away from the crowds for prayer time alone. We should consider this when we feel "too busy" to have time with God. Like Jesus, we need that time with our Father.

If you don't know Christ, come to Him! He will save all who come to Him in repentance and faith.

Luke, Part 17:A Carpenter tells a fisherman how to fish

Text: Luke 5:1-11

This section describes how Jesus taught Simon how to fish. First, we see that Jesus told Simon to do all the "wrong" things -- He told him to go out fishing in the middle of the day (night is preferred for fishing); and he told him to go way out into the deep water -- fishing with nets is more effective in the shallower waters.

Simon answered that they had already spent all night fishing, without success, but that he would, regardless, obey Christ's command. It would have been a long process of again getting ready and preparing to go back onto the sea. Furthermore, they were already cleaning their nets -- if they cast them in again, they would need to repeat the cleaning.

Still, Simon obeyed and they cast again. They took in such a large catch of fish that their boats began to sink.

In this passage, we see Simon in a battle. He was in a battle with believing Christ rather than doubting. Surely it would have been embarrassing for him to obey Jesus. What would the other fishermen think to see him going out fishing at the wrong time, in the wrong way?

We also see see a few things about Christ in this passage. First, we see that He is omniscient (knowing everything) -- He knew just where the fish were. Secondly, we see that He is omnipotent (all powerful) -- He had the power to bring the fish to the net. He demonstrated complete dominion over the fish of the sea.

We know from the Bible that Christ came to give life and to give "life more abundant." He gives more than we expect, just as He did for Simon by giving him a gigantic catch of fish. We see that obeying Jesus is never a fool's errand.

Simon Peter won the battle and obeyed Christ. Because he obeyed, he was blessed. Often for us, we don't see the blessing right away. But, we should obey anyway. Like Simon, we may be called to do something we've never done before, something strange. We must recognize that it will be a battle between flesh and spirit and not look to the circumstances.

Also, we can see that Jesus is involved in all areas of our lives. Christianity is not just a "church thing."

Simon is humbled greatly by the great catch he is given. When he obeyed Christ, he was questioning; he still had a lot of doubt. After his success fishing, he reacts by falling at Jesus' feet in humility rather than dancing around with joy. He confesses his sinfulness and confesses Jesus as God -- all powerful. He is in amazement that God in holiness wants to have something to do with a man like him. Jesus' response to Simon's humility is, "Fear not." He gives Simon a call and tells him to follow Him.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Luke, Part 16: Jesus heals and casts out demons

Text: Luke 4:31-44

The emphasis in the previous sections of Luke's gospel has been to show Jesus as a genuine man. In this section, Jesus demonstrates His power and compassion.

First, we see His power in preaching. Those who heard him were amazed because He taught with authority. Because Jesus is God, He didn't need to appeal to any other authority; He had authority within Himself and it was evident in His preaching.

How did His audience react? They were amazed, they were entertained, but nowhere do we see that they responded in faith. Hearing must be accompanied with faith for it to have any benefit.

During the preaching, Jesus was interrupted by a man possessed by a demon. This was evidently a particularly foul spirit, because it is identified as an "unclean" demon. Christ showed His power and His compassion in casting out the demon and freeing this man. Note that the demon both knew who Christ was and obeyed Him. Obedience and knowledge are not faith; the demon did not respond in faith but rather through being compelled by the power of Jesus.

The result of this encounter is that the audience is yet more amazed and spread the news of what they have seen all around. As Christians, we should be challenged by the example of these men: they didn't respond in faith, yet the couldn't help but tell of Jesus.

We also see in verses 38 through 41 how Jesus healed a number of people who came to Him with diseases and demon possession. Particularly noted is the healing that Simon's mother-in-law received from a "high fever". In performing these healings, Jesus worked on a very personal level. He didn't just wave His hand over the crown and say, "Be healed!" although He could very well have done that. He cared enough about each person to get involved personally with them as he healed them.

In verse 42, after Jesus has spent all night healing and helping, rather than going to bed, He left to get alone to pray. We see how Jesus constantly lived in prayer. Throughout the gospels (Mark 1:35 for example) we see Him getting away early in the morning for communion with His Father. Note how the early morning, when all is still and asleep, seems to be particularly chosen by Christ for His prayer times -- this is a good example for us to follow.

Finally, at the end of this section, we have the first reference in Luke's gospel to "the Kingdom of God". Throughout Luke, Jesus is referring to "the kingdom of God". This is the same thing that is referred to in Matthew's gospel as "the kingdom of heaven". Jesus' mission on earth was to establish this kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not visible with outward show, with robes, candles and incense. It is a supernatural, spiritual kingdom established in the hearts of God's people. It will be established perfectly in the new heavens and the new earth (Luke 22:30). In this kingdom, God is the King and we are His subjects.

How will we respond to the example of Christ? Will we show Christ to the watching world? Will we have compassion on a dying humanity? Will we we use the small power (our abilities) that God has given us to us to help others?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Luke, Part 15: Jesus Preaches at Nazareth

Text: Luke 4:14-30

The first verse of this section is essentially a summary of the first year of Christ's ministry. The works of Jesus during this year as described in the other Gospels, but because Luke is writing to Gentiles, he is more interested in showing them how they are included in the ministry of this Messiah.

Note in verse 15 and 16 that Jesus was a consistent attender of the synagogue. The synagogue had a fairly open style of worship. Different men from the community would have to opportunity to read a text, and comment upon it. In this passage, we are told how Jesus entered and read this passage in Isaiah (Is. 61-1,2).

This passage in Isaiah tells several marks of the Messiah:
  • The Spirit of the Lord would be upon Him
  • He would preach the gospel to the poor (the poor in every respect, the non-elite)
  • He would heal the broken-hearted
  • He would deliver the captives
  • He would give sight to the blind
  • He would deliver the bruised and oppressed
  • He would preach the favorable year of the Lord (He would proclaim the Year of Jubilee).
These were the marks of the Messiah, a particular prophecy for those times. Anyone claiming to be the Messiah had to do all these things.

After Jesus read this passage, He had the opportunity to comment upon it. All eyes were fixed on Him as he sat down. (v. 20) He said "yes", that He was the Messiah.

The first reaction of the hearers was pleasure. They liked what Jesus was saying; this was interesting, and they were excited about the idea of a Messiah. But they couldn't believe it was Jesus. "Isn't this Joesph's son?" they asked. "You're just a man," they must have thought. This is exactly the problem of men today. They don't want to accept Jesus as God. As a good teacher, sure, but they reject Him as God and reject His atonement on the cross.

Jesus reads their minds. He knows they are thinking, "If You're really the Messiah, prove it!" and, "You're just a man; You need salvation, too."

Jesus rebuked them with a rebuke that might be applicable to us today. They thought Jesus was familiar, not exciting or interesting. Perhaps we treat the gospel with the contempt of familiarity, too.

In verses 25-27, Jesus recounts two incidents from the lives of Elijah and Elisha in which Gentiles were shown special mercies. These events were foreshadowings, hinting that Jesus would be a Messiah to all who believe from every nation.

And this made Jesus' audience furious. They were insulted that Jesus would say He was Messiah to the Gentiles. They drove Him out of the city and attempted to kill Him, but He showed His great power in eluding them by simply passing through their midst. They were powerless to stop Him.

Note in this passage how Jesus dealt with the truth. He didn't shrink from it or soft-coat it in an attempt to appeal to His audience. He didn't give sermons about how men could derive material benefit from believing in Him, or how He would help them to solve their relationship problems. He simply presented the truth of the Gospel, and it was up to His hearers to humble themselves to this truth. Let us follow His example in not straying from the essential truths of the gospel when we share with others!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Luke, Part 14: Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness

Text: Luke 4:1-13

Jesus continues in His work as a  representation of man in this section.  Christ, in His humanity is again shown representing transgressors.  He is going out to the battle against temptation that Adam lost, but unlike Adam, Christ (the New Adam) will be victorious.

When Adam was tempted, he was with his wife, in a perfect place with all his needs supplied.  Christ, on the other hand, was in the desert and alone and suffering greatly from hunger.

In this passage, Christ is shown as our example, as well as our representative.  Through His responses, we can gain insight into foiling Satan’s attempts to tempt us.

In Satan’s first attack (v.3), he begins by saying, “If you are the Son of God turn these stones into bread.”  Jesus knew He was the Son of God; He had just been told by the Father that He was the Father’s “beloved Son”.  As with Adam, Satan’s first attack is on the accuracy of God’s Word.  We see Satan attacking God’s Word in the world all around us, from secular humanists trying to cast doubts on the veracity of the Word, to charismatic churches casting aside the Bible for so-called special revelation.  Jesus is not swayed; He responds directly with the Word.  He tells Satan that His life is not about material things such as food, but that His true life is His relationship with the Father.

In the second attack (v.5-7), Satan takes Christ to all the kingdoms of the world and offers to give them to Him in exchange for worship.  Christ was sent to the world to be a King of a new heavenly kingdom.  Here Satan is giving Christ an opportunity to rule without enduring the suffering He was sent for.  As always, he is trying to made something sinful look good (wouldn’t it be good for Christ to be king over the whole world?)   He is offering the crown without the cross.  Jesus responds to worship God only.  Jesus was familiar with Scripture and knew how to use the written Word against Satan.  We should try to be likewise skilled and to, like Christ, do what God calls us to do in God’s way.

In the final attack, Satan brings Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple.  Note how he misuses the Bible in order to get Jesus to sin.  The actual passage (Psalm 91:11-12) says, “For He will give His angels charge concerning you,  To guard you in all your ways.”, implying that God will keep the one who walks in righteous ways.  But to assume that God will keep you when you are going into sin is presumption.

Presumption is not faith; the Devil wanted Jesus to substitute presumption for faith.  We can be presumptuous when, for example, we pray for good health but do not take care of our bodies.  A similar presumption is praying for salvation, but not seeking God through prayer and Bible reading.

Jesus rejected this temptation, again quoting Scripture.

From Jesus’ example in the wilderness, we should see that trials and temptations are all part of God’s refining us, and we should not seek to short-circuit the work of God, to avoid His baptism of fire.  We should be wise and recognize the difference between acting in faith and acting with presumption, and, finally, we should study God’s Word to be equipped to defend ourselves against all temptations.

Here He goes out to the wilderness, where He is tempted by Satan.  He is going out to the battle that Adam lost, but unlike Adam, Christ (the New Adam) will be victorious.

First, in this passage, we see Christ in His humanity representing transgressors. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Luke Part 13: The Beginning of Jesus' Ministry

Text: Luke 3:21-37

This section of the Bible contains the record of Jesus' entry into public ministry. Jesus began his ministry, we see, at the age of 30. This was in accordance with the age prescribed for priests to start their ministry (Num. 4:47).

Why was Jesus baptized? Baptism at this time was a ritual for Gentiles who converted to Judaism. For the Jews who were coming to John the Baptist, it showed that the Jew recognized his need of salvation being the same as that of the Gentile.

So why was Jesus baptized? He didn't have any sins He needed to repent of. Jesus was baptised in order to show that he was part of humanity, that He was undertaking His ministry fully as a man. He was fulfilling Isaiah 53:12 and choosing to be "numbered with the transgressors". In taking the position of one of the transgressors, He here began to bear our sins and would continue to be "numbered with the transgressors" to the end of His ministry. (Luke 22:37)

The genealogy in this section emphasizes Jesus's humanity. While Matthew's gospel, written primarily to the Jews, traces Christ's ancestry back to Abraham, the gentile Luke traces the genealogy all the way to Adam, showing that Jesus was a representative of not just the Jews, but the Gentiles as well. Adam is described in verse 38 as "the son of God". In a sense, Adam was the first son of God. He failed. Christ, as the only begotten Son of God came to succeed and bring the transgressors back into the original relationship as (adopted) sons of God. We are brought back to the Garden!

After Christ was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, "in bodily form like a dove". John testified (John 1:32) that the Spirit remained upon Him. In all the gospels it is made clear that Christ was filled with the Spirit and was exercising His ministry as a man in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is our example in His two acts of obedience described in this passage. First, in baptism, Christ showed His oneness with sinners. We show our oneness with Him when we are baptized.

Jesus' second act of obedience was prayer. Christ prayed and prayed repeatedly. How much more should we feel a need of being in fellowship with the Father! Are we in a ministry, to others or even just to our kids? Pray! Do we love others enough to pray for them, to bear their burdens? Does our sin drive us away from Christ, or towards Him in prayer, as it should?

The result of Christ's obedience was God's voice from heaven, telling Jesus He was well-pleased with Him, and that He was "beloved". God was saying, "I love You, Son." When we are in obedience and prayer, we can likewise feel God's love and know that He is pleased with our service to Him, flawed as it is.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Luke Part 12: The Conclusion of John's Message

Text: Luke 3:15-20

This section contains the final part of John the Baptist's message. At the end of the section, we have a reminder from Luke that he hasn't provided all of John's teachings in detail, but has only captured a summary of his most important themes. Luke did want us to know what John told Herod. John was absolutely unyielding in declaring the truth; he did not shrink from being straightforward and direct in condemning Herod's sin. This unflinching call to repent was done out out of love for the lost -- John wanted Herod, like all that he preached to, to turn from his sin. There's no place for harshness or meanness in preaching the gospel.

In verse 15, we see that the people were in suspense and excited about the question of who John was. They wondered if he was the promised Messiah. But John was quick to deflect all glory to Christ. John declared that he was not the Christ, and indeed he was not even worthy to be called a slave of Christ.

It's often difficult for us to proclaim the truth to others. We see our own sin and need of repentance, and wonder how we can call others to repent of their sin. John likewise saw his own sinfulness. He knew he was nothing, but he didn't get depressed about it. It didn't cause him to lack the courage to speak out, rather by understanding his lowly estate before God, he had the freedom to preach boldly, as one with no pride or reputation to be worried about.

John told the people that Jesus was coming to baptize, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit. This baptism of the Holy Spirit, which we see fulfilled in Acts 1, was also a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28.

John also describes how Jesus is going to baptize with fire. This baptism with fire was foretold in Malachi 3 and has two elements. First, the personal baptism of fire (Mal 3:3), compared to the fire of the gold refiner. Our trials purify us and prepare us for heaven, with the purpose (Mal 3:4) that we should bring praises to God. Secondly, there is a judgmental fire (Mal 3:5): a fire of judgment carried out against nations and groups who do not please God. Both aspects are found here in this section of Luke.

Finally, in verse 17 we have a picture of Jesus as a worker on the threshing floor, with his winnowing fork in his hand. He will make a separation among the people; those who do not embrace his will be destroyed, like the chaff. Those who do, His children will be "drawn into His barn", taken into a safe place, and kept. Repent and turn to Him! Do not be caught in your sins and destroyed!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Luke, Part 11: John the Baptist’s Message of Repentance

Text: Luke 3:1-14

This section of Luke details the message of John the Baptist.  It begins by briefly giving the historical setting, telling us which governors and tetrarchs were in power.  Interestingly, there were two high priests at this time.  Annas was the original high priest, but he has displeased the Romans, so the Jews had established his son-in-law Caiphas as high priest as well.  The Romans only recognized Caiphas, but the Jews recognized both!  This was a perversion of their religion, as the Jewish law allowed for only one high priest at a time.

We see again that the word of the Lord did not come through the political establishment, or through the religious structure of the day.  Instead, the word of the Lord came to John, out in the desert, apart from the power structure of the time.

“The word of the Lord came”…  This is what every true prophet needs.  The word of God for us today is what we need as well.  We see that God was as work in this situation, bringing John His word and bringing him an audience.

What was the word that was given to John?  Repentance, specifically “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.  What was this baptism?  This baptism had its roots in the Old Covenant – all Gentiles who wanted to enter into the Covenant had to be immersed in water.  The Gentile body was considered unclean and had to be put completely under the water.

John famously referred to his hearers as a “brood of vipers”.  They had the poison of sin within them, as do all men who have not repented and believed upon Christ.  John told them to quit thinking so highly of themselves and trusting in their lineage from Abraham.  Likewise, we today must humble ourselves and come to Christ without trusting in our Christian parents or church attendance, or any thing, but come to Him in true humility and true repentance.

True repentance is:

  1. A complete change of mind – we no longer want to be the ruler of our own destiny; we want God to rule
  2. A complete change of heart – we have a new love.  Instead of loving ourselves supremely, we love Christ.
  3. A complete change of will – we used to serve ourselves and serve sin.  Now we serve Christ and do righteousness.

“What shall we do?” asked the hearers.  How should we live our lives?  John’s response was that we should continue in our given occupations, working honestly, defrauding no one, giving to those in need.

This is a message for today, as well as for John’s day.  Men and women still need to repent, to turn from their sins and receive forgiveness.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Luke Part 10: Young Jesus in the Temple

Text: Luke 2:40-52

This passage is particularly interesting because it represents the only Biblical description of Jesus' younger years; it is the only passage describing Jesus before His public ministry. This account was probably given to Luke by Mary, one of the eyewitness accounts Luke mentioned previously as sources for his gospel.

The first thing we see from this passage is that Joseph and Mary took their religious duties seriously. Probably Joseph went to Jerusalem three times a year to participate in the feasts. For one feast of the year, the Passover, women and children were allowed, and we see here that Joseph and Mary attended this feast every year with their family. We have a similar duty to raise our children in a proper environment, where God is lifted up. If Jesus needed to be under the authority of godly parents, how much more do our children need to be under our authority and influenced for good.

Secondly, Joseph and Mary had fellowship with their fellow citizens. They were not totally isolated. Probably, as they traveled in the caravan, the children would walk at the front, with the women behind, and the men at the back. This would allow for fellowship and discussion, and it explains how Joseph and Mary missed Jesus' absence, probably thinking He was up front with the children.

But instead of being in the caravan, Jesus was at the temple, asking and answering questions with the "doctors of theology" -- the leaders of the Jewish faith. And they were "amazed" and "astounded". They had never seen such depth from anyone, much less a twelve-year-old!

After three days (one day of travel, one day to return, and one day to look for Jesus), Mary and Joseph found Jesus. Mary had a rebuke for Him. "Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You!" Jesus' response (incidentally, the first recorded words of Jesus): "Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father's house?" {or "about My Father's business?"} What Jesus is saying is, "Where did you think I was? At the ball field, or the swimming pool? I'm right where I am supposed to be."

We see from this that, even at this young age, Jesus knew that He was the Son of God, and He knew His mission. He knew He had to be about His ministry of reconciliation. He knew He was the Messiah; the suffering Savior.

Yet somehow His parents did not, at this time understand Him (v.50). Jesus knew the frustration of being misunderstood! This was part of His humiliation.

We should remember to be like Mary and take note of teachings from God, even if we do not understand them at first. Later, perhaps, it will become clear to us what these things mean.

Finally, this section concludes with the amazing statement that Jesus increased in wisdom and "grew in favor with God and men." For us, we tend to one of two extremes: either we are too soft and willing to go along with the world, growing in favor with men but being negligent in our duty as witnesses, or we bring the Word to the world, yet we are so harsh and abrasive that we unnecessarily offend. Jesus did neither, pleasing God and living at harmony with his fellow man. We should strive so that the only offence we give to mankind is the offense of the Cross, the Gospel itself.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Luke Part 9: Simeon and Anna

Text: Luke 2:22-39

This section of Luke describes how Jesus was presented at the temple, and the responses of Simeon and Anna to His birth.

This was a spiritually dark time in Israel. Israel was under the rule of the Pharisees, with their insistence on legalism and works-righteousness. They were also under the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection. Yet there was still a loyal remnant who clung to a hope of redemption through faith in a Redeemer. This remnant is represented here by Simeon and Anna.

We know Simeon was a faithful follower of God. Luke mentions in v.25 that he was "righteous and devout" and that "the Holy Spirit was upon him." Most importantly, He was waiting for the Redeemer, the "Consolation of Israel". Verses 29-32 contain his praise to God upon seeing Jesus, the promised Redeemer.

As in each of the songs of praise recorded about Jesus's birth, the message contains the theme than the beginning is as good as the end. Jesus was still just a baby, yet Simeon praises God that he has "seen Your salvation". This salvation was going to be a "light of revelation to the Gentiles." Think of the difference the gospel light has made in the world; compare the liberty and blessings enjoyed in lands where the gospel has flourished and the bondage and oppression in lands where it has not been received and lived upon!

Notice that Jesus life and death would be "the glory of Israel". There is not a future plan for national Israel. Jesus is the glory of Israel! The redemption of ethnic Israel will occur as Jews repent and believe in Him.

In verse 33, we see that Joseph and Mary marveled. It's interesting because they had already seen so many amazing prophecies regarding Jesus. Yet they still marveled and were amazed. Have we grown numb to the things of God, or do they still cause us to marvel and be amazed?

Finally Simeon prophesied to Mary that, according to God's plan, Jesus would bring about the rise and fall of many in Israel. He would reveal people's hearts and would be a "sign" -- something to give direction and show the way -- to be opposed. This is the "doctrine of twos" -- there is no neutral ground with Jesus. Either He will make you to rise or you will be cast down. You can follow the sign, or oppose it. You must either obey Him or reject Him.

Anna, like Simeon, was another member of the faithful remnant. We know very little about her, except that she was an older widow, a prophetess, and that she served constantly in the temple. Like the shepherds, she was, as a female, from a less-regarded group and, like them, she was entrusted with the gospel, which she shared to her fellow believers.

Anna and Simeon are a witness to us today. Let us be led by the Spirit to follow their example in these ways:
  • To marvel and stand amazed at God's goodness
  • To embrace Jesus
  • To know His presence
  • To follow the Spirit and be led by Him
  • To rejoice
  • and to tell others as we go

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Luke Part 8: The Birth of Jesus

Text: Luke 2:1-20

This passage is probably one of the most familiar in all of Scripture. We must be careful not to allow ourselves to be made complacent by familiarity, because it is a truly remarkable and amazing passage.

In the first several verses, the facts surrounding the census are laid out. In Luke's typical systematic style, he establishes the historical setting: during the reign of Caesar Augustus, the first census taken during when Quirinius was governor in Syria. Thus, we see God working, moving in this world through the hands of sinful men. Caesar thought he was ordering the census of his own initiative, but in actuality he was performing God's bidding, ensuring that the prophecy of Micah 5:2 would be fulfilled and that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Note also that Joseph and Mary obeyed the civil authorities even though it was a great difficulty for them.

Verses 6 and 7 describe the birth of Jesus. What is truly remarkable about His birth is that He was born to such extreme poverty. Although the rulers of the world live in great luxury in order to please themselves, Jesus came in great poverty to serve others.

Next we read of how the message came to the shepherds. Shepherds were rough and tough, living out in the fields defending the flock. Yet when the angel appeared before them, they were "terribly frightened". Our conception of the appearance of angels, if accurate, should picture angels as fearful beings -- a single angel could make a group of tough men tremble.

Shepherds were also on the bottom rung of society. Yet God chose to send the good news of Christ's birth to them, again confirming the pattern of using the weak and foolish things of this world to confound the strong and wise in this world. Jesus did not exclude classes. If he had been born in a king's palace, these shepherds would have been denied access. But he was born in a lowly stable, where they were free to come and worship.

The message from the angels indicated that Jesus was "a Savior, who is Christ the Lord". Three names of Jesus, indicating:
  1. He was the Savior, the One to save God's people from their sins.
  2. He was Christ, meaning the Messiah, the Anointed One, the One God had designated.
  3. He was "the Lord", the Greek title for "God". Jesus was God in the flesh.
After the shepherds found Jesus and worshiped Him, they returned to their flocks. But on their way, they became the first Christian missionaries, telling whomever they met about what God had shown them. The word from God had changed them: they went on their way rejoicing!

From this passage, we see that from the beginning, Jesus was outside the norm, outside the realm of the religious elites. The angels went to nobodies, not to people in positions of prestige. God was entrusting a revelation to men who, in the world's view, were totally unqualified. God trusted them to keep and spread the gospel He had given to them.

Will we, like the shepherds come "in a hurry" to Jesus? Will disregard the inadequacy of the messenger, taking the good news with rejoicing and spreading it to all we come in contact with in our daily living?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Luke Part 7: Zacharias' Prophecy, Continued

Text: Luke 2:76-80

This post discusses the second half -- the second sentence, actually -- of Zacharias' praise after his son was born and he became able to speak again. In the first sentence of his praise, Zacharias discussed the coming Redeemer and the deliverance He would bring. In the second sentence, he speaks more specifically about his son, John. He describes John's role as a forerunner and lays out some of the great things God would do through him.

First, in verse 76, John was to be a "prophet of the Most High". What was his mission? What was he going to do? He was to "go before" the Lord and "prepare His ways".

How was he going to "prepare His ways"? This is described for us in verse 77: He was to tell God's people about his plan of salvation. This plan of salvation was radically different from what the Jews of that time may have been expecting. It was not deliverance from Rome, or any thing else physical. It was a spiritual deliverance. Jesus was coming to free His people from their sins. That would be the role of the Messiah. John's mission was to spread that good news.

Verse 78 describes more completely what the salvation will be like. This forgiveness will not be by works; it will not be something earned. Rather, God will grant forgiveness because of his "tender mercy". The adjective "tender" tells us something about God -- He shows Himself to be kind and gentle towards His children. The "Sunrise from on high", the Sun of Righteousness, will come to us -- not coming to us to crush and overwhelm us, but to "visit us", to commune with us.

He is coming (v. 79) to bring light to those who sit in darkness and guide our feet on the path of peace. This is a comparison to two groups of people. There are those, on the one hand, who have no knowledge of Christ. They are in darkness, willful ignorance of Him. They "sit" in this darkness, indicating that they have accepted this condition. To some of these, Christ will shine his light and convert them into those who are on "the way of peace". Note that the Christian life is portrayed as a "way". The Christian life is elsewhere portrayed as a "walk". It is a progression, a growing into greater and greater knowledge and light. (See Prov. 4:18)

We are called to be like John the Baptist. What he was about is what we should be about: letting our light shine in all that we say or do to point others to Christ.

Finally, a quick note on verse 80: Notice that John the Baptist did a unique thing. Normally, a son of a priest would be expected to follow his father into the ministry, first serving him, then training and finally becoming a priest himself. But instead, John went out to the desert. He did not grow up within and was not trained by the religious power structure of the time. He was taught by God out in the desert. God was instituting a new thing -- the Old Covenant system was passing away.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Luke, Part 6: Zacharias’ Prophecy

Text: Luke 1:67-79

After Zacharias’ tongue was loosened, he burst forth with praise and prophecy.  We are told he was filled with the Holy Spirit, meaning he was under the Spirit’s control.  He was illuminated by the Spirit; he gained new insights into the Word of God that he was already familiar with.

Two of the aspects of prophecy are present in what Zacharias said: an accurate understanding of the Word, and a view of the future.  The entire prophecy of Zacharias is composed of only two sentences.  The first is a praise to God, and the second is a prophecy of the ministry of Zacharias’ son John.  This post will discuss the first sentence (v. 68-75).

First, we see that Zacharias sees the end outworking of God’s promises to be completely certain at their beginning.  So he says God has “visited us and accomplished redemption for His people.”  The redemption was so certain to him that he declared it complete.

He mentions that God has raised up a “horn of salvation”.  The “horn” refers to power and glory made evident.  So this salvation was becoming visible as Jesus Christ was being revealed.

Then Zacharias describes how the coming of Christ is the fulfillment of all the prophets.  He specifically mentions Abraham, and how this is the fulfillment of the covenant made to Abraham, the covenant that God condescended to confirm to us with an oath.

Zacharias prophesied that the Redeemer would deliver them from their “enemies”.  Who are our enemies that Christ delivers us from?

  1. Our sinful nature.  Man’s natural state is sinful.  In this state, you are the center of your life and you are driven to seek what is good for you.
  2. The practice of sin.  The more we sin, the more it becomes a habit.  As we get in the habit of pleasing ourselves and we do it more and more, it has an ever-greater grip upon us.
  3. The devil and his hosts.  Satan does all he can to hold men under his power.  He works by first bringing a temptation, then if we fall into sinning, and sin willfully, we are inviting him to take more and more power over us.
  4. Fear.  Fear is our enemy and is specifically mentioned in this section (v. 74).  All men are gripped by some fear – fear of death, fear of other men, and other fears, some irrational.

Christ has come and delivered us from these enemies.  He has performed the mercy promise.

The ultimate end of what Christ has done is not to merely make us Christians to get us out of hell and continue to live our same lives.  He has created a people to serve Him.  That is the reason He has redeemed us, to serve Him in holiness and righteousness (v. 74, 75).  We are no longer sinful in nature, but we have been made holy to serve God in holiness.  Thus, we can now do what is right before God.

Finally, the prophecy declared that we would serve God without fear.  This must have been astounding to the Jews of that time, who were used to striving under the fear of God, always cognizant of their guilt before the Perfect and Holy One.  But this prophecy declared that we should serve Him, without fear, in His very presence – and that we should do so “all our days”.  What a wonderful promise: dwelling eternally in God’s presence without fear!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Luke Part 5: John is Born

Text: Luke 1:57-66

God is faithful to His Word. Exactly as the Lord had said, Elizabeth bore a son. Four points of observation about this birth are given below.

1). The reaction of their friends and family. First, their friends and family rejoiced. Christians have a unique bond among them, and we should be able to freely rejoice with others, regardless of our own circumstances.

Secondly, they got a little carried away in their exuberance. They couldn't believe that Zacharias and Elizabeth were going to name their newborn boy "John", which wasn't a family name at all. But after Zacharias set them straight with a written message -- and then began to speak again -- they realized that something extraordinary was happening, and they responded as we ought to also respond to the good news of salvation. They shared these events with others who weren't there (v. 65); they took these things to heart, remembering and considering them (v. 66), and they watched expectantly for what God would do through John's life.

2). The reaction of Zacharias and Elizabeth. First, they rejoiced and wanted to share this event with those around them. Likewise, we should be wanting to share an encouraging word with those around us, and be letting others know what God is doing in our lives.

Secondly, they did not allow their friends' alarm to change their course from what God had told them. "His name is John", Zacharias wrote decisively. Note that we should not assume that the way God is dealing with us is not the same as the way He is dealing with others.

Also, note that the new mother and father were in agreement, presenting a unified front.

Another remarkable fact is that Zacharias' first words were words of praise to God. He was not like a spoiled child, sullen after his punishment, but he saw that God was good in all things, including in His chastening.

3). Why was his name "John"? First, it was because that's what God said it was. When we read something plainly written in the Word of God, we must believe it. Secondly, the name "John" means "God is gracious". John was to be the one who would announce Christ's coming, and in that announcement there was great grace. We have this image of John the Baptist as being a rough character, eating locusts and wild honey, calling out the Pharisees as snakes. Yet in spite of the tough nature of his reproof, his message was one of great grace.

4). The hand of the Lord was upon him. What a thing this is to say! In the hand of God is a good place to be -- a place of security and safety for His children.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Luke, Part 4: Mary’s Song

Text: Luke 1:46-55 (opens in new window)

Previous to this passage, Mary had visited Elizabeth and was greeted with warm words of encouragement.  Mary responds to that greeting with a song of praise that is recorded in this text. 

Interestingly, this song is rather similar to the song of Hannah, recorded in 1 Samuel 2.  Also, the song shares similarity with many of the Psalms.  Mary was evidently familiar with the Psalms, and the same Spirit was working in her, in Hannah, and in the Psalm writers, so it’s not surprising that there are similarities.  Hannah’s song ended with the prophecy of a coming King, and Mary’s song ended with an acknowledgement that this prophecy had been fulfilled.

Two major themes of this song are: God’s accomplishment of His promises at their beginning are as sure as they are at the end.  And, God does not work through the civil and religious power structure; instead, He works through humble individuals.

This song can be looked at as being composed of four sections: (1) What God has done for Mary, (2) What God has done for His people, (3) Mercy and Judgment, and (4) God is faithful to His Word.

Looking at the song verse by verse, in verse 46, Mary says that her soul “exalts the Lord”.  God is already highly exalted – how can she, or we, exalt Him?  By speaking of who God is and the works He is performing.

In verse 47, Mary refers to “God my Savior”.  How is God her Savior?  Because God has done great things for her and through her.  In verses 48 and 49, Mary continues to exalt God and proclaim what He has done for her.

In verse 50, we are reminded that God’s blessings are ongoing,  from generation to generation.  God is holy, all-powerful, and mighty.  He is the Savior of mankind; this blessing is only for those who fear Him.

The next section of the song, from verses 51-53, is a comparison of two peoples: the the humble and weak, whom God uses, and the self-satisfied, the rich, and the powerful, whom God will tear down and destroy.  Humility is a prime component of Christianity – God is opposed to the proud, but exalts the humble.  Christ, our example, humbled Himself beyond measure by taking upon Himself the form of a man.

We must come to God in humility.  If we embrace Jesus in humility and brokenness, we will be received, but if we trust in our own self-sufficiency and self-righteousness, we will be rejected.

The last two verses of this song, verses 54 and 55, are a proclamation of God’s mercy.  Throughout all of God’s judgments, He still remembered, and will remember mercy.  His mercy is (v.55) forever – there is hope for yet more people who will seek Him today; and His mercy is “to the seed of Abraham”, the father of the faithful.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

God’s Gracious Dealings with Remnants

Throughout the Bible, we see that God deals frequently with remnants.  What is a remnant?  The dictionary definition is “that which is left over”, “residue”, or “remainder”.

We see God dealing with a small portion and rejecting another portion throughout Old Testament history.  God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain, dividing humanity in half.  In the Flood, God saved only eight people out of the mass of humanity at that time.  In the case of Abraham, God chose one man out of Ur of the Chaldees to be the patriarch of His particular people.  He continued to reveal Himself exclusively through that small nation.  Or take the example of Gideon.  God whittled down his strong army to just 300 men, and used them in winning a great victory.

Sometimes we might see the corruption and lack of reality in mainstream denominations and feel as though we are all alone, the only ones truly following God.  Elijah, after killing the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel, fled to a cave and twice came before God claiming that “he alone” was left.  God responded that there were 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal.  Romans 11:5 reminds us that there is a similar remnant today.  Whenever we follow God completely, we are not alone – we are part of His remnant in the world.

Although we may seem like a part of a tiny group of believers today, at the end of the world (Rev 7:9), God’s people through the ages will amass as a great multitude, too vast for any man to count.  Therefore, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32).

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Luke, Part 3: Mary Visits Elizabeth

Text: Luke 1:39-45

In the previous section of Luke, the angel came to Mary and told her she would bear the Messiah.  Although she did ask, “How can (literally “shall”) this be?” she – unlike Zacharias – had faith in the word that God had sent her and believed the angel, understanding that “nothing is impossible with God.”

In this section, Mary came to visit Elizabeth.  Mary wanted to get together with someone else who had experienced God.  This is natural – people who have experienced God want to be together.

In verse 40, we see that Mary entered the house and “greeted” Elizabeth.  What was this greeting?  It was probably more than just a “hello”.  Mary must have been telling Elizabeth about the news the angel had given her because, in verse 41, we see that the baby leaped in Elizabeth’s womb.

When the baby leaped, Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit”.  Much could be said about the filling of the Holy Spirit.  We remember that Elizabeth had “kept herself in seclusion” for five months.  She was thinking of the Lord and walking circumspectly.  Walking with the Lord allows us to be filled with the Spirit.  Ephesians 5:15-20 describes how we are to walk carefully and use our time wisely, and to give ourselves over to the Holy Spirit, in comparison to how one who is ruled by drink gives himself over to wine.

It is interesting to note that Elizabeth was already regenerate, what we today would call “a Christian” before this filling of the ?Holy Spirit occurred.

The filling of the Holy Spirit caused Elizabeth to “cry out”.  She is excited, emotionally engaged.  She had been told that her baby would grow up to be the forerunner of the Messiah, but she did not know when the Messiah would come, until this point.

In the following verses, Elizabeth encouraged Mary, showing great humility (v.43) even though she was older than Mary.  She encouraged Mary by telling her what God had done.

She proclaimed Mary to be blessed in v. 44.  Mary was blessed in the same way as we are – she was saved through the work of Christ.  She also had a special blessing, in the service she performed in carrying Jesus.  For her, as well as us, blessedness is obtained through service.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Luke, Part 2: The angel visits Zacharias

Text: Luke 1: 5-25

The first incident that Luke relates is the angel’s visitation of Zacharias and the subsequent birth of John the Baptist.  This section demonstrates Luke’s inclination to describe events in careful detail and the emphasis he places on people as individuals.

Zacharias, we see, was a priest who was married to the daughter of a priest.  From this, he would expect to be the recipient of a double blessing, according to the Jewish tradition.  Zacharias and his wife were both faithful and righteous before God.  Although they had no children, they continued on faithfully worshipping and loving God.  They had no idea what blessings He had in store for them, but they pressed on regardless.

Judea had fallen into a state of deep decline, as had been detailed in the book of Malachi, written 400 years before Christ.  In the silent years after Malachi, the decline surely became deeper.  Judea was being ruled by a horrible, evil king, Herod.  Things couldn’t seem to get any darker for those who followed God truly.  Yet it was in this dark time that God sent His Redeemer.  Likewise, we today should not be discouraged by the state of the world around us – God is able to break through in any situation!

Zacharias had been chosen, by lot, to enter the temple and burn incense.  This was the highest position of service that a regular priest could perform.  He stood next to the Holy of Holies and offered incense that flowed over the whole temple – and into the Holy of Holies as well.  The position of presenting the incense was so highly regarded that each priest was allowed to perform it only once in his life.  It was during this service that the angel came to Zacharias.

The angel came to Zacharias and spoke ten different things to him:

  1. Their prayer had been answered!  What prayer?  Both their prayer for a Redeemer, who was to come, and…
  2. They would have a son.
  3. His name would be “John” (a gift from God), meaning he was to be the gift of God and filled with the grace of God.
  4. He would be greatly used by God.
  5. He would drink no strong drink.
  6. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth.
  7. He would turn many to God.
  8. This son was the one prophesied who would be coming in the spirit of Elijah.
  9. He would reconcile families.
  10. He would prepare a people for the Lord.

John’s ministry would be like ours – we cannot save anyone, but we can lead men to  Him who can.  We can cry out against sin in the world and point to the Redeemer.

Sadly, Zacharias’s response was one of unbelief.  He was hearing a word directly from an angel, but it was not sufficient for him.  He was staggered by the thought that God would use him and his wife to bring this great prophet.  But God, then as today, does use ordinary people to do his work.  Why do we doubt that God will use us to work out His promises?

Because Zacharias spoke his unbelief, he was struck dumb for a time.  Yet God was merciful and later restored his ability to speak.  May God forgive us for doubting His ability to use us to accomplish all He has for us to do!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Luke, Part 1: Introduction

Text: Luke 1:1-4

Some controversy exists about when the book of Luke was originally written, but it was probably written around AD 60-63 or so.

Who was Luke?  Interestingly, Luke was not one of the twelve disciples, and was in fact not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry at all.  Luke was a Gentile.  Luke was a doctor, a physician.  He was familiar with Greek, as is evidenced by his writing style, a style of Greek written by the educated for the educated.

Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.  They may be seen as a set, and this text serves as an introduction to them both.

One key point Luke makes in his introduction is that he was not an eyewitness.  He identifies his sources as eyewitnesses and “servants of the word”, probably corresponding to the Gospel of Luke and Acts, respectively.  Luke had contact with the original sources.  His detailed account of Christ’s birth would indicate that He had contact with Mary.  We know that he was one of Paul’s traveling companions.

Luke states that he has carefully investigated everything in this book and identifies what he has written as “the exact truth”. The word translated “exact truth” might be rendered “infallible truth.”   He is reminding the reader that the things written herein are truthful and that they are the Word of God.  This is a story that really happened and it changes lives because it is the story of Christ.

The things in this book are things “accomplished” (v.1) or fulfilled.  Luke contains many examples of fulfilled prophecies: that the Messiah would be from Judah, from the seed of Isaac, and born in Bethlehem.   He details the time of Christ’s birth, as foretold in Daniel.

This book was written to “Theophilus”.  These things were written to give him knowledge and certainty.  Luke’s objective was that Theophilus would have both factual understanding (“head knowledge”)  and real relational, experiential knowledge of  the things of God.

Who is Theophilus?  To whom did Luke write?  It’s generally accepted that he was writing to a real person.  Luke uses the title, “most excellent” in referring to him, the same title was was used for Roman governors Felix and Festus.  So Theophilus is thought by many to have had some relation to the government.  The word “Theophilus” means “lover of God” or “one loved by God”.  Luke is writing to someone who has been instructed in the Word of God and want to know more of Him.  We can put ourselves, then, in the place of “Theophilus” because this describes all the children of God, and we have also been made to be “most excellent” members of a royal priesthood through Christ’s death and resurrection!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thoughts from Ecclesiastes

The book of Ecclesiastes, as mentioned previously, can be a tricky book to read.  The key to understanding it lies in the phrase “under the sun..”  When Solomon writes of the world “under the sun”, he is referring to the world from a humanist view; the world without sight of God.

Ecclesiastes is full of a number of pictures and proverbs.  These are written to show us where our attention and focus in life should be.  A few of these pictures and proverbs are discussed below:

1) The Oppressed and the Oppressors – Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

In this section, oppression is discussed.  There are oppressors all around us: wicked governments, greedy businessmen, corrupt bosses, and so on.  Oppression is universal in the world, and severe and harsh oppression is not uncommon.  The unique thing Solomon points out in this passage is that not only the oppressed need a comforter, but the oppressors do too.  The brutal prison guard, for example, is oppressed by his brutal commander.  All men suffer, and all are without a comforter from the “under the sun” perspective.  It is such a grim existence that Solomon declares that the living should envy the dead, or those who have not existed.  Yet this all from the worldly view – there is a Comforter for those who know Christ!

2)  The Benefit of Adversity – Ecclesiastes 7:1-6

There is a benefit to adversity.  Difficulties can make us sober and rescue us from a life of frivolity.  The general attitude of men today is that of children who have never grown up – everything is frivolity, joking, and silliness.  But life is serious; the deep questions of life demand our full thought and grave attention.

3) Value in Contentment – Ecclesiastes 8:14-17

Sometimes, the wicked prosper and the good suffer (v14).  It can be pointless to struggle against this, or against a great oppressive regime.   Also, we cannot know the working of God – we cannot know the future and how all things will turn out.  We should live today in God’s providence and be content in it, enjoying the basic happiness that can be found in living life.  (It is only by being right spiritually with our Creator that we can life a full and joyous life here on earth.)

4) All Shall Die – Ecclesiastes 9:1-4

As mentioned in the previous chapter, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.  You cannot tell the standing of a person before God by looking at their circumstances (men have incorrectly tried to equate prosperity and rightness with God for centuries.)  And there is one thing that happens to both good and bad men – all men die.  Verse four reminds us that there is hope while a person is living; after you die your destiny is fixed.

5) Remember Your Creator in the Days of Your Youth – Ecclesiastes 12

This chapter begins with a vivid description of the decay of one’s faculties as he is overcome by age, with a reminder: don’t waste your life!  Don’t waste your short time of health and fitness in selfish pursuits, use your life for God’s glory!

To sum up the message of Ecclesiastes, we are all heading to our “long home” – our eternal home.  This will be either a place of eternal glory or eternal damnation.  Let us keep this future in our minds as we walk this world “under the sun”.  Let us be focused on our eternal purpose, rather than consumed by the vanities of a life spend seeking the things of this earth.  Let us see (v.11) the strength of the framework laid out by God’s Word and let us seek to live lives based on the principles of His Word, in loving service to Him for His glory!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ecclesiastes 2

Text:  Ecclesiastes 1:17 – 2:26

Ecclesiastes can be a difficult book of the Bible to read and understand.  The key to Ecclesiastes lies in the phrase “under the sun.”  Throughout the book, Solomon is writing from a worldy perspective, discussing things as they are for the man without God.  This is the humanist perspective.  It is incredibly common in life today, as men continue to set up their thoughts and lives in a way that is separate from God.

Throughout the book, Solomon describes a search for meaning and purpose in life.  Without God, however, he finds no meaning – all is vanity.  In  the previous section of Ecclesiastes, Solomon discussed the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge for its own sake, surmising in v. 18 of Chapter 1 that the acquisition of much wisdom ends only in grief and pain.

So Solomon takes another approach.  First, he seeks to find meaning in the pursuit of pleasure.  He decides to “live it up”, enjoying laughter and much wine, yet with his mind engaged.  He’s still trying to find a meaning to life within the pleasure.  This might be compared to the philosophy of the 60’s, when people were taking drugs and attempting to find enlightenment.  But in the end, Solomon declares that this too is vanity, futility, madness.

Then, he seeks to find meaning in life through building great works.  He builds houses, gardens, and orchards.  He acquires flocks and servants to tend them.  He obtains gold and silver and many singers and concubines.  In the end, however, this pursuit is also vanity, and is striving after the wind.

The next section (v. 12 through 23) contains a brief reflection on what Solomon has learned up to this point.  He declares that the pursuit of wisdom for its own sake, though bitter, is still better than the mere pursuit of pleasure.  Yet everything is futile for the humanist, because all men die, whether wise or foolish, rich or poor.  For the rich man, what is the profit of his riches when he dies?  He cannot take it with him; they will pass on to another whom he does not know.  For the man who pursued pleasure, what does that profit him when he dies?

The end of this passage contains some final thoughts on where meaning can be found in life.  Verse 24 is difficult to translate, but may be translated, “There is no good in a man on his own to find joy...”  Verse 25 continues that man cannot find true joy on his own.  It is only through a relationship with God that man can be fulfilled and find real joy and happiness in this life.  Verse 26 concludes, noting that God gives happiness, wisdom and joy to His children.

Let us not be like the humanistic world around us, running from our Maker and seeking vainly to find joy in this life.  We must seek Him first, and it is only when we are in a right relationship with God that we can enjoy his gifts in this world fully.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Love of God

God’s love is primarily towards His children.  However, He also sees fit to show His love towards the unsaved.  (Psalm 145:9 -- “The Lord is good to all.”)  In Luke 6:35, God calls us to love our enemies and do good to all.  In this way, we can be like Him, because He is kind on ungrateful and evil men.

Primarily, though, God’s love is towards His children.  Here are seven aspects of God’s love, as known by the Christian:

  1. God is love.  The description of God and the description of God’s love (1 Cor. 13) are the same.  God is sovereign; His love is sovereign.  God is unchangeable; His love is unchangeable.  God is perfect; His love is perfect, and so on…
  2. God’s love flows through Jesus Christ to His people.  Read through Ephesians 1, and see how many times the blessings we enjoy are described as being “in Christ”.  All that we enjoy of God as Christians is through His Son.  How do we experience this love?  By believing in Christ.  It is all that is required of us, but it is required of us.
  3. The love of God does not begin with us.  God’s love begins with Himself.  We love Him because He first loved us.
    Because of the three first points, the following aspects of God’s love are true:
  4. The love of God in Christ Jesus is attracted by nothing in its object.  We do not earn His love or do anything to make Him love us.
  5. The love of God cannot be repelled by anything that is in us.  God loved us long before we knew Him.  He loved us when we were still sinners.  Now, as His children, when we stumble, He is not repelled by our sin; He will not leave us or forsake us.
  6. The love of God is not apportioned to His children by their fruitfulness.  God loves all His children the same: He has a superabundance of love for us.  He loves us all the same, all the time.
  7. God heals our backslidings.  He pours His love out upon us, in the form of chastening, when we sin.  In His love, He forgives us when we return to Him.

God’s love for us does not grow, but we can grow to know that love more.  So we should come to God knowing that He loves us.  We should make our prayers and requests known with His love for us in mind, and we should meditate much on the love that is ours in Christ.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Passover

Texts: Leviticus 23:4-8 (opens in new window)
Exodus 12:1-14 (opens in new window)

The passage listed in Leviticus above describes the institution of the remembrance of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread that directly follows it.  In order to understand this remembrance,  we must look back to the first Passover, in Exodus 12.

The first verse of that passage says that this is to be their first month.  God was telling the Israelites that what He was doing here was of paramount importance.  This would be the event they set their calendars to.  And this would be a great and new thing, a new beginning at the beginning of a new year.

Next, the Israelites were told to take a lamb on the 10th day.  This lamb was to be selected – chosen with a purpose – and to be without any blemish, looking forward to Christ who was the spotless Sacrifice.  Many years later, when Christ came, this would be the day He entered Jerusalem.

They were to keep the lamb until the 14th day (the day Christ would die).  This gave them time to ensure that it really was a perfect sacrifice.  Then they were to kill the lamb at evening (about the time Christ died).

They were to roast the lamb whole, signifying Christ’s wholeness and perfection, and were to eat it in haste, remembering their deliverance from Egypt.

The lamb was to be eaten with unleavened bread.  Leaven frequently is a symbol for sin; the Israelites were leaving sin behind in Egypt.  They ate with bitter herbs, to remind them of the hardness and bitterness of sin.

The blood of the lamb was to be placed over and beside the door posts.  They had to be “under the blood”, as we have to be covered by the blood-sacrifice of Christ today.

In verse 14 of Exodus 12, God told the Israelites that He was instituting a memorial that would be celebrated yearly until it was fulfilled in Christ.  Furthermore, God told them to be sure to keep this as a reminder to their children (v 26, 27) and be ready to explain the significance of the ritual to them.  In the same way, we should be constantly teaching our children the glorious gospel of Christ.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Philippians 4:8 -- Characteristics of the glory of God seen in Jesus Christ

Texts : John 1:14 (opens in new window)
Philippians 4:8 (opens in new window)

The first chapter of John is well-known as an explanation and description of how The Word (Jesus Christ) became a man and came to live upon this world.  John 1:14 describes how Christ “dwelt among” the disciples and how His glory was evident and “full of grace and truth”.

What is this glory?  We often say that our objective is to “bring glory to God”.  What does that mean?

John is saying that Jesus Christ is the glory of God.  And that Jesus was making known God in all His glory.  Some aspects of the glory of God – or of glory in general—are:

  1. Glory must be revealed.  It does not exist until it is seen and made known.
  2. Glory is excellent.  Things that are glorious are not humdrum, not ordinary.
  3. Glory is victorious.  In Jesus, we see the victory of Life over death, of mercy over misery, and of grace over sin.

This brings us to the well-known passage in Philippians 4:8.  In this verse, Paul defines a number of wonderful things to think upon.  Although one can think upon what is true, honorable, just, etc., without thinking directly of Christ, these characteristics are most perfectly embodied in the Lord Jesus.  As John put it in John 1:14, Jesus is the glory of God.  The glory of God in Jesus Christ is displayed in each of these attributes.  Let’s consider them:

  1. Whatever things are true – this word means “not hidden”, “unconcealed”, “manifested”.  Something that is true is an actual occurrence, an event that can be trusted.
  2. Whatever things are honorable – synonyms: “venerable:”, “revered”.  This indicates something that is deep, substantial, weighty, grave.  This is in contrast to the shallow, even flippant, examples of Christianity we see around today.
  3. Whatever things are just – This word means “is as it should be, always.”  Christ is what he should be, always, as He ever lives to make intercession for us.
  4. Whatever things are pure – The idea of this word is things that excite reverence, things that are free from carnality, modest, immaculate, and unmixed with error.  Christ exemplified purity, in that He was “holy, harmless, and undefiled”.
  5. Whatever things are lovely or loveable – This word is not found elsewhere in the Bible.  It is a completely subjective idea – what is lovely to one may not be to another.  But Paul was certain the Christians in Philippi would know what is truly lovely, and would know that true loveliness starts with the loveliness of Christ.
  6. Whatever is of good repute – These are things that sound well, that are words of a good omen, or words of good will toward others.  The “good news” of the gospel of Christ is the ultimate word of good repute.
  7. If there be and virtue – Moral goodness, excellence in thought, feelings, and actions.  Again, Jesus is our Example of virtuous life.
  8. If anything is worthy of praise – or commendable.  Who is more worthy of our praise than our Lord and Savior?

As we consider these things, let us strive to consider Christ and to think upon Him – the glory of God – in the days ahead.