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.