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.