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