Sunday, February 20, 2011

Luke Part 31: Sending out of the Twelve

Text: Luke 9:1-6

This chapter represents a turning point in Jesus' ministry. Many have referred to this as the "retirement period", as Jesus began withdrawing from cities to less-populous areas and focusing more on teaching, rather than performing miracles. Previously in Luke, we see a great emphasis on the manhood and divinity of Christ. Luke was showing that He had come as a Savior, and was careful to show that He was to be a Savior for Jews and Gentiles.

This chapter can be divided into six sections. The first, third, and fifth sections are primarily discussing the Lord's people, and the second, fourth, and sixth sections discuss Jesus Himself directly. In this first section, consisting of the first six verses, we read of how Jesus sent out the twelve apostles.

Jesus sent out these twelve as representatives of the called out people of God, otherwise known as the church. The commission given to these men is passed on down to all of the people of God, every Christian. Some will have greater involvement in the spread of the Gospel and some will have a lesser involvement. Some will spread the gospel just through their lives and contacts with people they know; others will go out as evangelists.

We note that this passage doesn't say to whom Jesus sent them. He didn't set up a grand missionary strategy; He didn't tell them to try to first convert the leaders of the societies, but just to speak the gospel to all, to whomever they encountered.

Jesus told them to take no possessions with them. He wanted them to be completely reliant upon Him. He wanted them to see that this was His work, and that He would take responsibility to supply all of their needs.

Jesus told them to go to whatever house would accept them, and stay there. They weren't to move about trying to angle for the most advantageous position. They were, again, to remember that this was the Lord's work, His doing. They needed to stay where they were accepted and allow Him to do His business. This was also an encouragement to them. They could be assured that someone out there would accept them, that there would be some out there who would be receptive to the Gospel.

Jesus also told them that some people would reject them. Yet this was no cause for great alarm. They were only to shake the dust off their feet and continue on. We can consider this that we are not required to convert everyone we share with. We are not required to have the perfect answer to all the objections and arguments that may be brought. We are only to speak the Gospel clearly and accurately, and if it is rejected, we should not worry and move on.

We see in verse 6 that they did exactly what Jesus had told them to do. They obeyed His word, even though they had never done anything like this before. This is an example to us. These simple fishermen, at Jesus' command, went out into distant cities with only the clothes on their backs and proclaimed the good news of Christ to all they came in contact with. Just like them, we may not be trained missionaries. But the harvest is all around us, and we can do the Lord's work, knowing there is no discouragement for us when we do what our God has told us to do.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Luke Part 30: Lessons from the stilled storm and the delivered Gerasene

Text: Luke 8:22-39

At this time and throughout Jesus' ministry, He has been preparing His apostles for their future leadership role in His church. They are learning about Jesus and about His kingdom. In this section, two lessons are presented for Him.

The first lesson occurs during the boat ride in a storm that blows up suddenly. The disciples panic and are afraid they are perishing, so they wake Jesus, who calms the sea. The lesson for the disciples was that their faith was lacking. Jesus had told them to go across the lake. They were doing just exactly what He had told them to do. And Jesus was right there in the boat with them. The main problem, what Jesus rebuked them for, was the way they came to Him in a panic. They should, like us, have had faith that they were doing exactly what He had given them to do, and approached Jesus with confidence and assurance, rather than panic.

The second lesson occurred after they reached the end of the boat trip, where they were immediately met with a demon-possessed man. This man had a reputation for being extremely violent and breaking his bonds. The demons within him immediately recognized Jesus and knew they were helpless. They entreated Jesus to send them into a herd of swine (what were these Jews doing raising swine?) and Jesus consented. The swine rushed into the river and were drowned; the man was completely restored. The people of that area were greatly afraid and urged Jesus to go away. So Jesus decided to leave, but the man who had been healed asked to go along with Jesus. Jesus told him to instead stay and tell all in that land what had happened to him. And the man obeyed.

What are the points to be learned from this lesson? First note that all Christians will suffer tribulations. Each of us will be confronted with sin. Many of the people in the world around us are, like the man in this story, not in their right minds. There is great crime and wickedness in the cities around us. All over the world we hear of Christians being killed for their testimonies. Even now there is demonic activity. The devil will use the sinfulness of man heart to his own advantage. Evil breeds more evil and sin grows to deeper sin. We, like, the apostles, will be confronted with it.

However, in ever tribulation, we know that we shall conquer. Jesus is near us, and He is our shield, hiding place, rock of refuge, our defender. We know that He is:

Lord of the Present -- whatever we are doing, we must do it with Jesus. Whatever we do through the day, we do in faith knowing it is the thing that God has given us to do. We approach every aspect of our lives: our work, our recreation, our relationships, knowing that we are doing what He has given us to do, and we are doing it to please Him.

Lord of the Past -- Jesus knew the storm was coming when He had the disciples set out on the Sea of Galilee. He know all about everything that comes into our lives. He is the Author of our stories, and the Planner of our lives. Note that the Lord set off across the lake in order to save only one man -- a man who was not at all seeking Him. This is grace!

Lord of the Future -- We don't know what God will do. But we do know that He works good for His children through all the evil and tribulation in this life. We can go to Him in trouble. But we need not go in a panic, as the disciples did. But rather than being scared in difficult circumstances, we need only lay out before Him these principles in total confidence that He will answer.

See Christ's mercy in this passage! He works toward one man at a time. He saved this man and sent him as the "first gospel missionary". He had compassion even on these Geresenes who had rejected Him and told Him to go away -- He left a man to share the gospel with them.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Luke Part 29: The Parable of the Sower

Text: Luke 8:1-18

This passage begins with Luke telling us that Jesus is preaching the gospel of the kingdom. In the two years or so of His ministry up to this point, He hasn't changed the message. He's not trying to alter the message to make it more palatable to His hearers, as so many preachers today might be. The problem is not with the message; the problem lies in the hearers, and that is what Jesus deals with in this section. This is called The Parable of the Sower, but it could be more accurately called The Parable of the Hearers and Listeners, because that is its primary topic.

The parable is described in the text, and Jesus later explained it to His disciples. To understand the parable, remember that:

The Seed is the Word of God
The Sower is the on proclaiming the Word of God faithfully, in this case Jesus, but today it could be anyone preaching or sharing.
The Ground is the substance of a man, his capacity to think and feel, his heart.

Now, there are four groups of hearers, and Jesus discusses them all:

1. The Wayside Hearer. This person is compared to the heavily-traveled hard path at the side of the field. This is the hard-hearted hearer. He is not interested at all in the Word of God. The seed just bounces off. This is not the original state of the hearer, but this state of hardness is arrived at through a sinful life and a seared, guilty conscience.

Note also that the devil is involved (v. 12). This is a spiritual warfare and we must not underestimate the power of our adversary.

2. The Rocky Soil. This is the picture of a thin layer of soil over a large stone. This is the emotional hearer. He receives the Word gladly and with emotional expression. But this emotion is not based on true belief and conviction; it is a emotion apart from the mind. Later this emotional hearer falls into temptation, and eventually denies the Lord through his lifestyle and continues to engage in the same old pattern of life as before.

3. The Thorny Ground. This is the hearer who receives the Word and reacts positively, committing to follow it. But he soon returns to his worldly life: his job, family, investments, sports. Whatever the cares of his life are, he ends up seeking them instead of God, and he finds he has no devotional time, no time for the Lord at all.

4. The Good Soil. This is the good and honest heart. Note that it is not natural in fallen mankind, but it is given by the mercy of God. This hearer keeps the Word. His heart was prepared to receive it. The Word becomes a part of him. He is moved to change his lifestyle and abandon his sin. He keeps what he has heard and what he knows to be true.

The lesson of this parable is to ask yourself: what kind of a hearer are you? Christ says, "Take heed how you hear!" and "He who has ears to hear let him hear!" You are in one of these groups. If you are in one of the first three, you need to repent be coming to the Lord to be made a Christian.

Also note: Jesus states in verse 18: to him who has shall more be given. As you keep what you hear and walk in the light you are given, more shall be given to you. You will have further understanding of how to live; you will see further sins to be fought against. God will lead you on to further holiness and closeness with Him.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Luke Part 28: A sinful woman forgiven; a proud Pharisee rebuked

Text: Luke 7:36-50

In this passage, we see Luke in the role of a portrait painter, giving us lots of details about particular people Jesus dealt with in His ministry. This passage is found only in Luke, not in the other Gospels. This is a story of two sinners: one who knows she is a sinner, and one who is blind to his sin.

We first see Simon inviting Jesus to his house for no good reason. We know that the Pharisees had already conspired together against Jesus, and were looking to trap Him in something He would say. Simon was waiting to accuse and discredit Jesus. This is apparent because he didn't even extend the common courtesies of a host to Jesus.

There is much speculation about the woman in this story: Who is she? What is her sin? She is not identified here, so speculation is pointless. Her sin is likewise not identified, although it must have been a known, external sin. These details are left blank so each of us can identify with her. She represents every sinner who acknowledges his or her sin and receives deliverance.

The scene at Simon's house was like this: there was a large room; invited guests reclined around a table in the center of the room, and uninvited observers could sit around the outside and partake of the conversation. The unnamed woman summoned great courage to come into this assembly, and stood back behind Jesus in a position of humility. She did several things that would have been unthinkable in the culture of that time, letting down her hair, kissing and wiping Jesus' feet. Then finally, she broke a bottle of expensive perfume and poured it on Him.

Simon thought he had Jesus right where He wanted Him. He thought Jesus was proving He was no prophet by allowing the woman to continue, not knowing that she was a sinner. However, the reality was that Jesus had Simon right where He wanted him! Jesus proved that He was a prophet and that He can save people from their sins. Jesus showed Simon that the woman loved much, in response to her sins being forgiven. The forgiveness was completely an act of grace. However, Simon misses the point of the story. With the other Pharisees, he continues to try to make himself right with God through outward obedience. He doesn't recognize that he too has sinned much and needs to be forgiven of much.

We can see five points in the woman's example, things we should follow in our lives:
  1. Her faith - Faith is visible, you can see it. The church is made up of visible saints. She risks all to get to Jesus; faith knows it will be received. She entrusts herself completely to Jesus. If the Spirit moves you to Christ, get to Him! You can know you will be received.
  2. Humility - She takes the lower position. She doesn't assume a familiarity with Jesus. She's not afraid, but she is also not arrogantly bold and presumptuous.
  3. Repentance - She cries over a life wasted in sin and cries rejoicing that her sins are forgiven. This is an act of the heart as well as the mind. This is not a dryly mechanical response; her whole person is involved.
  4. Service - She performs an act of loving service in washing Christ's feet and anointing Him with perfume. She did what Simon should have done. She serves her Lord.
  5. Her best - She gave her best, an entire bottle of costly perfume. She wouldn't hold back and give Christ second best, or second place.
This woman's actions said, "I believe - that You are the Messiah, that You can forgive sins, and that You have forgiven me." And Jesus responds by giving her assurance. She knew her sins were forgiven, but now she has the word straight from Jesus. She has got peace with God; she has everything.

May all follow her example in love to Christ and receive forgiveness and assurance directly from the Holy Spirit in response!