“He is Not One of Us”

Our Gospel reading this week is Luke 9. Let’s begin by looking at verse 46-48.

46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” – Luke 9:46-48 NIV

Why would an argument break out over who was the greatest? It could possibly be a result of the three who went on the mountain with Jesus (Lk. 9:28-36). But if we’re honest with ourselves, we all want to be the greatest, right? Our society is set up this way. We are taught to look up to those who are “the greatest” and try to be like them. Our school systems are set up this way where we honor those from the earliest age who are “the greatest” in grades, attendance, sports ability, and the list goes on and on. We are taught that earthly success, standing high above everyone else in your field, is the most important thing you can do.

Jesus doesn’t say that. In fact, he says exactly the opposite. I like how William Barclay summarizes this passage:

Jesus was saying, ‘If you are prepared to spend your lives serving, helping, loving people who, in the eyes of the world, do not matter at all, you are serving me and serving God. If you are prepared to spend your life doing these apparently unimportant things and never trying to be what the world calls great, you will be great in the eyes of God.’”

I think this same thinking is involved with the very next thing Luke tells us.

49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”

50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” – Luke 9:49-50 NIV

It seems that John viewed this person as competition. He was more concerned with who was doing the work than what was actually being accomplished. Notice he says “we saw someone driving out demons…” This guy was actually casting out demons, not just trying. God had given him the ability and desire to serve these needy people by casting out demons, and John tried to stop him.

Have you ever done this? Have you ever seen someone doing good works in Jesus’ name but had a problem with it because they were “not one of us?” I know people who refuse to support local efforts to feed the hungry, or clothe the poor because the group doing it are “not one of us.” In light of this passage, how do you think Jesus would handle this? Would he support the good works being done in his name, or would he refuse to join them because they are “not one of us?”

Years later, the same John that tried to stop this man would record for us this prayer of Jesus.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” – John 17:20-21

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The “Promise”

I love Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It seems no matter how deep I dig into the text here I find something new every time. The Holy Spirit enabled Paul to write this letter in such a beautiful way, truly showing that in Christ we are all one! (1:10, 16, 18, 3:6, etc.)

Here’s another way he does this. Paul reminds his Gentile audience that they used to separate from God and his promises.

…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without home and without God in the world.” – Ephesians 2:12

Later he reminds them that they now share in these promises with Israel.

“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 3:6

Sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. It’s in Jesus that we get to share in the promises made to Israel. Though there are many promises God made to Israel (that now Gentile Christians are included in), I want to focus on only four. These are known as the Passover promises and they are found in Exodus 6.

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will save you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. I will take you as my own people and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD you God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.” – Exodus 6:6-7

In case you didn’t catch the four promises, let me list them here:

– I will bring you out…

– I will save you…

– I will redeem you…

– I will take you…and I will be your God. (This is marriage language…God entering a marriage covenant with Israel)

Now watch what Paul does in the letter to the largely Gentile Ephesian church.

– I will bring you out…

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world… All of us also lived among them at one time…” – Ephesians 2:1-3

– I will save you…

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:4-5

– I will redeem you…

“In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” – Ephesians 1:7-8

– I will take you…and I will be your God. (remember, marriage language)

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” – Ephesians 5:25, 28-32

God brought us out of the sinful ways of the world we once lived in and gave us new lives in Christ. God saved us from the sin we were slaves to through Christ. It is by grace we have been saved. God has redeemed us through the blood of Christ, and forgiven our sins. And Christ has taken us…married us, his church.

“For through him we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:18-19

“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” –  Ephesians 3:6

We are ONE in Christ. Praise God!

Jesus and Women

This week’s reading comes from Luke 7:31 through the end of chapter 8.  This article will focus on Luke’s references to women in the ministry of Jesus.

Beginning in 7:36, Luke recounts an invitation Jesus received to eat at the house of Simon, a Pharisee. In first century Palestine it was viewed as highly virtuous for someone to invite a traveling rabbi for dinner. From the context it seems this was the only reason Simon welcomed Jesus as he and his other guests question Jesus’ actions (7:39,49).

This questioning came because, “A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisees house…”, and she interrupted dinner with an outpouring of affection on Jesus by washing his feet with her tears and hair, anointing his feet with perfume, and kissing his feet as well (7:44-47). Simon had not offered Jesus a foot washing, anointing of oil, or a kiss of greeting, all of which were expected in that culture. This would indicate that Simon conspicuously insulted Jesus by doing this.

This woman would have been considered as worthless by her culture, yet Jesus elevates her higher than Simon and the others at the dinner! “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (7:47) This sort of treatment of women by Jesus, especially one with her background, would have been considered shocking and likely offensive.

Luke continues to tell us about Jesus and some women who were his disciples and patrons, supporting his ministry financially. Luke even gives us a few of their names: “…Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”  (8:2-3)

The fact that Jesus’ ministry was supported financially by many women would have been quite odd, and likely a source of ridicule for criticizers of his teaching. But a shocking aspect is that Jesus let them be disciples (students/followers) and let them learn from him (See Lk. 10:38-42 in the same light). Very few Roman and Greek philosophers allowed women disciples, but they were almost unknown among Jewish rabbis. Furthermore, Luke’s choice of wording here is interesting. The words above translated as “helping to support” is the Greek word “diakoneo” from which we get our English words “deacon” and “minister.” It would seem that these women were working and serving with Jesus right alongside the men. Which brings another shocking point:  women, both married and unmarried, traveled with Jesus just as the other disciples did! (See 8:1-2) This was a practice that Jewish sages and rabbi’s had taught against repeatedly! Yet Jesus treated them as equals in a society which did not.

We’ll explore this further as we progress through Luke, but while you read look for who Luke tells us is with Jesus. Do we sometimes assume we know who Jesus is speaking to/sending out, or are we basing our beliefs & understanding on what Scripture actually says? – Matt

Jesus is Lord!

This week’s reading comes from Luke 6 – 7:30. A good portion of chapter 6 is Luke’s telling of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Since we discussed that in our study of Matthew, I’m going to focus on three other passages within our reading.

The fourth commandment called for a day of Sabbath rest. The command indicates that just as God created the world in 6 days and rested (literally stopped the creation work he had been doing) on the 7th day. While Israel was in the wilderness gathering manna, they were to gather for 6 days (collecting an extra day’s worth for the 7th) because on the 7th there would be none. Israel still looked for manna on the 7th day. I believe God did this because he wanted his people to rest, and to trust in God for provision. We often work so hard that we only trust in ourselves. If God was not faithful the people would have starved, but God is faithful and can be trusted. The command simply indicates it is a day of rest and no work should be done. The Israelites then created rules defining what work was.

Jesus (who had the authority of God to rightly interpret and apply the commands) and his disciples pick some heads of grain and ate them. This was against the rules. Jesus also heals a man with a lame right hand. Since the man’s life was not in danger this healing act again broke the rules. It seems that the Pharisees here had almost idolized the Sabbath because even doing good was considered wrong by them! Jesus gives an example of David who ate the Bread of Presence in the tabernacle and violated the law, but he did so not out of impure motives, but out of doing good for himself and his men (1 Sam. 21:1-6). Jesus said this concerning the healing: “I ask you which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” (Lk. 6:9) Jesus indicates that he is “Lord of the Sabbath” (Lk. 6:5) and that doing good did not violate the Sabbath. Jesus had authority to overrule their beliefs about the Sabbath.

Jesus then chooses 12 apostles from among his many disciples. I want to look at two names (Lk. 6:15): Matthew (a tax collector for the Roman government) and Simon who was called the Zealot (who was a sworn enemy of anything related to the Roman government.) In any other context, Simon would have considered it his God-given duty to kill Matthew because of his association with Rome. Truly following Jesus should remove all barriers between us and other believers. Jesus is Lord even over our relationships.

The last we’ll look at is the faith of the Roman centurion. This man was a Gentile who was very kind to the Jewish people. It seems the Jews actually liked the centurion which is highly unusual (Lk. 7:4-5). The centurion had such faith in Jesus that he indicates (through messengers) that he believed Jesus could heal his servant from wherever he was; there was no need for Jesus to come physically to the servant. Luke tells us: “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’”  This is one of only two times in Scripture that indicate Jesus was amazed and it was because of the centurion’s belief in the healing power of Jesus.

May we all place Jesus as Lord over our beliefs, over our relationships, and may we truly trust in His healing power in our lives. – Matt

Acceptance first?

This week’s reading comes from Luke 4 & 5. Since it ties into our current sermon series, I want to address the first few verses of Luke 4, then focus the rest of the time on a major theme of Luke found in chapter 5.

Jesus’ ministry began after his baptism which Luke records in 3:21-23. Immediately after his baptism Jesus was tested in the wilderness, and Luke records it this way: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…” – Luke 4:1  In the wilderness he was tempted by the devil, but was faithful and did not sin. Instead, he quoted Scripture to fend off the temptations. He relied on Scripture and the Holy Spirit to get him through (we should do this as well!)

Luke tells us that “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…” Luke 4:14. Somehow, learning to rely on the Holy Spirit, fending off temptation through Scripture, and fasting while depending solely on God for survival empowered him in the Spirit. From this point on, Jesus becomes the miraculous Messiah we all know and love, and it all comes “…in the power of the Spirit.” Maybe this is why “…Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” – Luke 5:16

In Luke 5:29-32 we see Jesus inviting Levi (Matthew) the tax collector to follow him. Tax collectors were considered as the lowest of the low. In fact, they are often listed in a separate category from sinners (Lk. 5:30). Nobody would associate with these people because they were looked upon as sinful, and as traitors to the nation of Israel. Tax collectors made their money by charging higher taxes than Rome required, therefore it was a profession that led to quite a bit of corruption. Nobody, especially a Jewish rabbi would associate with a tax collector, but Jesus did just that! As a matter of fact, he ate with tax collectors and sinners! (Lk. 5:30)

We have to understand how controversial and radical this was to the ancient world. Eating a meal with someone established “table fellowship,” or a covenant relationship of friendship between the parties involved. If you ate with someone you were showing acceptance to that person. So reading this story in first century context Jesus is accepting Levi (Matthew), “…and a large crowd of tax collectors and others…” by eating with them.

There is no sign of repentance by anyone at the party; in fact Jesus says this is the reason he is there! He is accepting them through table fellowship in order to lead/call them to repentance (Lk. 5:31-32). He does not wait for them to repent before accepting them, and this is something that we often get backwards! Luke will carry this theme throughout his Gospel and into Acts (just look at Zacchaeus in Lk. 19).

As a friend of mine says quite frequently, “Exodus comes before Sinai. Calvary comes before Pentecost. Grace comes before faith. It always has. It always will.”

To look at this from a biblical standpoint look at every one of these stories in context. God saves Israel before giving the commandments to follow. Jesus died on the cross before Peter’s great Pentecost revival.

Paul puts it this way: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

When we try to withhold fellowship and acceptance until someone fixes all their issues we are doing the exact opposite of Jesus. Let’s be sure we’re following Jesus. – Matt

Who is Jesus?

This week our reading comes from the Gospel of Luke, chapters 2 & 3. Since I covered the majority of Luke 2 & 3 in a sermon on June 3rd (If you’re reading this on the computer, click here to listen to it) I will focus on the genealogy of Jesus as recorded by Luke. A great cause of debate amongst skeptics of the Bible, as well as biblical scholars, has been the seeming discrepancies between the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 1, and that of Luke recorded at the end of chapter 3.

To fully understand the differences in these two, we have to know a little about the significance of genealogies. It was extremely important in the Jewish culture to be able to prove your lineage, your tribe, your family. Some of this revolved around the priestly lineage (see Ezra 2:61–3; Nehemiah 7:63–5 for priests who lost their jobs because of this). It was also important because the culture of the middle east was (and still is) a collectivist clan society. First century Jews celebrated familial bonds. You knew who your family was because this was your identity. That being said, a literal generation by generation genealogy was not required. Neither Matthew, nor Luke (nor Genesis for that matter) give us direct father to son genealogies. They all include gaps in order to save space, as well as to highlight names that original readers may recognize (the phrase “son of” simply indicates they descended from that person; see Mt. 1:8 compared to 1 Chron. 3:11-12,  2 Kings 14:21-22, and 2 Chron. 26:1-2 to see clearly that Matthew skips generations.) Much more can be said, but we must move on.

Let’s address the similarities and differences. For the most part the genealogies are identical from Abraham to David. The differences you find are due largely to alternate forms of the same name or skips in generations. Matthew’s Gospel is written to a Jewish audience, so Matthew simply begins at Abraham, the father of the Jewish people and ends with Jesus. Luke is writing to a largely Gentile audience, and he wants to show that Jesus is the savior of all people, and related to all people through Adam, so Luke starts with Jesus, and ends with Adam.

It is also believed that some of the differences could be related to which earthly parent the genealogy traces its lineage. Matthew includes some women in his genealogy, which Luke does not. Arguments can be made both ways, but common belief is Matthew traces Jesus’ lineage through Joseph (Mt. 1:16) while Luke traces through Mary (without actually mentioning her name) by indicating that Joseph was not really related to Jesus, and (so it is thought) instead begins with Mary’s father Heli (Lk. 3:23).

There are other opinions out there to explain the differences, but the fact remains both Matthew and Luke present their own unique evidence of the earthly lineage of Jesus. Both Matthew’s audience and Luke’s audience could have done their own research to see if these genealogies held up, and apparently they did. Matthew proves that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel descended from Abraham through David. Luke proves that Jesus is the Savior of all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, by descending from Adam through Abraham and David, and now all the way to us since God has made believers in Jesus his children (Galatians 3:26-29; Romans 8:14) – Matt

The Gospel of Luke

(This post was originally published in our church bulletin on 6.13.18)

Our reading for this week is from Luke 1. Since we covered this chapter fairly extensively in my sermon on June 3rd, we’ll take a look at some major themes to look for in Luke’s Gospel.

Luke was a Gentile physician, and a missionary companion of Paul. Luke wrote two books in our New Testament – The Gospel of Luke, and Acts, making Luke the largest contributor to the writings of the New Testament. These two books should really be seen as one continuous story of the life of Jesus, and the continuation of what Jesus did in the life of the early church. Some have even referred to them as 1st & 2nd Luke. These two books (letters really) are addressed to Theophilus who is believed to be a person who could have influence on the outcome of Paul’s trial in Rome, but it is also evident that Luke intended his writings to be read by Christians wrestling with their identity as people of God. Though Luke may have been present for some of the ministry of Jesus, we believe he got most of his details through interviews with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and others who were close to Jesus.

Luke has several themes that carry throughout his Gospel and Acts that can teach us something about the way he viewed the ministry of Jesus and the early church. We will see an emphasis on the Holy Spirit as the sign of the new age of salvation. We’ll also see quite an emphasis placed on women. This is something that the other Gospels include as well, but Luke really emphasizes that these women followed and served with Jesus right alongside the men.

We also see a table emphasis in Luke that will culminate in the Last Supper, and carry on through Acts in the form of the Lord’s Supper. As you read this Gospel, notice how many events occur around the fellowship of a meal.

The last theme I’ll mention is that of the Gentiles (as well as outcasts of Jewish society) becoming part of God’s people. It is clear that this was part of Jesus’ ministry from the very beginning in the prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:32), to his teachings (6:27ff), to healing the Roman Centurion’s servant (7:1-10), his anointing by the sinful woman (7:36-50), casting out Legion in a Gentile land from a Gentile who was ceremonially unclean in every way imaginable (8:26-39), his teaching on the Good Samaritan (10:25-37), the parable of the Great Banquet (14:15-24), the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son (all of 15),  the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31), the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (18:9-14), Zacchaeus (19:1-10), and several other examples not listed here. This theme carries on through Acts as well (Acts 8-15 especially).

You will notice some similarities between Luke and the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, but you’ll also notice that Luke adds much more detail to the events, especially when it comes to Mary and her thoughts and feelings surrounding the life of her son, Jesus. I hope you will enjoy our study of Luke’s Gospel as we seek to “Grow in FAITH” by learning more about Jesus.

– Matt