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

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