Hurry Up and Wait…and Pray

Our reading for this week is Luke 24. We read of the resurrection, the road to Emmaus, and some instruction and encouragement Jesus gives to his disciples before his ascension. Let’s focus on the last words Jesus speaks to the disciples as recorded by Luke.

This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. – Luke 24:46-49 NIV

Here we have Luke’s version of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20). Jesus is clearly calling his disciples to preach the “forgiveness of sins…in his name to all nations…” But did you notice something strange? Jesus has this awesome mission, and I would add urgent mission, for these disciples. They have been called to the most important work someone can do: preaching the Gospel to the world. These men and women would bring the Good News of the resurrection to all people. The work they accomplished is the reason you are even reading this article. But did you notice something strange? The greatest mission that anyone was ever called to begins with waiting.

…but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

How often do we do things backwards? How often do you set out to do something powerful and meaningful, but fail to wait on God to equip you for this work? How much time do you spend in prayer preparing for your mission?

The book of 2nd Luke (also known as Acts) tells us that:

“They all [the Eleven] joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers…(a group numbering about a hundred and twenty.) – Acts 1:14-15 NIV

Notice that before this group entered into the work of the Lord, they spent time in prayer and waited until God was ready for them to proceed. Why don’t we take this approach more often? It clearly worked for the disciples! Here’s a few takeaways from this passage:

  1. Because you know of the resurrection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins, you are called to be a witness of this to all nations…that means to everyone you encounter.
  2. By the time of Acts 1, the entire ministry and miracles of Jesus netted 120 disciples. Don’t be discouraged (or overly encouraged) by the size of your congregation. The course of human history was forever changed by the Spirit working through these 120 people.
  3. Before you begin a new ministry, or continue in a current one, bathe the entire process in prayer, and rely on the “power from on high” to power your ministry.
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Just the Right Time

This week’s reading comes from Luke 23. Amongst the sayings recorded in the Synoptics stands one ominous paragraph that both Matthew and Mark do not record: Luke 23:26-31. Many atheists will argue that occasions like this in Scripture prove that the text can’t be trusted because something as simple as a quote of Jesus is only recorded by Luke and not the others. However, when we explore the historical background of the text, and look for clues in the text and in outside sources, we can be confident in the truth of the Scriptures we have.

Each Gospel author had a specific purpose in their writing, as well as a unique audience to which they wrote. Recognizing these unique qualities of Luke, what reason might he have in including this otherwise unrecorded statement by Jesus from the cross?  To answer this question we will need to examine the statement, its meaning to the original audience, and the context of Luke’s original audience.

Luke’s statement about a large crowd, including women who were weeping, is critical to our understanding of this comment. In fact, Luke indicates that this very group of women is to whom the warning is spoken by the words “…and said to them.”  Jesus is not rebuking these women for mourning His fate, rather He calls for these women to weep for themselves. Jesus is indicating there is something else coming which will cause greater weeping. Jesus’ indication that these women might wish they never had children shows the severity of this warning.  He then follows this statement with a reference to Hosea 10:8, a passage where Israel and Ephraim are facing severe punishment for the sin of idolatry. According to David Hubbard’s commentary on Hosea, the call to the mountains and hills is a suicidal death-wish brought on by the stark reality of the punishment they now face.  Jesus is applying this same sentiment to the situation that would eventually face Jerusalem.

Finally, Jesus concludes this statement with a reference to their actions by comparing them to green and dry trees.  According to Plummer, this statement could be interpreted three different ways:

(1) If the Romans treat Me, whom they admit to be innocent, in this manner, how will they treat those who are rebellious and guilty?

(2) If the Jews deal thus with One who has come to save them, what treatment shall they receive themselves for destroying Him?

(3) If they behave thus before their cup of wickedness is full, what will they commit when it overflows?

It seems very clear in these few verses that Jesus is once again warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, an event He had wept over earlier in the week. Most scholars believe Luke’s Gospel was written just prior to the actual fall of the Jerusalem, and certainly after Mark’s Gospel (see Lk. 1:1-4). It is clear that the Holy Spirit moved Luke to include this specific statement in his Gospel, just as He inspired every word in Scripture. Therefore He equally inspired Mark, Matthew, and John not to include this statement from Jesus.  There was something unique about the time, audience, or intent of Luke’s Gospel that required this admonition from the cross.

Just as you would certainly tell a story differently to your closest friend than to your boss or or a stranger, the Gospel writers each had a different reason, audience, and time they were writing to. The Spirit decided Luke’s original audience would need this passage. How awesome is our God to send just what his people needed at just the right time!

Be Like This Crook. Well, Sort of…

This week’s reading comes from Luke 15-16. This article will focus on one of Jesus’ more difficult parables. In the first fifteen verses of Luke 16 we read about a very backwards and messed up situation.

First, a manager has been embezzling, or at the very least wasting the resources he has been entrusted to manage. His master wants him to give a report of his accounts after he fires him. (16:2)  Knowing he has lost his job, the manager wants to gain favor with people who owe his master money in hopes that he will find a job with them when the dust settles. (16:4) The manager decides to greatly reduce the debt (most likely rent for producing crops on the master’s land) that is owed. In doing this he has gained favor with potential employers, but also reduced his masters income! (16:5-7).

Now after hearing that passage one would assume to hear the master berate the manager and cast him out of the kingdom. But that’s not what happens. Instead, the master commends the manager! (16:8)

Now surely Jesus would tell us that as followers of him we should never act this way. But he doesn’t! Instead he wants his followers to take on at least one characteristic of this crooked manager. In total, Jesus gives us at least four lessons from this passage.

First, we are reminded to be shrewd. Just as the manager saw an opportunity and took it, we as followers of Christ should also take advantage of opportunities we have. (16:8) We often pay more attention to things that don’t matter than we do sharing the Gospel. I like how William Barclay summarized this: “If only people would give as much attention to the things which concern their souls as they do to the things which concern their business, they would be much better human beings. Over and over again people will expend twenty times the amount of time and money and effort on pleasure, on hobbies, gardening or sport as they do on their church. Our Christianity will begin to be real and effective only when we spend as much time and effort on it as we do on our worldly activities.” (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke)

Second, we are taught that we should not hoard wealth, but use it to bless others. (16:9) Helping others, or blessing their lives will bless our friendships and store up eternal rewards.

Third, we must must have integrity. We must be honest at all times, even in the little things. Trustworthiness and integrity not only affect our earthly dealings, but can harm or enhance our witness for Christ. If we are dishonest, who will ever trust what we say about Jesus? (16:11)

And finally, we cannot serve two masters. Focusing on earthly wealth will lead us down the same path as the manger; we will wind up serving our own appetite and fail to serve the master who truly provides. (16:13)

As you go through the rest of your week ask yourself the following question:

Is what I’m doing right now honoring God and building his Kingdom, or am I serving myself and building my kingdom?  

Knowing the difference helps us see our lives as God does. (16:15)

Jesus and his Countercultural Truth

The reading for this week is Luke 11:37 through the end of chapter 12. In this passage we have Jesus issuing a warning to not be afraid and to follow him at all costs, to trust God and not worry, to be ready for his return, a realization that following Jesus will strain some relationships, and how to make right choices. In this article I want to focus on the warnings Jesus gives to the Pharisees and experts in the law in Luke 11:37-54.

Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee for dinner, something that would have been considered an honor for this man to host such a famous teacher as Jesus. But because Jesus didn’t follow the cultural norm of ceremonial washing before the meal, the Pharisees were shocked. Jesus used this as a jumping off point for addressing  some other cultural practices that went against his teaching.

I would encourage you before you finish this article to stop now and read this passage in Luke in its entirety and underline or highlight the reasons behind the “woe”, the correction Jesus suggests, and the consequences of their sinful actions as told by Jesus. It’s interesting to see the issues at play here. I now want to look at a few of these and comment.

The first correction Jesus brings to the Pharisees is to be generous to the poor (v. 41). It’s very clear what Jesus is calling his followers to do, yet for some reason many struggle to be generous toward those who struggle financially. Jesus doesn’t leave any room for compromise here. They also didn’t pursue justice or a love of God, but rather focused on the external actions (v. 42).

The Pharisees were also prideful, wanting the best seats and greetings (praises) from others (v. 43). It’s clear that a follower of Jesus shouldn’t seek things things, but rather pursue humility. Jesus indicates their actions, policies, and beliefs make unsuspecting people unclean just like unmarked graves (vs. 44). Pharisees held rules and regulations that went far beyond what the Torah required. A person who simply followed the Scriptures to the best of their ability would likely be guilty of the Pharisees’ rules. It seems the Torah experts were also loading down believers with these rules without providing any guidance (v. 46).

From history we know that in 1st century Jerusalem many monuments and tombs honoring long deceased prophets were being constructed at a rapid pace. It seems they were trying to profit off of this endeavor, or at least receive honor for doing this. In doing so, Jesus indicates they are as guilty as those who killed the prophets because they approve of these actions (v. 48) Jesus further indicates that the generation he was speaking to would be held responsible for the deaths of all the prophets , likely because they were about to put Jesus to death, the Messiah that all other prophets pointed toward (v.50-51).

The one that haunts me most is verse 52. “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” – Luke 11:52

Have we ever been guilty of “hindering those who were entering” into the knowledge of God? I pray we never burden those seeking God with endless rules and regulations that Jesus never called us to. That’s exactly what the Pharisees and experts in the law had done. Jesus clearly condemned such actions, as should we. May we never ignore Scripture for it is the true and living Word of God. But we should never make it difficult for those who are turning to God by burdening them with things that Scripture doesn’t teach (Acts 15:10,19). 

Moses, Mary, & Martha

The reading this week takes us from Luke 10-11:36 In this reading we’ll see Jesus send out 72 disciples to prepare the way for his ministry, teaching on the Good Samaritan, Mary and Martha, the Lord’s Prayer, and a rejection of Jesus’ power and authority by some of his followers. I want to focus on the 72, and Mary and Martha since recent teachings at East Side have focused on these other areas.

Most Christians are familiar with the 12 tribes of Israel, and can readily see a connection between them and Jesus’ 12 closest disciples (often called “the twelve”). Most have no idea where the 72 comes in, but it is tucked away in the often ignored pages of your Old Testament. Numbers 11:24-26 share with us a story of Moses gathering 70 elders from the tribes of Israel together, and God took some of the Spirit’s power that rested upon Moses and extended it to the elders. You may be thinking, “Yeah, but that’s 70. Not 72.” The text tells us that there were two who didn’t join the other 70 (named Eldad and Medad), but God’s Spirit came to rest on them anyway and they also prophesied along with the others, bringing our total to 72.

When Jesus sends out 72 of his disciples (keep in mind these are 72 besides the 12 according to 10:1, and may have been males and females [see 8:1-3]), this is a clear sign that Jesus has supplanted Moses as spiritual leader of Israel. What God did for Moses has also been done for Jesus, but to a more powerful extent. As the Hebrew writer would tell us: Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. – Hebrews 3:3

Later, Jesus and his disciples are invited into the home of Martha and her sister Mary. Martha provided great hospitality by making preparations for Jesus and his disciples, but Mary took the position of a disciple by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teaching. In the first century Jewish culture women could hear the Torah taught in synagogue, but females were not taught by rabbis. It was expected for women to fulfill their domestic responsibilities, just as Martha was doing. Martha, who understood this cultural practice well, tries to get Jesus to side with her, but Jesus wasn’t concerned with cultural norms. Let’s look at their conversation:

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – 10:40-42

Jesus praised Mary for sitting at his feet, something their culture would never do! But we misapply Jesus’ comments by suggesting that Martha’s work wasn’t important, and further misapply when we suggest we should elevate learning about Jesus to the exclusion of working for him. Jesus teaches nothing of the sort. Jesus doesn’t discount Martha’s work, but does indicate that only one of these actions is eternal (will not be taken away.) Doing the work of Martha is important, yes, but what we learn at the feet of Jesus keeps us focused on the who, and the why of what we do. We absolutely should be like Martha, busy with the work of the kingdom. But let us never forget to be like Mary, or else we won’t focus on who we are working for.

Ministries and good works will come and go, but the Word of the Lord will endure forever. – Matt

“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

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