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

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A Faith that Does

These series of posts are directly linked to our read through Gospels this year. If you haven’t started, but would like to join us you can download the reading/devotional list by clicking here.

In Mark 3 we are discovering two groups of people who have opposing views of Jesus. The crowds that follow Jesus love him because of his teachings, and miracles. They are amazed by the power of God displayed through him. We read in verse 8 that this was a very diverse crowd from all over the region. They believed in him and his message, and even the demons acknowledged him as the Son of God. (11)

Then we meet the religious leaders of the day. They refuse to see the good in what Jesus is doing, and only seem to notice that he isn’t doing things the way they have always been done. He perfectly keeps the law, but interprets it differently than they have. Of course Jesus is right in what he’s doing, but they can’t see that. Jesus asks them in verse 4:

“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or kill?” – Mark 3:4

In general, Jewish teachers during this time taught that anything that could be done before the Sabbath should not be done on the Sabbath. But they did accept life-saving procedures, and important medical treatments for the wellbeing of the patient as well. Jesus here is acknowledging their rules…actually he’s playing by them, but they still have issue. Notice that verse 4 indicates “…they remained silent.” It appears they really didn’t want Jesus to heal this man. Perhaps they felt that professing faith in God and not changing the status quo were more important.

Jesus challenges this type of assumption at the end of chapter 3 by saying “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” In other words, you’re my family if you do God’s will. Then Jesus gives us examples of doing God’s will. He tells the Parable of the Sower in which we all should identify as a type of soil, but we are also the sower. We need to improve the soil of our lives, but at the same time we need to be slinging the seeds of the kingdom anywhere we can…even to the undesirable soil! This is a faith that does. Then Jesus compares our faith to a lamp on a stand. A lamp is worthless unless it gives light. This is a faith that does. The Parable of the Growing Seed couches us as the sower again. We need to throw seed. God will make the seed grow (and does today in the lives of many in our community), and we need to be sure we’re ready to harvest it as it is ready. After all, crops that aren’t harvested die in the field. This is a faith that does. Jesus gives us another view of the kingdom. Even though it’s as small as a mustard seed, it will grow to be a large fruitful plant. We’ve already been told to grow the kingdom. This is a faith that does.

And then we have the disciples on the boat with Jesus. He is asleep as a “furious squall” batters their boat. The disciples are afraid, but Jesus was not.

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:39-40

Instead of panicking like the disciples, Jesus remained calm in the storm. This is a faith that does. Jesus then has the power to calm the storm. And this is who we have faith in! We are called to have a faith that is full of action, good deeds, and seeks to spread that faith everywhere we can. And we’re called to do this because of our faith in Christ. We must obey him because: “Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The Gospel of Mark

If you are following along with our Gospels Reading Plan for the year, you just completed Matthew’s Gospel last week, and this week we begin reading Mark’s Gospel by reading chapters 1 & 2.

Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the Gospels and was written first. As you read Mark, you will have the feeling you’ve read this before. That’s because about 90% of Mark’s Gospel appears in Matthew’s Gospel as well, although Matthew treats the stories and order differently than Mark. Keep in mind that the Gospel writers were not trying to create a chronological biography of Jesus, but rather a theological narrative geared at the needs of the audience to which it was written.

Early church history tells us that Mark was a helper of Peter, a member of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, an Apostle, and a close eyewitness of most of the events Mark records. It is possible that this is the same Mark (listed as John Mark) who was a cousin of Barnabas and worked with Paul on his missionary journeys (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37, 39), and again later in Rome (Col. 4:10). Peter also mentions working with Mark in Rome (1 Peter 5:13). Though we can’t be sure that these Mark’s are the same person, early church tradition presents it as such. This would certainly explain why Mark would write his Gospel to the Gentile Christians in the church at Rome.

Mark will use many Roman themes, as well as Roman imagery when we get to his recounting of Jesus’ last week (commonly referred to as the Passion), which makes up roughly 40% of the overall Gospel. Mark is writing in a time where great persecution had broken out against Christians, especially in Rome, and writes to encourage Christians to persevere through the suffering and persecution they face. The main them is Jesus as the suffering servant who died for us. The key verse to the Gospel is Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  In essence, Mark is calling us to be more like Jesus as we face similar situations in our own lives.

Most of chapter 1 & 2 are covered by Matthew, but I’d like to look at one short passage in 1:35-39:

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

When was the last time you spent time in a solitary place and prayed? When was the last time you sought out quiet to just be with God in prayer? We will see Mark mention this practice by Jesus several times, and Mark is calling his readers to be more like Jesus. I encourage you to spend some quiet time with God’s Word (why not read Mark along with us?) like Jesus did, and let that time focus your mind and thoughts on being more like Jesus. May you be blessed as you seek to be more like Him.

Woe to You!

Our reading this week is Matthew 22 & 23,  and here we will focus on 23:13-39 where Jesus condemns the actions of the religious leaders. Their job was to model/teach a Godly life to the people of Israel, but they had failed mightily by corrupt the Temple system for monetary gain. Jesus issues them seven “woes” or condemnations. We’ll cover each of them briefly here.

  • “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces…” (13) – The practices these leaders had put into place in worship (money changers, high priced sacrifices, etc.) as well as their impossible interpretations of minute details of the law made it all but impossible for people to worship God properly.
  • “…you make [converts] twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (15) – Scholars believe Jesus is speaking in a mocking hyperbole here. Proselytes, or converts, did occur, but no record of any organized effort to teach outsiders has been found. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus is condemning, a lack of care for outsiders, but more so anyone converted was joining a corrupted system that doesn’t honor God
  • “You say ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing…” (16) – They had created their own little legal language that meant they could make promises/oaths without having to fulfill them based on what they swore by. Jesus completely condemns this (Mt. 5:37)
  • “…you have neglected the more important matters of the law…” (23) – They had become so focused on details that they have missed the heart of the law. Nowhere was tithing of spices commanded, yet they were so wrapped up in this that they completely neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They weren’t letting the main point be the main point!
  • “You clean the outside of the cup and dish…” (25) – I think there’s a double entendre here. There was real debate about how to keep plates and cups ceremonially clean: wash inside or outside first? Jesus says the inside is first then the outside will be clean. The idea that it needs to look good (outside) before it is good (inside) wasn’t what Jesus was after. When it comes to dinnerware or people’s lives, we should be focused on the cleanliness/purity of the inside, then the outside will take care of itself.
  • You are like whitewashed tombs…” (27) – I think another double entendre. Tombs were whitewashed/painted as a warning sign so people wouldn’t accidentally come in contact with them and become ceremonially unclean. Jesus tells them they are whitewashed tombs because they look good on the outside, but are full of death inside. I think also Jesus is applying the concept that their lives should serve as a “whitewashing” to keep others away.
  • “You build tombs for the prophets…” (29) – The idea that these guys would honor/remember the prophets that their ancestors had killed was in some ways honorable, but Jesus calls them “decendents of…”, whether they actually were or not. This indicates they behaved just like their ancestors, and serves ultimately as a prediction/condemnation of their rejecting him to the cross. “Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!” (32)

 

 

 

I understand we are in a different time and place, and are operating under a different system of life today. But I think we need to take an honest look at what Jesus was condemning to make sure the same type of condemnations can’t be said about our lives today.

Jesus is Enough

This week we take a look at three events from our weekly reading: Matthew chapters 14-16.

In Matthew 15:1-20 we see the Pharisees criticize the disciples for not washing their hands before they eat. Now I know your momma taught you to always do this, but there is a cultural connotation here. The Pharisees had developed a tradition of washing their hands in large jars before eating. This ceremony included saying prayers as the water ran off of each forearm. This tradition was found nowhere in the Scriptures, and there was nothing wrong with the tradition itself.

The problem here is the Pharisees were holding up a tradition as a measure of righteousness for everyone. They would monitor the hand washing stations and require everyone to follow their tradition or else face steep religious consequences. Jesus points out that they often ignored the Scriptures in favor of their own traditions and concludes by quoting Isaiah:

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” – Mt. 15:8-9.

There’s nothing wrong with traditions…just don’t treat them like the Word of God, or hold them as a measure of one’s righteousness. And certainly don’t keep them if they keep people from God.

Matthew records two events of Jesus feeding large crowds in 14:13-21 & 15:29-39. It’s important to keep in mind that these were two separate events, and the location as well as the outcomes of the miracle tell an important truth about Jesus and his mission. We’ll start with the feeding of the 5000.

If you follow the geographic indicators in Matthew, as well as the parallel stories in Mark 6 and Luke 9, we know that this feeding took place in what the Jewish people referred to as the “Land of the 12,” meaning they were faithful Jewish people like the original twelve tribes. When Jesus feeds the multitude he does it through the miracle of multiplication, taking whatever the people had, multiplying it, and using it to minister to the many. In this case, Jesus takes five loaves of bread and two fish, and feeds 5000 men (not including the women and children he fed!) Now the miracle is amazing, but the message behind the miracle is really what’s at play here.

“They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” – Mt. 14:20.

Numbers in Scripture are always significant, and often have imagery attached to them. As mentioned before, the number 12 represented the nation of Israel. Through the 12 basketfuls of leftovers Jesus is indicating that he and his teaching is more than enough for the Jews.

Chapter 15 records the feeding of the 4000. This event happens in the “Land of the 7” (see Deut. 7:1). This was a heavily Gentile area that the Pharisees and Sadducees taught the Jews to avoid altogether. A similar multiplication miracle takes place and 7 basketfuls are leftover. Jesus and his teachings are for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

Again, even though God had been telling his people the he loves the Gentiles too for centuries (just look at Jonah), this would have been a shock for many of Jesus’ Jewish followers. The Pharisees and Sadducees had promoted such a racism against the Gentiles that Jesus has to go a step further in his explanation in chapter 16.

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread.“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. – Mt. 16:5-12

Here’s a moral from these stories: Traditions have a tendency to divide if we let them. Even though God had told Israel for years that his ultimate goal was to save Jew and Gentile alike, the traditions of the Pharisees and Sadducees was to have nothing to do with Gentiles. Traditions also got in the way of them seeing Jesus as the Messiah.

Jesus makes it clear that he and he alone is sufficient for all. Traditions are fine and can be very good and useful as long as they don’t divide the body of believers, and don’t keep others from seeing Jesus. Let’s be sure we’re pursuing Jesus and not human tradition.

Heart Problems

Our Gospel reading for this week is Matthew chapters 5 & 6. This is part of what we commonly refer to as the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ longest teaching passages in the Gospels. I’ve heard people say that this passage of Scripture is a checklist we need to keep in order to please Jesus, but if you view the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist, you’ve missed the point.

Jesus is addressing a number of topics in this passage: Attitudes (5:1-12), Actions/Witness (v13-16), Righteousness (v.17-20), Conflict (v. 21-26), Marriage, specifically Adultery (v. 27-30) and Divorce (v.31-32), Honesty (v.33-37), Revenge (v.38-48), Giving (6:1-4), Prayer & Forgiveness (v.5-15), Fasting (v.19-24), and Worry/Self Dependence (v.25-34). All that said, Jesus really addresses one topic in this whole passage, and applies it to different areas. What’s the one topic? The heart.

In every instance, Jesus is teaching us how our heart should be focused. We can try to follow checklists all day, but without our heart being right we’ll never be able to accomplish God’s will. Let’s look at one example in particular.

Matthew 5:16 – “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 6:1“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.”

How are we supposed to keep both of these? There’s no way to check these off a list. If people see me I can’t check one, and if they don’t see me I can’t check the other. What’s the difference? The heart. It all boils down to what our heart is searching for – honoring God and glorifying Him, or showing off and honoring ourselves. If the heart is in the right place, we are doing what Jesus commands. It really boils down to this: do we treasure God, or praise from others?

Matthew 6:21- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If our hearts are right our attitudes will be right when we’re mistreated (5:1-12). If our hearts are right we will be salt and light (both elements which change every situation they enter) for God’s glory (v. 13-16). If our hearts are right we will want to be righteous in our actions (v.17-20). If our hearts are right we won’t mistreat our brothers and sisters (v.21-26). If our hearts are right we will honor our spouses by remaining pure and committed to each other (v.27-32). If our hearts are right we will deal in love with honesty and not seek revenge when we are wronged (v.33-48). If our hearts are right we will give generously, not for our own glory, but to honor God (6:1-4). If our hearts are right we will pray heartfelt prayers that lift up others and don’t glorify ourselves…we’ll forgive others as we’ve been forgiven (v.5-15). If our hearts are right we’ll focus on God because of our want of relationship with him, not to impress others (v.19-24). If our hearts are right we’ll rely on Him for our needs without worry (v.25-34).

To quote the first words of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life: “It’s not about you!” The Pharisees and teachers of the Law in the first century had missed this. They had taken God’s word and twisted its application to be all about themselves and how righteous they were by how well they kept the rules.

Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

It’s not about you. It’s about God. Keep your heart focused on honoring Him in everything you do. Only then will we see the Sermon on the Mount carried out in our lives. – Matt

Nobody Else Can Claim This!

We’re doing something different this year with our church, and I’d like for you, my readers to join us. The goal is as a church family we will read through the Gospel of Matthew by Easter, and the other three Gospels by the end of the year. I will be writing at least one article per week that goes along with the reading…not really a complete commentary on the Gospels, but rather a reading guide. We’ll be reading roughly two chapters per week (four short chapters this week). This is an easy to accomplish reading plan for the year, but at the same time we will spend the entire year focused on the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I hope you choose to read with us! Click here to download the Yearly Gospel Reading Plan

This week we’re looking at the first four chapters of Matthew. The Gospel of Matthew was written by a Jew to a Jewish audience, so there are some major Jewish themes, explanations, and topics that Matthew brings up. The major focus of these first few chapters is who Jesus is, and where Jesus came from. The genealogy that many might skim over was very important to Jews, and is full of information that teaches us about Jesus.

Because space is limited I’ll only focus on the women mentioned, which in itself is odd. Women were never included in official Jewish genealogies because during this time they had no legal rights and were considered property rather than people. But notice that God doesn’t see it that way! He includes Tamar the adulteress (Gen. 38), Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2), Ruth the Moabite (Ruth), and Bathsheba the adulteress (2 Sam 11&12). Here Matthew shows us two things: 1) The barriers the religious elite had put in place are being removed, 2) Somehow God can even use those who have gone through tragic and sinful situations to accomplish His purposes, even bringing His Son into the world through their lineage!

Chapter 2 covers the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus and the fulfilled prophecies that further point to who Jesus was and where he comes from. Because this is January most of us have studied the Christmas story recently, and we’ll not dwell here.

Finally we arrive at chapter 3 where we meet John the Baptist who is preparing the way for the Messiah (another prophecy fulfilled) and we see the baptism of Jesus. (Personally I’ve never understood people wanting to be a follower of Jesus, to be like Jesus, but not wanting to be baptized. Even Jesus said he needed to do this “to fulfill all righteousness.” Shouldn’t we want to follow his example, and command? (Mt. 28:19)) In this passage we see two events we often overlook that would be important to Matthew’s readers: Jesus receiving smicha (pronounced smee-hah), which your Bible likely translates as “authority“, or “one who had authority.” 

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. – Matthew 7:28-29

Great teachers became Rabbi’s, meaning they had the “authority” to interpret,  apply, and create new teachings about scripture when they themselves were granted smicha by other Rabbi’s who had smicha. Apparently John the Baptist had smicha (Mt. 21:23-27). The other grantor of smicha? God himself!

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” – 3:17 

Matthew’s Jewish readers would realize that Jesus was the only Rabbi in history who received his smicha directly from God himself. Jesus isn’t some ordinary teacher. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God!

Our reading this week ends with chapter 4. Jesus faces temptation without sin in the wilderness, begins his ministry, and calls his first disciples. But the chapter ends with a message to Matthew’s Jewish readers, as well as to us today, that Jesus’ message and salvation was for a much broader audience than anyone expected.

“Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.” – Matthew 4:25

Here we have a listing of areas that were the home of the most well educated religious scholars, and the common folk.  Extremely traditional and conservative teachers, and extremely liberal and radical ones. But it also includes gentiles from the Decapolis. Matthew is reminding us that even early in his ministry we can see that Jesus came from God to save everybody!

Be blessed as you read Matthew’s story of Jesus this week! – Matt