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)

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“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

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

Caesar is lord? Not really!

(This post was published in our church bulletin on 6.6.18)

The reading for this week is Mark 15 & 16. This passage covers Mark describing the crucifixion to a Roman audience (who were well acquainted with crucifixion) and he does so with a very Roman theme…the theme of the Emperor’s Triumph.

When an emperor was coronated, there was a procession called a Triumph that evolved from a practice by the ancient Greeks. The entire procession was to show that Caesar was lord, savior, and a son of the gods. In many ways it was a deification ceremony for the new emperor.

In his retelling of the crucifixion, the Spirit inspired Mark to record the events in a way that mirrored the Emperor’s Triumph, ultimately declaring that Jesus is Lord, Savior, and the Son of God…not Caesar. Nero’s Triumph took place only a few years before Mark’s Gospel was written. (By the way, “gospel” was a Roman political term that conveyed a message from Caesar as a diety. The very idea that one would have a “gospel” that wasn’t from Caesar might incur a death sentence.)  

Here I will list the events in a Roman Emperor’s Triumph, and the scriptures that mirror these events in Mark’s narrative. Try reading Mark 15 in light of this.

  • The entire Praetorian Guard would assemble and stand in formation. (15:16)
  • Caesar would appear and a robe and wreath were placed on Caesar. (This act came from ancient Greece and declared Caesar is a god) (15:17)
  • The soldiers would cheer “Hail Caesar, lord and god!” (15:18-19)
  • A parade would happen, leaving the Praetorium and follow the Via Sacra through the center of the city of Rome. An animal for sacrifice was led through the streets, and someone would carry the instrument of death for the sacrifice. (15:20-21)
  • The procession arrives to Capitoline Hill (commonly called Head Hill by Romans in that time because supposedly Romulus’ head was discovered there). (15:22)
  • The new emperor would be offered wine mixed with myrrh, which would always be refused. (This can be found in history, but nobody knows why it was done.) (15:23)
  • The instrument of death is brought, the sacrifice is made and placed on the altar as a way of inviting the gods to pay attention to this event. (15:24)
  • The emperor would climb the steps of the temple with two people who represent the administration’s mission on his right and his left. The crowd would shout “Hail Caesar, lord and god.” (15:26-32)
  • Prisoners were brought to the steps below. Caesar would choose who lived and who died. Soldiers would step up and kill those who were sentenced. This would show that Caesar holds the power of life and death. (Luke 23:40-43)
  • A gospel is sent far and wide declaring the new Caesar is lord and savior, the son of the gods. (1:1; 16:6-7)

Mark’s entire Gospel message is that Jesus is above all. Caesar is not lord, savior, or the son of the gods. Jesus is. It would have been very difficult to live in Rome as a Christian during this time because so much of the society focused on deifying someone or something other than Jesus. Today in the U.S. it isn’t much different. So who are you going to choose as Lord and Savior? Jesus, or whomever your nation promotes?

(By the way, the second half of Mark 16 is not in the oldest and best Greek manuscripts. It probably wasn’t part of Mark’s Gospel originally, but there is nothing in that passage that the other Gospels, or even Mark’s Gospel, doesn’t cover elsewhere. Everything there is covered in Scripture elsewhere.)