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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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.)

What I Wish Everyone Knew About Hope

Genesis 1:1–2 (NIV): In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Isn’t that powerful? That’s the way the Bible begins. But that story isn’t over. Do you see those words “formless” and “empty?” They can also be translated as “chaos” and “desolation” respectively.

“Now the earth was chaos and desolation, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Sounds more like our world today, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing: God’s Spirit is still hovering over the waters. God is still active and alive. His Spirit is not dead, or hiding in witness protection somewhere. It’s here with us to this day (John 14:6). And because of this we can have hope. Honestly, He’s our only hope.

This is what we will be talking about at East Side starting this week and going throughout the summer months. I hope you will join us in person, or online through podcasts or live stream as we rediscover the God who is with us and in his believers to help us navigate the chaos and desolation of this world.

Blessings! – Matt

We’re Losing the Battle!

1/168th. That’s the magic number. That tiny fraction is so small. You would feel cheated if we were talking about buying a slice of pie. Yet 1/168th is exactly what most people assume will fix all of their problems.

What is 1/168th? Pretty simple really. No matter how rich, how poor, what ethnicity, what background, what level of education…we all have 168 hours to live life each week. In general, church going people spend about 1 hour in church per week…1/168th of their week. That’s very little influence during the average week! Let’s look a little closer at what other things influence our average week.

The average American sleeps 6.8 hours (we’ll call it 7) per night. Not a whole lot of influence happens when we sleep, but it does consume 49/168ths or our week. Depending on your age or career, we average between 35-40 hours per week at school or work, meaning what we do during the day has between 35 and 40 times the amount of influence that church has on us in any given week! But there’s something that eats up our time even more than school or work.

Electronics. TV, cell phones, tablets, game systems, computers…you know, electronics. The average American spends between 45 and 50 hours a week on an electronic device. Some of that electronics time overlaps at work or school, but on average electronics usage influences us 45-50 times more than our worship service on Sunday. What are we doing with them? Growing in our faith, or watching cat videos and playing games?

If you’re good at math, you’re realizing this is somewhere between 130-140 hours per week. There’s more time, yet we’re really good at filling that time too. Time to worship (yes, worship) sports, hobbies, shopping, activities and fun of all types…and pretty soon, we’ve filled our 168 hours. What I find even more troubling than the 1/168th figure itself is that only 21% of adults spend any time to connect with God. Most aren’t even getting 1/168th!  Why don’t more people connect with God on a weekly basis? The response is simple really: “I don’t have time.”

If you’re a “super Christian” and go to church every time the doors are open, you’re still looking at only 4 or 5 hours of the 168 per week. Still not much influence is it? Yet everyone wants to come to church a few hours a week and magically everything else will fall into place. The truth is simply going to church won’t fix this problem. It’s going to take a complete refocus of our lives!

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

If our entire hope for ourselves, our children, the lost of our world, and the future of the Kingdom hinges on 1/168th, we’re losing the battle. We must be intentional about pursuing God first. Does the way we spend our time truly mirror what our values are? Do we honor TV and sports more than our Savior? 1/168th is only a drop in the bucket of life. Followers of Christ have to be more intentional with every moment of our lives in order to survive, let alone thrive in our faith. Be more intentional!

  • The majority of these statistics, as well as many others can be found in The DNA of D6

Can We Trust The Bible?

When I was little I remember my grandmother teaching my cousins and me a game called “Telephone.” Someone comes up with a sentence and whispers it into the ear of the person next to them. This continues being passed through several silly, giggling child-interpreters until it reaches the original person. Everyone gets a huge laugh because what started as “The gray goose flies at night,” turns into “My granny has an overbite.”

Tweet: People struggle with the Bible because they believe it was passed down like a game of Telephone. The truth is far more stunning!

“The Bible can’t be trusted. It was copied by hand so many times that it must be full of mistakes. After thousands of years of errors we simply can’t trust what’s there!” The problem with this argument is the assumption that the Bible was copied much like you or I would scribble notes during a lecture, which is simply untrue.

Ancient scribes dedicated their lives to copying the Bible by hand, letter for letter, word for word, line for line. And this is very important to understand. Men who dedicated themselves to this artform had the scriptures memorized, as well as having a multitude of very early copies from which to work. Over 24,000 of these ancient copies remain from the New Testament alone, far more than any other writing of its age!

The scribes worked meticulously copying each and every detail of the text. It was then checked for accuracy by line. The chief scribes (who had the text memorized) knew exactly how many letters and words should be in each line of text for a particular book. If the copy in question didn’t match up, it was not corrected…it was destroyed. They held the text in such high esteem that they would rather destroy an expensive parchment and throw away the work rather than have one mistake come through their work.

That being said, not every scribe worked so perfectly. We do have “textual variants” within the scriptures. Most of these are sequence variations. In the book The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Dr. Bruce Metzger describes it this way. “…it makes a whale of a difference in English if you say ‘Dog bites man’ or ‘Man bites dog’ – sequence matters in English. But in Greek it doesn’t.” Greek is an inflected language, and no matter what order you place the words, the meaning still comes across the same. The meaning isn’t changed in the slightest, but this counts as a textual variant. And if 10 copies of this same variant exist, then scholars count that as 10 textual variants even though they are the same variant (confusing, I know.)

Can the Bible be trusted? Strobel quotes scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix’s conclusion: “The New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book-a form that is 99.5 percent pure.”

God has preserved His word for us in a fully trustworthy form. All we have to do now is read it!

Want to know more about the Bible? Try these other posts:
The Problem with The Bible
Where Do I Start? – Part 1
Where Do I Start? – Part 2

Life Back Then

This was posted by John Mark Hicks this morning on Facebook. I thought it was too good to not share. We get to take a look into the early life of the church!

Letter of Mathetes to Diognetus (probably around 130-150 A.D.)

“Christians are indistinguishable from other people either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life….With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign…And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through…Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country….They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all people….A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult.”

1 Peter 2:12, “Conduct yourselves honorably among the nations, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.”

Where Do I Start? – Part 2

From time to time people tell me they want to start reading the Bible, and they almost always share the same question… “Where do I start?” Last week we looked the way the Old Testament is organized, the purpose of the writings, and the topics covered. This week we’ll focus on the New Testament.

The first four books of the New Testament make up The Gospels (“gospel” means “good news.”) These books cover the life of Jesus, but they aren’t biographies you and I are used to. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the “synoptic gospels” because they are so similar in the content the events they cover, but each writer arranges the events in a different order so the story had the greatest impact on their original audience (very common to the writing style of the time.) John uses a different approach than the others for the same reason. All four books give us the details of Jesus’ ministry on the earth.

The book of Acts is written by Luke, the same man that wrote the Gospel of Luke. It’s a continuation of the Jesus story and it includes details about Jesus’ last days on earth, then covers the beginnings and spread of the first church. We see events and history recorded about the other writers of the New Testament, as well as read many stories of how early Christians cared for one another and were so dedicated to Christ that they were willing to face death because of their faith.

The Pauline Epistles is a fancy way of saying “Paul’s Letters.” These were letters written by Paul, an apostle that we first meet in Acts, to various churches that he worked with in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica, two letters to a young preacher named Timothy, and a letter written to a man named Philemon.

The General Letters function much the same way as Paul’s letters, they just weren’t written by Paul. These writings include an anonymous letter called Hebrews, a letter from James, the earthly brother of Jesus, two letters from the apostle Peter, and three from the apostle John.

The final book in the New Testament is the book of Revelation where the apostle John recounts a vision that he had from God. He writes specific warnings from Jesus for seven churches in Asia, as well as a very apocalyptic description of God’s ultimate victory over evil, as well as a beautiful description of Heaven.

Hopefully these past two posts have given you some insight into the organization of the writings contained in the Bible. “So where do I start?”  Well, it depends. If you have never read the Bible before, I always recommend The Gospel of John near the beginning of the New Testament. John does a fantastic job of sharing the life of Jesus with his readers.

If you’re looking for specific answers to questions you have, you can use this summary to look on your own, do a search on BibleGateway, or you can always email me.

Next time we’ll discuss if the Bible can be trusted.