Luke 3 – What Then Shall We Do?

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Luke records the rise of John the Baptist’s ministry in great detail, similar to that of Matthew.  Here Luke is both following up on the opening narrative about John’s calling, even before he was born, but also relaying to his readers both John’s message and its impact on the people of the land.  John’s message comes straight from the prophet Isaiah, one of preparation and repentance as the Kingdom of Heaven approaches.  Everyone, it seems, asks the same question in the face of John’s message: “What then shall we do?”

John’s response to these questions is not at all complicated, though and essentially involves a return to the Biblical way of life.  There is a certain irony here, especially for the many Jews that are present here.  The call of John is a return to who they were and what they were called to from the very beginning; their identity as the people of God.

Sometimes we make the message of God so extremely complicated.  We create so many rules and regulations for ourselves, governing how we are supposed to live as people of faith.  But what does John’s message boil down to?  A very simple, familiar passage: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Don’t cheat people, give to those in need, don’t threaten; love your neighbors.

This really is, as Jesus says, the core of Scripture, and what we are called to as people of faith.  It is not complicated or complex and requires no laws or regulation.  The message of the Kingdom of Heaven is the call to love and this is seen most specifically in the life and death of Jesus Christ who is the chief example of the love of God.



Matthew 3 – Prepare the Way

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We love to think we are right.  Sometimes we argue our position and our points with someone else just to force acknowledgement of our correctness.  Other times, when we find ourselves on the wrong side of an argument, we still hold to our case  so we don’t have to admit that we are wrong.

In Matthew 3 we are introduced to the Pharisees and Sadducees, groups of Jewish religious leaders who were “in the right.”  They knew the Law backward and forward and knew how to keep it.  These men were the ones who determined what was right, and they had taken it to the extreme so that there was no chance of being wrong… ever.

So when John the Baptist comes on to the scene preaching “prepare the way for the Lord,” these religious leaders thought that they knew what John was talking about and how to go about doing this preperatory work.  Yet, when they came out to get baptized, John rebukes them quite harshly.  They think they know, but they are completely lost.

I don’t think it is an accident that Jesus appears here after John’s rebuke of the religious leaders.  This series of events is quite symbolic.  The preparation that John is speaking of isn’t the way of the Pharisees and Sadducees; Matthew is making this point loud and clear.  Preparation actually looks like turning from the “accepted ways” of religion and towards repentance.  Interestingly, this echoes the words of  Psalm 51.  Especially in verse 17, David writes that God does not desire sacrifice (read: Law following) but rather a broken and contrite heart.  How can we better prepare ourselves for Jesus’ work in our own lives?  Are there false things that we hold on to as “right” that perhaps need to be rebuked and turned away?



Day 307: John 1-3; Introduction to and Prologue of John

Today we come to the Gospel of John, the fourth and final Gospel in the New Testament.  John’s Gospel was the last of the four that were written and is not considered to be one of the “synoptic Gospels.”  Much of what is written in John is unique from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and doesn’t follow in the same order as them.  This is not to say that the Gospel of John is in some way, incorrect, but instead takes yet another perspective of Jesus life from presumably one of His closest disciples.  John is writing in an effort to prove once and for all that Jesus the Divine Son of God.  Not only that though, John sought to show His readers, which were likely some of the Church’s that are mentioned at the beginning of the book of Revelation, that Jesus was indeed God almighty as well, the creator of the world who took on human flesh and ultimately sacrificed Himself for the salvation of His beloved children, and ultimately all of creation.

John begins his writing with a beautiful prologue that we have the opportunity to read today.  It is one of the most theologically rich writings in all of Scripture if you ask me.  In some ways, it is a genius move on John’s part, starting with the main point of His writing, almost as a theological plateau or mountain top from which we can look down and survey the whole of the rest of the Gospel (and most of Scripture too actually).  To be honest, I think we could spend a month talking through the prologue of John, and then venture carefully into the rest of His writing, however we aren’t given that amount of time.  So instead we will indeed use this scripture as the point from which we look out over the whole of the next 9 day’s readings, always keeping in mind the dual nature of Jesus on earth.  He is both fully human and fully Divine!  Too often we tend to divide up God and we forget that though we have a Triune God with three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, God is also one and Jesus being God means that God came here to earth and took on human flesh.

The book of John is divided up into two different sections after this first chapter: the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory.  In the first half of the Gospel of John, we specifically see a focus on Jesus’ miracles, in (arguably) seven signs, which are Jesus’ miracles, that are performed as John establishes Jesus Divinity in human form.  We see clearly that Jesus, though a man, has divine abilities and powers over creation.  In some ways, Jesus is also “recreating” many things, showing the true nature of creation and the Kingdom of God in small but important ways.  The wedding of Cana, which is Jesus’ first sign is one of these miracles where Jesus both does something miraculous but also shows the nature of His love and the Kingdom of God in the abundance of what he creates and what it comes from.  These basins were wash basins for those that had to go and “relieve” themselves at the party.  The Jewish community would have considered that water to be completely dirty and unclean.  Yet Jesus takes the dirty and makes it clean.  You can definitely see some of clear foreshadowing to the Lord’s supper here, with the wine that Jesus creates and gives to all the people.  Again, taking the unclean and making it clean.

Notice too, in our reading today, the interplay that John sets up between darkness and light.  There are many of these types of interplay that happen in the book of John.  He is a masterful writer, blending many themes together throughout the whole of His writing, even carrying them on into His letters which we will read in about a month.  John works on making many distinctions between what was before Jesus and what was after.  The unclean and the clean at the wedding of Cana is just one example.  The darkness and the light that we see in chapter one as well.  In chapter three we also see a bit of the interplay between flesh (before) and spirit (after), and John lay this out very well without giving into some of the Gnostic teachings of the time that said that flesh was ultimately bad.  John does not say this, but points to a time when the Spirit will be in our flesh, in much the same way that he points to God incarnate in flesh through Jesus Christ.

As we begin our short journey through John, I think its important to know that John’s book is in many ways one of the most important theological books of the Bible.  I know that this is a difficult thing to say and I wouldn’t even discount the rest of Scripture, however John makes some very specific theological moves in His book that are very important for us as Christians.  While they are present in other places throughout the Bible and especially in the New Testament, John does a great job of weaving them in deeply in His writing.  The whole book of John is worth reading over and over.  We many only have a little time to cover each days’ reading (and I’m sorry if my posts get long these next few days, but there is just so much to say), but it’s still completely worth the read.  John’s Gospel is like a swimming pool: you can play in the shallow end and still get pretty wet, or you can dive down deep into the deep and get soaked.  My prayer this week is that we get as soaked as we possibly can in the good news of Jesus Christ as revealed in the book of John!



Day 297: Luke 4-5; Jesus' Ministry Begins

Yesterday we talked about Jesus’ birth and the preparation for ministry that took place before Jesus in the work of John the Baptist.  Today we look at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as He is baptized by John and then proceeds into the wilderness to be tempted.  As we talked about in Matthew, Jesus life in many ways parallels the journey that the people of Israel took to get to the promised land and to be the people that God called them to be.  While they never actually realized this calling, or at least never fully actualized it, they did follow this same path of “baptism,” wilderness wandering, and eventual entrance into ministry in the promised land.  We don’t often equate Israel’s presence in the promised land as being that of ministry.  They killed, or were supposed to kill all the inhabitants of Canaan and then occupy it as an inheritance.  However, remember that Israel was also called to be a light to the nations, a community that was to represent the world to God and God to the world.  Sadly, like I just said, this was never fully realized… at least not until Jesus came to earth.

I think its funny that most of the crown that has gathered to hear John’s teaching really have no idea what is transpiring before them.  Jesus shows up and John recognizes Him, yet it is the greater of the two who requests baptism from the lesser.  Upon protest though, which we see in the account of Matthew, John baptizes Jesus and we see heaven open.  The Spirit descends onto Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice speaks, affirming Jesus as the Son of God to all the people gathered.  This happening is one of the fundamental ways in which we understand baptism.  Baptism has to do with identity.  As a member of the Reformed Church in America, we practice infant baptism where we acknowledge God’s claim on the child’s life, that they are a member of God’s people and an heir to the covenant promises of God.  In this, we acknowledge the child’s true identity.  While John’s baptism was one for the forgiveness of sins, which in many ways is also a change in identity from sinner to forgiven, when Jesus was baptized, He too was given a specific identity.  Perhaps it would be more apt to say that Jesus’ baptism confirmed the identity that was already present… much like we believe infant baptism does to the child of believing parents.

From here Jesus is led by the Spirit that has just descended on to Him into the desert in which we learn that He both fasts and is tempted by the devil.  We don’t know much about the 40 days that Jesus spends in the wilderness apart from the fact that we are told He was tempted and didn’t eat.  It is at the end of this time that the Devil comes to Jesus and tempts Him directly.  There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between this experience and that of Moses at Mount Sinai while Israel in the wilderness.  He too was away for 40 days and there comes a point with the people are tempted as well.  Unlike the people of Israel though, Jesus doesn’t succumb to temptation but refutes the Devil not only with the Word of God, but with the heart of its true meaning.  In some ways I think Jesus is demonstrating the true and right use of the Scriptures as He is not just quoting random verses of the Bible to Satan but is speaking the true meaning of the Word, especially when the devil uses the words of Scripture against Jesus.

Finally, after Jesus returns from the wilderness, He goes to His hometown of Nazareth and teaches in the synagogue.  His first Scripture lesson comes from the prophet Isaiah, a teaching about the day of the Lord and the coming of the Messiah.  After reading it, Jesus tells them that the Scripture is fulfilled by His reading it.  Isaiah often talked about the joy and restoration that would come after the time of exile in Babylon saying that things would be different upon the return of God’s people to their land.  However, it wasn’t.  The people of Israel fell back into their old sins.  They were still not the light that they were called to be and still didn’t care for the least, last, and lost that they were called to.  Jesus’ coming signals the dramatic in-breaking of the Kingdom of Heaven on this earth.  He comes and the Spirit of God is on Him to be the true Israel, the true human in the face of evil.  Not only does Jesus proclaim these things, but He enacts them as well, fulfilling all that is written about Him throughout Scripture.



Day 296: Luke 2-3; The Birth of Jesus

The Gospel of Luke contains the highest degree of detail surrounding the account of Jesus’ birth.  Like we talked about yesterday, Luke’s whole goal and purpose in writing this Gospel was to “compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us”  as he writes in his intro to Theophilus.  Luke wants to know the facts, which is why there is so much detail surrounding His birth and also why there is very little mention of the Scriptures that these events are fulfilling.  Unlike Matthew, this is not the emphasis of Luke’s writing.  Yet if we read the Old Testament and Luke’s account of Jesus’ life carefully, it becomes quite clear that He is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and is showing that there are definite similarities and much fulfillment that are taking place.

Luke’s account of the immediate details of Jesus birth are probably the most familiar of all four Gospel narratives.  Of the Scriptures that are read on Christmas day in my experience, Luke 2:1-20 was probably there over 75% of the time.  Very often we get caught up in the commercialized version of Jesus’ birth, focusing on the star and the three wise men (Magi) that come to visit Him, which is recorded in Matthew.  Yet today I notice that this particular detail is left out of the passage in Luke.  As a matter of fact, Luke records something that would be considered the exact opposite of Magi as he tells of the visit of the shepherds.  Rather than being honored by the highest of the high, baby Jesus is worshiped by the lowest of the low.  Only the diseased would have been considered lower in Jewish society.  Yet these are the people that God chose to reveal the “good news of great joy.”  I think this difference in the two Gospels marks both the significance of Jesus’ birth and the broad scope of who it would impact.  As the angels say, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!”  Both the high and the low from Israel and abroad were drawn to worship Him.  More than that, even the priests and prophets of that time are moved by God’s ‘invasion’ of planet earth.  Truly Christ’s incarnation is for “all the people.

In today’s reading, we also get the account of Jesus’ interactions with the priests at the Temple during the Passover.  We are seeing that Jesus is not just some ordinary kid, but that He is growing up as the Son of God and even at this young age He is “being about His Father’s business.”  It is clear that His parents do not quite fully understand all that is going on in Jesus’ life.  They are astonished that He would act like this, making them worry and search for Him, yet Jesus seems relatively un-phased by the whole thing as if it were only natural for Him to be in the Temple.

Finally today, we see John the Baptist come on to the scene.  Luke makes a point to link John’s ministry in the desert to the passage of Isaiah 52, talking about the one who would come to prepare the way for the Lord.  There is much to be talked about that has to do with Jesus’ preparation for ministry, including His baptism and wilderness experience, however I think today it is important to recognize the preparation that John is doing in the name of the Lord.  We read that “the Word of the Lord came to John” in much the same language that is used to talk about the prophets in the Old Testament.  Though Luke doesn’t always make a point to link what he is writing to the Old Testament Scriptures, in chapter 3 He does it several times making sure that the reader knows that this isn’t something entirely new that is happening, but instead is a continuation of what has already been foretold.  John is preparing the way by calling people to repentance, a voice calling in the desert after several hundred years of what seemed like silence from God.  This direct link along with Luke’s linking Jesus to all of Israel’s history all the way back to Adam is a very specific attempt to show that God has been at work throughout history to bring all of this to fruition in the person of Jesus Christ.



Day 295: Luke 1; Introduction to the Gospel of Luke

The relationships between the three synoptic g...

The relationships between the three synoptic gospels. Source: A Statistical Study of the Synoptic Problem by A.M. Horore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Gospel of Luke is the third and last of the “synoptic” Gospels.  Along with Matthew and Mark, the Gospel of Luke seeks to tell the story of Jesus’ life in a fairly similar sequence, often with somewhat similar wording.  In fact, almost half of the content of the books of Luke and Matthew are found in the book of Mark, and about a quarter of the content of Matthew and Luke are the same, though independent of Mark.  The book of John is also one of the Gospels, however it does tell the story of Jesus in quite the same order as the others for various reasons mostly relating to the purpose of John’s writing and his audience.  These “discrepancies” are sometimes sighted as a way of showing that the Gospels are not entirely reliable when it comes to the facts and timeline of Jesus’ life.  However, in many ways this is similar to having four people that were at an event tell you about their experience, not one would be exactly the same as the other, but all would be true from their particular perspective.  If you combine this with the differences in purpose for writing these Gospels, I think that we are blessed in that we can see a several different perspectives of Jesus’ life and ministry, all working together to give us a more in depth view of our Savior.

Though we don’t really know much about Luke as a person, tradition holds that he was a doctor and a contemporary of Paul.  It is also likely that he was a Gentile Christian convert, not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, but who did considerable research into His life and ministry.  If Mark was the “News Report” version of Jesus’ life, Luke would be the documentary.  Luke is the longest of the Gospels, and has really contains the most detail.  Apart from the Gospel of John, Luke also holds within its texts, the highest percentage of unique material of the four Gospels.  Connected to this book is the book of Acts, which we could call “2nd Luke” because it is a continuation of the story as the Apostles transition into the early Church after Jesus is taken to heaven.

Our reading today begins the narratives of both John the Baptist and Jesus, talking about their conception and the miraculous events surrounding them  If you read closely the story of Zechariah, you’ll notice several similarities between his story and the story of Abraham and the birth of Isaac.  Both are hold and have barren wives who miraculously conceive in an advanced age.  Both births are foretold by God and are doubted by those that hear them.  More than this though, both births signal the fulfillment of God’s word in both the Covenant and the Prophets and show the reader that God is at work and on the move in a way that only God can be.

Luke 1 also contains the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise for all that has been going on.  Take a moment to think about all that had been going on in Mary’s life.  She had been taken out of her ordinary existence and thrust into the very center of God’s working on earth.  She had been visited by Gabriel, one of the Archangels that has been in the very presence of God almighty.  She now is carrying a baby, still a virgin, of whom she has been told that “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  What is her reaction in all of this?  A song of praise to God for all that has happened.  While she could have been afraid, uncertain, and even upset, she recognizes that God is doing something in her life and she trusts Him, and lifts up this song of praise, one of my favorite in the Bible:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.