Archive for Luke
Jesus has come to redeem our broken lives from sin. But He did not come just to save us from something. Redemption also involves a purpose…a saving for, if you will. Zechariah concludes his prophetic hymn of praise for Christ with these words, “He has given us the privilege, since we have been rescued from the enemies’ clutches, to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness in His presence all our days” (Luke 1:73-75, HCSB).
We should be thankful to have been redeemed by Jesus from the clutches of the enemy. But even more, we should be thankful that we have been redeemed for a purpose. Check out the four purposes redemption provides for us:
1. To live without fear of our enemies, chiefly, sin, death, and the grave.
2. To live in holiness, meaning that relationally we belong to God. Holy is not a behavioral concept, it’s a relational concept—we are set apart to God, by God, and for God!
3. To live in righteousness, meaning that we are empowered to live as Jesus lived and would have us live.
4. To live in His presence all our days. After all, the only way we can stand in the presence of God is because we have been redeemed.
This Advent season I’d like to encourage you to think about Jesus our Redeemer. He’s not just redeemed us from something. He’s redeemed us for something. And the for makes our lives purposeful and meaningful.
I have a love-hate relationship with recycling. Our local trash company has gone to extreme measures to help families with the task. They provide a box for containers as well as a roll-out dumpster with a helpful label inside the lid to help families classify their recyclable items. In the words of Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy being green.” But we’re getting better.
My wife thinks it’s a good idea to recycle pop cans. Not in the bin, mind you. After all, each Diet Coke can is worth a nickel. So we cull those cans out and take them to a redemption center. (For those of you who are not fluent in spouse-ese, that means it’s my job to bag the cans and haul them to the grocery store for redemption, even though I don’t drink canned soda.) Each can times .05 = lunch money.
Zechariah’s prophetic word in Luke 1 speaks of the birth of Christ in terms of redemption. Those of you who have taken choir will recognize these words as the lyrical content of Benedictus, or “blessing.” Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Zechariah proclaims, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited and provided redemption for his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, just as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets in ancient times;” (Luke 1:68-70, HCSB).
Zechariah’s words provide us with a beautiful picture of what God was about to accomplish in the first Christmas. To redeem something means to buy it back for a price. Christ came to redeem us from sin. Like those pop cans, our lives are empty, void, and for all intents and purposes, worthless. We are no good to ourselves or to anyone else. Yet God sees the potential in us. He values us and loves us to the extent that He is willing to “buy us back” so that we can become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). But it took more than a nickel. It took the very life of Jesus to pay the price. With Zechariah let us exclaim, “Praise the Lord!”
I think babies are great! Lisa and I had three, and we enjoyed being parents of newborns. Holding each of my children was a very gratifying experience, and if I were to be confessional, there was a feeling I had with each that wished they could stay that way. Realistically, however, if a baby stays a baby then something is terribly wrong. Parents are very cognizant of their children’s growth patterns. We make sure they are frequently weighed and measured and that they maintain weight gains. We chart their physical development and muse over what percentile they rank on the charts. Babies grow and develop, and that’s a good thing!
Sometimes I wonder if our celebration of Christmas skews our understanding of Christ. Many homes are decorated with a nativity, the centerpiece of which is baby Jesus in the manger. Like Ricky Bobby, “sweet baby Jesus” is our favorite Jesus. But after the presents are opened and the leftovers reheated, Christmas, including the nativity set, goes back in the box until Thanksgiving.
Luke 2:52 teaches us that “sweet baby Jesus” doesn’t remain an infant. He grew in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Jesus experienced mental, physical, spiritual, and social development and maturity. But for what purpose? To serve God and the world as our redeemer. This week’s series of posts will focus on the goal of Christmas: the redemption of the human race.
When I was a kid, my mother went through a phase where she was “into” jig saw puzzles. She would purchase a puzzle and spread the pieces face up on the table. Then, she would prop the box up across the workspace which displayed the picture that the puzzle was to make. Working those puzzles was hard, but at least there was a picture that let us know what the finished product would look like. We eventually finished every one. For a grade school boy, there was a sense of satisfaction that came when I got to put the last piece in place.
When God’s announcement came to Mary via the angel Gabriel, she, without doubt, must have felt a bit overwhelmed. So many questions that were unanswered. So many details that were not outlined. So many missing pieces to the puzzle. And no box propped up on the other side of the workspace, so to speak.
It’s at this point that Mary is at her finest. Her response to the angelic proclamation was simply, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true” (Luke 1:38, NLT). Wow. What an example! Mary demonstrates humility, obedience, and faith.
What would your life look like if you adopted that kind of attitude toward God’s will for your life?
When God speaks, He expects us to believe his word even though we may not fully understand all of the implications of His word. Mary’s story continues like this, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever, his Kingdom will never end. Mary asked the angel, ‘How can this happen? I am a virgin.’” (Luke 1:31-34, NLT)
Clearly, Mary doesn’t get it. 2,000 years later, we don’t get it. God has no problem expecting us to affirm things by faith that we don’t fully comprehend. The Bible is full of those instances. Think about the creation account in Genesis. The Bible affirms that God created all things, but doesn’t bother to tell us how he did it. What about the trinity? For centuries the church fathers have tried to adequately explain and illustrate how the trinity works. But honestly, the Bible doesn’t spell that out either. God just expects you to believe it. Speaking of Mary, the same is true of the virginal conception. We accept this truth, but don’t have the details as to how that whole thing really went down.
Which bring me to the next thought. Understanding is not the object of our faith, God is the object of our faith. Reading on in the narrative, the Bible states that, “The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’” (Luke 1:35-37, NLT)
If you base your responses to God based on things like understanding, comprehension, and security in the outcome, you’ll not see the power of God in your life. God expects you to affirm things he will never bother to understand. So the question at the end of the day is “Do I believe God?” “Do I trust God?” As long as we make understanding the condition of our obedience we will not get very far in our faith journeys, and our faith journeys will be based on the limited possibility of self rather than the limitless impossibilities of God.
God’s word always precedes his movement, and when God speaks, we don’t need to be afraid. Consider this—“Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary,’ the angel told her, ‘for you have found favor with God!’” (Luke 1:29-30, NLT)
“Don’t be afraid.”
Fear is a tricky problem for us because fear establishes the limits of our lives. For example, if you’re afraid of heights, you’ll stay low. If you’re afraid of water, you’ll stay dry. If you’re afraid of failure, you’ll never take risks. So what was the root of Mary’s fear? Was it the appearance of an angel? Or was her concern more about the angel’s message from God?
I believe one of the reasons we don’t listen for God’s voice is because we’re afraid he’ll tell us to do something radical that pushes us beyond the boundaries of our security and comfort.
The reason we’re afraid to hear from God is that deep down inside our souls we are conflicted about what Jesus is really like. On one hand we have the domesticated Jesus of the American Dream. American Jesus calls us to get a good education, marry a good spouse, and work hard to build a career. American Jesus calls us to advance in our careers and to conduct our lives ethically and morally. Have kids. Go to parent-teacher conferences. Coach soccer. Put money in the 401K. Look forward to retirement when you can spend your remaining years in health and recreation. American Jesus also calls us to go to church “regularly” and volunteer when time permits. And, of course, give some money to charitable organizations. We’re not really afraid to hear from American Jesus because American Jesus is simply a projection of ourselves.
Biblical Jesus, on the other hand, is another story. He’s the one that makes us nervous. Biblical Jesus says things like…
… “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
… “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:24)
… “Follow me now. Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22)
… “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 9:62)
… “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.” (Matthew 10:16)
… “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
… “So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.” (Luke 14:33)
… “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
Mary taught us that when God speaks he may ask for hard things. At the same time, Mary inspires us to not be afraid of God’s requests. Obedience can be difficult and costly. But not as difficult or costly as disobedience, or worse, total indifference.
Christmas is a season of mystery and wonder. I think we see it most clearly in the eager eyes of children. From waiting for Santa to shaking brightly wrapped presents, there is a sense of wonder and amazement as they celebrate the season shrouded in mystery.
But then they grow up like we did, and grown-ups know the answers. As adults we desire to solve the mysteries. Not just the mysteries that surround Christmas, but the mysteries of life. We view them as some form of boundary and so we press to push past them. We feel that if we can resolve the deep questions we can find some kind of fulfillment and meaning. But our quest for answers can have the opposite effect. Instead of enriching our lives the answers to the mysteries of life cause our lives to shrink. I think the lack of mystery and the loss of wonder from our lives brings poverty to our faith and shrivels our souls.
Perhaps no season is filled with mystery as the Christmas season. One of the great mysteries of Christmas is how God takes the little and lowly and makes it marvelous. He chooses people to serve as his instruments and performs wonders through them in ways we least expect.
Why a baby who would live in obscurity for 30 years of his life?
Why at this time? After 400 years of silence with no prophetic word from the Lord?
Last weekend in worship I taught about the mysteries of Christmas and how God speaks his redemptive plan to the world. Using Luke 1:26-38, I observed that God’s great work begins when he speaks to his people. His word precedes his actions.
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!’” (Luke 1:26-28, NLT).
God speaks to his people when the time is right. Galatians 4:4 reads, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.” The Greek language uses two words for time. The first, chronos (chronology) speaks of the seconds, minutes, hours, days, and weeks that compose our calendars. The other word is kairos. This word describes the seasons of God’s movement and activity. Kairos is the word used in Galatians. In God’s appropriate season he spoke to Mary.
God also speaks to his people when they are listening. I’m fascinated by Luke 3:2, which tells us that in the year Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests in Israel, the word of the Lord went to John in the wilderness. If Annas and Caiaphas were the religious leaders of Israel, why didn’t the word of the Lord go to them? Why did the word of the Lord go to John who was living in obscurity in the desert?
The simple Christmas story reminds us that God speaks to his people. When his time is right and when people are listening, his word goes forth. And his word prepares us for his movement.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38, NLT)
It was in the quiet routine of the ordinary that the angel appeared to Mary. Mary, who was probably around the age of 14, was engaged in life as she knew it. It would not have been uncommon for a young Jewish girl to have plenty of regular household duties. It is not beyond reason that a young girl like Mary would work in the fields. In addition to her many responsibilities, she would have been preparing for her marriage to a young man named Joseph.
One of Mary’s becoming qualities is faithfulness. There were and still are plenty of people who are faithful for the sake of noteriety. But Mary would not have had any means of being the center of the public eye. She was faithful to God in ways and in places that people would never see, hear, or know.
Her character and faithfulness garnered the attention of heaven’s throne. She would be selected to live the dream of every Jewish girl that age: to be the “God-bearer.” In the midst of her faithfulness God watched, then spoke.
Mary’s story stands in contrast to what I see, hear, and read people do to get heaven’s attention. It’s as though we have tried to develop processes that guarantee God’s visitation to our lives. We need to be reminded that we cannot manipulate God, nor can we conjure God’s voice through formulas. We must trust that if God could find Mary in her quiet obedience, He can certainly find us right where we are.
After all, God found Abram in Ur, Joseph in prison, Moses in Midian, David on a Judean hillside, and Peter, James, and John in a fishing boat.
God speaks to faithful people in their faithfulness. Mary is a wonderful example of one who was tuned in to God’s voice. She lived in anticipation and readiness. When God spoke, she heard and responded. And when God speaks, He changes the world.
The introductory verses of Acts, 1:1-11, serve as Jesus final briefing on the mission that he gave to the disciples. Yesterday I posted the first two portions of the briefing, that being the objective (implement the Kingdom) and the resources (the risen Lord and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit).
The third item covered in Jesus’ briefing was directed to the available personnel for the mission. Who is included? In Acts 1:8, Jesus said, “You shall receive power…” The word “you” is plural, so we can easily deduce that the personnel for the mission was everyone. The words of the briefing were spoken to the 120 who witnessed Jesus ascension. Each one received the same assignment. No one was excluded or exempt.
Jesus went on to introduce the strategy for the mission. The personnel were to take the resources Jesus provided and be “witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world” (Acts 1:8). In other words, they were to begin where they were and to move from the epicenter of home in concentric circles to the furthest reaches of the world.
The word witness is literally “martyr.” It is used some 28 times in the Book of Acts. Today when we think of being a witness, we usually have an image of one who testifies to the truth of a situation or circumstance, like in a court of law. That’s not a bad take, however the imagery changes some when it is viewed through the lens of martyrdom. When I think of being a martyr, I think of laying down my life for a particular cause. So what’s Jesus saying? Witnessing is an activity. But living as a martyr is a commitment that calls for full sacrifice. Being a living martyr (cf. Luke 9:23; Romans 12:1-2) involves a daily sacrificial commitment to the mission versus making protracted attempts toward telling others about Christ when the situation arises. Beginning where I am, I am to lay down my life each and every day for the sake of the gospel.
Finally, the time frame to complete the mission is the return of Jesus Christ. Acts 1:9-11 indicates that Christ will return some day, and until that day comes we are to be busy about taking the resources God has given and implement the mission, laying down our lives each day until Jesus comes again.
So why study Acts?
In his book, The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark reports that during the first three hundred years of post resurrection Christianity, half of known world came to faith in Christ. Numerically, Stark suggests 33 million people out of 60 million people were professing Christ. In Acts 1, 120 people took the mission and the resources and chased a movement that continues today. They didn’t have facilities, programs, educated staff, or a completed Bible. They didn’t have technology, the internet, or the printing press.
What could we do if we utilized the resources and gave our lives to the gospel? Dare we dream about changing the world?
The first aspect of any good briefing is to clearly state the objective. In this case, the objective was to implement the Kingdom of God. One might expect Jesus to speak of the formation of the church, but the more I study the Bible the less convinced I am that the end game of the mission is to be the institutional church. The church seems to be a part of a bigger movement, that is the encroachment of God’s righteous rule and reign on earth. It has been said that “the church doesn’t have a mission, the mission has a church.” I think that’s a significant truth to grasp, especially in this era in history as we witness the transition from attractional church models to more missional models.
In the next part of the briefing, the disciples are informed of the resources they have at their disposal for achieving the objective. There are two in the text: the risen Lord and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The passage tells us that for 40 days Jesus appeared to the disciples and gave them undeniable evidence of the resurrection. To summarize, the disciples who were gathered on Ascension Day were absolutely convinced that Jesus was alive. The resurrection was a conviction they shared that encouraged them to march forward, even when it was difficult to do so.
I have a friend who teaches American History. He’s a Civil War buff and is an avid reader of biographies on the life of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a historical figure whose word and actions are inspirational today. But he’s dead. You can visit his tomb in Washington, D.C. Jesus was also a historical figure who lived in history. His words and deeds are unparalleled and exemplary. As 21st century Christians we get that. We study his life, observe his actions, and heed his words. But Jesus is not dead. He’s alive. Perhaps it’s time for Christians to experience a renewal of the conviction that Jesus is alive today.
The second resource the disciples had was the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told them that John had baptized with water, but they would soon be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Granted, a lot of ink has been spilled on the ramifications of this statement. Denominations and churches have emerged from emphasis on this statement. While the disciples may not have fully understood the implications, they certainly would have gathered that somehow they would be fully immersed in the Holy Spirit and this immersion would empower them to perform the mission at hand.
Tomorrow I’ll follow up with the personnel for the mission, the strategy for the mission, and the time frame to complete the mission.