The Gospel of Luke 4:1-44

Luke 4:1-44

I’ve recently written a few comments and spoken some on Luke 4, so I don’t feel the need to rehearse all that I’ve already said. But for the sake of clarity, let me say at least one thing again… Luke 4 is less about giving us instructions on how to deal with temptation, and way more about who this Jesus is.

One thing that I didn’t mention either in the message, nor very explicitly in the earlier post, is that Israel is sometimes spoken of as being God’s son (Hosea 11:1, Exodus 4:22, possibly Psalm 2:7). One might argue that connecting Jesus’ sonship to the sonship of Israel somehow lessens its force as it relates to our understanding of Jesus’ divinity. That is to say that when Israel was called “God’s son,” no one made the mistake of thinking Israel was divine. Why take the son language about Jesus to do so?

In response, I would argue that the connection between “Son of God” language used for Israel and Jesus doesn’t lessen our understanding of who Jesus is. Rather, it is enhanced. The remainder of the New Testament makes clear that Jesus’ is the Son of God in a way that no one ever has been or could be again. Jesus’ relationship with God the Father is unique. In fact, one can say fairly confidently that the point of Luke 4:1-13 is to say precisely that! Jesus is God’s son in a way that Israel never could be.

But Luke 4 probably isn’t speaking into the Jewish world only. As Luke’s gospel is taking shape, there are others in the Roman world that would make a rival claim to being the “son of God” and divinity. Various Roman emperors would refer to themselves in those terms, and require others to do the  same. So it may well be that Luke is simultaneously addressing the Jewish and pagan worldviews of his day.

In essence, the message Luke is putting across in these first few chapters is “Jesus is God’s one and only true son.”

The Gospel of Luke 3:1-38

Luke 3:1-38

We’ve switched back to John’s part of the story, and we find him in the Judean wilderness – the countryside around the Jordan River. This doesn’t just give us information about where he is, but also where he isn’t. This renewal movement isn’t happening in the religious and political (not easily separated) center of the nation, but away from it.

Furthermore, he is tapping into a long held hope of the Jewish people that God might manifest himself by returning to be with them and restore them. This preparation to which John is calling his country men and women is one of repentance and ritual cleansing. A few things in particular stand out about his call to repentance… 1) There is a sense of urgency about his proclamation. 2) John is issuing this call to his own people. They have failed at something and he is calling them to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord. 3) The notion that not just the Jews will benefit when Yahweh comes to be with them, but “all nations” even if they need to raised up from “stones.”

And as the King returns, so also his kingdom. And in this kingdom, a new (old?) ethic of concern for their fellow man is the standard. Issues of charity, honesty, and integrity are promoted out of a desire to see “righteousness/justice” for all.

Luke’s record of Jesus’ baptism is the shortest in the gospels. Perhaps this is due to its being part of a larger narrative addressing the question of “Whose son is Jesus?” This is certainly the point of the genealogy that immediately follows. Matthew’s genealogy traces Jesus’ ancestry back to Abraham, presumably to highlight Jesus as the long awaited Jewish Messiah. Luke, on the other hand, follows his lineage all the way back to Adam and God. This way of following Jesus family tree is a dramatic way of bringing one to the conclusion affirmed in the last words of the chapter. Jesus is “the Son of God.” However, by taking Jesus ancestry back beyond Abraham, it seems likely that this is another way Luke is evoking the “This Jewish Messiah will be for all people” refrain.

The Gospel of Luke 2:1-52

Luke 2:1-52

It is difficult to come at Luke 2 with anything other than the serene picture many of us carry around of the “silent night” of the first Christmas Eve. And yet, this passage is replete with subversive undertones. It is this upsetting of expectations that provides the subtext of the entire chapter.

The census that Rome mandates isn’t the benign form we are familiar with in 21st century America. A census in the ancient world was taken to figure out what various subject regions “owed” the Empire. It was an intrusive reminder that they were a people oppressed by a foreign power. They weren’t free to determine their own steps.

And yet, little does Rome know that there is a Power far greater at work even in and through their attempts to exert imperial authority. God’s purposes and promises have been slowly and quietly unfolding over centuries. So as Caesar Augustus’ decree moves a small “insignificant” family to the father’s ancestral home of Nazareth, God’s promise of an eternal dynasty from the line of David is coming to fruition this small town. The question that lingers is “who is in control?”

The birth itself is rather unremarkable, “the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.” Even more unremarkable are those that welcome the savior into the world… shepherds. Not power brokers. Not religious elite. Not even respectable middle-class citizenry. Just common shepherds. The subversive question here is “who really matters?”

Even something as simple as presenting young Jesus at the Temple turns into a chance to see the Messiah with fresh eyes. The young family is greeted by two old faithful Jews, both of whom were eagerly looking forward to the one who would save Israel. And yet, the brief exchange between old and young records a cryptic prophecy concerning not just salvation for Israel but all people. Perhaps even more disconcerting would have been Simeon’s words about the “falling and rising of many in Israel” and the “sword that will pierce” Mary’s soul in some way. The question here would be “Is the mission of the Messiah really what we have thought it to be all along?”

The story of tween Jesus lost in Jerusalem for three days only to be found in discourse with the religious academics poignantly carries the subversion of expectations motif forward. When Mary finds him, she scolds him in the way that most any mother would, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” And yet, Jesus’ response is perhaps the beginning of the soul-piercing spoken of a few verses earlier, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” While I don’t think this is an example of Jesus copping a pre-pubescent attitude, the question posed here (as well as the next couple chapters) is “Exactly whose son is this?”

The Gospel of Luke 1:26-80

Ok, now I know why people take years to write commentaries. Because that’s the sort of time it would take to give the attention to the Scriptures that they deserve.

I don’t have that sort of time. Not now, and not in the foreseeable future.

So in order to finish this project in a timely manner (end of summer), we’re going to need to move things along. At least for a while, I’ll be shooting for breadth and not depth.

Luke 1:26-80

The remainder of Luke 1 narrates the angel’s appearance to Mary, Mary’s visit with Elizabeth, Mary’s song, John’s birth, and Zechariah’s song (which will be followed by Jesus’ birth in chapter 2).

You may have noticed them already, but there are some obvious parallels going on with John’s and Jesus’ stories.

Like John’s conception, Jesus’ conception is miraculous, but to an even greater extent. In fact, in some ways, Mary/Jesus’ story is meant to be an intensification, a “one-upping” so to speak, of Zechariah/John’s story.

Mary’s response to the angelic visitation is one of belief and humble obedience, while it seems that Zechariah’s was one of disbelief and doubt.

Mary’s Song comes in advance of Jesus’ birth. While Zecharaiah’s is a response to John’s birth. Of course, you could make a pretty good argument that Zecharaiah couldn’t sing a song because he couldn’t speak at all. Nonetheless.

John’s birth is a fairly short narrative. Jesus’ will occupy all of chapter 2. None of this is meant to diminish who John was as a person, but is perhaps a technique that Luke is employing to highlight the even greater significance of who Jesus is. A point that John himself would make in chapter 3.

The reason I bring all of this up is to help us be continually reminded that Luke is indeed crafting a story. That doesn’t mean that these things didn’t happen. I certainly believe they did. It does mean that Luke isn’t “reporting” events in television reporter kind of way (although, truth be told, television reporters are telling a story, as well). Luke has a mind for sequencing, scene changes, emphasizing certain things, while ignoring others.

And it is a story that has been well thought through. It is a big story that tells the grand narrative of God at work throughout all history, and particularly the promises made to God’s people throughout the ages. However, against the backdrop of this big picture, we have individuals – “little people” – whose own dreams and hopes and actions matter. An old couple who may have longed for children all their lives are visited by God. A young couple of humble means fearful about what the future holds who are entrusted with carrying God’s Son.

God is moving his huge over-arching cosmic purposes forward. But that doesn’t mean that the details of our comparably small and insignificant lives are overlooked in the process. In God, everything matters. Global hunger and our next meal. Ecological meltdown and our very next breath. The witness of the Church universal and my next act of kindness.

And of course, the large and the small are inevitably intertwined.

God’s grand story and our small story? Equally so.

The Gospel of Luke 1:5-25

Most of my ideas on the front end seem like good ones, but in retrospect are often not so hot. I’m not sure how I’m going to get through Luke 4, much less Luke 24. So, here’s the deal, expect average content throughout… less than average for about a month… and then possibly slightly above average towards the end of the summer. Now, with expectations set fairly low, let’s forge ahead.

Luke 1:5-25

Two characters, Zechariah and Elizabeth, are introduced in such a way as to evoke “echoes” of some of the birth miracles of the Old Testament. Abram and Sarai, Jacob and Rachel, Samson to name a few. Aged and childless, they conducted their lives in such a way that they were called “righteous in the sight of God.” They are portrayed as ordinary Jewish people going about their lives. Ordinary people through whom God is going to doing an extraordinary thing. In some ways, this anticipates a recurring theme through Luke (and Acts, and the gospels, and the New Testament in general) that God uses regular people for his purposes. And since their story precedes Jesus’ own miraculous conception, it is a foreshadowing of sorts that God is on the move.

Verse 5 also makes mention of Herod. The Herod’s of the New Testament can be very confusing. This one is not the same one that is encountered later in the gospels. And that’s not the same one that is encountered in Acts. The Herod in verse 5 is the ancient equivalent of George Foreman. Everyone in the whole family is more or less named Herod.

Ok, we’re about done here, but a word about priests. Zechariah would have had normal priestly responsibilities in attending to temple worship. And as Providence would have it, while he is going about his daily priestly routine, he is chosen by lot to be the one who enters the holy place to offer incense. This isn’t to be confused with the Holy of Holies. That would be where the high priest alone could go and only once a year. Still even to be chosen to do what Zechariah was appointed to do that day would have been seen as a special honor.

Like I’ve said, I think the important question to ask is “What did Luke intend to communicate in this passage?” I also think the question, “What did God intend to communicate?” is an important one as well. It could be more than Luke had in mind, but certainly not less.

As best, I can tell Luke is really still setting the stage for what is to come. By highlighting God’s work on behalf of Zechariah and Elizabeth, I think the idea is that more and bigger is to come.

The Gospel of Luke 1:1-4

I’m not sure what the best way to approach this is going to be. Verse by verse exposition or taking larger sections and giving the overall force of the passage? I guess in a real commentary doing both is ideal. I think what I’ll do is make an attempt at summaries of sections with some comments about specific things in the text where I think helpful.

Ok, let’s dive in.

Luke 1:1-4

The overall intent of these verses is plain enough. Luke has taken up the task of writing his gospel after surveying what others have done (possibly including Mark and Matthew) and determining that there may be need for an “orderly account” of Jesus’ life, ministry, teaching, death, and resurrection. “Orderly account” doesn’t have to mean that his is more factually correct than other gospel accounts. Naturally, this taps into a much larger and complicated discussion of what is “correct.” In what sense does Christian biography (which the gospels seem to be a form of) need to be factually true in order to be “the truth.”

Luke does seem to have a tendency to include more information than the other gospels (it is the longest of the four). However, I tend to view the “orderly account” as being an explanation for how the Jesus movement went from a Jewish thing to a Jewish-plus-Gentile thing.

We also learn from these opening words (v.2) that Luke wasn’t an eyewitness of Jesus’ life and ministry. During his work with Paul (also not technically an eyewitness of Jesus’ earthly life), he likely had interactions with various early church leaders, and feasibly a fair number of Jesus’ original disciples. Whether he did or not, he affirms that he has “investigated” the traditions handed down by those earliest followers.

The letter is addressed to “Theophilus,” which could be an individual with that name. My own opinion is that Theophilus is any of us. And by that I mean any of us who would seek to be a “lover of God,” which is what the name itself means. Either way, Luke’s intent is clear. He wants to provide people with some sense of assurance about things they have been told about Jesus.

Dang. We are going to be moving pretty slow if I take this long to explain stuff. I’m going to need to keep this moving right along.

The Gospel of Luke… Intro

Before we jump into the text proper, a few introductory words might prove helpful. Let’s do this in a question/answer format.

Who wrote The Gospel According to Luke?

Seems easy enough, right? Church tradition has identified Luke as the author, so in my mind it would take some conclusive evidence to demonstrate otherwise. One argument for Luke’s authorship of the gospel goes something like this. It is pretty much universally accepted that whoever wrote Luke also wrote Acts. The “we/us” passage of Acts indicate that whoever wrote Luke/Acts was one of Paul’s partners in ministry who travelled with him. According to Colossians, 2 Timothy, and Philemon, Luke was someone who was known to Paul and co-labored with him on a regular basis. So while neither church tradition nor the textual evidence is strong enough on their own to establish Luke as the author, both pieces taken together make a fairly strong case.

When was The Gospel of Luke written?

If Luke is the author, then the latest the gospel could have been written is the early 80’s when it is believed that Luke died. A fairly even-handed guess would be sometime between the mid-60’s (after the final events recorded in Acts) and before the early-80’s. The question that drives some of the speculation is whether the destruction of Jerusalem is predicted by Jesus in Luke or is it a Lucan literary device to refer to something that has already happened. Confusing, I know. Don’t lose sleep over it.

Why was this gospel written?

This may be the most important thing to understand as we follow Jesus through the pages of Luke. If Luke did co-labor with Paul in his missionary endeavors, presumably that would have taken them well beyond the borders of the Jewish world and deep into Gentile territory. As they presented Jesus the Messiah as the rightful Lord and Savior of every tribe, tongue, and nation, questions along the following lines were sure to follow… “How has it come to pass that a failed Jewish revolutionary has come to be revered as the universal Lord over all the world?” It is a fair enough question, and one that Luke takes a stab at answering. As we go through the gospel, we’ll be sure to stop along the way and see how Luke seeks to answer this question.

I’m also going to throw in a map. I like maps. I think they are helpful. One of the things a map does is to serve as a reminder that the events that Luke records aren’t just stories that sort of float around out in space. No, the story Luke tells happened in a real time and a real place.

The Gospel of Luke… starting now

Today, at church, we started a new series on the Gospel of Luke. I got us started, and my enthusiasm for sharing all that I know and love about the gospels may have got the better of me. I’m not saying that’s a good thing. I pretty sure that people left today thinking, “that guy knows a lot about Jesus,” but not necessarily having tons of helpful things to grab hold of. Not that I think having “helpful things to grab hold of” was the intent of any of the gospel writers, which was in fact one of the points I was making. I think you get the idea.

So in my very limited ability, I tried to convey that there is so much to know and understand about who Jesus is in the gospels. The problem is that I may have tried to share all of that in one 30+ minute message. My text was mostly chapter 4 of Luke, and it really could should have been at least three different sermons.

Which brings me to why I’m here. I was pretty excited about everything that I had to say today, but sometimes EVERYTHING isn’t the best thing. You know… too much of a good thing.

So, instead of ambushing unsuspecting church-goers with more than they bargained for, I’m going to move a good bit of my discussion to here. I’m doing this for a few reasons.

First, as I’ve already said, I need an outlet. I’ll be studying Luke with the church and a couple different small groups. But I’ll enjoy having a place to say all that I’d like to say that, frankly, most people aren’t all that interested in.

Second, while looking for resources geared towards helping people study Luke on their own, I was fairly disappointed with the quality of what’s available for free online. I don’t want to denigrate the work that people have done to explain this gospel, but it just seems like they weren’t asking, “What is going to be helpful for people who are trying to make sense of Luke as they are sitting in front of their computer.” I’m absolutely certain that my efforts will suffer from the same deficiencies, but it won’t be from a lack of trying.

And third, I am hopeful that those who are studying Luke this summer and have questions will feel free to ask away. Church services generally don’t allow for that sort of interaction, nor would it be entirely helpful. Even if we made the opportunity available, people don’t ask the questions they have; either because they feel dumb asking or they think others will judge them for saying off-the-wall stuff. Hopefully, this can be a place where neither of these things get in the way of some good interaction.

So ideally, this will end up being a combination of commentary and online Bible study. We’ll see.

There are, however, a few obstacles with doing what I plan to do here.

1) While I know more than your average person about the Bible, I fall a far cry short of anything resembling a Biblical scholar. I’ll try to do decent research for what I put together, but please take it all with a grain of salt. I’m just a guy who loves studying the Bible, but probably gets it wrong about as often as I get it right.

2) I have a day job. It is called “being a pastor.” And while there should be more time for stuff like this, the days fill quickly. I’ll try to be fairly consistent, but we’ll see.

3) The first two obstacles pale in comparison with #3. I am about to be out of town for the better part of a month. And where I’m heading, internet access is going to be sketchy at best and more likely non-existent for long stretches of time. I’ll just need to get creative about how this gets done.

Ok, as you can see, this little project is going to require a lot of grace. However, with all that out on the table, I’m looking forward to diving in. My hope is that this really will be a resource for anyone who would study The Gospel of Luke (whether this summer or in the future). And be it known, the question that will drive the conversation day after day, at least for me, will be “What is it that Luke actually intended to communicate?”

I, for one, think this is an important question to ask. You might, as well.

More Mountains

Like most summers, the Rocky Mountains will provide the backdrop for various adventures in the coming weeks.

I’m taking my family (and an assortment of others) for a two-week camping trip. This annual event is sure to be both epic and rejuvenating at the same time.

I’ll also help lead a pack of graduating seniors as they take a week to pause and think clearly about the next chapter of their lives.

In between those two trips, I’m hoping for a couple days to do some climbing in southwest region of the state.

And then, later in the summer, I’m looking to take a group of guys (18 year old plus) for a long weekend of the perfect combination of mountain-leisure and mountain-rigor. I never exactly know who is game for this sort of thing, nor am I the kind of person that wants to make it an exclusive affair. So, if you are male, have August 3-9 more or less free, and desire this kind of mountain adventure, let me know. I’m going to be there. And I’m thinking about a dozen others will be joining me.

May all your summertime plans bear good fruit… no matter where you find yourself.

Four (almost all covers) for Friday

I’m not a super huge fan of covers, but every now and then I’ll come across one that I like. Today, you’re getting three! The fourth song is so good that someone should do a cover.

Derek Webb – Living on a Prayer (Bon Jovi Cover) // That’s right! A Bon Jovi cover. I never thought I would live to see the day, but what can I say… I kind of like it.

Taylor Swift – White Blank Page (Mumford & Sons Cover) // While we are on covers that I never thought possible, here’s one everything in me wanted to despise. And yet, I couldn’t. It is just so good. Shame on me.

Mayer Hawthorne – Don’t Turn the Lights On (Chromeo Cover) // As my friend Bryan Jones sometimes says, “I’m out of words now…”

Benjamin Francis Leftwich – Atlas Hands // The only non-cover in the line up. This album is destined to become one of my most listened to of the year. This song will be one of the reasons why.

Happy weekend!