The Gospel of Luke 6:1-49

Luke 6:1-49

A popular reading of Jesus’ disregard for the laws governing Sabbath casts Jesus in the role of the rebellious visionary who wants nothing to do with the prig-ish piety of his religious contemporaries. At some level, this is probably true. However, what Jesus is doing in his non-Sabbath observance is something much deeper and more significant than trying to stick it to “the man.”

Sabbath is a sacred period of rest set aside at the end of the Jewish week so that one might be reminded of their dependance on God and that human beings are mortal and finite. Sabbath is meant to remind us that there is more to life than work and the common events that make up our everyday lives. It is meant to point to a Reality that is greater than ourselves.

But when the Reality shows up, it is the dawn of a new day and everything is seen in a new light. That to which the pointer points isn’t necessary when the pointed to thing (person) is standing right in front of you. In Jesus, we see the “Sabbath” face to face.

It is in this spirit we are to read, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Or as in other places, “The Sabbath was made for the man, and not man for the Sabbath.” This isn’t meant to taken as some sort of anthropocentric – mankind is the center of the universe – sort of teaching. It is meant to highlight that Sabbath has a purpose, and when that purpose is fulfilled then Sabbath observance takes on a secondary significance. In much the same way that one doesn’t spend all their time looking at a shadow when they can be looking at the object casting the shadow in the first place.

It is this idea of fulfillment that permeates the rest of the chapter as well. The story that immediately follows of Jesus selecting twelve disciples functions in a similar way. Jesus decision to select twelve disciples is hardly arbitrary. Twelve people. Not eleven. Not thirteen. Twelve.

In a similar way that there were twelve tribes of Israel, Jesus’ selecting the Twelve is a not so subtly way of symbolically redefining Israel in and around himself. He establishes an alternative Israel. Or perhaps more in line with what we’ve been saying all along, in Jesus we find the true Israel or the fulfillment of all that Israel was to be and do.

The Gospel of Luke 5:1-39

Luke 5:1-39

Alright people, let’s get to this. These are going to have to come fast and furious, so please receive it in its rough form.

Back in Luke 4, Jesus had a power encounter with Satan in which Jesus made clear that his “vocation” was to be the chosen People Person of God – the Son of God – that Israel had failed to be. And now, it was time to get work on demonstrating what happens when the Kingdom of God breaks in around us.

While there are a number of remarkable things about the calling of Peter and the other early disciples, perhaps the most striking thing about the story isn’t the manner in which he calls them, but who he calls. Peter is a regular guy. He’s got a 9-5. The same is true for his co-workers. I am certain that Peter and the fellas woke that day with the expectation that it was going to be another normal day. As far as work was concerned, it was sort of a bust. No fish. None.

Then Jesus shows up. And not only do they end up taking in the largest haul any of them had every experienced, but Jesus invites them into his Kingdom work. Here was a guy who believed enough in them to say, “I want you to join me in turning the world upside down. You in?” And they were. They dropped everything and followed him. That is how it is in the Kingdom.

Next, he encounters a man with leprosy. And regardless of how traumatizing this man’s physical condition was, his legislated rejection from the community of God’s people would certainly have been more painful still. Excluded from Temple worship. Excluded from joining with his fellow Jews.

All that changes for him in an instant. Jesus comes to town, and despite the Law’s insistence that the “unclean” stay separate from the “clean,” the diseased man casts aside convention to throw himself at the feet of Jesus. And in that moment, Jesus extends his hand, makes physical contact with him… and he is healed. Inside and out.

News spreads rapidly, Jesus’ reputation and popularity are beginning to take off. And yet, Luke wants us to take note… Jesus often retreated to be alone and pray. In our contemporary church culture that places penultimate value on community and relationships (and in many ways, rightly so), Jesus makes clear that times of solitude are equally precious and meant to be sought out.

This dual healing seems to be the refrain throughout chapter 5. His next encounter is with a paralyzed man and his optimistic friends who literally drop him at Jesus’ feet. Jesus looks at the paralytic and addresses this man’s most obvious need. Surprisingly, it isn’t restoring his ability to walk. It is his inward brokenness. And Jesus speaks healing to him in a single word… “forgiven.”

But the healing doesn’t end there. Jesus attends to his secondary need as well. The external healing reflects what has happened in the dark and undisclosed recess of his heart. “Get up… go home.” Certainly, a straightforward enough command. But perhaps just below the surface one sees the broad sweeping invitation for all people to stand up and walk away from that thing which truly paralyzes and to return to our true home.

It won’t come as any surprise that he repeats the scene in a slightly different manner immediately after that. Now the malady isn’t so obviously a physical problem, but a social one. Jesus associates with people that no self-respecting Jew would ever sit at table with. But Jesus makes his intentions clear, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Jesus’ mission made plain, “I have come to heal.” In fact, if someone only had this chapter as a record of Jesus life and mission, one would come quickly to the conclusion that Jesus came to “heal” the whole person… inside and out.

Or maybe from the inside out. Being “healthy” is an obsession in American culture. I couldn’t begin to guess what kind of revenue the “health” industry generates. Health clubs, health food, psychic healers, health insurance, health care, etc… And I’m not just pointing the finger either. I’m pretty committed to a healthy lifestyle as well.

And yet with all our preoccupation with being healthy, so little attention is focused on the whole person being cured. So much so that when one begins to look inward, we get that all messed up too. If all we had was chapter 5, we would see that what a person most desperately needs is to be called by Jesus, touched by him, have a word spoken to by him, and to sit at his table. And that is what it looks like when God’s Kingdom comes “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Luke – Round Two

Ok, where were we? In Luke that is. It has been a while so perhaps you have forgotten. At the front-end of the summer, I had the brilliant idea of blogging through Luke’s gospel. It was going to be great. Our church was preaching through Luke, and I was going to work out my thoughts in rough sketch here on the blog as the rest of the church was following along on Sundays. Everything was a “go.”

Then summer happened. And when summer hit, all things normal, routine, and consistent were thrown out the window. I knew that it was going to be a challenge staying on top of things around here, but I didn’t foresee everything coming to a screeching halt.

Now three months later, I’m back. Actually, my body has been back for well over a month, but it has taken my mind and spirit that long to catch up with my body. I didn’t feel like the rest of me had really “returned” until right around Labor Day weekend.

So it hasn’t been until the last couple weeks that I have returned to a normal routine. I’m of the opinion that “routine” is often unfairly criticized for being mundane and boring. While I dislike just going through the motions or getting into a rut as much as the next person, there is a certain stability in settling into a routine that can be life-giving. This is true for the person finding their way back into their rhythm, as well as everyone who depends on that person in some way.

All of this is a long way of saying, I’m coming back around to the Luke blogging plan. I know that this blog-o-project is sort of moot now. We started a new teaching series at church yesterday, and so the church is officially done with Luke. But I’m not. The entire time we were going through it, most everyone I know felt like it was rushed. None of us had the chance to really dig in like we would have liked. And so, I will be journeying with Luke a little longer still.

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.