Tag Archives: Luke

God’s People, part 133: The Gospels

Read Luke 1:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”  (Mark 1:1 NLT)z

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

TheGospelsPart 133: The Gospels.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lay on.
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels ‘round my head;
One to watch and one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away.

Many, myself included, grew up reciting this beautiful (and, yet, strangely chilling) bedtime prayer while a child. In this prayer, children and adults alike are praying to the four saints who wrote the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Often when people think of the Gospels, they think of just one account told by those four different people. On top of that, much of our understanding of Jesus is really a conglomeration of those four gospels.

When reading the Gospels, one must take into account that they were written in first century of the common era and not in the 21st century. That means that, in order to fully understand the significance of the Gospels for our lives today, we have to take into account what they were actually conveying to people in the first century. This is not just true of the Gospels, but of any text written in any period of time in history.

What’s more, the Gospels were not written as historical accounts in the sense of 21st Century, objective, impartial history; rather, the Gospels were a marriage between history, theology, and socio-political commentary. The latter may take some by surprise as we in the 21st century like to try to separate religion from politics; however, in the 1st century there was no such divorce between the two.

For instance, when Jesus is given the title Son of God, that is not only a theological truth being conveyed, it is also a statement against Caesar who was known to the world at the time as divi filius, or son of a God. Important still, the Gospels are absolutely setting up Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom in contrast and opposition to Caesar and the kingdom of the world. In other words, the Gospels very intentionally call the reader to choose between the empire and the world order and Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom. The two are mutually exclusive; a person can either choose one or the other, but not both.

It is also important to note that the Gospels are NOT the earliest writings in the New Testatment; instead, Pauls’ epistles (aka letters) are the oldest writings in the New Testament. Paul wrote between the 50s and 60s CE (his earliest epistle only being written about 25-30 years after Christ’s death). The earliest Gospel (which is the Gospel of Mark) was written in about 70 CE (about 40-45 years after Christ’s death).

Why is this important to note? Because many people will argue that we ought not to take Paul as seriously as the Jesus’ teachings. The problem with that line of thinking is that Paul’s writings get us the closest to the earliest Christians and to what their theology was. What’s more, the Gospels are very much influenced by and, sometimes, in reaction to Paul’s teachings. Plain and simple, Paul cannot be dismissed.

The challenge for us is this, when we approach the Gospels, let us not look at them as one story told by four different people of the same mind; rather let us see them as four separate accounts, sometimes playing off of one another, teaching us different aspects and angles on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us not look at the Gospels as a mere historical account telling us facts and figures, but let us see it for all of the rich depth with which it was written.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If you would like to read the Gospels in the order they were most likely written, start with Mark (ca. 66-70 CE), then Matthew (ca. 80-90 CE), then Luke (ca. 80-110 CE) and finish with John (ca. 90-110 CE)

PRAYER
Lord, enrich my life and my faith through the account of your Son, Jesus Christ, in the Gospels. I believe and put my faith in Christ and Christ alone. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 3: Mourners

Read Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21b

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalms 34:18 NLT)

black-and-blue-lament-e1468181738718Jesus continued his bestowal of blessings, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The words rang out and filled the ears and souls of the multitude of people gathered around Jesus that day. There was much to mourn in their day and age, there had been much to be grieved over. Under the weight of such suffering, there wasn’t a single soul among Jesus’ followers who hadn’t been in some state of mourning or another.

Whether rich or poor, whether powerful or weak, whether a person of status or a peasant, all were in a state of grief over the travesty of being subjegated to the Roman Empire. Sure, there were some who had much to gain from Rome’s presence. The High Priest, Caiaphas, and his whole priestly family benefited from Rome. According to Flavius Josephus, Annas (the same Annas who took part in Jesus’ mock trial) was appointed High Priest in 6 CE by the Roman Governor Quirinius as the first High Priest of the new Roman Province of Iudaea (aka Judea). He served in that role until he was deposed by the Roman Governor Gratus in 15 CE and was replaced by his son, Eleazar, in 16 CE. In 17 CE, Gratus deposed Eleazar and appointed Annas’ son-in-law, Joseph son of Caiaphas (aka Caiaphas) as the high priest.

There were others who also had much to gain. Herod, an Idumaean Jew, and his family gained power under Rome, as did those who supported Herod’s agenda of Hellenizing Judea (aka the Herodians). Yet, even they were not without their mourning for, under the Roman boot, no one was truly free to do as they pleased, not even Herod. Following Herod’s death, Caesar Augustus refused to give any of his children the title of king, but appointed three of his sons as governors. Herod’s son Archelaus, though willed by his father to be king, was eventually deposed by Augustus and the regions he ruled (Samaria, Judah, and Idumaea) were consolodated into a new Roman province of Iudaea (aka Judea) and placed directly under Roman Rule. Antipas and Phillip both kept governorship of their regions, but the tension between them and Rome was thick.

So, yes, many had much to mourn over in the days and years Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth, and no doubt, everyone has something to mourn about in our day and age as well; however, Jesus was not merely speaking to those who mourned in the physical sense, as it is often misunderstood. Jesus was, in actuality, speaking to those who mourn in both the physical and spiritual senses.

Without doubt, by using the phrase “those who mourn”, Jesus is referring to the poor. This can be evidenced in Luke’s literal interpretation of this famous beatitude (Luke 6:21b). With that said, I would once again caution anyone from rushing to the judgment that Matthew is “spiritualizing” Jesus’ words. First, it is more than likely that Luke was written after Matthew, not beforehand. Thus, chronologically speaking, it would be more likely that Luke “literalized” the words of Jesus found in Matthew, and even that’s just as unlikely. Second, since the mysterious Q source of Jesus’ sayings has never been found, only speculative (and not empirical) claims can be made regarding what Jesus was actually recorded as saying. Without empirical evidence, there’s no reason to believe that either Matthew or Luke are detracting from what Jesus said, but more or less expounding upon it.

Lastly and most importantly, Matthew’s text (regardless of the points above) does not exclude the literal poor, but most certainly includes them when mentioning those who mourn. Blessed are they who mourn because of the greed, the corruption, the power, and oppression of the wicked, for they will be comforted. Also included in this group of blessed people are those who mourn and lament because of how far wayward God’s people had gone as a result of greed, corruption and abuse of power. Blessed are those mourners for they, too, will be comforted when God’s Kingdom finally and fully reigns on the earth.

What’s more, as will be seen later in the beatitudes, the mourners are not merely those who are helpless and voiceless against injustice, but those who stand up against it and face the consequences of doing so. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The question for you is, which one of these are you? Are you one of the poor and helpless who mourn? Are you one of those who mourn and lament over injustice and stand up against it, or are you one of those who our Lord (Matthew 23; Luke 6:24-26) declares a series of woes against? Challenge yourself to earnestly reflect on this, not only this week, but always.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Good God, if our civilization were to sober up for a couple of days it’d die of remorse on the third.” – Malcom Lowry
PRAYER
Lord, as I mourn the way this world is, empower me to follow you and change it. Amen.

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 3: Reports

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:20 NLT)

buddy_christ1Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

As was mentioned in the previous two devotions, following his baptism and wilderness experiences, Jesus returned to Galilee. This was a place that was familiar to him and, no doubt, a place that he could return and feel confident enough to test the waters, so-to-speak. Yet, Jesus was not naive and he knew that returning home would present other challenges for him. Sure, he knew the area and he knew the people. He knew what their hopes were, he knew what their fears were. He knew what they enjoyed most and he also knew what they struggled with in their day to day lives. Jesus had an intimate and personal knowledge of those people. Yet, they knew him as well and they knew his family.

That’s not to say that everyone in Galilee, which is only 21 km (13 mi) long and 13 km (8.1 mi) wide (a total of 53 km or 33 mi in circumference), knew who Jesus was. But they would have known he was one of their own by his very village attached to his name (Jesus of Nazareth), let alone by his mannerisms and the way he talked. So, when Jesus shows up on the scene preaching words of wisdom and performing divine miracles, the buzz about this miracle worker and teacher rises up quickly and spreads throughout the region. This makes Jesus’ return to his own village a precarious one.

The people of Nazareth did intimately know this son of a carpenter and so, when they hear the reports of all he is doing in their region, they get curious, prideful, and excited for the homecoming of this “son of Nazareth.” When Jesus arrives in their town, they are all ready to hear him read from and expound upon the Scriptures. They’re not really listening to the words of the prophet Isaiah, as much as they are listening to their own excitement at the propsect that one of their own, a hometown boy (if you will), might actually be the promised Messiah come to deliver the people of Israel from foreign occupation. They wanted to claim him as their own and yet, because of their vested interest in him and the reports circulating about him, they were cutting themselves off from what God WAS ACTUALLY DOING. Hence why, in verse 24, Jesus states that “a prophet is never accepted in his own hometown”.

Jesus hadn’t come to make them proud, or give them something to continue reporting on; rather, he had returned home to the people he loved and knew so intimately in order that he might show them how they needed to change (not a popular message, I know!), in order that they might become agents of the Kingdom of God rather than slaves to the Kingdom of this world. This is a vitally important message for us as well. After all, we who go by Christ’s name consider him to be one of ours, right? We consider ourselves to be in with him and we report on how “awesome he is”! Christian athletes praise Christ for being their Lord and Savior and for helping them win games. Christian artists praise Christ for their artistic talents. Christian politicians praise God for their political gains and, truth be told, to garner Christian support. Yet, where is Christ in all of this? Is Christ merely a namesake that gets us what we want? Is Christ merely a name to drum ourselves up with? Or is Christ the one who comes to us and demands that we change in order to be true representatives of the Kingdom of God? Regardless of where you are on this, whether you accept this Jesus or not, God cannot be deceived and certainly knows a tree by the fruit it bears.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Even children make themselves known by their acts, by whether what they do is pure and right.” (Proverbs 20:11 NRSV).
PRAYER
Lord, help me to see past the hype and the reports of who you are in order that I may see who you truly are and who you are calling me to be. Amen.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Read Luke 1:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

TheFourGospels“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed that I lie on. Four corners to my bed, four angels round my head; one to watch and one to pray, and two to bear my soul away.” There is nothing quite like children’s nursery rhymes, is there? Especially religious ones that point to a God that all little children had better fear. I grew up reciting this rhyme as young boy, subconsciously digesting it’s grim and rather creepy message. This rhyme basically says that you had better be in line with the four Gospels if you would like God’s protection when you sleep, and it doesn’t hesitate to remind you that you could die in your sleep. So if you would like angels to guard you and/or carry your soul to heaven, you had better be blessed by the Gospels. That’s rather funny being that the word gospel literally means “good news” and is the “good news” of Jesus Christ, not Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

It is amazing to me that so many people claim to be Christian in this country and, yet, few people are literate to what the Gospels actually say. We recite quaint little rhymes, we remember the Sunday School stories taught to us at young ages, and we even watch movies that are, when you think of it, only loosely based on the Gospels; however, most people do not pick up the Gospels and read them for themselves. And, when people do pick up the Gospels and read it, they read it as if they are a cohesive, singular story that were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who were sitting side by side and consulting with each other on what they remember the Lord saying and doing. Here’s an example. Tell yourself what you know about Jesus’ birth. You will probably think of Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem, being forced to sleep in a manger because there was no room at the inn, and being visited by 3 wise men who brought gifts, as well as by shepherds who got a full choral performance by the Vienna Boys’ Choir of angels.

Yet, I bet you didn’t realize that Mary and Joseph only get put in a manger in Luke, not Matthew. And the Wise Men are only mentioned in Matthew and not in Luke, not to mention the author of Matthew (we don’t actually know his real name, as he never actually gave it) never numbered the wise men to three. What’s more the shepherds only show up in Luke and not in Matthew. Let me also point this out, the birth narrative is ONLY found in Matthew and Luke. It is absent in Mark and John. Is your head spinning yet? What do we make of this? Should we question the accuracy of the Gospels?

The answer, in short, is absolutely not! If the authors were looking to write a 21st century, scientific, history textbook, then we should definitely question their accuracy; however, that is not what they were writing. They were writing a Gospel which combines loosely recorded historical figures and events that are combined with narratives woven around what were the known sayings, teachings and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth, who they witnessed and experienced as the Christ. To simplify this a bit, what the authors were writing was a THEOLOGY on WHO JESUS IS and WHY THAT IS GOOD NEWS. That is what these authors were concerned with, reporting the GOOD NEWS of JESUS CHRIST to their communities.

My challenge to you is for you to read the Gospels. Read them in the order they were written Mark (ca. 68-70 CE), Matthew (ca. 80-90 CE), Luke (ca. 80-90 CE), and John (ca. 90-100 CE). Read them separately, taking each one on its own terms. Get a feel for what truths each author would like to convey to you about Jesus, the Christ, the son of God. Let them inform you, rather than you trying to inform them, and be amazed at the dynamic, living, and powerful Christ that will meet you in the process. There are no books in the world more influential that the Gospels and there is a reason for that. Read them as they are and be transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“While facts are beholden to truth, truth is not beholden to fact.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, speak the truth of your good news to my heart so that I may see you as you wish to be revealed to me, through the faithful witness of others as well as through my own experience. Amen.

From Top to Bottom

Read Matthew 5-7; Luke 6:12-49; Mark 10:42-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

And [Jesus] to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” (Luke 9:48)

Nepal_Mount_Everest_And_AmaMany people talk about the power of God in their lives. Many people speak of God as having control over the course of their lives. Many people convey that it is God who has brought them as far as they are and that God has blessed them.  But the question is, what has God blessed them with? Where has God brought them to, how has God been in control of their lives, and what in their lives displays God’s power.

On the surface, such claims sound good and humble. It is great to give God credit and to praise God for being present in our lives.  But when one looks past the surface, it becomes clear that these praises are often in light of success.  For instance, Ray Lewis praised God for his team’s Super Bowl win. Some celebrities publicly thank God for blessing them with success. Countries the world over thank God for making them “the greatest country in the world.”

Why is it that we attribute God’s power, God’s presence, and God’s blessing with being at the top. Why is it that God is in control of our lives, that automatically means we will be successful, prosperous, great, and at the top of the pecking order?  And we need not look at football stars, or celebrities, of countries to see this understanding of God’s presence in our lives.  We only need look at the church and we see hierarchy and power struggles and the desire to be the biggest, the best and the most successful.

Yet, Jesus presents a different view of God’s power, presence and what it means to have God in control of your life.  Rather than being the best, the greatest, the most successful, or at the top, God calls those who wish to inherit God’s Kingdom to be the least of these and a servant of all. What’s that? Come again? In order to be the greatest I have to be the least? You mean to tell me that in order to be a leader I need to be the servant of all? What kind of flip-flop theological mish-mash is that? It’s called the Gospel.

The Good News for the folks at the bottom is that God IS WITH YOU! The least of these are the greatest in the eyes of God; however, that is not to say that the greatest are left behind or considered rubbish either.  God is with all people and loves all people. The truth, though, is that God calls those who think the great to become the servant of those who are the least. In other words, those who have should be serving those who have not. Just think of what kind of world this would be if God were TRULY in control of our lives. Just think of what miracles would be worked through us if we TRULY opened ourselves up to God’s power? Just think of where we would be led if we TRULY knew that God’s blessing is the gift of being a blessing to others?

Rather than getting caught up in power plays, we should give up “our power” and claim the power that God has give us…the power to LOVE as God first loved us.  Rather than seeking to be the greatest, the most successful, and/or the best, we should seek to be among the least of these, our brothers and sisters. It is only when we do that, it is only when we surrender all to God, it is only when we live out the Sermons on the Mount (in Matthew) and on the Plain (in Luke) that we will come to realize how blessed we really have been.  It is then, and only then, that we will be giving credit as living witnesses to God’s awesome power and presence.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Greatness is relative. From the moon the great Mt. Everest looks like a wrinkle on the earth.

PRAYER

Lord, humble me to be a bearer of the Good News of your present and imminent Kingdom. Amen.

The Magnifying Glass

Read Luke 1:46-55

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“As for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause.” (Job 5:8)

The Magnifying GlassSo, it is the day after Christmas Day and as the angels in the heavens said to the shepherds two millenia ago, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  But before we move out of the Christmas season and into the New Year, I would like to take a moment to reflect on a psalm spoken by Mary when she first learned she was pregnant with Jesus.

Now, can you imagine the scene of this?  An angel appears to this 14 year old girl and tells her that God is going to make her pregnant. Come again!?!?  “Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin'” (Luke 1:34)?  Can you picture the horror of the idea of this, in a time when women were considered property; in a time when women were stoned for “getting pregnant” outside of marriage?  Mary must have been truly frightened, yet she answered, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Following this, she praises the Lord with an original Psalm that comes from her heart.  She starts it off with the following statement, “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46). Now if you are reading that statement carefully, it should cause you to pause and ponder. How can the soul of Mary, a mere peasant girl, magnify the soul of El Shaddai, or rather, God Almighty?  How can the soul of a lowly human being ever magnify God…shouldn’t it be the other way around. Shouldn’t it be that God magnifies Mary’s soul?

Yet, in Mary’s statement we see an inherent truth that perhaps sets her apart from most people.  Whereas, when we think of God, we are looking for something big, Mary saw something small. Where we are looking for a grandiose Zeus in the sky sitting on a golden throne, Mary saw a precious, vulnerable, and helpless baby.  To take it one step further, not only did Mary see God in her child, but she saw God in herself.  And it was in her qualities of humility, of meekness, of lowliness, of smallness, and of faithfulness that she saw God magnified.

We are so busy looking for something big, something out of this world, and something magical that we often miss the presence of God entirely. In the movie, Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee says, “Like a finger pointing to the moon…don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of that heavenly glory.” Often times, we focus so hard on concentrating on miracles…looking here and there for them…that we miss the miracle itself.

Mary did not miss the miracle.  She knew the miracle was not just around her, but within her.  That she was born in a time when many babies died…Miracle.  That she was not stoned for being found with child outside of marriage…Miracle. That Joseph accepted a dream as reality and accepted Jesus as his son…Miracle.  That anyone would see God within them…including Mary…Miracle.

Rather than looking for Kings and kingly gifts, rather than looking for dazzling parlor tricks and illusions, let us recognize the true Miracle of Christmas…that God is not only with us, but revealed and magnified within us.  If your soul rejoices in God the way Mary’s did, how differently will you begin to live your life.  Make this your New Year’s resolution: See God within you and let your soul be a magnifying glass…not only in word but in deed. Let your soul say, as Mary’s did, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“People see God every day, they just don’t recognize him.”  – Pearl Bailey

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see you within me, and help let my soul magnify you, O Lord God. I am your servant. Amen.