|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
PART TWO: ChapterS 2 & 3
Meditation Title: Overview
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 17
Meditation Title: The Flow of Circumstances
Readings in Luke : 17 : In the Flow of Circumstances
Lk 2:1-7 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria .) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea , to Bethlehem the town of David , because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, 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, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Determinism is the theory that all human action is determined by external forces acting on the will. As with most things there is partial truth here, but only partial. Christianity declares that we have free will to choose how we respond to the external forces, yet without doubt there are times when the external forces do push in on us and help direct us. I have commented before in these meditations that I can look back over my life and see certain, specific things that happened and which I responded to which brought about the person and the life that I am today. In fact we can all say that. The only thing that varies is our awareness of those things. My wife has pondered this one and said, “Suppose we had never met, suppose we had not married, that would mean our three children and our two grandchildren would never have existed. If I had met someone else there might be totally different people in this world now.” Yes, it's fun to ponder but the truth is that because of this chain of events these people are in the world and their presence affects lots of other people. There is this chain of events that can be observed.
So it was that we find this young engaged couple, Joseph and Mary, she expecting a baby and him wondering about it all. They are still living in Nazareth, in the north of what we call Israel, and in the province of Galilee, and there, no doubt, they would have continued to live if the Roman emperor hadn't taken it into his mind to find out just how many people he ruled over.
Scholars and historians are a bit confused over the reporting of this census because the dating in Luke here seems difficult, but we can say two things about that. First, in every other way Luke's reporting is excellent and particularly after his opening words about a careful investigation, we must assume that he got it right and perhaps one day we'll be able to be more specific about exactly when it was. The other thing to say is that we don't know the delays that would have taken place by various administrators and how it would have actually worked out in practice.
So Augustus decides he wants to know numbers and so the word goes out around the empire. Whether it was the same across the whole empire I don't know, but in Israel the requirement was that each person would go back to their family town to be recorded and counted. This may have been because the history of Israel meant it was easy to do this because each tribe had originally been given a certain area and if you traced back your family line (which was important to them) then you would know your family area.
Joseph's family area is Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem and so he goes there, and because he is betrothed to Mary, she has to go as well, which is very inconvenient because she is almost full-term expecting her baby. When they arrive in Bethlehem after a long journey from the north, they try to find accommodation but everywhere if full up of others who have also come to be registered and counted. It's a bit of an administrative nightmare to say the least. The best they can get is a stable. Now we say a stable because that is what tradition assumes they had but actually in Luke's account (and none of the other Gospels cover this part of Jesus' history) there is NO mention of a stable. Three times there is mention of a manger but no mention of a stable. Some believe the ‘stable' to be a cave but actually it is even feasible that he was born outside and the ‘manger' was simply an outdoor trough. We jut don't know. Both Matthew and Luke were to record Jesus many years later saying of himself, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Lk 9:58) meaning he had no roof of his own over his head. Perhaps it had been like that right at the beginning.
Thus this young couple with their tiny baby seemed to be swept along in the currents of high politics, sent away from home at this most crucial time. Yet they are near Jerusalem and there are people there who God has lined up to see them. Is this God setting the scene? Are there things going on here that are much bigger than just the capricious whims of an egotistical emperor? Did God get this couple away from their gossiping neighbours in Nazareth to spare them the ongoing speculation about their behaviour? There are things here that are only visible to the eye from heaven, and that is how it is with life. God is working out His purposes and for much of the time we have only a tiny clue of what He is doing, but it will become clearer in the days to come for those with a heart to look.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 18
Meditation Title: The Lowest of the Low
Lk 2:8-12 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Sometimes we read Scripture and let it pass straight over us. I have been a Christian for a long time but it has only been in recent years that I have been pondering the ‘why' of this well known story that comes to light every Christmas. Why should shepherds on a hillside somewhere outside Bethlehem have had an angelic visitation to tell them about this baby that has just been born? What's the point of it?
Well of course, as we have often commented, we can only speculate about this because we are not actually told. The story is simply told: shepherds on a hillside nearby, looking after their sheep, are visited by an angel of the Lord, around whom the glory of God obviously shines very brightly. No one else apparently saw this phenomena but the shepherds certainly did and it scared the life out of them. Night after night, for goodness knows how long, these men have looked after sheep in the pitch black of night, possibly only broken by a camp fire to keep the cold off and the predators away. Suddenly the light of the fire seems as nothing as the brightness of this apparition appears. No wonder they were terrified.
It seems that most of the time angels have to keep telling us, “Don't be afraid, it's all right.” We're really not very good with angels who appear from nowhere. But then comes the reason for his appearance. Imagine your favourite newscaster on TV one night starting out, “Here is the news and it will bring great joy to you all.” Wow, what is coming? Have we all won the lottery? Are the government going to do away with taxation? The speculation at that moment would be rife. And what is the answer? What is it that is going to bring such joy to everyone? The Christ or the Messiah has just been born down there in Bethlehem. Right, OK, but I'm just a shepherd, and I thought this Messiah that our religious people are always on about will be coming to set our nation free, but what impact is that going to have on us? We're only shepherds and it doesn't matter whether we're ruled by Rome or Jerusalem ; it's all the same to us.
You see, if you think about this, the whole thing is strange. Why should God come to a bunch of shepherds with news for the whole nation, with news that seems hardly relevant to them? There is more in this than meets the eye! There has got to be something here that we have missed.
The end of this bit of the story comes as: “ The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (v.20). Something between the moment of darkness before the glory arrives, and then when they return back to their sheep, something makes this real for these men.
I believe there are two factors. The first is to do with encounters with God, whether it be angels or the Spirit or whatever. Words on a page do not ever fully describe it; they just don't convey the wonder of what is happening. On the occasions when I have had encounters with the Lord, I have been left with an incredible feeling of ‘something other'. When God turns up no explanation of words can convey the encounter. Perhaps that is why in Scripture the various people who did have close encounters of the God kind really struggled to describe it and the most common word used is ‘like'. It was ‘like' this or ‘like' that. It wasn't that but it was like it. We can talk or argue for hours on end about God's presence but it is just words until we have such an encounter, and then we just ‘know'!
The second thing has to do with the shepherds themselves. Who were they? Well most commentators or historians describe them as outcasts, the lowest of the low. Living out on the hills they tended to be completely separated off from the rest of society. They didn't turn up at synagogue every Saturday because they were having to look after sheep. They didn't get bank-holidays off; it was a lifetime job. They tended to be scruffy and dirty but what else do you expect when you live on a hillside with sheep? So here it is: God comes to the lowest of the low. If this was India He would come to the ‘untouchables'. If it was London or New York , He would come to the street people living in cardboard boxes.
There is something so staggeringly wonderful about this that it probably misses most of us. Until this point, to encounter God you had to be religious. If you were a Jew you had to go to synagogue weekly, to Jerusalem annually, and you had to keep the Law and follow the rules. If you had some other world religion, you had your own set of things you had to do or become to be an ‘acceptable person' to your deity or whatever. Up until this point, that was how it was. And then God turns up and tells the lowest of the low, that His Son is there for them. Excuse me Lord, we think you've got it wrong. They aren't religious? They aren't good people. They don't keep the Law. Why them and not us nice people?
The answer is that everyone is accessible to Him. No one is excluded. He's here for everyone. It doesn't matter how insignificant you think yourself, how much of a failure you think yourself, He's here for you! That's the whole message of the Gospels and it is encapsulated in this little wonderful incident. Put religion aside, put being good aside, put success aside, He's here for you! And that, I suggest is what made the shepherds excited!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 19
Meditation Title: Peace on Earth
Lk 2:13-15 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests." When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
We are still in those passages that get read every Christmas in carol services, and as such we constantly have to contend with familiarity which sometimes covers up the truth. What exactly was happening here? The angel (single) came with a simple message to the shepherds that the Messiah had just been born in Bethlehem and they would find him in a manger. Perhaps it was the manger that got the interest of these shepherds. They knew about mangers because mangers were used to feed animals.
But suddenly the angel is joined by a great company of other angels (the heavenly host). Now traditionally we have assumed they sung the words that follow but it doesn't actually say that. This is going to be another of those occasions where we have to wonder exactly how it happened. We are simply told that there were a large number of them and they were praising God and were saying the message of verse 14. There is actually no indication that they sung it. But how did they say it? Was it all together as a chant? Did they repeat it again and again or was it just a brief once spoken message? We are left to speculate because Luke doesn't tell us. He's dealing in basics!
The basic message comes in two parts, the first about God Himself, and the second about what He is doing. The first part ascribes glory or greatness to God, God who resides in heaven (in the highest). Scripture always gives the sense that God is glorious in Himself. Whenever His presence is seen in revelations, He is seen as exalted and glorious. Isaiah saw Him as “high and exalted” (Isa 6:1) and the ones around the throne declared, “the whole earth is full of his glory.” (v.3). Ezekiel described Him as “ as if full of fire.” ( Ezek 1:27). In John's New Jerusalem “the glory of God gives it light.” (Rev 21:23). There seems always a ‘tangible' glory that His very being gives off and glory also refers to all that He touches and achieves. In heaven He is seen without hindrance.
But He is being glorified by the angels, not only because of the gloriousness of His being, but because of what He is about to do. He is coming to bring peace on earth. Now you might look at the last two hundred years of history and all its wars and think that He obviously didn't achieve that peace, but there is a rider to this peace. It is peace for those men on whom his favour rests. This isn't to be taken to mean ALL men or women. The Bible is quite clear again and again, that God's favour rests on those who will respond to Him. If you reject Him don't expect His favour to rest on you. What does this ‘favour' mean? It simply means that God's blessing or God's decree of goodness for you, rests on you, and as we have just said, the Bible indicates that that comes to those whose hearts are turned to the Lord. How can He bless someone who totally rejects Him, despises Him, ignores Him and lives a life completely contrary to His design? It is not being unkind to say these things, just logical. Such people don't want His blessing. They prefer to live the opposite of this goodness we are speaking about.
But the message of the angels is that God is coming to bring peace to whoever wants it, whoever wants to come to God to ask for it. Until then, the thing that worried us most was our sin, our failures, the things that our consciences told us offended God and kept us from Him, the things in fact which warranted our punishment. Peace was the last thing in our minds when it came to God. But now God was bringing His solution, His Messiah to the earth to deal with our sin and to take the punishment we believe we should have, and having taken it, he leaves us with peace – peace with God, for now there is no longer any unresolved conflict between us. Jesus has removed it!
It is almost certain that these shepherds would not have understood this message. How could they? The Messiah has not done his work yet, has not revealed his Father's love to the earth and has not died and risen again, and been revealed by the Holy Spirit. This is still, for them, all still in the future. But the simple message is clear and something, whether it is that or just the glory they have seen, something makes them respond and they go down and find the baby.
Now this message is incredibly simple, but we may struggle with it. Intellectually it is foolishness (1 Cor 1:23), that God should send part of Himself to experience the agony of the worst form of human execution, to apparently take our guilt and punishment. Until God convicts you of your sin and your need, you look at all this and wonder and question. When God calls you (1 Cor 1:24) and you realise His holiness and your lack of holiness, indeed your awful sin, suddenly it all makes sense and like a drowning man you grab for it. You don't worry about it intellectually any longer, you're just glad of it, and if this is what God says, you'll have it.
These lowest of the low responded to what they had seen and heard. So must we.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 20
Meditation Title: Simple Messengers
Lk 2:16-20 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
We have been considering the part the shepherds played in the Nativity accounts. There is one more part to consider, and that is their response to the revelation they received, what they did afterwards. Now again, these verses suffer in two ways. First they are often read at Christmas time and are therefore familiar and, second, they are so simple and straight forward that we might not think them worthy of anything beyond a casual reading. It is at such times that we need to remind ourselves of Paul's words, that “ All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness .” (2 Tim 3:16) So what will these verses teach us, how might they rebuke us, how might they correct us and how might they train us to be righteous?
The angels have received a dramatic heavenly revelation through not just one angel but many, around whom shone the glory of God. There was no doubt about it that it was dramatic and the very drama of it no doubt contributed to their response of going and finding the baby. We can perhaps put our own minds at rest by saying that in such circumstances we would probably have responded in the same way, but the question then arises, do we need God's communication to be dramatic before we respond to Him? A whole flood of questions flow here!
Do we believe that God communicates with people today? This is the most basic of questions and it needs asking because it seems there are many who would otherwise call themselves religious in a Christian sense, but who make God impotent and say He neither moves nor speaks in human affairs today. It's all been said in the Bible, such people say. So God is no more a person with the fundamental character of being a communicator as the whole Bible shows Him to be?
If God does speak, does He do it in ways that we can hear? Well logically it would be pretty pointless for Him to speak to us if He knew we can't hear. Why speak to a brick wall? If He speaks and we hear Him, why don't we believe Him? This now starts to become uncomfortable because this is now saying things about our level of faith and that is down to us. We make excuses: well it might not be God, I might get it wrong, and so on. The shepherds risked getting it wrong – they left their sheep. OK, we aren't told if they left one of them to look after them, but the implication is that they all went down to Bethlehem . And why? We need to remind ourselves of the reason. It was simply to view a baby, who wasn't going to affect them again for at least thirty years. A bit pointless one might say, but when angels have told you, you go.
But their response is a lot bigger than just going: they told people. Having seen the baby, they then told people what had happened. It must have been as much about the angels as about the baby, for the angels bring credibility to the baby. Whether they woke people up by their noise and people were then told, or whether they came down next morning and told the story, we don't know. They just told people. No doubt some people put it down to drink, hallucinations or whatever, but they didn't care. They knew what they had seen. They might not have understood it, but they knew and they told. Why? Because it is natural to tell.
So one morning God seems to speak to you through a Bible reading. One Sunday the preacher's sermon impacts you. One day you are praying and God seems to speak to you in the midst of the prayer. Do you tell your close family, your friends? It IS newsworthy, so why don't we tell? Is it because we have let the world's skepticism to quench our natural inclinations to share? Let's not bother with their skepticism, let's give our family and friends something to think about. This happened to me! The power of testimony is immense.
In the midst of all this Mary ponders. The conception had been miraculous, Joseph had stood by her, but it still left he feeling isolated in her experience. Suddenly she is surrounded by excited shepherds who all join in the experience. They too have heard from God about this child. Suddenly she is not quite so isolated. This must have come as a strong encouragement to both Mary and Joseph. Oh yes, Joseph needed these. Every day he must have been plagued by the question, did she really meet with God. Suddenly into the loneliness and isolation of the night, burst these heavenly messengers, these shepherds, with a story to tell, of an angelic visitation that was beyond doubt, with a confirmation about this little baby. Suddenly Joseph too, feels a whole lot better. This IS God at work, we ARE part of His plans! Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 21
Meditation Title: Law Abiding Parents
Lk 2:21-24 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."
The circumstances have swept Mary and Joseph along so that they are in Bethlehem to be counted and it was there Mary had her baby. We don't know how long the counting process might have taken, so it is possible that they were required to be there some time while bureaucracy took its time. They may have stayed there because it just wasn't a good idea to try the sixty-plus mile trek back home so soon after having given birth. Whatever the reason they are still there a week later and it is probable that they would have sought out the local rabbi for the service of naming the baby and circumcising him. The act of circumcising all Jewish baby males came about after God had instigated this rite with Abraham (Gen 17:11,12) as a sign of their covenant with God. It was thus a sign or reminder of the relationship they had with God, a sign instigated before they became a nation called Israel , a sign that went back to Israel 's grandfather.
Why circumcision? Is there any practical reason for circumcision? In his book None of these Diseases, doctor S.I. McMillen suggests that in races that practice circumcision, the rates of cervical cancer in women is greatly reduced, as is penile cancer in men. Health would appear, at least, to be a spin-off of this requirement for the Jewish males. Why on the eighth day? Again McMillen reports that the agent to enable clotting of the blood is lowest on the third day but peaks at 110% on the eight day and then goes down to the normal 100%. Interesting!
So here are this young Jewish couple with their male baby, conforming to Part 1 of the requirements of Gods Law. In Bethlehem they are only a few miles south of Jerusalem and so, I would suggest, they stay where there are until forty days have passed. Why? Because of Part 2 of the Law (Lev 12) which required her to wait forty days before going to make an offering before God. This was simply one of the many laws that helped picture the presence of God as holy and therefore a person was not to enter His presence casually. Back at Mount Sinai, as the relationship with the Lord was being formalised, the instruction to Moses was, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes…” From the outset the Lord wanted to people to learn that he was not like idols of other nations who could be treated casually. He was, holy, perfect, distinct, different, and they would need to learn that. Thus anything that made a person not the best they could be, had to be dealt with before they came before the Lord. Remember, this is a perception of God issue more than a practical one. Now the Law also required that for the firstborn child there should be an offering made (Ex 13:12 -15) as a reminder of the wonderful way God had redeemed the people from Egypt . Again this was a reminder or learning activity as required by the Law.
So this young couple take this opportunity of being near Jerusalem to wait the forty days and then go there (instead, I suggest, of going all the way back to Nazareth and back). Part of the act of going to make the offerings was to reinstate the woman, so to speak, before the Lord, as part of His people with nothing to stop her coming to Him. This was set out in Lev 12:6-8. The requirement was initially for a lamb to be sacrificed but if they could not afford a lamb then it could be two doves or two pigeons (Lev 12:8 and v.24 of our verses above).
For many of us today the concept of sacrificing animals or birds raises questions in our minds – yet we are quite happy to kill animals or birds for food on the butcher's counter. The whole purpose behind the sacrificial system was to remind the giver of their sin which deserved punishment but which would be forgone by God because another life had been given instead. The very act of terminating another life would make the giver aware of the seriousness of sin and thus helped them as a nation maintain what, when they were in right relationship with the Lord, was probably one of the most orderly, law-abiding and secure nations in the world. What has become subsequently clear, is that these sacrifices pointed forward to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as ‘the lamb of God' (see Jn 1:29,36 & Rev 5:5-10) who dealt with absolutely everything which could possibly keep us away from God.
A final thing to be noted before we go to the next meditation, is that it was following the Law that took this young couple into a place where God could speak to them and reassure them further. Watch this space.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 22
Meditation Title: A Spirit Foreruner
Lk 2:25-28 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel , and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God
I have been a Christian for forty years which means I have lived through a variety of ‘moves' of God. I came to the Lord in 1967 and shortly found myself encountering significant ministries that were open to the Holy Spirit. I was around in the early days of the Charismatic Movement, the Restoration movement and eventually through the so-called ‘Toronto Blessing'. Apart from this I have had friends and colleagues who were part of classic Pentecostal churches which came out of the Los Angeles Spirit moving at the beginning of last century. I have seen both the good and bad sides of these various movements – and indeed Elim Pentecostal and Assemblies of God Pentecost churches. I suspect an honest comment would be that when anything new comes along or any new revelation comes along, excesses occur and our danger is that we write off the moving of the Holy Spirit because of these. What all these ‘moves' or experiences show us is that God reaches out to us in the power of His Spirit, but we still have the freedom to take use, misuse and abuse the gifts he gives. It is a sign of His grace that He imparts power to people who may be less that graceful and less than careful to ensure we represent the Lord well. As human beings we have the ability to represent God badly.
But when we come to Simeon, I am blessed because here is a man who represents God well! I have no idea how Luke got his information about Simeon, whether it was through Mary or through someone else. Whoever it was seemed to know this man well. He was righteous and devout. Another way of putting that was that he lived rightly and had a good daily relationship with the Lord. That's a good start. But then we are told, He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. That's interesting! That says that here is a man who knew the Scriptures (what we now call the Old Testament), and knew of the prophetic references to the Coming One, the Messiah who would console Israel. That man also anticipated that coming. The word of God was alive to him and he believed it and expected it to be fulfilled. Then it says, the Holy Spirit was upon him. This just means that the active presence of God was very real, there was a close and intimate relationship with God through His Spirit and he was alive and alert to God's heart. This would explain why It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. He hadn't merely read it in the Scriptures; he had caught it in his spirit as God had conveyed it to him. This was a man genuinely living in expectation.
Those verses describe what this man was like and what had happened to him thus far. Check it out again and check yourself against this man. Remember, he's not like a modern-day Christian because he hasn't got the New Testament because it hasn't happened yet! Can you say you are right living with a good daily relationship with the Lord? Are you an avid reader of God's word, and do you let it grab your heart? Does your relationship with the Lord open your ear to Him so that He can share things with you and bring you to a place of anticipation and expectation as to what He is going to do today? Don't say that Simeon was special and unique. There is nothing to indicate that at all. In fact the Bible suggests to us that he is the very epitome of what a Christian should be.
So what happens to this man? Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts . Wow! This man was open to being nudged by the Spirit to be in the right place at the right time. Do we get such ‘nudges' and write them off as ‘feelings' or ‘coincidences' so that we do nothing and miss God's opportunities? Learn to listen to God and learn to respond. If you are open to Him to train you, you don't need to worry, He won't ask you to do something big and dramatic. He's more likely to just ask you to respond in small ways. It's not going to cost you anything to step out in small ways. Do it!
When the parents brought in the child Jesus… Here comes the action. He is in the right place and Mary and Joseph come in with the baby. They probably don't stand out from any of the other pilgrims but Simeon took him in his arms and praised God. This Spirit-led man sees them and ‘knows'!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 23
Meditation Title: A Spirit Forerunner (2)
Lk 2:25-28 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God
A little while before Christmas, I wrote a reflection about Simeon that comes more in a story form. I think it fits here which is why I now include it in these meditations. I hope it helps you ‘think into' what happened:
The old man had been praying. He was very conscious of how good it was to live in Jerusalem and be near to the Temple . It was an easy walk each day to this place where the presence of God was supposed to live. It had started some time back in the local synagogue when the scrolls had been brought out and the Rabbi had read one of the enigmatic prophecies from of old that spoke about the coming one.
As the words were read, something in him seemed to say, “You'll see him.” He gently chided himself for his foolishness, “I'm an old man. We've waited all these years and there has been so sign. I can't have long to go. Why should I be special? Why should I see him? It may be centuries before he comes!” But that inner voice seemed to persist, “No, you will see him when he comes to his House.” It was then that he decided to move into Jerusalem , to be near the house of God, the Temple . How long would he have to wait, he wondered?
Day after day he had risen early and made his way in to the Temple and sat in the courts in the shade and watched the pilgrims who came, but no special figure appeared. How would he come? Riding on a donkey or rising on a charger? Would he arrive with an escort or would he make a long entrance? The pilgrims came and went, but no special figure appeared. Had he come and I missed him, he mused?
That morning he woke from a disturbed sleep. He felt tired. Perhaps just this once I may stay at home. How many days have I been going there? What's been the point? Perhaps I just made it up. What had Joel said? Old men dream dreams. Perhaps it was just a dream of an old man, perhaps it was wishful thinking. Yet, there again came that gentle nagging inner voice, “This is the morning. Today he will come.” Oh, what am I on about? This is silly! There's nothing special about this day! It's no great feast day! Surely he would come in great glory on a feast day, a day of celebration in his house? “Today he will come,” the inner voice persisted. Very well, I'll go.
He made his way up to the Temple courts. He ached a lot this morning. It hadn't been a good night. He felt highly unspiritual. I'll just sit in the shade and watch what happens. He had been there an hour or so, just watching the crowds coming in, when he first saw them, a young man and even younger woman, more a girl really, and she with a bundle in her arms that looked like it could be a baby. His eyes drifted past them to others following them in, but strangely he felt his eyes being drawn back to them. Something inside him leapt. He found himself on his feet and moving towards them. Is this young man the one, but with a girl and a baby? No, it's the baby! Suddenly he knew! It's the baby! He ran towards them. They looked startled as this old man with a big smile came panting up to them with his hands out. “Please….” The girl looked up and smiled and handed the tiny bundle over.
As he took the child into his arms his heart seemed to explode with joy. He looked upwards with tears pouring down his face. “Almighty Lord, it's just as you promised! I can come home now! I've seen your glory!” The young couple looked on in wonder. He turned to them, “Dear children, may the Lord bless you! This child of yours will be a measuring stick to determine God's people. He will reveal their hearts.” He turned to the girl. “Your heart will be pieced before his days are ended, but fear not.”
Just then an old lady appeared at his elbow praising God for the tiny child. The old man handed it back to the girl and then slid away while others came up and blessed the little family. With his heart beating so much he felt it would burst, the old man made his way outside and sat down. Still with tears running down his face he looked up. “Lord, I can come home now.”
Maybe it didn't exactly happen like this, maybe it did.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 24
Meditation Title: A Light to the World
Lk 2:28-32 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel ."
I remember, as a late teenager, sitting around in college talking about the meaning of life. I had a good friend who was an atheistic communist. We argued about God and strangely, even though I had no religious commitment, I argued for Christianity and he why it was all a delusion. The difference between us was that he was committed to his beliefs and knew what he was talking about, and I wasn't and didn't! I suspect we were doing what lots of young people do, wondering about life. There is something in us that makes us question. Solomon said of God, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11) It is this awareness of the world's wonder, together with this ‘something' in our hearts that makes young men and women question. As we get older, many of us get so caught up with business or raising families that we push aside the questions and stop wondering. Perhaps we should wonder again!
In the previous ‘meditation', the story about Simeon, I've pictured him questioning and wondering, to remind us of his humanity and to point out that even Spirit-led people are very human, yet the things we find recorded here in Scripture seem to show him as very clear in his convictions. He is not a man, like the teenagers we've just considered, with wonderings. He seems absolutely confident in his beliefs. So how, perhaps, do the reality of our humanity and the confidence of these convictions go together? The answer is the Holy Spirit. We can still be very human, and have questions, and then the Holy Spirit comes upon us and, under His inspiration, we have a confidence, a boldness, an assurance, and even a revelation. Thus previously we read, “the Holy Spirit was upon him” (v.25) and he was “moved by the Spirit” (v.27). Here is a Spirit-energised and Spirit-directed man and, as human as he was, he now has the confidence and clarity of revelation that the Spirit gives him. It is important to understand this so that we recognise the authority behind what he says.
He first acknowledges what the Lord has said to him previously, that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. (v.26) and so he now says to the Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. He's an old man and he's ready to go. God had promised him that he would see the Christ before he would go, and now the Spirit has witnessed to him, or told him, that this child is the one. He now has the peace of God, that God's word has been fulfilled. He realises that this child is God's salvation (v.30) and it is a salvation that the Lord has spoken about (in the Scriptures) so that anyone and everyone could have read and understood (v.31). This child is going to be both a light for revelation to the Gentiles and then for glory to your people Israel.
So, first of all, this child is going to be a light. What does a light do? It shows up things in the darkness, it shows the way in the darkness, it reveals things in the darkness. These ‘things' or this ‘way' are already there but they cannot be seen until the light shines. These things are the reality of God's love for His world. The way is the way into His presence without being destroyed by His holiness.
We started out by considering the questions about life and meaning that (younger) people have. They are questions that are asked or spoken about around the world, the non-Jewish world, the Gentile world. The Jews had answers, for they had a history with God already but the non-Jewish world needs lots of answers and Jesus came to bring them. As the light from God he brings revelation of God and of ourselves to us. He reveals the nature of God: “ He is the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15) “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being.” (Heb 1:3)
But what about the glory to your people Israel ? When glory comes to something it is lit up and revealed. The Son of God was going to reveal Israel to the world as the people of God who have walked with God for centuries and in whom now the Son is revealed. The focus will be coming on Israel and it will be seen to be the environment into which the Son came to reveal the Father.
Consider Joseph and Mary again, before we finish. Remember what we have said about them before, about their need for reassurance. Mary had the encounter with the angel and then the reassurance through Joseph having had a dream, then Elizabeth speaking prophetically about her, then the shepherds bringing the message from heaven and now, a fourth time, through this prophetic old man in the Temple. Four times God has brought her reassurance! If it was important for her, how much more must it have been for Joseph who must have initially struggled with accepting what Mary had told him had happened. He'd just had the dream and then no doubt Mary had told him what had happened between her and Elizabeth, but still that had an element of doubt about it, it was still second-hand. Then came the shepherds and they must have been a real reassurance. Now in the Temple comes this prophetic old man who must have left Joseph thinking, “Wow, Lord. That's better! It's true!” (or something like that!). Simeon must have come as a real boost to his faith. How good of God to have given them each of these reassurances – and us too!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 25
Meditation Title: A Sign Spoken Against
Lk 2:33-35 The child's father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel , and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
The real blessings of life, it seems, come without any warning. I suspect that, that morning when Joseph and Mary got up, they had no idea what was going to happen to them. All they knew was that the forty days were up and they should go to the Temple, up in Jerusalem, a few miles away, and make their offerings as the Law said. So they take their little baby and walk the relatively short distance to Jerusalem and follow the other pilgrims who similarly were making for the Temple. When they arrived at the great structure they stand in awe, but then they are approached by this elderly man who takes the child in his arms and prays and prophesies over him. Is this what happens when people come here? Is this what goes on in the incredible place? Well, no it's not, for this child is special and this man has been sent to welcome him to his house. They hear the words and they marvel.
Then Simeon turns to the two parents and blesses them. When someone blesses another, assuming it's not just casual words uttered as a formality, it is a prophetic declaration of good from heaven. The Father decrees good for His two children looking after His Son. Then the old man turns to Mary. There is something that she needs to know. Now we aren't told why it was to her it was said and not to Joseph. Tradition has it that Joseph died before Jesus was old enough to start his ministry, so perhaps it is that the Lord knows that Joseph doesn't need to hear this. Perhaps it is that mothers feel much more the anguish when their children go through tough times, and she was going to need all the warnings she could get to cope with what would happen to him.
He starts out, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.” Wow! Whatever does that mean? Well no explanation was given so we'll have to see what follows. Note the order in this prophetic sentence – falling then rising. People come to Christ and find themselves totally exposed and they see themselves as they are, and their pride is shattered and they fall off the pedestal they had erected for themselves. When they fall in repentance before God, God comes and imparts His Holy Spirit and they are raised to a new life as adopted children of God. That is what the conversion experience is all about – first a falling in self-esteem, and then a rising by the power of God into an incredible position.
The apostle Peter understood this when he wrote of Christ, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,' and, ‘A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.' (1 Pet 2:7,8 quoting Psa 118:22 & Isa 8:14). Jesus had similarly put it, rather enigmatically, Jesus looked directly at them and asked, "Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone'? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed . (Lk 20:17:18 again quoting Psa 118:22). The prophets had referred to the Coming One as a Capstone (head of an arch) or Cornerstone (from which the walls are set), but a stone that would initially be rejected and yet would turn out to be God's chosen stone, which would cause men to trip and stumble and fall. The apostle Paul also understood this when he wrote, we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor 1:23,24)
Simeon had continued, a sign that will be spoken against. That's what these prophecies we have just observed said. This ‘stone' would be rejected, would be spoken against. All the religious leaders spoke against Jesus and you see it again and again in the Gospels. The apostle John in his Gospel referred to Jesus' miracles as signs that pointed seekers to heaven, but Jesus himself was the greatest sign, pointing to the Father at every opportunity.
Simeon further continued, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. The crucial issue in life is how people respond to Jesus. Here was the mostly godly, gentle hearted, good man in all of history. Everything he did was good. Now get someone to read the Gospels and ‘see' Jesus. How do they respond? The way they respond reveals the state of their heart. If you reject Jesus after having carefully and thoughtfully read the Gospels, you condemn yourself. It's like the person who criticises a great work of art, or a great work of music or a great piece of literature. They simply reveal their own bankruptcy of soul, of understanding, when it comes to these things. The person who rejects Jesus shows their godless, hard-hearted, self-centred, callous being. The thoughts of their heart are clearly revealed – and they are condemned.
But then comes one more final thing: And a sword will pierce your own soul too. The way all this is going to be fulfilled is going to be painful for Mary. She will look on and see what is happening to her son, and it will be like a sword piercing her soul. There will be anguish before it is all finished. Mary had the incredible privilege of carrying the Son of God and being his guardian for the earlier years of his life, but she was also going to suffer the immense pain of a mother who sees her son abused. At the Cross she would weep as her lovely son, who had never said or done a thing wrong, was falsely accused and condemned and crucified before her. Only a mother can know the anguish when such things happen to her child. This was not going to be an easy path. It would end in great glory, but along the way, there would be pain. Isn't that just how life so often is? This is the incredible plan of God that works for great glory, and yet in the midst of a sin-filled world, it so often has to include pain. Remember, when the pain is there, the glory WILL come.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 26
Meditation Title: A Faithful Witness
Lk 2:36- 38 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem .
There are those who say that Christianity is harsh on women. I think such people are misguided and need to read their Bible more carefully. Yes, it is true that men played most of the major parts in the Old Testament, but there were a number of notable women who also achieved fame because of their faith. The Old Testament is definitely not silent about women. When the rest of the world was male dominated, God ensures that His women of faith are acclaimed!
When it comes to the New Testament, the same is true. They key players in the Nativity narratives are, after all, women, Mary and Elizabeth. Later on it was going to be a number of women who also travelled with the disciple band, without any scent of impropriety. Now, here in these Nativity narratives we have a third woman player. When it comes to welcoming the Son of God to the House of God, it wasn't just left by the Spirit to a man, Simeon. Here we find this wonderful old woman who is also part of the welcoming team. Let's have a look at her.
She was a prophetess. Right! No messing there! This is a serious woman of God who, in a time when most of the signs indicated Israel was in a very poor spiritual state, obviously has more than a cursory relationship with the Lord. The fact that she can be described as a prophetess in such a times says she stands out as extraordinary. Simeon hadn't been designated a prophet and yet he clearly moved in the prophetic gift. This elderly lady seems to have been moving in it a long time to be known as a prophetess.
She comes from the tribe of Asher, one of the tribes virtually unmentioned in latter days, but Luke gives us this detail. There are obviously members of this tribe still left and registers are obviously still kept. But it is not a tribe known for famous people and certainly not spiritual giants, and yet that is what we have in this lady.
This lady has had a tough life. She had a husband while she was young but after seven years of marriage he died. Thus probably from her early twenties until now when she seems to be eighty four, she had lived alone. No man had come along and claimed this widow. She seems almost a reject. Does this speak to someone who feels they have almost been a reject in life? You too are single and marriage and a partner has evaded you? You are NOT a write off, you are not second class. There is nothing second class about this lady. Look and watch.
She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. When it says she never left the temple, it probably means very simply that every day she was there. This woman was drawn to the Lord. This was His house and so here is where she should be, and she was clearly a mouthpiece of the Lord, in those years. There is possibly no greater privilege! You have a career? You have a business? Aspire to something greater. This is not to say give it up, but it is to say aspire to be a mouthpiece of the Lord. Don't worry what people say. People probably derided this old woman, left on the shelf after her husband died, spending all her life in the Temple . What a waste, they might have said. No it wasn't a waste. She was a mouthpiece for the Lord in a day when that was virtually unheard of. As the eyes of heaven scanned the land for faithful believers and found mostly a land of people with no belief, there in the Temple was this light shining brightly. The lamp of the Lord had not gone out! Anna declared the word of the Lord, for she was a prophetess, when few others cared!
So for her it was not special guidance that brought her here that day (unlike Simeon). No, she was there because that was where she always was – close to God. So when God's Son arrives in the arms of a teenage mother, she is there to see him and proclaim him. When Simeon finishes prophesying she comes up and carries on praising the Lord. She knows who he is, this woman of God, and she heralds him and tells all around that God has come to bless His people.
She's eighty four! That is very old for that time. It is becoming a more usual age today, but for then it was very old. Psalm 92:12-15 describes Anna beautifully: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, "The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him." If you are past sixty and are feeling you've had your day, think again. Can you take the promise that you will still bear fruit in old age, and you will stay fresh and green? These last few meditations we have stayed with two aged witnesses, led by the Spirit and living in the Spirit. You may not be able to so able physically in old age, but there is nothing to stop you being just as able spiritually! Don't let the lies of the enemy tell you otherwise! If your earlier years have been half-hearted, then sharpen up in old age. Spend time in the Lord's presence. Learn to listen to Him, like you never have before. Become a mouthpiece to an unbelieving world, so that when you are welcomed into heaven it will be with great praise. Determine to live out your years in blessing, blessing God and blessing other people. Be a light in what is often a dark world. Be blessed!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 27
Meditation Title: Back to an ordinary life
Lk 2:39-40 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
Before we consider the ongoingness of life, we need to consider the subject of contradictions in the Bible. Sceptics say the Bible is full of contradictions, but what most people fail to do, is think what a contradiction genuinely is. The example I usually give is of a multiple car crash. If on the evening of the crash you listened to the various bystanders back at home recounting what happened, you would get some aspects of commonality but a lot of things completely different. The reason for the difference is that they all saw it from a different perspective and they all remember different things that stood out to them. Remember, that for there to be a genuine contradiction you actually need something like one person saying there were two blue cars involved and someone else saying there were no blue cars involved. That is a genuine contradiction. For one person to speak about a red car and another a silver car, simply means there were both a red car and a silver car involved. The same is true of the Gospels.
Now this needs saying here because of the brevity of Luke's account at this point. Matthew's Gospel specifically says the young family were guided to Egypt by a dream where they lived for a while before returning to Israel and Nazareth . Matthew was keen to show how God was guiding them through dreams that Joseph had, as well as pointing out how it was a prophetic fulfilment so the Jews could link it to the Old Testament. Luke is more concerned with Mary's side of the story and the nature of their life. For him the trip to Egypt was unimportant so he simply summarises the fact that they returned to their home to live. He doesn't even have anything about the Wise Men. Perhaps this is because Matthew has already covered that and it doesn't need repeating. Luke is more concerned with the domestic nature of what had been going on. They stayed at Bethlehem while Mary recovered, they named the boy there, they stayed on until Mary's period of purification ended, they went to the Temple to perform the Law and received the prophetic reassurances for them both – and that concludes the domestic aspects, so the next thing to be recounted is the fact that they returned to Nazareth .
Why is returning to Nazareth important? Because it is the re-establishing of their old lives which have got to carry on, even though they now have a baby. It is the place where Joseph would carry on this activity as a carpenter and where Jesus would grow up. It is the place of the ordinary aspects of life. Approximately twenty eight years or so have got to pass before Jesus' ministry will start. If you were a heavenly watcher but conscious of human time, this would seem like a very frustrating period, waiting for the child to grow up, waiting for the right time to come when he was about thirty. Why thirty? We aren't told, but perhaps it was more to do with the conditions and the people God was going to use. Yes, first he had to grow up though. The Son of God from heaven (as John's Gospel emphasises) had taken on the limitations that went with becoming a human baby – that he would have to wait while the child grew and developed and matured like any other human child. During that time he would be vulnerable and it would be down to his parents to protect him and provide for him.
Luke is impatient to get on and tell us about the child: And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. Yes, we expect him to grow but Luke wants to point out that he became strong. This was no weak and straggly child. That word ‘strong' conveys wholeness as well as strength. When God is growing in a human form we may expect, when we think about it, that the ‘design' would be good. There is nothing sickly about him. There is health and wholeness and thus strength. It is one of those things that you might expect a doctor like Luke to note.
But he's concerned with more than his physical well-being. This child is full of wisdom. We often speak of wisdom as the ‘knowledge of how to', but it is more than the knowledge of simply how to do certain things. In the bigger sense it is how to live life, it is the knowledge and understanding of life as seen from God's perspective. As Jesus grows so the divine perspective grows in him, as we'll see in the next meditation.
Finally Luke notes that the grace, or favour, of God was upon him. That simply means that the blessing of God was obviously on this child, there was a sense of goodness about everything to do with him, because God was there. But just because God is there, don't expect Him to rush things. Everything is going to be done decently and in order, and this child is going to grow and learn just as all children grow and learn. Yes, the divine awareness would grow also as there is this incredible blend of human and divine in this child, but God is not going to artificially develop him. His humanity has to be respected. It is important that he is seen, not as a freak but as a very human being who is simply the vessel of God, yet the vessel and the content are so blended together that they are indistinguishable. That is the marvel of the incarnation. It is God coming into human form, a genuine human being who experienced all the things that a growing child experiences, so he becomes a genuine man, exactly the same as any other man, except he contains the presence of God and not the presence of sin. That is what made this child different, but you wouldn't have been able to see that except by the goodness of his nature. Otherwise, all you saw was an ordinary little boy growing up. If it had been today you would have had the digital photos or the camcorder clips that recorded the gradual growth of this child who seems so normal, yet who is unique. That is what is happening in these verses today.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 28
Meditation Title: The Lost Boy
Lk 2:41- 45 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.
The ‘Home Alone' films were not the first stories of a boy being left behind! Because we focus on just a few verses at a time, we'll leave where Jesus is and what he is doing until the next meditation. For the moment let's focus simply on what happened at the beginning of this incident. Again we assume this incident must have been passed on to Luke by Mary because it is a family incident and it is not covered by any of the other Gospels which suggests that it wasn't in common circulation until Luke wrote it down.
The Law given at Sinai required: “Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD.” (Ex 23:17) The “appear before” meant come to Jerusalem. One of those times was the Passover, the celebration of the people being delivered out of Egypt to become God's people. Thus this family travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover, almost certainly with thousands of others, certainly with many people from their home town of Nazareth . It would have been a major holiday expedition and initially you would probably start out with your family, but eventually families looked after one another and so people travelled in mixed groups. It is important to be aware of this in order to account for what happened later.
They get to the celebration without incident, but when it came to leaving, the word would have gone round the party, perhaps that they would meet at the front gate and then travel together as a large group, but because of the large numbers, although the younger children would be shepherded by their parents, the older ones would be left to travel as a group – can you imagine the teenagers all being together, separate from their parents. Twelve was a significant age for a Jewish boy; it was like coming of age when he would join in the religious activities of the community. Twelve was most definitely an age when the boy started to feel he was a man in this community. If our teenagers start to feel that and start separating off from their parents, for the Jewish boy it was similar, although family ties appeared stronger.
Thus there is no element of negligence in Joseph and Mary, that when the party leaves, the boy Jesus is left behind – because he's doing other things and there are so many people getting ready to leave that no one notices that he's not there. It's not until, perhaps the end of the day, when one of the parents comments about their son, that they realise they haven't seen him all day. Well that wasn't unusual in this sort of party so perhaps initially it didn't alarm them. When they all camp for the night, perhaps one of them wanders around the camp to see where he is. They come to where the ‘teenagers' are gathered, only to find there is no Jesus. When they enquire, they find no one has seen him. They all assumed he was with someone else. Suddenly they are concerned. He must still be in Jerusalem . There is only one thing to do. We'll have to go back and find him, and so they set off for a day's journey back!
Because we've perhaps seen the ‘Home Alone' films we know of the chaos and indeed the humour that arises in such a situation – until it's our child! As Christians we may pray when something happens to our children but we are nevertheless anxious. It's all very well for Paul to say “Do not be anxious about anything, but ….present your requests to God,” (Phil 4:6), we think, but he obviously didn't have children! When your child is missing or had an accident, it is natural to be concerned for them; that is what being a parent is about.
At such times we wonder, why did this have to him to her or him? Why them? There are no easy answers. For the moment Joseph and Mary don't have answers, just a missing son. For them there was a measure of security, the Jewish community was very close and caring – usually! But what if he's fallen in with some bad people? I don't know if that's how they did think but it is natural to think those sorts of things. You are not a second class citizen if you worry about your children. Yes, we believe God loves them, and yes we believe He will look after them and work in their lives, but we still know that that doesn't stop them doing silly things, things that could harm them, and that causes anxiety. Yes, we do need to bring them to the Lord and eventually they will come through, but while they are not, it is a time that motivates prayer like little else does!
There was a reason that Jesus stayed on in Jerusalem but it hasn't become obvious yet. There is a reason that our teens fall off the tracks. It is that they are learning to be individuals and for this time, whatever wisdom you have imparted to them, has to be proved and tested and challenged by them. They are going to have to come through by learning the hard way sometimes. The one thing you must never do is give up on them. However stupid they are, however awful the stuff they get into, however far off they go, they must always know that your door will be open to them whenever they want to return. You can let them know you don't agree with their lifestyle but never say you don't love them or give any indication that you'll withdraw your love from them. You can hate the things they do, but still love them as a person. You may be their only lifeline in the days to come, so never sever the link of love. Don't be afraid to weep and show your concern, even if they deride it, because one day they may appear like the prodigal they are and say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Lk 15:21) and at that point they will need all of your love and forgiveness. If you go through five years of darkness with them, remember there may be twenty, thirty or forty years of goodness to follow, but you have to keep the door open.
What Jesus was doing was nothing like some of our teens get into today, but for the moment, Mary and Joseph don't know that. The time of not knowing is just as anxious as the time when sometimes you find out what is happening. Times of waiting are difficult and testing times. How will we come through them?
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 29
Meditation Title: The Boy at Home
Lk 2:46- 52 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.
Parents are frequently not good at realising the potential of their children. With two out of our three, different people said things about them and I thought, “Are you talking about my child?” It was only then that I realised they were right. The fact that Jesus was twelve probably has a lot to do with what happens in this incident. Twelve, as we said previously, was almost the spiritual coming of age for the Jewish boy, and so Jesus, even if he hadn't been the Son of God, might have been taking a lot more interest in what went on in the Temple . The fact that he is the Son of God, growing in a human body, perhaps should make us realise how natural this now was.
It takes them three days to find him. Apparently the Temple seems to have been the last place they thought to look. Who he was staying with and where he got his food from, we aren't told. But they find him sitting among the teachers in the temple courts entering into discussion with them and asking questions and answering in ways that shows he understands completely what they are saying. We cannot understand how God Almighty can come and live in a body as completely Himself and yet be limited by the body and the mind in that body, so that His understanding as a child seems to grow and develop. As God Almighty He knows everything; as a child he is limited. It is a mystery. But clearly this child is beginning to show his understanding.
But there is another reason why twelve is, I suspect, significant here. Twelve years have passed since the miraculous happenings that brought about Mary's pregnancy and all the followed in the next year or so. Twelve years is quite a long time in human terms and in twelve years it is easy to forget the significance of all that happened, especially when your child seems so normal in every way. It can only be this that accounts to Mary's surprise and the mother's expression of anguish mixed with relief when they find him. First they are astonished when they see him with the teachers at the Temple , but then that is quickly replaced by an expression of anguish almost verging on anger: Son, why have you treated us like this? In other words, how can you be so thoughtless; didn't you realise we would be worried about you?
It is then that Jesus gives his very first recorded indication of who he is and his awareness of who he is: Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house ? He was aware that this was the place on earth where His Father had appointed for men to come to make contact with Him. Here for the first time is recorded his direct link with his Father in heaven. But, Luke tells us, they did not understand what he was saying to them. The trouble was that they didn't have easy access to writing materials, even if they had been able to use them, and so Mary and Joseph had forgotten the details of the things said to them about their miraculous son. It was only the clear-headed memories of old age that brought it all back. For now, they have forgotten what had been said, otherwise this would have been of no surprise to them.
Don't think badly of Mary and Joseph; think about your own memory? What have you heard from God in the past and forgotten? Especially if you move in charismatic circles and have received personal prophecy. Did you go and write down what had been said to you so that you could hold onto everything the Lord had said? When the Lord has spoken to you through Sunday morning preaching, did you go home and write down the thrust of the conviction you felt? It is so easy to drop the words of God and forget them.
There is something else that comes out in this passage. After they returned to Nazareth, Luke records that he was obedient to them. I'm sure the act of staying on at the Temple had not been an act of wilful disobedience. It was more likely to be to have been a case of him losing contact with the others in the celebrations and just getting caught up with the teaching at the Temple, knowing his mother and father would come for him when the time was right. If anything it was an expression of his confidence in them. When he returns home he is the dutiful son again. Some eighteen more years are going to pass before he commences his ministry and in that time he will remain a faithful part of this family. Humanly, he could have been utterly frustrated at the growing sense of destiny and having to wait for it, but as the Son of God, later on he clearly shows he is aware that he is working to a timetable with his Father.
We may not have the clarity of Jesus, but do we have a sense of destiny and purpose, a sense that we are called to be God's children, who have come to fulfil God's plan, and bring glory to the Father? If not, perhaps we ought to pray for it.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 30
Meditation Title: God of History
Lk 3:1,2 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.
It's been a long time since we started this series and when we considered some of the fundamentals of the Gospels, and especially this one. When we leave the nativity accounts and get ready to move into the life and ministry of Jesus, probably some twenty eight years later from those accounts, we find an example of Luke's attention to detail. Now we aren't going to bother to check out each of the people and places mentioned here, simply to note the range of them.
As far as the Roman Empire is concerned, at the top level we have the emperor, and then at the local level we have mentioned the Roman governor. There are then three local governors under him. We also have mention of the two men who were at the ‘top of the pile' of the religious hierarchy. We also have mention of five geographical localities. Thus there is no doubt that Luke, who has already commented on the care he has taken in writing this Gospel, is ensuring that we understand that what he is writing about is well and truly set in history in a specific geographical location. This is not just some made up story. Luke wants is to realise that it all took place in the time of specific historical figures and places. This IS history.
Now we really do need to emphasise this and, although we've already done it before, we really do need to do it again because so many people tend to forget this point and we therefore hear many silly comments about the Christian faith just being a bunch of ideas that men have made up. No, the truth is that the Christian faith is uniquely grounded in history. It is entirely based on things that happened in history, things that, if you were able to travel back in time on this planet, you would have been able to see happening in the part of the world that Luke is writing about. This happened!
So, having set the scene in time-space history, what actually happened? Well according to this doctor, whose life is involved with relieving human illness and suffering who, in other words, is as grounded in the harsh realities of life as you can get, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. Now we should consider this slowly because it makes an assumption and a claim which some would stumble over. When Luke speaks about the word of God, he is making a massive assumption that we, his readers, are quite happy with the idea that a) there is a God, a Supreme Being, and b) He communicates.
The Bible never defends or tries to explain God. As far as these writers are concerned His reality is beyond debate. It's just a case of recording what He did. For Luke, who has travelled extensively with the apostle Paul, who wrote so many of the letters in the New Testament, and who has seen the works of God through the early church, when it comes to recording what he has been told, there is no question of its veracity – it is true, and he doesn't need to prove it. It is only twenty-first century unbelieving minds that struggle because they have become so self-centred that they leave no room for God.
The claim that Luke goes on to make is that John the Baptist's ministry started because God spoke to him while he was living, rather like a hermit, in the desert. We know nothing about John's earlier years beyond what we have already seen in Luke's Gospel. Matthew tells us, “John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” (Mt 3:4-6) Mark tells us, “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River . John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” (Mk 1:4-6) Luke simply goes on to say, “He went into all the country around the Jordan , preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (v.3). Luke isn't concerned with what he looked like or the other details that the others gave, simply that he was God sent!
This is Luke who, as we've previously commented, is the Gospel writer who, more than any of the others, is concerned to point out the divine working of God, the moving of His Holy Spirit. Thus it is that we're left with only Luke who makes this point – that John started his ministry because God spoke to him and started him off.
In an age where we do things because WE thought it was a good idea, this comes rather as a bolt out of the blue. In the light of all that follows we need to remember this, that John is doing what he is doing because God has said it to him!
For those of us who are Christian leaders, can we say the same thing? Are we energised and motivated by God's word that has come to us? Are there leaders who find the thought of God speaking to them an alien thing? Then we need to get to grips with the Scripture. This is how it always was and always will be. We deal with a God who communicates, energises and empowers. Christian ‘ministry' should always be God inspired, God energised and God directed. When it is, things will happen!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 31
Meditation Title: Practical Righteousness
Lk 3:10-14 "What should we do then?" the crowd asked. John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay."
One moment, in Luke, we are thinking big issues about the truths of history, and the next we are considering the practicalities of life. Luke, you may remember we said, is a doctor and doctors are concerned with people. In the previous meditation we saw what Matthew and Mark said about John. They tend to focus on his clothing and the general fact of him preaching for repentance of sins. Luke, the man concerned with people, picks up on what John has taught to specific people.
First of all there were the ordinary people – the crowd – who want to know what they should DO? People who do self-improvement courses love to have a list of things they can do. So many of these sorts of books focus on the ways we should think and the things we should DO to improve ourselves. If you compare John the Baptist's teaching with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, you find very different approaches. John was still administering the Law and that included very specific things to do. Jesus focused on attitudes and outlooks before he went on to speak about specific behaviours. John came to deal in practical righteousness; Jesus came to establish relationships with his Father. If you look at the things in these verses, you could do all of them faultlessly, but still be godless. Jesus knits godliness and righteousness together.
OK, says John, let's deal with very basic issues of justice and equality, which is what God is so often concerned about. If you have plenty of clothing and you come across people with hardly any, share some of yours with them – and do the same with your food as well. Perhaps what we ought to note here is that practical righteousness can precede a relationship with the Lord, but a relationship with the Lord should at least mean we live as He wants us to live in respect of other people. God has given us the incredible wealth of provision of the earth so that we should all be able to enjoy it. It is only Sin that prevents that happening. When we become aware of this, one of the things we should be doing is caring for those who have nothing.
The next group of people that Luke remembers came to John were the tax-collectors. Now that was quite remarkable and an indication of the depth of the work of God, that these men who were so often corrupt and taking a cut from what they collected, we now genuinely asking what they should now do. Now John doesn't deal with general issues for them, but very specifically focuses on the things they do as part of their profession. They are tax collectors but John doesn't ask, please note, for them to stop being tax collectors, which some people might have preferred, but John simply wants them to be honest tax collectors. Some saw them as collaborators with the Romans, but the harsh fact of life was that the Romans would still collect taxes, so what could be better than honest Jewish tax collectors.
The final group that Luke picks up on were soldiers – probably Romans. Do you see the stages that Luke goes through? He simply gives us different groups and illustrations of how John dealt with them. First it was ordinary Jews, then Jews who were collaborators with the Romans, and then finally the Romans themselves. This final group were the ones with the power. When they heard about John, came and heard and were convicted, and then asked what they should do, John's instructions could be summed up, don't use your power to abuse or oppress others.
Put very simply, John's instructions could be spread over society in the following way. If you are just an ordinary person, in your ordinary life, be aware of the needs of others and where you can, help them. If you are someone who works with the public, make sure you do your job honestly and don't take advantage of people. Finally, if you are a person in a position of power, make sure you don't use that power to oppress others.
These are, we said, matters of practical righteousness, matters that God is concerned about. They do not lead us into a relationship with God but God will hold us accountable if we don't take any notice of them. Practical righteousness is about living according to God's design for His world. He is concerned that we relate rightly to one another. Relationships are a key issue, how we relate to and deal with other people, when it comes to how God designed the world. But don't forget the point we mad: you can be practically righteous and have no genuine relationship with the Lord (it can be self-centred righteousness), but you can't have a genuine relationship with the Lord without it having practical outworkings.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 32
Meditation Title: Rebuke & Reprisal
Lk 3:19,20 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.
Chapter three of Luke is largely about John the Baptist's ministry because it leads in to the arrival and baptism of Jesus. The back half of the chapter is the genealogy of Jesus, probably through Mary, but we won't be looking at that in these meditations. These two verses today are sort of summary verses that Luke puts in, almost as an aside before he moves on to cover Jesus' baptism by John.
We live in a sinful world and people do wrong things. Israel were governed by God's Law, whether they were royalty or ordinary people – or at least they should have been. Herod who is spoken of here, was Herod Antipas, and he had married the daughter of Aretas IV of Arabia. Marrying outside Israel was bad enough, but he then divorced her to marry his own niece, Herodias, who was already his brother's wife. Herod Philip was his brother (see Mt 14:3; Mk 6:17). John, presumably in his preaching, had publicly rebuked Herod Antipas for this behaviour and when the word got back to him, Herod had John arrested and put in prison. (All this happened after John had baptized Jesus). Now that is what happened in its simplest terms, but it raises two questions. First why did John speak out in a way that he knew must provoke a reprisal and second, couldn't God have stopped this happening and how did John being put in prison fit into God's plans?
Neither question is answered from Scripture. We are just left to speculate, but that is what you have to do sometimes when you are pondering Scripture and chewing it over in a meditation. Is it that John just can't help himself? Jeremiah said, “his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jer 20:9). In other words, he just couldn't hold himself back, he had to speak. John had been living in the desert, aware of God's presence, receiving his calling to prepare the people – all the people! Is Herod any different? No, he too needs to hear the truth – regardless! If he refuses it, then he will be answerable to God. Prophets are often too concerned with the truth and the glory of God to worry about the consequences! The worst that Herod can do is put him in prison and kill him! That just means promotion to heaven for John.
That in its turn raises the question for us: how real is the reality of heaven for us? Do we fear death? Do we fear the future? Are we worried about what might happen to us in the future? If we struggle with these things we need to ask the Lord to bring us into a place of security so that, like David, we can say , “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psa 23:4)
So, to pursue our second question, why did God not step in and save John? Yes, the Lord does sometimes step in and do the dramatic, and yes He could have brought judgement upon Herod, but in His wisdom He chose not to. There will be mysteries in life that we are going to have to leave as mysteries until we get to heaven. Perhaps there is an element of the ‘free will' question here, perhaps God wasn't willing to take Herod's life and He certainly wasn't willing to overrule his free-will. How much more He could achieve if He hadn't granted us free-will.
And so we are left struggling with an injustice. I find this sort of thing one of the things that add to the credibility of the Bible. If I wanted to write a book that would convince everyone of its main themes, then I would make sure there were no questions, no doubts, that everything was crystal clear. However, in a sin-filled world, it is not like. There ARE injustices, there are times when you want to cry, “Lord, why don't you step in and do something?”
That was exactly the problem faced by Habakkuk when he cried, “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, Violence!" but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” (Hab 1:2-4) By the end of the book he was able to say, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab 3:17,18)
He came to a point that I believe we will all come to when we reach heaven where, if the Lord grants it, we will be able to look back with the Lord's eyes and know without a doubt that there is nothing for which we can criticize the Lord! As Paul was later to write, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror.” (1 Cor 13:12) Now it is not clear; now we have questions, but one day we will see and understand. Is this ‘blind faith'? No, this is faith built on what we CAN see. There is so much revealed in the Bible that does give us confidence, that when we come to the bits we don't understand, we can still trust in God's incredible love and wisdom and say, I may not understand but I will still praise Him.