|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
PART THREE: Chapters 4 to 6
Meditation Title: Overview
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 33
Meditation Title: Spirit Filled and Led
Lk 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert
As I acknowledged when writing about Simeon, I have lived through a number of moves of the Spirit, and I have in fact, read, thought and taught about the Spirit extensively. In one sense, God is with us wherever we are, and we know that He is Spirit (Jn 4:24) which is why we can't see Him. It is when He makes His presence felt by moving in some form of power, that we start referring to the Holy Spirit, simply because that is how the Bible does it.
I think it is useful when coming to this subject to acknowledge that God's Holy Spirit does move in many ways. The apostle Paul acknowledged, “ There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men .” (1 Cor 12:4-6) When he speaks about gifts he is speaking mostly about the abilities of Jesus in serving the Father (e.g. 1 Cor 12:8-10). When he speaks about service he is referring to the different forms that serving takes (e.g. Rom 12:6-8). When it comes to different kinds of working, perhaps we may say it refers to the magnitude of His working. So the Spirit may give a gentle inner prompting, He may speak a specific word or sentence into our mind, he may prompt us to step out in faith and perhaps that may include using what are referred to as one of the gifts, or He may come in great power and overwhelm or change us. They are just different ways He moves. A study of ‘revivals' in history shows God moving in great power to bring conviction, or to enable preaching, to bring large scale salvation. These tend to be the more dramatic ways He moves.
The expression ‘ full of the Spirit' appears nowhere earlier in the Bible than in this verse above. Yet being filled was not uncommon. The first time was after the Exodus in respect of Bezalel, “ I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts-- to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship .” (Ex 31:3-5). Thus in the Old Testament period there were a number of times when someone was filled with the Spirit, and at other times the Spirit ‘rested on' someone and in every case it was to enable them to do something they were otherwise unable to do.
Now Jesus comes, the embodiment of God in the flesh. What we can't understand is how God can ever be less than full of His Spirit, but perhaps, where there is uniting of flesh and Spirit to create ‘Jesus', it is a case of the expression of the Spirit being limited until God moves from heaven in some specific way that energises the Son. Perhaps also it is for our benefit as we consider these things, because what happened to Jesus is a pattern for what God does with us.
On the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit came on the disciples, “ All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:4) Some time later we find Peter, “ filled with the Holy Spirit, said ….” (Acts 4:8). A little while after that, when they were praying together, “ they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly .” (Acts 4:31). When it came to appointing deacons, the apostles instructed, “ choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom .” (Acts 6:3). Thus being filled or rather ‘being full' was an observable experience. Contrasting lifestyles, Paul said, “ Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18)
There is a significance, therefore, in what we find in this verse. First we see: “ Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan .” When he was baptised, Jesus saw that as being obedient to his Father's will, in that it was what He wanted all men to do and therefore Jesus should not be seen to be different. Peter was later to refer to “ the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him .” (Acts 5:32) Thus wherever we are obedient to God there is a sense that His Spirit is released in us. So it is that coming from a specific place of obedience is linked with the fact that Jesus is ‘ full of the Holy Spirit' .
But then we come across something that many of us would find extraordinary, that Jesus was led by the Spirit in the desert . Matthew puts it even more forcefully : “ Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil .” (Mt 4:1). In other words the Spirit led Jesus into a place of human frailty for Satanic confrontation. Isn't that what a desert experience is, a place of human frailty where we are vulnerable to the attack of the enemy. What our verse tells us is that in Jesus' case at least, it was God who led him there. We may end up there because of sin and our own foolishness, but that was not so for Jesus and so from the outset we see him being led by the Spirit.
It is almost as if, having taken on human form, the person that is Jesus, shows us that he operates on the same terms as we do, and he also needed those gentle promptings of the Spirit from heaven, to convey heaven's will, the will of the Father reigning in heaven. So, we see there are two things we need to learn here. First it is the need to be totally submitted to the Father and to His will, so that we may be filled with the Spirit, so that we can live a God-empowered life. Second, it is that we need to learn to be sensitive to the prompting or leading of the Spirit, so that we can serve the Father. Empowered and directed. Those are the two key requirements for us to live out the most fulfilled life we can as children of God.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 34
Meditation Title: An Opportune Time
Lk 4:13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
There are those rather unwise people who deride the thought of the devil. Superstitious nonsense, they say. Now we clearly are not told everything about Satan in the Bible but one thing we are told is that he is a fallen angel who seeks to come and pull down God's creation and specifically human beings. One of the primary ways he does that is by whispering temptations into their minds. Now a temptation is simply a suggestion to do wrong, and ‘wrong' is simply anything contrary to God's design for His world.
We see Satan at work in the form of a serpent coming to Eve in the Garden of Eden suggesting to her that it will be perfectly all right for her to go against what God has said. Now I find this account in the beginning of the Bible and what subsequently follows when we see the workings of Satan, the most logical, plausible and understandable explanation for the stupidity of our human behaviour so often. Now the Bible does talk about ‘Sin' being a propensity to do our own thing, contrary to God's design and that is there within every one of us. Satan's role, therefore, is quite easy, to come and suggest to us what our ‘natural' inclination is anyway. Result? People who are out of harmony with God, out of harmony with others and out of harmony with themselves, one step nearer destruction, which is his ultimate object. Next time you recognise one of those thoughts passing through your mind, “It's all right, why shouldn't you?” and you know deep down inside that you shouldn't, recognise what is going on. You don't have to give way (1 Cor 10:13 ), for if you turn to God, He will show you the way out.
Jesus is now about thirty, we believe, but the record tells us, he is sinless (1Pet 2:22 , 2 Cor 5:21 , Heb 4:16 , 7:26 , 1 Jn 3:5). Indeed for him to come and die in our place as “a spotless lamb” he has got to remain sinless (Lev 22:21 , 1 Pet1:19). Whether Satan is aware of that is unclear, but he comes to tempt Jesus to do things quite contrary to his Father's will. That is what this time of temptation is all about. Jesus, the man, who shares in all we experience, has to encounter the temptations we experience.
So what about this key phrase here, ‘an opportune time'. Satan left Jesus after failing to tempt him, to wait for another opportune time. That is the sense here, another opportune time. Why would this have been an ‘opportune time' to tempt Jesus; what does it teach us? Well the other thing of significance that we haven't noted yet, is that Jesus has been fasting for forty days. It is possible, others have done it. But you are hungry and you are weak! “ He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry .” (Lk 4:2). No wonder the first temptation was, “ If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread .” (Lk 4:3).
Simple lesson: Satan looks for opportunities when we are vulnerable. So, if we are to be wise and have understanding, when are we vulnerable? Well this account has already shown us, one such time – when we are weak. When are we weak? We are weak when we have allowed our spiritual resources, the spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading the Bible, worshipping, to lapse. We are also weak when we have given out a great deal. There is no mention of Satan in Elijah's story, but Elijah's feelings after he is threatened by Jezebel after the Mount Carmel incident shows a man who is very vulnerable (see 1 Kings 19:1-4). Weakness and the subsequent vulnerability are classic ‘opportune moments'!
But strength is also a time of vulnerability. Moses understood this when he warned Israel : “ Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery .” (Deut 8:11-14) He knew that affluence was just as great a time of vulnerability as any other time. When you are well off, the temptation comes, “You don't need God. See how well you've done. You don't need this religious stuff any longer. Give church a miss; in fact pack it all in!”
So there are times of personal weakness and times of strength and affluence when we are vulnerable and it is an ‘opportune time' for Satan to tempt. But there is another who area where we will be vulnerable. It is wherever we have an unresolved issue in our lives that we have never taken to the Lord. It may be anger that has never been dealt with, or unforgiveness, or a personal weakness that we have excused as a minor thing that “God wouldn't worry about.” It's not a case of whether He's worried by it; it's a case of you maintaining an area of vulnerability to attack in your life! If you haven't dealt with it, the enemy can play on that and eventually pull you down. Samson was the classic example of a charismatic figure, knowing the power of the Holy Spirit, who never put to death wrong desires so that eventually they were used to pull him down. We're called to let God deal with all of our ‘issues' at the Cross and if we leave some unresolved, hanging on to them, they will render us vulnerable to attack which may be the means of bringing us down.
If you are a leader in the church, one of the biggest vulnerabilities is failure to submit to others. If there is no one that you can share you heart with and confess your weaknesses and frailties, you are vulnerable and are open to attack and eventual destruction. Listen to your wife, listen to your elders. If you can't, there is something drastically wrong that may cause your undoing.
Satan looks for an opportune time. Let's do all we can to limit those and provide him with as few opportunities as possible.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 35
Meditation Title: Approval
Lk 4:14,15 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
There is a time in the early life of the Church when Luke recorded, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46,47). It was a good time when the blessing of God was clearly on the Church. After the Ananias and Sapphira affair it took on a different slant: “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” (Acts 5:13). It has been said that in the early centuries of the life of the widely scattered Church in the Roman Empire, when an emperor decreed a persecution of the Christians, local Roman leaders warned the local Christians of what was to happen so that they could flee for however long it took for it to blow over, so well thought of were they in their communities. We are called to be salt and light and as such we can be a blessing to the community in which we live.
For the time being, in these early days, Jesus received the praise of everyone. He started his ministry teaching in synagogues and obviously all that he said was well received. He is, after all, the Son of God with the wisdom and grace of God and his teaching would be exemplary. However the approval he seems to be getting is almost the lull before the storm; it is about to change, but we'll have to wait for the next meditation to see that. So far Jesus has merely affirmed the truth of God's word, for that is what he would have been doing in the synagogues for they were primarily teaching places, where the truth of God's word was conveyed to the local population. So far he has not said anything that will bring a challenge. So far he has simply been acting as a teacher of the Scriptures and so far that has been very acceptable.
This preliminary phase of his ministry is uncharacteristic of what followed, because soon he would declare himself, soon he would be performing signs and wonders, and soon he would be seen as a threat to the religious establishment – but none of that has happened yet. Writing this in the early part of 2008, I believe that many churches in the United Kingdom at least, are in a similar position. Having found ourselves relegated to the fringes of society, we have heard the word of the Lord to go into our communities with acts of good works. There, many of us are well thought of, and we often receive the praise of community leaders for the acts of service we perform in this needy land.
There is going to come a time, I suggest, when as more and more doors are opened to us and more and more hearts are opened to us, that we will speak the Gospel into more and more hearts and will see a harvest that is greater than has been seen for a long time. It will be at that time that we will find ourselves moving into the second phase of Jesus' ministry, when opposition arises because we become a challenge and a threat. The larger part of the book of Acts records the hostility and opposition that the early church received as the Gospel was proclaimed. Various Roman emperors issued decrees against the Christians because they threatened the deity that such emperors dared to proclaim. Indeed early Christians were called atheists because they did not believe in the Roman gods.
John, in his Gospel, records that Jesus was full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14 ). In this early phase that grace was seen and appreciated. If was only as the truth was brought to bear, that more and more, that appreciation was eroded by the religious leaders.
That raises a question for us in the Church today. Are we well thought of before we preach the challenging Gospel? There are two alternate possibilities. First, that we say and do nothing and are totally unnoticed. This is the church that is completely ineffectual by inaction. The second alternative is that we simply blast the Gospel at whoever we meet without having earned the respect of the listeners and are largely rejected as religious freaks. This is the church that is ineffectual by insensitivity and ignorance. Now I add ignorance, because it suggests that we have not learnt from Jesus. A careful observation of Jesus will reveal that he went first performing signs and wonders with great healing, doing good for needy people. He also mixed with the needy and the sinners and accepted them where they were. It was only subsequently that the convicting words of truth came and caused either a harvest of salvation or opposition.
Yes, John in his Gospel describes all these acts of power as ‘signs' pointing to God, but they would have also warmed and melted the hearts of people towards him. When you have just healed someone of a serious illness, they feel good towards you! They are willing to listen to you. Jesus was using the power of God to do good and to open hearts to hear the truth. Some accepted it and some didn't.
Thus today, it is a valid question to ask, are we doing the same? We may not have the same power that was flowing through Jesus, until God moves in sovereign power through us, but we may seek Him for that and get ready. In the meantime, we do have His grace to be people who bring blessing and goodness into our communities to open doors and open hearts. It is only the preliminary stage, but are we actually doing that? It bears thinking about.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 36
Meditation Title: Coincidences
Lk 4:16-17 He went to Nazareth , where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him
When I look back over my life I can see lots of ‘coincidences', lots of things that ‘just happened' and coincided with other things that then produced a good outcome. Sometimes you can see that actually these weren't coincidences but events brought about by subconscious choice – but that in itself raises questions. Sometimes it is a set of circumstances that are already preset which then run into other ‘random' circumstances which make us speak of ‘coincidences'.
In the Old Testament, the account of Abraham's servant going to search for a wife for Isaac, is one such time when a series of ‘coincidences' come together to bring about a good end. (Gen 24:1-51). We have already seen in Luke 2 the account of Mary & Joseph going to the Temple to present offerings according to the Law, only to encounter the Spirit-directed man, Simeon. It was a case of word and Spirit bringing about a good outcome. Jesus is about to proclaim himself for the first time; that is the significance of what is about to happen. So how did it come about?
Jesus, we read in the previous meditation, has been teaching in the synagogues around the area of Galilee and has been obviously gaining a reputation for himself as a teacher. Now he ‘happens' to be back in his home town. Whether this was by design or accident we are not told, but it is his home town which may explain some of the subsequent reactions to his declaration. Then we observe it is the Sabbath day and for all good, pious Jews this was the day when they went to the synagogue for teaching, so Jesus went, as was his custom .
There were usually prayers and also readings from the Law and from the Prophets. It is when they come to the reading of the Prophets that the scroll of Isaiah is handed to him. Now as far as the synagogue leader was concerned there was probably nothing more of significance to this than the fact that Jesus was considered an honoured guest invited to read – probably for the reason that we've already noted, that he has a reputation in the synagogues of Galilee . Was it a coincidence that the Isaiah scroll was being read that morning, or did they work their way through the Prophets to a known and prescribed schedule? Did Jesus thus know that this would be the scroll of the day and did he choose to be in his home town to take this opportunity and make this point there? We aren't told! Frustrating isn't it, but Luke is just giving us what he's been told and presumably those who conveyed it to him didn't know either. Jesus is about to declare himself by means of a prophecy on this scroll and it seems more than coincidence that it happens in his own home town!
When we try thinking our way into the interweaving of the workings of God and the workings of man, we soon find ourselves out of our depths and we are left wondering just how much was God-planned. If you are a Christian, can you look back at the circumstances that brought you to the Lord and see His hand behind all that was going on? The Lord will use a variety of means, a variety of people and a variety of circumstances to help us to the place of commitment. Were the things that brought you to Him coincidences? Had God been speaking into your mind? Had He been speaking into the minds of others, to bring about the things that happened? In the Christian world there are many and varied testimonies about coming to salvation, about receiving healing or deliverance and about receiving God's provision, and the more you listen to them, the more you discern the many ‘coincidences' that came together to bring about this end encounter with the Lord that resulted in blessing.
The book of Acts is full of instances of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it is also full of the acts of hostile unbelievers who brought pressure to bear on the Christians, and so we see a combination of guidance by God and by circumstances. Yet the Bible tells us that God works within all the circumstances; He works within the bad motives of sinful men – He doesn't make them do things but He uses even their sinful motives and builds them into His plans.
The conclusion to all of these thoughts, about what theologians call ‘Providence', is that when you are a Christian you can rest in the knowledge that God will be working there in the background (as well as the foreground!) of our lives, taking and weaving actions and circumstances to bring good for us. As the apostle Paul was later to say, “ we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Rom 8:28 ). Note that it doesn't say He brings all the things He uses, because they will even involve the sinful acts of men (e.g. Acts 2:23 ), but he will use and work within all things to bring good somehow for us in it.
We may not be able to see the hand of God moving, we may not know if certain circumstances are originating with Him or with men, and we may not be sure of what our responses ought to be, but as we commit all these things back to Him and seek to be obedient to His word and to the leading of His Holy Spirit, we just have to trust that He will guard us, keep us and guide us and that there will be a good outcome. That's what living by faith is often all about!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 37
Meditation Title: Declaration
Lk 4:17-21 Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
There are those who rather foolishly say that that Gospels are entirely made up of wishful, “if-only-this-could-have-happened” thinking. They say that the whole of the Christian Faith is simply made up by men. Such men have obviously never read the Gospels. It was translator, J.B.Phillips, who wrote a small book called Ring of Truth because, as he translated the New Testament in mid-twentieth century, that's what he felt it had. I feel the same thing. Come to a passage like our one today which is packed full of detail which, if it were simply a made up story wouldn't have been included.
Having been given the Isaiah scroll he unrolled it and found the prophecy he then read. It seems he very specifically turned to it. Let's stay with his behaviour for a moment. We saw previously that he stood. That's what the reader always did. But now he rolls up the scroll and hands it back to the attendant and sat down. Teachers in the synagogue always sat down when they taught. His reputation now goes before him. Do you see how verses are linked: He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him, (v.15) and now t here is an air of expectancy: The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him . They are expecting him to speak, wondering what this newly famous teacher was going to say, and so he speaks, but what he says startles them as we'll see in the next meditation. So let's see what the passage said and why his response was so significant.
The passage he read was from Isaiah 61. It is a classic Messianic passage declaring what the Coming One from God will do. He will preach and he will proclaim freedom, recovery, and release, in that it is now the year of the Lord's favour. In other words God has come in this man to do these things. Note in passing that Jesus stops at the beginning of Isa 61:2 and omits the second part, and the day of vengeance of our God . It seems he emphasizes, by doing this, that this present time is the time of God's favour, and vengeance is for a later time when those who refuse to receive God's salvation will be dealt with. Blessing is the order of the present day.
In this Jesus is declaring, I am the Sent One, the one spoken of by Isaiah and the other prophets. Now we need to be quite clear about this because, again, there are foolish people who say that Jesus didn't know who he was and didn't make any great claims about himself. John really goes to town over this in his Gospel, picking up on all the ‘I Am' sayings but Luke does it with his initial account of Jesus at the age of twelve and now in this declaration here. There is no doubt that when Jesus says, Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, he is absolutely sure and is saying I am the promised one of the prophecies.
Remember that these meditations in this series are based on the material that is unique to Luke. This account comes up nowhere else in the Gospels. Matthew, possibly the tax-collector disciple, and Mark, believed to be writing at Peter's direction, had been with Jesus and therefore focus far more on what took place after they joined the band. Luke includes things that his researches have unearthed that occurred before the disciples had been called and had joined Jesus (he himself had not been one of the disciples with Jesus). This happened in Jesus' home town and so it would have been likely that some of the family would have been there on that day in the synagogue and that would have included Mary in the section for the women. Thus the family would remember this episode and thus pass it on to Luke as he carries out his ‘careful investigation (1:3). John, of course, didn't bother to record this episode because Luke had already done it and John's emphasis was more on the fact of Jesus as the Son of God, rather than on his role as Messiah.
Years later the apostle Paul would write to the church at Rome , “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” (Rom 12:3). Humility means acknowledging just who you are, not putting yourself up or down. In these and other declarations about himself, Jesus is just simply speaking the truth: this is who I am.
In a day when many voices are raised against the Christian faith, can we declare to ourselves and to others who are interested, just who we are. I am a child of God, saved by the blood of Jesus. In Christ, God has declared me righteous. I am a temple of the Holy Spirit and He is working in and through me. Thus I know the guidance and enabling of God Himself. That is just how it is, this is who I am. Let our humility be genuine and that also means there should be no false humility. This is who God has made us to be. Let's live up to it and also not be ashamed of it. Jesus spoke out the truth with grace and it wasn't always well received. Ensure you speak with grace and then you need not be ashamed if the response is less than good. Be who you are, who God has made you to be!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 38
Meditation Title: Unexpected Rebuke
Lk 4:22-27 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked. Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'" "I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon . And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian."
We are always wary of adding anything to the Biblical text but the truth is that we don't know if these are always the exact words or whether, in Luke's case for example, he summarised what Jesus said when he sat down and spoke, because he says, he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing," or as another version puts it, “he started out by saying to them ….” as if he said much more but that was all Luke used. Now whether the continuation of what he ‘began' is what we find here in verse 23 on, is unclear. If it was then verse 22 would be an insert into Jesus' flow by Luke.
Yet, whatever is the truth here, the fact is that whether it was with these few introductory words or many others omitted by Luke, the listeners are impressed. There is a graciousness about the way he spoke. Now that is an unusual description. It could be read, “At the words of grace”; they are winning words, that win over the hearts of the listeners and in fact their graciousness helps to contrast what we find in the verse above. The sense is that they come over graciously and are accepted by the listeners who, as they think about this very experience, start to wonder about how this man, who they think they know as Joseph's son, can possibly speak in this way. It's not what you would expect from a carpenter!
Now it is at this point that the whole situation pivots and it is Jesus who does it. Now mostly we don't think about this but it is a complete about-turn. If it had been us, we might have capitalised on the good will that had just been there because we like to think that we can manipulate people, but Jesus knows people and knows what is going on and never tries to manipulate what is going on in us. No, to the contrary, he almost encourages us to come out with what we really think. Now we'll see in the next meditation that the end outcome is total hostility against Jesus, but for them moment we'll stay with what goes on here.
We need to learn that actually people don't really change on the inside in a moment. Any changes we observe are just about how people express themselves differently. So far these people have been thinking well of Jesus because they have heard of his reputation from other synagogues and because they have heard his opening gracious words. As long as he is gracious, they are willing to be nice back. Yet mankind is sinful and it doesn't take much for that sinful hostility to come out against goodness and truth. We don't like being prodded with the truth, and especially when it reveals what we are really like. We like to think we are nice and so if we'd been in that synagogue that day, we'd have been quite happy to be smiling at the young preacher who's been saying things nicely, even though we hadn't really fully taken in what he was saying. But Jesus doesn't leave them like that. He presses them and evokes a response that shows what they were really like. See how he does it.
He starts out, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.' He is pre-empting their responses. As soon as they start thinking about this, they will take exception to it. As they reason this through, they were on the verge of thinking, “Who does he think he is; he's just a carpenter! If you want to say this, prove yourself in your home town. If you did what they say in Capernaum, do it here now!” That's how sinful hearts respond – and Jesus knows it! So he provokes them to come out into the open, as we'll see in the next meditation.
Before they can say it, he comes out with his own response. He appeals to Scripture examples. Prophets don't get accepted at home, he says, just think about Elijah. They were plenty of widows in Israel but he was sent to one in another land. There were also plenty of lepers in Elisha's day, but it was a Syrian who was healed! Now this is serious fighting talk. It completely reverses the direction of challenge. They were working up to saying, “Prove yourself!” and he turns it round and says, “You prove yourselves and show that you are open to God's prophet like the widow and the Syrian army leader were!” Sinful men will not like that, but that does reveal the truth of their hearts.
Behind all this comes a very powerful challenge. Do we like Jesus only when he says nice things we can understand, or do we start grumbling the moment he says something that needs thinking about, or which challenges us? Jesus comes to reveal hearts, not tickle our intellects. Jesus knows what we are like on the inside and it's that which he has come to deal with. If we are still gritty on the inside, know that you are a target of his attentions! He loves you too much to leave you like that, so he'll say and do things that will challenge, provoke and upset us, until we are ready to let him really deal with those issues inside us that we have never yet dealt with. Be warned! Jesus isn't looking to win a popularity contest; he come to save you from Satan, sin and yourself. He loves you too much to keep quiet. He will reveal what you are really like, bring you to the end of yourself and then deliver you from that! That's what he's come to do, not to make you think well of him! If this is uncomfortable talk, it suggests that there is stuff inside you that he'll be interested in! Get ready!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 39
Meditation Title: Frustrated Punishment
Lk 4:28-30 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
We noted in the previous meditation the fickleness of sinful mankind. One moment these people were hanging on Jesus' every word. The next they were questioning who he was and then the next they are trying to kill him. This little episode portrays humanity exactly as it is. Later on, three years on, Peter, as one of the leaders of the discipleship group, would strongly affirm his commitment to Jesus but then hours later deny him. It is a wise person who realises their frailty and weakness and realises their need for the Lord to be the stabilising influence in their life.
So Jesus has just challenged them to be more faithful than their forefathers had been. He had cited instances of where two of God's leading prophets had brought healing to Gentiles and not to Israel . It was possibly that which riled this group of apparently pious Jews in this particular synagogue. We don't like to face our history, especially when it has not been very glorious. The mother's rebuke of a child, “You're just like your father!” isn't meant as a compliment but as a condemnation. We so easily get cast in the mould of our parents and we need to realise that we can be free to be ourselves, not following in their mistakes. These proud Jews could have said, “Yes, you're right. We should learn from the unbelief of previous generations, so that we don't be like them,” but they didn't! Instead they acted just the same.
Now what this particular incident shows is that unrestrained anger can lead to terrible things. They were ‘furious' Luke tells us, and it was their fury that led them to seek to do harm to Jesus. In their anger they no doubt justify themselves: this is a false prophet and the Law says that such men should be put to death (Deut 13:1-5), so they grab him and force him out of the synagogue, and bundle him out of town to a nearby cliff where they intend to thrown him down on to the rocks below. Anger drives these men (because it almost certainly was the men) to attempt murder. Pause up a moment: is anger a problem to you? Does it just spring up and leave you out of control of yourself? You need to assess the cause of that anger, what is behind it, and take that to the Lord and ask for help, before it causes you to do something you may later regret.
You may remember, that a while back we pondered on the expression, “until an opportune moment” in respect of Satan's attack on Jesus. Was this such an opportune moment? Was Satan behind this? Was he stirring up the religious crowd to act in this way? The chilling thought is that he can take religious people and provoke them to awful unChristlike behaviour. The atheist crusaders of our day are only too quick to point out the misdeeds of apparent believers – but they are right! Such things should not happen! Christians should not be resorting to force, should not be resorting to worldly methods to combat ungodly unrighteousness. Anger is very often spurred on by fear and fear is often a defence mechanism. These religious Jews feared the thought that they might be wrong, that they might be rejecting God's will and, thus, that they might receive God's judgement. They did not know God's love and they did not have assurance of the reality of a living relationship with the Lord, and then in their fear, their anger boils up and they lash out. It all stems back to a weak relationship with God, and it is because of this that they eventually act like they do. They have murder in their hearts, no doubt spurred on by Satan who would like to see Jesus destroyed, but they are responsible for their own behaviour and they cannot just blame Satan. It is down to them – and to you and me if we behave like this!
So here is this incredibly volatile and emotional crowd. You see them in Middle Eastern cities on the news, a rabble that has been whipped up to do violence, emotions running amok. But then comes something quite incredible, and we are not told how it happened. Jesus simply walked right through the crowd and went on his way. As we just said, we aren't told how it happened. Somehow the authority of the Son of God was exerted, the power of God for deliverance, and Jesus just walks away from the milling mass of angry humanity. Somehow those around him must have been neutralised and so they just let him go. Somehow, those in his path must have just been anesthetised to his presence and they just let him pass through. The crowd, that is one moment full of anger, is next minute standing and wondering where he had gone and what it was all about. This was one of the very rare occasions where Jesus' very life was under threat and somehow he used his power to save himself. It is a salutary reminder than God does not need defending!
However, the crucial lessons in this passage are about unrestrained anger, and we would do well to take note of them!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 40
Meditation Title: Making Opportunities
Lk 5:1-3 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
Paul was an opportunity-taker and said to the Galatians, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people,” (Gal 6:10). Similarly to the Ephesians he spoke of “ making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil,” (Eph 5:16). To the Colossians he added, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity,” (Col 4:5). You may have heard the Latin expression, “Carpe Deum” – seize the day! Wise men and women realise that the hours in the day ahead cannot be repeated and so view the day as a day to be taken, opportunities to be grabbed, for they will never appear exactly like this again. Paul was excellent at grabbing the opportunities but in that he was only copying his master.
There is a salutary lesson in these verses above. Here was Jesus, standing by the Lake of Galilee , sharing the goodness of God – as always – and people crowded round to hear what he was saying. But the trouble is that you can only get a certain number of people around you who are able to hear. It is a limited opportunity. Perhaps many of us would have been contented with that we would have taken the opportunity that was there – people who were interested and willing to listen. That we might have thought was good enough, but it wasn't good enough for Jesus; he wanted to speak to as many people as possible and so he made the opportunity to do that.
He looks around and sees some of the fishermen who have pulled up their nets and were washing them out, getting out the seaweed and other bits of flotsam and jetsam that might have got caught up when they were out the previous night. But it's not the nets that catch Jesus' attention, it is the boats. If he could get a boat and push out a small way from the shore, then his voice would carry further to include far more people.
It's that simple, or is it? Does Jesus see bog Peter there washing his nets and does he catch a sense of the Father's heart for Peter, does he catch a prophetic sense or word of knowledge sense that this man is going to become a leader of the church? Does he suddenly catch a sense of what the Father wants to do to impress and ‘hook' this fisherman? All those things are about to be fulfilled.
John, in his Gospel, remembered Jesus speaking, “My Father is always at his work to this very day… the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” (Jn 5:17,19) Looking at the verses which follow our verses above, it seems that this is the even bigger opportunity that Jesus is making here, the opportunity to recruit the potential leader of the church. No one else would have even a glimpse of this, only the Son as he caught the Father's heart.
Do you see what comes out of this? Jesus makes opportunities because he catches the revelation of the Father's heart, the Father who sees and knows all things, even the future. Jesus, the Son of God, put aside his glory and his abilities in heaven and came to earth and lived in the limitations of a human body. There he lives with human limitations, but his spirit is open to the Father and so, as it suits the Father's will, the Son catches that which is on the Father's heart for those around him. Today when that happens we call that words of prophecy or words of knowledge. As the Father shares His heart with us, so we catch the potential of people or situations in front of us. Suddenly it goes live and we catch the sense of opportunity that is here.
A good Old Testament illustration of this is of Samuel going to anoint David – although he doesn't yet realise it is David. The Lord simply tells him to go to Jesse of Bethlehem because He will anoint one of his sons to be the next king (1 Sam 16:1). Samuel gets rather defensive and realises that Saul might try and kill him if he hears that Samuel is raising up a replacement king. No problem, is essentially what the Lord replies, make the opportunity by going there to make a sacrifice, and while you are there, you can anoint the new king. Samuel thus creates the opportunity for the new king to be revealed and anointed.
There is a difference between taking and making opportunities. We are to do both but taking is simply grabbing what comes along while making is being proactive in creating the time for grabbing what is possible. Thus we might suggest that there are three groups of people. First there are people of little or no faith who simply let all the opportunities go by and do nothing. Jeremiah prophesied about the king of Egypt who missed his opportunity, when Nebuchadnezzar withdrew, to regroup and strengthen himself against future attack: “he has missed his opportunity.” (Jer 46:17). The second group have faith to simply reach out and respond to the opportunities given them. Peter said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15). When people ask you about your faith, take the opportunity you are being given to be a witness. The final group are proactive and they make opportunities to build bridges into people's lives, just like Jesus did here. For us it may be inviting a neighbour in for coffee, or friends in for dinner. We create or make opportunities to share God's love. When we reach out into the community with community projects we are following our Master's example and are making opportunities of contact, opportunities to share God's love by deed and word. It all depends on your faith level, so perhaps we could ask the Lord to increase that level and then see what happens!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 41
Meditation Title: A Spectacular Demonstration
Lk 5:4-11 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him .
Today's sceptical world is not good with miracles. We try and explain them away; we wriggle about intellectually, trying to show that God cannot interact with the world He made. Why should He do this, we reason, ignoring the obvious answer that He loves us and sometimes to express that love He does things that defy our understanding, things that appear to run contrary to nature. Really it all boils down to how big your God is. If He is a limited figure who sits outside of all He has made completely ignoring it, then you are simply a deist and believe in a God who is not found in the Bible. If you start from the position that there is no God then, of course, miracles cannot happen, but that is prejudging the situation and intellectually lacks integrity. If you accept the testimony of the Bible and believe what it says about God, then you will have no problems with miracles because the One who created the world and who loves the world has both the power and the motivation to sometimes step into it and change things as He sees fit.
Let's, first of all, simply examine what happened in the above account. Jesus has got Peter to agree to use his boat as a floating pulpit so Jesus can preach to the crowds without being trodden on. When he comes to the end of his teaching, Jesus tells Peter to throw out the nets for a catch. Peter is an experienced fisherman and knows these waters and knows that the previous night they spent the whole night out fishing with no success. He also knows the water and knows there are no fish here now, but there is something about this preacher that makes Peter want to please him and so he throws the net out. It is at that point that all of Peter's world comes crashing around his ears. Suddenly there are fish in large numbers, so many that they need help to get them all in. We'll stop at that point for the moment. That is the story in its simplest form.
Now our sceptic will say that Peter got so caught up with Jesus' teaching that he didn't notice that the fish had arrived. You are trying to tell me that this experienced fisherman did not look at the water as Jesus spoke and that his mind was so taken up with other things that he didn't see the movement of fish? I used to live on a fishing coast and I've seen the water shimmering when this number of fish turn up. No, that explanation won't fit; in fact no natural explanation will fit. I can't explain how it happened but all rational explanations don't fit. If the fish are swimming deeply in the coastal waters (unusual!) then Jesus' abilities simply change to one who can see what no other person can see! Whatever you come up with, the only rational explanation is that somehow Jesus did something that no human being could do, which is what Peter realised in his response to him.
Indeed Peter's response is highly revealing. Peter realises that this man in his boat is moving in a dimension beyond anything Peter knows. Peter KNOWS there were no fish one moment, but now he also knows he has just caught an enormous catch, and that seems impossible, and Jesus is the cause of it. He's heard the teaching and he's seen the action and he's left with a conclusion that many of us aren't comfortable with: he's sharing the boat with a holy man (at the very least) or with God.
As we implied earlier on, this story challenges our presuppositions about Jesus. If this is the first time we've come to the Gospels and thought about what is here, we may try and write it off as a deception worthy of our TV illusionists. The only trouble with that is that this sort of thing happened every single day with Jesus with even more spectacular things happening, things that defy the mind. I know some people, intelligent, non-gullible people who went to visit a particularly spectacular healing ministry in Africa . They said that for the first three days they struggled to cope in their minds with what their eyes were seeing, as growths and injuries were removed before their very eyes. We say it can't happen, but surely a God who can do the things we've seen already in this Gospel, will have no trouble with these things.
No, this account challenges our intellectual integrity. Will we believe the evidence that pours out of the Gospels, that tells us that this was God at loose on His earth? More than that, can we cope with the fact that God is unchanging and if He wants, He can still do exactly the same sorts of things that we read in these accounts? Remember who the writer is: it is Luke the doctor, an intelligent man who has ‘carefully investigated' all he has been told, and he has no problem with this! He's seen miracles as he's travelled with the apostle Paul and so he has no trouble believing what he has heard about Jesus. If you struggle with such things, ask yourself why? It's not a matter of the evidence; it is a case of the state of your heart that doesn't want to submit to Almighty God, the God who can and does still bring transformations to lives today. Think about it please.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 42
Meditation Title: Inspection Team
Lk 5:17 One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.
We are looking, you may remember, at the material that is unique to Luke. When it comes to this particular incident Mark reports: “A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.” (Mk 2:1,2). Matthew merely said, “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town,” (Mt 9:1) and then moved into the account, that they all include, of the paralytic being dropped through the roof of the house and being healed by Jesus.
Now in Luke's unique materials we find two things that Luke heard about and which stayed with him so he included these matters that no one else thought to include. The first one is what I have called “the inspection team”. We have inspection teams in education who come into schools, sit in on classes and give their verdicts as to the quality of teaching. The people Luke picks up on were a bit like that. We have already seen that the people of the area had appreciated Jesus' preaching and now we have those described as Pharisees and teachers of the law who come to hear him. Now the word Pharisee means "the separated ones, separatists," and they were a religious party who first appeared about 135 B.C. They were also known as chasidim, meaning "loved of God" or "loyal to God." and according to Josephus, their number at the height of their popularity was more than 6,000. They considered they were exponents and guardians of the oral and written law.
The teachers of the law, sometimes just referred to as scribes, were men who studied, taught, interpreted and conveyed the Law of Moses. Both of these groups felt a need to check out Jesus and his teaching to see that it conformed, in their eyes at least, with the Law of Moses.
This is the first time Luke mentions these two groups and they represent the intellectual opposition that Jesus would encounter. He, as they would hear, was just the son of humble carpenter and so they would not expect him to do very well conveying the law. They would expect his teaching to be very rough and ready and expected to be able to pull him apart as far as adhering to the ‘proper' teaching was concerned.
Many times in the Gospels we therefore find this opposition coming. What is interesting here is that Luke says they had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. They came from the north where he was preaching, but the word had spread much further and so they came from the south, and even from Jerusalem the home of their religion.
What is interesting is that at the end, when Jesus is being accused by the Sanhedrin, many of whom were Pharisees, none of them was able to pick up on and criticise Jesus' general teaching. When the Son of God teaches, he is accurate! How do we feel about Jesus' teaching, I wonder? Do we seek to find fault so that we can reject him? Do we seek to find fault because we too are threatened by him? Criticising Jesus' teaching is a sign of never having properly studied what he taught, but mostly it is a sign of a heart that has never been truly surrendered to God. The person who has surrendered their heart fully to God finds the teaching of Jesus meat and drink.
The second thing that stuck with Luke was the power of God that was clearly with Jesus for he states that the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. He understands that healing only comes when God imparts healing power. For healing to come counter to the normal flow of nature, miraculously in other words, it has to be because God imparts His power for that specific purpose. There is also, it seems, an implication that that isn't always so. In that same place Mark records on one occasion, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mk 6:5,6). It would appear on this latter occasion the unbelief of the people hindered the power of God flowing through Jesus. Possibly the phrase above, the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick implies that on different occasions God's power flowed in different ways to achieve different ends, and the end at this moment was healing.
Luke, as a doctor, has a special awareness of these things. The message and lesson for us is, as we've stated above, is that if we are to see healing it must be because it is God's will and God's power flows to bring the change. Without God we cannot heal. There is no inherent power within us, as some think, that brings healing to others. No, it is specifically the power of God flowing that reverses the course of ill-health and brings instant or speedy good-health. Luke wants us to make sure we give the glory to God if we are involved in this sort of ministry. Power doesn't just happen; it is the operation of God moving. And the result? The result must always be that God is glorified. At the end of this account we find, “Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God.” (v.26) When that happens people will be drawn to God, and not to us. That is why it is important to realise that it is God's power and God's activity.
You may wonder why we major on this point, but it is because the glory is to be God's and not ours. When great things happen they happen because God moves. We might have been the channel through which He flowed, but ultimately it was God's power flowing and He and He alone is to be glorified. Let's not hinder that happening.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 43
Meditation Title: Dubious Contacts
Lk 5:29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.
There is a great danger in being a Christian. It is that you lose focus and become a prig. Prigs are those who think well of themselves and who look down on others, holding a high moral standpoint. It is a very easy thing to fall into because of the very nature of the process of becoming and living as a Christian. We repent of our sins, leave them behind and start out on a righteous life. We even find an abhorrence within us for sin, for abusive language or anything else for that matter that would grate against God's holiness. We are called to be righteous and shun unrighteousness, and so when we encounter it in other people the danger is that we will shun them to, but that is not Jesus' way.
Mark records this episode as follows: “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.” (Mk 2:15) In both Gospels it follows the calling of Levi. Both accounts note a meal at Levi's house and the fact that Levi obviously invited a lot of his tax-collector friends along as well. Luke's emphasis is that Levi laid on this meal and that it wasn't just an ordinary meal, it was a banquet! A banquet is a big meal and many people are invited to it. Now don't confuse this with the story of Zacchaeus, which is very similar. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector in Jericho , but he too invited Jesus to a meal (Lk 19). It is very similar to that account by Levi but the call came at the lakeside at Capernaum . What is similar is the reaction of the two tax-collectors.
Bear in mind that tax-collectors were disliked by the ordinary people. They were seen as the lowest of the low, who collaborated with the Roman, and who often took more than was right in taxes to make themselves wealthy. We would consider them disreputable, scoundrels, thieves, and corrupt. It is from this group of the underclass that Jesus calls his latest disciple! There's a strong lesson to be picked up here in passing. Jesus doesn't look at our present circumstances and our present behaviour. He looks to see what we are genuinely like on the inside and what our potential is. Something we usually take for granted is that each of the men that Jesus called, left everything and followed him. Now it is Levi the Capernaum tax-collector who is called and who appears to joyfully give up his job and follow Jesus and, along the way, hold a banquet for Jesus – which he goes to!
So why did Levi just leave his occupation so easily? Was it that he had already heard of the friendship, fellowship, and comradeship that this traveling preacher created among his disciples, and that drew him? Was it just being accepted at face value that won his heart? Or was it just the charisma of this teacher that gave him hope of something better than he had at the moment? These are important questions which, regrettably, we cannot give definitive answers to because we are not told, but they are important because of the response that follows.
Something in Jesus and in the way he called Levi set this man free and he joyfully sets up a great banquet, perhaps as a leaving celebration for, yes, a banquet is a celebration, and he does it, Luke tells us, for Jesus. Did Jesus ask him to do it and to invite his friends? Was it a means of reaching out to all the other tax collectors and sinners? We don't know because we aren't told, but we can see the end result. Yes, Jesus came to the banquet and the tax collectors and sinners came. Jesus wasn't a prig; Jesus came to save sinners and the only way you can do that is mix with them? A banquet is a time of relaxing and talking and making friends. This wasn't a preaching pulpit, this was a face to face time where masks would be dropped – possibly with the help of drink – and real people communicated their need to Jesus and he shared God's love with them, and it all came about because Levi did it for Jesus!
This emphasis in Luke is typical of Luke's awareness of people. As a doctor he knows people. When he hears of this incident he picks up on Levi's response to Jesus. That is what interests him. Mark missed it and the others didn't even mention it, but for Luke, a man interested in people, he picks up on this response of Levi, just as he alone includes the account of Zacchaeus later on. Luke catches God's heart for people; he's a people-person, a people watcher. The most dramatic thing in Levi's life has just happened; he's been called into a new life and, contrary to many sceptics, this is not a miserable thing, this is a joyous thing, a thing to be celebrated, and a thing to be shared with all his friends. He's not worried that they might think he's mad. He's just going to win their hearts with food and drink and let Jesus loose among them! This, I find, rejoices my heart. There is an exuberance in this verse. When it says a great banquet, this speaks of unrestrained celebration, unrestrained honouring of Jesus, and unrestrained reaching out to the community! Do we do this, or do we stand on our high moral ground and remain aloof from the tax collectors and sinners? If we do, we may find we are standing alone and that Jesus is not with us. He's with them, seeking to share his Father's love with them by loving them, accepting them and befriending them. Pharisee or friend of sinners?
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 44
Meditation Title: Contentious Healing
Lk 6:10,11 He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.
It is fascinating to observe the differences in the Synoptic Gospels, the slight variations that make them unique. Matthew recorded this incident as follows: “ Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus .” (Mt 12:13,14).
Mark records it as follows: “ He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus .” (Mk 3:5,6). Do you see the differences?
Mark, supposedly dictated by the apostle Peter, one of those closest to Jesus focuses on Jesus' anger. He was mostly aware of his master's reaction, aware that he had been distressed at their stubbornness. Matthew, also believed to be one of the apostles, wasn't so close to Jesus and wasn't so conscious of Jesus' response. Luke hadn't been there and wasn't aware of Jesus' reaction. They all record Jesus instructing the man to Stretch out your hand. Mark and Luke record simply that it was completely restored. Matthew who had been there was struck by the fact that it was just as sound as the other . Those are the words of an eye-witness. Matthew and Mark (Peter) who had been there were aware that it was the Pharisees who had gone out to plot against Jesus. Luke, not having been there, didn't pick up on that.
But Luke, enquiring of his informant, picks up and adds just a couple of words that heighten the sense of what was happening: But they were furious . Simple little words aren't they, but they add force to their reactions and provide the motivation for what follows. To say the Pharisees were furious about what Jesus did, shows us the strength of emotion they were feeling about this, so what were they actually furious about? What was their fury? Why did they feel so strongly? To see the answer to this we need to look at the previous verses. This took place in a synagogue on the Sabbath. The synagogue was the place of the local teaching and administration of the Law. It wasn't primarily a place of worship (that was the Temple ); it was a place of teaching. Now, as we've seen before, the Pharisees considered themselves to be the guardians of the Law.
In verses 1 to 5 of this chapter Luke records another incident where Jesus had clashed with the Pharisees about the right use of the Sabbath. Verses 6 onwards are a second incident where there is conflict with them. They believed you should do NOTHING on this ‘day of rest'. Now, on this particular day there is a man in the synagogue with a shrivelled arm and they know that given half a chance Jesus would heal whoever came to him. They didn't marvel at the wonderful power of God being revealed through him to bring blessing to ordinary people; no, they were more concerned about strict observance of their interpretation of the Law – and that said NOTHING was to be done on the Sabbath. Thus we find, “ The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath .” (v.7). Their primary goal from the outset is to find fault with Jesus.
We've already noted that Peter realised that Jesus was angry and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts , so here we have two conflicting sets of emotions, and Jesus is not going to be put off by their man-made interpretation of the Law or their probable wrong reactions to him. He heals the man. The healing, we can now see, is Jesus' direct rebuke of these callous, hard-hearted legalists. Yes, he has compassion for the man, but he is also publicly refusing to be cowed down by their intimidating looks.
It is this blatant refusal to be cowed by their self-made authority that raises this level of anger in them. Their very position as guardians of the Law, as they see it, is being denied by Jesus. To them he seems to be taking their position as supreme arbiters of what is right or wrong. They are under attack and anger is one of the main defence responses of people when they are under attack.
What are some of the main lessons of all this? First must be that Jesus is more concerned to meet our needs than he is to comply with our man-made ideals. If we set up our own ideas of right and wrong, we mustn't be surprised if Jesus knocks them down. Sometimes we have to be brought to our knees before we can see the realities of belief, about what is truly of God and what is not. I am convinced that in the Christian world we have raised up lots of “You shall” or “You shall not” things that are not of God's making. We do them to prop up weak faith, and so Jesus comes along and blesses those we consider not so righteous as us, to kick away our man-made props.
Associated with this, the second lesson, is the obvious thing that we are often more concerned with rights and wrongs of people's lives than in healing them up! Jesus would far rather see our compassion for people than our zeal for what we think is right or wrong. The third thing, which Luke particularly picks up, is that when we are challenged we so often get defensive and angry. There is a righteous anger but Jesus is the only one who is good at it! Our anger is so often just a cover up for weak faith. Next time you start getting angry over a person or an issue, check out why you are feeling that and see if compassion would be a more appropriate response. A final thing we might consider here is who is the arbiter in our lives of what is right or wrong? Is it us or is it Jesus? We would no doubt declare that of course it is Jesus but do we sometimes impose our values born out of fear, doubt or weak faith, and assume they are his values? The angry – no, very angry – responses of the Pharisees in this story, raise many questions that pertain to modern Christianity, which we would do well to think over. Don't respond hostilely even now to these words, ponder over them in the weeks and months ahead and allow the Lord to reveal to you ways in which we may be similar to the Pharisees. We're called to become more like Jesus, not more like the Pharisees.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 45
Meditation Title: A Prayer Vigil
Lk 6:12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God
I'm not sure that there is any subject more than prayer that is more spoken about than done in the Christian world. If there is one thing that convinces me that prayer is highly significant it is the fact that it seems so hard and we so often give up so easily. Many books have been written about prayer, but perhaps one of the most recent ones that is honest about the difficulty of prayer is Philip Yancey's book, “Prayer – Does it make any difference?” The very title highlights our struggles with prayer. Whatever else we say about prayer, the teaching of the Gospels from Jesus is that he expects us to pray. It IS a vital part of Christian experience even if we are often very uncertain about it.
The context of Luke's observation about Jesus activity at this time is tied down by what follows: “When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” (v.13). Each of the other two Synoptic Gospels records that happening, but only Luke observes that it was after a night of prayer. Matthew records, “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority.” (Mt 10:1) and Mark notes, “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.” (Mk 3:13). At least Peter remembers it was up on a mountainside.
When we look at Luke's Gospel as a whole we find he seems to have more in it about prayer than the other two. Like Matthew he has the reference to praying for your enemies (Lk 6:28), and he also records the Mount of Transfiguration experience when Jesus went up to pray (Lk 9:28). Matthew places prayer and the ‘Lord's prayer' in the Sermon on the Mount. Luke has it (perhaps as well) when Jesus had been praying and the disciples were provoked by his example (Lk 11:1) In Luke Jesus also “told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1) and a bit later, “Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” (Lk 18:9,10). There are a number of other references to prayer here in Luke. Why is that?
Is it perhaps that Luke had learned a lot about prayer from his travels with that prayer warrior, Paul? Luke, we've already noted, is the Synoptic Gospel that is all about the Holy Spirit. Can we see a link here between our praying and the moving of God? Is it that Luke associated prayer with the man (Paul) though whom the Holy Spirit worked? Do prayer and power go together?
The present context, however, isn't about power, it is about revelation. Luke clearly makes a link between Jesus praying all night and him then choosing the twelve. Is this Jesus spending time with his Father in prayer, receiving revelation or confirmation as to who the Father wants as His Son's helpers, those who would take the church on after His Son returned to heaven? Luke makes the point that this wasn't just a quick prayer; Jesus spent the night praying. Moreover he spent it up on a mountain, away from everyone else. He spent time in his Father's presence getting the names of the twelve. This was an important task and he needed the confirmation from heaven that this was the Father's will.
This raises the question, when we have important decisions to make, do we make time with the Father to get confirmation or otherwise as to the course we are about to take. Prayer in its simplest form is simply talking to God. Prayer, in its deeper form is also hearing from the Father. Do we see it as a two-way process? Do we see it as a vitally essential activity in our lives? Have we caught the significance of prayer as Luke had? We may not understand it; we may not understand why sometimes we pray and get answers and other times we pray and heaven seems silent, but the mature man or woman of God knows that it doesn't depend on the outcomes, whether we pray, it is just essential that we do. Simply offloading to God seems to lift loads off our shoulders. We may not have heard any response from heaven, but the load seems to have lifted. Yes, we know that God knows all that is in our hearts and yes, He knows every word from our lips before we speak it, but nevertheless we learn that it is good to pour it out to Him anyway.
I remember when our children were small, we used to watch them and knew what was going on in their minds and what they were going to ask us as their parents, but we never objected to them coming to ask what we already knew. We were their parents and parents delight in hearing their children coming and pouring out the things on their hearts. In fact when they get older, the thing we regret is that they don't share so much with us. It's part of relationship to share. So, when it comes to making decisions, needing grace, wisdom or whatever, the most sensible thing is to go to Father to talk to Him about it and see what He has to say. Does that suggest that some of us are not sensible? Perhaps we need to change then.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 46
Meditation Title: A Gathering
Lk 6:17,18 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.
There can arise in us sometimes, when reading Scripture, natural frustrations at the nature of these Gospels. In one sense it would have been easier if we just had one Gospel account and then we would just have to accept it at face value. When we have three similar but slightly different accounts, the slight differences raise questions within us. Perhaps God has done it like that for a purpose, because at the point we start asking questions our hearts are revealed. Some people ask questions to challenge the truth and attempt to destroy the veracity of the accounts. Other people look to see how the accounts come together to give a fuller picture. The first group look to destroy faith; the second group seek to build faith.
The truth is that when we carefully look at the Gospel accounts, all our confidence is undermined. The person who is so self-assured and says, “That can't be true, there is a contradiction,” is shown to be shallow and foolish. The person who brashly asserts, “There are no problems,” equally shows they are shallow and foolish.
Such considerations arise when we find Luke, who, you will remember, said he had carried out a careful investigation, stating that Jesus came down and stood on a level place. Now this raises questions for us in what goes before it or comes after it. In Luke this is followed by what some have referred to as an abridged ‘Sermon on the Mount', except it is, in fact, a sermon on the plain! When we start thinking about this, we realise that Jesus was preaching and teaching for three years and therefore he would no doubt repeat himself many times to different groups of people in many different locations. It is suggested that Matthew had been a tax collector and tax collectors used a form of short hand which Matthew might have used to put together the much larger ‘Sermon on the Mount'. Luke's informant recounts what they remember, which is likely to have been from another of those times when a large crowd came to him and he taught.
Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount simply starts out, “Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.” (Mt 5:1,2), so there it is clearly a sermon on, at the very least, a hillside. Perhaps it is for this reason that Luke makes the point in his Gospel that what he is reporting was on the flat.
The other tricky distinction here is Luke saying, “A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon,” implying these people came to Jesus after he came down the mountain after having chosen the twelve after praying. Matthew doesn't mention this big gathering from far and wide, but Mark does in a passage prior to these events, when Jesus is teaching and healing by the Lake of Galilee . Now the unthinking sceptic jumps on this and says, “See a contradiction!” No, it's simply that this great crowd coming to him from far and wide were there when he was teaching and healing down by the lake AND later when Jesus came down from his prayer vigil and carried on teaching and healing. Whether these words come from a common, unknown document that both refer to, or whether one referred to the other Gospel already in existence, but applied it to a slightly different time, we'll never know. Both Mark and Luke bring this information to us, that the crowds who now came to Jesus for teaching and especially healing, came from all over the country – and they kept on coming! What we have is just simply different emphases being put in by the two writers. For one (Mark) as he thought (with Peter's help) about Jesus teaching by the lake, he was struck by the variety of people and from where they had obviously come. For Luke, as he listens to his sources, that point came out after they came down from the prayer vigil.
What we should be left with after these deliberations, is a growing awareness of the variety of experiences and occasions that occurred in Jesus' ministry of which the Gospel accounts are almost just a shorthand version. It is only John, years later, who, thinking on these things, realises this when he says at the very close of his Gospel, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25).
So, one final lesson, when you come across words in one of the Gospels, which are different from the others, ask why. Think about what was happening; consider the complexity or variety of things that were happening with Jesus, day by day, week after week, for three years. This must have been the richest three years of possible human experience, if you had been a disciple. Bear in mind it was a large crowd who turned up on this occasion, and time and time again the Gospels say that Jesus healed all who came to him. Imagine you were one of the disciples with Jesus, witnessing this day by day. The shear numbers must have left your mind reeling. The shear variety of teaching, healing, praying, travelling or whatever, must have appeared as one long blur after a while. The wonder of the Gospels is that we have them and with such uniformity. There must have been so many things happening that it would have been possible for four different writers to have recorded four completely different accounts – all true! Got it? What an incredible time! What an incredible Son of God!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 47
Meditation Title: Woe to the rich
Lk 6:24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Once upon a time most of us in the West might have read Jesus' words recorded by Luke and think of our superiors, the landed gentry who had money, but today, most of us in the West are without doubt in the upper 10% of the world's wealthy. Oh yes, there are still many more people who have much more than most of us have, but by the world's standards we are still in the category of the ‘rich'. If that is so, then it makes this an uncomfortable verse that needs seriously thinking about.
We said yesterday that although there are similarities with the Sermon on the Mount, this is part of a different sermon and as such there are parts of it that are different from that sermon in Matthew 5-7. Today's verse and those that follow it are such additional verses to the Sermon on the Mount and the question naturally arises, why should there be additional verses? We've already partly answered that. That it came on a different occasion to a different group of people means that it was unlikely to be exactly the same and Jesus would omit some things and add other things from those found in the Sermon on the Mount. But why would Luke include these particular things? Partly because that is what his sources told him but partly, I suggest, because of the nature of man that he was.
We have previously observed that he was a doctor and doctors are those who study people. They know people, they examine people, they listen to people, they observe people, and they understand people. In modern jargon, Luke was a ‘people person', and then when he hears words about human and divine justice, he is interested. He takes hold of what he's heard. He sees injustice and has feelings about it. He is a godly man of wisdom and therefore he is concerned about justice. He is also a man, we have said, who understands about the Holy Spirit and about how God moves. He brings the spirit world and the material world together. He is a physical doctor with spiritual understanding. Matthew focused on the purely spiritual applications that Jesus was bringing. Luke also hears the other side, and includes it.
When we look at these words of Jesus recorded by Luke we find that verses 20 to 22 have echoes of the Sermon on the Mount, with a truly spiritual application, but then suddenly the verses 24 to 26 consider the exact opposites and speak of apparently very materials aspects of life – but yet which have spiritual implications. Thus in verse 20 we find, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” and we usually interpret that to mean ‘the spiritually poor', those who are aware of their spiritual poverty. They are the ones who come in submission to God and receive His salvation through Jesus. But now Luke adds another dimension: “ woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort .” The first ones were blessings; these ones are woes. The first one spoke about spiritual poverty; this one speaks of material wealth. The first one promises the experience of the reign of God; this one implies you get nothing, because you have what you want.
Let's think about that some more. When we are well off it brings us a sense of ease, of comfort, of physical well-being. We feel relaxed in our affluence. We feel all our needs are catered for. We enjoy life. That is the danger! When Jesus says “Woe to you” he is saying, “Oh how terrible, be aware of the danger.”
Moses brought a strong word of similar warning to Israel: “When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you--a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant--then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deut 5:10-12) He was saying the same thing; when you are affluent and settled, remember how you got here, remember who it was that gave you all this!
Behind Jesus' warning in this sermon recorded by Luke, is the implication that if you trust in your riches and don't trust in God you risk going into an eternity without God. Later on in his Gospel Luke goes on to record Jesus telling a parable about a man who harvested his crops and then settled back in affluence, only to die and lose it all. He warns, “ I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.” (Lk 12:22,23)
Luke is a wise doctor and knows the body needs looking after, but also that the mind and the spirit need attention. Sorting out priorities in life is crucial. It is not wrong to be rich but if those riches subvert us into thinking we can do without God, we are really on a dangerous path with wealth. To be wealthy and to be a Christian requires that we also hold fast to wisdom, the wisdom that realises that without God we are nothing. If we trust in riches and not the Lord, we are lining ourselves up for a fall and ultimately destruction.
Put the two verses together that we have referred to as we find a simple teaching: to enter God's kingdom you need to be aware of your natural spiritual poverty, and you also need to resist the temptation that wealth brings, that says that because you have riches you don't need a relationship with the Lord. These are foundational truths and warnings in the Christian life!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 48
Meditation Title: Woe to the Well-fed
Lk 6:25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
It is important always to check the context of Scripture, and sometimes the context is critical to understanding a verse. Yesterday, when we started looking at these extracts from this sermon on the plain, we said that they were two sets of verses, the second being the counterpoint of the first. We therefore need to go back and see the second verse in the first, preceding set: “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” (v.21a). In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel we find it recorded as “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” (Mt 5:6) indicating a clear spiritual purpose behind Jesus' words. It is probable, therefore, that Jesus' words here in the first phase recorded by Luke have spiritual impact, and, as we noted yesterday, the second phase have impact on physical life with a spiritual significance.
So, in that case, Luke observes Jesus balancing out the spiritual with the physical. Those who hunger after God will be satisfied – for He will respond to their hungering by drawing them to Himself and satisfying them with Himself and all that flows from Him. Now comes the counterpoint, the opposite ‘woe' that balances out the blessing: “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.” We need to see this verse in the light of the one before it that we considered yesterday: “woe to you who are rich,” and see the same sort of thing. With that verse we said that Jesus was warning against affluence that can anaesthetise us to our need of God. When we are well off we can feel secure, though it is a false security, and not seek the Lord. The same thing now applies in today's verse.
Be warned, implies Jesus, when you are well fed, you can feel comfortable, at ease and careless of your real need. Have you ever had a big meal and afterwards just felt almost on the edge of sleep? Good food and plenty of it can leave you feeling like that. In that state you have no concerns, you just feel good. But that feeling will wear off until the next big meal. Some of us eat for the comfort we find after such a meal, but this is a temporary comfort, one that lasts as long as the food in my stomach. There is very obviously a danger therefore in being ‘well fed'. It anaesthetises us to the real state of affairs. We can be well fed physically but starving spiritually. As Jesus said to Satan, “Man does not live on bread alone,” (Mt 4:4) and he didn't mean we need lots of different sorts of food. He meant we need spiritual food as well as physical food.
Is there an implication in our verse today that judgement will come on the well fed so that one day we will be hungry? I suggest not. As with riches, it is not wrong to be well fed, but we are to be careful that being well fed does not mean we slip into spiritual poverty, which is easy to happen in a state of ease. But what about if we are well fed and ignore the plight of those who are starving. Now that is another situation. Yes, the Bible does indicate that there will be an accounting and so if we have ignored the plight of the poor when we have riches, we will be held accountable, and yes, God's judgement does often take the form of the opposite to that blessing we have been carelessly enjoying.
Yet, here there is an obvious difficulty. Because there is still so much poverty in the world, we sometimes feel powerless to affect it in any meaningful way, especially when we appear to live in a ‘global village' where we are aware of the plight of people across the globe. Will our slender resources (slender in the light of the world's need) even make the slightest dent in that need? Can we affect the political situations that promote poverty and keep people poor? The answer is probably no, and the best we can do is ask the Lord to show us how we may help somehow and ask for wisdom to bring ongoing change. Giving to enable a man to start a business, through which he can feed his family, may be far better than simply providing only the food. Both are needed but the start up for a business means that in the long term the need is reduced. There are also those who would argue that unless we give to enable the spread of the Gospel to enable changed lives, we will simply create less hungry sinners. These are just some of the issues that arise when we start considering the plight of the needy which this verse starts making us think about.
“God loves a cheerful giver,” (2 Cor 9:7) wrote Paul and perhaps that verse more than most indicates God's desire to find people with open, generous hearts, who are not only concerned to provide for themselves. Perhaps giving should start on our own doorsteps. What are the physical and material needs in our own locality? How can we help those in our own congregations who are on benefit? How can we invest in their lives to ease them out of situations that perpetuate the need for benefit? No, man may not live by bread alone, but it helps! There are obviously clear spiritual warnings behind this verse, but they may extend to cover warnings about our attitudes and actions in terms of what we do with the wealth that we have. There is much food for thought here
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 49
Meditation Title: Woe to the Laughers
Lk 6:25 Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
There are times when it seems the Bible lays itself open to the criticism of being ‘miserable' or ‘kill-joy'. When the critics come across such a verse as this they say, “See, even Jesus' teaching was against laughter. What a miserable religion you have!” In such words they reveal their inability to see beyond their prejudices. I have often wondered what it must have been like travelling with Jesus and seeing hundreds if not thousands of people being healed. I know that in the past when I have had back pain or toothache or something similar, when it has gone, I am so happy that I have wanted to sing. It must have been like that constantly with Jesus, with so many people being healed or delivered. Joy must have been the key description describing what accompanied his ministry, and with joy comes laughter. I am absolutely certain that Jesus' ministry evoked more joy and laughter than the world had ever known before – or since.
So how come negative words about laughter. How is it that when we go into the Old Testament we come across the wisest man in the world writing, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting” (Eccles 7:2) and “Sorrow is better than laughter.” (v.3). These really do sound like kill-joy verses! What is the answer?
The answer for our verse today is to see it in context and remember what we have been saying in the last two meditations. The verses we are examining are counterpoints to the verses immediately before. The previous verses have clear spiritual meanings while the present ones have primarily physical meanings with spiritual applications. Previously we saw how riches and being well fed can lull us into a state of complacency. The counterpoint to today's verse is, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” (v.21b). Interestingly there is no equivalent in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, yet in line with the intent of those verses and the preliminary ones now, v.21b may be taken to mean ‘blessed are you when you weep for your sins and come to repentance, for this will lead you into the kingdom of God and into a life of joy in God.' Tears are an expression of repentance and open the way to blessing which in turn brings joy and laughter.
Now when we consider today's verse in the light of these other ones, we can suggest that Jesus' intention here is to say, ‘Beware you who laugh now and are careless for nothing, for your present laughter indicates your indifference to your need and that will keep you from salvation so that one day when you face the Lord there will be many tears as you realise it is too late.'
Going back to Solomon, what was the meaning of his somber words? They implied the same thing. In a house of feasting there is indifference to the realities of life and the fact that one day you will be answerable to God, whereas in a house of mourning you are facing up to death and to eternity, and that is more likely to help you realise your need in eternity to put your life right with God. In that sense, and that sense alone, indeed sorrow is better than laughter for it helps us come through to salvation where there will be eternal joy and laughter, and not the temporary, shallow joys of this material world, and the laughter that goes with it.
Oh yes, there is much joy in the kingdom of God . Contrary to those who declare that life with God is a miserable faith, the Bible bears a different testimony. From the earliest times of Israel being constituted as a nation under God we find: “Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.” (Lev 9:23,24) Although there was a holy awe it accompanied by joy that God was with them! In fact that was not an unusual experience and so quite often we find the equivalent of, “They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the LORD that day.” (1 Chron 29:22) After the restoration following the Exile we find, “For seven days they celebrated with joy the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because the LORD had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria, so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel” (Ezra 6:22). In the Gospel of Luke the word ‘joy' is used to describe things happening ten times, and that's never recording the joy and laughter that must have accompanied the healing of many. Bear in mind as well that Solomon said, “A feast is made for laughter,” (Eccles 10:19) and the Law prescribed a number of feasts every year to be held throughout the land.
It is important when we come across such verses as today's that we see them in the context of the whole Bible, and in the context of the chapter and surrounding verses, and understand the significance of them in the light of salvation. Laughter before salvation can be a hindrance. Laughter after salvation is normal!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 50
Meditation Title: Woe to the Respected
Lk 6:26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.
The world is often a very deceitful place. All is often not as it seems, and especially so when it comes to people. Because of the sinful nature that we all inherit, there is this tendency in us to be for us but against everyone else. We call it self-centredness and it produces behaviour in us whereby we show one thing on the outside but think or feel something else on the inside. We like to portray lives that are in control, we like to show ourselves as nice, sociable people, people who are good to be with, and therefore we often put on masks to pretend we are what we are not!
The verses we have been considering in these last few meditations are all about reality, about how only those who recognise their spiritual poverty can enter God's kingdom, about how only spiritual hunger provides access to God, and about how tears of repentance pave the way to receive salvation. On the other side that reality has been about how affluence can be a real hindrance to realising our real needs, about how being well fed can be a real hindrance to creating a spiritual hunger, and about how laughter can cover up or even prevent revelation of our true state. Each of these three pairs of verses that we have considered so far, challenge us to face reality if we are to go on with God.
The counterpoint to today's verse says, “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.” (v.22). That is the reality of knowing Jesus: you will be hated by some, excluded by some, insulted by some and rejected by some, and that is because they hate, want to exclude, insult and reject Jesus, and because you are his follower, the same comes your way! THAT is just how life is. Because of Sin and of Satan that IS how life is. That is the reality which we would prefer to forget. I have used the word ‘some' in respect of people because it won't be all people, for some will come looking and searching for him, but some will be all out against him, as we see in the case of modern crusading atheists.
Now we have been saying that our primary verses each day in the previous three mediations have been the counterpoint or opposite side of the preceding verses. Thus our verse today warns, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” The earlier verse warns that people will speak badly of us and now this verses warns against people speaking well of us. Why?
Jesus' answer is because people only speak well of those they feel an affinity with, or those who do no upset them, or do not threaten them. He cites the false prophets of old. They said things bringing false assurance: “they are saying, `No sword or famine will touch this land,'” (Jer 14:15) and false hopes, “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They keep saying to those who despise me, `The LORD says: You will have peace.'” (Jer 23:16,17).
No, the truth is that the Gospel IS Good News but it first calls men and women to repentance, to surrender to God, to acknowledge their sin, their godlessness and their unrighteousness. Without that it is not possible to receive God's salvation through Jesus, and people don't like to hear that. The Church of the twenty-first century is learning to build bridges to people, to soften people's hearts with the love of God brought in practical ways, and yet still each person has to face their sin and their need and come humbly to God through Jesus – and many do not want to do that, and so they will speak out against us. It's just how things are. The warning that Jesus gives us through today's verse is essentially saying, “Beware when people are saying nice things about you, because they haven't yet been challenged by your holy lives, and they haven't yet been challenged by their own need.” There is potential deception here, the deception of thinking we are sharing the Gospel by our lives, when in fact we may simply be accommodating the world and making them feel nice..
We need to be careful here because many Christians have turned potential seekers away because of their arrogant, “I'm right and you're wrong” attitude, or their insensitiveness to the plight of people and their lack of care and compassion for them. If people turn away because of our poor attitudes and behaviour, that is not what Jesus is talking about. We need, as we seek to present the Gospel by word and deed, to be loving, caring, accepting, respectful and compassionate and not condemning. We allow the Holy Spirit to convict, which is very different from condemning. Condemning writes people off so they give up and walk away, while conviction brings a need to act to bring the necessary change, to receive salvation.
No, we shouldn't, as some sects do, use Jesus' former words to excuse our bad approaches to people. And we shouldn't use people's reactions to our bad approaches to excuse us from the import of today's verse: “Oh no, people don't speak well of us! We're all right.” If they speak badly of us because of our unloving and ungracious attitudes and approaches to non-believers, that is NOT what Jesus is speaking about. Our role is to present the Good News in as gracious and loving a way as possible, feeling for, understanding, sensing the anguish and need in people's lives as Jesus did. When we do that we can rest and be at peace if people still speak badly of us, because then, and only then, it will be because of the challenge of Jesus. Let's make sure that is how it is.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 51
Meditation Title: Assessing Values
Lk 6:33,34 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records Jesus saying, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Mt 5:46). Mark doesn't record these sermon elements. When we come to Luke he expands on this reasoning. He starts out, similarly to Matthew, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them.” (v.32). We need to see what he says and why he adds to it.
We've noted the commonality between Matthew and Luke because that is the starting point. It is Jesus' argument to his disciples to go further than other people with their love. Both Matthew and Luke record Jesus making this point, that if you love those who love you, you're just doing what other people do anyway. It is then that Luke includes Jesus' fuller emphases with these two additional examples. The starting example in both is simply loving those who love you. Now Luke adds doing good to those who do good to you and lending to those from whom you expect repayment.
Luke, we have said, was a people-person, a man who understood people and he knows that we need things explaining, we need things emphasizing, and so when it comes to this part of the sermon he includes just this bit more of Jesus' teaching to bring emphasis. Matthew had left it with the basic teaching; Luke adds the fuller picture. Luke doesn't want us to pass up this piece of teaching without giving it some serious thought.
Followers of Jesus, says the teaching, are not merely to be ‘nice' people as the world consider people nice. Nice people love those who love them – that IS a step forward from the person who is loved by their parents, say, and who only responds with hostility. Nice people, Luke adds by implication, do good to people who do good to them – and that IS a step forward from the person who just takes advantage of others' goodness towards them. Nice people, he further adds, lend their money to secure people who they know will repay them – and that IS a step forward from those money lenders who take the security first before they lend. Oh yes, all of those things are the actions of ‘nice' people in the world, but Jesus' followers are expected to go much further than that.
Hence when it comes to love, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (v.27.28). In other words – love everyone, regardless of who they are! Wow! That needs grace! Well yes, that's what these sermons are all about, reminding us that Jesus sets out God's standards and they can only be met with His grace that is available when we have a relationship with Him.
When it comes to doing good to others, it is not merely a case of doing good to those who do good to you, it is, as Jesus said in the two verses we've just noted, “do good to those who hate you.” It isn't a case of just do good things to nice people; it is also do good things to those who are not nice!
Then there is giving or rather, lending – and this is where it really stretches our grace – Jesus' teaching is even more radical: “If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (v.29,30). So lending gets pushed out of the safe waters of lend only to secure borrowers, to lend to those who may well not pay you back. In fact change your whole way of thinking and be prepared to give to others, not merely lend, so you don't have in your mind thoughts of getting this back. Be prepared to bless those who don't have, or those who have little and need your help. This takes us into the realm of becoming generous givers. This isn't about just giving a few coins into a collecting box, or even contributing in the emotion of the moment to a TV charity collection. No, this is about having a charitable heart to those immediately around you who are in need – all the time.
This teaching that Luke makes us pause and think about, takes us back to the teaching that had just gone before that requires us to have an utterly radical approach to blessing others. Summed up it might be put, have an unrestricted attitude of goodness towards everyone you meet, be prepared to do good to whoever they are, and be prepared to bless them with your goods (money) if they are in need. This indeed is radical thinking and it goes completely against the self-centred thinking of the old self, and requires all the love and grace of Jesus to operate. If you have any hesitation, you have not got there yet; you are still holding back and are not yet certain of God's unlimited peace and provision which is there for you. It is a whole new world and it IS possible with Jesus' enabling.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 52
Meditation Title: Open-hearted
Lk 6:37 Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.
There is an approach to life that I can only describe as open-hearted. It describes a person who has an open heart towards other people, who is not petty, who is not vindictive, who is not demanding, who is not vengeful, who is not spiteful, who does not reject people or demean people but who has a welcoming, warm heart towards people. That, I believe, was Jesus' heart. He was constantly looking for the good in people. Jesus had the ability to see past people's facades, the masks they so often put on. He saw people's hearts and he saw their potential, and he was looking to bring out the good in that potential. Jesus saw the downtrodden and saw past their poverty. Jesus saw the rich and affluent and saw past their bold splendour. He knew us as we are, and loved us.
Now I say all this because I believe that is what is behind these simple words spoken by Jesus as recorded by Luke. He starts with forgiveness. Forgiving is about releasing a person who has offended or abused you from the punishment that is due them from God and it is required when that person repents of what they have done. Forgiveness can only be declared when that other person has repented. We shouldn't confuse this with having a right attitude towards our offender because Jesus instructed us to love our enemies and pray for those against us (Mt 5:44). Some Christians confuse the two things but we are told to “forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col 3:13) and God never forgives until there has been repentance, but then He ALWAYS forgives. It is this latter part that we naturally struggle with. We hear people say, “I'll NEVER forgive them.” Well, yes you will if they repent and ask your forgiveness, because then you find Jesus' strong injunction applying: “ if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins .” (Mt 6:15).
Vine's dictionary states: “Human ‘forgiveness' is to be strictly analogous to divine ‘forgiveness'. If certain conditions are fulfilled, there is no limit to Christ's law of ‘forgiveness'. The conditions are repentance and confession.” Until our offender does actually repent, we are to hold a good and right attitude towards then, wanting God's best for them always, but the moment they do repent we are duty bound to proclaim our forgiveness. God gives us the amazing privilege of declaring the will of heaven: you are forgiven. I forgive you. Now although many people will struggle with granting that forgiveness, the open-hearted person willingly grants it. They know that forgiveness declared will open the way for their offender to walk out in newness of life, free from the burden of the guilt. We proclaim their forgiveness because we know that when they have repented God has forgiven them. We are thus the bearers of good news. But we also forgive because we too have known the experience and we know the joy of being forgiven and want it for others.
Declaring forgiveness is a sign of a redeemed person, a person who knows what it is to be forgiven. Thus when we forgive we express our salvation and reinforce our salvation and continue the ongoing process of ‘being forgiven' by the Father. Because we forgive as we are required to, we are not holding on to an unresolved issue that in itself needs forgiveness. If we withhold forgiveness we are ourselves now in a place of sin, acting spitefully and ungraciously, and forgiveness from heaven will be withheld from us until we come to the point of forgiving. As we forgive, so we are forgiven. Forgiveness declared by us is an expression of our own repentance and thus we also receive it.
But then there is the second expression of the open-heart – giving. Most of us in this sinful world are takers, but open-hearted people are givers. Most in the world want to get; that is at the heart of materialism, and that is behind the commandment not to covet. We want and want and want more. But then our hearts are changed and we are born again and suddenly we are filled with love and our desire is to bless others. We become givers, givers of love, givers of possessions, givers of time and energy. The Spirit of Jesus within wants to continue His work of bringing the love of God to people, to bless them. We come across a need and we give. The open-hearted person does not reason and rationalize and blame or speculate. The open-hearted person sees a need, feels compassion and gives.
But look at what happens in God's kingdom. When we give, He gives back – in abundance! That's what the verse implies: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” That says you'll receive a lot. So whether it is time, energy, possessions or money, whatever form you use to give our God's love, you will find He gives back. Selfless, open-hearted giving is the key. But actually the selfless, open-hearted giver doesn't think about what they will get back. They are just aware of what they have already received and they give out of the abundance of that. It just happens that that abundance will be replenished whenever it is given away. How wonderful!