Jesus at Nazareth (Part Six)

Luke 4:16-30

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” 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” (4:23-27 NIV).

Words, especially spoken words, are not always clear in their meaning, when you see the latter in written form. Words that seem to be a simple statement of fact might actually convey other meanings. It appears that this is what Jesus discerned in his hearers in Nazareth. The hometown crowd had remarked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (4:22). Taken out of context, the words could be taken as admiration for the skill that a carpenter’s son had acquired in teaching God’s word. But they had a context in which Jesus had declared that he was the fulfillment of Scripture. For this reason, Jesus saw them as a challenge to his claim to be God’s Anointed One. This provided him with an opportunity to tell them more about the grace of God.

Jesus detected that his hearers were not interested in him as a teacher of God’s word but as a miracle worker. Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” They had heard that Jesus could preach, but they were more interested in his ability to do signs and wonders in his hometown. Shouldn’t Jesus heal people that he had known from childhood? Where was his concern for his longtime neighbors?

They failed to consider the plan of God.

People share this failing. We suppose that God ought to do things that are “nice” for people. If the Lord did signs, wonders, and miracles in Capernaum, then “obviously” the Lord should do the same thing in Nazareth. Otherwise, the Lord is “not being fair”. It is like God “owes it” to us, to do nice things to people, at least to people we like. If we can concoct a reason why God owes special treatment to us, we do not hesitate to put such reasons into how we look at the world.

We are not told if anyone responded to Jesus’ remark. Perhaps they were caught off-guard and didn’t know what to say. Regardless, the Lord Jesus followed up with a statement that would make them feel more uncomfortable. “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” We might assume otherwise, because there are enough signs on the outskirts of towns that boast about it being the home of somebody known for their accomplishments. However, Jesus spoke about prophets.

While people might be interested to listen to someone from their hometown preach God’s word out of simple curiosity, they do not want to be confronted by the word from that preacher. It goes something like this, “Oh you’re little David. I remember you when you were a boy. I recall all the stuff you used to do.” And so they dismiss the hometown preacher with indifferent words and by the snarky tone in which they say them. Jesus never did anything wrong in his hometown, and they still rejected him.

However, Jesus never walked away from teaching opportunities. God his Father had sent him to preach and teach the word (Mark 1:38), and our Lord seized such occasions, even at the risk of a hostile reaction. His theme would answer their unspoken demand for “fair treatment”. He would boldly proclaim God’s sovereign grace. He would review God’s plan of action.

Next time in this passage, we will consider what Jesus told them. However, now is the time to ask ourselves, to examine ourselves about this matter of “fair treatment”. Do we suppose that God is obligated to give to us what he gives to others? Clearly, if we really expect God to do that, we will be constantly disappointed. And deeply frustrated, and even worse, conducting a silent war with God. My friend, don’t fight that war. Don’t live in anger against God. The Lord God requires us to walk humbly before him (Micah 6:8), and humility only prospers in an atmosphere of trust. So then, have faith in God and his wise and righteous ways.

Grace and peace,
David

Jesus at Nazareth (Part Five)

Luke 4:16-30

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 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 (4:18-22 NIV).

People look forward to special events, like birthdays and anniversaries or vacation trips. In our time, we look forward to the end of the pandemic and all its restrictions on social activity. Followers of Christ more importantly look forward to the second coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is the next great event in God’s plan for his people. Come, Lord Jesus!

With this is mind, think back to Christ’s return to his hometown of Nazareth after the start of his public ministry in Judea and parts of Galilee. Everyone has anticipated what this former local carpenter but now preacher and doer of miraculous signs would say in their synagogue. Jesus has read from the opening lines of Isaiah 61. What would he say about them? Luke tells us two general things that Jesus said.

First, the Lord Jesus said that the Scripture he had just read had been fulfilled. This was an astounding claim for a man, even a prophet to make. Jesus claimed that what he was doing (his preaching and doing of signs and wonders) was the fulfillment of this Scripture! He asserted that this text was about him and his works. This was not the only time that Jesus told people that the Bible was a book about him (cf. John 5:39; Luke 24: 25-27; 44-48). But it was surely a shocking proclamation from a guy from their hometown.

They did not grasp the significance of Jesus’ message. Their minds went in a different direction, as the rest of this passage shows. They heard Jesus saying that he could do supernatural acts like healings, and they were prepared to accept that part of his message. And to see Jesus perform signs and wonders among them! However, the spiritual part of his message, that he could restore a person’s relationship with God, they totally missed. This is not unusual, even in our time. People love to hear that Jesus can get them out of their personal troubles. If a preacher promises healings and financial prosperity from Jesus, that Jesus will make their present life better, then people will flock to Jesus. But if a preacher declares that Jesus can meet a person’s spiritual and moral needs, that he can provide a new and secure relationship with the living God, that Jesus is concerned about an eternity living for the glory of God forever… well frankly, people aren’t too interested in those matters. So then, his hearers in Nazareth spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips….

Second, Jesus spoke gracious words. Here was the Son of God announcing to people that he had lived among that God was gracious. God freely welcomes alienated, oppressed, burdened, enslaved people to him. God rejoices when those in spiritual need come to him to have their needs met, to receive an eternal welcome from the King of the universe, to fill them with joy (Psalm 16:11). God is good; he enjoys being gracious to people who deserve wrath. The words of Christ Jesus are gracious words for people, for he reveals God to us. Are we glad for his gracious words? Do we praise God for his Son through whom the news of our salvation came?

The last line of the above text reveals that some of Jesus’ audience had their doubts about Jesus. They couldn’t see how Joseph’s son could do such things. They liked the sound of the words, but they couldn’t see how he could meet their expectations. The same is true for many who hover around the edges of true Christianity with its supernaturalism. Their attitude is “how can these things be real? They cannot since miracles can’t occur. And so they remain on the sidelines. But what of you? Will you trust in Jesus Christ who died and rose again that we may have true freedom?

Grace and peace,
David

Jesus at Nazareth (Part Four)

Luke 4:16-30

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:18-21 NIV).

God’s good news is built on and formed from Jesus Christ. It proclaims his person, his word, and his work. These three taken together form God’s final authority for all people everywhere. They proclaim the glory of God, the way to life, and God’s way for us to live. We see all three elements in this passage from Isaiah the prophet that the Messiah read that day in Nazareth.

As he read what we call Isaiah 61:1-2a, no one in the synagogue could have expected the direct application of the text that Jesus was about to make to himself.

“The starting point, the fundamental thing, is that Christianity is about Jesus… Christianity is not a teaching—it is a person. It is not merely a moral outlook that is to be applied in the realm of politics. You start with a historical person… What you need is to know Him and to come into a relationship with Him. You do not start with His teaching—you start with Him” (Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity, p.10). On that day in Nazareth’s synagogue, Jesus read from God’s word, and declared that he himself was the fulfillment of the prophetic word. A very bold claim! He announced that he had the Spirit of the Lord on him and that he was thus anointed to act for the blessing of God’s people. What would he accomplish on his mission? (It was a mission since he was sent. Christ’s whole earthly life was missional.) Let’s consider the first four parts of his mission.

  • Jesus the Messiah came to proclaim good news to the poor. Though Jesus did visit the rich and affluent, the bulk of his ministry was among the poor, common people. The very rich man (2 Corinthians 8:9) crossed the economic divide of mankind and served the poor. He told the poor that they could have incredible wealth, treasure in heaven, and that the Father in heaven cared for them and was able to provide for them. The person who truly understands their poverty will look to God for good news. I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2b CSB). Christ’s good news is especially appreciated among those who openly confess their need of salvation. Do you know that you need Jesus to rescue you from the guilt, corruption, and consequences of sin? Romans 6:23.
  • Jesus the Messiah came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. Under the oppressive government of Rome, it would be easy to think of the Messiah offering political freedom. But as the entire context of Jesus’ teaching makes clear, he announced spiritual freedom from sin (John 8:31-36). Sin is a tyrant that rules over people and ruins their lives. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1a NIV).
  • Jesus the Messiah came to give recovery of sight for the blind. Our Lord healed the blind on several occasions. Each healing was a sign that he was the Messiah (Isaiah 35:5). As a sign it also pointed to the spiritual sight that people need. Read John 9.
  • Jesus the Messiah came to set the oppressed free. This comment is not part of the text of Isaiah 61; probably Jesus made an observation on the preceding items already mentioned to highlight the significance of his liberating work. A similar statement is found in what we call Isaiah 58:6, which is close to the passage he was reading. Rabbis would make comments like this, his hearers that day would not have objected to this insertion. Many preachers make occasional comments like this when they read a passage of Scripture. As I said, it draws the listeners’ attention to what the Servant of the Lord would accomplish, and Jesus was about to make that claim.

True Christianity is very much about the person, work, and work of Jesus Christ. He came to set people free spiritually and eternally. Do you have this liberty in Christ? It may be yours as a free gift today. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).

Grace and peace,
David

Jesus at Nazareth (Part Three)

Luke 4:16-30

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:18-21 NIV).

Attention was focused on Jesus in his hometown synagogue. He had found the Scripture to read, read it, and had properly given the scroll back to the attendant. Everyone waited to hear him. What would he say? Luke gives us one sentence of Christ’s words. But most probably his other remarks opened up the passage from Isaiah 61 that he had read. He would have explained how he himself was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. How can we make this assertion? We can make it by comparing Scripture with Scripture.

Listen to what the Lord Jesus said later in Luke’s Gospel. Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27 CSB). Our Savior and Teacher viewed the Bible as a book about him. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44 ESV). You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me (John 5:39 CSB). In the Scriptures, God tells us the story of his glory. He reveals who he is and what he does in the Word of God. So then, Jesus made a statement about himself and God, in his hometown synagogue. Obviously, this is a gigantic claim. If you or I said this, we would be blaspheming or insane. But Jesus was God and plainly spoke the truth about his identity.

His first word about himself is strangely the easiest to overlook. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me….” The church as a whole has not done much thinking about this truth, as Abraham Kuyper observed nearly 120 years ago. Since that time, the church as talked much about the Holy Spirit and the Christian. But there is not much discussion about the role of the Spirit in the person and work of Christ. Yet when Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, he started with this truth (Isaiah 11:2; 42:1; 61:1). Here are some thoughts about the meaning of this:

  • The Holy Spirit acted in the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). Far beyond our comprehension, the Spirit acted to join the God the Son with true humanity from Mary to form Jesus Christ as one person with two natures (divine and human). In doing this, the Spirit of God kept Christ’s human nature free from the guilt and corruption of sin. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26 ESV).
  • The Holy Spirit filled Jesus Christ. For he is sent by God. He speaks God’s words, for God gives him the Spirit without limit (John 3:34 NLT). God the Father poured out the Spirit on Jesus in his human nature. Jesus needed the Spirit as a man in order to live for the glory of God. The Spirit acted in Jesus fully to set him apart for God. This is seen, for example, in his growth from being a baby to a child to a man (Luke 2:40, 52). Though Jesus was separate from sin, he still needed to develop a godly way of life in the practical choices he made. As the writer of Hebrews says, Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8 NIV). The Spirit helped Jesus through this process.
  • The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism to indicate that he was the Son of God and to anoint him as the Messiah (our Prophet, Priest, and King). And the Holy Spirit descended on him in a physical appearance like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased” (Luke 3:22 CSB).
  • The Holy Spirit enabled Jesus as a man to do mighty works. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28 ESV). As Jesus read from Isaiah, he mentioned more of the signs and wonders he did by the Spirit of the Lord. We will consider this subject in more detail on our next post in this series.

As a practical point that others have pointed out, if Jesus Christ needed the Holy Spirit to live for God and to serve God, then how much more do we need the Spirit?

Grace and peace,
David

Then They Remembered

Luke 24:1-12

Remember how he spoke to you when he was still in Galilee, saying, ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” And they remembered his words (24:6b-8 CSB).

The historical authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is crucial to the Christian faith. Let us make no mistake. It does matter what we believe about the resurrection of Christ. Consider 1 Corinthians 15:14, 19. This Resurrection Sunday, let’s examine Luke’s account of this historical event. As we read the Four Gospels, we can discern that each one is a genuine account. No attempt has been made to smooth out the details. People told what they saw, and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John recorded their testimony.

The twenty-third chapter of Luke’s Gospel ends on a somber note. Jesus died, was buried, and then his followers rest on the Sabbath. Death and bondage fill the air. But then comes Sunday and a new age begins! Let us worship with our minds as Luke presents three important facts that filled that Sunday morning.

There was doubt concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Look at the identity of those who doubted. We might expect that Luke would record the unbelief of Christ’s opponents. But he does not. Instead, we hear of the unbelief of his followers!

  • The women doubted (24:1). Their love and loyalty to Jesus is commendable, but not their unbelief. You can be sincere, but wrong. The women went to anoint a dead body (observe the spices), and not to greet a risen Savior on his triumph over death. They had death, not life, on their minds.
  • The apostles doubted (24:11). None of them made an early trip to the tomb in order to see if Jesus had risen, as he said. They were sure that he was dead and gone. They continued to doubt, after others claimed he was raised. You can almost hear them talking among themselves, “What crazy women… Old wives tales!”

People commonly whitewash the failures of founders of movements. “Look at what great people they were!” The Bible does not do that. When God tells us about the greatest day in history, he openly discloses the failure of his people.

Consider the significance of their unbelief. Christ’s followers were not under a delusion. Such people seek something to fuel their false hopes. These people had abandoned hope. Their King, Teacher, and Friend was dead and that was all they would believe. The disciples were not ready to believe anything. They were skeptics. They dismissed testimony with a wave of the hand. They required irrefutable proof to change their minds. We sometimes marvel at the faith of Paul: that he was turned from persecutor to apostle. But the change of mind of these people was also remarkable. What about you? Have you had a change of mind about Christ’s resurrection?

There was evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Some people play games with words. They say that no one actually saw Jesus rise from the dead, and therefore it is a non-historical event. Such people are too clever by half. Suppose we have a corpse of a man before us, but no one saw him die. The corpse is proof that the man is dead, regardless of whether or not anyone saw him die. We would not say that his death was not a historical event, because no one witnessed it. Beware of deceivers! Instead, in a few words, Luke presents two lines of evidence for Christ’s resurrection.

First, there is the evidence of the empty tomb. A theft did not take place by the disciples. The Roman guard was there to prevent any such theft (Matthew 27:62-66). Besides, people do not venture everything and die for a known lie. Nor did his enemies steal Christ’s body. They would have produced the body of Jesus and destroyed Christianity in its infancy. A swoon did not occur. Jesus clearly had died. Skilled executioners pronounced him dead (Mark 15:44-45), and there was the spear thrust (John 19:34) that showed clear evidence that he had died. In addition, Jesus showed himself to his followers as Lord of life, and not as someone barely alive.

Second, there was the evidence of the empty grave clothes (24:12; cf. John 20:5-8). Consider the manner of burial (cf. John 11:44; 19:38-40). His body had been wound in strips of cloth with spices intermingled in them. The empty grave clothes provide witness that Christ’s body was not stolen (why would they take a mangled body and leave the strips of cloth that were wound around him. Also, Jesus Christ was raised as no one had ever been raised before him (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23; Colossians 1:18; John 20:19).

Those who oppose Jesus Christ have a major problem. Here is evidence that will stand the test in a court of law. The tomb where Jesus had been buried and which the Roman government guarded to prevent theft was empty, except for one thing. Inside that tomb were empty grave clothes. What group of fearful men or women is going to overpower trained guards whose life depends on preserving their watch? And if they could do that, would they unwind the grave clothes from the body, reform them to look like a body had disappeared, and carry off a mangled corpse? The idea is absurd. You have one good alternative at this point. Bow before the Risen Christ and confess that he is Lord.

There was testimony concerning the resurrection.

The angels testified (24:5-6). Their words convey a mild rebuke. Notice how they frame this rebuke. They do not ask why they seek the “risen” but the “living”. Do you look for the living in a cemetery? Consider Revelation 1:18. Every believer should realize that he or she is accountable to the living Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:24-27). Their words provided an explanation at the same time. He has risen! Death, that ancient foe of mankind, made its ultimate mistake. It met its Master!

Christ’s own words testified (24:7 cf. 9:22). His words spoke of divine necessity (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:28). His words had foretold the key events that had happened: his suffering, his death by crucifixion, and his resurrection. This should teach us the importance of knowing and understanding Christ’s words (Mark 1:15; Matthew 7:13-14; 9:37-38; John 14:3). They provide a framework for understanding life.

The women testified (24:8-10). Then they remembered Christ’s words (NIV). Suddenly, God the Holy Spirit helped them comprehend what Jesus had told them. For this reason, they went and spread the message of what they had seen and heard. Compare 24:22-23. All believers should provide a similar testimony.

Then they remembered Christ’s words. What about you? Do you know in your heart that Christ has been raised from the dead? How is the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection changing your life?

Grace and peace
David

The Lord’s Supper and Changes (Part Two)

Luke 22:14-23

And he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (22:19-20 CSB).

The time for the beginning of the new age and Christ’s new covenant had come (22:19-20).

Jesus instituted a new meal of remembrance

A meal is a sign of death and life. Whatever you eat has come to the end of its life. Yet you have life through the death of what you eat. Life is given that life might continue. The Lord uses the physical sign to teach us this spiritual truth. We live because Jesus died. So we must think of his death that gives us life.

A meal also is a time and sign of sharing. He “gave it to them”; “for you”. At the Lord’s Table, we join with others who confess they receive life through the death of Jesus Christ. It is a time for Christ’s new family to share their faith in the Lord Jesus together. As the apostle Paul later wrote, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”. We preach this shared faith and hope to one another.

The Lord Jesus Christ event to focus on himself.

It is too easy to become self-centered, including during the Lord’s Supper when we are supposed to be celebrating God’s glory in Christ. It is an occasion to declare God’s worth. The Lord Jesus wants us to think on him; he wants us to recall his great act of deliverance. He wants us to think on him, our Redeemer and Rescuer.

It is to spur us on during our time of separation from him. (You see, we need to remember him, because he is not physically present with us now, and we so weakly rely on our physical senses.) We live in a brief interim, like a business trip, until Jesus comes to restore all things (Acts 3:21).

Are your thoughts fixed on Jesus?

But look, the hand of the one betraying me is at the table with me. For the Son of Man will go away as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” So they began to argue among themselves which of them it could be who was going to do it (22:21-23 CSB).

Jesus spoke of the trials of the new (22:21-23). The new age arrives through troubles. Salvation comes through judgment. The judgment we deserved fell upon Jesus the Messiah.

Here was a time of the struggle of the purpose of God versus the schemes of evil. It was a time of faithfulness versus unfaithfulness. Christ’s people still must stay true to the Lord and the gospel, because some false brothers among us won’t. Yet this trial was the time of God working out his ultimate victory. There was also uncertainty about the identity of the traitor. The betrayer acted like he wasn’t the man, though he had already sold Christ over to his enemies. The faithful disciples questioned themselves. True believers know their weakness, since we all struggle constantly with remaining sin. We learn the desperate evil that is still in our hearts and know too well where it could end. How are you doing in this struggle?

Lessons:

  • Let those who follow Jesus remember that we are part of the ongoing story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. 
  • Set your heart on the reign of God that will soon come. Our Lord’s return is nearer now than when we first believed. Are you ready?

Grace and peace,
David

The Lord’s Supper and Changes (Part One)

Luke 22:14-23

When the hour came, he reclined at the table, and the apostles with him. Then he said to them, “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (9:14-18 CSB).

One day when I was a young teen, I bought a couple of “surfer shirts” for a dollar or two each. I think that they were the first clothes I had ever bought with my own money. I wore those shirts for years—through high school, college, and our first ten years or so of marriage. Finally, Sharon convinced me that it was time to get rid of those shirts. It was time for a change.

God is working out a long-term plan to display and to share his surpassing glory through the Lord Jesus Christ. Part of that plan involved his choice of a nation through which he would bring forth his Son, Jesus Christ. He made a covenant or solemn agreement of relationship with that nation, Israel. He administered that covenant through priests and sacrifices and the observance of laws and rituals. Everything in that covenant pointed to a better covenant in Christ that he would make with people chosen by grace from all nations. 

In our text the Lord Jesus began to establish changes. These are changes from the law or old covenant made at Sinai to the new and better covenant in Jesus Christ. But like throwing away my surfer shirts, people have trouble accepting that God has made changes in Christ. Some people want to hang on to the laws and the rituals; others want to hang on to the old people with their separate physical, national existence; others want to stay with both. But Jesus says that a new day has come with a new covenant made by his blood. This new covenant brings with it a new people, a new spiritual nation in Christ Jesus and with better, eternal promises. Let’s think through these matters.

The time for the fulfillment of the law or old covenant had arrived. This meant the time for the fulfillment of its ceremonies, like the Passover (22:14-18).

The Passover was a time for family and neighbors to remember together God’s mighty act of redemption (Exodus 12:3-4; 24-27). Jesus acted as the head of the family to lead them in the remembrance. So in the previous section, he took charge in making sure everything was ready (Luke 22:7-13). His apostles were his family for that meal. Jesus eagerly desired to share this remembrance with them. He could recall what he did to bring Israel out of Egypt. So he leads the celebration of God’s faithfulness and power. He could use this celebration to continue to point them to his greater exodus (Luke 9:31). As everything for Israel pointed back to the exodus from Egypt, so everything for the new covenant assembly points back to the greater exodus of the cross and the resurrection.

The old Passover celebration had reached the end or goal of its purpose. Jesus was about to die as the ultimate and final Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). Listen to and meditate on his words “before I suffer” (cf. Mark 8:31; 9:30-32; 10:31-34). His mind was fixed on what the Father had given him to carry out.

The next Passover that Jesus will partake of with his disciples is the one in the kingdom of God, which John later calls “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9). Now we must remember that “kingdom of God” equals “the reign of God”. The reign of God that Jesus is speaking of began with his appearance, was proclaimed in his teaching, was established by his death and resurrection, and will be fulfilled in the new heaven and the new earth. Here Jesus points to the fulfillment. But first he had to suffer and die as the Lamb of God to deliver his people from sin, guilt, and punishment. Then he could enter into glory (cf. 1 Peter 1:11).

Grace and peace,
David

Developing a Gospel Attitude (Part Three)

Luke 9:46-56

When the days were coming to a close for him to be taken up, he determined to journey to Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead of himself, and on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for him. But they did not welcome him, because he determined to journey to Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village (9:51-56 CSB).

We have seen the hindrances of pride and a party spirit to a gospel attitude, an attitude of good news to others. Next we turn to the hindrance of poor theology.

The still learning apostles had a frightening outpouring of misinformed zeal. They had much to learn about the attitudes of Jesus Christ and how to live in conformity with his gentleness, love, compassion, goodness, and kindness. We all need to be growing in these constantly.

This event occurred in a context of opposition to Christ. The time was approaching for his ascension. (How rarely has the church thought of our Lord’s ascension into glory. I can safely state that Christians know much more about the feeding of the five thousand than they do about the ascension.) But in order to reach the time of glory, Jesus had to walk the road to the cross: “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:11). Therefore, Jesus headed to Jerusalem to die on the cross for sinners. This is the turning point in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus was intent on doing all that was necessary to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

However, because he was heading for Jerusalem, the Samaritans would not welcome him. They were mired in ethnic prejudice. Hatred runs very deep in human hearts. For example, I need look no further for an illustration of this than the utterly horrific political hatred continuing in this serious time of world crisis. Tear down the other side; hinder progress for the sake of political gamesmanship! Such true hate-speech is deplorable. What the Samaritans did angered James and John. They were zealous for Jesus and wanted him to be honored by people. But what kind of zeal did they have? They very sadly went in a wrong direction.

So then, they asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire from heaven to destroy Jesus’ opponents. At the very least, you could say that they were confident! They were sure that God would answer their request to protect Jesus’ honor. But this is a tragic-comedy! Do you get this picture? Two lowly fisherman are asking the Son of God if he wants them to call down from heaven. In one sense, it must have been hard for Jesus to keep a straight face. Of course, you and I probably never have an exaggerated idea of our own greatness, do we? The problem is that this was not funny. They were talking about judging people to eternal destruction.

Jesus sternly rebuked them. Luke simply states that Jesus turned and rebuked them. Did he say something like the textual variant in the footnote suggests? He may have. Perhaps he plainly said, “Have you men been listening to anything I’ve said? Be quiet and follow me.”

Whatever Jesus said, the point is clear. They didn’t understand his mission to save sinners by dying on the cross to propitiate God’s wrath. They were in a wrath mentality. Tell me, which do you read more of in the four Gospels: Jesus calling down fire from heaven and destroying town after town in Palestine or Jesus tenderly revealing God’s love and mercy?

The disciples did not understand the spirit or attitude of Christ and his better covenant. They were still living under the law, and the smoke and thunder of Sinai still motivated them. Jesus was taking them to another mountain called Golgotha, where he would satisfy God’s holy wrath against sinners. He had told them twice that he would be delivered into the hands of men. Yet at the first instance of opposition, they run back to the old mountain Sinai.

I’m not trying to be hard on James and John. I would not have done any better. But what troubles me is to hear Christians nearly 2,000 years later talking with an old covenant attitude. The world doesn’t treat us Christians as kings, and immediately someone is calling for God’s wrath to fall on them. Forget revenge! That dish is so spicy and hot that only God can handle it. Instead, get busy doing what the Lord Christ wants you to do. Tell all people everywhere the good news of the gospel; pray for your enemies.

Action Step: Tell people compassionately, “You are making God angry by your rebellion against him. In spite of that, there is good news. God so loves rebellious people that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for their acts of rebellion. Now why will you perish forever under God’s wrath? Turn to Jesus and receive mercy for his sake.”

Action Step: God what us to be zealous for him, but our emotions must be guided by God’s truth. Where do you need to change your emotions according to God’s word?

Grace and peace,
David

Developing a Gospel Attitude (Part Two)

Luke 9:46-56

John responded, “Master, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.” “Don’t stop him,” Jesus told him, “because whoever is not against you is for you” (9:49-50 CSB).

Perhaps John, the one closest to Jesus, was troubled by what our Lord had just taught, as he remembered something that the apostles had done. So he asked the Lord about it. The second hindrance to a gospel attitude is a party-spirit (9:49-50).

John confessed a troubling occurrence of misplaced zeal. We should not miss the fact that John’s admission comes from those who are loyal to a cause or a group. In particular, John’s statement shows a concern for the honor of Christ’s name. That was good. We ought to be zealous for the Lord and his truth. May many more have a godly zeal!

However, joined with that was a misdirected concern for “our group”. There are a number of manifestations of this attitude. I’ll suggest three that continue to trouble us in our time.

  • There are those who are in a denomination, association, or fellowship of churches and who take pride in “our confession of faith” or “our missionary or ministry organizations or methods” or “our religious heritage”. They seem believe that the first ten rows in heaven are reserved for their group. If you don’t think this is so, attend a meeting or conference where one group has the majority. Don’t be surprised when after a few strained polite words that people walk away from you when they discover that you’re not part of their group. Christianity is supposed to be a brotherhood. This group type twists it into a secret society.
  • There are those who are in a growing church and who boast “there’s no place like this place anywhere near this place, so this must be the place”. (I’ve actually heard that said.) They are usually quick to point out that their church is “alive” while others are “dead”, or “they have the truth” and others “are in error”. Again, growing churches and experience-centered churches are prone to this error.
  • There are those who are in a siege mentality, valiantly “preserving the truth or standards of Christian living”. People with this mentality usually talk like Elijah at his worst. “We’re the only ones left!” They are intent on preserving traditions and group identity at all costs. Talk about loving others and inviting outsiders in is a threat to those in this kind of practical error. They also fear change that new participants in their group might request.  

Action Step: Let us never cut down other churches or Christians in a silly attempt to make ourselves look good. If we follow Christ faithfully, he will send his sheep to any gathering of believers.

The Lord Christ gave a sobering reply. It was a swift, direct put down. “Don’t stop him,” Jesus told him, “because whoever is not against you is for you.”. Stop it!

The Lord Jesus does not need our help as deputy sheriffs to keep his church in line. We might have the best of intentions, but we rarely have the discernment required to do more than to attend to our responsibilities. Jesus simply tells John, “Do not stop him.” You have probably seen some of the old Andy Griffith shows. Dear old Barney was eager to be a good deputy, but many times Andy had to ask him to hand over his bullet. Too many Christians, especially pastors and elders, including some prominent leaders, need to hand their “spiritual bullets” over to the Lord High Sheriff, Jesus.

Again, the disciples had missed a key point. The man was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. (John had said that!) The man spoken of was not opposing the work of God through the apostles. So then, he wasn’t against them but for them.

Biblical separation from error or an ungodly way of life for the cause of God and truth is a constant duty of Christ’s church. But separation just because someone isn’t in our group or because they fail to dot their “Is” and cross their “Ts” as nicely as we do is very, very wrong.

Action Step: We should “walk as far on the right road as we can” with other believers. This is important for you on the job. You may need the help of that other believer in your stand for Christ. It is important right now in your neighborhood to show Christian love before a watching world. Many are in need and suffering and even dying. Help all as you are able and as you have the opportunity! It is important for every local body of believers. As someone once said, “Christians should hang together or we may all hang separately.”

We must learn to accept one another, though we may differ on some matters. Heated controversy attracts feisty people, but it rarely changes anyone’s minds according to the Scriptures. The apostle Paul, who was not reluctant to confront people for error also wrote, Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God (Romans 15:7 NIV).

Grace and peace,
David

Developing a Gospel Attitude (Part One)

Luke 9:46-56

An argument started among them about who was the greatest of them. But Jesus, knowing their inner thoughts, took a little child and had him stand next to him. He told them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes him who sent me. For whoever is least among you—this one is great” (9:46-48 CSB).

In recent posts, we have read of Jesus’s transfiguration, in which something of his divine glory was revealed to Peter, James, and John. Following that picture of his majesty, they went down the mountain to rejoin the other apostles. There they encountered human misery. What a contrast! It remains true at this moment. God is seated in his glorious majesty over all, and we live in the misery of sin, suffering, and death. Do not blame God; we humans have brought and continue to bring this on ourselves by our rebellion against God. If you understand, weep over people without God and without hope in this world.

We come now to a practical test that followed Christ’s instruction. Sadly, what the apostles learned was not changing how they thought and acted. Their attitudes needed to be reworked. In this section (9:46-56), we will consider three hindrances to a gospel attitude and what should we do about them.

The first hindrance is pride (9:46-48).

The apostles exhibited an incredible circumstance of idolatrous zeal. Their behavior was way out of line. Who would think that grown men would act like this? Did you ever collect milk weed pods when you were a kid? It was lots of fun, right? My wife and I have done it with our granddaughter. To watch her joy was a pleasure. Do any of you adults long to do it again without children around? You put away that childish activity and many more. You don’t say to your adult friends, “Let’s go find some milk weed pods, break them open, and watch their seeds scatter!” Followers of Christ should have a holy disinterest in pride. “That was part of our old way of life! We don’t want to do that any longer.”

Christ’s perception of the apostles was correct. He knew their thoughts. He knows our thoughts. The Lord knows when we fail to humble ourselves before God and others. He sees our self-reliance in our abilities; he knows our arrogant opinions, when we refuse to submit to the teaching of God’s word (cf. Psalm 139:1-6).

Jesus provided a searching illustration. Here it was like an object lesson. He didn’t tell a story this time. He welcomed a little child. That child, and every child, has eternal significance. Made in God’s image, he or she will exist somewhere forever. Jesus loves children. Woe to those who do not!

The significance of the child in this example is not in his personal humility but in the child’s relative insignificance to people, especially in the opinion of adult men. Jesus did not tell them to have the child’s attitude but to accept the child’s place. They were focused on who had the best credentials. The boy had no claim to fame in their eyes. He had no proud position. People not absorbed with the child’s greatness. Were those disciples willing to be insignificant?

However, we must not stop with humility. If we do, we are still focused on self. It is possible to read this passage and come out of it as a moralist instead of a Christian. Listen carefully to Jesus’ emphasis (9:48). Do we welcome even children in Jesus’ name? Or do we ignore them?

The important fact is to view the child in relation to Jesus. Would they be content to serve the child for Christ’s sake? Would they welcome him in the name of the Lord? To do so is to extend a welcome to Jesus. But to pass by a child in a quest for greatness is to miss an opportunity to honor the Lord!

Joined with this truth is the relation of Jesus to God the Father, the one who sent Jesus. If you welcome Jesus, you also welcome the living God. Christ is leading them to focus on the significance of the One that they confessed to be the Christ of God.

 Whatever temporary lesson the disciples may have learned is obscured by John’s statement in the next verse. But however they benefited, we are wise to ask ourselves, “Do we get the point?”

Ask yourself sometime today, “How much do I really care about children? Do I view them as unimportant, especially compared to how great ‘we adults’ are? How much am I doing to bring children into a saving relationship with Jesus? Do I pray for them? Am I stirred to have compassion on them?”

Grace and peace
David