Jesus at Nazareth (Part One)

Luke 4:16-30

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read (Luke 4:16 NIV).

I was born in a town in western Pennsylvania, but I never considered that place my home in any sense. It was more an item from a curiosity cabinet that a person looks at occasionally and quickly forgets. I grew up in northeastern Ohio. When I was three months old, I urged my parents to leave PA and move to Cleveland (just kidding), where we lived for a while and then out to the country suburbs. I was brought up in Streetsboro; its chief claim to fame when I was very young was Exit 13 on the Ohio Turnpike, one traffic light, and one truck stop. When I moved there, a couple hundred people called it home. When I graduated from high school, there were over eight thousand residents. It was a growing village in a very disorganized way. If I was named like many people in ancient times were, I would be David from Streetsboro.

Nazareth was an unremarkable little village. Its chief claim to fame was that Jesus grew up there, though he was born in Bethlehem of Judea. When he reached adulthood, he was known as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus worked with his adopted father Joseph as a construction worker. It wasn’t glamorous, but it helped pay the family’s bills. A family of at least nine would have its share of those. I imagine that Jesus did his fair share of “go fer” work during his first years on the job. He knew what it was to sweat, and… his hometown folks had seen him do all that stuff. He worked manual labor just like everyone else. He was nothing special in their eyes. Then one day he left it all and went to listen to a country preacher called John the Baptist. You can hear the middle-aged and older men of Nazareth talking in the village square, “There’s too many young men running off to Judea to hear that Baptist. You can mark it down today; nothing good is going to come of it. Jesus should know better. He’s about thirty years old. Should’ve had a wife and kids by now.” The opinions of people about Jesus in a rough, working-class town would not have been kind or polite.

After some time in Judea, Jesus returned to Galilee with a group of disciples (learners). The construction worker had become a rabbi (teacher). He went to a wedding in Cana with his family and disciples, and reports circulated about a miraculous sign that he had performed there (John 2:11). After a brief visit in Capernaum (John 2:12), he went to Jerusalem for the Passover where he performed several miraculous signs (John 2:23). Jesus toured throughout Judea and Galilee, and even Samaria, for a while, before he returned to his hometown. But now he is known as a rabbi (notice those disciples following him) and a miracle worker. We need to have these things in mind to comprehend what happened during this visit to Nazareth.

Luke placed this account after a summary statement about Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (4:14-15). Jesus had done many mighty works, and he had taught in the synagogues. Jesus made it his habit to attend the visible gatherings of the professed people of God. Knowing the response of the people to his message, it was not a requirement that those with him in attendance were spiritual people. (To answer a question before it’s asked, what about us? We ought to look for a place where Christ and the gospel are believed and preached, and love to God and one another are plainly seen. Don’t look for a perfect church. It only takes three visits or less to discover many imperfections in the best local assemblies.) Jesus went among the people of God to honor God and to seek to do good and to tell others the good news. He was sent by God to teach and preach.

Jesus took advantage of their custom that allowed visiting rabbis to read and to teach on a passage of Scripture. I can’t imagine this happening today for several reasons, some very good and some very bad. But Jesus stood up to read in the synagogue in the town where he had been brought up. This means that as a boy and young man and a man, he had sat in this same synagogue and listened to rabbis reach and teach. Finally, it was his turn. What would the “hometown boy” say? Having been in this situation, well… let’s simply say that it is not the easiest audience to speak to, if you want people to respond to God’s Word. The people have other things on their mind than the worship of God and their own repentance and faith.

Practically, how do we listen when we worship with others? Is the worship of God topmost in our desires? Do we want to be transformed by God’s grace as we listen? Do we want to encourage others in the faith? Or do we attend with a self-centered, critical, prideful attitude? Let’s examine ourselves, since joy in the Lord and in others should be our spiritual pulse.

Grace and peace, David

The Return to Galilee

Luke 4:14-15

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him (NIV).

Up to this point of Luke’s account about Jesus, he had not written about Jesus’ ministry. We know that our Lord grew up in Nazareth and that he went to the Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist, but Luke has not told us about his ministry in Judea, which we read about in the early chapters of the Gospel of John. Instead, we suddenly read of Jesus returning to Galilee. We might ask why.

Part of the answer is simply that Luke wrote what the Holy Spirit wanted him to. None of the writers provide a biography or life of Christ. They are sacred writings that tell God’s story in Jesus from God’s viewpoint. The Spirit wanted Luke to emphasize some matters and pass by others. In regard to his purpose in the Third Gospel, Luke gives a summary of Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee, since he wants to lead up to the turning point of his book (Luke 9:31, 51). Luke points to the Ascension, which is important in his teaching about all that Jesus accomplished. What can we learn about our Lord? Note well: If we are merely reading the Bible as a self-improvement manual or to have an emotional therapy session, we have been misled about the purpose of the Holy Scriptures. They proclaim the story of God’s glory, they tell us about the Triune God, and they make known how we can know him, who is God over all. For these sufficient reasons, we ought to pay close attention to summary statements like these two verses.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (4:14). The Spirit had led him into the desert to be tempted by the devil, and Jesus triumphed there, being full of the Spirit and using the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Luke wants us to learn that he acted by the power of the Holy Spirit throughout his ministry. In Acts, the Spirit will work through the apostles in the same way. We also are to be filled with the Spirit to serve God submissively in a godly way of life (Ephesians 5:18-21).

As Jesus lived in the power of the Spirit, news about him spread through the whole countryside (4:14). His ministry in Galilee began as other ministries do: from small things. Jesus was not instantly well-known. People had to tell people about his marvelous words and mighty works. God enjoys working with people in his works. He wants us to tell others. Are you telling others about the Lord Jesus whom you’ve met and know?

Jesus was teaching in their synagogues (4:15). The tense indicates that Jesus constantly taught in the synagogues throughout Galilee. Part of his mission was to teach about God’s kingdom (saving reign), and he took advantage of every opportunity to do so. In Colossians 4:5, the Spirit instructs us to make the most of every opportunity. Certainly, everyone needs time to relax, to recover one’s strength, to prepare, to invest time in our family, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ. And there are only so many hours in a day at last count! However, how much of your time is it wise to expend on television and social media? Here, we often lack self-control, which is part of the fruit of the Spirit.

Everyone praised him (4:15). The start of his ministry in Galilee was a time of great popularity. It would not last, as the next section makes clear. People like to hear skillful public speakers. We were made to listen, learn, and think. We enjoy words! Human’s love communication! However, once people started to process what Jesus said, they began to dislike it and him. Sinful people suppress the truth and exchange it for foolishness (Romans 1:18-25). If people come to dislike you, it might be because they’ve come to understand what you’re saying (cf. Isaiah 6:9-13)!

Grace and peace, David

The Temptation of Jesus

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus answered, “It is written…” (Luke 4:4, 8 NIV)

Many have written about temptation in general and this temptation of the Lord Jesus by Satan specifically. The typical approach is either that it is an important part of the doctrines of sin and temptation, or that we can learn “practical lessons” about how to overcome temptation. Usually, Christians are drawn to the second approach, because too often Christianity is reduced to a “do it yourself” (DIY) method that concentrates on “practical” 3 to 12 step plans that usually neglect the Triune God. But that is a topic for another time. Yet, I purposefully mentioned this matter, because few are aware of how their reading, interpretation, and ideas of the nature of the Christian life are skewed by a demand for what is “practical”, so that they fail to see God’s glory in Christ. Their approach to the word becomes human-centered rather than Christ-focused.

In this article, I want to present what is far less considered; that is, the importance of this section to Biblical theology, which wants to know and to tell the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. When we know this, then the passage can enrich our systematic and practical theologies.

  • Jesus came as God’s new man, the last Adam. The first Adam yielded to the temptation by the devil against the word of God. Adam the first fell in the Garden of Eden, where he was richly provided for by the Lord. He had all the food he could eat in the lush vegetation of the Garden nearby him. However, the first Adam disobeyed God, and we all sinned in him, and the reign of death began (Romans 5:12-14). Jesus Christ, the last Adam, went into the wilderness to do the will of God. Adam was told not to eat the fruit of one tree; Jesus was led by the Spirit not to eat any food, while in the desert. He would have to conquer a temptation about food to show that he was the obedient Son who could provide salvation to his people (Hebrews 5:8-9). That obedience required living according to the word of God.
  • Jesus came as the new Israel, the Servant of the Lord. God had brought Israel out of Egypt to serve his holy will to bring blessing to the nations. However, Israel was quickly side-tracked. Though God provided them with food every week, in the wilderness they complained against the Lord and his rich provision. For this reason, Jesus went into the wilderness where he lived in submission to God’s directives, without food. In the wilderness, Israel fell into idolatry (Psalm 106:19-22, 28-29). In the desert, Jesus refused to worship anyone but God alone. Israel forgot God’s miracles for their benefit. Christ did not put God to the test as they did (Psalm 78:40-41). (You can study this out more, by carefully reading Psalms 78 and 106, as you meditate on this passage from Luke.)
  • Jesus came to establish God’s kingdom, which involves the power of the Spirit (Matthew 12:28). Therefore, when the evil one tried to mislead him with the kingdoms of the world, he had no interest. His mission was to proclaim God’s kingdom, to tell people how to enter God’s kingdom, to describe the people in God’s kingdom, and to show the superiority of God’s kingdom to anything on earth (Matthew 13:44-46). He could hear the temptation about the kingdoms of the world and their authority and splendor and see all that as an enticement away from God and what is best… to idolatry. The new age of the Spirit, the kingdom of God, and the new covenant are of far greater value than any trifles of worldly authority and splendor. Jesus made the choice for the glory of God’s heaven, and so was prepared to preach the kingdom of God to others. From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17 NIV). To follow Jesus requires repentance from the pursuit of worldly splendor, in order to live for the glory of God.

So then, let’s us understand that this account of Jesus overcoming temptation is more than a manual on resisting temptation. It shows his glory as God’s obedient, trusting new man, servant, and preacher of the kingdom. And as we behold his glory, we reflect it and are transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.

Grace and peace, David

The Genealogy of Jesus

Luke 3:23-38

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli… (3:23 ESV).

When Jesus began to preach, he was about thirty years old. Everyone thought he was the son of Joseph. But his family went back through Heli… (3:23 CEV).

Recently, a friend gave us a gift membership where we could trace our ancestry. We were told that we might find something surprising. One surprise is how far back we can trace our ancestors in some cases four to six hundred years, while in others all leads end in three or four generations. Another surprise is the reflection about how many people it took to produce David and Sharon and our children and grandchild. Yes, we knew this, but seeing their names and dates of birth and death adds a deeper touch of reality. Even more, as I researched our family trees, I solemnly wondered, “How many of them changed their minds and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life?” That might seem a very melancholy reflection, but even in the line of Jesus the Messiah, not everyone was godly. (Read the books of 1 & 2 Kings.) Thank God for his grace that has reached many, though others persisted in the hardness of their hearts. (They are responsible for their own hearts.)

Luke begins this section by saying that Jesus began. The question is “What did he begin to do?” The ESV, NIV, NASB, NLT, and CSB all supply the word ministry. However, considering Luke 4:18, the first statement in Luke from Jesus about what he was doing, it might be better to supply preach, as in the Contemporary English Version, quoted above. After his baptism, Jesus began to do his great ministry of preaching and teaching God’s Word. God made his good news known through his one and only Son. This required much preaching (to the crowds) and teaching (to small groups and individuals). God the Spirit uses the word of God to bring people to new birth. It ought to be our delight to hear the Scriptures taught and preached. Do you hunger after Biblical preaching?

Luke tells us that Jesus was about thirty years old at that time. I was twenty-seven when I became a pastor of a local church. Charles Spurgeon was sixteen. After I had been a pastor for a few years, I appreciated the wisdom of waiting till a man is thirty. Those couple extra years can make a significant contribution to how a man looks at life and ministers to people. But the Lord has his reasons for putting some into situations ahead of human reasoning, though not ahead of God’s. For example, David Brainerd and Robert M. M’Cheyne died when they were twenty-nine. If they had waited till they were thirty, their powerful ministries would not have existed. My point is that thirty years old can be a good year to start, but we mustn’t make absolute rules.

Luke joins all this with the genealogy of Jesus. A careful study of the genealogical lists in the Bible will reveal that some generations are skipped in any genealogy. It seems they were constructed in patterns for easier memorization. Here, Jesus is called the son of Heli, though he was at least his grandson. (In the whole list, the word son is supplied from the first instance in 3:23.) A comparison with the genealogy in Matthew makes it clear that we have two different lines back to the time of David the king. Many have puzzled over this. It seems (note my word choice) that Luke gives Mary’s physical line back to Adam, while Matthew gives the line of the kings from Abraham who was promised that kings would come through him to David to Jesus. If this is so, why would Luke give Mary’s line? Here are a couple suggestions. First, it connects Jesus with the promise made to Mary by Gabriel (Luke 1:29-35). When studying a passage, we should never forget what the writer has previously said. Biblical writings are carefully constructed. The list shows that he was David’s son, and that he was also the son of God. Second, many have suggested that it fits in with Luke’s purpose that the good news is for people of all nations. Unlike Matthew’s list that starts with Abraham, Luke’s list includes not only the Hebrews but also people of the nations. In addition, giving Mary’s line might be another example of Luke’s theme of the importance of women in the people of God. Luke has much to teach us about the nations and women. Let’s remember this in our doctrine and way of life.

Grace and peace, David

The Baptism of Jesus

Luke 3:21-22

Have you skipped stones on a lake or pond? Many people have. It is a fun pastime with friends, or on a date on a sunny afternoon, a playful challenge between male and female to see who can have the most skips or skip a stone the farthest.  Please don’t do it if someone is fishing nearby!

Over many years of teaching the Bible, I have found that many people like to play another kind of skipping. When they ought to be focused on the passage of Holy Scripture before them, they like to play, “Let’s skip this passage and talk about these other verses or ideas or something else.” I’m not sure what their problem is. Perhaps they have difficulty concentrating, or their minds were on something else in the first place, or they’re uncomfortable with what the passage is teaching, and they want to run away, Jonah style.

The problem with this, besides endless spiritual distraction, is that such skippers miss what the Holy Spirit has caused to be written for their benefit in the passage they’re supposed to be reading. This is one reason (there are others!) that cross references and study notes in a Bible might be hindrances rather than helps for some people.

So then, let’s focus on Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus and listen to what he wrote, instead of thinking about Matthew, Mark, and John, which are excellent presentations. What does Dr. Luke tell us about the great event?

Jesus joined with the crowds in baptism. When all the people were being baptized… (3:21 NIV). At this point, we must remember the context. Their baptism was a sign of their repentance or change of mind. They said by this act that they needed to have a world and life view that was ready for the Lord to appear among them. They confessed they needed the forgiveness of sins (3:3). They became learned who were to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (3:8). But Jesus needed neither repentance or forgiveness. Then why was he baptized. He, the Lord, had arrived and he joined with the people to proclaim that his world and life view was centered on God and that he would live accordingly.

Jesus prayed at his baptism. And as he was praying… (3:21 NIV). Jesus didn’t merely participate in a ritual; he worshiped; he prayed to his Father in heaven. He demonstrated that our life in God’s presence is to be characterized by prayer. The prayer life of Jesus is a theme in the Gospel of Luke (5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:32, 41; 23:35, 46). John had taught his disciples to pray (11:1), and so Jesus acted as a follower at his baptism. We all should pray as we participate in worship at our local gatherings of believers. It is what genuine disciples do.

Jesus received honor at his baptism (3:22). At this time, he was anointed by the Spirit for his ministry. Notice how God pointed out that this was a significant event.

Heaven was opened. Luke did not write all the details that we would like to know, but in some way the Father let Jesus have a vision of the glories of heaven after about thirty years in human form. This would provide encouragement and certainty to the man, Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove in bodily form. I think this is the only time in the Bible that the Spirit came on someone in bodily form. The point of this in Luke’s Gospel will be discussed in 4:14, 18. Here is the event; the interpretation of the event comes later.

A voice from heaven identified him as God’s Son. We should hear “echoes” from two important texts from the Old Testament Scriptures. The first is Psalm 2:7, where the Messiah is identified as God’s Son. The second is Isaiah 42:1, where the Messiah is identified as God’s Servant, in whom the Lord delights. We should hear the Father in heaven talking of the Son as a covenant for the people and a light for the nations (Isaiah 42:6). All three Persons of the Trinity join to mark the dawn of the new covenant era, the age of freedom and light!

We all personally ought to invest time in thinking through the implications of Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42:1-9 and their connection with Jesus, his baptism, and his ministry. God is pleased in his Son. Is he our delight?

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part Four)

Luke 3:15-20

And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them (3:19 NIV).

John the Baptist preached Christ. It is easy to overlook this, because much discussion on John focuses on him as a sensationalist preacher, his message of repentance to prepare for Messiah’s coming, or on the ceremony of baptism. However, we should see John’s place in the true story of God’s glory in Christ. As the herald of Christ’s first coming, he preached Jesus the Messiah. A few points should make this clear.

As John preached, the people were stirred to think about the Messiah (3:15). John told them the good news so much that they began to speculate about if he was the Anointed One. The Messiah, as we plan to see in more detail in a later post, would be a preacher of good news to the poor (Isaiah 61:1). When God would come to deliver his people (Isaiah 35:4): Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert (Isaiah 35:6 NIV). So then, as John preached that the Lord was coming in the wilderness, it would have been easy to speculate about who John was (cf. John 1:19-27).

John declared the superiority of the Christ (3:16). He did this in two ways. First, by saying that in comparison to Christ, he was only the lowliest of slaves. Christ was superior to him in his person. He said he was not worthy to stoop down and untie the Messiah’s sandals. In John’s Gospel we hear the attitude of John the Baptist. He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30 CSB). Second, he said that Christ had a superior ministry. John’s baptism was only a sign that testified to a repentant heart. Christ’s baptism is the work of the personal Spirit of God. The Old Testament Scriptures prophesied that the outpouring of the Spirit would signify the blessings that would happen in the end times (Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-32). Christ would bring about this age of renewal. This was far beyond anything John could do!

John talked about the salvation and judgment that Christ would bring (3:17). The Messiah was coming to clean house! The winnowing fork was used to toss grain into the air, usually on a windy hill. The chaff would be blown away, while the grain would fall safely onto the floor. Christ was coming to gather in the good grain to be in his house, while those who were not fruitful would be brought to eternal fire.

John preached the good news to his listeners (3:18). This good news was about the Messiah and what he was coming to accomplish. Notice that this was not a “side bar” matter, but that John used many other words.

Here are two practical ideas. First, people won’t like it when we talk about sin (3:19-20). Because John boldly pointed out Herod’s sin, he lost his freedom and eventually Herod had him put to death. Second, we ought to ask if our local churches are known as people from whom others can hear the good news of Jesus Christ? He must be the core of our message (Colossians 1:28-29). Does your gathering of believers preach the good news and show its transforming power to the world?

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part Three)

Luke 3:10-14

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked (3:10 NIV).

John preached God’s message of grace. The Lord Jesus was on his way to save his people from their sins (cf. Luke 3:6; Matthew 1:21). Salvation was the joyful news! However, the people needed to prepare to meet the Lord. For this reason, John preached a baptism of repentance—a change of heart that would produce a godly change in a person’s way of life. This is the correct context in which to read verses ten through fourteen. “What should we do then?” They needed direction.

Please understand very clearly that seeking guidance from the Holy Scriptures concerning how to please the Lord and to walk worthy of our calling is not legalism! Believers, because we have changed our hearts, turned, and trusted the Lord, live according to grace. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God and desire his glory. We want to know and to live a way of life that is consistent with glory. The grace of the coming salvation in the Lord Messiah teaches the hearts of those who listen to deny ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:12 NIV). John was a prophet who declared the word of God. The repentant people sought knowledge about the kind of changes the good fruit of would produce in them. This is the “doing” they spoke of, a doing not to earn grace but to respond joyfully to grace.

John gave practical examples of the changes that true repentance in the heart produces. Notice that the examples are consistent with a person’s calling in life. The idea is that we should think through changes in how we do our work, and our family and community life. Since I have been a pastor and teacher for many years, my repentance, for example, should bear the good fruit of ministering to people in a kind, loving, parental way (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12). Let’s listen to John’s examples, and then think through the changes that should be seen in our lives and work.

  • Be a sharing neighbor (3:11). This is general instruction. The second greatest priority is, as Jesus quoted the Torah, Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). This requires us to share our resources to those in need. However, an essential perquisite is being aware and involved in the lives of our neighbors. How can I know that my neighbor needs a tunic, if I do not know my neighbors and their needs? We must forsake the hyper-individualism of our culture. God has designed us to be part of a community, even at the cost of making a community. By the way, this should be on our hearts when we start new churches or small groups or Bible studies. How can we make a new community out of a group of people? Sharing a tunic with someone means that you or I have one less tunic, right? What have you given to a neighbor that cost you more than a price of a week’s groceries? Do we know the happiness that Jesus points us to (Acts 20:35)? Sharing with others is a fruit of repentance.
  • Keep away from greed (3:12-13). We are taught to acquire more for ourselves. This is usually connected with the line “to enjoy your retirement”. I just searched the Bible for that phrase (these Bible apps are great time savers!), and guess what? God says nothing about providing for a pleasant enjoyable retirement. The tax collectors for the Romans could collect whatever they could coerce out of the taxpayers. Rome only cared that they brought in what was required. A tax collector could enrich himself off the sufferings of the people. John told them to only take what was a fair amount. What is the fair amount that the Lord has provided for us? Are we growing rich while others suffer?
  • Don’t abuse but learn contentment (3:14). Roman soldiers could easily misuse their power. The Jewish people were especially vulnerable. They were easy prey for those who wanted to enrich themselves. John told them to be content with their pay. We also are to learn contentment. Some subjects in school were harder to learn than others. Learning contentment is a tough one. Christ’s power is available to help us learn this subject (Philippians 4:12-13).

John’s practical instruction to his hearers still speaks to us. Meditate on his words to the crowds and consider how the Lord wants your repentance to bear fruit. The fruit will be seen in your treatment and relationship with other people.

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part Two)

SAMSUNG

Luke 3:7-9

He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (CSB).

John the Baptist did what the Lord called him to do. He went out in the desert and proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3 CSB). It seemed like an unlikely and unpromising place to start a great work of God, such as the coming of the Messiah was promised to be (cf. Isaiah 35.) However, God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8). Who would go out into the desert to hear a preacher? The Lord did everything to make sure that John’s ministry would not rest in the power of man but the power of God. This is what most contemporary churches need to hear, because their “back door is as big as their front door.” Human schemes are no substitute for God’s word, prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Some churches will do some sort of “40 Days of Prayer” program, be excited during it, and then… “We prayed for forty days, revival didn’t come, so let’s try something else.” That was not what John the Baptist did. He went out to the desert, preached the Lord’s message, and God sent the people. Crowds came to be baptized by him with a baptism of repentance. So then, what were John’s sermons like?

He did not try to please people (3:7). You do not please people by calling them a brood of vipers! Imagine entering any contemporary church and being a viper, which is clearly symbolic of being an evil person. The crowds in our time would not stay; they would walk out. Contemporary churches are ashamed of sin and afraid to call people sinners. They want everyone to feel comfortable. They want to be thought well of in their local community. They want everyone to like them. John the Baptist lacked such concerns. Please listen carefully. I am not talking about being rude and obnoxious. We ought to welcome people with joy. But that must never obscure the truth of the sinfulness of all people everywhere. We must tell people who they are in the presence of the holy God. That is what John was doing as he preached to his people. He was not afraid to challenge people “in his church” that they might actually be a brood of vipers! How would you react if your pastor dared to say something similar in your local church this Sunday?

He told people to change (3:8). Repentance is a change of mind, as we said in our previous post in this series. Repentant people think differently in their hearts about God, themselves, sin, Christ, and the way of salvation. This inward turn produces changes in people, both internally (ideas, attitudes, expectations, etc.) and externally in the behavior. The repentant person changes the way they walk and talk. By the way, many professing Christians need to stop using the substitute obscene and profane language they use to color their speech. So that no one misses the point, I mean all the substitute “F” words and “bathroom” words. Consider Ephesians 4:29; 5:4; Colossians 3:8. Crude speech is not the right means to lead others in godly ways. The fruit of repentance is godliness, the character that shows that a person is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:10 NIV). It is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and “the new clothing” of the new person (Colossians 3:12-17). It is what we add to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-8 NIV).

He turned people from false hopes (3:8). As the last of the old covenant prophets and the forerunner of the new age, John warned the people not to trust in their ethnic heritage. Far too many rely on their descent for assurance that God accepts them. The people of God in the new covenant are only repentant believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Your physical heritage counts for nothing in God’s sight (John 1:11-13; Romans 2:9; 3:23; 9:6-8; Colossians 3:11). What does count is the grace of God freely given through Jesus Christ. In him, you can be part of the people of God!

He warned them of the wrath to come (3:9). Yes, John did not make people feel comfortable. He wanted all outside of God’s grace to feel very uncomfortable! Again, the contemporary church doesn’t want to offend anyone. Political correctness rules the day, unless it is something distasteful to their own political agenda, but that is another subject. People do not want to hear of the fires of the wrath of God. They are like people whistling as they pass a cemetery, but in this case, it is not a cemetery but hell itself. The are like toddlers playing “peekaboo”, assuming that if they don’t hear about hell, it doesn’t exist. John told the crowds the truth. We do not help people by failing to tell them their very serious problem before the throne of God.

John the Baptist was faithful to his mission. May we be faithful to the mission the Lord Jesus has given us (Luke 24:45-47).

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part One)

Luke 3:1-6

He went into all the vicinity of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3 CSB).

Luke presented the true story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ as it occurred: in human history. He wanted Theophilus and every reader to know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:4 NIV). The Lord wants us to have assurance and bold conviction about his person, word, and redemptive activity. Too often believers waver, faltering with   lack of confidence, which hinders our prayers, witness, and walk with the Lord. What did Luke do to bolster the conviction of the readers of the Gospel of Luke?

Luke informed his readers of the place in history of God’s story (3:1-2). Before the creation of modern calendars, people kept track of the years by the reigns of earthly rulers. This way of telling the years is not as exact and easy as calendar years, but it is accurate. While we are on the subject, we should not expect ancient writers to conform to our standards of precision. They thought and wrote according to the tools and methods they had available, and that is the only standard that we can hold them to. Some ‘biblical critics’ are anachronistic, which makes their complaints ridiculous. Beware of such stuff on television or other media. Luke started with the Roman emperor and added regional rulers to give us an accurate time setting for the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus.

Luke told us about the origin and nature of John’s message (3:2-3). The message focused on the need for repentance. What is repentance? It is a change of mind about God, oneself, sin, Christ, and the way of salvation that produce a change in a person’s way of life. The change starts in the inner person of the heart, which works out through our words and actions. The internal change must be present first. John called people to repent and to make an outward testimony of their change of heart by being baptized, which is to be immersed in water. Jesus requires this testimony of his followers (Matthew 28:19). If you haven’t given this testimony yet, you ought to as soon as possible in your local church. Talk to your pastors and elders.

As is often pointed out, there is no precedent for this baptism in the Old Testament Scriptures. Why did John do this? He preached this, because the word of God came to John (3:2 NIV). At the dawn of the new covenant age, God had the forerunner of the Messiah proclaim a new identity marker for the people of God, who would come from all nations. No longer would God’s people be known by keeping the requirements of the law (the old covenant). Instead, they would be known as a people of repentance. They are a people that take God seriously, humble themselves before the Lord, seek to live in a way that honors God, focus on Christ their Lord, and depend upon Jesus for eternal life.

Luke linked John to a prophecy in the Isaiah in the Old Testament Scriptures (3:4-6). A new day arrives with John, but God had planned it from ancient days. As Isaiah announced God’s good news, he told of a man who would come before the Messiah to prepare the way for him. His ministry would occur in the desert places, rather than the cities. People would need to leave their comfortable homes to hear about the Coming One. They would also need to make radical changes, which is shown by the metaphors of the roads, mountains, and valleys. Again, John is the herald of the new age that the Messiah would bring. All mankind will see God’s salvation.

In our time, the good news is running all over the world as never before! People from all nations are being saved. To whom are you taking the good news?

Grace and peace, David

Young Jesus at the Temple

Luke 2:41-52

Only Luke provides us any information about the boyhood of Jesus, and all of it is found in this section. Speculation about the reasons for this are useless and distracting. They lead us to go beyond what has been written in the Word. Instead, we need to think about what these words reveal about our Lord and Savior. The Bible is God’s message about his one and only Son (Luke 24:44; etc.) We mislead ourselves and others if we pursue speculative knowledge, which includes speculation about the “timeline of prophecy”. Don’t do it! Break the bad habit of taking pride in what you suppose the Spirit ought to have written rather than what is written. Neither do we need to speculate about why Luke included this event. Let’s content ourselves with reading and meditating on what has been written. So then, what should we learn?

Jesus was raised by believing, godly parents (2:41). The law covenant required all Israelite men to attend Passover, Pentecost, and Booths (cf. Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 16:16). Israelite women did not have this burden put on them. It was a burden, because it required a long trip, usually on foot, from the towns of Israel. A man would have to leave his job and home during the festivals and the journeys to and from Jerusalem. This required faith in the Lord to protect his possessions and to provide for the journeys and the expenses involved in attending the festivals. We also see Mary at the festival. She was about twenty-eight at this point and already the mother of several of her other (at least) six children. This would involve a lot of work for Mary and Joseph to worship the Lord.

Jesus was growing in many ways (2:43, 51-52). At twelve years old, a boy could stay with the women and children or go with the men. Jesus chose the second option. He was in Jerusalem, the city of the Great King, and there was much for him to see with his human eyes. Since he knew he was God’s Anointed, he would want to see his city. Boys have a “joy of life” excitement in exploration. We do not know if his parents gave him any guidelines about reporting back to them. Again, it is easy to speculate according to how we want this event to look to prove some point we want to make. At the end of this section, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ obedience to his parents. He also mentions Jesus growth in knowledge. Beyond those boundaries we should not go.

Jesus went to the best place for him to be, to his Father’s house (2:43-47). There he interacted with trained Bible teachers. He listened to them and asked them questions. Since he was a boy, it was not fitting for him to teach, but when asked he gave insightful answers. Certainly, this shows his humility, for the One who is God’s wisdom knew far more than any of them. It also sheds light on his later interactions with such men. He had listened to what they taught. He had the opportunity to reason out how their views compared with the truth of what he was. But the key point is that he wanted to be where God was worshiped and to participate in it in every facet. Jesus was acknowledged as an exceptional youth.

Jesus conversed wisely with his parents (2:48-50). He listened humbly while his mother gave a typical motherly rebuke. He had done nothing wrong, and he kept his mouth from any discourteous replies. But he gave them a revelation that he knew who he was, and he expected that they ought to have thought about him, according to what the Father had already made known to them. He was the Son of the Most High, the Son of God (1:32, 35 NIV). They ought to have known that he would be at his Father’s house, the temple. This sets a pattern that we see in Jesus. He was not on a quest for self-knowledge. He is knowledge and wisdom, and he expects people to recognize his greatness. Do we? Do we function according to the truth of who and what Jesus is?

Grace and peace, David