The Rich Young Ruler (Part Two)

Luke 18:18-30

A ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and mother.” “I have kept all these from my youth,” he said (18:18-21 CSB).

Jesus challenged the ruler’s understanding of the law covenant (18:20). We must see that Jesus answered the rich man’s question. He had asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In answer, Jesus directed him to the law covenant, which promised life to those who obeyed the commands of the law. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord (Leviticus 18:5 ESV).

There is only one person who ever fully kept the law covenant given at Sinai, and he is Jesus, who was talking to the rich man. Since he kept the law covenant, it could not condemn him. That is why Jesus was able to give his life as an atoning sacrifice for those who could not keep the law covenant. He was the pure and spotless Lamb of God. We were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 1:19 NIV). Let us understand clearly that the problem was not with the law. It had a good promise, a promise of life. But the problem is with all people everywhere. We are all sinners, and no sinner keeps God’s law perfectly.  We do not obey God and his laws. For example, do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Think of how evasive we all get on that one, as seen in the question of the law expert to Jesus (Luke 10:25-29). There is no law that can give a right standing before God to those who break it. Therefore, we need another way to be saved, and that way is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:21-22). So then, Jesus answer was intended to bring the young man to the end of his self effort.

The Lord Jesus selected a short list of commands to present to the rich man. Why Jesus chose these and not others is a matter of speculation. The Bible simply does not say. Moreover, to speculate is to miss the point. If the rich young ruler had seriously examined himself in the light of God’s holy commandments to which Jesus referred him as well as to others in the Scriptures, he would not have given his answer. “I have kept all these from my youth” (18:21 CSB). The rich ruler was being superficial or perhaps evasive, like the woman at the well (John 4:16-17). The point that Jesus wanted him to grasp is that he could not save himself. He could not do what the law covenant demanded. Therefore, he needed another way to eternal life.

What is your opinion of your own religious efforts? Do you really think that you have kept all God’s commands since your childhood? The answer is not “mostly” or “I’ve tried in God’s viewpoint”. God doesn’t say that 99% obedience to the law is an excellent way to earn righteousness. It is all or nothing. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10 NIV). Have you seen your desperate need to have the Savior, Jesus Christ, save you?

Grace and peace, David

The Rich Young Ruler (Part One)

Luke 18:18-30

A ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and mother.” “I have kept all these from my youth,” he said (18:18-21 CSB).

People tend to evaluate other people on the basis of worldly success: wealth, education, popularity, physical attractiveness, social standing, and likeability. The higher someone “scores” in these areas, the better person he or she must be! If we are honest, we will admit that we all do this to some degree. People judge by outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). On one level we must do this, since only God can see the inner person of the heart. We humans have to gather the best information we can, weigh everything by the Scriptures, and then make a right judgment (cf. John 7:24). However, people seldom bring the Scriptures into this process and evaluate each other my worldly methods. And people assume that God does the same thing. He looks at what we do, and if “the good outweighs the bad”, then we suppose he accepts us. This is a root of people trusting in works to save or to do religious things “to get God to like me”.

In this event from the life of Jesus, we read of a rich, young leader approaching Jesus with an important question. It is a question that people who believe in God or some kind of god and who understand somewhat of humanity’s problems ask. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” God has placed a sense of eternity in human hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), but we see ruin and death around us, and we want to escape from it. We want eternal life—life that is really life without end and without suffering.

So we read that this very rich man, someone who had it all from a human standpoint, decided to go to Jesus with this very important question. Surely Jesus would know. Isn’t he a good man? He was constantly helping people wherever he went. And think of the wisdom that he spoke with! No one else had ever spoken so wisely. Yes, he had to know how to gain eternal life. So let us follow this rich young man, a leader among his people, to Jesus and learn along with him.

First we see that Jesus challenged the young man’s understanding (18:19-21). Jesus did not give quick, shallow answers to crucial questions. This is especially hard for people in our culture who expect instant gratification to accept. Jesus invested time in leading people to an accurate understanding of God and the way to eternal life. Sound answers require comprehension of the issue, and this requires time.

Jesus challenged his understanding of who Jesus is (18:19). The rich man called Jesus “Good teacher”. What did he mean by that? Was he just politely flattering? Or had he come to know who Jesus is? Compare his approach with the woman at the well (John 4:10).

Christ did not just jump on a trivial statement. The rich ruler lived in a religious subculture influenced by the Scriptures that held that only God is good, and no one called any rabbi or teacher “good”. That was an honor reserved for God. So Jesus is saying: You have called me “good”. Are you just flattering? Or do you really understand that I am the Son of God and can therefore be called “good”, because only God is good.

But there is something else here. By reminding the rich ruler that only God is good, he prepared the young man to evaluate himself in the light of God’s holiness. God is holy and his law is holy and the commandment is holy, righteous and good (Romans 7:12 NIV). Did he have an accurate understanding of the law covenant?

When someone claims to “be a good person” or to “keep the commandments” in a religious discussion, don’t be afraid to examine their understanding in a kind and wise way. Let us show discernment. A few religious sentiments and phrases do not mean that a person has a correct idea of God and the gospel.

Grace and peace, David

Bragging or Praying? (Part Three)

Luke 18:9-14

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (18:13-14 CSB).

Since we cannot save or help save ourselves in any way, how can we be saved? How can we be rescued from the righteous consequences of our sin, of our rebellion against God and his word, of our refusal to love God with all our being, and our rejection of God as our God? I use this longer description of sin, because we all lack a proper understanding of sin. We use the word ‘sin’ but don’t comprehend what God is communicating. He speaks of an offense against him of large proportions. The tax collector realized his guilt before God.

The only hope for sinners is found in the free grace of God (18:13-14). Jesus asserts two important truths of salvation. Let us first think of two general remarks about them. Both are spoken of in the passive voice. God does something for us, and not we for God. Both of these are teachings of Christ, and not latter “fabrications” of Paul.

Christ taught the doctrine of propitiation; that is, God’s justice has to be satisfied before God can show mercy toward a sinner. The tax collector understood his problem, and he calls himself “the sinner”. He acknowledged that he deserved wrath. He knew that God had to solve the problem. He was in way over his head and only God could get him out!

Christ taught the doctrine of justification. Justification talks about our legal standing before God. The greatest need is to be right with God, or his justice will fall on you! People are justified freely (Romans 3:24): without any cause in their hearts, attitudes, decisions or actions.

Here are a couple lessons from the whole section (18:9-14). First, God knows exactly who and what we are. Hypocrisy is a position impossible to hold before God. Yet, here is comfort for a true believer. Listen to the words of John Newton:

True, I’ve been a foolish creature,
And have sinned against his grace;
But forgiveness is his nature,
Though he justly hides his face:
Ere he called me, well he knew
What a heart like mine would do.

Second, Jesus speaks very directly to people. He does not beat around the bush and or apologize. God deals clearly and openly with us. The Lord wants you to be right with him, but that righteousness only comes through faith in him and his saving work.

Third, we must have the proper attitude in prayer. God will not hear you on account of who you think you are or because of your self-righteousness. However, God does hear sinners who confess their need of him.  Which of these men are you most like? If you say, the Pharisee, then you need to get right with God. Do you focus on God when you pray, or are your prayers a litany of self-praise in which you tell God how much he owes you? If you pray like the Pharisee, you need to change immediately and instead pray like the tax collector.

Grace and peace, David

Bragging or Praying? (Part Two)

Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself:God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get” (18:11-12 CSB).

A person that lacks true humility is not truly right with God. Yes, he or she might be very religious, but that is different from being right with God (18:9, 14). Consider God’s desire. For the High and Exalted One, who lives forever, whose name is holy, says this: “I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed (Isaiah 57:15 CSB). Contrast this with 1 Peter 5:5: Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (ESV, my emphasis).

People should evaluate themselves properly. We need to ask, “How does God view me? What is my true position before him?” To help, let’s look at the Pharisee’s mistake. He compared himself with sinners worse than he assumed he was. He did not compare himself with Samuel or Daniel or Noah. Worse, he did not compare himself with God, like Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5) and Peter (Luke 5:8) did. He failed to consider that God is completely holy and righteous. The core issue is that the saved person has had a change of mind about themselves in relation to God. He is holy (set apart for his glory), while we are not (we’re glory thieves, trying to make ourselves look good or great).

When you have an eye exam and need to have prescription glasses, the eye doctor will try out various lenses to find out which combination helps you to see most clearly. To see ourselves properly, we need to see ourselves through three Biblical lenses: the lens of creation, the lens of the fall, and, in addition, the Christian must add the lens of redemption. The unsaved person has a distorted view of reality because they don’t want to see themselves as created by God and ruined by sin. They distort or refuse to wear the first two lenses. For this reason, when we witness, we must explain a text like Romans 3:23 (for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God) and not just quote it. Make sure a person understands and kindly press it home to their conscience. What about you? Have you ever compared yourself with God?

The folly of self-trust happens when a person does not realize his or her true, desperate condition before God. One of the key happenings in a genuine revival is the humbling of people before God. “Lord, you are true and righteous; we are false and sinful!” In our day, we have Christians who run around and call themselves “Reformed” and toss around the Ten Commandments as “the moral law” and “the believer’s rule of life” as if they were some kind of test of true holiness. The Pharisee in this parable would have agreed with all that and it did him no good. And where is the burning concern and zeal for the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23-24)?

Think also of the inability of works to obtain salvation and God’s approval. The Pharisee’s reliance on works failed him. He was not right with God though he was outwardly pure (18:11). Though he did “extra works”, like fasting far beyond what God had commanded in the law (18:12). He did not understand that works fail because they cannot save. For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith” (Galatians 3:10-11 NIV; cf.  Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:14-16). Are you right with God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Or are you under God’s curse?

Grace and peace, David

Bragging or Praying? (Part One)

Luke 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector (18:9-10 CSB).

I once went on a “mountain climbing adventure” on South Bubble in Acadia Park with one of my sons. That experience does not mean that I qualify as a mountain climber, partly because it wasn’t even high enough to be classified as a mountain. The other reason is that I wasn’t much of a climber, being terribly out of shape. If I had been more in tune with my condition, I would have scheduled a visit with a cardiologist then. But we can’t rewrite our lives, can we? Although I have climbed other true mountains in the east, I am still not a mountain climber, but just a hiker, who sometimes enjoys terrain that is a little bit more challenging.

It is of fundamental importance in true Christianity that a person has a correct idea or evaluation of what they are. Only when a person, by God’s grace, realizes what they are, will they turn to God, acknowledge their deficiencies and insufficiencies, and humbly seek grace. This holds true whether a person needs to be saved or needs to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

In this parable, Jesus tells a story with one main point. This time, it is not about the need for persistent prayer (Luke 18:1-8) but about true righteousness and how to attain it. God does not acknowledge people as righteous on the basis of what we do or do not do. No one can be right with God that way, because we are all ruined by sin. Everyone who is righteous before God owes all to God’s free grace in Jesus Christ.

Outward religion is not a sign of inward grace (18:10). Both men in this parable were visibly associated with the people of God. They prayed at God’s temple. Membership in a church or attendance at a church does not save or help save in any way. For example, attending a football game does not make you a football player, and even being on a team doesn’t equate with really knowing how to play football, as a lot of coaches will testify! We must beware of self-deception (cf. Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23). True Christians follow Christ, and to follow him requires supernatural power, the power of the Holy Spirit.

Both were outwardly performing an acceptable act of worship (cf. Matthew 6:5-15). Flowery words and cleverly crafted phrases are not a sign of a pure heart. There are many art critics and aficionados that can tell you everything about brush strokes and composition of paintings yet cannot paint! True prayer comes from a heart of faith in God and love for God, not from a “dictionary of religious phrases”.

Consider this typical example of a Pharisee’s prayer. “I thank thee, Jehovah my God, that thou hast assigned my lost with those who sit in the… (house of learning) and Thou hast not set my portion with those who sit in (street) corners, for I rise early and they rise early, but I rise for words of Torah and they rise early for frivolous talk; I labor and they labor, but I labor and receive a reward and they labor and do not receive a reward; I run and they run, but I run to life of the future world and they run to the pit of destruction” (Talmud, Berakoth 28b, quoted by Morris, p. 264).

Both were performing that act in a way that God appointed. These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56:7 ESV).

The contemporary church would call people engaged in such activity “committed Christians” or “spiritual Christians”. But Jesus says, “Wait; we must look deeper.” The question for us is, “Are we willing to look deeper into the subject? Will we approach God in humility and say, Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)?

Grace and peace, David

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