Here are some thoughts from our reading this past week. One of the things Luke emphasizes is the disparity between the rich and the poor. Throughout his gospel a reversal of worldly fortunes characterizes entrance into or exclusion from the kingdom of God. Mary announced that God would lift up the poor and humble and bring down the rich and powerful. Jesus announced at the synagogue in Nazareth that the gospel is good news to the poor. He pronounced blessings on the poor and hungry, and woes against the rich and satisfied. All of this was a reversal of conventional wisdom, which held that God had blessed the rich and cursed the poor. A number of Jesus’ parables severely warn against the danger of riches. The parable of the rich fool reveals the consequences of storing up treasures on earth instead of having a rich relationship with God. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus shows the eternal cost of ignoring the poor and helpless while enjoying the good things in life. The rich man who asked Jesus the way to eternal life was devastated when Jesus said he must sell all that he had and give it to the poor. Who are the poor in Luke’s gospel? Are they the physically poor or those that are poor in spirit? The answer is both. The physically poor, who have very little, are naturally dependent on God for their needs. The rich and powerful are likely to be self sufficient, forgetting their need for God. It is impossible for rich people to enter God’s kingdom as long as they trust in their riches to get them there. God accepts those who put their faith in Him alone.
We have seen a lot of first century Jerusalem in the gospels, and the city plays a crucial role but sometimes it is also ambivalent. On the one hand Jerusalem was the city of God. His presence dwelt there in His temple. God accomplished salvation in Jerusalem and the Good News went out from there. At the same time, Jerusalem symbolically represented God’s rebellious people Israel, who had persecuted God’s prophets in the past and were now rejecting His Son, the Messiah. This rejection would result in judgement against Jerusalem and its utter destruction by the Romans in 70 AD. Jerusalem also plays a key geographical role in the structure of Luke-Acts. The gospel narrative begins in the temple at the heart of Jerusalem, the most sacred place in the world, and Jesus’ ministry culminated with His death and resurrection in Jerusalem. All of this confirms that salvation emerged from Israel, fulfilling the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament. The church then moved outward, taking the message of salvation from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
The account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is significant not only as a resurrection appearance and so as proof of Jesus’ victory over death, but also as a key moment of revelation concerning the role of the Messiah and the Old Testament prophecies about Him. Two disciples pointed out to their anonymous traveling companion that this man named Jesus had shown Himself to be a great prophet through His teachings and miracles. But they had hoped that He would be even more…the Messiah. Their hopes were shattered when He was arrested and crucified. Jesus responded by rebuking them for not reading the scriptures attentively enough. The suffering of the Messiah was predicted all along in scripture. Luke then related how Jesus took the two disciples on a tour of scripture explaining to them from all the scriptures, things concerning Himself. Although Jesus does not specify which Old Testament passages speak of the suffering Messiah, various texts are cited elsewhere. Jesus is the rejected stone that becomes the cornerstone, the foundation for a new temple; the suffering servant of the Lord who is treated like a common criminal and who is mocked, insulted, and spit on by His opponents. Jesus is the anointed king rejected by both rulers and the people of Israel but vindicated by God. He is the descendant of David who will not be abandoned to the grave by God. According to Luke 24:27 Jesus surveyed the whole story of Israel’s history and showed how it all leads to and climaxes in the coming of Jesus the Messiah, God’s agent of salvation. This is similar to how Paul describes Christ as having accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. All the Old Testament scriptures, the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms represent God’s story of salvation, which reaches its climax and ultimate purpose in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
In the Old Testament the Spirit of God occasionally came upon individuals to empower them for God’s service and to prophesy. In the Judaism of Jesus’ day, there was widespread belief that the Spirit of prophecy had departed from Israel with the last of the Old Testament prophets. However, the prophets had predicted that when God’s salvation arrived, He would pour out His Spirit on all people. This prophecy finds its initial fulfillment in the birth narrative in Luke. The Holy Spirit inspired prophetic witness and guided the events of Jesus’ birth. John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit before he was born, and Zechariah broke into a Spirit filled hymn of praise to God. Mary conceived Jesus and prophesied through the power of the Holy Spirit. Old Simeon was led to the temple by the Spirit to see the consolation of Israel, the Messiah. Later in His life, Jesus was anointed by the Spirit at His baptism and empowered to accomplish His role as the Messiah. Following His ascension, Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies by pouring out His Spirit on His disciples on the day of Pentecost, empowering them to take the Good News of salvation to the ends of the earth. Throughout Acts the church accomplished its mission through the guidance, power, and direction of the Holy Spirit. For Luke, the coming of the Spirit marks the beginning of God’s salvation…God’s presence and power now reside with His people.
John the Baptist was a fiery open air preacher who called people to repent and be baptized. John worked in the role of Elijah, to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. Like Jesus’ birth, John’s was also miraculous. His parents were old and had been unable to have children. His mother, Elizabeth, was related to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The two miraculous births so close together signaled the beginning of God’s redeeming work. John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth and devoted his life to preparing people for the coming of the Lord. Living in the desert, he began preaching when he was about 30 years old. He was dressed like a prophet in camels hair clothing with a leather belt around his waist. He subsisted on desert food, and he called everyone to repent and be baptized. John even castigated the religious leaders who came to hear him. Though John reluctantly baptized Jesus, he considered Jesus his superior, the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He encouraged his followers to become Jesus’ disciples and many of them did. Shortly before his death at the hands of Herod Antipas, John seemed to be confused about Jesus and he sent messengers from prison to ask Jesus if He really was the One. Jesus didn’t do what most people anticipated the Messiah to do. Rather then bringing judgement and a visible kingdom Jesus brought forgiveness, healing, and a spiritual kingdom. To reassure John, Jesus spoke of miraculous things God was doing through Him. John remained faithful to his calling throughout his life, consistently preaching repentance and the judgement of God, even to people who had no desire to hear it. Jesus referred to John as one of the greatest servants of God who had ever lived, the end of a long line of prophets anticipating the coming of the kingdom of God. John stood on the threshold of the new age, proclaiming its coming to all who would hear.
The gospels use three words to describe Jesus’ miraculous works. The first three gospels use the Greek word “dunamis” which means power. This describes a raw act of force that amazes observers and leads to the inevitable conclusion that God must be at work in Jesus. But in John this response is absent. John doesn’t use the word dunamis. Instead he labels each of Jesus’ miracles as a sign, an event that has a deeper meaning. John also describes Jesus miracles as works. Jesus’ miracles were part of the work that God gave Jesus to do, revealing the Father to the world. John selectively recorded seven miraculous signs that occurred during Jesus’ ministry. These were: changing water into wine, healing the officials son, healing a paralyzed man, feeding 5,000, walking on water, healing a blind man, and raising Lazarus from the dead. John also records the miraculous catch of fish after Jesus’ resurrection. Most of the seven signs were met with belief but the signs themselves were not Jesus’ purpose. Instead the miraculous signs are like physical road signs. They are messages that point to a greater reality. The miraculous signs are usually accompanied by a discourse from Jesus in which He explains the truth that the sign points to. Jesus fed the 5,000 for example not just to meet their needs, but so that people would see Him as the bread of life, given for them when He died on the cross.
And one more thing. Believing occupies a central place in John’s gospel. John does not use the noun faith that appears frequently in the rest of the New Testament. John prefers the verb believe to underscore that faith is not static like doctrine or dogma, but dynamic, requiring action. In John’s gospel, believing in Jesus is the trait of all true disciples. In the gospel of John the verb translated believe is often followed by the Greek preposition into. No parallel exists for this in Ancient Greek usage. For John, faith is not a status but an investment in the person of Jesus. Faith means accepting who Jesus is and what He claims to be. Faith constitutes a commitment to let His call change the way we live. Faith is the work God wants from us as we abide in His Word, as we love Him, and as we obey His commandments.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W