9 Ways to Start the New Year

Our church is 9 days into the second year of a two year Bible reading plan. In two years, this plan will have taken us through the Old Testament in two years and through the New Testament twice.

This second year is a little creative. We picked up our Old Testament reading with Ezra 1. Our second time through the New Testament began with Acts 1. In 2020, we begin the New Testament in Acts, keep reading all the way through Revelation and then finish the year reading the four Gospels.

But it is Ezra that has me…refreshed. I have read it a few times before. But I think the difference this time is that I am reading it prayerfully. I did not intend to read it prayerfully, but doing so has been one of those wonderful, providential surprises.

It begins with God stirring up the heart of the king of Persia. A few verses later, the collective heart of God’s people is, too, stirred up (cf. Ezra 1:1; 5). This helped me to pray for me and our church. Stir up means to have the eyes opened. The context here is about something God wants done. So my prayer has been to have our collective heart stirred up to what God wants done and then to do it.

The book is about God’s house, the temple in Jerusalem, being rebuilt. It is being done by the order of this foreign king and his blessing. After a couple of years, adversaries of Israel take notice of this rebuild. A new king of Persia is in place and these adversaries write a letter imploring him to have this rebuilding stopped. In their view, when this project is finished, the people of Israel will become strong and be a force to be reckoned with; “look at their history,” these adversaries implore (cf. Ezra 4:7-16).

The king orders then that the rebuilding cease, but God’s people do not cease. Instead, they tell him to check the records. By decree of the previous king, this rebuilding is to be done and not stopped. He checks the records, rescinds his own order and then orders these adversaries of Ezra 4 to pitch in with monies to help the completion of this great work! (cf. Ezra 6:1-12).

Then in Ezra 7 we get introduced to…Ezra. The hand of God was upon this man. And why? “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (7:6; 9-10; 28). What does this mean for own Bible study; gathering together each Sunday to hear Bible teaching; and, do not miss this, applying God’s Word to our lives?

Ezra is basically commissioned by the king to go to Jerusalem to get this job done with all the provisions he needs. Whatever Ezra asks for from anyone, he is to receive (Ezra 7:21-26). There is just one thing Ezra did not ask of the king: safety. He never asked the king to provide soldiers to protect Ezra and all with him as they made their way to Jerusalem. Listen to why: “For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him'” (Ezra 8:22). He had told the king that God was with them and even in this confidence, Ezra led all with him to humble themselves before God and entreat him for his help all the way (Ezra 8:23). This humility and reliance upon God, reminding others of this reliance and to entreat God, seems to be absolutely necessary for leadership. What does this mean for our pastors, in caring for and leading local churches?

Then comes Ezra 9. It is really about repentance. God’s people enjoying once again God’s provision and care and grace, are once again sliding into the temptations of sin. What does Ezra do? He repents. But listen to this repentance. “O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this” (Ezra 9:15). Notice that Ezra says “our guilt.” Ezra has done nothing wrong. Yet, he does not pray that the people repent. He does not point the finger. Instead, he humbles himself and calls their guilt, our guilt. When their is sin in a local church, how should a pastor pray? How should a pastor be praying for the church he pastors?

I have seen these 9 chapters as 9 ways to start the new year.

Thankful.

Worship God

Maybe you are worried about expanding government control and rising taxes. Maybe you are worried about the loss of religious liberty in this country. Let me encourage you: if you have been born again, no one can undo the new life God has wrought in you. If you trust in Jesus, no one cane make you stop believing him. If the Holy Spirit lives in you, no one can take him away. If others take all your money and use it to persecute Christians, even imprisoning and martyring some, they cannot take from you the hope that Jesus will come. 

Jesus will judge. Jesus will do righteousness. Jesus will come for his bride. God will grant access to the Edenic temple-city of the new heaven and new earth, and all who have called on the name of the Lord will see God’s face. The best thing about your life then – namely, God – is the best thing about your life now. 

No one can take God’s love from you. No one can remove the fact that God did not spare Jesus, that God has accomplished his elaborate plan to redeem his children. 

Do you live that way? Does your study of the Bible reflect these realities? Do you pray like God is the best part of your life? Do your desires show it to be so? Pray that God would make it so right now. Pray that God would help you to know him as the best part of your life. He is. So pray that he would make you feel it and know it and live it.

Reflecting on Sunday

My favorite Sunday is communion Sunday. At Calvary, the first Sunday of the month is set aside to proclaim the Lord’s death until returns and we do this at the Lord’s Table or at the Lord’s Supper or communion. Each of those designations all refer to eating the bread and drinking the cup, doing so in remembrance of Jesus Christ.

But this past Sunday was different. I did not hear or know why it was different until later that day. Following communion, Calvary enjoyed lunch together. It was great experience of having communion followed by lunch. And at lunch, a father shared that his daughter recently referred to communion as community. “We are going to have community together!” she said. And she could not be more right.

The words community and communion are related. Do you see it? I think this is part of Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. Read that passage and reflect on how community and communion are related. The Apostle John calls community “fellowship.” That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (1 John 1:3-4).

The Lord’s Supper, communion, is something to remember together; that is, as a church family. And how we treat and treasure the Lord and the Lord’s Supper is to be evident in how we treat and treasure one another. This is community.

And so, on November 3, Calvary Community Church will be gathering at the Lord’s Table, doing so in remembrance of Jesus Christ. And I cannot wait to have community together.

And As They Sailed He Fell Asleep

The Backyard Carnival is happening. It is happening in just under one hundred forty-five hours and thirty minutes. It is happening with one hundred fifty hot dogs and a couple hundred bottles of water (there will be lemonade, too). It is happening with cotton candy and popcorn and snow cones. It is happening with face painting and prizes and gifts. It is happening with thirty or so volunteers. Three hundred homes have been told that it is happening. It is happening to love people by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

And the big question we must be asking is, what are we to learn? Or better yet, what do we need to learn? Pay close attention to how we are asking this question.

And As They Sailed He Fell Asleep

Luke 8:22-25 is short. Matthew tells of this moment and it too is short (Matthew 8:23-25). Mark also tells of this moment and it is longer, but not by much (Mark 4:35-41). Why do all three of these Gospels share with us such a short moment?

This is reminiscent of Jonah chapter one in the Old Testament. There Jonah boards a ship. It sets sail and Jonah sleeps. A massive storm comes down upon it and Jonah still sleeps. He awakes only at the urging of the captain. The end result is that God calms the storm.

In all three of these Gospel accounts, Jesus boards a boat with his disciples. The disciples set sail and Jesus sleeps. A massive storm comes down upon them and Jesus still sleeps. He awakes only at the urging of the disciples. The end result is that Jesus calms the storm.

Again, all three of these Gospels share for us this moment – Jesus in a boat with his disciples. They sail. Jesus sleeps. This is the only record of Jesus sleeping. Why did Jesus sleep? The answer seems obvious, right? In Luke 4, there was that day that Jesus healed and restored lives, seemingly that of an entire town, and he did so all evening through dawn the next day. In Luke 6, there was that day Jesus prayed all evening through dawn the next day. Then throughout Luke 6 and Luke 7, Jesus gives so much time to people, teaching and meeting their needs. He is tired by this point, exhausted even! Mark tells us that he got to enjoy a pillow (Mark 4:38)! It is significant that he slept, but more than simply because he was exhausted.

He Got Into a Boat With His Disciples

Notice Luke 8:22. “One day he got into a boat with his disciples.” This could be the most important verse in this short moment. Who was in the boat? Jesus and his disciples. More importantly, Jesus is with his disciples in a boat. Who are these disciples? Simply, a disciple is a student. Jesus is with his students – those learning from him – in a boat!

The word disciples is only used twice in Luke 8. It is there in Luke 8:9. Jesus tells his disciples a parable and his disciples ask a question. “What does it mean?” He tells what the parable meant. It was about hearing the Word of God and the four kinds of people who hear the Word of God. Sundays are filled with those who hear the Bible. And his point in telling the parable is for his disciples to take care then how you hear the Word of God (Luke 8:18).

After this Jesus gets into a boat with his disciples. The boat immediately follows the parable. Why? There was something more to learn. The parable was for their learning. What could the boat, this lake, this storm be for?

Keep looking at Luke 8:22. Jesus got into a boat with his disciples and said, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” Jesus is with his disciples. Jesus said to do something. And Jesus is with them as they do it (he is just asleep). Note those three things.

So, why share this moment with us? There is something to learn. Keep in mind that these disciples knew this boat; were familiar with it. It was someone’s boat, one of these disciples. These disciples knew this lake; were familiar with it. These disciples knew how to sail this boat across this lake; were familiar with it. I would say that these disciples knew all the “pitfalls” of sailing a boat across this lake. And they most likely could see the destination.

But I also want to stress that the disciples were in the same boat together. So, there was something for them to learn, yes individually, but also collectively or corporately. It is why we asked the question the way we asked it. When it comes to this carnival, what do we need to learn? Do not lose sight of this, though: who else is in the same boat? Jesus. Jesus is with them; he is asleep, but he is with them. What does that say about Jesus?

And Then Came the Windstorm

The disciples do what Jesus said to do. And then came the windstorm. It was a literal storm. The word for windstorm is what describes a hurricane. This is a lake, but not unusual for this lake. Sudden, terrifying, unexpected, threatening storms were and are normal for this lake – the Sea of Galilee. The wind is just half of it. With wind comes waves. Luke calls them “raging” (v. 24). Matthew calls this a great storm (Matthew 8:24) which is the Greek word seismic. This was an earthquake on water!

These disciples knew this lake and knew these storms. It reminded me of something Jesus said in John 16:33. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Notice the disciples never hesitated; never objected; never paused to remind everyone, including Jesus, about the unexpected storms famous for this lake. No one said, “Hold on everyone, just a second. Let’s remember and consider that although it is sunny and pleasant now, things could change in a second.”

Why not? Who expects a storm doing what Jesus said to do?

We have these kinds of storms; not lake storms, but doing the work of the ministry storms. These are storms when doing what Jesus said to do. But remember: Jesus is with his disciples. Jesus said for them to do something.  And Jesus is with them as they do it.

These storms can be anything, anything that I end up describing as frustrating, disappointing, discouraging, disheartening, not going as I thought it should go; maybe even devastating. And the storm gets bigger and more intense the longer I keep looking at the storm, thinking about the storm and its effects.

Look at the storm’s effects: the boat is filling with water and now the disciples, the boat, and the mission are all in danger.

The disciples have been doing all they can, in their own ability, to maintain survival, until they come to this undeniable end: we no longer can do it. We now need Jesus.

What is there to make of Jesus still being asleep? He has been asleep the whole time! No storm worries Jesus. The course of things get disrupted and he is always at peace. He is always perfectly calm.

Where is Your Faith?

Notice Luke 8:24. “And they went and woke him…” What is it that finally wakes Jesus? His disciples! “We are perishing!” It was his disciples and their urgent plea which woke him, finally. And it was not until they realized “We are perishing!” They accomplished with their urgent plea what the storm could not do – they woke Jesus up! The storm never disturbed Jesus, but something did.

Jesus awakes. Rebukes the wind. Rebukes the raging waves. “Peace. Be still.” And it all halted at that very moment. The monster wave about to crash into the hull of the boat never made it. All was calm at the very moment Jesus spoke. All was calm. All was bright. Birds were chirping. There was calm. His disciples were a mess, but all was calm.

Now Jesus will ask a question. “Where is your faith?” Notice his disciples’ response: fear. Jesus just did something that no one in the history of the world has done, is doing or will ever do. He controlled the weather (cf. Psalm 107:23-32).

In Luke, Jesus has demonstrated his power and authority over the natural; his power and authority over the supernatural. In Luke, he has met the need of a man by the power and authority of his bare word. In Luke, he has met the need of a mom by the power and authority of his bare word. There is power and authority in his bare word.

This same power and authority applies to going across to the other side of the lake. Notice verse twenty-six which belongs to this short moment: they get across to the other side of the lake.

Listen to the response of his disciples. “Who then is this?” He is the Creator. He is God. He is the Lord who will provide. He is the God who is with me. And there is power and authority when he calls us to do something like Matthew 28:16-20 or Matthew 5:13-16 or John 13:34-35 or Matthew 6:34 or Acts 1:7-8. And so what do we do when storms arise?

Jesus is with his disciples. He has called us to do something. And he is with us as we do it. Why, though, did he question their faith? They lost sight, in the storm, of Jesus’ power and authority. They witnessed it with the storm, but lost sight of it in doing what he said to do. He was with them. And he was with them as they did it.

They Rejected God’s Purpose For Themselves

In Luke 7, Jesus met the need of a man by the power of his bare word. In Luke 7, Jesus met the need of a mom by the power of his bare word. And in Luke 7, the word about Jesus went here and it went there; it went everywhere, even across the Dead Sea, up a hill, into a fortified palace and down into its dungeon.

In Prison Waiting, Waiting and Waiting

There sat a man nearly forgotten. Nothing like him and no one like him had been seen and experienced in over four hundred years. God had sent the most famous angel from heaven to announce his gender reveal and coming birth. He was the one to prepare humanity to behold the greatest joy in human history. His name was John the Baptist. And yet however long Luke 4 and Luke 5 and Luke 6 can be measured, some suggest a year, there has been no mention of him. And there he sat in prison waiting, waiting and waiting.

There now stood his disciples. What was John thinking when he saw them? He then was told about all these things. He was told about Jesus and that the sick are healed. He was told about Jesus and that the lame now walk. He was told about Jesus and that lepers – it seemed so impossible – are now made clean. He was told about Jesus and that the dead are restored to life. He was told about Jesus and that demons obey his voice. He was told about Jesus and that the gospel is not being limited to anyone. And could it be that John was now thinking, “But what has he done for me?” The only response he could muster was, “Are you the one to come, or shall we look for another?”

Does this question say anything about John? He is sitting in prison. He has been sitting in prison. He has been sitting in prison for a really long time. Is he downcast? Is he defeated? Is he disheartened? Is he disillusioned? Is he disappointed? What is he asking? What are you doing Jesus? What are you doing in my life? Can I be certain of you? Are you who I am supposed to put my trust in? Or is there another? Does this sound familiar to you? What should we do with questions like these? “When you doubt Jesus, do you know where you go? You go right to Jesus.” John called out two of his disciples to go up out of the dungeon, back through the fortified palace, down the hill, across the Dead Sea and go right to Jesus with this very question (cf. Luke 7:18-19).

Waiting, Waiting and Waiting Some More

The two disciples make their way to Jesus. The two disciples approach Jesus. Jesus turns his attention to them. The two disciples, without hesitation, ask Jesus this very question. “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” Jesus makes them wait, wait and wait some more. He says nothing. At the sound of that very question, Jesus begins to heal many people. He is demonstrating, right before their very eyes, his power and authority over the natural and the supernatural. And for the first time in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus restored sight to the blind. How long did Jesus make these two disciples wait to hear his answer? He turned his eyes toward them and finally spoke. “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the sick are healed; the lame walk; lepers – it seemed so impossible – are made clean; the deaf hear; the dead are raised to life; and the gospel is not being limited to anyone (cf. Luke 7:20-22). This answer sounds like the same thing, only different to what these disciples have already shared with John. This is what prompted John’s question in the first place!

This answer, like the things reported to John, reflect Old Testament passages like Isaiah 42:6-7 or Isaiah 61:1-2. However, those Old Testament passages also mention setting the prisoner free which is lacking in both Jesus’ answer and the things reported to John. And the question, which really is the reason for Luke 7:18-35, is asked by a man sitting where? He is in prison! And who is in prison asking this question? That’s right, John the Baptist sitting in prison waiting, waiting and waiting some more.

There is something, though, in Jesus’ answer. It is different than the things first reported to John by his disciples. Listen to Luke 7:23. “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Let’s pay attention to that word offend. This is the answer to John’s question. This is the answer that makes all the difference. John may have been waiting for more than what Jesus was doing and what Jesus answered. He may have been looking to be set free. He knew those Old Testament passages. And he could have been waiting for more. He could have been looking for Jesus, the Messiah, the long awaited promised One, to do the things Jesus was doing, but also to bring judgment down upon the wicked and the unrighteous and the oppressor. And he would be right. The Messiah would be doing the things Jesus was doing. And the Messiah will also bring judgment down upon the wicked and the unrighteous and the oppressor. So, why is Jesus, if he is really the Messiah, really the one I am supposed to put my trust in, taking his time? with me and with the wicked and the unrighteous and the oppressor? It is Luke 7:23. In a sense, Jesus is saying, “John, do get disappointed with the way I choose to work. You know the Bible. But I do things not according to your timetable. John, listen to what I am saying and you will be blessed.” Do you know what I think that blessing is? Peace. Contentment.

There is an Old Testament verse that fits what Jesus is saying here. “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165; the King James translation uses the word offend which is the identical meaning in Luke 7:23).

More Than a Prophet

Get ready. If not for John’s question, there would be no Luke 7:24-35. And we want to ask, what is it here for?

The two disciples of John get the answer and make their way back across the Dead Sea, up a hill, into a fortified palace and down into its dungeon, again. Jesus turns to the crowds which have gathered, to say something only they will hear. The two disciples of John will not hear it. John will not hear it. And most likely he will never hear it. “Why were you so eager to see John?” Jesus asks. “Why were you so interested in John? Did you want to meet some easygoing man, some man that just goes with the flow? No. Did you want to meet some man that keeps up with the latest and greatest cultural trends? No. Why were you so eager to see John? Was it because he was a prophet?” Jesus answers it for them. “Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet” (Luke 7:26). How was John more than a prophet? I love this answer. Listen to Luke 7:27. This is the answer. “This is he of whom it was written.” John was a prophet just like Isaiah and just like Jeremiah and just like…Malachi. But he was more than a prophet because this is he of whom it was written.

What was written? It is the rest of Luke 7:27 which is a recitation of Malachi 3:1. When was it written? It was written over 400 years prior to Luke 7:27. Who wrote it? It was written by the last prophet of the Old Testament. His name was Malachi. What is it about? How was John more than a prophet? He was the first prophet in a really long time. And Jesus is saying that John was the one Malachi foretold. Jesus is saying that John was the one to prepare humanity to behold the greatest joy in human history.

Now Jesus finishes it off by essentially saying that John was the greatest man to have ever lived (7:28). And part of his greatness is that he prepared humanity to behold the greatest joy in human history and he was steadfast and immovable when it came to this purpose God had for him. Mark that down. The culture had an expectation of him and he would not try to live up to it or give into it. He would not dance to their tune (7:31-33). This is something that I think Jesus also applies to himself (7:34-35).

They Rejected God’s Purpose For Themselves

But the reason for Luke 7:24-35, the reason it is here, is for us. There is something here specifically written for our instruction. And it is something that has been called one of the most terrifying sentences in the English language. It is Luke 7:29-30.

When the crowds heard Jesus talk about John “they declared God just,” which I think is a most profound statement. These crowds included tax collectors. Who were they? Enemies of Israel and therefore enemies of God. They worked for Rome, the enemy. This was a group of people treated as those kinds of people no one else wanted. And here they are declaring, “God is just! God is right! He is righteous!” Why are they responding like this? Listen to the rest of Luke 7:29. “Having been baptized with the baptism of John.” So this excitement has something to do with what Jesus said about John and John’s baptism.

What was John’s baptism? It was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, something that prepared humanity for the greatest joy in human history. The baptism did not give repentance or the forgiveness of sins. It was the response of those who had confessed their sins and their deepest need for forgiveness from a righteous and holy God. And when Jesus said that this man named John was more than a prophet, a man promised a long time ago to prepare you to meet the greatest joy in human history, they could not contain their excitement. They worshiped the Holy God because the purpose he had for John opened their eyes to God’s purpose for them, even for one who no one else wanted. What is God’s purpose?

Then comes the terrifying part. There was a group called the Pharisees and lawyers. This was a religious group filled with those who knew the Bible. It was filled with those who thought that their good works and their dedication to God’s commands would see them through to heaven. Listen to what Luke says about them. “They rejected the purpose of God for themselves” (7:30). How? “Not having been baptized by him [John].” They rejected the baptism! They rejected the message! They rejected the need to repent for the forgiveness of sins. In so doing, they rejected John and in rejecting John they were rejecting being prepared to meet the greatest joy in human history. This joy is Jesus.

What is God’s purpose? This word purpose [counsel, plan or will] is a word used in Acts 2:23 referred to there as definite – the definite purpose, the definite counsel, the definite plan or definite will of God. Meaning, this is pretty clear. This is pretty explicit. There is no debate, no wiggle room. This is God’s purpose. What is God’s purpose? Repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Next big question is this: does God have a purpose for me? The answer is yes. What is God’s definite purpose for me? Repentance for the forgiveness of sins. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4-5). What is repentance? It is the turning of the heart away from sin and turning the heart toward God. It is turning the heart away from a behavior God hates toward a behavior God loves. It is turning away from relying on self and turning toward the mercy and strength of God. It is turning the heart away from the fleeting pleasures of sin toward eternal joys of God in Jesus Christ.

And so, what am I doing with God’s purpose for me?

Blessed Is The One Not Offended By Me

After two years, the wait was finally over. All 200,000 words filling 448 pages with 1,100 footnotes was handed to the top authority. Ninety minutes would be needed to talk about it before 327 million people would be able to read it. And it takes nineteen hours, three minutes to read or eighteen actors to perform it live at a church. And people are talking. Morning, afternoon and evening, people are talking and will be talking some more…about the Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election better known as the Mueller Report.

In Luke 7, Jesus met a man’s need by the power of his bare word. In Luke 7, Jesus met a mother’s need by the power of his bare word. And people were talking. Morning, afternoon and evening, people were talking. “And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country” (7:17). And people were talking some more. “The disciples of John reported all these things to him” (Luke 7:18). What was this report?

According to Luke 7:17 and Luke 7:18, this report was about Jesus and things, specific things, at least three specific things: a certain centurion whose servant was at the point of death; a mother whose only son had died; and that the word about Jesus was spreading all over the place, even beyond the borders.

The Wait Was Finally Over

And now the wait was finally over. Listen again to Luke 7:18, which might be the most important verse in this passage. “The disciples of John reported all these things to him.” After three chapters and sixteen verses; that is, after Luke 4 and Luke 5 and Luke 6 and Luke 7:1-16, the wait was finally over. What was John thinking? More specifically, what did John think of these things?

John has been almost forgotten. It has been so long since he was last mentioned that you may even be wondering, “Who is John?” Well, he is better known as John the Baptist. In fact, this will be the first time in Luke that he is called John the Baptist (7:20). And there has been no mention of him for about year. There was no mention of him in Luke 4. There was no mention of him in Luke 5. There was no mention of him in Luke 6. And there was no mention of him in Luke 7, until verse eighteen. There has been no mention of John since he was locked up in prison (cf. Luke 3:20). By the way, the prison is thought to have been in this fortified hilltop fortress on the eastside of the Dead Sea, overlooking the Dead Sea. Luke 7:1-10 took place in the town called Capernaum. Luke 7:11-17 took place in the small town called Nain, not too far away from Capernaum, about twenty to twenty-five miles away. And where John heard about these things is really far away from Nain.

But the point is that there is no mention of John until he hears this report about these things.

Who Told John These Things?

And who was it that told John about all these things? Keep looking at verse eighteen. The disciples of John told John about these things. John was in prison and his disciples traveled a long way to tell him about these things. So, why did they feel the need to tell John about these things? Are they tattle-tales? Are they gossips?

John is rather important to Luke’s Gospel. Why did Luke write Luke’s Gospel? There are things which happen to make us totter. But there are things which have happened to keep us from tottering over (cf. Luke 1:4). And the first thing Luke wants to tell us about in Luke’s Gospel is Christmas. And the first thing that Luke wants us to know about Christmas is…John.

There was this man named Zechariah. He had a wife named Elizabeth. And Zechariah had been praying for a long time for a child. He and Elizabeth had been married a long time and had no children. It is not known how long Zechariah had been praying for a child, but apparently it was a long time, so long, perhaps, that Zechariah got to a point that it was not worth it to pray about it anymore. He and his wife were old, too old. Well, one night at work – Zechariah was a priest – the angel named Gabriel appeared to him and even spoke. “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:12). These were the first words out of the angel’s mouth! Zechariah, you will have a son! Your wife will bear you a son! And you will call him John! But what is the most exciting news in that sentence? Your prayer has been heard.

The disciples of John are only mentioned three times in Luke’s Gospel. I want us to notice something about the first time these disciples are mentioned. Keep in mind that a disciple, in one sense, is a learner or a teacher’s student. So, these were people learning from John. Here is the first mention of his disciples in Luke: And they [the Pharisees] said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers…” (Luke 5:33). And here is the third mention of his disciples in Luke: Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). The second mention is Luke 7:18. So, why did they feel the need to tell John about these things? And what had they been learning from John? And where did John learn what he was teaching them? What does this say about John? I think it says something about John and prayer. Pray. Keep praying. And do not give in to the thought that prayer is just not worth it anymore. So, when John hears the report about Jesus and about these things, why does he say what he says?

What did John say about Jesus? “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29). What else did John say about Jesus? “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29). He did not call Jesus his friend, he called himself Jesus’ friend! And narrow in on what John said about this friendship. “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” John was just permeating with joy! So, when John hears the report about Jesus and about these things, why does he say what he says? What did he say? Listen to verse nineteen. “And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”

Why is John important to Luke’s Gospel? It is because he tottered. Some say he doubted. Some say he was disappointed. Some say he was discouraged. Some say he was disillusioned. He tottered. He went from filled with joy to, are you really the one I thought you to be? Or should I keep on looking? And the big question is, why is he thinking this way? I read someone say that this was not John’s finest hour. I do not think that is true. This was his most relatable hour. And it is really the last record of John in Luke’s Gospel.

Blessed Is The One Not Offended By Me

John sends two of his disciples with this question to Jesus. Keep in mind that John is in prison and it is a really far distance to get back to Jesus. What is going through the minds of these two disciples? What are they talking about? When they finally get to Jesus they ask the question. “John the Baptist wants to know,” (first mention of John the Baptist) “are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And what does Jesus answer? Nothing. He says nothing. Instead, in that hour and maybe for the whole hour, he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. He did what he has been doing. Except this is the first time in Luke that he restored sight to the blind. But still, it is quite an answer. Look at his works. Examine his works. Remember his works. John was to know and recognize these works.

Then Jesus speaks. “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.” This is the answer. Wait, this is the answer? And just so that these two disciples get the answer verbatim, Jesus reiterates: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk (remember, that was Luke 5:17-26), lepers are cleansed (remember, that was Luke 5:12-16 something that was said is more difficult than raising the dead), and the deaf hear, the dead are raised (remember, that was Luke 7:11-17), the poor have good news preached to them. What is interesting is that Jesus is quoting or echoing several Old Testament passages like Isaiah 35:5-6; Isaiah 42:5-9; Isaiah 61:1-2a; especially Isaiah 61:1-2a. Look at his words. Examine his words. Remember his words. John would know these words.

And remember Isaiah 61:1-2a. It is the passage Jesus read back at the synagogue and then declared that the year of the Lord’s favor is now here. The Messiah is now here. He is now here. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21). Although in Jesus’ answer he says nothing about proclaiming liberty to the captives or setting free those who are oppressed. And who at this moment is a captive and in prison? John. And his circumstance will not change. He will spend maybe another year there and will be executed.

Is this Jesus’ answer? No, at least it is not his complete answer. Listen to verse twenty-three. “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

The two disciples then depart. This was all they were told. And most likely this was all that they heard. It is Jesus’ answer to a desperate man’s question. And it is almost as if Jesus waited for those two disciples to vanish out of sight before he talks to the crowds which have gathered. Many of which just had their lives restored, which, too, probably drew an even larger crowd. It is likely then that this crowd also heard the question, Jesus’ answer and that it was John who was asking and needing the answer. He then goes on to say something about John the Baptist. In Jesus’ estimation, John is the greatest man to have ever lived. Why is that?

And So, Why Did John Ask His Question?

And so, why did John ask his question? Why was he, this great man, tottering? Jesus thought John to be a great man because, in part, John did not try to live up to the culture’s expectations and in this case, the religious culture’s expectations. He knew God’s plan for him and he did it without complaint, without waver, until this particular moment. Jesus will quote a children’s poem and apply it to John and I think himself, too. “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’” (Luke 7:32-33). Why? John would not dance to their tune. He was going to fulfill the ministry given to him. So, why did he ask his question?

It is why Jesus, gently and kindly – oh, Jesus is such a kind Savior – responded to his struggling friend, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” It is a beatitude! And maybe the most needed beatitude today. The word offend is such a strong word. It is from a Greek word that sounds like scandal. It means to trip up the traveler. It is a disappointment with the way God chooses to work.

John proclaimed that the coming one, who is mighty, would come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire and he would have a winnowing fork in his hand, to separate the wheat from the chaff. The chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire (Luke 3:16-17). And John was right. He, though, may have been wondering, “Where is the fork? Where is the unquenchable fire? What is Jesus doing?” This was a two act drama. The fork, judgment, will come one day. But this was the year of the Lord’s favor. The day of judgment would soon follow, but a year is a whole lot longer than a day (Isaiah 61:2). John, do not get disappointed with how Jesus chooses to work. John, do not get disappointed that Jesus works according to his own timetable and his own tune. John, you will blessed. And so it is with us, Jesus’ disciples. Pray. Keep praying. And do not give in to the thought that prayer is just not worth it anymore. Look at his works. Examine his works. Remember his works. Look at his words. Examine his words. Remember his words. And James, do not get disappointed with how Jesus chooses to work. James, do not get disappointed that Jesus works according to his own timetable and his own tune. And James, you will blessed. Your circumstances may not change for a long time, if ever. But you will be blessed.