I Must Preach the Good News of the Kingdom

Roast beef. Carrots roasted with the roast beef. Mashed potatoes – potatoes that have been peeled, boiled to the right tenderness, drained and then seasoned with butter, salt, a slight amount of pepper and finally mashed to the just right consistency. And maybe some sweet corn, but definitely gravy, not too thin and not too thick, made from all the drippings and juice of that roast beef. This is the best and most perfect Sunday dinner. Warm crescent rolls would be nice, too.

But this is Saturday. Luke 4:38-44 begins on Saturday. And on Saturday people would gather together for worship – to sing the Bible together; to recite the Bible together; to read the Bible together; to read the Bible some more together; to hear together the Bible taught; and to pray together.

What Happens After Worship?

But what happened after worship? The best and most perfect Saturday dinner. It was common, each Saturday, that fellowship would follow worship. And perhaps it was in someone’s home around the biggest meal of the week. Recently, I read of a local church in Vermont that each Sunday, beginning the weekend after Thanksgiving until Easter Sunday, gathers for fellowship following worship around a meal. And at Calvary we have Sundays like this, fellowship following worship around a meal. Sometimes it is soup, sometimes it is a good old fashioned potluck or sometimes it is fried chicken. Actually, each Sunday at Calvary is like this, it may not be a meal, but each Sunday fellowship follows worship and maybe it is around a cup of coffee and a cookie or two or three. But the experience is there. What happens after worship? Fellowship or perhaps put it this way: worship affects fellowship.

And this is what is happening as Luke 4:38 begins. “And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house.” The best and most perfect Saturday dinner was about to be had, the biggest meal of the week. But as Jesus entered the house, there was no aroma of a roast filling the air. There was no activity heard in the kitchen. In fact, it did not look like anyone was expecting anybody for fellowship around a meal. Instead, all Jesus found was a mother-in-law.

Here laid this mother-in-law, shivering and yet bundled up with blankets. Her teeth were chattering. It hurt to even open her eyes. She was ill with a high fever. The word Luke uses to describe this fever is mega. This was a mega fever, serious and severe. Her hypothalamus had shifted her normal body temperature upward. Her body was fighting something – this is important – and it could be anything, a virus or an infection; heat exhaustion; rheumatoid arthritis or even a malignant tumor.

Notice the rest of Luke 4:38. “And they appealed to him on her behalf.” Some translations read that they begged Jesus to help her. But the question is, who are they? This is Simon’s house and Simon’s mother-in-law, so it must be that Simon was asking Jesus to help his mother-in-law. And who is this Simon? Simon is also known as Simon Peter or better known simply as Peter; yes, that Peter. And he is not the only one urging Jesus for help. If Simon has a mother-in-law, surely he has a wife. So, Simon and his wife are urging Jesus for help. But these two are not the only ones urging Jesus for help.

Simon had a brother named Andrew and he was there. Simon and Andrew had a friend named James and he was there. Simon and Andrew had another friend named John and he was there (cf. Mark 1:29). So, as Jesus entered this home for fellowship around the biggest meal of the week he was greeted by Simon and Simon’s wife and Simon’s brother and Simon’s friends with these words, “Jesus! Will you help her?! Can you help her?”

And what does Jesus say? Nothing, or Luke does not record what Jesus said. Listen to Luke 4:39. “And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.” Jesus healed her. Matthew and Mark both record this same moment in Simon’s house. And when Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law they do not record Jesus saying a single word. But I want us to listen to how Mark records it. “And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her” (Mark 1:31; Matthew 8:15). What does Mark emphasize? It was his touch, all it took was his touch.

Matthew, Mark and Luke each agree; the fever was gone. The healing was immediate. And the healing was complete and by complete, I mean this: the fever was merely a symptom of something greater. Why would Jesus heal just the symptom and not the problem? The healing was complete and there were no lingering effects, no weakness, no need of rest. Instead, what did Simon’s mother-in-law do? She began to serve them…the biggest meal of the week! Fellowship was going to follow worship!

And Matthew, Mark and Luke each make sure we get the end result of this healing: service. She served them. It is “a living example of what Christ wants to do in believer’s lives. The measure of a Christian is not how many servants he has, but how many he serves.”[1]

What Does Luke Want Us To See?

But is this all that Luke wants us to see? It is interesting that Matthew, Mark and Luke record no spoken words of Jesus in healing this woman. However, Luke does record that Jesus rebuked the fever. And how did he rebuke the fever? I think it was simply his touch, he took her by the hand. But the word Luke chooses to use is interesting – rebuked. Why did Simon and his wife and his brother and his two friends plead with Jesus to help Simon’s mother-in-law? They had just witnessed Jesus’ power and authority earlier in the synagogue when he rebuked a demon (4:35). It was something in which all [Simon, his wife, brother and friends included] responded, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out!” (Luke 4:36).

Luke will use this word, rebuke, again later on this very Saturday. It is in Luke 4:41 and again with demons. “And demons came out of many, crying,” notice that word crying. It may be the word shouting, instead. It is a word that means to cry out with loud screaming, like a wounded person emitting unearthly types of sounds. And what are they shouting? “‘You are the Son of God!’ But Jesus rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ” (4:41). There is that word again, rebuke. So three times on this Saturday Jesus rebukes, first a demon, then a fever and then demons. Luke purposely uses that word three times. And the question to ask is, what does Luke want us to see?

Luke 4 and this Saturday, from the synagogue to Simon’s house, is about authority, Jesus’ authority. And when it comes to Jesus’ authority Luke wants us to see two things. See that Jesus has authority and power over the supernatural. And see that Jesus has authority and power over the natural.

And The Sun Was Setting

And then the sun began to set. And what happened when the sun was setting? After Jesus demonstrated his authority and power over the supernatural back in the synagogue, when the sun hung in the sky, “reports about him went out into very place in the surrounding region” (Luke 4:37). And when the sun was setting all those who had witnessed this authority and power brought any who were sick with various diseases to him (4:40). Why did they wait though for the sun to set? The sun setting meant that Sabbath was ending and everyone knew or was led to think that there are six days to work and if you need healing, do not seek it on the Sabbath. Wait until the Sabbath was over (cf. Luke 13:14). And that seems to be what was happening here.

Again, what does Luke want us to see? Notice that Jesus was healing everyone who was brought to him. He turns no one away. But I want to point out that those coming to Jesus for healing were dealing with various diseases. The word various literally means multi-colored. These are things like leprosy and blindness and deafness and physical disabilities; you think it, Jesus healed it. And the healing was immediate and it was complete. What does Luke want us to see? Listen to Luke 4:41. In the midst of all these diseases, there are those who were under heavy demonic influence whether internally or externally. Two things; it seems that Luke is making a distinction for us between having an illness or disease and demonic activity, meaning that the two are not identical. But the bigger point is that Jesus exorcised demons, not just a demon.

Did you know that there is a hierarchy of demons? “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). There are rulers and authorities and cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. And so what does Luke want us to see when it comes to these various diseases and hierarchy of evil forces? There is no limit to the authority and power of Jesus over the natural and there is no limit to the authority and power of Jesus over the supernatural. His authority and power is over these rulers and these authorities and these cosmic powers and these spiritual forces.

Notice though Luke 4:40. How did Jesus heal those with various diseases? He did not speak a word, instead “he laid his hands on them.” It was his touch, all it took was his touch. Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought it hardly worth his while to waste his time on the old violin, but he held it up with a smile. “What am I bid, good people,” he cried, “Who starts the bidding for me?” “One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?” “Two dollars, who makes it three?” “Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three.” But, no, from the room far back a gray bearded man came forward and picked up the bow, then wiping the dust from the old violin. And tightening up the strings, he played a melody, pure and sweet as sweet as the angel sings. The music ceased and the auctioneer with a voice that was quiet and low, said “What now am I bid for this old violin?” as he held it aloft with its’ bow. “One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?” “Two thousand, who makes it three?” “Three thousand once, three thousand twice, going and gone,” said he. The audience cheered, but some of them cried, “We just don’t understand. What changed its’ worth?” Swift came the reply. “The touch of the Master’s hand.” And many a man with life out of tune all battered and bruised with hardship is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd much like that old violin. A mess of pottage, a glass of wine, a game and he travels on. He is going once, he is going twice, he is going and almost gone. But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand, the worth of a soul and the change that is wrought by the Touch of the Master’s hand.

I Must Preach the Good News of the Kingdom

Does Luke 4:38-44 teach us to think biblically about healing? Yes. Should we pray for healing? Yes. If you need healing pray for yourself. If someone you know needs healing pray for them. And if you need healing seek your pastor to pray for you and with you (James 5:13-16). Are all who ask for and seek healing healed? No. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Healing is temporary. It always delays the inevitable. So, why did Jesus heal? It validated his person, his ministry and his word. For never since the world began had anyone ever heard of anything or anyone like this (cf. John 9:32). Ultimately, Jesus healed for the glory of God. And there were a lot of people that Jesus did not heal. This too was for God’s glory, to show that his grace is sufficient for you and me.

But again, what does Luke want us to see? Why show us Jesus’ authority and power over the natural and Jesus’ authority and power over the supernatural? It is because it is all about preaching. Notice how Jesus puts an end to this day in Capernaum. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43). The point is that the cosmically authoritative Christ has come with the good news of the kingdom. The King is here. And the King is gathering citizens for his kingdom. And these citizens are the spiritually helpless and the spiritually captive and the spiritually blind and the spiritually broken. And what he can do for you eternally far outweighs what he can for you temporarily.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Luke: That You May Know the Truth

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And He Taught Them All With Authority

I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent. These three sentences were found scratched into a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany during the Holocaust.

The word Sabbath is much more than a word, it is a day. But as a day it is much more than a day, it is a particular day. It is the seventh day of the week also known as Saturday. For Jewish people, Sabbath begins sundown Friday and concludes at sundown Saturday. The most moving stories of the Jewish people keeping Sabbath are the stories when they kept it in the midst of crisis and terror. They kept Sabbath under siege. They kept it in famine. They kept it in drought. They kept it in Warsaw’s ghettos and Hitler’s death camps and Stalin’s gulags. They kept Sabbath even when the world was falling to pieces.[1] I would like to think that those three sentences were scratched into that wall because someone had been keeping Sabbath.

Keeping Sabbath is one of ten commands found in a book of the Bible called Exodus and in another book of the Bible called Deuteronomy. These two books each have a chapter simply known as the Ten Commandments. Why are there two books of the Bible each with a chapter containing the Ten Commandments? The theme of Deuteronomy is remember; it is all throughout the book. So, the reason there is another book of the Bible with a chapter containing the Ten Commandments is so that we remember the Ten Commandments.

And one of those ten commandments is “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). But listen closely to it again, this time from Deuteronomy. “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Deuteronomy 5:12). Do you hear and see something different? In Exodus the command is to remember the Sabbath day. In Deuteronomy the command is to observe the Sabbath day. What is the difference? I think the difference is this: throughout the week remember with fondness and joy the previous Sabbath but with much eagerness look forward to the Sabbath day that is coming. Why?

Sabbath is about rest; it is about stillness. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Sabbath gives the rest of God – actual physical, mental, spiritual rest. But Sabbath also gives the rest of God – the things of God’s nature and presence we miss in our busyness.[2] And the big question is, how? How do I find the rest of God?

He Taught in Their Synagogues

We are in a very particular portion of Luke 4 which begins with this introduction: And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all (4:14-15). Be sure to get this introduction to the rest of Luke 4 – Jesus taught in their synagogues.

The synagogue was the place to gather together for worship. It was the place to gather together to sing the Bible – Psalms 145-150. It was the place to gather together to recite the Bible – Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It was the place to gather together to read the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers or Deuteronomy. It was the place to gather together to read the Bible some more – perhaps Isaiah or Zephaniah or Malachi. It was the place to gather together to teach the Bible. And it was the place to gather together to pray the Bible – Numbers 6:24-26. But when did all of this take place?

Listen to Luke 4:16. “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.” Now listen to Luke 4:31. “And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath.” When did people in Jesus’ day gather together for worship; to sing the Bible and recite the Bible and read the Bible, read the Bible some more and teach the Bible and to pray the Bible? It was the Sabbath day. And when did Jesus teach in their synagogues? It was the Sabbath day.

And He Taught Them All With Authority

What was Jesus teaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath day? The answer seems obvious, right? Jesus was teaching the Bible in the synagogues on the Sabbath day. And what was that like? Look again at the introduction to the rest of Luke 4. “And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” There was a sense that something was different about this teaching. And I am suggesting that there was something different about the teaching because there was something different about the teacher. It is by asking this question: how did Jesus teach the Bible?

There is a slight glimpse of this in the text from last week. It is there in Luke 4:16-27. How did Jesus teach the Bible? He read it. And then he stopped reading it. Why did he stop reading? He only read Isaiah 61:1-2 but not all of verse two. Jesus read the Bible and then stopped reading the Bible because he was reading the Bible intentionally. He read Isaiah 61:1-2 understanding the point. And he read Isaiah 61:1-2 so that the hearers would catch the point. It is why he stopped reading when he stopped reading! He then put the big idea of what was read in one sentence. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And to expound the big idea further Jesus went to two other Bible passages – 1 Kings 17:1-16 and 2 Kings 5:1-14.

And now listen to Luke 4:32. Jesus was teaching a synagogue. It was the Sabbath day “and they were astonished at his teaching.” Notice the word astonished (or amazed). It means to witness the incredible. What was so incredible about Jesus’ teaching of the Bible? Read the rest of verse thirty-two. “…for his word possessed authority.” There was something different about the teaching because there was something different about the teacher. Jesus taught the Bible with authority.

What Does It Mean to Teach With Authority?

What does it mean to teach with authority? The answer is not simply that Jesus was teaching the Bible therefore the Bible was being taught with authority. Instead, something is being said here about how the Bible is to be taught. And something is being said here about how we are to expect the Bible to be taught. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). And so, what does it mean to teach the Bible with authority?

Does it mean to dress a certain way? Does it mean to use a certain Bible translation? Does it mean to emphasize certain do’s and certain do not’s? Do not drink; do not smoke; do not chew. And do not date girls that do. Mark tells of this same day in this same synagogue when Jesus was teaching. And he tells us a little bit more about the response to Jesus’ teaching. “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). When Jesus taught with authority it was not like the Bible teaching these people heard the previous Saturday. And just note it for now – it was not like the scribes.

This was something I just kept thinking about all week; what does it mean to teach the Bible with authority? How did Jesus teach the Bible with authority? In the film It’s a Wonderful Life, when young George Bailey was perplexed he did what a cigarette advertisement told him to do – ask Dad, he knows. So, I asked my Dad these two questions (they are one and the same). And this immediately came to his mind: carried and consistent and confident. Jesus carried himself a certain way when he taught the Bible. Jesus was consistent as he taught the Bible. And Jesus was confident when he taught the Bible. Why? It was because he was convinced that the Bible is the very word of God. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

And this was nowhere near like the scribes. “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2-4). Oh, may it not be when you hear the Bible taught! Instead, may you hear what is for your good even if it hurts. The missionary Amy Carmichael once said, “If you have never been hurt by a word from God, it is probable that you have never heard God speak.” We ought to pray for such divine hurt.

It was observed that the rabbis when teaching the Bible would simply cite what one rabbi after another and after another and after another thought of a particular passage. The authority was in the thoughts of rabbis. But here it was different. When Jesus taught the Bible he taught the Bible, not about the Bible. The authority was in the bare Word of God.

Have You Come to Destroy Us?

This kind of Bible teaching arouses the attention of hell. Notice that there are two responses to this kind of teaching. There is the witness of the incredible and then there is one who speaks up. In this synagogue was a man possessed by an unclean demon. At first I thought what an unexpected place to find a demon possessed man – in the midst of the place of worship! But then I was more surprised that this demon was called an unclean demon as if there was any other kind! As you read through the Gospels, though, often demons are described as unclean, physically unclean or morally unclean or both.

But here is this man possessed by this unclean demon and it is this kind of teaching that provokes his response. “Ha!” In other words, why are you bothering me?! What does this teaching have to do with me?! But most interesting of all is hearing this unclean demon say, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God” (cf. Mark 3:11). The words, Holy One of God, are another way of saying, “You are the exact expression of the holiness of God” (cf. Isaiah 6:1-5). This is a significant confession. Do demons know who Jesus really is? Yes. Do demons believe who Jesus really is? Yes. “Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). What is the difference, the dividing line between this demon believing who Jesus really is and me believing who Jesus really is? “What a tragedy it would be to know what God has granted you to know, to be given the truth that God in his mercy has showered upon you and not love him; believe him; trust him; follow him; treasure and worship him.”

The word shudder is a great word meaning to bristle like a frightened cat. And this is what is happening here. This demon thinks Jesus has come to destroy “us” – all the unclean demons. And notice what happens next. “Be silent and come out of him!” (Luke 4:35).

And notice what continues to happen. The demon did not delay, but obeyed. He left the man and left him unharmed. And now the people are overwhelmed with the authority of the very word of Jesus. And I think it is to emphasize that if Jesus has the authority over even the demons and they obey, surely he has the authority to help the helpless; to break the bonds of the captive; to open the eyes of the blind; to mend the heart of the broken. There must be authority in the good news of Jesus Christ.

All this took place on the Sabbath. So, how do I find the rest of God? It begins in gathering together for worship. And it ascends in singing the Bible together; reciting the Bible together; reading the Bible together; reading the Bible some more together; praying the Bible. And it culminates, this rest culminates in hearing the Bible taught with authority. And it is because it is about the one who alone has the authority to help the helpless; to break the bonds of the captive; to open the eyes of the blind; to mend the heart of the broken. It is about knowing Jesus better and loving Jesus more. There is the rest of God.

[1] Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God, page 59.

[2] ibid. page 3.

And the Eyes of All Were Fixed on Him

Luke writes Luke’s Gospel for a friend. His name…Theophilus, one who loves God. And Luke writes Luke’s Gospel because there are things which happen to make us totter, but there are things which have happened to keep us from tottering over (Luke 1:3-4).

So, Luke begins Luke’s Gospel with the angel Gabriel sent by God to a man named Zechariah with good news. Luke begins Luke’s Gospel with another angel sent to some shepherds out in some field with good news. Luke begins Luke’s Gospel with John the Baptist sent to people with good news (Luke 1:19; 2:10; 3:22). And Luke continues Luke’s Gospel with…good news.

Jesus is in his hometown. It is a Saturday in his hometown. It is like every Saturday before it in his hometown. Jesus went to the synagogue in his hometown. It is there that he stood up to read Isaiah 61:1-2, but not completely. He stopped. He sat down. And the eyes of all were fixed on him.

Why Were the Eyes of All Fixed on Him?

Why were the eyes of all fixed on him? The word fixed is also translated as fastened or to look intently. It is a polite way of saying that everyone was staring at Jesus. Why was everyone staring at Jesus?

The setting for all of Luke 4:14-30 is the synagogue. A synagogue, very simply, is the place to gather together for worship. It is the place to gather together to sing the Bible, exhorting one another to sing. “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly.” And apparently the exhortation to one another was not just to sing, but to dance as well. “Let them praise his name with dancing” (cf. Psalm 149:1; 3a). And this singing the Bible, exhorting one another to sing and dance, was also filled with reasons to sing and dance. “The Lord is good to all.” “The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.” “He heals the brokenhearted” (cf. Psalms 145:9; 146:7-8; 147:3). And the hymn book used to sing the Bible was the book of Psalms, specifically Psalms 145-150.

 

But the synagogue was not just the place to gather together to sing the Bible but to recite the Bible, too. There would be a reciting of something called the shama. It is from places in the Bible like Deuteronomy 6:4-9. But just listen to Deuteronomy 6:4-5. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The remainder of this passage is to take the first two verses and fill your home with it.

But the synagogue was not just the place to gather together to recite the Bible, but to read the Bible, too. There would be a reading of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. But the synagogue was not just the place to gather together to read the Bible, but to read the Bible, too. There would be a reading from the Prophets, books like Isaiah. But the synagogue was not just the place to gather together to read the Bible, but to listen to the Bible. There would be a sermon, someone would teach the Bible. But the synagogue was not just the place to gather together to listen to the Bible, but the place to get courage. The service would close with the Bible, an Aaronic blessing. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). At the end of each of those verses, the people together would say, “Amen!”

It just struck me how present the Bible was to every part of the worship.

And so, in Luke 4:14-30, Jesus is attending these synagogues throughout the region called Galilee. Galilee could also be called the great lake region. There is one lake, the Sea of Galilee. Anyway, Luke 4:14-15 tells us that Jesus is attending these synagogues and he is teaching in each one. Notice the effect of this teaching. “And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” Some or most translations have the word praised. But it is an interesting word. Jesus is teaching the Bible – wow, what must that be like! – and the effect is glory. In other words, the people were recognizing the weight and value of what Jesus was teaching. There was something about what Jesus was teaching. And this is the whole point of these two verses, these introductory verses to the rest of the passage.

The remaining verses are about Jesus in his hometown on Saturday in his hometown synagogue. There was singing of the Bible; there was reciting the Bible; there was reading the Bible maybe something like Exodus 14 and then there was reading the Bible something like Isaiah 61. This is what Jesus stood up to read. And when he stopped reading, all eyes were fixed on him. Why? He only read the first two verses. This would have been very unusual. And in reading the first two verses, he did not read the whole two verses. He stopped midway through verse two. Why?

Today It Was Being Fulfilled

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus is reading Isaiah 61:1-2, but only part of verse two. Listen to the part Jesus reads. “…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The rest of verse two reads, “…and the day of vengeance of our God…” Why does Jesus not read the rest? I really think this is why everyone is staring at him. Listen to what Jesus says in Luke 4:21. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

This passage is about the Messiah’s coming, the Lord’s anointed one coming. And Jesus is saying in this moment at Nazareth that the Messiah has arrived. It is the year of the Lord’s favor, but not yet the day of the Lord’s vengeance. There is a year and then there is a day. The Old Testament prophets, when it came to future things, specifically the Messiah’s arrival, saw it all as one big drama, one big arrival. This was what they anticipated and what Israel and those in Nazareth anticipated. They anticipated salvation and judgment coming at the same time with the Messiah. But Jesus explains or hints here that the Messiah’s coming is two acts in this drama. There is the year of salvation, the Lord’s favor, and later will come the day of judgement (cf. John 12:47-48; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).

Think for a moment; a year is much longer than a day. So, what does that say about the year of the Lord’s favor? The word favor means to welcome because pleased. Again, since a year is much longer than a day, what does this say about the year? I think it says something about God. He is being patient. The day of vengeance is being delayed because God is patient. And why is God being patient? “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

And Jesus says that this is being fulfilled as you hear it; meaning the year of the Lord’s favor has arrived and for us it is still the year of the Lord’s favor. And the year of the Lord’s favor has arrived because the Messiah has arrived. The Lord’s anointed has arrived. And Jesus is saying that he has arrived. He is the Messiah.

What is the Gospel?

And what does the Messiah do? Look closely at Luke 4:18-19. The Messiah proclaims the good news. Another word for good news, is gospel. The Messiah proclaims the gospel. There are two things happening in these two verses. There is a proclaiming and there is a doing. Do you see it? The Messiah proclaims the good news. The Messiah proclaims liberty. In other words, the proclaiming of the gospel is a proclaiming of liberty. But then there is a doing. There is a recovering and there is a setting free. It is the gospel that proclaims freedom and it is the gospel that gives freedom. It is because the gospel is not about a plan. It is about a person.

And it is here that I am attempting to understand what the gospel is. It proclaims freedom and it gives freedom. It begins with repentance. And there is repentance because God is rich in kindness. We see his rich kindness in sending his Son. It begins with turning the heart away from sin and turning the heart toward God. It begins with no longer relying on self, but instead trusting God in all things and for all things. And there is freedom from self and the sin that so easily entangles because the one who is mighty to rescue has been born. The one who is mighty to rescue went to the cross with joy, scorning its shame, destroying the works of the devil, paying the penalty of my sin by bearing my shame. It is there that while still a sinner God demonstrated his love for me: Christ died for me. And it is there, this place of ultimate love that Christ, as the nails were driven into his hands and feet, nailed my sin to the cross, canceling the debt and set me free. All other freedoms, ever won, soon turn into servitude. Christ is the only liberator whose liberation lasts forever.

And while I await his return and struggle with sin, saying no to it daily, I need to hear this good news.

But who is it for? Who is the good news for? It is for the poor; those who are helpless, who need help. Who is the good news for? It is for the captive; those who serve the desires of sin. Who is the good news for? It is for the blind; those who cannot see the reality and wonder and truth of Jesus and this good news. Who is the good news for? It is for the broken; those who are crushed; those whose hearts are in pieces.

Do I Understand the Gospel?

Here is the question I am struggling with in dealing with this passage. It is the big idea of Luke 4:14-30. Do I understand the gospel? Everything is going great on this Saturday at this synagogue until someone begins to chatter. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” In other words, “we know this guy, we have known this man since he was a child. We know his dad.” I am not sure how to totally take this; are they discounting what he has just said because he is Joseph’s son or are they wondering, since we have known you since you were child, why are you just now saying this?

Jesus hears them and he knows them. He knows what is coming next. They will ask for proof (Physician, heal yourself). And they will demand he do here what he did there at Capernaum (cf. Luke 4:31-37 or Matthew 8:5-13). And so he takes them back to the Bible by first saying, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown” (Luke 4:24). In other words, I am not going to be welcomed here. You are not going to be pleased with me. Why? It is because of what he will say next.

He refers them to two accounts of two prophets: Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:1-16; 2 Kings 5:1-14). Elijah is sent to a widow. There were many widows in Israel. But he was sent to a widow who was not an Israelite. She lived in what is today, Lebanon. But then there was Elisha. A leper came to him because Elisha invited the leper to come to him. He was a general, but not in the Israeli army. He was from Syria. And in both cases God showered his grace and mercy upon them.

Upon hearing this, and it was right there in their Bibles, the congregation was filled with anger and sought to throw Jesus off a cliff. My question is, why did Jesus say what he did? It is for this reason; they did not understand the gospel. First, they did not see themselves as the poor and the captive and the blind and the broken (cf. Revelation 3:17). But also they did not see the non-Israelite as the poor and the captive and the blind and the broken.

And it just said this to me: the gospel is not American; it is not Republican; it is not white; it is not middle and upper class; it is not a husband and a wife and two kids. The gospel is blind. The gospel is blind to color. The gospel is blind to politics. The gospel is blind to economics. The gospel is blind to gender. The gospel is blind to sexuality. The gospel is blind to location. The gospel is to the poor. The gospel is to the captive. The gospel is to the blind. The gospel is to the broken.

And when people see me they are to see Jesus. When people see this church they are to see Jesus. They are to see us with the poor (physically and socially and spiritually poor). They are to see us with the captive. They are to see us with the blind. They are to see us with the broken. They are to see us with the good news.

The End of Every Temptation

There are two events in the life of Jesus that are necessary to the rest of the life of Jesus. These are not two events which happened when Jesus was a child. And these are not two events which happened when Jesus was a teenager. Rather, these are two events which happened when Jesus was about thirty years old.

And what are these two events? There is the day that Jesus was baptized. And there are the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. Both of these days are recorded for us in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Gospel of Mark and here in the Gospel of Luke. And each record tells of these days in almost the same manner – once you read about one event, you read about the other. “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him…Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness…” (Matthew 3:13; 4:1). But listen to how Mark tells this; after the day Jesus was baptized, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). The point is that these are not two events to simply be read one after the other. These are two events that happened one after the other. Jesus was baptized one day and then began forty days in the wilderness. These two events are forty-one days in the life of Jesus.

And here is what is really interesting; Luke interrupts the two events to tell us that this all happened when Jesus was about thirty years old (cf. Luke 3:23). It is almost as if to say that the two events happened during a forty-one day period; or that the two events are connected – one being the counterpart to the other – because Jesus was about thirty years old.

Why Does This Matter?

Why does any of this matter? It is because this is the year that matters. Listen to Luke 3:23. “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age.” What does Luke tell us about the year that Jesus thirty years old? It was when he began his ministry. The year that a man would begin his ministry, specifically his priestly ministry, was the year that he was about thirty years old (cf. Numbers 4:3).

And there is a really specific Old Testament example of this: Ezekiel. He was a priest and the year that he would begin his priestly ministry was when he was about thirty years old. But listen to him. This is his introduction to the Old Testament book that bears his name. “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened.” And on this fifth day of the month when Ezekiel was about thirty years old, he saw “visions of God” and “the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there” (Ezekiel 1:1-3).

What happened in the year that Ezekiel was to begin his priestly ministry? The heavens were opened; he saw visions of God and the word of the Lord came to him. Again, the year that a man would begin his ministry, specifically his priestly ministry, was the year that he was about thirty years old. Do you know what the Bible has to say about Jesus and his ministry? Specifically, what is Jesus’ ministry? Listen to Hebrews 2:17. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” Listen to Hebrews 4:15. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” What is Jesus’ ministry? It is a priestly ministry.

And what happened in the year that Jesus began his priestly ministry? Listen to Luke 3:21-22. “…the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In the year that Jesus began his ministry the heavens were opened, he saw visions of God – he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon him in bodily form; it was like a dove – and the word of the Lord came to him. It was just like the year Ezekiel began his priestly ministry. However, it is wonderfully unlike the year Ezekiel began his priestly ministry – Jesus is a better priest. How is Jesus a better priest? He is a merciful and faithful priest. “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). How is Jesus a better priest? He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). How is Jesus a better priest? He knows my need.

And what is my need? What is my time of need? See, it is very specific. I struggle with sin. I struggle with times of finding joy and pleasure in things other than God. And again, how is Jesus a better priest? He not only knows my need, but is able to help me in my time of need. How is Jesus able to help me in my time of need? He knows the struggle. And he knows the struggle because he suffered when tempted to find joy and pleasure in something else other than God. He knows the struggle because, in every respect, he was tempted as we are. The temptations Jesus faced were real and he faced them as a real man.

But before he faced these real temptations as a real mean he was baptized.

The Counterpart to the Wilderness

There are two events in the life of Jesus – the one day he was baptized and the forty days he spent in the wilderness; forty-one days in the life of Jesus. And the baptism is the counterpart to the wilderness. But how? The baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the key word is repentance. He who knew no sin; he who was completely without sin; he who never sinned took part with people in a baptism that was about turning the heart from sin and turning it toward God. It was a baptism that was about turning from relying on self and turning toward trusting God…in all things and for all things. And so why did he do it? He did not need to do it. He was not in need of such a baptism. I think it was simply to say that this is right. Repentance is right. It is right to turn the heart away from sin and have it turned toward God. It is right to turn away from relying on self and turn toward trusting God in all things and for all things.

And then Jesus lived it. He lived it the rest of his life. But he especially lived it for forty days in the wilderness. It is why it was said that these two events are necessary to the rest of the life of Jesus. The end result is that he is able to help me in my time of need because he lived it.

The Counterpart to the Baptism

The counterpart to the baptism is not just the forty days in the wilderness, but what happened during those forty days in the wilderness. I think that Luke 4:1-2 are the foundational verses to Luke 4:1-13. And I just want to point out two things. The first is that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. And we do need to ask, what does that mean? What does it mean to be full of the Holy Spirit? And what does it mean for Jesus who was fully God and fully man to be full of the Holy Spirit?

Remember, Jesus being fully man experienced every bit of what it means to be human. And although he was fully God he did not rely on the absolute use of what it means to be God. He got tired. He got hungry. He slept. He worked. He hurt. He…the list goes on.  We need to remember this as we read through these verses. We are watching Jesus experience every bit of what it means to be human. And here he is full of the Holy Spirit. The word full can be a bit misleading as if to say we can run low on the Holy Spirit like a car runs low on gasoline. Instead, it is better to think of this word as controlled. He was controlled by the Holy Spirit. We, as believers, are commanded to be full of the Holy Spirit, controlled (cf. Ephesians 5:18). But the even better word is permeated. And it is like a glass of milk. If I were to pour Hershey’s chocolate syrup into that glass, what do I get? A glass of milk with Hershey’s chocolate syrup at the bottom. It still looks like a glass of milk. But once I stir the glass of milk and keep stirring, the chocolate syrup begins to permeate the entire glass. So it is here with Jesus and with believers. So, how does the Holy Spirit permeate the life of a believer? Everyday?

It begins here as it did with Jesus. It begins with each day choosing to turn from relying on self and choosing then to trust God in all things and for all things. It begins there. But it continues or is sustained by something. Notice in these verses Jesus is tempted by the devil three times. And each time Jesus, in the struggle, quotes Scripture. I do not think it is to suggest that Jesus had memorized these verses. I think he went into the wilderness thinking about these verses, meditating upon these verses. This is to say the means to being full of the Holy Spirit has much to do with being full of His Word (cf. Colossians 4:16). A result of being full of the Holy Spirit is not speaking in some unknown language. Instead a result of being full of the Holy Spirit is singing, making melody to the Lord with all your heart and being thankful (cf. Ephesians 5:19-20). A result of being full of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, faithfulness, self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22-23; perhaps then pay close attention to Galatians 5:24).

And these verses that Jesus quotes are from Deuteronomy 8 and Deuteronomy 6; passages reflecting on how God led Israel in the wilderness for forty years. These are passages on how Israel was tested during that time and failed.

And Jesus was led by the Spirit. Jesus was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days. Question, does God ever lead us to the wrong place? I think often of the truth that the best place to serve God is where he sets you down. And since that is true, he never sets you down in the wrong place. It is always the best place. But what about when it gets difficult? Do I still believe it is the best place? God led Jesus to the wilderness. God never leads to the wrong place. And when Jesus got there, he went hungry for forty days, during which the devil showed up to tempt him every step of the way. Does it seem like this was the wrong place? You can be in the center of God’s will, you can be doing exactly what God would have you to do and right there you can encounter your greatest trials, your deepest sorrows, your most intrepid testings. Sometimes your are right where the Lord wants you, and trial and temptation are right there, too. We must never forget that.[1]

The End of Every Temptation

Why would God do that? “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The end of every temptation is to know, we are being taught to know, in every temptation, to turn from relying on self and trust God in all things and for all things. It is exactly what Jesus did in each temptation for forty days!

It is the big idea of these thirteen verses. At the beginning, Luke teases the end. “And when they were ended, he was hungry.” There is an end to temptations. And at the end of these temptations Jesus was hungry. He did not fail. He was at his weakest and did not fail, but was hungry. Listen to the end. “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). The devil meant these temptations for evil, but God meant them for good. The devil ended the temptations frustrated. These each actually served for the glory of God, the glory of Jesus and our good. Jesus is able then to help us in our time of need because of the evil intent of the devil!

He tempted Jesus to not wait on God, but do for himself (4:3). He tempted Jesus to not wait on God, but do for himself, i.e. getting his glory by avoiding the cross (4:5-7). He tempted Jesus to not wait in God, but do for himself. He tried to get Jesus to misapply Scripture, instead of doing the hard thing and think through Scripture first (4:9-12).

[1] https://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/tempted-tried-and-never-failing

He Preached Good News to the People

In 1954 he was called to pastor Friendly Will Missionary Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. Later, he was called to pastor Mount Corinth Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. It was there he developed a friendship with and was a confidant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1961 he was called to pastor Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California. It was there while president that George H. W. Bush heard him preach.  But it was there that he heard an elderly woman called “1800.”

She was called “1800” because no one knew for sure how old she was. Although it was a Baptist church, 1800 would sit at the front of the sanctuary. At the moment a preacher, any preacher, would begin his sermon she would shout, “Get him up!” After a few minutes, if 1800 did not think there was enough of Christ in a sermon, she would again shout, “Get him up!” And if a preacher did not “Get him up,” he was in for a rather long and perhaps hard morning of preaching.

He Preached Good News to the People

It may be that Luke 3:15-20 is for preachers when it comes to preaching. And it is because of this one sentence: “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people” (3:18).  But it also may be that Luke 3:15-20 is for those in the front of the sanctuary or in the back of the sanctuary or scattered throughout the sanctuary. And it is because of this one sentence: “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people” (3:18). What is the point of preaching?

Notice the word exhortations. It can mean to warn or to help; to comfort or to encourage. Interestingly, this word is a verb. The noun form of this word is the same word to describe the Holy Spirit. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). And how does the Helper help? He teaches and he reminds all that Jesus has said. See that there is a certain content to the helping.

And this fits perfectly with Luke 3:18 and asking, what is the point of preaching? We might say that the point of preaching is to warn or to help or to comfort or to encourage, but Luke 3:18 does not allow us to say just that. It is because there is a certain content to the warning, the helping, the comforting, the encouraging. And what is that certain content? “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” The certain content of the exhortations is good news. And so the point of preaching is for the one doing the preaching and for those in the front of the sanctuary or in the back of the sanctuary or scattered throughout the sanctuary. The point of preaching is good news whether it be a warning or a help or a comfort or an encouragement.

What is the Good News?

But the big question to ask is, what is good news? This is the third time that these two words have been used together so far in the Gospel of Luke.

In Luke 1:19, the angel Gabriel said to Zechariah (who just learned that he was going to be a father for the first time at an age when he should be a grandfather for the first time), “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” In Luke 2:10, to some shepherds out in some field an angel said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” Then in Luke 3:18 there is this verse about the ministry of John the Baptist. “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” But there is also Luke 4:43 and the ministry of Jesus Christ. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well.” This means that in four consecutive chapters of Luke’s Gospel, Luke says something about good news. And I think the reason is that good news is the point of preaching.

But back to the big question. What is good news? Two angels at two separate times were sent with it. And two men at two separate times preached it. Another word for good news is gospel, So, essentially we are asking, what is the gospel?

It was mentioned last week that the Apostle Paul wrote to a local church in Rome that he was eager to preach the gospel to them (Romans 1:15). And then the Apostle Paul wrote to a local church in Corinth to remind them of the gospel. “…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was he buried, that he was raised in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-5). The small point is that it is good for us to be asking, what is the gospel?

I want to point out that Luke 3:18 describes the ministry of John the Baptist in reference to the previous verses. So, when we ask about the gospel we need to look at those previous verses. As we do, be reminded about something in the Gospel of Mark regarding the ministry of John the Baptist. Mark called it, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (1:1). There is a beginning to the good news.

The Beginning to the Good News

This beginning is everything we heard together in Luke 3:1-14. And this beginning is repentance. The good news is that there is repentance. Repentance is a turning, a turning toward God. It is a turning of the heart toward God which means the heart was turned away from God toward something else other than God. Something else had my heart! Repentance is a turning of the heart away from sin and turning the heart toward God. It is a turning away from a behavior God hates and turning toward a behavior God loves. It is a turning away from my own effort and my own strength and turning toward the strength of God. And what causes the turning? It is God; it is the riches of God’s kindness (Romans 2:4).

There is then a lifestyle, a distinctive lifestyle that is to accompany this repentance. It is a lifestyle that is gladly gives and gladly receives. It is a lifestyle that experiences daily contentment. It is a lifestyle that experiences contentment because of the experience of knowing God. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

And so why call this the beginning? It is because it is only the beginning. There is more. And there is more because John preached more. There is more because there is Luke 3:15-17.

Is John the Christ?

John was preaching this good news to the people and these people were in expectation (3:15). The word expectation means to watch in view of. In view of what John just said, the people were watching, watching and waiting, watching and waiting for more. Why? It is because there has to be more. This is really interesting. Why would the people be expecting more? Listen to the rest of Luke 3:15. The people “were questioning in their hearts concerning John.” Is he the Christ? Again, why are they thinking like this?

Now the text does not say that John heard their questions. He obviously saw the people and their reactions. John being a man filled with the Holy Spirit answered, meaning he is answering their expectation; he is answering their question.

Now just note, that John does not give a simple and straightforward “no.” He is not the Christ, but he does not say he is not the Christ, the Messiah, God’s promised King. Instead he says that the first part of his answer to their expectation is that he baptized with water. It is as if John said, “Of course there is more! This is just the beginning. I only baptized you with water.” And then he tells them that there is more to come. “But he who is mightier than I is coming.” Literally, “the One comes mightier than I.”

And I love this; John says concerning the One, the coming One, “the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John considered himself unworthy to untie the shoes of Jesus! Taking somebody’s sandals off and washing their feet was so low on the service ladder that you couldn’t get lower than having to do that job.

Then John gets to it. “He [the One coming who is mightier] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This is John’s answer to their expectation of more. Of course there is more! This is John’s answer about the Christ! John is not the Christ. John baptized with water. Anyone can baptize with water! John did something that was a visible and outward demonstration of an inner reality: the turning of the heart. John simply immersed a person with water. But there is more. The One coming, he is mightier, stronger, more powerful and therefore he can do what no mere man can do. Only he can baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Only he can immerse a person with the Holy Spirit and fire. And what does that mean?

The Baptism with the Holy Spirit and Fire

Why were the people watching for more? The people were watching for more because they knew their Bible. The people were watching for more because they knew there was One coming. God promised that the Lord whom you seek [expect] will suddenly come to his temple. The people were watching for more because God promised that the messenger of the covenant, the covenant that promises a new heart, a revived heart, was coming (cf. Ezekiel 36:26). God promised that the Lord in whom you delight is coming. And the people were watching for more because God promised that first there would be a messenger that “will prepare the way before me” (Malachi 3:1). And who is John the Baptist? He is the one who will prepare the way before the Lord, the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And the One coming, mightier than John, listen to what Malachi says about him. This is what God promised about him. “But who can endure [or who can comprehend or contain] the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap” (Malachi 3:2).

Luke 3:1-20 is a fulfillment of Malachi 3:1-4. And the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire is like a fuller’s soap and a refiner’s fire. This baptism purifies and refines. When Isaiah prophesied Isaiah 7:14, he did so on the highway to the Washer’s [Fuller’s] field (cf. Isaiah 7:3). Now get this; a fuller was an individual who would take away the raw, filthy wool from sheep and purify it using a variety of techniques, including an extremely harsh soap that would ultimately help to make it clean. And get this; a refiner’s fire is a fire that refines, not a fire that destroys.  It is a fire that improves and removes impurities.  It is a fire that makes more accurate.  It is a fire that completes in detail for final taste.  It is a fire that is used for silver and gold.  And it is said that a refiner knows that his metal is pure and improved and more accurate when he can see his own image in the mirror-like-surface of the metal.

This is the work and ministry of Jesus the Christ. And it is for all those who come to him to believe in him and receive him alone as Savior and Christ and Lord (the wheat). And those who reject him and reject this are like chaff that will be burned up in an unquenchable fire.

So how does Jesus do this? How does he baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire? How does he purify and refine? It happens at the moment of salvation when we are placed into the body of Christ, the church (1 Corinthians 12:13), a one-time experience of every genuine believer. It happens at the moment of salvation when by the Holy Spirit we are born again (John 3:3-6). It happens at the moment of salvation when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts (John 14:16, 17, 26). It happens at the moment of salvation when we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, a guarantee of our eternal destiny (Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; Romans 8:16-17). And it happens every day in our walk in this life – the Holy Spirit intercedes, actually prays for us (Romans 8:26-27)! It happens every day as we read God’s Word and His Spirit opens our eyes to behold wondrous things (Psalm 119:18). And it happens when I say no to sin each day by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13). And it happens because of the great love with Jesus Christ loves me (Ephesians 5:25-27).

What Then Shall We Do?

The current population of the United States of America rose to 328,145,132 on Saturday, February 2, 2019 at 12:18 p.m. And it is estimated that on Sunday, February 3, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. thirty percent of the population (that is over 100,000,000 people) will be watching the New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

Compare this with anytime on any given Sunday anywhere in the United States in the last year. Less than seventeen percent of the population gathered with a local church on any given Sunday. Compare this with anytime on any given Sunday anywhere in the United States in the year to come. It is estimated that fifteen percent of the population will gather with a local church on any given Sunday.[1]

And, I think, the big question is, what then shall we do?

It Begins With a Rather Long Sentence

It begins with a rather long sentence in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. And not just in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, but Pontius Pilate being governor. And not just in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar and Pontius Pilate being governor, but Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip being tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias being tetrarch of Abilene. And not just in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, but also during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.

Luke begins with a rather long sentence in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar to emphasize a point. In that fifteenth year, Luke lists the names of seven historical figures, most are more recognizable than others. For instance, who is Lysanias? He is as real as Tiberius Caesar. And there is the point. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor, Herod and Philip and Lysanias being tetrarchs; and during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3:1-2).

Luke begins with a rather long sentence to emphasize that the word of God is real. And the word of God coming to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness was as real as Tiberius Caesar and as real as Pontius Pilate and as real as Herod and his brother and Lysanias. The word of God coming to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness was as real as Annas and Caiaphas. And nothing like this had happened in a really long time.

The language of this rather long sentence reflects the language of the Old Testament, particularly in the Old Testament books called the Prophets. “The word of the Lord that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel” (Hosea 1:1). The historical names are different, but it sounds almost identical to Luke 3:1-2! So, this leads me to say this: nothing like this had happened since the Old Testament prophets.

The last Old Testament prophet – God’s chosen preacher – was a man named Malachi. Nothing like this had happened since the days of Malachi. It had been some four hundred years since the days of Malachi!

So, what then shall we do?

What is Repentance?

Read Luke 3:3. “And John went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” What does that mean? Notice the word proclaiming. Another word for proclaiming would be the word preaching. So, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness and he then went about preaching. And the big idea of John’s preaching, the big idea of his message was repentance. And as John preached this message of repentance, people would get baptized, immersed into water. The baptism was a visible demonstration of an inner reality. The baptism did not do the repenting. The baptism was not the repentance or granted the repentance. The baptism was not even necessary for repentance. It was simply a visible demonstration of something that had happened.

But I think we need to ask, what is repentance? Notice that Luke not only says that John preached a baptism of repentance, but a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Again, the central idea or the big idea is repentance. How important is repentance? It is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. So, it seems that it is good to ask, what is repentance?

It is much more than a change of mind or a change of behavior. There is something that causes repentance. “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?” (Romans 2:4). What causes repentance? God causes repentance. It is the riches of God’s kindness that causes repentance. And where do I see God? Where do I see his kindness?

Let’s keep thinking. What is repentance? I think that the Gospel of Luke is my favorite book of the Bible. I love how he thinks! Luke knew that we might be asking about repentance in Luke 3, so he gave us a definition in Luke 1. It was when Zechariah first learned that he was going to be a first time dad. And he was told this about his son: “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (1:16-17). Notice the word turn, it is mentioned twice when it comes to the life and preaching of this man named John the son of Zechariah. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. Hearts will be turned. So, what is repentance? It is a turning. It is a turning toward God. It is a turning of the heart toward God which means the heart was turned away from God toward something else other than God. Something else had my heart!

It made me think of Matthew 6:21. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So, when it comes to repentance, I am being confronted with my heart. Where is my heart at? What has my heart? And so, repentance is a turning of the heart away from sin and turning the heart toward God. It is a turning away from a behavior God hates and turning toward a behavior God loves. I read a pastor add this: it is a turning away from my own effort and my own strength and turning toward the strength of God. And what causes the turning? It is God; the riches of God’s kindness. And where do I see God? Where do I see his kindness?

All Flesh Shall See the Salvation of God

Luke then directs our attention to Isaiah. He says that all of this is exactly what the prophet Isaiah was talking about in Isaiah 40. And not only does Luke say this, but so does Matthew and so does Mark (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:1-3). Interestingly, Mark calls this the beginning of the good news about Jesus. So, we can say this, this message of repentance is good news! But both Matthew and Mark only quote Isaiah 40:3. Luke, though, quotes Isaiah 40:3-5.

And the point of quoting Isaiah 40:3-5 is to show that repentance is much bigger than we think. Repentance removes every immovable obstacle. It levels mountains. It fills valleys. It smooths rough roads and takes the long and windy roads and makes them straight. For what purpose? See, there is a purpose to repentance. It is Isaiah 40:5 (or Luke 3:6). “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

However, Isaiah 40:5 actually reads, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” So, which is it? Glory or salvation? And why does Luke change glory to salvation? It is because it is both. Remember in Luke 2 when old man Simeon held Jesus in his arms? He said, “my eyes have seen your salvation” (2:30). And do you remember something John wrote, not John the Baptist, but the other John, when he saw Jesus? “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). So, to see salvation is to see God’s glory. And what does Jesus’ name mean? It means “Yawheh is salvation.” So, to see Jesus is to see God’s salvation. And to see Jesus is to see God’s glory. And how are we to see Jesus? It is repentance!

A repentant person is one who then can see the salvation of God. And all flesh can see the salvation of God when they see a repentant people.

What Then Shall We Do?

So, what then shall we do? This should make us tremble. Who did John preach this message to? Who was this message for? He initially calls them “brood of vipers,” or in other words, children of serpents, i.e. children of the devil (cf. John 8:43-44). And he tells them, this is really important, to bear fruits in keeping with repentance. Then he says this, “and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’” (Luke 3:7-8).

In Acts 13, the Apostle Paul said that John was addressing those who fear God (Acts 13:16, 26). John was preaching to people who were conscious of God’s Word and knew his promises. They were holding on to God’s promises. These were God’s people! It is no different than talking to a Christian, someone who goes to church. It is no different than talking to those seventeen percent who gather with a local church every Sunday.

God is saying to us, you seventeen percent, I am standing here with an axe to get rid of dead wood. I am looking for trees that are bearing fruit (Luke 3:9). The heart of John’s message is not just repentance, but that God’s people would bear fruits worthy of repentance. And what is that? It is a lifestyle, it is a distinctive lifestyle.

It is why the crowds cried out, “What then shall we do?” And why the tax collectors cried out, “What then shall we do?” And why the soldiers cried out, “What then shall we do?” All kinds of people cried out. And John narrowed the distinctive lifestyle, the fruits worthy of repentance as sacrificial giving and glad getting (being content with what you have). And it sounds just like what the writer of Hebrews said. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). The heart turned toward God is content with what it has. And what do we have?

Job, righteous Job was a repentant man. The end of his story, it seems like his story was building up to when he would repent. And when he repented he said to God, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). Consider the prophet Isaiah, perhaps one of the most righteous people in the Bible. In the beginning of his story, when he saw the Lord God high and lifted up, he repented. “Woe is me! I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips! For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).

This is therefore how all flesh can then see the salvation of God. A repentant people, content with God.

[1] https://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html/

I Must Be in My Father’s House

There are things which happen to make us totter. But there are things which are to keep us from tottering over. And Mary treasured up these things in her heart.

In Luke 2, there is a story only Luke tells. It is not found in the Gospel of Matthew or in the Gospel of Mark or in the Gospel of John. And the story begins like this: There were some shepherds out in some field keeping watch over their flocks by night. And behold, suddenly there appeared to them one angel with these words, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior [one who is mighty to rescue], who is Christ [the Messiah, God’s promised king] the Lord [the almighty God]. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And then every angel of heaven appeared singing these words, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:8-14).

So, the shepherds all agreed that now was the time to get to Bethlehem, the city of David, to see this thing which has happened. It was there that they found Mary and Joseph and a baby lying in a manger. When the shepherds looked at him lying in a manger they then shared the good news of great joy told to them out in that field. And Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart (2:15-19).

In Luke 2, there is another story only Luke tells. It is not found in the Gospel of Matthew or in the Gospel of Mark or in the Gospel of John.

His Parents Went to Jerusalem

And the story begins like this: His parents went to Jerusalem. His parents went to Jerusalem every year. And his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41). Why? In Exodus 12:24, God gave a command that the Passover be remembered forever. Several times in the Bible God emphasizes how important it is to him that the Passover not be forgotten (Exodus 23:14-17; Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16). The Feast of the Passover is about remembering that God is mighty to rescue. He is mighty to rescue from every bondage; he is mighty to rescue from every oppression; he is mighty to rescue from all that which enslaves; he is mighty to rescue from all that which so easily entangles. He is mighty to rescue from sin.

But this is not the first time his parents went to Jerusalem. In Luke 2:22-40, when he was several weeks old, his parents went to Jerusalem and took him with them. It was to dedicate him, his entire life to the Lord. Why? In Exodus 13:1-2, God gave a command. “The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”” Why? Listen to the very next verse. “Then Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten”” (13:3).

Do you see it?! Twice in Luke 2, his parents went to Jerusalem. Why? When he was just several weeks old, his parents took him to Jerusalem and to the temple to remember that God is mighty to rescue. And when he was twelve years old, his parents took him to Jerusalem and to the temple to remember that God is mighty to rescue. But why did they take him when he was twelve years old? Or, why is Luke telling us about when they took him when he was twelve years old? His parents went to Jerusalem every year for the Feast of the Passover. And certainly this was not the first time that Jesus went to Jerusalem for this feast. It is implied that you would have your son with you at this feast every year. “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses’” (Exodus 12:26-27).

So, why not tell the story of when Jesus was five or seven or eleven years old at the Feast of the Passover? It is partly because at twelve years old in another year Jesus would become “a son of the commandment,” bar mitzvah, and be a full member of the religious community. And so on this trip Jesus would accompany Joseph to pick out and purchase the perfect and spotless sacrificial lamb. Jesus would accompany Joseph to the temple and watch as this lamb would be slaughtered on behalf of the family. Jesus then would accompany the lifeless, sacrificial lamb along with Joseph (maybe Jesus carried the lamb) back to the family’s tent to prepare the evening Passover meal. In 20 years, Jesus would be back in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. And then as a man of sorrows. Then as one despised and rejected. Then as one from whom men hide their faces. Then as one pierced for our transgressions. Then as one crushed for our iniquities. Then as one who would bring us peace. Then he would be led like a lamb to the slaughter.

And Jesus Stayed Behind in Jerusalem

But as this story progresses, Luke quickly tells us that when the feast was over Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents along with their extended families and friends and acquaintances, all made their way back to Nazareth together. Each were in a hurry to leave ahead of the massive crowds, the holiday traffic. And so after about a day’s journey away from Jerusalem, his parents realized that Jesus was nowhere to be found. He was not with Joseph. He was not with his mother Mary. He was not with his cousins. He was not with Uncle Zechariah or Aunt Elizabeth. He was not in the front of the caravan or in the back of the caravan (2:43-44). Where was he?

Joseph and Mary were a day’s journey away when realizing that Jesus was left behind. And so they make their way back to Jerusalem, another whole day’s journey. It has now been two days that Jesus was left alone in the big city. His parents make it back to Jerusalem (this now the third time in Luke 2 his parents went to Jerusalem). They spend a day looking for Jesus. My guess is that they first looked in the last location in which they saw Jesus. He was not there. He was not at the playground. He was not in any of the stores. He was not in any of the restaurants (2:45-46). Where was he?

Three days of panic. Three days of worry. Three days of no sleep. Then it was realized there was one place no one thought to look. But why look there? Why would he be there? Joseph and Mary search the temple. Twelve year old Jesus is found…sitting among the teachers. Twelve year old Jesus is found sitting among the teachers, listening to them. Twelve year old Jesus is found sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Twelve year old Jesus is found sitting among the teachers, listening to them, asking them questions and himself being asked questions. And twelve year old Jesus is giving answers. These trained Bible teachers are asking for and listening to his answers (2:46-47). And what is it all about? What is the discussion and the questions and the answers all about? It is all about the glorious revelation of God.

And I know what some are thinking. Of course! Jesus, even at twelve years old, had the answers. Jesus has always had the answers! Jesus always has the answers! Jesus is the answer!  But there is more to it. The Bible tells us that when God put on flesh, conceived in a womb and grew for nine months there, he humbled himself by becoming one of us (Philippians 2:6-7). And yes, he was God. He has always been God and will always be God. And yes, being God Jesus is omnipotent (all powerful) and Jesus is omnipresent (everywhere at all times) and he is omniscient (all knowing). But when he became a man, he set aside his absolute right, as God, of their absolute use. He chose instead to experience every bit of what it means to be human. In this context, it means that he had to learn as we learn. He had to learn how to read and how to write. He had to learn math and the sciences. And so here he is at twelve years old, asking questions and growing in his understanding as a man.

I thought that this was such a great insight to share: if Jesus sought out teachers, listened, asked questions, and gave answers about the things of God, how much more ought his people be seeking out teachers and listening and asking questions and giving answers about the things of God? It is a zeal to tackle the glorious revelation of God in the Bible and understand it. So, find a teacher who loves the whole counsel of God; listen to him/her; ask questions; keep asking questions until it begins to all fit together; and be asked questions and give your answers.

I Must Be in My Father’s House

But what were his parents feeling? Each, both Joseph and Mary were entrusted with raising and protecting God the Son. And they thought they failed. Is this the pain Simeon told Mary about? It is a thought that must have exploded in Mary’s mind. And so when they find him, it is no surprise that Mary says, “Son! Why would you do this to us? Why were you not with us? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in tremendous turmoil and pain [great distress]” (2:48).

Now listen closely to Jesus’ answer. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” In the moment that Jesus was found asking questions and answering questions, he asks his parents a question. No; he did not intend to cause them pain. But I do think it is a small reminder of things to come, a greater hurt to come for Mary. No; Jesus was not disobedient or disrespectful. The Bible says that Jesus was and is absolutely sinless (cf. John 8:29; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).

Instead, I think that this moment, this story was for his parents. Jesus in that question is revealing to them that he knows exactly who he is; he is God the Son. He knows the mission. And he absolutely values the company of His Father more than anything else. Initially, they do not understand what he is saying (2:50). And it makes us just ask, in twelve years did the words of the angels to them fade or become obscure in the busyness of life? In twelve years did the words of the shepherds to them fade or become obscure in the busyness of life? In twelve years did the words of old man Simeon and old woman Anna fade or become obscure in the busyness of life? Are there things fading or becoming obscure to me?

But notice what happened next. Jesus returns with his parents to Nazareth and he continued to be obedient to them (2:51). And he continued to grow and mature and be filled with wisdom. He grew in the knowledge of God’s grace and people liked him! But Mary took this particular moment when Jesus was twelve years old, although at the time she did not understand it, and “treasured up all these things in her heart” (2:51).

I think this story was for them. When asked, possibly by Luke, it was the one moment from Jesus’ childhood Mary shared. It was the one moment from Jesus’ childhood that God chose to be written down and heard and remembered forever. Mary did not understand it, but treasured it! Why?! It is because the big point is to understand more of God than I already know. The busyness of life can so easily overwhelm. In that busyness the things of God can grow strangely dim.

There are things which happen to make us totter. But there are things which are to keep us from tottering over. And that which is to keep us from tottering over is the every day pursuit to know and understand more of God than I already know.