Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Week 22 : Luke 8:1 - 9:62

In Luke 9:27-36, three of the Lord's disciples witnessed His transfiguration on Mount Hermon. Before and after this great event, Jesus revealed to His disciples that He must go up to Jerusalem to be delivered up and crucified, so that He could perform His redemptive work in God's economy.

Yet none of this had any real impact on His disciples. Instead, they were too busy contending among themselves as to who was the greatest amongst them. The Lord needed to teach them concerning humility - that is, not thinking overly much of yourself - and tolerance - being able to accept people who don't follow everything you do, for the sake of keeping the oneness:

And He said to them, Whoever receives this little child because of My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for he who is least among you all, this one is great. And John answered and said, Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us. But Jesus said to him, Do not forbid him, for he who is not against you is for you.
Luke 9:48-50

One of the biggest problems for Christians is the matter of humility and tolerance, especially of other Christians. To many divisions exist because believers insist that they are right, that their way is right, and that if you don't follow their way, then you are not a true believer. According to the Lord's teaching, we should be like little children, who are unburdened with such high concepts, and instead are able to take on a new thought.

Week 21 : Luke 5:1 - 7:50

Luke chapter 7 describes three seemingly unrelated events. Entering Capernaum, Jesus healed the slave of a centurion, raised a widow's dead son, and appraised His forerunner, John the Baptist.

In the first case, the centurion recognised the Lord's authority. His word is very revealing: "Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy for You to enter under my roof... But speak a word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my slave, Do this, and he does it." (Luke 7:6-8). The centurion did not say that he was one in authority, or one of authority, but rather he was under authority. He was an officer with men under him, but he derived his authority by submitting himself to those above him; and as such, he recognised that the man Jesus was also under authority, submitting to the will of the Father, and this submission gave Him all the authority in heaven and on earth.

In the second case, Jesus demonstrated His divine attributes of love, tenderness, sympathy and compassion in His human virtues, in a most pitiful situation. A widow, who had already lost her husband, was now watching her only son, who had just died, being carried out of the house on a bier. Without being asked, He touched the bier and said, "Young man, to you I say, arise" (Luke 7:14). This is an even stronger example of His word of authority; the authority required to raise a dead man is far higher than that needed to heal a sick man.

In the third case, John the Baptist, in prison, sent his disciples to provoke Him, no doubt into doing something miraculous to release John. John's disciples may well have been bothered that the One who had just shown such authority and sympathy, would do nothing for His forerunner in his situation. John's question was, "Are You the Coming One, or should we expect another?" Of course, John was not in doubt concerning the Christ - after all, he had been the one to strongly recommend Him to people, and the one who had baptised Him. Jesus's response was, "Go and report to John what you have seen and heard; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel aanounced to them. And blessed is he who is not stumbled because of Me" (Luke 7:22-23). Because of his situation, John was in danger of being stumbled. In verse 22, Jesus spoke of the blind receiving their sight; nowhere in the Old Testament was there such an event. This would have been strong proof to John that this One was indeed the Messiah.

In spiritual significance, the blind receive their sight first. In the Lord's salvation, He opens our eyes, so that we can receive Him and walk to follow Him. The lame signifies those who cannot walk in God's way. After being saved, the lame can walk by new life. The deaf signifies those who cannot hear God. After being saved, the deaf can hear His voice. The dead signifies those who are dead in sins and offences, unable to contact God. After being regenerated, they can fellowship with God in their regenerated spirit. The poor signifies everyone without Christ, without God, and without hope in this world. Upon receiving the gospel, they are made rich in Christ.

The Lord's word was intended to strengthen John that he might carry out the course that was laid for him (that would end in his martyrdom), and receive the blessing.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Week 20 : Luke 2:21 - 4:44

After His baptism by John in the Jordan, and His temptation and testing in the wilderness by the devil, Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee. There, He taught in the synagogues, until one day, He came to Nazareth, the city where He had been raised for the previous 30 years, living a perfect, normal human life. On that day, a Sabbath, He entered into the synagogue, and stood up to read:

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to announce the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to send away in release those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, the year of jubilee"
Luke 4:17-19

What is jubilee? In the Old Testament, when the children of Israel came up out of the wilderness and entered into the good land that God had promised them, each tribe and each person was assigned a portion of that land as their possession. The land was rich, and yielded food abundantly; yet not all the Israelites were good farmers, whether they lacked the skill or were simply lazy. Eventually, some ran out of money, and were forced to sell their land in exchange for food and money. Of course, that would then eventually run out, and they had to sell themselves as slaves. Yet God made provision for even these - every 50th year, a year of jubilee was declared, and all the slaves were to be freed, and everyone was to be restored to their original possession.

What does this mean then to the New Testament believers? The good land symbolises Christ, Who by right is our rich portion and eternal inheritance. However, due to the fall, we were disenfranchised, removed from the enjoyment of Christ, and sold into the slavery of sin. So after a period of time, the Lord came to the earth to announce the jubilee, accomplishing redemption for us so that we could be restored to what we had lost. Hallelujah! We have been restored to our lost possession, our full enjoyment of the unsearchable rich Christ!

Can you imagine how one such slave would have looked forward to the year of jubilee? No matter how low your situation, you still had a hope for the future, when you would return rejoicing to your restored possession. A Christian's life should be one full of constant rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 5:16) for the return of our enjoyment of Christ. The low gospel is that Jesus loves you and died for you, so that you won't go to hell. The full gospel is the proclamation of the acceptable year of the Lord, the year of jubilee!

Week 19 : Luke 1:1 - 2:20 (Part 2)

When looking at Matthew 1:1 - 3:17, I compared some of the Christian tradition that surrounds the birth of the Lord Jesus with what the Bible actually says happens. Since the Gospel of Luke also provides a detailed account of His incarnation, it would be profitable to do likewise.

And in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus for a census to be taken of all the inhabited earth.... And all went to be registered, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to David's city, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be registered with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. And while they were there, the days were fulfilled for her to bear, And she ore her firstborn sonl and she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn"
Luke 2:1, 3-7

These verses show us God's sovereignty in His arranging of the geopolitical sphere so that the many prophecies concerning the Lord's birth would be fulfilled. Every king, every kingdom is under His control; and the Roman empire was no different. According to His arrangement, the Roman empire controlled the whole area around the Mediterranean, bringing relative peace and prosperity. This made it possible and safe for people to travel the potentially long distances to be registered in the emperor Augutus's census; which, by no coincidence at all, brought Joseph and Mary out of Nazareth, a despised city in a despised region, to Bethlehem, the prophesied location of the Messiah's birth.

His life began in a manger in the lowest estate because the inn was occupied by fallen mankind with his busy activities. However, there were some whose activities were not so fallen, and who at that time were being diligent in their work:

And there were shepherds in the same region, spending their nights in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them...
Luke 2:8-9

Their work in shepherding the flock (which not only provided food for man, but also offerings to God) and their diligence in keeping the night watch qualified these lowly people to be the first to receive the good news of the birth of the Man-Saviour.

These verses should also make us reconsider the timeframe of the Lord's birth. Christianity celebrates Christmas on December 25th, the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere (and the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere, where I currently live). Yet the harsh conditions at that time of year would have meant two things: firstly, it would have been difficult and dangerous for travellers, and especially for pregnant women such as Mary, to be forced to travel for days or weeks at a time in the middle of winter. Jesus Himself would later testify concerning the danger of travel in winter in that region: "And pray that your flight may not be in winter, nor on a Sabbath" (Matthew 24:20). Secondly, the shepherds were in the fields taking care of their flocks. December is the middle of the rainy season in Israel, and the sheep were taken from the fields and corralled in winter accommodation by mid-October at the latest.

So December 25th could never have been even close to the date of His birth, which was most likely in early October. As many Christians realise, December 25th was actually brought in by the early Catholic church in the 5th century, largely as a way of encouraging the previously-pagan Roman subjects to convert to Christianity, while being close enough to the winter solstice with its heathen associations. Now a pagan feast celebrating the rebirth of the sun in the depths of winter was a feast celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Interestingly, though, there are only two occasions in the Bible where birthdays are mentioned, and both are connected with murder. In Genesis 40:22, Pharaoh had his chief baker on his birthday while the celebrations were going on; and Herod had John the Baptist beheaded at his birthday celebrations. So celebrating birthdays, and especially that of the Lord Jesus, are entirely unscriptural.

The Bible tells us many things: how to worship, how to deal with money, how to preach the gospel, how to observe the Lord's Table, and everything else pertaining to the Christian life. Yet not once are we told to celebrate Christmas. We're told to remember His death, and we do so every time we share the bread and the wine, but we're never told to remember His birth. Please remember that next time September comes round and the tinsel goes up in the supermarkets.

Week 19 : Luke 1:1 - 2:20 (Part 1)

In coming to the Gospel of Luke, we should start by considering what sort of person Luke was, and how it defines his approach. According to Luke 1:2, he was not an immediate contemporary of the Lord Jesus; instead, he was a companion and coworker with Paul on several of the apostle's ministry journeys (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:15). His account may be considered to be as much an expression of the apostle Paul as Mark's gospel was an expression of the apostle Peter.

According to Colossians 4:11 and 14, Luke was a Gentile physician, and he was writing to Theophilus, most likely also a Gentile, who occupied some official position within the Roman Empire. So he was a Gentile writing to another Gentile, based on careful research done from primary sources.

Whereas Matthew's gospel presents Jesus as the King-Saviour, and Mark's as the Slave-Saviour, Luke presents Jesus as the Man-Saviour, the One who is both the eternal God and a perfect, normal, genuine man.

Chapter one reveals to us the conception of this Man-Saviour. Luke 1:35 shows us that unlike every other man and woman ever born, Jesus was not conceived of a man and a woman; instead, He was conceived of the Holy Spirit. This is a most astounding fact. This conception brought the eternal uncreated divine essence together with the created human essence, in the womb of a human virgin. These two essences weren't just added together, they were mingled together. We should be very clear, this did not produce a third essence, one which was neither divine nor human, this thought is utterly heretical. Although the Lord has the two essences, He is still a complete person - He is both God and man. We may even call Him a God-man.

As a God-man/Man-Saviour, He possessed both the divine attributes and the human virtues. The divine attributes are related to what God is. When we say, "God is love", or "God is truth", or "God is righteousness", those are the divine attributes. God is not just loving, He is love itself, He is truth itself. Humanity on the other hand, does not have these attributes; nevertheless, we do have the virtues of love, and truth, and so on.

What the Lord did not possess, though, was our sinful nature. Although John 1:14 says that the Word became flesh, Romans 8:3 tells us that the Lord came in the likeness of the flesh of sin. So although He was a man outwardly, inwardly He was God, without any of the taint of man's sinful nature, and His divine attributes were fully expressed and manifested through His human virtues.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Week 18 : Mark 14:43 - 16:20

And when evening had fallen, since it was the day of preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph, the honorable member of the Council, from Arimathea, who was also himself awaiting the kingdom of God, came; and gathering courage, he went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And Pilate marveled that He had already died, and calling to him the centurion, he questioned him whether He had been dead long. And when he found out from the centurion, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph purchased a piece of fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the fine linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which was hewn out of rock and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary the Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where He was laid.
Mark 15:42-47

Jesus had suffered terribly on the cross for six hours as He carried out His redemptive work, rejected by the very ones He had come to save. Yet in His death, His situation was changed to an honourable one. Joseph of Arimathea, a well-known man (as indicated by the definite article in verse 43), together with Nicodemus (see John 3:1 and 19:39), retrieved His body, and prepared it for a burial of the highest human standard, in fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:9.

God created the old creation within six days, and rested on the seventh day. Now, in the newly-hewn tomb, Jesus rested from His labours, enjoying His Sabbath, and waiting for the time to rise from the dead.

Jesus accomplished full redemption within six days, and rested on the seventh

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Week 17 : Mark 11:27 - 14:42

Before partaking of the last Passover, the Lord prepared His disciples for what was to come after His death and resurrection. Starting in Mark 13, He prophesied concerning the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem (at the hands of Titus and the Roman army in 70 A.D.). Then He prophesied concerning the rising up of many claiming to be the Messiah, to deceive and lead many astray. Wars would follow, both civil wars and international wars; these will continue until the consummation of this age, at the end of the great tribulation. The disciples would be persecuted, some to death.

Having given His disciples many prophecies concerning the end times, He then gave them a charge:

But you, beware.... Beware, be alert.... Watch therefore.... Watch!
(Mark 13:23, 33, 35, 37)

He also gave them the parable of the fig tree. In Mark 11:13-14, Jesus had cursed the fig tree, signifying the nation of Israel, for its lack of fruit for Him, and the tree withered and died (Mark 11:20-21). Now He prophesied concerning life returning to the barren fig tree; its branch becoming tender, and then putting forth leaves, being the sign that summer is near. From the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, the nation of Israel seemed dead and barren. But the reformation of the nation of Israel in the years after the Second World War, and then the later restoration of Jerusalem to Israel after the 6 Days War in 1967, show that life is returning to the withered tree, and that leaves are beginning to come forth.

Watch therefore, for you do not know when the Master of the house comes, whether in the evening or at midnight or at cockcrowing or in the morning; lest He come suddenly and find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!

(Mark 13:35-37)