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Archive for the ‘Luke’ Category

Preaching Acts

Just a few thoughts (all second hand) on preaching through the Book of Acts:

  • It’s already preaching! A large proportion of Acts is sermons and in fact the whole thing is Luke preaching to us. So our job is really just to let it preach.
  • It’s Part 2 (see Acts 1:1) so you need to remember Part 1 – all about Jesus who came to seek and save the lost, about a historical narrative, the unstoppable power of the Word, and coming to certainty, about reversals, about the climax of salvation history, about repentance, about The Way, about suffering and joy.
  • As Sammy pointed out to us the other day, David Cook sees Luke 24:46 as a summary of Luke’s Gospel and Luke 24:47 as a summary of the Book of Acts: Repentance and forgiveness of sins proclaimed in Christ’s name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (in fulfilment of the Scriptures – Luke 24:45-46). Another summary I have heard is: The Word of Christ (or the Word of Grace) preached in the power of the Spirit to the ends of the earth. That doesn’t mean that we preach this same Big Idea every time we open Acts but our message each time should be in line with (or nest inside) that theme.
  • The word of his graceThere’s a great book by Chris Green called ‘The Word of His Grace: A guide to teaching and preaching from Acts’. You can read the introduction here including his eight (very useful) principles for handling Acts. There’s a thoughtful review of Green’s book here with a bit more of a taster of the content.
  • As Green notes, structure is very important. Just as Luke wrote an ‘orderly account’ in Part 1 he writes a very orderly account in Part 2. The basic (geographical) structure is given by Acts 1:8. On top of this there are also loads of doublets and triplets – where roughly the same thing happens more than once: a healing, an arrest, a trial, a speech, a conversion account. Sometimes the point is that there is an intensification the second time; sometimes it is to make the point that Peter and Paul are completely united in doing the same thing, preaching the same gospel; sometimes it’s just to beat these things into our heads!
  • Just to underline – it’s all about Jesus from first to last (Acts 1:1; 28:31). If we go to Acts primarily for patterns or promises for ministry, if we look first for ourselves in the narrative, we’ll go astray. If we fix our eyes on Jesus and who he is and what he is doing in the narrative and how his gospel takes the world by storm then we’ll find great treasures and great encouragements to keep proclaiming Him.

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Preaching parables

Sammy has just given us a model of preaching on the parables.  Let’s think a bit more now about how parables work and how we can let them speak for themselves and do their work as we preach them.

In  all of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) the parable of the sower, together with its explanation and the quotation from Isaiah 6, seem to function as an introduction to the parables – what they’re all about, how they work, why Jesus is using them.  It doesn’t tell us everything about parables or necessarily apply to all the parables but it is an introduction and one we need to take seriously. 

  • Parables are about the kingdom (Mk. 4:11) – they are not morality tales, they are about the secrets of the kingdom – especially the Messianic secret of Jesus the Christ who will inaugurate his kingdom as he is crowned with thorns (Mk. 15:2,9,12,17-19,26,32).  This does not mean that the parables are ‘an earthly story with a heavenly meaning’ as some of us have been taught to understand parables.  The story of the sower is an earthly story but the kingdom that it is really talking about is heavenly and earthly.  It is the kingdom of a king who is fully God and fully man, who suffered spiritually and physically to bring us into a kingdom-relationship with himself which starts now in the earthy everyday-ness of life and will continue eternally in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
  • Parables divide (Mk. 4:11-12) – ‘a filter, or a sieve’ (Melvin Tinker, Tales of the Unexpected, p. 11) – some are given ears to hear (Mk. 4:9) and the real meaning is divinely revealed (Mk. 4:11), to them more will be given (Mk. 4:23-25); to others the parables will drive them further away (Mk. 4:12) – as in the days of Isaiah’s ministry the turn to symbolic and metaphorical language is a sign of judgment.  Preaching the parables is a fearsome business – it will not leave the hearers the same – it will open eyes or harden hearts.
  • Parables may sometimes (but by no means always) be allegories (various details in the story having a particular meaning – e.g. Mk. 4:14-20) but even when it is an allegory not every detail has a hidden meaning (e.g. there being more than one bird, the trampling of the seed (Lk. 8:5), whether the yield is hundred, sixty or thirty-fold (Mk. 4:20).
  • Parables very often have a twist – a shock or a sting in the tail (or ‘sting in the tale’ as one book on the parables was titled).  The shock in the parable of the sower is the massive fruitfulness of the seed when it does find good soil.  A decent wheat grain yield is 1:15.  But this super-seed gives staggering yields of up to 1:100 (Mk. 4:20).  The problem is definitely not with the seed.

 Now let’s look again at Luke 18:9-14:

  • Luke tells us to whom the parable is spoken and why (Lk. 18:9).  He does the same thing at Luke 18:1 and 19:11.  That’s very helpful!  Let’s not miss those pointers.  As Sammy said, we’re supposed to identify with the Pharisee in Luke 18:9 – it is supposed to convict us.
  • As Sammy pointed out  it’s a study in contrasts – as so often in the parables and especially in Luke’s (cf. Lk. 16:19-31).  There is a great reversal brewing – the lowest will be highly exalted and the highly exalted will be laid low (Lk. 1:52-53).
  • It’s not ‘an earthly story with a heavenly meaning’.  The story tells of two people relating to God and that’s exactly what it is about – two ways to relate to God.  
  • It’s not an allegory.  The tithes in the story don’t ‘mean something’ – they are real tithes.  The Pharisee thought his tithing would impress God and people hearing the parable, then and now, think that their tithing will impress God.   In a similar way the parable of the Good Samaritan is not an allegory – ‘going down to Jericho’ or the ‘two coins’ don’t ‘mean something’ they are just part of the story.
  • The sting in the tale is that it is the irreligious, despised, probably-corrupt revenue authority official who goes home justified (instantly, completely, permanently in the right with God) rather than the upright, fasting, tithing, most-religious-looking man in town.
  • The parable is saying one thing.  Jesus gives us the punchline (Lk. 18:14).   He does this in many of his parables and in Luke it’s often made even more obvious with an ‘And I tell you…’ (Lk. 16:9; 18:14; 18:8).  Again this is very helpful!  This is Jesus’ theme and aim sentence so it makes sense (as Sammy did) to make it our theme and aim in our preaching.

One final thought – let’s tell the story.  The power of the parable comes in its narrative power.  It draws you in then swings you round with the twist before knocking you out with the punchline.  Wherever possible let’s just tell the story, make it live and preserve the surprise so that it comes with its full force to convict us, humble us and lift us up to Jesus.

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Text: Luke 18:9-14

Introduction

When I was young, the fairy tale of snow-white and the seven dwarfs was narrated to me. In the fairy tale an evil queen thought she was the most beautiful of all. She was actually famed for her beauty. Mirror Mirror who is the fairest of them all, was what she asked her magic mirror … only for one day to discover that she was not the fairest or most beautiful. Looking at this evil queen and looking at the Pharisee, we see a similar attitude in both and that is the attitude of pride.

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else.

What makes us confident in our own righteousness? I think it’s pride, is it? Have we ever known anyone like this? Have we ever been this way ourselves?

Just like the Pharisee, there are Christians who boast in the things they do, they think that by keeping to a set of legalities, they are right with God.

This parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector gives us a good picture of those who think they are righteous by what they do and look down on others. This is a parable of contrasts.  Two men, one a Pharisee and the other a Tax Collector went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee is very confident of his standing with God and also really, really self righteous. The tax collector however stands at a distance, head bowed and mutters this words “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” To this Jesus says that the tax collector went home justified before God.

Which of this do you identify with? 

Could we have forgotten that it’s by grace we are saved and not by works lest any one of us should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

The Pharisee and the tax collector have three things in common, they stand to pray; they both address God directly; they both wanted God to hearken his ear to their prayers

Two differences – The Pharisee self confident and self righteous

Tax collector- ashamed of his state, – he knows he is a sinner in need of God’s mercy.

1. The Pharisee

The Pharisee is typical of those religious people who look upon themselves as more holy and spiritual and exalt themselves above the others.

Look the attitude of the Pharisee when he comes before God. He comes before Him in pride praying to God and telling God of how he is not like other people. He exalts and praises himself here. (v 11-12). I thank you God I am not like other people- (I am the fairest of them all) He tries to prove to God of how good he is by “reading a list of what he is not and what he does”.

I’m not greedy, I’m not unrighteous, I’m not an adulterer, I fast twice a week- more than the times required in the mosaic law, I give a tenth of everything I get; I’m not even like this tax collector….Wait a minute , did he just  say that? Can you imagine us coming before God with such an attitude! The Pharisee sees himself as worthy, in fact I think he has justified himself as worthy, good and acceptable to God unlike the tax collector and unlike other people.

Is there anything positive with the Pharisee? The Pharisee is portrayed as a very religious and spiritual person, he fasts twice a week, gives a tenth of all his income to the work of God ….This is alright, but…we are not saved by good works. Eph 2:8-9 For by grace you are saved, not from works, lest anyone should boast.

Perhaps in our day we would boast of going to church without fail, tithing every month, giving regularly, giving to charities, supporting missionaries and the list goes on and on…. Back in my village someone may boast of visiting the pastor and taking him eggs and vegetables.

A problem arises, however, when we are “confident in our own righteousness” or “trust in” our own righteousness to save us and justify us before God. When we move from righteous living — which is right — to trusting in that righteous living to give us a standing before God, then we commit a great mistake. In that case it becomes self-righteousness. And this Pharisee does. He compares himself with the tax collector. This is a sign of self righteousness… Mirror Mirror who is the fairest of them all. Are you the fairest of them all?

2. The Tax Collector

The tax collector also stands and addresses God. He stands far off from the Pharisee. See how h e prays, he beats his chest, crying to God to have mercy upon him .He describes himself as a sinner. He begs God to have mercy on him; His has come to true repentance and casts himself with unreserved confession of sin before the feet of God.

Unlike the Pharisee, this taxman has no list of the good things that he has done, he has nothing to boast about. Perhaps he has done some good deeds! But he does not come before God on the account of the good he may have done.

From history tax collectors used to exploit people… the Pharisees were even shocked that Jesus dined with such. Luke 5:1 -26… The tax collectors followed the law of the Roman oppressors. It was their job to collect taxes for the Romans. Tax collectors weren’t just hated because they were considered turncoats and traitors. They were also considered cheaters. They would sometimes assess more taxes than was legal. If those required to pay taxes did not pay taxes they would turn them over to the soldiers. Extortion and threats were part of this system. People loved to hate the Tax collectors. They must have been were considered the scum of the earth.

Though a sinner he does not wish to remain like that but rather he wants to change:

  • Standing at a distance. He doesn’t feel worthy to draw close to God or the temple.
  • Not raising his eyes to heaven, but standing with head level or bowed, as a sign of his sense of guilt.
  • Beating his breast. He pleads for mercy. “God, turn Your wrath from me sinner!” He confesses his sin; he pleads for mercy, he comes to God through the right way, with the right attitude. An attitude of humility .This man knows that he is wretched with sin and needs God’s forgiveness. The only way to reach God is through humility!-

The story of Jesus and the children that follows this (18:15-17) underscores this point. Humility is the mark of the men and women who follow Jesus. “The kingdom of God belongs to such…”

In that story. Jesus highlights a paradox of the spiritual life — exalting one self leads to humbling, while humbling leads to exaltation. Jesus’ brother James carries on this theme when he says: “‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ “(James 4:6) When we are proud, we make ourselves into God’s opponent, his enemy. May humility be the mark of your character and mine, as well!

It isn’t hard to see the contrast between them — the self righteous Pharisee and the morally bankrupt, turncoat tax collector.

What makes us confident in our own righteousness? Have you ever known anyone like this? Have we ever been this way ourselves? Is your mirror telling you are the fairest of them all?

I think we should we should identify ourselves with the Pharisee. It’s very easy for us cling to what we do- to be right with God and forget that it’s by grace that we are justified and made right with God.

Conclusion

Can you imagine the impact Jesus’ parable had on the Pharisees present? They must have been livid with anger. How about the crowd? They were amazed, wondering, pondering. But the prostitutes and tax collectors, thieves and adulterers in the audience may have been weeping, for Jesus had declared that it was possible for them to be saved, to be forgiven, to be cleansed, to be justified before God. There was hope for them yet. Jesus had given them hope. “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear….”

Mirror Mirror! Who is the fairest of them all? What is your mirror telling you? Is it saying you are the fairest of them all?

Friends:

  1. We are saved by God’s grace and mercy, not by our righteous deeds.
  2. God rejects the haughty, but welcomes the humble. I can see myself here. I must guard against the sin of pride. Instead, I must humble myself and be thankful for the grace of God.
  3. We cannot and we must not look down on others. While they may be sinners, they are certainly not beyond God’s forgiveness. In the final analysis the only thing that saves either of us will be God’s forgiveness, and not our pure lifestyle.

Theme: God gives grace to the humble, but he resists the proud.

Aim: Come to God in humility and you will receive mercy and grace without measure.

 

 

 

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In the beginning

It was great to spend some time in the early chapters of Genesis amid the beauty of creation a few weeks ago.  I’ve noticed (I don’t know how representative my experience is) that it is quite common for Kenyan preachers to refer back to Genesis 1-3 when preaching on diverse subjects and texts elsewhere in the Bible.  So perhaps in a sermon on contentment or sin or salvation the preacher will take us back to the Garden or the Serpent or the Tree of Life.  This is such a helpful impulse.  In narrative terms the first three chapters of the Bible give us the setting, the main characters and the crisis (problem) which the whole of the rest of the story will concern.  Here in the beginning are the foundations for so many doctrines, all of which are under attack, especially in the West:

  • God as primary
  • God as Trinity
  • God as Creator
  • God as speaker
  • God as judge
  • God as artist and lover of diversity and abundance and order
  • God as vastly gracious
  • Man as creature under Creator
  • Man as made in the image of God
  • Men and women equal in status and complementary
  • Humanity descended from a single man
  • Man as worker with divinely-given work – to serve and extend his Kingdom
  • Marriage as God-given for his work – sex in the service of God
  • God desiring intimacy with man – God as the seeker and missionary
  • The Fall as disobedience, rejection, rebellion, pride and especially Faithlessness
  • The Fall as the context within which we now live
  • The Fall as The Big Problem for all humanity – enmity, curse, exclusion, death
  • Salvation comes from God and is by a man

Which have I left out?  Maybe we’ll have a chance to flesh some of these out in future posts but just one example for now.  There is a stream of teaching popular in many theological colleges in the West which argues that Jesus came to deal primarily with the problem of Israel’s national sin and curse and spiritual exile.  He saw himself as the representative of Israel.  He died the death that idolatrous Israel deserved.  Israel in turn is representative of the world, a microcosm of its sin.  So in this sense Jesus died for the world.  There is much that is helpful in this argument.  As we have been reading through Luke as a staff team we have been struck by how Jesus is very clearly presented as the fulfilment of Jewish hopes (e.g. Luke 1:68-79).  The prophecy of Isaiah in particular is never far from the surface.  Jesus is indeed the perfect Israel (e.g. Luke 4:1-13).  He has indeed come to provide the greater Exodus (Luke 9:31).  But that’s not the whole story.  It’s bigger and better and more basic than that.  The Bible does not begin at Genesis 12 but at Genesis 1.  Luke traces Jesus’ legal lineage back not only to Abraham but to Adam (Luke 3:23-38 cf. Mat. 1:1-16).  Jesus is not only perfect Israel but the second Adam as he resists the Serpent’s temptations (Luke 4:1-13).  He has come not only to deal with the curse and exile of Israel but The Curse and The Exile from the Edenic presence of God.  As he died he opened the way back to Paradise and not just for the nation of Israel but for an individual criminal like me (Luke 23:43).  He tore down the curtain embroidered with the cherubim guard (Luke 23:45 cf. Ex. 26:31-34; Gen. 3:24) and rose on the first day to begin the New Creation (Luke 24:1).  Whereas the new teaching over-complicates the gospel and makes it an issue of membership of the people of God, it’s really very simple – as simple as 3-2-1

I remember I once walked into the wrong screen at a cinema and was surprised when the film ended somewhat obscurely 40 minutes later.  I didn’t get it because I hadn’t seen the opening scenes.  If we don’t keep returning to Genesis 1-3 then the Bible will make little sense and we’ll have a wrong view of God, ourselves, our world and the gospel. 

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It is not uncommon for us to hear something like this: “I take power and authority over the spirit of infirmity and decree that Jesus sets you free and the healing is permanent.”  This raises a few questions. 

First, who is in charge?  It looks worryingly like I am ‘the commander while God is the slave’ (Adeleye, Preachers of a Different Gospel). 

Second, are we making the mistake of jumping into Jesus’ shoes?  Looking at Luke in our staff devotions the other day we were struck again by Jesus’ power to rebuke a fever (Luke 4:39).  The amazing thing here is Jesus talks to blood vessels, to cells, to a virus… and they obey him!  The same thing happens when Jesus rebukes the wind and waves (Luke 8:24).  Surely we’re not meant to think, ‘I can do that.’  Surely we’re meant to gasp, ‘Who is this man?’  The attention is all on Jesus, the Creator talking to his creation.  When faced with illness we are not to jump into Jesus’ shoes but into those of the disciples who simply and humbly ask Jesus to help (Luke 4:38).  In contrast to animism which sees each illness as the work of a spirit of infirmity which must be overcome by invoking a greater spirit, this is about a Creator completely sovereign over his creation and incredibly merciful and good to his creatures. 

The third question is deeper still: Am I willing to see the illness as an opportunity for Jesus to be glorified whether he heals me now or later or at his coming?  I know many of us have found John Piper’s ‘Don’t Waste Your Cancer’ absolutely revolutionary (you can replace ‘cancer’ with any form of suffering).  If you haven’t read it you must – it’s here.  I just came across another example of this in practice in the lives of David and Becky Black who are working with the church in Ethiopia.  You can read their story here and here.  They are praying not only for a miracle of healing for Becky’s cancer but also for the even greater miracle of obedience, trust and joy in Christ even in the darkness of the valley.

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“Whereas the gospel of the cross calls for repentance and denial of self… the gospel of champagne calls for self-satisfaction… Whereas the way of the cross points to renunciation, forsaking of opposing values, sobriety and participation in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, the new way, the way of champagne, calls for a lifestyle committed to… self-indulgence… Whereas the cross points to death, champagne points to celebration… no more sorrows, no more pains, no suffering.”  (Femi Adeleye, Preachers of a Different Gospel)

I recently heard an evangelist from Gedi Baptist Church preach from Luke 9:57-62 on the cost of following Jesus.  He warned us to examine ourselves to make sure we are not following Jesus for worldly motives of power or pleasure or profit.  Jesus in this passage is the complete opposite of the slick salesman who wants you to sign on the dotted line without showing you the small print.  He is very clear that the way ahead for those who follow him will be hard.

It set me looking at Luke’s Gospel more closely and especially the material that is unique to Luke (not in the other 3 Gospels) and I was amazed how often the material that Luke includes is completely counter to the gospel of champagne:

Luke 1:53:  He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

Luke 2:12:  “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  (This is so familiar but staggering)

Luke 2:24:  The sacrifice of the poor is offered by Mary and Joseph  (cf. Lev. 12:8)

Luke 3:11-14:  John the Baptist says two shirts are more than enough and tells tax collectors and soldiers to be content with their pay

Luke 4:18:  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (cf. also Luke 7:22)

Luke 6:20:  Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (cf. Matt. 5:3: “poor in spirit”)

Luke 6:24:  “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”  (the complete opposite of the prosperity gospel)

Luke 10:25-37:  The parable of the good Samaritan (costly giving)

Luke 12:13-21:  The parable of the rich fool

Luke 14:12-24:  The parable of the great banquet (not for those who are busy enjoying the things of this life but for the poor and disabled) 

Luke 14:26-33:  Hating family and own life; bearing own cross; counting the cost; renouncing all you have

Luke 16:14:  The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.

Luke 16:19-31:  The parable of the rich man and Lazarus

Luke 19:1-10:  Zacchaeus is made financially much poorer through his encounter with Jesus

Luke 23:40-43:  A crucified criminal turns to Christ and receives paradise beyond death

Luke 24:46:  “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer”   (cf. Luke 22:15; Acts 1:3; 3:18; 17:3; 26:23)

This is the gospel of the cross not champagne.  Which is not to say that there is no joy.  There is a deeper joy.  There is joy in the saviour God (Luke 1:47; 2:10); joy in receiving Jesus (Luke 19:6); joy that our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20); even joy in persecution (Luke 6:23; Acts 5:41).

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Dale Ralph Davis begins his brilliant commentary on Judges by explaining why he’s not going to give his own introduction:

…an excellent piece of work has already been done by the author of the book, and I am not capable of writing a better one. Indeed, I have a growing conviction that we would find far more fun and profit in Bible study if we gave more heed to the introductions the biblical writers themselves prefaced to their works than to the welter of opinions (helpful as they may be) about a biblical book, drearily culled from the last two hundred years of biblical scholarship. We do better, I think, to jump straight into the biblical text and get dirty with its ink.

So what do we find if we jump into the first four verses of Luke?  At least three things:

  1. History – Luke is writing as a historian who’s done his homework. He’s interviewed eyewitnesses. He’s collected and checked his sources. He’s presenting ‘things that have been accomplished among us’ – things that actually happened. This is tremendously important for the way we read of Luke and the other Gospels – in fact all the biblical narratives. They are not immediate communications to us. When I read that Jesus tells the seventy-two to take no knapsack or sandals when they go out on mission (Luke 10:4) he is not talking directly to me! This is a record of what he said to those people then in that context. This historicity is also absolutely vital to our faith. Unlike the religions of ancient Greece and Rome, and unlike Hinduism and Buddhism today, Christianity is founded on history. It is not mythology or philosophy representing ‘timeless truths’.  It is about a God who has revealed himself in space and time. Christianity is about a real man who really lived in Israel 2000 years ago and was really killed and really rose and was really seen. It stands or falls on those historical facts. That is the solid anchor of our faith.
  2. The Word – In his first sentence Luke introduces one of his major themes – the Word of God. He has received much of his material for the Gospel from ‘ministers of the Word’ – people who have faithfully ‘delivered’ the account of the things accomplished to ‘us’ (Luke and others like him who were not eyewitnesses). In saying ‘it seemed good to me also’ Luke is saying he wants to be a minister of the Word as well. He wants to continue the human chain of people carefully passing on the infinitely precious historic gospel of Jesus. Look out for this Word theme all the way through Luke (e.g. 1:20; 4:32-36; 8:4-21; 11:28; 24:8,25-27,44-47) and his sequel (e.g. Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20). The word has huge power. The word is to be believed. The word is the way to enjoy a relationship with Jesus. The word is the means of mission.
  3. Certainty – The purpose of Luke delivering this historic gospel is that his reader would have ‘certainty concerning the things you have been taught’. Theophilus seems to be a Christian. His name means ‘God-lover’ and he has certainly been taught about Jesus. What Luke is telling him is not completely new to him. But Luke wants him to have certainty. He wants to make sure that his faith has solid historical foundations. He wants him to have rock solid convictions about Jesus, about the gospel, about the Christian life. This is a great reminder to us of the importance of discipleship. We are concerned, for ourselves and others, not just to be saved but to be growing in maturity, and particularly to be developing a Christian mind, a thoroughly Christian worldview – deep, thought-through, passionate convictions about the Truth. And how does this maturity come? Through some new revelation? A higher knowledge? A new course or programme or book or pilgrimage? No. Through the gospel – going back to Jesus and hearing again the narrative of his life and death and resurrection.

Thank God for Luke’s Gospel. And that he very kindly gave us an introduction.

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