Archive for the ‘Luke’ Category

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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