Proof of Paternity

In my Vietnam Bible class on Saturday evenings I’ve been teaching the gospel of Luke.  A week ago we looked at the temptation story in Luke 4.
The temptations of Jesus provide an easy lesson.  After all, it has the customary three points: Satan sometimes tempts us to do something good just to get us in his grasp.  At other times he tempts us to settle for less than God intends for us.  Third, he tempts us to doubt God – to challenge God to prove himself.

There are questions though: Why was Jesus in the wilderness in the first place?  He was led there by God for the express purpose of temptation – not that God tempted him, but God placed him in a vulnerable position so that Satan could tempt him.  Why?  And might God do the same to us?
A lesson I’ve often overlooked is why Luke tells us this story in the first place.

He has introduced Jesus as “the Lord,” the “son of the Most High,” the “Savior” and the “Son of God.”  God himself testified to Jesus’ sonship at his baptism.

But was he really?

Luke follows his assertions with a long section (4:1 – 9:50) filled with miracle stories – proofs of Jesus’ identity.  But the first proof is not a miracle.  It is the temptation story.  Satan tempts Jesus twice to prove he is the son of God (the first and third temptation).  Jesus overcomes the temptations by refusing to submit and thereby proves, in an unexpected way, he is the son of God.  Only the Son of God would be able to overcome the devil so decisively.

There is a lesson here for us: We too are God’s children, and there is no greater proof of our relationship with him (or lack of it) than how we too handle and overcome temptation.

Friday, October 31. Luke 24 – John 2

The “Road to Emmaus” story is found only in Luke 24 and it, perhaps more than any other story, depicts the dejection of the Lord’s disciples. The disciples’ faces are “downcast.” “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” they said. But even his body is now missing from the tomb.

First the hope is destroyed.

Now even the body of the hope giver is gone.

There is nothing left.

It was not until they gathered at the table with Jesus and he broke the bread with them that they recognized him.

I imagine Luke is affirming yet once again the difficulty of faith among even believers as well as affirming the importance of Scripture in reaffirming faith.

But there’s something else: the importance of gathering at table with Jesus. When we meet for worship and communion, it is an affirmation of what we believe. It is a reminder of what Jesus did. It is an encouragement that we are not in this alone. We have one another, and we have the presence of the Lord. No wonder that the first sign of spiritual failure is a flagging zeal to meet in worship, and the sure sign of the loss of faith altogether is giving up meeting with the saints.

The road to Emmaus is a difficult one, but one we all travel. Through the struggles of life and all the questions, we are journeying toward greater faith; our Emmaus.

Unless we get on another road.

It won’t matter which other road it is. It’s not leading us anywhere we want to go.

Monday, October 27. Luke 12 – 14

Who are the people God favors?

Obviously His own children; they are blessed above all.

But among the children, who does God favor?

Interestingly, this matter comes up twice in a most pointed way in Luke and both times, only Luke records the event.

The first time is in Luke 11. At a banquet a woman, in an effort to praise Jesus, pronounces a blessing on Jesus’ mother. Jesus replies that something is more important for divine blessing: hearing the word of God and doing it (verses 27-28).

The second time is again at a banquet, again hosted by a Pharisee. A fellow diner pronounces a blessing on those who sit at the banquet of the kingdom of God. Jesus’ reply is a bit along these lines: “You’d think so wouldn’t you? But are you aware that there are those who will refuse the invitation? And because they refuse the invitation, those who actually get to eat there will be the very ones you would not expect.” In this case, who is it God favors?

The one who heeds the call.

But why wouldn’t a person heed the call?

Jesus provides the answer in verses 25 – 33. The call requires total allegiance, total dedication.

It still does, and those who answer that call are the ones God will favor.

Sunday, October 26. Luke 8 – 11

Luke mentions prayer more than any of the other gospel writers. While Jesus’ “model prayer” in Luke 11 is also found in Matthew 6, the Luke account is more detailed.

I’ve wondered why the disciples didn’t know how to pray. Jewish people had set prayers that they prayed as a part of their worship liturgy, but perhaps personal prayer was less common. It is noteworthy in this regard that the story of Esther, chronicling one of the most perilous times in Jewish history, does not mention prayer. Perhaps the feeling was that God did not listen to prayer – or perhaps did not respond to it. That would explain Jesus’ focus in Luke’s account.

In the story of the man who went looking for bread at midnight, his friend gives it to him because of the “boldness” or “shameless audacity” (NIV 2011) in his request. The Greek word translated like this occurs only here in the New Testament. It occurs some 258 times in all of Greek literature and in every case (except when Christians have changed the meaning), it has a negative connotation. It refers to someone who “has no proper sense of shame and willingly engage in improper conduct.”

Jesus wants his disciples to pray. He wants them to pray for the kingdom, for the necessities of life, for forgiveness and guidance. But just as important is the relationship of the praying person with God. As believers, we are God’s children. That special relationship allows us the privilege of shameless audacity in God’s presence. It also should cultivate within us a bold confidence that God hears and will give us what we need (though not, necessarily, what we ask).

However, Luke’s account has a strange twist. It’s not just that God will give us what we ask, but that He will give us His Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that assures of God’s presence, guidance and protection, and that, really, should be an important part of our prayer. It’s not the indwelling of the Spirit we should pray for. As Christians, we have that. More importantly, it is the abiding presence of God.

One final point about the prayer. Note that it is not “give me,” or “forgive me,” or “lead me,” but “us.” The privilege of prayer is not granted because we have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” – a wholly unbiblical concept by the way – but because we are a part of the community of faith, and because we are a part of the community, our prayers should include the community.

Thursday, October 17. Luke 21 – 24

Only Luke tells us that there, in the upper room, on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, in the context of revealing that he would be betrayed, while everyone was asking “Is it me?”, there was another conversation going on:

Who will be the greatest (22:24)?

It has been a thread throughout Luke (9:48; 13:29; 14:11; 18:14-17).

Position, access to power, recognition, these were all important in the ancient world. And why not? Those are “all important” in our world. They are signs of selfcenteredness. As long as we are thinking about our “rights” and “place” and “saving face” and being “respected,” we will never be thinking about lifting up the fallen or supporting the weak. God’s value system is nothing like our world’s. Comparatively, ours is upside down, and as long as our values are so different, we will be susceptible to being “sifted like wheat” by Satan.

The purpose for sifting is to get rid of everything that doesn’t belong there. Why would Satan want to help us in this way?

He wouldn’t. He imagines that the sifting will destroy us. Jesus prayed for Peter, for his faith, that it wouldn’t fail. When your value system is awry, you can be sure your faith will be weak and only the intercession of Christ will help. Even then, it’s not a slam dunk. Peter would fail, but he would not fail like Judas. Peter would return to the Jesus he had denied and find forgiveness.

I imagine Peter never forgot his “sifting.” It was likely the defining moment of his life. When our defining moment appears, remember that it is not defining until we’ve decided whether to return to Jesus. What we decide then, makes all the difference.

Wednesday, October 16. Luke 18 – 20

The plain duplicity of Jesus’ opponents is most clearly seen in chapter twenty. They are the religious leaders of the people, and yet they object to Jesus teaching the very law they claim to keep. They are out to murder Jesus, despite the fact that the law condemns murder (they make themselves and their actions “exceptions” to the law). They have no interest in truth, only in spinning the reputations of their opponents in an unfavorable light.

And so, they ask Jesus whether it is proper to pay taxes to Caesar, and proffer hypotheticals to discredit Jesus with the crowds.

There is a lot of the same sort of thing in our own time and though we find it most obvious in the political arena, it’s not confined to politics. When people ask prejudicial questions of their opponents, knowing they have nothing to do with the issues at hand but only serve to win the support of shallow multitudes, you know the questioners are, themselves, rotten. When those questioned never give an answer, but spin the issue to their talking points, you know they are rotten too. Jesus’ words remain condemning: “Such men will be punished most severely.”

Tuesday, October 15. Luke 15 – 17

What did Jesus mean when he said “the kingdom of God is within you”? (17:20-21)?

Some translations render this “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Either translation is legitimate, but it does make a difference and only one really makes sense. Saying the kingdom of God is “among” you or “here already” leads us to wonder why Jesus prefaced that comment with “the kingdom doesn’t come with careful observation.” The Pharisees were certainly looking for it. If it were already there, they’d see it.

But saying “the kingdom of God is within you” serves as a lasting lesson and rebuke to the Pharisees – and often, to us.

The kingdom of God is where God rules. The Pharisees wanted to be a part of God’s kingdom, a citizen of His nation. Thus, they were looking for the coming of a Messiah who would set that up. They just needed to know the signs that it had arrived so they could join.

Jesus pointed them to the only sign that mattered: the changed life. The kingdom, the rule of God, comes to you when God rules your life. It is not possible to be a part of the kingdom, and not be under God’s rule. The Pharisees wanted to have it both ways. They could not, and neither can we. All the talk some people do about “heaven,” disturbs me. Everyone wants to go there, but why? Perhaps it just beats the alternative, but I wonder . . . If God doesn’t rule your life now, and you cannot imagine being happy here living the holy life without a little (or a lot of) worldliness mixed in, how could you possibly enjoy heaven? The fact is, the kingdom of heaven will never be a part of the life that does not submit to God.

Monday, October 14. Luke 12 – 14

“Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:23)

If word count is any indication, “salvation” is an incredibly important subject to Luke – mentioned more by him than any other gospel writer.  Keep in mind that Luke is not writing from Jesus’ perspective, in other words, he’s not just reporting what Jesus said and who he said it to.  He is writing from a post resurrection perspective.  Salvation is not just the forgiveness of sins.  It is also not just the entrance into the fellowship of the redeemed.  It points to the end-game of the gospel, a residence in the house of God.

So, when these people ask “will only a few be saved,” it is the end-game to which they refer.  The reference to the owner of the house closing the door only has meaning if this is what is involved.
The idea that everyone will be saved is . . . malarkey.

But who will the saved be?

The saved will be, of course, those who have believed in Jesus.  But beyond that, they will be people who have changed their lives: people who have repented.  No one can expect to enter the New Jerusalem, the City of God come down out of heaven, and like as he has always lived.  Jesus calls us to a radically different lifestyle.

Saturday, October 12. Luke 4 – 7

The second section of Luke begins near the end of chapter four and for the next five chapters, Luke will buttress his claims for the identity of Jesus with a host of miracles: he casts out demons, heals a leper, and enables a paralyzed man to walk, raises a young man from the dead and feeds five thousand from a sack lunch – with twelve basketfuls of food left over.

These miracles are not isolated or known only by a few. News of his works spreads throughout the surrounding area (4:37), throughout Judea, and from as far away as Tyre and Sidon (6:17). Crowds of people come to hear him and be healed (5:15; 6:18-19). They hem him in, making ministry difficult.

And yet, though the crowds enthusiastically embrace Jesus’ help, they do wonder about him. He and his disciples are unlike other religious leaders. They aren’t orthodox about observing the accepted religious conventions – common markers of piety. To them, Jesus speaks a parable – a story with a side meaning. Just as you can’t patch a garment with a piece of unshrunk cloth, or pour new wine into old wineskins, so you cannot put the words of Jesus in an old lifestyle. The Life has to be changed. It must become new.

Christian people can be Christians while living like they always have – like the world around them. They just won’t really be followers of Jesus. But on the other hand, living the Christ life is hard because, like the aged wine, we like the old better than the new. The Son of God doesn’t call us to a religion or a “faith system” or a denomination. He calls us to a radically new way of life that is upside down from that of the world around us.

Sunday, October 13. Luke 8 – 11

Much of Luke chapter eight has to do with “listening.” When Mark tells the Parable of the Sower, he emphasizes what you listen to. When Luke tells it, he emphasizes how one listens. It’s possible to listen to the wrong thing or the wrong person and be led astray. But it is also possible to listen to the right thing and listen carelessly, or not take it to heart.

When the word of God is not believed, or not obeyed, or crowded out by worldliness (there’s a progression here), these are examples of poor listening. You hear, but you’re not paying attention.

Proper listening is all important, for it determines our relationship with Jesus. After all, Jesus says his family is composed of those who hear the word of God and put it into practice (8:21).

The demon possessed man of Gadara had heard of Jesus, and that word had so taken root that not even the demons who consumed his life could keep him away. The woman with the bleeding problem had heard of Jesus, and so believed in him that she felt only the need to touch him to be healed. Jarius believed, but struggled. Yet his persistent faith enabled him to see his daughter healed and alive.

We must become good listeners. We must listen to the word of God, and that word must take root in our lives and bear fruit, resulting in trust in Jesus leading to a changed life. Most people will not listen well, and surprisingly, Jesus has no sympathy for them. He tells his disciples that’s why he deliberately speaks in parables – so that the careless hearers will not understand (8:9-10).