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.

Thursday, October 30. Luke 21 – 23

At first reading, much of what Luke has regarding the trial of Jesus mirrors the account of the other gospel writers. But for Luke’s purpose, what stands out are the differences. Only in Luke is Jesus accused of “perverting the nation” and “forbidding to pay taxes.”

Since Jesus claims to be “King of the Jews,” he is sent to Herod for interrogation. Only Luke tells us this story. The choice given to the crowd is to release or Barabbas. Only Luke tells you that Barabbas was charged with the crime of “insurrection,” a point he makes twice in the space of seven verses. Thus the charges against Jesus in Luke are not religious, but political.

Only in Luke’s account will you find Pilate specifically declaring Jesus innocent three times, and yet, Jesus goes to the cross innocent of crimes against the State and Barabbas, guilty, goes free.

Two points demand our attention. First, Luke takes pains to show that neither Jesus nor his followers (in the book of Acts) are guilty of political crimes – though they stand accused at every turn. Christian people must be certain, if we are to be true followers of Jesus, that we are not guilty of breaking civil law – of being evil doers. Only in Luke does the Centurion declare of Jesus that he was a “righteous” man. People with a politically rebellious agenda cannot legitimately say they are followers of Jesus. Followers of Barabbas perhaps, but not Jesus.

But second, we should seriously note Luke’s pointed lesson that an innocent man died for the sins of the guilty. Jesus did it not only for Barabbas, but for us all.

Wednesday, October 29. Luke 18 – 20

The largest section of Luke, beginning in chapter 9, comes to a close with chapter 19 and Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem. This part has been devoted to Jesus’ teaching and it ends with a story and a parable.

The story of Zacchaeus is found only in Luke. Zacchaeus is not a tax-collector like Matthew. Matthew was but an employee. Zacchaeus is a “chief tax collector,” someone who bid for the right to collect taxes, satisfying the Roman levies and pocketing whatever else he could squeeze out of tax payers. He would have been a wealthy man. There is something humorous about this rich, powerful figure climbing a tree to see Jesus.

When Jesus goes to Zacchaeus’ home, the people become critical because they perceive Zacchaeus as a traitor (working for the Romans) and a thief (which he was). Jesus shouldn’t be associating with such vermin.

Zacchaeus is not a good guy who maintains his innocence. He is a bad guy who changes – and not just determines to live right, but to try to make up for his past wrongs. That’s the heart of repentance. Salvation is seen to come to the tax-collector not in that he quits his job, but in that he performs it responsibly and ethically.

Salvation is seen in our own lives the same way: not in an announced determination to do right, but in actually doing right. Most important here is that you see not only Jesus’ mission: not to cater to the righteous, but to minister to the unrighteous with a view toward changing their lives.

Tuesday, October 28. Luke 15 – 17

Chapter fifteen is likely the most famous chapter in Luke’s gospel. Church folks may not know the chapter number. They may not even know it is in Luke, but everyone who has been in the Church for a while knows the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and especially, the lost boy.

For years, all my writing was done with a pen – and even now, a pen is important to me. Most of mine are expensive, and have been gifts from loved ones who know me well. Most of the time, I carry the same type of pen I have been using since college – the same model I have given my boys at their college graduation. Today, however, I have lost that pen.

It’s just a pen.

But we’ve been co-workers for many many years and I feel the loss.

Ever feel like that about something you’ve mislaid?

The key here in that “something” is the word “thing.” We all know what it is like to lose some “thing” of importance to us – and the joy of finding it after believing it was forever gone. Even Pharisees knew that feeling.

What is more important, however, is the loss of a person, and all too often, after some falling out with a family member or good friend, it’s all too easy to write them off, or make impossible demands for reconciliation.

But God isn’t like that.

Twice Jesus comments on the greater rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who is returned to holy fellowship than over 99 others who played by the rules and never left. God dearly loves the penitent. What He’s not wild about are his sons and daughters who believe the forgiveness they give is more valuable and should be less available than that granted by the Lord.

Such people will discover that the forgiveness they need will be hard to receive.

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.

Saturday, October 25. Luke 4 – 7

Jesus is identified in the first four chapters of Luke’s Gospel: He is the “son of the Most High,” the “ruler of the house of Jacob,” “Savior” and promised one from the Old Testament. From chapter four through part of chapter nine, Luke provides proof for Jesus’ identity with a list of astounding miracles performed by him.

In chapter 6, we have Luke’s version of the “Sermon on the Mount.” His differs somewhat from Matthew’s, and we might be tempted to wonder: “who got it right?” There is, however, no need. Though there is much similar material here, there are enough differences to understand that they are not accounts of the same event.

As Luke presents this core teaching of Jesus, we note that it has much more to do with physical circumstances. In Luke Jesus addresses the “poor” and the “hungry,” not the “poor in spirit” or those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” He has harsh words for the rich and powerful: “Woe to you who are rich. You’ve got all you are getting.” He calls his hearers to care about the poor, giving to them knowing that God will return the gift abundantly. Even our loans to the poor should be given as gifts. All of this brings out what will be a central theme of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 9 – 19: God’s concern for the poor, the needy, the marginalized. In our world, we are urged to rise out of whatever circumstances cause us to live in these categories. But Jesus calls us to minister to them. In fact, we cannot be said to be his disciples if we are not actively concerned for them.

Friday, October 24. Luke 1 – 3

The books of Luke and Acts, together, comprise the largest single body of literature in the New Testament. In other words, while Paul penned more of the books than anyone else, the writer of Luke and Acts penned more of the New Testament than anyone else. Ancient scrolls ran about 30-35 feet in length. Both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts are long enough to have taken one scroll each, and that is likely why Luke divided them into two books.

Luke himself was a medical doctor. He had been living in Troas when he teamed up with Paul on Paul’s second missionary journey. From that point on, he was Paul’s occasional traveling companion accompanying him to Jerusalem at the end of his third mission trip and later to Rome. He was with Paul during both his Roman imprisonments and both these books were likely written near the end of the first one.

The books are addressed to a man named Theophilus who, because of the title Luke gave him (“most excellent”), may have been a high Roman official. Luke’s stated purpose for writing (often overlooked in Bible classes) is that Theophilus might know the certainty of the things he had been taught. There are actually two issues here no one should miss when reading these books.

First, Luke and Acts were written to provide proof that the story of Christianity was true. Luke claims to have “carefully researched” his presentation, providing names and often addresses of important people who were involved in the story. Luke mentions the names of witnesses who would be both favorable to the Christian story, and the names of those who would not, but all are mentioned to verify the account. Though Luke himself was not an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus, he repeatedly mentions the abundance (crowds) of witnesses who were there. He provides dates and gives locations for the events that occur. He mentions a number of trials for which there would be court records. All of this is presented so that his first reader could “check it out” and know: this is not fiction. The events really happened. Luke and Acts should be read with pencil and paper in hand, noting the evidence for the truthfulness of the Christian story. Until evidence, contemporary with either the events or Luke’s account, arises to challenge the veracity of the story he presents, Luke and Acts remain irrefutable evidence of the trustworthiness of the New Testament story.

Second, and equally important, Luke wrote that his first reader might know the certainty of what he had been taught. So what had Theophilus been taught? In reading Luke and Acts, we should be looking for the teaching Luke was seeking to verify. As we see the repeated emphases, we learn the subject matter early Christians conveyed when they talked to others about Jesus and his people.

Thursday, October 23. Mark 14 – 16

The last chapter of Mark poses an interesting question: How is this book supposed to end? You will notice that, unless you are reading a King James Bible, there is a note, space, or footnote after verse 8 to the effect: “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.”

In the Greek text of Mark, verse 8 ends with the word “because.” In examining Greek literature from the ancient world consisting of over 60 million words, only three documents end with the word “because.” Mark does not normally end his sentences with that word. While the early manuscript evidence for verses 9 – 16 may be sparse, the majority of the manuscripts do have that ending, and verses are known to 2nd century Christian authors. If it was not originally a part of Mark, we are at a loss as to how to account for it.

I believe I can tell you why the long ending disappeared early: It has to do with verse 17 and following. If the sign of a Christian is the ability to drive out demons, speak in tongues, and pick up poisonous snakes without harm, early Christian people, believing they couldn’t do these things, simply cut the passage out.

I’m going with the long ending here because I believe it belongs.

So how do I interpret verses 17-18?

I believe them. But I don’t think the verses teach Christians should go around handling snakes and drinking poison. I do believe that the verses challenge us to press on with the work of God despite all obstacles, believing God will grant us success. Faith is a big part of this book. I do believe Christians should expend themselves in leading others to become Christians – because that’s a major theme in this book. And I believe that nothing can stand in the way of God’s will when God’s people give themselves to it. Note that Jesus tells his disciples at least three times that he will be arrested and killed during the Passover. The Chief Priests do not want to arrest Jesus during the Passover – but they do it anyway. Why? Because that was the will of God.

Those last eleven verses bring the book to a suitable and cogent end.

Wednesday, October 22. Mark 11 – 13

When the Pharisees and Herodians came to test Jesus, have you ever wondered why Jesus had no coin of his own?

I realize the text doesn’t actually say that he had no coin, you might wonder why, if he had his own, he didn’t use it. The coin he asks for is a denarius, the daily wage of the working man. Here was a group of people who had money, arguing with a man who had none, about the propriety of paying taxes.

But then again, they weren’t really interested in paying taxes.

They remind me so much of some disciples today who major in minor things – things that have nothing to do really with what God has actually said – in order to cover up their inattention to major things that God really spoke about. When Christian people, for example, in an effort to stand for truth, turn mean and hateful, it will not matter what truth they are for, their proclaimed faithfulness is overshadowed by the hardness of their heart.

Mark really shines in these lessons. By looking at the people who opposed Jesus, and the people who followed Jesus, and being honest about them both, he gives us a compendium of behavior we can match with our own lives to see if we are truly disciples of the Lord.