Posts Tagged With: Luke

Luke 24: But God Wins in The End!

Some times, yes, evil wins the day. . . . But let there be no question, God will win the war.  When all is said and done, God will vanquish all forces of evil and disorder and disease that stand against him.

Why do I believe that?  Where is the proof?  Is that only wishful thinking?

The women went to the tomb in the very early morning of the first day of the week, carrying the spices they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and when they went in they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.  As they were at a loss what to make of it all, suddenly two men in shining clothes stood beside them.  The women were terrified, and bowed their faces toward the ground.  But then men said to them, “Why look for the living with the dead?  He isn’t here — he been raised!” (24:1-6a)

The God who conquered sin, death, Satan, and evil that Sunday morning at the Garden Tomb is the same God we worship today.  No gangbanger, meth head, anti-government bomber, terrorist, deranged loner with a handgun, social injustice, prejudice, disease, depression, addiction, lack of love, selfishness or anything else will win the last day.  God wins.  Love wins.  New Creation wins.

That’s the Story, and I believe it.

What did you learn from this month’s reading of Luke?  

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Luke 23: Evil Won The Day

There is no mistaking Luke in this chapter.  Jesus was innocent.  He did nothing wrong.

“I find no fault in this man,” said Pilate to the chief priests and the crowds. (23:4)

“I [Pilate] examined him in your presence and I found no evidence in him of the charges you’re bringing against him.  Nor did Herod.” (23:14-15a)

“There is no sign that he’s done anything to deserve death.” (23:15b)

“What’s he done wrong?  I [Pilate] can’t find anything he’s done that deserves death.” (23:22)

“We’re [the criminals crucified with Jesus] getting exactly what we asked for.  But this fellow hasn’t done anything out of order.” (23:41)

“This fellow,” he [the centurion] said, “really was in the right.” (23:47)

Remember Luke is writing to the Gentile world where it might have been easy to write Jesus off as another rabble-rouser who got himself killed.  Maybe some said Jesus just got what was coming to him.  Luke makes it clear: he was an innocent man.  Pilate thought so.  Herod said as much.  Soldiers and bystanders saw it.  One of the criminals crucified beside him realized it.  Even one of the Jewish rulers, Joseph of Arimathea, wouldn’t go along with the court’s decision (23:51).  This was unjust, plain and simple.

And yet, Jesus was killed.  Pilate caved to the pressure of the crowd.  The conniving, power-hording Jewish leaders got their way.  Herod sat by and watched his people nail an innocent man to a cross like it was just another sideshow in the circus that was his kingdom.  Wright phrases the tragic reality of the situation well:

But they [the Jewish rulers and people] went on shouting at the top of their voices, demanding that he be crucified; and eventually their shouts won the day. (23:23)

Some days those who can shout the loudest win.  Some days wicked things are done.  Some days innocent bystanders are struck by gangbangers’ bullets.  Some days desperate meth heads break into houses and hurt the homeowners if they stand in the way.  Some days drug cartels take over whole parts of countries making them unsafe for virtuous people.  Some days angry citizens bomb their own federal buildings.  Some days terrorists fly planes into crowded office buildings.  Some days high school graduates are carted halfway across the globe to fight wars generals are not sure can be won.  Some days delusional loners cut down good people while they watch movies or shop in malls.  Some times evil wins the day. . . .

What injustice or act of evil do you lament today?

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Luke 22: I Would Never Do That!

Luke is now dealing with the end of Jesus’ life as thoroughly as he did Jesus’ birth.  This long chapter takes us to death’s doorstep.  I was struck by many things — how afraid of the crowd the Pharisees were but by the end of the chapter they are somehow able to turn them against Jesus, how much Jesus wanted to be with and supported by his disciples at this point, how confusing his instructions are in this chapter — but it was the strange juxtaposition of two verses that come side by side that really caught my attention today:

They began to ask each other which of them was going to do this [betray Jesus]. (22:23)

Followed immediately by:

A quarrel began among them: which of them was to be seen as the most important? (22:24)

As he sits at the Last Supper with his beloved group, Jesus announces that one of them is going to betray him.  In Luke’s account he does nothing to hint toward Judas.  The disciples are indignant: “Surely not me!  I would never do a thing like that!  I will be loyal to the end!”

Then . . . one verse later . . . those very same disciples begin to argue over who is the most important disciples amongst the group.  Peter asserts it must be him because he walked on the water to meet Jesus and Jesus did say the keys of the kingdom would be given to him.  Andrew reminds Peter that he wouldn’t have even been there if he hadn’t introduced Peter to Jesus.  James argues it would have to be him because he was always there in the inner group of three to see special things like the Transfiguration, and he didn’t have the tendency to make the same stupid gaffes Peter often did.  John reminds the group he is the “disciple whom Jesus loves.”  Philip makes his claim: wasn’t he the one who boldly declared he would gladly go with Jesus and die?  Bartholomew is sure it will be him because he is so humble he is never even mentioned in the Gospels!

They are shocked that Jesus would think any of them would betray him.  That any of them would work against the very things Jesus came to do.  That they would disappoint their rabbi.  Then moments later they are asserting their own power, reputations, and egos.  They have quickly turned to the trespass that may be most contrary to the way of Christ: self-assertion.

Man, I am so glad we don’t ever do things like that.

What stood out to you today? 

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Luke 21: Watch Out!

This chapter and its parallel in Matthew 24 are just flat complicated passages.  I remember as a high school senior sitting in Bible class with a very insightful and even-keeled teacher trying to sort out the exact ins and outs of this passage.  We were not very successful.  What pertains to the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple to Rome in AD 70?  What is talking about the return of Jesus sometime in the future?  Did they think both would happen simultaneously?  Was Jesus using the same techniques the Old Testament prophets like Daniel did in which they conflated several events together that though spaced out over hundreds of years would end up being fulfilled in very similar ways?  And none of these questions get into the millennial madness the “Left Behind” folks can do with a passage like this.

I had more questions that answers back then.  I have reread this passage many times since then, and I still have more questions than answers.

But here is what I know.  The most important part of the chapter is not the identification and timing of the events mentioned in this chapter.  What is most imperative to hear and understand is the way Jesus ends this teaching:

So watch out for yourselves that your hearts may not grow heavy with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life, so that that day comes upon you suddenly, like a trap.  It will come, you see, on everyone who lives on the face of the earth.  Keep awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will happen, and to stand before the son of man. (21:34-36)

Jesus is coming again.  The Kingdom will come in fulness.  There is judgment ahead.  There are bleak days ahead too, this passage seems to imply (though, lest we blindly adopt some tribulation concept, when has that not been true?)  Our job in the midst of all of this is to watch our hearts and make our hearts ready, much more than it is to watch the news headlines for clues of the second coming (besides Jack Van Impe has that one covered!)  More tragic than blind eyes that cannot read the “sign of the times” is a calloused, worldly heart that is not ready for the real life that is to come.

Jesus mentions three stumbling blocks to watchfulness in this passage:

Dissipation: According to the World English Dictionary, one “dissipates” by living a life of excessive indulgence in physical pleasures, especially things that are expensive, wasteful, and distracting.  Maybe that vacation we couldn’t really afford because we just had to “get away from it all?”  But is this also the mind candy of the multi-billion dollar entertainment and celebrity industry so that our hearts long to be like them, look like them, and live like them?  Dissipation makes the heart less sensitive.

Drunkenness: Literally, this means to be of altered mind because of alcohol.  But why do people drink?  Lots of reasons.  Beyond the pressure-driven binge drinking of adolescence, maybe the most common reason to drink is to anesthetize the pain of an unpleasant life.  The truth is we can achieve that same numbness with any numbers of “drugs.”  Some of us use food.  Others shopping.  Still others the distraction of television.  Drunkenness impairs our vision.

The Cares of This Life: What a shame to spend a life building and rebuilding barns when they are lost in the end?  We certainly need to be responsible with the roles we have to play in life, but these too can become all-consuming.  For some of us this is our career.  I wonder if my yard is really as important as I some times make it.  Or the car.  Why do we run around so frantically trying to be sure everyone likes us, when there is divine approval that is even more important?  The cares of this life busy our hands and waste our energy.

Instead, Jesus talks about a heart anchored in the age to come, eyes fixed on the goal ahead of us, and hands that pray.  Watch out!

What did you learn from this reading today?  

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Luke 20: God and Caesar

Even if you haven’t been reading along in Luke, when you read today’s passage it is clear we are coming to the end of Jesus’ life.  He is being attacked and framed on every side.  People are trying to make him say something that will make him easy to kill or at least turn public opinion against him.

A group of people come up to Jesus purposely trying to catch him in a predicament regarding Roman taxes.  They ask whether it is right to pay the tribute tax using Roman coins that bear the image of the Caesar, something deemed idolatrous.  By this time it might have even been that the Caesar was declaring himself “Lord” in the inscription on these coins.  Jesus knows what they are up to.  He answers them in such a cunning way that it shuts down their attempts to frame him, but it also gives us wise guidance on how to interact with government.

“Show me a tribute-coin,” he said.  “This image . . . and this inscription . . . who do they belong to?”

“Caesar,” they said.

“Well, then,” replied Jesus, “you’d better give Caesar back what belongs to him!  And give God back what belongs to him.” (20:24-25, emphasis Wright’s)

Given that the central point in their discussion is an image on a coin, it is quite likely that what Jesus is saying that paying taxes is no big deal, even with a seemingly blasphemous coin, because that is simply what is required in Caesar’s world.  His image, his coin.  Give him what is his.  However, pushing his questioners deeper than they intended to go, if we are going to talk about images, let’s remember that we have an image stamped on us too, Jesus says.  We bear God’s image.  Give Him what is his.  Work in the system, fine and dandy; pay your taxes and stay out of trouble.  But be sure to give your heart, your life, your energy to God.

Which leads to some unpopular questions in a country as patriotic as America.  Do we ever give too much to our Caesars?  Sure, we pay our taxes and fulfill our civic duties.  That is fitting.  But do we also give our heart and being to our countries?  Do we pledge allegiance to our governments so much that they become our first love?  Are we willing to die for a country yet we are not willing to suffer discomfort for Jesus?  Do we bleed red, white and blue (or any other flag’s colors)?  Do we think our favorite politician is the savior of life as we know it?  Will we debate, fight, divide, or attack for our candidate?  Do we proselytize for our political party and forward political emails to friends, yet do neither for the Creator of our souls?  Do we accept attitudes popular with our political persuasions but which are actually contrary to the way of Christ?  How much is too much?

I know, not a popular set of questions in an election year.  Oh, and the Olympics start this week!  Just going where the text takes me.

What do you think?

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Luke 19: Belong then Believe

I grew up with the thinking that all people respond to God for the first time the same way.  I guess this came from the pattern theology that I grew up with that likes to reduce everything to simplified formulas that are binding on all.  While that is neat and tidy, I don’t tend to believe that anymore.  As I read the Bible, I see people responding to God for the first time in many different ways, often depending on who they are and what has happened and what the situation calls for.  Sure, there are general trends but it isn’t as nicely tied up with a bow as I once thought.

I am drawn today to how Zacchaeus responds to Jesus in this, their first encounter of faith.  He is “very rich” (19:2).  Think back one chapter, to Friday, and the story of the rich young ruler.  Different from that man, Zacchaeus is not told to sell everything he has and follow Jesus.  Yet, the attitude of this tax collector and the rich young ruler are quite different.  That latter went away without change while Zacchaeus is quick to make financial, concrete amends for his life of shaking down his neighbors.

We are never told why Zacchaeus is drawn to Jesus.  Is he wanting to follow Jesus as a disciple of this new rabbi who has come to town?  Is he just a bystander wanting to get a glimpse of this man in the news?  Is he drawn to the healings and exorcisms that Jesus brings about?  Is he in need of some healing we are not aware of?  We simply do not know.  He quickly responds ethically, so that might indicate he was responding with faith.

I am struck by how Jesus accepts this tax collector and is willing to dine with him at his house, no insignificant gesture in their time and place as table fellowship connoted unqualified acceptance, even before Zacchaeus has done anything more than climb a tree.  Maybe Jesus is making the first gesture here.

Then Zacchaeus does what can only be described as repentance.  He turns in a very practical way from his life of deceit:

“Look, Master,” he said, “I’m giving half my property to the poor.  And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I’m giving it back to them four times over.” (19:8)

Jesus response is unmistakable:

Today, salvation has come to this house. (19:9)

Zacchaeus has launched off in new, uncharted territory of faith.  He will follow Jesus, not his own conniving.  He will stand for righteousness and even fall over himself to make sure people around him know it.  Jesus seeing this repentance and Zacchaeus receives a new label: “saved.”

Interest ~ Acceptance ~ Repentance ~ Salvation

That is a pretty good flow.  No need to turn that into another pattern.  Not every person will respond this way, but it is a good reminder to us that for many people that we wish to reach in this world — especially those marginalized in society — acceptance from the Body of Christ often has to precede the lifestyle change and submission we wish to see in their lives.  Like many are saying these days, some have to belong before they decide to really believe.

What did you see anew in this chapter?

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Luke 18: Stuck in the Eye of the Needle

As we read through Luke, we keep coming back to money.  That is no surprise, knowing Luke is the “social justice gospel.”  Luke’s Jesus talks about money almost as much as Matthew’s Jesus attacked the Jewish religious leaders.

Is it wrong to be rich?  That’s a loaded question.  It is also an impossible question because “rich” is entirely relative.  Are you rich if you make more than $50K in America as that is roughly the median household income?  Are you rich if you have three cars?  Are you rich if you have one car and don’t have to ride the bus?  If you are a welfare mother in Memphis with four kids to feed, you are poor, right?  But isn’t she rich compared to a many people in Africa or a leper in the slums of Calcutta?  And does how you use your money make you more or less rich?  And what do you have to do to not be rich?  How much do you have to give away?  Do you have to stop clothing your kids at Aeropostale and shop at Wal-Mart instead?  But aren’t you still spending more than at Goodwill?  You can always give up more, so trying to draw a line between poor and rich seems a bit arbitrary, slippery, and maybe even self-serving.

Here is a better question: Does wealth make following Jesus harder?  I feel much more comfortable answering that one, and “rich” can remain as relative as it clearly is.  It seems Luke’s answer is a resounding “yes.”

Jesus saw that he [the rich young ruler] had become sad, and said, “How hard it is for those with possessions to enter God’s kingdom!  Yes: it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom.” (18:24-25)

First let’s deal with Jesus’ wording and one misconception: I like the way N. T. Wright phrases the first part of Jesus’ response, “those with possessions.”  This is a reminder that the real issue in possessing something with clenched fists as if it is our own and with an unwillingness to let it go.  Rich people can do this.  But poor people can too.  Trying to serve our selfish desires while also serving God, that is when the problems come.  Next, there once was a belief that there was a now-lost gate in ancient Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle” that was very short, so short that camels had to get down on their knees to crawl through, and that this is what Jesus was referring to here.  Hence, it is not impossible for a camel to go through the “eye of the needle,” and it is not impossible for rich people to enter God’s kingdom.  However, F. F. Bruce and others have made it clear that there is absolutely no archaeological evidence for such a gate, and the next two verses make it clear that Jesus is talking about an impossible feat.

Does having money make some things in life easier?  Certainly.  That is why most parents get a bit nervous when our kids say they want to grow up to be artists and musicians, not dentists and pharmaceutical salespeople.  That is often why we encourage people to stay in school (there are better reasons, but let’s be real about a lot of people’s motivations).  That is why we encourage our kids to work hard, to seek promotions, to save, to eliminate debt, to invest and squirrel away for retirement.  The American Dream — I daresay, all of capitalism — is based on the belief that money makes life better or easier and we wouldn’t be going on three hundred years of American capitalism if it were not at least partially true.

But in a culture like America (and Canada and Europe and free Asia and so much of this “flat earth,” as Thomas Friedman called it) where the philosophy of materialism (all that exists is that which is tangible and material) and the practice of affluence (let’s have as much of that material as possible, because it will make me happy and solve my problems) are part of the dominant worldview that is in opposition to that described in the Bible, it is absolutely imperative that we hear Jesus clearly here and decide whether we really believe what he is saying.  This is a proverbial “line in the sand.”  Attachment to material possessions makes following Jesus harder.  It becomes easier to become attached to material possessions the more we become able to attain possessions (i.e., when we are rich, whatever that means in a given context).  The more we have, the more we feed the desire to have.  The more we try to satiate our needs with stuff, the more we teach ourselves that stuff makes us happy, thus do what it takes to be able to procure stuff.  These are not comfortable words to write.  They are very indicting.  They confront the very culture most, if not all of us, are living in.  But they seem to be what Jesus is saying.

Let me end with a concrete example of what I am talking about here.  Each summer and often once or twice during the school year, a group of my students and adult friends travel to an orphanage in Ghana, West Africa that we help support at our school.  These kids come from nothing and, though their quality of life at the orphanage is actually pretty good by African standards, they still lack much of what we would call essential.  Nonetheless, the most common statement I hear from students who return from Ghana is this: “I wish I were there.  I can’t wait to go back.  Life is so much simpler there.  Those kids know what really matters.  They teach me that so much of what I have is unnecessary.  I think they are actually happier than I am.”

Could it be that our affluence is, in fact, making life with God harder?

What do you think?

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Luke 17: Only What’s Expected

That’s how it is with you.  When you’ve done everything you’re told, say this: “We’re just ordinary slaves.  All we’ve done is what we were supposed to do.” (17:10)

Yeah, I have been known to do it.  That typical male trespass.  Yes, I have jumped out of my dinner chair, rushed into the kitchen to do the dishes, only to then expect some sort of praise for my great deed.  Of course, my wife does the dishes many times a week, never to fanfare.  Of course, the dishes have never been assigned to her, as if we did that sort of thing.  So I am not doing any great thing, am I?  Yet, how easy it is to go looking for praise.

I think that same attitude is easy to have with God.  God, did you see what I just did?  Did you see how I obeyed without you even asking?  Impressed?

Why do we see obedience as an extra we do for God, not part of the job?  I need to change that way of thinking.

What hit you in this chapter?

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Luke 16: Faithful in Little, Faithful in Much

“Rich Man and Lazarus, Part 1,” prettytexasgal (from Flickr)

Someone who is faithful in a small matter will also be faithful in a large one. Someone who is dishonest in a small matter will also be dishonest in a large one. If you haven’t been faithful with that wicked thing called money, who is going to entrust you with true wealth? (16:10-11)

What constitutes “faithfulness” in this passage?

I think I have always answered that question the way Dave Ramsey or Larry Burkett might want me to.  “Faithful” means managing your money in such a way that you do not lose it and maybe you even gain more.  Faithful is financial.

But then I see the word “dishonest”  in verse 10, so maybe faithful is ethical.  Being faithful with money means not cheating your employer or not selling junk bonds or something like that.

Then we keep reading on in the chapter and I am wondering if Luke doesn’t tell us himself what “faithful” means.  Luke gives us a story contrasting the life of a rich man who has “received good things” (16:25) but goes on to an eternal punishment and a poor man named Lazarus who would have settled for “scraps that fell from the rich man’s table” (16:21) but receives a blessed afterlife.  The implication is that the rich man is being punished for how he has treated or, maybe better said, neglected Lazarus.  If Luke intends for us to read these stories together, then “faithful” is social.  To be faithful means to be compassionate, to care for others, and to use the money with which God entrusts us to ensure the people in our life have what they need, not simply to serve our own interests.

Does that understanding make sense with your reading of this chapter?

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Luke 15: Two Sons

We have come to maybe my most favorite Bible story of all: the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  That is such a strange name for this parable.  “Prodigal” means extravagant and, while the younger son did live a life of decadent extravagance for a time, it is the father who is the truly “prodigal” one.  And this is as much a story about the older son as it is the younger son.  So let’s call it the Parable of the Two Sons.

I am reticent to say much of anything about this parable.  This is like sacred ground.  You just sit and listen.  You take it in and praise God.  As I see it, this parable is all of the Gospels in a single story.  Maybe the whole Bible.  Definitely the gospel message.  Pair it with Rembrandt’s depiction of the parable and a lot of other words aren’t necessary.  Therefore, I am reproducing Wright’s version of the story in toto instead.

Rembrandt, “Return of the Prodigal Son”

Once there was a man who had two sons.  The younger son said to the father, “Father, give me my share in the property,”  So he divided up his livelihood between them.  Not many days later the younger son turned his share into cash, and set off for a country far away, where he spent his share in having a riotous good time.

When he had spent it all, a severe famine came on that country, and he found himself destitute.  So he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into the fields to feed his pigs.  He longed to satisfy his hunger with the pods that the pigs were eating, and nobody have him anything.

He came to his senses.  “Just think!” he said to himself.  “There are all my father’s hired hands with plenty to eat — and here am I, starving to death!  I shall get up and go to my father, and I’ll say to him, ‘Father; I have sinned against heaven and before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son any longer.  Make me like one of your hired hands.'”  And he got up and went to his father.

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and his heart was stirred with love and pity.  He ran to him, hugged him tight, and kissed him.  “Father,” the son began, “I have sinned against heaven and before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son any longer.”  But the father said to his servants, “Hurry!  Bring the best clothes and put them on him!  Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet!  And bring the calf that we’ve fattened up, kill it, and let’s eat and have a party!  This son of mine was dead, and is alive again!  He was lost, and now he’s found!”  And they began to celebrate.

The older son was out in the fields.  When he came home and got near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  He called one of the servants and asked what was going on.

“Your brother’s come home!” he said.  “And your father has thrown a great party — he’s killed the fattened calf! — because he’s got him back safe and well!”

He flew into a rage, and wouldn’t go in.

Then his father came out and pleaded with him.  “Look here!” he said to his father, “I’ve been slaving for you all these years!  I’ve never disobeyed a single commandment of yours.  And you never even gave me a young goat so I could have a party with my friends.  But when this son of yours comes home, once he’s finished gobbling up your livelihood with his whores, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

“My son,” he replied, “you’re always with me.  Everything I have belongs to you.  But we had to celebrate and be happy!  This brother of yours was dead and is alive again!  He was lost, and now he’s found!” (15:11-32)

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Luke 14: Upside-Down Sayings

This Jesus we follow has made us a part of an upside-down kingdom.  There is what we know to be normal and conventional; Jesus’ way is usually the opposite.  I am drawn to the many sayings of Jesus that really illustrate this.  They speak such truth.  They are attractive in how contradictory they are to everything we know.  At the same time, they are also maddening because they call us to a new way of thinking that is uncomfortable and disorienting, so they are not how we would normally go about life.

Today’s chapter is full of those upside-down kingdom statements:

  • Don’t let your traditions guide all you do (14:3-6)
  • Don’t take a good seat at a party (14:7-11)
  • Don’t expect those most like you to accept your invitation to dinner (14:12-24)
  • Don’t think family is most important (14:26-27)
  • Don’t try to hang on to your possessions (14:33)

Jesus way may be upside-down to the way we normally think, but could it be that this makes all the difference?

What caught your eye in this chapter?

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Luke 13: One More Year

I have been reading the Bible for a long time, but I can honestly say I don’t believe I have ever really noticed this parable.

Once upon a time there was a man who had a fig tree in his vineyard.  He came to it looking for fruit, and didn’t find any.  So he said to the gardener, “Look here!  I’ve been coming to this fig tree for three years hoping to find some fruit, and I haven’t found any!  Cut it down!  Why should it use up the soil?”

“I tell you what, Master,” replied the gardener; “let it alone for just this one year more.  I’ll dig all around it and put on some manure.  Then, if it fruits next year, well and good; and if not, you can cut it down.” (13:6-9)

I am amazed by the amount of grace in this little parable.  One man is ready to give up on the fig tree.  The other one (Jesus?) wants to wait just one more year.  One more chance!  That is our God!  Yes, it is grace mixed with expectation.  This fig tree needs to produce.  But, when others are ready to cut it down, Jesus isn’t.  Not yet.

Do we ever write people off too soon?  It seems like this parable is implying so.

What do you think?  

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Luke 12: Beware of All Greed!

I think there maybe no more timely verses for this world than these from today’s reading:

Watch out and beware of all greed!  Your life doesn’t consist of the sum total of your possessions. . . . So don’t go hunting about for what to eat or what to drink, and don’t be anxious.  The nations of the world go searching for all that stuff, and your father knows you need it.  This is what you should search for: God’s kingdom!  Then all the rest will be given you as well. (12:15, 29-32)

I don’t know a modern American Christian for whom greed and anxiety over money is not a temptation at least potentially.  That is what comes when you live in a culture focused on money and materialism.

I don’t think there are any great secrets to conquering greed, at least not in our context (maybe you know one?).  I only conclude that with prayer and accountability we have to raise this struggle to the conscious level and fight it aggressively.  Maybe we ask ourselves why we are purchasing what we do.  Maybe we regularly deny ourselves certain intended purchases and extravagances.  I know spending time in environments far less affluent helps considerably.  So too does the practice of sacrificial giving to others.  Another big help is what Jesus says here.  Get busy trying to advance God’s kingdom and little by little, over a lifetime maybe, the trinkets of this world become less attractive.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

How do you fight greed, anxiety about money, and the temptation to be materialistic?

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Luke 11: Teach Us to Pray

The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray (which would mean Jesus’ way of praying, not how to pray in general as they would have been taught to pray since childhood) and he gives them two contrasting teachings.

First, he gives them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.  The outstanding point of this prayer is how God-centered it is.  God is praised.  It is God’s kingdom that we wish to see advanced.  The rest of the prayer is one of basic provision: bread for today, forgiveness, and protection from the Devil.

Next, Jesus also challenges his audience to pray with audacity:

So this is my word to you: ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.  You see, everyone who asks receives!  Everyone who searches finds!  Everyone who knocks has the door opened for them!  (11:9-10)

This is the prayer of bold persistence. Prayers of this sort are focused on the person praying.  This is a very different kind of prayer from the first.

Most of us pray one or the other of these prayers.  We easily pray for ourselves and God’s agenda takes a backseat.  We have an easy time taking our needs to God but have yet to learn there may be a more important, kingdom-advancing point to our need.  Or, for others, God is the center of much of our prayer and we feel guilty asking for ourselves.  We might come around to “asking, seeking, knocking” but only after our own best efforts have been exhausted or we are convinced we should dare to ask for ourselves.

Jesus tell us here that both kinds of prayers are necessary.  There is not one right way to pray.   Some days all that matters is God’s agenda and we can be content with the basics. Other days, in desperation, we cry out boldly for our own needs, because we must.

Life requires both.

What did you learn today about prayer?

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Luke 10: Celebrate The Right Person

I guess I am still stuck on yesterday’s message.

Look: I’ve given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and every other power of the enemy.  Nothing will ever be able to harm you.  But — don’t celebrate having spirits under your authority.  Celebrate this, that your names are written in heaven. (10:19-20)

It is just plain easy to have pride in or “celebrate” what we have been able to do for and because of God.  In the apostles’ case that meant the ability to exorcise demons.  But Jesus’ warning is unequivocal.  Don’t celebrate what you can do, rather what was done for you.  It is not about your gifts, rather the gift that was given you.  Tell others not about your authority, rather about the authority of God, the power by which we serve.

May God’s name and praise be always on our lips!

What caught your eye in this chapter?

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Luke 9: Take Up Your Cross Soberly

I was watching again the first of The Lord of the Rings movies recently (notable because I almost never watch the same movie twice), and I was struck by how Gandalf was both drawn to and terrified by the ring.  When Bilbo leaves it behind, does Gandalf want to take it up and wear it and even use it “for good” as he says later to Frodo?  Absolutely!  The ring is such that any being would want it.  Yet, Gandalf will never touch the ring.  He knows, no matter how good his intentions, the ring will corrupt him and, therefore, destroy him.

I see the same thing happening in this passage.  Not in Jesus.  He has it figured out.  But like Gandalf was teaching Frodo to fear the corrupting power of the ring, I see Jesus teaching his disciples that power can easily corrupt.

I see an earthly king, Herod the tetrarch, scared that he might lose his power to this new man everyone is talking about.  I see people who flock to Jesus for whatever his power can give them, whether healing, wholeness or food.  Who could blame them?  I see disciples given power to heal and exorcise, who are excited to tell Jesus what they have done (9:10, 36) but who want to press pause on ministry to tell glory-stories about themselves (9:12).  I see Peter marveling at the power and glory of Jesus on the Transfiguration and glad that he gets to be there to see it (9:33), as if the marvelous sight was the point itself.  And at the lowest point in the whole chapter, I see disciples arguing over which of them is the greatest, as if the point of the power they have been given in this chapter was for their own glory (9:46).  Then they are ready to use that power to call down destruction of people who reject Jesus (9:54).  They have drunk the heady draught of power and have become intoxicated.

In the midst of all of this is a teacher who forbids his followers to tell others what they have seen and learned (9:21), who tells them he is getting ready to die, not revolt against Rome (9:22, 44).  Here we have a Master who practically tries to dissuade people who want to follow him, saying the cost is very high (9:57-62).  And also in this chapter are these famous reminders that the way of Christ is about sacrifice, self-denial, and service not power and glory:

“If any of you want to come after me,” he said, “you must say no to yourselves, and pick up your cross every day, and follow me.  If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it; but if you lose your life because of me, you’ll save it.  What good will it do you if you win the entire world, but lose or forfeit your own self?” (9:23-25)

“Whoever is the least among you — that’s the one who is great.” (9:48b)

Power only ever belongs in the hands of those who can carry it for a while, for the benefit of others not themselves, and who honestly see the “cross” they carry for what it is: an instrument of possible destruction and a vehicle of potential grace.  We dare not take up the cross of ministry, with the power and glory it can bring, lightly.

What stood out to you in this chapter?

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Luke 8: How Is Your Heart-Soil?

Earlier this week I was looking back through an old journal of mine (before I was willing to share my writing with others) from 2006.  Interestingly, I found that on this very date six years ago I was meditating on the Parable of the Sower from today’s passage.  I share here now what I wrote six years ago.

How did these soils get this way?  The simple answer is that each soil had an owner that created its condition, and in this parable the owner clearly is not God.

The “pathway” heart-soil has become hardened by the actions and choices of the owner and others.  Pathways are picked by an owner as soil that will purposely be trampled upon and rendered incapable of sustaining a crop.  Then these paths are worn through repeated use.  The owner directs others to use that same pathway, and trespassers will even use a path if available.  Habitual sin, misuse of our bodies and souls with others, and even unwanted abuse harden our hearts so that we will not listen to God’s word of truth.  We chose to use what was created to be pure and fruitful in degrading and harmful ways or — in one of those hard to rectify speeches of the Lord — others are allowed to snatch away from us, through abuse, the hope and love and truth we so desperately need.

The “rocky” heart-soil has not been prepared for the long growing season.  Whether from laziness or a desire to see an immediate result from his plantings, the farmer has failed to dig out the rocks that will stunt the growth of his immature plants, causing them to wither in the hot, dry summer months.  These plants are simply unable to reach the deep reservoirs of water below the rocks.  When we move too quickly from one spiritual high to another, trading an emotional high for the disciplines and experiences that really mature faith in the dry heat of suffering and divine silence, we produce heart-soil in which the fledgling sprouts of faith will also quickly wither.  In today’s world, our greatest obstacle to the deep reservoir of Spirit-water is our hunger for immediate gratification.  We are content to soak up the jolt of a worship experience but refuse to learn to control one’s anger.

The owner of the “thorny” heart-soil has also failed to prepare his land for successful growth.  The owner did not pull up the faster-growing, hardier thorns, allowing them to compete with the more tender grain shoots; this owner has simply tried to sow a new crop amongst existing plants.  Given that the thorns are identified as “worries” but also “riches and pleasures” it would seem that some of these thorns have intentionally been left to live alongside the grain shoots.  Both grain and thorns receive rain, nutrients, and sunlight, allowing competition to arise, but the thorns thrive.  When we fail to uproot the attitudes, desires, and behaviors contrary to the Way of Christ attempting only to add Christ to an already hardy life of worry, excess, and selfishness, our immature faith will flounder under the competition.  The Spirit will not live in a divided heart.

The owner of the “good, pure” heart-soil has prepared his plot with wisdom, effort, and patience.  He has removed the rocks and thorns, and loosened any packed soil before planting.  He tucked the seed into the soil away from the birds.  His plants will find moisture and room to grow deep.  His plants will remain free from competition.  We enrich our heart-soil for bountiful growth when we break the bonds of habitual sin; when we use our bodies and souls as they were intended; when we avoid abuse (to the degree we can); when we realize crop preparation is a time-intensive, long-term endeavor; when we patiently foster disciplines that feed our faith and cherish faith-stretching experiences; when we replace worry with trust; and when we uproot a life of selfish ambition and carnal gratification.

Which heart-soil is yours?

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Luke 7: Faith & Need

A Roman centurion, a Jewish widow, and a woman of ill repute evoke deep emotions in Jesus.  Meanwhile, the Pharisees lurk everywhere around in the shadows and they stir up Jesus’ anger.  This surely is the Gospel of Luke.

A Roman centurion believes that if Jesus just says the word his slave will be healed from afar, especially because the centurion believes he is unworthy to entertain this great rabbi in his house.  Jesus was “astonished” (7:9) by this level of faith yet to be encountered amongst the Jews and heals the slave.

Jesus walks up on a widow — about to hit one of the lowest rungs of their society — whose dead son is being carried out to be buried.  Jesus sees this and is “very sorry for her” (7:13), so he raises the boy back to life.

“Anointing Jesus’ Feet” by Frank Wesley

A woman of “a known bad character” (7:37) barges into a dinner party at a Pharisees house and anoints his feet with costly oil and her tears of repentance.  Jesus falls all over himself praising her for the hospitality she gave that Simon had not.

There are two things Jesus responds to: faith and need.  Unfortunately, the more religious you are the less you need faith.  Religion has a way of making us far too sure of our own righteousness.  Sadly, the higher up the social ladder we are, the less we need or at least sense that we need.  But when we realize how much we need, how unworthy we are of blessing, how unholy we are Jesus opens the doors of his blessings.  At these moments our hearts are open to receive great love and in response show great love.

So the conclusion I draw is this: she must have been forgiven many sins!  Her great love proves it!  But if someone has been forgiven only a little, they will love only a little. (7:47)

What caught your eye in this chapter?

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Luke 6: Blessings and Woes

Happy Fourth of July!

And now for something completely un-American!

Most of Luke 6 is our author’s version of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7.  Jesus’ sermon is shorter, but it has many of the same teachings and the same sequence of topics minus the “You have heard it was said, but I say to you” commentary on the  Pharisaic reduction of the Law.  I have to admit that Luke’s version of the Beatitudes has me perplexed and filled with questions today.  I understand that Luke’s emphasis on social justice accounts for the differences between his version and Matthew’s, but Luke seems too either-or.  I will restructure Luke 6:20-26 so the couplets come together.

Blessings on the poor: God’s kingdom belongs to you! . . . But woe betide you rich: you’ve had your comfort!

Blessings on those who are hungry today: you’ll have a feast! . . . Woe betide you if you’re full today: you’ll go hungry!

Blessings on those who weep today: you’ll be laughing! . . . Woe betide you if you’re laughing today: you’ll be mourning and weeping!

Blessings on you, when people hate you, and shut you out, when they slander you and reject your name as if it was evil, because of the son of man.  Celebrate on that day!  Jump for joy!  Don’t you see: in heaven there is a great reward for you!  That’s what their ancestors did to the prophets. . . . Woe betide you when everyone speaks well of you: that’s what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Are these very situational verses?  Was Jesus speaking into situations where people were rich or poor because of injustice and oppression?  Is it inherently wrong to be rich, comfortable, and happy?  Must one suffer in order to enter fully the kingdom of God?  Sure, there will be a reversal in the hereafter that punishes those who got rich by exploiting the poor, but what about those who were rich through acceptable avenues?  Can a Christian not be well-received in society and be devoted to God?

What do you think about these verses?

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Luke 5: What A Catch!

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deeper part, and let down your nets for a catch.” . . . When they did so, they caught such a huge number of fish that their nets began to break.  They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  So they came, and filled both the boats, and they began to sink. (5:4, 6-7)

What a great reminder that the blessings of God can be that immense!  Oh, to experience that in the areas of our lives that seem so vacant of goodness and provision!

At the same time, Luke shows us that this blessing of abundant fish had an illustrative purpose: to show the new disciples that just as he can bless the work they are used to doing, likewise Jesus could bless the new “fishing” business he is calling them to that may seem foreign and daunting.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Jesus to Simon.  “From now on you’ll be catching people.” (5:10b)

It’s all about trust.

How could a recent blessing be evidence that we can trust God for something new and different in the future? 

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Luke 4: First Words

Can you identify what book begins with the following classic first lines?  Answers are at the end of the post, if you wish to quiz yourself.

  1. ”It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
  2. ”Call me Ishmael.”
  3. ”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
  4. ”All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
  5. ”You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.”
  6. ”It was a pleasure to burn.”
  7. ”You better not never tell nobody but God.”
  8. ”In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.”
  9. ”Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
  10. “All children, except one, grow up.”

Sometimes the first lines of a book or the first words of a character let you know all you need to know about that book or character right from the start.  Remember this first line from Darth Vader in Star Wars?

“Commander, tear this ship apart until you find those plans.”  

Today, Luke gives us Jesus’ first public words in his adult ministry, a quote from the beginning of Isaiah 61:

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to tell the poor the good news.  He has sent me to announce release to the prisoners, and sight to the blind, to set the wounded victims free, to announce the year of God’s special favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

More about that later.

Sin is big and pervasive.  We are kidding ourselves if we think sin only affects our relationship with God, as if it is some cosmic, spiritual black dot on our heavenly record, which if not dealt with will adversely affect our afterlife in some way.  Sin affects every square inch of our lives.  Sin has a spiritual effect, to be sure.  But it also has social, physical, and psychological effects on life here and now as well.

Think about Adam and Eve and effects of the first, prototypical sin:

  • They are declared guilty and are cursed by God for their actions (spiritual)
  • They are separated from God’s presence, alienation begins between the two of them, and Adam is placed in a position of dominance over Eve (social)
  • They suffer a loss of innocence and feel shame and fear for the first time, all the while trying to shift blame off out themselves (psychological/emotional)
  • The physical hide then must cover themselves, they will experience pain in childbirth and in their work, the ground will be less fertile, and they begin to decay and die bodily (physical)

Sin is an all-encompassing problem that affects all corners of our life.

Now, back to Luke 4.  Jesus arrives on the scene.  Interestingly, Paul will call Jesus the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45; c.f., Romans 5:12).  We have the start of something new as Jesus steps back into the synagogue in Nazareth, his childhood home.  Luke makes it clear this is a fulfillment of prophecy: “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your own hearing” (4:21).  Like a good opening line, we are introduced to the redemptive ministry that will be Jesus’ sole concern for the next three years.  This is Jesus’ raison d’être: I came to reverse and release, heal and forgive, to make new.  True to Luke’s concern for the marginalized, the people mentioned here are the harassed, harried, and undesirables.  For the rest of the book we will watch Jesus accomplish this mission in his short life.

The interesting thing, though, is how Jesus’ declares his redemptive mission will be equally as pervasive as the sin he has come to address.  If sin affects all corners of our lives, Christ’s salvation will cover just as much ground.  Jesus has come to reverse the curse every human has been under since we moved east of Eden.  Notice how all four areas of life in the diagram above are also found here in this statement from Luke 4:

  • Announce the year of God’s special favor (spiritual)
  • Release to the prisoners (social)
  • Set the wounded victims free from “oppression” as the NIV says (psychological/emotional)
  • Recovery of sight for the blind (physical)

Salvation is not only a matter of forgiveness of sin.  Jesus has come to save every inch of us, our relationships, and our world.  Salvation is an all-encompassing solution that affects all corners of our life. 

Now that is something to get excited about!

(Answers: Pride and Prejudice; Moby Dick, Tale of Two Cities; Anna Karenina; Huckleberry Finn; Farenheit 451; The Color Purple; A River Runs Through It; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; Peter Pan)

How did you do on that little quiz?

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Luke 3: Baptized with The Holy Spirit

Another characteristic trait of Luke’s Gospel is his emphasis on the Holy Spirit.  Of course, we see this most clearly in Acts, volume two of the set, but there have been several time already where mention of the Holy Spirit has been made when it was not in Matthew or Mark.

The adult John was clearly a prophet, one who spoke necessary words even if they were confrontational, even if they would get him killed one day.  (I noticed today that verses 4-6 were first spoken by Isaiah, who tradition says was sawn in two; then John the Baptist, who was beheaded; then Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I have a dream” speech, who was assassinated.  People don’t usually like prophets.)  John came preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins and offered a water baptism that brought this to one’s life.  Yet he also says Jesus will do more than simply offer repentance and baptism for forgiveness.

To all of them John responded: “I am baptizing you with water.  But someone is coming who is stronger than I am.  I don’t deserve to untie his sandal-strap.  He will baptize you with the holy spirit and with fire.” (3:16)

The thing that was new with Jesus was not baptism, it was the gift of the Holy Spirit offered to all who would follow him and come into Christ through Christian baptism.  Baptism was the ritual; the Holy Spirit was the power and the result.  Even forgiveness was available through John’s baptism; it was the Spirit that was missing.  Remember Acts 19 (also written by Luke) where this was precisely the issue with a group of people baptized by John but who were missing the Holy Spirit?  To punctuate the point, in this chapter Luke includes Jesus’ own baptism in which the Holy Spirit comes upon him.

A life with forgiveness is wonderful, but we are destined to end right back where we were before.  We would be a people obsessed with forgiveness because of our permanent fallen state.  What we need is empowerment to become something better than what we presently are.  That is the importance of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  God not only forgives us, He empowers us by that Spirit to live a life that is progressively more holy and capable than it was before.

I wonder if sometimes we are guilty of still only preaching “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (3:3).  We emphasize the need to be washed clean of sin.  We encourage each other to turn from sin.  And, yes, we become obsessed with forgiveness because we have missed the part that we can actually become something different than an incapable sinner.  Acts 2:38, a verse ultra-familiar to many of us here, says:

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Have we forgotten about the last part?  And if so, are we missing the most important part?  Are we missing the one unique characteristic of Jesus’ baptism, the one part that is essential to becoming God’s people in a fallen world, the Holy Spirit?

I think so.

What do you think?

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Luke 2: A Sign of Things to Come

It is a little surreal reading this classic Christmas chapter on June 28 when it is above 90 degrees F in Memphis!

I was drawn to this passage today as I read:

“Don’t be afraid,” the angel said to them [the shepherds]. “Look: I’ve got good news for you, news which will make everybody very happy. Today a savior has been born for you–the Messiah, the Lord!–in David’s town. This will be a sign for you: you’ll find the baby wrapped up, and lying in a feeding-trough.” (2:10-12).

The sign the angel is talking about, no doubt, was that Jesus was to be found swaddled and in a manger.  That would have been the clear sign the shepherds could use to find Jesus.  What other newborn in Bethlehem would have been found in a cattle trough?

But I am wondering if there is more meaning to this passage than the literal.  This is a very unorthodox place for the Messiah to be laid.  This is not how a king should be born and laid to receive his admirers.  And these are strange people to pick to tell first about the birth; shepherds were second class citizens or less.

Is that maybe part of the sign?  Is this a sign of what kind of king this would be?  An indication of what sort of ministry this savior will have and to whom he will minister primarily?  A hint that he will be a much meeker, socially marginalized savior than expected, one better suited for shepherds and innkeepers?  That would certainly fit what we know about Luke’s concern for the disenfranchised of his society.  But it might still fit today, don’t you think?

Who are the people in your world who can better identify with a savior in a feeding-trough than a bassinet? 

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Luke 1: A Worshipful Response

Major things happen in this long first chapter.  God starts moving again.  Remember this follows four hundred years of divine silence.  Angels appear.  Temple worship is interrupted.  Signs and miracles occur.  Babies are conceived in unlikely and unnatural ways.  God is on the move and it is BIG!

All of this action has a point:

He [John] will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. (1:16)

He [Jesus] will be a great man, and he’ll be called the son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever.  His kingdom will never come to an end. (1:32-33)

He [God] has rescued his servant, Israel his child. (1:54a)

Blessed be the Lord, Israel’s God!  He’s come to his people and bought them their freedom.  He’s raised up a horn of salvation for us. . . . Salvation from our enemies, rescue from hatred, mercy to our ancestors. . . . Letting his people know of salvation, through the forgiveness of all their sins. (1:68-69a, 71-72, 77)

God moves so as to save, to bless, to rule, and to redeem.

“Magnificat,” Maulbertsch

So, how do you respond when God starts doing magnificent things in your life?  Just like Elizabeth, Mary, and Zechariah: you worship!

Elizabeth:  Elizabeth was filled with the holy spirit, and shouted at the top of her voice: “Of all women, you’re the blessed one!” (1:41b-42)

Mary:  My soul declares that the Lord is great, My spirit exults in my savior, my God. (1:46-47)

Zechariah: Immediately his mouth and his tongue were unfastened, and he spoke, praising God. . . . “He swore an oath to Abraham our father, to give us deliverance from fear and from foes, so we might worship him.” (1:73-74)

Over what in your life right now can you worship?

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BONUS: An Introduction to Luke

Though he never identifies himself in the book, the author of this gospel is almost universally acknowledged to be Luke, the “doctor” (Col. 4:14) and “fellow worker” with Paul (Phlm 24) mentioned in Acts in several places.  This sure identification comes from the tight connection between the Gospel of Luke and Acts, both of which are addressed to “most excellent Theophilus” in what is clearly a two-volume set.  Because the author of Acts identifies himself in the “we passages” of Acts as one of Paul’s companions on his second missionary journey, there is confidence this is Luke.

Who was Theophilus?  The name simply means “lover of God,” so some have posited that this was only a general title for any Christians who would read this book.  However, the title “most excellent” suggests this was a specific person and an esteemed one.  The dedications at the beginning of Luke and Acts were common in Roman literature as a way to honor the patron and publisher of a work.  Thus, Theophilus would not only have been learning from this gospel himself, but also been responsible for duplicating it and spreading it around.  The introduction of Luke makes it obvious this is an apologetic:

So, most excellent Theophilus, since I had traced the course of all of it scrupulously from the start, I thought it a good idea to write an orderly account for you, so that you may have secure knowledge about the matters in which you have been instructed. (1:3-4)

Anyone who has read the gospels know that there is much overlap in the books (53% of the book of Mark is in Luke in some form), yet there is always something unique about each.  Those unique qualities give us a window into why they were written.  The Gospel of Luke is by far the most Gentile gospel of the four.  With his Greek name, Luke was likely a Gentile and one associated with Paul’s later work in Achaia and beyond.  His gospel was largely written in the most formal, educated Greek style and has a marked order and structure.  It is also the most exhaustive, moving from an extensive birth narrative to his ascension.  Theophilus is also a Greek name, so he too was likely from the culturally Greek or Roman parts of the Empire.

Luke’s most characteristic trait is the book’s attention to the typically marginalized of the Roman culture.  Women are more important in this gospel than the others.  The poor are given focus and dignity.  Sinners are included in Jesus’ circles more intentionally.  Gentiles show up often in Luke, no surprise given the book’s supposed audience.

In these dog days on July, it will be good to walk the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea as we head to Jerusalem with the one who “came to seek and save the lost” (19:10).

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