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Click here for the reading: Luke 15:1-10.

The grumbling of the Pharisees and the scribes is emblematic of the self-righteousness into which the religious can easily fall. If the wanton and wicked fail to apprehend God’s wrath over sin, the self-righteous misappropriate God’s wrath. They are pleased to have God’s judgment against that sin of which they themselves feel they are innocent. And they imagine that God will enforce their manmade standards for righteousness. They condemn Jesus, and so condemn God, for they believe that anyone less scrupulous than them must be against religion. But it is not a difference of degree, as they suppose. It is a difference of kind. It is not because Jesus imagines that the sinners are righteous that he eats with them. He eats with them precisely because they are sinners who need to receive life from their savior.

To misunderstand God’s wrath over sin, which is to misunderstand his righteousness, means also missing his mercy all together. Mercy remains abstract and without application if there is no one to receive it or to benefit from it. The Pharisees and scribes can make no sense of Jesus because they reject the prerequisite for knowing him: repentance. In their appraisal of the world, there are sheep in the fold and sheep outside the fold. The former have always been there and the latter may never enter in. There is no room for repentance – not for the sheep who have strayed, nor for themselves, since they think they are safely in the fold.

Jesus speaks plainly to his purpose in the flesh: to seek and call the lost. To gather up the straying. To bind the injured. To raise the dead. He has nothing to do for the self-righteous who would deprive the wandering of God’s mercy and who think they have no need of it themselves. He has no joy to share with the well, who have no need of a physician, for his joy is all spent in celebration over sinners who repent. If you think that you are religious and do not rejoice to see a sinner receive mercy, then you deceive your heart and your religion is worthless. If, on the other hand, you have drawn near to Jesus because he is gracious and abounding in steadfast love, then your joy will be full.

The wandering sheep may not presume on the kindness of the shepherd to seek him out. These are not parables about the security that the renegade or independent-minded may feel in the presence of an indulgent master. These are parables about the concern of the Lord for his lost children. They are parables about how the righteous should understand the Lord’s mercy toward sinners. They are parables that show all who believe that their salvation depended entirely on the goodness and loving-kindness of God.

Click here for the reading: Luke 14:15–24.

Luke 14 places us in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees (14:1) with Jesus under great scrutiny. He, however, takes the opportunity to turn the examination on its head. A question about healing on the Sabbath is at stake along with questions about bestowing and receiving honor. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (14:11). This maxim, as applied to giving dinners and banquets, is the background for the parable in our pericope. There is honor bestowed and received in the daily lives of men, but that honor pales in comparison with the honor of eating bread in the kingdom of God.

The folly of this world is manifest in the striving and scraping after honor bestowed by men. Compare that effort with the complete neglect of the honor bestowed by God. It is the sensible, worldly excuses of those invited to the feast that keep them from tasting the banquet of the master. They are excuses that would be passable if the invitation were to some impromptu or informal gathering of folks, or even if the call were to military service. But the shamefulness of those first invited mounts as we consider the preparation of the master. This is a banquet long-prepared for the honor of those guests.

They show not only their disinterest in the beneficence of the master, but they go above and beyond in showing disdain for him. His sincerity and goodwill are met with scoffing. They choose the trivial over the profound. They choose the temporal over the eternal. They choose folly over wisdom, and death over life. They are as those Israelites who spit in God’s face as they lusted after the fleshpots of Egypt, despising the daily provision of their Savior, not to mention the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey. But their refusal and spite are masked in the appearance of sensibility. They sin by doing what only appears right, a sin that is more grievous than open blasphemy. Whitewashed tombs are full of lies on top of the wicked desires hidden within.

There is yet something to say about the gracious master. While none of those scoffers will taste the banquet, he has generosity to bestow. On whom should he bestow it? He finds ready recipients in those who cannot refuse because, in their infirmity, they cannot but perceive wisdom. It is in the lowly and despised, the outcast and degenerate that the master’s invitation finds ready hearts as the kindness of the master softens and warms them.

Click here for the reading: Luke 16:19-31.

This parable, which appears in Luke with no commentary or dialogue, follows on the heels of the parable of the dishonest manager. The Pharisees, “who were lovers of money,” ridiculed Jesus for his apparent folly when it comes to the things of this world. The fate of Lazarus and the rich man lend weight to his argument. Not only is righteousness more valuable than money, it is more valuable in eternity. The utter uselessness of the rich man’s wealth and luxury as he languishes in Hades stands in immeasurably stark contrast to the comfort enjoyed by Lazarus at Abraham’s side.

Besides the time perspective that is lacking among lovers of money, there is also the finality of the judgment. The chasm may not be crossed. At the point of death there is no changing one’s mind, no going back on the things one has loved. Indeed, what you have loved in this life will be yours for eternity. Lazarus, who did not love wealth, is not failed by wealth beyond the grave.

Something of the hardness of men’s hearts is revealed by the response of Abraham to the rich man’s request. It is not for lack of miracles or proofs that men do not practice wisdom. It is on account of a basic orientation of the heart. Whatever the heart loves determines the choosing of the will and the thinking of the mind. This makes it easy for the hard-hearted to explain away even the most startling, ghostly apparition. Something more is needed.

Why does the rich man receive no mercy? It is not that mercy is exhausted nor that his plight does not warrant pity. Rather, even if mercy were offered, he would not receive it as mercy, but as something he was due. His distaste for mercy while alive simply carries through into the grave. He was utterly unwilling to show mercy to Lazarus, whose need was always before his eyes. Lazarus sat at the rich man’s gate day in and day out even while the rich man feasted in luxury. The rich man’s prideful, selfish consumption of whatever came in his view was a failure to acknowledge that his goods were given to him so he could love his neighbor. He failed to realize the vacuousness of inviting those who can repay to a feast. He saw no use for mercy even when the opportunity to bless Lazarus was plainly laid before him. Nor would he learn a lesson from the dogs, who in their irrationality nonetheless showed pity to this poor man. The rich man’s disregard for mercy in life revealed the attitude of his heart. He despised mercy, and so it would be impossible for him to receive it.

Click here for the reading: Luke 18:31-43.

The blind man cannot see the sons of Jesse pass by, but he knows Who Jesus of Nazareth is and what He can do. The blind man cannot be impressed by how people look or how they are looked at by others. The blind man cannot see the things on which the seeing man fixates. The blind man could not see that the fruit in the garden looked wonderful. But the blind man can hear about Jesus.

The Bible’s preference for hearing over sight is a temporary one. Some day we shall see Him and love His appearing, but for now hearing is far better, even as the prophecies of Scripture are more sure for Saint Peter even than the vision on the mountain he, James, and John were granted (2 Pet. 1). When the blind hear, they too believe and cry out to David’s Son.

David’s Son is able to do all things well. He is coming into His kingdom, and the blind man believes in His power to save and to heal. These wonders have still more to follow, but what follows is strange even to His closest disciples. What follows is what He has determined in His heart to do: the suffering and the death He must face at His own people’s hands. Why is this strange even to His disciples?

“Everything that is written about the Son of Man” should have prepared the disciples to receive His teaching and to understand what had to occur – how necessary for the world’s salvation and renewal is His glorious death, how much His resurrection will mean for a change in all things forever. They should have understood what the Scriptures say and what the Lord teaches, “but they understood none of these things.”

For now, these things are “hidden from them.” The knowledge of the Lord and the love of all He teaches and all He is a gift. No one comes by it naturally, and both His work of salvation for us and His opening of our minds and hearts to grasp His salvation are gifts. The Lord does not give or do or teach according to our expectation anymore than He would choose Israel’s king from among the candidates presumed likely to inherit the throne. All His works and all His ways are His own, and He chooses to reveal His Son and all things to us from sheer grace.

So we do not pray to know all and to surpass all others in our knowledge. We do not pray for might and power. He will give knowledge, might, and power in His Spirit as He sees fit and to whom it is His pleasure to give. Instead, we pray to know our blindness and to ask for grace and light. We pray for our eyes to be opened and for our minds to be opened to understand the Scriptures. We pray to receive our sight and for Him not to keep hidden His whole counsel of wisdom, truth, and grace.

Click here for the reading: Luke 8:4-15.

The difference between hearing and understanding is especially clear in Luke’s gospel, where the crowds are the recipients of Jesus’s story but not its meaning. Parables do not all confuse their hearers; the ones told closer to Jesus’ passion are often all-too-clear for his opponents. But if they do not confuse, they do not clarify themselves. More must be said, and what was told must also be explained. Explanation and clarity are gifts for the disciples that the crowds do not receive.

The working of the kingdom of God is through the word of God. The reign happens through preaching. As the word is spread, the kingdom spreads, and the parable is an explanation of what happens when the gospel is preached. The fact that the gospel is preached, that sowers go out to sow, and that the word spreads throughout the whole creation (as it does in the Acts of the Apostles) requires no explanation whatsoever. Nobody has to be ginned up to go out and spread the gospel. The parable presumes that the man who has seed will sow it.

The parable’s German title of “the parable of the fourfold soil” is illuminating for its meaning. Jesus is not explaining what’s wrong with the word of God since it’s perfect. He is not explaining why the sower sowed so profligately or why the devil opposes mankind’s salvation. All these are givens. The word is perfect, the word is sown everywhere, and the devil hates mankind, the crown of God’s creation and the object of His redeeming love. No, what must be explained is how any growth occurs in a world full of resistance to the word.

Some have the word snatched from their hearts before its growth can begin. They do not guard with patience and goodness what was sown. Some cannot endure testing and fall away at the first sign of hardship on account of the word. Some do not reach their full growth because the cares of this life choke out the wholesome word of life everlasting. The dangers to growth and the dangers to fruition are so many that Jesus’s description of them is elliptical, even indirect. How much of a life’s struggle and how many deceptions are summed up in “they believe for a while” or “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life”? How many lives were lived in just those ways, and how many died in their sins with the word all overgrown with weeds?

Luke 8:8 has no distinction among the growth that Matthew’s rendition of this parable does. Everyone who bears fruit bears it a hundredfold. The focus in Luke’s parable is rather on the nature of good soil, more fully described here than in either Matthew or Mark. Once the word is heard, it must be held fast, never leaving, never being choked or swamped. In the soil of an “honest and good heart,” it grows beyond all expectation from one seed to a hundredfold yield.

Click here for the reading: Luke 2:41-52.

The hearers whose children are given cell phones in elementary school to keep track of them may be confused by the inattention of Joseph and Mary. Some exposition of the normalcy of very large groups of Israelites going up by villages to Jerusalem and the enormous numbers of people in the city at Passover will be helpful to clear up what appears negligent to many. Joseph and Mary were normal parents, and in a time and place far less violent for the average person than our own time, they were not concerned if Jesus were not, so to speak, home precisely before dark. What is abnormal in the reading is not the behavior of Joseph or Mary but of Jesus.

Jesus displays an unusual knowledge of the Law that astonishes those professionally engaged in teaching it. This surpassing knowledge contrasts brightly with Mary’s slip of the tongue, calling Joseph Jesus’s “father.” She is presumably not completely forgetful of Jesus’s conception but instead speaks according to custom and everyday usage. The yawning gap between what is scriptural and what is normal will only increase from here in the ministry and the passion of Jesus. He will pursue a unique way of utter attachment to the Law of God and to the will of God, and for that he will be named a blasphemer and a troubler of Israel.

Jesus is a priest Whose lips guard knowledge and a reformer in Israel, teaching again the Law of God clearly within His house at Jerusalem. The association between the priesthood and teaching is sometimes forgotten because of the nearer association in most Christians’ minds between the priesthood and the sacrificial system. But the lips of the priest should guard knowledge, and in teaching clearly what God demands and what God gives, Jesus is exercising an office at once prophetic and priestly and according to the tradition of Hezekiah and Josiah also royal.

The evangelist attends to Jesus’s activities whether in Jerusalem or on the way home. Jerusalem now no longer has significance apart from Jesus’s presence. Mary’s confusion is that Jesus’s presence would be where she expected him to be. False significance and deep confusion will always exist where a person does not treasure up in his heart the words and works of Jesus above all else. If he should not grasp them at first, as Mary did not at first grasp what Jesus meant by “I must be about the things of my Father [ESV: in my Father’s house],” they did not then reject what He said. Instead, she pondered His words until the time when they would come clear.

That process of hearing, pondering, and finally understanding is one that many will go through in Luke’s gospel, most emblematically the Emmaus disciples whose minds are opened by the Lord to understand at long last the Scriptures He grasped so easily as a boy. The human growth Jesus went through as a youth is also ours, so that in knowing more than us (of course), He does not separate Himself altogether from our human pattern of growth in wisdom. He knows what we lack and yet allows us to ponder His words. He opens our minds, and at long last we understand what He, our priest and prophet and king, has always taught and still teaches – wonders out of His Law.

The people of God find in each sermon, each reading, each service what Joseph and Mary were seeking – the presence and the voice of the living Lord. Encourage them not to follow their vain imaginings of what God should be doing or saying. Attend rather to the Wisdom of God speaking today in His Word.

Click here for the reading: Luke 2:15-20.

Having heard the message of the angels, the shepherds waste no time deliberating what they should do. “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened!” They listened to the Lord and went to see the child with their own eyes. In what ways are we sometimes just as eager as the shepherds to listen to the Lord? In what ways are we sometimes not so eager? Are there parts of our lives where we are less willing to listen? Why? Contrast the eagerness of the shepherds with the reluctance of the women in Mark 16.

Leaving behind their flocks, the shepherds run to find the child in Bethlehem. While we are not told how long they searched, they found the child just as the angel told them. The sign itself was nothing extraordinary. It seemed to be an ordinary child wrapped in ordinary cloth. Even Zechariah was mute for several months as a sign which showed the extraordinary character of his son John. Why does the Lord sometimes use extraordinary signs and sometimes very ordinary ones? Is there a specific reason for a specific sign? What signs, ordinary or not, does the Lord give to us? Compare the ordinary signs of Jesus in Luke 22:7-13 with an extraordinary one, like the ten steps of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:8-11.

Now that they have seen the Christ child, the shepherds open their mouths to declare all that they had heard and seen. This was not gossip or boasting. They had an amazing message to proclaim about this child! Why does this kind of testimony flow naturally from those who have seen God act? Why do we struggle to tell others about what God has done for us? How do the Psalms serve as examples of this, especially ones like Psalm 145?

Most of those who hear the shepherds’ message marvel at the message. It seems so unbelievable, the kind of thing that seems too good to be true. Very likely, many of them forgot all about it not long after. In what ways are we tempted to simply marvel at what God has done rather than believe it? What leads us to act this way? How do we avoid such a temptation? Why does Nicodemus marvel at the words of Christ in John 3, and how does Jesus deal with it?

Though the others did not believe, Mary treasured all these things in her heart. Long after the birth of Christ, she remembered the message she had heard and pondered what it meant for her and for the world. What is Christian meditation? How is it different from worldly ideas? What are its benefits? How does Mary serve as an example for us of this practice? How does Isaac meditating in the field in Genesis 24:63 or Psalm 1 also help us understand it? What are some practical suggestions for those who struggle with doing it?

Click here for the reading: Luke 2:1-14.

Caesar Augustus, seeking to further stabilize the Roman Empire out of the ashes of the Republic, ordered a tax registration. Since Herod the Great was a client king of Rome, his lands also fell under that decree. What are other Biblical examples of God using world events to carry out His will? Where do we see God at work in the world today? How does He use those events to aid the proclamation of the Gospel? What parallels exist between Augustus and Cyrus in Isaiah 45?

Joseph, since he is a descendent of David, travels southward from Galilee to the city of David. Instead of going to Jerusalem, the city of David in the Old Testament, he goes to David’s birthplace, the village Bethlehem. Augustus’ decree required that he travel, so he made the journey with a heavily pregnant Mary, all in fulfillment of a single prophecy. How many things had to fall in place to fulfill the words of Micah 5? How did those things come to be? What does this say about the sovereignty of God? In what ways do we see God at work even for a single event in our own lives? How does Jesus teach this truth in Matthew 10:26-33?

After what was likely a little while in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to her firstborn. There was no space in the crowded house (since the word for “inn” is the same as “guest room” in Luke 22:11), so they laid the infant Christ in a manger, since poor Israelites lived with their animals in the same building. While this does not change the meaning of the story, what are other examples of Biblical passages which are frequently misunderstood? Why should we strive for a clear understanding, especially when dealing with cultural issues?

Shepherds occupied a low place in society. They did not own large amounts of land, as seen here in the group watching over their flocks together instead of on their own. Many hired themselves out to watch the sheep of others, which Jesus uses to make a point in John 10. They were sometimes even held in contempt, as the Egyptians did in the days of Jacob in Genesis 46. Yet they received the angelic message, not Augustus or any of the great ones of the world. How should this reality of God raising up the lowly encourage us? How should it humble us? How do the shepherds serve as an example of Mary’s song in Luke 1?

Angels sing God’s praises at all times. In Job 38:4-7, we learn that they praised God at the creation of all things. The seraphim declare His holiness in Isaiah 6. In Revelation 4, John hears the same song of praise among the cherubim. Why do the angels praise God in this moment? What makes this song of praise different from the others? Why should this difference comfort us? Compare the new song of Revelation 5 with the message here. Why is the song “new”?

Click here for the reading: Luke 21:25-36.

Jesus speaks of the coming destruction of the temple, warning those who hear Him to pay attention so that they would not be caught by surprise. It will be a time of great distress, heralding the beginning of the times of the Gentiles. Why should we be watchful, especially in a season like Advent? How might we be lulled to sleep in our present time, especially in ways that past generations did not know? How do the letters of Revelation 2-3, especially the letter to the church in Sardis, speak to our own situation and what it means to be watchful?

When the Son of Man comes, the world will be caught up in fear. Jesus speaks of this coming in judgment in the Old Testament language of riding on a cloud, such as Isaiah 19:1, Jeremiah 4:13, or Ezekiel 30:3. Yet the coming judgment will be a time of joy, because God’s redemption is coming near. Why does the Lord give these signs to His disciples? What is the sign given to us of His coming on the Last Day? Consider Matthew 24:36-44 and if those in the days of Noah had any sign.

When understood within the context of the destruction of Jerusalem, the confusion surrounding Matthew 21:29-33 disappears. Jesus speaks of the coming of summer, the times of the Gentiles, and not the winter, the end of all things. The fall of the city came within a generation of these words being spoken. Yet how do these words help us to understand the Last Day as well? How do these words of Christ regarding His promises and his words give us comfort in difficult situations in our lives?

The coming of the Son of Man calls for vigilance, because it will come suddenly like a trap. Drunkenness and anxiety lead to laxity. Seeking earthly pleasures make us blind to the reality of what is about to come. What kind of distractions do we struggle with? Are there things of this world which often lead astray that we do not pay attention to or do not regard as distractions? What makes these especially dangerous for us as Christians? Compare the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 and consider what makes them dangerous for the Christian.

Christ commands His disciples to stay awake and to pray for the strength to escape the coming things and to stand before Him on that day. In what ways do we stay awake for the coming of the Lord? What does it mean to have strength to escape the things which are coming, since the Last Day will come like a trap suddenly? What does it mean to have strength to stand before Christ, and how do we find this strength? What can we learn from the parables of Matthew 25 about being ready for the coming of Christ on the Last Day?

How beautiful were the stones of the mighty temple!  The work of forty-six years, the product of the rich offerings of so many (Luke 21:1)!  Yet all this, spectacular as it was, would be thrown down.  “The days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Luke 21:6).  Jesus’ words struck a nerve.  When will these things happen?

Jesus, in true prophetic fashion, points to several things at once.  The closest, of course, was the destruction of the temple at the hands of the Romans in 70 A.D., and so thorough was their work that this temple no longer stands.  This judgment fell upon the Jews, who were partially hardened through faithlessness (Romans 11:25) and also for crucifying the Lord of glory (Acts 2:36; 1 Corinthians 2:8).  This hardening can also be seen here in Jesus’ own words, since those who faithfully persevered would be delivered up also to “synagogues” (Luke 21:12), Israel according to the spirit persecuted by Israel according to the flesh.

But this destruction of Jerusalem is a sign of the far greater judgment.  Israel is judged for a time, until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, at which point her partial hardness will be healed.  But the judgment coming upon the world is like the days of Noah (Luke 17:26-27).  They were hardened for a judgment they could not escape, and only through the mercy of the Lord were Noah and his immediate family delivered.  It is worth noting that, in Genesis, (1) out of all of the sons and daughters of the line of Adam to Noah, only Noah and his family were spared.  So many descendants of the great patriarchs, and yet so few were saved.  When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith in the earth (Luke 18:8)?  (2) God’s mercy is further emphasized by the wickedness of Ham toward his father Noah (Genesis 9:18-29).  There will be no such mercy in the coming judgment, for then wickedness will have no place to run.  God’s patience, shown even to Ham in the flood, will finally come to an end.

The signs Christ gives for the coming of the end are somewhat and intentionally vague, which only emphasizes His primary message of watchfulness.  A call to watch for one specific sign ironically leads to laxity, because then all else is excluded.  But a call to watch for a specific event preceded by a wide range of signs increases vigilance.  The fig tree puts out its leaves as a sign of the approaching heat.  It is one sign among many, and not the only sign.

Even so, the signs to which Christ points are unique enough that they are likely closer to the end rather than a continual series throughout history.  It is true that wars and rumors of wars are continual and signs of the end.  But the “distress of nations in perplexity” here seems to be a distress brought about by the intensity and the unmistakable character of these signs.  The shaking of the heavens, the roaring of the seas, the signs in heaven and earth–all of these things point to the “Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).  Further, this distress among sinners arises from their being unprepared.  There will be no “last minute conversions” when Christ descends in majesty to judge the living and the dead.  The sight of Christ returning is the final proof that the time of grace is at an end.

Those who are vigilant, not weighed down with drunkenness and debauchery, will find that day to be an everlasting joy.  For while the sight of Christ’s majesty is the first glimpse of the everlasting judgment for the reprobate, Christ Himself will be the herald of the coming joy for the faithful.  They, like the faithless, must stand before the judgment seat, and Christ commands us to pray for the strength to stand before Him on that day (Luke 21:36).  But it is the same strength which bears them up in the midst of persecution.  “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:16-19).  Our endurance in the face of persecution is Christ, and our defense before the judgment seat is also Christ.

As a final note, Christ says quite clearly that “this generation will not pass away until all has taken place” (Luke 21:32).  The following verse that “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” serve as a confirmation of this.  But they also, I think, clarify what He means.  Heaven and earth passing away, a clear reference to the end, seem to suggest that it will happen within the bounds of “this generation.”  Generation, therefore, here seems to be broader than how we might typically use it.  In an earlier passage of Luke, Christ says that the queen of Sheba and the men of Ninevah will rise up at the judgment “with this generation” and condemn it for its faithlessness (Luke 11:29-32).  Perhaps, then, as the faithless “generation” died in the wilderness, this faithless generation will also perish in the wilderness.  But as the children of the old generation entered the promised land, so also will the next generation, one man out of two, be healed and enter into the great Sabbath rest.