Sunday, May 30, 2010

Luke 4

The temptation of Christ (vs. 1-13)—I explain this in some detail in Matthew 4, so I won’t be elaborate here. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (v. 1) for forty days; for what specific reason, we do not know, unless it was for the purpose of being tempted, because Luke says that He was “tempted for forty days by the devil” (v. 2). So it wasn’t necessarily after the forty days that all the temptations occurred. The devil put three explicit temptations before the Lord. Jesus responds to each with “It is written.” We should hide the word of God in our hearts that we might not sin against Him (Ps. 119:11). For more on this event, see my summary in Matthew 4.

Teaching in Nazareth (vs. 14-30)—Jesus then returns home to Nazareth, where He’s not received very well. He obviously was already teaching and doing miracles because “news of Him went out through all the surrounding region” (v. 14). In Nazareth, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath (v. 16), and read a passage from Isaiah (v. 17), the most significant part which read “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor” (v. 18). That was part of His intended work and He told them that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words (v. 21). Initially, they were impressed, but apparently became skeptical when they realized He was a local (v. 22). Why that made any difference is unknown, but Jesus mentions the proverbial “no prophet is accepted in his own country” (v. 24). Just because they knew Him was no excuse to reject Him, for He had certainly done nothing blameworthy during His early life. Perhaps His lowly station offended them. “Physician, heal yourself” might indicate that they were dubious because of His condition of poverty; “if you’re so great, why can’t you lift yourself out of your financial predicament?” Being poor was a sign to the Jews of God’s disfavor; the rich must be the righteous because they have been financially blessed by God. But Jesus indicates their problem was deeper than that. He also begins to explain that God’s blessings are equally for Gentiles (vs. 25-27), something that indeed upset His listeners to no end, indeed, upset them so much that they were going to kill Him (vs. 28-29). But He escaped in a manner which Luke doesn’t specifically describe, but appears to have been beyond the normal (v. 30). How could He have just passed “through the midst of them” when they had hold of Him and were about to toss Him over a cliff? Something extraordinary happened, though again, the specifics are omitted.

Jesus performs a number of miracles (vs. 31-44)—In this section, Luke bundles together a few miracles Jesus performed about that time. He casts out a loud-mouthed demon (vs. 34-35), which astonished the people and added to His fame (vs. 36-37). Interestingly, the word “fame” (“report”, NKJV) is the Greek word echos, from which our word “echo” comes from. The reports of Him “echoed” throughout the region. In verses 38-39, He heals Peter’s mother-in-law (no pope in that house), and the cure was immediate, not conditional or extended. Apparently, that same day, “when the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them” (v. 40). No failures, regardless of the infirmity; He healed “every one of them.” More verbose demons spoke of their knowledge of Him (v. 41); Jesus silenced them, and exorcised them. The people of that area wanted Him to remain longer (v. 42), but He left, telling them “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent" (v. 43). He did remain in Galilee, however (v. 44). This is actually the second year of Jesus’ ministry. The first three gospel writers totally omit His first year, much of which He spent down south in Jerusalem. John fills in some of that gap in his gospel.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Luke 3

The preaching of John the Baptist (vs. 1-22)—All four of the gospel evangelists record something of John’s work; Luke mentions some matters the others do not. First, he gives us the date in verse one—and very exactly, listing several men and the regions they governed. No “once upon a time” here. The “fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” would be either 27 A.D. or 29 A.D. Augustus died in 14, but sometimes the emperor's successor would act as co-regent for a time, sort of “on the job training.” Most historians believe this is the case with Tiberius, and thus the date here would be 27 A.D.

John preached “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (v. 3); in other words, the promise of forgiveness of sins through baptism was an inducement to get people to repent. Baptism has always been for the remission of sins. John’s work was the fulfillment of prophecy (vs. 4-6), which is a quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5.

Many people came out to hear John—“multitudes,” verse 7 tells us. John pulled no punches: “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Luke says John spoke these words to those “multitudes,” but Matthew is more specific, informing us that this bold declaration was especially for the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 3:7). They had to repent, because being a Jew will not be enough for their salvation, and the time for God to act was at hand—“the ax is laid to the root of the trees”—Judaism was fixing to be come to an end (Luke 3:8-9). “What shall we do then?” the people asked John. “Love thy neighbor” was, in effect his answer: “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (v. 11). The tax collectors wanted to know their responsibility. Honesty was their obligation (vs. 12-13). Soldiers inquired the same thing. Don’t abuse your power, was John’s response (in principle). No doubt others asked of John what they should do to please God, but Luke here gives us a solid representation of the kind of straightforward preaching that he did. He told the people what they needed to hear and what they needed to do. Oh, for more such preaching today!

The people wondered if perhaps John were the Messiah (v. 15). He denied it. There was one coming after Him Who was much greater than he, “whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v. 16—see my comments in Mt. 3:11 for an explanation of this). John preached much more (v. 18), but again, Luke records enough for our knowledge. He then skips ahead and mentions the arrest of John by Herod the tetrarch. John stepped on one too many toes….

In verses 21-22, Luke briefly records the baptism of Jesus and the descending of the Holy Spirit upon Him. Again, Matthew 3 has more information about this subject and is worth a repeated look.

The genealogy of Jesus through Joseph (vs. 23-38)—Luke’s genealogy is different from Matthew’s, largely because Luke apparently traces Jesus through Joseph (His “supposed” father), while Matthew goes through Mary. Both were from the tribe of Judah, but obviously would have different parents and ancestors. The lines meet in David, Judah, and Abraham. Luke, being a Gentile and writing to such, takes the genealogy all the way back to Adam, “the son of God” (v. 38). Jesus was “about 30” when He began His ministry (v. 23). If He was born in 6 B.C., which appears to be the best date given the reign of Herod the Great from 40 to 4 B.C., then Jesus would have been 32 or 33 in 27 A.D., which is “about 30.” According to the Law of Moses, a man had to be at least 30 before he could enter the priesthood (Numbers 4:3).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Luke 2, Part Two

The circumcision and presentation of Jesus (vs. 21-24)—As we saw with John the Baptist, the Law of Moses required each male to be circumcised. There were other necessities as well for the firstborn son, and Luke records them here. Purification of the female after birth (v. 22) took place on the fortieth day in the case of males, and eightieth if the child was a female (Lev. 12:1-5). Until that time was fulfilled, the mother was not permitted to go to the temple, or take part in any public service. Once those days were completed, the child was brought to the temple. The firstborn male belonged to the Lord; if it were an animal, it was sacrificed, but the firstborn son was to be redeemed for five shekels (Lev. 27:6). A sacrifice was also to be made. The required offering was a yearling lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon (or turtledove) for a sin offering, but if the family were poor, doves or pigeons could be substituted for the lamb (Lev. 12:6-8). Joseph and Mary brought the latter sacrifice, which indicates the poverty into which Jesus was born.

The hymn of Simeon (vs. 25-35)—There was an old man in Jerusalem named Simeon, a devout man—“the Holy Spirit was upon him” (v. 25). The Spirit had promised him that he would not die until he saw the Messiah (v. 26). He came into the temple, apparently by the direction of the Spirit (v. 27), and saw the child Jesus. Somehow Simeon knew this one the one, “received him into his arms, and blessed God" (v. 28). He sung a brief song, which has been called the Nunc Dimittis, which, in Latin, constitute the first two words of the song. He thanks God, because “my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples” (v. 31), and then says something he himself probably didn’t understand: “a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles” (v. 32). Not many Jews understood that salvation was to come to the Gentiles as well. The Old Testament was full of such references, but so stubborn, self-absorbed, and arrogant were the Jews that they believed salvation could only come to them. It is a narcissism they haven’t rejected to this very day. Simeon then spoke to Mary about the future of her son: “this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel” (v. 34). He would be great, but He would also cause much division among the Jewish people.

The blessing of Anna (vs. 36-39)—There was an old lady, “who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (v. 37). Her name was Anna, and she was from the tribe of Asher, one of the ten northern tribes who had been scattered at the Assyrian captivity (vs. 36-37). She was 84 years old, and had been married for only seven years before her husband had died; the fact that she had remained unmarried for a long time was considered especially honorable and praiseworthy. Given her current age, she would have been about 24 years old when Pompey conquered Palestine for the Romans in 63 AD. She had some kind of prophetic talent, which we may suppose secured for her a modest living in one of the temple chambers. We don’t know the frequency of her fastings, but the Pharisees had introduced the custom of fasting twice a week to commemorate the days when Moses supposedly ascended and descended Mount Sinai, viz., Monday and Thursday. Where they got that information is wholly unknown; one suspects they made it up. Regardless, Anna saw the baby Jesus, “gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (v. 38).

Jesus as a youth (vs. 39-51)—Once all this activity in the temple was completed, Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth. Jesus “grew”, “became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him” (v. 40). Not that He had sinned and needed that sort of grace; simply His Father’s blessings and kindness accompanied Him.

The next incident is the only one recorded in the gospels from Jesus’ birth to the beginning of His ministry. He was 12 years old, and his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover feast (v. 42), which they did every year (v. 41). Men were required to go, but women were not. However, a great Jewish rabbi named Hillel, who lived 120 years (from 110 B.C. to 10 A.D.), recommended that the women go as well, so it was an esteemed practice by Jesus’ day. The feast lasted eight days, and when it was over, they headed home, but Jesus had remained behind in Jerusalem (v. 43), perhaps to take advantage of learning from the great teachers who would have been there at the time. Regardless, his parents were unaware, for over a day, that He was not with them (v. 44). This either speaks of parental negligence (not likely), or their confidence in the boy Jesus, that He would be somewhere among the company of travelers. Jews going to and from these festivals, especially from long distances like Nazareth, traveled in caravans for pleasure and safety. So there probably would have been a large number, including “kinsfolk and acquaintance(s)” (v. 44) in the procession and Jesus was not missed until camp was made the first night. Not finding Him no doubt created some angst in His parents, so they returned to Jerusalem to find Him (v. 46). On the third day, they located Him in the temple, listening to, asking questions, and answering the teachers who were there. “All that heard him were astonished” at His precociousness. Mary and Joseph were probably as amazed as anyone else, but not surprisingly, were more concerned with His well-being and actions: “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously" (v. 49). Jesus’ answer appears to have been a mild rebuke: “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" (v. 49). The ASV has “in my Father’s house.” The Greek is, literally, “in the things of My Father.” The point being, after all Mary and Joseph had seen of Him, why should they be surprised that He was in the temple, involved in spiritual matters? They knew He was a special child; what He was doing should not have disquieted them so much. His parents didn’t really understand (v. 50), but He went home with them and honored them, as the Law required (v. 51), His mother remembering so much of all this, as mothers are wont to do. Indeed, it is entirely possible that Mary was the (human) source of this story used by Luke. Over the years He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (v. 52). And, again, that is all we know of the youth of Jesus of Nazareth.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Luke 2, Part One

The birth of Jesus (vs. 1-7)—Luke hops back to the birth-time of John the Baptist (“those days,” v. 1) for his next event. Caesar Augustus was the first Roman emperor. He was the nephew of Julius Caesar, and the man who defeated Marc Antony to unite Rome after nearly a century of civil war. He was emperor from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D. Our month of August is named after him, having formerly been called Sextilis. He issued a decree for a census, the first step in the process of taxation. One had to go to one's hometown to be enrolled (v. 3). Joseph, being originally from Bethlehem, had to travel to that city from Nazareth, where he had apparently been working and living (that’s where Mary was when Gabriel appeared to her, 1:26). The prophet Micah had prophesied that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Luke indicates that Joseph had to go to Bethlehem “because he was of the house and family of David” (v. 4). It was almost time for Mary to give birth (v. 5), which she did soon after arrival in Bethlehem (v. 6). There is, of course, no Biblical evidence that Jesus was born on December 25. The eastern (Orthodox) church initially celebrated Jesus’ birthday on January 6, reasoning that since the first Adam was born on the sixth day of creation, the second Adam must have been born on the sixth day of the year. In the 4th century, in order to compromise with pagan beliefs, the Catholic Church set December 25 as the birth date of Jesus. December 25 was actually (considered by pagans) the birth date of a “Sun God,” that day being (under the calendar used at the time) the winter solstice. Mary had to lay Jesus in a manger, because “there was no room for them in the inn” (v. 7), perhaps because other travelers had taken up all the rooms because of the census. Inns contained stables as well as rooms. Justin Martyr, a second century Christian writer, said that there was a tradition that Jesus was born in a cave before being moved to the stable. This is almost surely false. The wise men of Matthew’s gospel did not appear until much later, perhaps over a year.

The proclamation to the shepherds (vs. 8-20)—These fields of the shepherds were probably the same which David tended his flock. They were far enough from town that the shepherds were “abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over the flock” (v. 8). An angel came and “stood by them,” and “the glory of the Lord shone round about them” (v. 9). Not surprisingly, the shepherds were afraid (v. 9), but were encouraged by the angel (v. 10). He then told them of the birth, “this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Christ” (v. 11). The word “Christ” is Greek; “Messiah” is the Hebrew word, and it means “anointed.” The angel then told the shepherds where to find the babe (a manger, v. 12), obviously intending for them to go see and worship Him. McGarvey makes an interesting comment: “What fearful odds! What a strange contrast! Idolatry on the throne (in the person of Augustus C├Žsar), and the founder of a new religion and a new empire lying in a manger!”—Four-Fold Gospel. In verse 13, a multitude of angels appeared giving glory to God (v. 14). When the angels departed, the shepherds decided to go to Bethlehem (v. 15), which they did, finding Mary, Joseph, and the babe exactly where the angel said they would be (v. 16). The shepherds told of their encounter with the angel (v. 17), which caused great wonderment among the people--more miraculous events. What is God doing after 400 years? They should have known, but Jewish obtuseness was great—we see it multiple times among the apostles of Jesus during His earthly ministry—and that obtuseness remains among the Jewish people to this very day. Mary herself wasn’t quite sure what these things all meant (v. 19), but she was “pondering them in her heart” (v. 19). She obviously knew things no one else did (her own virgin birth; Joseph was aware of this as well, of course. It’s questionable whether they told anyone else for fear of being disbelieved, but one does wonder what others thought of Mary giving birth before she was married.). The shepherds went back to their fields “praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen” (v. 20). What blessed men they were to see the babe Jesus!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Luke 1, Part Three

Birth of John the Baptist (vs. 57-66)—As Gabriel had predicted, Elizabeth gave birth to a son (v. 57). All her neighbors and relatives rejoiced with her (v. 58); again, this was a stigma removed from her and they attributed this birth to the “great mercy” of the Lord.

As the law required, the child was to be circumcised on the eighth day. All of Zacharias and Elizabeth’s friends assumed the child would be named after his father (v. 59), but Elizabeth said the child was to be called John. This was, of course, by God’s command (v. 13). The name surprised the people (v. 61); family names were more honored among the Jews than they are us. and they motioned to Zacharias what he would have the child named; apparently, he was deaf as well as dumb (v. 62). He asked for a writing tablet and wrote “His name is John” (v. 63). And when that happened, he immediately was cured of whatever infirmities he had, “and he spoke, praising God” (v. 64). This created some “fear on all who dwelt around them,” and the matter was widely discussed in that region (v. 65). An obvious miracle had taken place, the first such among the people in over 400 years. The conclusion was drawn that this was going to be a special child (v. 66).

Zacharias’s prophecy and John’s early life (vs. 67-80)—Zacharias was then “filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied” (v. 67). And indeed, his song here is prophetic. His prophecy has been called the “Benedictus” from its first word; the Latin word for “blessed” is “benedictus,” and that’s from the Vulgate’s translation. The Vulgate was the Latin translation of the Bible, composed from 390-405 by Jerome and was the most widely used version by the Catholic church during the Medieval period. Zacharias praises God for having “visited and redeemed His people "(v. 68)—as noted, the first “visitation” for some 400 years. The “redemption” hadn’t taken place yet, but that was coming and was why this visitation was taking place. The redemption had been promised since Genesis 3:15, was to come from “the house of His servant David” (v. 69), and had been spoken “by the mouth of His holy prophets” (v. 70). The message was salvation from enemies (v. 71), and to perform “the mercy promised to our fathers” (v. 72), a promise “which He swore to our father Abraham” (v. 73). That promise included deliverance from enemies (spiritual), and the privilege of serving God “without fear” (v. 74), and “in holiness and righteousness” (v. 75). Zacharias closes his prophesy with words about John. He will be called a prophet, and he would “go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways (v. 76), that they might have salvation through the remission of their sins (v. 77). This salvation comes “through the tender mercy of our God” (v. 78)—notice, not just mercy, but “tender mercy”—and it comes through “the Dayspring”—Jesus. The Old Testament prophets frequently used light as a figure of the Messiah’s advent. Perhaps the prettiest of these references—to me—is Malachi 4:2: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings.” This Dayspring will indeed give light “to those who sit in darkness” and He will “guide our feet into the way of peace” (v. 79). Indeed, this “Benedictus” is a lovely, lovely poem and prophesy of the coming Messiah and His salvation.

The chapter ends with a one sentence statement about the growth of John and his life in the wilderness. This would be the thinly settled region west of the Dead Sea. No other details are given of his life before he began to preach.

The first chapter of Luke took me three parts to complete. Admittedly, it was 80 verses long, but don’t be surprised if extra parts are a common occurrence in this gospel. I expect it will be the rule rather than the exception. The gospel of Luke is a rich, rich book.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Luke 1, Part Two

Gabriel appears to Mary (vs. 26-38)—Six months after his appearance to Zacharias, the angel Gabriel was “sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth” (v. 26) where he talks to a virgin named Mary. John the Baptist was thus six months older than Jesus. Nazareth was a very unimportant city in Galilee—at least up to this point. It is never mentioned in the Old Testament, Jewish Talmud, or Josephus, the latter who refers to some 240 different cities in his writings. God doesn’t need great places or great people to accomplish his work. Mary and David both were from the tribe of Judah, and of the line of David. She was “betrothed” to him, an event that usually took place one year before marriage and was so binding and sacred that an official “putting away” was necessary to end it. Betrothal was much stronger than our “engagement,” which can be broken on a whim. Matthew tells us more about Joseph’s reaction to the news of Mary’s pregnancy. Gabriel calls Mary “highly favored one…blessed are you among women” (v. 28). Understandably she was troubled by this meeting (v. 29). Gabriel comforts her by telling her that she had “found favor with God” (v. 30), and that she would have a son “and shall call His name Jesus” (v. 31). Jesus was a common name for Jews; the Hebrew could also be spelled Joshua, Hoshea, Jeshua—all three of these names are found in the Old Testament and spelled the same way in Hebrew as “Jesus.” Thus, the great military leader Joshua had the same name as Jesus, but again, it was a common name. This “Jesus” would be “great,” would be called “Son of the Highest,” and “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David”—He would not obtain the throne by force of arms or conquest. Jesus would “reign over the house of Jacob forever” (v. 33). This is the spiritual house of Jacob, not the Jews. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:7, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” It is no longer Jews, but Christians, who are the children of God, the “house of Jacob” now. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls the church “the Israel of God.” Mary, in verse 34 of Luke 1, expresses surprise, but not disbelief, in Gabriel’s announcement. Understandably, she wanted to know how her impregnation would take place. Gabriel told her that it would be by the Holy Spirit, thus the “Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (v. 35). This clearly indicates to us that the Holy Spirit is God. Gabriel, to help Mary’s trust and encourage her, tells her that her relative Elizabeth was also with child in her old age (v. 36); “for with God nothing will be impossible” (v. 37). He will accomplish His purposes, regardless of what it takes. Mary’s great faith and submission to God is demonstrated in verse 38: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." Because she would betrothed to Joseph, her being found with child would be a very shameful thing; in fact, it could have been considered that she was guilty of adultery and thus worthy of death. She accepted God’s will on a matter that could have been quite disgraceful to her. But she humbly bows to His direction in life. And this girl probably was still a teenager. Oh, if we only had more young people today with the devotion and humility of Mary.

And, Lord, if you will give us more mothers like Elizabeth and Mary, we will give you more sons like John and Jesus.

Mary visits Elizabeth (vs. 39-56)—No doubt the young lady was excited to hear about her relative, Elizabeth, being with child and also wanted to communicate the news of her own visit from Gabriel. The KJV calls Elizabeth (“Elisabeth” is the way most of the older translation spell her name) Mary’s “cousin,” but the Greek word is a little indefinite. When Mary arrived at the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth, “the babe leaped in her [Elizabeth’s] womb.” (v. 41), and being “filled with the Holy Spirit,” she pronounced a blessing upon Mary. She recognized Mary as “the mother of my Lord” (v. 43). Mary then issues a beautiful song (vs. 46-55), magnifying the Lord. Her song closely resembles that of Hannah in I Samuel 2:1-10. She speaks of God’s blessings upon herself (v. 48), His might (v. 49), His mercy (v. 50), His strength (vs. 51-52), His goodness (v. 53), His aid (v. 54), and His fulfillment of promises (v. 55). She then remains with Elizabeth for three months, apparently until John’s birth (v. 56).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Luke 1, Part One

Prologue (vs. 1-4)—As noted in the introduction, Luke writes his gospel especially for a man named Theophilus, whom we do not know, but who may have been some high Greek official (v. 3). “Many” others had written about Jesus (v. 1); Luke perhaps has Matthew and Mark in mind, but “many” would indicate more than two (John wrote much later than Luke). We don’t have any of these other accounts. The things Luke writes about have been “fulfilled” (NKJV, ASV), or “most surely believed among us” (KJV). The apostles had reported these things (v. 2), and Luke, had a “perfect understanding of all things from the first” (v. 3—a “perfect” understanding is something only the Holy Spirit could have given him, but such did not preclude Luke doing some research as well). So Luke, with this knowledge, wrote an “orderly account” (topically, not necessarily chronologically) wanting to help confirm Theophilus’s faith (v. 4). The very tone of this prologue gives great confidence in the veracity of Luke’s account. He didn’t just make this stuff up. In verse 3, the ASV reads “having traced the course of all things accurately from the first” which, again, indicates Luke’s devotion as an historian. He dug, he studied, he researched; and his account inspires belief in those whose minds are open and reasonable.

The annunciation of John the Baptist’s birth (vs. 5-25)—John was the forerunner of Jesus so Luke begins there. He dates the events recorded here—during the reign of Herod, (v. 5) king of Judea, which was between 40 B.C. and 4 A.D. Most scholars put the birth of John and Jesus between 6 and 4 B.C. Herod was not of David’s line; he was recommended to the Roman Senate for the position by Marc Antony and Octavian, before those two had a falling out. Herod was nothing more than a Roman puppet. Near the end of his reign, there was a priest named Zacharias who had a wife named Elizabeth (v. 5). They were both very righteous (v. 6), but she was barren (v. 7), which was a reproach and a shame to any woman of that day. Indeed, some believed it was a punishment for sin. Zacharias was a priest “of the division of Abijah” (v. 5). David had divided the priesthood in 24 “courses” or divisions, and each division served in rotation. Abijah was the 8th “course” (I Chronicles 24:3-19). When it came time for a priestly “course” to serve, they would draw lots to see who did what, and they would perform their duties for about a week. Zacharias’s lot that time was to burn incense (v. 9). Incense, which was made of sweet spices, equal parts of stacte, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense, and ground very fine (Exodus 30:34-38), was offered every morning and evening on the altar of incense. This altar, which measure 22x22x44 inches (the latter being its height) was made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold. It stood in the Holy Place, in front of the veil which led to the Most Holy Place, the latter being the location that the high priest could enter only once a year. While Zacharias was offering the incense (probably the morning offering) the angel Gabriel appeared to him, “standing on the right side of the altar of incense” (v. 11). Not surprisingly, Zacharias became frightened (v. 12), but the angel comforted him with the words that his prayer had been heard, and “your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (v. 13). He would bring rejoicing among many, not just his parents (v. 14). John would also be a Nazirite (or Nazarite, it is spelled differently in different versions). For information about this class of men, see Numbers 6:1-21. One thing a Nazirite couldn’t so was drink wine (v. 15), but John wouldn’t need it, getting his inspiration not from vulgar spirits but from the Holy Spirit (v. 15). Many would follow him (v. 16). He would “go before Him [the Christ] in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’” the latter statement being a quotation from Malachi 4:6. Jesus would later say that John was the Elijah who was expected by the Jews before the Messiah came; some Jews today are still looking for Elijah. Zacharias shows some unbelief in verse 18, for which he is rebuked and punished—he would be struck dumb until John was born (v. 20). The angel gave his name as Gabriel, one of only two angels who are named in the Bible. He talked with Daniel in chapters 7-12 of that book, and he will also announce to Mary about her coming impregnation by the Holy Spirit (v. 26). Because of this conversation with Gabriel, Zacharias was delayed from leaving the temple, and this caused some concern among the people who were waiting outside (v. 21). Slow service was considered irreverent by the Jews and displeasing to God; bad service was even punishable by death (Lev. 16:13). But Zacharias came out and was able to make the people understand that he had seen a vision (v. 22). There had been no such communications from God for 400 years, so it was an amazing thing. When he finished his service, Zacharias and Elizabeth went home (we don’t know where they lived), and sure enough, she conceived (v. 24). “She hid herself five months” (v. 24), perhaps out of modesty, humility, devotion, and/or joy. We do know she attributed this great blessing to the Lord (v. 25).

So the events which led up to the birth of the one who would be the forerunner of the Messiah were miraculous in nature. The Lord was preparing the people, by these miraculous signs, for the coming of His Son. Keep in mind, Jehovah had not acted in any kind of miraculous way for over 400 years, since the last book of the Old Testament was inspired by the Holy Spirit. So, the fact that He is once again moving outside the realm of natural causes should have been an indication to the Jews that great things were about to happen. They didn’t get it. They still haven’t to this day.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Luke—Introduction

Introduction—This is a marvelously written book, and probably my favorite in all of the New Testament. There is so much rich material here, and I suspect most, if not all of my chapter summaries will be divided into two or three—or perhaps even four—parts. Much of the necessity for breaking up the chapters into more than one part comes simply from the length of the gospel. This is longest book in the New Testament—word-wise. And when combined with Acts, Luke becomes the most prolific writer in the New Testament, unless Paul authored Hebrews. Regardless, several of the chapters in Luke are of unusual length (chapter one, for example, has 80 verses) and I want to cover them as effectively as possible for a short summary.

Luke tells us to whom he is writing—“most excellent Theophilus” (1:3). We don’t know who this man was; his name is Greek, and the “most excellent” title suggests he might be an official of some sort. Luke is a Gentile, and a doctor (see Colossian 4:11-14); he is one of only two Gentile writers in the Bible (Job being the other, if indeed Job authored the book bearing his name). Luke was a companion of Paul on some of the latter’s missionary journeys, as we shall see when we survey the book of Acts. He is an excellent historian, and the only reason many people today do not believe what he wrote is because of his conclusion—Jesus Christ is the Son of God. But none of the information in Luke’s writings which can be verified by other, independent sources can be gainsaid. He is factual in all points.

Including his conclusion.

Mark 16

The women at the tomb (vs. 1-8)—Mark’s account of the resurrection is brief and to the point. None of the gospel writers go into a whole lot of detail or discussion of the matter; if they had gone on and on about it, one would wonder if they were trying to obscure something with verbosity. So, in a few words, they present what happened. If people aren’t going to believe on the evidence submitted in the four gospels, they aren’t going to believe, period. But keep in mind that none of the writers endeavors to tell the whole story. Each adds details the others don’t have. No two people will ever tell of an event in the exact same way, but that doesn’t mean they are contradicting each other. Different details don’t mean falsehood.

In Mark’s account, very early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (James’ and John’s mother) went to the tomb to complete Jesus’ burial procedures (vs. 1-2). This indicates that they had no thought that He was going to be resurrected. They were concerned that they might not be able to move the stone that had been placed in front of the tomb (v. 3). But when they arrived at the gravesite, they noticed that the stone had already been rolled away (v. 4). Upon entering the tomb, “a young man clothed in a long white robe” told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and that they should go and tell His disciples that He was going to Galilee (vs. 5-7). Especially tell Peter, probably because he would be so shaken over his own denial of Christ that he would figure the Lord would never want to see him again. The women were astonished at what they heard; it took them a little while to wrap their minds around something that was so foreign and incredible to them, something that they had never considered possible, regardless of Jesus having told His disciples several times about His resurrection.

Jesus’ appearances (vs. 9-20)—He appeared first to Mary Magdalene (v. 9). She went and told His disciples, but obtuse as always, “they did not believe” (v. 11)—that was their initial reaction. Jesus then appeared to two disciples “as they walked and went into the country.” Luke records this appearance in detail in Luke 24:13-35. He then appeared to the eleven and “rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart” (v. 14). This is apparently the appearance mentioned in Luke 24:36-49 and John 20:19-23. After this, He gives them the “Great Commission”: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (vs. 15-16). The apostles would be more qualified to do this after the Holy Spirit came upon them in Acts 2. They would also be able to work the miracles He mentions in verses 17-18. Those miracles were designed to confirm the message that they preached (v. 20). After He told them this, He ascended up to heaven “and sat down at the right hand of God” (v. 19). A simple and succinct historical rendition of the resurrection of Jesus.

There are some “scholars” who argue that Mark 16:9-20 was not written by Mark and thus not in the original text. Two of the oldest manuscripts of the Bible, and a few others, don’t have Mark 16:9-20 in them, though the vast, vast majority do. It’s really irrelevant. Even if Mark is not the author of these verses, they were obviously written very early by someone who was in a position to know the facts, and they are the words the Lord wants in the text. So, the debate is a lot of hot air over nothing, as most such debates are.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mark 15, Part Two

Jesus’ crucifixion and death (vs. 21-41)—From my comments on Matthew 27:32-50: “Jesus was so weak that He couldn’t carry His own cross, so the Romans found a man, Simon of Cyrene, and “compelled [him] to bear His cross” (v. 33). They took Jesus to a hill called Golgotha, or “Place of a Skull,” because it looks like one (v. 33). He was offered sour wine mixed with gall to drink, which was supposed to alleviate the pain at least somewhat, but Jesus wouldn’t drink it (v. 34). Once they had Him on the cross, the soldiers divided up his garments—a fulfillment of prophecy, Matthew tells us (v. 35). Two robbers were crucified on either side of him; initially, both of them reviled Him (vs. 38, 44), but eventually we know that one of them had a sincere change of heart and asked for Jesus’ forgiveness. We’ll discuss that in Luke, where it’s found. And there were other people around, chiding Him: “Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him’” (vs. 41-42). That last statement was a bald-face lie. They wouldn’t have believed in Him, regardless of what He had done. The problem with the Jewish leaders was not a lack of evidence; Jesus had given them plenty of proof that He was the Son of God. The problem was an impure heart (Matt. 5:8). In the parable of the sower, Jesus had made it plain that it is the “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15) who will receive the Word and bear fruit. The evidence is there if we have the right kind of heart to accept it. Those leaders did not.

At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus died. Matthew says, He “yielded up His spirit” (v. 50). Nobody took it from Him, He freely offered it for our sins.”

Both Matthew and Mark have a Roman centurion, who watched the crucifixion, saying “Truly this Man was the Son of God” (Matt. 27:54; Mark 15:39). The original Greek text, in both locations, has the soldier saying, “Truly this Man was a Son of God.” It is highly doubtful the soldier was converted to Jesus at that time, but it does appear that he wasn’t far from the kingdom of God, and hopefully at some later date became a Christian.

Jesus’ burial (vs. 42-47)—From Matthew 27:55-61: “He hadn’t died completely alone. John tells us that His mother was there (John 19:26), and Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and “the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (her name was Salome) were also present, though “looking on from afar” (vs. 55-56). A rich disciple named Joseph, from the city of Aramathea, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate consents, and Joseph lays the body in his own tomb (v. 60). It was getting late on Friday, and the Sabbath began at 6 PM. No work could be done on the Sabbath, so the preparations for the burial were not complete. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (v. 61) saw where He was laid, intending to return on Sunday morning to finish the burial process. They did return, of course, and received a surprise.”

Some skeptics have argued that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, and that on that fateful Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” actually went to the wrong tomb. When they saw it empty, they assumed He had risen from the grave. This is utterly ridiculous, of course, and nothing but desperation. Both Matthew and Mark are clear that “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid” (v. 47), a noteworthy historical point that cuts short any claim that they didn’t know where He was buried and thus visited the wrong sepulchre. The “they went to the wrong tomb” theory doesn’t take the angels into account at the tomb, nor does it explain, if the women did go to the wrong tomb, why the Jews, once Jesus’ resurrection was being preached, didn’t go to the right tomb and procure His body. They could have stopped Christianity almost before it had begun if they had produced His dead body. That empty tomb has been a source of consternation for skeptics for…almost 2,000 years. What happened to Christ’s body if He wasn’t resurrected?

Mark 15, Part One

Jesus before Pilate (vs. 1-15)—Mark follows Matthew pretty closely on Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, so I will be borrowing fairly heavily, though not totally, from my writings in Matthew 27. Here are my comments on Matthew 27:11-25: “This is actually the second time Jesus appeared before the Roman governor. The first time, Pilate sent Him to Herod Agrippa because Jesus was from Galilee and that was Herod’s jurisdiction—though Pilate was the ultimate authority in Palestine. Luke is the only author that records the trial before Herod, and I’ll look at that when we get there. But, in this second trial before Pilate (Herod obviously sends Jesus) back, the governor, after trying to release Christ, finally is persuaded to crucify Him. Pilate even asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?", to which Jesus replied, "It is as you say," or “yes.” This is what the Jews were actually hoping that Pilate would condemn Jesus for; the Romans wouldn’t put Him to death for blasphemy, but if there was a “king” rivaling Caesar, then yes, that could be a capital crime. But it didn’t seem to bother Pilate; I’ve always thought the governor probably figured Jesus was a harmless nut. But Pilate was in somewhat of a bind here. The Jewish mob before him wanted Jesus’ head. His wife sent him a message saying, “'Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him'" (v. 19). Then he had to worry about the Romans. If he executed an innocent man, that was definitely contrary to Roman law, and that could get him in trouble with his overseers. But if he didn’t execute Jesus, it looked like he was going to have a riot on his hands, and that could get him in trouble with the Roman authorities, too—“can’t you control the territory? If you can’t, we’ll get somebody who can.” I’m not defending Pilate here, but he was in a bit of a pickle. He wasn’t a good man, but he was in probably the most difficult province to control in the Roman empire.

Bottom line here, is that “when Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.’ And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children’" (vs. 24-25). It’s not uncommon in modern times for the Jews to be exonerated from the crucifixion of Jesus, but they accepted the blame at the time, and the rest of the New Testament also fixes the guilt upon them. They couldn’t have done it without the Romans; but the Romans wouldn’t have done it if the Jews hadn’t insisted.”

Mark isn’t as detailed as Matthew, and adds nothing substantial to it, I’d like to add a note on part of verse 15 of Mark’s account: “So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd…” This is not the multitudes that followed Jesus; it was the “crowd” of chief priests and elders, plus whatever rabble they could gather together. As I've pointed out in earlier sections, the Jewish leaders tried Jesus and put Him on the cross at night because they didn’t want the people as whole to know what they were doing. Jesus never lost His following among the masses.

Mocked by the soldiers (vs. 16-20)—The Romans hated the Jews and so they take the opportunity here to make sport of the “king of the Jews.” The cloth Him in purple (the royal color), and put a crown of thorns on His head (v. 17). They also beat Him and spat on Him (v. 19). If they had only known what they were really doing! Slapping God in the face and spitting on Him is not the height of wisdom and propriety.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Mark 14, Part Two

Jesus in Gethsemane (vs. 32-42)—From my comments at Matthew 26:36-46: “Gethsemane was a beautiful garden just outside of Jerusalem. Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and then went off aways to pray. Three times the Lord prayed, in effect, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (vs. 39, 42, 44); the wording was a little different each time. The apostles, clueless as always as to what was going on, fell asleep while Jesus was praying. He mildly rebukes them, but no doubt is resigned now to His fate. It would have been nice if His friends had stood with Him, but He died alone and He knew it was going to happen.” Mark’s account is substantially the same as Matthew’s.

Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss (vs. 42-52)—Mark has an interesting addition at the end of this section, but otherwise my comments at Matthew 26:47-56 are applicable: “The mob arrived, “a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people” (v. 47), just a bunch of rabble, no doubt, either stirred up or paid off by the religious leaders. For those who might not have known Jesus by sight, Judas said, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him" (v. 48). Jesus doesn’t resist. Peter does. He grabs a sword and chops off the right ear of a servant of the high priest named Malchus. Matthew doesn’t give us all of that information, but by reading the accounts in Mark, Luke, and John we get the full account. Jesus makes famous statement, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (v. 52). He didn’t really need Peter’s help: “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (v. 53). He had to die, that’s what He came to this earth for. But despite repeated declarations of that over the past several months, His disciples still did not understand. Peter was at least willing to fight at the moment; no doubt, his confusion over the Lord’s attitude will help lead to his denial in a few hours.”

In Mark 24:51-52, we read, “Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.” Mark is the only gospel writer who records this. We have no idea who this young man was, but many Bible students have suggested that it might have been Mark himself. John Mark appears to have been a dear friend of Peter (I Peter 5:13, assuming this is the same Mark), and this is one reason why it is generally believed that Peter was Mark’s (human) source for much of his gospel.

Jesus before the high priest (vs. 53-65)—From Matthew 26:57-68—“Jesus actually was to undergo six trials before the night was over, although the number is a little unclear. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, is the one who had to condemn Jesus to death; the Jews didn’t have that authority, so in this first trial, they are trying to find some reason to accuse Him before Pilate. Even though blasphemy is the charge of which “He is deserving of death” (v. 66), they will eventually charge Jesus of claiming to be a king. That could be serious, because, of course, only Caesar (in this case Tiberius) could be king. But to the Jews, blasphemy was a serious enough crime to deserve capital punishment.” Interestingly, Mark doesn’t give the name of the high priest, who was Caiaphas. It was, as has been noted many times, the religious leaders who were at the forefront of this mockery—the high priest, chief priests, elders, and scribes (v. 53). It will all be at night, or very early in the morning, so that Jesus could be put on the cross before the people discovered what had happened. Political/religious leaders frequently know that their actions do not meet the approval of the masses, thus chicanery, trickery, and downright lying are necessary to complete their unpopular schemes. America is getting a pretty good dose of that right now (2010) with the current administration trying to ram through several unpopular programs, using all kinds of utterly deceptive and disingenuous methods. It’s not uncommon and it’s exactly what happened to Jesus.

Peter’s denials (vs. 66-72)—From Matthew 26:69-75—“Peter had followed Jesus “at a distance to the high priest's courtyard. And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end” (v. 58). Yet, just as Jesus had predicted, Peter is confronted three times with his association with the Lord, and rebuffs the idea each time. On the last denial, Luke tells us, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61). Can you imagine how Peter felt? It is no wonder that “he went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75).” That passage in Luke, as I have commented before, is one of the most gut-wrenching, to me, in all the Bible. I even wrote an article about it a few weeks back. You can read it, if you wish, on my main Bible blog: “The Most Agonizing Verse in the Bible.”

Mark 14, Part One

The plot to kill Jesus (vs. 1-2)—Again, much of this chapter is found in Matthew 26, so I will be copying some of my material from that location. In these first two verses, the Passover neared, and the Jewish religious leaders, incensed by Christ’s popularity and His humiliation of them, plot to kill Him (v. 1). But because of Jesus’ esteem with the people, these leaders figured they would have to delay their plans. Judas, however, will give them an opportunity to take Him and crucify Him at night, so they will fulfill their nefarious schemes during the feast.

Jesus anointed by Mary (vs. 3-9)—From my thoughts on Matthew 26:6-13—“Matthew doesn’t give us the name of the woman, but in John’s account (John 12), he tells us it was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. There are some commentators who think two different incidents are involved, but the similarities seem conclusive for the same event. John includes that Mary also anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. The oil was expensive—300 denarii, John informs us, which is close to a year’s wage for an average worker (see Matthew 20). Some of the apostles—notably Judas (John 12:4) complained about the waste, arguing that "this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor” (Matthew 26:9), but the beloved John also tells us Judas was a thief and often stole from the store of cash he kept for the group. But Jesus commends Mary: “For she has done a good work for me” (v. 10), “for in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for my burial” (v. 13). It’s really doubtful that Mary understood that last point; if she believed that Jesus was going to die and be buried and resurrected, then she was far ahead of just about anybody else in her faith and understanding. But Jesus praised her and that is sufficient, and His final words on the matter are certainly true because I am writing about her right now: “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her" (v. 13).” Mark adds nothing substantial to this.

Judas agrees to betray Jesus (vs. 10-11)—Matthew 26:14-16—“Judas went to the chief priests and asked what they would give him to “deliver Him to you”. Thirty pieces of silver. The chief priests knew what Jesus looked like, of course, but they needed to know where He might be so that they could seize Him at an opportune time. That’s what Judas provided for them—information about His whereabouts.” And when He would be there.

Jesus, His apostles, and the Passover (vs. 12-31)—His disciples weren’t sure where to prepare for the Passover, but Jesus told them to go into the city and a certain man would show them the place. This they did and all was as Jesus said (vs. 12-16). Incidentally, Mark adds the note in verse 12, “on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb.” His Roman readers would probably appreciate that clarification. When Jesus and His apostles met for the Passover, the first thing Christ announces is that one of them will betray Him (v. 18). They all began to ask Him “Is it I?” (v. 19). Well, it will be one of you, Jesus told them, and “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born" (v. 21). They then eat the Passover feast—the bread and “fruit of the vine” (v. 25). Jesus informs them that “I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (v. 25). This “Lord’s Supper” is commemorated each week by His church (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 11:23-26). In the passage in I Corinthians 11, where Paul discusses the Lord’s Supper, he refers back to this Passover night and even quotes Jesus’ words as He instituted the feast. He is with us, of course, each week as we partake of the memorial in His kingdom, the church (Col. 1:13). This section ends with Jesus predicting that none of His disciples would stand with him “this night” (v. 27); indeed, such was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Peter asserts that he will ever forsake Jesus, and then Lord makes His famous prediction about Peter’s coming denial, that very night (vs. 28-31).