Friday, July 2, 2010

Faith and Doubt 9: Luke 3:1-20

Luke 3:1-20

1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight and the rough places shall become level ways, 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

7He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

10And the crowds asked him, "What then shall we do?" 11And he answered them, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise." 12Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" 13And he said to them, "Collect no more than you are authorized to do." 14Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages."

15As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16John answered them all, saying, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

18So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.

----> The One Who Goes Before

If you recall, in Faith and Doubt 5, we discussed the idea of being a "forerunner" for Jesus—being the one who goes before to prepare the way for the Kingdom. John the Baptist is the original forerunner that we, as Christians, should model ourselves after. Sure, there were the prophets that foretold of the Messiah's coming, but John the Baptist was the man who was sent to prepare the hearts of Israel for the Messiah's coming.

John's only mission was to preach the good news of the Messiah's coming, to preach repentance, and to baptize the people; in many ways, Jesus's message is an echo of John the Baptist's. They preach the same topics (baptism, repentance, and morality), and they have the same attitudes—their relation is obvious. What should be noted here, however, is that John's baptism is different from the Christian baptism: John's baptism was a symbolic gesture to prepare to the Jews for the Messiah, the Christian baptism is a symbolic gesture of accepting Jesus as the Messiah. John's baptism anticipates the Spirit's coming, while Christian baptism reflects the Spirit's arrival through Jesus. The washing aspect of John's baptism allows it to be associated with forgiveness of sins, as its connection to the Ezekiel 36 imagery suggests. Here are people of contrite heart, looking to God expectantly for what he will do in the days to come. Acts 19:1-10 reinforces the picture that John's baptism is anticipatory and not an end in itself: when some disciples appear in Ephesus who only knew John's baptism, they are led by Paul to experience what John's washing anticipated—the experience of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. When an Israelite takes John's baptism, he or she is declaring openness to God and his ways.

John's role is also to prepare the hearts of the Jews by preaching the same message of practical living that Jesus will later preach (verses 7-14), and he really doesn't hold back any punches—he calls it exactly how he sees it (which is exactly what Jesus does during his ministry). His message is very simple too: 1) judgement is near (verses 7-9), and 2) true repentance will lead to fruits of the spirit (verses 10-14). This sentiment is later echoed by Paul in Galatians 5:16-25.

"If our hearts are right with God, if we are truly walking by the Spirit, then the fruits of the Spirit will be evident in our daily lives."

What are we doing to let people know about the Messiah? Are we being forerunners? Are we holding back when people ask us "What then shall we do?" Jesus is coming again—what are we doing to prepare the hearts of the people for his return?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Faith and Doubt 8: Luke 2:41-52

Luke 2:41-52

41Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress." 49And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?" 50And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

---->There are so many perplexing stories in the Bible, so many stories that make you scratch your head and say, "What!?" Luke's account of the 12 year-old Jesus in the temple, teaching the rabbis, is certainly one of the more exceptionally bizarre stories. For one thing, Luke writes the only Biblical account of this story—for whatever reason, Matthew, Mark, and John all decided that this particular happening wasn't of much consequence. Therefore, it stands as the only account of Jesus's transition from babyhood to adulthood. And, in typical Luke fashion, it is written tremendously when read at a more critical level, as it is the "median," if you will, of his life and combines elements of his infancy and elements of his adulthood. The implication here, of course, is that this is the exact middle of his life, when he is a child, but putting away childish things; he is not yet an adult, but he is starting to develop the worldview of an adult and a more adult image of himself.

First of all, and I'll never understand how this happened, Joseph and Mary managed to lose their son after their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. That's the part of this story that makes it so wildly bizarre—how in the world do you lose your son? How in the world did they manage to lose the Son of God!? Can you imagine the sheer panic that must have been coursing through their veins on Day 2 of the journey home when they suddenly realized, "Oh, wait—where's Jesus??" So they have to go back to Jerusalem and, after three days of searching for him (don't you love foreshadowing...?), they find their 12 year-old son, Jesus, preaching to the rabbis! What!? Furthermore, according to verse 47, the rabbis were actually "amazed" at his understanding of the Scriptures!

Mary, as we can imagine, is relieved and disappointed at the same time, and asks, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been worried sick about you!" Obviously! As parents, they had every right to be mad at Jesus (even though their anger seems more like a projection of their own guilt—they're the ones, after all, who somehow managed to leave the Messiah behind).

Isn't it amazing how quickly we get angry at God, even when our struggles are of our own doing?

Then, in stark contrast to Mary's hysterics, Jesus very calmly answers her, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house" (other translations read "about my Father's business"). This is significant for three reasons: 1) they are Jesus's first recorded words, 2) he refers to God as "Father" and, thus, creates a new way for humanity to view God, and 3) they provide an element of the "discipleship" concept, what we will find become one of Jesus's main preaching points.

The fact that they are his first recorded words tell us this: Luke wants his readers to know that doing his Father's work is at the forefront of Jesus's mind. There was no allegiance to things of the world on his part, and there was no hidden agenda on his part. He wasn't concerned with what people would think of him, he wasn't concerned with the reactions people would have to him, and he wasn't concerned with the repercussions that would come from separating himself from his family. His one and only concern was being about his Father's business.

And it's absolutely critical to note that Jesus refers to God as his "Father" when Mary says, "...your father and I..." Here, Jesus is clearly separating himself from humanity, separating himself from familial ties, and separating himself from societal norms. Here, Jesus is explaining to his parents that they are not his ultimate authority, and pleasing them, or even obeying them, is not his ultimate goal. His ultimate goal is to be doing the work of his heavenly Father. Jesus will bring this concept up again later in Luke as he addresses it more directly:
" 49I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." (Luke 12:49-53)
What Jesus is talking about here is discipleship—it is a foreshadowing of things to come on Luke's part. By telling the story of Jesus staying in Jerusalem, separating himself from his family, and then answering them so casually and matter-of-factly, and by making his response his very first recorded words, Luke is illustrating that ministry—being about our Father's business—should be at the very forefront of our efforts. No matter what we do in life, we should be doing it with the mindset "How does this further the Kingdom? Is this me being about my Father's business?"

And by clearly differentiating between Jesus's earthly father (Joseph) and his heavenly Father (Jehovah), Luke is illustrating a point that Jesus will bring up later—being about our Father's business means separating ourselves from all things of the world. It means having no reservations about the sacrifices we have to be willing to make. It may mean separation from our families (Luke 12:49-53, 14:25-26), it may mean facing unjust hardships (14:27), it may mean losing everything (14:33, 9:25), and may it even mean losing your life (9:23-24)!

This is the sort of discipleship Jesus was calling himself to, and this is the cost of discipleship that we are called to.