Fitted for Hard Times (2 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:16-25 & 34-39 in your Bible.

Fitted for Hard Times_v02 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

REVIEW: Part One was the Conditions of Discipleship

There is a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin that cannot be proven he either said or wrote.  Nonetheless, it is amusing and has a good truth, especially in these times of overreaching governments: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

In our passage today Jesus is still preparing to send out the Twelve Apostles on their short-term missions project.  He is completely honest, even brutally honest, in warning them what it will cost them to follow Him.  They will be the lambs contesting the wolves of the world around them.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

NEW: Part Two is the Cost of Discipleship

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple will cost your innocence but not your virtue (vs. 16-18)

By “innocence” I mean naiveté; you will see the world as it truly is.  For the sake of our own comfort and sanity we tend to assume people are most often have good intentions and that the world is safe.  Jesus shattered any false sense of safety by saying He was sending the disciples out LIKE SHEEP AMONG WOLVES. WOLVES is an oft-used image for persecutors of the Church (for example, Matthew 7:15; John 10:12; Acts 20:29).  SHEEP is an even more frequent biblical symbol of God’s people (for example, Psalm 23).  Even though He sent them to THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL (v. 6), the disciple were not assume everyone they meet will accept or even tolerate their message of repentance.  In v. 14 He warned them some people would not WELCOME or LISTEN to them.

By “virtue” I mean a refusal to hold a grudge, get revenge or in any way compromise God’s standards.  SNAKES were an Eastern symbol for prudence.  Though DOVES are used otherwise in the Bible, Jesus used used it as a symbol of innocence.  Disciples are not to close their eyes to evil, but are to deal with it directly and even assertively.  We keep our virtue after our innocence is lost by being smart, which is exactly what Jesus is teaching here.

The effect of this transformation is for you to BE ON YOUR GUARD.  Be prepared; as sure as sparks fly upward, so will disciples suffer persecution.  Jesus’ teaching about His Second Coming required His disciples to be on their GUARD.  You do this by never giving up.  They were warned to be ON GUARD AGAINST MEN (v. 17) because men are prone to prioritize self-interest.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cost you your freedom (vs. 18-19).

Persecution can come from the top down as well as the bottom up.  V. 18 is a contrast with v. 17.  In. v. 17 Jesus warned them against local level persecution: city government (COUNCILS) and Jewish SYNAGOGUES.  In v. 18 Jesus warned them against persecution brought by GOVERNORS AND KINGS. In v. 21 Jesus warned a third group – family members – may be among a disciple’s persecutors.  God’s purpose in their being persecuted is to give them an opportunity to be WITNESSES to the Jews and eventually to the GENTILES too.

Is your freedom – your rights – more precious than your salvation?  Is your search for personal comfort more important to you than your duty as a disciple?  If the priority is on salvation and discipleship, you’ll be encouraged by Jesus’ promises and commands.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cause you to suffer persecution and rejection (vs. 22-25).

Persecution comes to Jesus’ people because evil people hate Jesus.  I wonder how much persecution the Apostles actually faced when they went out?

It’s clear He prepared them to face opposition in vs. 17-20 just as He did in vs. 11-16.  But vs. 17-20 have a feeling of looking further into the future; that Jesus is speaking here about circumstances long after His death, things the Twelve will have to face as they represent Jesus in other parts of the world.

This interpretation is based on more than intuition; in v. 18 Jesus promised they’d be WITNESSES to the GENTILES as well.  But at this moment their mission is to the LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL exclusively (v.6), the GENTILES are not included.  This warning is more appropriate to the decades after Jesus’ Ascension than this immediate situation.

To the degree that it helps to know your persecutors are not making it a personal issue, Jesus warned, ALL MEN WILL HATE YOU BECAUSE OF ME.  These words also take a broader view than just this short-term mission.  This is their future.  ALL MEN should not be understood as “everyone.”  It can be translated as “all kinds of men,” which takes in the locals mentioned in v. 17, the VIPs in v. 18, and family members in v. 21.

Jesus said, “A STUDENT IS NOT ABOVE HIS TEACHER, NOR A SERVANT ABOVE HIS MASTER,” explaining why hatred for Him automatically becomes hatred for His disciples.  Jesus did not die on the cross to make us happy or feel fulfilled, or to improve our self-esteem.  Jesus suffered and died to save us.  As His disciples we must share in His sufferings if we want to also share in his glory (Romans 8:17).  Our attitude toward suffering should be the kind expressed by the apostles in Acts 5:21 who were overjoyed to be counted worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus’ name.

Jesus has provided us with recourse to persecution: a promise, path, and a finish line.

His promise: v. 22 promises those who remain ON GUARD and STAND FIRM TO THE END they will be saved.  This command is similarly expressed in…

– Philippians 3:16 = ONLY LET US LIVE UP TO WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY ATTAINED.

– Revelation 2:25 = ONLY HOLD ON TO WHAT YOU HAVE UNTIL I COME.

Disciples experience seasons of growth and seasons which threaten us and/or tempt us to give up.  In those seasons, it is perfectly acceptable to dig in and prevent losing any ground, to cling fiercely to the measure of faith we have, and refuse to be moved.  To be faithful TO THE END means to the end of one’s life or to the Second Coming, whichever comes first.

Jesus’ path = In v. 23 Jesus advised the Twelve, “WHEN YOU ARE PERSECUTED IN ONE PLACE, FLEE TO ANOTHER.”  In other words, “You don’t have to stand there and take it.”  In this teaching and in others, Jesus authorized the use of passive resistance and non-violent protest as responses to persecution.  He did not call His disciples to be door mats: He commanded us to be as SHREWD AS SNAKES but as INNOCENT AS DOVES.

For example, a SHREWD alternative to just standing there and allowing yourself to be persecuted is to get out of the way of your persecutors.  We have an example of this happening in the history of the Church: Acts 8:1 says the members of the church in Jerusalem scattered into neighboring provinces in the face of persecution in the city.

Jesus’ finish line = YOU WILL NOT FINISH GOING THROUGH THE CITIES OF ISRAEL BEFORE THE SON OF MAN COMES.  This is Jesus’ promise that He would not leave any of His disciples to suffer their fate.  He did the opposite: He promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20).  This is an occasion where it’s especially important to be aware of the context of the verse.  Jesus has just instructed them to flee persecution.  What is he saying here is that there will always be a fall-back position, until Jesus comes again, and fall-back positions will no longer be needed.  We’ve already observed that Jesus’ instructions look beyond the time in which they were given.  This statement looks forward to the end of time.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cause a loss of false peace (vs. 34).

Jesus didn’t come to be “nice,” if that word means being completely benign, inoffensive, no trouble, no confrontations, or no harsh words of any kind.  Jesus said it plainly, but people don’t want to hear it, so they start off a comment with “Well…” and proceed to make excuses to water down Jesus’ radical statements.  To them I say, “Grow up.”

Jesus said “DO NOT SUPPOSE THAT I HAVE COME TO BRING PEACE TO THE EARTH.  I DID NOT COME TO BRING PEACE, BUT A SWORD.”  Similarly, in Luke 12:49-51 He said, “I HAVE COME TO BRING FIRE ON THE EARTH AND HOW I WISH IT WERE ALREADY KINDLED.  BUT I HAVE A BAPTISM TO UNDERGO, AND OW DISTRESSED I AM UNTIL IT IS COMPLETED! DO YOU THINK I CAME TO BRING PEACE ON EARTH?  NO, I TELL YOU, BUT DIVISION.”  This is not Jesus’ desire to be a troublemaker nor is he authorizing us to merely be troublemakers.  Instead, He is offering another explanation of why people hate Him.

Telling the truth has a polarizing effect on people.  People who are living a lie hate the truth because it exposes them as liars and thereby feels like an accusation.  People who live in the truth love the truth because it encourages and affirms what they’re doing.  Jesus told the truth, but more than that, He IS the truth (John 14:6).

Discipleship is following Jesus’ example in seeking the truth, which will produce both peace and judgment in a single circumstance.  Jesus is called the PRINCE OF PEACE (Isaiah 9:6-7) because He brings inner peace to His disciples (Philippians 4:7).  At the same time, He is a galvanizing figure whom people will love or hate.  Hear this: the most faithless reaction to Jesus is apathy (Revelation 3:14-16).  Just as history has been divided by Jesus (A.D. versus B.C.), so are people divided into for or against.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cost you some family relationships (vs. 21, 35-37).

Our first family is our church family.  We’ve observed Jesus’ warning in v. 21: “BROTHER WILL BETRAY BROTHER…A FATHER HIS CHILD…CHILDREN AGAINST THEIR PARENTS.”  This is such an important point, it is essentially repeated in vs. 35-37.  Note the deadly consequence of these betrayals: TO DEATH.  Jesus is offering families as an example of people we would normally expect to trust, but as we know family members are not any more likely to agree or be agreeable than complete strangers.

Jesus’ attitude toward family may surprise you.  In Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 8, Jesus responded to a call to join His family by saying, “MY MOTHER AND BROTHERS ARE THOSE WHO HEAR GOD’S WORD AND PUT IT INTO PRACTICE.”  Verse 37 is a similarly provocative statement: “ANYBODY WHO LOVES HIS FATHER OR MOTHER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS SON OR DAUGHTER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME.”  The Bible does place a high value on family relationships, but in terms of priorities, it is clear our church family comes before our birth family.

Even in families, some people will react to your discipleship with division.  Discipleship demands extreme devotion to Jesus, a situation that will not sit well with all the members of one’s family.  The polarizing effect of Jesus and the followers who imitate Him can be deep enough to part close but superficial relationships.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple will cost your life (vs. 38-39).

Salvation is free and it costs you everything.  Salvation is FREE in the sense that it cannot be earned.  It is available to us only because of God’s grace.  Salvation COSTS us everything in the sense that following Jesus must be our first priority.  Anything that is more important than loving God is actually an idol: including family.  We can claim anything we want, but we can’t actually be a disciple of Jesus if we prioritize anything else above Him.

There are three aspects of discipleship Jesus mentioned in this passage.

Take up your cross.  In Jesus’ culture, the cross was a symbol of shame.  Jesus transformed it into a sign of victory, but He did so only by means of sacrifice.  Taking up our own cross means to do a similar thing, to sacrifice self on the altar of devotion to God.  In our culture, this will involve the sacrifice of choice, convenience and comfort, things we insist upon.

Follow Jesus.  Finding something to die for is, in some ways, easier than having something to life for, because living requires the hard work of being faithful in the mundane details of everyday life.  Following means letting Jesus lead.  Whenever we want to dictate the terms of discipleship or tell Jesus what we’re willing to do, that’s where falsehood enters in.

Lose your life for His sake.  This is obviously a figure of speech but it describes the radical depth of commitment a disciple shows.  Disciples are mostly unconcerned about their own rights.  They give evidence of humility and a servant’s heart in word and deed.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

In this second of three installments, we have observed Jesus preparing His disciples by frankly telling them what it will cost them to follow Him.  In all the years since, the cost of discipleship has not changed.  The rewards are literally out of this world but they are realized only by faith and sacrifice.

One place where discipleship can become difficult is when the faith collides with the world.  Jesus did not want to send His people into the world naively expecting to be appreciated.

I read recently that expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are “good” is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.  The bull simply does not care.  In all walks of life, in all situations and experiences, you will encounter resistance against your faith.  People will not care.

In those moments, Jesus does not expect us to be a witty debater, a fiery preacher, or anything other than our selves, clinging resolutely to what we know to be true.  We do not require the world’s agreement or approval to be disciples; with the Holy Spirit in us, we operate under a greater authority.  Quiet confidence and a ready reply is what’s needed when the world starts knocking our faith down.

PREVIEW: Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple

RESOURCES:

Message #1322

Way to Go, MA!

Please read Luke 4:38-44 in your Bible.

Way to go, Ma! (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

I’m sorely tempted today.  On the one hand, today we recognize the ladies in our lives: it is our Mother’s Day service.  So a mother-in-law joke or two is sort of on-topic.  And – as this message is on tape delay, I can get away with it!  On the other hand, today is Mother’s Day, so mother-in-law jokes are less appropriate.  And most of you know where I live.  So let’s compromise.  If you know a mother-in-law joke, type it in the “comments” section below the video.

Here are a couple holiday-appropriate stories.  On a Mother’s Day morning, two young children told their mother to stay in bed.  As she lay there looking forward to having breakfast in bed, the smell of bacon floated up from the kitchen.  But she waited and waited and finally could stand it no longer.  She went downstairs to discover her children finishing up plates of bacon and eggs and toast.

“As a surprise for Mother’s Day,” one of them explained, “we decided to cook our own breakfast!”  I assume she was surprised!

On another Mother’s Day another family decided to surprise grandma with breakfast in bed.  Unfortunately, the surprise was spoiled for when they got to grandma’s house they discovered she was still in bed, feeling ill.

As they were making their exit, a young granddaughter stood beside grandma’s nightstand, not budging, her eyes fixed on grandma’s dentures soaking in a glass of water.

The mother said, “Honey, we’ve got to go.  What’re you looking at?”

The little one pointed to the glass and said, “The tooth fairy will never believe THIS!”

Now we’re ready to go on to Luke 4:38-44, where Simon Peter’s mother-in-law played a supporting role.

CONTEXT: Jesus had just made a big appearance in a synagogue at the Jewish Sabbath (LKE 4:31-37).  It was there He cast a demon out of a man.  The amazed witnesses spread word about Jesus THROUGHOUT THE SURROUNDING AREA.

In chapter five, Jesus will begin calling His twelve disciples, do a couple more dramatic healings, and teach on the subject of fasting. We are clearly at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry and He got off in dramatic fashion.  Our passage is an interlude of sorts.  Here we see Jesus using His healing power on a personal scale, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, then on a public scale as all kinds of sick folk were brought to Him, and finally defining His mission as preaching.  We can see how these three brief incidents set forth a summary of what Jesus’ ministry was all about.

Jesus’ mission centered on preaching and included healing.

  1. What a Mother-in-Law Peter had! (38-39)

Jesus and Simon (whom Jesus would call to ministry in 5:10) left the synagogue for Saturday dinner.  Maybe something equivalent to our Sunday dinner?

Simon’s mother-in-law was sick at the time: she had a HIGH FEVER.  In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul wrote that Simon Peter was married. The fact that his mother-in-law lived with Simon may imply that her husband was dead.  In that case, she no longer had a home of her own and had to come under some other male’s headship.

As most people lived in single-room homes, a contagious illness was a threat to everyone who visited the house.  On this occasion there was more than family involved: Mark reported the whole city had gathered outside the home.  One reason Jesus acted promptly was to allow the safe use of Simon’s home.

Luke was a physician and accordingly, he gives us a little more information than Mark or Matthew: Luke tells us her fever was HIGH (a serious condition) and the miracle Jesus used to heal her.     All Jesus’ healings used different methods and means.  He did not want anyone to think that the healings happened because of certain words, gestures, or some kind of medicine.  The healings were neither magic nor medicine.

In this case, however, Jesus’ method was similar to what He’d done earlier in the synagogue: there He’d rebuked the demon and it left.  Here he rebuked the illness the FEVER in Simon’s mother-in-law and IT LEFT HER.  Luke alone adds the detail AT ONCE to give more evidence to the supernatural, miraculous nature of this healing.

It is a small detail, but Luke recorded that Jesus BENT OVER HER to speak the words of rebuke.  He was not intimidated by her illness, Jesus got “up close & personal.”

Once healed, Simon’s mother-in-law got up and showed hospitality to Simon, Jesus and all who’d come along.  Whatta gal!  She might have wanted to rest, but instead she got up and went to work feeding Simon’s guests.

  1. What a healer Jesus was! (40-41)

WHEN THE SUN WAS SETTING means the Sabbath was over; people could travel without breaking the Law and Jesus could heal without breaking the Law.  Word spread fast and people took advantage of having a healer in their midst.

Jesus healed ALL the people brought to Him, in their VARIOUS KINDS OF SICKNESSES.  First, we note Jesus did not discriminate between persons (He healed the ALL) or between diseases (VARIOUS KINDS).  On this occasion Jesus healed by LAYING HIS HANDS ON THEM.  On other occasions He would use other methods.

On the other hand, He cast out demons with a REBUKE.  Ironically, it was the demons who were the first to testify Jesus was the SON OF GOD.  Jesus silenced them and cast them out with a rebuke (as he had cast Simon’s mother-in-law’s fever).  His word alone was sufficiently powerful to overthrow Satan’s minions from these people.

The fact that Luke reported a difference between SICKNESSES and DEMONS implies that not all illness is an affliction from the devil.  People of his time assumed illness was caused by evil spirits or the patient’s sin, but this is not always true.  Unfortunately, that error persists among Christians to this day.

Why did Jesus silence them?  This happens a lot in the Gospels, especially in Mark.  It is called the “Messianic Secret.”  Early in His ministry, Jesus wanted people to focus on His message and not get distracted on deciding whether or not He was the Messiah.  Jesus sought to exert control on public opinion in order to make it most powerful just prior to His arrest, trial, and execution.  This was intended to force the hand of the authorities.  Jesus managed public opinion to leverage His own death!  Since that week was about three years away, He wanted to keep things chill at this time.

Another reason for the “Messianic Secret” was an attempt to limit the size of the crowds following Him.  Big crowds would inhibit Jesus’ movement and ministry.  Worse, they might force the issue too soon.  In John 6:15 we read that Jesus withdrew from a crowd because He knew they intended to make Him King by force.  Jesus wanted no earthly crown and He did not want to put His people in harm’s way by inciting a riot!  Jesus was in control.

  1. What a preacher Jesus was! (42-44)

Every preacher must withdraw regularly to A SOLITARY PLACE to prepare for preaching and recover from preaching.  In 5:16, Luke explained this practice: BUT JESUS OFTEN WITHDREW TO LONELY PLACES AND PRAYED.  This aspect of a preacher’s life is like juggling, trying to keep the “balls” of time for people, time for study, and time for self all in the air at once.  When these three demands get out of balance, troubles ensue.

THEY TRIED TO KEEP HIM FROM LEAVING THEM: this is the opposite kind of reaction Jesus got from the people of His hometown, Nazareth, when He preached in their synagogue (Luke 4:28-30).  It was also the kind of situation He was working to avoid.

Jesus responded by telling them He hadn’t been called to Capernaum only, but had to preach to THE OTHER TOWNS ALSO.  Jesus’ mission was to TEACH THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.  The KINGDOM OF GOD is a key teaching in Jesus’ ministry.  Of the 64 times this phrase is used in the New Testament, 31 of them are in Luke.  In His teaching, Jesus said that the KINGDOM OF GOD arrived with Him and that it was also not fully present until the end of the age.  The Kingdom exists spiritually in everyone who follows Jesus.  It will exist physically in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Luke did not mention Jesus’ healing ministry at all in verse 43.  This omission may imply that His healing ministry was secondary to His preaching, though it was clearly His healing power that the people wanted most.

Jesus left them and kept His word: HE KEPT ON PREACHING IN THE SYNAGOGUES OF JUDEA.  (The name JUDEA was, confusingly, used as the Roman name of the province where Jerusalem was located and in a more general sense for everywhere in Palestine where Jews lived, including Galilee.) Jesus was sent first to the Jews; in Matthew 15:24 He said, “I WAS SENT TO THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL.”  He met the people where they were, where they gathered for worship.

Jesus’ mission centered on preaching and included healing.

We have observed the good example set by Simon’s mother-in-law, who, when healed, rose from her bed of sickness and set to work to provide for her son-in-law and his guests.  Though she is not named, her example has been preserved throughout the ages.  She set a very high standard of love and service.

In this set of verses Luke provided us with a set of situations that summarize the earthly ministry of Jesus.  He was public and private, personal and communal.  He ministered healing, deliverance from evil, and preached the Kingdom of God.  Writing the book of Acts, Luke quoted this same Simon Peter’s summary of Jesus’ ministry, re-affirming the truths we have observed in this passage from his Gospel: “HOW GOD ANOINTED JESUS OF NAZARETH WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT AND POWER, AND HOW HE WENT AROUND DOING GOOD AND HEALING ALL WHO WERE UNDER THE POWER OF THE DEVIL, BECAUSE GOD WAS WITH HIM.” (Acts 10:38)

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, “Luke,” Laurence E. Porter.

The NIV Application Commentary, “Luke,” Darrell L. Bock.

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, “The Gospels,” Darrell L. Bock, Ed.

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, “Luke,” Walter L. Liefield.

The Daily Study Bible Series, “The Gospel of Luke,” William Barclay.

Missing the Point, Too

Please read Luke 24:13-35 in your Bible.

Emmaus (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

One Sunday after church the preacher had just one person left to greet as the congregation exited the sanctuary.  Pastor held out his hand to Bill, as they shook hands, they exchanged the usual pleasantries.  Then Bill surprised the pastor with this question, “Pastor, if you were stuck on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you?”

Without hesitation the pastor went with the obvious answer: “I’d like to have my Bible,” he said.  He went on; “That’s an interesting question, Bill.  What book would you like to have with you?”

Bill grinned and said, “Pastor, if I’m stuck on a deserted island, the book I want is “Ship Building for Dummies!”  Bill was joking with the pastor who had missed the point.  He didn’t have to stay on the island, so why not have a book to help him escape?

It’s typical for us to stare intently at what we expect to see that we miss new things entirely.  Last Sunday we saw ten of eleven of Jesus’ disciples miss the point of His resurrection.  Today we’ll get to know a pair who did get the point.

CONTEXT:

TIME – Late afternoon, Resurrection Day.

PERSONS – In v. 18, Luke named one of the travelers, a man named Cleopas.  The GK allows for the other person to be Cleopas’ wife.  In John 19:25, Mary is said to be the wife of a “Clopas.”  It’s a safe guess that the two travelers on the road are Mary and Cleopas.  Their child is Simeon who will be head of the church in Jerusalem.

PLACE – Emmaus was a village seven miles northwest of Jerusalem.  It’s likely Cleopas and Mary had a home in Emmaus.

PURPOSE – The reason for their journey is not stated, but we can assume they were simply going home before darkness set in.

Doubt is resolved when we learn together from God’s word

  1. You must win your struggle against doubt. (13-25)

Know God is with you in your struggle.  Sometimes when we struggle with doubt or are in any kind of trial, God can FEEL distant.  Of course He is not distant, but we can feel that way nonetheless.  This situation is a perfect illustration of that feeling.  Verses fifteen to sixteen tell us: JESUS WALKED WITH THEM BUT THEY WERE KEPT FROM RECOGNIZING HIM.  God the Son was with them but they didn’t recognize Him.  The man they were mourning walked beside them!  So it is with us; we mourn and feel lonely and we simply don’t recognize Him.

The question is, HOW were they kept from recognizing Him?  Their own grief might have kept them from it. Strong emotions can distract us, causing an inward focus to such a degree that they simply didn’t notice their companion was Jesus.  That would only account for a few minutes of conversation and is not the reason given in Scripture.

Luke says God’s power somehow disguised Jesus.  Verse 31 says THEIR EYES WERE OPENED AND THEY RECOGNIZED HIM.  My speculation is that the most important thing was that Jesus would have a chance to teach them the truth only if they didn’t recognize Him.  Once they were seated at table, the teaching was done and the disguise was no longer necessary.  Only people who are biased against the supernatural find it hard to believe that Jesus adopted some kind of spiritual disguise.

The pair walking to Emmaus had doubts; the text makes that plain.  In verse seventeen, THEY STOOD STILL, THEIR FACES DOWNCAST.  This body language is visual evidence they had given up.  While they walked they had been discussing the events of the past few days, part of which was the testimony of the women who came back from Jesus’ empty tomb (verse 22).  The pair doubted the testimony of the women.

In verse nineteen they said Jesus was a “PROPHET, POWERFUL IN WORD AND DEED.”  Note their use of past tense: “WAS.”  They were thinking of Jesus as dead and buried.  To call Him a prophet was a compliment, but…

– Prophets often met a violent death: they may have been making that association in their minds.

– The title “prophet” doesn’t really go far enough.  Jesus was more than that; He was God in the flesh.

In verse 21 they told Jesus, “WE HAD HOPED HE WAS GOING TO REDEEM ISRAEL.”  Again, this is expressed in the past tense.  This statement reads like grave disappointment and shattered hopes.

Verse 22 quotes Cleopas as saying, “SOME OF OUR WOMEN AMAZED US.”  This is not a casual rejection of the testimony of the tomb-visitors.  The Greek word translated as AMAZED means to be surprised to the point of being stunned, speechless.  The women’s account was a puzzle to them.  Rather than believe, they doubted and sought a more typical explanation.

The words of Jesus in verse 25 are the most convincing evidence of doubt in the minds of Cleopas and Mary.  He called them FOOLISH and SLOW OF HEART to believe He had risen from the dead.  FOOLISH is a word used to describe people without understanding, those who fail to perceive the truth.

He said they were SLOW OF HEART because they were unwilling to give up their worldly, naturalistic notions to see the truth literally right before them!  Faith sometimes requires us to UNLEARN worldly opinions to see the supernatural.

  1. You can win your struggle against doubt by knowing God’s word. (25-27)

Jesus used the Old Testament to confront their foolishness and slowness.  He showed them how he fulfilled Old Testament predictions about the Messiah.

In verse 26 Jesus said, “DID NOT T CHRIST HAVE TO SUFFER THESE THINGS AND THEN ENTER HIS GLORY?”  The title CHRIST is the Greek version of the Hebrew title “messiah.”  It means “Anointed One” and refers to the person God had promised to send to His people Israel to save them.  The part that probably took them by surprise is that the CHRIST had to SUFFER before entering His glory.

As it states in verse 27, BEGINNING WITH MOSES AND ALL THE PROPHETS, HE EXPLAINED TO THEM WHAT WAS SAID IN ALL THE SCRIPTURES CONCERNING HIMSELF.  MOSES AND THE PROPHETS is another way of referring to the entire Old Testament.  Jesus is the “interpretive key” to understanding the Old Testament.  What was veiled in the Old Testament is unveiled in the New Testament.

The Old and New Testaments have one message for they have but one Author.  Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as the AUTHOR AND PERFECTER of our faith.  He is the AUTHOR of the Bible.  Though human minds found the words and human hands penned the words, it was Jesus, by means of the Holy Spirit, who inspired the Bible authors to write.  He is the PERFECTER of our faith in the sense that He set an example of perfect obedience.  Because God is the ultimate Author of the Bible, it is a trustworthy basis for daily living.

Doubts about God persist in situations of ignorance and isolation.  Doubts arise when we don’t know or don’t care what God said.  You may have noticed that people can come up with a lot of nutty ideas on their own.  When we don’t have or use our trusted faith family to test out our ideas, doubts & self-deception take root.

  1. You can win your struggle against doubt by knowing God’s people. (28-35)

Jesus chose to reveal Himself in response to their hospitality.  He could have revealed Himself at any point, but he waited until He broke the bread.  Why?

I believe it teaches this truth: we know Christ best when we know Him in fellowship with other believers.  This is one of the reasons God created the Church for us; He wants us to learn and apply His word together.  “Breaking bread” is an expression we use for fellowship.  By doing this the way He did, Jesus imparted an essential, supernatural priority to fellowship.

Those who want to remove the supernatural even from Scripture rob some of the significance of this moment.  Cleopas and Mary did have doubts, but divine power was the reason for their inability to recognize Jesus.

The timing is exact (verse 30: WHEN HE WAS AT THE TABLE WITH THEM, HE TOOK BREAD, GAVE THANKS, BROKE IT AND BEGAN TO GIVE IT TO THEM.)  This was a moment of fellowship.  Jesus sat at table with them and shared the bread with them.  It was also a moment of worship as Jesus GAVE THANKS for their meal.  God was invited to the table.

At that moment, three things happened.

– First, THEIR EYES WERE OPENED. This reminds me of Acts 9:18 where it says SOMETHING LIKE SCALES fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus and he could see again.  In both cases, this is something done FOR the people involved.  God had caused Saul’s blindness and restored it.  In a similar way, God caused Cleopas and Mary to not recognize Jesus and then He granted that they should see Him.

– Second, THEY RECOGNIZED HIM.  Whatever it was that disguised Jesus ceased at that moment and they were rewarded with the realization that they had been with Jesus the entire time (verse 32).

– Third, HE DISAPPEARED FROM THEIR SIGHT.  I’ve seen a video portrayal of this scene where Jesus just got up from the table, walked out the door, and disappeared into the night.  That was lazy story-telling or the product of worldly thinking.

The Greek word for DISAPPEARED means “invisible.”  This implies Jesus miraculously disappeared from their view.  This miracle encouraged and energized these two discouraged disciples.  Only something clearly supernatural explains the sudden transformation of Cleopas and Mary from being doubtful and defeated to exuberant witnesses.

Cleopas and Mary demonstrated a faithful response to Jesus’ resolution of their doubts.  In verse 32 with the benefit of this new insight, they understood why their hearts burned within them as Jesus had earlier spoken to them about the Scripture.  This was a good kind of “heartburn;” a recognition of how wonderful it felt to have Jesus teaching them.

Verses 33-35 show the fearless reaction of these followers.  In spite of the lateness of the hour and the darkness outdoors, they retraced their steps back to Jerusalem.  They were that eager to share what they’d experienced with Jesus’ disciples.  Once they’d arrived, Cleopas and Mary heard that joyous news that the Lord had also appeared to Simon.

It is important for us to note that it was in fellowship with Jesus that His true identity had been revealed to them and then later, they sought out fellowship with other believers to share the joyous news with them.  Fellowship is a powerful tool to overcome doubt.

Doubt is resolved when we learn together from God’s word

Scientists tell us when we miss the point it’s actually a sign of our brain working against our will.  For instance, you’re looking right at your car keys but you don’t see them.  There is an explanation for this familiar and annoying occurrence.

In order to eliminate distractions, our brains create what researchers call “brain bias.”  Your brain refuses to recognize things that your eyes can see because your brain has a bias against it.

I could go on, but the point is that we miss the point because we have a bias against it.  This is an illustration of how we must choose to look at ourselves and our world with different eyes – the eyes of faith – in order to see the truth.

Just as He helped Cleopas and Mary to see the truth, Jesus will open our eyes to see the truth too.  Let us not be numbered among those who have missed the point about Jesus.

 

 

RESOURCES:

Message #1288

https://motivateus.com/stories/missing_the_obvious.htm

https://www.techwell.com/techwell-insights/2012/08/miss-something-obvious-your-brain-might-be-working

Missing the Point

Please read Luke 24:1-12 in your Bible.

The Last Supper (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

There was a Christian lady who did a lot of traveling for work, requiring her to fly often.  Airplanes made her nervous, so she always took her Bible along to read and it would help relax her.

On one of these flights, she took her seat and took her Bible out of her purse.  A man seated next to her chuckled a bit at the sight of a Bible, and he asked, “You don’t really believe all the stuff in there do you?”

“Of course I do,” she replied, “this is the Bible.”

“Yeah, well what about that guy who was swallowed by a whale?”

She nodded.  “Jonah.  Yes, I believe that happened.  It is in the Bible.”

“OK,” the man said, “how do you suppose he survived all that time in a whale?  Why wasn’t he suffocated?  Digested?”

The woman looked the skeptic squarely in the eye and said, “I don’t really know.  I guess when I get to heaven I’ll ask Jonah.”

“What if he isn’t in heaven?” the man asked sarcastically.

“Then you can ask him,” she replied.

This lady got the point; I wonder if the guy did.  Easter is one of the two big occasions during the year where those of us who get it have special opportunity to share it with those who don’t.  The thing to which I am referring is the point of the whole Easter scene: life is available to all who receive Jesus Christ!  It is LIFE, abundant and free!

Don’t celebrate the Resurrection but miss its point: you are alive!

  1. The evidence proving the Resurrection.

Clue #1 = The stone had been rolled away.  By design, these stones were meant to be put in place and left there. They were heavy.  They were set in an angled track so you had to roll uphill to move it out of the way.  As grave robbing was a legitimate concern at that time, graves were made in such a way as to deter robbery.  This was a rich man’s grave, so it was of the highest quality.  Moving it in and out of place required the work of several men.

Clue #2 = They didn’t find Jesus’ body.  Though grave robbing was a problem, the robbers didn’t bother taking the corpse.  The women came to embalm Jesus’ body so they were surprised to find it missing.

In this situation, the only people with any motive for taking Jesus’ body had nothing to do with it.  The Jewish authorities might have done it to prevent the grave from becoming a shrine.  But no, they asked Pilate to seal it tight and he did.  The disciples might have done it to fake a resurrection.  But no, they were socially isolating in fear of the Romans.  Admittedly, it would have been hard to know what to make of this clue all by itself.

Clue #3 = The appearance of angels.  Though verses four through eight refer to them as MEN, the details make it clear the two messengers are angels.  Consider the three aspects of their description:

– They appeared SUDDENLY, as angels often do.

– Their clothing GLEAMED LIKE LIGHTNING.  (Biblically, that description is reserved for supernatural beings.)

– The reaction of the women was to be frightened and to bow before them, WITH FACES TO THE GROUND.  That’s how people in the Bible react to angels, never to persons.

In the Bible, angels are a separate race, but they sometimes take on human form.  The word translated as angel means “messenger,” and this duo had a five-part message for the women.

– “WHY DO YOU LOOK FOR THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD?”  They make it sound a little odd that the women expected Jesus to be there.

– “HE IS NOT HERE, HE IS RISEN!”  As He had already been resurrected, Jesus was not there at that moment.

– Not that any of this should have surprised them; they’d been warned “REMEMBER WHAT HE TOLD YOU.”

– “HE MUST BE DELIVERED INTO THE HANDS OF SINFUL MEN.”  In other words, it had always been the Father’s plan that Jesus should come briefly under the power of evil, so he would killed by them.

– “CRUCIFIED:” Jesus’ death was sacrificial, an effective remedy for the universal problem of sin.

– “ON THE THIRD DAY RISE AGAIN:” this part of Jesus’ teaching should have prepared them for this morning: they should have come to the garden ready to worship their Risen Savior, not to anoint His body for burial.

Clue #4 = They remembered Jesus’ words.  Well, sure.  Having a pair of dazzling angels remind you would be a great memory-refresher!  This is important because it meant that they had context for the angels’ message and therefore knew what it meant.

Clue #5 = Peter ran to the tomb.  What drove Peter to go to the tomb?  What made him so eager to get there?  It may have been simple curiosity or he may have been desperate to be forgiven.

Whatever mixture of thoughts and emotions drove Peter to run there, what he saw was a clue: Jesus was gone, but the strips of cloth that had covered His body were left behind.  Anyone stealing the body would surely have taken it cloths and all.

Additionally, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had prepared Jesus’ body for burial before the stone had been rolled in front of the tomb.  The spices were sticky and smeared on the body.  Removing the linen strips would have taken time and effort; there was no reason for a grave robber to do that.

Put all these clues together and the inescapable conclusion is that Jesus rose from the dead.  It is the only explanation that is supported by all the data.

  1. In spite of all these clues, the disciples still missed the point.

THEY DID NOT BELIEVE THE WOMEN; THEIR TESTIMONY SEEMED LIKE NONSENSE.  The women were eyewitnesses, but the menfolk did not believe them.  Why? Social bias certainly had a role to play; women were not allowed to offer testimony in court.  People often refuse to believe anything they haven’t seen for themselves.  Remember, they’ve been shut up and in hiding since Jesus’ arrest.

Worse, the women’s TESTIMONY SEEMED LIKE NONSENSE.  Given what they’ve just experienced, you could understand if the women were excited.  They were probably talking fast and over one another.  In their grief, these men would likely have even less patience with something that sounded to them – pardon this politically incorrect expression – hysterical females.

The Gk word translated as NONSENSE was a medical term for the ravings of a fevered insane person.  Not to be trusted.  The claims of the women were dismissed as emotional rather than rational.  Ironically, their slowness of heart to believe is one of the things that proves the Resurrection actually happened.  Think about it; this indicates skepticism, depression, and a paralyzing fear.

Nuts who put forth conspiracy theories about the disciples lying and creating a false resurrection are proved wrong; these men were in no shape to create any kind of conspiracy.  They had no vision, no desire to create a new faith, no plan at all.  They were utterly defeated and without faith on this occasion.

Peter socially isolated himself, WONDERING what had happened.  To his credit, Peter is alone among all the male disciples, in taking the women seriously.  In fact, Luke tells us that Peter RAN TO THE TOMB.

I can tell you from personal experience it takes a lot to get a fifty-something guy to run anywhere.  For Peter, however, this is typical behavior: to run off impetuously. When he got there, what he saw in the tomb – the strips of linen – did not immediately suggest a solution to Peter.  So he wandered and WONDERED, trying to find an explanation that fit the facts and suited his preconceived notions.  After all, dead is dead, right? Not in this case.

  1. How to prove you’ve got the point.

Believe it: Accept the evidence.  Let the liars and skeptics say what they will; the biblical evidence is clear.  The Resurrection did happen.

From there, we believe the following.  The Crucifixion was necessary because I have a horrible and recurring problem called sin.  I am powerless to fix this problem and it has the most serious outcome: separation from God in this life and in eternity.  The Resurrection establishes God’s solution to my sin: the sacrificial death of Jesus.  As I receive God’s solution I am forgiven and graciously gifted with life: abundant life in this world and in eternity.  Receiving God’s life changes everything: I will spend the remainder of my life unpacking its meaning, but it always starts with loving obedience to God.

Think it: Learn the evidence.  Study God’s word.  Let it change your heart and mind.  Understand how the truth about Jesus affects your priorities and shapes your world view.

Say it: Testify to the evidence.  Bring Jesus into every conversation.  Look for opportunities to speak His name. Be prepared to tell your personal story of faith.

Do it: Act upon the evidence.  Bring Jesus into everyday life by making the same choices He would make. Prioritize your spiritual life: give God the first and best of your time, money, and all other resources (they are His after all).  Fellowship with other believers; God created the Church for our good, not the other way around.  Mutual service, worship, and discipleship are essential resources for our spiritual maturity.

Don’t celebrate the Resurrection but miss its point: you are alive!

As the angels said, “WHY DO YOU LOOK FOR THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD?  HE IS NOT HERE, HE IS RISEN!”  All the evidence is before you.  Though the conclusion seems too good to be true, it is!  Life is ours because life is in Jesus!

Maybe for some, the Good News seems to good to be true.  They’re like a little boy from a long time ago who was a big fan of two children’s TV icons; Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers.

One day it was announce that Mr. Rogers would be paying a visit to Captain Kangaroo, appearing on his show!  The boy was ecstatic!  Both his heroes on at the same time!

When the day finally arrived, the whole family gathered with the little fellow around the TV.  There they were.  Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers.  Together.  At the same time!

The boy watched eagerly for a minute, then surprised everyone by getting up and leaving the room.

Puzzled, his father followed him and asked, “What is it son?  What’s wrong?”

“It’s too good,” the boy replied.  “It’s just too good.”

If Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers can bring about such a response, surely Jesus rising from the dead could too.  Maybe this is why the disciples were slow to believe the women.

After all, life had just dealt them a catastrophic disappointment.  Three years of life with Jesus had come to an abrupt end.  This is the kind of thing we’ve experienced about this world.  Disappointment abounds.  Hope gets crushed by tragedy.  Happy endings are fiction.

Observing Easter apart from our church family feels like one of those experiences.  Perhaps like me you’ve felt anger, grief, denial, bargaining and other emotions of loss.  It feels that COVID-19, like the Grinch, has stolen Easter.

But of course, that’s nonsense.  Easter is not about traditions and church and families gathered.  Easter is something much more.

Easter is life.  Don’t allow anything – good or bad – to distract you from that most important point.  Easter is your life.  Live it.

Advent Angels Sighting #4

Advent Angel Sightings 3_final (1)

 (Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

          Please read Luke 2:8-20.

Our focus during Advent has been on the angels.  But this week I’ve read and heard a lot about the shepherds.  One fellow said they were servants of the temple, tending the sheep used for the sacrifices.  Another said they were hiding out, complaining and maybe even plotting against the census that had been ordered by Rome.  I suppose either, neither, or both of those things could be true.

What I believe is indisputable, however, is that these were ordinary joes, working men suddenly overtaken by God and by history in the course of their ordinary lives.  It ought to serve as an inspiration to all of us that God chose to announce the birth of Jesus to ordinary folks.  The angels bypassed the palaces and temple and went to a work site.  The good news came first to people much like us.  That’s God’s justice and maybe His sense of humor.

CONTEXT: The scene is a countryside, which fits with Bethlehem as a rural village and with Luke’s theme of the most important birth happening without the notice of the world’s rich and powerful.  KEEPING WATCH means they were taking shifts looking out for predators and keeping the flocks together.

God sent an army of angels and an army of shepherds to announce the Savior’s birth.

  1. Luke reveals information about angels.

A single angel appeared first and delivered the message.  The angel is not named, but it might have been Gabriel who did all the talking in chapter one.

The situation starts out very much like the other angelic visitations: sudden appearance, glorious light, fearful response, angel says, “Don’t be afraid.”  Another consistent feature is that the message is GOOD NEWS.  Contrary to the angelic message delivered to Mary and Zechariah, this one is not going to affect the size of the shepherds’ families.

It is GOOD NEWS FOR ALL THE PEOPLE.  That is, for all the people of Israel, as directly stated in 1:17, 68, 77.  On the other hand, Luke tended to use this expression to refer to the “common people” as opposed to their religious and political leaders.

It will occur IN THE TOWN OF DAVID; a hint that it will fulfill prophecy.  As we see later, Jesus did not fulfill popular expectations of the Messiah, but He was obedient to fulfill prophecy and the will of God the Father.

A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU indicates that this baby will be more than just another heir of David.  He will play the pivotal part in God’s salvation.  This is an exceptional verse.  There are three titles mentioned in v.11; SAVIOR, CHRIST (“Messiah” or “Anointed One”), and LORD.  This is the only New Testament text where all three titles appear together.  This is the only time in Luke’s gospel that Jesus is referred to as “Savior.”

THIS WILL BE A SIGN: a circumstance so unique that it will be possible to identify the individual child.  A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER are a mixed message; the CLOTHS imply the baby is wanted and cared-for, but LYING in a manger feels like abandonment. Verse sixteen makes it clear the when they arrived, the shepherds found MARY and JOSEPH there, so the baby was not abandoned after all.

Once the message is delivered, A GREAT COMPANY of angel APPEARED.  A GREAT COMPANY OF THE HEAVENLY HOST uses military terminology, but their activity is not military, it is worship; they glorify God.  Worship of God in heaven seems to be the primary activity of angels and we see it here for the first time.  Given the importance of Jesus’ birth, it makes sense to worship God on this occasion.

The worship promotes the idea that PEACE is the thing God is attempting to achieve here.  The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Peace is much more than the absence of conflict, a temporary ceasefire.  It is a state of prosperity, security, and harmony, a degree of well-being, a taste of heaven on earth.  In Old Testament prophecy, a state of shalom is associated with the kind of kingdom the Messiah would bring to pass.

Who are the recipients of this peaceful kingdom?  The angels’ hymn says cryptically, MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS.  We don’t have enough information here to know whether this meant the Jews or the Church or both, in their turns.  It doesn’t really matter as the emphasis is not on the MEN, but on God’s FAVOR, or His grace.  Neither the Jews nor the Church deserve God’s FAVOR, so it is purely grace.

The message delivered, the angels returned to HEAVEN.  After all, they came from heaven.

  1. The shepherds responded faithfully.

They responded immediately.  In the same sentence that reports the angels’ return to heaven, the shepherds have decided to go to Bethlehem to check it out (verse fifteen).  Verse sixteen states they HURRIED OFF to Bethlehem.  This detail conveys an immediate response but also implies an enthusiastic one too.

They responded enthusiastically.  All that is reported about the shepherds conveys people who were understandably enthused to have been visited by angels and saw for themselves that the angel’s good news was perfectly true.

They responded worshipfully.  Verse twenty tells us the shepherd glorified and praised God, just as the company of angels had done in verse sixteen.  What they thought was praiseworthy was that God had kept His promises.  Everything the angels announced had come to pass; they had HEARD and SEEN it for themselves.

They responded evangelistically.  Verses seventeen and eighteen tell us the shepherds SPREAD THE WORD.  They reported their encounter with the angels and their meeting the baby and His parents. These verses also report the reaction of those who heard the shepherds’ testimony: ALL WHO HEARD IT WERE AMAZED.  As we’ve seen, amazement is the usual reply when people perceive God at work.

God sent an army of angels and an army of shepherds to announce the Savior’s birth.

What strikes me about Luke chapter two after verse two is that the only people mentioned who are “high and mighty” are the angels.  The HEAVENLY HOST appear in contrast to the powerless people who are named in this chapter.  Jesus is a baby; Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and literally everybody else are peasants.  This alone ought to squelch our ambition to “be somebody” or even get noticed.  We can get tired of our routine, long to escape our ordinariness.  Have you ever been greeted by someone who asked, “What’s new and exciting?”  What did you answer?

The shepherds had an answer to that question.  “Let me tell you something!” they’d say with excited voices.  Here’s something new and exciting: we have exactly the same good news that they did!  Jesus is born!  God has kept all His promises and delivered life and light to everyone in the dark shadow of death.

The angels and the shepherds had the same job, only the shepherds were volunteers.  Their job was to tell the GOOD NEWS.  That is our job too.  We have news to share and in this season we have an abundant opportunity to share it!

 

RESOURCES:

Word Biblical Commentary, Luke 1-9:20, John Nolland

Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Luke, Justo L. Gonzalez

Advent Angel Sighting #3

Please read Luke 1:26-38 in your Bible.

Advent Angel Sightings 2_final (1)

 (Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

In March of this year it was announced that a statue titled “The Virgin and Laughing Child” is actually a work of Leonardo Da Vinci.  It is said that he created the work in 1472, when he was 19 or 20 years old.

The statue depicts a woman holding a young child whose face bears an obvious expression of delight.  Religious art scholar Diane Apostolos-Cappadonna sees the charming sculpture as an expression of Da Vinci’s Christian faith.  She concluded the article, “Simply put, Leonardo illustrated how Jesus’ humanity came from his mother and his divinity from God.”

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/what-leonardos-depiction-of-virgin-mary-and-jesus-tells-us-about-his-religious-beliefs/

CONTEXT: Gabriel’s appearance to Mary followed his appearance to Zechariah six months earlier.  While the two accounts have many similarities, we will focus on the aspects of Mary’s account that are unique.  In the process we will continue to learn about angels and also appreciate the very positive example Mary has set for us in regard to our own obedience to God.

Mary had a faithful response to God’s message.

  1. Mary’s unique situation.

Of the six birth announcements delivered by angels, Mary and the unnamed mother of Samson (Judges 13) are the only women to receive one.  John Nolland wrote that while this section is similar to the other five birth announcements, it is also similar three passages where God called Moses, Gideon, and Jeremiah to do special things.  Mary is being told a lot more than “Congratulations!  You’re having a baby!”  After all, her child would be the greatest human being ever born.

Unlike the men, Mary was not afraid at the angel’s appearance, but was GREATLY TROUBLED by his words (29).  She must have realized in an instant that normally a man required to make a baby: she was troubled to think who this man might be and how this would affect her betrothal to Joseph.

Mary alone was said to have FOUND FAVOR WITH GOD (30).  While this can be assumed in the other four situations, it is not directly stated by the angelic messengers in the other birth announcements.  However, the emphasis of the word FAVOR is on God, not Mary.  Contrary to the belief of our Catholic friends, there was nothing superhuman about Mary.  The word meant “furnished with grace.”  Grace is always about the giver, not the gifted.

Grace is received because the giver decided to give it, not because the gifted deserved it.  The Bible teaches we are saved by grace.  It is not by our works, but by God’s love that we enjoy salvation.

Finally, Mary’s is the only virgin birth – ever (34).  People allege there are virgin births in other religions or in mythology, but none of them are in analogous to what Luke tells us about Jesus’ birth.

  1. Mary’s faithful response.

She started out TROUBLED and wondering but ended up trusting God.  I wonder how reassuring Gabriel’s explanation was (35-36).

In those days the Holy Spirit was not often mentioned, so that alone might have put Gabriel’s explanation outside Mary’s frame of reference.

She must have wondered what the word “overshadow” meant.

As it was used in the Bible, the term “overshadow” simply referred to the presence of God.  For example, in Exodus 40:35, the word referred to God’s presence in the form of a visible cloud that “overshadowed” the tabernacle.  Gabriel’s use of this term was meant to remind Mary of the cloud and to reassure her that her pregnancy would be miraculous, a creative act done by God Himself.

Verses 32-33 and 35 promise her child will be the greatest man to ever live. In her circumstance, would that be comforting, exciting, or intimidating?

Gabriel relates news that Mary possibly did not know: her kinswoman Elizabeth was having a miraculous baby of her own.  Knowing she was not facing this on her own must have been encouraging to Mary.

Surely the most convincing thing Gabriel said to Mary was his assurance, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD (37). It was in response to this statement that Mary declared her willingness to serve.

Without understanding everything that would be required, Mary simply obeyed (38).  She understood her role in all this: not the center, but a SERVANT.  “MAY IT BE TO ME AS YOU HAVE SAID” communicates wholehearted acceptance of God’s will.

“Parthenogenesis” is the $10 term used in biology to refer to the development of an egg into an organism without fertilization.  There are animal and insect species that reproduce in this way.  However, science alone cannot explain the Virgin Birth.  Indeed, it has often been denied on a scientific basis.

This doctrine is one of central importance to our faith, so we should be unwilling to surrender it just because science can’t account for it.  The Virgin Birth is a handy example of an issue where faith has to trump science.  It is a belief where the question of “how” – as Mary asked it – is not at important as the question “why” – as Gabriel explained it.

Mary had a faithful response to God’s message.

Biology aside, this passage stresses the historical fact that Mary was a virgin when Gabriel brought to her God’s message of her holy Son.  (So much so that it’s stated twice in v. 27!)  I believe this is important for several reasons, one of them being that in the cultures of this day, it was widely believed that the father actually made the baby, the mother merely incubated it.  Believing that, people would naturally assume that Jesus inherited a sin nature through his earthly father.  However, as there was no earthly father, Jesus did not start out life hampered by a sin nature as you and I did.  So when Paul wrote GOD MADE HIM WHO HAD NO SIN TO BE SIN FOR US, SO THAT IN HIM WE MIGHT BECOME THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD (2 Corinthians 5:21), he affirmed that Jesus did not even have a sin nature.  Jesus was innocent from birth and maintained His purity throughout life.

What we learned about angels in this passage is that they are likely to take a hand when events are of historic importance.  The birth of the one and only Son of God is obviously important.  Based on the dialogue Gabriel had with Mary we may note in addition to delivering messages, angels are often called upon to explain the message to their human recipients.

Mary is a fine example for all of us to follow because obedience preceded understanding.  That’s what faith does: it allows us to obey God even when we don’t understand all the implications of His will.  Mary asked the “how” question and received a full answer, but it’s unlikely she knew in that moment all that being suddenly pregnant would cost her.  It’s unlikely she knew or cared about the biology.  When she was reminded that “Nothing is impossible for God,” she accepted that statement at face value and moved forward to obedience.  Similarly, we must never allow worldly thinking or fear stop us from being faithful to obey God’s call.

 

Resources:

Unmanly Men: Refigurations of Masculinity in Luke-Acts, Brittany E. Wilson

Word Biblical Commentary #35a: Luke 1-9:20, John Nolland

Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Luke, Justo L. Gonzalez

“Virgin and Laughing Child” is unveiled as Leonardo da Vinci’s only surviving sculpture

Advent Angels Sightings #2

Please read Luke 1:5-25 in your favorite Bible.

Advent Angel Sightings 1_final (1)

(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

There’s at least one thing very wrong with the mythology of Santa Claus. “According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December.
“Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring. Therefore, according to EVERY picture depicting Santa’s reindeer in late December, EVERY single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen, has to be a girl.
“We should have known… ONLY women would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world in one night and not get lost.”

https://www.favecrafts.com/Entertaining/A-Great-Bunch-of-Funny-Christmas-Stories

It’s strange that so many people make such a fuss about a mythical figure like Santa and neglect the historical person of Jesus Christ.  The gospel writer Luke was concerned with writing an accurate historical account of the life of Jesus.  To cover the subject as thoroughly as possible, he began with the miraculous circumstances surrounding the birth of the man who would introduce Jesus to the world as the Messiah; John the Baptist.  Our second advent angel sighting involves that moment of history.

CONTEXT: What we learn about Zechariah (5-11).  NT Professor Brittany E. Wilson has found in Luke a portrayal of Zechariah as an ordinary man suddenly caught up in a historic situation.  Perhaps you can imagine his disorientation.  Wilson identifies three markers in the text.

1 = His ethnicity.  Zechariah was a Jew.  In the Roman Empire, all conquered peoples were second-class citizens, but Jews were the butt of additional ridicule.

2 = His vocation. While priesthood normally earned a man some respect, Zechariah lived in the hills of Judea, not the city of Jerusalem, so the circle of respect was smaller, his service in the temple far less frequent.  Also, as v. 5 reports, Zechariah could trace his ancestry only to Abijah, while his wife could go all the way back to Aaron, Moses’ brother and the founder of the priestly line.  She had the better pedigree!

3 = His age and impotence.  Much has been said over the years about the scorn a barren woman had to endure in this culture.  But the husband did not escape unscathed.  Childlessness could be as demeaning a status for the husband as it was for the wife.

We balance these three observations against v. 6, where Luke identified both Zechariah and Elizabeth as UPRIGHT as the both kept God’s commands BLAMELESSLY.  Human nature has not changed in 2000 years, so we can assume that in Zechariah’s time as today, the UPRIGHT and blameless people tend to be overlooked.  The “squeaky wheels” tend to attract attention.  Also, God’s choice of Zechariah to occupy this historic place in His plan is foreshadowed by his selection by lot to offer incense in the temple.

Most of us ought to be able to identify with Zechariah.  He was an ordinary guy – why should he be visited by angel?  Being chosen to offer the incense was akin to winning the lottery; Zechariah’s focus was on that when he was blind-sided by an angelic visitation.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not doubtful – response.

  1. Zechariah’s response was doubtful.

As is always the case in these biblical angelic accounts, Zechariah’s initial reaction to Gabriel’s visitation was surprise and fear (11-13).  And, as always, the angel says, “DO NOT BE AFRAID,” but goes on to announce something surprising and fear-inducing (13-17)!

At this point, Zechariah had a decision to make: would he accept the angel’s message or would he believe and accept Gabriel’s message or doubt and reject it? (18) Using Zechariah as an example, let’s examine the continuum of belief.

– At the right end of the spectrum, we have BELIEF is intellectual agreement with and full obedience to the message of God.

– In the middle, we have DOUBT.  Doubt is an intellectual struggle with the message of God.  Doubt by itself is not bad, but if the struggle is either never resolved or is resolved with unbelief, it becomes a sin.

– UNBELIEF is at the left end of the continuum.  Unbelief is an active rejection of God’s message.  Believers can occasionally be guilty or mistakenly fall into unbelief, but are not characterized by it.  When it becomes chronic, settling into a character flaw, unbelief is the worst sin, the unforgivable sin (see Matthew 12:31 and Mark 3:29).

Zechariah’s response was a temporary form of the third option; an ill-considered decision to not believe Gabriel’s testimony.  It was an objection in the form of a question.  Otherwise the disciplinary act of rendering him mute is inappropriate; it’s too harsh.  Most convincingly, Gabriel himself condemns Gabriel’s unbelief in verse twenty.

Zechariah’s punishment is unique in this situation.  In the Bible there are five other birth announcements similar to this one.  In none of those cases, is objection met with divine discipline.

– In Genesis, the birth of a son is promised Abraham and he objected twice.

– In Judges, a son is promised to Samson’s father – Manoah – and he objected twice.

– In Luke, both Zechariah and Mary object to the birth announcements they received.

– In Matthew, Joseph did not argue with the angel who told him about Jesus.

Abraham, Manoah, and Mary were not punished for their objections or questions, yet Zechariah was.  Since God knows our hearts, we have to assume what is unstated in the text: Zechariah chose unbelief.

  1. Gabriel countered with discipline.

Gabriel pulled rank on Zechariah (19). “I AM GABRIEL,” he said.  As he was a priest, we can assume Zechariah’s familiarity with what we call the Old Testament.  He must have known the name Gabriel and its significance in Daniel (see last Sunday).  In fact, there are several parallels between Zechariah’s experience and Daniel’s.

He continued, “I STAND IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD.”  This statement implies a place of honor and high rank among the heavenly race of angels.

“I HAVE BEEN SENT TO SPEAK TO YOU AND TELL YOU THIS GOOD NEWS.”  There are a couple implications in this clause.  First, Gabriel informs Zechariah that God personally sent him with this message.  Second, the message is GOOD NEWS, not bad news.  Gabriel could have said, “Hey dummy!  I just told you some good news!  Why do you want to argue with me?”  In fact, as Gabriel said in v. 13, this GOOD NEWS came as an answer to Zechariah’s prayers.  Why pray for something and then disbelieve it when it arrives?  We would never do that, right?

Gabriel administered a punishment to fit the crime: Zechariah was struck mute, unable to announce the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to him (20).    Gabriel specifically identified Zechariah’s sin as unbelief = “YOU DID NOT BELIEVE MY WORDS.”  To paraphrase, Gabriel said, “You did not believe my words so you forfeit the power to use words.”

In that culture as well as in ours, words are power.  The ability to speak to a situation, to make an announcement, to express an opinion, is a kind of power.  So the punishment of Zechariah is a kind of disempowering him.  The Greek word for mute can also mean deaf.  It is possible Zechariah could neither hear nor speak.  If so, this is a great Scripture passage for ASL interpreters like our Melanie!

God did everything Gabriel announced he would do (20-25), proving yet again God’s trustworthiness.  In verse twenty, Gabriel predicted, “WHICH WILL COME TRUE AT THE PROPER TIME.”  This is in reference to Zechariah’s loss of speech continuing until the birth of his son John.

There were witnesses of Zechariah’s speechlessness.  The same group of worshipers mentioned in verse ten were still there in verses 21+22.  They were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the temple and pronounce the customary blessing found in Numbers 6:24-26.  When he finally emerged from the temple, he was unable to speak and could not pronounce the blessing.  Zechariah’s punishment for unbelief was to be unable to announce Gabriel’s good news and to be unable to perform his priestly duty, a double whammy!  Notice how Luke really emphasized Zechariah’s being muted: HE REMAINED UNABLE TO SPEAK (verse 22).  Relying on impromptu sign language, Zechariah was somehow able to communicate to the people he had received a vision.

In verses 23-25 we see Gabriel’s prediction COME TRUE, just as he said.  Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth became the speaker for the family and she praised God for showing favor to her.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not doubtful – response.

          A new truth we learn about angels in this passage is that God deputizes them to dispense justice on His behalf.  Gabriel presented his GOOD NEWS to Zechariah and when the priest responded with unbelief, Gabriel dispensed a punishment in the form of making Zechariah mute.  So angels are more than just messengers, they appear at the authority of God Himself and wield that authority in human affairs.

A new truth we learn about God in this passage is that our obedience is not required to advance his plan.  Zechariah’s moment of disbelief did not cause God to stop, throw up His hands and say, “Well NOW what do I do?”  No, Gabriel immediately informed Zechariah the will of God was going to be accomplished.

The new truth we learn about ourselves in this passage is that belief ought to be an all or nothing proposition, but we try to pick and choose what we want to believe.  Consider this; Luke identified both Zechariah and Elizabeth as faithful people, even blameless in their obedience to God’s law.  And yet, Zechariah chose to disbelieve Gabriel’s promise of a son born to him in his old age.  Zechariah was guilty of sin by thinking he could pick and choose between God’s messages which he would believe and which he would not.  His punishment fit his crime and serves as a warning to all of us not to follow his example.

None of us knows why Zechariah chose unbelief in this situation, but the text makes it abundantly clear that’s exactly what he did.  Similarly, we sin when we think it’s up to us as individuals to decide which parts of God’s will we want to accept or reject.  That kind of nonsense thinking is what our culture teaches.  The Bible teaches that God is truth and truth is available for discovery, but not for us to determine it.  Zechariah became right with God and regained his ability to speak just as Gabriel had predicted.

 

Resources:

Unmanly Men: Refigurations of Masculinity in Luke-Acts, Brittany E. Wilson

Word Biblical Commentary #35a, Luke 1-9:20, John Nolland

Belief, A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Luke, Justo L. Gonzalez