Christianity 201

December 5, 2022

A Miracle Amid Unanswered Prayer

Even though the fig trees have no fruit and no grapes grow on the vines, even though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no grain, even though the sheep all die and the cattle stalls are empty, I will still be joyful and glad, because the LORD God is my savior. – Habakkuk 3:17,18 GNT

It must have really impacted me. I wrote something in 2012, updated it in 2017, and then apparently ran the original in 2018. Today, with some additions and editing, we’re using the 2017 version. But first…

Maybe you know the feeling. You’ve prayed and prayed for something, but while you don’t see answers, other things, answers to prayers you never prayed, happen instead.

We hear a lot these days about “deconstructing faith” and on Twitter a few weeks ago, I wrote:

With regard to deconstruction:
Could it be that in some cases,
The elephant in the room
is unanswered prayer?

Despite the glaring omission of a key sign of God’s blessing, the two people in today’s narrative were “careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God.” Spiritually speaking, they were doing everything right, but, they worshiped God in the middle of personal trial.

For some, Christmas is like this. It’s hard to suffer, to undergo trials, to grieve, etc. when everybody around you is pre-programmed for celebration…

One time our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendant of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament.

They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did, though they probably whispered it, not wanting Z. and E. to hear. Perhaps no one had yet written a book reminding everyone that “bad things happen to good people.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

With Zachariah and Elizabeth, I think the contrast was especially striking.

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

You know what? Even when things are going relative well, everybody has something that humbles them. Everyone has something about which they are hypersensitive. Everybody experiences what it’s like to covet someone else’s gifts and abilities.

Maybe you can’t cook anything beyond making toast.
Maybe you can’t do your own tax returns.
Maybe you can’t land a basket when shooting hoops to save your life.
Maybe you’re short.
Maybe you’re short on cash all the time.
Maybe you are tone deaf and church singing serves as a constant reminder.
Maybe you’re terrible at open heart surgery.

But more so

Maybe you have a family member who is estranged from the rest of you.
Maybe you have been trying for a year to land a steady job.
Maybe you have a medical problem you long to see healed.
Maybe you’re lacking close, personal friendships.
Maybe you feel like you’re wasting a lot time, squandering your days.
Maybe your housing situation is less than ideal.
Maybe your depression is affecting everything from moods to appetite.

We’re all terribly aware of our inadequacies and challenges. Maybe they aren’t as big a deal as some of the more serious challenges others face, but they haunt our prayer life and cause us to approach life with pessimism, cynicism, fatalism, resignation and defeat. In other words, the challenge to worship God through our circumstances and situations applies to everyone, not just the people facing the more frequently discussed giant mountains.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is. Their lives were lives of worship to God despite personal setbacks and frustrations.

David writes,

I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. – Luke 1:6 NIV

 

November 16, 2022

John’s Gospel Has a Prologue; So Does Luke’s

One of the books in my possession is an early copy of what would later become The Message of Luke in “The Bible Speaks Today” series from IVP. My copy has a larger title, Savior of the World.

In the section dealing with chapter two — appropriate to the season of the year we are approaching — author Michael Wilcock notes that there are three stories presented revolving around three key characters:

  • the angel
  • the prophet
  • the child himself

and also three sayings from each of them:

  • “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
  • 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
    30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
    31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
    32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.” …
    34 …“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
  • 49 “Why were you searching for me? … Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

On the latter, Wilcock writes:

…So the first recorded words of Jesus are a statement about himself, and a claim to a relationship between himself and God different from, and deeper than, anything that has been known before. Furthermore, it is a relationship into which he is going to bring all others who are prepared to put their faith in God through him. He will teach them to address their prayers regularly to their ‘Father’ (11:2), and they will learn to use the affection, intimate name of ‘Abba’ (‘Daddy’) which he himself uses. Thus early in his Gospel, Luke introduces the great object of the divine plan of salvation, just as John does, in his own way, at the beginning of his story of Jesus: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God.”

Both these truths, that he is the son of God, and that he has come into the world so that others might become sons of God are implied in his words in 2:49. For to be “in my Father’s house” really amounts to the same thing as to be “about my Father’s business”: where my father is, where he centers his activity, there I am always to be found as well. (Again, this is Luke’s equivalent of some of the great sayings in John: “I and the Father are one…” “The Son can do nothing of his own accord but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does that the son does likewise… I always do what is pleasing to him.”) But the Father’s work, as we have seen, is the work of salvation; so this is the work in which the Son also “must” be engaged. Thus, early in his career, does Jesus express the compulsion that is upon him to be at one with his Father in the saving of men.

So we have Luke essentially including this passage as if to offer a parallel to what we normally refer to as John’s prologue.


If you’re looking to go a little deeper into a particular book of the Bible but want something that has content accessible for laity — i.e. not written for scholars or academics — I do recommend The Bible Speaks Today series from InterVarsity Press (IVP). Additionally, you might want to look at the Life Application Commentaries from Tyndale House, and also consider a series of commentaries by Warren Wiersbe which all begin with the word “Be” (David C. Cook Publishing).

One of the challenges of our present publishing environment is that if you only purchase books online, you can’t see titles in these series in order to make a comparison. If possible, find a brick and mortar book retailer where that is an option. Even if they only 3 or 4 selections from each series, it will give you a much better idea of what you’re getting.


John’s gospel is generally considered the oldest of the four. Luke wouldn’t have had access to it, and wouldn’t be writing in response to it; so as we tease out the idea of Luke 2 being Luke’s prologue, we should still keep in mind that Luke’s goal was to summarize the life of Christ after considerable research and part of good research is organization of the material. We can think of chapter 2 as being a precis of what follows.

The origins of the synoptic gospels are the subject of much academic writing and even though this is Christianity 201 and not 101, it’s beyond the scope of what we talk about here. However, Wikipedia has a chart I thought regular readers here would find interesting:

Source — Wikipedia article on “Gospel;” image link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Relationship_between_synoptic_gospels-en.svg#/media/File:Relationship_between_synoptic_gospels-en.svg

March 31, 2022

Are We Christians Ungodly Toward the “Ungodly”?

Thinking Through Luke 15:1-32

by Clarke Dixon

What sermon would you preach if you were to preach on Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son?

Perhaps you might preach to lost souls about the love of God, encouraging them to come to faith in him. Far from God is never too far to turn around. Or perhaps you might preach to found souls about the love of God, on how we should be inspired to help the lost become found. God’s love for people “out there” is a great motivator to reach out.

Whichever you would choose, you are in good company for many such sermons have been preached from these parables. However, today we will consider these parables in light of the event that inspired Jesus to tell them.

So what happened?

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
So Jesus told them this story:…

Luke 15:1-3 (NLT)

Actually, Jesus told three stories, all of which hang together to make a very important point that we can easily miss.

So what is the point?

The lost sheep:

If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

Luke 15:4-7 (NLT)

There are a few things for us to take note of:

First, the lost sheep is neither a goat, nor a wolf, but a sheep. Being sheep, they already belong with the flock. They are not different, they are lost. The religious leaders were treating the lost sheep as if they were skunks. Jesus treated them like sheep.

Second, where the religious leaders saw people that should be kept at a distance, Jesus saw people with potential. The desire of the religious leaders to exclude contrasted sharply with the desire of Jesus to include.

Third, the grumbling of the religious types was in contrast with the rejoicing of heaven, which likely stands for the rejoicing of God.

The lost coin:

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

Luke 15:8-10 (NLT)

We can take note of the same things as with the parable of the lost sheep, but perhaps more explicit here is the idea of value. The lost coin is valuable. People have worth, even though, and even while, lost.

The prodigal son.

The parable of the prodigal son is so well loved, we might actually miss the main point Jesus was making by telling it. It would be easy for us to become fixated on the opportunity for the son to be reconciled, or the extravagant love of the father. We might stop thinking through this parable with the party thrown for the lost son for there is already so much to learn about God and ourselves by that point. But Jesus didn’t stop there in telling the story:

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

Luke 15:28-32 (NLT)

While the main point may be lost on us as we focus on the younger son or the father, it would not have been lost on the religious leaders who had attitudes just like the older brother.

The main point.

Taken together these three parables make the point that God has beautiful longings over people the religious leaders had ugly reactions against. In fact the ugly reactions against those considered ungodly, made the religious leaders themselves ungodly.

Does our attitude toward people reflect God’s attitude? Do we have beautiful longings for people? Or does our attitude toward people we consider “ungodly” make us ungodly? is it time for an attitude adjustment?

Perhaps the question is not what you would preach if you were to preach on these parables. Perhaps the question is what sermon do you need to hear?

Do you need to hear the call to draw closer to God? You belong, you are of great worth, God has a beautiful longing over you and for you. God opens the door to reconciliation.

Do you need to hear the call to go out and help people connect with God? God has a beautiful longing for people, they belong, they are of great worth.

Or perhaps today you need to hear the call to an attitude adjustment, to watch out for ugly reactions against people God has beautiful longings for. Is your attitude toward those you consider “ungodly” making you ungodly?


■ This sermon can be seen being “preached” here or heard through podcast for a limited time here. Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor who appears here most Thursdays.


Today completes 12 years of devotional studies here at Christianity 201. Tomorrow we celebrate our 12th Birthday!

February 15, 2022

Reviewing a Long List of Unspoken Grievances

NIV.Luke.15.25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

Today we uncovered a special treat for you. Let me introduce the author first, and then set the stage for what you’re about to read. Fr. Aiden Kimel has been blogging for nearly ten years at Eclectic Orthodoxy and describes himself as “an eclectic Christian believer” who has “been on a spiritual journey–from Anglicanism to Catholicism and finally to Eastern Orthodoxy.”

This is actually the second part of a look at what we usually call The Parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15). The first part is longer than what we run here, but if you wish to dive in, I encourage you to read The Prodigal Son and his Festival of Death. In both that and what follows, he draws heavily on the writing of Robert Farrar Capon. For today’s, you’re encouraged to read it at its source by clicking the header which appears in the title which follows.

The Elder Son and His Refusal to Die and Join the Party

The music is playing. Singing and riotous laughter can be heard for miles. Gaiety abounds. The aroma of roast veal fills the house. Finally (dum, dum, dum, dum-da dum, dum-da dum) the elder son arrives.

But his older son was in a field; and as he came and drew near the house he heard music and dancing, And calling one of the servants over he asked what all this might be. And he told him that ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has got him back in good health.’ But in his response he was indignant and did not wish to go in; and his father came out and pleaded with him. But in reply he said to the father, ‘Look, for so many years I am slaving for you, and I have never disobeyed a command of yours, and you never gave me a goat so that I could make merry with my friends, But when this son of yours came, he who has devoured your livelihood with whores, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Child, you are always with me, and all my things are yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and came to life, and was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:25-32)

So far the parable has been a festival of death, but now the “only live character” of the story, as Capon puts it, appears on the stage. “The Elder Brother. Mr. Respectability. Herr Buchhalter. Monsieur Comptabilité. The man with volumes and volumes of the records he has kept on himself and everyone else” (Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, p. 299). What is the meaning of all this merriment and tomfoolery?

He makes a stagey contrapposto: nostrils flared, eyes closed, back of right hand placed against his forehead. He gasps: Music! Dancing! Levity! Expense! And on a working day, yet! “And he called one of the servants, and asked him what these things meant.” He is not happy: Why this frivolity? What about the shipments that our customers wanted yesterday? Who’s minding the store? “And he [the servant] said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.” He rants: The fatted calf! Doesn’t the old fool know I’ve been saving that for next week’s sales promotion when we show our new line of turnips? How am I supposed to run a business when he blows the entertainment budget on that loser of a son? “And he was angry, and would not go in.” Finally, therefore, he makes a proclamation: I will not dignify this waste with my presence! Someone has to exercise a little responsibility around here! (p. 299)

Talk about a killjoy . . . but even worse, talk about a self-righteous prig. “I’m going to stay right here and stew in my anger.” We can imagine the miserable man silently reviewing his long list of unspoken grievances. “Dad has never acknowledged all the hard work I have put into the farm over the years nor shown one sign of appreciation of my loyalty to him. I’ve always obeyed his commands. I’ve never brought shame upon our family. My behavior has always been impeccable. And now he throws a goddamn party for that profligate, irresponsible, wastrel of a son of his. What the hell is going on here? I’ll die first before joining the party.”

Upon hearing that his eldest is refusing to join the festivities, the father goes out to him and entreats him to come inside. The son launches into his screed: “Look, for so many years I am slaving for you . . .”

The words of the father’s reply are well known to us, but what of its tone? “The temptation—since the father has been grace personified to the prodigal,” Capon remarks, “—is to read his reply to the elder brother’s next words as more of the same tender concern” (p. 299). Tender concern. Yep, that’s the tone I have always imagined. But Capon suggests that we should instead hear the father’s reply as a rebuke, with a bit of irritation behind it. “Grace works only on the dead,” and that is the elder son’s problem—“he refuses to be dead” (p. 299). He’s a moralist who believes that life is gained by following the rules. His worldview has no place for life through death. It is ruled by legalism and merit. A word of judgment is therefore in order.

Here’s Capon’s hilarious translation of the father’s response. I tried to cut it down, but it really needs to be read in its entirety:

You little creep! his father says. What do you mean, my living? I’ve been dead since the beginning of this parable! What your brother wasted was his, not mine. And what you’ve been so smug about not wasting has actually been yours all along. Don’t bellyache to me. You’re in charge here; so cut out the phoney-baloney. If you were really dying for veal, you could have killed the fatted calf for yourself any day of the week. And if you really wanted to be ready to entertain customers at all hours of the day and night, you would have kept a dozen fatted calves on hand, not just a single measly one you have to have a fit over every time it gets cooked. And as far as your brother’s sexual behavior is concerned, listen, Mr. Immaculate Twinkletoes, you’ve got a lot to learn. I have no idea how much fun he had getting himself laid, drunk, and strung out, but even if it was only marginal, it was probably more than you’ve had sitting here thinking.

But see? the father continues, you even get me off the track. The only thing that matters is that fun or no fun, your brother finally died to all that and now he’s alive again—whereas you, unfortunately, were hardly alive even the first time around. Look. We’re all dead here and we’re having a terrific time. We’re all lost here and we feel right at home. You, on the other hand, are alive and miserable—and worse yet, you’re standing out here in the yard as if you were some kind of beggar. Why can’t you see? You own this place, Morris. And the only reason you’re not enjoying it is because you refuse to be dead to your dumb rules about how it should be enjoyed. So do yourself and everybody else a favor: drop dead. Shut up, forget about your stupid life, go inside, and pour yourself a drink. (pp. 300-301)

After being subjected to this rebuke, I think I’d need a drink too. But we would be missing the point if we were to take the paternal rebuke as merely wise counsel to lighten up and have some fun. As with all the parables, Capon is interpreting the story of the father and his two sons through the death and resurrection of Jesus. There is only one way to life with God. We must join the living dead:

The classic parable of grace, therefore, turns out by anticipation to be a classic parable of judgment as well. It proclaims clearly that grace operates only by raising the dead: those who think they can make their lives the basis of their acceptance by God need not apply. But it proclaims just as clearly that the judgment finally pronounced will be based only on our acceptance or rejection of our resurrection from the dead. The last judgment will vindicate everybody, for the simple reason that everybody will have passed the only test God has, namely, that they are all dead and risen in Jesus. Nobody will be kicked out for having a rotten life, because nobody there will have any life but the life of Jesus. God will say to everybody, “You were dead and are alive again; you were lost and are found: put on a funny hat and step inside.” (p. 301)

In the end we all end up dead, but in this broken world we are already dead. The only question is whether we will allow the risen Jesus to inhabit our death. “For you have died and your life has been hidden in the Anointed in God” (Col. 3:3).


For further discussion: Read Fr. Kimel’s story of his journey.

December 20, 2020

The Scandal of Mary’s Pregnancy and its Implications 30+ Years Later

CEB.Luke.1.28 When the angel came to [Mary], he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” 29 She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. 31 Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. 33 He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.

Chris Tiegreen is an author who has worked on over a dozen of Tyndale Publishing’s One Year Book of… series of devotionals. He writes,

…Sometimes lost on us is the stunning way in which God clothed himself in human flesh. It’s easy to be sympathetic toward Mary and get angry at the people who would have tried to stone her if they knew she was pregnant. But have you ever considered how you’d respond to a teenage girl who became pregnant and then said God did it? Even with the biblical precedent of Jesus’ conception and the annual reminder of it at Christmas, we still wouldn’t think it’s true.

We’d be right, of course—the incarnation was a once-in-an-eternity event. But imagine being a real person in real history in the real culture of Mary and Joseph. Imagine how ludicrous it must have sounded. “I’m pregnant, but it’s okay; I’m still a virgin!” Only divine intervention would convince us that there was a remote possibility of that being true. In all honesty, we have to admit that we’d assume the worst and, in fact, judge Mary more for the lie than for the immorality.

It’s a wild story, and the only reason we believe it wasn’t a fabrication is the proof of Jesus as God’s Son years later. But the people who knew the young Mary, even her own family members, didn’t see the end of the story. They had never heard Jesus teach or seen him heal. They had no framework that would cause them to say, “Yes, God must have done this wonderful thing!” It was undoubtedly a very traumatic, very contentious, and even very demeaning episode in Mary’s life. The only thing that could have sustained her was the absolute certainty that God was the author of this plan…

continue reading here

Author and Pastor Alan Rudnick writes,

…It has been well documented that Mary’s pregnancy would be cause to shun Mary out of her community. A scandal! To be pregnant before marriage was grounds for divorce in the Old Testament. Even Joseph thought about leaving Mary, but a divine message changed that….

But then he quotes an alternative view from Lynn Cohick, associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College:

Mary was betrothed to Joseph, which was a legally binding arrangement in the Jewish culture. All that awaited the couple was the wedding. If they engaged in sexual intercourse with each other, that was not seen as a violation of any cultural norm. Later rabbinic writings allowed that a future groom who had sexual relations with his bride-to-be at her father’s house was not guilty of immoral behavior.

If pregnancy occurred before the wedding, this was not a problem because the parentage of the child was secured. What is shocking is that Mary is pregnant and Joseph knows he is not the father. The problem is not that a betrothed couple had sex, but that presumably Mary had sex with another man — she committed adultery.

…continue reading Alan’s thoughts at this link

Marg Mowczko has tirelessly devoted her entire scholarly career to tracking the place of women in the scriptures. She’s also one of only two authors ever to issue a take-down notice against Christianity 201, but I really like this insight and I’m trusting she’ll grant us two sentences:

Apart from Elizabeth’s enthusiastic response when Mary visited her (Luke 1:41-45), and apart from Joseph’s initial concern, the scriptures are silent about how people took the news of Mary’s pregnancy. Was there was no proper accommodation made available to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem because of a sense of scandal (Luke 2:6-7)?

read her full article here… (including the citation of an alternative view from Timothy Ralston, similar to what we quoted from Lynn Cohik.)

Had news already reached Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem? It’s an interesting speculation.

So why the reference to 30 years later in today’s devotional title? That’s because of something that frequent C201 contributor Ruth Wilkinson posted today:

Listening this morning to Joseph’s story, and being reminded of the reality of Mary’s situation–what legally could have happened to her–reminded me of the time a woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus for judging. The penalty would have been stoning to death. I wonder what connections triggered in Jesus’ mind in that moment…

It is interesting to re-read that text with this in mind:

NLT.John.8.3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

 

 

December 15, 2020

The Angel’s Announcement Was One in a Series of Prophecies

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Luke.1.26b …God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Because of an arrangement we worked out with HarperCollins Christian Publishing (HCCP), every once-in-awhile, the devotional that I see on my phone when first waking is one that comes under the terms of what we’re allowed to reprint here. This one is especially unique inasmuch as it’s from a Bible, not a book. The Jesus Bible is available in three different translations, and many different bindings.

Devotions Daily is part of Faith Gateway which is part of HCCP. While they are somewhat motivated by selling books, it also means I get to read excerpts from authors and titles I would not otherwise know about. To sign up for Devotions Daily, click this link. (But don’t leave C201, we love you, too!)

The Son of the Most High

When Gabriel announced to Mary that she would have a son, the angel invoked a promise that had echoed throughout the Old Testament. Her son would be called the Son of the Most High and would reign on the throne of His father, David. Those familiar with the Law and the Prophets, including Mary herself, would have quickly begun to connect the prophetic dots.

God had picked David, a young shepherd boy, from among an entire family of brothers and made him the ruler over Israel. God promised to make David’s name great. In addition, God promised that after David died, God would raise up one of his offspring to establish the throne of his kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:8-16).

During his life, as David faced enemies and conspiracy, he sang songs of praise to God for protecting him as God’s anointed (Psalm 2:1-12) and for establishing his line for as long as the heavens endure (Psalm 89:19-29). David intoned a psalm of praise that contained a phrase that Jesus later quoted to confound his critics: “The Lord says to My lord…” (Psalm 110:1; Matthew 22:44). Another psalm affirmed that God, to His promise to David about the duration of his throne, had sworn an oath that could not be revoked (Psalm 132:11-12).

The prophet Isaiah continued to prophesy the fulfillment of God’s promise to David. He wrote that to his people a child would be born, a son would be given and the government would be on his shoulders (Isaiah 9:6-7). Isaiah also affirmed that a shoot would come up from the stump of Jesse, David’s father, and from its roots, a Branch (referring to Jesus) would bear fruit (Isaiah 11:1-15).

In time, God’s plan became clear: He would fulfill this promise through His Son, Jesus. When the angel appeared to Mary, God provided the ultimate update on God’s plan to keep His promise. The Baby in Mary’s womb, conceived by the Holy Spirit though Mary was a virgin, is God’s Son who would reign eternally (Luke 1:31-33). As a capstone to the astounding declarations, the angel reminded Mary that no word from God would every fail (Luke 1:37).

The intricate history of God’s initial promise realized so fully at Jesus’ first coming increases confidence that the rest of God’s promises will be fulfilled at Jesus’ second coming and after that, into eternity.


Excerpted with permission from The Jesus Bible, copyright Copyright © 2020 Zondervan. Used by permission.  Learn more at TheJesusBible.com .

Unfortunately the page at Zondervan.com is not properly displaying the various editions available. Try the website of the Christian supply site where you purchase quality Christian resources.


The Devotions Daily staff added this personal challenge:

Your Turn

Over and over and over again the prophesies about Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus’ life. No one could ever have accomplished that except the actual Messiah sent from God Himself! Because of that we can know that He is the One and trust that because what was said about Him was true, what was said about the future is true, too!


In keeping with today’s theme, here’s a virtual choir like you’ve never seen it done before singing “For Unto Us a Child is Born” from Handel’s Messiah. Each of the children in the Rexburg Children’s Choir stood against a green screen, and then their images were electronically pasted into this amazing experience.

 

October 6, 2020

When God Ran

I’ve always felt a great deal of affinity with Jim Thornber, probably because we both have a blog called Thinking Out Loud, and both started in 2008, although his journey and mine are quite different. Since I last caught up with him, he’s faced the loss of his father and the passing of his wife on September 12th from complications arising due to Covid-19. Both are the subject of two previous pieces on his blog, which were then preceded by this one, which appears below under its original title. Our own title today is the title of a song by Benny Hester which came to mind as I was reading and appears at the end. Click the header below to read this at Jim’s site.

The God Who Runs

“And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” –Luke 15:20

I’d like to share with you a snippet of a recent conversation I had with God.

It started when I wanted to write the way Jesus portrayed God in Luke 15. After the wayward son spent his inheritance on wild living, he decides to return home. Verse 20 says the Father ran to the son, embraced him before he could deliver his well-rehearsed speech, and called for a party on his behalf. But I was missing something in the story and didn’t know how to start. I had blogger’s block. Finally (why is it always “finally’?), I settled myself down and prayed.

Me: Lord, as I think about Luke 15, how would You like me to represent You?

God: Tell people My forgiveness predates their repentance.

Me: Okay. What is the best way to do that?

God: Tell them why I ran.

I’ve been studying Luke 15 since the 1980’s when I first read Lloyd John Oglivie’s book on the parables called The Autobiography of God. The first parable Oglivie writes about is this one, which he calls, “The Prodigal God.” About the Father he says, “Rivet your attention on him. Don’t take your eyes off him,” because the spotlight is never off Him, even when He is off stage. He is the prodigal God.

That strikes most people as absurd, mostly because they think prodigal means “going away and returning.” In fact, the word “prodigal” means extravagant, lavish, unrestrained and copious. True, this describes the son in the way he lived in the far country, but it better describes the father. His love knew no limits, his joy no restraint, his forgiveness no boundaries. His forgiveness isn’t even bound by time.  The son was unrestrained with his money, but the father is unrestrained with His love.

Back to the parable. The son is now walking through town on his way to the Father’s house and Jesus says, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”

Let’s pause at that word “run.” Most of us skip over it and move ahead to the embrace and the call for a new wardrobe. But if we don’t stop and consider the Father running, we miss a very important part of the story.

In his exegesis of Luke 15, Kenneth Bailey tells us as the son approaches the village, a crowd will gather. The village, well aware the son wanted the father to die so he could have his money now, will taunt the son, abusing him verbally and possibly physically. Therefore, the only way for the father to protect his son from a distance was to draw the attention of the crowd away from the son and onto himself. Therefore, the father ran.

Bailey writes, “An Oriental nobleman with flowing robes never runs anywhere. To do so is humiliating.” Aristotle wrote, “Great men never run in public.” But the father ran anyway. Why? Because he had “compassion” for his son. The only way to keep the crowd from harming his son was to distract them, so the father runs this gauntlet, drawing the attention of the away from the son in order to observe the father’s shameful behavior. Bailey writes, “The boy, having steeled his nerves for this gauntlet, now, to his utter amazement, see his father run it for him. Rather than experiencing the ruthless hostility he deserves and anticipates, the son witnesses and unexpected, visible demonstration of love in humiliation.”

This is the character of God. Not concerned for His own dignity, He does the unexpected so those who would never expect it see a side of God they least expected: love in humiliation. This is Christ the Messiah who, more concerned with our salvation than His dignity, voluntarily hangs naked from a Cross. Why? “Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (Heb. 12:2).

While we were disabled due to sin, Jesus disrobed, shedding both His eternity and His clothes, to enable us to live again. Like the father running in the parable, he took the shame upon Himself and drew Satan’s attention away from us, knowing His death would set us free. By the time the Accuser figured out the resurrection, Christ’s victory over sin and death had already been won.

Our Savior exchanged his majesty for mortality, His sovereignty for shame, His glory for a grave. At the best possible moment in the history of humanity upon this earth, Christ came to us. Even as a baby, Satan’s attention was riveted upon Him. Christ ran.

We’ve been created by a Father who runs toward us. In His compassionate love, He forgives us before we ask, before we can convince Him we need His presence with our well-rehearsed speech. All the Father knew was His child who once was lost is now returning home, so He ran to embrace him.

Our Father, Holy is His name, likes to run. Have you experienced His embrace?


December 12, 2019

Did Elizabeth and Mary Earn their Special Place in the Christmas Story? Do We Earn Our Place in God’s Story?

by Clarke Dixon

God was up to something big at Christmas. Elizabeth and Mary were chosen to participate in very important ways. Why were they chosen?

We might write a sermon on how they earned their special place in the Christmas story. Elizabeth has a fine resumé:

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. Luke 1:5-6 (NRSV)

Elizabeth is a descendant of Aaron, so has a good family lineage. She is righteous and blameless according to the Old Covenant law. She is also married to a priest, which as anyone married to a pastor will know, means she must be a saint. Elizabeth is a very good woman. She ticks all the boxes for being top of the list for earning God’s favour.

What about Mary? Mary does not get the same build-up from Luke in his Gospel account as Elizabeth, but we can point to her humble character and her willingness to follow God’s lead:

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38 (NRSV)

We might therefore write a sermon about both Elizabeth and Mary earning their special place in the Christmas story and encourage everyone to earn divine favour. But I won’t. Why? The message “we are good, therefore God was good,” was not a sermon Elizabeth or Mary would preach.

Consider Elizabeth’s response when she conceived:

“This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:25 (NRSV)

Notice what she did not say; “being good has paid off. I was good, so God was good.” Elizabeth does not put the spotlight of her own goodness, she highlights God’s goodness. Notice further her response when Mary comes to visit:

She exclaimed with a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb! 43 And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me? Luke 1:42-43 (NET)

Elizabeth’s attitude is not, “I have earned this privilege,” but “who am I that I should have such a privilege?”

Let us also consider what Mary has to say:

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Mary praises God, not herself. She does not say “he looked on the goodness of his servant,” but “he looked on the lowliness of his servant.” Throughout the song, God is spoken of as doing great things for others, especially the “lowly” and the “hungry.” He acts according to His promise, and not according to Mary’s perfection. In this song, Mary sees herself as being an example, not of perfect obedience and righteousness, but of weakness. In this song God does something special, not because people are perfect and deserve better, but because people have needs and God is good.

Neither Elizabeth nor Mary get overly religious. We are being very religious when we think that our own goodness leads directly to the experience of God’s goodness. When we experience blessing, we think it is because we earned it. When we don’t experience blessing, we think we have failed to earn it. Mere religion puts the focus on us, and what we do or don’t do. Truth is more important than religion. Truth is, God is good. His goodness to us does not flow from the building up of our merit, but the outpouring of His love. Our goodness follows from the goodness of God, it does not lead to it.

Religion has a nasty habit of putting the spotlight on us. We humans have a nasty habit of enjoying that spotlight. Christmas puts the spotlight on God. God has done something amazing, regardless of the goodness of the people involved. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary focus on their own goodness, or their lack thereof. Both point instead, to the goodness of God. Christmas causes us to stop thinking of ourselves for a moment, of how good we are, and instead to focus on God, how good He is.

A spirit of entitlement comes from one’s religiosity. “I am so good, therefore God must be good to me.” Elizabeth and Mary don’t say that.  A spirit of humility comes from one’s grasp of reality.  “God is so good! Who am I to receive a blessing?” Elizabeth and Mary do say that. Do we, through our goodness, earn a place in the story of God? A spirit of truth will bring our focus where Elizabeth and Mary’s was; on the goodness of God. God makes us a place for us in His story because God is good.


Listen to the sermon on which this article is based. Look for the December 8th message.


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in a town located about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. Click here for his WordPress blog.

 

December 5, 2019

The Christmas Story: Just a Good Story?

by Clarke Dixon

The Christmas story is a good story. There is something about it that engages even people who would not call themselves Christian. Where Christianity gets a cold shoulder, baby Jesus seems to receive a warm embrace. The Christmas story is a good story for many reasons. It is a story of ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary. It is a story of the underprivileged experiencing an incredible privilege. There is nothing special about Mary or Joseph, either in their societal or religious standing. There is nothing special about the shepherds. The wise men don’t even belong, they are complete outsiders. Herod, rich, powerful, and privileged, threatens and kills, but the ordinary people battle through dire circumstances and participate in something truly remarkable. Everyone loves a good story where the underdogs come out on top. As for the divine, well the divine very clearly sides with the regular folk. You don’t need to be a Christian enjoy the Christmas story as a good story. But is the Christmas story just a good story and nothing more?

The way in which Luke begins to tell the story tells us something else about it:

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. Luke 1:1-4 (NRSV)

Luke sets out to write, not a story, but history. Notice how Luke begins; not with “a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away,” but with, “an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” That is, events that really happened in Luke’s time and place and which people who were there would still remember. There are eyewitnesses. The original readers of Luke’s Gospel could check his sources. These eyewitnesses were not people indoctrinated into a school of thought, but people who witnessed things with their own eyes. They were not philosophers, or religious people, but ordinary people who experienced something, and Someone extraordinary. Luke is not making things up, but writing them down. Those who know Greek well can tell that Luke is an educated man from these first verses, for his Greek, we are told, is very good. Luke is not some religious nut who has been duped, but an educated man who has “investigated everything carefully,” so that the reader can “be certain of the truth” (v.4 NLT). The Christmas story is not just a good story, it is also a true story. 

You can imagine a scenario where something is known to be true, but it is not good news. A doctor gives the correct diagnosis, for example. What she says is true, but it may not be good news. Is the Christmas story good news? The way Luke continues drops big hints about that.

The name “Herod” elicited a response in people in much the same way that the name “Trump” does today. However, where Trump elicits a polarized response, Herod’s name always brought fear. Herod’s name shows up early, verse 5 in fact. Fear continues to be a theme of the Christmas story, especially whenever an angel appears:

When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Luke 1:12-13 (NRSV)

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30 (NRSV)

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:9-11 (NRSV)

Every time an angel shows up there is much fear, yet fear not, for behold, there is good news!

People are often reticent about becoming Christians because of fear. They fear that becoming a Christian would have a negative impact on their lives. Their sense of freedom might be impacted. They might have to become “religious.” They don’t like religious people and fear they might have to become like people they don’t like. Therefore if the Christmas story and all the stories of Jesus, including the Easter story, are true, that would be bad news. However, when you dig deeper you discover that the story of Jesus is good news indeed!

Throughout his writing Luke does not come across as saying something like; “sadly, having looked at the evidence, I have to tell you that this religion is true, so you had better commit to it, even though it will be drudgery.” Rather; “having looked at the evidence, all this stuff about Jesus is true, and is great news and brings great opportunity.” It begins with ordinary people and with mean and privileged people but ends in great blessing for the ordinary people. It begins with sinful people, their relationship with God broken and shattered, and ends with people reconciled to God by his love and grace. It begins with death being a certainty and ends with eternal life being an opportunity. It begins with people getting religion all wrong and ends with people living a new kind of life focused on Jesus. It is true, but that does not mean you need to fear becoming someone you don’t like. You become a better version of yourself as you become more like Christ. It is all good news! The Christmas story is not just a good story, and a true story, it is also good news. 

Many people dabble in spirituality; “there is something out there.” Luke has good news based on a true story; there is something out there, in fact, there is Someone out there, and that Someone out there became someone down here. It is a good story, a true story, and is great news!


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in a town located about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. Click here for his WordPress blog or click here to listen to the message on which this article is based.

December 21, 2018

Before the Child of Promise Comes, A Time of Unfulfilled Longing

A few years ago our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. ]

They had the pedigree.
They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did. How can you be so obviously blessed in so many areas of life but have one thing lacking?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They werecareful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations(NLT) or statutes (ESV) because…

It was the right thing to do.
It was who they were.
It was their response to who God is.


Above we read these words: ‘Everyone has something they live with.’ Maybe you’re not dealing with childlessness like Zachariah and Elizabeth; maybe it’s something more superficial, but it still eats away at you… Ever wished you were taller? Or you could change the oil on your car? Or fix a plumbing problem? If you find yourself constantly reminded of your inadequacies, you might enjoy this post which I wrote back in 2012.

December 24, 2017

Sunday Worship

Despite the glaring omission of a key sign of God’s blessing, these two were “careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God.” In other words, they worshiped God in the middle of personal trial.

For some, Christmas is like this. It’s hard to suffer, to undergo trials, to grieve, etc. when everybody around you is pre-programmed for celebration…

One time our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did, though they probably whispered it, not wanting Z. and E. to hear.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

You know what? Even when things are going relative well, everybody has something that humbles them. Everyone has something about which they are hypersensitive. Everybody experiences what it’s like to covet someone else’s gifts and abilities.

Maybe you can’t cook anything beyond making toast.
Maybe you can’t do your own tax returns.
Maybe you can’t land a basket when shooting hoops to save your life.
Maybe you’re short.
Maybe you’re short on cash all the time.
Maybe you are tone deaf and church services serve as a constant reminder.
Maybe you suck at open heart surgery.

We’re all terribly aware of our inadequacies. Maybe they aren’t as big a deal as some of the more serious challenges others face, but they haunt our prayer life and cause us to approach life with pessimism, cynicism, fatalism, resignation and defeat. In other words, the challenge to worship God through our circumstances and situations applies to everyone, not just the people facing the more frequently discussed giant mountains.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is. Their lives were lives of worship to God despite personal setbacks and frustrations.

August 10, 2016

Men and Women Given Equal Time in Luke’s Gospel

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 NLT

Creating them male and female, he blessed them and called them humans when he created them. – Genesis 5:2 ISV

Popular Christian author Rachel Held Evans highlighted this 2014 article for us yesterday. I guess, given the topic, it was something which resonated with her. But there’s no denying that the pairings found in Luke’s writing are there, and remember also, Luke isn’t making these stories up; the men/women balance is found throughout Christ’s teachings.  Click the title below to read this at source, the blog New Life, based in New South Wales, Australia.

Male-Female Pairs and Parallelism in Luke’s Gospel

by Marg Mowczko

I’ve been reading through the gospels lately. In Matthew’s gospel I was reminded of Jesus’ extraordinary counter-cultural teachings, I saw that we are all welcome to work in his vineyard, and I learned that Jesus had many female followers.

Male-Female Pairs of People in Luke

While reading Luke’s gospel I was struck by how the author often presents his material using gender-symmetrical pairs of people.[1] For instance, in Luke’s infancy narrative we have the male and female protagonists of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, and Simeon and Anna.[2] Later, Luke pairs the Twelve with the women disciples who travelled with them (Luke 8:1-3).[3]

Male-Female Pairs of Parables in Luke

Luke also presents a few of Jesus’ parables in gender-symmetrical pairs. In these parables, Jesus intentionally addresses the women in his audience, as well as the men, and he incorporates activities from everyday life into his stories that both sexes could identify with. Yet, in each of the paired parables, Jesus gives essentially the same message.

These gender-paired parables include:

  • The parable of the mustard seed (the seed was planted by a man) and the parable of the yeast (the yeast was used by a woman) in Luke 13:18-19, 20-21.
  • The parable of the lost sheep (the sheep was searched for by a male shepherd) and the parable of the lost coin (the coin was searched for by a woman) in Luke 15: 3-7, 8-10.
  • The parable of the persistent (male) friend and the parable of the persistent (female) widow (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-8)[4]

Male-Female Pairs to make Points in Luke

Gendered pairs are found in other sayings of Jesus recorded in Luke. For instance, Jesus mentions the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper in order to make a point (Luke 4:25-27). In Luke 17:34-35 Jesus mentions two men on a couch (or bed) and two women grinding at a mill to make another point (cf Matt. 24:40-41). In Luke 11:29-32 Jesus uses the examples of Jonah and the Queen of Sheba as signs.

Jesus’ Male-Female Audience in Luke

Gender pairing in Luke's gospelJesus’ intentional inclusiveness in his teaching is further highlighted by the use of “complementary discourse”.

Jesus addressed mixed groups using “complementary discourse”: a term used to refer to the repeating of statements twice (changing the gender each time) in order to make application to each sex. Although such was completely out of step with the grammatical norms of His culture, Jesus frequently spoke using the following pairs: “men and women,” “husbands and wives,” “fathers and mothers,” “fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law,” “sons and daughters,” and “sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.” In Luke 12:53 Jesus refers to “father against son … and mother against daughter.” To the crowds He said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters— yes, even life itself— such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).[5]

Male-Female Pairs in the other Gospels

The other gospel writers also use gendered pairs, but to a lesser degree. For example, the work of men and women are mentioned side by side in Matthew 6:26 & 28, 24:40-41, and Mark 2:21. In John’s gospel, Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, recorded in John chapter 3, is followed by Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman, recorded in John chapter 4.

Luke’s Reason for Male-Female Pairs

Luke “gender-paired” people, parables, and points in order to highlight an important principle concerning gender. Ben Witherington observes that in Luke’s gospel, men and women are shown as being equal recipients of God’s grace and equal participants in the community of Jesus’ followers.[6] Luke’s agenda was to show that Jesus not only valued, respected, and elevated women, but that women are equal with men.

Witherington suggests, “When Luke wrote his gospel, it is likely that the very reason he felt a need to stress male-female parallelism and Jesus’ positive statements about women was that his own audience had strong reservations about some of Jesus’ views on the subject.”[6] Sadly, it seems that some Christians – despite  Jesus’ teaching and Luke’s writing – still have strong reservations concerning the equality of women with men in the community of Jesus’ followers.


Endnotes

[1] Luke continued to pair men and women in his account of the Acts of the Apostles.

[2] Mary must have been the original source for much of the Luke’s material in his infancy narrative. The prominence of Mary and Elizabeth and their speeches in Luke’s opening chapter has led Richard Bauckham to label Luke 1:5-80 “a gynocentric text”. Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2002) 47.

[3] Kathleen Corley notes, “As in Mark, women as well as men make up the number of those Galileans who witness Jesus’ entire ministry (Luke 23:59: Acts 10:37-39) and travel with him as he preaches and teaches from town to town.” Private Women, Public Meals: Social Conflict in the Synoptic Tradition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993) 110. Jesus had many female followers.

[4] The parable of the persistent widow is not located alongside the parable of the persistent friend, so some pair the persistent widow with the penitent tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. The parables of the new fabric patches and the new wineskins (Luke 5:36, 37-38) which I haven’t listed above, were spoken to the (male) Pharisees and the teachers of the law; but the parables could be a considered a gendered pair as sewing was traditionally regarded as women’s work, and the making and handling of wine was regarded as men’s work. Derek and Diane Tidball, The Message of Women: Creation, Grace and Gender (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, (2012) 175.

[5] Deborah M. Gill and Barbara Cavaness, God’s Women—Then and Now (Springfield, MO: Grace & Truth, 2004, 2009) (Kindle Locations 1257-1263). In a footnote of this book there is this statement: In “Appendix IX. Jesus’ Rhetoric in the Cultural Milieu,” of Gynecomorphisms in the New Testament [Gill’s Honors Thesis, Assemblies of God Graduate School, 1979] Gill lists 45 examples of Jesus’ use of complementary or coupled discourse instead of collective masculine address in the Gospels.

[6] Ben Witherington, Women in the Ministry of Jesus: A Study of Jesus’ Attitudes to Women and their Roles as Reflected in his Earthly Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) 52.

March 2, 2016

The Gospel of Luke and History Matters

••• by Clarke Dixon

[click this link to read at Clarke’s sermon blog]

Many people assume that while religion might affect history, history does not affect one’s religion or lack thereof. In other words, religion is all about spiritual concepts and morality quite apart from anything that has happened. It is very often assumed therefore that theology has more to do with philosophy and science than with history. But history is very important in seeking truth, especially “religious truth.”

Take for example the our monotheistic belief in a Creator God. If God exists and is Creator, then we should expect an historical event, however long, namely, creation. Interestingly in laying out a history of our universe science points us to a beginning point, often referred to as the “Big Bang”. The history of there being a beginning fits well with the religious claim of there being a Creator. There are those who do not like the religious conclusions the historical event of a beginning leads to, so suggestions are made that perhaps there might be more than the universe we know of, perhaps a “multiverse” or something like that. Such appeals by scientists to believe “there must be something greater” sound almost religious don’t they?

Another example can be found in the religion of Islam. If the Koran is to be trusted as what God wants to say to us and Islam is to be held to be true, then revelations to Muhammad by God must be historical events. If that is what happened, then we should all become Muslims. On the other hand if what really happened is that Muhammad was making it up, or suffering from some sort of delusions, then no one should be a Muslim. Religious truth depends on what really happened in history.

The same kind of thing can be said of Christianity. If we are to believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior, then the events of history ought to support the beliefs of our religion. If Jesus did not die and rise from the dead, then I ought to be more a fan of Jesus than a follower, as one writer put it.

The interesting thing about the Gospel of Luke is that it begins with an appeal to history:

1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4)

Notice the words that are connected with history, like “events,” “eyewitnesses,” “investigating everything carefully from the first,” and “orderly account.” The writer here is looking to help encourage the reader, Theopholis, to “know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” Notice that he is not looking to do so through an appeal to ideas, or concepts, or philosophy, or a discussion on how to live a good life. The appeal is to events, things that have actually happened.

How does the writer know what has happened? While the Gospel writer does not identify himself, the earliest records of such things all point to the writer being Luke whom Paul called “the beloved Physician” in Colossians 4:14. This Luke was very often a companion of Paul and would have had plenty of time and opportunity to rub shoulders with the eyewitnesses of the events described in the Gospel. Though too long a discussion for today, there has been no good reason to doubt the early records on the authorship of Luke. Therefore, while those of us who are Christians believe Luke is inspired by God in the first place and therefore to be trusted, even those who do not believe have good reason to stop and consider what Luke has to say. Far too many people don’t give the Gospels fair consideration out of a belief they were written too late to be of benefit in sorting out history. But history itself points to their value in knowing what the eyewitnesses had to say.

So what does Luke say has happened? I am condensing things very much, but if we were to read Luke straight through from beginning to end we would find that Jesus’ birth was unique to say the least, being born of a virgin. Jesus’ teaching was also unique and had a very keen appeal to justice and equality. In his teaching Jesus also pointed to his own unique nature, to the point of being considered blasphemous. He was continually an annoyance to the religious leaders. He was continually a sought after person by the average person for he performed miracles while still being very down to earth about it. He taught in parables and had much to say about the Kingdom of God and how people should act in that kingdom. He eventually annoyed the religious leaders to the point that they engineered his death at the hands of the Romans. But he rose from the dead, appeared to the disciples, showed them how he fulfilled the Hebrew scriptures, and he said:

46 Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48)

Even Jesus here is appealing to accurate history: “you are witnesses of these things.”

What has happened in history should affect how we make history; it should affect our response to God. The things that have happened ought to affect our religion and religious views. We see this happening with the disciples as we read the final words of the Gospel:

52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:52-53)

The Gospel concludes with the idea that all the events Luke had carefully investigated and recorded led and will lead people who know about them to worship Jesus and to an experience of joyful celebration before God.

Luke teaches us to not begin with the question “what religion should I believe or practice?” Rather we begin with the question, “has God done anything that we should know about?” Does history record anything for us to consider? Yes, Luke along with the other Gospel writers have recorded some very important history for us. From Luke’s careful recording of history we learn, not so much what religion to practice, but that God is real, and God’s love through Jesus Christ is real. What will the history of your life reveal about your love for Him?


Click back to previous Wednesdays for Clarke’s overviews of Mark and Matthew

All scriptures: NRSV

February 28, 2015

“Jesus Rejoiced in the Holy Spirit”

Each time you read the Bible there is something new waiting for you that you’ve not noticed before. If you migrate between translations this happens more frequently, a word or phrase suddenly strikes you and have to simply stop reading and think about it.

While reading Michael Card’s book, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement (IVP), I was struck by  Lk. 10:21. The NCV is one of many translations that uses the phrasing I chose for today’s post title:

21 Then Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the people who are wise and smart. But you have shown them to those who are like little children. Yes, Father, this is what you really wanted.

The NIV uses

 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said…

Although this is not one of the ‘trinitarian’ verses in scripture, the Holy Spirit is mentioned. If like me, the phrasing was unfamiliar to you, perhaps you were raised on the KJV which omits this:

21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said…

but the phrase hagios pneuma is there.

The occasion is the return of the 70 (or 72) from their mission trip and report that demons were subject to them. Jesus’ full prayer is:

My Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I am grateful that you hid all this from wise and educated people and showed it to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that is what pleased you.

My Father has given me everything, and he is the only one who knows the Son. The only one who really knows the Father is the Son. But the Son wants to tell others about the Father, so that they can know him too.  (CEB)

So while the verse isn’t, you can see that this passage actually is expressing all three persons of the Trinity.

Card points out that this missionary report is much different than when The Twelve were sent on a similar journey:

We are not told if the first mission of The Twelve was successful or not, but the failures that surround them before and after their first mission are not cause for hope.

We also know from Luke 9:49 there was confusion when they (the disciples) went out on their own:

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” (NIV)

So to return to our key verse, Jesus rejoices in the report of the larger group. Matthew Henry takes particular note of the phrase “in that hour;”

It was fit that particular notice should be taken of that hour, because there were so few such, for he was a man of sorrows. In that hour in which he saw Satan fall, and heard of the good success of his ministers, in that hour he rejoiced. Note, Nothing rejoices the heart of the Lord Jesus so much as the progress of the gospel, and its getting ground of Satan, by the conversion of souls to Christ. Christ’s joy was a solid substantial joy, an inward joy: he rejoiced in spirit; but his joy, like deep waters, made no noise; it was a joy that a stranger did not intermeddle with. Before he applied himself to thank his Father, he stirred up himself to rejoice; for, as thankful praise is the genuine language of holy joy, so holy joy is the root and spring of thankful praise.

Henry’s phrase in the last sentence, “he stirred up himself” is interesting, because he was working from the KJV, which we’ve noted omits the reference to the Holy Spirit. Still, it is interesting to consider Henry’s wording.  I would like to spend more time on this phrasing, however…

What is the application to us? The IVP New Testament Commentary notes:

The theme of rejoicing continues as Jesus turns back to the disciples and blesses them. They should feel happy and honored because they are seeing things that the prophets and kings longed to see (1 Pet 1:10-12). This passage emphasizes that what Jesus is doing is what the saints of the Old Testament had hoped to see. Many great saints of the old era did not get to experience the blessing, but Jesus’ disciples are blessed to be a part of this new era. The statement recalls 7:28: the lowest person in the kingdom is higher than the greatest prophet of the old era.

Sometimes we think how great it would have been to see Moses perform miracles before Pharaoh or watch Elijah defeat the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. Jesus says that the situation is in fact the exact reverse—they long to see what we experience, because to know God and life through Jesus is what they had wished to experience all along. In effect, Jesus says, “Count your blessings, for they are many and have been desired for centuries.”

That ought to make us rejoice in the Holy Spirit.

March 28, 2013

Playing With Time

As some of you read this, it’s already Good Friday. This particular blog is set up to post articles between 5:00 and 6:00 PM EST (New York time) but with readers all over the world, I realize that many readers are already “in” a particular day when this gets seen.

But in many respects, we’re all guilty of a greater measure of playing with time when it comes to Good Friday. The reason is simple. We already know how the story ends. It’s entirely impossible for us to approach Good Friday not knowing that Resurrection Sunday is just around the corner. We don’t have to read ahead because we’ve previously read the whole story.

But it wasn’t like that on that overcast day at the foot of the cross. In play-script form, The Voice Bible reads:

John 19:29-30 The Voice

29 A jar of sour wine had been left there, so they took a hyssop branch with a sponge soaked in the vinegar and put it to His mouth. 30 When Jesus drank, He spoke:

Jesus: It is finished!

In that moment, His head fell; and He gave up the spirit.

It’s so easy to miss what those standing around the cross at that moment must have felt.

The second way we play with time — going backwards instead —  is in the way we’re able to trace back all the prophecies Jesus gave concerning himself. The disciples are dejected and grieving His death, and we read this in the 21st century and we want to scream at the pages, “Look, go back to page ___ and read what he says about how The Messiah must suffer and die! It’s all there!”

You get a sense of this in Luke 24; and again, we’re going to defer to The Voice translation:

Luke 24 – The Voice

13 Picture this:

That same day, two other disciples (not of the eleven) are traveling the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. 14 As they walk along, they talk back and forth about all that has transpired during recent days. 15 While they’re talking, discussing, and conversing, Jesus catches up to them and begins walking with them, 16 but for some reason they don’t recognize Him.

Jesus: 17 You two seem deeply engrossed in conversation. What are you talking about as you walk along this road?

They stop walking and just stand there, looking sad. 18 One of them—Cleopas is his name—speaks up.

Cleopas: You must be the only visitor in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about what’s been going on over the last few days.

Jesus: 19 What are you talking about?

Two Disciples: It’s all about the man named Jesus of Nazareth. He was a mighty prophet who did amazing miracles and preached powerful messages in the sight of God and everyone around. 20 Our chief priests and authorities handed Him over to be executed—crucified, in fact.

21 We had been hoping that He was the One—you know, the One who would liberate all Israel and bring God’s promises. Anyway, on top of all this, just this morning—the third day after the execution— 22 some women in our group really shocked us. They went to the tomb early this morning, 23 but they didn’t see His body anywhere. Then they came back and told us they did see something—a vision of heavenly messengers—and these messengers said that Jesus was alive. 24 Some people in our group went to the tomb to check it out, and just as the women had said, it was empty. But they didn’t see Jesus.

Jesus: 25 Come on, men! Why are you being so foolish? Why are your hearts so sluggish when it comes to believing what the prophets have been saying all along? 26 Didn’t it have to be this way? Didn’t the Anointed One have to experience these sufferings in order to come into His glory?

Clearly, Jesus’ later teachings about his impending sufferings weren’t registering. Or perhaps it was a case of serious denial. Verse 21 is translated more commonly in a form like “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (NIV)  The verse captures most accurately the sadness felt by those two followers.

If you continue reading The Voice, you find at this point an embedded commentary suggesting the writer Luke is doing his own version of playing with time; using this story a set up for something he knows is coming just a little bit past the point where this chapter resolves itself and this book ends: The Book of Acts. Acts is this gospel’s sequel. The commentators seem to feel that Luke is preparing his audience for something which, while it does not in any way diminish the resurrection — which is after all, the centerpiece of the entire Bible — is going to astound them, namely the birth of The Church.

However, it’s Good Friday, and as we place ourselves back in that particular part of the story through this Holy Day and its various church gatherings, we can’t help but know what happens next.  So with a glimpse into Easter Sunday, let’s see how The Voice ends Luke 24:

27 Then He begins with Moses and continues, prophet by prophet, explaining the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures, showing how they were talking about the very things that had happened to Jesus.

28 About this time, they are nearing their destination. Jesus keeps walking ahead as if He has no plans to stop there, 29 but they convince Him to join them.

Two Disciples: Please, be our guest. It’s getting late, and soon it will be too dark to walk.

So He accompanies them to their home. 30 When they sit down at the table for dinner, He takes the bread in His hands, He gives thanks for it, and then He breaks it and hands it to them. 31 At that instant, two things happen simultaneously: their eyes are suddenly opened so they recognize Him, and He instantly vanishes—just disappears before their eyes.

Two Disciples (to each other): 32 Amazing! Weren’t our hearts on fire within us while He was talking to us on the road? Didn’t you feel it all coming clear as He explained the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures?

33 So they get up immediately and rush back to Jerusalem—all seven miles—where they find the eleven gathered together—the eleven plus a number of others.

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