Category Archives: Bible passages

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Luke 7:18-35

A reed swayed by the wind?

Context

The previous section of Luke described a scene where Jesus raised a widow’s son from the dead. It was reminiscent of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17. In both stories, the conclusion was made that a great prophet of God has arrived. It could seem confusing to some whether Jesus is the Messiah or the one like Elijah who was to come. All of the pieces of Luke’s investigation on Jesus is coming to the conclusion that Jesus is Lord and our passage this week describes Jesus assuring both John the Baptist and the crowd around him that the kingdom of God is right under their nose, it just won’t be like you expect.

Observation

Structure

  • 18-20 John the Baptist’s question
  • 21-23 Jesus’ cryptic answer
  • 24-28 Jesus’ cryptic description of John
  • 29-35 Jesus’ cryptic description of ‘this generation’

18-20 John the Baptist’s question

“John’s disciples told him all these things” Verse 20 establishes that this is John the Baptist and the only John the reader would naturally think about given the great attention to his birth in the first two chapters. We know that John had disciples (followers/students) from passages like this one and also John 1:35-37 where two of his disciples become Jesus’ disciples. Also, Jesus’ disciples refer to them in Luke 11:1 when they want Jesus to teach them to pray. According to Matthew 11:2, John the Baptist is in prison when he calls for his disciples and sends them to Jesus to ask if he is the one.

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” It’s a good question. We don’t want to follow the wrong Messiah (Brian). It’s hard to get inside John’s head to know what he really wants. There are two schools of thought on this question: the first is that John, who is now locked away in prison, seeks assurance that Jesus is the Christ; the second is that he is subtly pointing his disciples to go and see Jesus and so continuing even in prison to point people to the Messiah. This last view grasps onto the idea that John is somehow faultless in his testimony of Jesus. After all, Jesus declares him as the greatest man ever to have lived in verse 28. I think this view is weak, however. Firstly, he only sends two of his disciples – why not send them all? Secondly, his ministry has been all about preparing people for the coming of Jesus and he himself declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Surely his disciples had grasped that message by now. Thirdly, Jesus statement in verse 23 fits well with assuring John that he ought not to stumble but rather carry on believing that Jesus is the Messiah.

To list references to Christ’s coming from the Old Testament is like finding hay in a haystack. Sure, there are clearer passages to list such as Isaiah 7:14 regarding a virgin birth; Isaiah 62:11 regarding the redeemer coming; Zechariah 2:10 declaring that God will dwell among Israel; Zechariah 9:9 describing the king riding on a donkey. Others, like the one Jesus uses himself from Isaiah 61:1-2, appear more obscure as to who it is referring to. But the way we read the whole bible is to see it as an unfolding narrative of God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. From creation to recreation. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Having said this, Jesus goes on to highlight a few images from Isaiah in his cryptic answer to John’s question.

21-23 Jesus’ cryptic answer

“At that very time…” The language sounds as though Jesus crammed all the types of healing into one magic show in the presence of the two disciples of John! But rather, we can be satisfied to know that at the time that this question came to him, Jesus had been doing all that is listed in verse 21. That is, his ministry at that time was characterised as healing many.

“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard…” See these passages to shed light on what Jesus is saying to John: Isaiah 29:18, 19; 35:5, 6; 61:1, 2; Luke 4:18. His ministry is badged with these wonders. They point to new life, restored creation and release from captivity.

“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” The Messiah has come, but he is not what many had expected. This is because the Old Testament mixes the language of the first coming of Christ with the second coming so that he can be described as both the suffering servant (Isaiah 52-53) and the mighty warrior king (Isaiah 60 esp verses 15-19). Our world has witnessed the first coming of Christ which was accompanied with signs and wonders but also his suffering. Note that Isaiah 61 can describe the release from captivity as though it is a national promise while Jesus seems to apply it spiritually. Blessed are those who don’t stumble or give up on him but who remain a disciple. He is the king promised.

24-28 Jesus’ cryptic description of John

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” I believe this helps us to see how much of an impact that John had in his ministry that Jesus can simply refer to John without naming him but by asking the crowd to reflect on the time he was in the wilderness.

“…among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” This sounds very wise but what does Jesus mean? In general terms, he places humility and lowliness in this world as a greatness in kingdom terms. We can compare this quote with the beatitude of Luke 6:20-26. More specifically though, Jesus describes John in verses 24-27 as neither double minded (a reed swayed by the wind), nor rich and indulgent, but a man of God speaking the mind of God into this world and pointing others to Jesus. That’s important in the kingdom of God.

29-35 Jesus’ cryptic description of ‘this generation’

“(All the people…baptised by John)” Verses 29-30 illustrate the softening and hardening of hearts. Those who had already accepted John’s ministry were fans of Jesus at this point while those who had already rejected John’s ministry were pushed even further away by Jesus’ comments. This describes the human nature quite well.

“…this generation?” This is unlikely to mean something like ‘gen-Y’ or ‘gen-0AD’ but referring to people of any age. The word ‘generation’ in this context likely refers to an age or epoch. If it is more limited than that then Jesus is describing the people he has observed during his ministry. How, then, does Jesus describe people?

“We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance…did not cry.” It’s a cryptic little riddle. Verses 33-34 is supposed to shed light on it but only makes it more intriguing. The phrase ‘He has a demon’ leads us to see Jesus is mostly describing the Pharisees and the like who rejected John’s ministry and were not baptised. So to say that he is describing all people alive in his day with the term ‘this generation’ is misleading. It seems clearer now that he is referring to people of this age or of this world. So, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t seems to be the notion of the riddle. If you minister like John did, neither eating nor drinking wine, you are labelled evil. If you go eating and drinking you are labelled a friend of evil-doers!

Here we begin to see a theme in the whole passage of verses 18-35. How should we judge Jesus’ ministry? It fits perfectly with the prophecies and so do not stumble on account of him but follow him. How shall we judge John’s ministry? He was not a doubting and double-minded man but a humble man of God pointing all and everyone to the kingdom of God. How shall we judge this generation? They are double minded and like children having a tantrum because nothing seems right to them.

“But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” Does Jesus summon the ideas of Proverbs 8 here where wisdom is personified and all who listen to her are her children? “For those who find me (wisdom) find life and receive favour from the LORD. But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death.” Proverbs 8:35-36 (see also 32-33). There seems to be a parallel with verses 35 and 29 where Jesus and John represent wisdom (ultimately Jesus) and the children are those who listened to them and followed. They contrast the children of the marketplace who have double standards and demand that their way is always right. The children of folly are double-minded while the children of wisdom will see the truth and not stumble.

Meaning

There are those who will see Jesus and declare that he is the One who was promised to come. Others will sway in their decisions and stumble because Jesus is not who they want for a Messiah.

Application

Topic A – Stumbling at Jesus. Are there aspects of who Jesus is or what he has done or promised that stick with you and bother you? Your group may not be able to resolved issues for you here and now but perhaps raising them will give your group something to work on theologically and to pray for in community.

Topic B – Great at humility. Reflect on Jesus’ description of John in verses 24 to 28 and ponder how we can seek to be great in the kingdom of God instead of the kingdom of this age. Consider the following bible verses on humility…

“For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.” Psalm 149:4
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4
“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Prayer for the week

Save us, Lord, from the whims of our own generation and anchor us in wisdom that leads to life. Amen.

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Luke 7:1-17

Such a great faith

Context

Our passage this week follows on from Jesus’ sermon on the plain. After naming his 12 disciples, he described the life of discipleship to all who would listen. His sermon covered how to view life’s trials, how to love and relate to others regardless of how they treat you, the place of judgment, leadership and of rebuking. Lastly, he painted a picture for all this instruction as laying a solid foundation for life. Being a disciple of Jesus is to have a mind for the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of this world.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-10 The example of faith from the Centurion
    • 1-6 Jesus hears of the Centurion
    • 6-8 Jesus hears the Centurion’s point of view
    • 9-10 Jesus declares the great faith of the Centurion
  • 11-17 The dawning of faith in Israel
    • 11-13 Two crowds meet at a city gate
    • 14-15 A dead son restored
    • 16-17 The people declare Jesus a great prophet

1-10 The example of faith from the Centurion

1-6 Jesus hears of the Centurion

“…finished saying all this…” Meaning the sermon on the plain of chapter 6.

“…to the people who were listening…” Note how important this detail is to Jesus’ sermon. It was addressed to the disciples (both the 12 and the many) and the point is that a disciple is one who listens to Jesus and puts his words into practice. See 6:20, 27, 49.

“…he entered Capernaum.” He has been to this town before (4:31)

“This man deserves to have you do this…” This is a unique and rare insight into the mind of the Jew. We may stereotype unfairly the legalistic and nationalistic Jew who judges all Gentiles as the enemy but we hear of how loved this Centurion was among the Jewish elders in Capernaum. He is described as a kind man even to his servant. He loves the people in Capernaum to the point of building their synagogue. He has the ear of the Jewish elders and they feel that this Gentile is worthy of compassion from Jesus. I love that Jesus doesn’t argue and debate the theology of whether he is actually worthy or not but simply goes with them.

6-8 Jesus hears the Centurion’s point of view

“…Lord… I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” This comment is reflective of Simon Peter’s response to Jesus once he perceived him as Lord (5:8). The term ‘Lord’ does not necessarily mean Lord of all creation, ie God, but certainly is a term of submission. As important as the Centurion is (being the commander of 100 men in the Roman army), he sees Jesus as more important. He most likely sees Jesus as a man sent with God’s authority – a prophet to the people of Israel. Jesus will praise this man for his faith and the story that follows this one will have the people of Israel coming to the same conclusion.

“For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.” This Centurion understands command structures and he is familiar with giving and receiving orders and he suggests that Jesus can operate in the same way. But he describes Jesus as ordering sickness and disease. This is his amazing faith. A Gentile who has empathy for the Jewish faith is ready to call Jesus Lord over illnesses.

9-10 Jesus declares the great faith of the Centurion

“…Jesus… was amazed at him…” Our God can be amazed at our faith and our response to him. We may not confuse amazed with surprised. A parent fully expects their child to walk on their own one day but they are still amazed when it happens. It isn’t a miracle that the baby has walked, since babies learn to do this all the time. But it doesn’t stop the parent from feeling the joy of the moment.

“…I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Crowds have been coming to Jesus to be healed and touch him for healing and they have been slow to label him as Lord. The Centurion stands apart from Israel because of his distance from Jesus, both nationally and geographically. The Jewish leaders believed that this foreigner was worthy of Jesus’ attention but the man himself did not regard himself worthy even though he was powerful. He did not simply have great faith but a great perspective on his relationship with Jesus. This makes his faith all the more impressive. The greatness of his faith is not so much the greatness of the Centurion but the insight and knowledge of the One he puts his faith in.

11-17 The dawning of faith in Israel

The next scene fits with the previous because we see the faith of some in Israel see who Jesus is: a great prophet from God.

11-13 Two crowds meet at a city gate

“…his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.” Picture Jesus travelling with an army of followers. An unnamed bunch of people intrigued by Jesus. They come with him to Nain. Perhaps this is the town still named Nain in the Plain of Jezreel a few miles south of Nazareth. That town was never fortified however and so poses a problem with reference to a gate. It could be that the ‘gate’ is simply the point where the road enters the town proper. Another ‘clever’ view is that Nain could refer to the nearby city of Shunem (reduced to nem and confused with Nain), the attraction to this view is that this is the Shunem of 2 Kings 4 where Elisha brought the Shunammite woman’s son back from the dead!).

“…a dead person…the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” This story wants us to recall the story of Elijah and the widow’s son in 1 Kings 17:17-24 (see also Elisha raising a boy from the dead in 2 Kings 4:32-37). The response of the widow reflects the response of crowd at the end of this story.

“And a large crowd from the town was with her.” So we have a crowd coming into the town and a crowd coming out of the town and in the centre is Jesus standing by a dead son.

“When the Lord saw her…” This is the first time that Luke refers to Jesus as Lord as a name. The title is used often in reference to a third person who will bless Israel or save Israel and as the one over this world. It is also used by some of the characters to refer to Jesus but we see for the first time, Luke use the title as if it is a full conclusion now that Jesus is Lord.

“…his heart went out to her…” Notice the affection that our Lord has to his people. We’re reminded that our God has compassion and a heart of love and affection. Our God expresses emotion.

14-15 A dead son restored

“…touched the bier…” A bier is the frame on which a dead body was conveyed to the grave. Touching a dead body would make a Jew ceremonially unclean but I suppose not if the dead body is shown to be undead!

“He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” We must compare Jesus’ miracle here with the miracle of Elijah to raise the dead. Elijah (and Elisha) both pleaded to the Lord through word and action for the child to be restored to life. Jesus simply gives the word.

16-17 The people declare Jesus a great prophet

“…filled with awe and praised God.” Jesus had performed many miracles but now he has brought somebody back from the dead. Jesus keeps enlightening people to who he is through word and action.

“A great prophet has appeared among us…God has come to help his people.” Let’s not jump to conclusions about the conclusion of the people here. What they are saying is the God has sent a great prophet in his name to be among them. They are comparing Jesus with Elijah and they deem him to be a great prophet. To conclude that they are calling Jesus God is misreading their language. But they getting there. Their statement approves of Jesus as a great prophet like the prophets of old and God has come to help his people.

Meaning

Faith in Jesus is about our understanding of who he is as much as it is our trust in him. The Centurion showed his great faith because he treated Jesus as a man with God-like authority to make things happen at his command. The people who witnessed the son’s resurrection concluded that God has come to rescue his people. Their faith is about their understanding of who Jesus is.

Application

Topic A – Describing your faith. What would you list as your core beliefs in Jesus that you know and trust. In what ways does your life reflect this faith?

Topic B – Belief through the witness of others. Our faith is based on the eye witness accounts of others. The Centurion demonstrates a great faith without ever having met Jesus personally. Are you able to map out how you have come to trust Jesus? What evidence or experience has lead you to faith in Christ? Perhaps you still have questions that need answering to help establish your faith.

Topic C – The miracle of all miracles. Perhaps the greatest miracle that our faith relies on is the resurrection from the dead. This story described Jesus able to undo death for the widow’s son. Luke and the other gospels all highlight the risen Lord as the victory of God. Spend some time in prayer celebrating the resurrection and Jesus as Lord of all. Thank God for our common hope and ask him to grow our faith and conviction of the resurrection and eternal life.

Prayer for the week

Our Lord and our God, we thank you for the example of the Centurion’s faith who saw before many others that your Son has the power and authority to command death and disease. Help us in this life to trust you and to grow in faith. We thank you for the hope of the resurrection and pray that you will protect us and keep us all of our days. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Luke 6:17-36

Living and Loving Like Jesus

Context

Luke chapters 1 and 2 describe the birth narratives of Jesus and John the baptist. They introduce the reader to the promised Messiah who has been prophesied for centuries and who Luke and his sources believe to be fulfilled in Jesus. His public ministry began in chapter 4 continuing on from John’s ministry described in chapter 3. Jesus quickly became a public figure because of his amazing teachings accompanied with signs and wonders. As the crowds followed Jesus, so did the curiosity of the religious elite. Some believed him while others grew in aggression towards him. There were twelve men who Jesus called to be his close disciples. These men, listed in Luke 6:14-16, would become the Apostles who brought their faith in Jesus to the rest of the world – except for Judas who was a traitor.

The section that follows is comparable to Matthew 5-7 commonly referred to as the sermon on the mount. Luke 6:17-49 is referred to as the sermon on the plain. There are similarities between the two sermons and differences also, namely length and location. They also do not appear to sit in the same place in the ministry of Jesus. It appears that Luke and Matthew are recording two different lessons of Jesus.

Observation

Structure

  • 17-19 Drawn to the power of Jesus
  • 20-26 Heaven now or later
    • 20-23 Blessed are you who…
    • 24-26 Woe to you who…
  • 27-36 Love like your Father
    • 27-31 Love your enemies
    • 32-36 Not like this world but like your Father

17-19 Drawn to the power of Jesus

“A large crowd of his disciples was there…” Note that Jesus had just named the 12 disciples and now we hear that there is a large crowd of them. We see a distinction between all those who are following Jesus and those that Jesus has named as his 12.

“…from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon…” Luke has named the region of Judea which is Jew country and includes Jerusalem which is its capital city. He also mentions the coastal area of Tyre and Sidon which extends beyond the Jewish region and is a major trading port to the Mediterranean Sea. The fame of Jesus is far reaching now and is at the brink of going international.

“…people tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” See also Luke 5:17. It is a mystery how the healing power of Jesus actually worked but no less than the mystery of how God can create the world with just his word. People from far and wide have been drawn to Jesus and his influence is more than just good moral teachings. He had power to heal and this gave him credit as a man sent by God (Acts 2:22).

20-26 Living for heaven now or later

“Looking at his disciples, he said…” Whether to the twelve or to the large crowd of disciples is a minor debate and the context would indicate it was the larger number. It is important to note, though, that the teaching that follows is directed to those who would call themselves a follower of Jesus.

“Blessed are you who…” Each blessing contains a sign of those who will be blessed and a description of why. Some may argue that poor people are all blessed by Jesus here. But the context clarifies his teaching to mean that the disciples of Christ will not seek wealth on this earth because they already have the promise of the kingdom of God. We are not to be people establishing heaven on this earth right now but living in the promise of heaven to come. And the reality right now is that we have the kingdom of God and we have the Son of Man (Jesus).

“Rejoice in that day…” This gives us more clarity about the above conclusion. The day does not refer to a special day in the future but any day when we find ourselves poor, hungry, weeping, hated, insulted in Christ. The reason? Because this has always been the way the people of God have been treated. All those who stand out as disciples of Christ or prophets of God will stand firm on the solid knowledge that they are God’s and they have a reward waiting for them in heaven.

“But woe to you who…” The opposite is listed here and the greater picture is whether our comfort and hope and joy is found in this life or do we put our hopes in the world to come. It is not evil to be rich or well fed or happy or congratulated. But a life seeking these things and finding security in them for their own sake will be the picture of a non-disciple.

27-36 Love like your Father

“But to you who are listening I say…” Jesus reminds us that he is talking to his disciples. And you can’t be a disciple if you’re not listening to Jesus.

“Love your enemies…” The list of ways to love in verses 27-31 is countercultural to say the least and sacrificial at its core. How we treat our enemies, people who hate us, who curse us, and who mistreat us is the opposite of how anybody ever recommends. It’s words like these that make critics wonder if Jesus is actually insane. Is he being dramatic in his prescription in order to get his point across? Well, no. Once we’ve listened to him speak in verses 20 to 26, if we keep on listening (v27) we see that we don’t live for self-preservation and the accumulation of wealth or establishing ourselves here on earth, but we surrender our lives to following Jesus. Want to know what a mature Christian looks like: listen to Jesus here! The sermon on the plain concludes with Jesus’ famous story of the wise and foolish builders (Luke 6:46-49). The things that this world deems as safe and secure and smart living is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught. This is a hard teaching that we all need to stop and listen to. Are you still listening?

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” Verses 32-36 contains Jesus’ conclusion on the matter of loving as a disciple would love. Our bench-mark is not our fellow man but our Father. If we simply love and do good on the basis of how others have treated us first, then we are not behaving as God does. Remember the gospel: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Meaning

Many people were coming to Jesus and attracted to his teaching and healing but His description of a disciple is polarising. There is a way that is familiar to us and then there is the kingdom of God. We can choose to be a disciple of this world or a disciple of Jesus and His kingdom. The choice comes with either blessings or woes. We can live and love the way the world does or we can live and love the way a disciple of Jesus should. Because that is the way of the kingdom of God.

Application

Topic A: Listening to Jesus. The sermon on the plain is directed to the disciples of Jesus who needed to be listening. To stop listening is a mark of abandoning Jesus. His lesson in this passage goes directly against the ways of humanity and yet Jesus expects his disciples to listen and understand and put it into practice. This is true of the whole bible. It is a book that steers us away from the judgment of hell and into the protection of grace. It rebukes and corrects. And it instructs us to repent and believe. The bible is not written to approve of us but to approve of all that God has done to redeem us. Discipleship is about listening to the word of God and admitting that it is true.

Topic B: Loving our enemies. This is often a sticking point for people interested in Christianity. Have you heard someone say, “I know I’m called to love everybody but I just cannot love that person!” Does Jesus give us an exception clause in his lesson? The Lord’s prayer compares God’s forgiveness of us with how we forgive others. The gospel itself declares that while we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). One way to think of loving is that it is not hating and it is leaving justice and judgment in the hands of God. Do you need to change your behaviour toward some people? Ask God to help you.

Topic C: The joy of God’s promises. Look at the positive ways Jesus talks about the future for his disciples and see how they inspire us to persevere through trials and suffering in this life. Yours is the kingdom of God. You will be satisfied. You will laugh. Your reward will be great. You will be children of the Most High. He is kind to sinners like us, the ungrateful and wicked. He is merciful.

Prayer for the week

Father, thank you for your love and mercy in being kind to the ungrateful and wicked. May we always listen to your voice and follow your Son for eternity. Help us in this world of strife, struggle and suffering and give us now your peace and joy in believing that you will make all things new, at peace and satisfied. May your kingdom come. Amen.