Category Archives: The Word of God

Luke chapters one and two

Luke 1:1-4

Knowing for certain

Context

Luke writes about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The book is one of the gospels and helps to open the pages of the New Testament. Luke writes in such a way that while the reader is made aware that there is a backstory to this book, it stands alone as the story of how God brought salvation to mankind.

Luke writes about a time in history which did not go unnoticed by many (see Luke 24:18). It was a period in Israel’s history, about 400 years after the final words of the Old Testament were penned. Although the Jews had returned from Exile, they were currently under the reign of Rome rather than having a Jew for their king. Centuries have passed without a word from Yahweh. Then Jesus came.

Observation

Structure

  • 1:1 Many have written about…
  • 1:2 Just as some had seen…
  • 1:3 I too decided to write…
  • 1:4 So that you may know…

1:1 Many have written about…

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us

Paraphrase: a stack of researchers have attempted to collate the events surrounding [God] fulfilling his word in our time

We don’t know who Luke has in mind when he says ‘many’ nor whether this includes or excludes Matthew, Mark and John. Luke’s overall point in this paragraph is not to put anybody else down but to express his personal intend and qualification.

As to the things fulfilled among us, it is curious that he doesn’t simply say, ‘an account of Jesus Christ the LORD’ similar to Mark’s opening verse. Although the subject of his book obviously centres on Jesus, he emphasises the fulfillment that has taken place ‘among us’. In other words, things have happened in Luke’s modern history which are well worth telling and preserving because they are fulfilling God’s word. That it is God’s word fulfilled may be implied by the end of the second verse.

The things that have happened in Luke’s history are not small things and they have drawn the attention of many researchers and writers and believers. This is no small statement. Luke is not creating an obscure view of history but is marching with many who have heard what happened. Something big has occurred in history and a stack of people are writing about it.

1:2 Just as some had seen…

just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word

Paraphrase: in the same way, those who saw it unfold with their own eyes passed on what they knew to be [from God]

Not only are people writing about these things but it is widely known and spoken about. Luke is referring to news that he can trace back to eyewitnesses. This is like reporting on the events of 9/11.

Servants of the word’ could refer to the disciples who were servants of Jesus, known as the Word. This, however, is unlikely as there’s no evidence of anyone referring to Jesus as The Word other than John’s opening statements in his gospel account. More likely is that the eyewitnesses are also believers in God and his word. The promises of God have been fulfilled in the first century. Those who saw it and also believe (as opposed to those who refused to believe even though they too saw) were spreading the stories of what they saw.

1:3 I too decided to write

With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus

Paraphrase: So, since I’ve researched all this carefully and thoroughly, I’ve made up my mind to write one volume on this whole matter, Theophilus

With this in mind – this too is interesting. Why should it matter whether others are attempting to write an account of the events or not? What is Luke driving at? Surely it is that Luke seeks to testify to the truth, just as the eyewitnesses and many others are doing so. He doesn’t wish to disagree with the other researchers. He doesn’t wish to rewrite history but to do what others are doing, and yet, do it with the expertise and access to the truth that he has been privileged to receive.

Luke’s work is not sloppy, according to him, and he has in mind to write his account with the highest audience in mind. Whoever Theophilus is, he is regarded by Luke to be most excellent! It is possible that Theophilus never existed as a unique person but represented all those who love (phili) God (theos) and Luke wrote in this way to disguise protect his audience from persecution. This is speculative and it is equally possible that Theophilus was a real person. The phrase ‘most excellent’ is a way of referring to someone of importance (eg, Acts 24:3; 26:25).

Luke’s ‘orderly account’ is not to be pushed to mean ‘chronologically perfect’ but simply that his material has been gathered and presented in an orderly and thought through manner. It is quite clear that Luke wrote both Luke and Acts and that these ought to be viewed as two volumes of the same research. This strengthens the idea that Luke is researching the events that have happened among his audience rather than simply writing a history of Jesus.

1:4 so that you may know…

so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Paraphrase: My aim in this is to give you assurance of the facts which support what you have already learned. All that you have heard about Jesus is true – all of it!

‘So that’ is like ‘in order that’. This is his aim! We can all underline this verse in our bibles to get the idea of what Luke wants his readers to ‘get’. Interestingly, he is not writing with the aim to prove something, like John is (see John 20:31). No, Luke is giving the supporting and researched evidence for all that Theophilus has already known and been taught. There is a fine line between these two ambitions.

The bottom line, though, is that Luke desires to preserve the facts and to preserve them in such a way that they are ordered and useful for the faith of those who read it.

Meaning

Luke is determined to put together a well researched paper concerning the fulfillment of God’s word which has happened in his own history. He aims to give us an account that we can trust since it agrees with all the eyewitnesses and multitude of accounts floating around at the time. Something big has happened in the world and Luke aims to preserve it for all to ready and be assured of its accuracy.

Application

  • Being assured of the evidence behind the Christian faith.
  • Being assured of the dignity of the bible.
  • Being assured that God fulfills his word.

Prayer of the Week

Father, thank you for giving us your word and a multitude of witnesses to your word being fulfilled. Help us in our unbelief to know the certainty of the things that we have been taught. Bless us through these studies so that we may love you more and see your promises clearly. Amen.

Acts 17:16-34 – How to preach Jesus as Lord in a Gentile world

Context

It’s a new world where God has revealed Jesus to be the Messiah. He was rejected by his people and crucified but was raised to life again, showing his approval by God. Jesus is God’s Son, His promised Saviour, and, quite literally, the Champion of the world. But will the world receive Him?

Paul has been travelling a great distance from his home church in Antioch to take the gospel to the Gentile world. He left with Silas and also Timothy whom he collected on his journey. Paul preached in Thessalonica and Berea and was escorted from Berea to Athens for his safety while Silas and Timothy remained. His travel partners were summoned for, however, and Paul waits for them in Athens.

Observation

Structure

  • 16-21 The context of the gospel in Athens
  • 22-31 Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles
  • 22-23 Introduction
  • 24-28 About the Lord of heaven and earth
  • 29-31 About the man God has appointed to judge the world
  • 32-34 The people’s response

16-21 The context of the gospel in Athens

“…he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols..” The idols described are of gold or silver in tribute to as many gods as the Athenians are aware of and even to any that they have not yet heard (17:29; 23). They were not merely statues for artists to create and admire, but were dedicated to the gods and regarded even as gods. This distressed Paul. He didn’t simply see a cultural reflection from a spiritual people, he saw the foolishness and ignorance of a people who have failed to acknowledge the one true God. They were lost without the knowledge of the truth.

“…so he reasoned…” So Paul got to work to reason with the people. They were responding to information that they had heard up until now about deity and now Paul took up the opportunity to inform them of the reality. You see, Paul doesn’t consider that the truth is open to interpretation or that their perception of the world is just as valid as his. Rather, he sees that they are lacking the piece of the puzzle of life that can set them free! They need to know Jesus and this is not just his own faith and part of his custom, but it is the truth which they need to hear and respond to. The gospel is something that we can speak reasonably to people about. Of course it is since it stems from where life came from.

“…What is this babbler trying to say?…Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection…” Although he was reasoning with them, he also spoke to them, perhaps, in the manner which he had grown used to among Jews and Gentile converts. He included background information that may have sounded reasonable and contextual for a Jew but to the Athenians, this was a new idea and a new perception.

“…talking about and listening to the latest ideas…” His new audience were very interested to hear more since this was their custom. Paul had attracted the ears of locals who loved to listen to new ideas. They were philosophers. They were people who enjoyed to ask the big questions and fill the answers with interesting and plausible – even testable ideas. It’s ironic that the oldest story ever told, because it is literally the oldest story, is being considered by the Athenians as a new idea. Sure, Jesus is a new name in the world, but his story is part of the oldest one alive. Strangely, even though we now live in a world where the story of Jesus is old, I sense that he is so misunderstood, so overlooked and so under taught (both literally and properly) that he can even be presented today as a new idea. Don Carson, who is an North American Theologian, has been doing university missions for 40 years and he reflected on a pod-cast (speaking at Queensland Theological College) that the current missions he runs are not like the ones he used to run. Forty years ago, people knew enough of the story of Jesus and of church teaching that they had plenty to argue about. Today, introducing people to Jesus gives a hugely different response. People are interested and not offended. People have elementary questions rather than hate and pre-rehearsed debate.

22-31 Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles

22-23 Introduction

“…you are ignorant of the very thing you worship…” This is the opening of Paul’s speech and the point of his talk. He didn’t open with this line of course, he remarked positively on the very thing that he had found disturbing. He was taking their idolatry and describing it in a light that would lead him to talk about Jesus. Paul had found an opening and an intersection between his message and their understanding. This is a great lesson in evangelism, knowing where to start and where the gospel connects with the audience. When and how you begin is really not important except that you find where it is! The really important part of sharing the gospel is not so much where you begin but where you end up. The gospel is all about repairing people’s ignorance and giving opportunity to turn to Jesus and live.

24-28 About the Lord of heaven and earth

“…The God who made the world and everything in it…” This is Paul’s way in. The gospel is universal because the God who sent Jesus is the same God who made heaven and earth and everything in it. Of course, he is the only God! The point, though, is that God is not local and subject to certain communities and their borders. Rather, he is above everything and we only need to know who he is and what he has done and calls us to do. He is not contained by temples or things made by humans because he, first and foremost, made us! Even Solomon, who made the first great Temple knew this (See 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chron 2:6).

“…as if he needs anything…” It’s a great mistake of all human religion that treats God like he needs to be appeased, fed, calmed, polished or whatever. Perhaps a robot might feel like they can provide for their human creators who made them for service. But the comparison is more like a soccer ball who feels that they have something to offer David Beckham. What possibly could an inflated cow-hide give to an athlete who knows how to be in control. Beckham does not serve the ball and the ball does not serve him – the ball merely is and does at Beckham’s whim and fancy.

“…rather, he himself gives…” It’s an equal mistake to think that God does not care about us puny humans. He is the giver of life. Because He created us and all things, we owe him our attention and respect. The world did not appear out of nothing by accident! God made everything and he place Adam in the world, with Eve, to fill it and subdue it. It is not our place to define God or to order his limitations but to acknowledge ours. From one man, all of life came. And for that, we give thanks to God.

“…God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him…” So, the gospel begins with this information: that God is the loving creator of all things. Next, it follows that all people on earth need to know him and thank him. Just as Romans 1:20 says, the basic outcome of life ought to be that we thank God and worship Him. The bible says that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-2). Mankind is without excuse for ignoring their Creator. Paul adds that really God is not far away but near. The truth about sin is that mankind never reaches out to God. The truth about grace is that God always reaches out for us. Paul again reasons with the Athenians by using some of their own poets to help his argument. He has seen how their thinking and religion reflect that they are God’s creatures who need to be taught clearly about Jesus.

29-31 About the man God has appointed to judge the world

“…in the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now…” God has put up with idol worship for centuries. This was the constant battle of the Old Testament: to overcome idolatry in the hearts of the Israelites. The kings of Israel were graded good or evil based on their tearing down or building up of idolatry. God taught the Jews directly and they ought to have been a lighthouse for the world to tear down their idols and learn though the Jews who the one true God is. Instead, God has been putting up with idolatry for generations. Paul calls this ignorance. But the time is now to put aside ignorance and to teach the world that the living God has spoken to this world. And notice that the ignorance is not an excuse for sin because their next step is to repent.

“…he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed…” God’s dominion and power and authority has been established in Paul’s speech. The sin of all humanity has been laid down. The consequences of continued ignorance or rejection of this message is judgement which is coming. When the day of judgement comes, all will be judged equally and fairly. It is a day of justice. And the one who will judge is Jesus. He came the first time to save, but the second time he comes, it will not be to save but to judge (John 12:47; Acts 10:42; 2 Tim 4:1; Rev 14:7). All of humanity will stand condemned or freed based on their response to Jesus as Lord.

“…he has given proof of this to everyone…” How can we tell the world that Jesus is Lord when they are not Jewish or have any understanding of the being one God over all? How do you convince anyone that this is the truth and that Jesus is more than a carpentar and a prophet? You tell them about the resurrection. Paul places the resurrection as the central most important element of our faith (1 Cor 15). It was the resurrection that converted Paul! Not news about Jesus and his message but knowing that Jesus had been raised from the dead as he appeared to Paul on the Damascus road.

32-34 The people’s response

“…when they heard about the resurrection of the dead…” Now this is where the division begins. Some heard about the resurrection and became followers of Paul and believed while others sneered. John Dickson has done some great work in writing and presenting documentaries on the subject of the resurrection and the trustworthiness of the eye-witnesses. His books and DVDs like ‘The Christ Files’ and “The Life of Jesus” are excellent resources to have. Getting to grips with this discussion is important. Our faith is founded on the reality of the resurrection. Our hope is based on the reality of the resurrection. Our Lord’s character is tested on the reality of the resurrection.

Meaning

The gospel preached to non-Scriptural folk begins with a different context but still concludes with Jesus as Lord and the resurrection from the dead. No human is exempt from this one test: do they believe that Jesus is Lord, risen from the dead. Romans 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Otherwise…judgement is coming.

Application

  1. Being distressed by the world that you live in. Have you considered your own reaction to people saying OMG? Do you worry about the amount of energy and time and dedication people give to shopping malls? When you look at the world, do you see people striving to get along while we wait for our lives to be over or do you see people living in ignorance and desperately in need of a Saviour? Reflect on the way you see the world you live in.
  2. Reasoning instead of attacking. Even though Paul was distressed by the idolatry, he used it as a way to make inroads to the gospel. He did not attack their sin but reasoned with them to see the truth. It seems like Paul did not view the Athenians as primitives but as fellow humans in need of the gospel. Consider how you view those around you? Are they exempt from judgement and true worship because of their different look at life? Or are they living in ignorance and need persuasion to repent?
  3. The resurrection as proof. Do you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus? Why? What makes you so sure? Could you persuade someone who is interested to listen?

Acts 17:1-15 – Reasoning from the scriptures

Context

Paul and Silas left Antioch in Syria for Paul’s second missionary journey. In chapter 16, they had spent time in Philippi where they met a lady named Lydia who, along with her household, gave their life to Christ. And he met a jailer who did the same – he and his household. They left Philippi of their own will to continue their journey. Their mission is to take the word of the Lord – the message of salvation – to the Gentiles but it has been Paul’s practice to begin wherever he found a Jewish Synagogue.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-4 Believers in Thessalonica
  • 5-9 Jealousy in Thessalonica
  • 10-12 Studying the scriptures in Berea
  • 13-17 Stirring the crowd in Berea

1-4 Believers in Thessalonica

“…As was his custom…” Paul’s strategy has been consistant in his missions. Any time that he came to a town where there was a Jewish Synagogue, he began his ministry at that place. When there was no Synagogue, he looked for a place of worship. The Synagogues gave him a starting point to reason with the Jewish community to teach them what the Scriptures say about the Messiah. He is a man who is dependant on the Spirit and goes when he is called and follows opportunities as they arise but who had a plan and a system to follow. Rather than waiting for things to happen, he put his plans to work. Whether the plan was fruitful or not, well, that is a different issue. Paul knew that the Jews had already received the word of God and should have first opportunity to respond to the gospel. If they receive it, then they also provide a base to work out from.

“…he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving…” We live in a world overwhelmed with short pithy phrases that are supposed to set our hearts at ease. “Dance like there’s nobody watching – Love like you’ve never been hurt – Sing like nobody’s listening – Live like it’s heaven on earth.” There’s one example of what I mean. And there you go. Life’s problems have been solved right there! Do you think that Jesus and the Scriptures are often boiled down so simplistically that they are no more profound than that? God is love. Jesus teaches us to do unto others… But life is complex – not simple. God is love and yet he has prepared hell for those who reject Jesus. The Scriptures are neither a child’s book nor a list of Twitter feeds. The bible is a grown up book to be read like a grown up. In them, you can find eternal life. In them, you can discuss the complex issue of suffering and how to find joy in every situation – really. Paul had his brain switched on and expected his hearers to be attentive and think while he reasoned with them, explaining and proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is Lord. God has not given us a child’s book but a sophisticated story which unpacks the issues of life and death and everything in between.

“…that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead…” Thinking as a first century Jew, the concept of the Messiah was for God to raise up a king for Israel who will gather his people and rule again. This is a concept that comes from reading the Old Testament (or just the Scriptures as Paul would refer to them). What Paul wanted to convince the Thessalonian Jews of was this: that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. The disciples found it hard to digest that Jesus was preparing to die and rise to life again because that was not part of the Messiah description they were used to. Paul thought like this right up until his conversion on the Damascus road. After that, he saw clearly that the Messiah is God’s chosen king to rule over his people but it involved him suffering the cross and rising to life again. That this is supported and proven through the reading of the Scriptures means that God always had this planned – although unclear. The proof is scattered throughout Scripture in many and various ways. The clearest passage to go to is Isaiah 52-53. Knowing that the Messiah must suffer and rise again actually sheds light on passages to give them clarity. God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts and taught at our church helps in this learning.

“…Some of the Jews were persuaded and … prominent women…” Not an overwhelming response from the Jews in Thessalonica. It’s not easy to know what Luke meant by “prominent women” or why he adds this. Luke draws attention to women in his story from time to time (1:14; 5:14; 8:12; 13:50; 16:13; 17:12). Although only a small response came from the Jews in the positive sense, a larger following was gathered from the Greeks and prominent women.

5-9 Jealousy in Thessalonica

“…But other Jews were jealous…” Perhaps they were jealous that high standing Greeks and women were moving their attention to the gospel. Their perceived power was being taken from them and they became jealous – an immature response which exists outside the gospel and must be removed as soon as possible for any convert (1 Corinthians 3:3). Their actions were worse than their motives since they drummed up a mob from the marketplace full of bad characters. Their response was not simply disbelief but vengeance and hate. They accuse Paul of causing trouble all over the place but Paul is not the one gathering up vigilantes and shouting before the city officials.

“…saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” The fact is that if someone else appeared claiming to be the Messiah and seeking to raise an army of Jews to overthrow Rome, then these Jews would most likely be on the side of that king. But since Jesus is a so-called king who gives them no power, he is rejected as their king and they speak hypocrisy for their own sakes.

10-12 Studying the scriptures in Berea

“…the Berean Jews were of more noble character…” A funny translation for the NIV. Literally the phrase is “noble-minded” or “open-minded”. We are not being told that because the Bereans were more upper class that they listened like educated folk but that they had a mind to listen to alternate perspectives. Since they gave more time and attention to what the apostle had to say, they were described as open-minded.

“…examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true…” The Bereans responded to the message of Paul with equal interest and vigor to learn. They approached the subject with sincerity and purpose to know and understand. They were not won over by short, sharp propaganda. When they believed, it was with a depth of understanding. They applied their confidence in the Scriptures to test the truth about Jesus. Yet again, the story of Acts is about the truth that Jesus is Lord in connection to the ancient faith of the Jews. He is the fulfillment to the unfolding story of salvation through the promises of God to Israel. The gospel does not require that we throw away, abandon or move on from the Old Testament. On the contrary, the good news is that Jesus is the Messiah of the Old Testament – the Lord.

13-17 Stirring the crowd in Berea

“…Jews in Thessalonica…agitating the crowds and stirring them up.” It’s truly amazing the extent that haters of Jesus will go to. Paul was as convicted against the uprising Christian church that he once travelled abroad to take them down. It’s such an extreme reaction to a message which brings hope and peace and life and truth.

“Those who escorted Paul brought him…and then left with instructions…” Paul travels on from Berea but not with his missionary companions. This time he is escorted for his own safety by a band who do not engage or remain with him for the mission. When he arrived in Athens, probably seeing the potential there, he sent instructions with the same men to have Silas and Timothy join him again on mission.

Meaning

The gospel demands a thorough investigation. It is a message grounded by…

  1. an ancient text predicting its fulfillment in Jesus and
  2. in an historic event where a man suffered and rose to life again having shown himself to be the Messiah.

To disprove Christianity, there are two clear places to attack: the ancient texts and the historic event. A fool who does not wish to believe can then attack the believers out of jealousy and hate. The wise man, however, will search the evidence thoroughly and come to see that Jesus is Messiah and Lord.

Application

  1. How thoroughly do you search the scriptures? Is your beliefs and convictions driven more by surface feelings and thought or are they grounded in deep understanding and study? Talk about how you study the scriptures or how you could learn to study them better.
  2. What is the gospel? Can you sum it up in one word? Can you sum it up in a sentence? A paragraph? A page? What things are important in the gospel message and what things are of secondary importance? Where does the cross and resurrection fit in your answer?
  3. Do you have anybody that you should or could disciple? Discuss how that is going and what you need to do to improve in the area of discipling others. (If you are a parent then you clearly have some people that you need to disciple.)