Abide

A Bible Study Devotional

Luke 3:15-20: Minimize Me

Read: Luke 3:15-20

John the Baptist knew his place when it came to Jesus. He was well respected and revered as a prophet by the people that were coming to be baptized, and many thought that he may be the Messiah. In spite of all this, John humbled himself and used whatever authority and influence he had to point people to Jesus. John says of Jesus that he is not worthy to undo the thong of his sandal, which was considered a lowly task generally performed for the lowliest servant when guests came to one’s house.

John’s message was called “good news” yet Luke depicts Jesus as one with a winnowing fork. The winnowing fork was an instrument used to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the chaff was carried away by the wind and burned in fire. John speaks of Jesus baptizing by the Holy Spirit and my fire. Baptism of the Holy Spirit – that is receiving the Holy Spirit – is something that happens to all who believe when they become Christians. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers (John 2:20; 1 Corinthians 12:13). The allusion to fire though is not clear. It could either be a prophetic statement about what happened at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) or a reference judgment that will come. In the context, the latter makes more sense because John is talking about Jesus separating the wheat from the chaff, and burning the chaff.

To illustrate how the gospel is offensive to some, Luke uses John’s encounter with Herod. John was bold enough to call out Herod, a strong and power ruler, on the adultery that he had with his sister-in-law, Herodias. Matthew 14:1-12 gives more details on the matter, where Herodias prompted her daughter, who had danced for Herod pleased him, to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Herod had John arrested and beheaded to fulfill her wishes. John made no special provisions for anyone and did not really care about his safety either, rather he was concerned about proclaiming good news and pointing people to Jesus.

The word “gospel” means “good news”. The coming of Jesus is good news for those that will accept it. For those that will not, it is offensive because it confronts people with their sin. But John the Baptist was embolden to preach this good news of Jesus rather than live in fear of what might happen to him. John’s martyrdom, zeal, and humility for the sake of gospel of Jesus serves as a reminder of the the attitude and priorities Christians ought to have concerning Jesus. Christians ought to get the good news of Jesus out and put Jesus in the spotlight so that he can be exalted.

Lord, help me to minimize myself and maximize Jesus in all things!

Luke 3:7-14: Detestable Religion

Read: Luke 3:7-14

John’s words are harsh. He calls those that are coming out to be baptized a “brood of vipers”, which in that time and place was not something nice to say. “Vipers” in the ancient near east were associated with wicked men. Jesus uses the word to describe the Pharisees and Sadducees on 3 occasion (Matthew 3:7, Matthew 12:34, Matthew 23:33). It was a serpent who deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden too (Genesis 3:1-15). Being called a viper was to associated a person as cunning and subtle with ulterior motives – they saw baptism as yet more religion. Those coming to be baptized by John were “fleeing wrath” which implies that they knew judgment was coming and were looking for a means to effectively purify themselves. The thinking was that the more piety one had, the less likely judgment was to fall in them. Likewise, as implied by verse 8, those coming to be baptized were clinging to their heritage as well, thinking that because they were from the line of Abraham made them special and that they wouldn’t face judgment.

The people were right to recognize that there was impending judgment, but they were approaching it the wrong way, wanting to address sin with religion and traditions without changing their hearts and actions. John on the other hand saw through both of these. He was calling people to repent (that is, change one’s heart and mind about sin) and bear fruit in accordance with repentance. He agrees with the people that judgment is coming when he says the ax is near the root of the tree and every good tree that doesn’t bear fruit will be cut down and burned. He specifically addresses three groups of people: those with abundance, tax collectors, and soldiers calling them to do good and be generous rather than hoard and extort.

When faced with sin or hard times, the natural tendency of people is to want to get “right with God” and they do so by by getting more religious. They will attend church, undergo rites and rituals, pray, read their Bible, among other things. None of these things are inherently bad, but if they are being done for the wrong reasons, then they are of little or no use because religion doesn’t help one’s standing before God. God wants people to repent and come to him in faith, not continue to live the same way as they did before and attempt to atone for sin with religion. The natural overflow of repentance though isn’t religion, rather charity and righteousness which God desires more than religion. In fact, James 1:26-27 says that “true religion” isn’t rites and rituals, rather caring for orphans and widows. Micah 6:6-8 and Isaiah 1:1-17 aptly describe how God sees religion in light of righteousness – religion is detestable to God when one’s deeds and heart are evil. Rather than seeking out more religion, Christians should repent and do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God!

Lord, I repent of my sins! Help me to bear fruit in keeping with repentance!

Luke 3:2-6: “Prepare the Way”

Read: Luke 3:2-6

John the Baptist was a kindred spirit to Jesus and apparently a relative too. His birth took place on months before Jesus’ birth did (Luke 1). The scriptures don’t contain anything about John’s early life, but the story of John picks up around the same time Jesus’ does in 29 AD. Luke likens John the Baptist to Isaiah as a prophet that “received the word of the Lord” (John 1:21) and went out into the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. John’s status as a prophet is confirmed by likening him to Elijah (Luke 1:17, John 1:25) and Jesus himself appealed to the testimony of John about himself as a witness to confirm the veracity of his message (John 5:31-34) because n that day and having a second testimony other than one’s own was necessary to deem a testimony as true. John’s witness to Jesus was set in place that when Jesus did come, he could point others to Jesus, as he did. John was calling people to repentance to prepare hearts to receive Jesus for salvation.

To drive the point home and link it to his theme of universally accessible salvation, Luke quotes from Isaiah 40:3-5 from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) noting that there was a voice crying out in the wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord” The text in Isaiah is in the context of a text to no condemn people, rather to comfort them telling them of a one who is coming and will shepherd them. The chapter ends with the famous verse talking about how those that wait on the Lord will renew their strength and soar. John is the the voice calling out the wilderness who is preparing the way for Jesus, who is the Lord in Isaiah 40. Luke extends the quote from Isaiah more than Mark 1:3 does to include a quotation about the “salvation” of the Lord. Luke’s regard for the salvation of “all people” is evident here and elsewhere in Luke 2:30-32 and Luke 2:10.

Salvation was never intended to be limited only a select group of people, rather it is intended for all people everywhere. But salvation isn’t automatically applied to everyone, rather it requires that one have faith in Jesus. Christians that receive salvation then should be about the task of preparing the way for others to receive Christ. The Isaiah text speaks of level mountains, raising valleys, smoothing rough areas, and straitening paths so that the coming of the Lord will be easy and without resistance. Part of evangelism requires that removal of barriers so that everyone everywhere has a chance to receive Jesus without hindrance. Some barriers are cultural such as language or cultural beliefs. Other barriers may be preconceived notions about what it means to be a Christian. Whatever it may be, removing barriers people can come to Jesus, repent of their sins, and be saved!

Lord, show me the barriers that hinder the gospel and help me to remove them so more can be saved!

Luke 3:1-2: History is His Story

Read: Luke 3:1-2

Luke starts Chapter 3 in a similar fashion to how he starts several of the previous “chapters” of Jesus’ early life by placing the events during the reign of a particular historical figure (Luke 1:5, Luke 2:1-2). This time though, he lists a number of people.

  • Tiberius Caesar – the emperor in Rome and the stepson of Agustus Caesar. Luke notes that this was during the 15 year of the reign of Tiberius. Tiberius’ reign started in 14 AD, so this places the start of Jesus’ public ministry around 29AD.
  • Herod Antipas – he was the son of Herod the Great, and he himself was not a Jew, but ruled over the Gallilee. He was the Herod that had John the Baptist beheaded (Matthew 14:10) and the Herod that Jesus went to see leading up to his crucifixion who was in Jerusalem at the time of crucifixion. Jesus, being from Galilee, was sent by Pilate to Herod so that Herod could deal with him.
  • Herod Phillip – He was the son of Herod the Great from another woman. Antipas was his half-brother and was more moderate and tempered than his brother. He rule from Caesarea Phillipi, which as a important place in Jesus ministry (Matthew 16:12-18).
  • Lysanias – Little is known about this Lysanias, however another Lysanias is mentioned by Josephus. It is thought that Luke’s Lysanias is a descendant of the one mentioned by Josephus in the same way that the name “Herod” was used by a number of rules. Archaeological evidence supports this view.
  • Pontius Pilate – Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea directly responsible for the emperor. His job was to maintain the peace and collect taxes to support Rome. He played an important role in Jesus’ public trial where he attempted to appease the crowd (John 18:16-19:23).
  • Annas – Annas was the defacto high priest and father-in-law to Ciaphas. He was the priest that Jesus went before in his trial (Johm 18:13-23) and also the priest Peter and John went before in Acts.
  • Caiaphas – Caiaphas was the official high priest appointed by Rome. He prophesied concerning Jesus’ death conspired with others to have Jesus killed (Matthew 26:3-4, John 11:47-53)

The tendency of readers and even many commentaries is to gloss over verses that can historical data or genealogies. But Luke’s goal in writing his gospel is stated clearly in Luke 1:3 where he declares he wanted to write an orderly account of the ministry of Jesus. With this in mind, when readers come across historical figures, it’s good to take some time and read about these figure because in doing so it helps set the stage for the events that are unfolding in the gospel. The life of Jesus is not some myth set in some obscure time, rather it set in real history with real people. JRR Tolkien noted that this what set the story of Jesus apart from other mythologies even though it shared some things in common with other mythological stories. He and C.S. Lewis called the story of Jesus the “true myth”. Understanding the historical setting of Jesus’ life and ministry then helps one understand the sayings and action of Jesus too.

Lord, history is your story. Help me understand it so that I may know you better!

Luke 2:51-52: Treasuring the Moments

Read: Luke 2:51-52

Although Jesus knew that he was the Son of God, he didn’t claim this position while he was on earth. In fact, Jesus submitted himself to the same laws and customs that all good Jews would submitted themselves to, including honoring his father and mother (Exodus 20:12). Luke notes that Jesus was “submissive” to them – the idea that he was under their tutelage for the time he was a young man and young adult years. Jesus’ obedience to his parents was in line with his will to be baptized by John so that he might be able “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15) and have the authority to send out the 12 to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus obedience didn’t go unnoticed either, as Luke notes that he grew in favor with God and man.

These glimpses into Jesus’ early life were small moments leading up to the ministry that he undertook during the three years leading up to his death, burial and resurrection. Luke in his effort to record a history about Jesus wanted to investigate Jesus to the fullest (Luke 1:1-4). He mentions “eyewitnesses” to events of Jesus life, and it is likely that the eyewitness for the accounts in Luke 2 is Jesus’ mother. Luke makes a special note in the midst of each of the three episodes in the chapter about Jesus’ mother reflecting on these events. She “ponders” and “treasures” the events about his his birth (Luke 2:19), along with Joseph “marvels” about what was said about him (Luke 2:32), and again “treasures” what happened in Jerusalem (Luke 2:51). These events were remarkable to her because she didn’t know what to make of them at the time they occurred, but nevertheless knew that Jesus was special.

While Jesus was on earth, he didn’t claim the authority that was rightfully his, rather he was obedient and humble even to the point of death (Philippians 2:1-12). Paul uses Jesus’ example to encourage the readers of his letter to do the same: be humble and obedient even if it means forfeiting something that is rightfully yours. When Christians do this, they do it out of a desire of love, and in doing so others take note. In many cases, those who later come to know Christ do so because they remember an episode where a Christian did something for them or someone else and it stuck with them and profound impact on their lives as the events of Jesus’ childhood did on Mary. Years later, even long after the person remembered may have forgotten, the one who does remember can testify to a moment and recall God at work in and through another person.

Lord help my obedience be a testimony that will lead others to you!

Luke 2:41-50: Amazed

Read: Luke 2:41-50

Jesus parents were devout Jews, and apparently of a family of other devout Jews as they were going up to one of the three required festivals that men were supposed to attend each year. Jesus was 12 years old at the time. There’s no historical evidence to suggest that Jesus had undergone a “bar mitzvah” or becoming accountable to the law at this point. This custom was instituted later in Jewish history. Nevertheless, it is evident that Jesus was going up to the temple and spending time there interacting with scholars and priests at the temple as men would do.

But when it came time to leave, Jesus did not return home with the friends and family he had traveled with, rather he stayed in Jerusalem. Naturally, Jesus’ absents invoked great distress in his earthly parents, and rightfully so because any parent would be worried if one of their children went missing. Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem to look for the boy and they found him safe 3 days later, much to their relief.

There is an irony to this text though: Mary and Joseph, his earthly parents, went looking for Jesus in Jerusalem while they were attempting returning to their home in Nazareth calling acknowledging this fact when they call him “son” and refer to Joseph as “father”. But Jesus replies, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus was affirming his heavenly parentage and origin – namely God the Father in heaven. And the knowledge of God was evidence to this. The scholars and were amazed at his understanding and answers, and his response to his parents was no less amazing or baffling. They didn’t understand, because to them their home was not the temple, rather a house in the town of Nazareth 70 miles to the north.

On this side of Jesus’ first coming Christians get to see what Mary, Joseph, and the scholars in Jerusalem did not get to see. It really wasn’t until after Jesus resurrected from the dead that people really began to understand what he had been sent to earth to do (John 20:9, Luke 24:27). Christians have the privilege of seeing Jesus ministry on earth revealed and its purpose communicated and codified in the Scriptures. At times, it may be confusing, but Christians don’t have to remained baffled. Christians can ask questions and give answers to one another and be amazed at how the Holy Spirit can illuminate one’s mind.

Lord, show me the truth of who you so I can be amazed at who you are!

Luke 2:39-40: “According to the Law of the Lord”

Read: Luke 2:39-40

Two verses sum up the first 12 years of Jesus’ life on earth, but these two short verses in their context speak volumes about Jesus as a child. Jesus was born into a family with God-fearing parents. His earthly parents were meticulous about following the laws and customs of the Jewish people as demonstrated by their presentation of Jesus at the temple as an infant and their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Luke notes the Jesus as a boy grew strong and was filled with wisdom, which greatly impressed the scribes at the temple later in his life (Luke 2:47). Luke also notes that God’s favor was on him. Naturally, this should be expected being that Jesus was God incarnate, nevertheless Jesus was also a human being that had the same challenges people struggle with, including learning.

It seems that through God’s providence, Jesus was placed in a God-fearing home so that he would indeed fulfill the Law of God. Jesus parents were instrumental in this in that because of their obedience to the law, Jesus was able to fulfill the law and was taught the law from a young age onward similar  to when Jesus underwent baptism to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:13-15). By fulfilling the Law, Jesus was able to be the perfect and final sacrifice for sin to all who believe (Matthew 5:17-18, Hebrews 10:3-12). When Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples of all nations, part of the command is to teach the disciples to obey what he commanded.

Jesus’ fulfillment of the law made him the ultimate example to follow. He also had the authority to make the command to make disciples and that command was obeyed by his disciples onward. Part of disciple making involves parents teaching their children to obey the ways of God as Joseph and Mary did with Jesus. The Bible speaks to this in a number of places: Deuteronomy 4:9, Deuteronomy 6:7, Psalm 78:1-8, Proverbs 4, Proverbs 22:6, Proverbs 29:17, Ephesians 6:4, Hebrews 12:7-10. Statistics show that when both parents are involved in the spiritual upbringing of a child, that child is more likely to follow in their parent’s footsteps in do the same. It may be hard at times, but the fulfillment of a spiritual upbringing is both life to the child and a blessing for the parent!

Lord, help me to teach those in my care to obey what I have been taught to obey!

Luke 2:36-38: A Pedigree of Faithfulness

Read: Luke 2:36-38

Luke has just 3 verses dedicated to Anna, but he says quite a bit about her in those verses. She was a prophetess, of the tribe of Asher, widowed 7 years into her marriage and had never remarried, 84 years old, the daughter of Phanuel and worshipped in the temple day and night. Anna is not the only prophetess in Scripture. By calling her this, Luke ranks her among many other remarkable women including Miriam the sister of Moses (Exodus 15:20) and Deborah (Judges 4:4).  It’s interesting that Luke makes all these notes about Anna. In fact there is more biographical information about her than information about what she did when she saw Jesus, which was praise God and God tell others about the coming redemption of Jerusalem, namely through Jesus.

Anna is one instance of Luke’s special attention to the role of women in the story of Jesus. When writing Luke the role of women in most of the world at that time was not very high. But nevertheless Luke’s intentionality on the part of women and also the Gentiles for that matter show that Jesus is not redeemer for a select few, rather the redeemer for all people and that all people are equally valuable to him regardless of what status they may have in the world and all have a role in his work.

While Anna’s deeds may not have been some great miracle on a grand scale, her life-long commitment to God make her among the greats in Scripture. Everyone who believes has a part in God’s work, and those that live a life committed to God’s work will leave a lasting legacy even though no single deed is his or her defining moment. Living faithfully day to day in the monotony of life will culminate in a testimony that will be remembered and an example to be followed.

Lord, Help me to live faithfully all my days!

Luke 2:25-35: Blessing Through The Spirit

Luke 2:25-35: Blessings Through The Spirit

Luke notes that Simeon was a devout and righteous among Jews waiting for the “consolation” for Israel, which that is the comfort or solace of Israel, but more than that Luke notes that the Holy Spirit was with Simeon which was rare indeed prior to the ascension of Christ. The Holy Spirit had told him that he would not see death until he had seen the Christ, which was Jesus. Luke doesn’t say, but it is probably safe to assume that Simeon had been waiting for a long time for this day, and after seeing Jesus he praises the Lord, saying that he can die in peace.

Simeon also offers two blessings that are also prophecy in response to seeing Jesus – one to God and one to Mary. The first blessing Simeon notes that Jesus is God’s salvation for not only the Jews but also the Gentiles. He says that Jesus was the salvation prepared for “all people” and that Jesus light to the Gentiles. Mary and Joseph were both “marveled” about this, but then Simeon says to Mary a blessing that on the surface may not seem to be much of a blessing. The nature of the blessing notes that Mary’s heart would be pierced and that the child would be for the rising and falling of many in Israel. In other word, Jesus would be a stumbling block for some, but for others would be salvation, ultimately through his death and resurrection.

The connection between the Holy Spirit to blessings and prophecy is remarkable here and elsewhere in the New Testament. John 14:16-18 and later in John 14:26 calls the Holy Spirit a “helper” or “counselor” depending on the translation. The Greek word here is the noun form of the word Luke used in Luke 2:25 when he notes that Simeon was waiting for the “consolation” of Israel, which is “paraklētos”. It was through the Spirit that Simeon was able to know Jesus when he saw him, bless God and bless Mary, and ultimate prophecy concerning Jesus. The Spirit was also upon the disciples when they spoke at Pentecost to in a similar manner (Acts 1:4-8, Acts 2:1-4).

It was after Pentecost though that the Spirit became available to all those who repent and believe in Jesus (Acts 2:38), not only Jews but Gentiles as well. For Christians that are in the in tune with the Spirit there is much that they can sense that those that are not in tune cannot. God works through the Spirit which enables Christians to do the work that God has set out for them. It is imperative then to seek out the will of God by devoutly walking in righteousness the way as Simeon did, and in doing so the Spirit can work!

Lord, use your Spirit to do your work through me!

 

Luke 2:21-24: Significance in Symbols

Read: Luke 2:21-24

Mary and Joseph were devout Jews that not only kept traditions of the their people, but also kept the instructions that were given to them by angels.

  • Jesus was circumcised and named on the 8th day. This was done in accordance with the Law given to Moses and Abraham (Genesis 17:12, Leviticus 12:3).
  • Mary and Joseph were told to name their child Jesus independent of one another by angels on two separate occasion (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:31).
  • Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple according to the law (Leviticus 12:6).
  • Mary and Joseph also made sacrifices according to the law (Exodus 13:2)
  • Mary and Joseph also sacrificed two doves or pigeons according to the law (Leviticus 12:8). It is apparent that they could not afford a lamb, but the law made provisions for that.

While naming a baby and following traditions may not seem that remarkable, there is great symbolism in what they were doing in naming Jesus and presenting him as first born. The name “Jesus” in English is comes from the Hebrew name that means “God saves”. Matthew 1:21 makes note of this, saying that Jesus would be the one to save people from their sins. Also in this, the consecration of the firstborn male in a family was to remind the people when the Lord brought them out of slavery in Egypt – another motif of salvation. God spared the firstborn of everyone who sacrificed a lamb and put the blood on the doorposts of their homes (Exodus 13:12-15).

Christians don’t follow the laws like the Jews did because Jesus became the sacrifice for sin. Nevertheless there are some symbols that Christians have to remember what Christ did. First, Christ ordained what is known as communion or the “Lord’s Supper” as a memorial to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. This sacrifice was the payment for the sins committed by man (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Luke 22:17-20). Second, Jesus gave Christians baptism, which notes both the cleansing of sins and the resurrection of Jesus and ultimately all believers (Romans 6:3-5, Colossians 2:12).

Rather than get caught up in rote religion, Christians ought to reflect on the reasons that symbols and signs exists. Usually these serve as a reminder of some work that God has done or a promise that God will fulfill as wit communion does for Jesus’ blood being spilled and baptism does a reminder of the resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of all men. These symbols and tradition can help draw us into a deeper relationship with the one who gave them.

Lord help me to remember what you have done and will do!

Abide © 2014