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Luke 1:46-56: Song of the Humble

Read: Luke 1:46-56

Mary’s song in response to Elizabeth’s greeting bring is about bringing the utmost glory to God for what he had done in her life concerning Jesus’ conception. God saw an unpretentious woman who feared him and he exalted her because of it. When Mary speaks her verse, she extols the Lord in a number of ways, but the point being that God extends mercy and blessings to those who are humble and seek him, yet scorns those who are proud for whatever reason.

The juxtaposition of Jesus exalting the lowly and scorning the proud is a common theme all throughout the New Testament (Luke 14:1, Luke 18:14, Matthew 5:3, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5-6 and many others) and the Old Testament (Psalm 138:6, Proverbs 3:34, Proverbs 15:33, Proverbs 16:18-19, Proverbs 29:23, Isaiah 57:15 and many others). God undoubtedly prefers such people who are humble because these are the people who truly know there place before God, and when something extraordinary happens they turn the glory back to God rather than themselves.

The theme of God opposing a proud heart was not new in Jesus’ day and is not something new even until now. God does not turn a blind eye to those that seek his face and do it with a pure heart. Genuine humility is not about trying to make sure that everyone else knows sees one’s humility, rather being mindful of God in a quiet way as one live his or her life as Mary was doing when God chose her. Because she was humble, obedient, and believed God, she was blessed. And she turned the glory back to God when she was.

Lord, help me to remain humble and praise you when you exalt the humble.

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Luke 1:39-45: Blessed Believers

Read: Luke 1:39-45

The Holy Spirit was alive and working among the four characters mentioned in this text:

  • Elizabeth knew that Mary was carrying her “lord” even though the child wasn’t even born. And for this reason, she held Mary in high regard as one would respect a person of honor.
  • Elizabeth and her child John were both filled with joy even as Mary and her child approached – so much so that Elizabeth’s child “leaped” in the womb.
  • Elizabeth recognized these facts in spite of the fact that Mary was yet unmarried. Conventional wisdom would have condemned such a pregnancy.

The blessings Mary received came because of her faith – she had the great honor carrying God incarnate. The coming of Mary and her child caused those who were sensitive to the Spirit’s workings to be filled with joy and with the Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-8 shows that even in times of hardship and persecution the Spirit gives joy. This is because the readers of Thessalonians had become “imitators” of “us” – namely the apostle Paul and his companions that had been to Thessalonica to plant a church there. Christians nowadays too are like the Christians in the scriptures – they have the Holy Spirit and they have Jesus. When the Lord comes near and the Spirit works, the natural response of Christians should respond in joy in spite of the odd of unusual circumstances as Mary and Elizabeth were experience. Christians can believe and be blessed as Mary was.

Lord, when you come near, help me respond in joy!

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Luke 1:5-38: “May It Be”

Read: Luke 1:5-38

Gabriel was a messenger from God and describes himself as one who “stands in the presence of God”. To even be in the presence of God would be something of note, but to stand in God’s presence indicates that Gabriel was an angel of great importance. He was previously sent in Daniel to explain to Daniel the significance of the rams and goats and give the 70-week predictions (Daniel 8, 9).  He was dispatched to deliver the news concerning two great men: John the Baptist and Jesus. John would prepare the way as a prophet for Jesus, the Lord.

The angel Gabriel appeared to two different people – Mary and Zacharias. Luke notes that Zacharias’ wife, Elizabeth, was barren and could not have children. Nevertheless, Zacharias continued to pray for a son and God answered this prayer. Elizabeth conceived and had John. Although Zacharias and Elizabeth were both described as blameless and God-fearing, Zacharias when he has the vision asks for a sign, because he didn’t believe Gabriel’s message. Because of this, Zacharias became mute. On the other hand though, when Mary was told that she would become pregnant with Jesus, she asked how, but didn’t ask for a sign from God on the matter. Rather, she believed it and said let it be so.

Jews during Jesus’ day were always looking for signs and wonders as proof. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees when they asked for a sign and said that the only sign he would give them would be the “Sign of Jonah”, which is a rather cryptic response. He was referring to himself in that Jesus was calling them to repent and predicting his death and resurrection  as Jonah was in the fish for 3 days, Jesus was in the ground for 3 days (Matthew 12:38-41, Matthew 16:1-4, Luke 11:29-32). Jesus was the sign, and after Jesus ascended he gave the Holy Spirit to open the minds of Christians to the things of God so that they can know the truth (1 Corinthians 1:22, 1 Corinthians 2).

God is still communicating with people today through his word, which is “God breathed” (3 Timothy 3:16-17). Asking for additional revelation as Zacharias did doesn’t seem too harmful, but the evidence was standing right before his eyes (as if the presence of an angel wasn’t enough!) Rather than ask for a sign one should ask for wisdom and understanding as Mary did. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the minds of Christians can be illuminated to understand the truths in the scriptures, and respond to the commands of Christ as Mary did, saying “may it be”. It is okay to question God when one doesn’t understand, nevertheless asking for more proof that what is given shouldn’t be necessary, because enough proof already exists.

Lord, when you speak, help me say, “may it be”.

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Luke 1:1-4: “Exact Truth”

Read: Luke 1:1-4

Luke when writing his gospel wanted to give an orderly and accurate account about Jesus in the form of a gospel/letter of sort. Luke addresses his gospel to man named “Theophilus” that means in Greek, “lover of God”. Luke also holds Theophilus in high esteem because addresses him as “most excellent” — a title that Paul used to address Festus and Felix when he was on his way to Rome to be tried (Acts 24:3, Acts 26:25). Theophilus could have been a high ranking Roman citizen or something to that extent. Regardless though, Luke’s purpose was to show this man who loved God and was esteemed by Luke just who Jesus was.

Luke tells how he accomplished this task too. First, he “compiled accounts” about the things accomplished among “us”. Because Luke and Acts are probably a two volume set, Luke is including himself in the “us” – that is build a story of things in the present. He dovetails from these present tense accounts to the traditions that they had received “since the beginning”. He’s talking about the testimonies about Jesus’ life by those who walked, talked, and lived with Jesus while he was on earth — the eyewitnesses — many of who were probably still alive when Paul was writing Luke and Acts. Luke states that he was careful in his investigation so that he could accurately reflect the life and ministry of Jesus and the history of the early church.

The veracity of Luke’s account has been corroborated by archaeology. He names people, places, and events that many thought were fictional, but when a few discoveries were made in the 1800′s archaeology started taking Luke more seriously. Sense that time, many more discoveries have been made corroborating Luke’s gospel. From a historical perspective, this vindicates his assertion that he “investigated everything carefully”. The historical corroboration along with the high quality of the source materials used by Luke such as eyewitnesses show that the content of Luke isn’t merely mythological account of a a Jewish rabbi from Galilee, it is an accurate and historical account of the Savior of the World, Jesus.

Christians can trust the content of Luke’s gospel and the reality of their faith like Theophilus, knowing they have the “exact truth” about Jesus written in the pages of the of the Bible. Jesus was no fake, and for this reason, Christians can speak honestly about the gospel and hold to their convictions.

Lord, You have given me the exact truth! Help me to know it well!

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Luke 1:1-4: Good News for Everyone

Read: Luke 1:1-4
Jesus’ coming into the world was good news for all people – he wasn’t merely the messiah for the Jews, rather the whole world. While all the gospels present Jesus in such a light, Luke’s gospel is perhaps the one that would resonates the most with a gentile audience for a number of reasons:

  • The Gospel of Luke was probably written by the same author of the book of Acts. They were probably a two volume set, as the prologues of each book seem to indicate, written to a man named “Theophilus” which literally means “lover of God”. Theophilus is otherwise an unknown character in the scriptures, but the name is of Greek origin.
  • Luke himself was a traveling companion of Paul, a doctor by trade, and probably a Greek by birth (Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24). Luke was himself not an eyewitness to the accounts given in Luke, nevertheless he probably interviewed and gather information concerning the events contained in his gospel from eyewitnesses and other source material to write his gospel (Luke 1:1-4).
  • The Greek language employed in Luke’s gospel is much more advanced than other Greek used in the New Testament save that of maybe Hebrews and some of Peter’s epistles.
  • Luke focuses on the universality of salvation in that he deals with not only Jews, but the marginalized in society, Samaritans, and Gentiles as well. Acts carries on this same convention.

The focus on the Gentiles and the marginalized in the book of Luke is one way of communicating the importance of the gospel for all people everywhere no matter who they are or what they have done. Jesus relates and forgives people at all levels. Jesus’ willingness to associate with those that others considered to be lesser people serves as an example, and Christians ought to be willing to do the same even if it means that one may be ridiculed for doing so as Jesus was.

Lord, you came to seek and save everyone, not just some.
Teach me to be universal in my vision for the lost!

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Hebrews 13:20-25: The Shepherd of Peace

Read: Hebrews 13:20-25

The author of Hebrews wraps up his letter to a persecuted people whose faith is wavering under the persecution (Hebrews 10:25). Verses 20 and 21 comprise benediction that offers hope to these persecuted people. The subject of the benediction is “God” and the verb is “equip”. But between these two words are several remarks, notably a remark concerning “peace” which indicates tranquility and Jesus as a shepherd who was raised from the dead. Jesus is like the shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. In New Testament times, the shepherds were the ones who spent every waking hour of the day with sheep. They practically lived with the animals in stables and out in the open. They would watch the sheep during the day and at night, when it was hot and dry and when it was rainy and cold. The shepherd had a vested interest in every sheep’s well-being. A hired hand, however, was not like this. When the season was right for sheering or taking the animals to market, the owner of the sheep would hire hands to assist in this process because it was more labor intensive than watching the sheep alone. The shepherd still guarded the sheep while this was happening, but this was not the responsibility of the hired hand. Jesus is like the shepherd because he is with the sheep all the time in every way. They know him, and he knows them (John 10:1-18). To a persecuted people, having the God of peace to lead them as a Shepard leads his sheep is intended to offer a final word of comfort to these wavering believers. The author entreats God to equip the believers to do good works to please God and bring glory to Jesus.

The author follows this benediction with a few closing remarks encouraging the believers to stick to what he has written them concerning the current state. He doesn’t want them to give up the riches of Christ because of some temporal persecution. He mentions Timothy, probably to also encourage the believers too, because he was imprisoned for a while but was released. In the same manner, they too may endure persecution for a while, but will be released from it. He makes note that he wants to come see the believers soon and encourages the believers to greet their leaders. This is the 3 times in chapter that the author makes reference to leaders (Hebrews 13:7,17,24). The authors concern for the believers and their relationship to their leaders is remarkable in this too is to help them overcome the temporal crisis that they are dealing with. 1 Peter 1:1-5 shows that while Jesus is the “Chief Shepard”, churches also have leaders that too are charged with the care of a flock as a shepherd. Faith is homed through trials, and such who have passed these test can help those who follow also endure (Hebrews 12:11). The entire letter of Hebrews was written to show the supremacy of Christ to all things that the Jewish audience once knew, and certainly it is better to continue in the way of Christ than it is to continue in the ways of what they came from.

Christians today find themselves in a many circumstances in which they will be tempted to shrink back into what they find to be familiar and comfortable. Perhaps it is an old lifestyle or a place where one isn’t bold about his or her faith in Jesus. Regardless of these things though, Christians can look to Jesus – the Chief Shepherd – who will lead them through whatever circumstances that believer may be going through. Jesus can also be found in those who are “shepherds” in his or her church as examples too and learn from them. God wants his people to be equipped to do good deeds in all things, whether times are good or bad, and look to Jesus in all things (Psalm 23).

Lord, you are my God of Peace and my Shepherd.
Help me to follow you not matter what happens!

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Hebrews 13:1-18: “Outside the Gate”

Read: Hebrews 13:1-18

If one could produce a list of similar to the 10 Commandments in the New Testament, Hebrews 13 could probably suffice. In this chapter, the author of Hebrews exhorts his readers with a number of commands to follow that are in line with Christian principles:

  1. Love one another (v1).
  2. Be hospitable to strangers (v2). You very well may be entertaining angels!
  3. Remember those in prison (v3). This is probably talking about those who had been imprisoned for the same of the gospel such as Paul and Timothy.
  4. Honor marriage (v4).
  5. Be free from the love of money (v5).
  6. Remember, obey and imitate your leaders (v7, v17).
  7. Stay true to the teachings of Jesus (v8-9)
  8. Pray for the author (18-19). Apparently, he had been sent away or taken away for some reason, perhaps imprisoned.
  9. Praise God with worship and service to others (v15-16)

In the midst of these commands, the author of Hebrews makes one final doctrinal point concerning the sacrifice of bulls that are made in the tabernacle. Part of the blood and parts of the bull were used as a sin sacrifice, but the rest of the body was taken outside the camp and burned. When Jesus made his sacrifice though, the entire sacrifice was made outside the camp – his blood along with his entire body. The location is key here, because Jesus was ultimately rejected by the religious establishment of his day. Nevertheless, it was through his sacrifice that people are sanctified. In light of this sacrifice, the author encourages his readers to offer “sacrifices” of praise to God and good deeds to others. These are the sorts of sacrifices pleasing to God anyways (Micah 6:7-8).

Christian ideas and principles aren’t always accepted in every culture in every time. Nevertheless, in the same manner Jesus suffered “outside the gate”, Christians ought to suffer scorn even when their ideas aren’t popular. But what awaits Christians when they meet Jesus face to face is of much greater value than anything that being accepted by the world can offer. Knowing this can help encourage Christians as they walk through life, keeping Christ’s commands and holding fast to the promises he has given.

Lord, you weren’t popular when you came, but you endured for my sake!
Help me to do no less for your sake!

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Hebrews 12:18-29: Zion vs. Sinai

Read: Hebrews 12:18-29

The picture painted in Hebrews of Mount Sinai is a terrifying one. It’s a place shrouded in clouds and lightning and so holy that anything that touched the mountain would die (Exodus 19). Moses brought the people of Israel out of Egypt to this mountain and it was here that God gave them the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20). It was also here that the Israelites built a “god” for themselves – a golden calf – and those that worshiped it were also put to death (Exodus 32).  This mountain was unapproachable and menacing. The author of Hebrews doesn’t leave things there. He tells his readers of another mountain, namely Mount Zion in heaven. This is the mountain of God in heaven in the New Jerusalem that is a place of worship and joy. It is also a place in which those who have been redeemed by Jesus can enter into.

The author of Hebrews contrast between Sinai and Zion is deliberate to make a strong point: because God is approachable now, his warnings against sin should be heeded with even more fervor than before. This is because God here warns from heaven, and the testimony is given by a stronger blood than even that of the innocence of Abel (Genesis 4:10), namely the blood of Jesus. Furthermore, the author warns of impending judgment. One day, God is going to shake more than a mountain when he comes down – he will shake the heavens and the earth (Haggai 2:6-7). That which cannot shaken is that which will remain.

The Israelites at Sinai never saw God, but they did witness his presence and were terrified. Christians, having received the promise through Jesus, are able to enter into the presence of God through Jesus. But this should never be taken lightly, because while God loves all people, one cannot forget that God is a holy God who should be worshiped with awe and reverence. Hebrews calls God a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24) and rightfully so because God is holy, and one day he will exercise judgment.

Lord, I don’t want to be burned! Help be to love you by living righteously!

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Hebrews 12:12-17: “Strengthen Your Weak Knees”

Read: Hebrews 12:12-17

The author of Hebrews has just encouraged his readers to shed sin and focus on Jesus. Coming off of this, he gives a great “therefore” talking about the implication of what he has just said concerning the cloud, race, and fatherly discipline metaphors. First, he encourages his readers to be “healed” rather than have what is “lame” be put out of joint. In the context, the author here is probably talking metaphorically again about the weak areas of one’s life, encouraging them to strengthen these areas so theses areas will not become problem areas later on. Second, he encourages his readers to strive for peace with everyone and holiness. The implication here is that without holiness no one will see the Lord. The author here seems to have a concern for the outsiders looking in, namely those who are not believers yet. For this reason, he wants those who are believers to be at peace with nonbelievers and to live in a way that his holy so the outsiders can see the Lord in through the believers. In regards to holiness, the author lists three things he wants his readers to do: see to that no one fails to receive the grace of God, that there be no “root of bitterness” among them that would “defile” them, and that there be no sexual immorality or “godlessness” (“godlessness” Gk: “bébēlos” here isn’t talking about lack of belief, rather lack of piety – the antithesis of respect for God.)

In regards to this, the author of Hebrews draws from the Old Testament concerning Esau, the eldest son of Isaac and brother of Jacob. Esau notoriously and foolishly sold his birthright – that is his blessing from his father as the oldest son – for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:29-34). In doing so, Jacob received the blessing instead. When Esau realized what he had done, it was too late. His actions couldn’t be undone. He wanted to turn back his decision (that is “repent”) but he couldn’t. The relationships here were not damaged beyond repair. Jacob and Esau eventually reconciled (Genesis 33), but nevertheless what had been done could not be undone.

The admonitions to strengthen weak areas and to be found blameless speak to the importance of holy living. Many Christians are just one sin away from a something that could forever damage their witness as a follower of Jesus. Just about everyone could name some high profile minister whose moral failure sent his ministry into a tailspin. But being low profile doesn’t make one immune. A fit of rage at the wrong could cost one a job. One too many drinks could be the difference between the life and death of another person. But even so, the slow fade caused by the cancerous effects of a single, seemingly small sin could have last effects. Trading the blessings of Christ for short lived satisfaction is foolish and it is most certainly a hindrance rather than a help to the gospel.  Christians would be wise to identify areas of weakness and strengthen these areas before the weakness turns into a debilitating sin.

Lord, Help me to know where I am weak so that by your help I may be made strong.

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Hebrews 12:1-11: Don’t Give Up!

Read: Hebrews 12:1-11

Faith is momentous and the quintessential trait of every person listed in or alluded to in Hebrews chapter 11. Having made his case for faith, the author of Hebrews breaks away from making a theological point to making some points of application, and he does so with the use of three different metaphors.

First, the author of Hebrews says that a “cloud” of witnesses surrounds believers.  The imagery here suggests a fog so thick fog such that one cannot tell which way he is going. In a manner of speaking, the author is trying to show his readers that the witness of God working in the lives of the faithful is undeniable – there’s no escaping it. This thick cloud of witnesses serves as a point of encouragement to the readers, knowing that God is faithful to those with faith.

Second, the author of Hebrews follows the cloud metaphor with a metaphor from racing. He likens the Christian life to a long distance race. First, runners should lighten themselves. He says to his reader that they should shed their sin that gets in the way perusing Jesus as a runner discards excess baggage before running a race. Second, he calls Jesus the “author” and “perferter” of the faith. In keeping with the race metaphor, Jesus is the “leader” and “finisher” of the race of faith. The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as enduring the cross and its shame for the Joy set before him and he is now seated, high and exalted. The author is encouraging his readers to look to Jesus as the exemplar runner. But even so, his readers have not shed blood in their struggle against sin as Jesus did. The Apostle Paul uses the race metaphor elsewhere in scripture in a similar manner. He says that runners run to receive a prize and they do so by maintaining a since of self control so that they would not become disqualified from the race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). At the end of his life, he says that he has run the race such that he will receive a prize when he departs from the earth to be with God (2 Timothy 4:6-8). The manner in which one runs the race is important so that one can be as the exemplar runner, namely Jesus.

Third, the author of Hebrews likens the hardship that his readers are enduring to the sort of discipline a father gives his children. He draws on an Old Testament quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12. Proverbs 3 is part of a larger pericope of scripture exonerating the value of wisdom, particularly from one’s father and mother. The author of Hebrews is invoking this passage to show that God does indeed use the difficulties in life to hone one’s faith, and it is a blessing to receive such discipline. The author notes that it results in a “fruit” of righteousness, and even more so what Paul called a “crown of righteousness” that one receives as a reward from God.

The question for Christians is not if hardship will come, rather when hardship will come. When it does, Christians are often tempted to retreat back into sin and give up. But rather than give up, Christians can be reminded of the cloud of testimonies of so many others who have remained faithful. In doing so, this can help Christians not to give up, rather to continuously fix their eyes on Jesus, not the problems of life and look on hardship as an opportunity to be blessed by God rather than feel cursed by God. In the end, a reward of righteousness will be the prize!

Lord, rather than giving up, I want to be encouraged to run with endurance so I might be blessed!

Help me to do just this!