Tag Archives: Gospel of Luke

The Poor in the Gospel of Luke – an addendum

A few years ago I did a blog series going through the gospel of Luke, discussing what it said to us about the poor (which can be found here). Having recently re-read this series as part of some sermon prep on the same theme, I found (with the help of a commentary) some important additions from chapter 7 of Luke.

John the Baptist is in prison, shortly to be beheaded, and he is having doubts. He knows he is the one who was to announce the coming of the Messiah and prepare the way for him, so he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is the one, or it there is another to come, presumably for his peace of mind. This is Jesus’ response.

21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Luke 7:21-23

“Good news is proclaimed to the poor.” A question here would be to ask, who is the poor? Another would be, why is this incident placed here in the gospel? Just before we have two accounts of miracles by Jesus. The first is the centurion who comes to Jesus asking him to heal his servant (7:1-10). He exhibits his faith by saying to Jesus “Just say the word and by servant will be healed.” Following that is the account of jesus raising the dead son of a widow, brought back to life off his funeral bier (7:11-16). After the incident with John the Baptist’s disciples, we have the description of the Jesus having dinner at a Pharisee’s house when a woman who “had lived a sinful life” came in, began crying over Jesus feet and then poured expensive perfume over them – during the meal! (7:36-50)

It is well known that Jesus called to him those who were on the edge of society. In this chapter, Michael Wilcock (from the BST commentary) argues that all the recipients of Jesus grace in these accounts were poor in some way. The centurion was a Roman, and whilst probably materially well-off, he wouldn’t normally have had access to the synagogue, the temple, or Israel’s God. In this sense he was socially poor as he was from the wrong ‘tribe’. The widow was facing material hardship. Her husband had already died at some point in the past, leaving only her son to be a wage earner. In the days before social welfare, families would have been the last line of support before financial hardship, and now her son has died too. Jesus not only reaches into her grief but alleviates her poverty at the same time.

In the final passage, the ‘sinful woman’ was spiritually poor. By being labeled “sinful”, she would have been on the edge of society, and most respectable people would have avoided her. She cries over Jesus’ feet and Jesus proclaims her sins forgiven, and declares “Your faith has saved you”.

So we have the socially poor, materially poor, and spiritually poor all encountering the Kingdom of God in Jesus, with the latter being declared ‘saved’. This reminds me of one of the Lukan Beatitudes: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (6:20). Jesus’ understanding of the word ‘poor’ goes beyond the material sense that we often associate it with.

Here and elsewhere, Jesus talks about “preaching” or “or claiming” good news to the poor. Yet it is evident from his actions that this also involved practical help. The Kingdom of God comes where gospel words are supported by actions, and actions by words.

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Circumstances

amsterdam“There but for the grace of God go I” – a quote usually attributed to the 16th Century reformer, John Bradford.

The realisation that I could easily be in anyone else’s position, and they could be in mine, is a profound one. A different set of circumstances, as different family background, new experiences, and the whole course of life and framework for actions can be radically different. My wife has a powerful story about a time she was working for a Christian project in Amsterdam, including amongst the prostitutes, when she recognised the shared humanity between herself and those she was living and working around.  Compassion sees past the labels we put on people to the place where we could easily see ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It recognises a shared humanity.

We also have a parable where a respectable man is praying alongside another (the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18). The first man raises his eyes to heaven and prays, “Thank you that I am not like the other man, that I’m respectable and I give away a tenth of my income”. The second cannot bring himself to look up to heaven, and simply mutters to god “Have mercy on me, a sinner”. The parable goes on to say that it is the second man, the ‘unrespectable’ one who goes home in good standing with God.

The error the first man made was to think himself above the second. It is right to thank God for the good things we may have been given, but the comparison he made showed what he really thought of himself and of the other man. The compassionate person gets alongside those who are suffering, unrespectable, or simply those who are ‘not like us’. They attempt to understand and alleviate the situation without the element of superiority, seeing the person rather than the situation or label. After all, ‘they’ could so easily have been ‘us’ if not for a different set of circumstances.

What does Jesus say about manhood? (in Luke’s gospel)

A while ago I started reading through the Gospel of Luke to see what Jesus said specifically to men and I have written a couple of posts on it. I wanted to see if Jesus gave a specific theology of manhood. Surprisingly, (and maybe the reason why I didn’t finish the series earlier), Jesus says relatively little directly on the subject. (I’m coming back to it because I have a talk to give on the subject!). He doesn’t come out with great proclamations “Men, act like this” or “Women, act like that”. He does, however say things to individual men that can be applied to all of us (to men and women) and to individual women which also apply to men. And of course, we can take his example as the perfect human, as Mark Driscoll outlines here.

I covered chapters 1-3 and 4-8 in previous posts. The rest of the book has more indirect teaching on attitudes which can apply to men and to women. From these, I would say that Biblical manhood is less about becoming a ‘real man’ whatever that might mean, and more about becoming a real disciple.

Here are a couple of passages from Luke 9 onwards that struck me as being relevant, but they are far from being an exhaustive list.

From chapter 12, I was struck by the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). The man stored away his wealth in barns and had so much wealth that he decided to make bigger barns. It reminded  me of great natural disasters, such as the earthquakes in New Zealand and the Tsunami and quake in Japan last year. They are both wealthy countries which had a lot of devastation from the disasters. The people who died were no more or less deserving of their fate than anyone else (cf. Tower of Siloam Luke 13:4) and they were going about their lives in a normal way when devastation struck. Many lost their lives, many more lost everything they had. Wealth is worth surprisingly little in this life.

Later (Luke 20), Jesus is teaching and some teachers of the law wanted to catch him out in what he said. So they sent people to ask a question that might get him into trouble. “Is it right for us [Jews] to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”. If he said ‘Yes’, the Jews would be upset as they resented the Roman presence as an occupying force. If he said ‘No’ they could legitimately take him to the governors under the charge of undermining the authorities.

To answer, Jesus asks the poser of the question for a Denarius (a coin) and notes that Caesar’s image is on the coin, much like the Queen’s profile is on our coins today. He then remarks “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25). The unspoken question that follows is “Who’s image in on you?”. Every Jew would know that they are made in the image of God, and that if they owe the coin to Caesar, they owe their life to God. This is a call to close discipleship once again, and is applicable to men and to women.

To conclude, from my first post (chapters 1-3) we have a call to commitment to God and to your family, bringing them up in the way of God.

From my second (chapters 4-8)  we have an exhortation to work hard, be honest in what you do, and content in what you have. We can bring God’s wisdom and attitude into everything we do, not leaving him at the door. Again from Jesus’ interactions with the man who was healed of demon possession, there is a call to be committed to family by being there for them and representing Jesus in the place where you are.

And in this post, the emphasis of the passages seems to be about allegiance – to God above everything else.

Biblical manhood, is about biblical discipleship. Becoming fully human in God is emphasised more than trying to match up to a version of manhood or womanhood.

Men in Luke 4-8 – be content and speak about God

The second of my posts looking at what the Luke’s gospel to men, using William Hendriksen’s commentary as a guide. There are three short passages that jump out at me today. The first is from John the Baptist’s preaching whilst he was baptising in the wilderness. He had called people to repentance and with repentance comes a desire to live better.

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:10-14)

Three groups of people come: the crowd (presumably men and women), tax collectors (men only) and soldiers (men only). John’s first answer is a general one that applies to all – share your food and your clothes with those who do not have them. This is an instruction to exercise Christian love. Tax collectors were notorious for adding a little ‘bonus’ on top of their basic pay by collecting more money from the people than they were supposed to and keeping the excess. Their consciences were pricked and the instruction is to do their jobs honestly and fairly – for them this will be part of ‘producing fruit in keeping with repentance’ (Luke 3:8). The soldiers were also (according to Hendriksen) used to engaging in extra unsanctioned activities for more pay – extorting from others. They are told to be content with what they get.

None of these things mean that we shouldn’t apply for better jobs or make sure that our families are provided for, but it simply means that we trust God and find our purpose, meaning and contentment in him who provides. Paul was able to say that he “knew the secret of being content in every situation” (Phil 4:12 – and he often faced difficulties) because of the trust he had in God to provide.

The second passage concerns the calling of the first disciples – fishermen Simon, James and John.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. (Luke 5:4-7)

The thing that struck me here is that Jesus, a carpenter, tells fisherman how to do their jobs. Simon and co. had already been out all night (the best time for catching fish) and caught little. now Jesus tells them to put out again in the middle of the day. With stuttering faith, they agree and pull in a great catch. This says much about Jesus’ omniscience – he knew where the fish would be and was happy to direct the fishermen to the right place. The application for Christians (men and women) is ‘do we take jesus into our workplaces?’. He will not always guarantee us worldy success through it, but I’m certain that we will understand God and his priorities more.

Finally, just a short note on the man who was demon possessed by Legion. After having been miraculously cured by Jesus, he begs Jesus to follow him:

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:38-39)

This man’s place, as is the place of most of us, is based at home, speaking about the things that God had done for him. In fact, he did even better as he spoke about Jesus all over town, not just in his home. The calling for most men is to acknowledge and witness to Jesus in the place where they are. To begin, we need to be aware of what God is doing in our lives. For most of us, it is less dramatic but no less praiseworthy than that of the former demon-possessed man.

Men in Luke 1-3 – Turn the hearts of the parents to their children

I’ve decided to start reading chunks of the Bible looking to see what it says about a particular topic. As I’ve had an interest in in male roles and responsibilities I thought I’d start there, beginning with the Gospel of Luke. There are some passages which address the topic distinctly, which I shall get to, but there are also passing references to male responsibilities throughout. Today I read chapters 1-3. The Angel Gabriel is speaking to Zechariah in the temple telling him that his wife, Elizabeth, will become pregnant with a child who will be John the Baptist.

And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:17)

John will be the new Elijah, preparing the way for the Lord to come in his cousin Jesus. Through John’s work, the hearts of the parents will return to their children and people will turn to righteousness, ready for Jesus’ coming. What does it mean for the hearts of parents to return to their children? Gabriel repeats what the Lord said through the prophet Malachi. (Mal 4:4-5)

Some commentators have suggested that it isn’t to do with natural parents, but with spiritual parents. After Jesus the spiritual parents – the patriarchs of Israel –  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will return to look kindly upon their child, Israel. This is not a good interpretation and gives the impression that our forbears are simply interested spectators of what is going on here on earth and doesn’t fit with the teaching of other parts of scripture on this.

A more likely interpretation is the more literal reading – actual parents.

As a result of mixed marriages (Mal 2:11) and easy divorce (Mal 2:14) family relationships have been disrupted. (William Hendricksen, Luke)

Hearing of God’s message through John and Jesus, and through the gospel preached throughout the ages causes hearts to be changed. Family life which can often be upset by separation or lack of interest can be reinvigorated. And when we have committed spouses and parents we get strong families, well adjusted children and a cohesive society. The message for men here is, as you hear the gospel, allow your hearts to be changed and committed to your family.

Why is this a preparation for the Lord? (Luke 1:17). Does the commitment of parents to children not echo the commitment of a covenant God to his people, and therefore witness to it? In fact, does it not echo the interconnected relationships of Father, Son and Spirit? The act of committing allows us to experience something of the love of God for us and to understand it for ourselves. As we love our children, God loves us – even more so. As we provide for our famlies, God provides for us. As we teach our children how to live, God does so for us.

How do we get into heaven?

Following the recent discussions about Rob Bell’s orthodoxy and his view of hell and salvation, it is worth repeating an illustration that Rob once used in one of his sermons on Philippians a couple of years ago. A lot of the discussion is surrounding who is right and who is wrong – what is sound theology and what is heresy. Good theology is important, but here is a warning about getting our priorities right when it comes to faith and doctrine.

The entrance to heaven is not like that. We do not simply recite the right answers to be granted safe passage into the afterlife. Peter is not standing at the pearly gates giving us a pop quiz. It is about how we live and who we live for. Simple head knowledge is not enough.

Some relevant passages which illustrate the believing and doing aspect of faith:

And while we’re about it, here’s a sermon I preached a year or so ago on that James passage.

Martin Luther King on nations coming back to God

I’ve just been reading Martin Luther King’s ‘The Measure of a Man’. In it, King mentions the story of the prodigal son, in which a son demands his inheritance from his fathers estate even though his father is still alive, leaves home, squanders the money and comes home begging for forgiveness. The father welcomes him home as a son who “was dead but is now alive” and before the son can even ask for forgiveness, he is embraces by his loving father. Martin Luther King responds to this story in applying it to the civil rights issues of his day:

This is the glory of our religion: that when man decides to rise up from his mistakes, from his sin, from his evil, there is a loving God saying, ‘Come home, I still love you’…

It seems that I can hear a voice saying to America: “You started out right. You wrote in your Declaration of Independence that ‘all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ But America, you strayed away from that sublime principle. You left the house of your great heritage and strayed away into a far country of segregation and discrimination. You have trampled over sixteen million of your brothers. You have deprived them of the basic goods of life You have taken away from them their self respect and their sense of dignity. You have treated them as if they were things rather than persons. Because of this a famine has broken out in your land. In the midst of all your material wealth, you are spiritually and morally poverty-stricken, unable to speak to the conscience of this world. America, in the famine situation, if you will come to yourself and rise up ad decide to come back home, I will take you in, for you are made for something high and something noble and something good.” (p19-20)

This applied very clearly to the civil rights movement of MLK’s day. I wonder how it applies to the western world today. Perhaps God sees the material wealth of the West and compares it to the poverty of the developing world and weeps for them. Perhaps he sees that the current global food crisis id driven by the western worlds desire for ever cheaper material goods and ever cheaper oil. Perhaps he sees what we are doing to His environment, again due to the desire for economic success. Perhaps there are many more… What would he have us do?

I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of each of these situations or how they can be fixed, but I’m sure God grieves over them.