Archive for January, 2008
The story of the great miraculous catch of fish has special meaning to me. When I first started rehearsing for “The Rock & The Rabbi” I was told the story of how that show came about. The short version is: Gary Richardson was sitting in a restaurant talking with some of his friends when one of them mentioned to Gary that there were actually two miraculous catches of fish. They checked it out and sure enough, there’s this one, and one at the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth. If you never read with chronology in mind, you might miss it. So, the framework of the show was born, as the show starts with this catch of fish and ends with the other.
Can you imagine being there that morning? The guys had been out fishing all night and hadn’t caught anything. Defeated, they head back for shore only to find Jesus teaching to a huge crowd of people. I love how it plays out after Jesus finishes what he has to tell the crowd. He tells Peter to get back in the boats because they were all going fishing again! I love Peter’s response:
5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, we’ll try again.”
That’s just like Jesus – always using the unlikely or seemingly insignificant to frame up His most amazing teaching moments. I wish I could train myself to listen to His still, small voice more often. I have a feeling I miss out on many teaching moments.
The other thing that stands out in this chapter is in verse 39:
39 But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the fresh and the new. ‘The old is better,’ they say.”
I had to get this from my commentary (Life Application New Testament Commentary), but it’s good.
The Christian church was never meant to be a sect or adaptation of Judaism. Instead, Christ fulfills the intent of the Old Testament Scripture. The law reveals the nature and will of God; Jesus Christ reveals the nature and will of God. But while the law could only point out sin and condemn people, Jesus Christ gave His life to bring forgiveness of sin and salvation. These parables speak of Jesus’ entire mission and the new era He inaugurated by His entrance into human history.
The new wine was the newness of the gospel as exemplified in the person of Jesus Christ. Like old wineskins, the Pharisees and indeed the entire religious system of Judaism had become too rigid to accept Jesus who could not be contained in their traditions or rules. Their understanding of faithfulness to the law had become unsuitable for the fresh, dynamic power of Christ’s message. They were the self-appointed guardians of the “old garment” and the “old wineskins.”
Change is never easy. Our very nature is comfortable with the known. The encouragement today is to step out into the unknown – take an adventure. Where’s your adventure: forgiveness? witnessing? purity? dBrag? excellence at work? excellence as a husband or father?
Chapter 4 of the gospel of Luke contains many famous passages: the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, the casting out of the demon in the man from Capernaum and the healing of Simon/Peter’s mother-in-law (which is one of my favorite scenes from the musical, “The Rock & The Rabbi”).
As I read through the chapter, the part that stuck out to me was where Jesus had just returned from 40 days in the wilderness, having been tempted three times by the Devil (see verses 1-13). Look at the passage from the NLT:
14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Soon he became well known throughout the surrounding country. 15 He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll containing the messages of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him, and he unrolled the scroll to the place where it says: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors, 19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” 20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. Everyone in the synagogue stared at him intently. 21 Then he said, “This Scripture has come true today before your very eyes!” 22 All who were there spoke well of him and were amazed by the gracious words that fell from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
Jesus grew up in Galilee, in the village of Nazareth. But today – everything was different. Jesus, now super-charged with the power of the Holy Spirit, had been given the green light. He could now start his ministry years. His time finally had come.
Jesus went to the synagogue, “as usual”, to read the Scriptures. He read a passage from Isaiah (61:1-2). Imagine being one of the people Jesus grew up with. Perhaps you’d have seen him fall and scrape his knee. Perhaps you’d have played tag in the field with him. You’d surely have sat and listened to him as he taught from the Scriptures – he was well-known for that. But today, something was different.
Jesus goes on:
23 Then he said, “Probably you will quote me that proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself’ – meaning, ‘Why don’t you do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum?’ 24 But the truth is, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. 25 “Certainly there were many widows in Israel who needed help in Elijah’s time, when there was no rain for three and a half years and hunger stalked the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a widow of Zarephath – a foreigner in the land of Sidon. 27 Or think of the prophet Elisha, who healed Naaman, a Syrian, rather than the many lepers in Israel who needed help.”
He called it. Jesus said, “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” And then it happened. The people who heard him, who just seconds before were “amazed by Jesus’ gracious words” were now so enraged they tried to kill him. Look:
28 When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. 29 Jumping up, they mobbed him and took him to the edge of the hill on which the city was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, 30 but he slipped away through the crowd and left them.
If you think about it, this was no surprise to Jesus. He was very easily able to slip away because his time had finally come. They clearly did not understand who Jesus was, as evidenced by the remark, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” They knew of his miracles – as Jesus mentioned his experience at Capernaum. They should have recognized him as divine and holy. They knew he was an extraordinary teacher with uncommon ability to explain the Scriptures. They should have recognized him as Messiah. But when confronted with the reality that this son of a carpenter may actually be who the nation of Israel had been longing for for centuries, they could not accept it. When they suddenly realized what he was saying, they rejected his message. They rejected him. They rejected grace and salvation.
Jesus had the power to wipe out the entire lot of them, along with their little village. But – the ministry of grace begins instead. His time had finally come.
What will you do with his message? What will you do with Jesus? Will you reject the salvation or will you accept that He is the only way to The Father?
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7 Here is a sample of John’s preaching to the crowds that came for baptism: “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming judgment? 8 Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say, ‘We’re safe – we’re the descendants of Abraham.’ That proves nothing. God can change these stones here into children of Abraham. 9 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever your roots. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
Can you imagine words like this being preached today?
I’m not sure about your world, but in mine I’ve been so busy trying to figure out how to deliver the gospel message in a “relevant” and “edgy” way; a way that won’t “offend” or “turn off” those who are hearing it for the first time.
Consider the context in this sample of John’s preaching we’re given. Jesus had yet to start his public ministry – so very few (if any) had heard the gospel. So – everyone can be considered a “seeker.” Yet, John is out there with “fire and brimstone”, not holding back, telling people God’s ax of judgement is poised, ready to sever the roots of any who do not produce good fruit. Hardly a “seeker-sensitive” service, I’d say.
Then, the questions to John:
10 The crowd asked, “What should we do?” 11 John replied, “If you have two coats, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” 12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 “Show your honesty,” he replied. “Make sure you collect no more taxes than the Roman government requires you to.” 14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t extort money, and don’t accuse people of things you know they didn’t do. And be content with your pay.”
No fancy story, no 3-point sermon with clever words that all begin with the letter “p”, no worship songs to “soften their hearts and prepare them to receive the sermon”, no video clips of secular movies “designed to tie in a person’s real-world experiences and give them a handle to hold so they can relate to what’s being said”.
Just plain, honest truth.
I think people just want the truth.
Do you remember last October when Willow Creek Church rocked the entire “seeker-sensitive” movement when they announced that they had been wrong in their approach? Pastor Bill Hybles issued this statement: “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have … taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”
Just plain, honest truth.
Where is our voice in the wilderness today? Who will tell people they need to stop sinning – plain and simple. Who will tell them they need to read their Bible and become disciplined to learn God’s Word? Where will our disciples come from? How will we tell the truth?
By the way, I do think that making worship services relevant and utilizing video and other tools to get the point across is very effective and should be pursued with excellence. However, God is impressing upon me the responsibility we have as church leaders to tell the truth – not some watered-down, feel-good, mamby-pamby gospel – the truth!
What is God telling you?
I love Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. This time I had a wider perspective as I read about others in the story that were fortunate enough to have seen or heard about baby Jesus or young Jesus.
I see Simeon, who had been promised that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
I see Anna, the aged prophetess who lived in the Temple day and night.
I see the religious teachers in the Temple sitting with Jesus, amazed by His depth of knowledge and understanding – filled with wisdom beyond His years.
These people seemed to understand.
Then I see how frantic Jesus’ mother & father were when they finally found Jesus after 3 days in the Temple. Verse 50 puzzled me: “But they didn’t understand what He meant.”
All these other people, Simeon, Anna, the teachers, understood who He was. It seems like His own parents did not yet understand.
Having grown up in the church all my life – I could say the same thing for most of my life. I was around Him, lived in a Christian home, always served at a church most every time the doors were open. Yet, I can say that only recently have I begun to understand what Jesus is really all about. And, all credit to Him, who has allowed things to happen in my life to direct my focus His way instead of my own.
One other thing I notice about this chapter – it’s the “plain” people who got to experience Jesus. I know that the entire nation of Israel had been expecting the Messiah to come for centuries. But, they were waiting for a triumphal, kingly entrance – with all the fanfare and ceremony that would go along with a heavenly King coming to earth. Some still await His return.
Not that I had anything to do with it, but I’m happy to be plain ol’ eric, whom He called to be His. I am happy to know who He is, and I’m grateful to be able to experience all He has to offer. That’s my kind of King!
Many people think of the book of Luke when they think of the story of Jesus’ birth. Often chapter one gets looked over in attempt to jump right into “and it came about in those days that a census should be taken…”
I noticed a few interesting things as I cruised through Luke chapter one this time.
1) Luke writes this gospel to a friend, Theophilus – but starts with “most honorable” as a title. We don’t know too much about this friend of Luke’s, but his name means “friend of God.” Many believe this to mean that the gospel of Luke was written to those who call themselves friends of God.
2) The same angel, Gabriel (who we’re familiar with his visit to Mary) came to a Jewish priest named Zechariah. Zech’s wife was barren. Ol’ Zech was serving in the temple because his order was on duty that week and he was chosen by lot to be the one to go in and burn incense. Suddenly Gabriel is in the temple, right beside the incense altar. Zech freaks out but Gabriel tells him not to be afraid. Gabriel goes on to say that Zech’s gonna be a daddy! And, to a very special boy – special to God. Zech sort of doubts so Gabriel speaks a lil’ mini-curse on him so he can’t speak until the baby is born (moral of story- always believe Gabriel when he tells you something).
3) I noticed later, when Gabriel visits Mary to tell her the other good news (that she’s also going to have a special baby), Mary also questions Gabriel. See verse 34:
34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.” 35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby born to you will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.
I guess it was okay for Mary – who would naturally have questions about being pregnant since she was a virgin – to question the message of Gabriel. Perhaps it was in the way she asked the question, whereas ol’ Zech may have copped an attitude with this messenger of God. Who knows?
4) Lastly, the other thing that caught my attention is how Gabriel also tells Mary that Elizabeth, her relative, was also going to have a baby (Elizabeth was already 6 months pregnant). Mary rushed to visit Elizabeth in Judea. When Mary spoke, Elizabeth’s baby (to be named John – as in “the baptist”) leaped within her. John, even as an unborn child, recognized the voice of the mother of God.
Lots of great stuff in this chapter.
It’s good to be back in God’s word.