Confrontation about Fasting (Luke 5:33-39)

“We’ve never done it that way before.”

This is the cry of those who are unwilling to change, those who like things just the way they are.

That would be a description of the Pharisees and religious leadership in Israel at the time of Jesus. Life was good. They were in charge. They were successful and revered. Why change anything?

This passage today about a confrontation of words between these Jewish leaders and Jesus likely did not happen right on the heels of the previous passage about Levi. Rather, Luke probably includes it at this juncture to continue the point he was introducing about the differences that would fester ultimately into all that would take Christ to the cross.

The accusation is that the followers of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees were very strict about fasting and praying. By comparison, the disciples of Jesus seemed to be always eating and drinking, hence not truly godly or spiritual or righteous (also casting shame upon their leader).

Jesus will answer by saying that the old ways, from before his coming, and his way as the Messianic King simply cannot mix. It was truly an apples and oranges kind of thing. He uses three illustrations:

First, when the friends of a bridegroom are with him, that is not a time of fasting, but of rejoicing.

Secondly, a patch of new cloth that is yet to shrink would not be wise to put on an already-shrunken piece of cloth. It does not match, and when it shrinks it will rip an even larger hole in the older garment.

Thirdly, when new wine is put into old skins, the fermenting will cause it to expand, burst the skins, and all will be lost. The application is that a new time has come (pictured by new wine in new wineskins), but the Pharisees are like people who will only be happy with the same old wine.

The fisherman disciples, by following Jesus, would be doing something beyond just catching fish, they would be catching souls for the kingdom. Levi, by following Jesus, would be enriched and fulfilled in ways that far exceed the accumulation of wealth in this temporal world. But the Pharisees, by not following and accepting Jesus, would be like folks merely satisfied with old, old wine.

This is some of the beginning teaching that speaks of one of the biggest ideas of them all in terms of following Christ. To trust Jesus and to go on with him will result in finding true wealth and enduring satisfaction in this life and the next. In this path is reward that never perishes.

The enigma is that by giving up and losing all, one truly gains everything. The disciples chose wisely, the Pharisees chose poorly. How are you choosing?

Luke 5:33 – They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”

34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”

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Eating with Sinners, Calling of Levi (Luke 5:27-32)

Perhaps you have heard someone say when making a prediction, “I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but I predict that ________.”  I like to embellish that by saying, “I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, and I work for a non-profit organization, but I predict that _______”  That’s actually hilarious in my estimation, but most people don’t laugh when I say it. They need to lighten up!

Today, we talk about tax collectors. I’m not a tax collector, but I am the son and the grandson of tax collectors. It’s true. Both my father and his father before him served in our rural New Jersey township as the local property tax collectors (for over 40 years total). It was an elected position and a part-time job. What it meant at that time is that people came to our house to pay their taxes, most often in cash. On an average day, we probably had six or seven people knock at the door and come inside to make payments. They would come during dinner, late at night, early in the morning … you never knew when someone would show up. And they would frequently sit for long periods of time and complain about what they had to pay. My father tried to tell them that he had nothing to do with assessing the amounts due, he was simply the guy who collected and did the accounting. But that didn’t often stop the grousing.

In the times of Jesus’ sojourn on earth, tax collectors worked as agents of the Roman government. The Romans had an amount they expected to receive, and tax collectors were well-known to add their own personal fees and additions to that figure. The Romans didn’t care, and the tax collector had the authority of Rome behind their extortion. It was quite a racket and scam! Tax collectors were seen as the worst of the worst in terms of selling out to the gentiles, thereby being the greatest of sinners. Frankly, that viewpoint was a supportable position in many ways.

So Levi (Matthew) is not an expected type of person who would identify closely with a genuine religious teacher by following him as a disciple. How would you react if on Sunday I introduced a known drug dealer in Hagerstown as having come to know the Lord, with me announcing also that he was going to be joining the elder board of the church next week?

The Pharisees and teachers would never associate with such a person, and they would be very confident in the purity of their position. So seeing Jesus attending a dinner at the home of Levi, along with his extortionist associates, was more than they could accept. This was clearly wrong, as they voiced their opposition to the disciples of Jesus.

And as so often happened, Jesus dropped them with one brief utterance… “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Let’s fill that out by adding all of the inferences“It is not (those who are self-deceived into thinking they are) healthy who need a doctor, but (those who internally understand and admit that they are) sick. 32 I have not come to call the (ones who arrogantly believe themselves to be) righteous, but (those who know within themselves that they are hopeless) sinners to repentance.”

This pattern of Jesus’ association with down-and-outers has always been a challenge for us to apply in our modern context. To what extent should we be willing to be associated with people who have sinful patterns of life and who frequent untoward places with a sketchy environment? There is reason for certain cautions and considerations about propriety. But I’m pretty sure I can safely say that most of us have erred over the years of our faith by overly shying away from taking the gospel to people deeply engaged in the allures and darkness of this sinful world.

Many people from our church will soon be serving for our annual week at the REACH cold weather shelter for the homeless. And each year, many of our folks are surprised at the way they can serve and be a blessing by building a relationship with some of the most unfortunate and disenfranchised people imaginable.

Additionally, as many of you at TSF have heard me in recent months talking about a new partnership with multi-cultural, inner-city churches, this involvement will likely draw us into some closer ministry connections with people whom we may otherwise never meet or associate with. We will need wisdom, yet these people need Christ … desperately. Pray for us; serve with us. We might just see God use us to bring some “Levi” types of people into the Kingdom.

Luke 5:27 – After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Jesus Heals a Paralyzed Man (Luke 5:17-26)

We have been going through a challenging and unusual time within our church family. So many have suffered a number of difficult physical situations, from cancer diagnoses to a whole host of spinal and back issues, not to mention other besetting and even life-threatening conditions. It is bad enough to see people whom we love go through these complications in the modern era of medicine, let alone imagine how horrendous such medical issues would have been 2,000 years ago. Resources like Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center were not just an hour down the highway.

Along with seeing so many grave diagnoses, we must also be faithfully quick to say with praise and thanksgiving that we have witnessed a significant number of divine interventions, granting successes to medical efforts and applications. But 2,000 years ago, this would not have been at all common. People did not largely bounce back from series maladies … like paralysis, for example.

But along comes a religious teacher who has a growing reputation for healing people of terrible physical problems. It is almost too much to believe. Believing required the mental content that this man was more than just another man with great talent, he had to be directly divine.

Human ingenuity always amazes me, because I have so little of it when it comes to how to make practical hands-on things happen … like how to lower a paralyzed person through the roof of a house without him dropping and dying from a head injury.

OK… I debated about adding this story, but it actually is kinda funny. Over 20 years ago my father-in-law passed away in Texas, and after a memorial service at his church we had the task of taking his ashes back to their ranch to bury him at the place he had built into a masterpiece. The actual burial plan fell to me to facilitate!  You’ll probably be glad to hear at this point that I’ve never buried anyone before (or since). And this was kind of like burying a car battery in size, shape and weight. So I used a posthole digger to dig a hole in the soft East Texas sand – that part was easy to do. With two ropes crisscrossing under the urn, thus with four ends, I reasoned my brother-in-law and I could gently lower it into the hole with great dignity. After some appropriate words, we began the descent. Within a foot of lowering, a corner of the box caught upon the side of the hole, and it slipped off the ropes and hit the bottom with a loud “thump.”  I was terrified and devastated. The collection of about a dozen grandchildren all ran to look into the hole at what happened. The moment was salvaged by my mother-in-law breaking out into a laugh of hilarity. I wanted to say, “Sorry Roy for dropping you!”  But, I couldn’t. Having so often dropped the other end of the board when we were building something (he built our entire 2500’ square foot colonial home in New Jersey), he probably would have thought it appropriate that I dropped him into his grave.

Back to the story … fortunately, the paralytic’s friends were more capable than Roy’s son-in-law, as they removed some roof tiles and lowered their good buddy immediately in front of Jesus. What a statement of faith and devotion by all of them!

A part of this story that is often forgotten is that the immediate crowd who prevented the friends from a more standard meeting with Jesus was that there was a collection of top-dog religious folks from all over Galilee, Judea, AND Jerusalem. The reputation and legitimacy of this Jesus character needed to be investigated. This is the first occasion that Luke mentions this leadership in Israel – a theme that will be critical to understanding the presentation of Christ to the nation as their Messiah.

Obviously, the man needed healing from paralysis; but what does Jesus say first?  “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”  Hey, we’re talking medicine here, not religion!  So that was an odd first statement. And we may rightly note that it was uttered more for the onlookers than the paralytic, who along with his friends had definitive faith to do what they had done.

Jesus knew what the religious leaders were thinking … “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”   Jesus as much as says, “Yep, your answer in in your question… this is God who is forgiving and healing… just as the prophets said the Messiah would do.”

Saying something is easier than doing something. It is easier to say he could forgive sins, as how could that be proven? It was more difficult to heal, as the evidence – positive or negative – would be immediately evident. But the healing would give validation to the bold statement, and that was the point to be made. And the man is healed, picks up his mat and walks home. (And hopefully the friends repaired the roof.)

The people are amazed, evidently including even the leadership gurus. But that doesn’t mean they were willing to believe and follow and allow their cushy religious system to be entirely upset, as the rest of the story will prove.

Many people who are confronted with the truths of Scripture about the claims of Christ (along with the evidentiary changes that can be seen in the lives of people who have become his followers) remain unwilling to actually submit to Jesus and become a follower in faith. They cite the need for more evidence. And whereas it is reasonable to provide evidence and “give a reason for the hope” that we have, often the issue remains that, at the heart of the matter, they do not really want to believe and change their entire worldview and way of thinking about life. And for even those who have “entered in” through faith, there is often a reticence to completely yield and follow. More on that idea tomorrow …

Luke 5:17 – One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. 18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

Jesus Heals a Leper (Luke 5:12-16)

Following the ministry of Jesus can be a bit confusing. On one hand is his definitive effort to travel widely and preach the Kingdom of God to as many people as possible. Yet on the other hand we often see Jesus – as is today’s passage – putting a damper on spreading the news about healings, etc.

We can understand this by referencing the modern phrase – “needing to keep the main thing, the main thing.”

The healings were particularly dramatic, especially as in this case of the cleansing of a leper. The disease was dreadful, both in appearance and what it meant for the victim in terms of social and religious isolation. A sudden reversal of leprosy was indeed quite extraordinary and the stuff of exclamatory notice and reports near and far.

As we always recall about miracles, they were primarily for the purpose of authentication of the message and the messenger. The masses of the people in Israel, along with the religious leadership and hierarchy, were to see this display (along with hearing the teaching) and welcome the coming of the Messiah. Instead, the religious leaders resented the threat to their “deep state” authority, and the people were quick to envision Jesus as a political and social revolutionary. Christ needed to keep the focus on the main thing – the coming of the promised Kingdom by the acceptance of the promised King.

Of special note in this passage is that Jesus tells the leper to go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.  It was exceedingly unusual for the priests to see someone cleansed from leprosy. Such an event would/should signal that something extraordinary was happening.

The clamor for Jesus to heal and to do miraculous deeds spread, along with his fame. It was necessary for Christ to retreat from time to time from all of this – to refocus on the mission and to pray. And that is not a bad admonition for us to consider. Like Jesus, we need to retreat occasionally and refocus with God – to be sure that we are keeping the main thing, the main thing.

Luke 5:12 – While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.

14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

The Calling of the First Disciples (Luke 5:1-11)

Though it may be strange to have a passage on the calling of the disciples as a devotional on Christmas Day, actually it makes great sense. Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and we who have trusted in him have become his disciples. So the outgrowth of the incarnation is that Christ would accomplish his finished work and build his church. And we are his followers to serve by leaving behind the things of this world to be involved more importantly in Kingdom purposes.

This was clearly not the first time that Peter and Andrew had been with Jesus. Apparently they were essentially part-time followers, still being involved with their fishing enterprise. The crowd around Jesus had pressed in closely so that not all could hear. Therefore, Jesus gets into Simon Peter’s boat and goes out a bit from shore. Now he could be more easily seen, and his voice would echo off the water and be heard by all.

Hey, there’s nothing I’d rather do than go fishing after finishing a sermon!  (Actually, that’s not really true.)  Simon, being an experienced fisherman, knows that this is a futile effort at this time of day. They had fished all night without success, and there was no way the fish would be near enough to the surface in the daytime. But, to humor the carpenter dude whose preaching he loved, out they go into the deep waters of the lake.

Fish, fish, and more fish. The boats are sinking under the weight. This makes no sense naturally. It could only be because Jesus is there. The full realization of who Christ is lands fully on Simon, and he too begins to sink under the weight of his sinfulness.

Leaving the fish for someone else to deal with, they drop everything and follow Jesus. Can you do that? Could you do that? You are not likely to get called upon to drop it all, but you may be called upon to let go of more than is comfortable. But as I always say, the person is yet to be found who regrets giving up anything to follow the Lord. God is never in debt to us.

Luke 5:1 – One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, [Sea of Galilee] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

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.

8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Jesus Heals Many People (Luke 4:38-44)

If you are an avid Baltimore Orioles fan right now, you are watching and waiting to see what happens with third baseman Manny Machado. He is without doubt one of the top five players in all of baseball, both offensively and defensively. So he is an immensely valuable resource for the franchise. But Manny is likely playing in his final year with Baltimore, as he will become a free agent after this season. It is unlikely that the Orioles will be able to pay him the salary he will get somewhere else, so, should they trade him now and get something back, or get one more year of service from him? It’s all about what the Orioles can get from him. He is liked by the fanbase because of what he does and what he brings to the team.

That is somewhat how Jesus was seen in Galilee and by the masses of Jewish people at this time and throughout his brief ministry years. They liked what he did – the healings, the feedings, the rhetoric. And in our passage today we see him performing healings (including the mother-in-law of Simon Peter) and casting out demons. This is a great guy to have around!

But Jesus retreats to a solitary place, obviously packing his bags to move on to preach the good news in other towns and cities. The people want to hang onto him; they don’t want him to leave them and take his valuable talents with him. Surely some were thinking, “Just about the time he leaves town and can’t be located, I’ll get sick and need to be healed!”

Borrowing from later in the life story, the disciples have the same categories of fears and worries when they hear Jesus speaking about how he will be leaving them. And to comfort them – not that they understood it at the time – he tells them that a greater personal resource is coming in his place. The Holy Spirit would not only be WITH them, but would be IN them.

So our position as post-Pentecost, church age believers today is actually better than what the disciples had by merely being WITH Jesus, as cool as that would be!  Think about that!

But think about this also: We can be like the people of Capernaum, even with the Spirit living in us. Too often we look at our relationship with Jesus as only about what he can do for us. It is a “what have you done for me lately” attitude that we can develop. But as with the Capernaumites (I just made up that word), the picture is bigger. It is not just about what is God doing for me today in meeting my comfort needs. It might be to consider what God is doing in me as I endure through suffering. It might be that I need to consider about others beyond myself and my context who have greater needs. And it is surely about building THE KINGDOM and not just about my fiefdom. Be big. Think big.

(Something that won’t be as big or long will be the next set of devotionals over the busy Christmas season. We’ll get in, hit the big idea, and get out!)

Luke 4:38 – Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 39 So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

40 At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. 41 Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.

42 At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 44 And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

Jesus Demonstrates Authority (Luke 4:31-37)

Have you ever been to a conference, seminar or convention with endless speakers in plenary and breakout sessions? On and on they go, and you feel almost like you need to go fake your own death to get away from it? But then one person speaks that suddenly catches everyone’s attention – a presenter with a commanding presence and content that makes more sense than everyone else combined. You are amazed.

That is how it was for the people who heard Jesus speak in the synagogues of Galilee. Years of speakers had droned on and on about biblical themes of Israel and the Messiah, maybe much of it even being the truth. But Jesus had a special presence and genuine authority about this speaking that left the people “amazed” – a very colorful Greek word that means to be essentially knocked out of your senses. We might say “blown away.”  Or use something like that great British word – “gobsmacked.”

The text today that speaks of this experience occurs in the city of Capernaum. This essentially became Jesus’ hometown and center of operation, having been rejected entirely in Nazareth. Capernaum was also the home of Peter and Andrew.

But to demonstrate that Jesus was more than just a great talker whose words had a ring of authority, miracles gave additional proof that he was the Christ, the Son of God. This miracle of casting out a demon is the first extraordinary event recorded by Luke. In total, it is the third of Jesus’ recorded miracles, the first two (water to wine / healing an official’s son) were recorded only in the book of John.

The demon knows exactly who Jesus is. Again, speaking of his “authority,” Luke records how Jesus drove the demon out of this man who was clearly possessed.

Throughout all of the gospel accounts, Jesus encountered many demons that he commanded to leave various people. The presence of demonically possessed people was apparently not rare in Israel at the time. That might strike we who live in the modern, western world as rather odd. In fact, it is not rare or unusual. Much of the rest of the world lives today in the midst of such oppression. I know more than a few missionaries who experience this on a regular basis, but who don’t talk that much about it on furloughs, knowing that the folks back here at home won’t understand their ministry context and receive these stories without skepticism.

It is not that there is less Satanic activity in our context and culture, it is rather that the Evil One is able to accomplish more in our modern day by subtle means than by overt operations. One of the primary descriptors of Satan is that he is the great deceiver. He operates often with the appearance of an angel of light, rather than of his true realm of darkness. Paul says we should not be surprised or unaware of his schemes.

This is all to say that we need Christ’s authority. We have that primarily in the completed Word of God. We have it through the resource of the Holy Spirit living within us and the authority that brings. Our need is to remain plugged into this power source and to not trust our own resources. In this way, our words and actions are not empty and vain, they are the stuff of authority from the kingdom of light.

Luke 4:31 – Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. 32 They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.

33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34 “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

35 “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” 37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.

The Temptations of Jesus (Luke 4:1-13)

(This devotional failed to post on Tuesday as scheduled.)

Many years ago while making some remarks prior to a communion observance, I spoke something about the temptation of Christ and about the nature of Jesus as the divine Son. I phrased the question, “Was Jesus able to not sin, or was he not able to sin?”  One of the leading men of the church told me afterward that it caused his brain to go into academic ponderings to the extent that he actually lost focus on the communion time.

Yes, this passage about the temptations of Jesus has been one of the richer passages in terms of stimulating theological debate. If Jesus was perfect, though human, and not capable of sinning, what does that say about the genuine nature of the temptation?  I read where one writer said it this way, “Is it possible to attempt the impossible? Well, yes. A rowboat can attack a battleship.”

Though there is merit in theological debate that causes us to refine and delineate our thinking and depth of understanding, I often lose interest in such … even more as the years go by. And for the purposes of a devotional, let us move to the most salient point of them all, and that is to affirm that Jesus DID NOT sin. The purposes of the temptations were not to see if Jesus would fail, but to demonstrate that he did not sin and was thus qualified to be the Savior.

A strong point that is always made in consideration of this account is that Jesus responds to Satan by quoting Scripture and the timeless truths of God’s word and promises. The attacks of Satan are categorically predictable – both in this account of the life of Jesus, and as the Evil One would seek to cause our downfall.

Satan will attack at times of weakness, offering us simple satisfaction and easy pleasures that gratify quickly rather than by trusting the bigger, long-term plan of God for our lives. Our Heavenly Father wants us to trust him and to trust his promises given to us. It is interesting that the 40 days of temptation surely mirrored (even in the mind of Christ) the 40 years of wilderness wanderings for the nation of Israel. And the Scriptures that Jesus quote come from that very time of the nation’s history – about the manna God would give, about not putting God to the test by worshipping other objects, and by persevering to trust God to complete his word within his timeframe and in his way.

In application, let me recall one category of contemporary illustration where I have seen this principle at work over and over – positively for those who trusted and waited, but negatively for those who took matters into their own hands. It is the category of trusting God for his best and for his timing for a spouse. On so many occasions, I have watched as Christian young adults find themselves in a position of wanting to be married and moving on into family life, yet seeing time passing away without the revelation of that “other” person. In the pain, emptiness, loneliness and confusion, I have sadly seen more than a few succumb to methods or opportunities wherein they chose to handle things on their own and “settle” for a relationship that did not include a oneness of faith values. Much pain ensues. Yet also, I have joyfully witnessed more than a few who trusted God even over a period of years of murkiness and confusion, only to see God provide for them above and beyond their most ardent hopes and dreams.

God can be trusted – over long periods of seemingly vacuous time and through deep waters. His plans for us are all good, and those who wait for him will never be ultimately dissatisfied.

Luke 4:1 – Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’[Deut. 8:3]”

5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[Deut. 6:13]”

9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[Psalm 91:11,12]”

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[Deut. 6:16]”

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Jesus Rejected in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30)

Probably most of you know my pastoral ministry history and background, particularly since I reference experiences from it quite a bit. Beyond that, it is not a long list of places. After growing up in northwest New Jersey, I went to college in Philadelphia and seminary in Dallas. So merely a decade after graduating from high school, I was back in my small NJ hometown as a pastor for a period of 11 years before moving here to Maryland in 1994. One of my favorite wisecracks about those 11 years is to say that “I had more success in my hometown than Jesus did in his.”  No, the situations aren’t exactly apples to apples, I realize that.

To understand today’s passage we have to get back into the sandals of people living in Galilee at this time under Roman domination. For about 2,000 years there have been hopes and promises of a coming Messiah who will achieve wondrous blessing for the nation. The years came; the years went. Many claimed to be the guy; even more hoped that characters like John the Baptist could be the guy.

There is a saying about government right now that is much in vogue – the “swamp.”  Wherever you are on the political spectrum, the general pattern has been to have high hopes after elections, only to see nothing really change that much for the better, often because of the intrenched in the swamp. And so it was with the Jewish people of the time. All they could remember were squashed hopes of freedom and disappointments when nothing ever really transpired, in spite of the grand words of promise.

After his baptism, Jesus begins to teach in synagogues in Galilee. In a synagogue service there were readings from both the Law and the Prophets. After these, a speaker would teach to give the meaning of the passages. Jesus was doing this from place to place, and now he was in his hometown of Nazareth, appearing for the first time with a bit of a growing resume.

Luke 4:14 – Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.

Sometimes in the synagogue there were prescribed readings, as the Scriptures were broken down into sections so that they would all be covered in a given period of time. Or, on other occasions, the person to speak might also choose his own passage. It sounds like the latter happened here, though perhaps the prescribed reading for that day, by God’s sovereign plan, happened to be in Isaiah 61 (as we know the reference) …

Luke 4:16 – He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[Isaiah 61:1,2]

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Whoa! Wow!  That’s it? How’s that for a sermon that gets right to the point! This passage anticipating the Messiah to come was at this moment being fulfilled in their presence and in their hearing by seeing and listening to the words of Jesus.

We need to understand that the meanings of some of these words and contexts have a double anticipation. Yes, Jesus would preach of serving the poor and would give sight to the physically blind (proving his divine authority), but beyond that were the spiritual fulfillments of those who were impoverished now being rich in grace and salvation, with those spiritually blind now able to see the truth of God’s grand work.

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

There is a very mixed reaction. Without doubt, his preaching and authoritative proclamation was impressive. But nagging at the local crowd with equal or greater attention was the fact that he was the kid who grew up as the carpenter’s son in a very average setting. Jesus knew it was one thing to enjoy a great speaker, but quite another to make life changes of repentance and discipleship to follow him as the Christ …

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Jesus knew they would largely reject the message and reject him. This would ultimately be true throughout Israel, but doubly true in his hometown. He reminds them of a time in the nation’s history that was the lowest of lows … in the era of Elijah and Elisha. The disbelief was so pervasive that miracles were only done in Gentile regions. For Jesus to apply this to the generation hearing his words was too much for them to hear – ridiculous ideas of them being condemned and Gentiles being privileged. Such a heretical teacher should be tossed off a cliff, even if he was a hometown boy. But Jesus was not yet to be sacrificed, and he by some miraculous manner walks right through them (I would love to go back in a time machine and see how that happened!).

The truth of the gospel message is the truth, then and now. The call to follow Jesus with all of one’s life reverberates to our day. Like the Nazarenes, we might enjoy the occasional great sermon, yet blow off the implications that call us to serious life change and discipleship. The window of time to respond is just that – a window, open now, but to be closed at some point, maybe soon.

2 Corinthians 6:1-2 – As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” [from Isaiah 49:8]  I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

The Baptism and Genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:21-38)

The passage we reference today is one that I recall reading as a child and thinking it was the most ridiculous thing to have been included in the Scriptures. It is funny how some things change over the years, as this passage and the similar genealogy section from Matthew’s gospel are immensely interesting to me now years later.

Including today the opening two-verse summary of the baptism of Jesus, we have Luke giving us definition as to who Jesus is. He is first and foremost the divine Son of God. Beyond that, he is rightfully the heir to the Messianic title in that his lineage is fully Davidic and of the Abrahamic race. But beyond that, Luke – who is characteristically interested in demonstrating that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world – traces this lineage back to Adam.

So there are two family lines given to us in Matthew and Luke – one through Joseph and another through Mary. Chris Wiles yesterday in his message asked how many had used the Ancestry.com resource to do family history. I was one of those who raised a hand, having gotten much involved with that a few years ago as I tried to get a better mental handle on my mixed-up background. The end result was that I have two family trees – one through my biological mother and family of adoption, and another through my mostly previously unknown tree through the biological father I never met.

I have always said that doing such research may alternately reveal something very wonderfully fascinating, or it may reveal something dreadfully embarrassing in the skeletal closet of the family tree. I had the latter happen. Though I had the joy of connecting even personally with a cousin I never knew existed, I also found out that my great grandfather spent some time incarcerated in a federal prison for theft during his employment with the postal service. It seems that he learned his lesson and lived an honorable life after that, but I’ve never been able to push beyond him to his lineage – concluding that he was likely an orphan.

But I’m in good company with people who have some sap in their family tree! Jesus had some sketchy characters identified, particularly in Matthew’s version – prostitutes and folks with some serious life flaws. And the truth is that we all trace back to the same characters, particularly that fellow named Adam – the one whose failure caused the curse to fall upon us all. We are all condemned sinners as members of the same human family tree.

But the wonderful truth about Christ – about the whole celebration we commemorate at this season of the year – is that Jesus entered our family tree to pay the debt of the family curse. Having done so, he offers to us the opportunity of a new family tree, one that is spiritual and eternal. This is the family of the redeemed, the family of faith. It really is something worth celebrating!

Luke 3:21 – When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

23 Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melki, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josek, the son of Joda, 27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melki, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Kenan, 38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.