Jesus in Context – One of the Most Helpful Biblical Background Books Around

JesusInContext-BockI recently came across the most helpful resources on the historical backgrounds to the Gospels that I have ever seen. It is called Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study by Darrell Bock. This book works through the synoptics and John and pulls just about any relevant extra-biblical text in full quotation to help you see what other ancient writers said about a topic, a city, a custom, etc. Reading the geneaology of Jesus? Look and see how other ancient Jewish writers did genealogies. Studying Jesus’ turning water to wine at Cana? You go to that miracle in this book and it first gives you a bit of historical background on eschatology and wine followed by relevant quotations from 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, Tobit, and the Talmud on wine and quotations from Josephus on Cana. Combine the content with Logos Bible software and you have an unbelievably powerful resource for your studies. This book concludes with multiple indices that include index by topic, by scripture, by extra-biblical reference and a huge list for further reading broken down by topic, If you are a student of the Gospels and want extra-biblical references all in one place this is the book for you. If you would use Logos and would like to have it at your disposal in a fully searchable, indexed format with clickable links with full references for you to use in your study or writing, you can get it here.

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Jesus Healed Them Anyway

In Luke 6 we get three groups of people. It starts with Jesus’ disciples. From that group Jesus selects the 12 apostles. After that selection, Jesus and all his disciples go out to the plain to preach. When he gets there the crowd grows from just being Jesus, his apostles and other disciples to also including people from surrounding towns and regions. There is the third group, the crowd. They aren’t Christ-followers. They show up when convenient and when Jesus is done or they find it convenient, they go back home. Luke tells us the crowd came for three reasons: to hear Jesus, to be healed of disease and to be delivered from evil spirits.

These guys came, got their healing, heard a little preaching and went home. They didn’t immediately follow Jesus. Jesus healed them anyway. I can’t tell you how many times that I have reached out to people I initially encountered through benevolence ministry. In the back of my mind I am always wondering if this person will become a Christian through our acts of compassion. Most of the time they don’t. Most of the time they just want a bill paid or some food and then, like the crowds Jesus healed, they leave. But Jesus healed them anyway. Jesus showed compassion and mercy to people who would never become disciples and so should we.

Jesus Prayed

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles…” – Luke 6:12-13

I am humbled by this verse. Jesus had a big decision to make and he prayed before making it. Two chapters earlier, Jesus went out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and to prepare for that encounter, he fasted 40 days. Jesus knew that in all things he had to totally rely on God in order to have success. So before he selected the 12, Jesus prayed. On one hand, Jesus is the Son of God who would presumably already know who the 12 would be prior to praying about it. On the other hand, Jesus is the Son of Man, who identifies with us through coming in flesh and blood, fully dependent on God in all things. Luke doesn’t tell us why he prayed but it humbles me that Jesus often prayed before big decisions and big events (Luke 3:21, 5:16, 9:18, 9:28-29, 22:40-46). Too often I am inclined to “go it alone” and make a decision without spending enough time in prayer. Jesus reminds us that many things require prayer if they are going to take place…if we have faith in Christ, we will take his teaching and example seriously enough to spend more time in prayer…even if we think we already know the answer.

The Holy Spirit’s Role in the Coming of Jesus

We often associate the Holy Spirit with the beginning of the church in Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts. What is interesting is that the Holy Spirit also played a key role in kicking off Luke’s first volume, the Gospel of Luke:

  • Luke 1:15 – John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit before he is born
  • Luke 1:35 – The Holy Spirit will take part in the conception of Jesus
  • Luke 1:41 – When Mary and Elizabeth meet, both pregnant, John jumps in Elizabeth’s womb and it is Elizabeth who is filled with the Holy Spirit! It prompts her to speak a blessing on Mary.
  • Luke 1:67 – The Holy Spirit fills Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, and he prophesies. I am really unsure why this prophesy always gets the heading “Zechariah’s Song” when it is a prophesy.
  • Luke 2:25 – Simeon had been promised that he would see the Messiah before he died. He also had the Holy Spirit on him.
  • Luke 3:16 John the Baptist tells the crowds that the one who comes after him will baptize people in the Holy Spirit
  • Luke 3:22 – the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at his baptism (interesting that Luke says this happened “as he was praying” at his baptism)
  • Luke 4:1 – Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit as he went out into the wilderness to be tested.

The Holy Spirit played a huge role in the coming of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry. What is more, the Holy Spirit was present in the ministry of Jesus as well:

  • Luke 10:21 – The Holy Spirit wasn’t just present at Jesus baptism and temptation. The Holy Spirit was upon him in this verse as well
  • Luke 11:13 – Jesus says God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask
  • Luke 12:10 – a warning against blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. This warning means the Holy Spirit was a driving force in Jesus’ ministry and miracles. That is clear because Jesus is warning them against calling his miracles from the devil and saying that to deny his miracles is to blaspheme the Spirit, which means the Spirit was at work in the ministry of Christ.

It is easy to think the Holy Spirit was absent from all of this because we spend more time on Jesus’ promise of the coming of the Spirit from verses like John 16:7,

“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Some then assume the Spirit wasn’t much a part of anything until after Jesus ascended to heaven. As you can see from all the verses above, the Holy Spirit played a central role in the coming of the Messiah from before he was conceived, through Mary’s pregnancy, to his birth and through his ministry and then, finally, to the church. The Spirit’s involvement in the start of the church wasn’t anything new. It was very much in line with everything the Spirit had been involved in up to that point.

Two Realizations That Help Christian Unity

In Luke 14 Jesus tells the parable of an influential man who throws a dinner party. He sends out the invite to all the choice people, the in-crowd. As the RSVP’s come back he gets nothing but excuses…One guy says he just bought a field and wants to go look at it. Pretty lame…don’t you think he has already seen the field and don’t you think it will look pretty much the same next week? Another guy says he just got married and can’t make it…wise fella right there…still another guy says he just bought some oxen and wants to try them out. You know people couldn’t care less about you if they don’t come because they are test driving their oxen. Oldest excuse in the books. None of the people you might have thought would have been first in line come to the banquet.

So what does the man do? He sends out a second invitation, “‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’” Bring them in. Bring in anyone who will come! The servant goes out and brings in all who are willing. There is still room at the banquet. So the man sends out a third invitation, “‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”

Why does God fill his banquet with such a motley crew, such a rag-tag bunch of unworthy people? Not only does he invite them…he orders his servant to compel these people to come to the banquet. This is a big deal. These people have nothing to offer the man. They won’t increase his status or make him look good. When you look at the room and see who is there you can’t help but realize the man who is running the banquet is full of grace and compassion. The shocking thing is this, these people are you and me. We are the ones who don’t deserve to be at the banquet. We are the spiritually crippled and lame and poor and blind. We have been given a seat at God’s banquet table. We have gone from the margins to the inner circle.

So what are the two realizations that help develop Christian unity?

Realization #1 – None of us deserve to be Christians. That should humble us and bring us to our knees. So much disunity springs out of a since of spiritual entitlement and arrogance. The truth is, none of us deserve any of it. Yet God, in his infinite mercy is the one who brings us together.

Realization #2 – When you really understand you have been saved by God’s grace, it should make us graceful toward others. Grace is a key ingredient to unity. Arrogance and pride magnify mistakes and differences. Grace helps us iron over differences and mistakes in healthy ways. So much disunity comes from having an ungraceful attitude. Being ungraceful and ungrateful leads to unforgiveness that often leads to unending, bitter disputes that tear brothers and sisters in Christ apart.

Try this: The next time you are feeling disunity with another Christian picture you and that other person as blind, crippled beggars eating next to each other at God’s banquet and see what is left that is still worthy enough to tear your relationship apart. Not too many things will pass that test.

Do We Recognize Redemption When It Happens Right in Front of Us?

In Luke 7 Jesus is in the house of Simon the Pharisee. While they are reclining at the table a “sinful” woman comes in and anoints Jesus, first with her tears and then with some perfume she had brought with her. Luke tells us she had learned that Jesus was in the house and she knew exactly where she needed to be and what she needed to do. We know that because she came prepared with a bottle of perfume. First she wept at his feet and began putting her tears on Jesus’ feet. Then she started kissing his feet and poured perfume on them. I am sure this was quite uncomfortable for those who were there watching this unfold but what made it even more difficult for them was who the woman was who was doing all of this. She was a “sinner”. The worldly part inside us tells us that sinners and Messiah’s shouldn’t mix. But the part inside us that says things like that has it all wrong. There was no better place for her to be, in all her sin…in the messiness of her life than in the presence of Jesus Christ. What as happening was redemption right in front of their eyes but they were too blind to see it.

In order to open their eyes to the significance of what was happening before them, Jesus tells them a story about two men who had much debt. One guy owed a year and a half’s wages and the other guy a month and a half. The lender forgave them both. Jesus asks them, “Now which of them will love him more?” The obvious answer is the one who owed more. It seems like Jesus is saying that this woman actually loves Jesus more than they do. Ouch. In the story, Jesus doesn’t get into why they owed all of that or all the bad decisions they had made that led up to that point. The lender doesn’t owe explanation to anyone when it comes to forgiving debt because forgiving debt rarely makes sense from a worldly perspective. From Jesus’ perspective it makes all the sense in the world because Jesus came to bring redemption to a world full of the debt  and weight of sin and death and release us into a great freedom that we find only through Christ.

What is most frightening about this story is that all of this was unfolding before Simon and company but they couldn’t see it. Jesus was trying to open their eyes so that they could understand the significance of it all. Are there things Jesus is trying to open our eyes to see accurately? There are a few questions for us that come out of all of this. The first question we must ask ourselves is this, are there times we pre-judge people? Second, are you currently holding someone’s past against them? Third, how do we make our attitude toward people we have a hard time with the same attitude Jesus would have toward them?

Let us have eyes to see things clearly like Jesus did so that we can rejoice when Jesus rejoices and mourn when he mourns. Let us never get the two confused so that we weep when Jesus rejoices or rejoice when Jesus mourns because that means we are seeing things from a worldly perspective and not as Jesus sees them.

The Intersection of Worship and Real Life

I have been reflecting on the connection between worship and real life and I was thinking about two passages in particular. In both of these passages of scripture there is a real event that God works through that results in people singing God’s praises.

The first is in Exodus 15, the Song of the Sea. In Exodus 14 we see God part the Red Sea, the Hebrews walk through, and Pharaoh’s army get crushed by the waters. The result was thanksgiving and song. God delivered them. God worked on their behalf and rescued them. The result was praise specific to that situation. Did they come up with that song on the spot? Did it sound good? Who cares how well it rhymed or if it had a good melody! They were rescued and were expressing their joy to God!

The second is in Luke 1. An angel comes to Mary and tells her she will give birth to the messiah. The result is the Song of Mary. So much joy was flowing through her that it resulted in song.

I am afraid that too often my worship is due to the hour of the week it is and not because of extreme gratitude. I am afraid that too often I sing Thank You Lord because it is in an order of worship and not because it is part of the flow of thankfulness that is coming out of my heart to God because of how God has worked on my behalf. Worship really is connected with real life. Too often we compartmentalize it and make it too small. What is more, our worship services are usually very uplifting and joyful (and I am thankful for that) but it leaves little room for those whose most honest emotion at that time is sorrow or pain. Maybe we need more creativity, more relevance, more spontaneity from time to time so that our worship can express what is truly in our hearts and not be limited to an hour each week!