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Blogging the Bible - Luke 4

I’m intrigued by the healing events near the end of Luke 4, where crowds of people are amazed at Jesus’ authority, and a demon submits to it. You don’t usually hear the word “authority” in reference to a good speaker or teacher. You usually hear words like “impressive,” “inspiring,” or “powerful.” But Jesus was not usual. When he spoke, people could sense the authority he carried.

These days, it seems as if authority is bestowed on the people who talk the loudest. We usually equate loudness and certainty with authority and wisdom. Just because someone is on TV, talks a lot, or exudes confidence, doesn’t mean that their authority is “from heaven” (Lk 20:4). Granted, I’m sure Jesus talked loud so that the people in the back could hear him. And I’m sure he was confident about what he said, but I don’t think that’s what conveyed his authority to the crowd. Not that I was there or anything, but I like to think that people recognized Jesus’ authority because he spoke words that revealed truths in undeniable ways. I think when he spoke, he vocalized meanings of life that resonated with people down to the core of their souls. To do that, you don’t need to be loud, boisterous, or arrogant. Jesus received his wisdom and authority through an intimate connection with God’s Spirit. So the next time you hear someone who sounds like they speak with authority, see if their authority comes from themselves (being loud) or from heaven (being humble).

God and Marriage

Apparently, Christians in Egypt aren’t allowed to remarry if they’ve had a divorce (except in cases of infidelity). A new movie shows how hard that can be, and the church is upset that the movies belittles the religion. Is it just me, or is the Egyptian Coptic Church a little crazy? Still, divorce has become a too-easy fall-back option these days, so maybe the consequences should be a little stiffer.

Blogging the Bible - Luke 3

I’m going to start picking up speed in my Bible blogging again. I wanted to go slowly through the first two chapters of Luke since they’re so important to Christianity. I won’t take time to write about every verse, but I’ll stop to reflect about every few chapters. Today’s chapter: Luke 3.

The truth hurts, and John the Baptist has a lot of truth to tell. Since I just read through Jesus’ birth story in Luke 1-2, I couldn’t help but think of the Christmas song “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” while I read Luke 3. The song’s warnings fit remarkably well with John’s message: “You better watch out…I’m telling you why…. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…. So be good for goodness sake.” Jesus is coming to town.

John doesn’t pull any punches, even with the people who have made a decision to be baptized. He doesn’t say, “Welcome, brothers and sisters, into the loving family of God.” Instead he calls them a “brood of vipers” and asks why they think they have the right to escape judgment (3:7). It would be like someone walking down the aisle to make a commitment in church and the minister saying, “Who do you think you’re kidding? Sit back down.” Not the most welcoming and affirming message, but neither is John’s.

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The story in Luke 2:41-52 is an odd one. First of all, it is incredibly unique because it’s the only New Testament story about Jesus after his birth and before his adult baptism. More remarkable than its uniqueness, in my opinion, is how unexplainable it is. The story starts out normal enough: a child and his parents go to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast like they do every year. But when the feast was over, that’s when things get weird.

The main question everyone asks when they read this passage is “How could Mary and Joseph leave their son behind?!” Good question. Most answers you find say things about how people traveled in large groups back then for safety, and the males were separate from the females, so both Mary and Joseph could have assumed he was elsewhere yet still with them. I suppose that’s reasonable enough, but still, to just leave town without at least making sure your kid was somewhere in the group? That’s just weird.

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Simeon offers a very interesting blessing and prophecy when he holds the baby Jesus in Luke 2. Luke says that Mary and Joseph “marveled” at what Simeon said (2:33). Seeing as how a man they had never met walked up to them, took their baby, and proclaimed a not-completely-pleasant destiny for him, I would think Mary and Joseph were downright freaked out.

The first thing Simeon says about Jesus is that he will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (2:32). As a God-fearing Gentile, I need to pay attention to this. The light of revelation sounds great, but it also brings discomfort. That’s what’s interesting about Simeon’s proclamation: while Jesus will certainly bring salvation, he’ll make a lot of people uncomfortable.

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To me, the first part of Luke 2 is the heart of the Christmas story. More than any other passage, these verses conjure up all kinds of Christmas imagery. I remember when I had to memorize them for church when I was a kid. I can hear Linus reciting them in A Charlie Brown Christmas. I think of carol candlelight services in a dark sanctuary festooned with banners and nativity scenes. I think of red sweaters, fresh Christmas cookies, opening presents with my cousins, warming myself by the fire at my grandparents’ house, and the anticipation that permeated Christmas Eve night. But I’m not just filled with memories. I also picture the shepherds sleeping next to their sheep on a hillside. I imagine the blinding brilliance of the angels, and the shepherds’ rush to “see this thing which is come to pass” (2:15, KJV).

There’s so much excitement and anticipation packed in these verses, both for my memories and the scenes they depict. That’s why it’s so easy to get swept away in the revelry; there’s a lot going on. But that can makes us forget about the small, stillness of the event. The Savior that just arrived is just a little baby. I wonder if the shepherds thought that odd when the angels announced it. The angels basically say, “Your Lord and Savior has finally come. And he’s a baby.” “Really? He’s just a baby,” the shepherds likely thought. That probably made them even more curious to go see what all the heavenly commotion was about. But newborns sleep most of their first few days, so the infant Jesus probably didn’t do much when the shepherds visited. They probably went through the common newborn visitation routine: “Is the baby sleeping? Oh okay, we’ll be really quiet then. We don’t want to wake him up.” I bet the shepherds just stood there, marveling in silence at the tiny baby, trying to understand the fact that they were seeing the Lord’s Messiah.

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I really like this passage. I like it so much that I chose to use part of it when my son was dedicated as a baby. Yes, I know it was pronounced specifically over the birth of John the Baptist, but I think it is a wonderful pronouncement for any birth.

When a child is born, we, like Elizabeth and Zechariah’s neighbors, ask the question, “What then is this child going to be?” (Lk 1:66). The last few verses of Zechariah’s song answer that question beautifully. “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,” Zechariah announces (1:76). Like I said, this is a good passage for any new birth, since we, as God’s followers, are all called to prophesy about the love of the Most High. Just as Zechariah said about John, “You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him” (1:76), so is our calling as disciples. Our every interaction with people should be an encouragement and preparation to embrace the love of God. After all, giving God’s people “the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (1:77) is the essence of the Great Commission.

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I’m always surprised at how early the Christmas shopping season starts each year. Fortunately the ritual of amassing gifts for supposed religious reasons is on hiatus right now. The flood of consumerism makes it impossible for us to forget when it’s almost time for Christmas. That’s why it’s ironic that the secular world would push Christmas so much, but when I read Luke 1:46-55, I had to remind myself that it was about Christmas.

At first glance, Mary’s prayer song in Luke 1:46-55 doesn’t seem very Christmasy. It just seems like a generic prayer you might read in the Psalms that proclaims how great God is because of all the great stuff he’s done. Simple enough. But shouldn’t this passage feel more Christmasy?

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In Luke 1, Elizabeth seems to have a knack for knowing things without being told. In verse 25, she recognizes that her pregnancy comes from the Lord. In verses 39-45 she recognizes that Mary will give birth to the Christ and that Mary believed the angel’s birth announcement when it was issued. How did she know those things without being told?

Maybe Elizabeth was informed during conversations that weren’t recorded in Scripture, maybe a close connection to the Holy Spirit provided her with information, or maybe it was just women’s intuition. I’m guessing each of those played a part. Either way, Elizabeth knows what’s going on in her life. Granted, it’s still miraculous, seeing as how she became surprisingly pregnant in old age with a child who will foretell the Messiah’s coming in the spirit of Elijah. It’s all pretty incredible, but she seems to have a handle on it. It reminds me of Paul’s statement that even though he was suffering, he was fine with it because, he said, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Ti 1:12).

Elizabeth encourages me as an example of someone with a grand-scheme perspective. Even if life seems to go haywire, that kind of perspective helps you wade through the turbulence with a secure spiritual foundation. When things feel topsy-turvy to you, look to people like Elizabeth and Paul; they knew whom they believed in. And knowing is half the battle.

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