A Bible Lesson on Luke 6:20-36

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a Bible lesson on Jesus’s “sermon on the plain.”  It shares much with the better known “sermon on the mount” found in Matthew 5-7.  But it is shorter and the some of the meanings of the parallel verses are shaded differently.  It is important to note to whom Jesus is speaking here.  Note the first part of verse 20.  Jesus is speaking to disciples, not pagans He’s trying to attract.  These verses contain material that is absolutely contrary to our natural minds.  But such He says we must be and do.  Our fallen human nature would like to duck and qualify most of what is here.  But we’ll be wise if we don’t try to make excuses or take the edge off of it.

Verses 20 through 26 consist of 4 “blesseds” set in contrast to 4 “woes.”  They turn upside down our natural thinking about what is to be valued and sought after.  Taken together, they essentially say that we have our choice.  We can either seek the comforts and blessings of this life and in the end have nothing, or we can be prepared to have nothing in this life, but in eternity have the greatest of blessings.   It seems that Jesus is essentially warning us that we can’t have it both ways.  We can’t seek to have it here and have it there as well.  Verses 20-26 deal with how our lives in this world affect eternity.

Luke 6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

The parallel verse from Matthew says “poor in spirit.”  We typically hear the Matthew verse to mean “Blessed are those who recognize their spiritual poverty before God.”  In Luke Jesus simply says “poor,” and in this sermon He is saying something somewhat different from what He’s saying in the Matthew verse.  He’s aiming at our desire for material well-being here and now.  The corresponding “woe” in verse 24 clearly is talking about material wealth and our attitudes toward it.  This one is too.

This verse is not a maudlin thing that says there is innate virtue in poverty.  Nor is Jesus some kind of populist/liberal rabble rouser here who is saying “power to the people.”  What He’s saying is much sharper and harder to swallow.  He’s commending the heart that is willing to choose relatively poor economic circumstances here and now for the sake of the Kingdom.  This is the spirit of the Moravian missionaries, who in order to take the Gospel to slaves in foreign lands, were willing to sell themselves into slavery to secure passage to those lands.  There’s no virtue in unavoidable poverty, but there is virtue in (and in fact we’re called to) taking a lower economic station in this life than might otherwise be possible if we gave ourselves to the pursuit of wealth.

Jesus is talking here to people who have given up whatever temporal economic security they had in order to follow Him.  They’ve left their jobs and businesses to follow Him.  We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can or should be as wealthy as we would be if we weren’t His.  The fact is that we’re called to put energy into the Kingdom of God.  And if we do, that’s energy that won’t go into an IRA.

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Do you really want to seek the comfort that wealth seems to bring?  Recognize then, that “here and now” is the end of it.  This is not condemnation of accidental or inherited wealth.  It is a warning that if the pursuit or preservation of wealth is what drives us–is our main concern in life–then an eternity of torment awaits us.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.  “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

In Matthew Jesus says “Blessed are you that hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  Here Jesus says “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied.”  Again, there is no special virtue in unavoidable hunger and this is not some call to take from the rich by force and distribute to the poor … it’s much sharper and less pleasant than that.  We have a choice, we can choose to pour our energies into taking care of our physical needs and wants, and end up like the statement in verse 25.  Or, we can voluntarily lay that aside, and perhaps even end up hungry, but gain eternity.  Do we want it here and now?  Or will we delay for eternity?

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”  The Matthew passage says “Blessed are they that mourn.”  We usually hear this to say “Blessed are they that mourn over their sin.”  But again, Jesus is saying something different in this sermon.  Look at the contrasting woe in verse 25.  This has to do with plain old crying and laughing!  Do we want a life that is free of sorrow, always gay and merry?  Is that what we’re going to seek?  Or will we voluntarily choose, for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, to allow unpleasantness, pain, and heartache into our lives?  Are we going to follow the American Declaration of Independence and pursue happiness?  Or are we going to pursue Godliness?  We can pursue only one.  Think of the work of a Pastor.  If you want a merry existence, free from heartache and any hint of sadness, do something else.  If you never want to experience pain, then don’t care about people or get involved in trying to help them find the Truth.  But, Jesus is saying, the eternal blessing comes with the willingness to bear sorrow here for His sake.  We cannot pursue both happiness and the Kingdom of God.  Which will it be?

25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.  “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

Is this a condemnation of gratefully appreciating the blessings that God gives us in this life?  Is it a call to masochism and ill temper?  Clearly not.  But it is a warning that if comfort and mirth are what we seek in this present life, even if we do succeed somewhat in finding them, when this is over, they’re gone and we’ll spend eternity in torment.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!

 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

If there is anything we desire, it is to be well thought of.  There is little that will make us any more indignant than to be unjustly vilified.  We want our good intentions to be properly recognized and our good motives respected.  But look at verses 23 and 26.  We can’t have it both ways!  Gospel truth will not make us attractive to all people.  It will repel those who will not give up their rebellion.  This is not a call to be obnoxious or to attempt to become martyrs.  But it is a statement that in the course of being true to Christ, some will be genuinely hated and persecuted, and that should not come as a surprise or be a matter of disappointment or sadness.

26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

But haven’t we convinced ourselves in our time that Christians can blend in and be prominent people in the community, loved by all?  Aren’t we over that uncouth, hick, Bible-thumping stuff, and just as hip and attractive as anyone else?

Now Jesus turns to our relationships with other people, in particular with those that would choose to be our enemies because of Christ.  This too, is revolutionary stuff.  It is not at all in line with our natural inclinations, and most of us have very little practice in doing it and very little experience in seeing it bear fruit.

27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

Insofar as it depends upon us, there is only one reason for Christian people to have enemies.  That is that unbelievers would hate the image of Christ in us.  For those people, it is our duty to pray and do good.

But what about the public school officials that are assaulting our kids with their sex-ed, their sexual propaganda, and their Darwinism?  Or what about the people that want to characterize us as cowardly bigots for holding to an absolute standard of morality?  Surely this doesn’t refer to them?  My experience with me is that it is usually more than I manage to do to stop complaining about those who I think have wronged me on account of the truth.  I have only a miniscule base of experience to talk from in terms of doing good to such people or genuinely praying for them.  But that is what Jesus teaches and asks of us.

Isn’t it amazing that if we defend the truth in un-Biblical human ways, we destroy it in the process?  Isn’t it something that our contending (supposedly for the Truth) becomes ugly and misrepresents the God we serve?

29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.

While this verse can be interpreted more broadly, the primary flow here is in terms of verses 27-29.  In the context of persecution because of your faith in Christ, if you are to suffer loss, embrace it, don’t try to minimize the loss!  This doesn’t amount to instructions on how to deal with a mugging or robbery.  It is instead instruction on how to react in the middle of unjust persecution.

Jesus and the early missionaries did not go looking for persecution.  Indeed, they did at times flee it.  But when it catches up with you, the instruction is to not face it in the good old American way of demanding your rights.  Instead, in humility, choose instead to be outwardly silent and be wronged.

Hear how crazy all this sounds.  This is contrary to everything we are by nature, and everything we’re taught to be as Americans.  But again, we have a choice.  We can do it our way, and have whatever benefits we can muster here and now.  Or we can do it God’s way, give Him the glory, and enjoy the rewards eternally.

30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.

Again, this may be interpreted more broadly, but the first meaning here is in terms of those who would hate you for the sake of Jesus.  If they are going to demand that you jump through a hoop, jump through two.  If they seize your property, don’t demand your legal rights to get it back.  Instead, cheerfully give it to them with a blessing and a wish that the property will serve them well.

This is not an instruction to send a check to every crazy group or person that sends a letter or phones during dinner.  Instead, it is an instruction to hold lightly what we’ve been made stewards of, to not grasp it or spend our energies defending it.  It is simply not our primary concern, and if it is required from us by those who hate the cross, we should turn it loose without remorse.

 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

Once again, this can be read quite broadly.  In all things, to all people, at all times, do to them as you would have them do to you.  But the first meaning here is in reference to those who would hate you because of Christ.  Pray for them, do good to them, don’t resist them, in fact love and bless them.

Why is Jesus giving us these incredible instructions?  The answer is in these next few verses.

32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.

34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.

35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

We are to react this way because it is a proper reflection of how and who God is.  God is merciful, and so should we be.  He treats with grace and mercy those who hate Him.  So should we.  This brings God honor and us the promise of eternal reward.

We can pursue and perhaps have some of the “good” stuff now.  Or we can pursue Godliness in ways that are totally contrary to our natural inclinations and find eternal reward … which will it be???

2 Cor. 4:17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Luke 4:14-44

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a passage about the early public ministry of Jesus, as the home folks are just beginning to get an idea about who He is claiming to be.  First, Jesus returns home to Nazareth and takes part in the service at the synagogue.

Luke 4:14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.

 Jesus returned to Galilee.  This is after the temptation in the wilderness, when He returned to northern Israel from the south, where He had gone to be baptized by John.

15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

The early reaction to Jesus as preacher was favorable.  Then He heads to His home town.  Barclay said that the word used to describe Nazareth in verse 29 is not one that would be translated “village,” but rather “city” or “town.”  It’s possible that Nazareth was a reasonable-sized place.  Barclay speculated that it might have been as large as 20,000 inhabitants at this time.  In any case, it may not be right for us to think of Nazareth as consisting of a few houses and a gas station.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.

The Sabbath finds Jesus with the worshiping community of believing people “as was His custom.”  Post-moderns would do well to mark this.  J.C. Ryle said, “We should observe in these verses, what honour our Lord Jesus Christ gave to public means of grace.”  Here is the only Son of God, habitually joining together with imperfect people in the regular worship of His Father.  If ever there was anyone who could have claimed that He had other things to do, that everyone else there was less spiritual than Himself, that He could worship better in His own way someplace else, it would have been Jesus.  But instead, it was His custom to join with the others in worship at the standard time, in the standard location, in the institutional synagogue.  This is not a statement that Jesus found the people or worship at the synagogue to be perfect.  It is a statement that He understood His regular, habitual participation with them to be important.

Jesus stood up to read.  This posture intends to show respect for the Word of God.

17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

The synagogue service consisted of 1) prayers, 2) reading from the Law, 3) reading from the Prophets and 4) a sermon.  The person in charge allowed responsible individuals to participate in all parts of the service.  Either as a volunteer or by invitation, Jesus is to take part in the reading of the Prophets and the sermon.  Whether the passage from Isaiah was His choice or was the appointed scripture for the day, we aren’t told.  But Jesus reads in Hebrew (remember that the people spoke Aramaic) from Isaiah 61:1-2.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

It is interesting and probably significant that Jesus stopped short of the phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God.”  In the minds of the Jews of the time, the promises of the first part of this passage were all aimed at the Jewish nation and the day of the vengeance was intended for the unrighteous gentiles.  They understood the passage to be Messianic and expected Messiah to usher in blessing for the Jewish nation and punishment for gentiles.  What Jesus is going to say here upsets that understanding.

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

He rolled up the scroll.  The Isaiah scroll in the Dead Sea scrolls is 25 feet long.  This is a dramatic pause as Jesus deals with the substantial mechanics of handling the large document in scroll form.  Then Jesus sat down, not because He was done with His participation in the synagogue service, but because it was customary for the sermon to be delivered sitting down, likely from an elevated place, but from the sitting position.  The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  You can just feel the anticipation in the air.  They don’t know what He’s going to say, but they have heard the accounts of miracles and powerful teaching in the surrounding towns.  He’s read a Messianic passage and the anticipation is high.  Jesus comes through with a statement that should blow their socks off.

21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus has just said “I’m Messiah.  I’m here to proclaim and do the things that Isaiah prophesied associated with Messiah.”

Again, what are those things?  “God has anointed Me.  I’m here at God’s commission.  I’m here to preach good news, and to proclaim the year of God’s favor.”  “year of God’s favor”  meaning what?  The year 26 AD?  No, the time of the coming of God’s offer of mercy through His Son.

This is no small claim.  Jesus, the local kid–that many of them have known for 30 years–has just claimed to be greater than the prophet Isaiah (and therefore the listeners), and in fact to be the One that the Jewish people have been waiting for to take the throne of David.  The people’s reaction is initially positive.

22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

They are pleased enough that Messiah is on the scene as long as they can think of Him on their own terms.  As long as He’s Joseph’s son and can be expected to speak and behave in ways that are consistent with their view of what Messiah should be.  In fact, if somebody from Nazareth is going to be Messiah, maybe there are some important positions waiting for some of them.  If this is Joseph’s son from down on Kellogg Street, maybe he’ll hear my special request.  Surely there will be some special perks for the home folks.

23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.”

But the truth is that this isn’t just Joseph’s son!  This is the Son of God!  And He’s not here just for the people of Nazareth.  Jesus dashes their hopes that they have a special inside route to him.  “Physician, heal yourself.” is not saying “Get your act together before speaking to anyone else.”  Instead it is an injunction to practice first with your own, give them the benefit of your services first before taking care of others.  Jesus sees that the people are expecting to gain special benefit from Messiah being one of their home town boys.  He knows that some of them are thinking “Let’s have some of those miracles we’ve heard about other places here and now!”  But that kind of mindset is missing the point of who He is and what He has come to do.

24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.

They are willing to accept Jesus in Nazareth on their own terms … as the kind of Messiah that they are expecting and want.  They will not prove ready to accept Him on His terms and as the kind of Messiah that He truly is.

Jesus proceeds to give two Old Testament illustrations of the fact that God’s blessings were meant to extend beyond the borders of Israel–that Messiah’s job was more than to simply hand out goodies to Israel and beat down the gentiles.

25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land,

26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.

It’s significant that Elijah is brought into this discussion, because Elijah was considered the prophet of the Messiah.  The people were expecting his return to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah.  And the incident that Jesus cites from the life of Elijah is one where in a time of severe distress God miraculously brings aid, not to an Israelite widow, but to a gentile widow.   On what basis did God provide for the widow?  On the basis of obedience and faith.  She did as Elijah instructed and believed God.  (See I Kings 17:7-16.)  That’s the basis of God’s blessing.  The people here in Nazareth were wrongly thinking that it had to do with being of the right nation, with being from the same town as the Messiah.  They were wrong.

27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Again Jesus cites the case of a gentile given a special blessing by God.  This time it is a soldier in the army of an oppressor of Israel.  On what basis?  Again, as always, on the basis of faith, on the basis of believing what God says and obeying Him, however reluctantly.  (See II Kings 5:1-18.)  It has nothing to do with being a physical Jew or being from Nazareth.

That is just too much.  It is too far from what the people expected from Messiah.  It includes not only other Jews, but gentiles as well, and THAT is disgusting beyond words.  So the early (shallow) favorable reaction to Jesus quickly changes.  If Jesus wants to claim to be Messiah, that is fine.  But if He is going to spread the benefits of that too widely, and fail to produce perks for Nazareth, well then, that is a different matter.

28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.

29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.

30 But passing through their midst, he went away.

It is not clear whether Luke intends for us to read this as a miraculous event, or not.  In either case, Jesus shows characteristic command of the events of His life.  It is not time for Him to die and these people have no power to take life from Him until He is ready to give it up in accord with the will of His Father.

31 And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath,

As was His custom, Jesus is again with the worshiping community at the standard time in the standard place.  In the context of the institution of the synagogue, Jesus begins to teach the people.

32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.

His message had authority.  There are a couple of things being said here.  For one, His word had authority because it was intrinsically true.  Honest hearts, when the truth is spoken, recognize it and bow before it.  There is no arguing or inclination to dispute.  This is the case here.  For another thing, Jesus was not speaking in the style of a Jewish Rabbi, or even one of God’s prophets.  The Jewish Rabbis always appealed to other authorities when making their points.  They would say things like “Rabbi X speaking to Rabbi Y said Z about W.  But Rabbi Q said …”  Their normal teaching was full of documentation and footnotes appealing to the authority of others.  Even the prophets of God spoke with a kind of delegated authority.  They would say “Thus says the Lord …”  But Jesus spoke in terms like “I say to you …”  He Himself, as God incarnate, did not need the authentication of others, or even the delegated authority of God.  He is God and spoke like it!  And there is also the fact that there was great authority evident in the miracles that accompanied his speaking.  In all of these ways, Jesus spoke with authority.

33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice,

Perhaps this guy was more oppressed at some times than at others, and could on occasion function sensibly and attend the services.  But at this point, the demon recognizes Jesus for who He is, the One sent by the Father to destroy evil.

34 “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God.”

This is a fascinating exchange.  The evil spirit speaks, in this particular instance, words that are literally true.  Jesus is the Holy One of God and has come to destroy evil.  What a deal.  Jesus seems to be getting some free advertising of a most sensational kind, and at the expense of the competition.  Why, here are the forces of evil scared into doing the work of spreading the Gospel.  Some people today would hustle to get out their phones to record this for use in an advertising campaign, believing that here’s the way to get the attention of those that need to hear the Gospel.  But notice the reaction of Jesus.

35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm.

“Be silent.”  It is not the least bit appropriate that such means be used to announce the Kingdom.  This being doesn’t have the Kingdom of God at heart, isn’t interested in God’s glory.  Even in announcing who Jesus is in this sensational manner, the intention is to lead people off the point.  Jesus is engaged in teaching the truth.  The demon sees that it’s better for his side to try to distract these people and get them thinking about either the powers of darkness or about their expectations concerning Messiah.  It has said to itself “Well, let’s try to get these folks off into either some kind of mystical demonology or into a political scheme for the Messiah.”  Jesus will have none of it and silences the spirit.  Jesus deals with it in and goes on doing what He’s about.

The pagans of the day, and even the Jews had elaborate rites and ceremonies for attempting to deal with demons.  Jesus didn’t play those games.  This is God, the Sovereign of the universe, in human flesh, the One to whom all created beings answer, and He simply commands that the demon leave.

Luke, always the physician, lets us know that the exorcism leaves the guy physically OK.  Luke’s readers are more or less prepared for this scene.  We know that Jesus is the Son of God, that He is the Messiah, the One who Isaiah prophesied would “release the oppressed.”  But still, imagine the shock of the people.  Jesus has not only spoken with great authority, but a few simple words from Him have dealt with the demon.

36 And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!”

A better translation might be “What kind of power is this?” in place of “What is this word?”  The people are clearly shocked.

37 And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

This verse provides a break in the action.  It jumps ahead a few hours to days in time, but the next verse is going to bring us back to where we jumped from.

38 And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 

The service is over.  It’s noon.  It’s time to go have a nice meal and relax.  Jesus has been ministering all morning.  It’s time for a little rest.  But what awaits Him at Peter’s house, but a sick mother-in-law.  Luke uses a technical medical term here and thereby tells us that this is more than a mild case of the flu.  This is a big fever, perhaps even life-threatening.  Peter and whoever else is there don’t hesitate to ask Jesus to help, and with characteristic compassion, Jesus does so.

39 And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them. 

Our health comes from God, and the only sensible use of it is then in His service.  We weren’t made to sit around and enjoy our leisure.  We were made (and given good health) to be active and about God’s work.

So the afternoon passes, the sun goes down, and all of a sudden it seems like the whole town shows up at Peter’s house.  What’s going on?  Why is everyone showing up all of a sudden?  Well, the Sabbath is formally over at sundown, and people can carry their friends, which would have been Sabbath-breaking before.  The fact that they start before the sun is completely down indicates how anxious they are to get there.  They are probably bending the rules a bit.

40 Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 

This is a really wonderful verse.  First, there is the warm picture of friends and family members bearing those in need to the Savior … carrying them … doing for them.  And then there is the picture of Jesus, who has had demand after demand placed on Him in one very full day, nevertheless taking the time to lay his hand “on every one of them.”  The Gospel is a matter open to all comers, but it is not some impersonal, mass thing.  The God of the universe amazingly enough deals with us human beings according to our situations, one at a time, individually.

41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. 

Again, this is not testimony that Jesus wants or needs.  He is not interested in the spectacular or sensational.  He is instead interested in bringing men to God.  And the words of demons do nothing in that direction, so He silences them.

42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 

Jesus attempts to be alone.  Mark says explicitly that it is to pray that He departs.  The people try to keep Him from leaving.  They are looking for a kind of permanent ultimate emergency room.  They want to keep Him for themselves, so that He can take care of whatever might come up in the future.  They want Him to stay around to guarantee that their future lives will be smooth, without sickness or pain.  But Jesus rejects that on two accounts.  First, He has been sent not only to them but to others as well.  And second, His primary work is not to heal physically, but to preach and subsequently die atoning for us.  We are flat wrong when we think of God as existing to make things “good” for us.  In thinking that way, we’ve got the Creator/creature relationship all out of focus.  Jesus was compassionate and cared for physical needs of those that asked.  We should do likewise.  But his primary purpose was to first preach the Good News, and then to die and rise again to bring men to God.  Our primary purpose must also be to preach the Gospel.

43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 

In this verse is the first occurrence of “kingdom of God” in Luke.  It is a very common phrase in the Gospel.  In various contexts it refers to the eternal kingship of God; the presence of the Kingdom in the person of Jesus, the King; the future kingdom; the opening of salvation to all people through the work of Christ.  It is the rule of God, both as a present reality and as a future hope.

44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Luke 3:1-18

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Luke’s gospel is a carefully done piece of historical writing.  Apparently the Greek in the book is just excellent and there are many details that make clear how Luke is being sure he has the story straight and is conveying it in a most accurate and verifiable manner.

Luke 3:1  In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,

Note that here, in this single verse, Luke gives us 5 statements of when this all took place.  He is very interested in tying what he’s going to present to verifiable times and places and people.  The fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar seems to put this in 27, 28 or 29 AD.

2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

This was in high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.  There was only one high priest at a time.  Annas was actually officially high priest from 7 AD to 14 AD.  But at this time the office was subject to all kinds of political intrigue.  There were 28 different official high priests from 36 BC until 27 AD.  Annas was actually succeeded by 4 of his sons and his son-in-law, Caiaphas.  It is actually Caiaphas who was officially high priest at this time, but the Jews also recognized the authority of Annas and that’s why both Annas and Caiaphas are mentioned here.

J.C. Ryle points out in his commentary on Luke that this is a mostly rotten list of people in verses 1 and 2. (Josephus seemed to think Philip was a person of character) and he encourages his reader to take hope, that in the dark hour, even with scoundrels in charge, God can break in with power.  He sent His Son, the Savior in such a time.  That, Ryle says, ought to give us energy to keep on keeping on.

The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah.  John, the cousin of Jesus is a prophet, spoken about here in the same way the Old Testament speaks of prophets like Jeremiah and the rest.  John is out here doing this not because he thinks it would be fun, but at the direction of God.

3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John was out in the country near the Jordan, where travelers would be resting up after crossing the desert.  He was preaching repentance.  A characteristic of all real Biblical preaching is the call for repentance.  God has never been in the business of making peace with us so that we could go on walking our own way, doing our own thing.  The Old Testament prophets preached repentance, John preached repentance, Jesus preached repentance, the early Christian church preached repentance, the church through the ages has preached repentance, and if we are to be Biblical people we too will preach repentance.  Repentance doesn’t save us, only the shed blood of Christ can do that.  But without repentance there is no salvation.  Ryle said, “We must know our sins, mourn over them, forsake them, abhor them, or else we shall never enter the kingdom of heaven.  There is nothing meritorious in this.  It forms no part whatever of the price for our redemption. Our salvation is all of grace, from first to last.  But the great fact still remains, that saved souls are always penitent souls.”

4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways,

6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

 Luke quotes from Isaiah 40:3-5.   The picture is one of a herald, announcing that a king is going to visit a remote part of his realm.  The people of the province are naturally anxious to present themselves and their territory in the best possible light.  And they, in particular, carry out a public works campaign, fixing up the roads of the province that the king is going to travel.

Luke correctly sees the work of John the Baptist as an exceedingly important historical matter.  Here is the one announcing the coming of the Son of God.  It is important to Luke (and us as well) that verse 6 promises that all of mankind, gentile as well as Jew, are going to see the salvation of God.

7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

John said.  The tense of the verb is that John “used to say.”  Here’s a standard line from the sermons of John.  It is interesting, especially in light of post-modern horror of saying anything that might frighten or offend a person standing outside the forgiveness of God.  John calls the people coming to him to be baptized “vipers.”  The vipers are running from wrath to come.  The image here is one of animals fleeing in front of a wildfire in an arid place.  Picture the southern California canyons ablaze and snakes coming out of their holes as it draws near.  John says to his listeners that they remind him of such critters.  John looks out and sees sick souls and desperate diseases need serious medicine.  It is not kindness to let the unconverted slip off into eternity with no warning.

John gives his listeners some credit for having sense enough to see the fire coming and flee, but he tells them that more is required than that they simply wish to avoid the consequences of their sin.

8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  The verb tense intends “continually bring forth fruit.”  The call of God has always been and always will be a call to righteous living.  Our behavior is not what gives us right standing with God.  It is our trusting in, relying upon, cleaving to, depending on, believing in Him.  But righteous living does follow that kind of real faith.  A lack of it reveals that we have not truly met God.  Religious talking without righteous doing is worthless.  Ryle put it “To say that we are sorry for our sins is mere hypocrisy, unless we show we are really sorry for them by giving them up.”

The Jew might say to himself “I have a relationship with God because I’m a part of the chosen people.  There is no need to worry about how I behave.”  John identifies that for the foolishness that it is.  John is absolutely insistent that right actions must follow from true faith and warns that presuming upon being part of the chosen people is nuts.  The God who made the universe could, if necessary, make himself a people who would love and obey Him from the rocks.  If John’s listeners won’t live right they have no claim on God’s favor.

9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

A fruit tree that bears no fruit is useless.  It only takes up space where another, more productive tree could be grown.  God is merciful and kind.  But He is also severe and completely realistic.  He gives us the means to use to produce fruit and He expects it from us.  Take the parable of the talents as an illustration.  We are to be making good with God’s ample provision, and bearing the fruit of righteousness.  The same was true of John’s listeners.

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”

These folks are getting serious.  They are asking the right kind of question.  How, in the light of the Truth that we’ve heard, should we then live?  That should be our response to hearing and reading the Gospel.   John’s advice for his hearers would be good for us to hear as well.

11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

John is talking to the crowd who has come out to the Jordan.  These are not the executives of the Fortune 500 companies and the movers and shakers of government in Jerusalem here.  And if this is ordinary people he’s talking to, who is exempt from this call to be generous and to share with those in need?

We need to listen to what John says and does not say here.  He does not say “think that generosity and sharing are good things.”  He does not say “Applaud those who are generous and share.”  He does not say “Organize a walkathon and get other people to share.”  What he says is “You be generous and share with those who have less.”

There were people of various occupations that came to John and among them were the tax collectors.  These people were Jews that worked for the Romans and were generally held in contempt, first because they were looked on as traitors, and second because they often collected much more than was required, keeping the excess as a bounty for their efforts and getting rich in the process.

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”

John’s reply is important, and different from what we might perhaps expect.  He doesn’t say “Quit your job.”  Instead

13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”

That is, there is nothing intrinsically immoral about your job.  What is immoral/wrong is the cheating that you do in its execution.  Stop that!  Do the job in a moral fashion!  Be honest in your dealings as tax collectors.  Don’t take advantage of people.

There were also soldiers that came.  Possibly these were guys sent from Jerusalem to keep order.  Possibly they were from the palace or temple guards.  Whatever the situation, it seems that just as is the case these days in many parts of the world, these soldiers were used to throwing their weight around and extorting from ordinary people that which they had not earned.

14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

The sense of the question is “And we, what shall we do?”  You get the picture here of repentant members of a crooked police force who have been extorting protection money from small business owners.  They have been taking by force or intimidation from people that which is not theirs, they have not earned and they have no right to.  They are recognizing their guilt and ask what they should do.

What does John say?   Get out of that corrupt line of work?  No, the job is not intrinsically immoral, it is your behavior in it that is wrong.  Stop it!  Do the job in a moral fashion!  Don’t look for what you haven’t rightfully earned.

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,

This was a time of anticipation, of longing for the coming of Messiah and what the Jews thought would be political liberation from the Romans.  This guy John was a powerful individual.  They thought that perhaps he was Messiah.  But as flattering as that question might have seemed, John wanted no part of such confusion.  He lets people know quite clearly that he is only the herald, that the King is yet to appear.

16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

John doesn’t want any credit.  He isn’t looking for a following.  He’s not glorifying his place in God’s grand scheme of things.  Instead, he like all true servants of Christ, points people to Jesus.

He will baptize you with (or in) the Holy Spirit and fire.  John only has the power to do the outward work of baptism.  It is Jesus, God’s own Son, who does the inward work that the baptism symbolizes.  The “with fire” has been interpreted by commentators two quite different ways, with opinion seemingly about evenly divided.  One possibility is related to verse 17 and the image of the snakes fleeing before the wildfire.  It is one of destruction of those who do not repent.  The other, quite different possibility is the one that looks forward to the day of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit coming visibly to the church in the form of tongues of fire.  It could be either.

17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Luke 2:40-52

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a lesson on what Luke tells us about the boyhood of Jesus.

Luke 2:40  And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

Here is what we know about the very early life on earth of the child Jesus.  This short verse tells us about the humanity of Christ.  He didn’t come from the womb fully developed, but went through the same kind of processes that all humans do.  His body and brain developed.  He learned to crawl and walk like we all did.  He, was, of course, singularly wise and (from before birth) in unbroken fellowship with His Father.  He was at all stages of development absolutely perfect.  But He laid aside His infinite power and complete knowledge about all things to go through normal life as a human being.  To understand how the eternal One could possibly retain His Godhood and go through infancy, childhood, adolescence, etc. is simply beyond us.  But that is what is true.  Mechanisms and particulars are not for our finite understanding.

Luke proceeds to give us one example of the wisdom of Christ in His growing up days …

41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.

Mary and Joseph are ordinary people, but they are devout, careful people.  So when the Feast of Passover came, they made the trip to Jerusalem.  It might have been easier and cheaper to stay home, but that wasn’t who they were.  They were people that loved God and honored Him in all their doing.  Expense and trouble were not the issue.  This was the ordinance of God, and together this little family took part.  Technically, women were not absolutely required to appear, and it seems that Jesus might not yet have quite been of an age that he was really required to be there either.  But again, technicalities are not the point.

42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.

43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it,

The main verb in verses 42 and 43a is “stayed.”  To best catch the sense of what is being said, the verses might be rendered “When he was twelve and they had gone up, and when the feast was ended, when they were returning, Jesus stayed behind.”  The fundamental thing Luke wants to emphasize is that Jesus stayed behind.

His parents did not know it.  The best guess seems to be that folks traveled to these feasts in caravans made up of people from neighboring towns and villages, the women and kids going first and the men and older boys bringing up the back.  Quite possibly Jesus’ appropriate place here is ambiguous, Mary reasonably expecting him to be back with the men, and Joseph reasonably expecting him to be ahead with Mary.

44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances,

45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.

46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

A day out, a day back, and the better part of a day in Jerusalem looking for Him, three days by this way of reckoning.  And where did they find Him?  In the temple, drinking in the Scriptures.

We think about this story in terms of our own kids, and accordingly think about it wrongly.  This is a twelve year old boy, but not just any twelve year old boy.  This is one whom by now Mary and Joseph have every reason to understand is the wholly perfect Son of God.  This kid is NOT going to be left in Jerusalem because He gets distracted by somebody’s dog or can’t get enough of the cotton candy.  In all reality, they should have been able to walk straight to where He was sitting.  Where else would He have been?  Hanging out playing video games?  On the soccer field or basketball court?  Your kid or mine might have been doing his or her own thing, but we are not talking about an inattentive ordinary kid here.  This is Messiah\Christ, Son of God.  Mary and Joseph have had adequate testimony about Him and experience with Him to think “If He’s not here, He’s in the temple.”  It’s not even beyond reason that they should have thought to go by the temple on the way out of town and announce that it was time to leave.

Anyway, in the temple, those without adequate background to know are stunned.

47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

This does not say that twelve-year-old Jesus was lecturing or instructing anyone.  Instruction in this time included dialogue.  This says that everyone listening as He soaked up the Word of God realized that this was not anything close to an ordinary kid here.  This was a twelve year old with an absolutely pure heart and love for the Father, incredible intelligence, and a deep understanding of what is central, what the Scriptures reveal about God, His will, and the situation of humanity.  These people haven’t heard from the angels, Simeon, or Anna, and haven’t lived with Jesus for twelve years.  And they are, accordingly, blown away.

48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.”

Mary speaks as an ordinary parent would speak to an ordinary child who had been irresponsible and self-centered.  Her words carry rebuke.  She would have done well to go a bit slower and think things through before speaking here.  She’s tired and upset and has it wrong.  She proves that wonderful woman that she was, she was nevertheless imperfect and weak like the rest us.

49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Indeed, where else would He have been?  These are the first recorded words of Jesus, and these first recorded words are significant in their declaration of His essential oneness with the Father.  What’s He doing?  His own thing?  Something intended to provoke His earthly parents?  Hardly.   He is, with completely pure and clear conscience, about His Father’s business.  What is rendered in the ESV “in my Father’s house” is more literally “in my Father’s things.”  Commentators vary on whether they think we should hear mild rebuke of Mary here, or simply wonder in Jesus’s questions.  I’m inclined to think it is the latter.  It’s a matter of surprise to young Jesus that Mary and Joseph didn’t already understand that His single purpose was to be about God the Father’s business.  This purpose was not some option that He made an arbitrary choice to take up instead of some other one.  It was imperative.  “I must be”  There was no adolescent rebellion nor unthoughtfulness in Jesus being in the temple.  There was only a pure abandonment of self to the will of the Father.

Notice too that at age twelve Jesus already says “my” Father in a way that implicitly already indicates more than a relationship with God that you or I might have.  It is not “our” Father but rather “my” Father.

50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.

What Jesus has just said is about as profound as it gets.  As a twelve-year-old, He’s made a clear claim to an absolutely special relationship with the Father.  This special relationship makes His location in the temple completely obvious.  Not having the advantage that we have of knowing “the rest of the story,” Mary and Joseph are not able to immediately process what Jesus has said.

51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

This is not indicative of a change of circumstance or attitude.  He was, as the perfect Son of God, perfectly keeping the Law of God, always in submission to Joseph and Mary.  The tense is one indicating the continual habit of Jesus.  This describes the first 30 years of His earthly life.

Mary stores these things up in her heart and sorts them out over the years.  Looking back from after the resurrection, they make good sense.  The best she could do at the time they were happening was to put them into memory.  Leon Morris said: “She might not understand, but she remembered.”  Many people think that Luke talked to Mary as he prepared to write his gospel.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

As a human, having voluntarily laid aside comprehensive knowledge that was His as the second person of the Trinity, there was room for growth in wisdom.  And the indication from the last part of the verse is that Jesus, the carpenter’s son, was well-liked around Nazareth.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Luke 2:21-38

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a lesson on the presentation of Jesus at the temple and at what two Godly old saints have to say when they see the baby, Mary and Joseph.

Luke 2:21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jewish boys were circumcised on the eighth day.  He was given the name “Yahweh saves.”   The emphasis here is on who He is from before birth.  He is God’s savior.  He functioned in the role of teacher, example, etc. during His life on earth, but primarily, from before “day one,” He was Savior.

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

Strictly speaking, it should perhaps be “her purification.”  Mosaic law (see Leviticus 12) provided that after childbirth, a woman was ceremonially unclean for a period of 40 days in the case of a boy child and 80 days in the case of a girl child.  At the end of that time, she was to present an offering.  This is one thing that is going on here.

23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”)

What else is going on here is the fulfillment of the command that all firstborn males belong to God.  In commemoration of the Passover and deliverance of Israel’s firstborn, firstborn males were publicly consecrated to God and then bought back with an offering of 5 shekels when they were a month old.  It looks like both of these rites were being followed in one trip to the temple and Luke sort of blends them together.

What does this tell us about Mary and Joseph?  These are devout, serious, careful people.  Humble people, yes, but solid, pious people who had hearts to please God.  They were the kind of people who would teach the child the obedience and humble zeal that God desires.  These were people that loved God and His people Israel.

24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

The standard sacrifice was a yearling lamb and a pigeon, but the Law also provided for the poor who couldn’t afford the lamb.  They could bring two pigeons instead.  The inference here is again that these are humble people of extremely modest means.

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

We know nothing else about Simeon beyond what this passage tells us.  But what we are told paints a most wonderful picture of the guy.  Luke says he is “righteous and devout.”  The Amplified Versions says “cautiously and carefully observing the divine Law.”  There is nothing the least bit presumptuous or careless about this man.  He knows who God is and who he is, and is living circumspectly moment by moment in the light of that knowledge.  And he lives in anticipation of God’s work in history.  He was “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” the coming of Messiah.  He’s been looking for the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah.

Isaiah 40:1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Isaiah 60:1  Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

Simeon has not grown either too comfortable or tired and indifferent through life.  Rather, he looks ahead to what God is going to do.  There are a lot of ways to end up when old, many of them bad.  God grant us grace to be like Simeon.

26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

What is it, more than anything else that we long for in life?  What would give us the greatest joy?  What is it that we most dearly hope to see come to pass?  Here is the greatest reward possible for a real subject of the King.  It is the chance to see God honored, His promises come true, and His name vindicated.  Simeon will see God’s Messiah!

27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,

Mary and Joseph were there to redeem Him with the 5 shekel offering.

J.C. Ryle points to Malachi 3:1b “… And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple …”  As most things in God’s plan, the prophecy isn’t fulfilled in the manner we would have expected.  Jesus comes as a helpless baby, attended by 2 poor Jewish peasants to be greeted by an old man and old woman.  Jesus is brought in obedience to God’s Law.  It seems that His dedication and Mary’s purification sacrifice were being combined in a single visit to the temple.  And by the hand of God, Simeon knows Jesus when he sees Him.

28he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

We’re used to this because we’ve been reading about it since we were kids.  But think about how wild it is.  Two poor people from Nazareth come into the temple carrying their 40 day old son intent on offering the poor man’s sacrifice for the occasion.  A total stranger takes the baby into his arms and gives additional confirmation that this child is God’s Messiah.  Mary has heard from Gabriel.  Joseph has heard from Gabriel.  The shepherds have heard from the angels and have told Mary and Joseph.  Now here this total stranger, by the inspiration of God’s Spirit picks the baby out of the crowd and adds additional confirmation.

Luke says Simeon blessed God.  Notice the language he uses in what follows.  Just as Mary’s response to Gabriel was phrased in Old Testament language, so also is Simeon’s.  This fellow’s whole frame of reference is God’s Word.

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;

(Sovereign) Lord.  Indeed.  This whole account takes the breath away from any honest heart.  God does indeed rule in the affairs of men and act according to His good pleasure.

The phrase rendered “you are letting your servant depart in peace” carries the idea of loosing a person from a chain or giving a person release from captivity.  Simeon has been a pilgrim and sojourner here in this world.  He’s fought the good fight and finished the course, and he’s ready to go home.  And what comes pouring out of him is a lifetime’s worth of attention to the Word of God.

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation

31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

Simeon sees in this baby the fulfillment of passages lik this:

Isaiah 52:10 The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

32a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

By the work of the Holy Spirit, Simeon sees in the baby the Glory of God and responds in language like Isaiah’s.

Isaiah 40:5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 42:6 “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,

Isaiah 46:13  I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.”

Isaiah 49:6  he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Isaiah 60:1  Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

Simeon sees (and says in verse 32) that Jesus will be both light for us Gentiles and glory for God’s chosen people Israel.  The Gospel is universal.  From the beginning, God’s plan of salvation has always included those of us outside of physical Israel. Clear back in Genesis 12:3 God revealed His intention to use Abraham and his descendants to bless all the families of the earth.  And God isn’t finished with His people Israel.  Jesus is their crowning glory, and Paul tells us plainly in Romans that in due time the nation will repent and turn to Him.

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.

Mary and Joseph have heard from angels and from shepherds who had heard from angels.  But still they can’t possibly understand the whole scope of this.

34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed

35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

The coming of Messiah, Jesus, God’s own Son is completely good and wonderful.  But we are fallen creatures that can, and in many cases do, choose to reject and defy their Savior and rightful King.  Simeon tells the whole story here.  Some will bow the knee, and for them this child will be a rising.  Some will refuse Him, and for them He will become a stumbling block, one to hate and oppose.  That’s the nature of things and Simeon can see that.  He knows and warns Mary that this is going to be no easy thing.

So now we hear about Anna.  She has the same Hebrew name as Hannah, mother of Samuel in the Old Testament.  She is presented to us as a second witness here in the temple to God’s provision of Messiah. As in the case of Simeon, all we know about her is what we learn here from Luke.  It’s not much, but what there is, is wonderful.

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin,

37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.

Anna is old.  Depending upon how the Greek is rendered, we take her to be 84 or to have lived 84 years as widow.  Either way, she’s been around a while.  She’s known sorrow and loss as a young woman, and quite possibly hardship.  But that hasn’t soured her.  To the contrary, her heart is wholly God’s.  We find her constantly in the temple, in the God-ordained place of worship and with God’s people, fasting and praying.

38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Whether she too knows by the Holy Spirit who Jesus is, or whether she has heard Simeon speak and immediately understands, out of this dear old saint comes pouring thanks to God.  And she, like the shepherds, is an evangelist.  To anyone who is ready to hear, she speaks.  She tells what she knows about the child.  With her knowledge came responsibility to let others know.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Luke 2:1-21

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a slight variant of a lesson taught September 16, 2018 at Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Ames, Iowa.

Brothers and sisters, we have this morning the great privilege and responsibility to look with reverence at one of the central accounts of all Scripture.  We’ve heard it many times.  Many of our families have memorized it.  I personally clearly recall reciting it with the entire 7th grade student body of McKinley Junior High in 1963 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  These days it is annually published even in newspapers hostile to the Christian faith.  Almost all of us in some sense “know” what it says.  So our responsibility this morning is not light.  As we look together at Luke 2:1-21 we must apply ourselves and rely upon God’s Spirit to open our eyes and ears to the wonder of this text, lest we be complacent about it because of its familiarity.  Let’s pray to that end.

Our Father, help us we ask.  We love You, but are frail.  We give You thanks for the wonder of the incarnation, and confess our dullness as we come to it this morning in Luke’s gospel.  Please work by Your gracious Holy Spirit and Word to quicken and change us as we see Christ.  Save me from wrong speaking and all of us from wrong hearing we ask.  Honor Yourself in our midst we pray, in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

I have only one main (and quite obvious) point this morning.  But to be plain, let me state it clearly here at the outset.  The point of the sermon is that:

The baby in the manger in Bethlehem was the eternal God made incarnate, and the implications of that should produce unceasing praise to the triune God of the Bible from all people.

As we attempt to grasp this point afresh, we will organize our time together into 4 waves or 4 views of the text, that might be called or outlined as:

  1. The facts,
  2. Some things about some of the participants,
  3. The significance of the events and reactions of participants, and
  4. Our response.

First, consider the more or less unvarnished facts of the account.  Let’s take the text a verse or two at a time.

Luke 2:1  In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 

Caesar Augustus was the first and greatest of the Caesars.  His reign saw the Roman Empire expand to the entire Mediterranean world.  It brought with it the famous Pax Romana (Roman Peace) and the flowering of the Roman arts and literature.  We would today judge him to be vain and ruthless, but by standards of the ancient world, Augustus was a benevolent and good ruler and these were relatively decent times.

Augustus decreed that registrations were to be made across the Roman Empire.  The were made for both taxation and military conscription purposes.  But since the Jews were exempt from Roman military service, the purpose in Judea was only to assess taxes.

2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 

3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 

Quirinius was in charge in “Syria” (including Judea) twice, once about 10-7 BC and later after 6 AD, at which time he was officially governor.  This is a reference to the earlier period, when he seems to have not had the title officially.  Luke is naming times, places, and people.  This is eyes-open history, not some fairy story or cultural myth he’s recounting.  Luke intends for “Theophilus” and others to check his real facts about real events.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 

Nazareth is 80 miles and at least a 3-day journey away from Bethlehem.  Joseph, as a descendant of King David, goes to be enrolled in the town of David.  He is no rebel.  He is a descendant of a great king, but goes obediently to register to pay tax to the current ruling authority.  He acts in a way consistent with Jesus’s answer 30 plus years later to the question He’s asked about the morality of paying tax to Caesar.  And in Joseph’s submission to the God-ordained civil authority, the decree of this pagan emperor is used to bring about God’s redemption purposes and fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 

In Syria, women of age 12 or more were subject to a poll tax and had to register.  It is thus likely that Mary needs to go to Bethlehem as well.  But even if she isn’t absolutely required to go with Joseph, her condition and circumstances are such that Joseph is not going to leave her to fend for herself while he is gone.  Mary travels with Joseph, and except for sexual relations they are living together as man and wife.  Luke says they are “betrothed.”  Jewish betrothal was a serious binding matter, which could only be broken by death or divorce.  And verse 5 tells us that Mary is still pregnant in keeping with Gabriel’s announcement.

6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 

How long have they been in Bethlehem?  We’re not told and don’t know.  We have our mental images of Mary just making it to town on the back of a donkey before going into labor.  Maybe it was that way.  Maybe they have been there for some time visiting relatives, but having been the last to arrive or being the least prestigious travelers, there is no room to stay in crowded homes of relatives.  We don’t know.  What we do know is that at an inconvenient time, in inconvenient circumstances, the baby Jesus is born.  “the time came”  The King James Version reads “the days were accomplished.”  The fullness of time has come, not only for Mary’s pregnancy to be over, but for God’s promise of a Messiah to be fulfilled.

7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

We don’t have much detail here.  Scholars are not even agreed on the intent of the word “inn” in this verse.  Whether it is a commercial establishment or a large private home is not sure.  It’s not even obvious how much shelter they have for the birth.  Many commentators see here a large circle of stalls for poor travelers, each with 3 walls and each open to a common courtyard and central fire provided by the inn-keeper.  What is clear is that there’s no comfortable place for the baby to be born, the circumstances are humble, and the child is greeted by devout and modest parents who will love Him and raise Him in the fear of the LORD.  He is wrapped up like any poor child of the time and placed in the feeding trough of domestic animals.  That this takes place at an inn guarantees it is not something that could be dismissed as a fairy story in a few years’ time.  It takes place with many witnesses.

So, in 7 short verses, with remarkable economy, Luke has told us the story of the birth.  But the birth, without what God reveals about the One who is born, would mean little.  So Luke immediately goes on to show us what the Father and the witnesses have to say about the event.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 

Tradition says these are flocks kept for the temple sacrifices.  The shepherds who watch the flock are chosen by God to be the first outside the family to see the single newborn Lamb of God, the Savior of the World.  They are the first to see the One who will Himself be the final and complete sacrifice for sin.

It is notable and fitting that these are ordinary and humble men, ones that careful Jews might well look down on for their rough ways and lack of careful adherence to ceremonial law.  It is to such common people (and thus you and me as well) that the announcement comes.  These men are busy doing what they have been given to do.  They are at work, taking shifts staying awake caring for the sheep.

9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 

An angel/a messenger of the Lord appears and the visible awesome presence of God shines around them.  These fellows are common folk, but they are not dull.  They recognize their vulnerability in the presence of the powerful messenger of God.  Literally the text is “they feared a great fear.”  Think about this: one second they are camped out on the hills on a dark night, and the next, it’s bright as day and there is a magnificent heavenly being from God having business with them.

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. 

“Fear not” is more literally “Don’t keep on fearing.”  They are terrified as well they should be.  But the angel announces that rather than bringing terror, there is “good news of great joy.”  The word translated “good news” has the same root as our word “evangelism” and the proclamation that the angel brings is “good news” to a world under the curse of sin.  It is good news that will be for “all the people.”  To the shepherds’ ears “all people” probably means “all Jews.”  But we know that in fact, something far more glorious is meant.  All is all!  This is news for both Jews and gentiles.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

A Savior is born.  It is “Jesus,” literally “God saves,” who has been born.  He is Christ, God’s anointed one, Messiah.  And He is the Lord, God Himself in human flesh, the rightful King of the universe.

12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 

A more literal rendering of this verse is “And this will be ‘the’ sign for you.”  There are probably other babies in Bethlehem wrapped this way on this night.  But there is only one in a manger, Jesus.  While this might seem like a most unremarkable pointer, it marks one of the 2 or 3 most remarkable and important events of all time.  And this humble signpost is all that the shepherds are given or will need.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

If Mary and Joseph were at home, local musicians and relatives would have gathered and greeted the birth of the baby with music of joy and congratulation.  Here near Bethlehem, there is instead the sound of angels praising God.  It is a multitude of the heavenly army of created beings praising God and giving glory to the Holy One.

These angels declare “on earth peace/shalom/well-being among those with whom He is pleased.”  This is not “hold-hands-and-sing-kum-bah-ya” about world peace.  It’s announcement of eternal well-being and wholeness, everything that makes for a sound existence and peace with God.  This is now available to humanity, to those who greet it with true faith and repentance and are pleasing to God. The curse of sin is about to be eternally broken.

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 

16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.

The shepherds don’t need to be coaxed into the trip to town.  They recognize that there is nothing more significant than the news they’ve been given.  They don’t delay, they don’t worry about who is going to see that the sheep don’t wander off, or who will keep the wolf away.  Instead they leave those matters in God’s hand, act on the news, and find things just as God promised.  And in so doing, they are the first after Mary and Joseph to behold God’s Savior come to earth.

17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.

18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 

This is a wild story that these men have to tell: God’s Messiah, prophesied since the Garden of Eden, born to poor parents in humble circumstances in Bethlehem, announced first to rough shepherds.  But there is no hint that these guys are reluctant to share the story or that people are inclined to dismiss their testimony.  It’s wild and wonderful indeed, but it’s just not the kind of thing one makes up and then persists in broadcasting.  The story simply rings true, with a beauty unmatched by that of any other in all of history.  And all who hear it are amazed.

19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 

Consider all that must have raced around in Mary’s mind in these early years.  What indeed was in store for her and Joseph and this baby?  Mary continually shows a characteristic remarkable modesty.  In this little verse Luke conveys to us the gentleness of a young woman to whom amazing things have been promised and in whose experience amazing things have come to pass, who rather than blabbing all over town, quietly ponders them in private.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The proper reaction to all this is indeed to give glory and praise to God.  What else could they or should they do?

Jumping ahead a bit over a week

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 

The central matter here is that this is indeed Jesus/”God Saves” born in Bethlehem and welcomed into this humble devout Jewish home, circumcised at eight days, and soon after presented at the Jerusalem temple in accordance with God’s law.

These are the facts.  Let’s now consider a bit more slowly some points about participants in this account.

Consider first, the persons of Augustus Caesar, Joseph, and Mary.  Augustus Caesar (or Octavian) is the nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, who simply seized power as the Roman republic was coming unglued following the assassination of Julius.  He is arguably the most powerful man in the world at this time, but was hardly one to be personally admired.  In contrast, Joseph and Mary are both devout and honorable descendants of King David and thus qualified by prophecy to stand in Messiah’s genealogy.  But they are without any public notoriety or position.  They are modest and gentle people, who show only obedience and love for God.  And God, in His characteristic reversal of human expectations and perceptions, sends Christ not into a power family in Rome, but to this modest faithful godly family in Bethlehem.

Consider next the angels who appear to first announce and then celebrate the birth.  These are ancient beings of great power and love for God.  Consider that they have long known this person in the manger.  They knew Him before the creation of this world!  He created them and they have seen the glory that He has shared with the Father and Spirit from eternity past.  They are not at this moment privy to all details of God’s redemptive plan, but Peter says that these are “things into which angels long to look.” (1Peter 1:12)  As they see this eternal God they have long known, clothed in flesh in a manger, they are surely awestruck.  Whether they can see the cross from where they stand on this night we don’t know, but the incarnation is already enough to evoke great praise from heaven.

Consider then the shepherds on this night and over the following days.  Humanity’s fundamental problem from Genesis 3 onward has always been lack of faith, basic failure to take God at His Word.  This account is a warm and glorious one, partly because there is none of that here.  These fellows may not live in palaces or have the advantage of much formal education, but they take God at His Word and are richly blessed in doing so.  There is no hesitation about publishing the good news.  While they cannot possibly see every coming detail of the life of Christ, they wonder without disbelief when they are told “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

And finally and most importantly consider the child in the manger.  We know this is Jesus.  But think of some of the implications of this.  The angel has identified Him as the Christ, God’s anointed One.  He’s the King of the universe.  John will later tell us in John 1 that He is the real and eternal “Word” who called all into existence.

Paul will tell us that He is both Creator and Sustainer of all that has been created.

 Colossians 1:15  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 

16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 

 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

He is Creator/King/ Christ, and He is the only Savior of the world.  He is the One who will bear the just wrath of God toward us and our sin.  He is the One who will be accursed/suffer God’s malediction in our places.  R.C. Sproul used a helpful device for describing what Christ bore on our behalf.  That is to take the familiar Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6 and replace its elements with their polar opposites.  In place of

Numbers 6:24  The LORD bless you and keep you; 

25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 

26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

reverse every phrase and turn the benediction into a malediction.  That is, on Calvary, Christ on our behalf received not the blessing, but rather bore the curse of God.  He was wasn’t kept by God, but rather sent away from the Father’s presence.  He didn’t enjoy the shining face of His Father but rather had the Father’s back turned on Him.  He didn’t receive God’s grace, but rather the Father’s complete rejection without any mercy or grace.  He didn’t enjoy the Father’s smile and what makes for good and joyous life, the favor of God, God’s peace, but rather in infinite torment felt the Father’s utter displeasure.  This is the saving work of the One in the manger, that You and I might enjoy the Aaronic blessing.

This is the person born into our world in Luke 2, and it ought to take our breath away.  That this person, God’s King and Savior, is the baby in Bethlehem is simply mind-blowing.  Christian people are sometimes silly on this point, worrying about the biology of conception and how it is that a virgin could conceive and bear a son.  My goodness, that’s not a fraction of it!  That the finite can hold the infinite!!!???  That is a far greater mystery and miracle!  That this baby in Bethlehem can be the Creator of all is what should make us speechless.  Brothers and sisters, the scandal here is not that the second person of the Trinity is wrapped in the cloths of the poor and has been laid in a manger, but that He has condescended to wrap Himself in humanity, to join us, and to soon stand condemned in our places!  Do we Christians believe things the world holds to be fantastic/impossible?  Of course we do, we believe in the incarnation!

The facts, the participants … now consider with me the significance of the Bethlehem scene and the reactions it evokes from participants.

The angels and then the shepherds recognize that at long last, the corner has been turned and Messiah is here.  Redemption is near.  The exact nature of that is not completely revealed nor well-understood (and won’t be clear even for the disciples after three years of watching the adult Jesus in action).  But the long wait for the crushing of the serpent’s head promised in Genesis 3 is nearly over.  The Kingdom of God is near and the angels and shepherds know it.  The great fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecy is in motion and at various levels the characters in this account understand this.  And that evokes joy, exuberant praise, and reverence.

The angels, faithful messengers of God, see the significance of the night relatively clearly and break out in “Glory to God in the highest!”  Speaking of “glory,” they know that in one sense, the person in manger is Himself the glory of God.  The writer of Hebrews says about Jesus

Hebrews 1:3a  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature …

And the Apostle John says of Jesus in Revelation

Revelation 21:23  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Further, the angels know that what God has promised as the work of His Messiah will bring great glory to God.  They know what Isaiah said

Isaiah 53:11  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 

and they declare with loud praise that the God of the Bible deserves great renown, great glory, for this stunning exchange of our guilt for Christ’s righteousness that He will soon bring to pass.

The shepherds hear this proclamation and react in simple faith.  They surely don’t fully grasp what is happening here.  But to the extent that they understand, they believe and put feet to their belief.  They hear the Word of God delivered by the angels, and run to Christ.  They rejoice in Him.  They give praise to God and tell everyone in town what has happened.  These honest souls, though they have only limited revelation, become the first human evangelists, announcing to all Bethlehem what they do know about this event.  They sow good seed and they give glory and praise to God for all that they have been shown.  There is little doubt these guys have real God-given faith and are even now presently in heaven giving glory and praise to Christ.

But as always, not all good seed bears fruit.  The people of Bethlehem “wonder at” what the shepherds tell them.  They have an interest in it, but there is no record that any of them pursue the details or implications of it.  Perhaps some of them 30 years later become Christ’s disciples, but surely most do not.  There is no group at Bethlehem during the ministry of Jesus there ready to remember His birth and repent and believe.  This is a passing event that doesn’t fundamentally change them.  It’s novel and maybe even raises their religious zeal for a few days, but in the main, the Bethlehem townspeople are ultimately hard soil.  They wonder but they do not believe in the Biblical sense of staking their lives on what they hear.

And finally consider Mary’s reaction to the events in Bethlehem.  Verse 19 says that “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”  Of course, Mary has the advantage of being 9 months into this amazing nativity experience that began with Gabriel’s visit and announcement to her.  But even accounting for this, her response is most humble, devout, and wonderful.  She meditates literally for years on the wonder of the reality that the baby in her womb was the promised Savior of mankind, the Son of Man referred to in Daniel, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.  There is great reverence and wonderful pure undivided faith in God in her.

So we have the facts, the participants, and the significance and reactions in this glorious account.  What then must be our response?

Brothers and sisters, I submit that there is only one reasonable response to all this.  Every human being who has the privilege of hearing what happened on this night in Judea 2000 years ago should believe this Gospel, this amazing Good News, repent/drop his or her self-will, and throw himself or herself on the mercy of this Savior in the manger for forgiveness of sin, and forever give glory to the triune God.

Christian, let us continue to believe and repent.  Let us believe the testimony of the shepherds.  Like Mary, let us constantly treasure the things of Christ and ponder the profound mystery of God incarnate, born to stand in our places under the Father’s just curse for sin.  Let us join the angels and give unceasing thanks and glory to God for the undeserved mercy we receive in the work of this Jesus Christ.  We know far more about this Jesus than did the shepherds.  Let us have their zeal and joy, and like them declare to all what God has done on behalf of sinful people like us.

Non-Christian, as you ponder this account, believe, repent, and be saved.  This Jesus, born in Bethlehem Christmas night is both God and King.  Believe the testimony of the shepherds.  Believe the testimony of Luke and the Apostles, that Jesus Christ lived on this earth perfectly doing His Father’s will, died bearing your sin on a Roman cross, rose again to life, presently sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, and will ultimately judge all people.  Take this message to heart.  Don’t just look in wonder or sentimentality on the manger scene and then forget, as if you heard it in town at Bethlehem a few days after the event.  This announcement of peace with God is for you, if you will run to the Savior and throw yourself at His feet.  Jesus is present with you and ready to save, if you will give yourself up wholly to Him.  Know this precious account for what it is, not a fairy story or nice warm fable, but the very difference between eternal life and eternal death, between eternal heaven and eternal hell.  There is salvation in no other.  Yield all that you are, and give Him glory and thanksgiving.

Brothers and sisters, every human being is commanded to repent and believe this Good News.  That includes me and every one of you under the sound of my voice.  Every one of us owes unceasing thanks and praise to God for His great mercy in the Christ, born in Bethlehem on Christmas night.  Thanks be to God!

Let’s pray and then sing in praise and adoration of this Jesus.

Father, with the saints of all time, with the hosts of heaven, we give you thanks and praise for the baby born in Bethlehem, Jesus, Messiah, King and Lord, God in human flesh, our only Savior.  We wonder at His condescension to us and the great grace lavished on us through His work on earth.  We gladly cast ourselves on His mercy.  We ask for humble, simple, and true hearts and tongues like those of the shepherds, quick to spread abroad the Gospel, the Good News of the way of Peace opened through Christ.  All glory in heaven and earth is Yours, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This we confess and pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Luke 1:57-80

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Luke 1:57  Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.

58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

“the Lord had shown great mercy to her”  Indeed.  The child is well, this old woman comes through pregnancy and birth well, and that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.  This little boy is going to be herald of God’s Messiah, the One that was promised in Genesis and the Jews have longed for and prayed for hundreds of years.

59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father,

There is a real neighborhood party going on here, complete with musicians and punch and cake and ceremonial circumcision.  The birth of any male child was an occasion for celebration.  All the more so in these amazing circumstances.  The neighbors assume that (perhaps in keeping with the default practice of the day) the baby will be named for his father.  The phrase rendered “they would have called him Zechariah” by the ESV might be translated “they were calling the child Zechariah.”  But Elizabeth corrects them.  The neighbors won’t name this kid, his father won’t name this kid … God has already named him!

60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”

61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.”

This is a legitimate puzzle to the people in the crowd.  They know the families and have no idea where this name is coming from.  It seems that Zechariah and Elizabeth have been private about what happened in the temple.  They’ve not been on the talk show circuit blabbing about their spiritual experiences, but rather waiting with joy to see what God will do.

62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.

It’s either that Zechariah was not only dumb, but also deaf from his encounter with Gabriel in the temple, or these folks have forgotten that inability to speak doesn’t imply inability to hear and understand.

63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered.

This statement is emphatic.  This is not a matter that is yet to be decided.  It is not still up for grabs.  The kid is John.  Though the neighbors don’t know it, that’s the name the boy had from before his conception.

64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.

The last thing that had come out of Zechariah’s mouth before this was expression of doubt.  Now, in wonderful contrast, there is expression of praise to God who has wonderfully blessed him and his wife and is going to bless the nation and all humanity through their son.  Zechariah has had 9 months to think about this, and he gets it right with his first words.

65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea,

66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

The neighbors are awe-struck.  They have sense enough to see in these quiet events the hand of the sovereign God of the universe.  By human standards these events are subtle.  There’s been no war or political revolution, no economic failure, no plague, not even a big evangelistic campaign with lots of people walking the aisles or any such thing.  This has been quiet, but stunningly profound, absolutely earth-shaking.  The whole of the Christmas account has this character.  The whole of the Gospel has this character.  If we judge the work of God by our human standards of what must matter, we will consistently have it wrong regarding what is important.

67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

It has been over 400 years since there’s been a prophet in Israel.  But now Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies.  As with the Magnificat, virtually every single phrase of this is Old Testament language/quote.  There’s again a lesson here.  Zechariah is not making it up as he goes along.  He’s speaking Bible words about Bible themes.  Just a few of the OT echoes in “the Benedictus”/”Zechariah’s song” are indicated below.  Again, these are the first words out of the mouth of this saint since his foolish words of doubt over 9 months before.  This is better!  Much, much better!

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people

Psalm 41:13 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.

Exodus 4:31 And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.

Psalm 111:9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!

Luke 1:69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,

Psalm 18:2 The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

See 2 Samuel 7 regarding the “house of David.”

Zechariah sees pretty clearly that John is going to herald Messiah’s coming.  The Messiah, son of David is on the way.

70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;

Psalm 18:17 He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.

Luke 1:72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant,

Ruth 1:8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.

Micah 7:20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.

Psalm 105:8 He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,

9 the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac,

Zechariah has spent 9 months meditating on the reliability of the promises of God, and now rejoices in the most basic promise of deliverance announced already in Genesis 3 and given detail in the Old Testament covenants.

Luke 1:73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us

Micah 7:20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.

Luke 1:74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,

Psalm 97:10 O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.

Joshua 24:14 “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.

Luke 1:75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

Isaiah 38:20 The LORD will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the LORD.

Verses 74 and 75 are the crux of the matter of deliverance from the hand of the enemies of Israel. God’s intervention on behalf of His people is to the end that they are free to serve Him properly.  Always and always, in the history of Israel and of the New Testament church, God has been at work to call and preserve a people who will serve Him and show forth His glory, to call and preserve a people who will worship Him rightly.

Zechariah next turns and addresses the infant.

Luke 1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

Malachi 4:5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.

Malachi 3:1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

Luke 1:77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,

Jeremiah 31:34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Luke 1:78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high

Malachi 4:2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Luke 1:79  to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Psalm 107:10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons,

Isaiah 9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

Isaiah 42:7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

Isaiah 58:8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

To the Hebrew mind, peace is more than just freedom from trouble.  It is all that makes for man’s highest good.  It is all things set right and in order under the rule and benevolent reign of God.

Luke 1:80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Luke 1:39-56

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Luke 1:39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,

After the visit from Gabriel, Mary immediately makes what is probably a 60-70 mile journey to the south to see Elizabeth.  This is no easy trip, and this young woman is not one of any great means or advantage.  But Gabriel’s announcement was practically an invitation to her to go and see what God was doing, and she went.

40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,

What comes pouring out of Elizabeth is at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  The picture that Gabriel had given Zechariah wasn’t complete enough that she could have otherwise known that Mary was to be mother to the Savior.  And she shouts out an excited blessing.  What she says is what should have come pouring out of Zechariah, except for the small problem that he was dumb because of his unbelief on the smaller matter of Elizabeth being with child.

42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

This is really a precious picture.  Here is this pious wise old saint, beyond natural child-bearing years, yet with child, seeing her young cousin, quite likely in her early teens and knowing by the grace of God that this simple young Jewish peasant woman is going to be mother to Messiah, the One Israel has been longing for from the first days, the One who is going to fulfill the merciful promises of God dating back all the way to Genesis and the fall of humanity.  And she can’t contain her joy!

43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Humility is a family characteristic of all those genuinely saved.  We have seen it in Mary last week.  Here it is in Elizabeth.  “But why am I so blessed?”  That’s the right question for any of us.

Elizabeth surely doesn’t grasp the full implications of what she’s just said.  With the advantage of the full New Testament revelation, we seem to be able to keep it in focus only for short brilliant glimpses.  But by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit she nails it.  Indeed this is the mother of her Lord!

44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

This is a truly beautiful picture of real humility.  Elizabeth knows and absolutely doesn’t buck the fact that it’s Mary who is carrying Messiah.  She and her son aren’t the main show, and that’s fine.  What matters is God’s gracious provision.

How does Elizabeth know what Mary has been told?  We’re not given that information.  What we are shown is that Elizabeth knows that to take God at His word is essential.  Blessed/happy and to be envied/ (Amplified) is she who has taken God at His word.

J.C. Ryle wrote concerning this picture, “We need not wonder that this holy woman should thus commend faith.  No doubt she was well acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures.  She knew the great things that faith had done.  What is the whole history of God’s saints in every age but a record of men and women who obtained a good report by faith?  What is the simple story of all from Abel downwards but a narrative of redeemed sinners who believed, and so were blessed?  By faith they embraced promises.  By faith they lived.  By faith they walked.  By faith they endured hardships.  By faith they looked to an unseen savior, and good things yet to come.  By faith they battled with the world, the flesh, and the devil.  By faith they overcame, and got safe home.  Of this goodly company the virgin Mary was proving herself one.  No wonder that Elizabeth said ‘Blessed is she that believed.'”

It’s the story of the Book from one cover to the other.  God’s people take Him at His word and obey.  The first temptation was “Did God really say?” and “You need not obey.”  Ever since, that has been humanity’s characteristic problem.  In the other side, it is the great privilege and mark of God’s redeemed people to believe and to obey.

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,

“My soul glorifies/magnifies the Lord.”  This song is called “The Magnificat” because of the first word of it in the Latin translation.  What comes from her is stunning in its depth and simple honesty.  This young woman delivers a response that shows her entire frame of reference to be the Scriptures and her heart to be right before her Maker.

It’s important to see that the terms/language she responds in are those of the Biblical revelation.  She’s clearly got the Word in her heart and now it comes pouring out of her.  (At the end of this lesson there are Old Testament references for essnetially everything she utters here.)  There is a lesson in this for us.  We fool ourselves if we think that we can improve on the language and categories that God has provided for us in the Scriptures.

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

Mary says “God my Savior.”  Gabriel has promised that He will be “the Son of the Most High” and that He will sit on David’s throne and reign forever.  She recognizes that she has been chosen to do what all Jewish women had long prayed to do, to give birth to Messiah.

48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.  For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

Again there is humility of this young woman.  That’s Mary’s attitude, and ours as well, if we have any sense.

She will be called “blessed.”  Indeed.  The Jews had been waiting and longing for the promised deliverer and Mary will be the one to give him birth.

49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

Note how quickly Mary’s thoughts turn from the grace that God has shown her in particular, to reflection on the character and nature of God.  He is holy, apart, separate, in His own class.

 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

And yet there is the understanding that God’s grace/protection/mercy extends particularly to His own people, to those who fear or have a reverent awe and respect for him.

51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

God is active in the affairs of men, and He simply will not brook arrogance/rebellion.  That is as fundamental as the fact that humility is a family characteristic of His people.

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.

God sovereignly, in His own time and for His own purposes, causes whatever reversals of human fortune that He wills.  There is in this a special concern for the weak and downtrodden.  God will act on their behalf.

54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

This is in general true, but in the context that Mary speaks it, it is especially pointed.  God is in the process of fulfilling His most solemn promise to Israel, that of sending a Redeemer.  This is His ultimate act of mercy!

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

 

Old Testament Language in Mary’s Song

1:46/ My soul Magnifies the LORD: 1 Sam 2:1, Ps 69:30, 34:3, 35:9

1:47/ my spirit rejoices in God my Savior: Hab 3:18, Ps 25:5 (LXX)

1:48/ for he has looked on the humble state of his servant: 1 Sam 1:11, 9:16 c.f. Gen 16:11, 29:32; Ps 113:5-6

From now on all generations will call me blessed: Gen 30:13

1:49/ for the Mighty One: Ps 89:8 (LXX), Zeph 3:17 (LXX)

has done great things for me: Deut 10:21

holy is his name: Ps 111 :9

1:50/ His mercy is for those who fear him: Ps 103:13, 17

from generation to generation: Ps 89:2

1:51/ He has acted mightily with His arm. Ps 89:10

1:52/ He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of humble estate: 1 Sam 2:4,7; Job 12:19; Ezek 21 :31

1:53/ He has filled the hungry with good things: 1 Sam 2:5; Ps 107:9

and has sent the rich away empty: Job22:9

1:54/ He has helped his servant Israel: Isa 41 :8-9

In remembrance of His mercy: Ps 98:3

1:55/ and his offspring forever: 2 Sam 22:51

our fathers: Mic 7:20

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

 

A Bible Lesson on Luke 1:5-38

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Luke 1:5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

Zechariah was a priest, a direct descendant of Aaron.  The Jewish priests were organized into 24 divisions, at this time consisting of around 22,000 men total.  Each of these divisions served in Jerusalem for 2 weeks each year.  Priests were to marry only pure-blooded Israelites.  Zechariah had married not only within Israel, but within the family of Aaron.  Zechariah means “God has remembered.”  Elizabeth means “God is my oath” (God keeps His promises).

6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.

These people weren’t morally perfect, but they were genuinely devout, pious people, serious Jews loving God and following the Scriptures with all their hearts.

7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Barrenness was considered a tragedy.  Often it was associated with God’s judgment.  And it is sure that Zechariah and Elizabeth had endured a life of seemingly unanswered prayer as they agonized over having no children.  As Ryle puts it, this is “one of the bitterest of sorrows” that is mentioned here.  The phrase rendered “advanced in years” has been interpreted by most commentators to mean that they were in their 70’s or 80’s, way past child bearing age.  The grace of God exempts no one from trouble, and it is ultimately for God’s glory and the good of these devout people that they have endured these long years with hope unfulfilled.

8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,

9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

As a practical matter, there were more priests than there were duties in the temple.  So they drew lots to see who would perform them.  This offering of incense brought an ordinary priest as close as he would ever come to the Holy of Holies.  Since choice of who was to serve was done by lot, some priests never had the honor of making this offering.  And if one did get to make the offering, it was only once in a lifetime.  (It seems that no repeats were allowed.)  The point is that for an ordinary priest, the opportunity to serve in this way was likely the high point of his career.

10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.

11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 

12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 

Zechariah “was troubled, and fear fell upon him.”  This was a place where no other mortal would dare to be.  Zechariah wasn’t expecting anyone else, and when the angel appears, there could be no doubt that is someone from the very presence of God.  Zechariah had to know this immediately.  And if this is a powerful messenger from the very throne of God, Zechariah cannot help but be reminded of his own frailty, unholiness, and lack of personal right to stand in the presence of that God.  He fears both because of the awesome appearance of this being, and because of the holiness of the God he represents.  Thanks be to God for the work of Christ our mediator, who gives us a place to stand before God!

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 

“Your prayer has been answered.”  This surely has a double meaning.  For their entire lives, Zechariah and Elizabeth have been praying for a child.  But Zechariah has just as surely just now been praying for the consolation/redemption of Israel.  Being pious people, that has been a life-long longing for him and for Elizabeth’s as well.  They longed that God would intervene and set all things right, that Messiah would finally come.  Apparently, the tense here indicates that the prayer to be answered is one that he had just now been praying.  That is surely this prayer for the coming of Messiah.  But now, both the payer for the fulfilment of God’s promise of a Messiah and the lifetime of payers for a child are going to be answered.  Elizabeth and Zechariah will have a son, and that son will announce the appearance of the Christ!

Zechariah is told he is to be given the name “John” or “Yahweh is gracious.”  The naming of a son was the responsibility of a Jewish father.  That God steps in and prescribes the name indicates God’s special calling of John.

14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,

15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 

John is to live a life set apart to God.  He will be great in God’s sight.  That is what matters.  He will not be great in the sight of men.  Indeed his last days will be spent in Herod’s dungeon and he will lose his head at the whim of a teenage girl and her evil mother.  But he will be great in the sight of God.  That will be evident in the way he lives, including his total abstinence from alcohol.  In contrast to one out of his mind under the influence of alcohol, he’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth.

These things will be true “even from his mother’s womb.”  That’s really a beautiful and wonderful truth.  God has His hand on our kids from before their births.  His Holy Spirit can and does work in the lives of little ones.  We ought never think of children as just beings on hold until they are grown up and can truest  Christ.  J.C. Ryle said, “We should always deal with them as responsible to God.  We should never allow ourselves to suppose that they are too young to have any religion.  Of course we must be reasonable in our expectations.  We must not look for evidences of grace, unsuitable to their age and capacities.  But we must never forget that the heart that is not too young to sin, is also not too young to be filled with the grace of God.”

16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 

17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

This hearkens back to Malachi’s prophecies.

Malachi 2:6 True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. 

Malachi 3:1 “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 

Malachi 4:5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.  6And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

John “will turn hearts.”  Ryle: ” – turn them from ignorance to knowledge, from carelessness to thoughtfulness, from sin to God.”  This is the work of a true minister of God.  It is not to say what they want to hear or will gather a large audience and big finances or will leave them singing the praises of the messenger.  It is to turn heart hearts and prepare a people for God.

Now comes a completely realistic testimony to the frailness of human beings.  Zechariah is a genuinely devout person, who is standing here conversing with an angel sent from the God of the universe, and yet he must ask …

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

Sure he and his wife are old, but exactly what more could he figure he ought to have in the way of confirmation?  He’s got the Old Testament accounts of the births of Isaac, Samuel, and Samson to learn from.  Before him stands an angel from the very presence of God.  This unbelief is at once really quite outrageous, and also completely true to the way we are.  At the core of our problems are two: refusal to 1) obey and 2) take God at His word.  That was the case in Genesis 3 and it’s the case with Zechariah. Apparently the “I” am an old man is emphatic.  And so too is the “I” in Gabriel’s reply:

19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 

Gabriel most or less says “you may be old, but I come from the very presence of God, … and was sent to you to bring you this good news”!  (“This is good news for the whole world and good news for you personally.”)  This being is the same angel that 490 years before had spoken to Daniel about how the Messiah would be mistreated.

Daniel 9:26a And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing.

And this Gabriel, great being that he is, counts it primary that he stands in the presence of God, that he is a servant of the LORD.  His name is Gabriel/”God is my strength”/”mighty man of God”/”strength of God”/”God my hero.”

20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 

There’s no mistaking it, this is a sharp rebuke.  God has spoken good news through what is clearly His specially appointed messenger, and Zechariah hasn’t believed what he’s heard.  If we’ll think about it clearly, we’ll recognize that he’s thus denied God’s ability or intention to follow through with what He’s plainly said He will do.  That’s an attack on the very nature of the Almighty.  He gets 9 months of silence to think about it.  This is a punishment that fits the crime.  If we will not agree with the Word of God, we have nothing useful to say.

21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 

22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.  

Zechariah is mute, and it seems from the latter part of the chapter that he may well also be deaf.

It’s worth thinking about the life circumstances under which this wonderful revelation comes to Zechariah.  Zechariah is putting one foot in front of the other in the service of God.  That is true faith. He’s doing the next thing that comes to him from the hand of God.  He’s playing his appointed part in the community of faith.  He’s been a faithful part of the priesthood and devout Jewish worship his whole life, treating his duties seriously, and as part of a living reality.  This is not just going through the motions he’s engaged in here.  But he also is completely surprised by this visitation.  He could not have predicted nor has any place to expect this to happen.  That too is the nature of true faith.  There is “ordinary” wonderful grace that is part of living consistently, taking God at His Word, and putting one foot in front of the other.  Extraordinary stuff that is real like this comes completely unexpectedly.  As the kids in the Narnia Chronicles learn, “Aslan is not a tame lion” … we don’t wrest from the hand of God His extraordinary goodness.

23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 

25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

This, like the birth of Abraham’s son Isaac, is a wild one.  This very old woman by the direct work of God is going to have a child … a child that will be a blessing to her and to all people.  Now we cut away to Nazareth.

26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee

The sixth month is the sixth month after Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah, announcing the conception of John the Baptist, 3 months before the birth of John the Baptist.

God again sends the archangel Gabriel, the most glorious and powerful of the created beings, as a messenger to Nazareth, a town in Galilee.  The Jews of the time had little regard for Galilee.  It was considered a backwater province tainted by gentile influence.  Nazareth is, even by the standards of Galilee, an obscure town.  There is no mention of the town in the Old Testament.  This is an obscure town in an obscure province.  It’s roughly like God sending the angel Gabriel to Radcliffe, Iowa, to announce the conception of His son.  Mary is, by outward appearances, a completely ordinary person.  She is a member of the working class, a person of no means or power, living out in the hinterlands.  God has purposely chosen the obscure and humble to bring about His purposes.  What distinguishes her is not her position or wealth or even intelligence or physical appearance.  It is her heart for God and His sovereign choosing.

27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

Mary is “a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph.”  Jewish girls were betrothed early and expected to be virgins at the time of marriage.  It is completely unremarkable that Mary was a virgin.  It would only be remarkable if she were not.  But Luke, the careful historian that he is, knows what kinds of false rumors the enemies of Christ will want to start, and thus leaves nothing to chance.  He states clearly, on the record, that Mary had not had sexual intercourse.

Mary was “pledged to be married.”  This is something stronger than modern engagement.  A betrothal lasted for around a year, could be broken only with a formal divorce.  Should one of the people die during that period, the other was considered to be widowed, in spite of the fact that they apparently lived separately and did not have sexual relations.

The fact that Joseph is a descendant of David is important because this is Messiah, God’s anointed One.  And the Old Testament prophecy is that Messiah would be a descendant of David, a member of the Jewish royal family.

28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

It might have been possible to hear this greeting as not terribly unusual.  After all, even if she was only from Nazareth, Mary was a Jew, and indeed the Jews were highly favored and blessed by the presence of God.  But Mary understands the greeting for what it is, something quite out of the ordinary.  She doesn’t think “Of course, this is only right, I’m after all, a Jew and a pretty righteous person on top of it.”  She responds with characteristic humility.  The word translated “favored” is, in fact, the Greek word usually translated “grace” or “gift.”  The emphasis of the Gospel always comes back to the kindness of God.  On any sort of an absolute scale, this is God’s great unmerited kindness and Mary knows that.

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.

Mary was greatly “troubled.”  Apparently, this is a very strong and intensive word, used nowhere else in the New Testament.  She is to not be afraid.  Afraid of what?  For one thing, this is a very powerful, awesome being that’s speaking to her.  Afraid, too, in the right kind of way, in respect/reverence of God.  It’s God who’s speaking to her here through Gabriel.  Afraid perhaps as well that she’s now standing out from the crowd.  She’s not just a person the community of Faith.  She’s a person that’s been singled out for God’s attention.  She is a person of genuine humility, and such people never are comfortable with being singled out.  And the record is that those who are appointed to special tasks rarely find them to be without hardship.  God promises the strength necessary to do what He calls us to do, but He does not promise that doing His work will be easy or always pleasant.

31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.

Mary recognizes this as something more than a statement that she and Joseph will have children.  It may be that at this point the words of Isaiah the prophet come rushing into her mind.

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

She is to give him the name “Jesus,” the name of Joshua of the Old Testament,  the name meaning “Yahweh saves.”

32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,

Now these statements to Mary become unmistakably Messianic.  At this point, she cannot help but understand that Gabriel is speaking to her about the long awaited Messiah.  There are Old Testament passages like Psalm 2 and Psalm 89.

Psalm 2:6 “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.

Psalm 89:26 He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’

27 I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.

Luke 1:33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

And there are Old Testament passages like 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 45, Isaiah 9, and Daniel 7.

2 Samuel 7:13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

 2 Samuel 7:16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'”

Psalm 45:6 Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Daniel 7:13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.

14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Passages such as these must by now have been ringing in Mary’s head.  After all these years and all the praying and waiting for Messiah, He’s coming, and she’s to be the mother.  It’s too much for her to take in without gasping for air.

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

This is not the voice of doubt, but rather the voice overwhelming wonder.  Zechariah, when told that he and Elizabeth were to have a child in their old age, answered Gabriel in a doubting way, and was rebuked for the answer.  But this is something else.  Mary is just having a hard time taking it all in.  This is an honest inquiry about the details.

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

If we have any sense, we look at every conception as a miracle.  But this is beyond the ordinary.  The child is going to have no natural father and in fact is going to be God incarnate, the Son of God.  People have rightly said that this is the hinge on which all the rest of the NT miracles turn.  If this be true, there is no problem understanding the miracles of Jesus.  If He is God incarnate, of course He could feed the 5000 or calm the sea.

36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.

It is God who makes the barren fertile and gives children as He chooses.  Mary hasn’t asked for a confirmation of the promise to her, but she is nevertheless given one.  Gabriel now lets her in on the news that by the grace of God, her aged relative Elizabeth is carrying John the Baptist.  Is all of this possible? IS it possible that the old and infertile Elizabeth is with child?  Is it possible that she Mary will, in a completely miraculous way carry in her own womb, the Son of God?  Of course it is.  God is God.

37 For nothing is impossible with God.”

This reminds of God’s reply to Abraham when Sarah laughs at the thought of having a child in her old age.

Genesis 18:14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.”

It is God who has established the “laws of nature.”  He is not bound by the laws He has established.  The One who called into existence the entire universe is not subject to the rules that He established for that creation.  Nothing is too hard for God.

Mary’s reply to Gabriel is one of the simplest and yet most profound and appropriate statements by a human being recorded in Scripture.

Luke 1:38  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Think about this reply.  What does she know about what’s to come?  She knows that there’s great blessing, to be sure.  But she doesn’t know the details.  And she surely understands that with the blessings are going to come real hardships.  In the immediate future is going to come the awkward situation of being pregnant before the consummation of her marriage to Joseph, and then a lifetime of off-color remarks from rough people with no appreciation of who the baby is.  But her response is one of humble and beautiful submission to the will of God, and confidence in His goodness and His ability to strengthen and bring her through what He gives her to do.  One can hear in the words of Mary here the words of her son years later in the garden.

Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

It is no wonder that Mary was chosen by God for this task.  Her heart is right.  Her reply is one we ought to admire and determine to imitate.  J C Ryle said, “Let us seek in our daily practical Christianity to exercise the same blessed spirit of faith that we see here in the Virgin Mary.  Let us be willing to go anywhere, to do anything and be anything, whatever be the present and immediate inconvenience, so long as God’s will is clear and the path of duty is plain.” … Ryle goes on to quote from Hall: “All disputations with God after His will is known arise from infidelity.  There is not a more noble proof of faith than to captivate the powers of all our understanding and will to our Creator, and without all questionings to go blindfold wither He will lead us.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

 

Sola Scriptura

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is an expository lesson on the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura.  Ii is a slight variant of a lesson taught at Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Ames, Iowa on October 1, 2017.

 

This is a lesson on the first of the “Solas” (“Soli“) of the Protestant Reformation.  These phrases summarize 5 essential emphases of historical orthodox Christianity that were central to the Reformation: Sola Scriptura (or Scripture Alone), Sola Fide (or Faith Alone), Sola Gratia (or Grace Alone), Solus Christus (or Christ Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (or Glory be to God Alone).

We begin with Sola Scriptura.  This has been called the “formal principle” of the Reformation.  It is the basis upon which the other Solas, the so-called “material principles” of the Reformation, are established.  At a most general level, Sola Scriptura answers a fundamental question of human thought “How do we know?”  “How do we know anything?”  And most centrally, “How do we know about life and death, righteousness and guilt, forgiveness and eternal life?”  What we can know about these central matters is that eternal life, comes through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of the triune God alone.  These latter 4 Solas together are what saves us and gives us life.  They are the material principles of the Reformation.  How we know them to be true is through the self-revelation of God, through God speaking to humanity.  And God has spoken both through His Son, and by His Spirit through the human authors of the 66 books of the Bible.   

Sola Scriptura asserts that our bedrock basis for knowing and believing is what the living God has said in the Holy Scriptures, and that there is no other equally authoritative source of knowledge.  Luther used the Latin phrase norma normans non normata to describe the Bible.  That is, Scripture is the “norming (or supreme) norm that cannot be normed.”  Other sources of godly wisdom exist, but Scripture rules.  Reason, tradition, and experience are inescapable, and when devout and subject to the Bible, are a great blessing.  But they do not rule.  Scripture alone rules.

Most specifically or narrowly, the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura was a rejection of creeping Roman assertion of primacy and authority during the middle ages, that by the time of the Reformation was explicitly claiming that her non-Scriptural/extra-Biblical traditions were a second ruling source of authority and binding on anyone who would be Christian.  Roman Catholicism further asserted that only its hierarchy was qualified to read or interpret Scripture, surely not ordinary people.  The Reformers completely rejected the validity of any such claims.

It is important to be clear about what Sola Scriptura is and is not, and perspective on the history of the Bible will help us in that.  God very directly gave His Law to Israel, His Spirit enabled the Old Testament prophets to speak for Him and write down His very words, and Hebrew history was recorded under the superintending of His Spirit.  God’s chosen people, led by the Holy Spirit, recognized those writings as God’s Word, and humanity was given the Old Testament canon.  At exactly the right time in history and consistent with the Old Testament revelation, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God in flesh, came and accomplished salvation for us at Calvary.  When He returned to the Father, He left us His Holy Spirit and His Apostles to preach and teach and evangelize.  He told the Apostles:

John 14:26  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 

For a period of roughly 30 years, those Apostles and their close associates then taught a common basic Christian Gospel, relying upon this promise of Jesus, using only the Old Testament as Scripture.  It was what they had for a written Word of God.  But as time passed, the Spirit inspired New Testament writers to write, and the collective churches led by the Spirit and having been taught by the Apostles, recognized the books of the New Testament as God-breathed and consistent with what they had been taught orally.  They acted consistent with

John 10:27  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 

and the full canon of Scripture, Old and New Testaments, was then recognized for what it is, God’s Word.

This unbroken line of God speaking and God’s people corporately recognizing the already-existing Word of God is important, since Rome’s claim became that she gave the world the Bible, and that in some ways it is her creature, subject to her authority.  This, the Reformers flatly rejected.  They insisted that the church is bound by the Scriptures, not the Scriptures by Roman interpretation and its extra-Biblical traditions.

It is vital to understand that in this, the Reformers were not innovators nor rebels nor individualists.  Their intent was to return to the view of Scriptural authority held for at least the first 300 years of church history, to roll back Roman encroachment on that understanding.  They did NOT believe in a “Solo” (personalized “just me and the Bible”) Scriptura nor in a nuda (“no creed but the Bible”) Scriptura.  They had a high view of the true church and its legitimate authority (derived from Scripture) and agreed with early church councils (like Nicaea and Chalcedon) that had worked out from Scripture important Christian doctrines and refuted heresy, identifying the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.  The Reformers simply insisted, in agreement with the early Christian church, that Scripture alone rules and is binding on the hearts and minds of all Christian believers.

So then, what are we going to do with this Reformation history concerning the central ruling place of the Bible, today 500 years later?  How can we bring honor to Christ as 2017 Protestant Christian believers in matters related to the place of the Holy Bible in life and faith?

My plan here is to look at some of what the Bible says about itself and to then consider with you some implications of those Scriptures for life in our time and place.

So, hear the first 3 verses of Genesis:

Genesis 1:1  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 

2  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 

3  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 

From the very beginning, God has been speaking.  He spoke everything into existence.  His speech has always been both creative and absolutely authoritative.  Brothers and sisters, as we consider the Word of God, we must always remind ourselves that it is the expression of the great I AM, the Alpha and Omega, the One who was, and is, and is to come.  God’s Word is authoritative exactly because it is His Word, and He is Creator and Sustainer of all that is, and its rightful King and Judge.

This great God, the One who is the center of all things, spoke graciously to our first parents, Adam and Eve:

Genesis 2:16  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 

17  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.

But there was another voice, and humanity in great tragedy chose to doubt the good Word of God, chose to believe Satan’s slander, and chose to disobey.

Genesis 3:1  Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 

Every bit of human misery traces back to this and what followed … it traces to failure to take God at His Word, and to then go our own human way, to do our own thing, and to act as if we know best.  Brothers and sisters, we humans are suckers and rebels.  Genesis 3 ought to not only makes us grieve and mourn the dishonoring of God and the breaking of His good creation, it should make us cringe and wonder that God wasn’t done with our race right then.  But in grace He continued to speak, and made merciful promises of a Redeemer for fallen humanity.  And He began to give us a written Word.  Listen to a bit of what Deuteronomy says about the event of God’s writing of the 10 Commandments on stone tablets:

Deueronomy 4:32  “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 

33  Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 

God’s initial giving of a written Word was accompanied by cataclysmic thunder and lightning on Mount Horeb.  As Al Mohler has pointed out, there are two enormous miracles referred to in Deuteronomy 4:33.  First, God spoke to unworthy humans who deserved His silence.  Second, the hearers were not consumed upon hearing God’s Word and receiving the tablets.  God’s Word is holy and sacred.  It is not something to treat lightly or as if it were just another voice in our world full of competing voices and options.  It is absolutely unique, in that it reads us and infallibly tells us the way things are.  It exposes us and our real motives in ways nothing else can.  We simply must come to it in humility and reverence.  Hebrews puts it this way:

Hebrews 4:12  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 

13  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. 

The people of Israel were taught about the nature of the Word of God in their wilderness journeys.  They learned that is it life-giving.  It is real food for our souls.  A few Chapters after the Deuteronomy account of the giving of God’s law we hear this:

Deuteronomy 8:3  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 

The Word of God is no optional add-on to already-full lives.  It’s not a multi-vitamin taken once a day to keep the doctor away.  It tells us that it’s the difference between starvation and health.  Really.  That’s what God says.  It’s the difference between starvation and health.  God’s Word is gracious and blessed and life-giving, and has the capacity to get inside us, and by the Spirit to sustain and perfect us.  The Spirit uses it to change our minds and hearts.  And that we desperately need.  The prophet Isaiah eloquently says it this way:

Isaiah 55:8  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 

9  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

10  “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 

11  so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 

Christian, there is hope and comfort here for those who love God.  God’s Word cannot fail.  This Book is infinitely more than some textbook on philosophy or morality.  God has not simply given a technical manual for living or for operation of planet earth.  The Spirit of God applies the Word of God to hearts and minds and it is living and effective and accomplishes what God intends.  There is this in 1st Corinthians:

1Corinthians 2:12  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 

13  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 

The Apostle Paul understood that the very words the Spirit gave through him are God’s words, exactly the right words, words that uniquely convey God’s intent and holy will.  They are the words God’s Spirit uses to give us understanding of God’s mind.  They are precisely the correct words to give us life, to save our souls, to conform us to the image of Christ.  The first letter to the Thessalonians speaks of the ongoing work of the Word of God in sanctifying Christian believers:

1Thessalonians 2:13  And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 

Ultimately and most fundamentally, the Bible, God’s written Word, reveals the person of Christ to us, and teaches us the Gospel.  Sola Scriptura serves Solus ChristusHebrews opens with this:

Hebrews 1:1  Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 

2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 

John’s Gospel opens with this:

John 1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

2  He was in the beginning with God. 

3  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 

4  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 

Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, is made known to You and me by His Spirit through the written Word of God.  We know who Jesus is and what He has done because God has told us in the Bible.  Because the Bible is authoritative we are not left guessing or in doubt about Him, and are not free to make up an imagined Jesus to suit our personal preferences or the current whims of society.  What it tells us about Christ is binding on all people.  What the Bible says about Christ, God says about Him.[1]  Because the Bible is both necessary and sufficient, we need not, and absolutely should not, look anywhere else for new revelation about Christ.  God in His mercy and providence has told us exactly what we need to know about Christ for salvation and real eternal life that begins in the here and now.  Because Scripture is literally the Word of God, we need not and should not be in the place of Adam and Eve, susceptible to the questions “Did God really say … ?” “Is it really true?”  What the Bible says about all things, and in particular what it says about our Savior, is completely reliable, completely without error.  Because the Bible is clear, it is not beyond ordinary people to humbly open it, hear what it says, believe and repent, and inherit eternal life that Christ opened for His people on Calvary.  Because God is immutable and the Bible is His Word, we know that what it tells us about Jesus is unchanging, always and forever relevant.  Because the omnipotent God of the Bible is the very definition of truth, His Word it is invincible and final.  What it says about the future is absolutely sure.  What it says about the return of Christ and His eternal rule and reign is as good as done.  Praise be to the I AM!

Brothers and sisters, there has been a lot of water over the dam since October 31, 1517.  Since 1517 Rome has drifted even far beyond its medieval position on Scriptural authority, specifically repudiating Sola Scriptura, adopting official doctrines declaring the pope infallible (and effectively a law unto himself), and officially taking positions like the immaculate conception of Mary and her bodily assumption into heaven, on the basis of supposed tradition over and against Scripture.  Since 1517 western evangelicals of most stripes have drifted to only a vague and highly personalistic doctrine of the Bible that really doesn’t much resemble that of the Reformers and instead more reflects the enlightenment movement’s promotion of individual autonomy and a fascination with self-interested democracy.  Since 1517 theological liberals have given up any pretense of viewing the Bible as anything but a bunch of quaint ancient writings riddled with errors and lacking any authority.  And what is probably most germane this morning is the nearly complete post-modern secularization of western society since 1517, a reality that has been incredibly accelerated by the absolutely suffocating digital presence of the voice of this world, represented in those awful smart phones we’re slaves to.

SO, we must face the question of “What then?”  To borrow a phrase from Francis Schaeffer of 35 years ago, in the light of what is true about Scripture and the time and place in which we live, “How should we then live?”  We’ll frame some answers in line with three more short New Testament passages:

1Peter 1:23you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 

24  for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 

25  but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. 

 

2Timothy 3:14  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 

15  and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 

16  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 

17  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 

 

Colossians 3:1  If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 

2  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 

 

Christian people are saved by believing in the atoning work of Christ presented in the eternal Scriptures and repenting.  Those Scriptures are “breathed out” by God.  They are exactly what He says.  Having been raised from Spiritual death in and with Christ, we are then to seek and set our minds on things above.  Brothers and sisters, the same Word that saves us enables us to obey the Colossians 3:1-2 instruction regarding what we are to seek and value.  Therefore:

In our time and place in light of what is true about the Bible, let us trust the triune God of the Bible and those through whom He has spoken.  Let us be thankful for the prophets and Apostles who lead us to Christ.  Let us know that they speak for God and speak truly and let us be grateful.

In our time and place and in light of what is true about the Bible, let us love it and live in it.  Let us read and study, read and study, read and study, and repeat.  Hear what 19th century English Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon said in this regard. “It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until at last, you come to talk in scriptural language, and your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord, so your blood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.”

Spurgeon’s phrase “eat into the very soul of the Bible” is startling.  But it’s consistent with the understanding given by Deuteronomy 8:3 and Jesus’s quotation of it at the temptation in the wilderness.  It’s consistent with a sense of desperate need and recognition that God’s Word is the difference between life and death.  It is far from a casual or polite nibbling at the Word.

Consider a bit of math.  There are slightly fewer than 1200 chapters in the Bible.  That means that at a pace of 25 chapters a week, a person can read the Bible through once per year.  It also means that at a pace of about 40 chapters a day, a person can read the Bible through in a month, or 12 times in a year.  I do not presume to prescribe here, but offer brief descriptions of two cases I have personally known.  I know a wonderful couple who for about 30 years took church youth groups through the Bible every year, giving wonderful Bible knowledge quizzes every Wednesday evening.  I can testify that that exercise was good for many young souls.  I also know a young international woman who believed and repented the first time she heard the Gospel preached in the US.  By the time I first met her, she had been saved for about 3 years.  By then, despite having had little access to good preaching, this young woman had a comprehensive Biblical knowledge, a deep love for Christ, the heart of an evangelist, and a sound orthodox Christian theology.  How?  Well, for her entire Christian life (while a graduate student) she was reading the Bible through monthly, and in Spurgeon’s words, the very essence of the Bible was flowing from her.  That should be our desire as well.

In our time and place and in light of what is true about the Bible, let us use the inspired categories and words of the Bible.  They are exactly the right ones.  The categories of post-modern society do not rule.  Scripture rules.  Good is what God says is good and evil is what He calls evil.  Bible words are the ones God uses to tell us the truth.  They ought to increasingly be on our lips.  As Spurgeon said, we should “come to talk in Biblical language.”

In our time and place and in light of what is true about the Bible, let us subject every thought and attitude to Christ as revealed in the Scriptures.  We ought to continually ask ourselves “Where did that thought come from?”  “Is that Biblical?”  “Can I imagine the Apostle Paul saying that?”  “Is that the Spirit of Christ?”  Reformer John Calvin wrote: “We ought surely seek from Scripture a rule for thinking and speaking.  To this yardstick all thoughts of the mind and words of the mouth must be conformed.”  Our environment is one where society says every person is the judge of all and that all is relative, nothing is “true” except “for me.”  The great evil in our time is to suggest that there is any absolute that rules outside my whims. Those are the thoughts of the world, not of Christianity.  Christian thoughts are ones that Spurgeon described as “flavored with the words of the Lord.”

In our time and place and in light of what is true about the Bible, let us be genuinely humble as we approach the Scriptures and orthodox Christian doctrine derived from them.  The Scriptures are not obscure and individuals have the right to interpret them.  But we do not have the right to misinterpret them.  In this, the church present and through ages past is our check against our own arrogant foolishness.  R. C. Sproul put it this way: “Although tradition does not rule our interpretation, it does guide it. If upon reading a particular passage you have come up with an interpretation that has escaped the notice of every other Christian for two-thousand years, or has been championed by universally recognized heretics, chances are pretty good that you had better abandon your interpretation.”

In our time and place and in light of what is true about the Bible, let us allow Scripture to dictate our priorities and concerns.  This is the basic philosophical question of “value.”  The Scripture tells us what matters, what deserves our attention.  The world says otherwise, but let us love the LORD our God with all our hearts souls minds and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves, and use our Master’s resources, including our time and mental and physical energy, accordingly.

In our time and place and in light of what is true about the Bible, let us measure the world we live in by Scripture and not vice versa.  Christ called us His people to be salt and light, a city set on a hill, not to blend into the cultural landscape by giving Biblical truth a facelift or accommodating the spirit of the time.

In our time and place and in light of what is true about the Bible, let us glory in the Gospel message preserved for us in the Bible and love and obey the Savior it shows us.  We have been given a wonderful true reliable message of redemption.  We have been given real food for the soul.  Let us constantly rejoice in that.  Thanks be to the one true God who speaks.

Let me pray for us in closing.

Father, we give You thanks for Your Word.  We agree with the Psalmist that Your law is perfect, reviving the soul; Your testimony is sure making wise the simple; Your precepts are right, rejoicing the heart; Your commandment is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of You is clean, enduring forever; Your rules are true and righteous altogether.  May we walk before You carefully and gratefully in the light of these.

In Christ we pray, Amen.

 

[1] B.B. Warfield is often quoted as saying “The Bible is the Word of God in such a way — that when the Bible speaks, God speaks.”  St. Augustine long before him said much the same thing.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

 

Some Suggested Reading and Listening (in no particular order)

Barrett, Mathew.  God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2016.

Sproul, R. C.  Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2005.

Mathison, Keith.  The Shape of Sola Scriptura. Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2001.

Kistler, Don, ed.  Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible.  Sanford, Florida: Reformation Trust Publishing, 1995.

Grudem, Wayne.  Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.  (See Chapters 2-8)

The Cambridge Declaration (on the website of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals)

http://www.alliancenet.org/cambridge-declaration

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (on the website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals)

http://www.alliancenet.org/the-chicago-statement-on-biblical-inerrancy

Paul Washer 2017 G3 Conference Sermon

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-NDLxlsmOY

Al Mohler Sermon/Conference Talk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTIU2MjNJhI

Another Al Mohler Sermon/Conference Talk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZ83kRLvdBE

R. C. Sproul Lecture

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfRAjJav06s

Steven Lawson Lecture

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTIU2MjNJhI