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Archive for the ‘Luke’ Category

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As a landscape can look quite different at different times of day or in different weather as the varying angles and hues of light on a terrain make different parts of that landscape stand out in sharp relief, so reading the Bible in a different cultural setting can highlight and bring out things you’d never seen before. I mentioned a few examples of this in an earlier post and here are a few more features of the Bible landscape that the preaching of Kenyan brothers has helped me see and appreciate in a new way.

Shame

It is sometimes said that African and Asian cultures are shame cultures (concerned about issues of public face and community rejection) whereas Western culture is a guilt culture (concerned about individual objective transgression of the law). Perhaps there is some truth in that but actually I think Western culture is a shame culture too just in a different way. Some things that would not be shameful in Kenya are shameful in the UK and vice versa. I’ll try to explore that more in another post. But what is certainly true is that when you are away from your home culture you notice the shame issue more.

When Ken Irungu was giving us an overview of 2 Timothy and preaching through the first chapter, one of the things that really struck me was how he brought out the theme of shame and being unashamed. In his time of trial Paul has been deserted (2 Tim. 4:16) and he calls Timothy ‘not to be ashamed of the gospel or of me his prisoner’ (1:8) but rather to be like Onesiphorus who was ‘not ashamed of my chains’ (1:16).

Challenging convention, being different, being outspoken can often be taken as shameful in a communal culture. To undergo arrest or punishment by the authorities, even when undeserved, will be seen as shameful. Even to suffer through illness, bereavement or some calamity can suggest that you under some sort of cloud of curse of misfortune. So for Paul to be suffering, and particularly suffering institutional persecution for the sake of his preaching, is a shameful thing and people will naturally respond by dissociating themselves and distancing themselves from him so as not to share the shame or pick the contagion. He will be rejected by the community, in itself a shameful thing, making him even more a figure of shame.

Being shown this theme has made the letter of 2 Timothy stand out in sharper relief for me. And I have also started to notice it all over the New Testament – the words ‘shame’ or ‘ashamed’ coming about 40 times. The death of Christ was a shameful thing (Heb. 12:2). The call of Jesus is to take up our cross (i.e. be willing to be shamed) and not be ashamed of me or my words else the Son of Man will be ashamed of him (Mk. 8:34-38). “Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Heb. 13:13).

Elder brother

In African cultures the role of the firstborn is well understood. I remember being in a Bible study in the Gambia looking at Colossians 1:15 and the African brothers there had no problem understanding the significance of Jesus being the ‘firstborn’. They didn’t get distracted by the JW misunderstanding that this means that Jesus is a created being, they understood that just as the firstborn in a house is next to the father and has all the rights and authority and status of the father (particularly when the father is away), so Jesus is next to the Father and has delegated to him all the functions and power of the Father.

Then Stanley Wandeto was preaching on Luke 15 – the parable of the two sons – and he showed me something that I had never seen about the elder brother there. It’s a parable full of shocking (shameful) behaviour (e.g. the younger son asking for his inheritance, the old man running, the father begging his son) but the one I hadn’t seen was that the elder brother is shocking in that he doesn’t go looking for the younger son. Traditionally a responsibility of the firstborn is to look after his younger siblings, to keep watch over them, to care for them and keep them in line. When the younger son insults his father and goes off into a life of recklessness, it is the job of the firstborn (not the father) to run after his brother and plead with him to come back.

Now I think of it, I realise that this is the godly concern that many of my Kenyan friends and colleagues have within their own families, particularly those who are firstborns, to pursue and win back straying siblings.

This gives another level and depth to the characterisation of the elder brother in the parable. His hatred towards his younger brother does not start when he comes home and a party is thrown for him, it starts much earlier in his failure to search for him. The self-righteous Pharisees (who are the target of the parable) are at fault not only for their failure to welcome sinners but their failure to go out looking for sinners (cf. Jesus who welcomes and seeks the lost).

Dead dog

Before I came to Kenya I’m not sure I’d seen a dead dog before. Now I see one almost every time I go to the office, lying in the road. Africa is full of stray dogs. Mostly a yellow-brown colour, small to medium size, thin, feral, searching for scraps. They have a hard pathetic life and then they get hit by a truck or starve.

In most African cultures, for a person to be compared to a dog is an extremely insulting and shameful thing. For one thing the distinction between animals and humans is much sharper than in the West (where pets are part of the family and people get very upset over a gorilla being shot) and for another thing dogs are a particularly dirty and ignoble animal (in contrast to something more noble like a lion or a rhino).

So when Fidel Nyikuri preached Mark 7:27 to us and also reminded us of Mephibosheth in 2 Kings 9, it came home very powerfully what it means for us to be a dead dog – pathetic, despised, dirty, base, in the lowest place. And yet – the wonder of the gospel – we who are not entitled to anything are invited to eat at the king’s table and share the children’s bread (Mk. 8:1-9).

Water and milk

In parts of the world where water comes clean, clear, pure and cold straight from the tap and is basically never cut off, it is difficult to appreciate the preciousness of water. In parts of the world where milk is delivered to the door and is always there when you open the fridge, alongside three or four other beverages and fifteen food items, it is difficult to appreciate the importance of milk.

However in places where the climate is hot and dry and water is scarce, where it has to be searched for or brought up from the ground with effort, then there is much more impact when we read in Isaiah of drawing ‘water from the wells of salvation’ (Isa. 12:3), a ruler and renewal which is ‘like streams of water in the desert’ (Isa. 32:2; 35:6; 41:18; 43:20; 44:3), a shepherd God who leads his people ‘beside springs of water’ (Isa. 49:10). Similarly, in a community where milk (drawn by hand from your own animals) is a key part of the diet (in some pastoralist communities people survive purely on milk for days a time and even down-country in many villages the one animal you will own is a cow), then the land flowing with milk and honey is very meaningful picture.

Preaching from Isaiah 55 Gerald Mwangi helped us imagine working all morning on the farm, digging in the sun, drinking nothing, and then finishing your work in the early afternoon desperate for… water. Then to think of what we take from childhood onwards to make us strong, to give us energy, to build us up… milk.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.”

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After Church I came home and turned on the TV to listen to a sermon by one famous Kenyan preacher.

It begun with the famous “This is my Bible… I am what it says I am…”

The Topic is ‘Power of God’s Word

The text is Luke 1:26 – 39, with a particular emphasis on v37 during the reading ‘For nothing will be impossible with God.

Intro:

“The word of God is powerful.”

“God confronts every disorder in your life with an order from his mouth.”

“The word of God talks about prosperity. Though you who is watching may not like that word but it’s what the word of God says.” He then goes ahead to quote a number of passages that ‘supports’ what he’s saying:

  1. Psalm 35:27b- “The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.”
  2. Psalm 37:25- “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”
  3. 2 Cor. 9:8 (though he said 1 Cor.)- “And God is able to make all grace abound in you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
  4. 4:19- “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
  5. 3 John 2- “Beloved, I pray above all things that you may prosper and be in good health, even as your soul prospers.

[Context, Context, Context… was totally ignored here.]

“You see poverty is not a sign of humility. There are many poor people who are very proud.” [I totally agree with this]

The plan of God is for you to live a good life. Christ took the curse when he died on the cross, for it’s written ‘cursed is he who earns on a tree.’ Christ took that curse so that you may be blessed. There’s no one who is cursed here. All of you are blessed.”

“He says you shall be the head not the tail.”

“God’s word is powerful, whatever he says happens. I am wearing a black jacket but when God looks at it and says yellow, that’s it… it’s yellow… it changes. It’s yellow in God’s eyes… are you with me?” [Ok, I wasn’t with him at this point, I was still struggling with this black-yellow-jacket-thingy]

It’s the word of God that matters. It’s not what I say, don’t listen to my every word… have the word of God.” [I got lost a bit here… should I listen to you or not??]

40 Minutes Later:

“Let me now go to the text quickly”

“God sent his angel to Mary. I can’t preach unless am sent. How can they hear unless someone is sent? Just as the angel was sent to Mary, I am sent to you. I can’t preach unless I am sent.” [Mmmmh!]

“The word says that 1000 shall fall on your side, 10000 on your right hand but it shall not come near you. Power of the Word- even AIDS shall not come near you.”

“He is able to heal AIDS, even cancer. ‘He sent his word & healed your disease.’ This what you need to hear.” [Wololo!!!!]

“Just as he sent his angel to Mary, he’s sent me (as his angel) to you. He’s sent me to tell you that there’s no sickness/condition that has plagued you that God can’t reverse.”

“He’s sent me to tell you that there’s no sickness that he can’t heal. He sent his word & it healed their condition.”

“He’s sent me to tell you that he’s going to turn your situation around.”

“He’s sent me to tell you that the wealth of the wicked is going to be released into your hand.” [I am so nervous here… I don’t want that ‘wealth of the wicked’]

“The angel said to Mary ‘’you are favoured among women.’ It can be anyone but it is you. Just as the Lord sent the angel to Mary, he’s sent me to prophesy favour to you.”

“Favour isn’t deserved. Favour isn’t earned, you don’t qualify for it.” [what is it?]

“Favour will give you a cheque written in USD”

“Get ready to build a house in a place you never thought you would.”

“Get ready to drive a car of your dreams.”

“Favour will do it all.”

“You are favoured among women. What you are about to carry in this season shall be great… just like Mary.” [By this time am totally lost]

“Mary then asks ‘How shall it be since I do not know a man?’ I am not connected, I don’t know people! It’s not about who you know, it’s about what God is doing.”

“I decree that what men can’t do, God will do. I prophesy that where there’s disconnection, they shall be connection.

I come as an angel to decree promotions, abundance, overflow… can I get an Amen.” [The congregants were on their feet throughout the whole sermon & he had to tell them to sit down at least twice.]

Joseph is irrelevant in what God is about to do. [This is serious ‘mis-preaching’ if there’s such a word.] The bankers, the oncologists, are all irrelevant. This thing shall not be about who you know.”

 

“In your walk with God, you must come to a time where man disappoints. God will cause men to disappoint… that’s the time when God shall step in. Where men have disappointed you, that shall be God’s appointment.” [where does this come from?]

 

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you. I sense the Holy Ghost walking on your situation. *Rababoboshaka*”

“When the Holy Spirit starts to move, this is the result *calls Fidel- name withheld (one of the pastors) for everyone to see him & witness what the Holy Spirit can do*”

“Tell your neighbour ‘This is not your auntie, your uncle, or the politician, or the person you know. This time it shall be the hand of God.’”

Conclusion:

“I prophesy as I come to an end that you shall carry that miracle- that baby. And Mary said ‘Let it be according to your word.’ I decree according to the word of God that you shall get that tender, that contract that was cancelled shall be yours. I cancel death (you shall not die but live to see the goodness of God in the land of the living). I cancel that cancer, I cancel that cirrhosis… even if you are in the ICU, I declare that you shall live… shout yeah!”

Then in conclusion “If you are watching on TV and you are not saved, say this prayer…” [Oh dear, what exactly is this prayer about? In response to what?]

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

What a sermon!!!! Was it:

  • Clear
  • Cutting
  • Christ-Centred
  • Careful
  • Compassionate

You tell me!!!

 

 

 

 

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The benefit of distance

As the Mpeketoni attacks were initially reported and in the days afterwards I was struck by the same thought that I had in the midst of the Westgate attack.

Sometimes those attacking the reliability of the New Testament documents pour scorn on the fact that they were written at least thirty years after the event.

But as I read the hour by hour and minute by minute updates of the recent attacks, the conflicting reports in online newspaper and social media sources, listened to the conflicting statements and analyses of politicians and pundits, heard of crazy rumours and SMSs flying around I realised that it may well take 30 years for the truth to come out.

An analysis at a distance, cross-checking all the living witnesses and written evidence is far more likely to give an accurate picture than one posted on Facebook or Twitter in the heat of the battle.

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

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There was a fierce debate in the 16th century about whether or not Jesus was really present in the bread and wine given in Holy Communion. Leaving that to one side, where do we expect Jesus to be specially present today? Where are we confident that we will meet him?

Four suggestions:

1. Real presence in preaching. A few examples: The elders of Israel are to go and say to Pharaoh, “The LORD… has met with us” (Exodus 3:18) – He had actually only met with Moses but as Moses preached the wonderful words of the LORD to the elders (Exodus 3:16-17) in that gospel preaching event they did truly meet with the LORD. In the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel, as Peter Adam shows, we find that we encounter Jesus not so much in the empty tomb or in mystical experience or in the Lord’s Supper but in the Scriptures – and specifically the Scriptures opened and exposed as all about Christ – that is when we experience the best sort of heart burn (Luke 24:32). In Colossians Paul describes his preaching – “Him we proclaim” (Col. 1:24-2:5) and then he continues, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…” (Col. 2:6). The implication is that it was in Paul’s preaching of Christ they received Christ. Paul’s preaching of Christ was, as Wesley and Whitfield later put it, ‘offering them Christ’ , holding out the bread of life and saying, ‘Have Him’.

2. Real presence in mission and suffering. There is the great mission promise of Matthew 28:20 and there is the less often celebrated Philippians 3:10 – Paul’s desire to share/participate/fellowship/commune in Christ’s sufferings. And often these two come together – suffering in mission. I am always moved by reading the accounts of 19th century missionary John Paton’s suffering on the island of Tanna and especially the way that he records having the sweetest communion with Christ precisely when he was in the deepest trials and greatest danger (read page 7 of Lessons from the life of John Paton). Then I received this in a prayer letter from our friend Newton Gatambia, on mission in the UK (shared with permission):

When our Lord Jesus gives the great commission to his disciples he makes a promise to be with them/us till the end of ages. To some this may sound like a mere saying or even an incentive to motivate the disciples to ensure they take on the great commission; however this to me has been the unbreakable hook where all my hope has continually been firmly pegged, the pillar upon which all my trust has been anchored. Amidst a so fast changing youth and children culture in the West it takes more than passion to serve the Lord among this young people, it takes more than experience, it takes more than one availing themselves for the work. It indeed has wholly drawn from the faith on the promise that the Lord is indeed with me every single hour of this journey. At the time of blossoming joy and smooth sailing it is easy to not realize the existence or the significance of such a promise yet at the point of sorrow and dismay, at the point of fear and doubt there is nothing else left for us but this true assurance that the Lord is with us till the end of ages.

3. Real presence in the Church as court. As many have noted the promise of Matthew 18:19 – “where two or three are gathered in my name…” is in the context of church discipline, evidence, witnesses, judgement. The same thing seems to be going on in 1 Cor. 5 (“gathered in the name” – v4). Church discipline is not in the same category as a workplace disciplinary procedure – the Judge of the Universe is present in the courtroom.

4. Real presence in respect to our personal sin. This is perhaps the most difficult one. We don’t in any way want to say that Jesus ever sins or is comfortable with our sinning or is in any way responsible for or complicit with our sins. He is the perfect high priest, ‘holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens’ (Heb. 7:26). But the implication of 1 Corinthians 6:13-20 seems to be that, while Christ is separated from sinners in respect to his office and nature, he is genuinely united with justified sinners in a one flesh, one spirit union, even when we are sinning with our bodies. Glen Scrivener shows how this is the strongest possible motivation to cease sin and do good:

Paul writes to Corinthians visiting brothels and what does he say? Does he say, “Stop it, Jesus remains outside the brothel, arms-folded waiting for a very good display of contrition before He’ll even consider forgiving this“?  No, he says to the Corinthians “Stop it, you’re taking Jesus into the brothel with you!” (1 Corinthians 6:15-17)  And you say, “How horrible!”  Well exactly.  So don’t do it.  But don’t give up fornicating because Jesus isn’t with you all the way.  Stop it because He is. (post: Why be good?)

When did Peter crumple in repentance? Luke 22:60-62: when he suddenly realised that his Lord was present, when he locked eyes with his bruised Saviour in the very moment of his denial.

 

More on presence:

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I’ve been struck by a number of things in Luke’s gospel that I would never have noticed or would never have got the full force of without reading them in this context with East African brothers.

  1. Food. In the West, often food is a matter of fuelling – like putting petrol in a car. You can grab a sandwich or packet of crisps on the go or eat at your desk. Only very special meals like Christmas or a first date have really serious relational significances. But here you don’t eat just because you’re hungry. You don’t ask, “Have you eaten?” when a guest arrives at 2pm (as I once did). You give them food. And you don’t really start talking until there’s food (or at least tea) on the table. Food says, “We are together, we are relating”. So now I start to see the huge shock of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:30) and the beauty of the many eating scenes throughout Luke.
  2. Naming and tradition. In Western cultures you can call your child pretty much anything you like. Some names might raise an eyebrow slightly (e.g. Green, Leviathan or Cheese) but only for a moment. The surname tends to be pretty constant but even this is increasingly flexible as women maintain maiden names as business names etc. But in Africa, many communities have a very strong tradition of naming – taking names from relatives in a precise order, rotating names or naming according to day of the week or weather conditions. I remember as we read through Luke 1:157-66 (the naming of John the Baptist) and a Kenyan sister related to the shock that the relatives felt that Elizabeth and Zechariah were breaking tradition and going against the naming of their culture, it came home to me what a big thing this was.
  3. Honouring parents. Many western cultures (I realise parts of the US are quite different) have moved towards pretty casual relationships between parents and their children. Respect, honour, authority are not valued. Fear and reverence would be widely seen as laughable or pathological. Furthermore, there is little sense of ongoing obligations of children to parents. In traditional African cultures though there is something much closer to traditional middle eastern culture. So when I was reading through the story of Jesus failing to go to the door when his mother and brothers arrive (Luke 8:19-21) the guy I was reading with was completely stunned by the offensiveness of it and genuinely troubled that Jesus could do such a thing. And then you get to Luke 9:59-62 where Jesus calls a man away from burying his father (and there you get the added weight of responsibility to the dead) and another from even saying goodbye. And then you get Jesus talking about dividing families (Luke 12:53) and most extreme of all, that anyone who does not hate father and mother, wife, children and brothers cannot be his disciple (Luke 14:26). Shocking anywhere but in an African context this is dynamite (but then for Muslim background believers the truth of these things might well be more evident). Against this backdrop you can appreciate all the more the shocks and joys of Luke 15:11-32 too.

Collected resources on Luke:

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4 questions for Luke

st%20luke%20iconWe’re going to be looking at the Gospel according to Luke in our micro-preaching sessions at the next ministry training week. We looked at Luke’s own introduction here and noted how Luke preaches something very different from the prosperity gospel here.

Here’s an attempt at a structure – a combination and simplification of a few different commentators (including David G Palmer). You’ll notice the chiasm/concentric structure (A-B-C-D-C’-B’-A’) – I wouldn’t want to push that too strongly but it is probably there:

  • 1:1-2:52 – Introduction, birth of Jesus, angels, Word, belief & disbelief, fulfilment of OT
  • 3:1-4:44 – New Exodus prophecy, Pilate, Herod, High Priest, baptism, trials & rejection of Jesus, involvement of Satan
  • 5:1-9:50 – Jesus in Galilee, gathering the disciples, teaching about the kingdom, healing, identity as the Christ
  • 9:51-19:10 – Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem – a number of commentators have suggested more or less complex chiastic structures for this section, usually agreeing that the centre is 13:22-35 – a passage where we see coming together the key themes of Jesus as ‘LORD’, Jerusalem, salvation, feasting in the kingdom, Abraham & the patriarchs, the nations, reversal, the death of Jesus, Temple.
  • 19:11-21:38 – Jesus in the Temple, teaching about the kingdom, judging, identity as the Christ
  • 22:1-23:25 – Passover, Pilate, Herod, High Priest, last supper, trials & rejection of Jesus, involvement of Satan
  • 23:26-24:53 – Conclusion, death and resurrection of Jesus, angels, Word, belief & disbelief, fulfilment of OT

Just looking at the shape of the story you start to see Luke’s message and emphases. Perhaps focussing on a couple of key passages might help to bring out a few really important themes:

Luke 3:3-17

johnthebaptistpreachingThis passage starts an important new section. We’ve just skipped 18 years from chapter 2 and now Jesus’ public ministry is about to start. We have a historical setting which foreshadows the trial of Jesus (3:1-2) and the last mention in the Bible of the classic prophetic opening: “The Word of the Lord / God came to…” (The ‘word’ is a massive theme for Luke but there is a big shift underway from OT to NT (cf. Luke 7:27-28) from the prophets to whom the word of the Lord came to the apostles who will go out to witness to the incarnate Word (Luke 1:2; 24:48).) Then there is a key quote from Isaiah – used by all four Gospel’s but here in its longest form. Isaiah is probably the most important ‘back story’ for Luke and it surfaces repeatedly in his narrative.

The ‘way’ mentioned in the quote also has a special significance for Luke – he uses the word 17 times in the Gospel and 19 in Acts. Before this point it’s only been used twice, both in Zacharias’ prophecy which points forward to chapter 3. Sometimes the word has the literal meaning of road or journey, sometimes it refers to ‘the characteristic activity of a person’ (e.g. of God himself), and sometimes it means the way of salvation or even the name of the Christian movement itself – The Way. And these different senses start to merge through the narrative as we discover that the whole narrative is built around the physical journey of Jesus to Jerusalem – it is the journey of a man who is the LORD so it is ‘the way of the Lord’, and that historic sacrificial journey of God from manger to Cross is the way of salvation for us. A few more issues get raised in Luke 3:3-17 which are crucial through the whole narrative:

  1. Who is Jesus? The stunning implication of the Isaiah quote is that Jesus is the ‘Lord’ – Yahweh – the LORD God who comes (Isaiah 40:10).
  2. What are we naturally like? Sinners needing forgiveness. A brood of vipers in danger of a coming wrath. Stone hearts needing to be transformed into flesh. People naturally inclined to stealing and grabbing and being discontent. There are echoes of Genesis 3 in all this.
  3. How are we saved? Luke is the only one of the Evangelists to extend the Isaiah quote sufficiently (and use the Greek translation) so that we get “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” It’s another key theme in Luke, from the songs of Mary (1:47) and Zachariah (1:68-69) and the angels (2:11) and Simeon (2:30), all the way through Acts (e.g. the classic Acts 16:30). Salvation is the Lord’s. Implicitly it’s going to involve a new Exodus – that’s the point of Isaiah 40 and there’s a hint at 9:31 as well as more clearly in the timing of Jesus’ death (22:1). And it’s going to involve a complete change of nature – from stone to son. This is humanly impossible (the greatest prophet can’t do it) – it’s going to involve Christ baptising you with the Spirit (of sonship – cf. 3:22).
  4. What fruit comes from being saved? The metaphor of trees (v9) is common throughout the Bible – from Genesis 1, through Isaiah and the other prophets. The point of a tree is to be fruitful (Gen. 1:11; 28; Isaiah 5) but fruit only reveals the true nature of the tree (Luke 6:43-45). If a viper/stone becomes a child of Abraham and son of God (Luke 6:35-36) then he will produce fruit in very practical terms – justice, integrity and contentment.

Luke 19:1-10

zacchaeusAgain a very key section – the transition from the central travel narrative to the following section all about the destination – Jerusalem (v11) and the clearest purpose statement in the whole gospel in relation to why Jesus has come (v10). Notice the ‘way’ theme that comes up implicitly in verse 1 and 4. And interestingly a lot of the same themes as in Luke 3:

  1. Who is Jesus? That’s the question Zacchaeus is asking. He’s not just a sightseer. He has Christological questions.
  2. What are we naturally like? Lost. Even the physical sons of Abraham. They grumble like the children of Israel in the desert. They despise the traitorous Zacchaeus but in the end Jesus shockingly confirms him, from ‘Today’, a son of Abraham – implying he wasn’t before and that the status of the grumblers is, at the very least, very doubtful. (This reversal of expectations comes throughout the Gospel – e.g. Luke 1:52-53; 13:24-30; 14:7-11; 16:19-31; 18:9-14.)
  3. How are we saved? By Jesus coming to seek and save us – cf. the shepherd of Luke 15. It is by the work of the Son of Man in the coming chapters (22-24). I wonder whether there might be an echo of the ‘today’ at 19:9 in the ‘today’ at 23:43 spoken to another criminal. Jesus can call the sinner Zacchaeus down from the tree to be his friend because He, the innocent, righteous one is going to climb a tree to die instead of him. And even more than the work of the Son of Man, salvation IS the Son of Man. In 19:1-10 we see clearly what was suggested in the early chapters of Luke – that salvation is not a thing but a person (19:9 cf. 2:30; 3:6). I love this. Salvation is Jesus. Salvation invites himself round to your house for tea. And as he saves and forgives and justifies, he gives a new nature. Zacchaeus has now miraculously changed from a stone to a son of Abraham.
  4. What fruit comes from being saved? In Luke 3 the tax collectors asked, “What shall we do?” – now in Luke 19 there is a tax collector who spontaneously bears fruit in keeping with repentance. Not only does he not collect more than he should, not only does he correct his wrongs, he overflows in giving to the poor. He is now a son of the Most High, reflecting his Father’s nature in giving to those who cannot repay (6:32-36).

So I’m wondering whether these four questions might be helpful ones to ask of any passage in Luke – whether we’re working on a sermon or leading a 1-to-1 Bible study. In the same way that Rico Tice has helped us by showing how the Identity, Mission, Call questions can be applied to any chapter of Mark, I wonder whether these four, or something like them would work in Luke. I haven’t road-tested this thoroughly though so please do let us know if you have a go at a passage in Luke and find this helpful or unhelpful or come up with some better questions.

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If you want to see some hardcore moralism where should you go? Sadly, the answer is most likely Sunday School. This is not to say that there aren’t some brilliant brilliant Sunday School teachers. There are children’s pastors who have committed their lives to feeding children with the Word of God. We’re privileged to have one of them often come and train the apprentices at iServe Africa on children’s ministry – passionate about Jesus and the importance of children’s work, wonderfully clear on the children’s need of the gospel, careful Bible handling and presenting the Word of Christ in a well-prepared, appropriate, engaging way. But sadly, as she herself says, often children’s work is massively under-resourced, under-supported, treated as child minding and colouring, and left to completely untrained volunteers. Here are a couple of  real examples of Bible teaching for 2-3 year olds. I relay these not to mock or condemn but just to remind of us of an issue which often gets ignored in analyses of the church.

 

Genesis 27: Jacob steals Esau’s blessing

Main point: Jacob did a bad thing – he lied to his daddy and he stole something from his brother.

Application: Don’t lie to your parents and don’t be unkind to your brothers and sisters. Obey your parents and do nice things for your brothers and sisters.

Luke 1:26-30: The angel Gabriel appears to Mary

 

Main point: Mary was a good, beautiful, obedient girl who said her prayers every day and was kind to everyone. The angel came to tell Mary that she was more blessed/nice/beautiful/obedient than all the other girls and boys around.

Application: Be good like Mary – read your Bible, pray and obey your parents.

 

My first response is a great sadness. A great sadness that there was no mention of Jesus to these children, no gospel for these children. And the massively frustrating thing is that He was there in those passages just waiting to give life but he was ignored and replaced with a ‘moral’ that ran completely contrary to the text.

In the Genesis passage, surely the big point is that God’s blessing goes to the sinner, the deceiver, the one who doesn’t deserve it. Just as had been decided before his birth (so without works) now in Genesis 27 Jacob is blessed despite his works. The ancient commentators have long seen in Jacob wrapping himself in his elder brother’s clothes a picture of how we are to approach the Father clothed in our elder brother Jesus. Election, grace, union with Christ – it’s all there. Obviously you wouldn’t use those words with 2 year-olds but could we not tell them that God is a God who gives massive hugs to bad children.

And in the Luke passage surely Jesus should be absolutely unmissable. This is the incarnation! Mary is highly favoured / blessed / lucky because she gets to be the mother of God (Luke 1:43)! Has she earned that privilege? How could you possibly earn that? The God in her womb is her Saviour (Luke 1:46-47). Again and again in Luke’s Gospel, this God shows he does not come to rubber stamp the good works of the ‘righteous’ (“Yes, well done, you really are very good”) but to save lost sinners (Luke 5:27-32; 7:47; 15:7; 19:1-10). If Mary is an example to us it is as a sinner receiving words of grace with faith (Luke 1:45 cf. 1:20) – to do that is to find a blessing even greater than being the mother of God (Luke 11:27-28).

Can we not give this grace, this Jesus, this loving God to children? Do we not trust them with grace? Do we think we must give them law and moralism till they are 12 or 18 and then, perhaps, we can give them a bit of the gospel? Are we surprised when as young adults they constantly fall back into legalism and self-righteousness when that has been their food and drink throughout their childhood; when they have been trained to read the Bible as Pharisees, to find a law they can keep rather than to find Jesus and have life in him? And even if they do grasp the gospel as teenagers, can we justify enslaving children under the yoke of joyless moralism for year after year, denying them the bread of life? Do we value our children as Jesus does (Matthew 18:5-6)? Do we let the children come to Jesus (Matthew 19:14)?

My second thought is, we really need to invest in training Sunday School teachers. I know there are a number of churches and organisations that are passionately concerned about this and are doing great work. And, as I said at the beginning, there is some brilliant children’s ministry going on. But the need is massive; the harvest field is vast. Teaching children is far harder than teaching adults. To teach the Bible message simply and clearly – one point that gets to the heart of a child – you have to get it very very clear in your own head and that is exceptionally hard work. To handle the word of God carefully, particularly to handle Old Testament narrative texts well; to do the extra work of boiling it down (without watering it down) so that you can put it on a teaspoon and feed it to a three year-old – that is very very hard. We should have the highest possible esteem for those who labour to teach children faithfully and engagingly. In some ways it is not ‘rocket science’ – it’s mainly about context and letting the story make the point and spending sufficient time reading and praying over the text, sufficient time thinking carefully about how it relates to the listener, sufficient time preparing how to make it as visual and engaging as it is. In the meantime, maybe we’d be best simply reading the Bible to children, telling the stories and forget trying to find the ‘moral’.

Then my third thought is, there’s a deeper problem here. It’s not that teachers don’t believe in Jesus, it’s not that they don’t love their children (they manifestly do, pouring out their time and energies), it’s not (always) that they don’t have enough time to prepare or enough skills in Bible interpretation, the big issue lurking behind this is, Do we really grasp the gospel? Do teachers have strong gospel instincts – so when faced with a Bible story and a class of children, even without any preparation, their instinct is to preach Jesus, the Cross, a loving, outpouring God of grace – so that, even if it isn’t the most technically ‘correct’ exposition or the most well constructed lesson, the children go away not thinking ‘God blesses good people’ but with some sense that the Bible is about Jesus, that he is amazing and that he has a ferocious love for them.

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