Luke

Preaching and the Prodigal Son

I often sit at my desk on Monday morning after a tiring and refreshing Sunday, and say to myself “Here I go again!” I just finished preaching and leading a liturgical service the day before, fellowshiped in the afternoon, and on Monday morning I am ready to begin that process all over again. I hear many pastors take Mondays off, but on Mondays I am on. I am motivated to find the best resources, the best applications to feed my congregation the following Sunday.

Preaching through Luke this Lenten Season has been part of this motivation. Luke has become dear to me. His attention to details, his emphasis on the Word-authority of Jesus, and his unique description in chapter 15 make Luke unique among the Gospel writers. What is in chapter 15? Chapter 15 describes–among many other things–the lostness of the son, and the found-ness of the Father. The Father finds what He lost; the Son lost what He had, and the elder brother belittled the feast of the found one.

Preaching through this section is filled with remarkable challenges. What to emphasize? What is central to this text? Father or sons? Or both? How is Jesus connecting the lostness of Israel to this text? What is the significance of the feast imageries in the reception of the prodigal son? What does repentance look like? In what way is the Father’s profound forgiveness like our heavenly Father’s forgiveness? How is the elder brother’s reaction much like ours? How is his reaction much like the Jews of the first century? Suffice to say, these are only initial questions to pose in this ocean of beauty and grace.

Once again I am confronted with the glorious task of savoring this text as much as it is possible before I can give my parishioners a sample of it as well. May this sermon do justice to this remarkable and rich passage of Holy Scriptures.

Guilt, Grace, and Galileans

The Gospel Lesson for this Lord’s Day is from Luke 13:1-13. Pilate’s brutality is fully on display right in verse one: “Pilate had mingled Galilean blood with their sacrifices.” “Are these Galileans worse than other Galileans because they suffered in this way?, was the question our Lord posed.

Jesus did not spend his time in Luke’s account offering a philosophical exegesis of theodicy.[1] Rather, he simply “said, “If you don’t repent, you will likewise perish.” “But Rabbi, I want a more profound answer to this intellectual dilemma. I want to know the ins and outs of your divine and decretal will. I want to be able to rationalize every detail of your purposes in life and in death.” Jesus had a different agenda. Jesus sees death, as Richard Hays observes, as “an occasion for metanoia.[2] Jesus did not offer words of religious comfort to appease the inquirer, no; he used it as an opportunity to express something very central to his Kingdom Gospel: repentance. The word repentance implies turning away, or a change of mind. But biblically, it is more than that. Repentance means turning away from something and embodying a view of life diametrically opposed to the one previously expressed.

It is not enough to turn from something without knowing where you are turning to. Otherwise, that turn might lead you back to the sin that entangled you. Jesus wants us to avoid this vicious cycle.

Suffering and pain are caused for a host of reasons that many times are unknown to us in this life. But one response is absolutely sure: repentance. The tragic events that occur in this life are tragic because they expose the mortality of humanity.[3] The sudden difficult events that shake our very beings (and in some cases our faith) deal with the uniqueness and temporariness of the un-resurrected corporeal nature.

The human tendency is to compare sinners so that we may excuse ourselves. After all, it is easier to point to someone else’s sinfulness than our own. But Jesus wants Israel to consider her sins, and as a result, our own, and see if repentance is being expressed in light of what has happened.

The patience of God endures, but it is not forever. Historical tragedies of great and small proportions should cause us to seek forgiveness and to consider whether we are bearing fruits of repentance.


[1] Though the prophets before Him and the New Testament provides a healthy theology of good and evil, and God’s Just and Perfect ways.

[2] Hays, Richard. On Hearing Bad News, Living by the Word; The Christian Century.

[3] Bock, Darrell, The NIV Application Commentary, 365

Translation of Luke 13:31-35

This Sunday’s Gospel lesson is from St. Luke 13:31-35. Here is my translation of this text:

31 -In that same hour, some Pharisees came up, saying to Him: “Go away and leave this place. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 – And He said to them: Go and tell that fox, ‘Look, I am going to expel (exorcise) demons and cure people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my agenda.

33 – Nevertheless it is necessary that I journey today and tomorrow, and on the following day; for it cannot happen that a prophet perish except[1] in Jerusalem.[2]

34 – Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You are the one killing the prophets and stoning the ones sent to you! How often did I want to bring you together[3], like a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you refused to do so.

35 – Look, your house is left to you desolate,[4] and I say to you, you will not see Me until you are prepared to say, ‘Blessed is the One coming in the name of the Lord.’


[1] N.T. Wright translates it this way in his The Kingdom New Testament.

[2] Or “outside” Jerusalem. The idea, however, is that this is the only appointed place for Jesus to die.

[3] “Collect” or “gather”

[4] It has been abandoned. The glory has departed.

God’s House of Healing

Healing is a highly liturgical act. Jesus demonstrates this in a variety of ways, and we too ought to demonstrate it. The idea of cessationism does not do justice to the normative function of the New Creation Church. Cessationism implies a form of termination from those acts which I believe are actually accentuated for us in this age. As I have argued elsewhere, John Frame’s language of semi-cessationism (or what I call transformationism) is a much better term to describe this theological concept. There is no doubt in my mind that those gifts– particularly healing–had a distinct function. Jesus was exorcising Satan, sickness, and sin. This is a form of healing the nations from demonic oppression. The Kingdom of God was coming by force. But this healing now takes on an ecclesiastical shape. Healing is still healing. Satan, sickness, and sin are still exorcised, but through the body and through unique functions of the body. Jesus’ healing ministry takes on a new form in the midst of the holy assembly.

What Jesus does in Luke is a model for what the Church does in Acts and throughout. The mission of the Church is bound up in healing the nations. But she does this through different means. She does this by upholding and supporting institutions that cherish God’s justice, by nurturing her people from brokenness to health, and from mourning to joy. The Church is a healing place. In worship, God’s people are experiencing the healing power of forgiveness and the constant pain of that divine surgery performed by the piercing Word of the Lord.

Liturgy is a form of healing. As Rich Lusk observed: “Liturgy is the ultimate form of pastoral care and nurture.” Why is it crucial to be in Church and of the Church? Because it is there through the different liturgical experiences that the soul and body are nurtured. It is there where theological medicine is given and where healing is found.

The Church also does this outside of her gathered body. She ministers healing through deeds of mercy. She provides healing to the divorced and widow. She prepares meals and brings joy to the recovering mother after birth. She provides healing through encouragement and exhortation. In short, healing is a highly liturgical act. The Church continues what our Lord started. She does this through means, through oil (James 5), through Word and Sacrament, through rebuke and rejoicing. The Church is God’s house of healing.

Authority of Word and Miracles

Arthur Just makes the simple observation that ἐξουσίᾳ (authority) is used in Luke 4:32 and 4:36. The first connects Jesus’ authority with his words/teaching and the second connects it with his miracles. Jesus’ words cannot be separated from his miracles. The Word of the Lord does not return void. His Word changes the natural composition of the world every time it is proclaimed. His Word cuts asunder; performs divine surgery on frail men who is then put back together in a profoundly whole and restored fashion. The Word of God is nothing short of miraculous.

Luke 4:16-30 and the Implications for the Defenseless in the Womb

The good news to the poor Jesus came to preach (Luke 4) is the good news to the defenseless in the womb by implication. The poor is usually swallowed by those who take his life by force. The good news of Jesus is the news that those oppressed from without have an advocate within. The God who sees all things and who does all things well (Ps. 139) delivers His good news and men and women despise it (Luke 4:29).

The recent attempt to celebrate the 40 years of Roe V. Wade by sexualizing an ad is not just “creepy” as so many have observed, but also a strategic move. Secularists and pro-death advocates know that the only way to make a position attractive is by desensitizing  us to the ugliness and horrors of its practice.

But God is not mocked (Ps. 2).

The devil wants Jesus to turn a stone into bread. He wants the final Adam to eat of the fruit before it is time. He wants to make power and authority sexy. But our blessed Lord knows that cross comes before crown. Authority is God’s to give (Ps. 72) not Satan’s to distribute. Similarly, the pro-death movement offers satanic bread to young women. “If only you bow down to the culture of death, then you will be free. If only you go through with this abortion you will live happily with no burden.” These are all lies, and as my fundamentalist brothers like to say, “they are straight from the pit of hell.”

The Edenic temptation did not fail in the garden, and it will continue to succeed unless young women, by the power of the Spirit enlivening the Church in her message and charity, change their attitudes and worldview about the nature and meaning of life.

At the heart of the Lucan reading in 4:16-30 is Jesus’ reading of Isaiah 58 & 61. Isaiah 58 concludes with a promise of Sabbath rest to the people. This is a fitting picture of Jesus’ promise for deliverance and liberation of the oppressed. Indeed the Church’s prayer is that life would find its Sabbath rest from the death grip of Roe v. Wade and the culture of death. The good news of the Gospel Jesus proclaimed that caused so much fury among the Nazareth crowd is the same message preached today. The Herods of old are alive and well. They still seek to imprison and kill little infants. But by God’s grace, the year of the Lord’s favor will stop the crying of Rachel, and console her and many others with life, and life more abundantly.

The New Elijah

In a technical, but fascinating piece in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, John C. Poirier observes that Jesus is the true Messiah Priestly Elijah figure. And further, that interpretations that have viewed Elijah as merely a prophet has led to “unnecessary complications in the text.” As central proof to this priestly role of Elijah is the “matter of Elijah’s defeating the 450 prophets of Baal with a superior sacrifice on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18:20-35), a showdown that involved Elijah’s performing undeniably priestly duties.” This, then, has some implications to the Lucan account in chapter four (16-30) where Jesus’ life is put at risk. If Jesus is the Elijianic figure, the priestly fulfillment of Elijah, the one who is the greater priest who pleases God, as Elijah pleased God with his sacrifice against the 450 Baalite prophets, then the “violent reaction to what Jesus says about Elijah and Elisha has nothing to do with any sort of insularity or anti-Gentile sentiments…but rather with Jesus implying that the Nazareth crowd is the antitype to Israel of Elijah’s and Elisha’s day.” In other words, the Nazarenes were like the “apostatized public of Elijah and Elisha’s day.” But the end of the story is also Elijianic. Jesus escapes the tyranny of the crowd, like Elijah “slipped through the grip of Ahab and Jezebel (cf. John 8:59).”

Exhortation: According to thy Word

In Luke 1, Mary discovers that she will bear the Son of God. Though the message was striking, Mary’s response is likewise striking:

38And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Mary was the blessed one; and this noble and most privileged blessing to bear the Son of God stems from her unfailing reliance on the Word of God. The angel speaks for God, and Mary listens and obeys.

This is the Advent message: the coming of Christ is to cause us to desire the Word of God to shape us. May our response always be that of Mary: “let it be to me according to your word.”

Prayer: Transform us, O Christ. May our lives conform to your very word, through Your Holy and Righteous Name, Amen.

 

Third Sunday of Easter; Luke 24:13-35: Resurrection Perplexity and Gospel Confirmation

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Introduction: People of God, in this gospel lesson we see the end of history breaking in in the middle of history in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our nearest Kinsman. Amen.

Sermon: On this third Sunday of Easter, we are confronted and challenged by a strange conversation. The context of this conversation is the empty tomb. The women have come to apply spices to the body of Jesus. The Jewish Sabbath prohibited them from doing this, so they came on the first day. Notice right from the beginning that there is a movement. The Jewish world is passing away, and the new world is emerging. In Luke, the women are perplexed. As they are wondering what may have happened to the body of our Lord, the Bible tells us that two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. This is not the first time the angels appear. They appeared to bring glad tidings of the birth of our Lord and they appear again to bring glad tidings of the new birth of our Lord from the dead. More

How is Jesus known?

The Gospel of Luke paints a splendid portrait of how we come to know the risen Christ, and how this risen Christ calls us to renew our zeal for His service. The disciples on the road to Emmaus are saddened and fearful for their own lives. They leave Jerusalem in a state of uncertainty. Their messiah has perished and their hope is gone. But Jesus approached them in didactic fashion. He gives them an Old Testament survey. His agenda is to show them the Christo-centricity of the Old Covenant. From the Mosaic creation account to the Isaianic proclamation; everything points to Jesus. However, the Word is not enough. It is accompanied by Sacrament. The Word without Bread and Wine become a mere intellectual exercise; at the same time, the Eucharist without the Word degenerates into magic. Jesus, thus, awakens his disciples, gives them new zeal at the proclamation of the Word, and in the breaking of bread. This is how Jesus is known.