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Entries in Gospels (2)

Tuesday
Nov262013

The Trustworthy Account

We have been looking through Luke in order to discover who Jesus really was and what he really taught.  Over the next 5 weeks we are going to go back to Luke 1 and discover the reality of the birth of Jesus.

However, today let’s look at Luke 1:1-4.  Here Luke describes why he is writing and I think we will find it both instructive and encouraging to our faith.

Why Luke Wrote

We see in verse three that Luke is addressing a man named Theophilus. He also uses the title “Most Excellent.”  It is from this title that most scholars believe Theophilus was an official of some sort who had come to hear the gospel, whether from Luke or someone else.  Either way, Luke is trying to give Theophilus further information about this Jesus that Christians were talking about.

Now the gospel of Luke is actually the first volume of a 2 part account of which the book of Acts is the second volume.  You can recognize this by reading Acts 1:1, “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach…”  Although Luke is writing to a specific person, it seems clear that the size of the accounts expected a wider audience. So this project of writing a Gospel and a History of the Church from the ascension of Jesus, seems to have been instigated by the need of further details that Theophilus had.

Luke makes reference to the fact that other gospels had been written.  He doesn’t say whether he felt they were insufficient or that he didn’t have a copy.  Either way he explains that he recognized that he was in a perfect position to create such a gospel as well.  Now let me insert at this point that it would be easy to say that this reference would include things like “The Gospel of Thomas,” or “The Gospel of Judas.”  However, the only Gospels that the first century church recognized as actually from the apostles and their companions were the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  There is no record of these other gospels existing until later centuries.  They were also quickly rejected as poor copies of the Gospel style that were clearly written in order to co-opt Christianity and Christians into certain philosophies that existed at the time.  So this verse does not “verify” the legitimacy of The Gospel of Judas.

Another need for writing that is not explicitly mentioned by look is the fact that eye witnesses were beginning to die.  Now in 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul mentions that over 500 disciples were taught by Jesus at one time after his resurrection.  If we add a potential 100 more we would have a large pool of people who were witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.  This is beside the point that all of Israel were witnesses of the life, ministry, and death of Jesus.  Notice that Paul mentions that some of these 500 have passed away.  This pool of people was diminishing.  This would slowly begin to put pressure on Christians to write out the Gospel accounts before the eye-witnesses were all gone.

Another aspect of this is that even with 600 people, not all of them travelled as Paul did.  This group was limited in its ability to travel to all people and satisfy their curiosity.  So again, this would put pressure upon the witnesses themselves to put these things into written form.

Now Luke gives himself to this task because he felt that he had “perfect understanding” of what had happened.  Luke had ministered with the apostle Paul and had interacted with the other apostles as well.  He had received the accounts first hand and had opportunity to question and hear testimony from the people referenced in the historical stories.  Luke in verse 4 mentions that his hope is to make us certain about the stories of Christ.  He is concerned about the reliability of what people hear about Jesus.  If you have ever played The Telephone Game then you know how easily a story can be obscured the further removed from the source it gets.  Thus an account written by those who either actually saw the account or deposed those who did and wrote down their accounts would serve to establish that this is not just a tall tale that has grown with the telling.  Luke wants Theophilus to know that the incredible stories he has heard are in fact verifiably what happened.  Two thousand years later this need is even greater.  It is amazing to me that we are so quick to believe what we think happened, or didn’t, 2,000 years ago when we weren’t there.  And, yet, we will quickly discount the eye witness account of those who were there and that was written at that time when it could have been verified easily. These written Gospels become a verified anchor in time that becomes the evidence that what has been passed through time to us is the same that the Apostles themselves experienced.  It is reliable.

The New Testament Is Reliable

Now it is for these very reasons that we can know that the biblical account is reliable.  You can disbelieve it.  But don’t pretend that it is completely removed from reality.  You can disagree that Jesus existed, but you do so over the top of the historical witness of the first century Jews.  You can believe Jesus wasn’t resurrected from the dead, but you do so over the top of over 500 eye witnesses.  I can continue on this line of reasoning, but you can catch my drift.  You can be sure that the gospel of Luke we have today is the very understanding that Luke had and, by extension, that which the Apostle Paul, and the early Church themselves also had.

These accounts come from men who were eye witnesses and not in the sense that they all had a one-time psychedelic experience.  The apostles lived with Jesus and were his disciples for at least 3 years.  Those who witnessed him after the resurrection were numerous in number, but also numerous in the amount of times Jesus appeared to them.  Jesus spent nearly 40 days with these people and wasn’t just “sighted” like the modern Bigfoot sightings.  Rather, he spent time with them demonstrating that he was Jesus and teaching what he was wanting them to do.  Even if we want to believe that this is a large conspiracy, we will find such a premise incredible in light of how all of the apostles and many of the eye witnesses were treated and killed.  Under pain of death none of these eye witnesses recanted their stories and said, “We just made it up.”  We see this reality when Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:16, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”  The Apostle John also in his letter 1John 1:1,3 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—… that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

Another form of verification is the miraculous events that these eye witnesses saw.  Now in the modern world we reject miracles by definition.  However, it doesn’t explain what these people saw.  When the disciples share exactly what they saw, it stretches unbelief to hear some of the attempts of modern men to explain how they didn’t see what they saw, without saying they were lying.  You can believe that it wasn’t a miracle, but don’t pretend that the disciples didn’t know what a dead body looks like and that they were tricked by a different person pretending to be Jesus.

Think about it.  If this was just the account of a teacher from antiquity this world would be quick to embrace Jesus.  He would just be another teacher like Plato, Socrates, etc…  But Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh, and he claimed to rise from the dead and ascend into heaven.  This is unacceptable not just because it seems miraculous, but because it requires obedience to a particular God.  The miracles were the way that God helped the people to pay attention to Jesus.  But the point is not the miracles.  The miracles are intended to point to the one who is speaking and what they are saying.  Keep this in mind in the future because the Bible warns that lying signs and wonders will occur in the end times.  They are not lying because they aren’t real, but that they point to a liar and cause people to believe the liar.  When you look at Jesus hanging on the cross you know in your heart that this is no liar.  This one really meant what he said.  But when you see him resurrected from the grave you know that he was right!

These things were written down within decades and after having shared the story practically every day.  Historical evidences that we dig up always end up verifying the details of the Bible.  But on top of this, countless millions throughout every century have testified that they found the salvation and the Holy Spirit, promised in the Scripture to those who believe, to be real and true.

Jesus challenged us with this, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” This world wants to destroy any faith you would have in God’s Word.  But I am telling you that Jesus knew this would be happening.  You have been given great evidence upon which you can stand.  May you stand to the end!

Trustworthy Accounty Audio

Tuesday
Sep242013

The True Jesus: Our Preparation

During this Autumn we will be looking at the character and work of Jesus of Nazareth.  It is easy to let the stories become just that, stories with a sort of unreal sense to them.  However, we want to not just have a general sense of who Jesus is, but rather truly let God’s Word challenge us through the words and actions of this man we call the Christ, the Anointed One of God who would come to save mankind.  It may look to you today that he failed.  But that is how you feel about the statement.  We must let God’s Word challenge those suppositions and feelings that we have built up over time and see that God is calling us to Him in Trust, Faith, and Love.

The Apostle Paul spoke to this problem in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 when he wrote, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you” have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!”  With all the conspiracy theories swirling around these days regarding this man Jesus, it is imperative that we return to the simplicity of what the Gospel tells us about Jesus and ourselves.  There are many who have a vested interest in co-opting the message of Christ for their own ends and have invested much time in effort in doing just that.  Some of them are “Christian” people, some of them are merely religious, and some of them are secular.  But all of them twist the person of Jesus and His message to their own purposes.

Mainly I will be using the Gospel of Luke as our path this Fall and we will skip over the birth narratives for now and revisit them later in December.  So let’ begin in Luke 3:3-4.

The Need For Repentance

The book of Malachi ends with a reference to the prophet Elijah coming before the messiah to turn the hearts of people back to each other.  So we are going to start with the ministry of John the Baptist.  Jesus himself said that John ministered in the power and the spirit of Elijah.  In verses 3-4 of Luke 3, John is pictured as a man out in the desert crying out for people to repent.  Now in the natural there were large crowds listening to John and many people responding, but the spiritual truth of the matter is that he was in a desert place and precious few had enough spiritual life within them to even hear him.  They were as dead as the desert sand in many cases.   Why would a ministry, which was telling people the Messiah was coming, fall on deaf ears?  It wasn’t just because they no longer believed the prophecy.  It was because John defined preparation as repentance.

Now the word “remission” in verse 3 is not just our sins going into a silent period only to break out later.  But, rather it points to the removing of our sins from us.  Apparently this was something that could not be done without us first repenting.  You see, our sins are so intricately linked with our fleshly desires that even when we like the message of the coming messiah, we are not really ready for Him.  First we need the desire to be set free from our sins and then we can receive the messiah into our lives.

There is a sort of inner coalition that happens between our hearts and our minds.  The heart desires certain sinful things and then the mind employs its powers to justify, and acquire those pleasures.  This stronghold of sin within our mind is challenged by the Word of the prophet.  John warned the people that Messiah was coming.  He was coming to clean house and rescue his faithful.  Most were not being faithful.  Thus our need for repentance is the need to change how the messiah sees us when he comes.  Is it possible for a change of mind and a change of heart to happen?  Typically when people see the hold that sin has on them and the destructive paths it has led them down, they are open for change.  John comes after a long silent period from God’s prophets.  People were at the end of themselves and looking for hope.  John comes to them saying, “Repent!  The Messiah is coming!”  This starts in the mind.  The mind is able to see the captivity of the heart and see the need to turn to something better.  The heart will not like it, but it is possible to turn from a path of destruction and walk a different way, even as our heart begs to go back.  However, there is a side of this that we must note.  Without the help of God’s Spirit we would neither hear the Message of Repentance nor see the Truth to its warning.  Thus we can repent but only with the Spirit’s help.

Lastly, John challenged those following him on what real repentance was.  In Luke 3:7-14, he lists out the ways in which we demonstrate true repentance.  He uses the picture of a fruit tree and says that if we are truly repentant inside (i.e. we are a Repentance Tree) then we will grow repentance fruit, which are actions that show repentance.  The first example of repentance “fruit” is for everyone in general: If you have extra share it with those who have none.  For tax collectors, collect only what you have been appointed to collect.  For soldiers, do not abuse your power and be content with your wages.  Is John preaching salvation by works?  No.  He is talking about the preparation of our heart to receive Jesus, i.e. repentance.  If repentance is real within us then it will be demonstrated in our actions.  If we really believe that Jesus is coming then our lives will begin to reflect that belief.  If we really see that our sins are separating us from God then we will truly begin to hate the hold they have on us and begin turning from them.  Yet, without Jesus actually coming into our lives and freeing us from our sins, even repentance would end in futility.  Even when we are saved by Jesus we will still need repentance as 1 John 1:9 reminds us.  If we are faithful to confess our sins then Jesus will be faithful to cleanse us from all our sins, internally and externally.

The Need For The Holy Spirit

In verse 16 John tells them that his water baptism is lesser than the baptism Jesus will bring: a baptism of the Holy Spirit.  John’s ministry had impressed the people and they felt that he must be the messiah.  This verse speaks to the greater work of Christ.  He not only helps us repent and clean our lives, but he also places the Spirit of God within us in order to empower us in it.  Thus our preparation is in order to receive the Spirit of God from Jesus.  John’s water baptism was a symbol of the cleansing of repentance.  But it also was a symbol of what Jesus was coming to do.  He would immerse them in the Spirit of God.  This was something that even John the Baptist himself would have needed.  He definitely was moved upon by the Spirit, but immersion within the Spirit was an unthinkable thought, till now.

Now God’s Word tells us that those who believe on Jesus are given the right to be called the Sons of God and that the Spirit of God takes up residence within them so that they might cry out to God as His children.  Like the temple in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit would move into them and make a totally different atmosphere in the place.  Yet, as we open ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit, the Bible speaks of a further need of being filled with the Spirit.  This is a continual process of us surrendering and the Spirit filling.  We are to keep being filled with the Spirit.  Don’t be content to just believe Jesus can deal with your sins.  Move on to surrendering to the Holy Spirit’s direction through the Word and counsel, that He might fill your life with power to be a witness of His loving salvation.

 John had said that the Messiah would baptize in the Holy Spirit and Fire.  Now some refer to this as a feeling of fire within our heart when we are baptized.  However, the context rather points to a choice we have.  God Himself is a consuming fire.  If we are not repentant that fire is a fire of judgment.  If we are repentant then it is a fire of cleansing.  So this is more a warning of judgment than anything else.

The Need For Perseverance

Lastly, I would point us to Luke 3:20.  Here we see that John’s message of repentance was not received well by those who had great earthly power.  Jesus promised his disciples in John 16:33 that they would experience tribulation in this world.  He clearly expected this to continue throughout the Church Age.  Because we live in the West, it is easy for us to believe that persecution is rare or that it is a sign that we don’t have enough faith.  John the Baptist clearly didn’t expect to die in prison.  The Messiah was coming!  Yet, we see him later in prison asking his disciples to double check with Jesus and see if he truly was the Messiah (i.e. was I wrong?). 

No one likes to be told their actions are sinful.  Thus if we are going to be faithful to Jesus and warn the world to repent because the Messiah is coming, then we had better expect some flak coming back at us.  Herod the Tetrarch had basically seduced his half-brother’s wife, and divorced his own wife so that he could marry her.  He eventually has John beheaded for daring to call him to repentance.  How tragic for Herod and how hard for John this was.  Yet John was soon comforted and Herod continued down to destruction.  We also need perseverance if we are the one who needs to repent.  Our heart and mind will revolt against such treasonous ideas.  If we are not truly in need of help then the “Good News” of Jesus ceases to be good news.  Somewhere somehow, no matter where you live, if you tell people that they actually NEED Jesus because of a sin problem you will face negative responses.

Perseverance or patience is actually the choice to remain under the heavy load that we want to drop.  Perseverance doesn’t demand anything of God.  It only says, “I won’t quit, even if it crushes me.”  Perhaps John felt like he was being crushed.  But He went on to His reward.  If we demand anything of God before obedience then we will eventually throw in the towel and quit.  And in our minds will be the words, He asks too much, He abandoned me, He doesn’t care.  Which, of course, we know these things are not true.

The True Jesus audio