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Entries in Law (6)

Tuesday
Jun302015

In God We Trust

June 28, 2015-Luke 18:9-30. 

This sermon was preached by Pastor Nick Hauenstein.  The following is only a summary of it.  Please click the audio link at the end of the article to listen.

Today we are going to look at 3 stories: Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector, Jesus with the children, and the story of the rich man.  Although these are three very different stories the same spiritual issues lie at the heart of them all.  Thus, Jesus helps us to see through varying circumstances that our approach to God is critical.  If we approach trusting ourselves we will not be successful.  But, if we approach trusting Him then we will.

Parable: The Pharisee & The Tax Collector

Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee who is in the temple praying at the same time a tax collector is doing the same.  He basically gives us a look at what each of them prays and commentary on why one is acceptable and the other isn’t.

First we have the Pharisee.  He spends a lot of time thanking God that he is righteous and not like that rotten tax collector.  This begs the question, how righteous is this Pharisee?  Well he fasted twice a week, which is way more than the Law of Moses required and most people want to do.  Next he tithed on everything he had even down to the spices he acquired.  He had a very meticulous and exacting ability to do what the Law of Moses required.  No one would question his righteousness by the measures of that day. 

Now this is compared to the tax collector who won’t even look up to heaven.  He admits he is a sinner and cries out for mercy from God.  Notice that his posture before God is very different.  He makes no claim upon God.  He has nothing to offer God and makes no negotiation.  Now Jesus explains to us that the Pharisee was not justified by God, but the tax collector was.  In the society of that day, this statement would have radically blown the minds of the people.  Why would God justify the tax collector over the top of the Pharisee?  His answer is this: those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  So God is not looking for pompous people who come before him reciting their spiritual resume, and believe they are acceptable.  Rather, he is looking for people who know that they are not acceptable and ask for mercy.  If you had the choice, who would you choose to represent you in court, yourself or a famous lawyer like Johnnie Cochran?  Only Jesus can make us righteous.  Thus it is a dangerous thing to try and justify yourself in front of the only one who can make you righteous.  The apostle Paul points this out in Romans 3:9-10.  Just as this Pharisee was not more righteous than the tax collector, so the Jews were no more righteous than the Gentiles.  No one is righteous, not even one!   Let’s move to the next story.

Jesus Blesses The Children

This is not a parable.  It is a life event that Jesus uses much like a parable.  Parents were bringing their children to Jesus hoping to have him bless them.  The disciples were annoyed by this and were telling the parents to leave.  We can only guess at what is in their minds.  In the first century children were the least and the last.  There was a high infant mortality rate and so each child is more of a problem that might never come to maturity.  Why bother Jesus with children who may not survive to adulthood when there are others who are adults?  I know that we can come up with reasons, but that is more a result of the teaching of Jesus than it is our own goodness.  Jesus rebukes his disciples and tells them to let the kids come to him.  Why?  The answer is that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.  In fact, if you don’t receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a child, you can never enter it.  This had to drop the jaws of everyone listening.  Think about that last parable.  The tax collector didn’t approach as one who had proven his place and warranted something from Jesus.  He approached as a child who had nothing to offer and yet begged for mercy.  A child does not receive out of their own merit, but out of the mercy of adults.  Anyone who is justified is a person who sees themselves as a child before God, rather than an adult who has merited favors from Him.  Now let’s look at the last story.

The Rich Man

A religious leader approached Jesus and asks him, “Good teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?”  Most likely this is a test question to see what theology Jesus has and from there to know how to attack him.  Yet, Jesus stops him with a question back at him.  Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God.  Now clearly we can talk about the goodness of people in relation to others who are not so good.  But Jesus goes to the heart of the matter.  Do not compare yourself to others.  Compare yourself to God and in that case none of us are good.  This is important because it is at the heart of the religious leader’s problem.  He does not approach God like a child who has nothing to offer.  His problem is that he believes he has an abundance of goodness to offer God.

Jesus then goes on to answer the main question by listing 5 of the 10 commandments.  Do these.  The religious leader responds with the statement that he has done all of these things since he was a child.  Of course he does not recognize the trap he has fallen into.  Jesus purposefully leaves off coveting because he knows that this is part of the man’s real problem.  Jesus tells the man that he is missing one thing: sell your possessions, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.  It says that the religious leader went away sad because he was very rich.  The implication is that he can’t obey the command Jesus has given him.  His heart is too attached to the wealth he had amassed to approach Jesus with the right posture.  He wants to hold on to all his wealth and be acceptable to God, even though his heart was full of coveting.  Jesus then states that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to be saved.  But, with God all things are possible.

Now there were not an abundance of rich people like this man.  So when they marvel at the words of Jesus, they do so because they saw his riches as proof that he was acceptable to God.  Yet, Jesus is saying that these are the very things he has to give up to be acceptable.  His “resume” was the best of the best.  He was a rich man and not a poor child.  He was a Jew and not a gentile, a male and not a female, obedient to the law and not disobedient.  Yet, it is all about exalting himself before God.  Look at how great I am, God!  Surely you want me on your team.  But, God will humble those who exalt themselves, and He is looking for people who know they don’t deserve a spot in His family.  Know this, you cannot buy your way into heaven, nor can you merit it by any number of good deeds.  This kind of goodness cannot be achieved by any man, no matter how great the distance between him and other men.  In reality, acceptance by God must always be preceded by surrender of those things that are in the way.  The rich man must sell his possessions.  The fishermen must leave their nets.  The tax collector must leave his booth.  And they all must then follow Jesus as those who have nothing to offer him but themselves- and that of little value.  This necessity of surrender in order to follow cannot be avoided because we will not follow Jesus without tossing them aside.  In fact we will be like a slave chained to a wall; unable to obey the command to follow.

In verses 23-25, Jesus then brings the point home to his listeners.  What is it that firmly attaches you to this world and keeps you from following Jesus?  This is no easy command that everyone must sell all their possessions in order to follow Jesus.  No it is something much harder than that.  He is asking you to surrender precisely what your flesh doesn’t want to surrender.  To obtain the things you want in life, you often lose your soul.  But to gain your soul, you will have to give up those things that have become idols between you and God.  Jesus is asking you to let it go and come follow him.

This causes Peter to pipe up and declare that he and the other disciples have given up their homes (and livelihood for that matter) in order to follow Jesus.  Jesus then recognizes this and declares that anyone who gives up something to follow Jesus will be repaid many times over in this life and will also have eternal life.  Now Jesus is not promoting a doctrine of “Give $1 and God will give you $100.”  He is saying that you will be repaid, but it will be something different.  The person who gives $1 in order to get $100 is now in a worse condition.  He is using God to get what he really wants, money.  This is not only idolatry, but it is using God pursue that love.  If you lose money to follow Christ, He promises to take care of all your needs.  If you lose family to follow Him then you will receive multitudes of brothers and sisters in the Church.   Yes, you are paid back, and it will be more than you had, but it will be different than your flesh would hope.  You have to choose between the desires of your flesh and Jesus.  You can’t have both.

Let’s bring this to a close.  Christianity is a religion that stresses the inability of man to justify himself.  We are justified by the grace of God through our faith in Him and Him alone.  Paul points this out in Philippians 3:5-9.  He lists his resume in the flesh and then says that he counts it all as rubbish in order to have Christ.  Next to Jesus all my goodness is like filthy rags.  So, which will I chose?  Will I cling to my own righteousness and insist on being accepted (exalting myself)?  Or, will I let go of it and cling to the righteousness of Jesus?  This same issue is explained in Ephesians 2:8-10.  No one will be able to stand before God and boast in themselves. They will only be accepted by the grace of God and through faith in His Son, Jesus.  Salvation is not a reward because of the good things we have done.  It is a gift to those who believe Jesus so that they can then do good things in His name.

May God enable us to let go of the things we take pride in and accept His grace.  We can sophisticate ourselves in our religion to the point that we have excluded ourselves from the very God we claim to love.  Eternal life has never been achieved by anyone.  It is offered to those who can offer nothing in return; those who see themselves as merely a child.  Thus the simple prayer of a child says simply, “I did it.  I liked it.  I am a sinner and beg your forgiveness.”  No negotiation; only surrender.  Let us hear what Jesus is telling us today and surrender everything that can stand in our way to following Him.

 

 

In God We Trust Audio

Tuesday
Sep302014

The Good Samaritan

Today we are going to look at the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.  Although many are familiar with this parable, you might not be aware of the context in which Jesus told it.  In verses 25-29 we are told that a lawyer came to Jesus in order to put him to the test.  Now this is common, whether you are dealing with religious or even political differences.  You test your opponent’s ideas through questions and hypothetical scenarios that will give fuller understanding. 

What was the man’s question?  “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

The Heart of the Law is Love

Jesus asks the man to first share what he thinks the answer is.  It is important to know where a person is coming from in order to give them an answer.  It is sad to what politicians who ask questions, not because they want an answer, but because they have an ulterior motive.  In this case, the man’s answer reveals that he has a good understanding of the Scriptures.  He boils the law down to 2: love God with all of your being and love your neighbor as yourself.  In fact when you meditate on each law you can see that the emphasis is not on restricting a person, but on teaching us how to love God and our fellow man.  The heart of the Law of Moses was restraining our lack of love towards each other and pointing us in the right direction.

Yet, in the midst of a correct understanding of the Law, this man was not sure that he had eternal life.  This is one of the weaknesses of the Law.  As it shows us the many ways that we fail, it also leaves us desperate to know whether we have done well enough to be acceptable.  This desperation can push us in one of two directions.  We can explain away our sin through self-justification or we can beat ourselves trying to accomplish it.  The first path we actually harden our hearts to what the Law is saying and the second we are wounded by it and cycle in despair.  However, there is a third way.  The third way is to agree that we have failed and yet to then throw ourselves upon the mercy of God.

Jesus gives the answer to the man simply “Do this and you shall live.”  In a way Jesus is telling the man to focus upon the main thing the law is trying to teach and trust God to deal with the many ways he falls short of the law.  Yes, they needed to keep the Law of Moses, but not at the expense of its main purpose.  To love people and trust God requires dying to our wants and desires.  The Law doesn’t give life by its rules.  But it can show us our need for the life of God and point us to Him.

God is our justifier, not us.  Instead of running from the “check-mate” nature of the Law through the mental games of self-justification and word redefinition, we can embrace it and ask God to justify us.  Lord, I want to be like you and yet I find myself having trouble loving my brother.  Help me to change and forgive me of my sins.  These are the kinds of prayer that draw us deeper into intimacy with God.

The monkey wrench in this whole situation is our strong desire to self-justify.  Have you ever noticed that when it comes to temptation we tend to ask how close to the edge we can get without falling off the cliff?  In same way when it comes to doing good we tend to ask how far from perfect can we be and still be acceptable.  Both of these questions will lead to ruin.  We should be far from temptation and close to love and yet our sinful nature pulls us in opposite directions.  All people must see the desperate nature of their own “goodness” before they can truly love God.  Now it says that this lawyer sought to justify himself by asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  This is the redefinition game that we can play.  As a lawyer he wants the terms defined.  Thus the parable of the Good Samaritan is given to a lawyer who knew he was falling short in this category.

Who Is My Neighbor?

It is clear that Jesus tells the story in such a way as to shock this man and his hearers.  There are parts of the story that would not shock the hearers but others that would not be what they expected.

Now it is good to point out that of the two things, loving God and loving others, the man feels that loving others is his weakest point.  Yet, we need to recognize that God loves the very one that I am having trouble loving.  When you meditate upon that puzzling point you will come upon the shocking truth: I may not love God as much as I think I do.  We see this in the story of the prodigal son.  The elder son loves is dad and is faithful.  But the younger son chafes at his father’s oversight.  He wants to take his inheritance and leave.  Yet, at the end of the story which son truly comes to love his father?  We see the elder son struggling with what this situation reveals about his father’s heart.  In 1 John 4:20-21 it says, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”  The greatest revelation of the heart of God was Jesus hanging on the cross for the wicked of this world.  He was willing to die that sinners might be saved.  Do you love this about Him?  Some don’t.  Some see this as a stupid and idiotic answer to evil.

Now the parable intends to shock the lawyer’s heart out of the complacent love that he had practiced to that point.  The hero or godly man of the parable is not just a common Jew.  Rather he is a person who is from a minority group that were considered outcasts and defiled.  To be fair the Samaritans did not like the Jews none too much either.  Now think of the story.  A Jew is beaten, robbed and left for dead beside the road.  A religious priest and a Levite both walk by the man and do not help.  They represent the most religious of Israel’s society.  Yet, a Samaritan, who represents an outcast, stops and not only helps the man, but he goes overboard in helping him.  The Samaritan helps him as if he was helping someone very close and dear to him.  He bandages the man’s wounds.  Takes him to a safe place and pays for him to recuperate there.  He also guarantees to cover any further costs that would develop until the man is healed.  This is a love that goes the extra mile and beyond.

It is interesting that the story is intended to make the lawyer stop asking who is my neighbor and to start asking, to whom am I a neighbor.  If I was robbed and dying which of these men would I want to be my neighbor?  Who around me needs me to be a neighbor to them?  Clearly Jesus is telling the man that anyone he comes in contact with is his neighbor.  Now, of course, all the excuses, that our flesh has readily available, come rising to the surface at this point.  But, let’s hear the words of Jesus for a moment.  “Love your enemies.  Bless those who curse you.  Do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”  Why would I do that?  We do it because it is the heart of God.  God has loved his enemies and blessed them and done them good.

Now at this point some will bring up the issue of judgment.  Notice that love does not save people.  But, it does open the door for their salvation.  Yes, a day of judgment will come.  But, God has given long opportunity for those who hate him, to change and be saved.  He does so because he is not willing that they should go into eternity lost.  We can be so concerned about people paying the price, that we can forget how permanent that judgment will be.  It is coming and it is sure.  We need not fret about it.  Instead God asks us to live our life as an offer of grace and mercy to everyone around us; whether they receive it or not.  In fact, what the Samaritan does is actually easy.  He cares for a man who hadn’t done anything to him.  He is just a man with great need of something that was easy for the Samaritan to give.  But Jesus loved those who hated him enough to crucify him on a cross.  He offers salvation to the very one who wounded him.  In fact his words were, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”  To which the Father’s reply is, “Whoever believes on you shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Not all love is reciprocated, but that is not our worry.  Our call is to simply love others and to do so because this is exactly what we love about our Father in Heaven.

This story doesn’t answer how to be saved so much as it answers how the saved should live.  Whom shall I love?  Everyone!  Yet, there is another layer to this story.

Jesus is the good Samaritan (an outcast of this world who still loves the very world that hated him).  He is that rejected one who picks up those left broken, robbed, and bleeding by Satan and this world.  It is he who comes as a healer to bandage up our wounds and bring us into a safe place where we can be healed.  In fact he calls us into his home to become family with the Father and him.  This is our God and this is His heart!

Good Samaritan audio

Tuesday
Jan072014

The Lord of the Sabbath

Today we are going to look at Luke 6:1-5.  At issue in this portion of Scripture is a legal issue regarding the Sabbath day under the Law of Moses.  Now the term “Sabbath” means to rest or cease an activity.  It is a reference to the Creation, in which God created all things in six days.  The seventh day becomes the day on which He ceased the activity of creation or rested from creating.  This is where we get our idea of a 7 day week with at least one day off for rest.

There is no indication that this was ritually observed before the flood.  But in the Law of Moses God commands Israel to do no work on the seventh day.  In fact the Old Testament refers to these days of rest as something God was giving Israel.  They were God’s rests that He was giving to Israel.  In other words, by resting on this day and worshipping God they were demonstrating their trust in God to take care of them.  The natural desire to keep working out of fear for the future is counteracted with God’s offer of rest.  If they trusted Him He would ensure that they had enough.  Thus Sabbath day was intended to not just be a day of physical rest, but also a day of emotional, psychological rest.  However, it is in the New Testament that we begin to see that this day of rest also has a spiritual application.  Thus Scripture declares that there is “no peace for the wicked.”  (Isaiah 57:21)  The wicked may be able to rest physically and even emotionally.  But spiritually they would have no rest or peace with God.

So let’s look at this event and see who Jesus really is.

Picking Food On The Sabbath

In verses 1-2 we are told that it is a Sabbath day and that Jesus and His disciples walked through a grain field.  The disciples were picking grain, rubbing it in their hand to remove the outer shell, and eating it.  No doubt the discussion with the Pharisees takes place when they reach a town, either outside of it or inside.  They probably see the group approach from out of the fields and notice the “infraction” in the hands of the disciples.  Now we might be tempted to think that the problem is one of stealing.  However, in Israel, as long as you weren’t trying to harvest for yourself, it was not considered stealing to pick a fruit or pick some grain on your way through your neighbor’s fields.  In fact all of the land of Israel technically belonged to God.  He had delegated authority over the land to the tribes who in turn divided it among the family clans.  Thus there was a concept of private property.  But, it was more like a manager status.  The “owner” was the one who had delegated authority over the property.

No, the problem here is not stealing, but rather that what they are doing is classified as work by the teachers of Israel.  Now clearly this is a stretch of the meaning of the word work.  But over the years the teachers of Israel had developed a complex system of things that were considered work and things that were exceptions.  The act of picking the grain and the act of rubbing it in their hands were both unapproved activities.  Now this form of legal nit-picking is clearly not a thing that God likes.  When we do this kind of thing we lose sight of the original intent of the law.  God had a purpose in the Sabbath law, which was being buried under an avalanche of things you couldn’t do.  However the opposite can be a problem as well.  We can use the nit-picking of others to justify total disregard for the law.  God is not a fan of that either.  The Law has a purpose and should be obeyed.  However, the spirit (purpose) of the law can be lost when we devolve into this form of legal nit-picking.  Thus the original purpose of a speed limit was to keep traffic moving at a safe speed, not make money off of people who don’t have cruise control.

Part of the problem can be described with the term “mission-creep.”  Originally this had to do with a military mission.  It was common to have initial successes that lead to additional objectives being added.  Over time the addition of objectives can lead to losing sight of the original mission or it can lead to objectives that directly thwart the primary objective.  This happens in legal settings where the original intent of the law gets lost in attempts of politicians to push the envelope of what the words might mean for us today.  Israel had experienced “tradition-creep.”  Over time they had built up a tradition of what could or couldn’t be done on the Sabbath that was not in the Bible.  The traditions had taken on the same force as Scripture and lost touch with the original purpose of God.  The purpose of the Sabbath was to be a blessing to man, not a straight-jacket that put him in fear at every turn.

Now it would be easy to say that the Pharisee’s problem is that they are judging the disciples.  But that is too simplistic.  Yes, Matthew 7:1 says, “Judge not that you be not judged.”  But that verse goes on to describe that the purpose of this statement is to get us to judge ourselves first so that then we will have the right spirit and ability to help our brother.  In John 7:24 Jesus says, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”  God wants us to make good and proper distinctions in life.  Yet, he doesn’t want us to have a critical spirit of others while having the opposite spirit towards ourselves.  This type of prideful and spiteful judgment is displayed everyday online in the comments section of an article.  It is difficult to wade through the blatant “I’m right-You’re wrong” nonsense that goes on.  So finding that balance and learning to make good judgments is important and godly.

Jesus Justifies His Disciples

In verses 3-5 Jesus gives His response to the Pharisees and it has two basic points.  Now, let me just say that it is nothing new to be criticized by others.  Sometimes we should be criticized, yet, often critics go too far.  The important thing for believers is that we recognize that Jesus is the one who justifies us (He is also the one who judges us.) 

Now the first point Jesus makes is to come down to their level.  They live for legal arguments, rabbinical precedents, and scriptural anecdotes.  Jesus reminds them of just one of the places in the Old Testament where an exception is made for one of God’s laws.  If there were exceptions being made then God’s original purpose could not have been to create a police state where everyone is forced to live in fear of getting caught breaking any one of a swelling body of traditions.  Neither was God wanting to create a society of people trying to catch each other.  Jesus could have skipped this argument because His second one completely wins the argument.  However, it is important for us to think about this.  Now the Pharisees knew that there were exceptions in the law.  In fact, they had their own favorite loop-holes.  Yet, in many places the Law was not as tight as their traditions had made it.

The particular story Jesus refers to has to do with David running for his life from King Saul.  Without going into too much detail (you can read the story in 1 Samuel 21), David goes to the tabernacle looking for some food and weapons.  The only food available is “holy” bread that had been removed from the Holy place.  Technically only the priests of Aaron should eat this bread.  Yet, the priest lets David have the food as long as he is ceremonially clean.  In this story we see that human need took precedent over a ritual observance.  The ritual of the bread was important and should be obeyed.  Yet, its main purpose was to symbolically teach Israel about the holy bread of God (a picture of Jesus).  When human need or human life was on the line, the ritual could be stretched.  Thus we see the priest doing his best to keep the ritual (“are you ceremonially clean?”), and yet, not overlooking David’s need in a time of persecution.

We see this principle of the priority of human life over ritual throughout the Old Testament.  We also see the priority of God’s purpose over the letter of the Law.  David speaks of this when he says in Psalm 51, “You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burn offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.”  David is not advocating lawlessness.  However, he is recognizing that God really wanted people who had sacrificed themselves spiritually.  The animals were only a symbol and a way of expressing faith in God.  Thus God’s Law of the Sabbath had an original purpose.  There is purpose and scope to all of the Laws of God and the person who tries to turn this passage into a license for disregarding them is being foolish.

The second argument is a form of “pulling rank.”  Jesus basically says that He is in the authority over the Sabbath Law.  His use of the term “son of man” is definitely referring to himself.  However, it is also a reference to Daniel 7.  Throughout the Old Testament “son of man” is a way of saying “human.”  However, in Daniel 7, Daniel sees a particular human (son of man) who comes to God and receives the Kingdom that lasts forever.  Thus “son of man” is a messianic title.  The Messiah is lord of the Sabbath.  In fact, the argument can be made from Scripture that it is Jesus who gave the Sabbath Law to Moses in the first place.  Jesus is not saying, “He who makes the Laws can break the laws.”  What He is saying is that the maker of the Law is the One who you look to do “interpret” it, not rabbinical ideas and thoughts.  Moses demonstrated this during the desert.  God had not given him every law all at once.  When a situation came before Moses, he would go to God and pray for an answer.  If God answered it would become a part of the Law.  If not, then it would not.  You do not add to nor subtract from God’s word.  Instead of waiting for the Messiah to make problem situations clear, they had plunged ahead in their own wisdom.  Jesus is basically saying, “I made this law and my intention was not to bust people for doing what these disciples are doing here.”

Now let me close by just challenging believers today.  Jesus is your justifier.  Sometimes those who criticize you are totally unjustified and you want to tear into them. However, you will not change their minds and only fill your heart with evil desires and thoughts.  Let Jesus be your justifier.  Learn to trust Him and stand with Him.  Our country is becoming more and more hostile towards those who try to stand with Jesus.  Just know that Jesus is your defense.  If you stand with Him, you will stand in the end.  But if we retreat from Jesus because of the criticism of others, then we actually cut ourselves off from the very one who can justify us.  There are times when we need the criticism of others.  God sometimes uses the negative feedback we get from others to show us that there is a problem.  However, in both these cases, we need to look back to Jesus and work this out in our own hearts before Him.

Lord of Sabbath Audio

Tuesday
Dec312013

Prophecies in the Temple

When we read the Bible for ourselves, we find out that Jesus was not a nonconformist rebel.    He definitely came to change things.  Yet, the way he went about that was quite different then the revolutionaries of history.  He was no Che Guevara.  Rather, we see him growing up in a family that observed the Law of Moses and Jesus as the obedient Son who fulfill the Law.  He then goes on to lay that perfect life down as payment for all who will put their trust in Him.  The critical difference is that revolutionaries rebel against something that they disagree with and refuse to do.  However, Jesus did not disagree with the Law.  He completely agreed with it and completely fulfilled it.  Yet, He knew it would not save anyone.  He becomes the perfect Law keeper, not to hold it over our heads, but to lay it at our feet.

Today we will look at Luke 2:21-40 as the parents of Jesus observe the different rituals of the Law.

The Law Fulfilled

Two rituals are mentioned in this passage: circumcision and the presentation of the firstborn.  Luke summarizes this section in vs. 39 as “performing the Law.”  The Law required all male children to be circumcised on their 8th day.  It also required that every firstborn must be brought to the temple and be presented before God. 

Let’s look first at circumcision.  Circumcision was a symbol in the flesh of each male that they were under the covenant of Moses with God.  However, the prophets and Christ himself later gave deeper meaning to this act of circumcision.  It further symbolized a spiritual act that God desired in which a person was separated from the sins of the flesh.  Colossians 2:11 says, “In Him you were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.”  In this passage Paul compares and contrasts physical things with their spiritual counterpart.  In the New Testament we are told that physical birth occurs because of the desire and intention of a man.  However, spiritual birth can only occur because of the will of God.  Similarly, physical circumcision occurs because of the intention of an earthly father.  Yet, spiritual circumcision occurs because of the work and intention of God.  Another thing that is different in both is that no baby has any say in its birth or circumcision.  Yet, spiritual birth and spiritual circumcision happen as we put our faith in God.  Scripture clearly sees this as something that is done when we put our faith in Christ.  Yet the 8th day could also be a hint that after man’s life is finished (i.e. seven days) God will separate him from his sinful flesh so that he can live in purity before God (resurrection).

Now it was common in Israel to give the child his name at his circumcision.  So we are told that He was given the name the angel told them: Jesus.  Now there is much controversy that surrounds this name and for no good reason.  The New Testament was written in Greek and in those texts the Greek name used was Iesous.  Neither Greek nor Hebrew have “J” sounds.  This is how ancient names that had “Y” sounds were brought into English.  The “I” is the Greek way of making a “Y” sound.  Now the underlying Hebrew name would be translated as “Yahweh Saves,” as told by the angel.  Thus we can know that the Hebrew name of Jesus had to be a form of Yoshua (Joshua), Yeshua, or Yehoshua, etc…  We can’t be certain of the variant but Yeshua is usually used.  Even in the Bible we are shown that names taken from one language to another are either transliterated (closest sound equivalent) or translated (meaning in one language is brought into the other).  Thus either form are biblically acceptable.  To the English speaking world the baby is Jesus.  There should be no controversy in this.  It is not wrong to call Him Yeshua.  However, neither is it more spiritual.  It begs the question, “What language will we speak in the Millennium or in the “eternal state?”  Even if it is Hebrew, it is not necessary for all Christians to learn how to speak Hebrew and call Jesus by a Hebrew name that may not be the right variant.  I don’t believe God is concerned with this as much as some try to make out.  We are putting our faith not in some syllables, but rather the one who stands behind them.  In fact there are more than one Yeshuas in the Bible.  It is the Yeshua who died on the cross in Jerusalem and was resurrected to new life that we are putting our faith in.  That is the “Yeshua, Jesus, Iesous” who saves.

Now let’s look at the Presentation ceremony.  Technically every firstborn of Israel should have died in Egypt during the 10th plague.  However, God had spared them because of their faith in Him and His instruction to put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts.  Thus he required all parents to acknowledge this fact in the temple while also offering a burnt sacrifice and a sin sacrifice.  They would then pay 5 shekels to redeem their child from the Lord.  This was to prepare them to understand how God was redeeming them from sin through the blood of Jesus (the Lamb of God).  This would happen 40 days after the birth of the child.  One thing that is interesting is that it says Joseph and Mary offer up two turtledoves.  This gives us a clue to their financial status.  If a person could afford it they were supposed to offer a lamb and a turtledove.  However, if that would be a burden they could offer two birds.  There was a third option to offer one bird and a measure of fine flour.  Thus we see that the family of Jesus was not rich, but neither were they destitute.  Peter must have been thinking of this ceremony when he says in 1 Peter 1:18, “You were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver and gold.”  The disciples recognized that the Law was good in that it gave a picture of what God would do.  But in some ways it was cruder than the reality.  A parent would redeem their child with the blood of animals and the metals of gold or silver.  Neither of these even compare to the precious reality of the death of Jesus and the price of His perfect life paid for us.

The Testimony of Simeon

Now in verses 25-35 we see that Joseph and Mary run into a man at the Temple.  We are not told exactly where and whether this is before the ceremony or after.  But we are told that Simeon is a righteous man.  Whether he was a prophet or not doesn’t matter.  What does is that Simeon was a Spirit-led man who heard from the Lord.  He goes on to prophesy about this baby. 

First He declares Jesus as the salvation of God.  Clearly he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah or the Consolation of Israel.  No doubt he had questions as to the specifics, but he testifies (goes on record) as saying this baby is the Messiah.

Second, he declares that the baby will be revelation for the Gentiles.  Now man can search out knowledge and we know from Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle that the Gentile world had some brilliant men.  Yet, salvation cannot be deduced through the scientific method.  Man can figure out amazing things.  But he will continue to battle with sin to the point of self extinction, if God let it be.  But God cares enough to give revelation.  Knowledge from outside the system is brought into it by the designer for our sakes.  The Gospel of Jesus is that light.

Third, he declares that this baby will be “The Glory” of Israel.  Now in light of the divine origin of Jesus this is more than just saying the baby will be the greatest Israelite to ever live.  Now this is true.  However, God was always considered to be The Glory of Israel.  In Jesus the Glory of Israel had taken on flesh to live out the perfect life of the greatest Israelite to ever live.  Think about this: with its own hands Israel destroyed its own glory.  What does that say about all of us in life?  Is it possible that Satan and sin tempt us to destroy and tear apart, with our own hands, the very things that God intends for our glory?  A spouse has a stroke and can no longer function.  Do you leave them because “you have needs?”  Or, do you stand by them and love them for better or worse?  Many people every day walk away from and throw away the very thing God intended to bring them true glory.  Be careful what you do with what you have.

Simeon closes this time by declaring that the baby would grow up to cause the fall of many in Israel and the rising up of others.  This inversion of fortunes is not necessary.  It is simply up to the hearts of the individuals.  Jesus would be the revealer of hidden things in the hearts of men.  He would be a kind of “Litmus Test” from heaven to reveal what cannot be known my mortals.  What we do with Jesus is the ultimate test of whether we love Truth or not and whether we have Faith in God or not.  Jesus is still such a litmus test to this day.  The test is not just to embrace Jesus, but to embrace Jesus only as He is presented in Scripture.  It is common today to say that you believe in Jesus and yet go on to mold Jesus into whatever image you want.  Their “Jesus” becomes a Jesus who is very different from the Jesus who went to the cross and was resurrected on the third day.  Make sure you are truly embracing Jesus rather than an imagination you have received from others or concocted in your own head.

The Testimony of Anna

In verses 36-38 we have another public witness of who Jesus is.  Anna is a woman whose husband had died after they had been married for 7 years.  This would put her somewhere in her twenties.  On top of this she remained a widow for 84 years.  This would make her over one hundred years old in this event.  For 84 years she had prayed and fasted from time to time.  She was used by God as a prophetess.  What were here prophecies?  Most likely she prophesied that the Messiah was coming.  Thus in the context of fulfilling the Law we have two witnesses who step forward to verify that the baby is the Messiah.  If we count God himself, Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and the Shepherds, we have quite a number more.

Although we do not have the specific words of Anna, we are told that she verifies that Jesus is to be God’s Redeemer.  It is clear she is supporting what Simeon has said.  Thus the words of the Spirit are confirmed by two prophets and the previous words that God had given Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds.

Further Thoughts:

Now Luke leaves out the story of the Magi who visit Jesus in Bethlehem.  It seems unlikely that they have already visited.  Most likely they did visit within that first year.  Thus Luke’s account appears to contradict Matthew.  Luke says that “after they had performed all things according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee…”  Is this actually a contradiction?  Actually it isn’t.  Luke may have left out the story because he hadn’t heard it, or because he didn’t have the ability to verify it.  He clearly states that he is writing what he received first hand or verified for himself.  Second of all Matthew says that the coming of the Magi and the flight to Egypt were fulfillment of Scripture.  Thus Luke’s phrase, “after they had performed all things according to the Law,” could include the flight into Egypt.  The timeline would be that they first went back to Nazareth.  The Magi would have visited sometime later that year.  They would have fled into Egypt right after that.  Herod dies right after this whole episode.  So they wouldn’t have stayed in Egypt more than a year.  This puts Jesus at the age of 2 or 3 years old when they go back to Nazareth.  These type of specifics are irrelevant to the overall purpose of Luke.  What Luke states is basically true even though there may be more to the story.

Lastly, verse 40 says that Jesus became strong in Spirit, wisdom, and God’s grace.  O that it would said of all of us.  To be strong in Spirit doesn’t just mean that he is stubborn.  Rather it means that He listened to the Spirit and the Spirit was evidently with Him in what He did.  Growing in wisdom is a reference to that mystery of the divinity of Jesus.  In some ways He was very human.  Someone taught him to read.  Yet, he was the Son of God from Eternity past.  The Holy Spirit makes little attempt to dispel this mystery for us.  Therefore it is not important.  Yet, we all need to grow in wisdom and God’s word is the greatest source of wisdom on the planet.  Jesus also grew in God’s grace.  God had gifted Him in very obvious ways.  May God help us in this new year to be strong in His Spirit, His Wisdom, and His Grace.  Amen.

Temple Prophecies audio