This week we move from Matthew’s gospel into Luke’s gospel. You may remember we said Matthew’s focus was on showing Jewish believers how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and the teacher of a new righteousness. Luke, on the other hand, makes an important emphasis on how the nations are being welcomed into the story of salvation. And he does so through an orderly account of the events surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus so that his audience (a man named Theophilus) would have certainty concerning the things he’d been taught.
Matthew’s account of the final hours of Jesus’ life brims with irony. It’s difficult to resist shaking your head at the injustice and hypocrisy. Some of the statements from both Pilate and the people are condemning but ironically true. Matthew’s gospel is very concerned to show how the person and work of Christ is a fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, so pay attention to those themes as you read. The morning after Peter’s denial, the chief priests and the elders sentenced Jesus to death. When Judas saw the fruit of his labor, he changed his mind and hung himself. Meanwhile, Jesus is silent before his accusers, exchanged for Barabbas the criminal, mocked, and crucified. Supernatural events surround Jesus’ death – most notably for Matthew the tearing of the curtain in the Temple. After Jesus yields up his spirit and dies (this is important to note: his spirit was not taken from him, he gave it. He is in complete control), Joseph of Arimathea prepares Jesus’ body for burial in a new tomb, which is guarded by Roman soldiers. Matthew’s conclusion in chapter 28 is swift. The women are first to the tomb, the first to hear about the resurrection, and first to give this report to the disciples. Notice their emotions: fear and great joy. This strikes me as an appropriate response to the amazing news of the resurrection. Fear and awe that Jesus is God. Great joy because he has accomplished salvation for us.
From the start of Luke, we can hear echoes of Abraham and Sarah in the account of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Quickly, though, we see the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy from the end of last week as John the Baptist goes “before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah.” The next scene of Luke 1 recounts Gabriel’s message to Mary. It’s full of language heavily influenced by the Old Testament – watch for each person of the Trinity to appear, the presence of the Lord, the promises given to David, the promise of a kingdom, and the long-awaited promises to Jacob the patriarch. The second half of Luke 1 records the responses to these birth announcements – and both are songs of praise. Luke 2 is obviously familiar to us because many read it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. But, I’d encourage you to read with new eyes – and especially pay attention to the second half of the chapter with Simeon’s and Anna’s words about Jesus. We begin to see how Jesus’s mission is outward focused to outcasts (shepherds) and Gentiles, in order that many hearts in Israel might be revealed.
When we arrive to Luke 3, we move back into familiar material from Mark and Matthew as we read of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus. At this point, Luke includes his genealogy. Whereas Matthew takes Jesus back to Abraham and David, Luke takes Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam and God, which makes sense because of Luke’s emphasis on Jesus as the Savior of all people and nations. Luke records Jesus’s Spirit-led trip into the wilderness. Pay attention to Jesus’s quotations – they’re all from Deuteronomy. If you’ll remember, Deuteronomy was Moses’ last sermon to Israel while they were in the wilderness waiting to enter the Promised Land. Israel was continually rebellious and disobedient. But Jesus is faithful and obedient to God’s word. After successfully thwarting temptation from Satan, Jesus begins his ministry.
Read Luke 5-6 in light of Jesus’ reading from Isaiah in the Nazareth synagogue in 4:16-22. Jesus truly is proclaiming good news and releasing captives.
Luke is showing the Kingdom of God expanding beyond Israel to the nations. In chapter 7 Jesus marvels at the faith of the centurion, raises a widow’s son, explains his ministry to John the Baptist, and forgives a woman of the city. Jesus marvels at faith demonstrated by the centurion – faith which Jesus had not found even in Israel. In Luke 8, Jesus begins speaking in parables (though most are clustered in chapters 12-17). Notice how Luke explains the purpose of the parable of the sower: good soil = “those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” I believe Luke’s descriptor is particularly challenging for us. In a “Fast-everything” world, patient perseverance in honesty and goodness does not come naturally – especially when it comes to our growth in godliness.
In these chapters, Jesus begins to multiply his ministry as he sends out the twelve and the seventy-two. We begin to see Jesus’ ministry reaching beyond the people of Israel. I would draw your attention to the account of Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36. Luke’s account takes it a step further than Matthew and Mark. In his account we’re told Jesus speaks with Elijah and Moses about his “exodus” – the cross and resurrection – the ultimate act of redeeming God’s people from slavery. Even more than that, I think Luke’s account of the transfiguration helps us see that the Law and Prophets point us to Christ.
Luke 11 begins with a focus on the Lord’s prayer and our posture as we pray – that of earnestly seeking and the Father’s generous gift of the Holy Spirit. He then takes us into a section of disagreements with the crowds and Pharisees. In response to Jesus’ teaching a woman from the crowd blesses Jesus’ mother – but Jesus corrects her by blessing those who hear the word of God and keep it, which makes for a perfect transition into “woes” on those who do not obey the word of God from the heart (Pharisees and lawyers). In Luke 12, Jesus addresses hypocrisy, fear, security, wealth, anxiousness, preparedness, division, wisdom, repentance, and the Kingdom. Some temptations never really change, do they? The temptation to (greedily) store up treasure on earth. The temptation toward anxiousness about our life. The temptation to judge for ourselves what is right and wrong.