We conclude the second half of Luke’s gospel this week and read the first two chapters of John’s gospel. Keep reading Luke with an eye toward (1) gaining certainty about what we have been taught and (2) seeing how the nations are being welcomed into the kingdom of God.
I’m betting Jesus covers at least one thing in these chapters that we experience each day. Accidents. Hypocrisy. Fear. Security. Wealth. Anxiousness. Preparedness. Division. Wisdom. Repentance. The Kingdom. Some temptations never really change, do they? Human beings have been struggling with the same things since Genesis 3. The temptation to (greedily) store up treasure on earth. The temptation toward anxiousness about life. The temptation to judge for ourselves what is right. In chapter 14, the parable of the wedding feast follows Jesus’ healing a man on the Sabbath at the house of a Pharisee after he notices the guests choosing the best seats for themselves. Instead, Jesus tells them how it works in the kingdom: everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.
Chapter 15 includes parables told when the tax collectors and sinners were drawing near: it’s a series of three parables of things that were lost. Lost sheep. Lost coin. Lost sons. But the consistent theme is God’s joy over sinners who repent – even to the extent of throwing a massive celebration. Again, Luke reports to us a parable about “the love of money” which is aimed directly at the Pharisees, who ridicule Jesus while violating the Law in their hearts. Instead of hearing the Law rightly, they use it to justify themselves. The Law and the Prophets should have pointed those “who have ears to hear” toward the gospel of the kingdom, which is vibrantly illustrated in chapter 16’s story of the rich man and Lazarus (read closely for the hint at the resurrection at the end of the story).
As Luke’s narrative moves into chapter 17, Jesus reveals to his disciples the ethics of the kingdom (forgiveness, faith, and obedience) which shockingly is demonstrated by a Samaritan leper. Then the Pharisees, having repeatedly been warned about the kingdom, approach Jesus with a question about when and how the kingdom will come. Jesus doesn’t answer specifically – but he says to be prepared. The first two sections of chapter 18 present two parables related to prayer. Thanks to Luke, we know the first is an illustration of persistent prayer and the Lord’s eagerness to answer our prayers (especially for justice!). The second parable uses prayer to reveal self-righteousness. Then, there’s an odd interjection about children coming to Jesus that seems a bit out of place. Why is this story here? According to Ligon Duncan, Luke is showing us the true character of a disciple (in stark contrast to the stories before and after it). Disciples are like children who “are not those who do, they are those who are done for. Jesus is saying in this passage, “You don’t enter My kingdom by who you are and what you do. You enter My kingdom by who I am and what I do.” This point is quickly illustrated by three additional stories: (1) the rich ruler, who cannot enter because of his possessions, (2) Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection which reveals who he is and what he does, and (3) the healing of the blind beggar who is a perfect candidate to receive the kingdom because of his ‘childlikeness.’
These chapters record Jesus’ teaching in the Temple complex on the days leading to his crucifixion. The disciples ask two questions about when the Temple will be destroyed and what signs will accompany it. Jesus answers the “signs” question, but he does not answer specifically “when” the end will be – but he encourages them to be on the lookout for the drawing near of their redemption. In chapter 22, the plot to kill Jesus is set in motion as Jesus celebrates Passover by instituting the Lord’s Supper as the new covenant before his arrest, denials, and false trial. Jesus was among us as one who served.
Remember, Luke has set out to present an “orderly account” so that we might have certainty in the things proclaimed to us. Consider the level of detail included in his account of the crucifixion as compared to the other gospel writers – and read it personally with the goal of gaining more “certainty” about what we believe. Luke 24 is one of my personal favorites. Can you imagine hearing from Jesus about all the things in the Old Testament concerning himself? Here’s the good news: that’s why we have the New Testament writings. The New Testament is the disciples’ faithful reflection on and reporting of Jesus’ own teaching after his resurrection. Luke sets the stage with the Ascension for the seamless transition into his second volume – Acts.
John’s gospel is much different than the other three gospels. While the others are certainly theological, John’s gospel provides a high-flying theology of Jesus. You’ll notice this immediately in John’s first chapter – even though the disciples are skeptical of anything “good” coming from Nazareth. In chapter 2, be on the lookout for mentions of “purification” and see if you can draw and conclusions about how John will help us understand more of Jesus’s mission throughout his gospel.