Grace Emerges

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chapter 6 Part 1: Revolutionary Adventures in the Gospel of Luke

Revolutionary Adventures in the Gospel of Luke

Luke 6:1-26
by Brad Duncan

Join me on this adventure through the Gospel of Luke as I explore the revolution of God's grace poured out to us, and how it can lead to our fulfilling God's greatest plan to build his kingdom on Earth.

The Journey so far follows these themes: Preparation.  Incarnation.  Revolution.  Liberation.  Transformation.

Outline of Luke 6:1-26:
  • Jesus against Sabbath rules
    • Disciples eat wheat on the Sabbath
    • Jesus defends their actions to the Pharisees
    • Jesus heals a man in the synagogue on the Sabbath
    • Jesus questions the Pharisees that are watching, whether it is legal to do good on the Sabbath
    • The Pharisees start to plot against Jesus
  • Jesus chooses apostles
    • Jesus went onto a mountain to pray all night
    • At daybreak, he called together his disciples, probably a large group of them
    • From the disciples he chooses twelve that he calls "apostles"
  • Jesus ministers to the masses in Judea
    • Large crowds are now following and listening to Jesus
    • They come from Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre and Sidon
    • Jesus continues to heal the sick and cast out demons
    • Interesting comment that people wanted to touch Jesus because the power was going out of him to heal everyone around him
  • Happy people vs. doomed people
    • Recall the context: Jesus has faced the Pharisees who are now out to kill him, Jesus has been praying all night, Jesus has selected his apostles and is followed by many additional disciples, and the crowds are gathered around him so he can both teach and heal them
    • Jesus teaches the disciples (and surrounding crowds) using imagery and contrast to create a poignant picture.  However; he was speaking about a familiar subject from his daily message of good news - he is referring again to Isaiah 61about bringing good news to the poor and liberating captives.  He uses this imagery to help the listeners understand how THEY fit into the Messiah's mission.
    • These people should rejoice: the poor, those who hunger now, those who weep now, and those that are persecuted in Jesus' name.
    • Why they should rejoice: the kingdom of God belongs to them, they will be satisfied and made whole, their mourning turned to laughter.  They will have a great reward in heaven.  The one who will liberate them as promised in Isaiah has arrived.  However, people will oppress them because of their relationship with the Messiah.
    • These people are doomed - it will be terrible for them: the rich, those who have plenty of food, those that laugh now, and those that are spoken well of by others.
    • Why they should weep: they will receive no more comfort, they will be hungry, and their laughter will be turned to mourning.  They are taking a stance against the liberator, and against helping the needy.  They are happy to be rich while others are poor.  People speak well of them while they help oppress those that follow the Messiah, like their ancestors did.
    • These people are Jews (both the happy and the doomed).  Their ancestors are the ones that treated people badly, hating and rejecting the prophets but speaking well of false prophets.  The implication is that the Jews are not understanding the prophet (Messiah) that is with them now and instead will persecute him.
The Setting for a Revolution
In Chapter 5, we read about the questions that the religious leaders are asking.  It seems that because they do not really believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Incarnation, the Son of God, they question how he can forgive sins.  They question both Jesus and his discplines as to why they don't depend on laws and traditions to please God.  In Chapter 6, the questions continue but become more onerous, suggesting that it's not just a lack of belief that drives their questions, but self-defense against the message of Jesus.

The leaders speak as though they are pious by defending the Sabbath traditions, but Jesus points out that those leaders would rather see evil done on the Sabbath than see their traditions take a back seat to the actual work of doing good.  What is happening here?  The Sabbath and the synagogue are the seat of power for these leaders.  They depend on these traditions to stay in charge, to continue as the elite, and in fact benefit in material ways from the arrangement.  We don't hear of the Pharisees being poor or hungry.  By challenging the Sabbath, Jesus is challenging their way of life.  The spiritual leaders, incensed at Jesus' teaching that good works should prevail over ageless traditions, begin to form ranks and strategize against Jesus.  They must defend their turf.

Verse 9: 'Jesus said to the legal experts and Pharisees, “Here’s a question for you: Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”'
Apparently it was okay to scheme against people on the Sabbath, but not to heal them.
Verse 7: 'The legal experts and the Pharisees were watching him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. They were looking for a reason to bring charges against him.'
Verse 11:'They were furious and began talking with each other about what to do to Jesus.'

On the other hand, the people that are with Jesus are also getting organized.  Jesus appoints leaders called "apostles", and has a larger group of disciples that also follow him.  He has large crowds of people that hear his message and receive healing and other ministry.  He teaches his followers about the principles of doing good, turning to God, and treating others well.  He also teaches them about the evil that disguises itself as doing good works, when it comes to the spiritual practices of the Pharisees.

This is the context for the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in Verse 20 starting with Luke's version of the beatitudes.

Forming Battle Lines
The beatitudes in verses 20-26 paint a picture of two camps of people.  In the revolution that was brewing in this stage of Jesus' ministry, these two camps represent the two sides.  However, in the bigger picture of the kingdom of heaven, future believers can also find themselves described in these verses.  Essentially the two groups are those fighting for freedom, and those fighting for slavery.  Those that were aligned with the Messiah's mission to bring good news to the poor, and those that are aligned against it, in defense of their own wealth.

Those fighting for freedom:
  • the poor, hungry and distraught longing for liberation
  • those that bring good news to the poor, feed the hungry and comfort the distraught
  • those that are not physically poor or hungry, but on a deeper level realize their need (their poverty and hunger) for God's redemption
  • those that will suffer in this life and yet receive blessings in the life after
  • those that align themselves with the Messiah, who is fighting for freedom, but receive persecution as a result
  • those whose hearts were made ready to hear the good news and see the kingdom (as described in chapters 3 and 5).
The imagery seems to be applicable on many levels.  Different listeners could identify with the passage based on their own status, including people present when Jesus spoke and those that were to hear his teaching through the ages to come (meaning us, of course).  People that had listened to John the Baptist would be ready to align themselves with the Messiah, would see themselves in this imagery as those spiritually poor, needy people, who were ready to see the true kingdom emerging before their eyes.  If they were the poor and downtrodden, they would see the hope that the Messiah came to bring to them.

Those fighting for slavery:
  • the devil and his agents (chapter 4) who rule the kingdoms of the world, leading them to slavery through their own self-indulgence.  A system which leads to exploitation and enslavement of the weak by the strong
  • those deceptive "brood of vipers" who want to appear clean on the outside but despise good on the inside
  • those teachers of the law and Pharisees that would rather see evil done than good on the Sabbath because of their own pride, lust for power, defense of their high standing in society (as well as literal riches and no lack of food to eat), and their need to control others
  • those that will gratify their greed and lust in this life but will receive no blessings in the life after
  • those that oppose the Messiah who brings a message that equalizes the poor and the rich, that liberates those that have been enslaved by religious systems of control
The teaching here would certainly further anger the teachers of the law, but Jesus' purpose in doing so seems to be to point out the truth so that others will no longer be deceived.  Just like John the Baptist, Jesus does not cater to those with power but opposes them.  Their very power is at the expense of the poor and those with inferior status.  To liberate the captives, Jesus must oppose their jailers.  

In the events leading up to the Sermon on the Mount, we see the battle lines forming.  Imagine yourself hearing Jesus open his sermon with the statement "“Happy are you who are poor, because God’s kingdom is yours."  Would you be happy when you heard that?  Would you rejoice?  Would you identify as one that would see God's kingdom, because you could feel your own poverty, but could sense the excitement in the purpose of the Messiah?  With the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expands his message from talking about his purpose, to talking to each person in the crowd, each disciple and apostle, about how they fit into that purpose.  He also is talking to those that oppose him, to reveal their deception and make it clear that there are battle lines being formed and they are on the wrong side if they want to see God's kingdom at work.  Sadly, many of those people had no concern about seeing good things or hearing good news.  Their concern was with themselves and their need to enslave others.  By doing so, they aligned themselves with the devil himself and his kingdoms of the world.  We see that self-alignment play out in the dramatic events leading up to the crucifixion.

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