Acceptance first?

This week’s reading comes from Luke 4 & 5. Since it ties into our current sermon series, I want to address the first few verses of Luke 4, then focus the rest of the time on a major theme of Luke found in chapter 5.

Jesus’ ministry began after his baptism which Luke records in 3:21-23. Immediately after his baptism Jesus was tested in the wilderness, and Luke records it this way: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…” – Luke 4:1  In the wilderness he was tempted by the devil, but was faithful and did not sin. Instead, he quoted Scripture to fend off the temptations. He relied on Scripture and the Holy Spirit to get him through (we should do this as well!)

Luke tells us that “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…” Luke 4:14. Somehow, learning to rely on the Holy Spirit, fending off temptation through Scripture, and fasting while depending solely on God for survival empowered him in the Spirit. From this point on, Jesus becomes the miraculous Messiah we all know and love, and it all comes “…in the power of the Spirit.” Maybe this is why “…Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” – Luke 5:16

In Luke 5:29-32 we see Jesus inviting Levi (Matthew) the tax collector to follow him. Tax collectors were considered as the lowest of the low. In fact, they are often listed in a separate category from sinners (Lk. 5:30). Nobody would associate with these people because they were looked upon as sinful, and as traitors to the nation of Israel. Tax collectors made their money by charging higher taxes than Rome required, therefore it was a profession that led to quite a bit of corruption. Nobody, especially a Jewish rabbi would associate with a tax collector, but Jesus did just that! As a matter of fact, he ate with tax collectors and sinners! (Lk. 5:30)

We have to understand how controversial and radical this was to the ancient world. Eating a meal with someone established “table fellowship,” or a covenant relationship of friendship between the parties involved. If you ate with someone you were showing acceptance to that person. So reading this story in first century context Jesus is accepting Levi (Matthew), “…and a large crowd of tax collectors and others…” by eating with them.

There is no sign of repentance by anyone at the party; in fact Jesus says this is the reason he is there! He is accepting them through table fellowship in order to lead/call them to repentance (Lk. 5:31-32). He does not wait for them to repent before accepting them, and this is something that we often get backwards! Luke will carry this theme throughout his Gospel and into Acts (just look at Zacchaeus in Lk. 19).

As a friend of mine says quite frequently, “Exodus comes before Sinai. Calvary comes before Pentecost. Grace comes before faith. It always has. It always will.”

To look at this from a biblical standpoint look at every one of these stories in context. God saves Israel before giving the commandments to follow. Jesus died on the cross before Peter’s great Pentecost revival.

Paul puts it this way: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

When we try to withhold fellowship and acceptance until someone fixes all their issues we are doing the exact opposite of Jesus. Let’s be sure we’re following Jesus. – Matt

Mark 8 – 9:29

Our reading for this week comes from Mark 8 – 9:29.

Mark 8 begins with Jesus feeding the 4,000. Please keep in mind this is a separate event from the feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6, though there are certainly similarities. One of the biggest differences is the location of this miracle, and the result. If you recall, the feeding of the 5,000 was feeding a Jewish crowd, and 12 basketfuls of leftovers were collected, indicating Jesus provides both physical and spiritual food, enough for the 12 tribes of Israel.

If you follow Mark’s narration from 7:24 to 8:1, we will find that Jesus speaks to the Syrophoenician woman (a Greek Gentile) in the vicinity of Tyre, way north of the usual area to which Jesus ministered. Here he casts out a demon possessing the woman’s daughter. Goes further north to Sidon, then back down toward Galilee “…into the region of the Decapolis.”

The Decapolis was a collection of Hellenistic (Greek/Gentile) cities and towns in the region of Syria. This is where Jesus cast out the demon Legion (Mark 5). Jews of the time referred to this region as the “Land of the Seven,” a negative comparison to the seven nations that frequently attacked their ancestors.

Jesus feeds the Gentile crowd in the so-called “Land of the Seven” and the disciples collect seven basketfuls of leftovers. Here Jesus is saying that his salvation and message are not only for the 12 tribes, but also for the Gentiles as well. This would not have set well with the Pharisees who kept and enforced rules on others pertaining to eating, sleeping, or having anything to do with Gentiles unless absolutely necessary. In 8:14, Jesus picks up on the “bread” theme and warns the disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees…” Jesus further clarifies his point to his disciples:

“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” – Mark 8:19-21

Jesus never intended his ministry to leave anyone out. There was an order in which he had to go first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. He did this in his ministry, and specifically in the feeding miracles. The Apostles followed this as well in Acts as Jesus called them in

Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The message was first going to Israel, then Samaria (whom Israel hated), and to the ends of the earth…Gentiles (also whom Israel hated).

Obeying Jesus in this would be difficult, and would be despised by many. Truly loving all people in this world will bring outrage and condemnation from some. That’s why Jesus reminds us that… 

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34

Jesus is offensive to those who have no interest in following him. If we are truly his disciples, we will offend people too. We should never seek to offend, but in all things, follow Jesus. And this will make you offensive. The Gospel is for everyone, and some don’t like that truth. Follow him anyway…even into the hated Land of the Seven…follow him.