Christ Includes Everyone

The Spirit leads where He wants, and it doesn’t always match our plans.

In Acts 6 we read about the Hellenistic Jewish widows being slighted in the distribution of food. The suggestion agreed upon by all was to appoint 7 Hellenists to carry out that ministry, men who were full of the Spirit and wisdom. Within the list of 7 we encounter Stephen and Philip in other portions of Luke’s story. Today we look at Philip’s missionary career, likely something he had never planned to do.

After the first century “meals on wheels” problem became known, the Twelve continued with their ministry of preaching and prayer. This was their calling. The Seven were called to distribute food. And yet, it’s only a few verses later that Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, is moved to preach about Jesus. The Spirit leads where He wants, and it doesn’t always match our plans. Stephen’s willingness to follow the Spirit leads to his death, and great persecution against the Church. But God used that persecution in order to spread the Gospel to other areas!

We next encounter Philip not distributing food, but preaching! The Spirit leads where He wants, and it doesn’t always match our plans. The persecution drove him into Samaria, and there, like Stephen and Jesus before him, began to perform signs such as casting out demons and healing the paralyzed and lame. Many men and women were baptized because Philip followed the leading of the Spirit to go wherever he was called. And wherever he went, he preached the Gospel of Jesus.

Next, we find the Spirit leading Philip to a road headed southwest out of Jerusalem. There Philip is told to talk to a man riding in a chariot. All we really know about this man is that he was an Ethiopian (likely a black-skinned man from what the Old Testament refers to as the region of Cush), he was the treasurer for the queen, and he was a eunuch.

There’s a lot to unpack here as we consider the theme of the disciples being “witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” This treasurer was likely a “God fearer,” similar to Cornelius. He had been to Jerusalem, but as a eunuch he would not have been allowed to enter the Temple. We could chase this rabbit a long way down the rabbit hole, but suffice it to say this was God’s way of telling Israel not to adopt the practice of castration in their communities. More on this in a moment.

For the treasurer to travel all the way to Jerusalem shows just how deep his faith is. I wonder how he felt being prohibited from entering the Temple upon arrival? Did he know he would be kept from joining the assembly before his journey, and traveled anyway? Or was this a surprise to him? For Luke, these details were not needed, and we are left to wonder.

What we do know is the treasurer had a copy (or partial copy) of the Isaiah scroll. Specifically, he was reading from the Greek translation of Isaiah 53:7-8.

This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

Acts 8:32-33 NIV

Now we don’t know every detail about what Philip told this Ethiopian treasurer. We know that he started with Isaiah 53 and began to preach the Gospel of Jesus, and his message must have included baptism. But I would guess that Philip also had this Ethiopian foreigner, this eunuch, read Isaiah 56.

Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.” The Sovereign Lord declares—
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:3-8 NIV

This is the same passage Jesus referenced when he overturned the tables in the Temple. This very practice of excluding “differents” is what so offended Jesus that he pronounced condemnation and destruction upon the Temple. The words of God recorded in Isaiah 56 remind us of God’s plan all along. It was never about God blessing one people group, but rather bringing blessing and salvation to all nations by working through one nation. God is not in the exclusion business. He wants everyone to be saved! The Spirit leads where He wants, and it doesn’t always match our plans.

Whereas the Temple authorities would have prohibited the Ethiopian eunuch from joining their assembly, Philip lays no such barrier.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”

Acts 8:36 NIV

What can stand in the way of my being baptized? Absolutely nothing! All are welcome in Christ’s Kingdom! He died for all people! And his table is open for all!

So what are you waiting for? What’s keeping you on the outside? Most people I’ve met think that they will be excluded, or not welcomed because of their past. They believe that even though they want to follow Christ and join his family, they won’t be accepted. But that’s not how our God operates! Our Savior doesn’t just save good people (and none of us are good), he saves messed up people like you and me!

Jesus died to save those who struggle with sexual sins, idolatry, homosexuality, theft, greed, drunkenness, foul language, and every other imaginable sin. As a matter of fact, that list describes the makeup of the early church! The difference is they were washed and made clean through Christ. They didn’t stay in their sins because someone welcomed them and taught them about Christ. You’ll never look into the eyes of someone Christ didn’t die for. You’ll never find someone God doesn’t want to save. So why would we ever turn someone away?

If you haven’t joined a church family, why not? Become a member of a community of Christ today! Get plugged in and get about the business of welcoming others into the family!

And if you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and you haven’t committed your life to him, then the words of this Ethiopian eunuch apply to you. What can stand in the way of you being baptized? Absolutely nothing!

Join God’s family today!

The Open Table

The presence of Jesus is amplified and recognized when we most fully live like him in the world.

As Luke draws volume 1 of his Gospel to a close (Acts being volume 2), his focus shifts slightly from what Jesus does in the world (vol. 1) to what his disciples do in the world as his representatives (vol. 2). There are, however, a few stories between that overlap. Jesus has risen from the dead and appears to the disciples intermittently while his disciples learn to continue ministering without the constant physical presence of their Messiah. My favorite of these stories is the road to Emmaus.

As I work through this text in preparation for preaching it this Sunday, I’m struck by two major points. The first being that the disciples have lost all hope because of the crucifixion. They watched as their friend and Messiah was arrested, beaten, and executed, and now they are at a loss for what to do. The story is clear that these two disciples were leaving the rest of the group in Jerusalem, presumably to return to their pre-discipleship life. Listen to their words of despair and confusion. After asking this stranger (Jesus) about his knowledge of the previous week’s events, Jesus responds:

“What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

Luke 24:19-24 NIV (emphasis added)

Their confusion and hopelessness is clear. “We had hoped…” indicates that to them this is no longer a reality, and “…they did not see Jesus” leads us to the confusion and disbelief. Yes, the women saw it and told about it, yes, the men went there, but there was no Jesus.

The grief and dismay that surrounded this event is effecting these disciples deeply. They had been told repeatedly that Jesus would be crucified, but would rise again (Luke 9:21-27, 9:43-45, 18:31-34). This news, however, was so shocking and contrary to their own notions about Jesus’ ministry that they simply didn’t make sense. And now, at this moment on the road to Emmaus, the teaching they had received was absent from their minds and hearts.

The solution? Jesus points them back to Scripture!

“Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:26-27 NIV

In the midst of grief, dismay, and hopelessness, Jesus points the disciples back to Scripture (read the Old Testament). This is of enormous significance. He could have simply revealed who he was to them and restored their faith through the physical sight of himself. Yet Jesus doesn’t operate this way. Instead, he points these disciples back to the timeless texts of their Bibles (Old Testament). These texts established their faith as children, and Jesus uses them to clarify what God was doing in the world through Jesus.

The second thing that stands out to me is how they recognize Jesus. Now that their hope and faith is restored through a message from Scripture, Jesus is going to continue down the road and leave the disciples. Instead, the disciples invite this man (who is still a stranger to them at this point) to stay and eat with them.

Table fellowship is a huge theme in Luke’s Gospel! Over and over again we read of Jesus eating with those marginalized by society. Most of his criticism from the religious establishment came as a direct result of who Jesus ate with. What we often miss is that eating with someone was a sign of acceptance of that person. When you eat with someone you now share a bond, a commitment to one another. This is why it’s all the more shocking that Judas betrayed Jesus on the same night that they dined together in the upper room.

On the way to Emmaus, the disciples renewed faith leads them to act like Jesus. Notice that they welcome the stranger and open their table to him. And it is at that moment, when they imitate Jesus through the open table that they recognize their Lord.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

Luke 24:30-31 NIV

When the disciples were hopeless and their faith almost gone, Jesus points them back to the Scriptures. And when the disciples act like Jesus in welcoming this stranger to their table, their eyes are opened, and they recognize the presence of their Lord.

Opening the Scriptures and gathering around the table with our Lord was vital to the faith of these disciples. It was in these events that the disciples encountered the risen Jesus. Why would it be any different for you and me?

So…what are you doing this Sunday?

My Father’s House?

Luke is a master when it comes to dropping subtle clues in his writings. From the beginning of his Gospel, Luke wants you to know that Jesus isn’t just an ordinary man. He is human, yes, but he is also God in human form. And Luke shares this with us in many ways throughout the early chapters of his Gospel.

In Chapter 2 we get a story that no other Gospel writer tells. I believe Luke must have gotten this from Mary herself, especially since he relays Mary’s inner thoughts (see 1:3, 2:51). Jesus disappears from the family caravan at Passover. Mary and Joseph cannot find him anywhere, so they return to the city of Jerusalem and find Jesus in the temple courts discussing Scripture with the teachers.

What really stands out to me is the way Jesus responds to the question from his mother.

When his parents saw him, they were overwhelmed. His mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” But he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005), Lk 2:48–49.

Did you notice Jesus’ words here? Compare the words of Mary to those of Jesus. Who is the “father” of Jesus? According to Jesus, he was exactly where he was supposed to be…in his Father’s house.

The word play here isn’t accidental. This is just one small example of how Luke fills his Gospel with subtle (and some not so subtle) ways of reminding us of the true identity of Jesus. Next time we’ll look at the words of Elizabeth and what they tell us about Jesus.

(I’ll be dropping some of these every week since I will be reading this Gospel a lot between now and the time I start preaching through it in December. If you’re looking for a reading plan that will drill down on Luke’s Gospel before the end of the year, you can join me. Here’s a reading plan for Luke that my Small Group is going through, and here’s what I’m reading in addition to that.)

Immerse: Messiah (Week 1)

For the next 8 weeks the attention of our bulletin articles will be to support our readings from Immerse: Messiah. If you haven’t decided to join us for Immerse yet, it’s not too late. The small groups don’t begin until this Friday, and you can still make it to a first time group until next Thursday. We have 5 groups meeting on 5 different days in 5 different locations. Hopefully you can make one of them fit into your schedule. (And if you’re reading this from some other part of the world, you can order the Immerse: Messiah book online and start your own small group wherever you are! Just go to www.immersebible.com.)

Our readings for this week will take us through the Gospel of Luke. One of the things that has really stood out to me in this reading is about the young Jesus being left at the Temple, and how that story sets up the rest of Luke’s Gospel. You can read about this on pg. 8 of your Immerse book (Luke 2 for everyone else).

First the story takes place at the Passover festival. His parents can’t find him anywhere on the way home, so they return to Jerusalem to look for him, and finally find him 3 days later at the Temple. Jesus’ responded: “But why did you need to search?…Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk. 2:49 NLT) There’s also an alternate reading of this passage where Jesus says “Didn’t you realize that I should be involved with my Father’s affairs?”

Fast forward toward the end of Luke’s Gospel. The Passover festival is beginning (Lk. 22/Immerse pg. 52). Jesus is arrested that night, an unjust trial takes place in the middle of the night, he is handed over to the Romans, then sentenced. Jesus is crucified that Friday at the end of the Passover, and his death leaves his family and friends there in Jerusalem alone, and afraid. And when they see the resurrected Jesus after three days they are full of questions. After Jesus convinces them, his response is basically, “Didn’t you know?”

Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.

Lk. 24:44-46 NLT/Immerse pg. 59

Luke also carries this idea of 3 days of confusion forward into Acts (hint, look at Paul’s conversion).

I’m curious to see what you picked up on from the reading! Reading through a Gospel quickly like this helps you to see things/patterns/themes that you may not see when taking a longer time to read. Did you notice how many events happen around a table? Did you notice how often women are involved in the Jesus story? 

My prayer is that this short season of reading will be a blessing that ignites a passion for reading and rediscovering the story of Jesus again. Scripture tells us that the Word of God will never return void. 

I guess the question I’m asking is what will you allow the Word of God to do in your life as you read these Scriptures?

Mary’s Song

As we approach the last Sunday of Advent, I’d like to draw our attention to the words of a young teenage girl who just received news that she would become pregnant. 

46 And Mary said: 
“My soul glorifies the Lord 
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
48 for he has been mindful 
of the humble state of his servant. 
From now on all generations will call me blessed, 
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— 
holy is his name. 
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, 
from generation to generation. 
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; 
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones 
but has lifted up the humble. 
53 He has filled the hungry with good things 
but has sent the rich away empty. 
54 He has helped his servant Israel, 
remembering to be merciful 
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, 
just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1:46–55 NIV

Rather than dread, and fear, Mary sees her life mission as a blessing. But look specifically at how she saw this as a blessing. First, she acknowledges that God has chosen to use someone of a “humble state.’ (v. 48) We know from Luke that Joseph and Mary lived in poverty (Lk. 2:24, Lev. 12:8). Second, she realizes this is a reversal of the power structure. Thrones will be toppled and humble (poor) will be elevated, the starving are filled and the rich are not. (vv. 52-53) The last statement I want us to consider is vv. 54-55. Within her womb resides the help of Israel, the mercy of God, and the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, and subsequent promises to his “descendants.” (Gen. 12:3)

This is the moment the prophets foretold, and would confirm again at the temple (Lk. 2:25-38). This is the promise of a Savior, of a King, of a Messiah. It is something brand new, and yet very old. It is the end of centuries of waiting, and the beginning of more. It is a moment on which everything that was, everything that is, and everything that will be hinges. 

Praise our faithful God! He has come, and He is coming again!

Sermon Text for 12/22/19 – Psalm 113; Psalm 146; Luke 1:67-80; Luke 1:46-56; Luke 2:1-14

Awaiting The Promised Messiah

Our faith heritage in the churches of Christ has often shied away from the season of Advent as being “unauthorized in Scripture.” However, the word “advent” simply means “coming.” The OT is full of hope in expectant waiting for the coming Messiah, the only one who could set the world aright.The NT is also full of the same hope as the church expectantly awaits Christ’s return. Advent is a season of expectant waiting for the return of Jesus at the Second Coming. We look forward to Christ’s return through the lens of those who waited for his first coming. 

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.”

Jeremiah 33:14 NIV

This week we turn our attention to Jeremiah 33 and Mark 8, and the promise of the Messiah. God had promised in the Garden that a descendant of Eve would eventually crush the head of the serpent, and in doing so the human would be struck (Gen. 3:15). God promised to Abraham “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). God promised through Moses that he would “raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” (Deut. 18:15). 

This promise from God had been a long time in coming. Centuries of waiting for the one who would defeat evil, bless all nations, be the voice of God that we listen to, and many other prophecies, came at the perfect time, but for humans, the wait seemed endless.

And when the Messiah came, the majority of the people were not prepared.

As Israel and Judah awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise, we also wait for the fulfillment of the second coming of the Messiah Jesus. Many of us have forgotten that we are called to watch, to listen, and to open our hearts in expectant preparation for his coming (Matt. 25:1-13). 

We are called to listen to his Word. We look for signs of his presence in this world…a light in the darkness, a voice in the silence, and a stirring deep within us. We’re good at singing worship songs that reiterate these things, but do we truly expectantly wait and prepare for his return?

All of the Gospel writers want us to realize that the life of Jesus was the fulfillment of promises of old (Mt. 1:22-23; Mk. 1:1-4; Lk. 4:17-21; Jn. 1:45; etc.) and the renewal of promises yet to come (Isa. 65:17; Mt. 14:37; Lk. 12:40; Mk. 13:35; Jn. 14:2-3; Rev. 21:5). In Christ, God has and will continue to fulfill all promises.

And so we wait.

And the question that we all must answer is, “Am I ready for the coming of Christ?”

Jesus and the Female Disciples – Part 2

Today we continue our look at the female disciples that Luke mentions throughout his Gospel. Their introduction in the opening verses of chapter 8 leads to a thread throughout Luke’s story of the “others,” or the “rest” of those that followed Jesus. Luke makes it clear that his story isn’t one of Jesus and the 12. It is also a story of the “others.”

As Luke’s narrative unfolds, we find Jesus arrested and on trial after being betrayed by Judas. At this point the 12 disappear from the story, except for Peter. Peter follows Jesus through part of the trial, but ultimately denies his relationship with Jesus three times, then disappears from the narrative until after the resurrection. Luke does focus on a particular group throughout the crucifixion and resurrection: the women. 

“A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.”

Luke 23:27 NIV

After Jesus breathes his last, and the centurion confesses Jesus’ righteousness, we are told that many of the witnesses of the crucifixion leave, except for some who stayed.

“But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

Luke 23:49 NIV

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfume.”

Luke 23:55-56 NIV

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.”

Luke 24:1 NIV

“When they (women) came back from the tomb they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.”

Luke 24:9-10 NIV

“While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Luke 24:36 NIV

So who were the first preachers of the resurrection? The women. Who did they tell? The Eleven and “the others,” both male and female.  And who does Jesus appear to and commission after the resurrection? All of them! (And in case you are unsure of this, go to Acts 1:13-15 to see this continue.)

Luke makes it very clear. The commission to preach this news starting in Jerusalem (Lk. 24:47-48, Acts 1:8) is the responsibility of the Eleven, the women, and the others, as we’ve already seen them do! This commission by Jesus has not been retracted. Next week we’ll see how Luke carries this commission into the mission of the early church in Acts 1 & 2.

Jesus and the Female Disciples

Today we continue our look at Luke’s gospel and some of the women he includes in his story about Jesus. Luke has a major focus on the role of women in the ministry of Jesus and this week we look at some of the female disciples and supporters of Jesus’ ministry.

Luke 8:1-3 tells us about “many” single and married women who not only traveled with Jesus, but supported his ministry financially. These women are not the twelve, but they are disciples and benefactors nonetheless. Benefactors (financial supporters) in the ancient world would financially support an effort they supported, but that did not mean they would physically participate in that effort. These women are not simply benefactors, they are disciples traveling with Jesus, involved physically in his ministry, and learning to be just like the Messiah. A disciple would eventually go on to have their own students and teach in a way similar to their own teacher.

The fact that Luke tells us of Jesus and these women as disciples, a very unusual practice in the ancient world, tells us something about Jesus. Their presence in support and practice of Jesus’ ministry shows that Jesus wasn’t constrained by, nor concerned with cultural ideas about the roles of women. Culture considered them property to be kept in the home, but Jesus included them as disciples, ones who could travel along side, support, and assist in his ministry.

This detail sets up the often misunderstood story of Mary and Martha at the end of Luke 10. Many tell this story as a lesson on priorities; Jesus is more important than housework. While this is true, it misses the context of what Luke is telling us about Jesus. Luke always gives a female counterpart to the males in his gospel, showing that following Jesus and serving in the Kingdom is not a job relegated to men. Luke gives us Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, the widow of Zarephath and Naaman (ch. 4), the centurion and the widow (ch. 7), the widow with the coins and the shepherd (ch. 15). Here in chapter 8 and chapter 10 we see the female complement to the male disciples.

Luke tells us that Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (10:39). In doing so, Mary is taking up the role of a disciple, something a male would do in that culture. She is breaking a cultural rule (that many other women from ch. 8 did as well). Martha wants Jesus to rebuke Mary, but Jesus affirms that “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (10:42)

This story goes with the preceding story of the good Samaritan, and is an example of the Greatest Commands lived out. The Samaritan is the hero of the first story, and a female disciple is the hero of the second story. These are two upside down images of obeying the Greatest Commands in a culture that valued neither of these heroes. Luke is clearly portraying Jesus as being against the rules and boundaries of the culture in which they lived. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t follow societal norms, it follows Jesus. These stories also call us to radically break with tradition and culture, disregard all else, and follow the example of Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel, the teachings and actions of Jesus remind us that the Kingdom of Heaven is a place where Jews and Samaritans, as well as men and women can serve as equals. (See Gal. 3:28)