The Interruption of the Spirit

February 26th, 2020

Just then, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar of the incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear. (Luke 1:11-12 BSB)

We cannot understand the working of the Spirit in this world and in our lives without grasping this fact: God moves at His volition, in His way, and for His purposes. Whether we say something was the will of God, or the will of Christ, or the timing of the Spirit of God, all of these are the same concept – God moving in His way at His time.

To us this normally seems an interruption. Zechariah was one of many priests in those days, and to prevent jealousies and petty grievances, the different divisions of priests served at different times throughout the year, and even among their number the priest who entered the temple to merely light the altar of incense was chosen by lot. It would appear to any of them that Zechariah had been particularly honored by this choosing of God, for him to be the one on that day to light the incense.

But God had greater plans. In this story we are introduced by Luke to the reality of us dealing with God, or, really, God dealing with us. Even religious leaders make their plans for God and scope out their ministries, thinking that these matters will be the great moments of their lives and service. But we will find, I believe, in the judgement of Christ, that the truly great moments of life and service for us all came at the instigation of God, at the surprising moment, through what appeared to be an interruption.

We are likened to farmers who plant their seed in season, and we should plan our activities, and be intentional in our service to Christ. But we must also realize our place in the order of things, and respect the timing of God that often makes seemingly random moments times of some of His greatest works, and that relegates our best plans to the scrap heap of history.

The ‘Random’ Act of God

No act of God is truly random from His perspective, for He knows very well what He is doing. But to us they seem random, coming from no where, unplanned and unpredictable. Such a moment came to Zechariah as he entered into the temple, and saw that God had sent an angel. An angel is not the Spirit of God, but angels always obey God, and never think or act outside of His will. So the angel was there at command of God.

He spoke of the birth of a son to Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who were both already beyond the age of bearing children. And this son of theirs would be a great prophet, preparing the way of the Messiah, filled with the Spirit of God from his mother’s womb. It was an announcement that whatever Zechariah had achieved in life would pale in comparison to this act of God.

This also shows the compassion of God, and the way that God weaves into His timeless plans the prayers of common people. As a barren couple they had prayed for a child and God knew of their devotion and faithfulness to Him. And in that moment when Zechariah was lighting that altar of incense, which, by the way, stood to symbolize the prayers of God’s people, God answered their prayer as well as fulfilled his prophetic plan to send a forerunner to the Messiah.

This is so much like God, to take the request of a sincere believer and in answering that one specific prayer, to do so in a way that blesses millions of others who also make sincere prayers to God.  What appears to us as random is God’s way of showing us that He is in charge and that He will achieve His will.

The Spirit’s Interruptions

This reveals the way that the Spirit will work in our lives and in our world. God will interrupt us from time to time to do what He plans to do. The fact that the Spirit is unleashed in this world and that He is able to move when and where He wishes, means that we are often unexpectedly touched, used, and called.

The movement of the Spirit in our prayer requests: The first thing we should notice in this story is also the thing we are apt to ignore or forget, that the Spirit’s movements in the world often begin with our hearts being burdened for something. When God moves in this world it seems that very often the first thing He does is to put a prayer burden on the hearts of His people.

If the sinfulness of this world, or some single injustice, or some need, even if it is personal as Zechariah and Elizabeth, is on your heart, then take that matter to God. If we pray regularly, and if we fellowship with the Lord Jesus in our hearts regularly, then He will entrust to us concerns. Often the sinfulness of the world must be felt through some personal pain, or unpleasant experience, before we realize the evil in the world.

We learn from the specific to the general, from the simple to the more complex, so in understanding the sin of the world, and the pain and suffering from this sin, we begin with some personal sin, some personal suffering. We then from there can begin to understand the pain of every heart, the shame and guilt of every individual, and learn the need for the grace and healing of God across the world.

If we may let the Lord touch us and give us the prayer burdens that He chooses, then we will find the doors of our hearts will open to others as well, and we will know the comfort of the Lord and share this same comfort.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which accomplishes in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we experience. And our hope for you is sure, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you will share in our comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3-7 BSB)

Jesus wept over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, showing that the spiritual person will have a different perspective of the world. He will see through the shallowness of the world’s praise, will look past the temporariness of life’s good and pleasant moments, and be concerned with God and with His will. The Spirit interrupts our worldly pursuit of what the world has told us should fulfill us, but actually leaves us empty.

Has the Spirit interrupted you? Has he put something on your heart? Has He taken your pain and your sin and through your personal experiences led you to gain a better understanding of the pain and sin of the world?

Your prayer burdens could be used of God to change the world, if you will take these requests to God.

Luke's Gospel

What God Says to Us through Luke

February 24th, 2020

…so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:4)

Each of the four Gospels are unique. Each inspired of God, and reveal His heart and His character. Just as from a study of nature we may learn that God is a God of beauty, symmetry, and organization, giving attention to the smallest bits and pieces of His universe, likewise from studying the Scripture we gain an understanding of the compassion and mercy and grace of God, as well as His righteousness and holiness. In all that God does He reveals to us who He is.

Inspiration does not mean that the Gospels, or the Bible as a whole, are some magical collection of writings that compiled in a book take on special “other dimensional” properties. Like me, you have probably heard about the salesman who took a copy of the Bible to a sales presentation and made the sale, or the soldier whose compact copy in his breast pocket stopped a bullet, or the cancer patient who believes the Bible’s presence on his hospital table healed his disease. By inspiration we mean that God initiated their concept, guided their writing, and speaks to us through them today. The inspiration of God is not completely experienced until they are read in faith. Because of this, we may hear God speak to us through each of them, even if we only consult them in a random fashion.

In order to understand the Gospels more fully, however, we should also study them individually, letting each author speak in the way God directed him. Admittedly the average lay person does not have the patience, nor even the inclination, to think about such topics as Matthew’s use of Old Testament prophecies, or how they compare with Luke’s or John’s. But anyone who studies the Bible regularly should at least be aware that similar passages in the Gospels, though they describe the same or similar events, may have a slightly different point in their telling.

Luke’s Emphasis on the Spirit

For example, Luke, more than Matthew and John, places a strong emphasis on the Spirit of God in and through the ministry of Christ. Luke’s Gospel is the first volume of a two-volume work, the second half being the book of Acts. And when we finish reading them both we are left with an overwhelming awareness of the reality and power of the Spirit of God working in and through Jesus of Nazareth, as thereby through His followers and also active in today’s world.

Matthew’s Gospel is normally considered the Jewish Gospel. Remember Matthew had been a tax-collector, also known as Levi (Matt. 9:9 and Luke 5:27). Tax collectors were considered the worst of people because they had turned against their own people to work for the Roman authorities in collecting taxes. Following his salvation Matthew would have a good personal reason to have a concern for his own people – both in terms of their salvation and in terms of their potential as God’s people. So he was careful to present Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

Mark’s Gospel came as John Mark, according to tradition, accompanied Simon Peter on his mission among the Gentiles. Though the historical evidence is sketchy, to put it nicely, there is a tradition that John Mark went with Peter to Rome, and that his gospel represents Jesus as the Servant of God, or the man of action, which would appeal to the Roman mentality for they were men of action.

Luke, however, is perhaps the most interesting of all the Gospel writers. So far as we can tell, there is no reference to him in any of the Gospels as having any contact with Jesus during His earthly ministry. In fact, according to what information we can gather, Luke was not a Jew. In the end of Colossians, as Paul names his fellow workers, he differentiates between Jews and Gentiles, placing Epaphras, Luke, and Demas among the Gentiles (Col. 4:11). Albert Barnes wrote:

 It is evident that he was not by birth a Jew, but was probably a proselyte. He is supposed to have been a native of Cyrene, and to have died in Achaia, soon after the martyrdom of Paul, at the advanced age of 84. (Barnes’ New Testament Notes, Col. 4:14))

This would help explain Luke’s interest in the Spirit’s work in the birth of Jesus. As a Gentile he was interested in Jesus as the Savior of the whole of humanity, and not just of the Jewish nation. There is not disagreement here between Luke and Matthew, only a different perspective. Matthew also emphasized that Mary was found to be with child “through the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18 and 1:20)), but his concern was also with his own people Israel fulfilling their God-given role to be a light to the nations. Luke as a Gentile was interested in seeing the common thread of all humanity, and that Jesus had the credentials to be the Savior and Lord of all.

In his genealogy of Jesus God inspired Luke to take a different approach than did Matthew. Matthew traced Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph, Jesus’ legal but not natural father, going back only so far as Abraham who was the first to practice circumcision. Luke, however, traces Jesus through Mary, and back to the creation of humanity. Matthew Henry wrote:

Luke shows that Jesus was the Seed of the woman that should break the serpent’s head, and traces the line up to Adam, beginning with Eli, or Heli, the father, not of Joseph, but of Mary.

This pre-dated the formation of the Jewish nation, and revealed Jesus of Nazareth as the One with the credentials to save all from their sins. And it laid the foundation in the church for all to be of the same rank and status, regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles.

Let me reiterate that there is no disagreement here between Matthew and Luke, and that both were inspired of the Spirit. Their only difference here is one of perspective, not of priority or preference or bias.

Luke in his Gospel emphasized Jesus being born of the Spirit (Luke 1:35), facing temptation in the Spirit (Luke 4:1), and coming in the power of the Spirit to serve (Luke 4:14). John the Baptist said that the Christ will baptize with “the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16), explaining the purifying effect of the Spirit in the lives of believers.

Luke also explained that the Spirit was active in old Simeon’s life, to reveal something to him, namely that he would not die before he saw the Messiah, and that the Spirit led him to the temple on the day that Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to dedicate him (Luke 2:26-27). This sets up a set of expectations on what life in the Spirit will be. And at the end of the Gospel, when Christ commanded His followers, “Stay in the city (Jerusalem) until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49), the need of the Spirit to purify our hearts from sin, to teach us and lead us, and to empower us for witness is clearly seen. The miracle of Christ’s birth was achieved through the Spirit, as well as the inexplicable power of the preaching of John the Baptist. And the Spirit shall enable the Church to do the impossible.

Luke the Physician

He is called “The beloved physician” by Paul in Colossians 4:11, and this explains many unique things of his writings. He had a physician’s eye with regard to miraculous healings, describing such things as “scales,” or incrustations caused by acute inflammations, falling from Paul’s eyes (Acts 9:18), and the beggar’s feet and ankle bones becoming strong (Acts 3:7), and describing the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, saying “the fever, it left her” and then, “She got up at once and began to wait on them” (Luke 4:39), which sounds like a physician writing in his patient notes, “The patient was able to return to her normal activities.”

From a personal perspective, we can say that Luke had as one of his concerns to convey to his fellow physicians the miraculous power of God active in and through Christ and His apostles to heal disease. There were many schools of medicine among the Gentile nations, and there have been many conjectures regarding where he gained his training, but they are all merely guess work. We really do not know.

But his being a physician also explains his access to certain parts of the story of Christ that others do not include, particular the details regarding the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Just today a woman is more willing to speak to a physician about private matters, so Mary, it is assumed, was willing to speak to Luke about these matters. He receives the perspectives of the women involved in the story, and his being older, as well as a physician, may have been part of the reasons why the women were more predisposed to speak with him.

That he was a physician may also explain Luke’s accessibility to Paul while he was in prison, to treat his thorn in the flesh. Though the description is brief, by calling him “the beloved physician,” it gives us the sense of his winsomeness, that, coupled with the fact that he had medical training, opened doors for him to go where others would not be able.

Luke’s Concern for Forensic Evidence

Luke comes across as a man of science, though science as we know it today was in its infancy. Yet he wants to know facts, and places, and when and where things happened, and how they happened if possible, which makes him an excellent historian. So he mentions historical details that the other Gospel writers do not, such as who was Caesar, the governor of Judea, the tetrarch of Galilee, the high priest, etc., when John the Baptist started his ministry (Luke 3:1-2). Some have criticized his statements in Luke 2 regarding the Census of Caesar Augustus, saying that Luke was confused, and that the census came much later. But then in Acts 5:37, in quoting Gamliel, he made reference to the later census, so he was aware of these events.

By the way, a principle of archeology and history is the simple observation that “the absence of proof is not proof of absence.” Most events of ancient history are difficult to verify archeologically or historically through reliable records that have survived. Just because people are unable to prove through historical records that 2,000 years ago something happened, does not mean it did not happen.

If he was not an eye witness himself to the events he was writing about (such as the “we” passages of Acts), then he asked probing questions of those who were, like the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. What did she have wrong with her? What were her symptoms? What did Jesus do? What was the result? When could she go back to her usual activities? These were the types of questions he asked.

He researched to get the stories of Elizabeth and Mary, and even Zechariah and Joseph. He has the details of Zechariah’s vision, of Elizabeth’s visit to Mary, the naming of John the Baptist, and even of the “Songs” that Mary and Zechariah wrote. He got details from eye witnesses. This was his goal at the beginning, to give a report of the facts to Theophilus. It is generally assumed that Mark’s Gospel had already been written and most of it is repeated word for word in Luke, but other details are uniquely sought out by Luke.

Of the “Seven Last Sayings of Christ” of the seven recorded statements of Christ from the cross, three of them are only found in Luke:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)

(To the repentant thief): “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43)

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46)

We can see in these words the compassion of Christ that touches the whole world. He pleads for His crucifiers (Romans), for those who condemned Him (Jews), and for those who jeered Him (the crowd), for mercy from God. Surely here is a mercy and a compassion that is broad enough to include the whole world. He then reaches out to the repentant thief, the worst of society, one condemned to die, one considered useless and hopeless by society. Yet to him Jesus offers him paradise upon his faith in Christ. And even in the moment of death, there is the victory of faith, that His spirit goes to the Father.

We see Luke was not satisfied to merely repeat the same stories that Mark and Matthew had shared. He told us about the two on the road to Emmaus, searching out the details.

So, to end this long writing, why did Luke write his Gospel? First, and foremost, because God moved in his life and inspired him to.

How did he write it? He did thorough research into people and places and facts. He wanted eye witness accounts, or as close as he could to them. His reporting of healings also had a physician’s eye, to make sure they were talking about real healings, and not some fanciful notion only.

What were his unique concerns and perspectives? As a Gentile he had a concern to reveal Jesus as the Savior and Lord of the whole of humanity. To do this he emphasized the work of the Spirit (as God inspired him) in and through Jesus. As a physician he was interested in the miraculous healings of Jesus, of the apostles, and of the early church. He revealed that God’s Spirit was at work to do what He alone could do.

Luke's Gospel