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Archive for the 'Luke Looks Back' Category

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 6 - Hebrews 2:10

Jesus our pioneer

1 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.

Our main emphasis here is going to be on that word ‘pioneer’ but before we go there here is another thought from this verse.


Have you fully realised that you are a brother or a sister of the Lord of Creation? He is your elder brother. WOW and triple WOW!

The word translated ‘pioneer’ in the latest NIV or ‘author’ in the older one is quite tricky to get the full meaning of. Authors write down something that has not been written before; pioneers hack a new way through the jungle where no one has been before. I like to think of the word ‘pathfinder’ as a possible translation although I can’t find it in any version. A ‘pathfinder’ is a member of a unit of the British army whose dangerous job it is to go ahead of the main force; to identify where helicopters can land; to locate the enemy and where he can be best attacked. And those are just the things that Jesus did for us - with a bit of imagination.
 
What Jesus did was exceedingly dangerous - he actually had to die doing it. When the Lord God created our world he deliberately made it a chaotic place. It may seem strange to us but earthquakes, tsunamis, thunderstorms and so on are part of the very interesting place in which we live. Otherwise it would be a very boring place! He also ensured that we would not all be perfect, living to a ripe old age without any aches and pains or diseases on the way. But neither of those sets of chaotic problems are the worst part of life on this earth. No, the worst part is what men and women do to other men and women. The sinfulness of humans is the source of all the worst things that can happen to us. As a result suffering is a normal and almost essential part of our life experiences. Only in a comparatively few peaceful and quiet parts of the world can fortunate folk expect to live lives without suffering caused by humans.

It was the great and amazing intention of the Triune God that Jesus, the earthly embodiment of that Trinity, should be the pathfinder to force a way through the jungle of sinful humanity, to search out the enemy, Satan, and to die in doing so. In that victory his true people became his brothers and sisters. So, as the next verses say, “ Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”(2:11) and “ Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil”.(2:14)

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Study 30 - Luke 24: 13-End

The Appearances and Ascension of Jesus.

We need to take an overview of all the major events that appear in this passage: the life and ministry of Jesus, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension; and consider their inter-relations.

Question 1: Why is it absolutely essential that the crucifixion and the resurrection did not happen until after the earthly ministry of Jesus was completed?

Who Jesus was – the representative and completely faithful Israelite who was also identified as God by the nature of the works he did, Messiah, Son of Man, Son of God – all this had to be firmly established before he could enter into his work of redemption. This is what the difficult phrase at the end of Rom 4: 25 means. Jesus was resurrected, therefore he was the Messiah, therefore he justifies us – brings us in Him into the Abrahamic family of God’s true people. Furthermore the Kingdom of God had to be announced, inaugurated and its establishment commence – a work that would not be completed until after the end of this age.

Question 2: What did the resurrection add to the crucifixion?

Two things. First proof. Dying on a Cross was easy! All you had to do was upset the Romans. So the resurrection looked back validating the crucifixion showing that it was not just another death but THE death, fundamentally important for everybody on this earth. Secondly it looked forward indicating that Jesus had inaugurated the days of the New Life possibility Rom 6: 4 – 11. Now we can be truly alive: slaves to righteousness and to God, no longer slaves to sin.

Luke may well have been getting near the end of his scroll by now so he tells us about just two carefully chosen accounts of appearances. The first of these (v 13 – 35 which we now read) is particularly full of theological and practical significance.

Question 3: Why did Jesus apparently threaten to move on? What does that say to us?

Not all the movement towards faith had to come from Jesus. The two disciples had to do something however slight to show that they were moving in heart and mind towards him. Exactly the same is true of us. We need to do something to show that faith is beginning to grow in our lives.

It was only when Jesus took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, presumably using the same words and gestures he had used in the upper room, that they recognized him. But even as they saw who it was - were their mouths still wide open with shock - He disappeared.

Question 4: Why? Not why did they recognize him, that is pretty obvious, but why did he disappear at just that moment? Again, how does that translate into our experience, our lives?

John reported that Jesus said to Thomas “because you have seen me you have believed.; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus was following the principle behind that statement: faith is a matter of the will and conviction, without the simplicity of certain knowledge. Jesus constructed a situation that speaks directly to us many centuries later. We are to say “my Lord and my God” as Thomas did and will be even more blessed than he was.

Now we read Luke 24: 36 – 49.

Question 5: What is the main thing Jesus stresses in both these appearances, and that Luke is careful to stress in his accounts? He is obviously giving us the strongest possible hint as to how the church is to act through the ages? How well do we apply this to our context?

Jesus explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself on the road to Emmaus and he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures as they sat and ate in the upper room. This website is full of teaching about the scriptures. That is totally deliberate – this is what we were instructed to do in these verses. The old book of Common Prayer says of the scriptures we are: to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I can’t say it better than that!

Finally we read Luke 24: 50 – 53.

Question 6: Why was the ascension important – couldn’t Jesus have just stopped appearing any more?

Jesus had to be seen to ascend to heaven where he would take his rightful place at the right hand of God, begin his rule as the Lord of all, and start his work of interceding for us as we struggle on here on earth. The Holy Spirit will come as Jesus said when he told them to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” He will have the power to enable us, you and me, to live the true life of the ages. Also this is the end of one great episode in the story of Redemption, the mission of Jesus, and the beginning of another, the mission of the Church.

Question 7: Why did Jesus leave them in the middle of blessing them? Can you see any long-term significance in that?

There is unfinished business to be done which they had to do from Jerusalem to the ends of their world and we have to do in our world!

And so we come to the end of our long journey through this fascinating Gospel. May you have received as much joy and blessing in hearing and reading and thinking about these things as we have had in the preparation of these notes. We hope to do the same thing with the second volume of Luke’s – the Acts of the Apostles – we hope you will join us on our journey through that fascinating book.

But before we sign off at the end of these notes here is a final question for you: we finished the last study with a challenge to you, particularly if you are not already a follower of Jesus, to think deeply about what you have heard. What conclusion did you come to?

If, perhaps, you have decided to start following Jesus from this time on we would like to encourage you to tell someone else, probably another follower of Jesus, about your decision. Doing that will help to fix the decision firmly in its place – in your mind, the mind of others and above all in the mind of the Lord God. Another way of doing that would be through this website, but that is a weaker way because we are not close to you seeing you living day by day.

Whatever you have decided and whatever happens from now on – may Jesus, the Lord, be with you and bless you. Amen.

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Luke Looks Back 29

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Study 29-Luke 23:26–24:12

The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.

All history pivots on the events described in these verses. The story is told with striking simplicity and absence of comment.

We read Luke 23:26 – 43.

Many people play a part in the judicial murder of Jesus. In order from Luke 22:47 on we read about:Judas, the arresting squad, Peter, the men guarding Jesus, the council of the elders, Pilate, Herod, the soldiers, the crowd in front of Pilate’s house, the soldiers leading Jesus to his death, the watchers and rulers at the place called a Skull and the criminals on their crosses. For each of these we might:

  • Consider what their motives, if any, were for what they did.
  • Think of a present day situation where the same motives might be apparent.
  • Wonder which of these motives we might sometimes have ourselves.

Question 1: Select 3 people or groups of people from that list and consider:motive, present day equivalent and personal reflection for each of them.

The arresting squad, the men guarding Jesus and the soldiers were all obeying orders so motive doesn’t really come into it except for those who mocked Jesus rather more vigorously than they might have done. The problem of when to disobey orders is still with us. No one has ever been able to explain why Judas did what he did completely satisfactorily. Peter acted from a desire for self preservation, something we have probably all been guilty of in some small or large way at some time in our lives. The elders, Pilate, Herod and the rulers watching the crucifixion allowed political aims to dominate their thinking. They thought their ideas more important then the life of the most important man who ever lived. Some people still allow purely political aims to lead them to dreadful acts of wickedness. Only the friends watching beside the Cross, of whom the most important, according to John, were women and just one disciple, come out of the story with any credit at all. They had seen something in this man that transcended the danger of being associated with him. May we have the strength and courage to do the same.

Question 2: Paul talks about sharing Jesus’ sufferings (Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Philippians 3:10). For some of us those statements may be reflected in our own lives. What would we achieve by such suffering? Would any such sufferings be in any way redemptive?

Of course sufferings, by definition, are not pleasant. Such things give us a great sense of solidarity – these would give us a much enhanced sense of solidarity with Christ, of fellowship with him. And apart from our feelings there would be the practical experience of His glory that Paul also mentions.

We read Luke 23:44–56.

The tearing of the temple curtain symbolises the opening of the way to God to everybody – you and me included. Each and every attempt by men to re-erect a barrier to God by saying that only they have full access, or only in their way is it possible to approach God, is sadly mistaken. After the death of Jesus the action moves to the apparent outsiders:Joseph of Arimathea was not one of the leading disciples and the women were second rate citizens in the thinking of those days.

Question 3: Which one sentence of the story of the crucifixion will you take away as the most memorable for you?

Different people would give different answers to this. For me, I think it is that brief comment “the centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God” because that mirrors my thoughts as I read about what happened. And so we come to the resurrection.

We read Luke 24:1 – 12.

This is one of the four accounts of what happened that we have. They do not exactly agree about what happened, differing in the way that eye-witness accounts of any surprising, unexpected, event will do. The women set out to do the obvious, necessary things, for a dead person. They did not agonize in prayer about what they should do (did they leave that to the male apostles?). They were hugely blessed as a result of undertaking the obvious tasks. Is this a lesson for us?

Question 4: Why was it women (in those days considered unreliable witnesses to anything!) who were there first? What are we expected to learn from the fact that they were first to meet the risen Lord (according to Matthew and John)?

The NT challenges the way women were thought of and treated in those days. It does this obliquely, rather than directly in gospel stories like this, in the way Paul refers to women particularly in the last chapter of Romans where Priscilla has a dominant role in what she does with her husband, in what is said of Phoebe, in that Junias, a woman, is called an apostle, and many other women are mentioned and commended, all in this same chapter. The church, like the societies in which it has existed for most of its history has been male dominated. We need to be careful to think about the balance we see in scripture.

The most important event in the history of the world was the death of Jesus on the Cross, for that act alone atoned for the rebellion of all men and women, including you and me, against God. That we know this is the correct understanding of what happened is because of what followed – the resurrection of Jesus to the new life of the ages. Had he not risen he would have been just one more of the many failed would-be Messiahs of those days. There would have been no church, no Christian movement. Many people have tried to argue that it did not happen. None of them have given a satisfactory explanation of what did happen. We know without the slightest doubt that there was a Jewish nation there when Jesus was born and that a remarkable movement of people known as Christians started very soon after his death.

Something happened in between to cause the move from one to the other. What was it? Only the Biblical account recorded in the four gospels makes any sense of the gap. We – you – have to come to terms with what happened and decide how we – you – are going to respond to it. The next, and last, study in this series considers the two episodes describing what happened when disciples met the risen Christ. These are clearly written to challenge any and every reader or hearer to faith. So, if you are not already a follower of Jesus, you are going to be challenged to think deeply about what you have heard. Will you be prepared to follow Him, whatever the cost may be?

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Luke Looks Back 28

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Study 28-Luke 22: 47 – 23: 25

The arrest and trials of Jesus.

The story now moves steadily towards the death of Jesus. It is told with remarkable economy and simplicity in all four gospels. Not even the failure of the leading apostle and founder of the early church is left out.

Read Luke 22: 47 – 53.

Question 1: Would you be thinking more or less of the eleven now if they had NOT tried to defend Jesus with their two swords (22: 38, 49 ) probably against an overwhelming force? Why?

Their reaction to the approach of the crowd, which Mark describes as ‘armed with swords and clubs’, is an entirely natural one. It shows that they were not cowards. It also shows that they had not taken all of Jesus’ message really into their hearts and minds. Few of us have. Presumably the clash of one or two swords could easily have led to a more general skirmish in which Jesus could have been killed. But in the purposes of God his Son had to be tried, falsely accused, condemned and judicially killed. Without the legal decision of “guilty” Jesus would not have been dying for our sins. The universal responsibility of everybody for his death, symbolised by those directly involved, would not have been incurred. A great many prophecies, such as hanging on a tree (Deut 21: 23), would not have been fulfilled.

Read Luke 22:54–62.

Question 2: Peter lied - and lived to do much good work for his Lord. Was he justified in doing so? Should we do the same under certain circumstances? What circumstances? Is a life more important than the truth? When, and when not? In a way it is impossible to answer this question. We do not know, and neither did Peter, what would have happened if he had not lied. A life is more important in many ways than telling the truth yet the truth or the lie will define the life for ever. In the history of the church many, many people have refused to deny Christ and died. Let’s hope we never have to answer this question for real. Hebrews 6: 4 – 6 could be taken as a comment on what Judas did. Question 3: In the light of those verses what was the essential difference between the actions of Judas and Peter? What warning should we take from this? And what encouragement?

The action of Judas was taken completely deliberately; Peter stumbled unwillingly into his denials. So many of our sins occur when we too stumble unwillingly into error. It is a great relief for us that Peter was not cast away from his position but lived to do so much good and die for his Lord in due course, about 30 years later, in Rome.

Read Luke 22:63–23:25.

There seem to have been many meetings that night in the effort to find grounds to condemn Jesus. Luke only records a ‘trial’ at daybreak (22: 66); Mark records one in the early part of the night; Matthew and John add further details. Luke was writing to Theophilus, a senior Roman citizen, and that probably affected which episodes he was most interested in.

Question 4: In that case what things in the trials is he most likely to have wanted to concentrate on? It was important to him to try and show the Romans in as good a light as possible. Pilate had a very bad reputation in the Roman world anyway so he was not concerned with putting him in a good light. But he did want to show that there was a fair trial and that Jesus was condemned partly as a result of Jewish agitation and partly for Roman political reasons. His main concern was to establish who Jesus really was. So we have 3 titles in these verses: Messiah (or Christ, or Expected and Anointed One) (22: 67; 23: 2), Son of Man (22: 68) and Son of God (22: 70)

Question 5: When Peter looked back at these events he was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 2: 22 – 36). What made him so sure? If the council had accepted that Jesus was the Messiah what would that have meant for them? What actions would it have committed them to take?

Peter remembered the resurrection above all. That was the ultimate proof that Jesus was who he said he was. If the council had recognised Jesus as the sort of Messiah they expected they would have been in immediate revolt against Rome. They thought they would have had to take up arms and tackle the Roman army, which no one could do successfully.

Read Daniel 7:7, 13, 14, 17 – 28 again. How would the council have understood what Jesus said in 22: 69? How would the Roman authorities have understood his claim if they had known the background? A previous Caesar, Augustus, was the (adopted) son of Julius Caesar. After Julius was killed he was venerated as a god, which made Augustus a “son of god”! What would the idea that Jesus was the Son of God have meant to the council? What implications would it have had for the Roman authorities?

The crowd of 23: 13 must, in part at least, have been the same one we read about in 19: 37, 39. How can you account for such a major turn around? What should this caution us against? Who was most responsible for the condemnation of Jesus: the crowd, the Jewish leaders, the Roman authorities, or Jesus (Jn 10: 17, 18!)? Were we also responsible as those needing redemption?

Another obvious question we can ask ourselves, but never really answer until it happens, is: the trial exposed the forces, commitments and loyalties of all those involved: the council members, Pilate, the crowd and Jesus. Faced with similarly difficult choices how will we react? Will we cling to our securities and dreams and avoid moving out of our comfort zones, or will we ‘take up our cross’ and follow him?

It would have mattered a great deal as without the legal decision of “guilty” Jesus would not have been dying for our sins. The universal responsibility of everybody for his death, symbolised by those directly involved, would not have been incurred. A great many prophecies, such as hanging on a tree (Deut 21: 23), would not have been fulfilled. Of course, it could never have happened that way anyway (Jn 7: 30).

5) The action of Judas was taken completely deliberately; Peter stumbled unwillingly into his denials. 7) The Resurrection. 9) Angels, Israel as a people, and the king of Israel (Ps 89: 26, 27) are called sons of God in the OT. The last of these is the meaning implied here. The council would have understood him to be saying that he was the King of Israel (see 23: 2). The Romans would have thought him to be claiming to be one of the many gods of those days and probably would not have been too concerned by that.

10) As Messiah he was the representative Israelite and is now the representative Christian (Rom 5: 15 – 17). We are in Christ (the Messiah). As Son of Man he is a human being standing in our place (Heb 2: 17 – 18). As Son of God he is the Saviour who, being God, is able to die for us all (Heb 1: 3; 2: 9). 12) This has been much argued about through the centuries. The best answer is probably all of them, and us.

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Luke Looks Back 27

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Study 27-Luke 22:1-46

Joys and Sorrows

In this chapter Jesus is a source of great strength and joy to his disciples as they gather to eat the Passover together. At the same time betrayal, misunderstanding and desertion surround him.

Read Luke 22:1–6.

Question 1: If ‘Satan entered Judas’ how responsible was Judas for what he did? When is it permissible for us to say ‘Satan entered somebody?

To answer the second part of the question first:it is very doubtful whether we should ever say this. Judas was fully responsible as he eventually recognised; Matt 27:3, 4 says ‘When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. I have sinned, he said, for I have betrayed innocent blood. What is that to us? They replied. That's your responsibility.

There is an interesting and important parallel in Isaiah 10 where we read:“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my (the Lord’s) anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against a godless nation (that is Israel), I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.” But this is not what he (Assyria) intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations. When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, I will punish the king of Assyria for the wilful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. For he says:'By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding.’ So we see in that passage it is true both that the Lord in his sovereign power used Assyria to punish Israel and the Assyrians were completely responsible for what they did.

Here Judas was completely responsible for what he did even if in so doing he fulfilled the greater purposes of the Lord. That may not agree with our logic but that kind of both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility at the same time is the common teaching of the word of God.

As with the arrangements for the triumphal entry it seems likely that Jesus had pre-arranged the hire or loan of the room.

We read Luke 22:7–23.

Question 2: Luke is not interested in the detailed arrangements for the meal, which must have included things like the sacrifice of a lamb in the temple. What is he interested in? Can you think of any reason for that?

He is only interested in the human aspects of the story, the depth of fellowship it showed and the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper. He draws attention to the way this celebration was repeated in the very early church in his account in Acts. He expected the church to follow the main points of what Jesus did down through the centuries.

Question 3: What is the intended symbolism of the bread and the cup? What are the intended symbolisms in the way the elements must have been handled? How many of these symbolisms are lost the way your fellowship do it?

Bread was the common essential of life in those days. It was nothing special that Jesus used. The loaf had to be forcibly broken, as was the body of Jesus to be. The cup was poured out but none was spilt as the blood of Jesus was. It represented blood and therefore (life-giving) death. In addition this was a Passover meal so it also carried the symbolisms of Exodus 12, particularly perhaps the redemption under the covering blood and the sense of a meal to be eaten in haste, prepared to go on a great journey of faith.

It is up to you to think through how that relates to what your fellowship do when they celebrate this meal.

Question 4: Sadly the communion service/breaking of bread/eucharist/ mass has become the chief symbol of division in Christendom when it should have been the great symbol of unity. Why do you think this has happened?

Unfortunately men have sort power by claiming they, by reason of some office they hold, and they alone, have the right to dispense the elements and control the procedure. Very sad. There is surely no justification for any church or group of churches preventing Christians who are not of their fellowship from participating at the Lord’s Table.

Jesus called it the feast of the ‘new covenant’. Gen 17:3–8 is the original covenant with Abraham. Deut 5:1–4 records the covenant with Moses and the Israelites at Siana. Jer 31:31–34 promises a new covenant which this is. Many churches never really talk about covenants, new or old. They lose by not doing so.

Read Luke 22:24–38.

The dispute of v24 must have filled Jesus with dismay as it contradicted all that he had tried so hard to teach his disciples.

Question 5: In what ways are we most likely to contradict all that the communion service is meant to achieve in us even before we leave it? What should we learn from the words of Jesus responding to that dispute (v25–30)?

The tendency of men and women to want to feel superior to other people is always present where people gather together. Jesus reiterates his teaching that we are not to seek that superiority for ourselves remembering that such things will be reversed in the Kingdom anyway.

Question 6: The instruction to buy a sword (v 36) is very strange. There is no evidence that the early church ever did this. Should they have? How can we understand these verses?

Read Luke 22:39–46.

Luke’s account of Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives (v 39–46) is considerably shorter than Matthew’s (26:36–46) and Mark’s (14:32–42) accounts. What does Doctor Luke tell us to emphasise the importance of the event? What can we learn about prayer from this account?

And so the scene is set for the final hours of Jesus and the beginning of new possibilities in human life. That will be in our next study.

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Study 26 - Luke 21:5-38

The fall of Jerusalem and the End of the Age

First: some introduction. A quick google shows 9 occasions in which there was a major siege and capture of Jerusalem, from that by the Babylonians in 586 BC to one by the British in AD 1917. This chapter is very similar to Mk 13 and Matt 24 (many think Mark’ gospel was a major source of Luke’s information). Matt 24, in particular, is worth reading to note the additional information it contains. These chapters are concerned with Jesus’ prophecies of the important siege and sack of Jerusalem in AD 70. This was carried out by the Romans in reaction to a rebellion of the Jews within the Roman Empire about 40 years after the death of Jesus (probably about the time Luke wrote his gospel).

But these are notoriously difficult chapters to understand, mainly because the prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem act in part as a foreshadowing and illustration of what is still to happen at the end of the age. The fall of Jerusalem was immediately catastrophic for the Jews but even more important for the Christians who understood it to be the final act of the OT approach to God, completely clearing the way for the Kingdom Age introduced by Jesus.

Even the phrase ‘end of the age’ is difficult. Some argue that from the perspective of a Jew in AD 60 that would mean no more than the end of their life, society and culture, which did indeed occur in AD 70, landing them into a totally different age. However it seems to have at least some reference to the Day of the Lord, which is still in front of us nearly 2000 years later.

Question 1: Which of the following verses is about the Fall of Jerusalem, which is about the end of the age, and which cannot be clearly assigned solely to either of these? v6–9; v24b; v25 & 27; v34b-35

The fall of Jerusalem was horrendous by any standards. According to Josephus, a Jewish historian working for the Romans, about 1.1 million people (he is known to exaggerate!) were killed, many because different factions of the Jews fought each other within the walls while the Romans watched in amazement from outside. The temple was then totally destroyed by the Romans but the city did continue for a further 65 years until AD 135 when a further revolt so infuriated Hadrian, the Emperor at that time, that he had it completely razed to the ground and rebuilt as a Roman city called Aelia Capitolina.

Question 2: Is there any reason to think that the problems of v 9, 10, 25 and 26 were any worse in the 1st century than previously? Or are any worse in the 21st century?

A matter of opinion – but I don’t think there is much difference. With the vast improvement in communication technology we know far more about what is happening on the other side of the world than they used to do.

Read Daniel 7:1–3, 7–14, 19–22, 27. The hearers of Jesus will have known this prophecy of Daniel well.

Question 3: What then will they have understood him to mean by the reference to the Son of Man in Luke 21: 27? In particular what encouragement will they have got from what he said?

They will have been encouraged not only by the promise that Jesus will return in great power and glory but that the figure in Daniel is representative of the people of God. They will have taken this to mean that their position would improve greatly in the age to come.

Question 4: What encouragement should persecuted Christians in one of the difficult countries of the world get from what Jesus said?

Question 5: If, on the other hand, we are in one of the easier countries in the world to be a Christian what encouragement should we get from this chapter?

It is strange that Luke does not use what Mark records in Mk 13:32–36.

Question 6: What are the motives of those who ignore those verses and make confident but erroneous predictions? How should we react to such things?

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Luke Looks Back 25

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Study 25 - Luke 20:1-21: 4

Jesus challenges his hearers 7 times.

The first 4 of these challenges are quite substantial with definite contexts; the others less so.

Challenge 1 – Luke 20: 1 – 8

The question of authority is of great importance. There is no answer here so we need to go to John 5: 31 – 45 to find one. Question 1: Where does Jesus say his authority comes from or is testified to in these verses, which I am just about to read. Listen carefully and count the different sources you can hear. You should get six different ones. Where does the authority of what we say or do come from? You should have got as sources of authority: John the Baptist, his works, his Father, the Scriptures, Moses, his own words. Our main authority should be the Word of the Scriptures. All other authorities are secondary to them.

Challenge 2 – Luke 20: 9 – 19

It is based on Isaiah 5: 1 – 7. This story of the Tenants, or rather of the Vineyard Owner, is one of the most significant of all the parables with the clearest foreshadowing of the future of Jesus.

Question 2: What is the expected answer to Vineyard owner’s question “What shall I do?” after the first 3 servants have been beaten and sent back empty handed? What, therefore, is the significance of the given answer ‘I will send my son’?

The expected answer is that he will declare war on the tenants and have them beaten or killed to restore his honour which has been so shamed. Instead the Owner (God) makes himself vulnerable to the behaviour of the tenants (the Temple leadership). Thus a new way of humility, love and grace is displayed before the watching world.

That vulnerability is displayed in the Owner sending his son. The son is killed and only then is it said that the Owner ‘will kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’

Question 3: What is the significance of that for the original hearers? And for us?

This suggests that the Incarnation of Jesus constituted a last chance for the leadership of Israel. They failed the test. Jesus is the first and last chance for us.

Jesus comment on the parable is a quotation from the Psalms (118: 22) ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’ and one from Isaiah (8: 13 – 15) ‘The LORD Almighty will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.’ “Son” in Hebrew is “ben”; “stone” is “eben”. This is probably a deliberate word play.

Question 4: What should we, the second tenants, learn from this story?

God is infinitely gracious in what he has done for us; but we must not presume on his loving kindness if we despise his Son and his graciousness.

Challenge 3 – Luke 20: 20 – 26.

This is about the relationship between church and state. Should we: a) resist - have nothing to do with politics? b) accept - have a modest involvement only? c) challenge - be politically active for the betterment of society? Since hearers and readers of this will come from so many different countries with so many different situations I will have to leave you without an answer so it will be best if I do not ask the question! There is a deeper meaning, often missed.

Question 5: If we compare v 24b ‘Whose portrait and inscription are on it?’ with Gen 1: 26. ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,’ What does this imply?

If the denarius belongs to Caesar we, not just our coins, belong to God.

Challenge 4 – Luke 20: 27 – 40

People often assume that we shall be united with our loved ones in heaven although this is not clearly stated in Scripture. Jesus’ answer to the 7 husbands teaser probably has no implications for that assumption, since it is an impossible situation anyway.

The following 3 much smaller challenges all have very little given context.

Challenge 5 – Luke 20: 41 – 44

It is not easy to see what Jesus meant when he said this. Luke probably records it because it was very meaningful for the early church about 40 years later when they must have been quite puzzled to know who exactly Jesus was. They were worshipping him. Did that make him God? We know now that it did, and he was, but they must have been unsure about that for many years. These verses are a part answer to their questions.

What Jesus said equates the Messiah with the Son of David. That is not literally true. It is a useful reminder that ‘son of God’ is not to be taken as grossly literal either as some people try to do.

Challenge 6 – Luke 20: 45 – 47.

Question 6: Jesus did not actually condemn the privileges given to the scribes. What did he condemn? What are the present day equivalents of these? In particular, in what ways can we err in the way we participate in a prayer meeting?

What Jesus condemned were wrong attitudes to those privileges. They were to be things treasured and used for the benefit of other people not for private vanity. A minister should not dress differently from other people unless it is for a purpose such as recognition as he visits a hospital. We need to be careful when we take part in a prayer meeting that we are not taking part because we like other people to hear our voice.

Challenge 7 – Luke 21: 1 – 4.

Question 7: Is this realistic advice? Is ‘all she had to live on’ wise giving? If we do that we will end up in court for non-payment of utility bills or have to rely on other members of our family to give us food! So what can we take from this passage?

Yet again this is all about motives and attitudes. A very few Christians can imitate this situation. But they have to be a very few or we would all starve! Perhaps this is another of Jesus’ overstatements for effect.

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Study 24 - Luke 19:28–48

The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Jesus cannot complete his mission without entering Jerusalem and confronting the authorities there. This he does, first with actions and then with words

Please read Luke 19: 28-38.

It seems likely that Jesus had made some arrangements the twelve knew nothing about. Perhaps he had 2 sets of supporters: the apostles in spiritual matters and a group of organisers or deacons.)

Question 1: What makes that a reasonable thing to say? Are there any alternative explanations?

There is something a bit mysterious about the account of Jesus sending two disciples to get the colt. It is hard to be sure but there does seem to have been a prior arrangement made by Jesus that the two disciples did not know the details of. To think that Jesus knew through his divine powers that the colt would be there is probably to over-emphasize the divine in Jesus and forget that he was also human.

The account of the way Jesus entered Jerusalem is full of hints of OT passages. Three of the most important are:

1 Kings 1:33-35 which reads: "Take your lord's servants with you and have Solomon my son mount my own mule and take him down to Gihon. There have Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel. Blow the trumpet and shout, 'Long live King Solomon!' Then you are to go up with him, and he is to come and sit on my throne and reign in my place. I have appointed him ruler over Israel and Judah."

Psalm 118:26-27 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God, With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession.

Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!

Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!

See, your king comes to you,

righteous and having salvation,

lowly and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Each of these is important in that Jesus did things that ensured that he fulfilled these prophecies. Jesus often fulfilled prophecies without having any apparent control on what happened but this is totally deliberate.

Question 2: Why did Jesus make sure these prophecies were fulfilled? Why did he make his entry into Jerusalem into such a public spectacle? He did not always do this. In John 7: 10 we read that after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.

Jesus knew he would die in Jerusalem. He did not want to die quietly. This was the most important event in the history of mankind. It had to be witnessed by many people. Those people needed to have all the necessary and sufficient evidence that he was indeed the Messiah, the Anointed One, even if they did not believe the evidence.

Question 3: What will each of the following have been expecting:

  • an ordinary member of the crowd?
  • one of the disciples?
  • one of the priests, lawyers or leaders of the people?
  • a watching centurion of the Roman guard in charge of keeping the peace?

This is something interesting to use our imaginations on. I reckon a member of the crowd would have been caught up in the excitement, possibly not knowing much about Jesus but sensing that something important was happening.  One of the disciples would have realised the significance of what was happening, have been exceedingly excited and wanting to be ready for anything including fighting. One of the leaders of the people would have been annoyed and worried, concerned that there might be a full blown riot before long. A centurion would have been making sure his sword slid easily out of its scabbard, that his men were all lined up and waiting, and relishing the prospect of a fight against a largely unarmed crowd.

Luke's account continues with Jesus prophesying the total destruction of the city and the destruction of the temple. All of which actually happened in AD 70, just about the time Luke was writing, and involved the slaughter of most of the inhabitants of the city and the surrounding countryside.

We read Luke 19:19-48.

What Jesus said in Luke 19:46 is a combination of Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7: 11. I will read rather more verses than these because in both cases the context adds important ideas to those in the exact words Jesus used. Listen out carefully for those extra ideas, which form the next question.

Question 4a: Read Isaiah 56:3-8. What extra ideas are there in those verses that would have been of interest to the more knowledgeable people in the crowd.

Isaiah includes both foreigners and eunuchs, those who were excluded from the temple worship that governed all of life at Jerusalem feast days.

Question 4b: Read Jeremiah 7: 3-11. What extra ideas are there in those verses that would have been of interest to the more knowledgeable people in the crowd.

Jeremiah places conditions of good behaviour on temple worshippers. He is saying it is not enough just to be a Jew or an Israelite.

Jesus was saying it was not who you were but what you were that mattered. If your worship at the temple was to be of any significance at all before God it was your life of faith that mattered, not whether you were a Jew, or not, or any particular sort of Jew. Perhaps Jesus and his disciples were just entering the court of the Gentiles, the great outer court of the temple from which the disabled (eunuchs) and foreigners were excluded, as he spoke. No race, or language, is any more important than any other to the Christian. The Bible Jesus used was a translation from the Hebrew to the Greek. We rejoice in the translation of the Bible into more and more languages.

The way Jesus clears the temple in Luke 19:45 is a symbolic picture of the destruction of the temple.  So that destruction was not accidental or due to the will of the Roman general.

Question 5: What then is the significance of the temple ruins in Jerusalem now, for Jews, for Muslims, for Christians?

The temple ruins are of absolutely no real significance for anybody any longer except as interesting relics of something which is now meaningless.

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Luke Looks Back 23

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Study 23- Luke 18: 31–19: 27

Seeing and trusting

There are 4 sections in this study all of which have something to do with seeing and not seeing, understanding and not understanding or just plain hidden. The first section, Luke 18: 31–34 serves as a summary of what is to follow.

Do read Luke 18:31-34.

The disciples had a reasonable excuse for not understanding. What Jesus was saying was so strange and unexpected they could be forgiven for not understanding. But we, in all probability, have some knowledge of how things turned out so we do not have that excuse. v 34 provides a challenge to us, the readers or hearers: will we be blind or deaf, will we see or hear and understand? Blindness and sight are metaphors for no faith and faith. Have you moved from blindness to sight? Remind yourself what the effect of your blindness was and how you first knew that you were seeing or, if you are in a group, share together your journey from blindness to sight, darkness to light.

Question 1: What is the significance of the rising sequence of names given to Jesus by the blind man (named as Bartimaeus, literally ‘son of filth’, in Mk 10: 46). Those names are Jesus of Nazareth; Jesus, son of David; Lord.

Jesus of Nazareth probably meant to him the prophet with power to heal and who would have compassion on him; Jesus, son of David, meant Jesus was the Messiah; Lord that Jesus was worth following. The question and answer in 18: 41 may appear strange but begging was a profession in those days as it still is in some countries, dependant on a visible handicap and providing a good income. If the man was cured of his blindness he would have to find a job with no skills or experience to call on.

Question 2: The emphasis is not on Bartimaeus’ restored sight but his faith (18: 42, 43). What exactly did his faith consist of? What is this miracle saying to us?

The important phrase is ‘he followed Jesus’. He must have known something about Jesus or he would not have made so much noise trying to attract his attention. We, too, are not expected to start from detailed knowledge about what following Jesus means. We, too, are expected to get up (metaphorically speaking) and follow him.

Do read Luke 19: 1–10.

Zacchaeus was not only short of stature; he was a collaborator with the hated Romans. He would not dare to push his way to the front of the crowd for fear of a knife in his back. So he ran ahead! Not what an important man should do. But the crowd saw him go and mocked him so that Jesus learned his name. Jesus was intending to go straight through Jericho so that he would not have to spend time (possibly days?) being entertained with full ceremony. But he is prepared to go to Zacchaeus’ house.

Question 3: Note the significance of seeing in this account. Who does the seeing?

Everybody. Zacchaeus had to take action to see Jesus, Jesus sees him; the crowd sees what is going on and starts to mutter. The servant figure of Is 53 takes hostility meant for others on himself. Statements there like: “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” reflect the costly love that Jesus gives to Zacchaeus?

Question 4: We read earlier in this chapter that the rich man/camel had to go through the eye of the needle! What happened to prove that Zaccheus didn’t dodge round?

The promises of repayment Zacchaeus made are far reaching. If you do the Maths on what he said you will see that if he had cheated just on one eighth of his debtors he would end up with nothing. Perhaps he is saying that he has been a good man and that he has not been cheating in the past?

Do read Luke 19: 11–27.

Luke does not use the parable of the minas to teach successful stewardship as Matthew uses it in Matt 25: 14–30 but to explain the apparent non-appearance of the Kingdom (the people thought the kingdom of God was going to appear at once 19: 11). The parable uses a well-known and well-understood situation. 73 years earlier Herod the Great, second son of the just assassinated king, made a successful journey to Rome to petition Caesar to appoint him the next king of Judea. Later, about 37 years before Luke wrote, Herod’s son Archelaus had made a similar, but unsuccessful, journey seeking the same thing. (A ‘mina’ was about 100 days wages for a working man.)

Queston 5: What would be the likely outcome for a servant of the would-be king if (a) the petitioner who would be king was successful, (b) he was unsuccessful?

By their actions the servants would demonstrate their allegiance or otherwise to the man seeking to be king. Their future livelihoods, or possibly their lives, would be dependant on having chosen the right option. The last phrase of v 15 should perhaps read ‘how much trading have you done’ effectively asking how conspicuous have you been while I was away when it was known that you supported me. If I win, you win. If I lose, you lose.

Question 6: How was this relevant to the developing situation as Jesus travelled to Jerusalem? How is it relevant to us?

If he was indeed the Messiah he claimed to be and they showed their loyalty by open declaration of their support of him they would gain. If he wasn’t, they would be in a very dangerous situation. At least that was the way it looked. Things did not quite work out in that straightforward way. He was indeed the Messiah but they were still in a dangerous situation, humanly speaking. But in the vast story of human history they became very important. The comment of the third servant in 19: 21 must have been meant as a complement! He must have been suggesting that his master was something like a warlord in a country with much internal fighting going on!

Question 7: How can this and the master’s reply (v 21, 22) be related to Jesus, or to God?

Ps 18: 25, 26 relates to this sort of situation. It says of God ‘To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.’ It suggest that, at least in part, our understanding of God will depend on our general attitudes.

Question 8: The final comment in 19: 27 ‘But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them — bring them here and kill them in front of me. is realistic in the Judaean kingship, or warlord, scenario. How can it possibly be related to Jesus, or God?

This is another unfinished story. We are told what the enemies deserved, not what actually happened to them. Compare what we deserve and what we actually get from the Lord. After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. So says 19: 28, finally bringing to an end the long account of the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and introducing the last phase of Luke’s account of Jesus’ life, death and victory.

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Luke Looks Back 22

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Study 22 - Luke 18:9–30

The Way of the Kingdom

We now come to two very significant parables either side of a short and rather surprising paragraph. I think we should start off with some explanations. The first parable is not about ways to pray but about righteousness (Luke 18:9). Righteousness is a very important, but very tricky, word in the Bible. Our English word has been used to translate a word in the Greek, which does not quite mean what our word means! In fact the Biblical word carries with it a whole set of meanings that no single word in English can possibly include. Our word has as its primary meaning ‘being right’, in the sense of being morally and ethically right in the scale of good and bad.

But the Greek word in the NT is used to translate an OT word, which is primarily about being accepted, about being in relationship with someone. Our word is an accountant’s word; the OT word is a social word. Of course, in the OT one can only be accepted by a Holy God if one is right in the moral sense too, but that idea is secondary. And then a third implication of the word is that if you are accepted by God then you are within the covenant that God struck with Abraham. So the word means being accepted by God, being good and being within the covenant.

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Also, a big family of related Greek words about righteousness have to be translated by English words with two very different roots, righteous and justify, which don’t sound as though they have anything to do with each other. If there was an English word ‘righteous-ify’ things would be much easier but, unfortunately, there isn’t. So ‘justify’ in Lk 18:14, and through all the rest of the NT, would be righteous-ify, if there was such a word.

So our reading from Luke 18 is going to start off with ‘to some who were confident of their own righteousness …’ which could be translated ‘to some who thought they, being better than everyone else would be accepted by God and were within the covenant.’

Please read Luke 18:9 – 14.

The whole focus of this parable is about how one can come to be accepted by God, to be in a saving relationship with God. How? The answer is in the meaning of the word translated ‘mercy’ in v 13, which is exactly the same word translated ‘sacrifice of atonement’ in Rom 3:25 and 1 John 2:2. The time for prayer in the worship centred on the temple, which is when these 2 guys would have been praying, was the time of the sacrifice for atonement, as mentioned in the first few verses of this gospel when Zechariah went into the temple. The tax collector was effectively asking ‘Lord, make this sacrifice, going on right now, an atonement for me, a sinner’.

Question 1: What is the only way we can be righteous, that is be accepted by God?

As the write to the Hebrews says ‘Jesus was like us in every way in order that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. (Heb 2:17)? Or, as Paul says ‘and all are justified-righteousified-freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

Question 2: What other words are used in the Bible about the way God deals with us, which particularly emphasize our relationship to God?

There are all the words about adoption, being children, and having an inheritance. For instance Paul says:‘those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. If we are children then we are heirs …’ There we have adoption, sonship, recognizing God as our Father and being heirs all in Rom 8:14 – 16; all of those are words about relationship. Paul piles up the same sort of relationship words in his letter to the Galatians too.

Question 3: What is the important difference between the Pharisee’s prayer and the tax-collector’s?

The Pharisee was relying on his own goodness to make him acceptable to God. But, like all of us, he could not be good enough to be acceptable to God who is pure holiness. The tax collector knew that he was not good enough to be acceptable so he asked for the mercy of God, the atonement from sacrifice. He did not realise that all sacrifice at that time was only of value because it was a foretaste of the perfect sacrifice that Jesus would make on the Cross. Question 4:Aren’t we glad we are not like the Pharisee …. Oops! There is something wrong with that question. I think I had better do another question 4.

Please read Luke 18:15 – 17.

Question 4: Children were not then the little gods they are in many cultures today. So what is Jesus emphasising by his statement in 15 – 17?

Children accept what comes to them rather than attempting to organise the world around them to their advantage. Jesus is saying that we too can only progress by a accepting what is given to us from the Lord.

Please read Luke 18:18-30

Question 5: What is the rich man suggesting by his use of the word ‘inherit’ (v 18)? How do we inherit?

He would seem to have understood that eternal life is not something we can demand but depends on the gift of someone else. So the important thing is being in right relation to the person who gives, in this case, God. We can only inherit through the gift of God. Paul says in Gal 4:4 – 7 ‘God sent his Son, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, you are no longer slaves, but God’s children; and since you are his children, he has made you also heirs.’

Question 6: Compared to most of the people who have ever lived most of us are relatively rich! After all you must be sitting in front of a screen of some sort to be hearing or reading this. What then do we do with verse 22 where Jesus said ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.? Are we thereby failing in our obedience?

We are very fortunate people. but we cannot live in most of our societies without being able to pay our taxes, pay for the electricity and everything else we necessarily have – well, nearly necessarily have, anyway. The real punch line in what Jesus said is the last phrase ‘come, follow me’. If we do that all else will fall into place. We can enter the Kingdom. So that we will remember his warning Jesus gave one of his most memorable over-statements. Various attempts to explain camels as ropes or needle’s eyes as narrow gates are wrong. Just remember what Jesus said. That is the point of what he said.

Question 7: We have just had 3 lovely stories:the Pharisee and the tax-collector, the children coming to Jesus and the rich man asking Jesus about eternal life. What are the similarities between these three stories?

They are all focused on how we should approach God. In the first story we are told that being religious and pious are not sufficient ; in the second that it is all too easy to allow maturity and being worldly wise become a barrier; and finally that riches and good deeds are likely to be a hindrance to us. As one hymn writer said long ago “nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling”. I do hope all our hearers are doing just that.

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Luke Looks Back 21

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Study 21 - Luke 17:1-18:8

Faith and its consequences.

This next section of the Gospel contains a collection of small episodes mainly about faith and its consequences. We read about having to be careful not to hurt anyone else, being prepared to serve in any capacity, giving thanks and praising the Lord, looking forward and behaving in the light of the coming kingdom and being persistent in prayer.

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Please do read 17: 1 – 10

The 'little ones' (v2) are not defined but we probably will not be far wrong if we take them to be any Christians young in faith. 'to sin' (NIV) is more literally 'to stumble'.

Question 1: Is the advice of 17: 4 realistic? Can we sensibly forgive someone seven times if they keep on repeating the same thing for which we need to forgive them? Compare 1 Cor 5: 1, 3b - 5. What is the significant difference between these two situations?

Perhaps we should not forgive anyone 7 times if, by so doing, we encourage the persistence of the problem. There has to be a difference in our reactions when we are acting as private individuals and when we are acting on behalf of the church. In the situation in 1 Corinthians Paul is acting on behalf of that fellowship.

Question 2: Jesus cannot be saying to the disciples in 17: 5, 6 that they have no faith because they cannot throw a tree in the sea! However he must be saying something about faith. What?

Perhaps this is just another example of Jesus' dramatic over statements to make a memorable saying. But even so Jesus was challenging the apostles to think bigger about prayer than they had been accustomed to doing. Probably we all need to think bigger about prayer - I certainly do.

Question 3: What is the Christian service (17: 10) you do, or have done, which you have found hardest to do - only doing it out of a sense of duty? Does asking that question imply a wrong attitude towards duty?

You will have to answer the first part of that question yourself. Luke put the comment about duty immediately after the sayings about prayer. Perhaps what we think of as duty he is suggesting we should think of as prayer.

Please do read 17: 11 - 19.

The story of the 10 lepers is all about seeing and not seeing - a recurrent theme in this gospel. (see also Lk 8: 10; 10: 23, 24). It reminds us of the story of Balaam and his donkey. The seer who could not see and his donkey who could see.  Does that mean we need to be donkeys and not seers, I wonder?

Question 4: Who saw what here and with what effect? Who failed to see? What do we find the hardest things to see (in this sense)? What do you do when you see?

The first person we are told 'saw' was Jesus. Then just one of the lepers 'saw' he was healed, although presumably all 10 of them had been. That one leper saw more deeply than the others what Jesus had done for him. And so he had faith. Probably the other 9 did not have faith, but went on their way as spiritually stupid as they came. He got far more out of his meeting with Jesus than the rest did. A clear warning to us.

Please do read 17: 20 - 37.

This section is about the Kingdom of God and is not easy to understand as Jesus seems to have made 2 sets of prophetic statements. The first is about what would happen to Jerusalem - and did happen to Jerusalem some 40 years later when, in response to a revolt by the Jews, the Romans attacked it, besieged and largely destroyed it with huge loss of life. The second set of statements is about what will happen at the end of the world. The fall of Jerusalem was the end of the world as they knew it; the end of the world will be the end of the world as we know it. It is not at all easy to know exactly which some of the statements refer to. The destruction of Jerusalem is a sort of prophetic foretaste of that still future end.

The very important phrase that is used to summarize the teaching of passages like this is 'Now, but not yet' meaning that the Kingdom was there in the presence of Jesus and is here now in the presence of the Holy Spirit but is not yet evident in its full and final glory.

Question 5: What does Jesus say here concerning the 'Now'? But the question of the Pharisees was about the future. What did Jesus say here about this 'not yet' aspect of the Kingdom? What do his words suggest our attitudes to these two aspects should be?

The now of those days was as difficult as anybody's now of today, full of wars and rumours of wars. Mankind has not changed much in these last 2000 years. Although Jesus clearly knew there was to be a last day he offered no suggestions at all about when it would be. The 'not yet' has already stretched out for those 2000 years. That fact inevitably affects our thinking, making us careless when we should be preparing for it. Jesus is warning against such carelessness. Be warned.

Please do read 18: 1 - 8.

The parable of the unjust judge is difficult. It probably belongs more to what goes before, the sayings of Jesus we have just been thinking about, than what comes after. Its primary meaning is not about persistent prayer in general but of our attitude to the expectation of the final day for at least 4 reasons:

  • It is about a judge - and the final day is one of judgment;
  • There is a general Biblical expectation that the apparent inequities of this present life will be compensated in the future life as Luke 6:21 and Luke 6:25 teach us and that is evident here.
  • 18: 7 is similar to Revelation 6: 9 - 11 which is very clearly about the future in heaven.
  • 18: 8 is about the coming of the Son of Man and that reflects Dan 7: 13, 14, 26, 27

Question 6: What compensating justice in the future life would most please you? Is that wish one that will encourage the Lord to think that he has found faith in you, or were you just being rather selfish?

It is a good job that only you know what your answers to those 2 linked questions are!

It is too easy to read this story as teaching that the Lord measures prayer by its quantity. That seems inherently unlikely. What about its quality? Paul only prayed about his thorn in the flesh 3 times and then decided he was stuck with it. We might have been tempted to go on pleading with the Lord like the widow in this story. Somewhere between the two stories is the right balance.

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Study 20 - Luke 16:1-31

The Problem of Riches

This chapter, which is difficult all the way through, gives us one of the most puzzling of all the parables, as, if it is misread, Jesus appears to commend dishonesty. The story is about a landlord’s estate-manager or steward who was sacked for inefficiency in an unusual way: there is no lengthy argument or plea for reinstatement as you would have expected in that culture; the steward ceases immediately to be the approved agent but the rent books are not taken from him.

Please read Luke 16:1-8

The estate-manager was able to reduce the rents and get the tenants to note the changes (v 6b, 7b), probably with the promise to share the reductions with him quietly afterwards. Because of the tenants writing on the documents the landlord cannot reinstate the changes without losing face and honour. Clever!

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Of course the chapter division was not in the original documents so this story follows closely behind the one of the Prodigal Son (or whatever you decided to call it) and this story supports that one in some ways.

Question 1: What are the parallels between this parable and that one? 2 noble fathers or masters; 2 ignoble dependents; 2 moments of truth regarding losses; 2 pleas for mercy; 2 problems of broken trust and its consequences.

Question 2: What knowledge of the nature of the landowner did the estate-manager display by what he did? Think particularly of why the landlord dismissed him; why he didn’t imprison him; why did the landowner agreed to pay the price for the deception? What does this parable teach us about the nature of God?

In that sort of culture there would very likely be a relationship several generations long between the families of master and steward. Honour has to be maintained on both sides so grace is necessary. Our God is a God of relationships not accounting practices. Our God is a forgiving God who, because of the sacrifice of Jesus is prepared to forgive the many things we have done which we should not have done, just as the master forgave the manager things he should not have done. We were careful to end the story at v8. Most Bibles paragraph this chapter in a way that suggests the next few verses are also part of that story. But that is unlikely because it would make v9 suggest we should be as dishonest as the manager and v11 and 12 sit very uncomfortably with the parable when they do make good sense in isolation. The next parable clearly starts at v19. In between is a collection of sayings, probably from some other occasions, linked by key words and ideas.

Please read Luke 16: 9 – 18.

Question 3: What does v9 mean if it is to be read separately, not relating it to the story before it.

It teaches us that worldly wealth is not to be used solely for our own benefit. We are to use it for other people as well. It also reminds us that the day will come when our worldly wealth will be gone and we shall have to give account of ourselves before judge Jesus. One commentary labels most of these verses ‘Condemnations of the Corrupt at Heart’, which fits well. Verse 18 is the most terse and hard of all the NT statements about divorce and should not be read in isolation from the others in Matt 5: 31, 32; 1 Cor 7: 10, 11.

Question 4: What are the barriers against which people are forcing their way into the Kingdom in your world (v 16)? Obviously you have to answer this one yourself.

Please read Luke 16: 19 - 31

The difficulties continue! Lazarus is the only person in all the parables who is named (although one papyrus calls the rich man Neues). Purple clothing was strictly reserved for the elite of Roman society. Abraham’s side (literally bosom, that is Lazarus was reclining at the table beside Abraham) was thought to be the best place to be after death. The whole story, like the rest of the parables, is probably not meant to be understood as a real life episode. We should not draw any conclusions about the geography of heaven and hell from it.

Question 5: What does the attitude of the dogs, (savage, guard?) dogs to Lazarus tell us about him?

The dogs were expressing what the rich man should have done. Lazarus is clearly depicted as a nice guy, a likeable fellow.

Question 6: What does the rich man’s attitude in the after life to Lazarus tell us about him?

He thought of himself as a big man so Lazarus ought to act as his slave. He failed to realise that we are all equal in death, and indeed ought to consider others equal to ourselves in this life. Again the parable lacks an ending. The last statement has an element of wry humour about it. Jesus clearly realises that his death will not be the last event of his life.

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