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You would have to be very young to miss the seismic changes that have come upon our society in the last five years. However you feel about the events that have brought it all about, it is amazing that these last few years could lead us into a new reality. Not to say that some didn’t see it coming. How swiftly the world can become a very different place!
The change that took place in the life of the early church with the stoning of Stephen is significantly more dramatic than what we are seeing in our own day. Literally overnight the landscape for followers of Christ was turned upside down. That gospel message which Stephen preached at his defense before the Jewish council was the shot that provoked a huge violent reaction. It was the boom that triggered the landslide. Stephen’s execution catalyzed the zeal of a community in opposition to Christ which would now be focused upon “men and women” who believed. His message and death emboldened Christ’s opponents.
Bible students who study the New Testament Book of Acts easily see that the author Luke introduces the unconverted Saul in 7:58 in order to prepare us for his very different role in the spread of Christianity. But other significant markers are presented by Luke to grab our attention and frame the unfolding of God’s kingdom purposes. First, Stephen prayed for his executioners in the same way that our Lord prayed during his crucifixion. The unfolding events of Acts are in a significant way the answer to that petition. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” is the prayer of Christ echoed in the final petition of his servant. It is answered in part with the conversion of one of the most violent men of all scripture. Look again at the stoning of Stephen and the imprisonment of “men and women” (8:3). Read that verse and notice: “Saul was ravaging the church…” Stephen prayed for that man!
Second, one cannot miss the fact that the short sermon and sudden execution of Stephen turned the lives of most Jerusalem believers upside down. Luke says in Acts 8:1 that “they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Christians, who did not hear Stephen speak before the council, had to flee immediately because of his message. Were they angry or confused? Did they complain about their discomfort and distress? Not according to Luke. Instead they joined in the witness of the martyred Stephen and “preached the word” as they were driven into Samaria and beyond. Many peoples have fled before the evil of wicked powers, but who as these Christians with boldness and courage?
Third, Luke tells us in 8:2 that “devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.” So often I attend Christian funerals where the death of a believer is celebrated. Preachers focus upon the happiness of the deceased and their relief from suffering into the great joy of heaven. It is as if we should celebrate their home going instead of mourning their death. That message by itself doesn’t comfort. This text is a signficant exception to modern trends. Luke didn’t have to mention the lamentation over Stephen’s death. He knew that his readers would see the effect of Stephen’s death in the light of the wonderful things that followed. Philip’s own ministry is part of the spread of Christ’s servants to Samaria. With his preaching, many Samaritans were healed, delivered and saved. All because of Stephen’s martyrdom.
Yet I take great comfort in hearing that “devout” men joined in “great lamentation” over Stephen. I know, Jesus said “Let the dead bury the dead.” But these really were “devout men.” Their actions testified to the value of Stephen’s life and ministry. The holy boldness of his gospel preaching and the power of the Holy Spirit in him which affected, healed, and delivered so many would be sorely missed. His death left men in tears! The role of a faithful servant in the church was vacated. Should we not mourn the loss of Christ’s saints among us? I can tell you, as a pastor of many years, the deaths of Christ’s precious people from my own congregation have left a great void. Their absence presses a great longing for the full victory of the gospel upon me. They have joined the church triumphant in heaven but left us wanting their wisdom, strength and presence.
So then, Christ’s prayer for his enemies, his call of faithful servants and the lamentation of devout believers in the midst of opposition, suffering and death tell us that this world is going to change dramatically. The sovereign Lord will not leave the world to its evil course. In the midst of opposition, suffering and death, Christians are going to see the power of a reigning Christ disturb our comforts and press us into faithful witness before all who seek to ravage his church. Weep we will, but as those who know the power of the gospel and expect its full fruition. After all, look what Christ has done through the death of his servant Stephen. More is yet to come!
The recent killings in Charleston together with the daily reports of evil and injustice in our cities make the lament of Jesus personal. Luke records in 19.41ff. “As Jesus drew near [Jerusalem] and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (ESV). Perhaps you, too long for peace, yet it eludes us. Looking the other way when people are afflicted does not work. We need peace, but do we know what makes for peace?
No doubt, Jesus prayed for the peace of Jerusalem just as David had exhorted in Psalm 122 – “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” This was evidently in Jesus’ heart as he looked upon the city that would crucify him within days. In this moment, his tears flowed and he lamented Jerusalem’s ignorance -“Would that you, even you, had known…” Jerusalem of all cities should have known. Her name means “possession of peace” or “foundation of peace.” But they knew nothing of it. Worse, they had no clue what would make it possible. How could this people fail to recognize the significance of unfolding events for the peace of the city? Clearly, though they thought they could see, they were blind.
Perhaps they confused unity with peace. In many respects, the view of Jerusalem from a lofty position must have been magnificent. This was no ordinary week. Thousands upon thousands of people had come from many nations to celebrate the Passover. The view of David’s city so alive as young and old anticipated a holy celebration must have evoked awe and wonder. Surely, the best of what God was doing in the world was found here! It wasn’t perfect. Roman occupiers invited a measure of distress. Yet peace appeared to prevail. Ironically, man’s greatest evil was about to be committed within her walls. Her unity would prove to be a unity of evil.
Jesus wept because Jerusalem did not even know what makes for peace. Luke’s account is brief. The larger context of Jesus’ teaching and life is essential. Yet even within these few verses, one can readily grasp what evoked his weeping. First, it is because of the consequences of ignorance. The city’s future would not be pretty nor end happily. In fact, great suffering would culminate in total destruction. This was because “you did not know the time of your visitation.” That word “visitation” is the second reason for great sorrow and tears. Jesus refers to the very significant events leading up to his own crucifixion. It is his presence in Jerusalem that is the time of visitation. Though he should have been welcomed, he was opposed and killed.
So then, what does make for peace? What do we need for our communities to know true peace? It is this – the reception and welcoming of Jesus is the only basis for true peace. When he visits (though the preaching of the gospel) he is to be received with love and honored as Lord. When he is rejected, people should rightly expect the manifestation of his wrath and judgment.
Now I am fully aware of how radical that sounds in today’s world. I hope you recognize that it is radical. But, peace is not about the happy coexistence of good and evil. Tolerance of wickedness and injustice does not make for peace. That simply cannot be and the truth of this is self-evident. King Jesus is the prince of peace who upholds righteousness and destroys wickedness. Here, we pause and tremble a bit. What is the future for every city and community in the world? When Peter preached Jesus crucified as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36ff.) he called upon his hearers to repent. That is where peace begins. We must own our culpability, our wickedness, our sin and forsake it through repentance and faith if we are to ever know what makes for peace. That reality gives real meaningful hope in our day of division and conflict. No one can rightly claim superiority over another! No one should exalt themselves. We all must come with repentance and embrace of the one who delivers from sin and evil. We must come humbly by faith to Jesus who makes for peace. Pray for the peace of Byram and Jackson! Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
“In a word, there is no doctrine preached in our churches but that which we openly profess. As to controverted points, they are clearly and honestly explained in our confession, while everything relating to them has been copiously treated and diligently expounded by our writers.”
From The John Calvin Collection, Kindle Edition “The Necessity of Reforming the Church”
I well remember the childhood game of hide and seek. It was really fun when the whole neighborhood would play. We called it “oolyoolyumpfree” or something like that. With a lot of kids playing it was always a challenge to find the best hiding place. After counting to one hundred, a kid would call out “Ready or not, here I come!” We hoped we would not be the first one discovered. Being “it” was humiliating and could last a long time.
Of course, Luke 17.20-37 is not about a childhood game, but explains the significance of a serious event. A new reality is coming and this world as we know it shall come to an end. Jewish and Christian people embrace a world view that is very different from the majority of people. Rather than thinking that “what goes around comes around” in a circular or repetitive fashion, Christians believe that all of history is heading toward one great climactic event – the second coming of Jesus or the coming of the Kingdom of God. Though timetables and details may vary among Christians, all expect a climactic appearing of Christ and the culmination of this fallen world. We anticipate a very new heaven and earth.
With that in mind, we can relate to the desire to know when these things will take place. The question of the Pharisees was what many are still asking – “When will the kingdom of God come?” Jesus did not rebuke them on this occasion but rather sought to press the real issue of the coming of God’s kingdom. He redirected their attention and ours by saying that “Ready or not” the Son of Man and the Kingdom of God will come unexpectedly. It is dangerous to be so intent on the question that the reader misses that answer.
First, the coming of the kingdom of God will be different from all other kingdoms that have risen to power. It’s coming will not be readily evident in observable ways, but it will be found in the midst of God’s people (v.21). Many readers may be familiar with the “already and the not yet” aspects of God’s kingdom. By that we refer to the fact that the reign of Christ is already evident in the obedient lives of believers in this world, yet it is not here in any complete sense of the word and won’t be until Christ himself appears.
Secondly, Jesus announces that significant time will transpire before the reigning Son of Man referenced in Daniel 7 comes in his full glory. The cross will come first. Further, the disciples are told that they will long to see his appearing but won’t suggesting that growing longing will be found among his disciples. We need to acknowledge that there may be still a considerable time of longing left for us too. Generations of believers have lived and died looking and longing. We still await his appearing.
Thirdly, Jesus emphasizes that you do not need a secret key or insight into his return. When he comes it will be evident like lightening in the sky. Don’t waste your money on the latest tantalizing book that makes claims about the time of Jesus’ coming. Even if they were to get it right, you don’t need it. When it happens no one will miss it.
But here is what you do need. You need to be conscious that “ready or not” he will come at the appointed time to swiftly manifest his kingly power and authority. People will be shocked because their daily routine will suddenly be interrupted. All planning and work will be rendered meaningless. One’s eternal destiny will be forever fixed. Only those who are consciously prepared for the Lord’s coming will be able to discern the true significance of that day and respond with faith.
That is the real point of Jesus’ teaching here. “Remember Lot’s wife” is the warning we need to hear. She fled with regret and looked back to Sodom. It didn’t work out well for her. We must expect that judgment upon this fallen world will accompany the King’s return. In order to be ready, you must be one who has already let go of this “world.” “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” Ready or not, here I come!
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the February 2015 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi.
Christmas is just a few days away. Of course, when you read this it will be in your rear view mirror. The pressing concern of January is to plan and organize. With the holidays behind you, take time to debrief and consider what made Christmas special. In particular, ask yourself: What about my celebrations affected me the most? Did my festivities enable me to glorify God with all of my being. Was my worship spiritual and scriptural? Was I full of love and adoration for my God? How did Jesus’ incarnation make my sacrificial living and giving a true joy?
Let your debriefing guide your planning. Be smart and learn from your experiences. As you plan, take into account what one man recently referred to as the “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknowns.” There are things that will certainly happen, though you do not know how or when. Death is an example. No one yet has avoided it though few know when it will happen. Plan for it! It is a “known unknown.”
Other unexpected things should be expected. You can’t know what they are and you can’t be absolutely certain how or when they will come, but you can be reasonably certain that they will. Plan for them. But, you ask, how can we expect anybody to plan for “unknown unknowns?” Please get this. You must plan for them. The Christmas story illustrates how.
The gospel writer Luke in his first chapter tells us about the priest Zechariah. We can learn from him as an example of the importance of planning rightly. Zechariah is presented to us as a man who was “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” This is not a story about good things happening to good people. Zechariah needed a savior too and suddenly found himself in God’s plan of salvation. Secondly, the text tells us that he was of the priestly line of Aaron together with his wife Elizabeth. They were both engaged in serving God, he in a formal way and she as his wife. Thirdly, Zechariah was a man who failed to plan for the unique servant role that God had for him.
This is not about finding fault. No one is saying that Zechariah should have expected to father John the Baptist in his old age. He could not have known. But Zechariah met the announcement of Gabriel with unbelief. He was simply unprepared. In his failure he teaches the attentive.
One of the things that every Christian must prepare to do is to serve King Jesus. That is a “known unknown.” Perhaps you do not know where or when, but you will be expected to step up and serve. You can and should plan on it. Zechariah actually did that much. When his family was called upon to serve in the temple, he was ready. When his lot was chosen to burn incense and offer prayers, his lifetime of preparation enabled him to do it.
But he did not plan for the angel’s appearance and more importantly, he was not ready for it. That was his “unknown unknown!” Contrast Mary. She did not know that Gabriel would visit her either. She was startled with her own impossible role in God’s plan of redemption. But her response to the angel indicated she was prepared in a very significant way. Her “Let it be to me as you have spoken” was the response of faith and obedience.
How do you plan for that? You reach that kind of readiness through disciplined engagement with the word of God. Prayer and participation in scriptural worship make you a team player. Spiritual disciplines build character that will enable you to respond appropriately when God calls your name. Like “Special Forces” soldiers, we are to live and breath readiness! It doesn’t just happen. Think through what it takes. Devise your plan. Work it. Evaluate it and reapply yourself! You will be ready. Make that your Christmas Plan.
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the February 2015 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi
Let’s be honest. Christmas is about celebrations and parties. Who are we kidding? The connection between the birth of Christ in Luke 2 and the celebration stories of Luke 15 may not be so obvious to all, but it should be. The “lost” stories are all about excitement and celebration. No matter what you may have heard, Jesus did know how to party! He came from heaven and heaven is the place to find the greatest parties. Jesus’ used three easily related stories to convey just how great those parties really are.
So what does a real party entail? Several things. First, there must be a great occasion. Jesus told about the kind of celebration to which we can all relate. When something very precious is lost the ache is severe! Losing that one sheep (15.4ff.), that one silver coin (15.8ff.), that only other son (15.11ff.) really hurt! We all know how compulsive a quest can be when we are determined to recover something or someone. It takes over our thoughts and our lives. Discovery brings incredible relief, joy and excitement. Happiness abounds. In fact, the joy of reclaiming something lost is exponentially greater than the great grief associated with the loss! The loss was a significant part of a larger whole (one one hundredth, one tenth, or even one half). But finding that one is actually 100 percent victory. Exuberant gladness is felt and recovery is intensely celebrated!
Secondly, celebration comes to its own in a party. In each story, friends are called together to capture the excitement and rejoice together. Intense happiness cannot be kept to one’s self. Great joy must be shared and in the sharing is magnified. Celebration finds fullness in the company of others. Perhaps some readers eschew parties and avoid them. But the reality is that the desire for great celebratory parties is actually embedded in the image of God in man. It is encoded in the stuff that makes us men and women. The celebrations that Jesus talked about were intended to make the parties of heaven visible to his listeners. Heaven’s celebrations are greater, more numerous, more lavish and occasioned by things most significant.
Most would allow that there is something missing in most of our parties and celebrations: an important person chooses not to participate, cost prohibits appropriate provisions, etc. But we were designed for eternity. We rightly yearn for unending delights. Yet none of us can sustain such a celebration. We do not even have the stamina to party “all night long.” “Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall …. (Is 40.30).”
So what are the celebrations of heaven that relate to our Christmas joys? Jesus in Luke 15.7 speaks of “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” Children coming home over Christmas brighten our lives. Very special times that will be cherished ensue. But the return of a prodigal son brings a different kind of intense joy! The older son had been there all along. But the prodigal “was lost and is found!” Redemption changes things forever. It makes for a wonderful Christmas party. God providing an infant Savior in Bethlehem is a big part of a big plan. The cross is big too! But their significance does not stand alone. Both Jesus’ birth and cross are works which enable the repentant sinner to come home, but come home he must! When he does, the whole plan comes together. Jesus knew that heaven explodes with joy when sinners turn in repentance. It is a great and miraculous event! Leopards don’t change their spots. Yet sinners do repent and return home. God’s purposes and plans unfold. Redemption is accomplished!
This Christmas join heaven’s celebration and party with the angels! Have a very merry Christmas! We have the only reason we need!
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church
(Originally published in March 2015 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi (Republished by permission)
Celebrations add so much to the enjoyment of the Autumn season. Reformation Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day are upon us and call for great rejoicing. Most of us will include a memorable event to set such special days apart. Families with gather, food will be prepared and celebrations full of thanksgiving and kindness will flow. Yet all of these point to a greater celebration that is yet to come. A celebration when the church will be distinguished by holiness, wars will cease, nations will prosper and the full fruit of Jesus’ birth will be the complete deliverance of the whole world from all evil and injustice. It will come. Wait for it!
“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” (Luke 12.37).
That is an incredible statement! In the October Byram Banner I drew attention the true nature of blessedness. It is the hearing and the doing of Jesus’ teaching. Yet now another nuance is added with the promise of a celebration of the grandest kind, even exceeding holiday or even Olympic proportions.
But first, see that this blessedness is the present condition of those who are transformed by the teaching of Jesus and whose lives are shaped by his purposes. The believer who is at his post, watching and alert to his master’s desires, will be ready when his Lord suddenly returns and wraps up all of his kingdom concerns. To be that person is to be a happy, fulfilled person.
But secondly, this verse announces an amazing celebration which will be had for such blessed ones. The master, Jesus, takes up the servant’s role and gives himself personally to making the celebration of his own return an unbelievable event. Robed in the worker’s clothing, he personally looks to his servant’s relaxation and feasting. The master serves his servants in the grandest of feasts. Clearly, the pomp and circumstance of this celebration will be wrapped up in the servant host. Remember this is the Lord who is celebrated for his true greatness. It is he who is described in Ephesians 4.8: “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives and he gave gifts to men.” Look up Hebrews 1.2,3; Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 to remind yourself of the real stature of this reigning King.
Do not think that this celebration will be hosted in private. Jesus has already announced his plan. No, this dining experience will be in the midst of worshiping angels like those that first appeared to the shepherds watching their flocks on the night of Jesus’s birth. All of creation will bow in wonder at his love for his own.
You might be reluctant to imagine enjoying such an act of true humility in the person of King Jesus. John’s gospel gives us a glimpse of the profundity of it: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:3–5, ESV). No doubt you recognize that there is something essentially wrong in enjoying a celebration where the one we delight in is the same one who waits upon us.
Perhaps you are like me in this way. I know that I need the gospel. I cannot keep the law of God as scripture requires. I have tried and I have failed. The sentence that hangs over my head is “Convicted Sinner!” So I turn to the gracious offer that Jesus made. “My righteousness for your sin” he says. “I offer my death in your stead so that you may live.” That is the free offer of the gospel. I believe it and receive his gift. I know no other way. But, I think at times: “If I could do what is necessary, I would.” If I could stand before God in my own righteousness, I would surely do it. I would prefer self-sufficiency and dislike dependence. I am that proud, that arrogant.
The graciousness of our Lord and our God as reflected in Luke 12.37 jerks my chain. God doesn’t give himself because it is necessary. He gives himself because that is who he is, to the core of his being. He delights in servant love!
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the November 2014 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi
As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
I would love to tell you about my mother. She is truly a “excellent woman” in the Biblical sense. But my point here is to write about Jesus with reference to his mother Mary. I always bristle a bit when I read the above quote from Luke 11.27, 28. Jesus’ response to this unnamed, outspoken woman seems curt and harsh. She shouts what was obviously meant as a compliment. Jesus responded to her kind words by correcting her and teaching about the real definition of “blessedness.” I imagine that woman slinking down, hiding and going away a bit wounded. If I had been her, I would keep my thoughts to myself from then on. But actually, we should be thankful that she shouted her thoughts. She occasioned a lesson we need to hear!
It may be that Jesus saw through the syrupy religiosity which makes much of the trappings of religious fervor without the substance of true personal transformation. Many embrace a superficial sentimentality that values symbol over substance, appearance over transformation. Jesus was not going to encourage such misleading applause. His manner smacks of rebuke for which no apology was appropriate.
Perhaps this outspoken woman really did make Jesus think about his mother. Luke was particularly indebted to Mary for much of his material and his gospel account is very respectful of Mary as a real woman who had to deal with the trauma of her role in God’s saving purposes. Luke included her expression of personal faith with her well known “Let it be!” Later, Mary heard Simeon speak of the sword that would pierce her own soul because of the special son she bore. Many events of Jesus’ life were pondered and preserved by her for our benefit. Luke’s inclusion of this incident must compliment his respectful inclusion of Mary and his respect for the women in Jesus’ life.
So, reference to his own mother probably provoked his response. His mother was blessed! But not because he was her son. Jesus declares for all to hear that blessedness is not reserved for a privileged few. It belongs to any who hear and keep the word of God. Yet that generous offer is still troubling. Blessedness may be for those who “hear the word of God and keep it,” but that means, frankly, that blessedness is beyond my reach. The word of God that Jesus taught mirrored the beautiful perfection of his own life. Loving God with all our heart, soul and strength and our neighbor as our own self is costly. It requires dying to self so that I may really live.
The bar is so high that I must respond honestly with despair. Blessedness is for true hearers and keepers. The blunt force of those words drives me to abandon expectation. If we understand at all, we grasp afresh our own hopeless condition. We will never know blessedness. We do not have what it takes. Even his mother Mary could not know blessedness without a savior!
The full force of Jesus’ words is desperately necessary if we are to consciously abandon self-righteousness. When left wanting and honestly owning our failure, we will cry out for deliverance and salvation. What is wonderful to me is that hearing and keeping become reachable when one looks to Jesus to make it a reality. He is able to transform, and change all who look to him. That is the good news of the gospel. Blessedness flows from gospel transformation. Jesus knew that his own mother’s blessedness was not of herself, but of her Savior.
I do wonder if Luke learned of this exchange from Mary who pondered and preserved them. She might have been startled, even hurt by her son’s response. I bet in time she knew how truly blessed she was to have a son who could and would atone for her sin and give her grace to hear and keep God’s word. What do you think? Jesus’ teaching was blunt, to the point and clear. Do you find that it is effective?
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the October 2014 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi
Willingness is a very important element in all our choices. We like to think of our will as completely free to act. While it is true that our desires govern our actions, it must be admitted that desire can be directed by many outside influences. Perhaps you remember the “Hornet Song”:
“He (God) does not compel us to go, No! No! He does not compel us to go. He does not compel us to go ‘gainst our will, But He just makes us willing to go.-
If a nest of live hornets were brought to this room, And the creatures allowed to go free, You would not need urging to make yourself scarce, You’d want to get out, don’t you see. They would not lay hold and by force of their strength Throw you out of the window, Oh No! They would not compel you’ to go ‘gainst your will, But they’d just make you willing to go.”
Before Jesus concluded teaching his disciples to pray in Luke 11 he focused on two remaining issues. They had asked: “Lord, teach us to pray ….” That is a big request! It involves content and desire. Like a good coach, he taught the fundamentals of “what” to pray. He then sought to challenge and motivate them “how” to pray. To teach “how”, he utilizes an illustration.
“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, “Do not bother me; the door is shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is a friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.”*
Well, we would be reluctant to do just that. I can hear myself saying to my wife, “You ask.” But for a needy friend we would do it. We would wake up a neighbor, even at an “ungodly hour,” for the right reason. Now Jesus deals with that reluctance in the matter of prayer. Simply put, you do not need to be hesitant with God! He is glad to answer and supply!
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”*
“Come on,” I can hear many thinking, “we all know that God never gave Janis Joplin her Mercedes Benz. That promise doesn’t work!” If I tell you that you must pay attention to the context, would you think I am weaseling out of an obvious problem? I don’t think I am. Here the context is clearly essential to a proper understanding as it always is!
The promise of answered prayer is designed to teach the disciples to pray. The first part concerns the “What should we pray for?” The second part is the “How should we approach our heavenly father?” When we ask as instructed, we should ask boldly with great expectation. Those who learn this lesson well will ask and they will see God’s name hallowed, his kingdom come, daily need provided, sin forgiven, and deliverance from evil. When they pray, they will rightly know that their heavenly father is more than able and more than willing to grant all that they ask. Such answers motivate.
Knowing these things, why do we pray so little? That is the third lesson of Jesus that Luke includes. The heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (v.13). It is the Holy Spirit who will enable us to pray, giving the will and the passion to pray as Jesus prayed. Jesus devoted himself to prayer and he knew how to teach disciples how to do the same. Are we attentive students? Are we listening?
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the October 2014 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi
We have been studying “The Lord’s Prayer” as found in Luke’s gospel – Luke 11.1-4. I hope you have had the opportunity to follow our study through the past few months as we have looked at this very familiar prayer. If you have missed those columns, please email me and I will send them. With regard to email, many of you may have questions about things in the press or on the internet that have been reported about Presbyterians recently. Sadly, not all Presbyterians continue to believe the Bible is the authoritative word of God. Let me assure you that the Presbyterian Church in America does believe the Scriptures to be God’s word. Again, please feel free to email me with your questions.
Now in August, we come to the last two petitions of “The Lord’s Prayer”. The first has to do with sin and our need for forgiveness. The second has to do with the real danger that daily confronts us – “evil” or “sin.” We recall that the first two petitions regarding the name of our heavenly father and the kingdom look outside of ourselves for God to complete his mighty purposes for this world.
The last three petitions are rooted in our own experience of need. We need sustenance, forgiveness and protection. Those three might seem to be in reverse order. Physical needs are followed by spiritual necessities. I think they are though obviously Jesus intended them to be prayed in the way that we read them. The Hebrew world understood things in linear fashion. Life progresses from a significant beginning (God created) and with purpose moves to a great end (the new creation). That is a marvelous difference from the circular reasoning of the other nations who believed “Whatever will be, will be” or “Whatever goes around, comes around.” Hence those things most important in Hebrew verse often come at the very beginning and at the very end.
That is true of The Lord’s Prayer. The reverence due to God’s name is parallel to the freedom we need from temptation. The coming of God’s kingdom is parallel to the forgiveness that is fundamental to the spread of that kingdom. Let’s flesh that out. When tempted to sin we are incited either inwardly or outwardly to disbelieve God concerning sin, righteousness and true happiness. Such disbelief questions his integrity and truthfulness. Genesis chapter three tells of the first temptation. Satan’s “Did God really say?” became the emphatic “You will not surely die!” Eve accepted the notion that God was not truthful, so she chose to sin. You and I do the same thing. When we sin we essentially declare to the whole world that God’s word is not true. Jesus teaches us to pray “Lead us not into temptation” so that we will cry out in dependence upon God’s fatherly love to keep us from this greatest of evils.
The petition for forgiveness is short and to the point. We need God’s forgiveness or we are damned. The reality of sin in each of us is without dispute. Many think little of sin, but I have yet to meet someone who claims to be perfect. So being sinners, we are taught to seek forgiveness. God is a forgiving God and the coming of the Kingdom of God is rooted in his gospel work of forgiveness. The proclamation of the necessity of reconciliation with God and the announcement of the good news of Jesus’ saving sacrifice is the way that God’s kingdom comes. Through God’s transforming power our sin is atoned for and we are enabled to live according to God’s will, “on earth as it is in heaven.” It hardly needs to be added that while our salvation comes in a moment, our transformation takes place over a life time. Why ask for forgiveness if we have attained perfection.
Now The Lord’s Prayer is a very short prayer and Luke’s version is even shorter than Matthew’s. But it would be wrong to think our prayers should be so short. Rather, like Jesus who spent whole nights in prayer, we would do well to see The Lord’s Prayer as an outline to follow. Cover the bases and dwell on the deeper reality that each of the five petitions embraces. Surely we can see that prayer is a privilege that ought to draw forth holy desires expressed in requests sent heavenward to our father.
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the August 2014 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi.
According to the Apostle Paul, Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And yet the Lord’s Prayer as found in Luke’s gospel teaches us to ask and to ask expectantly. Hence, we must learn to receive.
Last month we looked at the opening words of “The Lord’s Prayer” which, no doubt, you have memorized. “Father, hallowed be your name.” I hope you recall the incredible intimacy that is conveyed and Jesus’ personal investment that underlies that first petition. Jesus would do everything necessary to make known the glorious name of God. Yet he asks, mingling effort and dependence as a sweet offering to the father he loves.
The same is true of the second and the third petitions. The second request is simply “Your kingdom come.” Everything that Jesus was as an individual, as a teacher and as a son was wrapped up the pursuit of that petition. His birth, his childhood, his ministry, his preaching and his sacrificial death were all about the coming of God’s kingdom in which righteousness and justice would reign. All of his miracles pointed to that kingdom. Even his death found its meaning in the coming kingdom.
So why does he ask and why teach disciples to ask for that which he is so determined to bring into reality? Here is a very significant lesson. Jesus recognized that all things happen, and particularly the kingdom of God happens, because of the sovereign good pleasure of his heavenly father. In the spirit of Psalm 90, Jesus asks that his father would “establish the work of his hands (v.17).” If Jesus, God’s son, so asks, can we not see that we must always ask! He encourages us to seek God for all things, even the things we are so convinced are right and necessary. Even holy things, to which we would devote all of our energy and strength to accomplish, require the full willingness of God to come to fruition. We are wholly dependent creatures.
The third petition seems a bit out of place in the context of the lofty concerns of the first two. Why does Jesus turn his thoughts now to food and pray: “Give us each day our daily bread.”? In the context of the story of Jesus, food seems insignificant. After fasting forty days he rebuked the evil one with the words: “Man does not live by bread alone (Luke 4.4).” Another time, the disciples were concerned that he needed to eat and he responded with the curt comment: “I have food to eat that you do not know about (John 4.32).” So why now place such significance upon daily nutritional needs?
It is now nearing the noon hour and my need to eat is apparent. I could go on for a while, but eventually hunger will drive me to seek out lunch. Our needs as creatures normally control us. No matter how great our resolve to the contrary, our will yields to our sense of hunger. Hence we rightly understand our basic needs in the context of God’s purposes for each of us. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that even our routine needs are of concern to our heavenly father. We can ask him. No, we must ask him for those needs!
Asking may seem insincere since all we need is to go to Kroger. We live in incredible times when farmers are able to provide so much food that much of the world is overweight. But this petition is particularly significant when one does not appear to need God’s provision. The petitioner recognizes that God alone provides and blesses. We ask and acknowledge his incredible goodness. We ask and do not steal from our father. His bounty, this blessing, though the fruit of hard work, comes to us out of our heavenly father’s goodness and love. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Our heavenly father is a giver. Let us rejoice in all that we receive from him. Even as you ask, be glad that his kingdom comes and our daily bread is ours out of his goodness.
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the July 2014 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi.
Intimacy is often overrated. To know yourself truly is humbling because we have a great deal to be humble about. Our strengths are not as many nor as strong as they should be. But intimacy with God is a very satisfying experience. Our Creator and our God exceeds our expectations in all that he is and all that he does. He is truly great!
Jesus, in the “Lord’s prayer” of Luke 11:2-4, addresses God as “Father” because of his intimate knowledge of him. Luke referenced Jesus’ statement to that intimacy in chapter 10:22. “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” That deep mutual knowledge that they share is the context of Jesus’ prayer life and the reality behind this special prayer of our Lord. From that flows a zeal for the true knowledge of God to be spread among men. Reverence should be the consequence of true knowledge. Hence Jesus teaches us to pray “Hallowed be your name.” It is a prayer that desires all ignorance and irreverence for God to be replaced by a zealous embrace of all that He is and all that he does.
Jesus’ purpose is to make his Father known as he knows him. His Father is both just and merciful. God is holy and yet full of grace. The Sovereign is the Creator of all, exalted high above the distant orbs of starry light and yet the light by which men see genuine meekness and kindness. This is the one that Jesus calls “Father.”
In fact, Jesus not only prays that the name of God would be truly known and loved, but the whole animating impulse of his life found its focus in that quest. It was the reason that he came. One recalls from the Biblical story of the Exodus (Numbers 14) how the whining and rebellion of the Israelites led to their threatened extinction. Moses interceded with God, reminding him that his name would be held in contempt. The reason would be because he began something he was not able to finish. He took a people from Egypt whom he could not bring into the promised land.
You can see that the prayer for God’s name to be hallowed is not simply about false swearing or cursing. It is really about acknowledging that God is able to do all that he sets out to do! None of his promises will ever fall to the ground or fail to come to full fruition. When God said to Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him, he committed himself to the fulfillment of that promise. When God said to his “Son” in Psalm 2, “Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance” he committed all of his honor and reputation to that end.
When one sees the injustice and evil in this world, one is tempted to ask if God is able to keep his promises. To confidently assert that he will fulfill them requires that we look to the life and death of Jesus himself. The promises all require a real solution to the problem of evil. It is not enough that people merely know about God, or even that they acknowledge he is just and good. To truly fulfill the promises requires that the nations love and revere the holy name of God. That they rejoice in his rule and delight in his law.
So Jesus’ whole purpose is to transform men through his sacrificial death. In justly offering his obedience for our disobedience he reconciles us to God. But his purpose is greater than that. Having reconciled us, he is now able to transform us so that we can truly pray with him “Father, Hallowed be your name!” That prayer that is now confidently asserted – his name will be honored and revered, first in our own lives and also in the lives of multitudes of others. Jesus prayed for it and he has done all that it takes. You can count on his success!
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the October 2014 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi.
When you truly desire to learn something worthy of your time and effort, you will do well to turn to a teacher who actually practices the very thing that he teaches. It is evident from Luke’s gospel that Jesus taught prayer by being a person of prayer. Jesus engaged in prayer, often in desolate places and alone (5:16). At other times he prayed with a few of his disciples at his side. Occasionally, such as before a meal, he led in prayer so that others might participate. So, when Jesus instructs, we can have confidence that we are learning from the master.
In Luke 11.1-4 Jesus teaches what we have come to know as the “Lord’s Prayer.” It is slightly abbreviated from the more familiar prayer taught by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. Luke’s version is as follows:
“Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”*
Exploring the lessons condensed into such a short prayer, we come first to the fact that God is to be sought as “Father”. Though our society today is very comfortable with familiarity in addressing parents, it has not always been that way. Father’s used to be addressed respectfully as “Father.” Today it is not unusual to hear children call their parent’s by their first names. But, here in the Lord’s Prayer, “Father” is an affectionate term of family intimacy and love with respect to the Sovereign Creator and Ruler of the universe.
Search the prayer book of Israel – the book of Psalms. You will not find one where God is addressed as “Father.” True, Psalm 89 tells us that the Messiah will “cry to me [the Lord], ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’” That makes sense in the light of the promises made to David in 2 Samuel 7.14,15. The Lord’s Prayer is a part of the fulfillment of that covenant promise. In that context, it is amazing that Jesus teaches us to join him by praying his prayer.
But the whole concept of privilege begs a related inquiry. What baggage does the title “Father” carry for you? Each of us understands that word differently. We do not think of a “father” in the abstract. Our own father’s strengths and weaknesses fill that term with meaning that we love, regret or even hate. It simply is not a neutral term for us. Even an absentee dad, teaches his children with powerful, enduring lessons about what it means to be a father. True, adult children learn to celebrate their father’s strengths and forgive their flaws, but it is amazing how difficult that is for someone whose father was hurtful and unkind.
When Jesus says that you should address the Sovereign Holy Creator God by the title “Father” you must throw off all personal conceptions and seek to know the richness of that term as Jesus intended it. Jesus used “Father” affectionately. The Lord’s Prayer itself proves that. The first petition is: “Hallowed be your name.” Such longings flow from the depth of his love and admiration. Nothing less than a true apprehension of who his father is and what he has done will satisfy that petition. Everyone must know him. Love, reverence and obedience will follow. To the degree that men do not know him as Jesus revealed him, they cannot honor him or “hallow” his name.
Luke includes Jesus’ statement to that fact in 10.22. “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” This affirms the same intimacy. Jesus and his Father know one another fully! Jesus’ revealing work is therefore essential to the salvation of men and to the hallowing of his “Father’s” name.
Jesus’ purpose is to make his Father known as he knows him. His Father is both just and merciful. God is holy and yet full of grace. The Sovereign is the Creator of all, exalted high above the distant orbs of starry light and yet the light by which men see genuine meekness and kindness. This is the one that Jesus knows as “Father.” He is the one to whom we are taught to come in prayer and to whom we must come in prayer. “Father” we begin, and we know that we are addressing Him who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” Do you know God as Father? Pray!
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the May 2014 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi.
The YouTube video of Bob Newhart giving counsel to a claustrophobic woman is truly funny. His direct approach to curing complex problems is only two words. “Stop it!” Just “Stop it!” We chuckle, wishing that behavior could be changed so easily! But, the power of the will is phenomenal. It’s not so easily directed in the right path. Past year recaps and new year’s resolutions testify!
Jesus, according to the Gospel of Luke, was incredibly direct and forthright. To use the familiar phrase, Jesus knew how to speak truth to power! He was that kind of prophet. But he was also the prophet who spoke truth to people like you and me, powerful or not. The starting line that this new year presents is a good time to hear and heed Jesus’ teaching. He is the one who asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?” (Luke 6.46).*
“But I do!” many will protest. Yet Jesus asked that question to bring focus to fuzzy headed, strong willed followers who weren’t really listening. You may be in that company. A simple review of Jesus’ teaching in the sixth chapter of Luke will help you discern. Here is a portion: “But to you who are listening, I say, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.” How do you fare so far? “If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other cheek as well. If someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well. To everyone who asks of you, give. If someone takes your things, don’t demand them back.” (Luke 6.27-30; Matthias Media)
Why do I call Jesus Lord? Put another way, why don’t I do what Jesus tells me to do? The answer to that question is personal and diverse. For some, attachment to the things of this world mirrors the rich young ruler’s of Luke 18.18. To these, actually doing what Jesus commands is beyond reason and intelligence. We may not be rich, but we aren’t about to let go of the things we have worked hard to accumulate. Let Jesus remain simply a “good teacher.” For others, appearances are really important. The nice looking car, the attractive home, the enviable job all appear to be the “good life.” Sum and substance for these individuals is in the admiration and envy of others. Other explanations could be included, but do we really need to elaborate?
The point is like a finger poking our chest. “Jesus is Lord” is only appropriate on the lips of one who willfully chooses to do what Jesus teaches. Without that willful determination, you lie. That is not to say you will fully obey by willful determination alone. Faith must be at the core to be sure. But the bottom line for all of us is that we do what we want to do. “Jesus is Lord” is meaningless apart from head and heart. Without firm resolve and desire, obedience will never follow.
Now the power of Jesus’ teaching really shines. His familiar illustration works wonderfully. A house can be built on rock or sand. Foolish possibilities are very real and we can visualize stupidity. Home building requires skill, time and resources. To build hurriedly, without wisdom, money or time to put down a suitable foundation is pure stupidity. Storms are going to come, rivers will rise and troubles will mount. The assaults of life under the sun will not be avoided by any.
So here is my recommendation for the new year. Resolve with all your heart to learn from Jesus and invest this new year doing what he taught. Focus anew upon your foundation and enjoy the long term security that comes from trusting the word of Christ.
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the January 2014 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi.
I love a good story and Christmas provides many, some from the Bible and some not. The short story Let Nothing You Dismay by Ruth Harden is a favorite of mine with a winsome and humorous ending. The Biblical Christmas stories are not exactly humorous but they are certainly joyful. I would say they are realistic, not in the sense that they are easy to believe, but that they take place in the real world where we live with its “sin and want and sorrow.” I rediscovered the significance of those precious stories with new attention to a familiar verse from Luke’s 2:20: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
My attention, at first, turned to the “glorifying and praising of God.” Energetically enthusiastic worship would be an expected response to seeing and hearing a worshipful multitude of heavenly angels. Worship calls forth worship and the shepherds in this story are caught up in a truly incredible event.
But, upon second thought, “the things that had been told them” refers to something beyond the shepherds’ own story. This celebration arose out of stories told by Mary and Joseph. Not simply from the shepherds’ own hillside experience of angelic wonder and song, but also from events related by an amazing young mother after the birth of her son Jesus. Those accounts comprised stories that became a collection of gifts that you and I have likely enjoyed and pondered over many years with excitement and delight.
The likely occasion of their first telling fascinates me. The rather unbelievable details would not have been welcomed by most. Hearers would no doubt wonder what they should do to help such a delusional pregnant girl. “Impregnated by the spirit of God” would not satisfy even the simplest of friends. I bet Mary kept that story to herself. Months of silence would likely be unbearable. But on the wonderful day she gave birth, shepherds visited with their own story of angels sending them to Mary’s side. Don’t you know that Mary was ready to bare her soul!
The fact that Mary was the likely source is also intriguing. Perhaps you, like me, think of Mary as a quiet soul who preferred the contemplative side of spirituality. Her song of praise shows that she was able to express herself eloquently. It suggests that she drew her words from deep wells of scriptural understanding. In the same way, her words must have flowed the very night Jesus was born. Mary’s audience could be entrusted with the truth about how this baby Jesus was conceived, carried and born. Stories so familiar to us today, must have been uttered that night by Mary with all the fresh delight afforded by a shared joy and amazement. Descriptive words such as “mellow,” “somber” or “restrained” wouldn’t fit on this occasion. Think of it! A weary young mother excitedly told, as never before, a patchwork of wonderful events. The worshipful excitement of the shepherds upon their return demands such an explanation. Wouldn’t you agree? Mary’s words must have been something very special as was the baby himself.
Yet, the worship of the shepherds was not simply because of fascinating stories. No amount of personal detail or engaging story telling would give rise to exuberant adoration and praise in itself. Christmas stories can be wonderful and we all know how to enjoy a well told story. But Christmas is not simply stories. The shepherds’ response was full of excited worship and praise to God. Christmas without worship and praise to God simply isn’t Christmas.
Mary probably didn’t need to connect the dots for these young shepherds. The events leading up to Jesus’ birth and his actual birth in the city of David said it all. Her stories were Christmas gifts. God was in the midst of fulfilling ancient promises. Jesus entered the world to accomplish things wonderful, incredible and far reaching. Through Mary’s first Christmas gifts the world truly learned of Jesus. We still learn of him and who he really is because of her stories. Glorifying and praising God naturally follows. I hope you have a most worshipful Christmas!
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the December 2013 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi.
How much do you value the connections in your life? You have heard it said: “It is not what you know but who you know.” Usually that is spoken with contempt. But all would likely agree that we neglect important relationships to our own hurt. Connections to parents, spouses, siblings, friends and community leaders strengthen our lives. Even deceased relatives teach us about things about ourselves. No doubt you have heard the recent news about the five year old discovered to be living with a couple who were very obviously not her parents. Without paperwork showing an adoption, the authorities have begun an international search for someone or something that will tell them who she is. What does life have in store for that little girl? As I write, she has no connections. I hope she will be able to enjoy the connections that a loving family brings.
Many go to a great deal of work to discover their genealogical records and find their distant family. We have enjoyed the fruit of several new relationships because of such work. It doesn’t always turn out so well. One man, as the story goes, paid five hundred dollars to discover his distant relatives and then paid a thousand to keep them secret. For most of us genealogical research and the study of tombstones is not enticing. What benefit is really gained? Even so, the Bible contains ancestral records. In both the Old and the New Testaments, biblical writers gave valuable space to detailed records. These are there to teach and instruct.
Luke included the genealogy of Jesus in his gospel account as Matthew did. It wasn’t ‘filler.’ No, the fact is that Jesus can be rightly understood only when he is rightly identified. Luke, even though writing for a non-Jewish audience, was fully convinced of that. The story of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus and the genealogy of Jesus fit together like pieces of a puzzle designed for that arrangement. God’s affirming voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism leads logically into the details of His ancestry.
The key is that you read the Gospel of Luke like you are listening to a friend. Luke designs to pull you into all he has learned so that you will want to know Jesus. Luke is not ambivalent about your conclusions. He is determined to be sure you have all the necessary information needed to know Jesus rightly. You can trust that fact. The author clearly desires to set Jesus’ incredible victories, amazing miracles and powerful sermons in a light that will enable you to view the whole magnificent reality of His life and death. Who is this that can do what He does and say what He says? Who can say to a paralytic: “Your sins are forgiven.” and then tell him to get up and walk? To answer that, you must understand Jesus in the light of His connections as a son. He is the Son of God and the son of Adam. Jesus is like us. Jesus is very different from us.
Jesus’ connections matter. Your connections do too. Luke is prodding you and me to think carefully. Ponder the question: “Who is this Jesus?” But you also need to ponder: “Who am I?” Look at your connections. It really is true that what you know is not as significant as who you know. I know I am a son of Adam and I grasp some of what is implied by that. “Sin and want and sorrow” have been the lot of all who descended from him. In a very real sense my life is defined by that relationship. But I am very thankful for Luke’s gospel. I have come to know and love the Jesus that he loved. By faith we have a relationship. The trials that my relationship to Adam brings are transformed by my relationship to Jesus. He is the one you need to know.
“I belong to Jesus, I am not my own; all I have and all I am shall be his alone. I belong to Jesus, he has died for me; I am his and he is mine through eternity.” (Hymn by M. Fraser).
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the November 2013 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi.
Technology has changed the way children respond to a camera. Not too long ago, one might have expected timidity, but now with video cameras in cell phones, children pose and smile like they are headed for Hollywood. When particularly cute, their pictures go viral and the world marvels. When we think of the childhood of Jesus, we find ourselves wanting. No videos exist to convey whether he was cute or clever. A small picture is found in the writings of Luke (2:40-52). Though brief, that glimpse was very significant to Jesus’ mother Mary and to Luke, who preserved it for us.
It is an account of the young Jesus who willfully chose to stay in Jerusalem to spend time with his heavenly Father. According to Mary’s recollection, he ended up conversing with scholars and teachers. All were impressed. Mary was anxious and upset.
The life context of this incident is telling. Jesus grew up in a God fearing home where Scripture governed life. Luke tells us that the family went to Jerusalem yearly for the Passover feast. Jesus grew up knowing the central place of spiritual devotion in his family life. That annual trip shaped his consciousness providing structure and guidance. No doubt it was part of a routine that included the weekly observance of the Sabbath and daily religious instruction from his mother. Eventually synagogue schooling would be included alongside his duties as a carpenter’s son. Compare that to the habits that shape modern family life. A boy at the age of twelve will reflect family priorities. No doubt Jesus did. That reality brings momentum to the present story.
Notice that verses forty and fifty-two mirror one another. Jesus “grew and became strong, he was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him (NIV).” You can hear Mary telling that to Luke. Motherly affirmation followed the story as well: “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” That is the context we need for understanding Luke’s point. We readily relate to Mary’s anxiety over her twelve-year-old’s safety and provision. Her questioning of Jesus is so very human. Yet, she ultimately recognized that her boy Jesus was given wisdom, grace and goodness by his heavenly Father. Every man could see that. Hence she treasured even this anxious moment in her heart.
Now, in the light of that, take note that this incident is the earliest recorded willful decision that Jesus made as the Son of God in our flesh. It also gives us the earliest recorded words spoken by Jesus. How it was that Jesus chose to stay behind and seek his place in the temple, we are not told. But the boy Jesus was growing in wisdom. Things were happening which revealed his heart and longings even at the age of twelve. He clearly embraced his unique relation to his heavenly Father. He wanted to be in his Father’s house – the temple, the place where his heavenly Father was worshiped.
This childhood story serves several purposes. First, it challenges us. If a twelve year old can recognize the importance of our heavenly Father, shouldn’t we? Secondly, it instructs us. Jesus’ unique identity as the son of God consciously engaged his decision making even as a child. His teaching as an adult was consistent with his life as a child. The Father’s will was the end for which he lived. Thirdly, it humbles us. Mary thought of Jesus as her son. Certainly a mother would be expected to do just that. We parents think of our children as if they were really ours. When they become adults, we realize we were confused. We were only serving greater purposes. They too have a heavenly Father. His interest is that our children would “love the Lord their God with all their heart and soul and strength.” So Jesus did! That is the picture that Luke gives us from Jesus’ childhood. It is a beautiful picture, don’t you think? It is a picture that is still going viral!
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the February 2014 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi.