Jesus, Mighty Hero: Luke 3.21-38

Who are some of your favorite epics? You know, the big grand stories with heroes? The Iliad … The Odyssey … Beowulf … The Lord of the Rings … Narnia … Star Wars.

Now, who are the heroes of these epics? Can you list them? (How about Achilles … Odysseus … Beowulf … Aragorn, Bilbo and Frodo … Aslan … and the Skywalkers).

The Bible isn’t fantasy or mythology, but it does tell a story. It’s the big, wonderful, cosmic story of redemption, and I bet you know who the hero is … Jesus, right?

When we come to Luke 3.21-38 we’ve met John the Baptist. He isn’t the Christ, but he’s introducing the Christ: … he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (:16)

That’s going to be Jesus, and in the next passage we meet Jesus. We meet Jesus when He comes to be baptized, not because He needs the “baptism of repentance,” but because He’s identifying with those who do. The Godhead approves: the heavens open (one of those moments, like in Acts 7.57, when mortals see beyond the veil); the Spirit of God descends on Jesus; and, the Father speaks, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased (:22).

Then, Luke does something we moderns wouldn’t do, but something terribly effective: he gives us Jesus’ genealogy. There’s interesting things here. Jesus is linked to David, indicating that Jesus is a kingly figure; Jesus is linked to Abraham, the father of promise; and, Jesus’ linage is taken all the way back to Adam, the son of God.

Here’s the idea: Jesus is the new Adam who is God’s choice to represent all humanity. And, where Adam failed, Jesus will now succeed. He’s here to give humanity a new beginning!

After Jesus’ victory at the cross, the Apostle Paul will develop this theme in Romans 5.12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15.20-28 and 45-49. But, at this point in the epic we don’t yet know what kind of hero Jesus is. Full of humanity as He is, what will happen if you remove every Hunan advantage from Him? Will He really succeed where Adam failed?

And, what happens when Jesus meets God’s Adversary, the Devil, who will give anything, even the kingdoms of this world to which he has laid claim, to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross.

God’s choice to rescue fallen humanity is Jesus. 

Do you catch the suspense here? If Jesus can fail (and, I don’t think He can, but think about it for argument’s sake), God’s plan of redemption is ruined. The Devil wins. You and I lose, eternally. The story of redemption doesn’t get written. God isn’t gloried.

That didn’t happen. That won’t happen. And, it’s because of Jesus, our mighty hero, that we read this account in Luke with fascination to see how God the Father brought us to Himself, through His Son, Jesus.

Read through Luke 3.21-38 and answer some questions about what Luke is doing in his account. s

  1. Have you ever thought of the Bible as an epic story? If you do, what would be the setting, the complication, the climax, and the resolution?
  2. If you do think of the Bible as the big, wonderful, cosmic story of redemption, how does thinking of Jesus as the hero help you understand the story?
  3. Where are you in this story? Are you following Jesus the hero, who died to bring you into His kingdom?
  4. Have you ever thought of Jesus, the new Adam? Read through Paul’s description of Jesus and His work in Romans 5.12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15.20-28 and 45-49. How does this theme help you understand what Jesus came to do?
  5. Since Jesus is God’s choice of a mighty hero to rescue fallen humanity, what kinds of things do you want to know about Jesus? (Maybe, these are the very questions Luke will answer for us in the remainder of his gospel).

Spend some time in the Gospel of Luke. And have a great week learning about Jesus!

Responding in Repentance: Luke 3.1-20

In this week’s passage we move from Luke’s account of Jesus’ adolescence to Luke’s account of the adult life of Jesus the Christ.

But, before we read of Jesus’ mission, we learn of the mission of His slightly older cousin, John, commonly called “John the Baptist”. John introduces Jesus by calling people to turn from their sin and turn to God. This is called repentance. And, while John’s message and baptism are unique to his own ministry before Jesus comes on the scene, this passage remains instructive for us.

Why don’t you read through Luke 3.1-20? Then, discuss the following questions with someone who has, likewise, read the passage.

John uses lots of images in his teaching (vipers … fruit … axes and dead trees … straps on sandals … wheat stored away in barns … chaff that’s burned in the fire). Yet, the overarching picture from John’s prophecy is that of final judgment and accountability for sin. Why is this necessary? Why must sin be judged?

What do people think of sin and judgment and hell today? What are they giving up when they decide not to dwell on issues of ultimate justice before God?

Verse 8 gives us an indication about what some people were trusting in to shield themselves from the judgment to come? What were they trusting in? What are people trusting in today?

In verse 18, we’re told that John’s message was “good news”. In light of later verses like Romans 5.9, why is this the case? How could any message of judgment be “good”?

In the end, are we really saved by repentance alone? Or is repentance part of the greater work of God’s Spirit who leads us to Christ?

What does Herod’s treatment of John in verses 19-20 indicate about the kind of treatment those who repent of their sins and trust Jesus can expect to receive from those who don’t repent and turn to Jesus?

Overall Objective: Luke 2.41-52

What’s the overall objective of your life? Have one? Ever thought of that?

Reflecting on the Second World War, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote in his memoirs,

Advantage is gained in war and also in foreign policy and other things by selecting from many attractive or unpleasant alternatives the dominating point … failure to adhere to this simple principle produces confusion and futility of action, and nearly always makes things much worse later on (The Gathering Storm, 225).

In Luke 2.41-52, Jesus is a twelve-year-old boy. He and his parents have made the three-t0-four day journey to Jerusalem for Passover. After the ceremonies and celebrations, his parents can find Him nowhere. Three days after first missing Him, they find Jesus in the Temple listening to the teachers and asking question.

The crux of this passage lies in the relationship between verses 48 and 49.

Mother Mary: Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress. 

The boy Jesus: Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? 

Notice the contrast here, between the earthy house of Joseph and the heavenly house, located in that time (before Jesus’ official coming) in the Temple. Jesus is not being “cheeky” here. He’s saying, As a child I belonged in my earthly father’s house, but now I belong increasingly in my heavenly Father’s house where I’m seeking to know God. In other words, He’s saying, I will be obedient to you NOW, but my overall objective is to know God and do His will.

Knowing God and doing His will would eventually lead Jesus to the cross. His parents didn’t get this (:50). Later, his disciples won’t get this (See 9.44-45). And, sometimes, as we seek to know God through Jesus among doing a whole host of good things, we don’t get this!

But, we can!

We can understand that, unlike Jewish people before the coming of Jesus, we don’t need to go to a place to seek God. Instead, we seek God through Jesus, who took our sins on Himself and credits us with his perfect righteousness when we trust Him by faith. And, we can make seeking to know God through Jesus our overall objective.

So, this week I took my kids to Milwaukee on a field trip, cross-country skied (and crashed five times), visited somebody who is sick, finished a book, and tucked my four-year-old into bed.

All of these are good things, but none of them is the main thing. All of them (except crashing on skis) is a do-over, but they’re all things that have to be done in faith.

Jesus, in Luke 2.41-52, helps me with this. In this bridge passage that shows Jesus moving from childhood to adulthood, we see Jesus grappling with the tension of multiple priorities, but prevailing to make the seeking of His Heavenly Father the main thing in His life. We can do the same, by seeking God, in Jesus.

Our proper overall objective is seeking God through Jesus in every corner of our lives.


How about you? Find somebody to discuss with and have a crack at these questions after reading through Luke 2.41-52:

What can we learn from Luke 1-2 about the progress Jesus made in His humanity, as He learned to seek God? Notice the progression of Jesus as baby (2.16) … child (2.40) … boy (2.43) … and, finally, Jesus the young man (2.52). Consider also what it meant for Jesus to increase “in favor with God and man” (:52).

How practical is it to make seeking to know God through Jesus the overall objective of your life?

How practical is it to make seeking to know God through Jesus the overall objective of your life?

What would it look like to bring all your various activities and endeavors under this overall objective?

What does it actually look like when we do bring all our endeavors and activities under the objective of seeking God through Jesus? What does it look like when we don’t do this?

What will this cost us, if we do? What did it cost Jesus? 

Is it worth it? What do we gain, if we do seek God through Jesus and make this the overall objective of our lives?

What questions do you have about Jesus do you have as we move from learning about Jesus the young boy to learning about Jesus the adult teacher?






Books on my nightstand: “Lila”

During our now bygone holidays I read a little. My present reading artery relates to an idea I call “rural renewal”—the transformation of rural communities through Gospel-preaching, disciple-making work.

There’s precious little written here. But, from what exists, my favorite by far is actually fiction, a trilogy of fairly recent novels by the Iowa writer Marilynne Robinson: Gilead, Home, and Lila

Robinson’s literary landscape involves the fictional Iowa town of Gilead—in 1950s Iowa, the northwest region (my guess). John Ames, her central figure, is an aging congregationalist minister who, defying every convention, marries Lila—a deeply troubled former prostitute (though we learn this only gradually, right along with John Ames).

We’ve met Lila before, in the first two novels, and she’s married to Ames at the beginning of Lila, but how she’s come to be the pastor’s wife—after wandering into a church service to “get out of the rain”—becomes apparent only gradually throughout the book.

What I find fascinating is how Robinson, in the figure of Lila, helps me understand the sometimes maddening logic of those who act out of deep hurt. We know them. (Maybe, we are them.) We love them and only wish we could understand them better. These are those who come to our congregations seeking to be anonymous. Serve them, care for them, draw them to the center, and they bolt and are gone. Lila helps us understand why.

Lila’s early life, only a vague shadow of memory to her, involved a dysfunctional family of birth that ostracized her by leaving her on the family porch, for days on end. During one of these periods of rejection, she’s snatched up by Doll, a member of a wandering, hobo community. Doll is a strong, maternal figure who takes Lila to herself like a chick to a mother hen and comes to represent to Lila everything solid and real Lila will search for the rest of her life. Later in the novel, Lila describes the Doll “feeling”,

She wanted to rest her head on a bosom more Doll than Doll herself, to feel trust rise up in her like that sweet old surprise of being carried off in strong arms, wrapped in a gentleness warn all soft and perfect

Lila eventually finds herself alone after Doll commits murder with a “wicked, old knife” that Lila inherits and keeps under skirt. After a coterie of odd jobs over many years, Lila runs and comes to live in an abandoned shack outside the town of Gilead. There, in the lengthening shadows of the twilight each evening, Lila copies biblical passages from a Bible she’s stolen in her travels. Her favorite passage she finds in Ezekiel where Israel is described as an abandoned child the Lord has taken in, Then washed I thee with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil.

Lila wants to be that baby. And, when she meets John Ames, she does, so to speak. To that point the only constant in Lila’s life has been running. And, even after Lila meets, marries, and comes to learn that she is expecting Ames’ child, Lila is planning to, all of a sudden, walk out the front door. Her maddening logic takes on a kind of sense as Robinson narrates Lila’s personal history, right up to the critical moment when Lila, having just been baptized by Pastor Ames, reveals to Ames what has been forgiven by God,

“I worked in a whorehouse in St. Louis. A whorehouse. You probably don’t even know what that is. Oh! Why did I say that.” She stepped away from him, and he gathered her back and pressed her head against his shoulder. He said, “Lila Dahl, I just washed you in the waters of regeneration. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a newborn babe. And yes, I do know what a whorehouse is. Though not from personal experience. You’re making sure you can trust me, which is wise. Much better for both of us” (89-90).

And Lila does grow in trust. But, like all of us in life, she’s not completely healed this side of eternity. Even late in the book, newborn baby at her breast, Lila reflects on that residual tension from her former self,

The problem is, she thought, that if someday she opened the front door and there, where the flower gardens and the fence and the gate ought to be, was the old life, the raggedy meadows and pastures and the cornfields and the orchards, she might just set the child on her hip and walk out into it, the buzz and the smell and the damp of it, the breath of it like her own breath, her own sweat. Stepping back into the loneliness, a dreadful thing, like walking into cold water, waiting for the numbness to set in that was the body taking the care it could, so that what you knew you didn’t have to feel (256).

Books like Lila change our mental maps. We could read an instruction manual on how to love those struggling with deep hurt, and it might say “be kind, be patient; don’t judge, listen.” Or, we could read Marilynne Robinson and see our imaginations formed through the character of John Ames as he, haltingly and with uncertainty, loves Lila like Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5.25).

I recommend Lila with a caution. This is literature! You’ll need cold weather, hot drinks, a fire and lots of time to nibble through Robinson’s book. Discuss it with me, if you do. And, enjoy it …

I’ve returned my copy. Why don’t those of you in the area order it in through your Westboro Public Library?

Have a great read, and a great week!