Blessed Life: Luke 6.20-49

This week, after a fine celebration of our risen Lord, we reconnect with Jesus and His disciples in Luke 6.

Jesus has just chosen 12 men to learn from Him. He’s healed and cast out demons to an extraordinary measure. And, if the 12 were anything like us, I have to believe they were impressed. But then Jesus gives His Sermon on the Plain, which begins, “Blessed are the poor …” And then He goes on to describe all kinds of hardship that will be theirs when the disciples follow Jesus.

The sermon contains clusters of images, commands, principles and illustrations—some of the most memorable in the New Testament, in fact. But we can map it generally by remembering that it contains ONE blessed life (:20-26), TWO blessed responses (:27-38) and THREE pictures of blessing (:39-49).

ONE Blessed Life (:20-26). Jesus begins by describing blessing that will include poverty, actual hunger, real weeping, and being hated. We don’t want to spiritualize these results of following Jesus, because those who experience them have an advantage. The poor, for one, have nobody else to depend on. They’re less likely to be distracted and depend on themselves.

What does Jesus say we’re to do in the day when we suffer like this for Him: Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven (:23).

Jesus is just that much worth it! And the blessed life is a life of joy with sacrifice, but because of Jesus.

TWO Blessed Responses (:27-38). Then Jesus tells us how we’re to process hardship and persecution. Important to understand is that this is not about how to live in society in general. These responses are about how individual believers should live in light of Jesus’ coming while they experience  persecution because of Jesus. 

We’re to love enemies (:27-36). That’s the first response. This is radical, visible, principled and based on God’s mercy. Important is that we don’t operate in the tit-for-tat way everybody who doesn’t know Jesus expects us to act. We don’t use our wealth and resources to give everybody else what we think they have coming. And we don’t even “pay it forward” with other people, expecting to call in favors later. We do imitate the kindness and mercy of God who has forgiven us, even though we don’t deserve it. God Himself is our standard in giving and sharing.

And, we’re to look to our hearts (:37-38). Jesus is not saying we should refuse to seek justice. He is saying that we’re not to be consumed with the actions of those who hurt us. God’s estimate of our lives is based on our response, and our reward in eternity is not blessing in this life but the Father’s pleasure.

THREE Pictures of Blessing (:39-49). Jesus finishes His sermon with three parables that describe spiritual sight, spiritual words, and the spiritual life. These include the well-known pictures of the speck and the beam, the good and bad trees bearing good and bad fruit, and the house built on the rock.

Of the three, the house metaphor is the most developed. The life that endures until Jesus returns is the life built on Jesus.  Notice that it’s not the builder that saves the house, but the foundation. In the same way, the person who looks beyond the immediate insult to see Jesus who is about to come back is the blessed one. Blessing starts now and in this life, it turns out, even while we’re leaning in and waiting for Jesus’ coming.

Have a look at these questions as we think carefully about how to apply this passage.

  1. How does Jesus’ sermon sit with you? What questions do you have still? Do you find the promise of sacrifice with blessing realistic or fanciful?
  2. Why is this sermon so difficult to apply? What keeps us from becoming doormats or totally abused people in this life when we’re trying to live out Jesus’ words?
  3. Is real joy possible when we’re sacrificing for Jesus? In what sense are we blessed now?
  4. What images do you find most powerful and helpful in Jesus’ sermon?
  5. Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand about Jesus’ cross right away. How do we miss our crosses and sometimes expect to go right to glory, in the same way we’ll later see the disciples expected to enter right into the glory of the Kingdom of God. (Think of how easy it must have seemed when Jesus was doing all the “work” in 6.17-19).

Belief and Life in His Name: John 20.19-29

Easter! Resurrection Sunday! While the follower of Jesus lives in the life of the resurrected Jesus every day of the year, Easter Sunday is special!

This morning we consider John 20.19-29 and that first Lord’s Day, evening of the day Jesus arose from the dead, as well as the following Lord’s Day. Thomas missed Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples. At issue for “doubting Thomas” in our passage is not the existence of God or the fact of resurrection. (He was ancient Israelite, and he’d seen Lazarus raised, and many other miracles besides.) At issue for Thomas is the identity of the risen Lord Jesus. What Thomas doesn’t know is whether the Jesus the other disciples claim to have seen is the same Jesus he has grown to know and love and believe in.

If Jesus is a ghost or some other apparition, then Thomas has to start all over again figuring out God’s plan and purpose and what it all means for him. But, if Jesus is the same, then Thomas is right in the middle of God’s plan and can move forward with confidence.

Have a look at John 20.19-29. Note Thomas’ response. Keep in mind that our New Testament is the product of Jesus’ first followers being convinced that Jesus is alive!

  1. What about you? If you know Christ, what about the Gospel story proved satisfying to you, so that you know Jesus is alive?
  2. If you are experiencing doubt, what is the nature of your doubt?
  3. Jesus showed Himself to His disciples before sending them out to carry His Gospel to people like us. That was before He returned to the Father. How might we expect Jesus to show Himself to us today?
  4. What do you think of Augustine’s 4th century dictum: “I believe in order to understand”? How is this not a leap of blind faith? What Scripture do you think Augustine might have been thinking of?
  5. What is particularly encouraging to you about John’s account of Thomas and the other disciples?
  6. What questions do you still have?

Have a blessed Resurrection Sunday!

Jesus, Our Passover Lamb: Lk 19.28-40; 22.14-23; Ex 12.1-13

This week we jump out of our series on the Gospel of Luke to celebrate Jesus and Easter Week. But, we’re not exactly jumping out of Luke.

We’re considering three passages that show us what Jesus came to do. And all three deal with Jesus’ work as the once-and-forever Passover lamb of God.

Luke 19.28-40 describes Jesus’ arrival at the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. Most of us know this passage well. Jesus enters as the king of the Kingdom of God. In Luke’s account, Jesus responds to the complaint of the Pharisees aimed at those celebrating Jesus: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (:40).

But, Jesus doesn’t come to rule. Not yet. Instead, He comes hailed with palm branches, not trumpets. He comes to do something else before He reigns.

Question: Why did Jesus show up in Jerusalem right then and in the way He did?

Exodus 12.1-13 is about anticipating Passover with Jesus. Now we’re back in Egypt with Moses and the rabble of Hebrews who are about to become the Nation of Israel. We’ve also cleared 9 of the 10 Plagues, and God’s people are given specific instructions to eat a lamb with their shoes on their feet and their staffs in their hands. Also, they’re to paint the doorframes of their houses with the blood of this new sacrifice, the Passover lamb.

Why? Because God is about to visit judgment on all those who don’t take refuge in Him. Because Israel is about to become one new nation under God. Because this new nation is about to pass from bondage to freedom. All this must happen on the 10th day of the month known as Nisan.

Question: What does Exodus 12 have to do with Jesus? 

Luke 22.14-20 is about passing from life to death because of Jesus. Now we’re in the Upper Room with Jesus and His disciples. Jesus has entered Jerusalem on the calendar date of Nisan 10, the very day when devote Israelites would have been gathering up their lambs for Passover. In this passage, it’s Nisan 14. The lambs have been sacrificed, and Jesus celebrates Passover one last time: I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover over you before I suffer (:15).

But, Jesus doesn’t just celebrate Passover with His followers. Instead, Jesus transforms the traditional meal (that always pointed to Him!) to reflect the truth that He is the once-and-forever Passover lamb. And, in the early hours of Nisan 15, just when devout Israelites would have recalled the judgment of God falling on Israel’s enemies some 1,480 before, God’s judgment will fall on Jesus at the cross.

This was necessary because the blood of lambs can’t pay for our sins. That blood can only point to the blood of the One who can.

Just as Israel took cover under the blood of lambs, we take refuge, by faith, under the blood of Jesus. Just as Israel formed a new nation at the exodus, we come to Christ and become a new people under the New Covenant. Just as Israel ate the meal and then passed over from bondage to freedom, we pass from bondage to sin to freedom in Christ.

Because Jesus offered Himself as our Passover lamb, we have a new relationship with God, by faith and in Jesus. 

Here’s a few questions to think about as we enter Easter Week:

  1. How is it helpful to connect the different parts of Scripture in tracing themes like Jesus, the Passover Lamb? How does connecting these dots between Old and New Testaments make you want to spend time in God’s Word?
  2. Lots of people missed Jesus, because they’d celebrated Passover so long without desiring Jesus that they kinda got inoculated against God and His things? How do we need to come to God this week so that we don’t miss Jesus in the religiosity of our Easter celebrations?
  3. What to your mind is most profound about Jesus’ transformation of the Passover meal into the meal we call The Lord’s Supper? That we’ve made a new beginning, in Jesus? That we’re joined with others trusting in Jesus under the New Covenant? That we can look forward to a feast with Jesus at the renewal of all things? Or, something else …?

Have a blessed Easter Week, in the Lord!

Sacrifice with Blessing: Luke 6.12-26

Have you ever made a sacrifice? Driven to a distant town to pick up a friend from the airport? … passed on a high-calorie dessert to lose weight? … plunked down some money to take a class and learn a new skill? … given up freedom and independence to get married?

What were the blessings? What were the sacrifices?

In Luke 6.12-26, Jesus appoints His inner-ring of twelve disciples and then takes them down the mountain for a power encounter. In the presence of a “great” crowd of followers, among a “great” multitude, Jesus speaks, heals and casts out demons: And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and he healed them all (:19, ESV).

The disciples had to be impressed. Maybe, they even thought following Jesus would be easy. Just hang with the Man, Jesus, and all the blessings of the Kingdom of God are theirs, right now!

This is when, in our passage, Jesus begins to teach his followers. Pulling them apart from those who came only to be healed, Jesus gives the message some have called the “Sermon on the Plain”. In it Jesus calls His disciples (including us!) to look to our own hearts and consider what it looks like to be kingdom people following Him. There’s sacrifice with blessing. There’s blessing in the future at His return (though His disciples hadn’t learned about that yet), and there’s blessing right now in the sacrificing.

Like the prophet that He was, Jesus divides humanity into two groups: those who will experience kingdom blessing and those who will experience woe. The emphasis is on how Jesus—followers ought to respond to those who don’t heed the woes.

Jesus lists the blessings and woes in four, interlocking pairs:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God … But woe to you who are rich, for you have receive your consolation (:20/24)

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied … Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry (:21a/25a)

Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh … Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep (:21b/25b)

Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! … Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets (:22/26)

So far, Jesus has encouraged His disciples with future grace: sacrifice now, receive blessing at Jesus’ return. That would be enough to motivate the true follower, but there’s a sleeper key verse in this passage:

Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy … (:23a)

And, what day is that? The day of Christ’s return? Of course it is, but not in this passage.

It’s the day of sacrifice “on account of the Son of Man”! It’s the day when we go hungry, get made fun of, or experience momentary disadvantage, because we’re following Jesus!

The reason we rejoice now is because Jesus is really worth it! … for behold, you reward is great in heaven. Or, as Paul says in 2 Cor 4.17, For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison … 

Also, sacrificing on account of Jesus now puts us in the company of all God’s people throughout all time: … for so their fathers did to the prophets (:23b).

Finally—and this is a theme Luke will record Jesus developing through the gospel—there is enormous blessing NOW, in this life, while we sacrifice.

This blessing will include the Spirit of God to guide us. This blessing will include God’s grace to help us with everything God asks us to do—material need or otherwise. And, this blessing will include a new family: My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it, Jesus will soon say (8.21).

Following Jesus means sacrifice with blessing now, with the fulness of blessing yet to come!

That’s good news when I see that following Jesus costs me something. My life, in fact. That’s good news, because once I’ve started following Jesus, I learn that life with Jesus is about joy in the midst of sacrifice. And that makes me want to leap!

Take a minute to consider some of these penetrating questions from Luke 6.12-26.

  1. How does this passage sit with you? How much are you like the disciples, hoping perhaps for instant success and victory?
  2. What potential sacrifices scare you the most?
  3. How much does future grace (future reward and blessing in the presence of Jesus) motivate you in following Jesus?
  4. Where do you see God’s blessing in your life now? How has God surprised you in this?