Wow. We’re halfway there.
Mark and Matthew are under our belts.
Tonight we’ll sample Luke
and then John tomorrow.
How are we doing? Feeling sick?
Like you’re gorged on ice cream?
If you feel like you’re going to throw up,
we politely invite you to do it outside.
Let’s turn to Luke.
We’ve heard the good news of God’s strange success from Mark—
that God gives good news to human failure.
And we’ve heard the good news of fulling the law from Matthew—
not only are our sins forgiven but that we can begin being saved from them right now.
And now let’s see what kind of good news Luke gives us:
(1.1-4) Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
When Mark wrote his gospel, it was revolutionary.
He was writing something unlike anyone had ever seen—
a kind of biography whose subject had conquered death.
And if what he wrote was true, then it matters.
It matters greatly.
There’s someone who has conquered death.
And Matthew spelled it out even more explicitly at the end of his gospel:
this someone is king—he’s been given all authority.
By the time Luke is writing, these kind of stories have been circulating.
We know because he tells us that he knows about them.
And he feels like he needs to write one.
He wasn’t there for any of Jesus’ life or work or death or resurrection,
but he’s talked to people who were close to the events.
And now he’s putting together this gospel for someone he knows (Theophilus).
But since we have no idea who Theophilus was,
and since Theophilus (a common name of the day) means “lover of God”
maybe it’s fair that this story is for anyone who meets that description.
After this short introduction and dedication he begins his story.
He begins not only before the birth of Jesus
but even before the birth of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist’s parents are visited by an angel before he’s born
and told that their son is going to be that Elijah-like figure
that prepares the way for the Israel’s Lord (1.5-25).
The good news is that your son is going to fulfill prophecy.
The bad news is he’s going dress like a camel.
Then that angel comes to visit Mary.
(1.26-33) “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
So the angel arrives and says, listen you’re going to have a baby.
And the really incredible part is that he’s going to be a king who reigns forever.
His kingdom will never end.
(v34) “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
A reasonable question.
The angel answered, […um, did I mention the really incredible part?]
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
The Holy Spirit is going to come on you
and power of the Most High will overshadow you.
That just about clears things up.
The Spirit of God is going to come on you, Mary.
And he’s going to make the impossible possible.
You’re going to give birth to a king.
A king straight from God.
The Son of God.
Mary responds that she’s willing to participate in what God has planned (1.38)
and If you skip down about a dozen verses, we can see hear a little more from her.
Starting in verse 46, you see can see a bit of poetic writing.
It’s like a psalm or a song got included right in the middle of Luke’s story.
It’s like that because it is that.
Evidently Luke really liked music
because this is just the first song that he works into his story.
It would probably be helpful to mark up this song in your Bibles—
maybe underline phrases “God my Savior”
and basically all of verse 52 and 53.
Those are good guides for Luke.
Luke is the only gospel-writer to include this song and other songs like it,
so this is a really good place for us to taste the flavor of his story.
So let’s listen to it:
(1.46f) And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
(v52) He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
I grew going to church, hearing sermons,
playing dodgeball on Wednesday nights
(where you had to quote a Bible verse if you got hit),
but I don’t ever remember hearing someone talk about this passage.
Maybe someone did read it to me,
and I wasn’t listening.
Whatever the case, when I finally listened to this passage as an adult,
I was absolutely startled.
This is part of Jesus’ birth that I never really considered—
part of the Christmas story I’d never really listened to.
In the ancient Roman world, people married a lot younger than we do today.
(Part of the reason is because they died a lot younger than we do today.)
A woman often was married before we’d even call her a “woman.”
Maybe by the time she was thirteen.
Probably barely a teenager.
And she’s singing this dangerous song.
This is really charged language.
The proud and the arrogant will be scattered (v51).
The rulers brought down from their thrones (v52).
Think about what that might sound like today:
The powerful—tycoons, celebrities, lawyers, all of ‘em—are going to be scattered.
The rulers—senators, congressmen, presidents—aren’t going to be in charge anymore.
Because God is going to lift up the humble.
God is going to feed and care for those who are hurting and hungry.
But the millionaires and billionaires are going to be sent away with nothing.
This is a song that makes people who have it all together,
people who pride themselves on self-sufficiency,
people who are fat and happy and in-control
—this song makes them very nervous.
Mary is a singing about a kind of revolution—
That God is about to turn the world upside-down.
The vulnerable and the poor and the lowly and the humble—
the people who are desperate and despised and forgotten and forsaken—
are finally going to find rescue.
Because the God of Israel—
the god of Isaiah the prophet and the Jerusalem-dwellers (in Mark),
the god of Abraham and David and exile (in Matthew),
the god of our Old Testament—
is remembering all that he promised to his people (v55).
He’s about to have mercy (v54).
He’s about to show that he really does deserve
to be called “God my Savior” (v47).
That’s what the gospel of Luke tastes like.
The big story is still the same as Mark and Matthew:
Jesus is announcing the kingdom of God,
dying on the cross, rising from the dead,
and showing himself to be the king of the kingdom.
But in Luke, we’re going to see what God’s salvation looks like.
God’s rescue, God’s deliverance, God’s salvation
very often turns the world as we understand it upside-down
and radically reorders everything we expect.
Just look at chapter two, and you’ll see what I mean.
If you’ve ever watched Charlie Brown at Christmas then this passage is probably familiar.
But maybe now you’ll taste a little more Luke in it:
(2.8-14) And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Side note—do you remember who it was that Mary called “my Savior” in her song?
“God my Savior” (1.46).
And now “a Savior has been born to you” (2.11).
God and Jesus share the same title in the gospel of Luke.
I just think that’s interesting.
So an angel had appeared to a 13-year-old girl to let her know
that she would be the mother of a king who would reign forever.
And now an angel is appearing to the farmhands of Jerusalem.
The best kind of news is arriving.
News that will bring joy for all people.
Shepherds were the lowest of the low.
They were considered peasants on their best day
and outlaws on their worst.
They had such a reputation for dishonesty
that they weren’t even allowed to testify in court.
They’re not the most educated of Judean society—
not making it into the ivy league schools of Jerusalem.
And they smell.
I know that seems like a petty thing to complain about,
but I have to hold my breath when they get close.
It’s this kinda stale combination of body odor and grass and sheep filth.
And yet these are the people who get invited to come see a baby wrapped in cloths.
It’s not the people we want to be around
who get the first invitation to see the long-awaited king.
It’s not the tan, smooth-skinned glamorous and popular and powerful.
It’s the questionable, the uneducated, the least-deserving, the embarrassing.
The people we try to forget about.
Those are the people that get a birth announcement—a Savior has been born.
Just look for the scared teenagers in that backwater town.
They’ve laid the Savior in a food trough—in stable feed box.
This is an absurd story.
After the birth of Jesus, Luke tells a little bit about Jesus after he’s born—including a story from when he’s twelve years old and already baffling the PhDs of his day—and then we begin to catch up to where Mark began.
Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist,
then he endures temptation in the desert,
and then he gets to work.
And so in chapter four, Luke is the only gospel
to tell the story of Jesus rejected in his hometown
as the very beginning of Jesus’ public work. Before he does anything else according to Luke,
Jesus goes home and begins teaching the people who have always known him.
(4.16) He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.
Everyone loves him in Nazareth.
He’s a hit in his hometown.
Who wouldn’t love this message?
Good news to the poor,
freedom for prisoners,
sight for the blind,
freedom for the oppressed?
But then in verses 23 through 27, Jesus begins telling them that the ultimate aims of God are way bigger than just Nazareth or Galilee or Jerusalem.
“You remember the stories of Elijah and Elisha?
“How they helped the most unlikely of people way back when?
“That’s what I’m going to be doing. I’m interested in bringing deliverance and rescue and salvation to the people you’ve written off—even the people you count as enemies.”
Try going into a church that’s singing “God Bless America,”
and asking them to sing “God Bless the World” (or “God Bless North Korea”)
and you’ll understand the reaction he gets:
(v28) All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
It’s like Luke is saying, this is what all of the work of Jesus is all about.
Because that’s what happens when God’s Spirit arrives.
He starts announcing good news of great joy for all people
and the world starts getting turned upside-down.
The people who should “get it,”
the people who should be “blessed”
the people closest to Jesus,
want to kill Jesus.
And the people “on the outside,”
the people we think are questionable,
the people we’ve written off (and we think God has written off)
experience the salvation of God.
This is a huge part of Luke’s story.
And it will be even bigger in his sequel called Acts—
where (by in large) Israel itself refuses to believe the good news of God’s salvation
but the rest of world begins to follow the long awaited king of Israel.
To follow Jesus and have their entire lives reordered by him.
Now, this invitation to follow Jesus is central to all of the gospels
but Luke weaves it into his story in a unique way.
About a third of his story—the middle third—
describes Jesus himself on a journey.
The journey to Jerusalem to die.
(9.51) As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
(13.22) Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.
(13.33) …I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
(17.11) Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee…
(18.31) “We are going up to Jerusalem…”
(19.28) After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
So the for the middle third of Luke’s gospel (9.51 — 19.45)
those who around Jesus are literally having to follow him.
And like any good road-trip,
this middle section of Luke has got a “greatest hits album” playing.
You may not have realized it, but some of Jesus’ most powerful stories—some of Jesus’ “greatest hits”—show up only here on this journey to Jerusalem in Luke.
Like the story of a good samaritan helping a half-dead man on the road to Jericho.
Samaritans were absolutely despised by the people of Jesus’ day
and religious figures (like priests and Levites) were highly admired.
But Jesus goes out of his way to makes a Samaritan into the hero
and tell us we should be like him.
And then there’s a story a man so rich that he needs to build bigger barns handle it all. He’s making all of his plans to secure his future, but he dies in middle of the night.
We often envy people with tons of money and giant insurance plans
but they’re just as fragile as the rest of us—maybe even more.
And who could forget the story a prodigal son welcomed back by his loving father?
God is the kind of God who finds the lost—lost sheep, lost coins, lost sons.
And he celebrates more when the wicked repent and when the pitiful return
than when people think that they’ve never been lost.
Everything is upside down.
In another “greatest hit,”
Jesus tells a story of a rich man (who is obviously blessed by God)
and a sore-covered beggar named Lazarus (who is obviously cursed by God).
But after they die,
the curtain is thrown back,
and the truth is something like the opposite.
The rich man finds himself in torment,
and the beggar finds himself comforted.
Or here’s another story from along the way:
(18.9-14) To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The Pharisee knows that he’s got it together,
the tax collector knows that he’s a mess.
And the person who is a mess—
the person who knows they deserve nothing and begs for mercy—
that’s the person who is in right relationship with God.
Every story that this “Savior born to us” is telling on his way to Jerusalem,
challenges us to rethink every part of the world:
who we’ve written off,
what we think will bring us security,
what we’re aiming at in life,
—he’s asking us to rethink everything.
What kind of “riches” do we spend our time thinking about?
That we say somewhere within us,
“If I could get that—
that thing, that recognition, that relationship, that moment in life—
THEN I would be ok.”
And what if Jesus is telling us that it’s a lie?
What if he’s whispering that we’ll finally be ok
when begin to admit that we’re a mess and beg for mercy?
In the gospel of Luke, we’re in the most danger
when we think we’re the most secure.
But when we finally accept our poverty—
when we admit we’ve got no way to save ourselves or secure our life—
then and only then are we finally safe.
We’ll finally be found
when we admit that we’re lost.
When we finally need a Savior we’ll finally be saved.
Because that’s exactly who God is—God my Savior.
That’s exactly what Jesus does.
He comes to seek and to save the lost.
That’s the point of a story as Jesus is on the last leg of his journey to Jerusalem.
when he meets a wee little man named Zacchaeus in Jericho.
(19.1-10) Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Whatever kind of person Zacchaeus may have been before Jesus,
when the Savior born to us comes to his house—
when salvation himself comes to his house—
suddenly everyone sees a radically reordered life.
His life, his energy, his resources,
are no longer about him.
They’re about others.
What if your life isn’t merely
for consuming more and more media,
or collecting more and more clothes,
or getting more and more followers,
or playing more and more games,
or building bigger and bigger barns?
That’s pretty much all we see around us,
but what if life is better than that?
What if God is giving real and deep and lasting life,
and we’re too proud, too busy, too rich,
to even hear the good news of great joy?
God wants you to taste the best kind of life.
What if you’re being called to Jerusalem?
What if you’re being invited to live for the good of others?
That’s what Jesus does.
As he’s dying on the cross in Luke,
Jesus is still thinking of others,
still serving others,
still acting on their behalf.
He’s praying blessing over the very people who are executing him:
(23.34a) “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
He’s giving comfort to the criminal next to him, even while he’s bleeding out:
(23.43b) “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It’s like on the cross Jesus himself becomes
the humblest of the humble,
the weakest of the weak,
the poorest of the poor,
the lowest of the low,
and has to entrust himself to God in the midst of darkness and death:
(23.46) “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
and then God raises him from the dead.
The poor really are remembered.
the humble really are lifted up,
the hungry really are filled,
What if you tasting God’s salvation,
what if you following Jesus into a life of resurrection,
what if you really experiencing that good news of great joy—
means that your life has got to be radically reordered?
The question is
“Am I willing to take up the cross daily
[Luke’s the only one who includes that word “daily”]
and follow Jesus?”
Follow him to Jerusalem.
Follow him to the cross.
To the place of radical, self-giving love.
Based on what Jesus says at Zacchaeus’ house,
salvation “coming to us” is about something way bigger than just “saving your soul.”
It’s about radically reordering all of the world now.
It’s about radically reordering all of your life now.
Who are the people that you’ve written off?
The people you really don’t want to be associated with?
The people you’d be just fine leaving half-dead on side of the road?
What if tasting life as it was meant to be lived,
means your life has got to be about helping them and loving them? (cf. 14.1-14)
What if Jesus told you that you’ll finally experience security
when you start seeking the security of others? (cf. 16.1-14)
What if your time, your resources, you energy—your very life—
are meant to be given away?
As Luke ends his gospel,
he gives us a few details about the disciples
actually meeting Jesus after his resurrection.
Jesus is walking with them on the road and they don’t recognize him (24.13-35),
he’s appearing out of thin air and speaking peace over them (24.36)
he’s asking for fish to eat to prove he’s not a ghost (24.37-43).
You wouldn’t make this stuff up.
It’s just too weird.
And then Jesus explains to them again and again that his dying and rising
is what all of the Hebrew Scriptures were pointing toward (24.25-27, 44-47).
Somehow—for some reason—It had to happen.
And now they’re going to be tell the world about him.
Luke ends his gospel with the disciples waiting (v48-53).
Waiting for God’s Spirit to descend on them in a unique way
so they can continue to do what Jesus did.
So they can continue to turn the world upside down.
So they can continue to have their lives radically reordered,
and invite the world to live in a better way.
And they did. Because we’re here.
(You can read about it if you want in the book of Acts.)
Unless you’re Jewish by birth, we’re all the outsiders—
all the people who were on the outside of God’s story
but are now included in the salvation of God.
The good news of great joy is for us too.
May we long for God to descend on us as well
so that we can live better lives than what we’re being sold.
May we be humbled and realize our poverty,
so that can we find security in God’s provision.
May God’s salvation radically reorder our lives,
so that we can embody good news of great joy to all people,
especially those we might think deserve it least.