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Advent 2, Year C–Luke 3:1-6

For use in my own preaching, I moved this Advent reading to week 3 (December 16) as the sermon text. The reason? I started working on Luke 3:1-6 for week two, but it blew up to about four thousand words (which is about one thousand too many) so I cut it in half, changed the form on the first part, and made it two different sermons. The point of my little opening aside here? These lines here at the beginning of Luke 3 can take you to many different places, and most of them are good.

The historian inside Luke screams out as he gives us a backdrop of the time period we are in and the location where things are happening.

. . . the reign of Tiberius, Pontius Pilate . . . Herod . . . Philip tetrarch of the region . . . Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene . . . priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas . . . in the wilderness .. the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance fo the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 3:1-2

We know when we are, which is important because Chapter 2 ended with the boy Jesus in the temple. Luke is reminding us we’ve shifted to the future when Jesus is no longer a child, and the powers in this world are political and religious. In contrast to these powers, John The Baptist is preaching something difference. He is preaching forgiveness and repentance. So Luke, the ever careful writer gives us who, what, when, and where.

The part of this text which most people will focus on, and rightly so, is the quotation from Isaiah’s vision of the future. This is the why.

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Luke 3:4-6

I’m preaching this passage in ten days, so I will not show all my cards. Let me just point out three things about this amazing text.

  1. Luke doesn’t say John is saying this. In our imagination we often put these words in The Baptist’s mouth. That is a mistake. This is Luke’s interpretation of who John is and what prophetic function he fulfills. It is often other people, and later generations, who are benefited and understand our work the most.
  2. It is hard to know what is meant in the opening of the prophesy. A clear reading is nearly impossible, and in every language it seems to be muddled. I have never been fully satisfied. It could be, “The voice of one crying, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” as if a person is crying out that the highway should be built in the wilderness. Or, is it “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord” where the wilderness is more about where the person is shouting and not necessarily where the road is to be built. Either way, though, the Lord is coming and you better be ready.
  3. Luke, and the other gospel writers as well, see this passage then as a connected to the message of repentance and forgiveness, and continues, in the rest of Luke 3, to wed these ideas with ethical behavior, fairness, and integrity. It is about this time we should remind ourselves this was a huge part of the prophetic message in the Old Testament, including Isaiah. Belief and faith are important, but if they are disconnected from ethical behaviors all that remains is superstition.

 

 

 

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The Old Testament and Resurrection

Yesterday in the Easter Sermon I spent a good bit of time talking about five key verses of scripture from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, that point to a view of life after death. We would rightly call these resurrection verses in light of Jesus and the empty tomb, as well as the explicit teaching of the New Testament, particularly landmark passages like 1 Corinthians 15.

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Me preaching on Easter, or am I playing Rock, Paper, Scissors?

 

The compilation of these five verses comes from Millard Erickson’s epic theology book Christian Theology, on page 1201 of my copy. It is not in his section on the work of Jesus, but rather on “Last Things” which I find fascinating. So, if you missed them yesterday because you were dazzled by my homiletics (or, like most of the 7 or 8 billion people in the world, weren’t there) here they are.

  1. Isaiah 26:19, “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.  You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.  Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”
  2. Daniel 12:2  “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
  3. Psalm 49:15, “But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself”
  4. Psalm 17:15 “And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”

Erickson doesn’t list Job’s ancient words. I find this to be a glaring omission, for they are the most New Testament sounding of them all and are my personal favorite. As I said, it is part of my funeral liturgy, and for good reason.

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-26).

I’d like to point out as well that Erickson does in his work what theologians always do–offer serious caution about reading too much into these words. I know where he is coming from, but I think his caution is too strong. The Bible teaches us about Jesus, and though the language is imprecise in the Hebrew texts, it is still applicable and I believe appropriate at Easter.

DESERT ISLAND DEVOTION

A cruel, mean-spirited thought entered my mind this morning.  It was so heartbreaking I just had to share it with you.

What if, in some bizarro Rod Serling moment, you were marooned on an island.  You had plenty of supplies to live out your life to a long old age, so food, water, and shelter were not problem.  The problem was in this nightmarish world you could only choose five of the books in the Bible to have with you.  It is a similar conundrum to the ubiquitous “Psalm 126” where you’re stranded and can only have five albums of music.

Told another way–perhaps you’re stuck in a bleak story, something like Fahrenheit 451, and you can only have five books of the Bible because that is all you can safely hide from the book police.

Which five would you take?  It is heartbreaking because the whole Bible is precious, a “perfect treasure” that is linked to my very being.  So which ones?  If I had to make such a choice, here is what they would be.

  1. Psalms.  Without a doubt, if I’m on a desert island, I’m gonna need Psalms–all 150 of them.
  2. Isaiah.  It was close between Jeremiah and Isaiah, but in the end I decided the poetics of Isaiah would be helpful in my exile.
  3. Exodus.  I can’t have both Genesis and Exodus, and while Genesis is a great book, I think I’d take Exodus because it contains the great deliverance story of Israel, the decalogue, and a lot of other spiritual data.
  4. LukeJohnLuke.  John.  See, this one is tough.  Of the synoptics, Luke is the easy choice, but choosing between Luke and John, now that is hard.  I need a gospel on this island, and in the end I chose John simply because of the devotional, meditative quality of the material.
  5. Romans.  Of course it is Romans.  Romans contains such dense theological material and it is littered with many scripture quotations (which gives me insight into other books I couldn’t choose) all of which allows me plenty to chew on on this imaginary island.

I sure hope I never have to make this choice.  I would be interested to know what choices you would make?

ROMANS, CHAPTER THREE–FROM THE GREEK TEXT

So, I’m a little behind schedule.  I hope to make up time during the month of June and still finish this translation of the New Testament letter from Paul the Apostle to the church in Rome before Independence Day.

Translation Notes:  In rendering this particular passage, I opt for the phrase ‘made righteous’ where a lot of English translations choose ‘justified’ to allow the English reader to perceive it is all the same word group. Also note, my verses 25 and 26 are very different from most English translations. I don’t really know what their problem is?

Theological Notes:  In my opinion the key text here is Romans 3:22 & 23, with its ringing judgment that everyone, Jew and gentile alike, are not righteous before God but through faith they are able to receive grace.  This is the main work of Romans 3, to put everyone on equal footing.  God doesn’t play favorites, as we were told in Chapter 2, and Paul is telling us that here is the proof, proof that has been there all along, according to his long string of quotations from Psalms, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Proverbs in verses 10-19.

Chapter Three
1. What, then, is the Jewish advantage, and what exactly is the benefit of circumcision?
2. A lot, and in every possible way. It is primarily because they were entrusted with the words of God.
3. So what if some of them were unfaithful, did their lack of faith nullify the faith of God?
4. Of course not! People are liars, but God is true, just as it is written, “So that you will be vindicated in your words and victorious in your trials.”
5. Humanly speaking, then, if the righteousness of God leads to our unrighteousness, what can we say? Is God unrighteous in bringing the wrath?
6. Never! How then could God judge the world?
7. But if my lie magnified God’s truth and glory, then why am I being judged as a sinner?
8. And why not say—as we are slandered as having said—that we should do evil so good might come of it? Those who say this of us deserve their condemnation.
9. What now? Are we better? Not at all, for we determined beforehand that both Jews and gentiles are sinners.
10. Just as it is written, “There is no one righteous.
11. No one understands, no one seeks God.
12. Everyone turned away together, becoming useless. No one shows kindness, not even one.
13. Their throat has become an opened grave. Their tongues deceive. Asp venom is upon their lips.
14. Their mouths, full of curses and bitterness.
15. Their feet, swift to shed blood.
16. Ruin and misery is their way.
17. They have not known the way of peace.
18. The fear of God is not before their eyes.”
19. We know at least this much, that the law says it shuts every mouth of those under it, and eventually the whole world shall be held accountable to God.
20. Therefore, because of this sin consciousness, it is not from works of law that all people will be made righteous before him,
21. but now the righteousness of God has been made clear apart from the law as attested to by the law and the prophets.
22. Through the faith of Jesus Messiah the righteousness of God is for all those believing, for there is no difference.
23. For everyone has sinned and come up short of the glory of God.
24. They are being made righteous as a gift of his grace through the redemption that is in Messiah Jesus.
25. God designed a place of propitiation with blood by his faith as proof of his righteousness, by overlooking their sins committed beforehand.
26. God’s tolerance toward us back then is proof of his righteousness right now, to the righteous and those he is making right by the faith of Jesus.
27. Where then does all this boasting come from? That was done away with, but by what kind of law? Works? No—not at all, but through the law of faith.
28. For we reason people are made righteous in faith without works of the law.
29. Is God of the Jews only? Not also the gentiles? Yes, yes, in every way.
30. If true, then God will make righteous those circumcised by faith and those uncircumcised through faith as well.
31. Do we therefore abolish the law because of faith? Never. Instead we keep the law.

Romans, Chapter One

Romans, Chapter Two