Here we see that Jesus gathered 72 of His disciples and commissioned them to go down to Judea in order to bring the good news of the coming of the Messiah to the people there. They were to prepare the Jews for His ministry for Jesus knew that he was about to journey to Jerusalem to sacrifice His life for the sins of all mankind.
The disciples expressed amazement over the fact that they could perform miracles and cast out demons in the name of Jesus. Yet Jesus made it clear that the greatest miracle is the fact their names are written in the Book of Life, that is, they are members of God’s kingdom and household. They should be at enmity with God because they are sinners, but God has accepted them by His grace because of what Jesus is about to do.
Today much is made of miracles. They do occur at the will of God and always are designed to lead people to Christ for they are a testimony of His power and of the truth of the gospel of grace. Yet many people to Church primarily for miracles, and many preachers and churches feed off of this desire for miraculous signs. Now we all would love to be part of a miracle, we all would love to be healed and delivered from all our woes and temptations. Many of us too seek the power to do so for others. Yet miracles are not the greatest example of God’s love and power. The greatest miracle is that we can dwell in the presence of a Holy God. Though we are all sinners deserving of God’s punishment, God chooses to save us by His grace manifested in the sacrifice of Christ. Those who benefit from miracles will all suffer again and die but those who have their name written in the Book of Life will live eternally in the presence of a Holy God. Forgiveness, salvation and oneness with God are the greatest joys we humans can know.
Jesus was performing so many mighty miracles as well as casting out demons that it became hard for Him to move about freely and conduct ministry because of the crowds. For this reason He sent His 12 apostles out into Galilee to do the work He was doing. He had the authority to give them the power to do what He did and so they went forth in His Name as His servants with His authority. The mighty works Jesus performed were proof of His divine status, and the Transfiguration confirmed that, though this event was only witnessed by three of His apostles. Despite all this many people, including Herod, were not sure who He was or even if He were the Messiah.
What people believe about Jesus is what divides humanity. Jesus Himself indicates here that there is no way to serve Him halfway. Those who say they believe in Him must believe that He is Lord God and Savior and must live their lives for Him, not for self. Those who reject Him as Lord God and/or Savior really cannot call themselves Christians because Jesus revealed Himself as both. Neither can they who say He was just a good man, just a good philosopher with ideas and thoughts that are on a par with other thinkers and philosophers. And if we accept the revelation of Christ then we must follow Him and walk in obedience to what he has commanded us to do. There are no compromises or other options.
Although Jesus is able to work mighty miracles, even doing things that we think impossible, in the parable of the sower He tells us that He cannot save everyone although He desires to do so. God’s word is proclaimed in word and in deed but not everyone who hears it, not everyone who is blessed by His miracles responds in a positive manner. Some seem to accept God’s word but the lusts of the flesh and the pull of the world are too great or else the cares and worries seem too hard to overcome. These people eventually reject God. Those who do really believe in Jesus based on what He has said, who place their trust in Him do overcome such obstacles and change their lives but only because He enables them to do so. These true believers manifest the love and mercy of God and cannot keep it to themselves.
The faith that Jesus gives to those who accept Him should be a great comfort to us. We derive great comfort and peace as we see when He calms the storm at sea and then when He delivers the Gadarene demoniac. Such power over the natural forces in the world and over demons is a great encouragement and an enormous relief to us. If Jesus can control the weather then we really should realize that He certainly has the power to help us. We should serve and honor Him. If Jesus can cast out demons then He can help us overcome Satan’s attacks on us. In addition, we who are in Christ have no real fear of the power of Satan. The devil and his minions have no real power over God’s children. His temptations can be defeated not by human effort or acts of the will. In addition he has no real power over us for though he may afflict us with much suffering and heartaches these always occur within limits set by the Lord.
Here we see how Jesus healed the servant of the Roman centurion, a man who is commended as an exemplar of faith. As a military officer he was used to giving orders and knowing that they would be obeyed without hesitation. He believed that Jesus had similar authority for he had probably heard that when Jesus pronounced words of healing and restoration, what He said never failed to happen. He knew that Jesus just had to say the word and it was done. He did not have to petition Him over and over again, nor did He have to request a sign to increase his belief.
Jesus demonstrated that he had power even over death. To the Jews, the works Jesus performed were signs that He was a great prophet on a par with Elijah and Elisha. But He was greater than both of them and greater even than John the Baptist. John led people to repentance but Jesus actually forgave them their sins.
We may take this idea of forgiving sins a little too lightly for we are in the habit of forgiving people all the time for a wide range of offenses. Or at least we say we do but yet we hold grudges, we forgive with conditions or reservations, we judge people on past actions that we say have been forgiven. But Jesus actually forgave sins, absolved people from guilt and without any conditions. Yet when He forgives, He knows the heart of the sinner and makes it possible for that one to really change as He gives strength and power to overcome temptation.
After Jesus was baptized, he went out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. This tells us that Jesus’ ministry is one in which He will do battle with the devil. In the opening confrontation, Jesus is the winner: He does not succumb to the temptations. Then He went to Nazareth to officially proclaim the start of His ministry. He was going to attack and destroy the works of the devil and the consequences of sin by preaching the good news of God’s love to the hurting and oppressed people. In addition He would heal the sick, give sight to the blind and cast out demons. These actions will greatly affect Satan’s hold on the world.
The temptations that the devil used to try and trap Jesus show us that he may not really have known who he was dealing with. Jesus was not able to sin, but Satan did not know this. The incident shows that Satan has a command of scripture as he can cite it from memory. Though he cannot fool Jesus, he can and often does fool us. He may tempt those in the world with the lusts of the flesh, but we Christians often require a more subtle form of temptation, one that uses God’s word to justify fleshly and selfish behavior. If we can use Scripture to justify such actions it may seem as if God wants us to act in a certain way.
Satan also works through false prophets who twist God’s word so that it seems that God’s will is that all His children deserve to indulge themselves, to be healthy, wealthy, famous and proud. Thus we can live like the world because we think that it is what God wants when in reality it is what we want. When we fall prey to the devil in this way, then we are useless to God.
In this last section of Luke’s opening chapter we encounter two great songs of praise. The first is sung by Mary. Mary was amazed yet humbled that God had chosen her for the great blessing and responsibility of bearing the Messiah, the Son of God. She knew that it was not by her choice or her actions because she was a sinner like all human beings and in need of a savior herself. She expressed wonder that the Lord exalted the lowly. She proclaimed that the glorious Lord called the least likely people to accomplish His work, the poor, downtrodden and weak, not the rich, famous and mighty.
The second hymn of praise was sung by Zachariah. The words that he uttered joined with Mary’s in proclaiming the greatness of God. Zachariah rejoiced in the fact that our God is ever faithful and always keeps His promises. He is a God who delights to extend mercy. His ways and His will confound human beings because He does things contrary to what the world thinks is best. He always favors and blesses the lowly, the humble, the insignificant, and uses them to accomplish His greatest works.
Here we find great news for all of us. God can use us despite that fact that we are sinners and feel totally inept and unrighteous. In addition, we find two great examples of humility for us to emulate. Both Mary and Zachariah knew that God had chosen them and not the other way around. They great blessing entrusted to them was not a cause for self-exaltation or pride. They sought no praise for themselves but praised God for His awesome power and love. This stands in contrast to our culture where most people, even Christians seek fame and glory for themselves and their accomplishments. They have forgotten that God has blessed them with their talents and that they are responsible to use them for His glory.
The angel of the Lord appeared later to Mary to tell her that she was to give birth. Yet, unlike her kinsman, Zachariah, Mary was a simple country girl, unschooled in the scriptures. Still she knew the Lord and had faith in Him. She knew He was capable of mighty deeds, yet the message the angel Gabriel gave her made no sense since the supernatural conception of a child by the Holy Spirit was something never heard of before. This is why she did not share the punishment of Zachariah. In addition, Mary was willing to do what the Lord commanded even if she did not fully comprehend how it was to happen.
Mary was willing to do the Lord’s will even though she did not understand it fully, if at all, nor did she seem to say anything about how it would affect her. Though she was guilty of no sin in this matter, this pregnancy would cause her to suffer gossip ostracism in her community as she became pregnant under what Jewish society would deem shady if not sinful circumstances. In today’s world, however, unwed pregnancies are common. They are not considered shameful but accepted and normal. Even many Christians see nothing sinful about fornication as it is so common. What is the harm?
The Word of God tells us to flee fornication as it is always a sin. We ought to have faith in what God says is sinful and harmful for us without question even though our culture and our peers see nothing wrong with it. God says it is so and we must trust Him implicitly, just as Mary did. In her acceptance of the Lord’s will we find a great statement of faith, one which we would be wise to emulate.