In the passage before us we find the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here Jesus exhorts us to clean up the mess of anyone and everyone He happens to place in our way. Our neighbor is not merely the person who lives next door or down the street. Our neighbor is anyone in need of God’s mercy. We are to show love by doing good works for people we do not know, people we do not like, and who may not like us.
In addition Jesus makes it clear to His listeners, including His disciples, all of whom were Jews, that the good news was to be shared with all people of all ethnic groups and nationalities and religious backgrounds. The good news of God’s mercy in Jesus is even for people that we hate and despise. This went against the ideas and legalistic theology of the religious zealots of Jesus’ day and even of our own contemporary times. Legalists are too busy keeping the letter of the Law and misleading others into doing the same while ignoring the spirit of the Law which is to lift the burden of sin off the shoulders of the oppressed and downtrodden, not subject them to a grim slavery of vain law keeping.
Rather than legalism, we need to show love, the love exemplified by the Samaritan, not the kind of love our culture promotes. Love is not a feeling, a sexual urge, an idea or an impulse. Love is expressed by deeds and actions. James wrote in his epistle show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works. Good works flow out of faith and love. They are just as much proclamations of the gospel as preaching. We help people who need what we can give. And we do it with love and kindness. We do not withhold charitable acts simply because we disagree with a person or they are pagan or they are sinners. Works as well as words preach the gospel.
The portion of this chapter termed the Sermon on the Plain is Jesus’ teaching on discipleship. Jesus directed the sermon only to His disciples whom He has just called. Thus Jesus outlines for them and us the characteristics of the life to which He had called them. Discipleship is marked by persecution, injustice, insults, and loss but also by blessing and joy. Joy results from the love that the disciples would display for the Lord and their enemies even in the midst of trials. This love is what opposes and overcomes evil. This is in fact what God the Father does for all of us and since we are His servants, we are expected to do the same.
The teaching we find here is one of the most difficult passages in the Bible. It is not difficult to understand, but it is difficult to put into action. Not only are we to forgive people who mistreat us, we are to love them. We are to do good to those who persecute us. Love goes beyond just mere forgiveness. If we love those who insult us, we will choose not to retaliate or seek revenge. We will not only choose to not take offense, but we will go out of our way to bless them. The love that Christ commands here is not merely an emotional feeling or a positive regard for someone. It is a radical action performed in response to oppression, abuse and malice.
The trouble is how we can behave like this when traveling on the subways and highways during rush hour or shopping at our favorite store for this love contradicts the all that the world values. We want to lash out, to get even, have the upper hand for such is the way of the world. No one wants to get stepped on or viewed as weak but the weak are the ones who get into the Kingdom of God. They know they need a Savior.
In this chapter we see Jesus acting in ways that demonstrate that He had come to change the world in a radical way. He would change religion and worship as He swept away the old and replaced it with the new. He called as His disciples simple fishermen and sinners such as Levi. These are to be the ministers in the new covenant, not the descendants of the Levites, not the priests and teachers of the Law who never cared about the rest of the world, men who never preached to sinners or Gentiles lest they defile themselves. The new ministers are these very people they shunned as unclean, unlearned and common.
These new ministers or agents of God would pursue others to attract them and lead them into the kingdom in the way that a fisherman lures fish into his nets. The bait may seem to consist of miracles and healings, but the real lure that holds attraction to hurting and despairing sinners is forgiveness of sins. The paralytic and the friends who brought him to Jesus had faith in the healing power of Christ. That is why they were so determined to have Jesus touch him. He received what he wanted but also got what he really needed: forgiveness.
Although this healing of the paralytic is a real incident it contains a deep truth about the human condition. Sin is a like paralysis that immobilizes the heart and will. Worldly psychologists and psychiatrists can do nothing to resolve this type of disorder for the root cause of sin can only be destroyed at the cross. Thus when we tell people about the gospel we must avoid luring them in by promising that God will solve all their problems, will heal them, make them prosperous and successful and provide them with self-fulfillment. He will supply all our need but that need is primarily freedom from sin and death. So when we preach the gospel we must tell them that this freedom is found in the sacrifice of Christ alone.
Luke introduces the account of Jesus’ ministry with a description of His forerunner or prophet, John the Baptist. His ministry indicates that God is about to do a new thing, to create a new covenant, to do away with the old system of religion and Law. John is a minister of that new covenant. The chief elements, on the human side, are repentance and baptism. No longer will God require or accept animal sacrifices and grain offerings. He desires a changed life, a new heart, repentance, an admission that one is sinful and wicked. The public declaration of such an admission is baptism. This rite indicates that one has died to self and the old ways and has experienced a total change of life. Thus repentance must be marked by the fruit of righteousness as well as a concern for the poor and oppressed.
Jesus too came to be baptized, not because He was sinful but because He desired to fully identify with His people. The appearance of the Holy Spirit and the voice from heaven indicate to us that He had a unique relationship with God, He is the Son of God and thus He is God. But Luke wants us to know that Jesus is also a man. So at this point he presents us with the genealogy of Jesus to remind us that Jesus is descended from Adam. Since this genealogy differs in significant ways from the one in Matthew, many scholars believe that Luke used it to trace Jesus’ human ancestry through His mother Mary while the other is the legal genealogy through his legal father, Joseph. Because Luke has already told us that Jesus had no human father, this seems to be a perfectly legitimate way of showing the true humanity of Jesus. We truly have a savior who identifies fully with us. We can go to Him with all or concerns, needs, fears and doubts with the knowledge that He will not turn us away.
Luke opens the narrative of Jesus’ nativity by relating the events that caused it to happen in the town of Bethlehem in fulfillment of prophecy. While kings and kingdoms moved forward with their own agendas and plans, the Lord was using them to accomplish His plan. The King of Heaven became man in a foul smelling and rank manger in a small insignificant village in a remote corner of the mighty Roman Empire. The one who would change the course of history, who in fact determines and sets the course of kings and kingdoms came in a quiet and humble way.
The only ones who noticed His birth were a mixed assembly of witnesses. There was a glorious company of heavenly angels, of course, who put on a splendid worship service glorifying and praising God who had fulfilled His promises to man. The rest of the group was composed of a rather insignificant number of people who would have lacked credibility. There was a small group of crude and smelly shepherds. They saw the heavenly spectacle and the baby Jesus but who would believe them? Then too there was a doddering old man and an elderly widow both of whom, though respected by the Jews, would have been dismissed as too old and senile to make sense. It was these simple yet righteous people that God chose to use and to bless just as He still does today.
As we reflect on Jesus’s humble birth, we may well be affected by how Hollywood and many churches portray these events. They feel that the birth of a great King should be heralded by great human talents. Thus they present this birth as a glorious affair accompanied by stirring and majestic music much as they would mark the birth of a great prince today. A great King requires great honors. Yet what we see is that the Lord does things in His own way. His ways confound us yet stir us to great devotion to His cause of freeing the lowly from the Satan’s prison of sin in which so many are bound.
The angel of the Lord appeared later to Mary to tell her that she was to give birth. Yet, unlike her kinsman, Zacharias, 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 Zacharias. 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 rust 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.
“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14 ESV)
Paul is urging his audience at Corinth to give to help the Christians in the Jerusalem church that were suffering from famine. He does this by citing the example of the Macedonian Christians, probably those in Philippi and Thessalonica. These saints were enduring some tough times themselves and were not rich in this world’s goods. They were so poor yet they gave out of all measure to their ability out of love for the Lord to whom they were totally committed. They desired to serve Him wholeheartedly no matter what the cost because Jesus had done to same for them.
The Macedonian Christians trusted God. They placed themselves in His hands to do His work and they expected that He would take care of their needs. Now this mean that we give so much that we become needy ourselves. Everyone should give so that, in the church, no one will be in need, but neither should any of the brethren become a burden on any other. All are called to give because all that we have is given us by the Lord. A few may be called to give more than others, because they have been given more by Him.
To me it is outrageous that so many American Christians are overly obsessed with acquiring the latest and the best electronic trinkets, computers, TVs, smart phones and IPads or taking luxurious vacations while millions of their Christian brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia and South America work hard to earn barely enough to meet their everyday needs, things we take for granted like food, clean water, clothing and a place to sleep. No one should be spending their wealth for luxuries or non-essentials while their brethren are in need. No, those who have been given much have the responsibility and the calling to give much so that there should be equality among the brethren.
Now, that idea may make some Christians downright angry. We might ask: “Why should we give our money and time and energy to someone who did not earn it and does not deserve it?” And yet this is exactly what Jesus did for us. He spent all of His resources and life to save human beings who did not deserve salvation and did nothing to earn His love, and in fact hated Him. And He expects us to do the same.