Last month we began a series of readings in Luke’s Gospel. We continue this month where we left off.
Sunday 1st May
If we compare this story with Matthew 9:9 it is clear that Levi was another name for Matthew. This man was a tax collector. Jesus called Levi to be a disciple and then went to have dinner in his house. At the dinner there were other tax collectors and ‘sinners’ (verse 30). The tax collectors were the quislings who co-operated with the hated Roman authorities. The ‘sinners’ were the Gentiles who did not keep the law. The Pharisees were deeply upset by this behaviour. How could Jesus, as a Jew, associate with such people? Jesus answered in the famous words of verses 31-32: ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’. Jesus always insisted that he had come for the lost, for sinners. Do we recognise ourselves to be sinners, for whom Jesus came?
Monday 2nd May
This controversy in our passage concerned fasting. The question was asked, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus responded by saying that in a time of joyous celebration no-one thinks of fasting. His disciples would behave differently when he was gone. This is one of the early statements by Jesus that he would be ‘taken from’ his disciples. Jesus knew that the time would come when he would have to go through death for the salvation of sinners. His whole life was governed and guided by the plan of salvation, in obedience to his father’s will.
Tuesday 3rd May
The key point of Jesus’ message comes out in verses 36-39. Jesus points out that you don’t put a new patch on an old piece of cloth and you don’t put new wine in old wineskins. What does this mean? Well, it means that the Gospel was something new, breaking into the old Jewish ways and could not be contained by those old Jewish ways. The Pharisees and others were trying to squeeze Jesus into an old mould but his Person and his gospel demanded a completely new beginning. They wanted the messiah to come but only if he fitted into the accepted structures of Jewish religious life. In other words, they wanted messiah but they didn’t want anything to change! Many people today want God to come to their churches and to bring reformation and renewal but they don’t want anything to change. This is not possible. When God comes into a situation, change takes place. Are we ready for change?
Wednesday 4th May
The disciples plucked ears of corn as they walked through a field and were accused of breaking the Sabbath law against harvesting! Jesus told them a story of how the great King David had ‘broken’ the Sabbath and then said, ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath’. These Pharisees were trying to impose their rules (many of them added to what Scripture says) on the one who is Lord of the Sabbath. It was he who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, as one God, gave us the Sabbath. The Pharisees had made the Sabbath a burden but it was in reality a good gift from God to be enjoyed, not a burden to be borne. What a wonderful gift to be able to rest one day in seven. What a joy to have a day holy to the Lord. What a privilege to have a day when we can gather together for worship.
Thursday 5th May
In this second story, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath and is accused. The motives of his accusers were very clear, as we read in verse 7, they ‘were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus’. These people were more concerned with their petty regulations instead of having a concern for people. As we saw yesterday, we must recognise that the Lord’s Day (the Christian Sabbath) is a good gift from God to be enjoyed and relished. There are two wrong views: those who ignore the Lord’s Day and treat it like any other day. Second, those who make it into an oppressive regime which brings judgement and unhappiness instead of joy. When Jesus healed the man with the shrivelled hand on the Sabbath, he was demonstrating the importance of compassion and also making it clear that ‘the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:27).
Friday 6th May
Jesus chose twelve men to be his disciples. Some of them are well known because of the parts they played in the story of Jesus. Peter, James and John formed the inner circle and we know the stories of Andrew, Thomas and Judas Iscariot. There are, however, three disciples of whom we know practically nothing: James, son of Alphaeus, Judas the son of James (also called Thaddaeus) and Simon the Zealot. Although we know virtually nothing about these disciples, we can surely assume that they lived and died serving Christ. Here is the lesson of the forgotten disciples, those who didn’t make the headlines. In serving Christ we may be well known or entirely unknown but what counts is the service we give to our Lord.
Saturday 7th May
Having chosen his disciples, Jesus speaks to them about blessing and rejoicing. He recognises that some of them are poor, some of them are hungry, some of them are grieving and some of them are suffering opposition, even persecution. He assures them of the blessing to come with the words, ‘great is your reward in heaven’. No matter what they might suffer now in the case of Christ, days of blessing will come. He then turns to speak to those who appear to have everything that this world offers but who will ultimately be judged. Taking the rest of Scripture into account we can say that it is better to be poor and oppressed with Christ, than to have riches and power without Christ.
Sunday 8th May
These are words which we also have in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel (5:39-42). They are perhaps the most difficult command of Jesus to obey. As human beings we often fail to love family and friends as we should, never mind loving our enemies. Once again, Jesus turns the values of the world upside down. His way is different: ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you’. Notice that the main reason for acting this way is because God does! He shows love to his enemies and blesses human beings who have rejected him (verses 35-36). This is his example to us.
Monday 9th May
Why are we so quick to judge the behaviour of others and yet equally quick to make excuses for our own behaviour? Jesus says that if we judge, we will be judged; if we condemn, we will be condemned; if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. Why do we try to take the speck out of our brother’s eye when there is a plank in our own? In all of these ways, Jesus challenges us to think better of others and to recognise our own failings. History is littered with mistaken judgements based on incomplete information. How often have we judged someone, only to realise later that we didn’t have all the facts? Worse, how often have we shared our mistaken judgement with others, making it spread? We must heed these words of Jesus very carefully.
Tuesday 10th May
In the Bible we have many descriptions of the life of faith (and the life of sin) which are explained using the illustration of trees and fruit, or plants and growth. For example, Psalm 1:3 describes the righteous person in this way: ‘He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither’. In the next verse, sinners are described: ‘They are like chaff that the wind blows away’. In our passage today, Jesus tells us that, just as you can tell a tree by its fruit, so you can tell whether human beings are good or evil by the quality of their lives. What human beings are like inside will soon become obvious on the outside. Later, Paul spelled this out in Galatians 5, speaking about the ‘fruit of the Spirit’. Do our lives show evidence of the fruit of God’s Spirit? Or are we like the chaff that will be blown away?
Wednesday 11th May
Jesus was addressing those who called him ‘Lord’ but did not obey his teaching (verse 46). Clearly there were those who paid lip service to Christ but no more. They wanted to be part of his circle of disciples and followers but were not prepared to live as he taught them. It is also clear from these words of Jesus that some people thought that they were in the kingdom but were deceiving themselves. It is in this context that Jesus tells the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders. That helps us to understand its meaning and purpose. Jesus wanted to make it clear that being one of his followers involved obedience and commitment. Or, to put it in the words of Jesus, a Christian is someone who does the will of our heavenly Father. In James 1:22 it is put very succinctly: ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says’.
Thursday 12th May
We saw the background to this parable yesterday. Today we look at it more closely. Jesus explains that a wise man is one who hears his words and puts them into practice (verse 47). As an illustration, Jesus says that this wise man is like the one who builds a house on a solid foundation, on rock. Such a house cannot be shaken even by the worst weather (verse 48). The foolish man, on the other hand, builds his house without a foundation. Such a house will fall and be destroyed when the storm comes (verse 49). The message is clear: foundations are important and we must build only on a solid foundation. Notice, however, that just any old foundation will not do. Jesus is very specific. The only foundation worth building upon is his teaching. Do we build our lives on the solid foundation which is the teaching of Jesus?
Friday 13th May
In this passage we have the story of the centurion who had faith in Jesus and whose servant was healed. There are three things we can say about this man. First, he was a godly man (verses 4-5). His reputation was well established and well deserved. Second, he was a humble man (verses 6-8). He did not feel good enough to have Jesus enter his home or even to meet him in person. Third, he was a man of faith (verse 9). He trusted in Jesus, recognised the authority of Jesus and believed that Jesus could meet his needs. This passage challenges us to ask ourselves some questions: Are we Godly? Are we humble? Are we men and women of faith? The most important point in the story, of course, is that the centurion had faith, a faith so great that it amazed Jesus and he said he’d never met anyone with such faith. The writer to the Hebrews tells us (11:6) that without faith it is impossible to please God. Only by faith can we be right with God.
Saturday 14th May
As Jesus approaches the town of Nain, with a crowd of followers, they meet a funeral procession. A young man has died. His mother, a widow is distraught and Jesus has compassion on her. Luke says, ‘his heart went out to her’ (verse 13). Jesus then raises the young man from the dead and gives him back to his mother. There are similar stories from the life of Elijah (1 Kings 17) and of Elisha (2 Kings 4). What stands out here is the love and compassion of Jesus. Since he is God incarnate, this allows us a glimpse into the Father heart of God. Just as Jesus showed love to the woman, so God shows love and compassion to us. Indeed, he loved us so much that he sent his son (John 3:16).
Sunday 15th May
When John the Baptist sent messengers to ask if Jesus was really the Messiah, he pointed them to the miracles he had performed. In other words, the miracles that Jesus did were in order to prove his identity as the Son of God. There are various passages which support this interpretation, including three passages from John 10 (19-21; 24-25; 37-38). The miracles performed by the disciples had the same purpose of authenticating their ministry, as we see in 2 Corinthians 12:12: ‘The things that mark an apostle – signs, wonders and miracles – were done among you with great perseverance.’ God was doing a new thing and the miracles were designed to authenticate it. Miracles still happen today but not as frequently as in that initial period of Christian growth. Indeed, if you take the Bible as a whole you will find that miracles took place at only a few critical points in the history of the people of God.
Monday 16th May
Jesus speaks here about John the Baptist in the highest possible terms. He says that he was not only a prophet (as the people believed) but in fact much more than that. Indeed, Jesus declares him to have been the one promised in the Old Testament, the forerunner of the Messiah, the one who would prepare the way. The Pharisees did not accept that John was a prophet and refused his baptism. They also rejected Jesus and his teaching. Jesus points out the contrary nature of their criticisms. Since John did not eat bread or wine, they said he had a demon. Since Jesus did eat bread and drink wine, they said he was a glutton and a drunkard! In other words, they would always find something to criticise but, in doing so, they missed both the forerunner and the Messiah.
Tuesday 17th May
Jesus is having dinner at the home of a Pharisee named Simon when something dramatic happens. A woman who had lived a sinful life comes in with a jar of perfume. As she stands beside Jesus, she is weeping. She uses the tears to wipe Jesus’ feet, dries them with her hair and then pours perfume on them. This causes great consternation because Simon and others knew the woman to be a sinner and could not understand why Jesus would allow such a woman to touch him. This provides Jesus an opportunity to teach Simon an important lesson. He tells the parable of the two men whose debts had been cancelled. The message is clear, the one who had the greater debt will love more the person who cancelled the debt. In the same way, this woman loved much because she has been forgiven much.
Wednesday 18th May
We saw yesterday that Jesus rebuked Simon and praised the sinful woman. We read the story again to note verses 48-50. Jesus forgives the woman’s sins. Those present are amazed and say, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Earlier in this Gospel, Jesus had the same reaction when he healed the paralysed man: ‘The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (5:21)’. The truth is that Jesus is God incarnate and is able to forgive sins. He tells the woman to go in peace that he faith has saved here. This last point is worth stressing: it is faith which leads to the forgiveness of sins.
Thursday 19th May
This parable of the sower is also found in Matthew 13 and in Mark 4. It is a parable of the kingdom of God. In verse 1-8, Jesus tells the parable and then, in verses 9-15, he explains its meaning. When the seed is sown, there are different results. In some cases (the seed along the path), it does not take root at all. In some cases (rocky ground), it does take root but, due to a lack of soil, it comes up too quickly and then dies. In some cases (among thorns) it grows but is then choked to death. Finally, in some cases, the seed takes root, grows and produced a crop. Jesus explains that it is the same when the message of the Gospel is preached. The good news is that, even although so much of the seed is lost, there is still a good crop. The Gospel produces a harvest, even although many do not receive the Word as they should.
Friday 20th May
A lamp is no use to anyone if it is hidden under a bed or in a stone jar. In order to be useful, it needs to be on a stand where it can give light to the whole house. Matthew, in his Gospel, puts it like this: ‘Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (5:15-16)’. Luke uses the illustration to say something about listening (to Jesus’ teaching). Jesus is the light of the world and his teaching brings light. As Christians, Jesus calls us to be the light of the world. This is a great responsibility. Do our lives and our teaching bring light in dark places? Does what we say and do reflect Christ?
Saturday 21st May
Jesus mother and brothers were not initially persuaded that he was the Messiah. In fact, they thought he was mad (Mark 3:21). His own brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5). Here in our passage his mother and brothers come to see him. Jesus uses the occasion to explain that a Christian has brothers and sisters who are not blood relatives. Mark, in his Gospel, puts it like this, ‘Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (3:31-35).’ If we are Christians, then we are related to every other Christian.
Sunday 22nd May
This is the story of Jesus calming the storm. We have perhaps known this story from childhood. Jesus is asleep in the boat. The storm comes and the disciples are afraid. They waken Jesus and then he calms the storm. If we look deeper, however, we see that this story tells us something about the Kingdom of God. It tells us that the Kingdom of God is not a place, like the Kingdom of Fife but rather the Kingdom of God extends wherever God exercises his kingly power. Now in one sense God is King over the whole Universe and in control over the whole Universe, but yet there is a devil who is described as the ‘god of this world’ and Jesus made it clear that there were two kingdoms. When Jesus calmed the storm, then, he was exercising ‘kingdom authority’ and was demonstrating that he had been sent by the King. No wonder the disciples were astonished. The Kingdom of God as taught by Jesus has a present as well as a future reference. It refers to what God is doing here and now, and it also refers to the future home of the people of God.
Monday 23rd May
Jesus goes to the area of the Gerasenes, where he is met by a man with an evil spirit, who was living among the tombs and in the hills. He was an immensely powerful man, such that even chains would not hold him – he simply broke them apart. There was no-one who could control or overpower him. He cried out when he saw Jesus but Jesus ordered the demons to leave him and go to the pigs instead and the man was healed. The man then began to witness to Christ, telling everyone what the Lord had done for him. Consider the final condition of the man as described in verse 35: ‘When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid’. Quite apart from the basic facts of the story I believe that this passage raises some significant issues. First, the supernatural power of evil; second, the victory of Christ; third, spiritual warfare; and fourth, God’s Judgement.
Tuesday 24th May
There are two stories entangled here. Let’s consider them one at a time. We begin with the healing of Jairus’ daughter (verses 40-42 and 49-56). The first thing we see in this story is the faith of Jairus. He pleaded with Jesus to come to his house because his only child, a daughter, was dying. The girl was only twelve and we can imagine the pain and anxiety of Jairus. Then we have a crisis of doubt. Someone came from Jairus’ house to say that his daughter had died and that he shouldn’t trouble Jesus any further. Jesus reassured Jairus by telling him to believe and his daughter would be healed. When they came to the house Jesus told the mourners that the girl was not dead. They laughed in his face. They knew she was dead. Then, in an astonishing act, Jesus healed the girl and told her parents to give her something to eat. A great miracle had taken place. Faith in Jesus can lead to miracles!
Wednesday 25th May
The other story in these verses is the story of the woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. In Marl’s version of the story, we are told that ‘She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse’ (verse 26). Despite her suffering, this woman had a remarkable faith. No-one else could heal her but she believed that, if only she could touch Jesus’ cloak, she would be healed. Having touched Jesus, she was indeed healed. Jesus immediately recognised that power had gone out from him and asked who had touched him. The disciples didn’t understand, there were many people crowding around him, surely many people had touched him. Jesus knew, however, that this was different. The woman duly confessed and Jesus said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace’. This was a victory of faith.
Thursday 26th May
Jesus sends his disciples out on a mission, to preach the Kingdom of God, to cast out demons and to heal the sick. This all comes to the attention of Herod, who had a bad conscience because he had killed John the Baptist. Mark, in his Gospel, puts it like this: ‘Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” This story tells us that no-one is above God’s law. Herod and Herodias clearly felt that they could do as they pleased and were very disturbed when John the Baptist said otherwise. They imagined themselves to be too important and too powerful to be concerned with right and wrong, good and bad, so John was beheaded. Now Herod realised that they have broken God’s law and he is afraid. To stand against God is foolishness.
Friday 27th May
By this time, crowds had begun to follow Jesus wherever he went. On this occasion he and his disciples were on the far shore of the Sea of Galilee, at Bethesda and this huge crowd gathered. Notice (verse 11) that Jesus welcomed them and taught them about the kingdom of God. This was the prevailing theme of his teaching throughout his ministry. At the same time, he had compassion on them and wanted to feed them. First, he challenged his disciples to feed them: ‘you give them something to eat’. They could not do it, so Jesus made the crowd sit down and, with only five loaves and two fish, he fed 5,000 people. This was a truly great miracle which proves that Jesus had power and authority. What must it have been like to experience that great miracle? No wonder that the crowds followed him everywhere. Even if the Pharisees and the teachers of the law did not understand, the ordinary people saw and believed.
Saturday 28th May
We know from the other Gospels that this incident took place when Jesus and his disciples were in the general vicinity of Caesarea Philippi. While they were walking along Jesus asked them a question. ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ The answers given reflect the confusion which existed in the minds of many people as to the true identity of this man from Nazareth. Some people thought that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead. That was certainly the view of King Herod who had rightly a very bad conscience about John’s death. Others thought he was Elijah, there being a prophecy in Malachi to the effect that Elijah would come before the messiah to prepare the way. In fact, Jesus later said that this prophesy applied not to himself but to John the Baptist (Matt. 17:11-13). Still others thought that Jesus was simply one of the prophets, another messenger from God sent to the people of Israel. But Jesus was not only interested in public opinion; he wanted to know what the disciples themselves thought. ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ At this point in the story we have one of the most important statements in the New Testament. Peter answered, ‘the Christ of God’. Here, then, is the answer to the question of the identity of Jesus: he was the Messiah, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the one whom God sent to announce the Kingdom of God.
Sunday 29th May
This passage of Scripture describes what has come to be known as the Transfiguration. This story is important to us because it highlights a number of significant biblical themes, including the Kingdom of God, Jesus as messiah, Jesus as the Son of God, the testimony of the Old Testament to Jesus, the promise of his death and resurrection, and the hope of glory. The importance of the story was recognised by the early Christians because it is one of the few stories which appears in virtually the same form and at the same point in all three of what are called the ‘Synoptic Gospels’ (Matthew, Mark & Luke). Having gone up the mountain, Jesus was ‘transfigured’ before them. This word ‘transfigured’ is similar to our word ‘metamorphosis,’ the word we use for a great change. Christ’s body didn’t change but his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light. Can we imagine what it must have been like? The word which springs to mind and which has always been associated with the Transfiguration, is ‘glory.’ Here was a revelation of the royal presence, a demonstration that God was among his people. Or, to put it another way, the Kingdom of God was revealed. Jesus had come declaring that the Kingdom of God was at hand and calling people to repent and believe the Gospel. Now it could be seen.
Monday 30th May
Our story tells of the healing of a boy with an evil spirit. Jesus is clearly frustrated by the lack of faith of his disciples, to whom the boy had been brought. They had been unable to heal him. Jesus says, ‘O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?’ In Matthew 17:20, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’ Even at a human level we can be so unbelieving never mind at the level of the miraculous. We tend to be limited by the boundaries of our own past experience. If we have not done it, or if we have not seen it done, or if our minds cannot understand how it might be done, then it is impossible. As Christians, we must come to the place where we believe that our God is great and can do anything. The father of the sick boy did not quite reach that strong faith but he comes part of the way. In Mark’s version of the story, he says ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.’ That should be our prayer.
Tuesday 31st May
The disciples are arguing about who was the greatest among them. This showed that they had not really understood the nature of the kingdom of God and were still thinking in worldly terms. In Mark’s version of the story (9:35), Jesus explains that the standards of the kingdom are quite the reverse of the standards of the world. For the Christian, humility and a sense of unworthiness are essential. In order to underline this point, he brings a small child among them and makes his point very forcibly. Pride is one of the most common sins, and the most dangerous, because it leads us to have a wrong view of ourselves. Only with humility can we see ourselves as we really are. The Puritan writer William Jenkyn said this: ‘Humility is the ornament of angels, and pride the deformity of devils.’ Sometimes this humility is hard come by, and God has to take drastic action to produce it (see 2 Cor. 12:1-10). The second part of our passage (49-50) tells us something more about these disciples. In the first part we learned that they were proud and conscious of their position as the disciples of Jesus, concerned about who was the greatest. Here we learn that they were so conscious of their position that they tried to stop another follower of Jesus from carrying on his ministry because he was not one of the inner circle. Jesus rebukes them again, and says ‘whoever is not against you is for you’. That is much the same as the verse in another place, ‘whoever is not for us is against us’. Both verses are saying this: there can be no neutrality once you have been introduced to Jesus; you are either for him or against him.