he Epistle text for this Sunday helps us continue our journey into the Epistle to the Hebrews. Last week I made the point that Noah’s ark was an important one—it was the fourth or middle one of a list of seven people or groups who walked by faith (verses 1-16; we, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Abraham—with a different aspect, and Sarah).
Perhaps you knew that there were other arks in the bible. Arguably the most famous one, even more famous than Noah’s ark, is the so-called ‘ark of the covenant’. You might want to think of it as the footstool for God. If God is sitting on his throne, depending on the size of the throne, he might want to have his feet on something so that they are not just hanging down off his fancy chair. A footstool is really just a fancy box.
An ark is a very special box. In Hebrews 11:22, there is a reference to Joseph giving instructions concerning his bones, and the text at the end of Genesis (50:26) says that he was put into a ‘coffin’, but the word is ‘ark’ and is the exact same one in Hebrew as with the ark of the covenant. And so, in Hebrews 11:23, immediately following the words regarding Joseph, there is a note regarding Moses when he was a baby. And the same word in Hebrew for Noah’s ark is also used for the ‘basket’ that Moses was in when his mother put him into the Nile River (See Exodus 2:3 and the footnote in The Lutheran Study Bible, page 98).
I do not think that all these oblique references to an ark are a coincidence. The epistle to the Hebrews previously talked about the very famous ark of the covenant, but then the writer abruptly stops focusing on it (Hebrews 9:1-10). There are more important things to talk about—Jesus being one of them.
I hope I do not lose many of you, but I think it is a significant thing when, in verse 28, the text says that ‘By faith he [Moses] kept the Passover....' The verb ‘kept’ is an important one, even though it is hard to tell with this translation. A better translation of the verb would have been ‘has kept’. The verb is in the perfect tense, and it usually means some sort of ramifications for the present. (For those who are interested in more detail, see the book by Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 582.)
Most of the verbs in this chapter are in the past, but this one has ramifications for the present. And Jesus certainly changed the extremely ancient and important festival of the Passover into something so incredibly significant for today with his death and resurrection—not to mention his institution of the Lord’s Supper.
Perhaps I am making too much of this, but Moses with his Passover is the fourth person mentioned from the end to have done something by faith. As the fourth person of this distinguished line of people who lived by faith was Noah, the fourth from the end was the one who HAS kept the Passover—and has made that festival important for today. (The last three are the ‘they who went through the Red Sea’, those who were involved in the fall of the walls of Jericho, and Rahab—verses 29-31.)
This entire group of people, in chapter 12:1, is called a ‘cloud of witnesses’; this is not to be confused with a ‘crowd of witnesses’. The ‘cloud’ is a reference to the glory that stayed with the ark of the covenant. (If you want to see a significant contrast, please read Exodus 40:34-38, the last few verses of Exodus, and compare that with Exodus 24:15-18, a section approximately in the middle of the book.) The cloud stayed with the people, and through the scriptures, that cloud described in Hebrews 11 stays with us.
I can understand why the Jews wanted to emphasize not only the ark but also the temple. Both of those things were eventually lost, more specifically, were removed from the sight of the Jews. That was okay. It is also okay that God does not choose to be so obvious. That tends to scare people away.
God has chosen to use his words. And that tends to draw us closer.
Usually, I look at the gospel text for the week. For the last few Sundays, I have looked at the Old Testament text. This might surprise you that for the next three Sundays, I will be looking at the epistle texts. During this particular time of the three-year series, the epistle looks at the last part of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
I think the Epistle to the Hebrews is a fascinating work. It is like a gospel account in that it focuses on Jesus. It is also like an epistle—and obviously so, because of its title. It is also like the Old Testament, and that should also be obvious. If you increase your understanding of the Epistle to the Hebrews, you essentially increase your understanding of the entire scriptures.
Since this epistle does not have a regular epistle-like format, there is the chance for the literary style of the text to come through much more clearly. The introduction (1:1-4) has a structure which is reflected in the rest of the work. There is first the mention of a ‘Son’, and then there is the mention of him making ‘purification for sins’. As in the layout of the tabernacle or temple, there was, near the entrance, the place for making a sacrifice, and then, farther along, where that special blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled—the ‘holy of holies’ or the ‘most holy place’, and this is also the progression of the writer. The epistle has that special structure in a literary way, a way that shows how important it was that God and man came together in Jesus—and also how important it was to have Jesus’ death on the cross (and the curtain of the temple torn in two, from top to bottom).
What was, for a time, so special in this very special place of the tabernacle or temple was the so-called ‘ark of the covenant’. It also has other names, but I would like to focus on the title of ‘ark’. After all, it seems that the writer wants to focus on various arks in Hebrews 11.
This chapter is called ‘the faith chapter’, and that is an appropriate title. It seems like at the start of every paragraph (although that structure of paragraphs is not in the original text), the text says, ‘By faith…’ and then it gives an example of someone who lived by faith. Near the end of the text for this Sunday (verse 16), there are some summary points. But I thought it was interesting that the following people are mentioned along the way:
Verse 3: By faith we…. Verse 4: By faith Abel…. Verse 5: By faith Enoch….
Verse 7: By faith Noah….
Verse 8: By faith Abraham…. Verse 9: By faith he (Abraham)…. Verse 11: By faith Sarah….
In this case, the ark is at the center (of seven different kinds of faith, no less). We will see next week where an ark comes up again.
For the last two weeks, the Old Testament text has been from Genesis, and the two texts were nearly one right after the other. In another week, the text will AGAIN be from Genesis. But this present week is special. This is the week when the Old Testament text is from the book of Ecclesiastes. Now how different is that?
It is actually not so different.
Here is a text from the beginning of the book of Genesis, the second creation account, the one which focuses on the creation of man and woman:
When NO bush of the field was yet in the land and NO small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had NOT caused it to rain on the land, and there was NO man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground--then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food… (Genesis 2:5-9a).
I emphasized the negatives in the first half of the text because some of them are clearly in the text—and they do not appear in the second half of the text, after the turning point of the mist and the watering of the whole face of the ground. There are also implied negatives in this first half of the text. Adam works in a garden before the Fall into sin, but he works in a field after the Fall. And it also only rains after the Fall, during the Flood. The first part is certainly negative. And water is an important part of the turning point.
The first verses of Ecclesiastes have a similar structure. The text for this Sunday is from Ecclesiastes 1:2, then verses 12-14, and then 2:18-26. The following text is between the first two sections of the appointed reading (1:3-11):
What does man [adam] gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All the streams run to the sea, but the sea is NOT full; to the place when the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man CANNOT utter it; the eye is NOT satisfied with seeing, NOR the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is NOTHING new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us. There is NO remembrance of former things [’first men’ or ‘men of old’], NOR will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
Hopefully the similarities are noticeable. The main difference is that the negatives in the Genesis account are at the beginning, where, in the second text, they are at the end. Perhaps the intention of this structural difference is to take us back to the beginning, to help us to remember our history. The content certainly supports that message. And it seems that some people today could very much benefit from that advice.
Another difference is that the structure around the turning point does not seem so neatly arranged. To help a little with this difficulty, I added a few words in brackets above. The first word in brackets is the Hebrew word for man, and this is obviously where Adam got his name. The second set of brackets has a couple possible translations of the phrase ‘former things’, both of which might make a person think of Adam.
In both cases though, the water is in the middle.
Water is obviously an important thing. Our bodies are approximately sixty percent water. Water is a majority of who we are.
It is not surprising, then, that Jesus chose to be around water for a significant period of his life. He also chose some fishermen to follow him. And he also talked about being ‘living water’. And after his followers were around him for a while, he also talked about people drinking his blood. And then, at his death, blood and water poured out of him.
How is that for being at the center of things?
By the way, if you would like to look at the vast majority of the introduction to the gospel account I used to summarize the life of Jesus above, but in basically the same format I have been using, here it is below (and I again added some brackets to be helpful):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was NOT any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has NOT overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was NOT the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did NOT know him. He came to his own, and his own people did NOT receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, NOT of blood NOR of the will of the flesh NOR of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh [approximately sixty percent water] and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.”’) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:1-17).
Last week, the Old Testament reading was from Genesis 18:1-10a, with the option of the reading going until verse 14. This week, it is interesting that the Old Testament reading essentially follows last week's reading.
There is the option of verses 17-19, but the main text is Genesis 18:20-3.
It often happens that the Gospel texts follow one another, and this also often happens with the Epistle texts, but, when it comes to the Old Testament, this is extremely rare.
I would also like this week to look at a slightly bigger picture of the book of Genesis.
There will still be other chances to look at a particular text. But it is often nice to see
the bigger perspective.
The structure of Genesis is NOT a structure of chapter and verse. That structure was
imposed upon it at a later time. The main structural format within Genesis is a
concentric structure, in other words, ABCBA (although there are usually a lot more
letters involved). We are basically used to ABC. And I think we are also used to ABCA
when, for example, the preacher brings up the same point that he made at the
beginning of the sermon. It helps to 'go back to the beginning' in a way. And the
important things should be emphasized repeatedly. But, in this case, the middle thing
is even more important.
The writer of this book, traditionally Moses, did a good job making sure the structure fit together well. A literary work can fit together well historically, and it can fit together theologically, but it does not always have to fit together in a literary way. This work happens to do that though.
This concentric structure can be seen in the Flood account. It is also in the story of
Abraham, and it also comes up later with Jacob and Rachel (and it is also present in a
slightly different way in the story of Joseph). I like to look at the 'opposite' text, the
text that is a negative one that goes along with another text on the opposite, positive
side of the structure. The negative text happens to be the text for this Sunday.
With a concentric structure, the outline turns around in the middle and switches from a negative theme to a positive one. Some think that the turning point in this part of
Genesis is the birth of Isaac or circumcision. But I think the turning point here is the
same that is seen in the Flood account, and it is the same one that is seen later with
Jacob and Rachel. It is this: 'And God remembered....' That is a very nice and important
In Genesis 8:1, God remembered Noah, and things started to get better. In Genesis 30:22, 'God remembered Rachel', and she started having children. And, in the part of
Genesis that we are looking at, there is hidden away, in Genesis 19:29, 'So it was that,
when God destroyed the cities of the valley [Sodom and Gomorrah], God
remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when
he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.'
So, in Genesis 18, we are looking at Abraham 'interceding' for Sodom. This is the
'negative' interceding. Abraham starts by saying that, if fifty righteous people lived in
the city, it would not be fair to kill them as well. He then 'works' the Lord down a
ways; he goes from fifty, to forty-five, to forty, to thirty, to twenty, and then,
finally, to ten. Obviously, there were not ten good people there.
After the turning point of 19:29, things get much better. And I see the opposite of the
above text in Abraham 'interceding' for Abimelech. This guy had just taken Sarah for his
wife, and God came to him in a dream and literally said that he was a dead man (20:3).
Abimelech makes the case that he did not know that Abraham and Sarah were married. And God accepts that. He also says this: 'Now then, return the man's wife, for he is a
prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live (verse 7).'
This happens to be the first use of the word 'prophet' in the Old Testament. Now I
thought THAT intercession went much better ... and faster. And God turns out to be
very gracious--not a big surprise.
The gospel text for this Sunday is Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha [Luke 10:38-42], and certainly there is much that could be said regarding this text. This is especially true since that special post-resurrection title of ‘Lord’ is given to Jesus by the writer, not just once but twice within just these few verses. But even more interesting to the modern reader may be the perspective of the Old Testament reading from Genesis 18[:1-10a, plus, there is also the option of including 10b-14].
The year in which the Gospel according to Luke is the focus is also the year in which there happens to be a significant number of readings from the book of Genesis. It is a good year to look more closely at this foundational book for both testaments. The topic of history is not too popular in modern culture, but the beginning of anything should be truly significant. And the genesis of literally everything should be a very good thing to contemplate.
We will hear on another Sunday of how the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision (Genesis 15:1). On this Sunday, something much more significant happens. The text starts out by saying that the Lord appeared to Abraham. (Abram received the additional syllable to his name in the previous chapter.) Then the text says that three men came to Abraham. They talk as one. Then the text transitions to what the Lord is saying. Then, at the start of chapter 19, the text describes the work of two angels.
This sort of ‘switching’ continues. Later the two ‘men’ say that they were sent by the Lord to destroy both Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, much could be written, and certainly much HAS been written in the past. I have been told by Rev. Dr. Joel Elowsky that one ancient Christian author saw the Trinity in these three men.
In this text and in others, it seems almost like the writer is confused. Is this the Lord working? Is this a man? Is this an angel or messenger? You could answer ‘Yes’ to all these issues! The text cannot completely answer ALL our questions. Hopefully asking those questions will keep us engaged until THE End.
Since we will have the chance to look at the book of Genesis a few more times in the next few months, why not look at the slightly bigger picture at the start? It is a lengthy book, and there are many things that happen within that book that are certainly unique but are retold or imitated elsewhere.
The first man, Adam, is brought up in the Epistle to the Romans when he is compared to Jesus, the second Adam. The flood account is brought up when relating how the end of the world will happen, when Jesus comes for the second time. What about making a more literary connection to Jesus and, more specifically, the four gospel accounts?
Why we have four gospel accounts is usually explained in a chronological way; that, first of all, there was one account, and then somebody added more, and, then, after a lot of work, finally, basically everyone agreed on four. But having the four gospel accounts connect to the four living creatures of God’s throne (man, lion, ox, eagle), as many in the early church have done, means that God as King has four types of authority and can show that authority in four different ways. Instead of four gospel accounts, it becomes, essentially, a fourfold gospel. Sometimes these four kinds of authority in the living creatures are only connected to creation, but I would think that God the Father would want the authority to be seen in the work of his only Son.
Seeing a unity within the four accounts may be helpful to see God’s working in other things. I have recently noticed a possible connection that I would like to share with you. It may eventually develop into something different. But when the four living creatures are connected only to bible passages in Ezekiel and Revelation, that seems to be somewhat shaky ground, and people are not always convinced of that strong theme which runs throughout scripture. So, what about connecting these special, physical appearances of the Lord in Genesis to the four gospel accounts?
In Genesis, there are some appearances where it says that the Lord ‘appeared’ to someone and spoke to them. But there are no physical ramifications given for the Lord’s appearance. The Lord certainly speaks to people like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and others, but he is not visibly present and doing something physically significant or seen as a man or an angel (i.e., a messenger). Those minor ‘appearances’ will not be considered.
Also, in Genesis 21 & 22, a total of three times, the text describes an angel from heaven calling to someone. In chapter 21, an angel of God calls to Hagar (verse 17). In chapter 22, an angel of the Lord calls twice to Abraham (verse 11 & 15). These are not appearances on earth, and, therefore, they will also not be considered.
After the Fall and banishment from Eden, here, I believe, is the first ‘significant’, physical appearance: In Genesis 16:7, the text says that an angel of the Lord found Hagar after she ran away from Abram and his wife. She was pregnant with Abram’s child. The angel talks to Hagar. Hagar says, afterward, regarding this appearance, that ‘You are a God of seeing,’ and that ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me (verse 13; ESV).’ What does this angel of the Lord do with Hagar? He teaches her a few things—what to name her son and what he will be doing.
In Genesis 18 and 19, there is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and that was mentioned above. I think you will agree that these verses relate a significant physical appearance as well. In this case, the purpose of the appearance is to cause destruction.
In Genesis 24, when Abraham is trying to find a wife for his son, he sends his servant back to his own country with the task. Abraham gives the servant the promise that ‘he shall send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there (verse 7).’ Later in the chapter, when the servant finds a wife, the servant worships the Lord and says that ‘the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen (verse 27).’
At the start of Genesis 32, the text immediately starts out by saying that two angels of God met Jacob. Nothing particular is made concerning this sighting. But later in the chapter, when Jacob was alone, a man wrestled with Jacob, and, eventually, the man says to Jacob that he has struggled with God. Jacob says regarding the man that, ‘…I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered (verse 30). That ‘man’ does a miracle that has significant ramifications. He touched Jacob’s hip, and the text says that ‘[t]herefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh (verse 32).’
There are certainly other actions which describe God’s involvement in history. But I see, within these ‘manifestations’, some connections to the four gospel accounts. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus is a teacher, and so I see a connection to the living creature of a man—and the angel teaches Hagar. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus is as a fighter, causing difficulties with both friends and enemies, and so I see a connection to a lion—and the angels destroy the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Gospel according to Luke, I see a leader—as the ox leads the plough. And there was the angel leading the servant to find the wife for Isaac. And as an eagle has a big perspective, the miracle described above has great ramifications, up to the present (‘to this day’). And the Gospel according to John also has a large perspective, with 'miracles' that happen up to the present (see John 20:31).
Perhaps laying out these connections was more confusing than helpful. If so, I do apologize. It may have helped if I had given more detail; or there may have been even more confusion! Or you may wish to go in an entirely different direction with these texts. As I said, much could be and has been said about each of these texts. But I firmly believe we have to get past the idea that these four gospel accounts are like the pieces of a puzzle that we use to try to find out what ACTUALLY happened in the life of Jesus. More important is that God, the Father, ACTUALLY saved us by sending us his only Son. And that Son ACTUALLY gave up his life for us.
Almost always I take a ‘Sabbath Day’s Journey’ with the gospel text, a text that usually quite quickly focuses on Jesus and, therefore, the Gospel. This time is a rare exception.
This Sunday is the fifth Sunday after Pentecost, and the gospel text [Luke 10:25-37] is the man asking Jesus, ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus essentially talks about the Law with him—since the man was the one who started it. And that emphasis on the Law makes this week’s Old Testament reading from the book of Leviticus very appropriate.
This is a book that is not read too often on Sunday—or even on other days of the week! Of the first five books of the Bible (often called the Pentateuch), it is used the fewest times in the Sunday readings, only three times during the entire three-year cycle.
The reading for this time is from Leviticus 19, but this Sunday there is also an option for a longer reading, one that incorporates the first five verses from Leviticus 18. In both places there are laws.
This text is the closest we will ever get in three years to the middle of the book of Leviticus. Now you may be thinking that the middle of Leviticus is not an important part of the bible. But the middle, sometimes, can be a very important place.
The Jews thought, first of all, that the Pentateuch was the foundation of the entire Old Testament. But for the Samaritans at the time of Jesus, that happened to be their ENTIRE bible! And in the Hebrew text, the ancient Hebrew editors marked Lev. 8:8 because that was the middle verse of the Pentateuch. They marked a point between two words in Lev. 10:16, because that was the middle of the Pentateuch by the number of words. And they even marked one of the letters in Lev. 11:42 because, within that verse, there was the middle of the Pentateuch by the number of letters. Those editors treated the middle points very seriously!
We tend to overlook the middle. A movie or television show has something important at the beginning to get you interested. And it usually has something important near the very end to bring a climax or culmination to the whole thing. But the middle point is usually overlooked. And the Hebrew literature usually emphasized the middle. That was the way many people wrote back then. It is also true that God emphasized the middle.
Jesus came in the middle of time. He was predicted to come, and then he came, and then the world did not end right away. He came in the middle, and that first coming was an extremely important event. Now, obviously, his second coming will also be important, but the results of that coming are very much dependent upon his first one.
Also near the middle of the book of Leviticus is the chapter on the Day of Atonement, certainly a significant chapter in the Old Testament and in the minds of the Jewish people. It was the ONLY day of the year when the high priest entered the Most Holy Place (or the Holy of Holies) to make atonement for both himself and for the people of Israel.
It is also significant that non-Jews were involved in this event. After the text describes what the high priest is to do, the text says, ‘And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (16:29; emphasis added).’ Usually other races of people were not involved in any of the worship activities of the Jews.
So it is also significant when the non-Jews are involved in the commands that are given in Leviticus 17 and 18. Some have also seen a connection between these commands and those that appear in Acts 15 (see the list in verse 29), when there was an ‘Apostolic Decree’ that people are ‘saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (verse 11).’ That means that no one has to feel left out.
ou might consider this writing to be completely irrelevant to a ‘Sabbath Day’s Journey’ with a particular text, especially since this week we are looking at Luke 10:1-20. That is a substantial amount of text. And that is also a significant text, since this is one of the few places where the writer used the word ‘Lord’ instead of ‘Jesus’. But I would like to look at whether Jesus sent out seventy or seventy-two (see verse 1).
Yes, you read that correctly. In some manuscripts the text says that Jesus sent out seventy people to go on ahead of him, and in some manuscripts, it says that he sent out seventy-two.
It seems there are two extremes that one can have in response to hearing such a topic. Now both extremes deserve at least a hearing.
The first response is that such a thing is not important. Whether Jesus sent out seventy or seventy-two, they came back, and Jesus eventually traveled through those cities, and then, eventually, he went on to Jerusalem to die, rise again, and ascend to the right hand of his Father. And such a point is well taken. The Apostles’ Creed goes quickly from Jesus’ birth to his suffering under Pontius Pilate. But the details of how he ‘suffers’ before Good Friday may actually be important for our daily ‘suffering’.
The other extreme is that this shows that the bible is ‘full of errors’ and that cannot be trusted in anything if it is not reliable in everything. You can probably see a problem with that perspective.
Both perspectives may be the start of a type of ‘slippery slope’ argument. Both extremes have the people with those extremes speaking before the text has had its say. Both extremes are trying to revise the text in some way, to fit their own expectations of such a text and such a God. And both extremes emphasize what God is NOT known for—his apathy and power. Listening is becoming a lost art these days.
Although there are some difficult parts to the following quote, what is below might be helpful to work through such an issue. This comes from A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament by Roger L. Omanson (pages 127-8). Its subtitle may be helpful: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators. I should point out at the start that it does not answer the question, but I think that it points the reader in a good direction, one that shows Jesus’ concern for ALL people, even two of them.
Was it seventy or seventy-two whom Jesus appointed and sent on ahead of him? The external evidence is almost evenly divided. On the one hand, the chief representatives of the Alexandrian and the Western groups, with most of the Old Latin and the Sinaitic Syriac, support the numeral ‘seventy-two.’ On the other hand, other Alexandrian witnesses of relatively great value, as well as other noteworthy evidence, join in support of the numeral ‘seventy.’
The factors that are significant for evaluation of the internal evidence are ambiguous. Does the account of the sending of the 70 or 72 disciples have a symbolic value, and, if so, which number seems to be better suited to express that symbolism? The answers to this question are almost without number, depending upon what one assumes to be the symbolism intended by Jesus and/or Luke and/or those who transmitted the account.
It is often assumed, for example, that the symbolism is intended to allude to the future proclamation of the gospel to all the countries of the world. But even in this case there is uncertainty, for in the Hebrew text of Gen 10 the several nations of earth total seventy, whereas in the Greek Septuagint the number comes to seventy-two. In order to represent the balance of external evidence and the ambiguity of the internal evidence, the [Greek] word ‘duo’ is placed in brackets to indicate uncertainty regarding the original text. Modern versions disagree on whether to follow 70 (RSV, NRSV, Seg) or 72 (REB, NIV, NJB, TEV, TOB, FC).
Last week’s writing looked at the structure of the Gospel according to Luke, since it was the first of many weeks with that Gospel account; we are finally into the season of Pentecost. This week there is even more reason for looking at the structure of this account.
This week, the first verse of the gospel text [Luke 9:51-62] is a ‘turning point’ (see The Lutheran Study Bible, page 1702), the key, central verse which helps picture where the rest of the account is headed—literally: “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is the verse that will take us to the very end of the book.
For several chapters after this text, you will find descriptions of things that Jesus did that are not told in any of the other three accounts. If it would be helpful to use the comparison of Jesus as the ox that is ploughing the field—having in mind the four gospel accounts and the four living creatures of the Lord’s throne—you may wish to think of these unique texts as new soil, new ground. And Jesus continues to overturn the lives of many different people, even today.
The people described in these following chapters have a variety of backgrounds. I thought it would be nice to make a list of the people mentioned when the text uses an historical present (describing something that happened in the past by using the present tense of a verb) to bring extra attention to the person doing the action—and to point out that Jesus continues to work on a variety of people, even today.
I would also like to note that, before this central verse, there were two historical presents: There was a Pharisee, Simon, who invited Jesus into his house (7:40), and there was someone who came from the house of a synagogue official who says, interestingly enough, that Jesus need NOT go to his house (8:49). He was basically UN-invited. After this verse, there is emphasis on another Pharisee, a lawyer, a manager (steward), a rich man, Abraham, the apostles, an unrighteous judge, and a nobleman (11:37, 11:45, 16:7, 16:23, 16:29, 17:37, 18:6, 19:22; these are indicated in the NASB translation with an *; Peter is also described in this way in 24:12, but some ancient manuscripts do not have this verse). Now THAT is a variety!
Another interesting aspect of this gospel text is that most of the text has a parallel in the Gospel according to Matthew. There is, though, a significant difference.
After Jesus heals many and a fulfillment passage is given, Matthew 8:18 goes along in this way: “Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee]. And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’”
In contrast to that, Luke 9:57 goes this way: “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
What are the odds of someone asking Jesus the same question and Jesus giving the same answer? I would imagine that they are pretty good; Jesus has a pretty good memory. But having such a similar question-response, but in a seemingly different context, that makes most people think that these two texts are different recollections of the same event. With Matthew it seems that they are ready to go into a boat. With Luke it seems they are walking down the road. Why is that? A poor way of explaining the difference is by saying that these gospel accounts were written decades after the event and that the people who wrote them were not too good about remembering where Jesus was and what he actually said.
Were the disciples along a road or were they about to go into a boat? It IS possible that they were doing both at the same time. I especially think this is possible because the theme that was just emphasized in the Gospel according to Luke is like that of someone going down a road. The word really means just ‘path’ or ‘way’, and it is usually not translated as ‘road’. And in the Gospel according to Matthew, right in the previous verses, the author laid out the reason for the healings was to fulfill scripture; Matthew is again connecting the reader to the Old Testament, just as Luke is connecting the reader to the book of Acts (and ‘the Way’; see Acts 9:2).
Jesus is going down a particular path by heading to Jerusalem and by fulfilling the scriptures that he will be healing people. But his MAIN healing of ALL people will come just outside Jerusalem, on a cross.
These different perspectives are true and helpful for people in different situations. And it also should be said that the people that Jesus encountered were not a distraction. They were all people for whom Christ died. They made his love, his dedication, and also his obedience very real, tangible things.
This is the first of many Sundays that we will be looking at gospel texts from the Gospel according to Luke [8:26-39]. I thought, therefore, that it would be a good thing to look briefly at the big picture that this gospel account gives.
The big picture of any of the four gospel accounts is, of course, a big (and slightly unique) picture of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But that message comes through the words of an ancient text, and that makes at least a little difference in the delivery of that message. In modern times, looking at the big picture of a certain text often means looking at an outline of that work. In ancient times, looking at the big picture often meant looking at the first words of the text.
Here are the first words of the Gospel according to Luke (the translation is based on the ESV, but there are some differences which attempt a more literal translation, and I have laid out the translation on the page to see a close similarity to what will follow):
… many took in hand to compile a narrative of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,
it seemed good
… to me also, having closely followed all things from their source, to write accurately an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that concerning the things you have been taught, you may have certainly.
The use of ‘big’ words is deliberate; the writer of this account had a huge vocabulary. And one might think that the closest match to this first sentence of the Gospel according to Luke is the start of the book of Acts. But, actually, the writing at the Jerusalem Council in the middle of Acts (15:24-29) is the closest. Again, I have laid out the text so that it is easy to see a similar structure.
… we heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, to whom we did not give commission,
it seemed good
… to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have given their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth.
For it has seemed good
… to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.
If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.
A friend of mine, the Rev. Dr. Kevin Armbrust, takes the ‘narrative of the things that have been fulfilled among us’ in Luke 1 as essentially the Old Testament. However far you go back with that first section of Luke 1, there is a noticeable progression of time going forward and a fewer number of people involved. The things have been fulfilled in the past, and now an accurate and orderly account is being given to someone. There were 'many' involved in the past, and now this account comes to one named Theophilus, whose name means, somewhat significantly, ‘lover of God’. In the second quote, there are ‘some’ persons who are causing trouble. And then after the turning point, the people being referenced are acting as one (‘one accord’; the phrase literally means, ‘one emotion’). And then, only four men are mentioned (and they are mentioned in pairs) who will take this letter.
You might be able to tell from the structure of these two documents that this language was saved for important things. It follows the structure of some ancient official documents (see BDAG, page 360). To translate that it ‘seems’ good may not be the best translation because of all the current uses of ‘seems’; something that ‘seems’ to be may have an unsure foundation. But, in ancient times, this literary structure stood solidly.
These are both important documents because these were important times. I cannot imagine how the writers might feel, being asked to write about Jesus. It is one thing to say something. It is another thing to write something down and make it permanent.
I have often said to people that I cannot imagine the Council needing four people to carry one small letter. I have also said that I think that there is something more going on here. I can picture these four men being sent off to give four slightly different perspectives on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; this could be much like a ‘living’ gospel. This is literally a life-and-death situation for ALL involved.
As I have said before, just having one perspective would be too much of a history lesson. Having four different perspectives, each one being true, says that this man (actually God-man) is extremely important. With these four perspectives, there is also that connection to the four living creatures of God’s throne.
As time marches on, we can feel increasingly ‘lost in the crowd’. But the progression of the above statements is toward the particular, toward the ‘one’. (I would rather not use the term ‘individual’; it has too many negative connotations; perhaps we can talk about this another time.)
The seriousness of the introduction supports the fact that even just ONE person is significant. Certainly, a man with a lot of money would need to support such a huge literary undertaking, as Theophilus may have done. In the end, Jesus came for each one, whatever or whoever he or she may be.
This is the only Sunday in the church year when one could say that we focus on a teaching of the Church rather than a part of the life of Christ (and what he taught). This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, and the Gospel text this year is John 8:48-59. This will be our last look at the Gospel according to John for a long time, until Christmas Day. It would be good to look again at the bigger picture of this unique gospel account.
At the beginning of this Sunday’s text there is some serious name-calling going on; Jesus supposedly is a Samaritan and has a demon. But, by the end, the ‘Jews’ are picking up stones and are ready to kill him. Obviously the situation is getting worse.
First of all, it should be noted that this problem has been going on for a while. This talk of a group of people who are ‘Jews’ was first mentioned in 1:19, when that group sent some ‘priests and Levites’ from Jerusalem to find out more about John the Baptist. Obviously this group of Jews has some power, some authority. And we have seen other examples of authority being misused.
After Jesus does his first two miracles that are called ‘signs’, the next miracle described is a healing on the Sabbath. After that healing, the text says that ‘the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath (5:16).’ After Jesus responded by saying, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working’, there is this text: ‘This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (5:18).’ When you compare that text to chapter 8, you can see that this problem has been going on for a while.
What is the overall structure of this gospel account, and how does this connect to the others? Certainly there are similarities of the gospel accounts to ancient biographies. But these gospel accounts, especially when viewed as a fourfold structure, are, in a sense, quite unique. This may be in much the same way as the one true God is unique.
Theologically, I like to make the connection of the Gospel according to Matthew to the Father, the Gospel according to Mark to the Son, and the Gospel according to Luke to the Holy Spirit. Although Jesus is frequently calling God his Father in the Gospel according to John, nowhere else is it so frequent as in the Gospel according to Matthew. And in the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus is very much on his own; sometimes even his disciples are against him! And in the very first verse he is called the Son of God. While the other accounts of course emphasize the Son, this is especially true in this account. And the same person who wrote the Gospel according to Luke also wrote the book of Acts, and we see the Spirit playing a significant role at the beginning of that work.
So, if those three similar accounts do connect to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in some way, then what about the Gospel according to John? That gospel account might be compared to a blessing at the end of a service. The pastor usually raises his hands and blesses the people with a few special words.
I like to think of the first two signs in this account as two hands, raised for people to see, for a blessing for those who are willing to receive a special gift. An uplifted hand shows some authority; and, with that picture, some type of gift may be given through some well-chosen words. At the end of both signs, there are those with authority who believed. At the first, the ones who believed were his disciples (2:11); and, at the second, an ‘official’ believed, along with his household (4:53).
Some others with authority also believe along the way. In the section of the text, from John 7-8, Jesus is talking to ‘the Jews’, and, just a few verses earlier, the text says that, ‘[a]s he was saying these things, many believed in him (8:30).’ But this group is essentially also the one that tries to stone him! Jesus ends up doing another miracle in chapter 9, and, after many more words, the result of all of that is described in this way: “There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, ‘He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?’ Others said, ‘These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind (10:19-21)?’”
After a couple signs come many words. And the words come, overflowing with blessings. And certainly those blessings can be refused; they are not forced upon people using powerful means. They are given to people as a gift, in a very loving way.
Blessings certainly have been refused by many in the past, by those who have forgotten that all their authority comes from the Author of heaven and earth. And, unfortunately, it looks like that trend is continuing in our present culture.