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.
This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, and it is also the start of the second half of the church year. But we STILL talk about Jesus. The 'main' text, though, is from Acts 2[:1-21]. There are many things one could focus upon in this section of scripture. What about a focus on sitting?
You might recall that those who are the focus of attention at the beginning of the chapter are described as 'sitting' (verse 2). Some people have argued that, because there are more than eleven languages listed in the text, the 'they' in the text must refer to more than the eleven apostles. But certainly one person can speak more than one language, especially if he or she did not have to learn it in the first place! So it seems that the 'they' of chapter two refers to the eleven apostles, since these are the very last two words of chapter one.
Sitting has, for centuries, been considered a position of authority. Kings would sit on their thrones. Other people would have to stand. This perspective almost immediately appears in the Gospel according to Luke. When Gabriel is talking to Zechariah, he says, 'I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you this good news (Luke 1:19).'
Most recently, sitting has been seen as a health hazard. How things can change! Too much sitting, especially with a poor posture, can be bad for the spine. Some have even compared it to smoking.
Even if the ones sitting were only the eleven, it is important to note that they were not the only things to be described as sitting. When the 'tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them' (verse 3), these tongues, in the original language, are described as sitting.
That does not mean that those tongues were sitting on the top of their heads. The picture in the original Small Catechism has the 'tongues as of fire' coming out of their mouths. We can never be sure of how something looked. I like that perspective though. It is as though the Lord takes over that part of the body. That is what a clerical is meant to point out--the white is near the throat and certainly not near the heart! This also reminds me of Dr. Luther's description of the church as a 'mouth house'.
The Lord has the authority. And authority is different than power. Authority has a clear source, an 'author'. The focus may be on power, only if it is needed, if his gifts are rejected and if there is a rebellion.
The apostles were, by the way, only doing what they were told. Some of the last words of Jesus were a command to 'stay' in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49). The word here literally means to sit.
Some of the other people whom we find sitting in the Gospel according to Luke have a different kind of authority. They like the idea of power. That is why the Church's focus is not simply on Jesus, but it is on the message, the message of his love. The focus is on his death and resurrection. And he showed himself alive to his followers in some very loving ways. In a sense, the Easter season continues.
For this last Sunday in the Easter Season, the text is always from John 17, what has been called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. This year, when we focus on the Gospel according to Luke, we look at the last part of that prayer [John 17:20-26].
Looking at the structure of various books and sections of the bible, I have sometimes noticed a structure which follows the layout of the tabernacle or temple. There is a noticeable increase in holiness when one moves onward, getting closer to the end of the text, an obvious highpoint, some sort of revelation about the one true God of the scriptures. The ‘highpoint’ in tabernacle or temple terms is what is called ‘the Holy of Holies’ or ‘the Most Holy Place’.
To give a brief example, at the beginning of Leviticus, the text usually says, ‘And the Lord spoke to Moses… (4:1).’ Later it transitions to ‘The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron… (13:1).’ At the end of the book, the text finally says, ‘The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai… (25:1).’ Obviously much more could be said about that book and others.
What is interesting is that, in John 17, there are several times that Jesus uses the term ‘Father’ in the prayer. This title is not only at the very beginning. Jesus uses it in verses 1, 5, 11, 21, 24, and 25. Not only that, but in verse 11 Jesus calls him ‘Holy Father’, and, in verse 25, he calls him ‘Righteous Father’. This also seems to be a progression here. What is the point of calling the Father ‘righteous’?
The use of the two words in the rest of this gospel account seem to point out a noticeable pattern. The word ‘holy’ is certainly ascribed to God. In fact, the word is used five times in this account. The first, third, and fifth times reference the Holy Spirit (1:33, 14:26, and 20:22). The second time for the word references Jesus (6:69), and the fourth time, this chapter, references the Father. There is no doubt that the Trinity is holy.
The word righteous is used only two other times in this gospel account besides this chapter. And it never is in a title elsewhere in this account. In 5:30, Jesus says that his judgment is ‘righteous’ or ‘just’. In 7:24, Jesus says, ‘Do not judge by appearances, but judge with righteous (or just) judgment.’ Jesus seems, by his use of the word, to open it up for others.
Just how serious Jesus is about that may be seen in his previous use of the word ‘Father’, back in chapter 17, verse 24. In the original Greek, there is a big emphasis on ‘those you have given me’, that they ‘may be with me’. In the original language, the meaning does not change with the order of the words. What is up front is important. And those who are given to Jesus by the Father are important.
After Jesus uses the title ‘Righteous Father’, Jesus says that (v. 26), ‘I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known….’ This 'making known' goes in two different directions. It happened in the past, and it will happen in the future. And the purpose Jesus gives is wonderful: ‘…that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’
We do not go toward holiness. It has come toward us. And he brings his love with him. What more could we desire?
The gospel text for this Sunday [John 16:23-33] contains the last few words of what has been called the ‘farewell discourse’ of Jesus. The very next words of Jesus are his so-called ‘high priestly prayer’, and that is directed toward his heavenly Father (but we get to ‘listen in’). These words in the previous chapters are directed to Jesus’ disciples, his followers.
Jesus gives his followers some pretty amazing words. He had just told them that, although he would be leaving, they would see him and, more importantly, that he would see them. And he also told them that the Holy Spirit will speak the words that Jesus wants to be spoken. For Jesus to continue these connections with his followers is to show his great love for them.
Since this is the last look at his ‘farewell’, it is not at all inappropriate to look at the bigger picture of this gospel account and how it fits with the others. The Gospel according to John is very different from the others. When you go to any library, the number of books devoted to this gospel account is always more than the others. There is no institution of the Lord’s Supper in the Gospel according to John, but there are things which make us think about it (see John 6). There is no institution of Holy Baptism in this gospel account, but, again, there are things which make us think about it (see John 3 & 4). Much more could be said because it is so different.
If you want to talk chronologically, some people think that this account was the last one of the four to be written. Traditionally, John was the last of the original twelve disciples to be alive on earth. Others think that this gospel account was the first to be written. Perhaps both are true, and it just took a very long time to write!
The chronology would be important if this were a history lesson. The gospel is so much more than simply information. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the place of sinful humanity is unbelievably important, so much so that even Jesus is ultimately the messenger and not simply the message. As the important stories of the Old Testament are sometimes given again in a slightly different way, the facts about Jesus are repeated, with slightly different emphases on the special type of authority that he has.
The four accounts have noticeably different emphases. Each account can be connected to one of the four living creatures (man, lion, ox, eagle) of God’s throne, the throne being a symbol of authority. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus is a man, and, as a man, he spends a lot of time teaching with authority. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus is like a lion, and as a lion, he has a lot of ‘difficulties’ with those who have authority around him—and sometimes that includes even his disciples! This is a significantly different authority from the Gospel according to Luke. There the living creature is an ox. And an ox is a powerful creature, like the lion, but an ox will easily work with others. Very frequently in scripture, an ox is described in a group, as oxen. In this account, Jesus easily—and with a significant amount of authority—deals with the large variety of people who come up to him. And, as was mentioned above, the Gospel according to John is significantly different, and the living creature connected to that account is the eagle. And the eagle flies overhead and provides a significantly different perspective. And it is easy to see the authority in such a perspective.
Connections like these have been made for centuries. And when you start to view the gospel accounts as having slightly different, one-idea themes—instead of simply containing a huge amount of historical information—it is not too difficult to make other connections of these ‘themed’ gospel accounts to other signs of authority in scripture. For example, when there are four prohibitions that are put forward as important for the Gentiles in the early church to follow (see Acts 15), those prohibitions could be connected to Jesus’ actions while on earth. For the Jews, laws provided some structure in their lives, and having different aspects of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus emphasized in four different ways provided a firm gospel foundation upon which anyone, Jew or Gentile, could build. (For more detail, you might want to compare the four prohibitions in Acts 15 to the commands in Leviticus 17 &18, which is in the center of the central book of the Pentateuch; that these are commands include the 'sojourner' or non-Jew are pretty rare.)
What makes this connection even more interesting is that these four prohibitions are basically in two different orders (see 15:20; 29). The second time they are given, in their written form, the second and fourth prohibitions switch places. This switch is also what happens in some ancient manuscripts of the New Testament with the order of the four gospel accounts. Sometimes the four accounts are in a ‘Jewish’ order in which their authority is emphasized: first, the disciples; and then, the secretaries, with the longer account being first. So, sometimes, the order is ‘Matthew, John, Luke, Mark’.
Now with such an order, it makes sense that this last account has a longer ending (see Mark 16:9-20; who would want such a huge, literary masterpiece to end with absolutely no appearance of the resurrected Jesus?). But this order also fits with the outline of the Farewell Discourse. Some people think that the discourse has been pieced together from other discourses (again, a chronological or historical answer).
The farewell discourse is certainly not your typical discourse. While talking, Jesus says, ‘Rise, let us go from here (14:31b).’ And then he starts talking about vines and branches. Some people think that this was the topic because he happened to be walking by Herod’s temple at this time (and there was huge golden vine there).
There could be another reason for such a structure. There are two action verbs that Jesus connects to the work of the Holy Spirit before this ‘break’ in the discourse—teach and remind (or ‘bring to remembrance’; 14:26). Those two verbs make me think of the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to John. And then, with the mention of vines, this could be thought of in terms of wild and rapid growth, and this is basically what vines do if not pruned. A growth like this happens in the book of Acts. And, then, there are two more verbs connected to the work of the Holy Spirit—witness and convict (15:26 & 16:8). Those two verbs make me think of the Gospel according to Luke and the Gospel according to Mark. Those were written by the secretaries and not the disciples. In this way, I am reminded of the four accounts in their special, ‘Jewish’ order.
In the end, it is all from the same source. This structure of this discourse may be pointing to something bigger and more important, the structure of a fourfold gospel that fits together well and does its job extremely well (note the singular of the word ‘gospel’).
The Gospel according to John is certainly different from the others. And this is just an example of how broad a perspective this can be. God knew what he was doing. And he still knows what he is doing. And he still knows what YOU are doing!
Would you mind if Jesus would be watching you? Would you mind if Jesus would start talking to you through his texts, through his Spirit? I certainly hope not. Within the scriptures we see the great extent of his love, and the person with that love has very good eyesight.
The Gospel text for this Sunday [John 16:12-22] stands at a particularly significant spot within the four gospel accounts. In the three-year series, the fifth and sixth Sundays of Easter are taken from the part of the Gospel according to John called ‘The Farewell Discourse’. It works out well that since the discourse is basically three chapters long, each year looks at one particular chapter. This third year, we are looking at the last chapter, and Jesus is finishing things up with his disciples. This is his very last time to talk with all of them. And it seems he is getting ready to leave them.
But is this true? What starts within the middle of the text is a discussion among the disciples, and this is a discussion that continues to this day. There has been a long-standing debate regarding the meaning of the following words of Jesus: ‘A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me (verse 16).’ What DOES this mean [A good Lutheran question!]?
In other words, how long is a ‘little while’? The phrase can have an incredibly wide variety of length. If you are interested, in the original text, those words are basically one word, literally a ‘micron’. And, in our modern context, with microscopes and the definition of a micron as something incredibly small, we might think that Jesus means an incredibly short amount of time. But that is not the context of the text. Jesus said earlier that the Holy Spirit will be with them ‘forever’ (14:16). When compared to that amount of time, a little while could seem like a LONG while.
The two types of answers typically given are, first of all, that the second ‘little while’ focuses on the literal sight of the disciples after the resurrection of Jesus; they will see him. The second choice involves the entire Christian Church, that his followers will see Jesus after Pentecost—through the writings of the Church, the New Testament—or even after his Second Coming, on the Last Day. In the words of the Concordia Self-Study Bible (and this is a note that was added by the Lutheran editors),
‘Few doubt that the first phrase refers to the interval before the crucifixion. But interpretations differ as to whether the second refers to the interval preceding the resurrection or the coming of the coming of the Spirit or the second coming of Christ. It seems that the language here best fits the resurrection; cf. v. 22 (p. 1638).’
The verse referred to at the end of that quote points to these words of Jesus: ‘I will see you again….’ Jesus not only says to his disciples that they will see him, but that HE will see THEM. When will this happen?
To ask ‘when’ is an historical question. It may be better to ask ‘how’ this happens. How do Jesus’ followers see him? The more important question is this one: how does Jesus see his followers?
Obviously, you could answer that question in this way: ‘With their eyes, of course!’ But there could be something more to this. Sometimes, within this gospel account, there is more to the text ‘than meets the eye’ [Sorry, I couldn’t resist.].
I am inclined to say that Jesus has all Christians in mind with this text. He has a much broader perspective, one that fits with this gospel account. In the words of the Concordia Self-Study Commentary (not to be confused with source of the above quote), the emphasis is on both: ‘Jesus sees in one perspective His resurrection and His return in glory at the end of days; the little while (16) of which He speaks is both the three days of His entombment and the time until His second coming (p. 100).’
Consider, first of all, that John, the Evangelist, probably lived longer than any of the other original twelve disciples (see John 20:23). Many people wanted to hear many details about Jesus; and they certainly would have liked to see him! And John also knew that Jesus wanted for those followers to know many things about himself. Both Jesus and all his followers wanted to be closely connected. But how does this happen?
Consider, also, that the four gospel accounts work together in a wonderful way; they work together in an effort to get an important message from throne of God. Now since it is not possible for people to come before the throne of God because of sin, the next option was for people to have received the message from the messenger who was sent out from before that throne. As that very special messenger came, he had the authority of the One who sent him. And that authority shows itself in four distinct ways (as the throne itself shows the authority of the king), and these different pictures of authority are in the four gospel accounts.
I would also like to point out that all of these four gospel accounts, in different ways, use a literary device that helps to bring to Jesus into the present. Instead of saying, ‘He did this,’ sometimes the text says, ‘He does this.’ Instead of saying, ‘He said this,’ sometimes the text says, ‘He says this.’ This is a way that Jesus comes into the present. This is a way that Jesus can see and be seen, even today. The words that are in the present tense are slightly different within each gospel account, and those words fit quite well with the type of authority that is pictured in that gospel account.
These texts are meant for all people, in whatever situation they are in. All people can see Jesus in these texts, and Jesus can see all people in these texts.
These four gospel accounts were not meant to be a history lesson; they work together to form a well-planned, well-constructed rescue attempt. The important thing to remember is that, as Jesus sees people and people see Jesus in the text, and he is giving what he promises in a very loving way, through words, simple words, important words, saving words.
We are connected to Jesus in a very loving way, and he uses the Holy Spirit to reach out to us. [More on this next week.]
Obviously, the gospel text is important on any Sunday. The congregation usually stands when that text is read. And it is usually quite easy to see that the focus of the text is, in some way, Jesus. But sometimes the messenger can receive more attention than the message. In an effort to focus more on the message, the focus this time will be on the First Reading, from the Book of Acts [20:17-35].
It is a rather obscure speech of Paul. But it is an important one. He is speaking to the Ephesian elders. One writer calls this ‘perhaps the most controversial and important of all the speeches in the Lukan account of him (Alan J. Bale, Genre and Narrative Coherence in the Acts of the Apostles, p. 192).’ In essence, it is most controversial because it is the most different when compared to Paul’s epistles. Also in essence, it is most important because it contains the word ‘gospel’ in its noun form. And this only happens two times within ALL of Luke-Acts (Acts 15:7 and 20:24). Instead of comparing this speech of Paul to his epistles, I would like to suggest comparing this speech to the speech of someone in the Old Testament.
Paul was a prophet, teaching the Word of the Lord. Samuel, in the Old Testament, was a prophet as well—and an important one. Both prophets were present at a time of transition. Paul was one of the apostles and was transitioning the followers of Jesus to be served by pastors. Samuel was transitioning the people to have a king. And both men were also thought to be writers (it is tradition that Samuel wrote the book of Judges).
There is one more comparison to be made. Paul is nearing the end of his road. He said that he is headed to Jerusalem and that ‘imprisonment and afflictions’ await him. Samuel is nearing the end of his road as well. In 1 Samuel 12, there is what has been called Samuel’s ‘farewell speech’. And what is interesting is that there is some significant, similar language.
What is that significant, similar language? With the perspective of scripture that values being in the presence of God, the ultimate King, who sometimes is also a judge, a significant word is to testify or witness. This means to state the evidence of a case before a king. These two things—of being in the presence of someone important and to testify/witness—are seen several times in this first paragraph of 1 Samuel 12 and are given in bold (within this ESV translation):
And Samuel said to all Israel, ‘Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day. Here I am; testify against me before the LORD and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.’ They said, ‘You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.’ And he said to them, ‘The LORD is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.’ And they said, ‘He is witness.’
Usually we hear that the king is the important one and people walk before him, but, in this case, the king is walking before ‘you’, meaning the people of Israel. Is that accurate?
Yes, it is! Although it is unusual, Israel has some authority in this situation. Israel has authority because the Lord wants to give it in this special circumstance. He does not want to rule with an obvious show of power; he also does not want the king of Israel to rule in similar ways to other countries. Our God does not have to do things that the world expects, like the world does. He wants to rule in a hidden way, through some chosen special instruments or means.
It is the same way with pastors (elders). They are given authority because the Lord wants to give it in a hidden and gentle way. This is a special circumstance. God does not come down and rule his Church with an obvious show of power. He CAME down and ruled with love—a love which is based on what Jesus did on the cross; It was there that he was the king over sin, death, and the devil. What a king!
If you look at the speech to the Ephesian elders, Paul is talking about himself a lot. But the ultimate focus is not himself. He wants to transition his special (hidden) authority to the elders. You can see this in his use of the word ‘testify’.
In the above paragraph, that word is first used when Samuel says, ‘testify against me before the LORD and before his anointed.’ This first time, the word ‘testify’ literally means ‘answer’. And in this special situation, the phrase ‘before the Lord’ does not involve seeing his face like before. In other words, the way the LORD shows himself is in a hidden way AGAIN! The focus is rather on the frequent word, to ‘testify’. The LOVING LORD wants the right words to be spoken. He wants LOVING words to be spoken. Words convey the LORD’s love in a loving way.
That is the same case in Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders. He uses the word to ‘witness’ or ‘testify’ four times. The first three times have a prefix attached and make the witnessing emphatically important. The fourth time he uses the word (verse 26), he is simply stating that he is innocent, and compared to the LORD’s message, that is not the important thing.
In the middle time of the three, the Holy Spirit is testifying about what awaits Paul; again, not that important (verse 23). At the first and the third times, Paul is testifying about two things that are critically important: 1) repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 21), and 2) the gospel of the grace of God (verse 24). Both these things are extremely foundational AND contain some relatively new words within the New Testament. But we can look at that some other time.