The gospel text for this Sunday [John 21:1-14] is from the very last chapter of the four gospel accounts—if they are in their usual order. This fact alone helps us have a broader perspective.
The previous chapter, John 20, ended with this already broad perspective:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (verses 30 & 31).
Many have thought that the account should end there. But there is more. It should be noted that all the ancient manuscripts also include the next chapter. This chapter contains the ‘third time that Jesus was revealed (John 21:14; note that the text does not say that Jesus revealed himself; there is Someone working behind the scenes.)’.
The basic text for this Sunday ends at verse 14. So there is the option of including verses 15 through 19. And the chapter goes on until verse 25. Because the reason for this chapter is given within these last verses, the entire section is given here (with the ESV translation). There is a gradual heightening of the excitement level, especially since Peter three times had recently denied he knew Jesus. And the quotation ends with a possible world full of books!
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him a third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’ So the saying spread among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’
This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who had written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
After the 1700’s, because of the many advancements in civilization, some people were very optimistic that they could write down record about the past and therefore reconstruct it ‘as it actually happened’ (see the works of L. von Ranke). Looking at the last sentence of the quote above, there seems to be an optimism there as well. But it seems to be an optimism focused on the amazing actions of Jesus.
It also seems that the writer of this gospel account lived a while after Jesus ascended into heaven—that was certainly the tradition. (It is interesting that the word ‘saying’ that spread about the writer being around until Jesus’ return is the same Greek word for ‘word’ in the very first verses of this account; there is an important 'Word' at the very beginning of this account and a not-so-important 'word' at the very end.) And it also seems that more than one person has asked the writer not only if he would live until Jesus came back, but it seems he was also being asked for even more details about Jesus.
When a person wants what ACTUALLY happened, that person is asking for a lot. It seems that the writer of this chapter is giving them something extra, something that may not necessarily have been given so that the reader or the listener believes in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and has life in that name.
Do you want something that interests you, or do you want something that saves you? Do you want something that activates your brain, or do you want something that saves your entire body? This chapter is a good reminder that it is easy for us to get distracted from the most amazing action of Jesus. That special Word was made flesh, and that flesh went to the cross and the (eventually empty) tomb for sinful mankind.
The Gospel text for this Sunday [John 20:19-31] should be familiar to many; in the three-year series and in the one-year series, it is ALWAYS the text for the second Sunday of Easter. You cannot get away from this text.
For a while, a couple of these verses also appeared within The Small Catechism. In the section on Confession, in the 1986 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism (notice how Luther’s name somehow moved to the primary position), there were the following three questions and answers:
What is the Office of the Keys?*
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?*
This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ [John 20:22-23]
What do you believe according to these words?*
I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
Note that each of these three questions has an asterisk. In that edition, the following sentence is also given: ‘* This question may not have been composed by Luther himself but reflects his teaching and was included in editions of the catechism during his lifetime.’
To borrow a question: What does this mean? These questions could be included, and they could be left out. This is not about Luther; this is about teaching, and that is more important.
If these three questions would be included, that would be okay. The five-hundredth-anniversary booklet of this catechism, entitled A Simple Explanation of Christianity, leaves these three questions in, but it leaves out the footnote. Leaving the footnote out helps to bring a greater focus on the included text. The year 2017 was an anniversary of the START of the Reformation. There is much more that could be said. There is much more that WILL be said as the 500th anniversaries of various Reformation events continue.
If these three questions would be left out, that would also be okay. This section would, in the end, focus on Confession, and that is not a bad thing. Obviously more emphasis should rightly, then, be given to the Absolution. Another good thing is the decreased emphasis on the pastor; the Lord’s words are the important thing.
You can see this lack of emphasis also in the fifth article of the Augsburg Confession of 1530, the article on ‘The Ministry’. Here is the translation given in the ‘Reader’s Edition’:
‘So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake (Second Edition, 2005, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri).’
Where is the pastor? That is the point! All the way through the scriptures, it is the Word of the Lord that is the important thing (see Acts 28:31).
This is the Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. The Gospel text is Luke 24:1-12. Recently in my writings I have been trying to point to a much bigger picture, what a particular text says in relation to the other gospel accounts. This time I would like to look at just one word.
And [the women] remembered [Jesus’] words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:8-11 ESV).
When I read the translation, that the words of the women seemed to the disciples as ‘an idle tale’, it did not seem that those words were too frequently used these days. I looked into this word that ended up being translated into two words: ‘idle tale’. It turns out much more could be said.
It ends up that it takes a lot of words for BDAG (page 594) to define this word: ‘That which is totally devoid of anything worthwhile.’ And speaking of words being infrequently used, that book also gives these synonyms: ‘idle talk, nonsense, humbug(!)’.
This is the only time that word is used within the entire New Testament, but all words have some sort of history. And Luke is very careful with his vocabulary. In the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (volume 2, page 387f), there was significantly more.
It seems this word is a technical term in medical vocabulary for the delirium caused by a fever. It especially appears in the observations of Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’, the man who is the basis for the Hippocratic oath. He lived about four hundred years before Jesus.
It is interesting that Luke, a physician, chooses to use to this term. The lexicon goes on to say the following: ‘This meaning [of delirium] seems too strong as a description of the remarks of the holy women to the effect that they had found the tomb empty on Easter morning.’ But, perhaps by using this term, Luke is wanting to make a very strong point. He is, after all, talking about the very basis of Christianity.
If Jesus was still dead, and if you could go to his tomb, what difference would his words make? What difference would the rest of the bible make?
Another interesting thing was a somewhat biblical (Jewish) writing that also used this term, ‘idle tale’. In a book called 4 Maccabees (only 1-2 Maccabees typically appear within The Apocrypha), the ruler, Antiochus, is trying to get Eleazer, a lawyer, who is also connected to the priesthood by blood, to renounce the Jewish laws and eat some delicious pork (Who could make this stuff up?!). Antiochus asks him: ‘Will you not wake up from the foolishness that your philosophy produces? Will you not abandon your delirium (5:10)?
The book of 4 Maccabees was designed as a comfort and encouragement for the persecuted, so I would imagine that you know how this is going to turn out. What is most interesting is that, right as Eleazer is about to die, he says this: ‘You know, O God, that though I might have been saved, I am dying in the tortures of fire for the sake of the Law. Be merciful to your people, and be satisfied with this punishment for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs (4 Maccabees 6:27-29).’
I would think that this might remind you of someone else. That this man is related to the priests and that he says these similar things near the time that Jesus was around—that is interesting. And it shows how very easy it is to get what Jesus did wrong. It is important to remember that he is both fully God and fully man.
Prayers are requests made to God. When you have God the Son making a request to God the Father, that seems to me to be a different category. What people can do is make a good example for others to follow. What God does is totally different. That is why his Son has the name that means one who SAVES—not helps.
This Sunday is very special; it is the Sunday of the Passion. And so, the Gospel text for this Sunday is very special … and very long [Luke 23:1-56].
There are three noticeable parts of this Passion narrative that do not appear in the other three gospel accounts. Some people might consider them to be insignificant. But I believe they serve an important purpose.
In the first part of chapter 23, we hear that Herod and Pilate became friends because of Jesus (see verse 12). Near the middle of the chapter, as Jesus is making his way to the cross, he speaks to the female mourners for a significantly long time—especially if you consider his busy schedule! Jesus predicts some hard times ahead for the people in Jerusalem, and this was fulfilled in 70 A.D (see verses 27-28). Soon after, when Jesus is on the cross, one of the criminals next to him ends up repenting for his previous actions, and he asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Jesus responds with those beautiful words, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise (verse 43).’ When looking at the other three accounts, there is no indication that these three things happened.
The writer of the Gospel according to Luke begins the account by writing that he has done his homework. People have been interviewed. But I think there is something more to this.
These three ‘additions’ are similar in that Jesus is in contact with those who would have been looked down upon in some way. Those who govern are often corrupt (as is our own human nature). And perhaps you already knew that those who are women were also looked down upon. (The ISBE, volume 4, page 1089, starts with the following summary, and then goes on in some detail: ‘Nowhere in the ancient Mediterranean or Near East were women accorded the freedom that they enjoy in modern Western society.’) And it should go without saying that a criminal is also looked down upon.
The work of Luke-Acts as a whole has a high regard for those in authority, those who are women, and, frankly, those who are criminals. People change. Situations turn around. God works miracles. Jesus saves.
I also would be remiss if I do not bring up what could be considered my favorite reason for these differences. The living creature that is most often connected with this gospel account is that of the ox. I do not think it is a coincidence that the Hebrew word for ox, ‘shor’, is similar to the Hebrew word for wall, particularly a retaining wall. A retaining wall has to have some strength. It is not there to look nice. The ox does not look like a mighty one in the same way that a lion does. The ox does not have the great looks. The ox is usually silent and concentrates on getting the job done rather than fighting the enemy. The important jobs need to get done. The ox is willing to get dirty to get those jobs done. He is also willing to go alongside other animals, all with the purpose of doing his job.
To have a God that is willing to die next to a repentant person branded as a criminal, but before that happens, to promise him Paradise. Now that is a job well done.
This Sunday is the fifth Sunday in Lent, the Sunday before Holy Week. And the Gospel text for this Sunday [Luke 20:9-20] certainly ‘takes the excitement up a notch’. The last verse of the appointed text often is connected to the section that follows, and it speaks of the scribes and the chief priests sending spies.
By itself, the so-called ‘Parable of the Wicked Tenants’ has enough excitement for me. And this is especially true when I compare the account in the Gospel according to Luke with the other two synoptic gospel accounts.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, it gets exciting at 21:39:
‘And [the wicked tenants] took [the owner’s son] and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ [The chief priests and the elders of the people] said to [Jesus], ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.’
In the Gospel according to Mark, it gets exciting at 12:8:
‘And [the wicked tenants] took [the owner’s son] and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.’
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus ends up being a good teacher. Even though they are enemies, they have learned something. They know how to answer Jesus’ question. They end up receiving some of the focus. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus ends up being the focus. He asks the question, and he answers it himself.
I think that possibly a ‘middle ground’ text is found in the Gospel according to Luke. The excitement starts at verse 15:
‘And [the wicked tenants] threw [the owner’s son] out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’ When [the chief priests and the scribes with the elders] heard this, they said, ‘Surely not!’
So how can it be that in the Gospel according to Matthew, the enemies of Jesus get the answer right, and it the Gospel according to Luke, those enemies cannot bear to hear the right answer? The first way to answer is that two people in the same group may be two people with completely different perspectives. Different people answer the same questions in different ways.
What I consider to be the more important answer is to see a different role for Jesus in each of these accounts. And the different roles of Jesus are seen in his connection to each living creature.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, the living creature is the man, and a man is a much better teacher than all the other living creatures. Jesus, as a teacher, fulfills his role in that gospel account.
In the Gospel according to Mark, the living creature is the lion, and a lion is a much better fighter than all the other living creatures. The writer of this account keeps the attention on the person of Jesus, because there is going to be a great battle quite soon—this event, after all, takes place only three days before Jesus’ death.
And in the Gospel according to Luke, the living creature is the ox. The ox has the power of the lion but the gentleness of a man. For those people who do NOT give the right answer, who are ‘stuck’ with their wrong perspective, the ox is there to help. The ox is there to lead them in a different direction, a much better one. And Jesus also wants to keep going in the direction that he was headed.
In these few verses, we see Jesus’ multifaceted salvation. He is, at the very same time, teacher, fighter, and helper. That is good because we do NONE of those things as well as he does. (Incidentally, I hope you are glad that we have four gospel accounts instead of just one.)
During Lent there are some significant jumps in the Gospel text. Last Sunday the text was from Luke 13. This Sunday the text is from Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. This week I thought it might be appropriate to look at the much bigger picture (rather than a look at the word ‘prodigal’, for example).
These jumps happen during Lent because, on the first Sunday, the Gospel text is from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, his temptation in the wilderness. And by the fifth Sunday in Lent, Jesus is very close to getting crucified. There have to be some significant jumps in the text for this to happen.
Last week I briefly mentioned that the ‘orderliness’ of the Gospel according to Luke [see 1:3] is, I believe, based not on history, but theology. I would like to show how that might look within a portion of the text.
I would like to look at the text between two times that Jesus is mentioned as heading toward Jerusalem. This is a critical event in the life of Christ. It happens to be mentioned at Luke 13:22 and again at Luke 17:11. Between those two verses is obviously a lot of text. But if you do not mind a somewhat long summary of that text (without a huge number of exact references), you may choose to read on. The main themes seem to be repentance and forgiveness within the context of salvation. Hopefully these topics will be helpful in your own journey.
At Luke 13:22, the question Jesus is asked is regarding the number of the saved. Jesus, as usual, gets to the heart of the issue and speaks to those who are saved and/or to those who are not. Jesus says that things will turn out NOT as expected. This theme continues to the end of chapter 13 with Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem, that those people in Jerusalem are not doing too well when it comes to listening to their Lord.
In chapter 14, Jesus puts himself forward as very caring with the healing of a man on the Sabbath. Immediately after, with the parable of the wedding feast, is the exhortation toward humility and, therefore, repentance. The implication is that, instead of a focus on self, a better focal point would be Jesus. Later in the chapter, with the parable of the great banquet, the man in charge shows himself to be very caring, inviting those who have been overlooked by others. As above, some people are not doing too good a job of listening.
At Luke 14:25, a statement is made that ‘great crowds accompanied’ Jesus. Jesus takes what was previously said a step farther, that a person should hate other things—and even his own life. He follows that up by saying one should ‘count the cost’, again showing the seriousness of the situation. This is again reflected when Jesus talks about throwing away salt that is not doing its job.
In chapter 15, Jesus takes the topic of his caring another step even farther, and he shows his true love for ‘sinners’ by eating with them. He clarifies what he is doing by emphasizing the importance of repentance (see verses 7 and 10).
In chapter 16, Jesus starts by talking to his disciples and emphasizes being shrewd (like the ‘dishonest’ manager). In contrast to this, the Pharisees love money (and are, therefore, shrewd in a different way and serve money instead of God), and Jesus gives them some words of Law. He ends by contrasting a rich man with Lazarus.
In chapter 17, Jesus again starts talking to his disciples, and he gives them a few words of advice in dealing with temptations to sin (this is in contrast to the Pharisees’ love of money). The point should be made that he emphasizes forgiving those who repent. And what follows, I think, is a clue that we are getting to the end of the section. Instead of the text saying that ‘The disciples said to Jesus’, the text says that ‘The apostles said to the Lord….’ They are asking for an increase of faith, and that is certainly needed at that time, in the Book of Acts, and also today. With the story of the mustard seed and the unworthy servants, Jesus helps the disciples (and us today) to focus on the Lord’s actions, through seemingly insignificant things. This is meant to change our perspective regarding the things that we do. In the end, we are not to focus on ourselves. And, in the end, may we also say this: ‘…[W]e have only done what was our duty (verse 10).’
The first thing that someone might note from the Gospel text for this Sunday [Luke 13:1-9] is that it is earlier in the account than the text from the previous Sunday [Luke 13:31-35]. Someone might think that this is a mistake. The overwhelming consensus is that we are headed toward the END of the gospel account and should not go backward.
In response to that, I would like to remind the reader than the events in the gospel accounts are not necessarily in chronological order. The Gospel according to Luke is ‘orderly’ (see Luke 1:3), but this word could (and, in my opinion, should) be taken in a predominantly theological way and not chronological.
It would also be good to note that, when comparing the texts, there is a heightening in the text for this Sunday in at least two ways. First, whereas the first text talked of a possible death, the second text speaks of multiple people who died, whose blood was ‘mingled with their sacrifices’ (verse 1). Second, while the first text talked about Herod, the person with the real power in that area and at that time was Pontius Pilate, and he is identified as the clear culprit in the second text.
It is interesting that both these persons are described as seeing Jesus after he was arrested, and only in the Gospel according to Luke is the point made that these two enemies became friends (see Luke 23:1-12). I personally think that ‘miracle’ should be attributed to Jesus and his working like an ox—a worker who does not shy away from extremely difficult work but is willing to get it done. And it is certainly amazing what he can—and still does—get done.
If you are familiar with the text for this Sunday, it ultimately deals with the issue of why bad things happen to good people (although a good point may be brought up that those supposedly good people in the text were from Galilee—that was not something you would put on a resume). This issue that has come up since the time of the biblical Job (and perhaps even before him) has a name: theodicy.
I hope you will not mind looking behind the history of that word—and, strangely enough, the closely related word of ‘optimism’.
The word ‘theodicy’ is made up of two Latin words meaning ‘God’ and ‘justice’, and it finds its roots in Leibniz, who was considered one of the greatest thinkers of the 16 and 1700’s, and perhaps of all time. He has been called a universal genius. He wrote a book entitled Theodicy in 1710.
A dictionary with some authority (the OED) defines the word ‘theodicy’ in this way: “The, or a, vindication of the divine attributes, especially justice and holiness, in respect to the existence of evil; a writing, doctrine, or theory intended to ‘justify the ways of God to men’.”
The above entry also connects the reader to the word ‘optimism’. I was not aware of Leibniz’s responsibility for this word as well. (It also comes from a Latin word—'best’.)
Here is the first part of that entry: ‘A name given to the doctrine propounded by Leibnitz, in his Theodicte (1710), that the actual world is the ‘best of all possible worlds’, being chosen by the Creator out of all the possible worlds which were present in his thoughts as that in which the most good could be obtained at the cost of the least evil. Also applied to doctrines of earlier or later thinkers to a like effect (page 164).’
There is a certain danger when the source for your definitions and your amounts of good and evil are based in creation rather than redemption. It is not surprising that Leibniz was in the middle of the Enlightenment, a period of time which emphasized reason and individualism instead of tradition. The bible was being pushed aside, and what was seen was considered important. But what you see can change significantly.
The Lenten journey, on the other hand, does not change. After the forty days are over, we know where we will be ending up. I would encourage you to let what you see at THAT location sink in.
It is interesting that, in the Gospel text for this Sunday [Luke 13:31-35], Jesus resorts to a little ‘name calling’. That seems to be a more common occurrence these days. People are used to getting their way electronically, with all the ‘likes’ on their posts, and when things do not go their way, there can easily be a meltdown … along with a little name-calling to make the person feel a little better.
In the text and in other places in scripture, name-calling does not seem to happen at the end of an encounter. It is something that happens at the very beginning. God created things, and then he named them. As a side note, it is also interesting to compare the names of some things in the language of the Old Testament. The word for God (Elohim), for example, has a similar ending to the word for ‘complete’ or ‘whole’ (ta-mim’). In the text for this Sunday, Jesus first names King Herod a fox, but then then he calls himself a hen.
Here is what The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Volume 2, Page 358) says of foxes:
If they do not actually excavate these [burrows] themselves, they will often take over the burrow of another animal such as the badger. The use of ‘fox’ in reference to Herod (Lk. 13:32) indicated his low cunning and comparative worthlessness (cf. Neh. 4:3 for the insignificance of this animal). Ezekiel compared Israel’s prophets to foxes; they care for themselves but show little concern for Israel’s relation to God (13:4f).
Here is what is said of the hen—more specifically, of the chicken—after the encyclopedia says that they probably were not around during the time of Solomon, since they would have been mentioned in the text—they are described as ‘a marvel worth recording’ (Volume 1, Page 644):
From the history of the bird in other countries it is safe to estimate that they [the chickens] entered Palestine at about the 6th century B.C. That would allow sufficient time for them to increase and become common enough to be used as illustrations by Jesus. He mentions the hen … and her brood … in a moving image of divine concern for the Jews who rejected him (Mt. 23:37; Lk 13:34).
It seems easy to imagine how a battle would go between a fox and a hen. It would be quite a different ending to say that the Son of God is battling a son of man. Between the fox and the hen, I think the fox would be the easy winner. The action of the hen, covering her chicks with her wings, is, I would agree, a moving image of divine concern.
This is a case where a little name-calling becomes a wonderful thing.
This Sunday, the First Sunday in Lent, obviously starts us in a new direction. In the Gospel text for this Sunday [Luke 4:1-13], Jesus is definitely headed toward the cross. And that difficult direction is already seen at the beginning of his ministry, during his time of temptation in the wilderness.
From our perspective, it is difficult for us to relate to this time of temptation. If we ourselves had to go through the trial and trouble of not eating for forty days, I think we would care deeply. In short, it would be impossible for the vast majority of us.
The lack of sympathy for such a situation puts us in an opposite perspective, one of caring for what EXACTLY happened. And I would not be the first person to point out that, when comparing the temptations in the Gospel according to Matthew and Luke, the order is different. And asking what order the temptations actually occurred is somewhat like asking the lifeguard to give you his qualifications while you are drowning and going down for the last time.
Using the typical Hebrew literary structure of the important thing in the middle, the middle temptation in the Gospel according to Matthew is that of Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple. And with the living creature of the Gospel according to Luke being the ox, the temptation at the end, after the ox has done all the hard work, is the Jerusalem temple temptation. Both places are important.
The most helpful context to remember for the New Testament is the Old one. Jerusalem is a significant city because the temple was a significant place. And the temptation is very real.
The devil had a great plan for a wonderful start to Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus would jump down from the top of the temple, he would float down and would end up getting a significant number of loyal followers.
That was certainly not the plan in mind. You can see this through the various chapters of this account: Jesus does some wonderful things, but then he goes off by himself. Jesus says some difficult things, but then he does some wonderful things—but then he tells the people not to tell anyone. Some people are seriously upset by what he does; others are seriously confused. Some people want him to leave; others want to follow him; and Jesus tells them both that things are going to be difficult.
In the last verse of the text, the devil goes away from Jesus until ‘an opportune time’. At the beginning of chapter 22, the text says that Satan entered into Judas. He goes to Jesus’ enemies and works out a deal to betray him. And the text says that they rejoiced. Herod also rejoiced when he got to see Jesus (23:8). In sharp contrast, the first two mentions of rejoicing in this gospel account were in the angel’s announcements to both Zechariah and Mary (1:14, 28). The variety shows itself in different ways.
When Jesus goes from big crowds to being off by himself, I can imagine that there would be an opportune time at some point. Jesus makes sure that the devil gets his work done so that the Father can do his. And, because of this, we rejoice.
This Sunday is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, and in the year when we are within the Gospel according to Luke, there is an interesting connection between the first Sunday in Epiphany and the Last Sunday.
In Luke 3:21, the text describes that Jesus had been baptized and was praying. In Luke 9:29, the text describes that Jesus was transfigured while he was praying. Jesus is praying at the beginning and middle of his ministry. Why make this connection to prayer?
The first way to answer that question is to say THAT is what happened—Jesus WAS praying at these two important times! That the other writers did not include this detail does NOT mean that it did NOT happen.
The second way to answer that question is to add that Jesus prayed at the beginning, middle, AND end of his ministry. Also unique to this gospel account is that, in Luke 22:44, Jesus was in an agony and ‘he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.’ Of course, this also happened.
The writer of the Gospel according to Luke did his homework (see Luke 1:1-4). And his emphasis, all through the account, is Jesus as the obedient worker, the workhorse, the ox.
Without that connection to prayer at the end of Jesus’ ministry, one might get the idea that the prayer was added as an example for us to follow. ‘If you want to be baptized and have it make a difference, then you should pray!’ ‘If you want God to change you, then you should pray!’ It seems almost ridiculous to say that, ‘If you are serious about prayer, you should pray until your sweat becomes like great drops of blood falling to the ground.’ We might as well give up now.
I think Martin Luther gives a much better perspective of prayer within his Large Catechism. In the section which introduces ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, he talks about the command to pray and the promise of God to respond to prayer. But in paragraph 22 he goes even further and talks about the extent of God’s care and concern. God gives us the words and the ways in which those words should be used. He lays in our mouths how and what we should pray. This, Luther says, shows God’s love and mercy for our situation. I will let Luther do the talking:
This [the Lord’s Prayer] is a great advantage indeed over all other prayers that we might compose ourselves. For in our own prayers the conscience would ever be in doubt and say, ‘I have prayed, but who knows if it pleases Him or whether I have hit upon the right proportions and form?’ Therefore, there is no nobler prayer to be found upon earth than the Lord’s Prayer. We pray it daily [Matthew 6:11], because it has this excellent testimony, that God loves to hear it. We ought not to surrender this for all the riches of the world (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Second Edition, page 411).
A prayer that starts within us easily comes to nothing. The command to pray is often fulfilled, and then it can easily come to nothing. The promise of an answer to prayer is often a wonderful motivator, but then it can easily come to nothing.
God laid on Jesus our sin. God lays upon us his compassion. God lays in our mouths what to say to him.