Today is grace day. As we take a day off between Luke and Acts, it’s an opportunity to take look both back and ahead. In just a few short weeks we’ve made it through all 24 chapters of the Gospel of Luke. Over the next few weeks, we’ll travel through 28 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. Personally, I have found reading through books of the Bible has been the most fruitful way to learn about following Jesus. If you’ve taken this journey with me so far, I trust that you have found it uplifting, insightful, and challenging.
Looking back, my first reflection is about the book itself. I have loved how detailed and comprehensive Luke is. Luke was highly educated, compiling the Gospel of Luke from numerous eye-witness accounts. He wrote in a way that would be verifiable to the people of his day. These aren’t mysterious, mystical ramblings intended to inspire and enlighten like we find in other religions. This is an ancient biography. Whatever your opinions of miracles may be, the writer and witnesses to these events are simply reporting what they have seen. As far as style, it was not written to a Jewish audience and is somewhat linear in its telling of the life of Jesus. All of this makes it one of the most approachable books in the Bible for today’s audience. Written communication was much different back then, but this book comes pretty close to what we’re used to. Although it takes a little bit of work at times, most of us can get a lot out of this book quickly.
My second reflection is about Jesus Himself. Although much of what He said was misunderstood in its immediate context, He was quite clear about who He was and why He came. He has not left room for anyone (then or now) to call Him a great teacher or miracle worker. He quite clearly and repeatedly claimed divinity…that’s why the religious elite wanted to kill Him. If He claimed divinity and was not, then He was quite mad. But when we see what He did and what He taught, we see that He spent His entire ministry freeing people. He frees them from sickness, oppression, hunger, and even from death. Each of these acts points to the greatest one…He came to save all of us from the power of sin and death. The one form of oppression that enslaves us all is sin. The one form of poverty that touches each of us is spiritual. It is only through Jesus we are freed from the power and penalty that comes from sin. It is only through Jesus we become reconciled to God, which makes us spiritually rich. Some claim the ministry of Jesus is only about poverty alleviation and social justice here on earth. In this one book, we have seen people who are poor, rich, sick, healthy, Jew, Gentile, man, and woman all come to Jesus. We have seen that exact same demographic turn their back on Him. While the ministry of Jesus certainly brings with it justice and liberation here on earth, it is ultimately meaningless without freedom from sin and reconciliation with God. That’s why Jesus came.
Finally, the last reflection about Luke is personal. This time through Luke, I paid special attention to the interactions Jesus had with others. Throughout the Gospel, His invitation was open to everyone He met. Everyone. Throughout the Gospel, we see people continually walk away. I never once noticed Him turn His back on anyone. That is incredible to think about. The stereotype of Christianity is that it is judgmental and exclusionary. Jesus doesn’t model that. But why did so many turn away? In Luke, Jesus invites people to follow Him. It’s more than just belief…it’s a call to trust and follow. That is where new life is found, that is where we find freedom and refreshing. But there is a cost, and Jesus states it quite plainly. When He says “trust me,” He means with everything. For most, that is too steep a price to pay. Yes, we want relief. We want assurance. But we want it on our terms. We’re still stuck in a transactional mindset, negotiating with God…trying to get a small bit of relief in exchange for a tiny bit of obedience. Jesus holds His arms open wide and says, “give me all of you, and I will give you all of me.” He knows He’s getting the bad end of that deal, but He offers it anyway because of His deep love for us. He knows it will cost Him His life. He will die an agonizing death. Even so…His arms are open wide. Following Jesus is simple, but not easy.
We’re clinging to the pennies in our pocket while He’s offering us the keys to a Kingdom.
If you aren’t caught up with us in Luke, read a chapter or two today. Or dive into Acts since that’s where we’re headed next. This is a no-frills, no-pressure, grace-filled journey. Enjoy it.
As you start to dive into Acts, here are a few things to watch for.
Luke wrote Acts, so the writing style, pace, and language is going to be nearly identical to what we just finished. Expect a few historical details along the way. Feel free to Google some of the names and places if you like. There’s a lot of travel in this book, so this will be a great time to visit the maps in the back of your Bible!
Pay attention to the messages preached. Who is the message for? Why is it important? What’s the purpose? Remember, although the Old Testament tells Israel to welcome in the foreigners and sojourners, Judaism was primarily a national religion. Bringing outsiders in was uncommon. This changes dramatically in this book. Notice the role of women in this book. Are they valued or are they outcast? Do they play prominent roles or are they bystanders? A lot of people think the early church was pretty close to perfect. Pay close attention…what do you think? What did they do right and what did they get wrong?
If you’re reading closely, a few weeks in you might notice where Luke joins the story. This is one of my favorite little treasures in the book. If you think back on the Gospel, you’ll notice Luke isn’t in it at all. However, from Paul’s writings and from Acts, we know that Luke was converted to Christianity sometime after the ascension. If you’re reading closely, you’ll spot a specific shift in a specific town. Luke starts using the word “we” to refer to the travelers. Cool stuff.
A couple of final things to watch out for…look for how the Holy Spirit moves, acts, and empowers people. We’ll see it right off in chapter two, but pay attention throughout the rest of the book. Also pay special attention when they speak of the Word of God. What are they talking about? Why is it important? We’ve often heard Jesus referred to as “the Word.” Is that what they mean here?
I hope you’re enjoying our journey through Luke and Acts. I’ve been sharing a few reflections every day on my Facebook page to keep us on track and motivated. Feel free to join the conversation. I love seeing so many people reading along…people seem to be talking about the Word everywhere I go and it’s beautiful. Thanks for coming along with me.