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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - Luke - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Luke - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Luke - Part 1
TOPICS: Gospel of Luke, Christmas

In this session I want to look with you at the miracle of Jesus's birth, but I want to do it through the lens of the Gospel of Luke. In the previous session, we looked at Jesus's birth from Matthew's perspective. You know, in Matthew's Gospel, the narrative of Jesus's birth is inseparable from the prophets. It reminds us of how so many of the components of Jesus's entry into our world was fulfilling what the prophets had said about him. So the New Testament begins very much rooted in the words of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. Luke takes a slightly different perspective. It's worth a bit of time irrespective of holidays to understand those birth narratives because I believe the circumstances in the world at the time of Jesus's first entry into time will be very similar to the circumstances in our world when Jesus comes back.

I'm not suggesting that the Roman Empire will be reassembled; but I think that expression of authoritarianism and all the things that came with that, some of the pressures that the people felt, particularly God's people felt, will be mirrored when Jesus comes back to the earth. So the better we understand the circumstances of the 1st century, I believe, the better prepared we'll be to welcome the Lord back when he comes. I start with the obvious. I hope you're aware of, I hope you're paying attention that we are witnessing a really unprecedented, at least in our lifetimes, rise of paganism. That's not intended to be a derogatory term, it defines how you stand in relation to Christianity. Rome prior to Constantine the emperor was a pagan empire.

Certainly the Rome that we meet in the New Testament was a pagan empire. And what we witness around us is there's a growing intolerance of a biblical worldview and that corresponds to something that's happening on an individual basis, and that's the deterioration of human character. The values which have shaped Western culture for hundreds of years are being discarded. You know this. And they're not being discarded quietly, they're being labeled. They're being derided and maligned. You understand this because if you have the boldness to address the name of Jesus or interject the name of Jesus into the public square or the corporate boardroom or the academic settings, you're very much aware of the kind of labels that come your way. You'll hear things like out of date, or patriarchal, or racist, or xenophobic, or transphobic, or homophobic.

We're phobic about a lot of things. Repressive, capitalistic, uninformed, anachronistic, fundamentalist, Christian Nationalist. The list goes on and on. None of them are complements. They're very much intended to belittle, to demean, fundamentally to bully anyone who would dare to suggest that they'd embraced a biblical worldview and understood that to be the authority for their lives. Now, the results of this paganization are becoming abundantly clear. You don't have to be particularly aware to notice them. Increasing violence, justice is applied unequally so often to gain or to maintain power. We're witnessing widespread censorship, state-sponsored deception, rapidly-rising authoritarianism in our nation and around the world, diminished rights for the minority, immorality, families no longer imagined to be the fundamental training point for children.

It's hard to say that out loud. We're watching it happen, but it's difficult to get our minds around. Disrespect for authority, greed, envy, the unbridled pursuit of pleasure. Children are becoming increasingly prey for demonic ideas and activity. It's happening around us. We're facing a circumstance that in my opinion will lead to one of two outcomes. The first would be an awakening of God's people and will correspond with a heartfelt repentance, not a casual repentance, not a one-time repentance. Not just a repentance for our own personal transgressions; but a repentance for the world in which we live and the attitude with which we've held, a grief for the darkness and the wickedness that we see around us. The second alternative would be an expression of God's judgment, and it isn't clear to me which of those two will define our future.

I'm not sure the decision has been made. I think the decision, the responses of God's people are really the critical issue in what the future will become. Many of our current circumstances remind me of the 1st century BC, that period when Jesus was born. And I believe there'll be many parallels between the season when Jesus returns to the earth and his first entry into time. So it's worth understanding those birth narratives is more than just a holiday script. Jesus was born into a world of Roman occupation, authoritarian oppression of the people. The wealth of Israel was being siphoned off to fund the whims of Rome. They were billeting Roman soldiers and suffering the indignities that come with that and the violations that came with that. I'm not suggesting we live in that world, but I am suggesting that we serve, we see the foreshadowings of that. I think we have a hard time processing the discrepancies between what we are told and what we watch happen.

After 9/11 there was the formation of the Department of Homeland Security. It's a wonderful idea somebody working diligently to secure our homeland and yet we find ourselves with an open border with millions pouring across, and that same Department of Homeland Security forces millions of American citizens into vaccinations that they would prefer not to take. They promote and sponsor censorship, propaganda. They collude with media platforms to protect the powerful. They tell us on a regular basis that domestic terrorists are our greatest threats. "Don't look at the border. Don't consider the people from more than 100 nations that are pouring across our border without documentation, without vaccination, without means or support". They tell us our own citizens are a greater threat than our enemies.

Again, I don't believe we've arrived completely in the world of that 1st century, but we see its tentacles around us. So I would submit to you that the message of Jesus's birth is relevant to us as more than just a historical reminder, and we're going to walk through Luke. It's a majestic presentation, so beautifully done. I would remind you Luke's day job was a physician. Of the Gospel writers, he's the one who is Gentile. He's non-Jewish, so he writes with a very unique perspective. Luke presents to us a supernatural account. The primary characters that we're going to meet, and I'm sure are already very familiar to you, are aware that the events that are enveloping their lives are beyond them. They're not things they could have orchestrated themselves, and Luke takes great pains to help us understand that.

The structure of those first two chapters is helpful. I'll give it to you in just big blocks. It's not in your notes. I just gave you the text. But Luke tells us about the birth of John the Baptist being announced prior to his conception. There's an angelic messenger that tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth will have a son; and Luke parallels that with Jesus's birth being foretold, angelic visitors to Joseph and Mary. And then the birth of John the Baptist is recorded and the circumstances surrounding that, followed by the birth of Jesus and the circumstances that follow that. To loop the activity of angels is of tremendous significance. In those two chapters, angels are referenced more than 14 times, 14. The involvement of the Holy Spirit is essential to the story that Luke is telling not just in the birth of Jesus but the following life and ministry of Jesus.

Luke's account is an account of belief, inviting the reader, I believe, to accept God's plans and purposes for our lives and not just stand as voyeurs watching the plans and purposes of God unfold in the lives of others. Do you imagine that God is moving in the 21st century just as certainly and just as dramatically as he did in the 1st century? I refuse to accept sitting in a church building is the equivalent of following God. I will not accept the premise that religious dogma is the same as a life yielded to the Lordship of Jesus. The gathering in a building and the recitation of a prayer is not the equivalent of the dynamic of a life infused with the Spirit of God accepting assignments and responding to God's purposes in the earth.

We've been lulled into kind of a religious coma. We've learned to check the boxes and how to behave in a polite way so that we don't stand out too much; but I'm afraid we've missed the invitation to be the people of God on the earth, the people who make a difference, the ones who capture the attention of the creator of all things and Luke invites us back right into the middle of that narrative. We better get to the text. Luke chapter 1 and verse 5, "In the time of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; and his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. And both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly".

Maybe you'd like to make the book and have your description be that you were upright in the sight of God and you did everything he asked you to do. I'm afraid if my narrative was in there. It'd read differently, but I'm working on it. Do you aspire to that, or do you think of God more in terms of fire insurance? You don't want him to intrude too much in your day to day; you just want that policy so something unexpected happens you don't go south, and I don't mean Alabama. I think we've accepted a rather shabby substitute for a vibrant vital faith.

"Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as a priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood". And he went into the temple. Verse 11, "An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear". But the angel said something. "Zechariah, do not be afraid. Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you're to give him the name John. He'll be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he'll be great in the sight of the Lord".

Parents, what's your aspiration for your children? Good grades in school, athletic abilities, achievement, accomplishment? I don't believe there's any greater opportunity for a human life than to be great in the sight of the Lord. If you want a prayer to pray for your children, begin to quietly, persistently, repetitively, unyieldingly pray they will grow to be great in the sight of the Lord. "Zechariah asked the angel", I think that takes some hutzpah. You imagine an angel showing up and giving you an announcement and you decide you're going to play 40 questions. "Zechariah asked the angel, 'How can I be sure of this? I'm an old man and my wife, well, she's well along in years.' The angel answered, 'I am Gabriel.'" And I think in the original language it says right there knucklehead, but I'm not sure just, "I'm Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I've been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you'll be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you didn't believe my words, which will come true at the proper time".

That's how Luke chooses to begin us on the pathway that will ultimately lead to the birth of the Messiah. He tells us about a priest and his wife. Upright people, godly people, people of integrity, people with disappointment, people with broken dreams, people who stand apart a bit. It begins with a narrative about prayer. The angel said, "I'm here because you have prayed. You and Elizabeth have prayed for a child". I don't think it's accidental that Luke slides in to the narrative that while Zechariah is serving in the temple there's a great crowd of people standing outside praying. The response that comes is one that's God-initiated. I believe the great initiatives in earth are God-initiated. God sent Gabriel, an archangel, to visit with Zechariah. God said, "I'm going to do something beyond your prayers. I have an imagination beyond what you've asked for".

We desperately need a church that has a hope in their heart that Almighty God is doing things in the earth beyond what we can do, beyond what we would even dare to ask for, beyond what we can imagine. We have retreated. We have yielded the field to the idea that the great power available to human beings is something other than God. I'm not denying the reality of economic power, or political power, or the power of the people, or whatever expression of power you choose; but the greatest power available to human life is the power of Almighty God, and the church of Jesus Christ has to be awakened to that point or we will forfeit our future.

Now, Luke immediately takes us to the Jesus's narrative. He just introduced us to how John's birth was foretold, but now in verse 26 it says, "In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.' Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, 'Don't be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You'll be with child and give birth to a son, and you're to give him the name Jesus. He will be great, and he will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.'"

You'll note the angel didn't just come to give her a birth announcement. He came with a prophetic message about the role Jesus would play. That's more than just a you're-going-to-be-pregnant story. He said, "The son you're going to give will be great and called the son of the most high God, and God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever". The angel is coming to instruct Mary on what's ahead, and Mary asked a question. "'How will this be? I'm a virgin.' The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.'" We read that as if it answered all of Mary's questions. "'Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.' And Mary answered, 'I'm the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.' And the angel left her".

Now, I don't know where you stand on the issue of angels. I don't know what role they play in your thoughts or your prayer life or your imagination, but there is no Jesus's story without angels. So maybe we need to have an imagination that invites them back into our lives. The Bible tells us they're messengers, that they are dispatched at God's direction on our behalf. I would submit to you we will not complete our assignments without angelic help. Again, we've imagined ourselves to be at the center of this narrative and in many respects we may be at the center of God's purposes, but we are peripheral to the power of God and the purposes of God. It's not God doing my bidding; it's me yielding myself to be included in the plans and the purposes of Almighty, all-knowing, the eternal God and then all the resources of heaven are dispatched and deployed as we join God in what he's doing. That's a much better way to live than demand God do what I want him to do. We've had such a diminished view. We read the stories, but we don't pay attention to the words.

In verse 28 Gabriel says, "The Lord is with you". It's an invitation to a different life. You see, being a Christ follower is an invitation to a different life, not a diminished life, not a buttoned-down life, not a polite life, not a tame life. There's nothing tame about the adventure Mary and Joseph are getting ready to embark upon. God's purposes intersect our lives, and we have a choice to make at that point. And it's not a singular choice just about conversion or salvation, it's a series of choices. Zechariah and Elizabeth are living upright lives and the purposes of God come to them. Mary and Joseph are conducting themselves in a manner of purity, integrity before the Lord that qualifies them for the purposes of God to be pursued in and through them, but they have to continue to make godly choices. So do we. It's not easy.

Now, I remember as a young person thinking if you ever made, you know, if you lived long enough to be 25, by then you'd be so old you just want to be godly. And now that I'm in my 30s, well into my 30s, I find that that tendency towards ungodliness doesn't just evaporate. I still have to choose the Lord. I still have to say yes to the Lord. God still puts invitations in front of me and sometimes my initial responses is, "I'd rather not. No, I'm good. Thanks. I know who you are. I've made a profession of faith. I've read my Bible a few times. I've done some things for your kingdom. I've got a little track record. If you looked at my scrapbook, I got some pictures I can show you. I'm good. Thanks". And then I realized that the creator of heaven and earth has put an invitation before me. He's asked me to consider saying yes to him yet again.

Folks, don't lead a life without a persistent yes to the Lord. Stop telling the stories of what you did for the Lord and start telling the stories of what God is doing in your life now. It's a much, much better way to be. It can be a bit embarrassing 'cause we'll probably have to acknowledge that we took some time off or we got sidetracked or derailed.

You see, too often I think we prefer our God life to begin with eternity. We're all for being godly people when we're done, but we seek to live our best life in time. And the key point in there is our best life. I want my best life in time. I'll think about God's best life when I'm done with time, and that's really deception. It just doesn't work that way. We want to lead every day so that God's best is expressed through us. Jesus presents each person with an invitation. It's not a part of this birth narrative, but you know the passage that's one of the best known in the New Testament. "Come to me, all you who are weary. Come to me". He's still extending that invitation.

Oftentimes for me the most difficult part of following the Lord is making peace with God's timing. He just doesn't always pay attention to my agenda, or my request, or when I want something done. I bet you know what that feels like. Well, I want to ask you if you got the courage to forgive God for messing up the timing. He didn't answer in the time and the place and in the way that perhaps you would have preferred him to, and we're left with the mess of that. Well, if we can make peace with God, it puts us in a place to receive what he has for us next. It's a better outcome. You're willing to do that? Let's pray:

Heavenly Father, I thank you that you love us, that you have a plan for our good and not for our harm. Forgive us for being impatient, frustrated, angry; for stamping our feet. Lord, we want your best in our lives in your time. In Jesus's name, amen.

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