Monday, March 22, 2010

Luke 8:16-21 Commentary

A Lamp on a Stand
16 "No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 17 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Those who have will be given more; as for those who do not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them."

Jesus' Mother and Brothers
19 Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you."
21 He replied, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."

Dig Deeper
When I was coaching high school basketball I noticed one phenomenon that was quite common to so many of the great young men that I had the chance to work with. They came to the game of basketball with a fundamental flaw in their whole understanding of what the game was about and what the purpose of the game of basketball was. This flaw in their thinking was most often demonstrated by the fact that after games, whether win or lose, many of them would run over to the scorer’s table to see how points or rebounds they had. They did this because they usually came into our team thinking that the only thing that really mattered about basketball was their own success. For them being part of the team and winning games were secondary concerns. It took us a lot of talking and convincing to get them past the point where they would rather lose the game and score 20 points than have other guys score more than them and win. They failed to understand that the whole purpose of the game of basketball is to become part of a team. The desired goal is for five players to work together as one and forget their own individual interests in order to become one entity.

Surprisingly, I have seen a similar foundational flaw in the thinking of most Christians in our world today. We tend to think in terms of ourselves when it comes to our salvation and relationship with God. We think of salvation as an entirely individual endeavor with joining a church being a secondary endeavor. In that mindset then, the really important thing becomes my relationship with God which becomes an entirely separate affair from my connection with the body of believers. The sad part is that the whole point of Christianity is that we are to leave behind our individual mindset and become part of a family. This is the part that much of the evangelical Christian world has missed. The church is not a collection of a bunch of individually saved Christians who have decided to worship and follow Jesus together. The church is the family of God of which we become part when we choose to die to our selves and be born into this new family. Christianity, at its core is a family and it is vital that we learn to understand that so that we have a full understanding of all the good things that we have in Christ.

As a way of expounding the previous section of the importance of receiving the word of God, obeying it, and experiencing the crop that it produces in the lives of his disciples, Luke includes three separate quotes from Jesus. All of these quotes have to do with Jesus’ revelation of the word of God in one way or another. The first example is a humorous picture of someone lighting a lamp and then hiding it so that no one could actually see it. It was always God’s intention that his people would be a light for the world but Israel had turned that light inward and, in effect, put it under a jar. But Jesus’ call for his kingdom people is to be a people that take the word into their lives and allow others to see the effects that it has. Hiding in Christian circles and not shining brightly in the world is a mistake in every aspect of our lives, whether it be that we meet so often together that we never have time to evangelize and build relationships with non-Christians or we begin to create our own Christian community events, and stores, and websites so that we never have to engage with the culture around us. We are to be a light and a light has to be seen.

This may have seemed somewhat at odds with certain elements of Jesus’ ministry which he tried to downplay his identity and he repeatedly told people to keep quiet about who he was or what he had done. That was for a time and a specific purpose but would not be for long. Once Jesus had completed his work, culminating in his death on the cross, it would be time for everything about the kingdom of God to be announced to the whole world.

So, says Jesus, because it was vital to be a light that announced everything about the kingdom of God out in the open, it is important to listen to everything that Jesus taught. His real disciples, said Jesus in John 8:31, are those who hold tightly to his word and obey it. Those who constantly dig into the word of God, accept it, and then obey it will find that it consistently produces a crop in their life. As God promised through the prophet Isaiah, his word will never come back empty (Isa. 55:10-11). Those who take in the word and keep it will find that it is constantly productive while those who do not will find that even the little bit they had will be taken by Satan.

As Jesus’ mothers and brothers came to see him, Jesus does something extremely shocking to make his point about the importance of hearing and obeying the word of God. The cultural expectation would have been for Jesus to immediately go out and show respect to his mother and brothers but Jesus took the opportunity to teach one of the most central aspects of the kingdom of God. It was not a religion. It was not just a new set of ethical teachings. At its heart, the kingdom of God was a family.

God’s covenantal promise to Abraham was that he would make Abraham the father of a family that would consist of many nations and that through this family, the whole world would be blessed. The first step in the fulfillment of that promise was God’s firstborn son, Israel (Ex. 4:22). Paul makes the point in Romans 9 that the promise of being that covenant family always followed along the lines of God’s choice. Not every descendant of Abraham was part of that promised family (Rom. 9:7). Paul goes on in Romans 9 to argue that just as the promise of the covenant family passed to Abraham’s son Isaac but not his son Ishmael, and just as the promise passed to Jacob but not his brother Esau, so now, the covenant family would pass to Jesus and not his kinsmen, Israel.

Because of the promise of the covenant family being the ones through whom the whole world would be blessed, Abraham’s physical descendants, Israel, held the concept of family to be one of the most important core components of their value system and their whole culture. So for Jesus to not show the proper respect to his biological family was absolutely scandalous. But Jesus was quite intentional about this. Throughout his ministry he made clear the fact that he was redefining the true concept of family, especially as it related to being the people of God. Jesus’ family, the family of God, was not about being a physical descendant of Abraham or part of the nation of Israel but would consist of those who heard “God’s word and put it into practice.” Jesus would make it clear that the way that this would happen would include dying to self and being born into God’s new family (Jn. 3:5) through baptism into his own life (Rom. 6:1-14). Those who entered into Christ would become part of the family of promise, God’s family. Paul stated this all concisely in Galatians 3:26-29: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Jesus wanted his followers to know that to truly live the life of a disciple and find themselves as part of God’s family of promise, it would be necessary to redefine their family (this does not mean that they would not care for or love their biological families but was a matter of identity and priority). In Mark 10:28-30, Jesus told his disciples, who had given up everything for him, that they would receive, in return, families and homes a hundred times over, both in the present age and the age to come. His point was that when his followers mentally (and often physically) left their families as their source of identity and means of honoring God, they would receive a new family that would be a hundred times (metaphorically speaking) larger than their biological families. They would be in a new family.

Jesus sent another clear signal of this on the day of his death when he asked John to consider Mary as his mother and care for her. Mary had other sons that could have done this, but Jesus wanted to send a clear message to his followers that the Kingdom of God involved new boundaries and new definitions of what it meant to be in God’s family. This act would continue, throughout Mary’s life, to send a strong message to Christians, as early church tradition tells us that Mary did go with John, and eventually died in Ephesus many years later.

An important question, though, is whether or not the early church actually understood that they were to be the new family, the sons of God (Rom. 8;15; Gal. 4:6). We know from Acts 2:42-47, that the first Christians certainly began to act like a family. An often-missed detail from the first Jewish Christians, though, is that as part of their early practice they sold off land (Acts 4:34, 5:1). It would have been quite disturbing for traditional Jews to see an entire group like the followers of Christ selling off their lands. This would have been deeply concerning to Jews who saw their land as an inheritance from God (Psalm 135:12). Why would the early church have been so eager to sell their land? Certainly they wanted to be able to care for one another and give to those in need, but there is more to it than that. The land was a sign of their family inheritance and their status as the people of God. Selling that land was a strong statement to the rest of the Jewish world that they had rejected that standard of being God’s family and His people, and would, instead, embrace the new family of believers that Jesus created around himself.

We should not reduce all of this to mere theological chatter though. Being God’s family means something. It means that we need to start realizing that salvation is not merely an individual endeavor. True, we have to come to Christ on our own faith but when we enter into Christ we are baptized into his family, his body (1 Cor. 12:13). It is part of our identity as God’s sons and daughters in Christ to be those people who take the words of God and put them into practice. It is up to us to stop thinking as individuals and to realize that we have joined the family of promise. It is our call to begin to think and make decisions in light of that reality. Through Jesus, God fulfilled his ancient promises to Abraham to create a family of all nations and we have been given the grace and mercy of God to be part of that family. It is now up to us to work out in our churches what it truly means to be part of one family.

Devotional Thought
Do you view your brothers and sisters as Christ as your true, primary family? Do you see your Christian walk as being part of God’s family or have you been stuck in the mindset of seeing your Christianity as an individual thing? How does seeing the body of Christ as your true family change the way you think about it and the way you behave in it?

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