Monday, November 28, 2016

Zechariah's Fear in Luke 1:5-25

This year for Advent we're taking in 4 stories of angel visits and messages they had to share with God's people.

  1. Zechariah Luke 1:5-25
  2. Joseph Matthew 1:18-25
  3. Mary Luke 1:26-38
  4. shepherds Luke 2:18-16
Zechariah's encounter with the angel reveals the power of God. Zechariah was performing a religious duty. Religion looks backward remembering the place where God had come in the past. But God isn't limited to only earlier places where God's been before.

Zechariah had faith. He prayed for his family, for his wife. He prayed in to to someday be a father. But I don't think he expected to meet God's messenger when he went into the heart of the temple. People stood outside praying as he stepped into a sacred space. He was going in to honor the ancient ritual to remember the times when God had come to his people before. And right as he should have been burning incense in this sacred space God's messenger showed up. Right in the middle of a repeated action of devotion the angel Gabriel came with news.
Zechariah, don’t be afraid. God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son, and you will name him John. He will bring you joy and gladness, and many people will be happy because of his birth.  John will be a great man for the Lord. Luke 1:13-15 NCV
Garbriel didn't come by accident. God was on the move. The angel's appearance was terrifying. And the angel spoke to that terror. He had news. Zechariah's family, in particular his son, was going to be part of God's entry into the world.
...even from birth, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  He will help many people of Israel return to the Lord their God.  He will go before the Lord in spirit and power like Elijah. He will make peace between parents and their children and will bring those who are not obeying God back to the right way of thinking, to make a people ready for the coming of the Lord. Luke 1:15-17 NCV
Zechariah's prayers had been heard. But his response wasn't joy. He spoke back to the angel.
“How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” Luke 1:18-20 NRSV
Meeting the Angel left Zechariah speechless. And maybe the promise of Christmas should leave us looking for words too.
Peace and thanks for reading. John

Thursday, November 3, 2016

God of the living Luke 20:27-40

Jesus sat openly in the temple in the week before his crucifixion. He spoke his mind. Just a week before his death the conflict between Jesus and many powerful people came out into the open. One after another different people came hoping to trap him in some form of blaspehmy—but they couldn't.

First it was the Pharisees who came scheming, then the Sadducees came looking too entrap him too. But hard as they tried they to catch him openly denying the authority of God, the law, or scripture they just couldn't catch him--because he didn't come to deny God or scripture. But they weren't going to give up power to him. These two groups had significant differences but Jesus was a common problem. The Sadducees didn't see any possibility of life after death and the Pharisees did believe in life after death. The Sadducees were connected to the ancient priestly families who prospered from the operation of the temple. The Pharisees made themselves out to be experts at teaching and keeping the law.

These two groups were both vying for the hearts and minds of the people and then Jesus came along and the whole situation changed. The issues the Pharisees and Sadducees had with each other where significant. But when Jesus came along those issues fell to the side. They wanted to just take him on and expose him for who they really thought he was. They were trolling to catch Jesus all it would take is a word and they could get rid of him. Much like a fisherman throwing bait on a hock behind a drifting boat these men came at Jesus over and over with many questions and stories. They were trolling and Jesus didn't bite.

When the Sadducees came they had a great story. Image a woman who was married. And her husband died—and so like the ancient law of Moses taught she married his younger brother. Imagine he died. They she married the next brother and he died. In keeping with the law, she married 7 brothers in row. She married one brother in succession after the other. Oh boy this story is a doozy. And when she's resurrected who's wife will she be in the end? The question was a total set up. The people who asked him knew it. The Sadducees mocked Jesus and others who think there is life after death. These people didn't believe in resurrection. But they knew Jesus did and they tried to trap him and expose him as a fool or a blasphemer.

And Jesus responded to their doubts and mocking. And he opened up a view of heaven to his hearers that left them speechless. The Sadducees were seeking to mock the idea of life after death and Jesus blew them away. We imagine things from our perspective and Jesus gave them just a glimpse of the life to come. Marriage and relationship, the human body and it's mortality are all going to be transformed by resurrection. The promise underneath it all is simple. God is God not of the dead--but the living.

The Sadducees didn't have anything more to say. But for me the promise of God's power of death matters. Here is hope in the face of death and despair. Here's the promise of new life for all who believe. He is the God of the living.
Peace and thanks for reading, John