Sunday, October 31
Luke 20:1-8: In the conflict stories commenced in these verses, Luke follows closely the sequence in Mark 11:27—12:44.
Here in Luke these stories illustrate the resolve of Jesus’ enemies to take His life (19:47). They follow logically the account of His challenge to their authority by His purging of the Temple (verse 1). It is significant, therefore, that the first of these conflict stories is concerned with Jesus’ “authority” (verse 2). Jesus is, after all, neither a member of the priestly family nor an authorized rabbi. Yet, here He is, taking over the Temple as His place of teaching.
Instead of addressing their question directly, Jesus poses a counter-question that concerns the ability of His enemies to recognize “authority” when they see it. He asks them about the authority of John the Baptist (verses 4-5). Since John’s claims to authority were far more modest than those of Jesus (and John himself was a member of the priestly family, as Luke narrated in his first chapter), the Lord’s enemies, if they were men of discernment, should be able to assess correctly the validity of John’s claims. If they are unable to do this with respect to John, how can they ever do it with respect to Jesus? Qui nequit minus, nequit et plus. That is to say, if they cannot do less, how can they do more?
With this counter-question Jesus places his opponents in a bind. They had been afraid to proceed against John because they recognized his popularity with the people (verse 6). Here we detect the subtlety of Luke’s narrative. He has already indicated the popularity of Jesus Himself (19:48).
Thus the Lord leaves His enemies speechless. They had not been able to deal with the authority of John the Baptist, so why does Jesus owe them an explanation of His own authority? This latter point remains unanswered (verses 7-8).
Monday, November 1
Revelation 4:1-11: The scene portrayed in this text is the throne room of heaven, where all God’s holy ones (for such is the meaning of “saints”) are engaged in the eternal worship. In Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation John has warned the Christians of the seven churches of Asia that judgment is imminent. He has endeavored to strengthen them for an impending outbreak of chaos and disorder. In the present chapter, John turns their vision on high, to the throne of God, which is the source of all order.
Like Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and other prophets, John slips into an ecstatic trance, a rapture in which he is seized by the Holy Spirit. He hears a voice, and a mysterious door opens (verse 1). He is introduced to the heavenly worship before God’s throne (verse 2), over which is the rainbow of the covenant (verse 3; Genesis 9:12-17). The dominant color is green, the symbol of spring and hope.
As in the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 7:23), which was modeled, after all, on the heavenly throne room, there is “a sea of glass, like crystal” (verse 6), symbolizing the chaos over which the Holy Spirit brooded in Creation.
Other details remind us of Isaiah 6 (which is also read today) and Ezechiel 1. This should not surprise us, because in all of Holy Scripture we are dealing with the same God and the same heaven. The hymn, with which the chapter closes, concentrates on Creation. Recall that this vision takes place on Sunday (1:10), the first day of Creation.
Tuesday, November 2
Luke 20:20-26: Failing in their attempts to take Jesus directly, His enemies try a new tactic. They will endeavor to mount against Him a charge that they can then carry to their Roman overlords, a charge of political sedition (verse 20). In this way, the Romans, and not themselves, will be blamed for the death of Jesus.
The easiest plan is the one they follow—namely, to provoke Jesus into some rash statement respecting the unpopular taxes levied on the people by the Roman authorities (verse 22). Trying to throw Jesus off-guard, they pathetically flatter Him by referring to His boldness and honesty. This they do in order to lull Him into making an unguarded statement that might pass for a threat to the Roman government.
If Jesus forbids the payment of taxes to the Romans, He may be arrested for sedition. If, on the other hand, He speaks in favor of paying those taxes, He risks losing his popularity with the people, a popularity that so far has kept him from being arrested. Jesus is thus placed on the horns of a dilemma.
Once again the Lord answers with a counter-question. It is His enemies, after all, who are carrying a Roman coin. The irony of the Lord’s lesson here is not subtle. His enemies, by producing this Roman coin from their own persons, bear witness to the propriety of the Roman tax. They must render Caesar his due.
The lesson could have stopped at this point, but Jesus pushes the matter further. His enemies have professed concern for what they must, or must not, render unto Caesar. However, the One they have refused to consider is God, to whom they have steadfastly refused to render His due. These are the same tenant farmers of the foregoing parable, to whom the Owner of the vineyard has repeatedly dispatched emissaries (20:10). That is to say, Jesus’ enemies have not rendered unto God what He rightly expects of them.
The intent of the Lord’s adversaries was either to obtain a charge they could sustain before the Roman authorities or to embarrass Jesus before the populace. In the first they were unsuccessful; in the second their plan actually backfired (verse 26).
Wednesday, November 3
Luke 20:27-40: The group most threatened by Jesus’ assertion of authority in the Temple was that of the Sadducees, the priestly family, the sons of Zaddok.
This group was also distinct in Judaism by reason of two doctrinal denials that characterized it. First, the denial of the resurrection, which was a standard doctrine of the Macchabees and the Pharisees. Second, the denial of canonical authority to any writings other than the Torah.
In defense of their position on the first point, the Sadducees present to Jesus a reductio ad absurdum, a hypothetical problem respecting the doctrine of the resurrection (verse 28-33). Thy pose this hypothesis on the basis of the Torah—“Moses wrote” (verse 28).
In support of the doctrine of the Resurrection, Jesus ironically adheres to the Sadducees’ limited canon of the Torah (verse 37). If they can quote Moses, so can He!
There is a further irony in that some of the scribes, standing nearby, express appreciation of the Lord’s solid answer to the Sadducees (verse 39). Only Luke mentions this. Later on, in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke will record Paul’s efforts to turn the Pharisees against the Sadducees on this point of the resurrection (Acts 23:6-8).
We may note, in passing, that verses 35-36, found only in Luke, provide an argument for consecrated celibacy (cf. also 14:26; 18:29), along the lines of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 7.
Thursday, November 4
Luke 20:41-47: As His enemies, frustrated by Jesus’ answers to them hitherto, are not disposed to confront Him any further (verse 40), the Lord Himself takes the initiative (verse 41).
Jesus’ question with respect to the meaning of Psalm 110 (109) serves to introduce all Christian exegesis of that psalm. Because of Jesus’ question about this psalm, Christians learned from the words “The Lord said to my Lord” that Jesus is not only David’s descendent but also his pre-existing Lord. He is the Son, not only of David, but also of God.
Having mysteriously addressed the identity of Christ, this same line of the same psalm goes on to speak of his triumph and enthronement, with the solemn proclamation: “Sit at My right hand.” These majestic words were quoted in the first sermon of the Christian Church, that of Pentecost morning at the third hour (cf. Acts 2:34), and became the foundation of some of the most important Christological and soteriological statements of the New Testament (cf. Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2.).
In this one line of the psalm, then, Christians profess, in summary form, those profound doctrines at the foundation of our whole relationship to God — the eternal identity of Jesus Christ, His triumph over sin and death, and His glorification at God’s right hand: “God . . . has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, . . . who . . , when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high . . “ (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Friday, November 5
Galatians 2:11-21: A first thing to be noted about this text is its reference to “the faith of Jesus Christ.” In a strict adherence to the Greek text, verse 16 should read, “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” The KJV got it correctly.
This simple, clear statement has somehow proved too much for modern English translators. For instance, the NKJV, the RSV, the TEV, the JB, and the NIV read, “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ.” The NEB and Philips are substantially the same: “faith in Jesus Christ.” The ESV is nearly identical, except for its politically correct alteration of God’s Word: “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” These inaccurate translations of this simple are really quite misleading.
The clear problem with these mistranslations is, of course, that they are unable to deal with the notion that we are justified by the faith of Christ. They reflect a loss of perspective traditional in the Christian Church and contained in the KJV. Namely, the faith of Jesus. These new translators are unable to look upon Jesus as a man of faith. They think of faith as something that Christians have, but somehow Jesus had no need for.
This is clearly not view of St. Paul, according to whom we are justified before God by the faith of Jesus Himself. What Paul affirms here is not that we are justified by our own faith. We are justified by Jesus’ faith. Jesus’ faith was the source of His redemptive obedience to the Father. Our faith comes from Jesus’ faith, and this is what renders us just. Thus, the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus as “the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame . . . who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself.” (12:2,3). This is the faith that justifies us, the faith of Jesus in all His service to God and man, but especially His endurance of the Cross. This is what we see when we behold the wondrous Cross, where the young Prince of glory died. The crucifixion is the supreme symbol of the faith of Jesus.
A second feature of this text is its description of redemption in personal terms. In the NT most statements about redemption tend to lay emphasis on the universality of what God has done in Jesus; the terms tend to be plural and collective: “God so loved the world,” says John 3:16. Similarly Paul wrote that God “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). Paul also so wrote, “There is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:6). The words of Jesus over the covenant-cup also stress a universal perspective: “This is My blood of the new covenant which will be shed for you and for the many.” Earlier the Lord had said that “the Son of man came not to served but to serve and to give His life for the many” (Mark 10:45). Texts of this sort abound in early Christian literature, all insisting that the blood of Jesus was shed for all of mankind. That is to say, the New Testament teaches universal, not limited atonement.
More rarely does the NT speak of Jesus’ love for each person. For example, the parable of the Good Shepherd tells how He goes out in search of the one lost sheep. In the Gospel of John, the Good Shepherd says that He calls each of His sheep by name. When the Gospel of John speaks of the Holy Eucharist, the emphasis once again is on the singular: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides and I in him.” This same accent is found in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone opens, I will come unto him and eat with him.”
Such expressions of personal intimacy with the Lord are not as common in St. Paul, but today’s text from Galatians is an exception: “The life I live now in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” This text is evidence that Paul, like John, knew the love of Christ to be directed as him personally. He too is “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
St. John Chrysostom comments on this passage: “Each person justly owes as great a debt of gratitude to Christ, as if [Jesus] had come had come for his sake alone, because He would not have grudged this His condescension though but for one, so that the measure of His love to each is as great as to the whole world.”
Chrysostom’s comment is remarkable. It says that Christ loves each of us as much as He loves all of us. Perhaps this is less surprising if we reflect that we ourselves tend to love our families in the same way. Within our families, we love each as much as we love all. This is how Christ loves each of us, and this is why He died, not only for all of us, but also for each of us.
A third feature of this passage is its inclusion of our identification with Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” The acceptance of the crucifixion on Jesus Christ into our hearts places there a new source of life and identity. I must die, in order for Christ to live in me. That is the hardest of messages—I must die. Not “I must be fulfilled.” Not “I must be satisfied.” Not “I must reach my full potential.” No, very simply “I must die.”
Christ’s own faith is the model, exemplar, and source of my own. These are hard words: “It is not longer I who live.” The self must go. In the pursuit of Christ, selfishness, self-centeredness, self-preoccupation, and self-absorption are the enemy. The destruction of these things in our hearts is what Paul calls a crucifixion: “I have been crucified with Christ.”
This crucifixion of the sinner has particular respect to the flesh and to the world. With respect to the flesh, Paul writes somewhat later in this same epistle, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” And again, with respect to the world, Paul writes in this epistle’s final chapter, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” To embrace the faith of Christ, to embrace the Cross of Christ, is to experience crucifixion in regard to the flesh and the world.
The flesh and the world comprise what St. Paul calls “the old man,” and he writes of it in the Epistle to the Romans: “We know that our old man was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (6:6).
We Christians have no hope but in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us. He is our one confidence in life and in death. We place all our faith in Jesus’ faith. We cling to His cross as our strength and solace. For His sake we put to death the ways of the flesh and of the world, in order to conform our live to the pattern of His cross. In doing all of this, we are justified. Jesus has replaced the Law. He is our only Law. We Christians, once and for all, have placed all our eggs in one basket. It is the Easter basket.
Saturday, November 6
Luke 21:5-19: Comparing Luke with Matthew and Mark, we observe that he changes the locale of this discourse of the Lord, placing it inside the Temple itself. Also, unlike Mark, Luke makes this an open and public speech, not a private one.
Luke’s version of this discourse especially stresses that Christians must not speculate about, nor anticipate, specific times and dates regarding the plans and purposes of God in the world. They must simply hold on “until the times of the nations be fulfilled.” If we compare this passage with the corresponding texts in Mark 13 and Matthew 24, we observe that Luke has removed any expressions that might be misinterpreted as referring to the end of the world. This latter subject he has already treated in 17:20-37. Thus, the present text in Luke is concerned with the events connected with the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in the summer of A.D. 70.
Jesus’ predictions of the persecutions that Christians must endure and partly fulfilled in Luke’s stories of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles. He there describes their ill treatment in synagogues, their beatings before tribunals, their trials in the presence of governors and kings. For instance, the promise given here in verse 15 (“I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”) we see fulfilled in Acts 4:9-10 (“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.”).
What will be required of Christians, in no matter what age they live, is patience (verse 19; cf. Romans 2:7; 8:25; 15:4-5).