Monthly Archives: January 2016

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Friday, January 8, 2016 – The Barren Wilderness

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years. – Luke 1:5-7

Luke begins his long gospel in the barren wilderness with an unknown, unspectacular, uninspiring elderly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth.  They were faithful, if nothing else, and Luke writes that they followed all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. “But,” he adds, “they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren… .”

The desire to procreate is a part of human nature, and many people seek to extend their family line into the next generation; however, in the first century in Palestine, the desire for issue had a practical aspect to it which is less common in most developed countries today.  Children served as the social security system in the day, especially for women.  If Elizabeth were to become a widow, a male in her family would be expected to take care of her.  With no husband, no father still alive, and no son, she would surely face a life of poverty and powerlessness.  Perhaps that is why Luke offers a restatement that “Elizabeth was barren” after simply saying, “They had no children.” Zechariah, no doubt, was disappointed; but Elizabeth stood to suffer from being childless.

Luke’s inclusion of this back story to the birth of John the Baptist and to the advent of the Messiah to brings us all into the story and assures us that God has come into a world of disappointment and fear and barrenness to bring hope and light and life.

That was the good news from God received by Zechariah and Elizabeth two thousand years ago.  It is still the good news we find in the Gospel this day.

Lord Jesus, often underneath our busy burdened lives is a deep and frightening sense of emptiness and barrenness.   Break into our lonely, dark, frightening, empty world with that which you alone offer to satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016 – Most Excellent Theophilus

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. – Luke 1:1-4

Luke, the gospel writer, identifies the recipient of both his gospel and his second biblical book, the Acts of the Apostles, as Theophilus.  No other gospel is written to an individual, and it is curious that Luke, who makes no other personal mention of his recipient, would dedicate both his books to this unknown man.

So, who was Theophilus and why did Luke address him?  The short answer is that we do not know; however, in looking at the possibilities of this person’s identity, we may unlock the interpretive key to the third gospel.

Some have suggested that Theophilus may have been a Roman official of some rank.  Luke’s use of the title, “most excellent” is the same title Paul used in referencing Felix, the Roman governor of Judea.  Others have proposed that Theophilus might have been a leader in the church or an official in some other capacity.  The problem is that there is no other mention of Theophilus in the scriptures or in Roman histories.

There is the possibility that Theophilus may not have been an actual person.  The name Theophilus means “friend of God” or “beloved by God” or “one who loves God.”  It could be that Luke was writing his gospel to all who self-identified as a “friend of God.”  Furthermore, the Jewish worldview in first century Palestine moved outward in concentric circles from Jews at the center to Converts to God-fearers and finally to Gentiles.  God-fearers were people who acknowledged the “one true God of Israel” and who followed the law without being part of the covenant community.

Acts 10 records that the Apostle Peter welcomed into the faith a Gentile named Cornelius, who was described as “a God-fearing man” (Acts 10:22).  A person who was a God-fearer could also be called Theophilus, a friend of God.

When we see to whom Luke addresses his gospel, it may help us understand why he alone records a variety of accounts of Jesus’ work among the outcasts, the powerless, and the fringe elements in society.  In Luke’s gospel we find Jesus’ efforts directed often to the poor and powerless, to women and children, to Samaritans and Gentiles.  Perhaps Luke is reminding us that these persons are all “beloved by God” and “friends of God.”  It could be that regardless of our status Luke understands each of us to be a Theophilus.  If so, then it is to us that he writes this gospel.

Lord God, remind me that you came to seek and to save us all.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional by Gorman Houston

 

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Monday, January 4, 2016 – His-story and Our-story

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. – Luke 1:1-4

Luke begins his gospel with an inscription that he is seeking to write “an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us.”  He acknowledges that his work is not the only account, and admits that he was not an eyewitness of the events.  Nevertheless, he insists that his work is well documented by relying on eyewitness testimony and “servants of the word.”

The first question we encounter with Luke’s gospel is who is this writer of the third gospel?  The gospel is clearly linked to Luke, “the beloved physician,” mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Colossians (4:14) and again in Paul’s second letter to Timothy (4:11).  One other hint to all of this is that it is generally agreed the author of Luke is also the author of the Acts of the Apostles.  The introductions appear to make the connection clear.

Of particular interest in Acts is Luke’s appearance.  As Luke conveys Paul’s dramatic vision of and response to “the Macedonian call,” a curious transition occurs.  The story of Luke and Acts has been conveyed in the third person up to this point.  But suddenly and unceremoniously the account switches to the first person plural, “When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them” (Acts 16:10).  It seems that Luke joined Paul, as he journeyed to Philippi and continued his work.

This little detail sets up our study of Luke.  In reading of the events of Christ Jesus and the movement of the Holy Spirit, there is an expectation that at some point, Luke’s story will become our story, that God’s story will become our story, that the story of Christ Jesus and of the outpouring of his Holy Spirit will become our story, that we will get in the boat, join God’s mighty work, and find our call to share that which we have heard and seen and experienced with the world.

It is to that end that Luke writes his “orderly account,” and it is with that expectation that we read and study the good news of God.

Lord Jesus, I open my mind and heart to learn of you that your words may become my words, your grace may become my way of life, your love may fill my heart, and your presence and power may become my greatest hope.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston