Answering Our Doubts: Luke 1:1-4

Focus Passage: Luke 1:1-4 (GW)

Many have attempted to write about what had taken place among us. They received their information from those who had been eyewitnesses and servants of God’s word from the beginning, and they passed it on to us. I, too, have followed everything closely from the beginning. So I thought it would be a good idea to write an orderly account for Your Excellency, Theophilus. In this way you will know that what you’ve been told is true.

Read Luke 1:1-4 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

When I read Luke’s opening to his gospel, I am amazed at how this opening message sounds. While the other three gospels open with something related to Jesus, Luke opens his gospel addressing another believer – and it is in this opening that we get a picture of what Luke’s purpose was for writing his letter, and what was happening in the decades that followed Jesus’ ascension back to heaven.

Luke opens his gospel by saying, “Many have attempted to write about what had taken place among us. They received their information from those who had been eyewitnesses and servants of God’s word from the beginning, and they passed it on to us. I, too, have followed everything closely from the beginning. So I thought it would be a good idea to write an orderly account for Your Excellency, Theophilus. In this way you will know that what you’ve been told is true.” (v. 1-4)

We can see from this introduction that there was a lot of talk and speculation surrounding Jesus in the years that followed His ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. Many people had pieced together gospel narratives from what they could find, and it is even possible that Mark’s gospel and Matthew’s gospel had already been written when Luke decided to write his.

However, also in this introduction, we are introduced to an otherwise unknown person: Theophilus. While Luke addresses him as a dignitary, official, king, or governor, I wonder how they knew each other prior to this letter being written. Since Luke was a doctor, perhaps Luke had seen Theophilus as a patient, and perhaps they had a conversation about Jesus where Theophilus had shared some of his doubts about the rumors and how they were too good to be true.

In this way, Theophilus becomes a representative for everyone in history who has ever had doubts about Jesus. Luke writes his gospel to help answer the doubts and the skepticism that some may have over whether Jesus is really who people claim Him to be.

Luke opens his gospel like one would open a letter to a friend or a research article before sharing what he has discovered through his personal interviews and research. If the story of Jesus was a scam that Jesus’ earliest followers pieced together, then Luke would have researched his way into this conclusion through all the people he interviewed and through all his research.

Instead, Luke becomes the gospel to help answer the skeptics, and Luke writes for those who have reservations about Jesus. If you have ever had doubts about Jesus, perhaps reading from Luke’s gospel is the place for you to start. Luke may have written his gospel for someone like you!

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

Subscribe to this blog and never miss an insight.

One Moment in the Spotlight: Mark 15:42-47


Read the Transcript

As Mark winds down the events surrounding Jesus’ time on the cross, he describes in our passage for this episode, the events surrounding Jesus’ body being removed from the cross and what happened to it to keep it from being lost. In many ways, we have a previously unknown person in the Bible record to thank for this.

Let’s read our passage for this episode and discover what we can learn from what Mark’s gospel tells us about this event. Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 15, and we will read from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 42:

42 It was now the evening before the Sabbath, and the Jewish people were getting ready for that sacred day. 43 A man named Joseph from Arimathea was brave enough to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus. Joseph was a highly respected member of the Jewish council, and he was also waiting for God’s kingdom to come.

44 Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead, and he called in the army officer to find out if Jesus had been dead very long. 45 After the officer told him, Pilate let Joseph have Jesus’ body.

46 Joseph bought a linen cloth and took the body down from the cross. He had it wrapped in the cloth, and he put it in a tomb that had been cut into solid rock. Then he rolled a big stone against the entrance to the tomb.

47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph were watching and saw where the body was placed.

In these last verses describing the day Jesus was crucified, we discover several details Mark wants to draw our attention to. When I look over this passage, I count no less than five big details that are significant for us to pay attention to.

First, Mark transitions into this event by telling us this was the evening before the Sabbath, and this Sabbath was a sacred day. Other gospels and translations describe why this wasn’t an ordinary Sabbath. This was an extra special Sabbath where the weekly Sabbath intersected with the annual Passover celebration, which was one of the most important Jewish celebrations.

This celebration marked the angel of death passing over the Jewish and Egyptian homes where the blood of a lamb was put on the doorposts of the home. This event, as the people of Israel were about to leave Egypt, foreshadowed what Jesus would ultimately accomplish for them on the cross. Jesus would be that lamb who died, and Jesus’ sacrifice, when welcomed into our hearts and lives, protects us from the angel of death.

Mark draws our attention to the detail that after Jesus has finished sacrificing Himself for humanity and God’s people, He rests in the grave during that special Sabbath day.

Next, Mark introduces us to a new character in the gospel story: a man named Joseph from Arimathea. Joseph steps in as being the perfect middleman for every group present and interested in what would happen that weekend.

While I doubt any of those present would have let Jesus’ body be thrown in the heap of dead bodies, which would have been the fate of the two criminals who were crucified with Jesus, Joseph steps in as the perfect middleman. Joseph was a respected person among the Jewish leaders, he was someone who had influence with Pilate, and he was someone who was not hostile towards Jesus’ followers. Some gospels even call Joseph a secret disciple of Jesus.

Joseph also had exactly what this situation needed; Joseph had a nearby tomb where Jesus’ body could lay, and it was a tomb that was easy to access while also being easy to seal and guard. In this event, I believe God had prepared and placed Joseph of Arimathea into the exact place and position that was needed for this weekend. In many ways, Joseph from Arimathea saves Easter because of his involvement this Friday evening.

Another detail worth noting in this event is that Pilate was surprised that Jesus had died so quickly. Crucifixion was a death that was designed to last a long time and it was designed to be painful, humiliating, and public in order to remind any potential rebels that it wasn’t worth trying to fight against Rome. Jesus’ death in six hours was very abnormal. The way to speed up death was to break the legs of the person on the cross, and this happened to both criminals who were with Jesus.

The reason this detail stands out in my mind is that it is one more piece of evidence telling Pilate that Jesus was different. Jesus was not like anyone else who had been nailed to a cross, and to everyone present, it was very clear that Jesus was different. In our last passage, we even read that one of the soldiers present for Jesus’ last breath exclaimed that Jesus really was God’s Son after witnessing Jesus’ death.

I don’t know, and Mark doesn’t tell us the details surrounding what prompts Pilate to let Joseph have Jesus’ body. It is possible that Joseph paid Pilate for Jesus’ body, or perhaps something in Joseph’s request prompted Pilate to agree. It is also possible that Joseph was not present for any of that morning’s condemnation, and this gave weight to his request since he was not among Jesus’ accusers. Regardless of the details, God was ultimately behind Pilate agreeing to Joseph’s request.

Mark concludes this event by describing how Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph were watching where Joseph took Jesus’ body. While this detail doesn’t sound significant at this point, it becomes significant because these women would be the first to witness an empty grave when they go to the tomb the following Sunday.

God was behind everything Joseph of Arimathea contributed to this point in history. God had brought Joseph to this point, and Joseph steps into history with everything needed to make this weekend glorify God in unprecedented, unexpected, and momentous ways.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, continue to seek God first in your life and be ready to step into God’s plan when He calls you to. While I don’t know what God is preparing your life for, I do know you are alive on this earth for a reason, that your life is significant in God’s eyes, and that He has something significant for you to accomplish. When the time comes for God to reveal His plan to you, be ready to jump into what God has prepared you for.

Also, continue to pray and study the Bible for yourself to continue learning and growing closer to God. Through the pages of the Bible, discover just how much God loves us and what God was willing to give up to open the way for us to have a restored relationship with Him!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or leave where God is leading you to in your life with Him!

Year in Mark – Episode 47: After Jesus had died, someone steps into history in the perfect way, and the perfect time, with the perfect position and gift to make this weekend give glory to God in amazing ways. Discover what we can learn and why we should thank Joseph of Arimathea for what he did that Friday evening.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

The Context Is Critical: Luke 17:20-37

Focus Passage: Luke 17:20-37 (NIrV)

 20 Once the Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom would come. He replied, “The coming of God’s kingdom is not something you can see just by watching for it carefully. 21 People will not say, ‘Here it is.’ Or, ‘There it is.’ God’s kingdom is among you.”

 22 Then Jesus spoke to his disciples. “The time is coming,” he said, “when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man. But you won’t see it. 23 People will tell you, ‘There he is!’ Or, ‘Here he is!’ Don’t go running off after them.

 24 “When the Son of Man comes, he will be like the lightning. It flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25 But first the Son of Man must suffer many things. He will not be accepted by the people of today.

 26 “Remember how it was in the days of Noah. It will be the same when the Son of Man comes. 27 People were eating and drinking. They were getting married. They were giving their daughters to be married. They did all those things right up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

 28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking. They were buying and selling. They were planting and building. 29 But on the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven. And all the people were destroyed.

 30 “It will be just like that on the day the Son of Man is shown to the world. 31 Suppose someone is on the roof of his house on that day. And suppose his goods are inside the house. He should not go down to get them. No one in the field should go back for anything either. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Anyone who tries to keep his life will lose it. Anyone who loses his life will keep it.

 34 “I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed. One person will be taken and the other left. 35-36 Two women will be grinding grain together. One will be taken and the other left.”

 37 “Where, Lord?” his disciples asked.

   He replied, “The vultures will gather where there is a dead body.”

Read Luke 17:20-37 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In our journal entry for today, let’s uncover an idea that is central to effective Bible study by looking at the details in the passage we are focusing in on. Near the end of our passage are some verses that many read and use to form the belief of a “secret” rapture (or a secret return of Jesus to take His followers to heaven). However, when we looking at the broad context of this passage, and the surrounding verses, this understanding is not likely, because everything leading up to this climax refers to something that is far from “secret” and far from being contained in a specific location.

While we’ll save looking at these details until another journal entry, the principle I want to point out in this journal entry is this: In order to have a strong, effective Bible study that leads us to Biblical “truth”, we must start by reading all passages within their context (both scriptural context and cultural context).

If we do what many people do, and pull out the last several verses of this passage, we can easily see a description of something that is not accurate when looked at in the broad context.

Multiple times, this passage refers to when Jesus returns, and how it will look from our perspective, as well as giving historical examples of those who Jesus was talking to would be able to understand. We get the picture that this will be a global event, will be very earth-shattering, and not everyone will be ready.

It is very easy for someone to pick and choose passages out of their original contexts, and have the Bible say something it was not meant to say. For example, perhaps we place the following verses together in sequence:

  • “Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5 NLT)
  • “Then Jesus said, ‘Yes, now go and do the same.’” (Luke 10:37b NLT)
  •  “What you are going to do, do quickly.” (John 13:27b ESV)

So is Jesus advocating us to throw money into our churches before hanging ourselves quickly? Absolutely not! This is a bad case of Biblical misinterpretation, and while this is a horrible message to pull out of the Bible, it is pretty obviously that the Bible does not advocate this message.

However, too often I see people pull a collection of scattered verses (out of their contexts) and use them to create a belief about God. This is bad Bible study, and it has lead to millions being confused about what the Bible really teaches.

This brings us back to our main point for today’s journal entry: In order to have a strong, effective Bible study that leads us to Biblical “truth”, we must start by reading all passages within their context (both scriptural context and cultural context).

Before closing out this entry, I want add that this post is not meant to make a stand about some Christian’s belief, or lack thereof, in the rapture. Instead, it is aimed at pushing each of us, myself included, towards studying passages within their broader contexts, and the broader context of this passage gives us the context of Jesus’ second coming – in a very global and unmistakably public way.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

Subscribe to this blog and never miss an insight.

Discovering His Habits: Luke 4:16-30

Focus Passage: Luke 4:16-30 (NIrV)

16 Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. On the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue as he usually did. He stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. Jesus unrolled it and found the right place. There it is written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me.
    He has anointed me
    to announce the good news to poor people.
He has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners.
    He has sent me so that the blind will see again.
He wants me to set free those who are treated badly.
19     And he has sent me to announce the year when he will set his people free.”

20 Then Jesus rolled up the scroll. He gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were staring at him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this passage of Scripture is coming true as you listen.”

22 Everyone said good things about him. They were amazed at the gracious words they heard from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said, “Here is a saying you will certainly apply to me. ‘Doctor, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me this. ‘Do the things here in your hometown that we heard you did in Capernaum.’ ”

24 “What I’m about to tell you is true,” he continued. “A prophet is not accepted in his hometown. 25 I tell you for sure that there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah. And there had been no rain for three and a half years. There wasn’t enough food to eat anywhere in the land. 26 But Elijah was not sent to any of those widows. Instead, he was sent to a widow in Zarephath near Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel who had skin diseases in the days of Elisha the prophet. But not one of them was healed except Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were very angry when they heard that. 29 They got up and ran Jesus out of town. They took him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They planned to throw him off the cliff. 30 But Jesus walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Read Luke 4:16-30 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Periodically, a word or a phrase helps draw us into some of Jesus’ habits or lifestyle choices. When choosing to write about someone, in order to keep things interesting, most of the space gets dedicated to the abnormal activities in that person’s life.

We don’t read about most of Jesus’ meals, or about any of the times He uses the bathroom. Those would be pointless things to include, because they are wholly uninteresting. Instead, the gospels are made up of events that help draw us into how Jesus was special, and onto events that were outside of the norm. Little space is dedicated to the day to day activities, that is, unless something unusual happens during one of those events.

This is the case in this passage. It started out as a routine visit to the local synagogue, but then it ends with Jesus being run out of town and almost killed. However, it is worth noting the key phrase that points us to His routine. It is in the first verse of this passage: “Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. On the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue as he usually did.” (v. 16)

This passage teaches us that it was normal for Jesus to attend the synagogue on most weekends. This could be translated into our time period by simply saying that Jesus attended church on most Sabbath days of the year.

Why is this important for us?

This is very important because it tells us that we won’t see it written about in other events – unless something significant happens, but just because we don’t see it written doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

Jesus’ 30+ years of life are condensed into four letters that together are 89 chapters of the Bible. This means that if we were to give equal weight to all years of Jesus’ life and not repeat anything, each year Jesus lived on earth should receive between two and a half to three chapters dedicated to it. We could also narrow this down even more to say one chapter, which should be no more than one thousand words for every four months of Jesus’ life.

There is no way that one thousand words could cover everything that happens in a four-month period of time, so the gospel writers edit and condense Jesus’ life. They focus in on Jesus’ three years of ministry, and they focus in on Jesus’ ultimate path towards the cross.

But just because they leave Jesus’ routines and lifestyle activities as only briefly mentioned doesn’t mean we cannot discover them if we look closely. It is only by looking closely at Jesus’ life that we will truly be able to be like Him and to become His representatives who are sent into today’s world!

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

Subscribe to this blog and never miss an insight.