14. Jesus, the Ultimate Gem

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  14. Jesus the ultimate gem

Mat 1:20,21  “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

The name Jesus or Jeshua was fairly common and is akin to Joshua of the Old Testament and it means deliverer. The thing about this particular baby, this particular Jesus, was that he would not deliver people in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense. The claim of the angel speaking to Joseph in a dream was that this Jesus would come and do something that no other person on earth could do, he would deliver people from their sins. Now when we think about that we realise that it must mean that he will deliver them from the guilt and punishment that their sins deserve AND he will deliver them from the actual sins, from continuing to do them. That is what salvation through Christ does, and just in case you have never seen it like that before, let’s repeat it: he delivers form the guilt and punishment of sins AND from the ongoing having to continue to sin. The first is what puts us right with God and the second is the life we live out subsequently with Him. This, as briefly as possible, is what Jesus has come to achieve, and he has done it for millions and millions of people.

How, again as briefly as possible, did he go on to do it, this? There were two parts to his ministry. First of all, for three years he lived out a period of ministry from about the age of thirty, revealing his Heavenly Father’s nature. In the words of the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, he was revealed as a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him,” (Acts 2:22)  Later on, to Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends Peter declared, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)  Jesus himself had declared to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) In the things he did he revealed Himself as a unique being.

Three times his Father testified to the wonder of who he was. First at his own baptism, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16,17)  The second was on the Mount of Transfiguration: “Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7) The third time appears to have been on Palm Sunday, as recorded by John, “Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” (Jn 12:28,29)

The second part of his ministry was dying on the Cross to take the punishment for our sins. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he allowed this to happen: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Also “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18,19) He spelled out the purpose of this at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) The apostle Peter also spelled this out: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” (Acts 5:30,31) God raised Jesus from the dead and then took him back to heaven with him, confirming who he was and his purpose.

This is the unique ministry of Jesus Christ, the revealed Son of God. After he ascended and returned to sit next to his Father in heaven, ruling at His side, we find there are three people who saw him there. First there was Stephen just before he was stoned to death as the first Christian martyr (see Acts 7:56). The second was Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) and the third was the apostle John in his revelation on the isle of Patmos. In the first part of the vision he saw Jesus as the one holding the seven churches of Asia Minor in his hands – the Lord of the Church (Rev 1:12-18). In the next part of the vision he saw him before the throne of heaven, as the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world (Rev 5:5-10).  In the latter part of Revelation he saw him as the returning conquering king (Rev 19:11-16).

So when Joseph gets this message from the angel in a dream, we have all this wrapped up in a short description. The wonder of the New Testament is that being opened up and revealed to us in much greater detail. Of all of the gems we might find in the Bible, this surely has to shine the brightest.

A Prayer Vigil

Readings in Luke Continued – No.16

Lk 6:12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God

I’m not sure that there is any subject more than prayer that is more spoken about than done in the Christian world. If there is one thing that convinces me that prayer is highly significant it is the fact that it seems so hard and we so often give up so easily. Many books have been written about prayer, but perhaps one of the most recent ones that is honest about the difficulty of prayer is Philip Yancey’s book, “Prayer – Does it make any difference?” The very title highlights our struggles with prayer. Whatever else we say about prayer, the teaching of the Gospels from Jesus is that he expects us to pray. It IS a vital part of Christian experience even if we are often very uncertain about it.

The context of Luke’s observation about Jesus activity at this time is tied down by what follows: “When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” (v.13). Each of the other two Synoptic Gospels records that happening, but only Luke observes that it was after a night of prayer. Matthew records, “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority.(Mt 10:1) and Mark notes, “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.” (Mk 3:13). At least Peter remembers it was up on a mountainside.

When we look at Luke’s Gospel as a whole we find he seems to have more in it about prayer than the other two. Like Matthew he has the reference to praying for your enemies (Lk 6:28), and he also records the Mount of Transfiguration experience when Jesus went up to pray (Lk 9:28). Matthew places prayer and the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ in the Sermon on the Mount. Luke has it (perhaps as well) when Jesus had been praying and the disciples were provoked by his example (Lk 11:1). In Luke, Jesus also “told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.(Lk 18:1) and a bit later, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” (Lk 18:9,10). There are a number of other references to prayer here in Luke. Why is that?

Is it perhaps that Luke had learned a lot about prayer from his travels with that prayer warrior, Paul? Luke, we’ve already noted, is the Synoptic Gospel that is all about the Holy Spirit. Can we see a link here between our praying and the moving of God? Is it that Luke associated prayer with the man (Paul) though whom the Holy Spirit worked? Do prayer and power go together?

The present context, however, isn’t about power; it is about revelation. Luke clearly makes a link between Jesus praying all night and him then choosing the twelve. Is this Jesus spending time with his Father in prayer, receiving revelation or confirmation as to who the Father wants as His Son’s helpers, those who would take the church on after His Son returned to heaven? Luke makes the point that this wasn’t just a quick prayer; Jesus spent the night praying. Moreover he spent it up on a mountain, away from everyone else. He spent time in his Father’s presence getting the names of the twelve. This was an important task and he needed the confirmation from heaven that this was the Father’s will.

This raises the question, when we have important decisions to make, do we make time with the Father to get confirmation or otherwise as to the course we are about to take. Prayer in its simplest form is simply talking to God. Prayer, in its deeper form is also hearing from the Father. Do we see it as a two-way process? Do we see it as a vitally essential activity in our lives? Have we caught the significance of prayer as Luke had? We may not understand it; we may not understand why sometimes we pray and get answers and other times we pray and heaven seems silent, but the mature man or woman of God knows that it doesn’t depend on the outcomes, whether we pray, it is just essential that we do. Simply offloading to God seems to lift loads off our shoulders. We may not have heard any response from heaven, but the load seems to have lifted. Yes, we know that God knows all that is in our hearts and yes, He knows every word from our lips before we speak it, but nevertheless we learn that it is good to pour it out to Him anyway.

I remember when our children were small, we used to watch them and knew what was going on in their minds and what they were going to ask us as their parents, but we never objected to them coming to ask what we already knew. We were their parents and parents delight in hearing their children coming and pouring out the things on their hearts. In fact when they get older, the thing we regret is that they don’t share so much with us. It’s part of relationship to share. So, when it comes to making decisions, needing grace, wisdom or whatever, the most sensible thing is to go to Father to talk to Him about it and see what He has to say. Does that suggest that some of us are not sensible? Perhaps we need to change then.