Sunday, December 27, 2015

"Who is Jesus?" (Luke 2:21-52)

1.     Introduction
-         who is Jesus (to you)?
-         glimpses about Jesus from his parents, prophets & himself

2.     Background

-         It is only Luke who records these incidents from the early life of Jesus.
-         [Matthew is where we find the narrative about the escape and return from Egypt.]
-         Jesus was named at his circumcision when he was eight days old.
-         Then, Mary and Joseph, having waited out the 40-day period when Mary would have been regarded ceremonially unclean, made the 8 kilometre journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to make the required sacrifice in the temple, and present Jesus to the Lord as per the custom.
-         Here this family encountered two Godly characters named Simeon and Anna.
-         Then we jump twelve years to the time Jesus became a missing person.
-         Why did Luke include these incidents? Because they show us something about Jesus.

3.     Character Overview

(a)  We have Jesus’ parents, Mary & Joseph, who continue to wonder (v.33, 48, 51b) at the things that are said about Jesus, and being astonished about how Jesus himself behaves. Expressed here was even some sense of consternation (or being indignant … v.48b) and then some confusion (v.50). We know these parents were given all sorts of information from angels and shepherds about how important this child Jesus was. We could probably understand that this was all sounding so fantastic, that coming to terms with it all might take some time.

Mary and Joseph had been made aware of who their son would be, but they still seemed surprised when the nature of Jesus’ ministry was mentioned. Fair to say though, who would take easily to the notion of your son being destined for what Jesus was destined to: standing out in the crowd, being an easy target for ridicule and rejection, and personally taking responsibility for the sins of the whole world. So perhaps, there was even some state of denial here, that stretched many years into Jesus’ early life.

How hard was it for Mary to hear that Jesus would face such opposition, and that – “a sword will pierce your own soul too” (2:35b)! Mary and Joseph, especially Mary (who would live through it), were going to share in the cost of Jesus providing salvation for humankind. This might be like the parents who have to watch their young son or daughter go off to a war zone. Mary would be there at the foot of the cross at Jesus’ crucifixion. Mary and Joseph could have been forgiven for thinking that bringing the ‘Son of God’ into the world would have been something that would have been long celebrated, rather than opposed. Those who would reject the notion of God working in this new way will decide to reject Jesus. Despite the thrill of what the angels and the shepherds had to say about Jesus, you could forgive Mary and Joseph for just wanting a normal everyday son!

Maybe it was the swift and increasing publicity about Jesus (seen through Simeon and Anna) that added to this sense of amazement; or maybe it was the mention of “Gentiles”, taking Mary and Joseph’s breath away with the breadth of what was being said about Jesus’ mission. Rarely does good news come that is without some complexity … some need to accept or act outside of what we had previously planned. Good news leads to change … new paths and new adventures.

This “wonder” or consternation gives us an introduction to what will follow throughout the Gospel narratives, and what still happens today. Many people in the Jesus’ own time didn’t know what to do with him, and this is still the case. Many wanted an avenging Messiah, who would destroy the Romans, and make life easier just the way it was. Maybe we too would like a particular Jesus – a Jesus more of our own making, a Jesus of convenience, rather than the One in the Bible. We are probably happy with a sacrifice that takes away our sin and offers us eternal life. But are we as happy about the Jesus who says to follow him? Are we as happy about the more challenging nature of Jesus’ life: spending time with outcasts, leaving everything else behind, being out on a limb against the tide, loving our enemies!!

On the other hand, the radical nature of Jesus can be quite attractive to some; but the deeply spiritual side, not so! Jesus was deeply connected to God in prayer. Jesus talked about the essential need to be born afresh and to experience the Holy Spirit. Jesus reflected on our spiritual lostness without forgiveness. Jesus talked about God’s deep love for all of us, seeking our response.

(b) Then we have two prophets, Simeon and Anna, who were well aware of who Jesus was. Obviously the way for Jesus had been carefully prepared, and there were those who could see it. Here we are given a confident and clear picture of who Jesus is. NOW WOULDN’T YOU LIKE TO BE SOMEONE WHO COULD JUST SEE AND UNDERSTAND EXACTLY WHAT GOD WAS DOING LIKE THIS!?! Interesting then, that Simeon was described as right living, wholly committed, expectant; and most interestingly, it was said, that he had the Holy Spirit resting on him … way before Pentecost (2:25). This was a man in good shape to be God’s voice!

Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms, and identified Jesus as the source of God’s salvation. This was so longed for by many people within a nation which had lost its way under Roman domination. Prophets like Isaiah had talked about this seven hundred years before. This was the way in which God would act in the ‘fullness of time’. Simeon knew that God had a plan, and now that plan was being enacted. And this would not only be revolutionary for Israel, but for all the Gentile peoples as well.

Let’s look at verses 34 & 35. This indicates that Jesus would be the point of decision for people; the person on which the whole of life turns. For Jesus or against Jesus; rising or falling! The inner thoughts and motivations of people will be revealed (or exposed) as they reject Jesus. This is either because they don’t think they need Jesus, or because they know they do need Jesus but refuse the offer nonetheless. Some reject passively; others reject actively, and seek to take others down with them. There is often a deep self-centredness or self-satisfaction revealed here. [However, we should not confuse this with those who are deeply troubled in life, or have never been properly presented with the good news.]

Many people claim to be Christian or to know God, but their behaviour driven by their inner thoughts and motivations, denies this. When tested against the attitudes and priorities of Jesus, their real inner selves are exposed.

Anna was a great worshipper and ‘prayer-warrior’. When Anna sees this family that day in the temple, she gets the fact that God’s grand plan to bring his people home to him has taken a massive leap forward (Gary Millar). People sensed their community had need; but sometimes people seek to resolve the problems in their lives in the most unhelpful of places. This Anna was able to communicate to all those who were seeking change, that this child was the answer to all prayers. We often get troubled about things in life. At the heart of all our need, there is a need for Jesus. This has always been the case, and God, in the fullness of time, at the first Christmas, provided for all our needs.

(c)  And then we have the words from Jesus’ own mouth when he was twelve years old. Jesus had been around and about the temple for three days listening to the teaching and asking questions. Jesus was also contributing to the discussion, and people were “amazed at his understanding and his answers” (2:47). We sense that Jesus would have been brought up with the stories of ‘old testament’ faith, and would have been interested in seeing how they applied to modern Jewish life.

Jesus had to be in his Father’s house preparing himself to do his Father’s work. These were Jesus’ first words in the Gospel … verse 49. Certainly Jesus’ was beginning to have some self-understanding regarding his role, if not his identity, by this time. Any 12-year-old who goes missing for 3 days or so (from a loving home), is likely to be first hugged and kissed, then screamed at for quite a while (with all the worst-case-scenarios in mind), then hugged and kissed again in absolute relief. So any pent-up anxiety here was understandable. However, the truth needed to be told!

[Lest we think that the 12-year-old Jesus was a little brattish … he did go home with his parents to Nazareth and was obedient to them (2:51a).]

We can look at verses 48 & 49 and see a shift in Jesus’ main allegiance. His family relationship was one thing, but there was a higher call on his life. Besides, Jesus’ real father is God, not Joseph, and we hear for the first time from Jesus himself that he will live a life of service to the purposes of God (Joel B Green, NISB). Jesus had a destiny of doing God’s works in God’s world! Joseph must have known deep down, that this day would come.

Perhaps at this early stage, Mary had an inkling of what was going to happen later, when Jesus preferred to spend time with his disciples rather than his unbelieving family, because of the necessity of doing the will of God unhindered (refer Luke 8:19-21).
Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you." But [Jesus] said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."

4.     Learnings

(a)  In verse 21 we had the name officially given as Jesus; meaning ‘God is salvation’. Jesus will save his people from their sins (refer Matthew 1:21). This is where each and every one of us has strayed, and need the burden and negativity of this sin lifted off us … through forgiveness and by taking a new direction (following Jesus). But such rescue is more than a one-off experience – it goes on to touch all the needy places of our lives. “Jesus” – this was the name given to Mary and Joseph, and became the crux of the Gospel. Through an experience of salvation, people would find their destiny, their purpose, their potential and could now flourish in life. Jesus is only a prayer away. We only need to ask Jesus to take control of our lives, and then start to read the Gospels and learn what Jesus is all about.

For Jesus, doing the will of God, was central, the only thing to be really addressed. If we want to know what God’s agenda is, we only need look at the things Jesus got up to. Jesus showed that from the time he was twelve he was destined to be a teacher par excellence.

In John’s Gospel we read Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me”. This is because, without knowing Jesus personally, the only wholly complete revelation of God, we cannot see and experience the heart of God.

(b) These days, where Christianity is not the centre of attention, it’s not so much that people reject Jesus (per say) … although some people may reject some presentations given of Jesus … the problem really is the changes that Jesus wants people to make (both personally and relationally). People are set in their ways; despite being unsatisfied with life, they seem to want to stick in their old comfortable clothes (even when they’re a bit saggy and a bit worn). The biggest problem with Jesus is that, we want to suit ourselves, while Jesus wants us to serve others. Yet the “good news” for all people persists and God continues to love. The offer of grace abounds, and we are witnesses (or personal testimonies) to this. Jesus wants us to gather all people into worshipping and serving communities that make a positive difference in the world. Anything less is a waste.

Who is Jesus? The person on which the whole of life turns.

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