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The Beginning of The End in the Middle

Luke begins his gospel by claiming that he is writing up an “orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled in our midst.” (Luke 1:1). And from that very first claim, we are being told that we are entering into the middle of a story, not the beginning. As we hear John the Baptist’s preaching and as we meet Jesus for the first time in Luke’s gospel, we should be aware that we are not being introduced to teachers of timeless truth or to wise spiritual sages, but to some of the most significant characters ever to be paraded of the stage of world history. This is a key moment in history, and for those of us with the faith to believe it, it is THE key moment. This is the moment which will shape and define every other moment. But again, as we open Luke’s Gospel, we must recognize, if we are to understand it, that we have begun in the middle, not the beginning. For events to take place that “fulfill” something, there must have been an expectation before-hand, a promise or a hope. That is exactly what the Israel that Jesus was born into, interacted with, and critiqued, had. Israel had expectations because they had a history full of promises, unlikely and extraordinary events, disappointments, failure, and still a flickering stubborn hope of fulfillment. Israel believed that the One true God of the world, who created all things for Himself and called it “good”, was committed to acting within that creation, through His people, to make the world right again. This is in fact what it meant to be Israel. Israel believed that this One True Creator God had revealed Himself to their forefathers and had promised to set the creation right again through them. “And in you and in your family, all nations will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

The Beginning of the End in the Middle

There are many people in our own country and in our own world who call themselves Christians, but they have significantly different ideas what being a “Christian” means. Do Christians care about the environment? Do Christians support Gay “Marriage”? Do Christians tolerate other religions? Do Christians drink Alcohol? Should Christians be involved with Government? And if so, should they support the right wing or the left wing agenda? Are all people who call themselves Christians “going to heaven”? Are you Predestined or do you have Free-will? We could go on… Things were like this for Israel in Luke’s and Jesus’ day too. Only the Jews were asking questions like: How do can we speed up the coming of God’s Kingdom? Who is a true Israelite? How much corruption in the Temple system should we tolerate before participating in it brings judgment upon ourselves? Is there a resurrection of the dead? Does God want us to help His Kingdom along by force of arms or should we just live and let live and God will do what God wants to do in His own time and way? There were right wing style pressure groups like the Pharisees, who urged violent revolt from Rome. And there were left-leaning Sadducees who didn’t want talk about resurrection because it encouraged people to take risks and revolt and threatened their comfortable compromises with Roman power and authority. Into these tensions and questions steps Jesus, but not before the forerunner John, goes before Him, “preparing the way” and announcing the soon arrival of God’s Kingdom. But Jesus doesn’t enter as a neutral figure or a wise spiritual sage who is above all the political controversy and social tension. Jesus enters as a dynamic and provocative figure who stirs up great excitement and passion as He goes along. And Jesus IS GOING SOMEWHERE. Jesus has an agenda, an opinion, a goal and, Luke tells us again and again, Jesus has authority. Jesus speaks with greater authority than any other teacher or leader that Israel has yet to know, and yet, His authority doesn’t come from any of the recognized official dispensers of authority. Jesus has authority that seems to come from Himself and an agenda that is His own. Luke tells us that John came to “prepare the way” because Jesus had a destination and throughout the gospel, Jesus is destined for and is working His way toward Jerusalem. As Jesus calls people to “follow” Him, and as others volunteer, Jesus is making His way toward Jerusalem. And it is in Jerusalem that the final show-down with the powers that be will take place. It is in Jerusalem that Jesus will make His decisive move. It is in Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, where Jesus will establish God’s Kingdom once and for all. And it is in Jerusalem that those who have followed Jesus up to this point will discover the mystery revealed of all Jesus’ cryptic and sometimes dark parables concerning the future events. It is in Jerusalem that Jesus’ followers will finally be face with the shocking and almost incomprehensible way that God would establish His Kingdom, though Jesus tried to prepare them for it in parable after parable. And it is in Jerusalem that the God Israel revered and worshiped for generations will finally reveal His face as He returns to His people and His city and His temple to do for the world, and through Israel, what He had always promised to do. And it is in Jerusalem that Jesus will have to explain to his devastated, confused and muddled followers how “all these things were necessary” and He “explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the scriptures”. Luke introduces us, not to the beginning of the story and not to the end of the story, but to the beginning of the climax of the story. This is where the story of the world finds its’ heart and meaning. And this is where we find ourselves. This is the Gospel of Luke.

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