If one rises from the dead #LukeActs2014

Abraham said, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead. (Luke 16:31, NIV)

Before I started this year-long practice of reading Luke-Acts in 2014, I had always known Luke’s gospel spoke a lot about the poor and the rich. But it is one thing to know it, and another to sit down week after week with the gospel and read it.

Luke is about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

The verse at the top of this post comes at the end of a chapter that is relentlessly about wealth and how to use it. It starts with a parable that is often puzzling to people — the dishonest manager. The man who got his way into heaven by reducing the debts people owed his master. I’m not arguing I fully understand the parable, but in light of the whole chapter, the message appears to be that we are in the position of the dishonest manager. We are about to be called to account for the way we’ve managed our master’s — that is God’s — wealth that has been put in our hands. If we want to end up on the good side, it is time to start using that wealth to remove burdens from those who are in our debt or who could be blessed by it.

This certainly is the point of the rest of the chapter and the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man saw the poor Lazarus every day and walked by him. Now tormented, he pleads for word to be given. It is a version of A Christmas Carol without the happy ending.

And the zinger for us right at the end. If the witness of the Old Testament is not enough to get us to be generous, then even a man rising from the dead would not be enough to convince us.

We who are fresh from Easter worship are confronted by that assertion. Does the risen Lord persuade us of what we did not believe without Jesus?

I cannot say what the specific application of this chapter — or this theme in Luke — is. John Wesley taught that every penny we have is a gift from God. After we have used our money to care for the needs of our family and to provide for necessities for our work and education, we should give every penny beyond that to doing good for others — good for their bodies, minds, and souls. Others teach that after we offer one tenth to God, the balance of our money can be with clear conscience used in any ways that are not manifestly evil or sinful. Others teach about money in other ways.

I am not certain what the proper biblical stance is, not down to the fine points. But you can’t spend as much time as I have with Luke so far this year without being hounded by the question: Will you serve God or money?

Acts on Easter

Some quotes from the Book of Acts about the significance of Easter.

Acts 2:32, 36

God has raised this Jesus to life; and we are all witnesses of it … Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.

Acts 4:10-12

then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone your builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in on one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

Acts 10:42-43

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Acts 13: 32-33, 38-39

We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus … Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.

Acts 17:30-31

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.

Why did Jesus die?

And this question, both infidels are accustomed to bring up against us, ridiculing Christian simplicity as absurd; and many believers ponder it in their hearts; for what cause or necessity, in sooth, God became man, and by his own death, as we believe and affirm, restored life to the world; when he might have done this, by means of some other being, angelic or human, or merely by his will.

– Anselm, Cur Deus Homo

The United Methodist News Service asks the question “Why did Jesus have to die?

For the most part, the story is a typical United Methodist one. The gist of it is that there are lots of ways to think about the atonement. The article does briefly describe Anselm’s theory of atonement for the purpose of explaining why so many people disagree with it.

In the comments, the UMNS editor suggests that Jesus did not have to die.

The story ends by offering up an Abelardian subjective explanation of the atonement.

Perhaps the greatest comfort the cross offers is the knowledge that there is no sorrow, pain or despair humans can undergo that God does not know and walk through with us. And because of the Resurrection, we know that sorrow and death do not have the last word.

For those who are interested, Article VIII of the Confession of Faith has this to say.

We believe God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The offering Christ freely made on the cross is the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, redeeming man from all sin, so that no other satisfaction is required.

Jesus in the Old Testament

They did not destroy the peoples
    as the Lord had commanded them,
but they mingled with the nations
    and adopted their customs. (Psalm 106: 34-35, NIV)

I remember the day I was sitting in a Bible study and someone said God would never command the destruction of entire towns. The person was objecting to the Jericho story in Joshua. The argument boiled down to the claim that Jesus would never do that.

Here is the rub, though. We are Trinitarians. When the Bible refers to God, it is talking about Jesus. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all three-in-one, are God.

Jesus in the New Testament is not a filter that we run the rest of the God stories in the Bible through to strain out the parts that don’t appear to us to fit. Jesus is the incarnation of the God who commanded the destruction of Jericho. Jesus, the Son of God, was the same God who sent the angel of death to wipe out the first born of Egypt. Jesus the eternal Word rained fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.

In Psalm 106, we read of the mighty and terrible deeds of the Lord. Jesus of Nazareth knew those Psalms well. They tell his story.

Do you love God?

Do you love God?

That is the first great commandment, yes?

Love God.

Do you love God?

Please note, this question is not “Do you think highly of God?” or “Do you admire God?” or “Do you like it when God does good stuff for you?” or even “Do you sing a good praise song and lift your hands in worship?”

Do you love God?

Of course, if you do not know God, the answer must be “no.” We cannot love the idea of God or the rumor of God. We must know God to love him.

Too many Christians spend their spiritual might trying love a God they neither know nor experience. They try. They say all the right words. They do all the right things. But they, as John Wesley put it once, have no more love of God than a stone.

And as a stone our hearts will remain until our eyes of faith are opened to the great truth that we tell during Holy Week. Jesus Christ loved you, loved me, so much that he died to free us from sin and death. He knelt in the garden that night — when he could have run — because he loved us. He bore the lash because he loves us. He took the nails because he loves us. He died humiliated, tortured, and mocked because he loves us.

Do you know how much God loves you?

Do you know?

Do you know?