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TEXT: Luke 3:23-38
SUBJECT: A Good Story Made Better
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who can tell a story and those who can't. Good storytellers have an eye for detail. Whether the story they tell is long or short, funny, sad, or exciting, they know what to put into it--and what to leave out.
This is where bad storytellers go wrong. They give too much information or not enough. A friend of mine loves to tell a joke--and there's nothing I like more than a good joke--but all his jokes bomb because he inevitably omits the key detail. If I had known John Smith was a janitor. I'd be laughing my head off. But my head is still on because he forgot to tell me that. Not enough information.
A second friend has the opposite problem. If he were telling the joke about John Smith, he'd also tell me how tall he is, where he lives, why he's a janitor, what he likes for dinner and who he voted for for president in 1968! Too much information.
The trick to telling a good story, therefore, is saying all that needs to be said--and nothing more.
This brings us to Luke the storyteller. If you read the first two-and-a-half chapters of his Gospel, you might think he's one of the greatest storytellers who ever lived.
ZACHARIAS AND ELISABETH
His story begins with a priest. He's working in the Temple one day, when an angel appears to him with astonishing news: he and his wife will have a son, their son will become a great man, and be given the honor of introducing the Messiah to His people. The angel is so sure of all this, he gives the baby a name before he's born: You shall call him John.
The priest fervently wishes the good news were true, but he knows it is not. He and his wife have been married for many years, and now, it's too late for them. Though they'd love a baby, they're not going to have one. That's what the old man thinks.
And this makes the angel mad! the old man will be speechless until his son is born. He comes out of the Temple to pronounce the blessing on his people, but when he opens his mouth, nothing comes out! He goes back to his home unable to speak, and so he remains for several months.
At the end of which, the Word of God comes to pass, the old man and his wife have the promised son, and wanting to honor his father, the neighbors want urge his wife to name the baby Zacharias.
She won't do it. If the angel says his name is John, that's the name--even if nobody in the family is named that. Hoping to overrule the stubborn old woman, they take their case to Zacharias, and--still unable to speak--he calls for a tablet and writes on it--
His name is John.
When he puts down the pen, his tongue is freed, and he bursts into praise, blessing God for remembering and redeeming His People. The Church later called his song, The Benedictus.
While all this is going on in the hill country of Judea, God is at work up north, too, in the town of Nazareth of Galilee. There's a girl there called Mary who is betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph. An angel comes to her, too, with good news, news even better than what he told the priest a few weeks earlier.
She, too, will have a Great Son, but he'll be far greater than John, so great that He will be called--
The Son of the Highest (whom) the Lord God will give the throne of His Father, David, and who will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.
Needless to say, the young woman is shocked by the news, and for good reason. She knew 'where babies came from', and having never been with a man, how could she have one? The angel explains--
The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, the Holy One who is born will be called the Son of God.
Unlike the old priest, the young lady believes the angel--
Let it be to me according to your word!
MARY AND ELISABETH
The young lady and the older woman are cousins. When Mary heard that God had visited both of them, she went down to the hill country of Judah to pay her a visit. When she got to the door, she called out, and when Elisabeth heard the greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and the woman was filled with the Spirit, praised God and wondered why the mother of her Lord should honor her with a visit.
When Mary received the blessing, she sang--
My soul doth magnify the Lord;
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior,
for He that is mighty hath done great things,
and holy is His name.
The Church later called her song, The Magnificat .
Some time later, Mary went back to Nazareth, now great with child, but she didn't stay there for long. Because--
It came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
To register for the new tax, everyone had to go back to where he came from, and Joseph came from Bethlehem. When he and Mary got there, there was no room in the inn for them, so they bedded down in a barn, and there, the Son of God was born.
That night shepherds were watching their sheep, when they saw an incredible sight. The Glory of God descended on them and an angel appeared with more good news--
For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
As they stood there gaping at the angel, he was joined by all the Heavenly Host chanting--
Glory to God in the Highest,
and on earth, peace,
good will to men.
When the angels left them, the shepherds made a beeline to the barn, saw the Baby King, and went out and told everyone the great things God has done.
Forty days later, Mary and Joseph went up to the Temple to present their Son to the Lord. Every firstborn son was dedicated in this way, but then something happened that wasn't expected.
Some time before, a pious old man named Simeon had been told by God that he would live till he saw the salvation of his people. Led by the Spirit into the Temple the day Jesus came, he found what he came for. Taking the Baby in his arms, he blessed God--
Lord, you are letting your servant depart in peace according to your word...for my eyes have seen your salvation...a light to the Gentiles and a glory to your people Israel.
This is called the Nunc Dimittis .
About the same time, an old prophetess--Anna was her name--and--
Spoke of Him to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
THE DOCTORS OF THE LAW
Luke's story then skips forward twelve years, with Jesus and His parents now visiting the capital to celebrate Passover. When the holiday is over, the family packs up to go home, but way down the road they realize Jesus is not with them. Frantic to find Him, they search for three days, only to find Him where they left Him, at the Temple, discussing God's Word with the doctors of the Law.
Mary is amazed that He would scare her and His father so, but He answers, equally amazed--
Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?
From here, Luke skips another eighteen years or so, when Jesus is now a man of thirty. John is baptizing in the Jordan River and thousands of people are flocking to him to wash away their sins in the baptismal waters.
Somewhere in the long line of penitents, a Man appears who has no sin, but still demands baptism. John obliges Him, and when He rises from the water--
The Holy Spirit descends in bodily form, like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from Heaven, which said, 'You are my Beloved Son; in you I am well pleased'.
This is storytelling at its best. The Brothers Grimm and Uncle Remus have nothing on Luke. The stories move you, even if you don't believe they're true. But, if you do believe they're true, they do more than touch you.
But after weaving his magnificent tapestry, Luke ruins it all by closing with a long and boring genealogy.
In those days, women almost never appeared in Family Trees, but were accounted for by their husbands. This is our Lord's ancestry through Mary, but Luke, following the conventions of the day, started with her husband, Joseph. Mary's father was name Heli and his father was named Matthat, and his Levi and his Melchi...on and on the list goes, with only a few names we know and even fewer we care about.
Why would such a lively storyteller put such a deadly dull list in the middle of his story?
Well, the first thing I'd say to that is, 'Dull to whom?' 'Dull' and 'exciting' are relative to time and place. In 1800 everybody was talking about the cotton gin. If you brought it up at a party today, all you'd hear is crickets!
Scholars say that in some cultures, genealogies are still the most exiting part of any story. This is how it was in the First Century. Luke assumed his family tree would have people sitting up in church--not dozing off.
Still, there's more to the genealogy than 'exciting people in other cultures'. Why is it here? How does it serve Luke's purpose?
THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD
For one thing, you've got to remember who Luke is and for whom he's writing. Luke is the only Gentile to write a book in the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, all the books in the Bible were written by Jews. Except for the two that Luke wrote.
Other than a Gentile, what was Luke? He was Paul's personal physician and traveling companion. Where did Paul do most of his traveling? In the Gentile world, in places like Galatia, Ephesus, Corinth, and so on, all Greek or Roman cities. These are the people Luke is writing for.
They want to know if Jesus is the King of the Jews only, or is He also The Savior of the World? By linking Jesus to non-Jews (everyone before Abraham on the list), Luke assures us that Jesus is the Savior of all men, not just Jewish men.
This is important, but there's a lot more to the genealogy than this. The Lord's family tree tells a story itself, and its key line is the last part of v.38--
The son of Adam, the son of God.
GOD MADE US TO BE HIS CHILDREN
If you read Genesis 1-2, you'll see that humans are part of the created world. The Gnostics said we are eternal spirits who took bodies in the beginning of the material creation, but they were wrong, as are their successors in the New Age Movement.
The fact is, we were created in time and space, just like the trees and the grass, the cattle and creeping things. But for all we have in common with the marigold and the monkey, there's also a big difference.
God simply commanded the creation of everything else--And God said let the earth bring forth grass...Let the waters abound with living creatures...Let the birds fly above the earth and so on.
But when the world was ready for man, God slowed down and took extra care to make us just the way He wanted us to be, Genesis 2:7--
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Why did God put so much time and effort into making man, as opposed to oceans or mountains or the Milky Way? It's because other things are not His children, but we are. As magnificent as other things are, nothing and no one but we bear the Image of God. The Lord God didn't say, 'Let us make Whales in our Image', He said--
Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.
Being in the Image of God means man, as created, resembled his Father--
In knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.
WE FELL AWAY FROM GOD AND OUR DESTINY
This is what Adam and Eve were, and what we were supposed to be. But look all around you! Instead of 'knowledge' you see folly. Instead of holiness and righteousness, you see lust and violence and lying and oppression. Instead of exercising dominion over the animals, you see men living like animals!
Why do we live this way? We all say we shouldn't. Everybody's against murdering children, but twenty kids were gunned down a few days ago in Connecticut. Nobody favors rape, but last year there were 100,000 of them reported in America and God only knows how many were not reported. We all want truth in advertising, but do we get it? And what about our political leaders, the people we trust enough to put in charge of our country. Are we naive enough to think they tell us the truth?
Why is the world the way it is? To bring it closer to home, why are you the way you are? You know gluttony is bad for you, but you can't stop. You're ashamed of yourself for looking at pornography, but you keep doing it. You know grudges are bad, but you can't give them up. What in the world is wrong with us?
GK Chesterton had an answer. He said, 'Original sin is the only article of faith you can really prove. As long as there are people who take pleasure in skinning a cat alive, either there is no God, or there is a God, and we have fallen away from Him'.
I say there is a God and we've fallen away from Him. We're no longer His chidren, the way we once were, but, in the words of Jesus, we have become--
Of our father the devil..
We prove it every time we tell a lie or think a malicious thought. This is what we've become, and every attempt at 'self-help' has failed to change us from what we are to what we ought to be. Thank God for the outward improvements they've made in some of us, but 'the outward' is only the manifestation of our problem, not the problem itself.
Alcoholic Anonymous has helped millions of people stop drinking--and I thank God for their work. But talk to the people who are in it--including the ones who have been sober for thirty years. Every one of them will tell you, 'I'm still an alcoholic'. It has changed what they do, but not what they are.
GOD'S ASSESSMENT AND PLAN
God has tried the whole human race and found every one of us guilty as charged. In Romans 3, Paul quotes a long list of Bible verses--
There is none righteous, no not one.
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all gone out of the way;
they have together become unprofitable;
there is none who does good, no not one'.
This is what God thinks of the whole world--not just an Adolf Hitler, a Charles Manson, or the madman who shot up a movie theatre
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