Week of Oct. 11

The Blessing in Conflict

Read: Nehemiah 3-4; Luke 23

"So they all said, 'Are you the Son of God, then?' And he said to them, 'You say that I am.' And Pilate asked him, 'Are you the King of the Jews?' And he answered him, 'You have said so.'”
Luke 22:70; 23:3, ESV


Susan B. Anthony once said, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires (Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, Vol. 2, 384). I have heard lessons and sermons my entire life about the wicked Jewish religious leaders and Romans who opposed Christ. They both knew, and justified, what they were going to do. It is apparent that the source of conflict within both groups was rooted in their evil desires.

However, we do not want to overreact to this fact because Jesus’ suffering and death must be seen within Luke’s gospel through the motif of conflict. There are numerous themes, but this one is key to our understanding of the Cross. He wants us to see that none of these evil schemes could thwart the redemptive purposes of God. The Lord provides a clear example of how to remain steadfast in such a trial, and his example instructs us in a time that is increasingly hostile to Christ, the gospel, and believers.

A Biblical Lens

Luke has carried the Christological theme throughout the gospel, and he continues to bring it to our attention in various ways. For example, he records again the same question that people asked regarding Jesus, “If you are the Christ. . .” (Luke 22:67; cf. Luke 8:25, “Who then is this?”). Jesus provides the answer in the trial before the Sanhedrin. He is the Christ (22:70). The religious leaders use that claim to condemn him (22:71; 23:2), and this same pattern will be repeated over and over in the book of Acts (2:23; 3:14-15; 7:52; 13:27-28). Nevertheless, we know that God accepted the sacrifice of Christ, and that he was exalted (Luke 22:69; Acts 2:31-36; 13:32-37; Philippians 2:9-11). This approval of the Father is critical to our belief.

We often do not delve deeply into Jewish identity, but I am grateful to Joel Green for providing us with a meaningful analysis of the passion setting in this section of Luke (NIC). The setting for Jesus’ death is the time of festivals—Unleavened Bread and Passover. Jesus’ broken body and shed blood come in the midst of this “highly charged environment” where Israel celebrated its identity (NIC). “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The nation had often wrestled with its loyalties, religious and political, and this season in its history was no different. This fickle people would side with the hostile religious leadership and crucify the very one that the Father had sent to be their deliverer. We all fall away, don’t we (cf. 22:61-62; 23:49)?

God, through Christ’s sacrificial death, breaks though all of the evil to enable people to be forged into a new identity in the risen Savior (read Galatians 2:20). The most unlikely people, according to Joel Green, grasp the significance of what God was doing in Christ. Simon (23:26-27), women from the city (23:27-28), even a common criminal on a cross (23:40-43), and a Gentile centurion (23:47). Don't forget that he has done the same for you! These form a microcosm of the countless lives that would become new creatures through a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ (NIC). The old hymn verse comes to my mind, “How precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow. . . nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Conflict produces cleansing in those who will believe.

A Moral Pathway

We are hearing so much rhetoric this campaign season which makes me grateful—and, I hope that you will be as well—to have a clear message about the worth of Jesus Christ. Christians have become obsessed with dumping a candidate or advancing another. We have heard of hundreds who have shifted allegiances to one or another candidate. There also have been some who have even left one party for the other. I believe that it will help us today if we lift our eyes above the political fracas to the Father. He has our history, our times, and our future in his hands. You may wonder how the transcendent may be helpful in this political season?

We have been beset by moral accusations this entire election cycle. We have heard it all from tax returns to being in cahoots with foreign powers. Who knows who is innocent and worthy? Well, Luke does! Bear with me for a moment because we must look past these distractions to the eternally worthy candidate. The trial before Pilate reveals a significant truth about Jesus. The Messiah stood accused (23:2), charges were formulated (23:2, “subverting,” not paying taxes), an opportunity for a defense was given (23:3, “are you King of the Jews?”), and judgment rendered (23:4). Whereas the Sanhedrin had carried out a religious trial, the Romans held a political one. They mirrored one another in many respects; however, both were bogus and neither attempt to prove Jesus' guilt was successful. Despite all of the chicanery, none of God’s redemptive purposes could be halted (cf. Luke 18:32; See Psalm 2; Acts 4:25-26).

Luke intends to show that Jesus, despite the false trials, was indeed innocent, that he was truly the Christ, and the depths of Jewish guilt for his death was evident (cf. 23:23-25; Acts 2:23; 13:28; NIC). Throughout the entire gospel of Luke, we have been shown that the sovereign rule of God, despite the evil machinations of humankind, will prevail. In this sense, all of history is salvation history, and God’s call to repentance and to salvation must be heeded!

For Your Journaling

1. The famous pastor-scholar John Stott once penned a book on preaching that was entitled, “Between Two Worlds.” That title applies to our perspective on the year 2020. How does the truth about Jesus in A.D. 33 help you to weather this turbulent 2020 political season?

2. Luke calls us to embrace the conflict about Christ because it spurs decision. What are some fresh ways to show the worth of Christ in this season of malaise? Take into account the pandemic and politics.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock