It’s more important than ever to follow in the way of Jesus. The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were written by a Gentile, not a Jew, who was not one of the disciples we read about in the Scriptures. Luke’s unique perspective connects us to the big story of God. Most of the stories he tells take place around the temple. He wants to show the reader how all the stories of God, past and present, connect. In his last chapter of the Gospel, he leaves the reader with the image of the disciples praising God in the temple with a brand new vision of just who this lamb of God was for them.
Early on in his Gospel, he shares the miraculous angelic announcement of John the Baptist mom’s pregnancy to the unsuspecting father. The moment happens inside the temple. Zechariah, was tending to the presence of the Lord when the angel comes. The declaration reveals that the old temple system is going to disappear, and his son is the one who will be announcing that a new Temple has come. The angel doesn’t tell his dad that the son will be beheaded by the political and pop culture superstar of the day. He doesn’t tell him that he will call the most religious among them a “brood of venomous snakes.”
The angel says, “I’m Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and give you this splendid news. The old temple system will resist any new information from God. Luke shows the angel giving this information, and that it was too hard for Zechariah to accept, so the angel says, you’ll not speak again until the baby comes. It’s like a metaphor that shows the old temple system has been talking for hundreds and hundreds of years, and now it’s time to listen to God.
The Temple in Jesus’ day had become a place for Jewish nationalism and not the presence of God himself. The temple had become a place where Israel was trying to rally the nation to make Israel great again. They did not want to surrender to God and humble themselves but revolt against the political landscape of their day rather than place themselves under the Kingship of God.
When they were first given a King, it was not what God wanted for them because the prophet Samuel says that all God ever wanted was to be their King. Yet, it was their desire to be like all the other nations, great in their own right, that caused them to reject the voice of the Lord and end up with a King Saul. Saul, an incredibly insecure leader, and develops a great thirst for power and prestige. So much so that just a few years under his leadership, God goes ahead and selects his replacement, young David.
David is not allowed to build a temple for God because he’s just got too much blood on His hands to do it. God is not about War and Violence, but Peace on Earth, which was the announcement and good news. Luke shows us this in the opening part of his Gospel. David’s desire to build a connecting place between heaven and earth, a temple is carried out by his son Solomon. The temple is full of splendor and amazement, and overtime becomes more of a place for pride than presence. Solmon uses the glory and splendor of the temple for political power, more than humbling himself under God’s rulership and authority. The history is clear as we see Solomon’s descendants in exile and ultimately lose the temple.
When it’s finally rebuilt and regained, it becomes a place of pride. It is used unfortunately, as a message for human religious power to try and make themselves great again. God had in mind to bring in all people, but Israel didn’t want that. As Luke shares around the birth of Jesus, just eight days after his birth Simeon takes the baby in his arms and blesses, not the baby, but God with these words.
Luke 2:29 “Now, Master, you are dismissing your servant in peace, just as you said. 30These eyes of mine have seen your salvation, 31Which you made ready in the presence of all peoples: 32 A light for revelation to the nations And glory for your people Israel.” 33His father and mother were astonished at the things that were said about him. 34Simeon blessed them. “Listen,” he said to Mary his mother, “this child has been placed here to make many in Israel fall and rise again, and as a sign that will be spoken against 35(yes, a sword will go through your own soul as well), so that the thoughts of many hearts may be disclosed.”
The temple, the old way of doing things, was now going to disappear. The old system was being replaced by a new King who would set up a new Temple with an inclusive tribe of people from all the nations. This temple would not have walls but a heart. Israel would not be made great again in the way they thought they would. God wanted to bring in all people – Israel didn’t want that. They wanted to rise to power over Rome and move into greater respectability as a nation and increase their economic wealth like back in Solomon’s day.
Yet, God’s plan was for all people from the very beginning. If Jewish Nationalism been right, there would have been no reason to send Jesus. Had the law worked, there was no need to fulfill it. It was clear to Luke as he writes the Gospel and Acts that Rome wasn’t the biggest problem they had, pride was, and Luke reveals through the old man holding him on day eight in the Temple that Jesus ministry would be to expose it and cut right to the heart of the issue.
God’s presence was now a habitation, not just a yearly visitation. He would be Emmanuel with us – setting up a New Temple in the hearts of His followers. We see it in one of Jesus first ministry encounters in Luke 4:20 when He takes the scroll in the local “temple” called a Synagogue and reads, “Today,” he began, “this scripture is fulfilled in your own hearing.” Everyone remarked at him; they were astonished at the words coming out of his mouth—words of sheer grace. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they said.”
Precisely when history shows that the world under the rule of Caesar, who was worshipped the great Roman ruler as a god, was rising more and more in its absolute power a new King arrives on the scene. But this King (Jesus) has come to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free not set up a kingdom to rival Rome. Yet, the religious ears don’t want to hear it, and Luke shows us because it was not a nationalistic message, and Jesus was not talking about making Israel great again.
Jesus was announcing good news to the poor—the release of captives and sight recovery to the spiritually blind. Jesus never pronounced judgment on Rome. However, the religious were tired of oppressive politics and wanted to use their religion and temple as a rallying point to instigate a rebellion against Rome. In response to their anger at him, Jesus reminds them that this has been God’s message from the beginning. He says God has always emphasized and reached out to foreigners. After reading the scroll he says, there were plenty of widows in Elijah’s day when there was a famine, but he went out of the country to help the widow of Zarephath. Or when Elisha, the prophet, healed a Syrian, who the Israelites hated, Naaman was the only leper healed and not the ones from Israel.
The old temple system and its leaders disagreed with Jesus, and this global message and Luke 4 records that: “28When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue flew into a rage. 29They got up and threw him out of town. They took him to the top of the mountain on which their town was built, meaning to fling him off. 30But he slipped through the middle of them and went away.”
Luke shows that the temple had become a place of rejecting the truth of God’s love for everyone else. Jesus, the new King, was now close among His people. In Jesus, we see God’s plan for us today as we are called not only to loving the whole world but loving the person right next to us, our neighbor. The neighbor based themes would be the central message, and Luke uses chapter fifteen of his Gospel to remind the Pharisee’s that this is why he’s eating and drinking with tax collectors and those sinners who don’t submit to the old temple system. He tells the joy that comes when a single coin is found, or a lost sheep is found, or a son who had left comes home. And even though the son who stayed at home and always had access to the presence of the father, it was right to celebrate the lost coming home to be close to the father again.
Cultural Christians don’t fear the virus because they are supernaturally protected from scientific facts, but they seem very afraid of socialism and willing to die resisting it. Biblical Christians should not fear socialism because it untangles the Gospel message of God’s love from culture and places it on the landscape of God’s indwelling and personal presence in the temple of our hearts. That presence causes us to love our neighbors. We should fight tenaciously, not for the mindset of culture, but to develop pure loving hearts housing the very presence of God.
Pluralism provides an incredible opportunity to follow Jesus in the public square and engage with the real needs of our world. The old way of doing spirituality in America has disappeared as it always does when God is going to do a new thing. So, the removal of Sunday as game day mentality now forcefully invites new expressions of what it means to be a Christian inside an anti-Jesus culture. Cultural Christianity is actually a greater deception than socialism could ever be. Do we think that somehow we are to convert culture? Nowhere in the Bible can you see that we are to “convert” anyone.
God doesn’t make anyone great, not even countries. God asks us not to be great but be servants and model our lives after the greatest servant of all. In this way, in the kingdom to come, the last will then have the opportunity to be first. The frightful parable Jesus told recorded in Matthew says he’ll know we are His sheep if we feed the poor, clothe the naked which sounds eerily like the true church of Jesus doing some social work of its own. Otherwise, he puts us in the category of the goats and the religious blind Pharisees.