Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Ripple Effect (Intro to May 17, message)

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me [Jesus], because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favor…when they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him [Jesus] to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down from the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away. ~ Luke 4:18-19; 28-30

During the Chinese New Year break, while Sandy and I were teaching in China, we flew to Bangkok, Thailand. Then, via boats and busses, we went further south to Krabi and Ko Lanta, Thailand—a welcome reprieve from the smog and cold of China. Once there, we took deep breaths of the fresh sea breezes, soaked up the warm tropical sun, and walked miles of beautiful beach. It wasn’t hard to imagine we were in the Garden of Eden. 

One day, with about 25 other tourists, we took a boat cruise that carried us to several different islands. At some of them we snorkeled in crystal clear water among reefs and swam with neon-colored tropical fish. The big finish of our day-trip was to drop anchor just offshore an island that formed the platform for a volcano that had been dormant for hundreds of years. What remained were the petrified remains that shot upward like a chimney for hundreds of feet. To see its innards, though, we had to put on life jackets, tumble out of the boat, and swim through an underwater cave. Emerging from the dark tunnel we waded ashore, and through squinting eyes beheld fruit-bearing trees that had taken root in the grainy sand. Brightly feathered birds flitted among their branches. From a circular blue heaven high above, sunlight illuminated the gray ragged walls revealing veins of lush green vines. It was exotic.

At one point, Sandy asked our guide, "Were there any people in this volcano when the tsunami hit in 2004?" 

"Yes, I was here with a group of tourists." He responded. 

Elaborating, he said, "Surprisingly, for those in boats out in open water it was barely noticeable…like a ripple that raised and jostled them a little bit. For us in this volcano, there was a roar, the water surged about 20 feet, and we scrambled for our lives up trees and the volcano walls. My partner was outside the volcano with the boat, which was dashed onto the rocks and destroyed. Nobody with us died."

An imperfect metaphor…the tsunami, so powerful, yet it could move along nearly undetectable, until it came ashore…

Two New Testament books were written by a gentile named Luke. Luke was a highly educated man, a missionary, a physician, and a companion of the apostle Paul. Luke, out of great concern for his friend, Theophilus, and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, meticulously chronicled a detailed and thoroughly researched account of Jesus' earthly ministry in his Gospel. Dr. Luke’s backstory includes details neither Matthew nor Mark recorded. In his sequel, the book of Acts, he outlined with equal precision the work of the ascended Christ through the Holy Spirit extending his Kingdom throughout the world. In both of his books he speaks to the work of the Spirit of God—a work that went undetected and unnoticed by most of the world. Barely a ripple… 

In Luke's Gospel, the work of the Holy Spirit begins as ripples in the grand scheme of things. Most of the world is oblivious to his Presence. His first mention comes when the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, announcing that he and his wife, Elizabeth, who had been barren, would have a son. They were to name him John. He would be filled—that means saturated and fully influenced by—the Holy Spirit from birth. In days ahead, John’s Holy Spirit anointed preaching would turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. But for years nothing is mentioned of the Spirit’s presence in John’s life. Barely a ripple… 

Next, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to Nazareth to announce to Mary and Joseph that Mary would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit who would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High…he would reign over a kingdom that would have no end—spiritually, literally, and one day geographically. 

At the birth of Jesus, we are told of a holy and devout man, Simeon, to whom it had been revealed by the Holy Spirit, would not leave this world without first seeing the Lord’s Christ. It was Simeon to whom Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated. Under the Spirit’s direction Simeon prophesied to the young couple, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” But for the next 30 years the Presence of the Holy Spirit in Jesus of Nazareth was nearly imperceptible. 

Luke’s chronology then takes a leap in time. John the Baptist has come of age and out of the desert he marched. He preached with the force of a spiritual tsunami calling everybody to repentence. God’s people were to prepare their hearts and lives for the coming of Messiah, he declared. It was in this general time frame, that John baptized Jesus, and again we see the Holy Spirit’s activity, but it’s subdued. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  Barely a ripple in the big picture. 

Next, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for 40 days. But out of the wilderness Jesus comes, sustained by the Power of the Holy Spirit. Reinvigorated by the same Spirit, into the backwaters of Galilee he goes, powered of the Holy Spirit, preaching in synagogues, performing miracles, and moving out of obscurity.  


About a year later in Luke 4:16 we read that Jesus returns to Nazareth where he had been brought up. Why? The time and place had come for him to publically declare his Messianic mission. The ripple of the Spirit’s work was about to come ashore… the tsunami was coming... 

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