We can’t possibly trot through the whole of Luke’s Gospel so I want to
focus on one element of Luke’ Story because it opens up the entire
Gospel. Luke’s Gospel, like the rest of the Bible, focuses on the
covenant community of faith instead of on an individual’s relationship
with God. If you read Luke together with Acts you see that what Luke
wants to tell us is that the transition from Israel to the Church is
now complete and the work of God in the covenant community is alive and
The community – and here is how Luke defines the “problem” that flows
out of the Story of Genesis 3–11 – is out of sorts. The community that
confronts Jesus in Luke’s Gospel is blanketed with social injustice,
Israel’s bondage to Rome, economic injustice and the like. Into this
world Luke writes his wiki-story and says that Jesus formed a
community, which we call the church, where those things are to end –
right now. So, I want to focus our attention on Luke’s wiki-story by
asking this question:
If “kingdom” is the solution, what is the problem?
If “kingdom” is the answer, what was the question?
Pause just a moment. How do you answer either of those questions? See if your answer is what Luke has to say. What Luke has to say is this: if kingdom is the answer, the problem is spiritual and social disintegration, injustice, and otherness. Kingdom brings oneness in a world of otherness.
You may be tempted right now to jump ahead in the New Testament’s Story to Romans 3, where Paul explains the death of Jesus as our atonement. I’m asking you to hang on because Romans 3 makes no sense until we understand what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God. You may also be tempted right now to call me a social gospel guy, which I’m not. But I can see why some might think this string of passages gives off a social aroma – I’d rather say it is a “church” aroma. What I am is someone who has, by reading the Bible, learned more and more that the church is the center of God’s work and that the church ought to live out the grand vision God has for oneness, holiness, justice, grace, peace and love.
What Luke’s wiki-story gives us is a grand vision, so grand at times that it boggles. Every author summoned to the table by Jesus, to use our image from the last chapter, is asked to tell the story in light of those five elements: creation, cracked Eikons, covenant community, Christ, and consummation. Luke’s Gospel emphasizes covenant community and Christ. His emphasis, so I believe, deserves emphasis today.
To understand how Luke tells his wiki-story of Jesus, we have to dip into his preliminary passages, those found in Luke’s first two chapters. The kingdom vision of Jesus gets a start in the famous Spirit-inspired song of Mary, called the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), because Mary announces what God is about to do through the Messiah (her son). What God is doing is taking the Story about Israel and making it a Story about Jesus that will become the Story about the Church.
Mary knows she’s playing a unique role in God’s Story by being the mother of the Messiah and she knows that from now on everyone (except Protestants!) will call her “blessed.” Here are Mary’s words, and Luke’s words literally echo the Bible’s Story in line after line and they also show that God’s spiritual work of redemption finds its way into community formation. In fact, Mary’s words are a charter for the kind of community God wants for his people.
And Mary said:
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me–
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.
What was God about to do through Mary’s son? Here are the five main points:
* Scatter the proud
* Strip rulers from their unjust thrones
* Stand the humble up with confidence
* Satisfy the hungry with food
* Send the rich away empty
Which means these are the problems:
* Unjust rulers and injustice
* Oppression of the humble
* Oppression by the rich through accumulation
Notice the last few lines of Mary’s Song: Mary swings her final punch (at Herod the Great, the very embodiment of injustice) by bringing up Abraham and the covenant God promised him. In other words, what Mary is saying is that the covenant that created the community in Genesis 12 converges in her Magnificat. Herod, if he lives long enough, may well be a witness to an entirely new way of life for Israel. For Mary, the problem is spiritual and social; therefore, the solution is spiritual and social.
The gospel I sketched at the beginning of this chapter has almost nothing to do with the kind of vision Mary provides for us.
We need not do anything but mention the Benedictus, the song of Zechariah, in Luke 1:67-79. It is only a slight updating of Mary’s song. The problem for Zechariah is a spiritual and social malaise and the solution is a spiritual and social community where God’s will, the kingdom of God, becomes a reality now. We jump ahead now to John the Baptist, where we will once again find this strong emphasis on the gospel creating the new community. Before we get to John, let me briefly sketch how I have myself embraced a more robust gospel.