Tidings of Great Joy to All People
In our recent look at how Christmas (as we refer to the birth of the Lord in western culture) was the start of the fulfillment of promises made specifically to Israel, we noted how Gentiles would be blessed through Israel. We saw that in the dispensation covered by the Lord's earthly ministry and through the Apostles in the Acts Age, the message was that the Son of David had come to offer the restored kingdom to Israel and such a kingdom would be a blessing to all nations (Gentiles).
In doing so, we do not want to dismiss the glory of Christmas for Gentiles. The Book of Acts is the story of the Apostles continuing the earthly ministry of the Lord's mission to Israel ("to confirm the promises made to the Patriarchs") and the revelation of the grafting in of Gentile believers into those blessings.
These two callings can be seen in the dual ministries of the Apostles. Peter and the twelve had a calling to go to "ye men of Israel" and "to Jews only" while Paul was called to go "the Jew first, but also to the Gentile." In the Acts Age, whether the twelves' ministry or Paul's, the primary calling was to Jews. The addition of Gentiles to Paul's calling was not that Gentiles could suddenly have life by faith (that has always been true), but that Gentiles could partake of Israel's earthly blessings (in part).
The Lord has not left Gentiles out of the gospel accounts, but we must rightly divide these accounts. This is not a study of the focus of the four gospel accounts or an overview of the Book of Acts. However, in light of Christmas, we do want to note the differences between Matthew's account and Luke's. neither Mark's gospel nor John's has any information about the Lord's genealogy or birth. In short, this is because Mark's gospel presents the Lord as a servant and John's as God. Neither servants nor God have need of a genealogy.
Matthew's Accounting of the Lord's Birth
We looked at Matthew's account of the Lord's genealogy in our post on Israel and Christmas, but we need to summarize it here so we can better see the context for Gentiles in Luke's account.
Matthew takes us back to David (connecting the Lord to the throne) and to Abraham (connecting the Lord to the promises to Abraham regarding the land).
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham... So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.
Pronouns are very important in scripture. We've noted the scripture's use of pronouns and how context is very important in this regard. let's return to the inspired account in Matthew:
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins...
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
We've looked previously as to how the Lord deals with the title "Son of David." As just one example, when Jews called on him so, he answered quickly. But when a Gentile tried the same, she was rebuffed, for he is not the Son of David to Gentiles, but rather our Lord. We note quickly that "Son of David" is used 10 times in Matthew, 3 times in Mark and Luke (each), and not at all in John (though his lineage is disputed in Chapter 7).
And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” (Matthew 9)
And behold, two blind men sitting by the roadside, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent; but they cried out the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And Jesus stopped and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they received their sight and followed him. (Matthew 20)
Now compare these responses from the Lord to his response to a Gentile woman who invokes "Son of David":
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite [Gentile] woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Matthew is the account of the Son of David sent primarily to Israel. It deals with her promised Kingdom (David's son was heir to a throne) and her promised Land (Abraham's son was offered on Mt Moriah/Calvary). Gentiles would be blessed, but through Israel and through the crumbs that fall from Israel's (their master's) table. This is all in regard to the earthly kingdom. This has nothing to do with the free gift of Life or the present age.
- Has no mention of his death and burial and resurrection (Matthew 4, 9)
- Was to be preached to Jews only (Matthew 10)
These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Matthew 10)
The Lord does not mention his death until Chapter 16. As we transition to Luke, we note the internal change in Matthew which lead us, in part, to the conditions in the Book of Acts (written by Luke). Here is a summation of the change from Charles Welch:
The great teaching of the apostle [Paul], which included the Gentile within the sphere of the promise of Abraham (Romans and Galatians), is scarcely suggested in Matthew's Gospel.
Matthew's Gospel is divided into two parts; and each part is connected with the relationship and covenants indicated in Matt.1:1 ["The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham].
The first part, covering Matthew.4:17.to.16:20, is associated with the kingly title, "Son of David"; the second portion, commencing with the announcement of suffering, death, and resurrection (Matt.16:21), is the fulfilling of the title, "Son of Abraham".
The second phase of the Lord's ministry could not be made a matter of public proclamation until the great transaction of Calvary had removed the curse, and made it possible for the blessing of Abraham to flow out to the Gentiles (Galatians.3:13,14).
Luke's Accounting of the Lord's Birth
Luke's Gospel goes back behind both Abraham and David, and traces the genealogy of the Savior back to Adam. This forms the basis for Paul's message to the Gentiles; and indeed, it is Paul alone of all the New Testament writers who makes known the wondrous and far-reaching connection that is established in the purpose of God between Adam, mankind (including Jew and Gentile), and Christ. Romans.5: associates the reconciliation with Adam. This scope is wider than that of Matthew.
Luke does not dismiss the Lord's mission as the coming King of Israel. But just as Paul's ministry declared the kingdom AND the inclusion of the Gentile in the Plan of God for that age, Luke includes both aspects. The angel announced in Luke chapter 1:
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1)
These words are not to be "spiritualized." They are literal promises based on literal prophecies.
Mary continues with her words of praise in Luke.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”
John the Baptist's father continues with a prophecy:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people,
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies,
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to perform the mercy promised to our fathers,
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath which he swore to our father Abraham
But when the Lord is presented to Simeon, about whom the scripture tell us had the Holy Spirit upon him, he includes Gentiles as Paul would. The scripture also tells us in Luke 2 that Simeon "waited for the consolation OF ISRAEL."
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. (Luke 2)
“Lord, now let thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word;
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation
which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to thy people Israel.” (Luke 2)
So, we see the truth revealed SINCE the foundation of the age that Gentiles would be blessed through Abraham and Israel. We stay consistent with Paul's scriptural and prophetic arguments in Romans and Galatians that we looked at in out previous Christmas study. While these truths were not clearly understood, they were part of the revealed Plan of God in Moses and the Prophets (as Paul testifies at his trial in the Acts). As late as Acts 28, Paul is teaching "the hope of Israel" to Jews.
We pause here to note that the present age was hidden from "before" the foundation of the ages and revealed after the Acts Age had ended and the Plan of God for Israel put on hold.
The Ministry of John the Baptist
We now turn to the ministry of John the Baptist and compare the things that differ.
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias [Isaiah], saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (Matthew 3)
Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias [Isaiah] the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Luke 3)
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand is emphasized in Matthew's account while Luke adds "all flesh shall see the salvation [rescue] of God."
Of Wise Men and Angels ad Public Ministry
Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people ... Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2)
These differing callings are also reflected in how the Lord starts his public ministry in the gospels. Just as John the Baptist came calling on all to "repent," so does the Lord in Matthew's choice of where to being the telling of the story (in Capernaum). Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah, then we see the first announcement of the Lord's public ministry.
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned... (Matthew 4)
"Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4)
Luke chooses to start telling the story from the Lord's address to the synagogue in Nazareth. He starts his ministry in the synagogue (as Paul did all through the Acts Age) and quotes Isaiah. We looked at this verse in our previous study noting how the Lord stops before "the day of vengeance of our God," but here we simply note the content and context of his initial message.
After the Lord announces the prophecy of Isaiah was being fulfilled in their presence, they reject him and become indignant. In light of this rejection, he turns to scripture and chooses two interesting accounts.
But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4)
The two referenced here by the Lord, the widow and the leper, are both Gentiles. We take two distinct things from our Lord's choice: Gentile blessing was not impossible under the Old Covenant and Gentile blessing was the result of rejection by Israel. This is Paul's message in Romans and in the latter half of the Acts Age. Luke reflects this in his gospel account (as inspired).
Peter starts his miraculous ministry by healing a lame Jew in the Temple. Paul starts his by blinding a Jew. This is fascinating story and a stark contrast to Peter's miracle.
But Elymas [a Jew] the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul [a Gentile] away from the faith. Then Saul [Hebrew], who also is called Paul [Roman/Gentile], filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.”
And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
Summation: Paul starts the last half of the Acts:
- changing his name from a Hebrew name to a Gentile name
- by blinding a Jew "for a time"
- the blinding of the Jew leads to the faith of a Gentile
Luke's and Paul's ministry reflects this rejection by Israel and the grafting in of Gentiles in order to provoke Israel to jealousy. We have looked at Matthew's parables on the past and have noted their focus on Israel, the Kingdom, the judgement of her service to come. Luke's parables contrast those who seem blessed (the rich, the elder son, the cleansed lepers, and the steward in the master's house), but each has been corrupted. We quickly point to several of Luke's parables:
- The prodigal son: the elder (Israel) remains with the father, but in pride
- The Good Samaritan is juxtaposed against religious Jews
- 10 lepers cleansed, only one returns to than the Lord, a Samaritan
- The Unjust Steward loved money and lost his stewardship
- The Pharisees love of wealth seen in the parable of the rich man in Abraham's Bosom
These reflect what was goin on in the Acts and are given as a warning to Jews in regard to their special calling and stewardship. Pride, dead religion, pursuit of riches, unthankfulness, deceit drive men to forsake their blessings. These are a danger to all believers of all ages, but in Luke, the write is reflecting Paul's message in the latter half of the Acts Age.
Luke Reflects Paul's Acts Ministry
Luke's gospel is explained by the Book of Romans. There, the Jew is still "first" and has an advantage "much in every way," but because of his stubbornness, (as we have noted) God has grafted in the Gentile. we must be careful here. This is not the condition of this hour. We will not break down the book here, but we refer the reader, again, to Romans chapters 9 through 11.
In Luke's writings (again we note Luke and the Acts are Volumes 1 and 2 of the same book), we have reflected Paul's call to widen the call of the physical and promised Kingdom which is to come. That being said, Luke is not the gospel of this hour. In the current age, the Book of John is where we start.
John the Apostle does not have the Baptist announcing a call to repentance. John has no genealogy for the Lord Jesus is presented not as the King of Israel (as in Matthew) or as the Last Adam and Perfect Man (as in Luke), but as God. And God has no genealogy.
We do not point to a babe in a manger, we point in this age to a risen Christ, far above the heavens. John's call is for men to believe on the Son of God and by believing have "life through his name." We can find joy in the announcement in Luke, but we must move on to the cross, the burial, and the resurrection before we see the glory.
The full passage from Luke is famously quoted by Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas. It's a beautiful passage. However, we need to be careful. Christmas (the birth of he Lord) was surely the start of the promise of a joy available all people, but it is empty without his sacrifice and resurrection.
And in this age (unlike in the Gospels, in the Acts Age, and in an age to come), there is no more Jew or Gentile.
There are many many more of these interesting differences between Matthew and Luke. We refer the reader to Charles Welch's "The Apostle of the Reconciliation." The Lord came to reconcile Israel to himself (as seen in the first part of the Acts Age) and then extends the reconciliation to Gentiles (in the latter half of the Acts Age). We must note again here that neither of these conditions in regard to the earthly kingdom are in effect in this present age.
Step back and take a look at the Bible as a whole before you try to find your place in it. Otherwise, we end up taking any verse from any passage in any book and try to apply to ourselves. That method has led to thousands of worthless denominations and hundreds of millions who never find the truth for the present age. If you don't get past a "saved/lost" approach to the Bible, you'll never find the gospel of the unsearchable riches of Christ.