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March 11: Leviticus 19 | Psalm 119:81-128 | Luke 2

Reading 1 - Leviticus 19:18

"'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD" (Lev 19:18).

In answer to the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luk 10:25), Jesus cites this verse: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Luk 10:27). When this answer elicits the follow-up question, "And who is my neighbor?" (v 29), Jesus responds by telling the parable of the good Samaritan (Luk 10:30-37). In his parable Jesus makes it very plain that "neighbor" must not be restricted to 'fellow believer', but that it includes especially those with whom we feel we have little in common -- even those whom the most "upright" Jews despised -- the Samaritans!

In taking this broadly inclusive point of view, Jesus is only following the context of the Lev 19:18 citation: in Lev 19:33,34 it is clear that "neighbor" includes the "alien" -- that is, the Gentile: "Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt."

The final reminder in this verse, "I am the LORD", has a two-fold significance here: (1) "I, the LORD your God, am holy" (v 2) -- therefore you must be holy also; and (2) "I am the LORD"... who loved YOU when you, in Egypt, were no better than "aliens" to ME (v 34): you were worshipers of idols, and ignorant of My Name and promises; yet nevertheless I still loved you!

Reading 2 - Psa 119:83

"Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees" (Psa 119:83).

This refers to a dried, cracked wineskin, blackened with the smoke of affliction and suffering: compare Lam 4:8: "Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as a stick." Skins filled with wine were hung at the tops of tents, where it was smoky and hot, so that the wine might mature. This is a beautiful allegory: while the skin (the outward man) ages and grows less useful and more brittle and unsightly, the wine inside (the inner man!) matures and develops perfection of character.

In Christ's parable, constructed along similar lines, the skin symbolizes the "outer man" of the believer, which is but the receptacle for the "wine" of the teaching and spirit of God: "Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved" (Mat 9:17).

Reading 3 - Luk 2:1

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world" (Luk 2:1).

Luke is an inspired historian, who can therefore look into the heart of things and think on a grand scale. The story he presents is a fascinating interplay of Roman imperial authority and obscure Jewish compliance. But even the decrees of mighty Caesar are bent to the Divine purpose. Augustus, with all his armies and bureaucrats, is no more than a servant of God. For centuries the religion of freedom was destined to contend against the despotic power of a great empire, a totalitarian state which never hesitated to make the lowly masses subservient to its own will. (Such states have not gone out of style, and will not, as long as man is left to rule his own affairs. They have changed their names and ideologies, but not their essential characters.) Even in his birth the founder of the new religion was tossed to and fro at the whim of the emperor.

When he went to his death thirty-odd years later, it was again as a mere random piece of humanity, to be "processed" by the same state, one among many misfits and criminals impaled by Roman nails on Roman crosses.

The state had its purposes, but God had His. Each purpose was fulfilled, but how different they were! In ordering the enrollment, the state was seeking to achieve greater control over its subjects, and to lay the groundwork for taxation. God made use of these materialistic enterprises to fulfill the prophecy given by Micah, that His Son would be born in the little town of Bethlehem, thereby becoming governor and shepherd of Israel (Mic 5 :2).


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