The gospel of Luke and the book of Acts introduce a group rarely discussed. Luke refers to these people as "the righteous." Luke/Acts includes in this group Zacharias and Elizabeth [the parents of John who baptized] (Luke 1:5,6); Mary the mother of Jesus [and Joseph who became her husband] (Matthew 1:19) (Luke 1:28,29,38); Simeon who saw the infant Jesus (Luke 2:25); the prophetess Anna who saw the infant Jesus (Luke 2:36,37); John who baptized (Luke 1:17; 3:7-14); Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50); Cornelius (Acts 10:22); and Barnabas (Acts 4:36,37;11:23,24). They are only representatives of those among "the righteous."
It is a very diverse group. Zacharias was a Jewish priest. Elizabeth was an elderly woman. Mary was a young virgin. Joseph was a carpenter. Simeon was an old man filled with the Holy Spirit looking for "the consolation of Israel." Anna was a prophetess who lived in the temple area. John lived and preached in the wilderness. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. Cornelius was a Roman centurion (not a Jew). Barnabas was an unusual Jewish Christian.
This must be a clear understanding. These and people like them were not called righteous because they were sinless. In the sense of God's perfect righteousness, no human is righteous (Psalms 14:1; 53:1; Romans 3:10). In the sense that Jesus is called "The Righteous One," no human is righteous. Though these people were righteous, they, too, needed a Savior.
What were the characteristics of a person among "the righteous"? He or she belonged to God. He or she was open to God's will and wishes even when he or she did not understand. The elderly Zacharias and Elizabeth were too old to have a child. Mary was a virgin. Simeon understood that he would not die until he had seen the Christ. After seeing Jesus, Anna talked to those who looked for the redemption of Jerusalem. John created opportunity for the one who would come in Elijah's spirit and power. In Jesus' life and death, Joseph maintained openness. Cornelius searched without questioning. Barnabas reacted with joy when he saw people who were not Jews accept Jesus.
The righteous person served God's purposes in unusual ways. An elderly couple had a child. A virgin became a mother. An old man declared God was keeping an ancient promise. An old woman declared Jerusalem's redemption had begun. A rugged man called a nation to repentance. A prestigious man knew God worked in Jesus. A Roman army officer did the unthinkable. A Jewish Christian was encouraged by a situation many Jewish Christians would denounce.
The righteous person knew God worked in deeds and circumstances they could not explain. Have a child when you are too old for pregnancy? Have a child when you are a virgin? A baby would be "the consolation of Israel" and "the redemption of Jerusalem"? God's great initiative would begin in a desert? The Christ would be buried? A Roman army officer would find salvation in the message of a Jewish preacher? God worked among people who were not Jews?
Though God's plans for the Christ defied every anticipation, the righteous trusted God's work. When they observed God doing what they could not explain, they trusted God. God's work in Jesus contradicted Jewish expectations. The righteous were amazed, even astounded, but they did not reject God's work and purposes in what they saw, heard, or experienced.
Consider some of the reactions of the righteous.
Searching for insight.
Luke 5:27-32 records Jesus' invitation to Levi to become one of his disciples. Levi was a Jewish tax collector. Jews collecting taxes for the Roman government were despised by Jewish people. Some Jews regarded collecting taxes for Rome as an act of treason against Israel. Many Jews were victimized by unethical tax collectors. Such men often used their power as a license to steal from these powerless people. Resentment against Jewish tax collectors was deep. Such men were commonly ostracized from Jewish society.
Levi accepted Jesus' invitation. He left the financial opportunities of tax collection to follow Jesus. He gave a large banquet in Jesus' honor in his home (an indication of his prosperity). Among those invited were a "great crowd of tax collectors."
The Pharisees and their scribes (who were on top of the religious establishment) sternly criticized Jesus for associating with tax collectors and known sinners.
Jesus responded in two ways. (1) The sick, not the well, need a doctor. (2) "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
Jesus did not include the Pharisees among the righteous. Read Luke 18:9-14.
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 1, Lesson 1
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