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The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 4 - part 2 - The Beginning of Jesus' Ministry & Rejection at Nazareth

Luke 4:14-30

Introduction

Jesus has now been prepared and tested for his mission.  He has received a great sign of affirmation from his Heavenly Father at his baptism, and he has stayed true to his baptismal identity as God's beloved Son through the time of testing in the wilderness.  Now, he is ready to step fully into his calling.

In the third major section of his gospel, Luke details Jesus' active Galilean ministry (4:14-9:50).[1]  Filled with Jesus actively healing, confronting evil, naming powers of resistance, and teaching, this section begins with Jesus declaring his specific mission (4:16-19).  It includes a summation of Jesus' ethics (6:20-49).  Through it all, we see Jesus drawing a clear difference between his Father's kingdom and those trapped in darkness and bondage:

"The contrast between Jesus' power and the growing rejection of him is the major tension in this story.  This conflict is at the center of the plot of Luke's Gospel:  Jesus has great power, but many still reject him.  Blindness is a strange phenomenon; sin yields a potent darkness.  Both together mean that people often miss what God is doing.  Nonetheless, be assured that God is with Jesus and will fulfill the promises made to and through Jesus."[2]

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him ...
for some excellent background information about the village of Nazareth and more on the historical context of Jesus preaching in his hometown:  click here.

The Time Has Come

Darrell Bock says it so well.  This particular point in Luke's Gospel is a moment of supreme drama and anticipation.  For hundreds of years, the Jewish people have been yearning and waiting for the arrival of their Messiah.  The creation itself has been yearning and groaning for its renewal through the entrance of the world's Savior.  I am reminded of the moment of anticipation I just witnessed a few weeks ago at Clay and Megan's wedding.  The whole crowd waited for Megan to appear and walk down that aisle.  In the same way, Jesus is now stepping into the room.

Jesus begins by proclaiming his personal mission statement.  Quoting Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus announces that by the Spirit's power, he will (a) bring good news to the poor*, (b) proclaim release to those in bondage, (c) heal those who are blind, (d) to lift the weight off those who are oppressed, and (e) proclaim the forgiveness of debts.  Each of us needs to weigh and measure the effectiveness of our own lives based on these five acts.  In this past week, have we managed to pursue these tasks?  Have we focused our energy on loving God through loving our brother and sister in need.  Let us consider each action further:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.

"To evangelize the poor"

Jesus' mission is all about lifting up those who have been marginalized and suffer in a world that continuously produces winners and losers, haves and have-nots.  

Conversations with God
The word ptwcoiV (poor) is deep and rich.  It means both those who are spiritually poor, but there is also no doubt that Jesus is addressing those without earthly goods.  Committing ourselves to Jesus Christ means advocating for all who are in poverty - be it financial, spiritual, emotional, or psychological.  Such a call is even more important given the incredible poverty many are experiencing today at the social and relational level.  Ours is a time and culture where so many suffer from lack of family strength, lack of communal support.  We have a clear choice to make.  We can either seek to move further up into the realms of comfort, security and privilege, or we can follow Christ into the ministry of being with, loving, staying with, and proclaiming good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

"proclaim freedom for the prisoners"

Jesus' mission to release captives is both general and specific, both universal and intimate.  He will free those under demonic possession.  He will rescue the woman caught in adultery from the bondage of public shame and guilt.  He will free the tax collector from his bondage to financial gain and manipulation.  At the same time, he will provide the deepest and most beautiful form of release.  He will free us from the bondage of sin by his loving and perfect self-offering.  In an country where mass incarceration has become the norm - both in the physical number of men and women in jails and prisons but also in the millions caught in a modern day debtor's prison - we are called to break down these walls as well.  All of these activities are intimately tied together.  We cannot begin to really proclaim good news to a single mother struggling to get by on one income unless we can take seriously systems of injustice that hold her back.

and recovery of sight for the blind,

"recovery of sight to the blind"

Sin is a spiritual reality that leads to unclear and unhealthy vision.  Physical blindness in the NT is an evident sign of this spiritual reality.  We would say blindness is a genetic condition or caused by a type of illness, but even then we are acknowledging something fundamentally true about our world.  It is broken.  Life does not always operate as it should.  The Zika virus and other diseases work against sound human life.  Jesus' work - again - is to start healing the diseased state of our world and the specific effects of sin and death found within us.  Jesus will open up the eyes of the blind, but his concern goes far beyond just those who are blind.  The saving love of God in Jesus Christ promises complete healing upon the complete arrival of the Kingdom of God.  In the new life, we will experience the glory of our heavenly bodies where there is no longer any restriction or disease limitation.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to work for the physical, social, emotional, spiritual and psychological healing of others.  Clinical psychologists are doing the work of Jesus Christ.  So is the social worker in the small, economically depressed college town.  So is the geneticist studying for her Ph.D.  So is the pastor seeking to liberate his congregation from a limited and impoverished gospel of "sin management."

to set the oppressed free,

"set the oppressed free"

A direct and lasting consequence of The Fall is the suppression of life.  We call this oppression.  Created to be prosperous and cultivate life, we now do the exact opposite.  Instead of promoting greater health and freedom in our spouse, we often find ourselves limiting and restricting them.  Instead of fostering greater trust and love, our families often suffer from direct and indirect attacks.  Unfortunately, abuse in many forms is part of all of our families, and - if we are honest - each of us ends up contributing unhealthy influences to our world and to those we even love the most.  Ultimately, our fall and the effects of sin even lead to outright aggression, to violence, to war, to enmity, and even to death - this is captured in the tragic story of Cain killing Abel in Gen. 4.  From there it only spills outwards.  Jesus not only stems the tide of oppression and death.  He actively seeks to overcome it and liberate others from their oppression.  He longs to return us to our original intent:  God's creation made to beget and multiply life!  Following Christ means seeking to bring life into our personal lives, into our families, into our work environments, and into our local communities.

"to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

"proclaim the year of the Lord's favor"

The year of the Lord's favor is the jubilee year of mercy.  It is the Old Testament provision - given by God to His people - to ensure that debt does ruin and restrict life.  Every fifty years, a "default" button was to be pushed metaphorically, returning all financial accounts, all land exchanges, and all property matters back to an equal relationship between neighbors.  Of course, because we live in a fallen world, there is no proof that God's people actually acted upon and employed this practice.  No matter.  This is why Jesus has come.  Jesus will begin the work of cancelling debts.  Practically, we can see this in the gospels when tax collectors give up their ill-gotten and illegal gains and pay it back to the poor.  Larger than that, we know that Jesus cancels are greatest debt:  the spiritual mountain of debt we owe to God.  Jesus covers us in our spiritual bankruptcy and frees us from that debtor's prison called hell.  Likewise, we are called to begin setting things right here on this earth.  If we want to take seriously Christ's call, we must wrestle with the amount of money we are making each and every month and ask ourselves seriously how much of that money is going towards God's work in our community and how much of it is going into our own pockets.  We cannot be Christians by just showing up in church.  We must be willing to hand a $20 to the hurting mother and put as much money and time into building up our poor neighborhoods as we are into building up our 401(k).

No Wonder He Gets the Boot

Jesus’ declaration of his mission is radical in the truest sense.  He is calling and beginning to live into God’s original design and hopes for creation.  Humanity and the forces of evil are living in rebellion to God’s design, though.  The Kingdom of God is seeking to take back the battle from the forces of the devil and darkness.  At the local level, this means that Jesus is directly addressing the powers and principalities of local communities.  In Luke’s Gospel, we have already seen how those in the positions of power are often most entrenched to making things right again.  Unfortunately, this is true often times even in local churches.  Jesus is not interested in starting a mega-church or creating a holy club of the saved.  He is specifically addressing those who use religion as a means to protect themselves and who more concerned about blaming others for the ills of the world than they are willing to get in and get their hands dirty in efforts to redeem and help those who are suffering.  This has obvious connections to those Christians in our own culture who have grown more obsessed with pointing out the sins of others and more obsessed with building great church buildings.

It is no wonder Jesus finds himself facing such hostility from this congregation.  It doesn’t matter that it is his “hometown.”  He is turning the world on its head.  We will soon see that while there is no true force or weapon strong enough to conquer or defeat Jesus, that won’t stop the forces of destruction, oppression, and evil from using every weapon at hand.  The world in its fallen state can’t stand to see someone living truthfully in love.  It will try to squelch such a bold life.  But, Jesus will not be denied.  The Spirit’s power will open a way every time through the clutches of darkness and deliver him to continue his mission.




[1] Bock, Darrell L.  Luke.  (Downers Grove, IL:  IVP Academic/InterVarsity Press, 1994).  Pg. 85.
[2] Bock.  Pg. 86.

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