Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Inauguration of Jesus' Ministry Part III: Proclaiming (Luke 4:16-30)

The Inauguration of Jesus’ Ministry Part III: Proclaiming (Luke 4:16-30)
By Dr. Dave Johnson

[This blog is the third in its series.  To read the other two blogs, please visit]

Jesus continued to read Isaiah 61:1-2 while his hearers listened intently, wondering what this carpenter’s son and lay Torah scholar would have to say about this majestic Messianic prophecy set in Hebrew poetry—a text potent with meaning, especially the claim of being empowered and anointed by the Holy Spirit, which served as the basis of the claims made here.

Jesus claimed that the Holy Spirit had sent him to “. . .preach the gospel to the poor. . .” What does this mean? The term “gospel” literally means “God’s good news.”  The good news, in this specific context, is that the Messiah has come to liberate his people from their oppression.  While his hearers understood this to be the political oppression of their Roman masters, Jesus was dealing with spiritual oppression. Sin always takes you further than you wanted to go and exacts a price higher than you wish to pay.  But while sin enslaves, grace redeems. God intervened in history to save us from the effects of our own sin as well as that of others.  But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

To preach, here, is to proclaim or tell.  In this case, it took the form of a homily or sermon in a Jewish synagogue.  The focus here is on the content of the message, not the context in which it is delivered.  This is true with probably every reference to preaching or proclaiming in the New Testament.  Delivery styles change over time and vary from one context to another, but the message never changes.  Here, Jesus announces his messianic claim in a distinctly Jewish context.  In John 4:1-26, he is in a Samaritan context and speaks in a way that a Samaritan peasant woman would understand.  But in both cases, the message is the same that Jesus is the long awaited Christ. The gospel message is focused on who Jesus is and what he has done.  To argue that Jesus is any less than God in human flesh is to dilute the Gospel message and strip it of his power.

To the poor (v18) is rather enigmatic, at least to me.  Kenneth Bailey, in his fine book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, provides some clarification (see p. 158ff). Bailey holds that Isaiah used the words poor and meek interchangeably.  He also contends that this is the way in which the Qumran Community, a religious order known as the Essenes that lived near the Dead Sea in Jesus’ day, understood the concept—suggesting the likelihood that Jesus’ hearers would also understand this in approximately the same way. Bailey goes on to say that the early church and later writings by Jewish believers reflect the same meaning.  For Bailey, to define the concept of being poor only in political or economic terms is to ignore history.

Now that we have defined the term poor as being meek or humble, what are we to make of it? The idea of being meek can be juxtaposed to that of being arrogant or self-assured.  Those who are such do not likely feel the need for God, but the meek and humble have no such barriers. In the ministry of Jesus it was the self-righteous Pharisees who gave him problems. The common people heard him gladly. They seemed much more open to the idea that they were sinners and in need of a Savior.  Jesus spent much of his time and drew most of his disciples from the lower classes of Jewish society.

The meaning of the second line of the parallelism echoes the first.  He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted.  Being broken in life is part of being human and is one of the many consequences of sin.  Life can be hard and harsh. People die unexpectedly, widowing spouses and orphaning children.  Unexpected sickness comes and ravages bodies and drains bank accounts.  The economy tanks or the stock market goes haywire and jobs and homes are lost.  Some go through divorce or discover that their spouse has been unfaithful.  The trials of life are endless. But to all who have been broken by life, Jesus offers good news of rest, recompense, and reconciliation in him. He is Immanuel, God with us.  And if God is with us, then life, while the trials still come, has purpose, hope, and destiny.  We are not cosmic accidents who crawled out the primeval slime as some would have us believe; we children of God upon whom his favor rests.  And that’s not all.    

*All Scripture references are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.

PLEASE NOTE: Permission is hereby given to forward, print, and post this blog as long as it is done as a complete blog, and its authorship is acknowledged. Thank you for your cooperation.  For automatic notification of future blogs please visit and click on “follow.”

Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Inauguration of Jesus' Ministry Part II: His First Sermon

The Inauguration of Jesus’ Ministry Part II: His First Sermon (Luke 4:16-30)*
By Dr. Dave Johnson

[This is the second in a series of blogs on The Inauguration of Jesus’ Ministry. The first blog can be read at]

The crowd in the synagogue sat quietly as Jesus stood to read the well known Messianic passage in Isaiah 61:1-2 beginning with the words “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18ff).  In recording this soon after penning the words in Luke 4:1, Luke drew a connection between Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:16-22), his experience in the desert, and the launching of his public ministry.  The baptism revealed God the Father’s seal of approval upon his Son.  But anyone whom God approves, especially for ministry, he also tests.  It seems that the greater the ministry, the greater the testing.  In Jesus’ case the testing came before the beginning of his ministry as part of his preparation. After his wilderness experience, the ministry was unveiled.  The thread that ties these three experiences together is that the Holy Spirit was involved in each of them. In short, Jesus was endorsed, tested, and then anointed to begin public ministry.  Many who feel a call to ministry want to short circuit this process, but that is not wise.  Like the butterfly who struggles to get free of the cocoon, we need the testing to develop our character through which ministry gifts can flow.

Many in the crowd that day nodded as he continued reading “Because he has anointed me. . . .” The term anointing has been so bandied about by Pentecostals and Charismatics that the word seems to have lost much of its rich potency.  Fortunately, however, Jesus’ listeners had no such problem. Their concept of the anointing was based on its Old Testament definition.  Roger Cotton explains:

The specific practice of anointing by pouring oil on the head was used as a
symbolic act for officially, designating and setting apart a person for a certain public,
leadership function in the community. It was a one-time event much like an inauguration
or ordination. Things could also be sanctified or dedicated to a special purpose for God
by anointing (Exo. 29:36). The three kinds of leaders anointed for their ministries in the
Old Testament were: priests, Exo. 28:41; kings, 1 Sam. 10:1; and prophets, 1 Ki. 19:16.
A major difference between Israel and the other nations was that when God had someone
anointed or authorized for leadership He also provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit

While Jesus goes beyond Cotton’s definition by claiming to be the Messiah or, in Greek, the Christos or Christ, which means the Anointed One, the meaning here does retain its Old Testament function and purpose. Here, Jesus is claiming that the Holy Spirit had anointed—or commissioned and empowered him, to perform a number of functions.   

In order to more fully grasp the functions for which the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus, we need to understand the style of writing Isaiah originally employed here. Here, Isaiah used a form of Hebrew poetry known as a parallelism where the meaning of the first line is repeated in the second.  The first parallelism is The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me. . . . In Biblical imagery, the Holy Spirit coming upon, anointing, or empowering someone (i.e. Acts 1:8) expresses the same idea.  In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit regularly empowered people to prophesy or do exploits for God.  Here, that Jesus was claiming the Spirit’s anointing or empowering serves as the basis for what follows. In the next blog, we will look at the three parallelisms that follow and whether Jesus did indeed fulfill them.

*Unless noted otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New King James Version of the Bible.

PLEASE NOTE: Permission is hereby given to forward, print, and post this blog as long as it is done as a complete blog, and its authorship is acknowledged. Thank you for your cooperation.  For automatic notification of future blogs please visit, and click on “follow.”

Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Transcendence of God

Theological Definition of Transcendence
By Dr. Dave Johnson

When someone says that God is transcendent, it means that he exists outside of his created order, such as the concepts of time and space, but regularly crosses the line and is active within what he has created.  The best example of transcendence is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, where God entered our world as a baby and lived as a first century Jew (Galatians 4:4). 

Another example of transcendence comes from the modern space race.  A number of years ago, some Russian cosmonauts went on a spacewalk and later stated that they did not see God.  Had they read Moses rather than Marx, they would have known not to have expected to see him, although his handiwork in the heavens should have been obvious.  In responding to those remarks the late Baptist preacher, Dr. W.A. Criswell, stated that had they taken off their space suits while walking in space, they would have met God immediately.  Heaven, the throne room of God, exists outside of our understanding of space and time.  That is transcendence.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Inauguration of Jesus' Ministry Part I: Setting the Stage

The Inauguration of Jesus’ Ministry Part I: Setting the Stage
 By Dr. Dave Johnson

Nazareth was hardly a thriving metropolis.  It was small hick town in the lower hills of rural Galilee. The townspeople, like everybody in Galilee, spoke the local lingo with a distinct dialect and were regarded by their countrymen as country bumpkins.  When Nathaniel asked if anything good could come out of Nazareth (John 1:46), no one who heard him, not even Jesus, wondered why he would ask such a thing. Kenneth Bailey, in his wonderful book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008, 147-169) gives some excellent backdrop on the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry.  According to Bailey, Nazareth came into existence sometime in the second century B.C. Aristobulus the Maccadean intentionally settled Jews in Nazareth and elsewhere in Galilee to ensure that the area would remain loyal to him. Such settler communities, according to Bailey, tended to produce citizens that are politically nationalistic, which may partially explain what happened the day that Jesus spoke in the synagogue.

When the Romans came, one trusted source stated that they established an army outpost in Nazareth—complete with all the vice normally associated with military towns, which contributed to Nazareth’s poor reputation.  In all, it was a small town on the backside of nowhere.  Of all the desirable places for launching a global ministry to save the world, Nazareth was not on anyone’s list.

Except one.  

Our story begins in Luke 4:16-30.  Jesus had waited approximately thirty years for this moment.  For three decades, under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, he had prepared for public ministry.  With a common name and growing up in the obscurity of a carpenter’s workshop with parents who had deep roots in the community, Jesus was thought of as an ordinary lad.  He was just one of them, or so they thought.

Bailey notes that around this time a lay movement of pious Jews known as the habarim sprung up in towns like Nazareth where laymen gathered to discuss the Old Testament, the Bible of the day, and how to apply it to their lives.  They likely also discussed the writings of the various well known rabbis.  These groups nurtured a rabbinic style of debate or discussion and we can be certain, based on Jesus’ knowledge of the law and his familiarity with the rules of rabbinical debate, that he was an active participant. Becoming known as a lay scholar maybe what gave him the opportunity to speak in his hometown synagogue.

By the time Jesus rose to speak in the synagogue, he had gone to Judea and had been baptized by John the Baptist, been driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tested by the Devil, returned to Judea where he picked up his first few disciples, Andrew, Peter, and perhaps John and his brother, James, traveled through Samaria and encountered the woman at the well (John 4), performed some miracles in Capernaum, and returned home.

Since it was the custom of the Jews to allow any man in good standing in the community to address those gathered at the synagogue, Jesus had no problem gaining an audience.  According to Bailey, the text he read, Isaiah 61:1-2, could have been the assigned reading for the day, or Jesus could have arranged it in advance with the attendant.  Jesus’ intentional declaration that the text, which everyone understood to be a prophecy of the coming Messiah, was fulfilled that day suggests that he may have done the latter.  Bailey also notes that the phrase “bore witness to him,” (4:22 NKJV) could also been “bore witness against him.” The confusion comes from the fact that the Greek pronoun used here could be translated either way.  This would mean that the crowd was against him from the beginning rather than turning on him as he continued to speak.

A careful analysis of the text reveals that Jesus did some editing, something that was common practice in the public reading in the synagogue, according to Bailey, and similar to what modern preachers do when reading some verses from a given text and not others. It may be that the editing was done by Luke, the author of the account.  For reasons that will be obvious as we continue in this study, I believe that Jesus himself did the editing. 

Bailey also contends that the average villager did not understand Hebrew, the language of most of the Old Testament, as Aramaic had become the common language in Israel after the Babylonian exile, and that an interpreter was used to translate what was said.  Other scholars, however, believe that Hebrew, as well as Aramaic and Greek, which came into Palestine with the Romans, were understood by the masses.  That Jesus, a nearly life long resident of Nazareth, spoke Hebrew indicates that the latter was probably the case.  

Why Jesus selected Isaiah 61:1-2, how he edited it to suit his purposes, what exactly it was that so irritated his listeners that they wanted to murder him, and how he fulfilled the claims in the text will be dealt with in the blogs that follow.

PLEASE NOTE: Permission is hereby given to forward, print, and post this blog as long as it is done as a complete blog, and its authorship is acknowledged. Thank you for your cooperation.  For automatic notification of future blogs please visit, and click on “follow.”

Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Curse and the Cure: The Tower of Babel Part II

The Curse and The Cure: The Tower of Babel Part II
Dr. Dave Johnson
Assemblies of God Missionary to the Philippines

[This is the second in a series of blogs on The Tower of Babel.  To read the first blog, as well as other blogs on theology, missions, and Christian spirituality, please visit]

In the first blog we studied the historical backdrop to the Tower of Babel.  In this blog we will take a look at the fruit of the rebellion that was sown there as well as the redemptive purpose that God had in mind when he judged the people scattered them all over the earth.

The Plain of Shinar was well watered, situated in Mesopotamia (the site of modern Iraq), along the banks of the Euphrates river.  When Noah’s descendents discovered this plain, they decided to abandon their nomadic lifestyle and build a permanent community.  Settling into a permanent home, in and of itself, presented no problem to the plan of God, as God did not command them to be nomads.  Presumably, they could have started permanent communities all over the earth.  The problem was that they did not wish to be separated, despite God’s clear command to scatter and exercise dominion over the earth.  This, in a word, was rebellion.  Their defiance to the expressed will of God led to rebellious action—the fruit of which, as we shall see, continues to impact the world today.          

The tower that Nimrod constructed was most likely an early form of a ziggurat, which was a large, religious shrine that became common throughout Babylon and Assyria and was used for occultic rituals.  It was a terraced, pyramid-like structure, with external stairs that led to the top.  One writer claimed that the signs of the Zodiac, which originated from Babylon, were actually inscribed on the Tower of Babel itself, although there does not seem to be solid evidence for this. What is clear from Genesis 11:4, however, is that they built the tower in defiance of God, in order to make a name for themselves.  It was this allegiance to their own desires rather than God’s purposes that brought down his wrath.

Probably not all of humanity left Babel after God’s judgment as the city of Babylon was later built on that very spot and became an important center of early civilization.  Archaeologists note that Babylon became known as a center for mathematics, astronomy, religion, and various forms of witchcraft and astrology.  One writer claims that all false religions came out this city as well.  Since Buddhism and Hinduism came from India, Islam from Saudi Arabia, and Christianity from Palestine, this claim, per se, is not valid.  However, there is a kernel of truth here.  Man has always been a religious being and since all of mankind at this point lived at Babel, it is only natural to trace the root of religion here.  But this is not all. 

Astrology, witchcraft, and divination are some of the many expressions of a religious system known as folk religion or animism.  In America, the most common expression of this is found in the New Age movement and in literature such as the Harry Potter books.  Animism, a worldwide phenomenon, is also thoroughly imbedded in every major religion, including Christianity in some cases, but especially in Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

On the surface, consulting tarot cards or going to a palm reader to determine the best date for a wedding or other major events in life, giving a love potion to someone to make them fall in love with you, or playing with an Ouija board seems like innocent child’s play.  Witchdoctors in the Philippines are seen as philanthropists because they try to bring healing to people.  Reality, however, is something else.  One of the core tenets of animism is that there is supernatural power that can be harnessed and controlled by humans and can be used for either good or evil.  In an animistic worldview, man, not God is the center of the universe.  This is why the use of witchcraft, sorcery, and most forms of divination are repeatedly condemned throughout Scripture. As we have seen in the story of the Tower of Babel, God who will tolerate no rivals.  The issue, then, is allegiance. One cannot practice animism and follow Jesus. When those who practice these things come to Jesus, they must renounce their practices (see Acts 19:17-19 for a beautiful example) and place their trust in Christ as their all-powerful healer, protector, and guarantor of their future.

But God’s judgment at Babel has a hidden silver lining found in the genealogy that follows in the rest of chapter in Genesis 11.  From Adam to Nimrod, God had been reaching out to humanity as a whole.  When he confused their languages, he divided them in to the various ethnic groups, tribes, and nations we see today.  He did so in order that he to reach them one by one (Ralph Winter/Steven Hawthorne Perspectives in the World Christian Movement: A Reader Pasadena: William Carey Library).  He began with a man named Abram, who later became Abraham, through whom God promised he would bless the nations (Genesis 12:1-3).  First, Abraham became the father of the Hebrew nation who was called by God to be a “company of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), living as God’s witnesses in a world of darkness.  Second, Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16), would come as the hope of all mankind and Savior of all who call upon his name from every tribe and tongue. 

PLEASE NOTE: Permission is hereby given to forward, print, and post this blog as long as it is done as a complete blog, and its authorship is acknowledged. Thank you for your cooperation.  For automatic notification of future blogs please visit, and click on “follow.”

Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson