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 www.drdavejohnson.blogspot.com.]
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.
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Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson