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.

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Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson 

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