Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Inauguration of Jesus' Ministry Part VI The Resistance

The Inauguration of Jesus’ Ministry Part VI The Resistance
(Luke 4:16-30)
By Dr. Dave Johnson
Assemblies of God Missionary to the Philippines

[To read the previous blogs in this series, please go to www.drdavejohnson.blogspot.com.]

“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” intoned Jesus in Luke 4:21.  A more provocative statement and audacious claim has never been made and, as Jesus well understood, the proof was in the pudding. As Jesus surely expected, his hearers were not receptive to this statement.  The question is what was it that so deeply irritated them? Was it that he claimed to be the Christ? Was it the way that he handled the passage from Isaiah?

To understand their response we need to remember that Nazareth in Jesus’ day was a hotbed of Jewish nationalism.  They were looking for a Messiah who would lead a revolt against Rome, establish the kingdom of God on earth, and execute justice against their enemies. In their estimation, the son of a local carpenter, whose family they knew well, did not quite fill the bill, but this may not have been the deepest cause of their irritation? Kenneth Bailey (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 162ff) takes issue with the translation of Luke 4:22, saying that the people bore witness against Jesus, not for him.  While Bailey’s thoughts fit the context well because they did turn against him, his implication that the Bible translators made such an egregious error is a bit difficult to swallow.  But even if they were for him in the beginning, they quickly turned against him.

But what was it that rubbed them the wrong way? In Luke 4:19, Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:2 about proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord, but does not go on to complete the parallelism by stating that the day of God’s vengeance had also come. Bailey is excellent on this point.  Instead of calling for rebellion against Rome, Jesus advocates compassion and mercy and cites the widow of Zarephath and Naaman, who were both foreigners, one of them being a sworn enemy of the Israelites.  He is saying that if they would follow him as the Christ, they would need to love the Romans, not hate the—an announcement that didn’t exactly thrill his audience.  This is one of many examples of how countercultural the gospel message really is. But there is more.

According to Bailey, the Jews of Jesus’ day believed that the Isaiah 61 passage from which Jesus quote promised material blessings to those who were believers.  Jesus turns this expectation on its head in the verses that follow with the stories of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath and Elisha and Naaman. As Bailey notes, both the widow and Naaman responded in faith and that faith, not ancestry, was the key to following the Messiah.  He would not be the Messiah for the Jews alone, but for whosoever believes in him.  To the nationalists sitting before him, these statements were outrageous and blasphemous.  With their anger at a fever pitch, they rioted and tried to throw him over a nearby cliff, but he eluded them.

But the question as to whether Jesus of Nazareth did in fact fulfill the claims of the Isaiah passage remains to be answered.  For this we turn to a story in Matthew 11:1-6.  John the Baptist, by now sitting in a Roman jail for labeling Herod as an adulterer, had some doubts about Jesus and sent some of his disciples to verify if Jesus really was the promised Christ or if they should wait for someone else.  When John’s disciples asked Jesus about his Messianic claims, he replied in vv. 5-6: Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. Sound familiar? In other words, Jesus was telling John that he had, in both word and deed, fulfilled the claims of the Messiah outlined in Isaiah 61:1-2.             

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

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Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson 

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