Friday, May 18, 2012

Good News to the Poor. Liberty to Captives. Freedom for the Oppressed. Sight for the Blind. - Luke 4

(Click here to read Luke 4)

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
     to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 

  to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
- Jesus reading from the book of Isaiah in Luke 4:18-19 (ESV)

These are the themes that have been repeated in the first three chapters of Luke so far:

1. The gospel (the Good News about the Kingdom of God) is extended to the outsiders.
2. Justice for the poor (including radical generosity from those who are not poor) is an important part of the gospel and God's New Kingdom.
3. The gospel is practiced by the Holy Spirit filling a person, which also manifests itself in prophesy and power to act according to God's good will.
4. Jesus is fully human, and the Son of God.

All of these themes continue to be vividly and explicitly portrayed in this chapter.

After establishing that Jesus is both fully OF humanity and FOR humanity in the previous chapter and its' geneology, Luke begins chapter 4 by describing Jesus as being (v1) *full* of the Holy Spirit (as Zechariah was when he prophesied in Luke 1:67), and *led* by the Holy Spirit. After being tempted by the devil (Greek for "an adversary"), Jesus returns to his home village in the power of the Holy Spirit. In verse 18, he read from a scroll in the temple that "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me", and claims in v22 that this applies to himself.

In the second half of the chapter, we see the clear manifestation of the Holy Spirit in Jesus' life. In verses 32 and 36, Jesus is described by others as having power an authority as he teaches them, casts out a demon, and heals many sick people. His authority and miracles cause the word of his ministry to be passed far beyond his local neighbourhood (v37). At the end of the chapter, Jesus says that he must move on, because his good news about the Kingdom of God is to be preached further than only his hometown and his own family.

This very same filling and demonstration of the Holy Spirit is exactly what happens with Jesus' followers at the beginning of Acts, Luke's second book. Jesus says to his disciples in Acts 1:8,

" will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

Just as Jesus walked in the power of the Holy Spirit, and was enabled therefore to act in power and authority, and to spread good news of a new Kingdom to his own town and beyond, so too do the disciples receive authority beyond themselves to demonstrate the Kingdom in the book of Acts.

Immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, Peter begins boldly preaching about Jesus, just as Jesus begins by preaching in Luke 4 when being full, led, and walking in the Spirit. In Acts chapter 3, the disciples heal a man who cannot walk, just as Jesus heals the sick in Luke 4. In Acts 4:8, Peter speaks boldly to the authorities who arrest and question him for his teaching about Jesus and the Kingdom of God. The passage says that Peter does this "filled with the Holy Spirit". Just as Jesus refuses to be tempted by the worldly power and authority in Luke 4:6-7, the disciples resist the earthly authorities in submission to the authority of the Kingdom of Heaven. Acts 4:13 says that the leaders were amazed at the disciple's boldness, and remarked about their simplicity and lack of education. In Luke 4, people are astonished at Jesus' authority, and remark about his commonness. They know his family. Just as Jesus' message travels far beyond his neighbourhood in his lifetime, the disciples boldly take the message of the Kingdom of God to the heart of the empire. Just as John the Baptist and Jesus before them, they are murdered by the empire for their resistance.

The Holy Spirit inside a person is the seed of the Kingdom of God, this new order that is good news for the poor and the outsider. With it, earthly power and authority are no longer a temptation, and true authority to act according to true life, justice, and wholeness become ours. It is the Holy Spirit that carries the message of the gospel and changes hearts toward the truth.


Human Jesus in Weakness and Temptation

Before the demonstration of Holy Spirit power at the end of Luke 4, we see Jesus at his weakest as he is tempted by the adversary.

Compare these two verses:

Luke 4:1-4

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were over, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Jesus was tempted and tested in exactly the same way as his people, the Israelites, were before him. As Luke has been keen to point out, Jesus was raised a proper Jewish man (example v16 "as was his custom) so he would have known the Torah well. In these temptations, we see that his understanding of and submission to the Hebrew scriptures is exactly how he is able to overcome his temptations.

Hebrews 4:15
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus was hungry. Jesus was tempted to take the controlling and corrupt authority of this world instead of submitting to the just and whole authority of the Kingdom.

Jesus experienced weakness, but he walked in the power of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Jesus escaped temptation by knowing and speaking the Word of God. We are also able to escape temptation by applying and speaking Truth to our adversary.

Psalm 119:9,11
How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.


After Jesus' bold resistance, he proclaims his intentions and purpose for ministry in Luke 4:18-19, possibly the thesis for Luke's first book.

Jesus reads from a scroll in the temple, and claims it refers to himself.

Luke 4:18-19
18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
     to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19  to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.”

The gospel is good news for the poor, oppressed, and in prison. God's favour is upon a humanity he is calling back from its corruption toward his Kingdom of Justice and Peace.

The people are amazed. They are his family and neighbours. They watched him grow up. Jesus responds to his people by challenging them that the truth of this gospel for the poor is not for them alone, he reminds them that God is for all people, not just religious insiders. They become so angry that they try to kill him. Jesus does not respond with force, and escapes without violence.

The chapter ends with the first explicit mention of the Kingdom of God. This is what Jesus calls his Good News, and he claims that it is for the purpose of sharing this news beyond his inner circle that he was sent.

The Good News is for the poor, for the outsider. The Kingdom of God is a new order, under a new authority that dwells within an individual in the personal presence of the divine Holy Spirit. Jesus shared his life with outsiders and strangers, even at the expense of being rejected by family and religious insiders.

In the Spirit of the Lord, we are able to be as free to do the same. The truth sets us free.

(All verses ESV UK version)

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