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The Mission of Jesus Part 3

Jesus, the local boy, came to Nazareth as an itinerant rabbi and was given an opportunity to have his say. His audience, full of proud Nazarenes, understood Isaiah 61 to mean foreign neighbors would serve them and make them wealthy. With everyone listening intently Jesus read this familiar and deeply beloved passage. Yet to their shock and amazement he stops reading at the very point when judgment and servitude is pronounced on the Gentiles.

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The crowd witnessed against him, not for him, and was offended at how he took a text of judgment and turned it into an affirmation of mercy. Why would Jesus omit the verses they considered critical to the text? Stunned, they wait for further comments.

He continues,

Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ And he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:23-27)

The Faith of a Widow

The widow in Sidon refers to 1 Kings 17:1-16. In the eight century BC the prophet Elijah denounced King Ahab for worshiping Baal and announced a famine before fleeing. As the famine set in Elijah goes to a small village called Zarephath near Sidon (Lebanon). He notices a widow gathering sticks to bake a final loaf of bread for her only son. With no other family to care for them and the food supply exhausted, she was making this her final act before giving in to death.

The prophet told her, “Give me the food!” How could he ask a desperate woman for her last morsel of food and expect her starving son to stand by watching?

According to her worldview, every god’s power was limited to their territory. Yahweh, of the land of Israel, could only help those living in Israel. Sidon was Baal’s country, and only Baal had power there. The widow assumed the God of Israel was powerless in her district.

Was this one reason why Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel? He wanted them to have home court advantage. He was proving to Israel that Yahweh could defeat Baal on his own turf. Yahweh was God over the whole earth.

Even Jonah thought he could flee from Yahweh by escaping the land of Israel on a ship. Wrong!

Naaman, the visiting Prime Minister from Damascus, took soil from Israel with him so he could pray to Israel’s God while living in Damascus. Naaman did not expect God to hear him unless he stood on some soil from the land. His solution was taking dirt to Damascus. This was not necessary. God is Lord of all.

In an age holding such beliefs, how could Elijah expect a starving widow to trust a prophet from Israel whose god, in her view, was powerless to help anyone in the region of Sidon?

The woman took an astounding leap of faith into the unknown. She obeyed the prophet and gave him the bread. She is rewarded with a jar of oil with an unlimited supply. Her radical faith in the God of Israel was sustained by a divine supply of oil, the food possibly coming from trading this valuable resource. Her story is a model of faith.

The Faith of a Syrian

Jesus’ second story is recorded in 2 Kings 5:1-15. Naaman, a royal official, was suddenly struck with leprosy. He follows the advice of his wife’s maid and travels to Israel for a cure. After visiting the king he heads to the home of Elisha. Naaman was a powerful man expecting extraordinary courtesy everywhere he went. To his surprise Elisha sends a servant with his instructions. Major insult! The servant tells Naaman to dip in the Jordan seven times.

Naaman was used to the melted snows of Mount Herman that flowed through his hometown, crystal clear cool water. Those in Damascus enjoyed the finest source of ever-flowing water in the Middle East. How could he be expected to get dirty in a muddy stream? Naaman leaves upset yet one of his servants encourages him to follow the prophet’s counsel. He dips seven times in the Jordan river and is healed.

Jesus presented a second Gentile whose remarkable faith was rewarded. To the members of the synagogue Jesus was saying: “If you want to receive the benefits of the new golden age of the Messiah, you must imitate the faith of a Gentile woman and man. I am not asking you to merely tolerate or accept them. You must see such people as demonstrating great faith and acknowledge they can instruct you in the nature of authentic faith.”

A Mission to Go Out and Attract In

Jesus edited the Isaiah text and showed a delicate balance between going out and attracting in. The Anointed One is sent to proclaim the captives free, illustrated by Elijah leaving Israel and helping a woman in Sidon. The Messiah will also attract people to come as Elisha attracted Naaman to Israel.

3 Qualities of Faith

In both of these stories faith is lived out in three areas: intellectual assent, obedience, and trust. The widow of Zarephath ascends intellectually to a place of knowing Yahweh can help her in Baal country. She trusts the God of Israel for tomorrow by obeying the prophet and giving him bread. She combines intellectual assent, obedience and trust.

Similarly, by traveling to Israel Naaman the Syrian validated that the God of Israel could help him. He eventually obeyed the prophet’s counsel and washed in the Jordan river. Without trusting the God of Israel for his future he would not have done so.

Jesus & Women

Another significant factor has to do with gender. The first story concerns a woman, the second a man. Jesus did not take stories of faith from Abraham, Moses or David. He selected stories involving a woman and a man, inaugurating a new fellowship in which men and women share equally. Jesus was revolutionary with regards to gender equality. Read the Gospels carefully and you will see Him doing this over and over. Jesus is presented in the temple to both Anna and Simeon. Jesus has a conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and calls Zachaeus out of a sycamore tree in Jericho. Consistently in His ministry He supports both Jew and Gentile, men and women.

Jesus gave evidence of mercy from those outside the covenant community. He was saying,

You really want redemption to come? It is not going to be by sitting around wondering when enemies are going to get what is coming to them? It will happen when you start showing mercy to those around you, to everyone created in God’s image.”

The congregation at Nazareth became angry. Our passage concludes,

When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.” (Luke 4:28-30)

Jesus disagreed with their political and economic goals and the people became furious. They drove him out of town to throw him off a cliff and stone him, yet he walked through the crowd and went on his way.

Jesus rejected the narrow nationalism of his day. Scripture about judgment was transformed into a message of grace and his listeners got upset. They became angry when Jesus suggested redemption is not dependent upon location or ancestry but being willing to show mercy, set the oppressed free, show compassion, even if persecuted.

Jesus reveals two very important things:

  1. Faith has three major components.
    1. Intellectual assent! An ongoing understanding of who God is.
    2. A daily walk of trust! Maintaining faith throughout life, no matter what happens.
    3. Obedience! Doing and fulfilling the commands of Jesus.
  2. To follow Him you must engage in the following:
    • Proclamation! Sharing the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
    • Justice advocacy! Bringing liberty to those oppressed.
    • Compassion! Meeting the felt needs of others.

The story is a snapshot of Jesus ministry. He proclaimed a message bringing interested listeners to a hostile response and violent behavior. Jesus’ life would end when an interested crowd turned hostile and violent, crying “Crucify Him!” In a few short years He would be placed on a cross and three days later walk out of a garden, the resurrected Savior.

The challenge

Will you live a life of faith, one of intellectual assent, trust and obedience? Will you engage yourself in the mission of Jesus, proclaiming the good news of His life, death, and resurrection? Will you engage in justice advocacy for those oppressed by doing acts of compassion that meet the needs of others?

How can you continue the mission of Jesus? Share your comments below.

The Mission of Jesus Part 2

Why did the people of Nazareth want to throw Jesus from a cliff? As we continue to explore the mission of Jesus our text in Luke gives us some clues.

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Luke 4:17-22

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “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.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son”

The Sermon

And Jesus reads from Isaiah 61, “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. He reads the messianic text to people thinking the Messiah was coming from their town. He then sits down and gives a very short sermon, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. The sermon was actually the person reading the text.

What Jesus read is slightly different then Isaiah 61. Isaiah 61:2 reads, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God. Jesus removes the day of vengeance of our God and adds a line from Isaiah 58, “to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to set the oppressed free. By inserting this phrase, his audience knew He has now made reference to the larger understanding of Isaiah 58, which declares, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him…Then shall your light break forth like the dawn…your righteousness shall go before you.

Jesus was saying,

You’re living in a land of foreign occupation, an oppressed land. Yet if you want redemption this is what you must do: Redemption will come when you show charity to the less fortunate, not when God brings vengeance upon your oppressors.”

Spoke well of Jesus or against Him?

Luke 4:22 is often translated, “And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words coming from his mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’” This may not clearly represent the situation. Why would they say such wonderful things but want to drive Him off a cliff moments later?

The NKJV translates the verse, “So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. This is more accurate. They bore witness neither favorably or unfavorably. The Greek can be positive or negative, depending on the context.

Most translators prefer, “spoke well of him,” the NKJV stays neutral with “bore witness to Him.”

Kenneth Bailey, a New Testament scholar from the Middle East, fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and other ancient languages believes the Greek would be more accurate translated, “And all witnessed against him, and were amazed at the words of mercy that came out of his mouth; and they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’”

Too often the last phrase is interpreted to mean how can the unlearned son of a carpenter read? Yet the Bible gives clues Jesus does not fit this description.

Jesus is reading Isaiah, what does this reveal? Literate! More than just read, He takes and deletes portions of Isaiah 61 and inserts information from Isaiah 58. Genius!

The Genius Jesus

Ray Vander Laan, a proponent of studying God’s word in the original Jewish context, addresses Jesus’ level of education. In the first century all youth in Galilee went to school. Boys were taught the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The goal was for every boy to have memorized the first five books of the Bible by the age of 12. If a boy accomplished this he would continue his education. One way parents declared their 12-year old boy had done this was to take him to his first Passover, not meaning the actual first one. Children accompanied their parents from birth. A first Passover refers to the first time a son is old enough in faith to kill the lamb for their family.

“Now Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.” (Luke 2:41-42) He memorized the first 5 books of the Bible.

People sometimes think, “Well, Jesus is God. Of course he knew.” Too often His human nature is dismissed. Jesus had to memorize like all the other youth and we have an example to follow. Believers should value memorizing of Scripture.

Not many boys went to the next level. Imagine memorizing the first 5 books of the Bible. Those, like Jesus, who accomplished this would continue studying from ages 12 to 15 while learning the family trade. The focus became learning the rest of the Old Testament, memorizing the Psalms and Prophets. Jesus studied Scripture while developing carpenter skills, wood and stone craftsmanship.

Most boys were finished at 15. The next level required dedication, commitment, knowledge and ability. Many were unable to give the necessary time. They needed a natural ability to skillfully learn, similar to playing basketball for the NBA.

I was a good basketball player, making the high school team. The coaches could only select 15 from a junior and senior class of over 900 students. My team made it to the Elite 8 State Finals. We went up against some great players. Kevin Garnett, current NBA player for the Nets, played on a team at the time. I cannot play basketball like Kevin Garnett. Likewise, only a few students in Galilee had the ability to go to the next level of study. Jesus did!

How is this known? The advanced students studied the rest of the Old Testament with a teacher in authority, a special title. This limited number of instructors went through the process of memorizing the Old Testament, learning from another teacher in authority. The study continued from age 15 to 30.

At this 30 years of age two teachers in authority would either decree a graduate student as someone with authority or as someone not having the necessary skills. If not conferred they continued in the family business.

The Authority of Jesus

Jesus underwent the process to become a teacher with authority. He memorized the first 5 books of the Bible, went to the temple for his first Passover, learned the rest of the Old Testament, studied with one of these special teachers, then at age 30 completed His training and became designated as a teacher with authority.

What two special teachers granted Jesus this special title? Does the Bible tell us? Approaching the Jordan River John the Baptizer addressed the messianic authority of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” In other words, as a teacher with authority he attested his authority.

Who was the second person to attest the authority of Jesus? Heaven is ripped open and God became the second witness to the teaching authority of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son; with Him I am well pleased.” He is the only religious teacher in history receiving authority from God. When He speaks, God speaks.

What is Jesus saying?

The phrase “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” means they were asking, “Didn’t he grow up here? Doesn’t he know how we feel and how we understand this text? Doesn’t he understand the Messiah will come from our town and bring vengeance to our enemies? What does he mean redemption will come when we show charity to those around us? Are we not waiting for God to crush our occupiers and enemies?”

They saw Jesus as a hometown boy who understood their town’s messianic expectations. The good news Jesus shares and the merciful verses he reads were their stumbling block. Jesus had removed vengeance on the Gentiles from the equation. They were amazed, surprised, disappointed and upset at His words of mercy.

The people of Nazareth loved the promises in Isaiah 61 only as they understood them, as a town resettling after the Babylonian exile. Isaiah wrote, “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.

Nazareth was founded to rebuild a former devastation. The citizens intended to possess a double portion. Gentiles would serve them and the wealth of foreign neighbors would flow to them. With the coming of the Messiah, the anointed one of God, hard work would be done by foreigners. The people of Nazareth would become wealthy thanks to their labor.

Instead Jesus proclaims, “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.

The Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus. He is the anointed One of God. He announces the dawning of the Messianic age as an event taking place before their eyes in him.

Jesus came to proclaim good news, to show compassion (recover of sight to the blind), and for justice advocacy (liberty to the captives and oppressed).”

Next week, we’ll look at the rest of Jesus’ message in the synagogue before the townspeople attempt to kill him.

The challenge

Proclaim good news, show compassion, and act as a justice advocate for those around you. Follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the mission He came to fulfill.

How can you proclaim the good news of Jesus to your neighbor? What acts of compassion have you shown lately? Share your comments below.