The “Second Week”: Week Sixteen/Session Three.
Theme: Jesus’ Public Ministry Begins.
Our reading for today: Luke 4: 14-21.
Jesus returned to Galilee powerful in the Spirit. News that He was back spread through the countryside. He taught in their meeting places to everyone’s acclaim and pleasure. He came to Nazareth where He had been reared. As He always did on the Sabbath, He went to the meeting place. When He stood up to read, He was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written, God’s Spirit is on Me; He’s chosen Me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent Me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on Him, intent. Then He started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” (Luke 4: 14-21 MsgB)
As so it begins.
Jesus, at the age of 30, is baptized in the Jordan River, filled with the Holy Spirit and told by God, His Father that He is God’s beloved Son. Satan immediately challenges that blessing with 40 days in the Israeli wilderness, being tested to the hilt with three major temptations of self. In each case, Jesus willingly chooses to deny self-initiative, deferring instead to the power and presence of God to meet His every need. And now, Jesus comes out of the desert, returning home to begin what the world now knows as three years of ministry that radically transforms the world.
Day one of Jesus’ three year ministry begins in a fairly typical way. Nothing unusual here. It’s the Sabbath, and in Nazareth, like all across Israel of old, everyone goes to church. Or should I say, synagogue. Typically, in the synagogue of 1st century Israel, the men would gather on one side of the building, sitting around the rabbi. The oldest men of the community (heads of households) would generally be the ones who would handle the scriptures. A copy of Torah (Moses’ writings) is there. So are written copies of the other Holy Scriptures. The Chronicles. The Psalms. The Writings of Wisdom. And, of course, the Writings of the Prophets. A long curtain would separate the room with the women and children gathering just on the other side of the curtain, so they can hear the scripture readings, the teachings and discussions of the men on the other side.
As it is in most liturgical church settings, scripture readings from various portions of God’s Word are pre-assigned for specific days. On this day, one of the readings assigned was from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus, as the oldest son of His household, has been assigned to this reading. Obviously by this time, Joseph has died, leaving Jesus as the head of His family unit.
As is typically done, Jesus stands in front of the men. In most cases, it would be appropriate for the entire congregation, both men and women, to be standing when God’s word is read. Jesus is handed the assigned scroll. He unrolls it to what we today call Isaiah 61. Luke states that Jesus read the first one and a half verses of Isaiah 61. I’m guessing He might have read a bit more.
So now, picture this.
Jesus rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant and then takes His seat. Everyone is seated and as is typical in the synagogue, the man who had just read the scriptures begins by giving his commentary on what he has just read. So when Luke tells us that everyone’s eyes are fixed on Jesus, nothing too unusual is going on here. This is normal synagogue in Nazareth. Just another day at church. Oh hum.
But when Jesus clears His throat, readying Himself to speak, that’s when ‘normal’ in Nazareth ends and the three-year Kingdom ministry of Jesus really begins.
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (NIV)
At first glance, these words of Jesus seem innocent and non-threatening. But nothing could be further from the truth. As my mentor, John Wimber, used to say, “These are fightin’ words!” The gauntlet has been thrown. Jesus has just drawn a line in the sand and at the pronouncement of these few words; all heaven, hell and earth have been put on notice. The war has begun. The battle is on. God is on the move and from this moment forward, there will be no turning back. The Kingdom of God has now made its’ first move. The challenge to find out who is stronger, God or Satan, has now begun.
The reason I say this? The Isaiah text that Jesus reads and comments on is Messiah-text. These promises are referring directly to Messiah. Only God’s Messiah can speak that ‘the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord’ is upon Me. Only Messiah has the right to such a declaration of power. Only Messiah can raise up a people who will do the type of things Isaiah says will happen when Messiah comes. Only Messiah can have such authority and power to accomplish the amazing words of Isaiah 61. Only Messiah can walk in a job description like this:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4: 18-19 (NIV)
As all of us know, most everyone who has a job of much importance has a job description. And it’s no different with Jesus, God’s Messiah. While Luke and the other gospel writers do their very best to write down the most important words and works Jesus accomplished throughout His three years of ministry, we know for a fact that not everything Jesus did and said is recorded in the Bible. John, in his gospel, (see John 21: 25) even states that he did not attempt to write down a comprehensive report of everything Jesus did and said. Oh, how I wish it could have been that we had everything recorded for posterity. But alas, we don’t.
But take heart, my friends! What we do have is Jesus’ job description as recorded here in Luke 4: 18-19. And if that is still not quite enough for us, we can always turn back to Isaiah 61 and read even more of the details! As John Wimber often quipped, “I challenge you to find anything Jesus says and does in His three-year Kingdom ministry that doesn’t fit quite nicely into His job description of Luke 4: 18-19.”
Amazing Messiah stuff. Stuff only Messiah could do. Stuff Messiah is still doing! Stuff that Jesus, the Messiah, will keep doing until the end of all days!
My prayer: God, thank You for sending Your Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. As I read the promises of Isaiah 61, stating Messiah’s job description, I stand in awe at how Jesus fulfills it all. Thank You, Jesus for the on-going ways in which You are still declaring ‘the year of the Lord’s favor’ on planet earth. We welcome the full revelation of Luke 4: 18-19 into our personal lives, receiving Your liberating freedoms today, while also looking for the full consummation of these promises in the return of Messiah. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So how might I be under-estimating Jesus’ job description? Am I fully aware and appreciative of the fact that His job description is still in full operation across the world today? Am I fully participating, as Isaiah prophecy indicates, as a part of the people of God’s promise, helping the Messiah’s job description be accomplished in my world? What might it look like for me to be fully participating with all Jesus wants to accomplish in and around me today?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Ignatian Adventure?
Over an eight month period, you and I will be working our way through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For more information on our journey and how to begin…click here!
To go onto the next journal entry…click here.
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