Reading for Thursday, March 8: Luke 4
Once again, I have to apologize for posting so late. All I can say is that this week finally caught up to me…I fell asleep last night at 8:30! Haven’t done that since elementary school!
In Luke 4, the identity and mission of Jesus are under the microscope. Following his baptism (at which point the Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove), Jesus is directed by the same Spirit into the wilderness for a period of temptation with His identity at stake. Satan says “If you are the Son of God…”; another plausible translation is “Since you are the Son of God.” I think this is the best way to translate this verse; I think Satan already knows Jesus is the Messiah — what’s at stake is the kind of Messiah Jesus is going to be. Rather than reducing His Messiahship to wonder-working, miracle-producing, or shortcuts to power, Jesus emerges as God’s faithful Messiah, battle-tested and obedient.
Following the temptation, Jesus returns to Galilee to begin his ministry “in the power of the Spirit” (v14). Luke is going to emphasize the Spirit’s presence in the ministry of Jesus and, throughout the book of Acts, in the ministry of His followers. Jesus returns to Nazareth and teaches in the synagogue. No doubt he is surrounded by loved ones and family members, people who are excited that their small little village has finally produced someone of note.
But Jesus offends them with a radical teaching. He unrolls the scroll to Isaiah 61 and reads a prophetic proclamation:
“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.”
(Luke 4:18-19 ESV)
Following the reading, Jesus sits and makes a bold proclamation: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” But this isn’t what offends the church-goers in Nazareth. In fact, this is cause for celebration! This sort of thing puts Nazareth on the map, spiritually speaking! “We finally have our own homegrown prophet!” The problem with this sort of thought pattern is that it reduces the mission of Jesus to tribalism, to playing favorites, to a “what can you do for us — and only us?” mentality. “We heard about all you did in Capernaum. We can’t wait to see what blessings you have in store for your hometown fans!”
But Jesus offends them with His response. He pulls out two Sunday school stories to make a not-so-subtle point: just as the ministries of Elijah and Elisha’s ministries extended to those outside of the house of Israel, so too will the ministry of Jesus reach out to non-Jews. This enrages the crowd, to the point that they are willing to kill Jesus. But He moves through the crowd and leaves, aware that His time has not yet come.
Luke closes the chapter with another synagogue story to parallel the Nazareth encounter. In this episode, the demons are able to recognize Jesus’ identity: “I know who you are — the Holy One of God,” (v34). Yet, even His own hometown people are unable to discern what has been right in front of them all along. “Aren’t you Joseph’s son?” they ask.
It’s a sobering thought to realize that demons have more faith than we do sometimes.