Bible exposition

The wedding at Cana: Just what hour is it?

THE BIBLE AND ME

The wedding at Cana: Just what hour is it?

Recently, I heard some excellent teaching on John’s Gospel. Setting the cultural scene for the wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11), the speaker explained that in first century Jewish weddings, it was the duty of the bridegroom to provide the wine and so the lack of wine at the wedding would be the cause of great embarrassment for, and possibly even legal proceedings against, the bridegroom. That led me to reflect on that awkward verse 4. Mary had explained to Jesus that the bridegroom (a friend or cousin?) at this wedding was facing exactly that situation, and whatever his mother expected of Jesus here, she clearly thought he was not going to leave his mate in the lurch. But Jesus responds, ‘Woman, what to me and to you? My hour has not yet come.’ I have looked at the dozen or so commentaries I have access to and, besides a few which are rather vague, largely suggesting Jesus’ time for miracles has not come, most say that the 'hour' referred to is Jesus’ glorification in his death, resurrection and ascension.

Now please allow me the folly of boldness. Verse 1 has already hinted that we are looking beyond, or through, the Cross to ‘the third day’, the day of resurrection. In the previous chapter, John the Baptist has introduced Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God’ (1: 29). In the following, the Baptist refers to himself as ‘the friend of the bridegroom’. (3:29) These two images together point to the marriage of the Lamb (Rev 19: 7-9). In the light of all of this, would it not be reasonable to suggest that the ‘hour’ which Jesus refers to is that of his own marriage, for which he will provide all, abundantly, even the ‘fine linen, brilliantly clean’ for the bride? So, paraphrasing John 2:4, we might have something like: ‘Mother, what does this wedding have to do with me and you? Mine has not yet come.’

This would mean that the preacher’s jump from the wedding at Cana to the marriage of the Lamb would not just be a good bit of biblical theology but rather an exegetical necessity. Perhaps we could even see Jesus, in a sense, taking from the stock of wine for his own wedding to provide for this unfortunate bridegroom, bringing the future into the present, just as the Evangelist has done in calling to mind the ‘third day’, at the beginning of this account and early in this Gospel. Makes sense to me, anyway.

Frances Cook, Chile

Bible Study: Rev 2:4-5 - Don’t forsake your first love

Bishop Peter Brain ministers in Perth, WA and beyond.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.’ Revelation 2:4-5

In this thematic study I hope we can reflect on these awful, and unexpected words of rebuke from our Risen Lord. There are a number of contexts that we need to conside. These include: first, our Lord’s words from Matthew 24:9-14 (around 50 years earlier) with his general warning that in the last days ‘because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold’; second, the privileged place the Ephesian church enjoyed in God’s economy, with Paul’s longest settled ministry, the remarkable public bonfire of repentance, the elder’s seaside retreat, the presence during the next 40 years of pastors like Timothy, the apostle John, Priscilla and Aquila, Tychicus and its strategic place amongst the churches in the surrounding region. (Acts 19, 20:17-38, 2 Tim 4:12-22, Rev.2-3); third, the letter we call Ephesians, with its rich teaching about God’s grace and warm-hearted encouragement to continue their sacrificial love to others, not to mention Paul’s prayers for their love to blossom, reminds us of their rich heritage.

Revelation 2:1-7 must be taken to heart if we are to be kept from a similar rebuke. The Ephesians were commended for all the things we labour and give our lives to in local church ministry. Their persevering hard work attracted our Lord’s praise but so too their distaste for unapostolic false teaching and conduct, not once, but twice (2:2,6). Furthermore they had not grown weary in their endurance (3). They were the kind of disciples we who claim to be apostolic, evangelical and faithful to our Lord aspire to be. These contexts help us understand the surprise it must have been to hear our Lord’s rebuke when read out to their church in Ephesus, not to mention the other six churches, who had no doubt benefited from and looked up to this larger church.
Since none of us wants to hear a word of rebuke from our Lord, I want to pose a few suggestive questions as to what this forsaken first love might look like and offer some passages, mainly from Ephesians, that taken to heart could keep us from hearing this devastating word when we face our Risen Lord. Could it have come because a subtle shift over the years had seen privilege move through responsible service into pride? Reputation (Rev.3:1) as with flattery (Ps.12:2-3; Prov.28:23) is not always easy for sons of Adam and daughters of Eve to handle. These passages may help: Eph.2:8-10; 4:7,8,11,12,13.

Might the cut and thrust of calling out departures from apostolic teaching and conduct become an end in itself, causing us to love the exercise of rebuke and correction more than love for our Lord and the restoration of the errant? We lose our first love of seeing sinners established in Christ. Passages to consider: our Lord’s pattern (2:5), Paul’s example (2 Tim.2:22-26) and Eph.4:15; 2:1-5; Matt.5:43-48 and 11:28.

Could our desire not to rebuke for fear of losing friends mean that we love the praise of people more than that of God? Our Lord’s rebuke gave his brothers and sisters opportunity to repent. Loving God and others must keep these two in tension. Passages to consider alongside the previous verses include: Eph. 5:3-14; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Matt. 11:29-30.

Can our desire to work hard and persevere as faithful church members leach out of us the love we once had? The disappointments of church life can sour us and easily cause us to settle back expecting to be served rather than serve. When disappointment morphs into bitterness or resentment to others or to God we have entered fatal territory. How can this drift be addressed? How do these passages remind you of your first love in for what God has done for us individually and collectively? Eph. 1:1-2; 1:3-14; 1:15-23. Is God’s love to terminate on us? Ponder: Eph.4:1-16; 4:20-5:2 and 5:15-21.
Strengths can easily become weaknesses. A church that has enough people like us puts us in grave danger. What we think is loving may be self-indulgence. We no longer go out of our way to sacrificially love those who might not reciprocate. Is this dangerous territory? Ponder: 1 Cor. 11:17-34; 12:31-13:13.

Discipleship and controversies, like the one we are facing within our denomination, challenge us not only to be faithful to God and his revealed Word written, but to grow in love, both to God and the people we are part of, not to mention those whom we are to exhort and evangelise. Revelation 2:4-5 remind us how easy it is forsake this love even in the interests of Christlike discipleship, and of our Lord’s desire that we grow in and maintain this love until he returns. Two couplets from Ephesians may help keep our love alive. These are the exhortations about the Holy Spirit in 4:30 and 5:18, which are congregational in context but individual in our responsibility to pursue (1:14-15; 2:22). Add the example of Paul’s thanksgiving prayer for others and exhortation to continually grasp God’s extraordinary love to us in Christ (1:15-19 and 3:14-21).

Is it possible that our reading of the Bible in order to persuade others to remain committed to apostolic doctrine and conduct may replace our personal Bible reading primarily to nurture our fellowship with and love of our Father, Saviour and Spirit, where we gladly welcome their nourishment and correction for us as adopted children? Nothing is so necessary for our growth in love than hearing God speak to us, whereas nothing as potentially fatal as reading Scripture for the purpose of applying it to others. What is described so wonderfully, as the sword of the Spirit (Eph.6:17-20) can focus on the sword to correct others, rather than the Spirit’s way of growing our love for God and others (Rev. 3:20, Col. 3:14-17).

We are most at risk of forsaking our first love when we think; ‘it couldn’t happen to me or to our church or group’. To be forewarned by our Lord in the gospel and Revelation 2:4 rebuke, are a reminder of his deep love for us. In both it is clearly for our good, since he understands not only our human frailty but the pressures of decided discipleship from the world, the flesh, the devil and the church. His call to the Ephesians to repent, to ‘remember the height from which they had fallen and to do the works they did at first’, show us that his rebukes are always designed to restore us. His call to repent, by remembering and doing again what they did when they were first caught up in the experience of his love in Christ hold the key to our growth in love. The following practices have helped me in this challenge. I share them with the prayer that they may be of help to you.

Recalling simple (yet profound) truths through singing songs like Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so, or Wide, wide as the ocean, or Here is love vast as the ocean, or, How deep the Father’s love for us. Ponder: Psalm 100; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25, Eph. 5:18-21, Rev. 4:8, 10-11, 5:8-10. Congregational hymn singing is like the hump on the camel; stored up praise to sustain us in dry times! And if this seems childish, see Luke 10:21, 18:16.

Looking for every opportunity of thanking God when we are recipients of his love, whether from his promises, provision, providences or people. Passages worth pondering: Psalms 95:2-4,100:4-5, 103:8-14, 119:67-72; 103-105. We are far more likely to love God and others when we are habitually grateful to God and one-another. Consider: Luke 17:11-19, Eph.1:15-17, Col.3:15-17, 1Thess.5:16-18, Heb.12:28-29, Rom.1:21.

Sharing in the Lord’s Supper gives us opportunity to remember and rejoice in God’s love for us. Ponder the joys of looking back to our Lord’s deep love displayed on the cross, of looking around thanking God for our brothers and sisters saved by the same grace of God we have received, of looking upwards reflecting on our loving and sympathetic High Priest and looking forward to the glorious Day of our Lord’s vindication which we will share. We are more likely to go out of our way to sacrificially love our brothers and sisters when we intentionally thank God for them around his table.

Being attentive to Bible passages that bring before us both the grandeur and obligations of God’s love are most helpful. Here are seven sets of verses that keep on encouraging and challenging me: Set 1—Matt.5:43-46; 20:28; 22:37-39; 25:31-46. Set 2—John 3:16; 13:34-35; 14:15-21; 14:23-27; 15:9-17; 19:25-27; 21:15-19. Set 3—Romans 5:1-8; 8:28-39; 12:9-13; 13:8-10. Set 4—1 John 2:3-6; 3:1-3; 3:11-20; 4:7-21. Set 5—1 Thess.1:2-5; 3:6; 3:12; 4:9-10. Set 6—1 Peter 1:22-2:3; 4:7-11; 2 Peter 1:3-11. Set 7—1 Tim. 1:12-17; 6:6-11; 6:17-19; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1:13-14; 3:1-5.

Our son’s athletic coach reminded them that “practice makes permanent, not perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect!” If we fail to consider how we can stir up one-another to love and good deeds or are cool toward God, we don’t get better at doing it. We get worse. Coolness, selective discipleship, sullenness and carelessness easily take over from zeal, warmth, servant hearted thoughtfulness and initiative. The older I get, the harder it is for me to think more of others needs above my own. This study is for me and I trust may be of help to you. The best way not to forsake our first love is to do the opposite, actively to cherish both God and others. I Thess. 3:12 makes this plain: ‘May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.’ Overflowing love is the only sure way for our love to increase. This should not surprise us since this is the kind of love that God has lavished on us (Eph. 1:8, 1 John 3:1).

Bible Study: Luke 4:16-21

No mere political manifesto

Jesus’ campaign launch at Nazareth: Luke 4:16-21

Marc Dale is the Rector of Highgate in the Diocese of Perth.

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

 

Political leaders give some of their most memorable and powerful speeches at their campaign launches and inaugurations. In May 1940, Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons with these words, ‘You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs—victory in spite of all terror—victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.’

Gough Whitlam launched his historic election campaign in November 1972 with these words, ‘Men and Women of Australia! The decision we will make for our country on the second of December is a choice between the past and the future, between the habits and fears of the past, and the demands and opportunities of the future. There are moments in history when the whole fate and future of nations can be decided by a single decision. For Australia, this is such a time.’

In his inauguration speech in January 1981, Ronald Reagan declared, ‘It is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We are not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.’

The one thing each of those speeches, and many more like them, have in common is that they hold out hope and expectation that depend on human endeavour for their fulfillment, so they’re naturally bound by the finiteness and frailty of human beings.

In Luke 4:16-21 Jesus makes his campaign launch speech, but it has a radically different scope and trajectory to those of politicians and statesmen. He delivers it before a home town crowd and as the scene unfolds, there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Jesus had taken his place in the local synagogue and was invited to read the Scriptures (something he’d certainly done many times before) and no-one would have been expecting anything unusual. It was no coincidence that it was the scroll of the prophet Isaiah that was handed to him, from which he read,

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

In the first few chapters of his gospel Luke carefully builds his case, showing us by his baptism in the Jordan, his anointing, his family tree and his triumph over Satan that Jesus’ is the new Israel, the new, true human and the true King. He’s the one through whom God will fulfil his plans and keep his promises for Israel and the whole world.

In Luke 4:16-21 Jesus announces that he is the one for whom Israel had been waiting—God’s promised King—and he tells them what his rule will be. He wasn’t seeking election to high office. God had already bestowed on him the highest office and authority that there is. Jesus has always been ruler of all. He had come to bring life to the dead, to bring the lost home, to make God’s enemies his friends, to exalt and raise up the broken and rejected and to set a world full of prisoners free. This was not a mere political manifesto.

Isaiah knew that what God had promised was something much greater than earthly political revolution, but by Jesus’ day many Jews had limited it to merely that. It had been four hundred years since God had sent a prophet. They’d been invaded and oppressed by successive foreign powers and now they’d been subsumed into the pagan Roman Empire. They wanted a political revolution to overturn their immediate, present circumstances. That’s understandable, but it made their expectations for a Messiah very small. Many Christians do the same the thing today. They limit Jesus’ mandate to political and social revolution in this world or even to just turning their own situation around, but when we read the rest of Luke and listen to what Jesus says about his Kingdom, it’s clear that those things are a consequence of his Kingship not its end goal.

God’s grand purpose in sending Jesus is to ‘rescue us from the dominion of darkness and bring us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.’ (Col 1:13) The scope and trajectory of Jesus’ kingdom are eternal. That doesn’t mean it’s only about the future beyond this life. God’s kingdom comes here and now when a person accepts Jesus as Lord and when people have Jesus as their King—when they love him, trust him, follow him—God uses them to transform the world.

If political, economic and social revolution was the primary objective of Jesus’ mission in Judea, then it was an abject failure. In Luke 7, John the Baptist was languishing in Herod’s dungeon when he sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus pointed to his miracles and preaching (Lk 7:22) and said the same thing as had said that day in the synagogue: ‘Yes, I’m the one you’ve been waiting for’. But he didn’t storm Herod’s stronghold and set John free from prison or save his life from the executioner. Jesus healed many people and raised some from the dead, but not most. He didn’t drive the Romans out of Judea or improve living standards or reform the justice system. That’s not because justice and human dignity and flourishing don’t matter to him or because he didn’t have the power to do it. Satan had offered him that option in the wilderness. He could have done all of that and limited his agenda to temporal, earthly matters but he had come for much more than that.

Jesus’ miracles and even his challenges to the politically powerful and affluent of his day were never an end in themselves. They always pointed to the eternal picture and because Jesus stuck to the mission God had given him and refused to be limited to political revolution, countless millions have been rescued and are being rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into his Kingdom.

 

 

Bible Study: Have a go Ecclesiastes 11:1-6

‘Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.’ Ecclesiastes 11:4

Our kids spent the first 7 years of their lives at St Bede’s Drummoyne with a brilliant back yard and even larger church grounds out the front of the rectory. They explored every hidden space under bushes, climbed every tree, learned to ride on the long drive and held many parties on the lawn. There was undoubtedly a certain physical security in the fact that the area was well fenced, but they played and explored primarily under the security given by mum and dad. They knew that we were never far away. They knew we would come out to patch them up if they fell, share in their new discoveries—and give them a roasting if they were doing the wrong thing or going where they shouldn’t. They were free to have a go within the safe bounds of our sovereign parenting.

Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 addresses us in the same terms. If we have imbibed the wisdom in the whole book of living ‘under the sun’ with the Son, remembering our Creator and his Lordship over this and all our days, then we have a garden with boundaries in which to live, explore, fail, be forgiven and flourish as best we can in our time. The traditional language of vv 1 and 2 is strange to the modern ear—casting bread and giving portions. It can sound playful, like kids on a beach, throwing bits of bread in to see if some will be eaten or which pieces will float back. A more recent translation gives it adult weight:

‘Ship your grain across the sea;
after many days you may receive a return.
Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.’

Here is the call to be active in using what is to hand, make preparations for hardship and explore possibilities, without any guarantee of success. It is a call to act, knowing that in a broken world, disasters and hard seasons can come—but we remain under the sovereign hand of a trustworthy Lord who has made everything ‘beautiful’ or ‘fitting in its time’ (3:11).

Verses 3-5 press home the need to be active and humble. Verse 3 just states the basic, immutable principles of rain and gravity—clouds full will bring rain and a fallen tree stays down—yet it follows in v. 4 with another basic principle and challenge:

‘Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at clouds will not reap.’

At some point observation needs to turn into action, for without it, there can be no harvest. Are there parts of your life where you need to act—where you keep putting things off to your detriment and that of others? Are you persistently waiting, watching, worrying….? It might be in matters of the Lord or church—perhaps in your key relationships at home—or matters of work or retirement or money.

At the end of Ecclesiastes, after a poignant and grave reminder to get into life while we have sufficient youth and vigour (11:7-12:8), the author refers to the ‘making of many books’ and ‘much study wearying the body’. (12:12) Here is an implied call to shut the books at some point, get up and live! If I read the journals I wrote as a younger man, I hear a youth frequently bemoaning the lack of a girlfriend or a prospective wife. I might have had one earlier if I’d stopped writing about it and spent more time with actual people! Are you frightened to act because you can’t be sure how it will go? Are we turning in anxious circles, staring at the clouds, watching the wind, because we can’t know or control the future? Kevin de Young, in his brilliant little book, Just Do Something, makes the following observation:

‘Anxiety is living out the future before it arrives. We must renounce our sinful desire to know the future and to be in control. We are not gods. We walk by faith, not by sight. We risk because God does not risk. We walk into the future in God-glorifying confidence, not because the future is known to us but because it is known to him. And that’s all we need to know. Worry about the future is the sin of unbelief, an indication that our hearts are not resting in the promises of God.’

Don’t be paralysed by what we don’t know; be liberated and encouraged by what we do know. In verse 5 the teacher states yet again the necessary limits of our knowledge

‘As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.’

We are not God. Accept the mystery of matters, but rejoice that we have a God who is at work. Remember that your life, this day, the world and history is pregnant with his purposes. He remembers his word, he is fulfilling his promises and all is headed for a birth—a day when he will bring all things in heaven and on earth under one head in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:9,10). Knowing this, let us act in our day and place:

‘Sow your seed in the morning,
and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.’ (v. 6)

Here is an echo of that Genesis 1 command to be deliberate, muscular, creative stewards of the garden—to have a go under the sovereign security of God as father. Not everything is going to work, and all of us have no doubt learned a lot from mistakes, but some things will flourish, and much else is a work in progress. Cast your bread upon the waters. Don’t be paralysed by what we don’t know or the fear of failure. Be encouraged into godly action by what we do know of our Lord and Saviour.

Bible Study: Luke 6:46-49

Who’s Building Your House?

The Parable of The Two Builders: Luke 6:46-49

Adrian Lane serves as the Victorian Regional Officer for Bush Church Aid

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I say?

Here we have two men, each building a house. Both are listening to Jesus’ words. Both hear exactly the same words. Furthermore, both houses look exactly the same. Ultimately both houses face the same flood. One man’s house isn’t even shaken, while the other man’s house is swept up in the torrent, collapses into wreckage and is carried off downstream, totally destroyed in one quick gulping swoop. Could this be us? I don’t know if you noticed or not, but both men call on Jesus as Lord. One isn’t some godless atheist or follower of another religion.

Why does one man’s house stand, while the other’s is smashed to smithereens? ‘The answer is obvious,’ you say. ‘One man built his house on a foundation, while the other didn’t.’ Of course, but why? Is he just cheap? Not wanting to pay the price for a solid house? Is he lazy, cocky or cavalier? ‘This’ll do. A flood? The last one was 70 years ago!’ Or perhaps that’s where most people are building their houses? ‘Everybody else is doing it this way’ No doubt the river flats look attractive and comfortable, with plenty of grass and trees. 

‘Get real,’ you say. ‘You need a house with a proper foundation.’ Why would anybody build a house without a proper foundation? But we do! We’re doing it all the time. I’m reminded of those who want sermons to be short. I’m reminded of bishops who ordain clergy without proper training; of students who want to cut corners in their studies, to get through College in a few less years. I’m reminded of ministers who want to build churches on the back of a cool website, or new branding, without the challenge of sacrificial repentance as people turn from their old ways of living for their passions to living holy lives for the glory of God. 

So let’s build with a foundation. What’s my builder going to say? ‘Good. But there’s a few issues we need to talk about.’ My heart sinks—I was all excited! All ready to go! ‘The first issue is cost. We’ll first have to dig down to the rock and anchor the structure. That means earthmovers and diamond drillers, and they don’t come cheap these days, what with all the health and safety. And even then there’s always the chance of an injury. And of course I can’t guarantee the cost—never know what we might find. May end up being a bit more expensive than you’d first imagined. Then there’s the time. It’ll take a while. Actually, you won’t see much for a while. Getting all those foundations in, all the pipes and lines. The wife and kids will probably get a bit stroppy waiting. “Do we need all this, Dad? Joey’s house didn’t take this long!”’

In the end, it’s going to look the same as if I’d built on the flats. And I’ve got a lot less dough and time left over. In fact, I haven’t got any dough or time left over—it’s taken all my dough and time. But this is the man who hears Jesus’ words and puts them into practice. He’s in it for the long haul. Like those stone homesteads out in Western Victoria built high above the river. They’ve lasted so long they’re now classified, listed, for good. The tall trees all around them all tell the same story: we’ve been here for generations, we’ve survived. No, more than that, we’ve prospered. 

One thing worth noting here is the power of Jesus’ words. They will equip the listener to withstand a mighty flood. We’re not talking about military, political or economic power here. We’re talking about the power of words. This is an extraordinary claim by Jesus: that his words, when acted upon, will save from the coming flood. 

So this parable is a great call to action—to put into practice Jesus’ words. But you can’t put into practice words you haven’t heard. So this parable is also a great call to listening: careful, eager, undistracted listening. Hungry listening. Is your listening hungry? Are you hungry for Jesus’ words? Or have you heard them all before? And you’re only thinking of the shopping list of things you need to do for the rest of the day. And of course you can’t have listening without someone speaking, teaching, declaring the words of Jesus. So obviously this parable is a great call to preaching. How much speaking, teaching, preaching goes on in your church, in your Bible Study, in your family or household, to help people hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice?

Just before we conclude, we should check what those words are. Perhaps you noticed that this parable comes at the climax of an amazing sermon. ‘Love your enemies…Do good to those who hate you…Bless those who curse you…Pray for those who mistreat you…Do not judge…Forgive…’ And there are plenty of words to come: ‘Hate your father and mother…Stay with the wife of your youth…Take up your cross…’. It’s impossible!

Indeed, we can’t hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice. On our own. When we do try, in our own strength, it only leads to a focus on ourselves. It only leads to pride and self-righteousness. Or despair. Cry unto God! Plead with him, that by his Spirit he may have mercy on you and transform you. Plead with him, that by his Spirit, he will enable you to listen and put his words into practice. And know this: If you have asked the Lord to build your house, it will stand. Do not fear. When the flood comes, as it surely will—there will be a judgement day—the house built by the Lord will stand. Indeed, only those houses built by the Lord will stand. So, who’s building your house?

 

Bible Study: A Confronting Freedom; Luke 4:14-30

'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

Gavin is the rector of St Judes, Bowral, NSW.

The small-town boy, now the talk of the whole region, returns to his home ‘church’ in Nazareth. This is the synagogue in which he grew up. His Saturday school teachers could probably think back to when this Jesus was a young boy in their care. What a morning to be in synagogue that particular Saturday!

Jesus has returned to Galilee after his temptation, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 14) he commits himself to a preaching tour all around the synagogues of Galilee. His teaching has given him a reputation (v. 15).

Jesus tells his disciples that the reason he was sent is to be a preacher of the gospel of the kingdom (v. 43). Teaching is what the Spirit-filled Messiah focuses on, for it is the essential form of revelation from God.

Luke gives us just one of these first sermons, and even then he only gives us Jesus’ opening sentence: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (v. 21). Let’s consider that opening sentence word by word (slightly out of sequence).

“this Scripture”

They have just had the Scriptures read, and probably at the guest preacher’s request the passage was a short reading from Isaiah 61 (see Luke 4:18-19).

Isaiah 61 is about a great reversal for the people of God, and for the holy city Jerusalem in particular. The prophet casts his eyes forward beyond the exile, to the redemption and rebuilding that will follow when they return. There will be a staggering reversal for God’s people. They had been made poor under the judgment of God because of their sin. They had become broken-hearted captives imprisoned because of the covenant curses that had fallen upon them. To them Isaiah preaches a gospel of reversal, in which God by his faithfulness will restore his people and make an everlasting covenant with all those who mourn and grieve their situation and the sin that put them there. The poor are Israel, and the answer to their poverty is the kingdom of the Messiah.

“is fulfilled”

As the congregation stands around him, Jesus sits to preach (now there is a custom we ought to reintroduce promptly!), and he opens by telling them that this hope is fulfilled because he is here.

Fulfilment is one of the great themes of this gospel of Luke. The very first verse of the gospel then tells us that the whole book is about “the things that have been fulfilled among us.” Luke wants us to have certainty about the significance of the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He wants us to know that Jesus ministry fulfils and is in continuity with the Old Testament. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is the fulfilment of God’s global plan of salvation.

Jesus says, “I am here, so this is now the year of the Lord’s favour.” The first word of the gospel is not a command or an exhortation to work harder, rather it is a proclamation of what God in his grace has already done in Jesus.

“Today”

If you are carefully comparing Luke 4 and Isaiah 61 you will notice that the Scripture reading that day stopped abruptly mid-sentence. In Isaiah verse 2 continues, “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God”.

Why does Jesus stop before he gets to that last phrase? He does so because he wants to say that “today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. This is not yet the day of God’s vengeance. Today is the day of favour and opportunity.

There are three different fulfillment points of Isaiah’s prophecy separated by centuries.

1.The fulfilment in the history of Israel for those facing the reality of coming exile. They are encouraged that God’s Spirit will anoint someone who will liberate this people. This happens through Cyrus the Persian king.

2. This fulfillment on the ‘Today’ that is the coming of Jesus as the Messiah

3. The return of Jesus in power and glory to destroy his enemies – the day of vengeance.

“in your hearing”

The fulfilment of Isaiah 61 on that day is the preaching ministry of Jesus. His preaching inaugurates the age of favour and grace, but not yet judgment. It is a call to listening ears and responsive hearts.

How do they respond? The movement is striking; verse 14, everyone was praising him: verse 22, they are amazed at his words (with a tinge of condescension): verse 28, they are furious: and then verse 29, they turn into a lynch mob!

What can explain this shift? It is what Jesus adds to his sermon in verses 23-27 by telling two stories form the lives of Elijah and Elisha.

Two stories that both teach that salvation is not limited to the Jews, but at God’s initiative, Jews were passed over for the salvation of Gentiles. It is the Gentile question that leads to them turning against Jesus, just as Gentile inclusion leads to many of the Jews turning against Paul in part 2 of Luke-Acts.

They went from praising Jesus to trying to lynch him, because he told them that he had not come to bring vengeance on the Gentiles, but had come to preach forgiveness to them.

Jesus walks through the crowd, and keeps on preaching and seeking the spiritually poor and weak who know their need and respond to the call, even the Gentiles.

Today, even as many reject Jesus’ offer of favour, we can still expect to find the most unlikely people responding to Jesus. This is the year of favour and salvation to all those spiritually poor and weak who know their greatest need.

Page 1 of 5