Bible exposition

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.

Bible Study - Luke 6:17-26

Let’s try to answer some questions about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Is Luke’s Sermon on the Mount the same as Matthew’s or from some other occasion?

It is a mistake to see it as a Sermon on a Plain. Jesus has been praying in a mountain about the selection of his twelve apostles. He has called them to himself and now descends to a level place (on the mountain) where he meets with the crowds.

Is Jesus addressing the disciples or the crowds?

The picture Luke paints of the occasion is interesting. There are the twelve newly appointed apostles, a great number of disciples, and a representative gathering of the laos (people) of Israel from all over the land and beyond. Jesus is invested with power – truly the Messiah amidst his people. The Beatitudes have special reference to disciples (“having raised his eyes on his disciples”), but are heard by all.

Who are those who are pronounced happy? Are they four different categories of person or one?

Jesus characterizes his disciples (more than the twelve) as “poor-hungry-weeping”. This is how Israel in exile understood itself; God was the protector of the helpless and now the nation had fallen into that state. Through Isaiah God had promised that be would save poor, hungry, mourning Zion. But that raised the question whether all Israel would be saved, or only some. In the fourth beatitude Jesus identifies true “poor-hungry-weeping Zion” as those who are hated, excluded and insulted because of their association with the suffering Son of Man.

How can these people be said to be happy?

True disciples will be happy - when Messiah establishes his kingdom and all forms of poverty and need are abolished. They are happy now because they know their sufferings are light and momentary and will give way to something glorious: they rejoice in what will be. Christians are consoled when they suffer rejection because of Jesus, because they know their reward is great in heaven. I don’t think this means when they go to heaven, but that good things are stored up for them now and later with God, who is in heaven.

Who does Jesus address as rich, well-fed and laughing?

These are those who can be characterized as opposite to disciples. Remember that Jesus is addressing the whole people with disciples mingled amongst them. Each person needed to decide for himself or herself whether he or she would believe Jesus’ gospel and stand by the Son of Man and suffer exclusion for his sake, or to seek acceptance from those with influence. Jesus implies that these latter are a non-Israel whose fate is to lose even the good things they now enjoy, and whose laughter will turn to bitter tears on the day the kingdom is revealed in all its fullness.

So what is going on here?

Jesus is announcing the coming of the kingdom for Israel but warning that it will only be enjoyed by those who stand with him in the time of his rejection and suffering. Those who prefer what this world has to offer above the promises of the kingdom will ultimately lose everything, but those who go on believing the gospel will inherit Israel’s restoration future where poverty, hunger and unhappiness will be things of the past. Jesus is dividing the people.

The why and what of assured prayer: The Lord’s Prayer and Ezekiel 36

Thom Bull is the Senior Minister of Ellenbrook Anglican Church, WA

In Luke 11:1-13, Jesus gives his famous teaching on prayer, instructing us in both what we should pray for, and why. The ‘why’ is grounded in the character of God, in vv 5-13. Unlike the friend who will help you out simply to get rid of you, and like a father who knows how to give good gifts to his children (only more so), the heavenly Father is concerned, faithful, generous and kind, and can be relied upon to provide. And because that is who God is, Jesus says: ask, seek, and knock. The Father’s character is such as to guarantee us of our receiving, finding, and having the door opened.
This assurance of the Father’s hearing and answering is, however, closely connected to Jesus’ teaching here on the ‘what’ of prayer. The bold, even extravagant prayer promises of these verses are, it must be remembered, not a blank cheque. Rather, they presuppose and exist in the closest relation to the very specific things for which Jesus has taught his disciples to ask. Of these requests, there are six. The first five come in the Lord’s Prayer, in vv 2-4. Disciples are to ask that the Father’s name would be acknowledged as holy; that his presently contested rule would be fully established on the earth; that their bodily need for food would be met; and that their spiritual need for the forgiveness of past evil and protection from future evil would similarly be provided. The sixth and final request, for the Holy Spirit, is communicated via the promise of v13. These six petitions, then, are those to which the prayer promises attend. Knock on these doors, and God will open them.

Now as a collection of individual petitions, these six requests appear, at first, to be a slightly random, disconnected grab-bag of items—all good things to ask for, to be sure, but not necessarily forming a greater unity. On a second reading, a delightful comprehensiveness may be noticed—these requests marry a centring on God’s glory and fame with the reality of individual need; they stretch from the cosmic, universal and eschatological to the most basic, personal and immediate; they hold together both the physical and the spiritual as spheres of divine concern. And yet, going a third step, an even deeper, unifying relationship is evident amongst these petitions, which can be appreciated by turning to Ezekiel 36:22-32.

Ezekiel 36 comes from the lowest point in the life of Israel. Having persisted in rebellion against the LORD and repeatedly refused his call to repentance, the people have been exiled to Babylon, as the corpse of the kingdom they had once been. But out of the valley of the shadow of death, God promises his people, through his prophet, that a restoration is coming. The New Age, the Age of the Kingdom, dawn, when once again Israel will be the LORD’s people, and he will be their God (v 28). And, as we hear the LORD’s description of what he will do that day, we find that it is extremely suggestive as background to Luke 11. For instance, when the LORD’s rule is re-established, he will summon the grain and make it abundant, and lay no famine on the people (v 29)—they will have their daily bread. He will sprinkle clean water on them, to clean them from their uncleanness and their idolatry (v 25)—their past and present sins will be forgiven. He will take away their stony hearts, give them hearts of flesh, and cause them to walk obediently in his statutes (v 26), transforming them such that they are protected from future temptation and evil. This transformation will be brought about through God’s own Spirit, whom he will put within them (v 27). And the LORD will do all of this, not for Israel’s sake, but for the sake of his own holy name, to vindicate the holiness of his name—that is, to hallow it—before the nations (v 22).

The connections are immediately obvious, and they reveal that the petitions Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in Luke 11 aren’t a set of discrete, disconnected requests. They are, rather, one large unified prayer to God, asking him to do the very thing he has already promised he will do in Ezekiel 36: bring the new age of his Kingdom, with all its blessings, upon a broken, guilty, and hungry world.

And this, in turn, further grounds the assurance Jesus gives of receiving an answer to these requests. It’s not only because God’s character is that of a generous Father; it’s also because to pray Jesus’ prayer is to pray the concrete promises of God, which he will be faithful to fulfil. It is to pray, therefore, beautifully within the divine will; and, for that reason, it can be prayed with certainty of receiving the Father’s ‘Yes’.

Matthew 13 24ff - Co-existing with Compromise

Every generation has its “isms” which stand opposed to Christ’s message and threaten to relegate Christianity to the history books. “Islamism” and big S Secularism worry us most today. The media tries desperately to convince us that Islam is a religion of peace. Most Muslims are peaceful; the religion itself proclaims peace upon the house of Islam, but in the “house of war” – well the name says it all. By big S Secularism I mean not the separation of church and state, but the attempt to create a world culture with God removed. These two “isms” are happy to see Christianity in decline, and sometime they appear to prevail. There are other problems, of course. The biggest challenges are apathy and revisionist versions of Christianity within our churches.

How Christians respond will depend in part on how threatened we feel. The Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13 helps us see how Jesus felt about opposition.

The kingdom of heaven, he said, is like a man who sowed his field with good seed, but an enemy came at night and over-sowed the crop with weeds. You can imagine the dismay of the farmer and his servants when the plants appeared. The only thing for it was a mammoth weeding exercise. Anyone who has had any experience of gardening knows this is the best thing to do. So the farmer’s decision to do nothing is more than surprising: “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” It sounds like a lot of work for what is bound to be a very meager return. I think any farmer listening may have scratched his head and remembered that after all Jesus was trained as a carpenter!

Kindness to the Wicked - Luke 6:27-49

David Seccombe returns to Jesus’ great sermon as we read it in Luke 6:27-49.
David is currently locum tenens at St Alban’s, Highgate ,WA.BIBLE STUDY

But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.’ Luke 6:27-28

In the first section of Luke’s Sermon on the Mount (6.20-26) we see Jesus preaching his gospel and dividing the people (laos) into a true and false Israel. Here, early in his ministry, he sees himself a rejected sufferer; to identify with him will bring opposition. It will also bring us enemies. In the next part of the Sermon Jesus instructs disciples (‘I say to you who hear’) how to deal with their opponents, and the message is clear: love them!

Bible Study - John 11

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32.) Mary’s words to Jesus when he finally arrives in Bethany, three days later than requested and four days after Lazarus has been put in the tomb, carry all the pain and disappointment of one who feels that the Lord has completely let her down. Martha manages to retain some hope in Jesus’ ability to do something for her brother, though she doesn’t seem to know what, exactly (11:21-24); Mary, though, voices no such hope: We called you, you didn’t turn up, and now it’s too late.

What Mary and Martha don’t know, however, is why Jesus didn’t come earlier, as soon as they sent word to him of Lazarus’s illness. It wasn’t, as they might imagine, due to distraction, or procrastination, or laziness; it was in fact, paradoxically, due to love: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” (11:5-6.) Notice carefully what is being said there – it’s not despite the fact that Jesus loved them that he waited (though some translations, most notably the NRSV, render it this way); it’s specifically because he loved them that he waited. Out of his love for this family, Jesus didn’t come immediately, arriving in time to heal Lazarus’s sickness. Rather, he hung back longer where he was, on the other side of the Jordan, so as to allow Lazarus to die.

And this raises the obvious question of how that could possibly have been the more loving course to take. Surely the more compassionate response would have been to act immediately on Mary and Martha’s message, spare them from grief and spare Lazarus from death. What kind of love would stand back and allow this horrible thing to take place? The answer is given to us by Jesus himself: it is a love that intends to display a greater glory. When he is informed of Lazarus’s illness, right before John tells us that love motivated his delay, Jesus says “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (11:4). Jesus will love Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, not by keeping them from such a painful event, but by letting it come, because he deems that they will more clearly see who he is as he rescues them from the midst of the mess, than if he keeps the mess from overwhelming them in the first place. And giving them a clearer view of who he is – that is the most loving thing he can do for them, or for anyone.

Of course, as Jesus arrives in Bethany, all this is hidden from Mary. Jesus doesn’t explain his purposes to her. She doesn’t see someone acting out of love towards her and her family, she only sees a Lord who apparently shelved her request, neglected to show up when he was needed, and failed her brother. But in a few moments she will accompany him to the tomb, and as he calls the dead man out, she will see the fuller glory of the one whose word can not only heal the sick, but can give life to the dead – the word of the one who has life in himself (5:25-26).  

Now at this point, it would be tempting to draw a simplistic theodicy from all of this – to see tragedy as something purposed by God in a straightforward way for his glory, and therefore as something which, while we might not recognise it at the time, is essentially good. We ought to resist that temptation. The fact that Jesus weeps and feels rage in the face of death (11:33, 35) shows that death remains in itself an unqualified evil, even as Jesus uses it as the occasion of his glory. Rather, as Jesus allows Lazarus to die and then raises him, that death comes to magnify the Son’s glory, not as we might – as a willing and obedient servant with a positive place in the Father’s purposes – but rather as, in those purposes, it is entirely trampled down. It is only in its defeat and negation that death serves the glory of the Son. And indeed, the defeat which begins beside the tomb of Lazarus will be concluded in several chapter’s time, after the Father has glorified his Son in his death, and he himself emerges from the tomb – this time with the bands of death left behind (cp. 11:44; 20:6-7), and its power definitively broken.

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