Teaching by the Lake

Luke 5:1-3

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat (5:1-3 CSB).

Years ago when we were young and our children were younger, two very good friends paid for our way to a Christian camp located on Kelly’s Island on Lake Erie. The camp was next to a beautiful bay on a narrow peninsula, and it was a great place to see tremendous sunsets. It would be very easy to talk a lot about the wonderful times and the fellowship we enjoyed there. But to keep our blog post to a readable length, I’ll only mention one thing. The chapel of the camp was located a stone’s throw from the shoreline, and as you listened to the message with your ears, your eyes could survey the beauty of the lake.

When I read these verses, I can easily picture what it was like to listen to Jesus as he stood by Lake Galilee (Gennesaret is usually called Galilee.) Yet, this scene was different from our blissful days at camp. Jesus was near Capernaum, where he had been doing good works (Acts 10:38) of miracles. The people of the area were very excited about the miracles and his teaching. So, they looked for Jesus and when they found him, they crowded around him. Think of the excitement of that day! People crowded around Jesus and wanted to listen to him! They longed to hear Jesus tell them words of life!

During my sophomore year of college, I was a new follower of Jesus Christ. It was quite a remarkable time in the early 1970s. Many other people became believers in the Lord in those years. I attended a church on Sunday evenings in the next town from where the college was located. We had to get to the evening service forty-five minutes before it began to get a seat. Thirty minutes early merely to get into the building. And we sang for joy while we waited for the meeting to begin, and then we sang some more. We all were eager to hear more about the Lord Jesus, the gospel, and his saving grace. I doubt that few of you have seen that week after week after week. 

About five years later, I taught a Bible study on a secular college campus near where I lived. We met in a room in a college building at eight o’clock on Friday nights for two hours. Yes, you read that correctly. Eight o’clock on Friday nights for two hours with college students, who preferred to gather to hear God’s word rather to go out partying. I worked for a general contractor during those days and would start work early on Friday, work hard on the job, get cleaned up, and go to the Bible study. I was tired out by ten at night, even as a young man. The students kept asking questions about the Scriptures well after ten. At times, I would be walking down the steps from the third floor to go to my car, and they would still be asking me questions on the way. Thank you, Lord, for such hunger for your Word.

Jesus experienced that constantly in his earthly ministry. It got so crowded as he taught, that it made it difficult to teach. For this reason, he got into a boat (Simon Peter’s) and asked him to move out a little bit from shore. There, he could more easily teach and the people listen. He loved to tell them the good news of God and his kingdom, and they loved to listen.

My friends, what has happened to people who claim to love the Lord and Savior? We have lost the excitement to hear about Jesus Christ. I do see this in some people, as I did in my Bible study this morning when we looked at Isaiah 53. However, many church buildings are nearly empty from fear. Please don’t excuse yourself because you’re afraid of Covid-19. Early Christians in Rome hid among the catacombs so that they could meet together and worship. They hungered for the Word at the risk of death! Plus, I seriously doubt that you can catch Covid-19 through an online, remote meeting! Yet far too many claim that they are “Zoomed out”. But they will still watch endless shows on their television or other digital devices, and that requires them to look at a screen.

My dear friends, I think we all need to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). Our current decline is not because of Covid-19. Nor is it because we are “Zoomed out”. I think there is another reason. Let us listen to the words of Jesus to the church in Ephesus. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place (Revelation 2:4-5 NIV).

Do not fret about persecution closing churches. Christians are doing a more than adequate job of closing churches by their own laziness and indifference.

May God restore us!

Grace and peace,
David

Remarkable Events at Capernaum

Luke 4:38-44

But he said to them, “It is necessary for me to proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43 CSB)

At a later time in his ministry, Jesus referenced the many mighty works he did in towns like Capernaum (Matthew 11:20-25; cf. Luke 10:13-15). In our text we view three kinds of those miraculous signs. Here we see what the people of Nazareth wanted (4:23), yet what did the people of Capernaum no spiritual good. What we long for may not help us but only compound our troubles. The classic witticism about this is “There are two happy days in boat owner’s lives; the day they buy it and the day they sell.” You can plug in your own experience.

Sent by God, Jesus did what the Father directed him to do. Luke continues the account of that busy day in Capernaum. After the synagogue service was over, Jesus went with Simon Peter to his house. Jesus and Simon had met months earlier in Judea (John 1:40-42). Back in Galilee, Simon extended hospitality to Jesus, as he seems to have already become one of a growing number of Jesus’ disciples.  On a human level, it was a difficult time to have Jesus as a guest, since Peter’s mother-in-law was ill with a fever. And Peter’s wife probably had her hands full with her mother rather ill. But our difficulties are God’s opportunities.

Jesus bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her (4:39 NIV). Can you picture Dr. Luke telling this story, thinking of his own bedside posture as he tried to help his patients? But Jesus was a physician with almighty power! He could rebuke a fever and make it leave, just as he had the evil spirit in the synagogue. The woman’s healing was immediate. No recovery period was needed when the fever was gone. She was able to get up and work at once. Notice that the Lord did not tell her to sit down and relax. She was healed and quite capable of immediate service. The Lord wants us to serve him and others.

At sunset when the Sabbath was over (the Jewish day ended and began at sunset), the excited people of Capernaum brought their afflicted family members and friends to Jesus to be healed. They had been spreading the news about Jesus everywhere (4:37), and a large crowd gathered at Peter’s house. Jesus healed people in different ways, sometimes just by speaking a word, even from a distance. Here, Jesus chose personal contact. He healed by laying his hands on them. This personal touch is in dramatic contrast with what he refused to do at Nazareth. It was not because they were better people. (See the references in the first paragraph, where Capernaum is unfavorably compared with Sodom in its spiritual receptiveness.) No, this is another example of sovereign mercy, and this one increasing their responsibility. Jesus tenderly healed these people, but they would not humbly bow before him in trust and thankfulness.

The Lord Jesus also cast out demons from several people. Evidently, the opposition by the spiritual forces of evil against Jesus was strong in this area. He did not avoid such encounters but faithfully carried out the work his Father gave him to do. Let us be strong in the Lord and his mighty power (Ephesians 6:10) and do the same. This is the hour for the church to arise out of her slumber and do what God has commissioned us to do, regardless of the hardened opposition we encounter. Jesus did not allow these evicted demons to talk; he did not their words to lead to wrong ideas about the meaning of his Messiahship. 

Jesus continued faithful on the mission the Father had given him (4:42-44). After a glorious day of ministry, one that most preachers only dream of, Jesus went out alone to pray to his Father in heaven. He longed for solitary time with God. Do we? People were searching for Jesus; however, he had more on his agenda than to minister in one place. He had many places to go, and he had more to do than heal people. (Many of the prayers of the contemporary church are filled with urgent requests for healing; little is asked for spiritual concerns.)  He knew that his primary mission at this time was to tell the good news of the kingdom of God, that God had arrived in his coming to bring salvation. For this reason, he moved on and kept on preaching.

We, Christ’s people, must get involved again in telling people the good news. We’re distracted by far too many temporary matters of this world and neglect the spiritual and the eternal. Can we say with integrity that we are his followers, if we fail to follow him?Grace and peace,
David

Authority and Power

Luke 4:31-37

Amazement came over them all, and they were saying to one another, “What is this message? For he commands the unclean spirits with authority and power, and they come out!”  (Luke 4:36).

Luke next records events from one day in Jesus’ life and ministry. By the leading of the Holy Spirit, he borrows from what Mark wrote in Mark 1:21-39. In his typical manner, Luke has placed this material after something that happened later. This section (Luke 4:31-44) explains the kind of mighty works that Jesus did in Capernaum that he referred to in Luke 4:23. What did Jesus do in his new hometown of Capernaum?

First, he taught with authority (4:31-32). Capernaum was a prosperous fishing and farming community on the north side of Lake Galilee. In addition, it was also located on a trade route, and as such, tax collectors operated from there. This situation would provide a springboard for Jesus to call the men who would become the apostles. Look for opportunities to serve the Lord in the places where you live.

The foundation of Christ’s ministry was his teaching, his words. He taught about God and his kingdom (God’s saving reign that had arrived), cf. 4:43. This is quite different from how most churches in the west have done their business for many years. Jesus did not start with programs and people pleasing messages to gather hearers. The Lord Jesus declared the truth to people. He required inward change, a change that required people to think about God in their lives with an eternal perspective. At the same time, he offered hope from the one true God. People in our time desperately need to hear the words of truth and hope.

Second, he acted with authority (4:33-35). As the people remarked about Christ’s teaching, an unclean spirit, a demon, disrupted the meeting with loud shrieks. “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34 NIV). Can you imagine what this felt like? During a time of worship of God, an evil spirit made his presence known. Everyone in attendance, except for Jesus, must have been shocked and disturbed. But Jesus knows the hearts of all in every worship service. He knew the demon was lurking, though others did not.

Jesus also knew the authority given to him by God the Father to set the oppressed free (4:18). He did not hesitate to use it, unlike many political leaders in our country who refuse to act against rioters and looters, because they fear political backlash. (They will answer to God on Judgment Day for their heinous failure to do their duty.) Jesus acted immediately to deliver the oppressed man and to cast out the demon. He had supreme power along with his authority. He ordered the demon out, and also prevented it from harming the man.

Third, the people recognized his authority (4:36-37). People in the west might dismiss demonic oppression and possession as myths of primitive people. People in Bible times did not. Neither do people in other parts of the world who have encountered demonic activity. Neither should people in the west who sadly try to sweep every abnormality under the human made carpet of “mental illness”. Some people sadly do have medical, emotional, and psychological issues that do require skilled treatment and medicine. But that does not rule out the existence of the demonic, unless you are closed-minded and in denial of the supernatural. 

That day in Capernaum, the people confessed the authority and power of Jesus Christ. They also spread this news about Jesus to other areas. What news about the authority and power of Christ have you experienced? Do you spread that news? Restore the supernatural in your world and life view. In the process, may you again find hope in these desperate times!

Grace and peace,
David

Jesus at Nazareth (Part Eight)

Luke 4:28-30

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way (Luke 4:28-30 NIV).

Jesus spoke gracious words (4:22) to the people of his hometown of Nazareth. He read them the Scriptures (4:18-19), announcing the good news of freedom and the Lord’s favor. The hometown folks liked that. But when he spoke to their hearts about their rebellion against God’s ways and the sovereignty of God in the giving of his grace, they didn’t like his message anymore. That is an understatement.

People who are strangers to God and his grace do not like to hear about either for very long. They grow restless, then agitated, and then violent. They willingly forget that the Sovereign God once destroyed a world that was given over to evil (Genesis 6:5-6; 2 Peter 3:6). They refuse to consider that this present world is ready for judgment by God. By the same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (2 Peter 3:7 CSB). 

Let’s consider three outcomes of Jesus’ brief ministry at Nazareth, which includes his refusal to perform signs and wonders for them. We ought to see the last, because his refusal, though according to his Father’s will, definitely stirred them up against him. We need to look at all the scene when we talk about human behavior. Many factors stir everyone. Hopefully, love for God and delight in his grace motivate ours.

First outcome: they were furious and tried to kill Jesus. Though they did not know, and I doubt they cared, their action pictured human hatred for God and the Messiah. Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers conspire together against the Lord and his Anointed One (Psalm 2:1-2 CSB). They hated the message that God was sovereign in his grace. They hated Jesus, the Prophet who had told them the truth, just as their ancestors had hated the prophets who came before Jesus. Follower of Christ, do not be surprised if the world hates you, because it will.

Second outcome: Jesus escaped from them. Every day during Jesus’ life was scheduled by the sovereign God. This was not the time or place or the way for Jesus to die to save his people. He had much to do for God his Father, many words of life to declare, and apostles to choose and to train to carry God’s message of salvation by grace to the nations. We are not told how Jesus was able to escape through the violent crowd, but he did. Later in Jerusalem, Jesus will escape from an angry crowd after he preached God’s sovereign grace to them (John 8:58-59). God had also protected Elijah and Elisha from harm (2 Kings 1:1-15; 6:8-24). The Lord would later deliver the apostles (Acts 5:17-20) and Peter (Acts 12:1-19). As no bird falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father in heaven, so our lives are safe in God’s hands.  

Third outcome: Nazareth, except as part of Jesus’ name (Jesus of Nazareth) disappears from the Biblical narrative. This town gained nothing from its opposition to the Lord. Instead of hatred, they should have fallen on their faces and begged for mercy. But no, they foolishly despised and rejected the God of hope and fell into eternal hopelessness. If you understand, weep!

There are many antichrists in the world today, stirring up hatred against Jesus and his people. They appear to offer hope to people in despair. But the only hope is when people humble themselves, repent, and trust God for his mercy in the Lord Jesus Christ. Is your only hope for the future in Jesus, the Son of God?Grace and peace,
David

Jesus at Nazareth (Part Seven)

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”  “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:23-27 NIV).

Next, we should listen carefully as Jesus taught the truth of sovereign grace, that the salvation of people depends on the Lord (cf. Jonah 2:9), and not on anything in the individual or in groups of people. Admittedly, this is hard teaching, because we like to assume that “we’re something special”. We see ourselves as basically loveable and that God should do us favors, in spite of the clear teaching of the Scriptures that God does not show partiality. For God shows no partiality  (Romans 2:11 ESV). It humbles our proud hearts to hear that salvation, and all benefits we enjoy, are completely from God’s grace. God does not owe us anything; instead, all comes from him and is for his glory. And who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:35-36 CSB).

Jesus taught this truth to the people of his hometown of Nazareth by two examples from the narrative of the Old Testament. The Lord Christ has been speaking about prophets not being accepted in their hometown, and these two incidents would have provided the hometown of the two prophets (that is, Israel) enough from their biased viewpoint to reject both Elijah and Elisha. These men were the greatest of the miracle working prophets in Israel’s history. The Lord God did signs and wonders through them to testify that he was again speaking to Israel through the many prophets that would follow them.

God did not send Elijah to help any widow in Israel. Instead, Elijah helped a widow from a nearby nation, a Gentile! We read the Bible too casually, which is the reason we overlook such actions by God. To the people of that time, Israel was God’s favorite people, so he would surely care for them, not a Gentile. The concept was repulsive to their minds.

Jesus doubled down with the next example to make sure they got the point. Israel had many people sorely afflicted with leprosy in Elisha’s time. However, none of them were healed by Elisha or by anyone else. The only one healed was a Syrian, another Gentile, named Naaman, who also happened to be a general in the Syrian army that was oppressing Israel. It was twice as nauseous to people who thought that God owed them care and healings and other goodies. Their hostile reaction in the next paragraph in Luke was easy to predict.

The sovereign God is not in debt to anyone. He is not obligated to give us and our people group nice things. We cannot demand healings or financial bailouts or new cars or fabulous vacation trips or a multitude of other pleasures. Everything good is a gift from God (Acts 14:14-17). Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created (James 1:16-18 NIV).

The people of Nazareth could not demand signs and wonders from the Lord Jesus. Neither can we. God is sovereign, in control of grace, and he gives grace to whomever he chooses to do. Let us humble ourselves before the Lord.

Grace and peace,
David

Jesus at Nazareth (Part Six)

Luke 4:16-30

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (4:23-27 NIV).

Words, especially spoken words, are not always clear in their meaning, when you see the latter in written form. Words that seem to be a simple statement of fact might actually convey other meanings. It appears that this is what Jesus discerned in his hearers in Nazareth. The hometown crowd had remarked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (4:22). Taken out of context, the words could be taken as admiration for the skill that a carpenter’s son had acquired in teaching God’s word. But they had a context in which Jesus had declared that he was the fulfillment of Scripture. For this reason, Jesus saw them as a challenge to his claim to be God’s Anointed One. This provided him with an opportunity to tell them more about the grace of God.

Jesus detected that his hearers were not interested in him as a teacher of God’s word but as a miracle worker. Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” They had heard that Jesus could preach, but they were more interested in his ability to do signs and wonders in his hometown. Shouldn’t Jesus heal people that he had known from childhood? Where was his concern for his longtime neighbors?

They failed to consider the plan of God.

People share this failing. We suppose that God ought to do things that are “nice” for people. If the Lord did signs, wonders, and miracles in Capernaum, then “obviously” the Lord should do the same thing in Nazareth. Otherwise, the Lord is “not being fair”. It is like God “owes it” to us, to do nice things to people, at least to people we like. If we can concoct a reason why God owes special treatment to us, we do not hesitate to put such reasons into how we look at the world.

We are not told if anyone responded to Jesus’ remark. Perhaps they were caught off-guard and didn’t know what to say. Regardless, the Lord Jesus followed up with a statement that would make them feel more uncomfortable. “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” We might assume otherwise, because there are enough signs on the outskirts of towns that boast about it being the home of somebody known for their accomplishments. However, Jesus spoke about prophets.

While people might be interested to listen to someone from their hometown preach God’s word out of simple curiosity, they do not want to be confronted by the word from that preacher. It goes something like this, “Oh you’re little David. I remember you when you were a boy. I recall all the stuff you used to do.” And so they dismiss the hometown preacher with indifferent words and by the snarky tone in which they say them. Jesus never did anything wrong in his hometown, and they still rejected him.

However, Jesus never walked away from teaching opportunities. God his Father had sent him to preach and teach the word (Mark 1:38), and our Lord seized such occasions, even at the risk of a hostile reaction. His theme would answer their unspoken demand for “fair treatment”. He would boldly proclaim God’s sovereign grace. He would review God’s plan of action.

Next time in this passage, we will consider what Jesus told them. However, now is the time to ask ourselves, to examine ourselves about this matter of “fair treatment”. Do we suppose that God is obligated to give to us what he gives to others? Clearly, if we really expect God to do that, we will be constantly disappointed. And deeply frustrated, and even worse, conducting a silent war with God. My friend, don’t fight that war. Don’t live in anger against God. The Lord God requires us to walk humbly before him (Micah 6:8), and humility only prospers in an atmosphere of trust. So then, have faith in God and his wise and righteous ways.

Grace and peace,
David

Jesus at Nazareth (Part Five)

Luke 4:16-30

“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 favor.” Then 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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked (4:18-22 NIV).

People look forward to special events, like birthdays and anniversaries or vacation trips. In our time, we look forward to the end of the pandemic and all its restrictions on social activity. Followers of Christ more importantly look forward to the second coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is the next great event in God’s plan for his people. Come, Lord Jesus!

With this is mind, think back to Christ’s return to his hometown of Nazareth after the start of his public ministry in Judea and parts of Galilee. Everyone has anticipated what this former local carpenter but now preacher and doer of miraculous signs would say in their synagogue. Jesus has read from the opening lines of Isaiah 61. What would he say about them? Luke tells us two general things that Jesus said.

First, the Lord Jesus said that the Scripture he had just read had been fulfilled. This was an astounding claim for a man, even a prophet to make. Jesus claimed that what he was doing (his preaching and doing of signs and wonders) was the fulfillment of this Scripture! He asserted that this text was about him and his works. This was not the only time that Jesus told people that the Bible was a book about him (cf. John 5:39; Luke 24: 25-27; 44-48). But it was surely a shocking proclamation from a guy from their hometown.

They did not grasp the significance of Jesus’ message. Their minds went in a different direction, as the rest of this passage shows. They heard Jesus saying that he could do supernatural acts like healings, and they were prepared to accept that part of his message. And to see Jesus perform signs and wonders among them! However, the spiritual part of his message, that he could restore a person’s relationship with God, they totally missed. This is not unusual, even in our time. People love to hear that Jesus can get them out of their personal troubles. If a preacher promises healings and financial prosperity from Jesus, that Jesus will make their present life better, then people will flock to Jesus. But if a preacher declares that Jesus can meet a person’s spiritual and moral needs, that he can provide a new and secure relationship with the living God, that Jesus is concerned about an eternity living for the glory of God forever… well frankly, people aren’t too interested in those matters. So then, his hearers in Nazareth spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips….

Second, Jesus spoke gracious words. Here was the Son of God announcing to people that he had lived among that God was gracious. God freely welcomes alienated, oppressed, burdened, enslaved people to him. God rejoices when those in spiritual need come to him to have their needs met, to receive an eternal welcome from the King of the universe, to fill them with joy (Psalm 16:11). God is good; he enjoys being gracious to people who deserve wrath. The words of Christ Jesus are gracious words for people, for he reveals God to us. Are we glad for his gracious words? Do we praise God for his Son through whom the news of our salvation came?

The last line of the above text reveals that some of Jesus’ audience had their doubts about Jesus. They couldn’t see how Joseph’s son could do such things. They liked the sound of the words, but they couldn’t see how he could meet their expectations. The same is true for many who hover around the edges of true Christianity with its supernaturalism. Their attitude is “how can these things be real? They cannot since miracles can’t occur. And so they remain on the sidelines. But what of you? Will you trust in Jesus Christ who died and rose again that we may have true freedom?

Grace and peace,
David

Jesus at Nazareth (Part Four)

Luke 4:16-30

“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 favor.” Then 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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:18-21 NIV).

God’s good news is built on and formed from Jesus Christ. It proclaims his person, his word, and his work. These three taken together form God’s final authority for all people everywhere. They proclaim the glory of God, the way to life, and God’s way for us to live. We see all three elements in this passage from Isaiah the prophet that the Messiah read that day in Nazareth.

As he read what we call Isaiah 61:1-2a, no one in the synagogue could have expected the direct application of the text that Jesus was about to make to himself.

“The starting point, the fundamental thing, is that Christianity is about Jesus… Christianity is not a teaching—it is a person. It is not merely a moral outlook that is to be applied in the realm of politics. You start with a historical person… What you need is to know Him and to come into a relationship with Him. You do not start with His teaching—you start with Him” (Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity, p.10). On that day in Nazareth’s synagogue, Jesus read from God’s word, and declared that he himself was the fulfillment of the prophetic word. A very bold claim! He announced that he had the Spirit of the Lord on him and that he was thus anointed to act for the blessing of God’s people. What would he accomplish on his mission? (It was a mission since he was sent. Christ’s whole earthly life was missional.) Let’s consider the first four parts of his mission.

  • Jesus the Messiah came to proclaim good news to the poor. Though Jesus did visit the rich and affluent, the bulk of his ministry was among the poor, common people. The very rich man (2 Corinthians 8:9) crossed the economic divide of mankind and served the poor. He told the poor that they could have incredible wealth, treasure in heaven, and that the Father in heaven cared for them and was able to provide for them. The person who truly understands their poverty will look to God for good news. I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2b CSB). Christ’s good news is especially appreciated among those who openly confess their need of salvation. Do you know that you need Jesus to rescue you from the guilt, corruption, and consequences of sin? Romans 6:23.
  • Jesus the Messiah came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. Under the oppressive government of Rome, it would be easy to think of the Messiah offering political freedom. But as the entire context of Jesus’ teaching makes clear, he announced spiritual freedom from sin (John 8:31-36). Sin is a tyrant that rules over people and ruins their lives. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1a NIV).
  • Jesus the Messiah came to give recovery of sight for the blind. Our Lord healed the blind on several occasions. Each healing was a sign that he was the Messiah (Isaiah 35:5). As a sign it also pointed to the spiritual sight that people need. Read John 9.
  • Jesus the Messiah came to set the oppressed free. This comment is not part of the text of Isaiah 61; probably Jesus made an observation on the preceding items already mentioned to highlight the significance of his liberating work. A similar statement is found in what we call Isaiah 58:6, which is close to the passage he was reading. Rabbis would make comments like this, his hearers that day would not have objected to this insertion. Many preachers make occasional comments like this when they read a passage of Scripture. As I said, it draws the listeners’ attention to what the Servant of the Lord would accomplish, and Jesus was about to make that claim.

True Christianity is very much about the person, work, and work of Jesus Christ. He came to set people free spiritually and eternally. Do you have this liberty in Christ? It may be yours as a free gift today. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).

Grace and peace,
David

Jesus at Nazareth (Part Three)

Luke 4:16-30

“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 favor.” Then 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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:18-21 NIV).

Attention was focused on Jesus in his hometown synagogue. He had found the Scripture to read, read it, and had properly given the scroll back to the attendant. Everyone waited to hear him. What would he say? Luke gives us one sentence of Christ’s words. But most probably his other remarks opened up the passage from Isaiah 61 that he had read. He would have explained how he himself was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. How can we make this assertion? We can make it by comparing Scripture with Scripture.

Listen to what the Lord Jesus said later in Luke’s Gospel. Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27 CSB). Our Savior and Teacher viewed the Bible as a book about him. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44 ESV). You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me (John 5:39 CSB). In the Scriptures, God tells us the story of his glory. He reveals who he is and what he does in the Word of God. So then, Jesus made a statement about himself and God, in his hometown synagogue. Obviously, this is a gigantic claim. If you or I said this, we would be blaspheming or insane. But Jesus was God and plainly spoke the truth about his identity.

His first word about himself is strangely the easiest to overlook. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me….” The church as a whole has not done much thinking about this truth, as Abraham Kuyper observed nearly 120 years ago. Since that time, the church as talked much about the Holy Spirit and the Christian. But there is not much discussion about the role of the Spirit in the person and work of Christ. Yet when Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, he started with this truth (Isaiah 11:2; 42:1; 61:1). Here are some thoughts about the meaning of this:

  • The Holy Spirit acted in the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). Far beyond our comprehension, the Spirit acted to join the God the Son with true humanity from Mary to form Jesus Christ as one person with two natures (divine and human). In doing this, the Spirit of God kept Christ’s human nature free from the guilt and corruption of sin. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26 ESV).
  • The Holy Spirit filled Jesus Christ. For he is sent by God. He speaks God’s words, for God gives him the Spirit without limit (John 3:34 NLT). God the Father poured out the Spirit on Jesus in his human nature. Jesus needed the Spirit as a man in order to live for the glory of God. The Spirit acted in Jesus fully to set him apart for God. This is seen, for example, in his growth from being a baby to a child to a man (Luke 2:40, 52). Though Jesus was separate from sin, he still needed to develop a godly way of life in the practical choices he made. As the writer of Hebrews says, Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8 NIV). The Spirit helped Jesus through this process.
  • The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism to indicate that he was the Son of God and to anoint him as the Messiah (our Prophet, Priest, and King). And the Holy Spirit descended on him in a physical appearance like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased” (Luke 3:22 CSB).
  • The Holy Spirit enabled Jesus as a man to do mighty works. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28 ESV). As Jesus read from Isaiah, he mentioned more of the signs and wonders he did by the Spirit of the Lord. We will consider this subject in more detail on our next post in this series.

As a practical point that others have pointed out, if Jesus Christ needed the Holy Spirit to live for God and to serve God, then how much more do we need the Spirit?

Grace and peace,
David

Then They Remembered

Luke 24:1-12

Remember how he spoke to you when he was still in Galilee, saying, ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” And they remembered his words (24:6b-8 CSB).

The historical authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is crucial to the Christian faith. Let us make no mistake. It does matter what we believe about the resurrection of Christ. Consider 1 Corinthians 15:14, 19. This Resurrection Sunday, let’s examine Luke’s account of this historical event. As we read the Four Gospels, we can discern that each one is a genuine account. No attempt has been made to smooth out the details. People told what they saw, and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John recorded their testimony.

The twenty-third chapter of Luke’s Gospel ends on a somber note. Jesus died, was buried, and then his followers rest on the Sabbath. Death and bondage fill the air. But then comes Sunday and a new age begins! Let us worship with our minds as Luke presents three important facts that filled that Sunday morning.

There was doubt concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Look at the identity of those who doubted. We might expect that Luke would record the unbelief of Christ’s opponents. But he does not. Instead, we hear of the unbelief of his followers!

  • The women doubted (24:1). Their love and loyalty to Jesus is commendable, but not their unbelief. You can be sincere, but wrong. The women went to anoint a dead body (observe the spices), and not to greet a risen Savior on his triumph over death. They had death, not life, on their minds.
  • The apostles doubted (24:11). None of them made an early trip to the tomb in order to see if Jesus had risen, as he said. They were sure that he was dead and gone. They continued to doubt, after others claimed he was raised. You can almost hear them talking among themselves, “What crazy women… Old wives tales!”

People commonly whitewash the failures of founders of movements. “Look at what great people they were!” The Bible does not do that. When God tells us about the greatest day in history, he openly discloses the failure of his people.

Consider the significance of their unbelief. Christ’s followers were not under a delusion. Such people seek something to fuel their false hopes. These people had abandoned hope. Their King, Teacher, and Friend was dead and that was all they would believe. The disciples were not ready to believe anything. They were skeptics. They dismissed testimony with a wave of the hand. They required irrefutable proof to change their minds. We sometimes marvel at the faith of Paul: that he was turned from persecutor to apostle. But the change of mind of these people was also remarkable. What about you? Have you had a change of mind about Christ’s resurrection?

There was evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Some people play games with words. They say that no one actually saw Jesus rise from the dead, and therefore it is a non-historical event. Such people are too clever by half. Suppose we have a corpse of a man before us, but no one saw him die. The corpse is proof that the man is dead, regardless of whether or not anyone saw him die. We would not say that his death was not a historical event, because no one witnessed it. Beware of deceivers! Instead, in a few words, Luke presents two lines of evidence for Christ’s resurrection.

First, there is the evidence of the empty tomb. A theft did not take place by the disciples. The Roman guard was there to prevent any such theft (Matthew 27:62-66). Besides, people do not venture everything and die for a known lie. Nor did his enemies steal Christ’s body. They would have produced the body of Jesus and destroyed Christianity in its infancy. A swoon did not occur. Jesus clearly had died. Skilled executioners pronounced him dead (Mark 15:44-45), and there was the spear thrust (John 19:34) that showed clear evidence that he had died. In addition, Jesus showed himself to his followers as Lord of life, and not as someone barely alive.

Second, there was the evidence of the empty grave clothes (24:12; cf. John 20:5-8). Consider the manner of burial (cf. John 11:44; 19:38-40). His body had been wound in strips of cloth with spices intermingled in them. The empty grave clothes provide witness that Christ’s body was not stolen (why would they take a mangled body and leave the strips of cloth that were wound around him. Also, Jesus Christ was raised as no one had ever been raised before him (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23; Colossians 1:18; John 20:19).

Those who oppose Jesus Christ have a major problem. Here is evidence that will stand the test in a court of law. The tomb where Jesus had been buried and which the Roman government guarded to prevent theft was empty, except for one thing. Inside that tomb were empty grave clothes. What group of fearful men or women is going to overpower trained guards whose life depends on preserving their watch? And if they could do that, would they unwind the grave clothes from the body, reform them to look like a body had disappeared, and carry off a mangled corpse? The idea is absurd. You have one good alternative at this point. Bow before the Risen Christ and confess that he is Lord.

There was testimony concerning the resurrection.

The angels testified (24:5-6). Their words convey a mild rebuke. Notice how they frame this rebuke. They do not ask why they seek the “risen” but the “living”. Do you look for the living in a cemetery? Consider Revelation 1:18. Every believer should realize that he or she is accountable to the living Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:24-27). Their words provided an explanation at the same time. He has risen! Death, that ancient foe of mankind, made its ultimate mistake. It met its Master!

Christ’s own words testified (24:7 cf. 9:22). His words spoke of divine necessity (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:28). His words had foretold the key events that had happened: his suffering, his death by crucifixion, and his resurrection. This should teach us the importance of knowing and understanding Christ’s words (Mark 1:15; Matthew 7:13-14; 9:37-38; John 14:3). They provide a framework for understanding life.

The women testified (24:8-10). Then they remembered Christ’s words (NIV). Suddenly, God the Holy Spirit helped them comprehend what Jesus had told them. For this reason, they went and spread the message of what they had seen and heard. Compare 24:22-23. All believers should provide a similar testimony.

Then they remembered Christ’s words. What about you? Do you know in your heart that Christ has been raised from the dead? How is the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection changing your life?

Grace and peace
David