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,

Continue in the Teaching

img_50112 John 1:9

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son (NIV).

We must understand the times in which we live, because we can only live in those times. Those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ are never called to live like we are in a fantasy world, where everyone wants to do what is right and wants to hear the good news of salvation. Instead, our Lord and Savior sends us into the real world to live for him, regardless of the difficulties we might encounter. Right now, he is patiently waiting the time set by the Father for his final victory, and we must continue in the task he has given us until that time.

Faithfulness to Christ and the mission on which he has sent us requires us to tell a message and to do godly actions that are not in step with the course the world pursues. This is not a unique problem of our times. When the gospel was first preached two thousand years ago, the people of this world were worshiping many gods, living in violence, greed and sexual immorality, and opposing the message of Christ. The same situation is true today. Therefore, let us not moan about “our difficult situation”. God’s message is never popular in this world. Jesus presented the challenge in a well-known but often neglected illustration.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV). For this reason, it is never our task to make the message pleasing to the many who are on the broad road. In all they do, they reject the knowledge of God, refuse to love God and others, and rebel against God’s ways.

Our problem is that we too easily pick up their attitude (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3-4). People evaluate churches and preaching because of what pleases them, instead of what pleases God. Be funny, be clever, be chic, be whatever, but do not dare to say what God says, because “nobody will listen”. That is a lie. The Spirit says plainly that some will listen, and our mission is to tell the good news of Jesus the Messiah, because it, and not what pleases people, is God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16-17). We must continue in teaching of Christ, because that is where the Lord wants us to be. But we ask, “What does it mean to continue in the teaching? Why is this important? What encouragement does this provide?”

What does it mean to continue in the teaching of Christ? Given the context of John’s letters about holding to the true teaching about Christ as the incarnate God-man, we can translate the phrase “the teaching of Christ” as “the teaching about Christ”. This avoids the impression that it means “Christ’s teaching”—the teaching he gave or the way he taught. But even if it was the teaching he gave, it would still involve the teaching about Christ, because what we read in the New Testament is what Christ taught (John 16:14-15). When we think of the idea of the teaching about Christ, we can think in three general categories:

  • The teaching about his person – the focus of John’s letters, including Christ’s true deity (God has come among us to help us!) and Christ’s true humanity (God knows our struggles personally!) Never lose the joy of these truths.
  • The teaching about his message. We mention three aspects of what Jesus taught: First, the message about the present and future aspects of God’s reign (“the kingdom of God”); God is setting up his authoritative rule in his chosen people; this will result in eternal joy with God. Next, the message about following Christ (becoming his learner or disciple); the need to have a change of mind and believe; how he tells us to please God. And also the message about God’s plan in Jesus; Christ is the theme of the Bible; Christ is the greater prophet; the need for us to pursue a missional way of life because of this
  • The teaching about his redemptive activity. We can think of four important truths: Christ’s crucifixion – sacrifice, propitiation, redemption, and reconciliation; his resurrection – accomplishment of justification and eternal life; his ascension to pour out the Spirit – his victory and present reign at the right hand of the Father; and his personal return in power and glory – salvation and life for his chosen people and justice and condemnation for his enemies

When we follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we commit to his teaching as well. It is part of remaining or continuing in Christ (cf. John 15:1-17). His teaching is to transform our beliefs and our way of life. For a practical start to our thinking, invest time in thinking about the apostle Paul applied Galatians 6:14 to our way of life.  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (NIV). How should this affect how we think about ourselves?

Grace and peace, David