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Called to Proclaim
Winter Quarter: Call in the New Testament
Unit 2: Jesus and Calls in His Ministry
Sunday school lesson for the week of Jan. 3, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Background Scripture: Luke 4
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for thee prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
Gospel of Luke
Luke is one of the synoptic Gospels, along with Matthew and Mark. Synoptic means the three seem to write as if all of them are looking through the same eye (syn- same; optic-eye). Luke employs approximately 70 percent of Mark. Mark is used as a framework by Matthew and Luke. Matthew adds more “Jewish material” and Luke adds more Greek.
Luke was a Gentile and close companion to the Apostle Paul. Luke and Acts are two volumes of one work written by Luke. Though he was not an eye-witness to the resurrected Christ, he was so near to Paul that he was accepted as one “inspired by God” whose writing was consistent with other Scripture and received the blessing of the early church. He was a physician, and therefore includes more healing miracles in his Gospel than the other two. Luke gave us the nativity through the eyes of Mary. His Gospel includes the major events in Jesus’ life. He records the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Therefore, when Luke opens the book of Acts with the phrase: I wrote to you O Theophilus about that Jesus began to do and preach.
Luke could have written that he wrote about all Jesus did
! Luke understood very clearly that though Jesus had ascended, he was here in his church, the Body of Christ. He would continue what he started through his holy church.
In chapter 4 Luke reveals to us Jesus’ profound teaching on Isaiah 61:1-2. It is important to remember that the authors in all four Gospels did not record everything Jesus did or taught. As John would write, “There are not enough books to hold it all (John 21: 25).” The passages passed to us are specifically chosen for a specific reason. Each reveal something about Jesus and us. Our task is to discover what exactly is being said through the text.
Jesus, Galilee, and miracles
In our text, Jesus has returned to Galilee. The people of Galilee had great affection for Jesus. He performed miracles. The miracles were used for two major reasons. First, miracles served God’s purpose in the life of the one suffering. Secondly, they revealed the Holy Spirit’s power in Jesus. Thirdly, they drew a crowd that Jesus might teach and preach. All three were important but especially the third. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus healed the sick and people continued to come. However, Jesus left for a time of prayer. The disciples expected Jesus to return to the crowd but he didn’t. He informed them he was going to another place to preach and teach. Jesus said: “For that is why I came” (Mark 1:38). Early in Jesus’ ministry he performed many miracles. He became so popular that according to Mark’s Gospel he could not enter a town or house without a huge crowd coming. The performing of miracles thrilled the crowds. However, near the latter half of Jesus’ years of ministry he performed fewer miracles. His teaching and preaching were prominent, with some miracles still being performed. When Jesus began to preach that those who follow him “must take up their cross and follow me” (Luke 9: 23), the crowd dwindled. His popularity began to wane until he was crucified alone, with only his mother, John, and some of the women followers at the cross.
How have you understood the miracles? Are miracles supposed to be a regular event in the church, or are they for the specific purposes of God? Does our faith have anything to do with a miracle? Are we guilty of longing for miracles more than we long to know Jesus and God’s will?
Jesus taught in the synagogues
The synagogues sprang up wherever there was a gathering of Jewish people. The word “synagogue” means “a place of gathering.” They existed out of great necessity. The temple was destroyed during Nebuchadnezzar’s military campaign. The entire Southern Kingdom fell to Babylon. The people needed a place of worship, for learning Mosaic Law, and practicing certain rites and rituals of their faith. Due to the exile the Jews were scattered throughout Babylon, Mesopotamia, and Israel. The important observances of Passover, Pentecost, and Feast of Booths were observed at the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. Still, not everyone could make the journey to the temple. The spiritual education for the Jews mostly occurred in the synagogue.
Synagogue on the Sabbath
Sabbath was observed on Saturday, with Sunday being the first day of the week. Only a mighty act of God would lead a Jewish person to move their Sabbath to Sunday. That mighty act was the resurrection of Jesus! The Sabbath was a time to rest from labor and to mediate upon and contemplate God’s creative work. For Christians, the Sabbath is a time to observe God’s “new creation” as the Kingdom of God has moved into our life through the gift of Jesus.
The synagogue crowd was perfect for Jesus. The audience consisted of people serious about their faith. They were seekers of God and God’s truth. The leader of the synagogue recognized important visitors and asked them if they would like to teach. In the text, Jesus has entered and is going to teach. Jesus himself was a regular attender of synagogue. The synagogue service involved a reading from the Mosaic Law, a reading from the Prophets, and a lesson. Jesus will be asked to give the lesson. Jesus was seated and handed a scroll from which to teach. It was a scroll of Isaiah. Scrolls most often were written on animal skins for durability, and some were written on the much more fragile papyrus. The animal skin could be as long as 20 ft. long. Jesus unrolled the scroll of Isaiah and began to preach.
Is it important to gather together to worship the Lord? What benefit is there to meeting with others for both worship and to understand the Word? Why should we not attempt to interpret Scripture just on our own? The presenting of the scroll was important in that the audience knew from where the truth came. It came from Holy Scripture. In your church, is it made obvious that the message and lesson come from God’s word?
Jesus teaches in the Synagogue from Isaiah 61:1-2
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
As explained in last week’s lesson, Jesus’ baptism involved his accepting the call to die, be resurrected, and fulfill his calling to be Messiah. He is then anointed with the Holy Spirit who descends from heaven as a dove. He is anointed to be the King of Kings. When the Spirit comes upon us, our gifts and graces are empowered to serve Christ. In the narrative of Pentecost in Acts 2, the Spirit descends upon the followers of Jesus as “cloven tongues as of fire.” Jesus already possessed gift and graces. They were pure and motivated by love. Now, when the Spirit descends upon him, his gifts and graces are perfectly empowered.
Do you understand that you are called, and set apart? What do believe are your gifts and graces? How has God’s Spirit empowered your gifts and graces? What is the difference in “doing good” and “doing good for Christ?”
Jesus proclaims good news to the poor
Proverbs 28: 6 states, “Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse.” It is a mistake to believe the poor in the Old and New Testaments are just “poor in spirit.” Jesus was concerned about those deprived of basic human needs. It is extremely important to remember what is known as the Retribution Principle.
This principle simply means that the Jewish people believed if one was obedient and earned the favor of God, they would be healthy and wealthy. Health and wealth were viewed as signs of God’s favor. The Retribution Principle also addressed the opposite. The poor were those who, according to the principle, had offended God. Either the person offended God or their parents. They were considered sinners and the upper class wanted little to do with them. In John 9:24, a blind man stands before the Pharisees who say, “We know this man is a sinner.” Why did they make such a statement? Because he was blind! In John 9:2, Jesus is walking with the disciples. They ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Again, we can see poverty and sickness attached to personal sin. If everyone who sinned was so punished by God would there be anyone in God’s favor? We live because God loves us and gave himself for us in Christ, not because we have earned God’s favor. Those who suffered poverty were receptive to the love and grace of God. To hear that God knew them and loved them would have been a dynamic and new message! The poor easily recognized their need for God, and for grace. Many knew they could not rely on social mobility to elevate them. If you were born in poverty, most likely you and your family remained in property. It would have proved easy to give up. If we heard regularly that God wanted little to do with us, we would certainly begin to feel a degree of hopelessness. Yet, when Jesus appears, he does so with open arms and an open heart. He has a message especially relevant to the poor. Jesus was not promising that they would become wealthy and that all of their illnesses would be healed. He promised that they could be rich in faith, in meaning, and purpose. Yes, one could be wealthy but poor in soul. The religious leaders were rarely poor. They used the Retribution Principle to keep the poor masses in their place. They wanted the poor dependent on them for hope. However, the offering of the religious leaders was in fact a heavy yoke around the necks of the poor. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest in your souls” (Mat. 11: 29). Listening to Jesus say they did not have to be perfect and that they were already loved by God was a breath of sweet liberation.
Who are the poor? How do we identify the poor in our community without embarrassing them? Do we as individual Christians and the church judge others based on the Retribution Principle? Do we believe the suffering they experience is deserved? How do we really see the poor? Is the way we perceive the poor and act toward the poor consistent to what we believe about Jesus’ caring for the poor?
Jesus proclaims freedom for the prisoners
Prisoners most often were captives as a result of war. The prisoner could agree to serve their captor or die. Others were enslaved due to debts they could no pay. To be a prisoner, you were subservient. There were boundaries you could not exceed, places you could not go. For those literally imprisoned in a jail it was a wretched experience. The cells were absolute squalor. For those who served as slaves it often was only slightly better. Many were not treated as men and women of worth. They were useful “things” to make their masters contented.
Jesus now sits in the synagogue and proclaims he has come to set them free. Jesus is not speaking of removing them from behind the man-made bars. Jesus was speaking of the freedom of the soul. The soul can rise above the things that bind us. Many prisoners of war claimed they survived by rising above their circumstance. Paul well understand this type of freedom and employed it for himself. He was thrown into some terrible jails. Paul finally reached a place where he could write, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (II Cor. 4: 9).
This what Paul means by hope.
Hope is the belief that no matter what occurs in our life, God is with us. It was hope that allowed Paul to ascend his circumstances. Paul wrote, “For in this hope we are saved” (Romans 8:24).
Jesus came to give hope to all of us. All of us are prisoners to something that controls our life. However, Christ never abandons us! Through our utter trust in God (faith), and believing God is love (love), we can rise above the destructive and experience an unfettered way of life (hope).
What is it that binds us? Where do you see God in the darkness? Can you identify a time when you truly rose above your circumstances and were filled with hope?
Jesus came to bring sight to the blind
Many of the miracles are also metaphors for the spiritual. For instance, healing the deaf can also mean opening the ears of those who cannot hear the Gospel. John would not, and never did use the term miracles.
Instead, John used the terms signs and wonders.
John believed the miracles always pointed to a greater reality. Miracles were performed to point to an eternal reality.
There are more miracles regarding the eyes and sight than any other. These miracles point toward our ability to see the eternal in this desperately fleeting world. Jesus used the phrase, “Do you have eyes but do not see” (Mark 8:18).
God is present in all of life, yet we can choose to walk through life alone. We see the destructive, the dangers, and yes, the good. However, the ability to see God’s love, light, and truth in our life is vital to living the abundant life Jesus offers. Jesus is God’s light, love, and truth personified. He is the gift of divine presence.
Do you think Jesus’ question, “Do you have eyes but do not see?” is relevant for you? Your church? Have you studied the Bible in a manner where you look in and through this world at God’s eternal kingdom? What do you believe the miracle of restoring sound to deaf ears means concerning God’s Kingdom? What do you believe the healing of the lame means? Etc.
It is the year of the Lord’s favor
The year of Jubilee was a significant observance for the Jewish people. Every seventh year the land was to be placed in Sabbath. That is, no crop could be grown that year. The land would rest. Agricultural experts tell us this is a good practice for many crops. The land remains productive when rested. Every seventh Jubilee (49 years) there would be the great year of Jubilee. Debts were forgiven, slaves were freed, and there would be great rejoicing. Jesus was the spiritual Jubilee. He was the spirit of Jubilee sitting before them in the synagogue. He would remove the spiritual debt of sin from which people suffered. He would free those in spiritual bondage. He was and is our joy!
The year of favor could also be related to the arrival of God’s Kingdom in Jesus. The Kingdom had been in human history all along. However, Jesus is that Kingdom in flesh and blood. We could see him, touch him and experience him. The Kingdom is indeed here and is still yet to come in all its glory!
There were always people who rejected him and his message. They were spiritually deaf and blind. Jesus said he was a prophet without honor in his hometown. His hometown saw him through the blinders of his childhood. How could the son of Joseph and Mary be the Messiah? They were rejecting Jesus as he spoke. It takes faith to open our hearts to Jesus as he is, as he claims to be. The fact that people turn away doesn’t say anything negative about Jesus; instead, it reveals the destructive blinders that people wear.
Do you believe the church is in need of a Jubilee? Or is our church currently involved in a Jubilee ministry? Does our church announce God’s Kingdom is here, and is still coming? How are our personal gifts and graces used by God to usher in his Kingdom?
Jesus’ gracious words
The world can be cold. A lot of destructive language seems to always echo through the air. I personally believe the world is especially eager for a word of hope, of kindness, and of grace. From the beginning, words have possessed creative power. Once spoken, they set forth a course of action. A negative word creates a course of negative experiences. However, gracious words set forth hope and life!
Almighty, loving God, in Christ you spoken grace to our ears. They are ears upon which the world’s noise falls, creating confusion and chaos. Yet, you continue to speak and open our eyes to your presence and the presence of your Kingdom. Teach us to sift through the unimportant and destructive, that we see the depths of your love and the brightness of you glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at email@example.com.