Luke 4:14-21, Jesus Introduces the Apostolate

[January 27, 2013] This can be no more than an outline since I woke up late because I am sick.

When Jesus was baptized in chapter 3, we read that “the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My Son, the Beloved, in You I have found My delight.” Those heavenly words were tested in the beginning of chapter 4 when, “full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days.” Then in verse 14 we read that “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” He preaches in the synagogues of Galilee and at some point comes to Nazareth where He entered the synagogue, stood up to read—“as was His custom”—and was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah where He rolled and unrolled it to the page He wanted and began to read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me … He has sent Me …” This is how the ministry of Jesus begins in the Gospel according to Luke, with the Holy Spirit anointing (chriō, “christ”-ening) Jesus, that is, coming upon Him with power so that He can accomplish the task for which He was sent (apostellō). For when the Spirit comes upon a person it clothes that one with power from on high (24:49; Acts 1:8).

Isaiah says that the Servant of the Lord is anointed by YHWH with the power of the Spirit “to preach the Gospel to the poor.” This is the sum of it all. The good-spell is the story of the coming of Jesus and what this means. The Acts of the Apostles also begins with an anointing of the Holy Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit coming upon the gathered disciples and giving them power to be Jesus’ witnesses to the remotest parts of the earth. Even though I am just summarizing, I do not want us to overlook that the anointing is to preach the Gospel to the poor. Those who are rich, or who think they are, cannot be receptive to the Gospel. The Gospel is only for the poor in spirit.

“He has sent Me to (1a) pronounce release to the captives and (b) recovery of sight to the blind, (2) to set free those who are oppressed, and (3) to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” Probably we should not automatically understand these points in terms of our own social-justice and cultural concerns (we are not the teachers here but the learners). We need to understand what these points mean in terms of Jesus’ own actions; after all, it is He who fulfills them. And if we do, we see that the concerns are first and foremost spiritual, for He immediately sets about releasing people and opening their eyes in this and the following chapter (until about 6:11).

We should especially notice the last point: “to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” This is a reference to the Year of Jubilee, a requirement in the Torah that was never carried out and that became, at least for Isaiah, a symbol of the change that would come about when Israel is finally redeemed, at the coming of the Anointed One (the Messiah). The Year of Jubilee was kind of a super-Sabbath in which—if I may exaggerate to make the point—everything that was lost is restored, everything that is owed is forgiven, and everyone that is enslaved or imprisoned is freed. The one word that summarizes it might liberation. The coming of the Messiah will fulfill all the promises made to Israel, the full blessing that is promised in the closing chapters of the Torah.

Jesus’ exposition of this text is simple, albeit altogether provocative: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, He is the fulfillment of it, Himself, His own Person. He is the coming of the Messiah; He has been anointed and sent. He has not yet accomplished His task, but the anointing and the sending have already taken place. Implicit here is the fact that in His own Person, He has fulfilled His task: He is the Poor One (who understands the significance of His coming), He is the One with open eyes, He is the One who is liberated, free of any captivity and oppression (for He has defeated the devil in the wilderness). Hence He can proclaim the Gospel to others, He can open their eyes, He can liberate them from what holds them captive.

In Matthew the ministry of Jesus begins similarly, but is expressed in a different way. Matthew also mentions a trip to Nazareth in the beginning but says nothing about it (4:13). The story in Luke 4:22-30 (not 4:16-21) parallels what we find in Matthew 13:54-58, though with significant additions. How Matthew shows the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is to simply have Jesus come onto the public stage preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” As the gospel unfolds it becomes clear that the kingdom has drawn near in His own Person: the kingdom is where He is. He thus presents Himself, and at once calls fishermen to come to HIM, or in other words, by becoming His disciples, to come within the sphere of His Person. They follow, and next He proclaims them blessed because they are in this relationship to His Person, for they are expected to become what He is, He being the “Promise Land” where the blessing of God—announced in the Torah—resides. Luke, instead, has Jesus say, “Today [Isaiah 62:1-2] has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke’s beginning of Jesus’ ministry is parallel to how the Acts of the Apostles begins. Just as Jesus was anointed with power that He might witness to Himself, the Holy Spirit comes upon the church to empower the believers to be witnesses to Jesus. Luke’s Jesus is the beginning and the exemplar of the apostolate of the church. Not only is the Gospel according to Luke a version of the gospel put together now being established in the gentile world (with the churches established by Paul in the Mediterranean basin in view), churches of mixed Jewish and gentile constituency, but Luke sees Jesus through the eyes of the church’s apostolate: Jesus is the original and model Apostle.

This gives us some direction as to how to interpret this episode with regard to ourselves. The church is empowered by the Holy Spirit—the Holy Spirit has come upon it—that it might conform itself to the apostolate of Jesus, the apostles in particular representing and exemplifying this. The Spirit that anointed Jesus also anoints us (has anointed us in our baptism, as signified by the laying on of hands) so that we might (literally) evangel-ize the poor, that is, to bring the Gospel to the poor. God also sends the church—through the apostles and their coworkers?—to proclaim (kērussō) what the Gospel (the revelation of Jesus) brings, which is the spiritual blessing of the Messianic Age in the Person of Jesus (spiritual sight, forgiveness, freedom from enslavement to the powers of the world, etc.).

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