with Tony W. Cartledge
Teachers: Scroll down for teaching materials.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” — Luke 4:18-19
An Old Scroll and a New Mission
Ripley’s “Believe It – Or Not!” museums have been staple attractions in resort areas for many years. Humans are naturally fascinated by things that are different – even unbelievably so. The claims Jesus made when he announced the beginning of his ministry were so shocking that some people of his hometown thought he had gone over the edge and become too different.
Try to imagine that you had watched Jesus grow up as the ordinary (if polite) son of Joseph and Mary. You noticed something different about him when he did not marry at a young age, as Jewish boys were expected to do. Rather, the young man lived at home with his parents until he was 30 or so. People were curious when he went off on his own for a couple of months. They were flabbergasted, though, when he came back to town, sat down in the synagogue, and claimed to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise of a Messiah. What would you have thought?
The change in Jesus(vv. 14-15)
Luke is unique in telling us what happened inside the synagogue on Jesus’ first trip back home after beginning his public ministry. Mark, who places the story later in Jesus’ ministry, tells us that the people of his hometown were offended by his teaching in the synagogue, but doesn’t say why (Mark 6:1-6). Luke provides more context for Jesus’ hometown “unveiling,” quoting both the prophetic text Jesus read and part of what he had to say about it.
Luke may have done this, in part, because Jesus’ mission echoed some of his own special interests. Luke was a Gentile by birth and a physician by occupation. He first entered the biblical picture in Acts 16, when he joined Paul and his companions in Macedonia during Paul’s second missionary journey. Luke appears to have written primarily for a Gentile audience, even as Matthew wrote with fellow Jews in mind.
Writing to a broader audience, Luke exhibits more universal concerns. More than the other Gospels, Luke gives attention to women, the poor, the outcasts of society, and any others who faced oppression. Today’s text speaks to the needs of the downtrodden, which may explain why Luke has telescoped Jesus’ early ministry and related this story near the beginning of Jesus’ public work.
Today’s text, as a whole, offers a capsule portrait of what Jesus’ public ministry was like: he constantly focused on those who were rejected by the religious establishment, and he was consistently resisted and rejected by those who led the faith into which he was born. As such, this text is an appropriate introduction to Jesus’ active ministry.
Luke places the story of Jesus’ homecoming immediately after his temptation and prior to his call of the disciples. As Jesus was led by the Spirit to his baptism and into the wilderness, so he was “filled with the power of the Spirit” as he traveled back to Galilee, teaching in synagogues along the way. “A report about him spread through all the surrounding country,” Luke tells us, and he “was praised by everyone” (vv. 14-15). Jesus would find similar success in other synagogues (vv. 36-37, 44), but his hometown would be a different story.
Some of the prophets had foreseen a time when God’s Spirit would raise up a deliverer who would lift up the oppressed Hebrews and lead them to glory. Early Judaism developed these predictions into the anticipation of a Messiah who would come in power to save Israel from the Romans and lead the nation to renewed prominence on the world scene.
Jesus’ words, teachings, and demeanor demonstrated clear evidence that the Spirit of God was with him. Jesus’ ideas about redemption were unlike anything the elders of Israel had ever imagined, however, and many were not willing to accept them.
Imagine that you had watched Jesus grow up without exhibiting any special leadership interests, and also witnessed the surprising confidence and power in speaking that Jesus adopted after spending some time away from home. What would you have thought?
The claims of Jesus(vv. 16-21)
The verb form used in describing Jesus’ return to Nazareth, “where he had been brought up,” suggests that Jesus had been away for some time, but not so long that people did not recognize him as Joseph and Mary’s son.
Luke’s comment that Jesus “went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom,” probably refers to his new practice of teaching in the synagogues of Galilee (v. 15), rather than a comment on his life practice of attending synagogue, though we may assume he had done so.
It was common practice in the synagogues for laymen to be asked to read from the scriptures, especially if they were known to be well-spoken or good readers. Perhaps because of his emerging reputation as a laudable teacher (v. 15), or perhaps in acknowledgment that he had come home, Jesus was asked to read from the prophets’ scroll. Afterwards, he would have an opportunity to explain the text as he understood it.
In a typical synagogue service, the first reading would be from the Torah, which was divided into 155 lessons, with one to be read each Sabbath. After the Torah reading, someone would translate or paraphrase the text in Aramaic for the benefit of those who no longer understood biblical Hebrew. Then, there would often be a time of teaching. Custom dictated that one stood (often on a raised dais) while reading the scriptures, then sat down to teach.
After the Torah reading, Jesus was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. We do not know if the particular text was already chosen, or if Jesus did the choosing. It is unlikely that Luke has provided an exact account of what happened: Mark’s account of the same experience is much shorter and includes no speeches, so Luke has apparently recreated the story based on whatever information he had.
We presume that Jesus would have read from a Hebrew scroll, but the Isaiah reading in Luke is not from the Hebrew text of Isaiah, but is a rather loose rendering from the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. And, it is not a single passage, but contains most of Isa. 61:1-2 and a snippet of Isa. 58:6. (see “The Hardest Question” online for more.)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” reflects the prophet’s belief that he spoke under the direct inspiration of God’s Spirit. In the current text, it also reminds readers of Jesus’ baptism story in the previous chapter (where “the Holy Spirit descended upon him,” Luke 3:22), and also of the earlier note that Jesus came “in the power of the Spirit” (v. 14). The text Jesus read provides a rough outline of his coming ministry: he was empowered by the Spirit; anointed as the Messiah; preached good news to all, including the poor; proclaimed salvation to those who were oppressed or in thrall to sin; brought healing to the blind as well as people with other needs; and proclaimed “the year of the Lord’s favor” as the inauguration of the kingdom of God.
All who contributed to the book of Isaiah shared a concern for the oppressed, criticizing the people of Israel for their religious unfaithfulness and their social injustice. The Isaiah scroll often offers hope to the disenfranchised, promising the arrival of a better day, “the acceptable year of the Lord,” or “the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The text speaks to four groups who had in common their powerlessness: the poor, the captives (slaves, prisoners, or exiles), the blind, and the oppressed in general. In Isaiah’s time (as in the first century), many people were forced to sell themselves into slavery because of debts they could not pay. The economic system was such that those who had nothing found it virtually impossible to improve their lot.
The blind, like the lame and the mentally handicapped, were often forced to beg for a living. Widows and orphans often went uncared for and thus faced serious oppression. Jesus claimed that his ministry was to such as these.
Many of Jesus’ contemporaries interpreted the text differently. They assumed that the reference to the poor, downtrodden, and captive people related only to their own situation as Jews who had long lived under the oppression of foreign powers. They imagined that the one who could say “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” would be a messianic figure who would lead Israel to freedom and greatness. Jesus had already shown strong signs of the Spirit’s presence, so there would have been great anticipation in the congregation as Jesus returned the scroll to the attendant and sat down to teach.
We can visualize how still and suspenseful it must have been as Jesus’ former neighbors waited to hear how the surprisingly different young man would interpret these words. But can we imagine the shock when he said simply: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21)?
In next week’s lesson, we will examine the congregation’s response to Jesus’ astonishing claim. How do you think you would have responded?
There is a sense in which Jesus claimed this text from Isaiah as his “life verse” or “spiritual motto.” Is there a scripture verse or longer passage that you would claim as your own life commandment?
Resources to teach adult and youth classes are available at baptiststoday.org
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for January 24, 2015 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: Luke 4:14-21
Teacher Prep | Youth & This Session
Adolescence is a time for our students to discover who they are and what is important to them. Many of our students will have several “faces” during their time in our ministries. Make sure that you support your students as they discover who they are while reminding them where to focus. Provide opportunities for your students to discover who they and allow them to struggle. As they struggle, provide feedback so they can grow.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“Give Us Free!” from Amistad via www.youtube.com
Read Scripture online: Luke 4:14-21