IN THE SHADOWS OF JERUSALEM
Yesterday we left off with a look at the second half of Luke 3:23: "He (Jesus) was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph." We explored the possibility that one reason Luke may have added the birth narrative (along with Matthew) was to dispel rumors that Jesus was illegitimate. This verse actually leads into Luke's version of the genealogy of Jesus. Just as Luke and Matthew were the only gospel writers to give us birth accounts of Jesus they are the only two to give us a genealogy of Jesus. Luke begins his by telling us that Joseph was "the son of Heli." (Luke 3:23b) If you look back at the Gospel of Matthew you will notice that Matthew begins his by telling us that Jesus was "the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1) then he proceeds by giving us the genealogy from Abraham. While Matthew begins with Abraham and moves forward, Luke begins with Joseph and works backwards. Why is this?
Matthew thought it necessary to begin his gospel with the genealogy, while Luke chose to wait. Matthew's purpose was to basically present Jesus' pedigree. If you remember, I said that Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience. Matthew emphasized that Jesus was a descendent of David and Abraham. Luke is not concerned with this emphasis. Luke traces the lineage of Jesus all the way to...Adam, who Luke refers to as "the son of God." (Luke 3:37b) While Matthew's targeted audience was a Jewish-Christian community, Luke's was primarily Gentile. Luke's purpose is to trace the human race (and lineage of Jesus) to God who cares for all humanity, and includes all humanity. This is echoed throughout the gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. (written also by Luke) (*Notice that Luke does not include the women in his genealogy that Matthew does...this is interesting!)
We have already covered, to an extent, the temptation narrative. I want to now turn my attention to the beginning of Jesus' ministry in Luke. This is very important as we try to understand what Luke wants us to see in the messiah. In the fourth chapter we discover that Jesus returned home to Nazareth. He went to the synagogue and..."He stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.'" (Luke 4:16a-19)
This scene takes place later in the Gospel of Mark. Luke makes it the first event of Jesus' ministry. I'll give my answer shortly as to why. First of all, it is vital that we look back at the beginning of this scene. Luke tells us that "Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit." (Luke 4:14) Remember, I said that this is a theme in Luke (power of Spirit). Jesus, is led by the Holy Spirit and he opens and reads the scroll. So, with that, why is this his first act in Luke? I will present three reasons. One, Luke takes liberties in order to make an expression of his theology. We will discover this as we continue. Two, this serves as Jesus' inaugural speech. Three, this all sets the stage for Jesus' rejection by the Jews and his acceptance by the Gentiles.
A driving force behind the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts is the theological problem that Israel does not accept Jesus as the messiah. At first the people "spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips." (Luke 4:22) But, he kept speaking. Have you ever heard the expression; "Better stop while you're ahead?" Well, Jesus didn't stop. "I tell you the truth,' he continued, 'no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel inn Elijah's time...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 4:24-27) I will get to the part about a prophet in a little bit. What is Jesus doing here? Whatever his intentions he sure made his audience furious. In fact, "They got up, drove him out of town, and took him to the brow the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff." (Luke 4:29) Well, when Jesus cited Elijah and Elisha he was foreshadowing that which was to come. He was making it clear that Israel would not accept God's prophet, but the Gentiles would. I must point out that while this proves true, there are some in Israel who do accept him, especially the common people. Israel's leaders prove hostile.
So what about the line: "No prophet is accepted in his hometown?" Does Jesus simply intend to inform them that since he is from that area they would have difficulty accepting him? Was it because they watched him grow up and had no faith in him? Well, the truth is, we sometimes do find it difficult to accept that one of our own is as capable as others. But, I don't think that is all Jesus is doing here. At least, it is not Luke's purpose. I simply believe that Jesus is identifying himself as a prophet. No, please don't get me wrong! I'm not saying that Jesus was just a prophet! That is not it at all! This is why we are identifying Jesus in each of the gospels. In order to further understand what I am saying we must identify the role of a prophet. No, a prophet is not one who simply foretells the future. A prophet, in the biblical understanding, is someone who speaks and acts on God's behalf. To help further my argument let's skip ahead a bit to Luke 13:31-33: "At that time some of the Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, 'Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.' He replied, 'Go tell that fox, I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal. In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day-for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!" Jesus is making it clear that Herod will not decide when, where, or how Jesus will die. In this passage Jesus is again placing himself among the prophets and detailing where his death will take place. He then adds: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you." (Luke 13:34) Jesus is a prophet and he will be killed because of it. This can only take place in Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets.
O.K., Jesus is God's ultimate chosen prophet in Luke. But, Jesus is no ordinary prophet. What is it that separates Jesus from the early prophets? Well, for one thing, his birth. This was one more reason Luke gave us the birth narrative. Another way Jesus was different was his resurrection. Jesus did not just die, he rose from the dead. But then there is a third thing that separated Jesus from the rest: He was the fulfillment of all scripture. He was the one in which all other prophets spoke of.
Before I close for the day and while we are on the subject of Jerusalem I want to say that Jerusalem is mentioned thirty-one times in the Gospel of Luke. In fact, the story moves toward Jerusalem. There are many indications that Jesus and his disciples are on a journey (in Luke's gospel) with Jerusalem being their destination. In other words, when they arrive in Jerusalem something is going to happen and it will be big. For example: "Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem." (Luke 13:22) "Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee." (Luke 17:11) Then there is: "Jesus took the twelve aside and told them, 'We are going up to Jerusalem and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled." (Luke 18:31) Jesus walks through Luke's gospel in the shadow of Jerusalem.
Well, tomorrow we will continue our journey together and I can't wait to see what we discover. Please join me! -Pastor Rick