Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jesus of Nazareth in Nazareth (Luke 4:17)

Which prophet did Jesus quote when He first proclaimed His ministry in the synagogue of Nazareth? Isaiah (Luke 4:17)

Though each Synoptic gospel documents Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth (Matthew 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:16-30), Luke emphasizes the event by making Jesus’ homecoming the first extensively narrated act of his public ministry. The gospels all concur that the congregation initially approved of Jesus’ message (Matthew 13:54; Mark 6:2; Luke 4:22) before taking offense (Matthew 13:56; Mark 6:3; Luke 4:29). Luke records that in order to leave Nazareth, Jesus had to evade an attempt on his life as the crowd attempted to throw him headlong off of a cliff (Luke 4:29-30)!

Luke is also the only evangelist to record Jesus’ sermon text: the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:18-19). Though it is doubtful that Jesus read just the small selection from Isaiah recorded in the gospel, the essence of the Scriptures he read is preserved. The Scripture Luke chronicled is a medley from Isaiah composed predominantly of a representation of Isaiah 61:1-2 (technically Isaiah 61:1-2a) with one clause from Isaiah 58:6 (Isaiah 58:6d). Luke’s version is neither an exact rendering of the Hebrew text nor the Greek version (Septuagint) of the Isaiah passages.

The passage, as Luke records, it reads:

The Spirit of the LORD us upon me,
Because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19, NASB)
The two passages from Isaiah were likely combined thematically as the same crucial word is featured in both: aphesis. The word means “release from bondage or imprisonment” and is seen when Jesus says he is “to proclaim release to the captives” and “set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18 NASB). Combining the two passages from Isaiah emphasizes the theme of liberation that characterized Jesus’ ministry.

Why did Jesus select this particular passage from Isaiah to present to his hometown audience? How does the passage represent gospel - “good news”? Have you ever heard a minister preach a sermon at her home church? Have you ever faced difficulties in returning home?

The passage represents Jesus’ mission statement, a manifesto of sorts, as it describes the ministry Jesus was called to carry out. Isaiah 61 describes the restoration and mission of God’s people after the exile. Jesus’ connection to the passage is seen as after reading the Scripture, he announced “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing (Luke 4:21 NASB).”

In what ways did Jesus fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy? If you had to select one Old Testament passage to describe Jesus’ mission, what would it be? What passage of Scripture do you most identify with? Do you have a personal mission statement?

“You can’t go home again” - Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)

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