Monday, October 3, 2011

Jesus' Message of the Kingdom

Jesus’ Message of the Kingdom

We’ve been looking at the Kingdom of God this semester. So far we did an overview of the concept, looking at it from the perspective of what a typical hearer of Jesus might have understood when he or she first heard Jesus announce that the Kingdom of God was near. We also looked at Jesus’ first words of his public ministry in the gospels of Matthew and Mark: “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” We also discussed how Jesus said we must enter the kingdom of God, that is we must be born from above/again and born of water and Spirit. Last week we looked at how the Kingdom of God starts small like a mustard seed or yeast in a big batch of flour: it seems to be insignificant yet grows beyond what seems to be its capabilities. This week we are going to look at the message of the Kingdom of God. What was the core of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God? In the book of Luke, Jesus begins his public ministry with a grand announcement that will frame how Luke characterizes Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God.

Luke 4:18-19

Context – Jesus himself had been baptized by John the Baptist as a sign that he was beginning a new phase of his life, his public ministry. Up until this point, he had lived a relatively obscure life. But now, he came out and was baptized, symbolizing new life (not repentance for forgiveness of sin) and his identification with the people of Israel. (Baptism and crossing the river?) God anointed him with his Spirit. In the OT, the Spirit would rest on people when God set them apart for a specific task. From this point on, we will see how Luke tells us constantly that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit. In 4.1, the Spirit led him into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil. (Here he continues to identify with Israel, just as they spent time in the desert and yet were unfaithful to God, Jesus spends time in the desert and remains faithful). This leads us to our verses today and the message of the Kingdom.

Read Luke 4.14-21.

Jesus must have drawn attention to himself because of his teaching and healing ministry. It seems that he had a teaching ministry in Galilee (northern Israel). On this occasion he reveals his true intentions, that is, his ministry is to fulfill Scripture.

The passage that he reads is from Isaiah 61.1-2 (with some allusion to 58.6). Read the passage in Isaiah. Here the speaker has been anointed with God’s Spirit to announce “good news.”

Isaiah is looking to a day in the future when the people of Israel would be greatly disciplined due to their lack of obedience. The southern kingdom of Israel, the kingdom of Judah, would be conquered and many of the citizens would be sent into exile. What Isaiah sees here is God’s message to those who have suffered through this time and are longing for release from their captivity.

The “poor” in Isaiah have the connotation of the faithful members of Israel who wait on God during times of great misfortune, like captivity and exile. This was a common metaphor for people in distress. Because, literally, the poor had no other advocate than God. The righteous and faithful poor people would rely on God for their provision and salvation. And here, the poor are those who have been sent into exile and captivity. It is very similar with the term “brokenhearted”. God is going to heal their wounds. When he proclaims freedom for the captive, he is promising release and freedom for those who will be in exile.

Jesus continues the theme from Isaiah by proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. Here both Isaiah and Jesus are talking about a concept that is found in the book of Leviticus 25 called the year of Jubilee.

In the Hebrew Bible, God had prescribed something called a “Sabbath year”. The Sabbath year had three basic provisions: the freeing of all slaves; the cancellation of all debts and leaving the fields fallow (or uncultivated) for the year. This was to take place every 7th year (that is what Sabbath literally means in Hebrew). After 7 Sabbath years there would be a Year of Jubilee which is the similar to the Sabbath year but all of the land reverts back to its original distribution under Moses when the Israelites first entered the land.

The primary spiritual basis for Sabbath years and for the Year of Jubilee was for the release of slaves, debts and the land. This was due because God himself was the owner of the land and the people. It was he who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and he gave them the land, so neither they nor the land could ever truly be sold. It was given to God’s people to be good stewards of the land (or caretakers). The prophet Isaiah sees a day of release from captivity of the people of Israel in the future and he uses this Jubilee imagery.

This would have been in the minds of the people present at that synagogue when Jesus reads this passage and makes this pronouncement, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

What qualifies Jesus to make such a bold statement? He basically compares his teaching ministry to the Year of Jubilee, which is good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for those who are oppressed. How can he say such things? He can say such things because he is the king.

Now, did he look like the king they were expecting? No, not quite. We see this in John the Baptist. In one episode John is pointing at the one who is to follow him. The one following him is greater than John. John calls him the “lamb of God” who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus will baptize with the Spirit. John must decrease and Jesus must increase in importance. John helps Jesus inaugurate his ministry with his baptism, and then Jesus sets out healing people of diseases, feeding the hungry masses, spending time with sinners, casting demons out of people who were oppressed by Satan. John is thinking, where is your army, king? When is the revolt going to start? When are you going to defeat the pagan, ungodly people who are ruling God’s land right now?

John the Baptist angers the king of the region (a man named Herod Antipas). He gets thrown in prison. That is not supposed to happen to the man who announces the king’s arrival as John did. He starts to have questions. Jesus is not acting like the king John was expecting. John sends his own disciples to question Jesus.

Luke 7:20- Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?

Jesus’ reply would surprise us at first, but when we examine the Hebrew Scriptures, these were the things that the King was supposed to be doing:

Luke 7:22 – Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Isaiah saw a day in the future when God would visit his people. On that day,

Isaiah 35.5 – then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer… and we’ve already seen Isaiah proclaim that the good news will be proclaimed to the poor in Is. 61.1-2.

These are the kind of things that will take place when God himself (the King) visits his people. Jesus reads the resume of the king and points to the very things he was doing.

So, how did Jesus display this “good news” in his life and ministry?

We’ll come back to the poor…

When he proclaims freedom for the prisoners, we probably shouldn't see freedom for criminals who have been justly imprisoned, but more likely in context those who have been jailed for their unpaid debts. In Jesus’ world, that was a very real possibility. They did not have the economic mobility that we have today (and even today, it has been shrinking in our sluggish economy). Someone could get into debt and would be jailed until their family paid their debt or they entered into an agreement to become a slave to the one you owe money to. There is a connection between forgiveness of sin and forgiveness of debt. Debt almost becomes a metaphor for sin. To forgive sin is compared to forgiving debt. This can potentially release someone from literal prison (in the case of monetary debt) and release from bondage (in the case of forgiveness of sin).

Luke 11.4 (in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer) he says we should pray for God to forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. If Jesus can spread a message of forgiveness of sin it should extend to the debts that people owe us, especially if those debts came about due to unlawful exploitation of poor people (unreasonable interest rates, etc.).

Jesus’ message is good news because it means recovery of sight for the blind. This is probably referring to his healing ministry on one level, we see him healing people of many illnesses and disabilities but on another level he could be discussing spiritual sight versus spiritual blindness. In Matthew 23, Jesus criticizes the spiritual elite who thought they were honored by God due to their spiritual insight by calling them “blind guides”. And in John’s gospel Jesus heals a blind man but gives it deeper meaning in that he is allowing the people who are humble enough to accept him and his radical message to truly see in a spiritual sense. And those who are not humble enough to submit to him (the spiritual elite, the Pharisees), those who would never admit to spiritual blindness in themselves are the truly blind. They cannot see that they are guilty of sin. The blind man came to Jesus in humility risked being cast out of the community by making a profession of faith in Jesus. Because of his humility, he has received literal sight and spiritual sight as well. The sighted Pharisees were not humble, did not see their need for humility before Jesus remained spiritually blind. Jesus gives literal sight to the blind and spiritual sight to those who are humble enough to receive it.

Set the oppressed free – as we have been discussing all along, the people were expecting of the dawning of the Kingdom of God that God (or his messiah) would conquer all of Israel’s foes and rule from his throne in Jerusalem. The people of Israel of Jesus’ day were under occupation. The Romans were in charge. It was incomprehensible that a pagan government would be allowed to rule over God’s people. They were expecting deliverance. They were the oppressed and were longing for freedom (which they would fight for on several occasions). For Jesus, however, that day would lie in the future but the freedom for the oppressed that he was offering was freedom from the oppression of our sin and Satan.

When discussing our oppression due to sin, Jesus called it slavery and offered freedom.

Jesus’ healing ministry – Acts 10:38 – Peter discusses how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

This may have shown itself in illness – Jesus offers freedom to a woman who had been tormented by disease by stating:

Luke 13:12, 16 – Woman, you are set free from your infirmity…Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

Those are drastic examples, but all of us who have sinned are in some ways slaves. Jesus discusses this John 8:34-36 - 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

When we submit to Jesus, he gives us his presence in form of the power of the Holy Spirit. This enables us to overcome our sin and live lives pleasing to God. We could not do that before we submitted to Christ.

Let us come back to the issue of Jesus proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jubilee – Why did God give his people this concept in the first place? Jubilee was to ensure that there was an equitable distribution of the land to prevent accumulation of ownership in the hands of a few. We have to be reminded that God owns not only the land but all of our resources. He allows us to be his stewards of his property.

Lev. 25.23 – The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. And not only that,

Psalm 24.1 – The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.

[God put rules in place to make sure that sold land could be redeemed by the seller’s family that is, bought back. This was out of concern for a family, or an extended family like a clan. This kind of policy can help break the cycle of poverty and restore dignity to a family.]

The concept of Sabbath year and year of Jubilee taught God’s people faith in his sovereignty and provision (the fallow year, allowing God to provide). It also taught forgiveness, to forgive debts. To understand that you have been forgiven by God means that you need to seek practical ways to demonstrate that forgiveness. It this concept it was the forgiveness of debts and releasing slaves from bondage. That is an easy to apply message to us today, for us to think about Jubilee requires that we face the Sovereignty of God, trust in his provision, know his redeeming action, experience reconciliation and practice these things toward others.

How Jesus message can be good news to the poor? So much of Jesus’ message was directed to the poor, both spiritually and materially. This came back to me when I was teaching on Matt. 6 about not worrying about what we will eat or wear because our Father cares for us. We are called to seek first the kingdom (and we will discuss that soon) and all these things (provision) will be given to us as well. The problem comes about when we realize that there have been believers who have gone without food and clothing. They are around the world and in our community. So, isn’t this verse untrue for them? How do we reconcile Jesus’ teaching about our “needs” being met, when there are some who have gone without?

Perhaps when God’s people, like us, corporately seek first his priorities, we will by definition take care of the needy in their fellowship. When we consider that a substantial majority of believers in our world live below the “poverty line”, shouldn’t that challenge us who have “great wealth”?

Craig Blomberg – “Without a doubt, most individual and church budgets need drastic realignment in terms of what Christians spend on themselves versus what they spend on others.

Deut. 15.4-5 – there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance; he will richly bless you if you fully obey him…

We see how the early church lived this out

Acts 4.32-34 - …No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had…God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

What we need to do is figure out how to do this. As we proclaim the good news, we need to remember the poor and help make the message of Jesus good news to them as we display the generosity that was shown to us.

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