Gospel of Luke 4:14-30

N.T. Wright
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Lecture description

Prof. Wright presents the description where Jesus enters his hometown, Nazareth, to deliver a message to which his hearers object. Initial amazement leads to rejection of Jesus and his message.

Learn more from the full course

Simply Jesus

A Walk Through the Life and Times of Jesus

05:01:02 of on-demand video • Updated October 2019

  • Understand the story of Jesus of Nazareth, not as a 'religious figure', but as a person who lived, taught, worked, and carried out his mission within a 1st Century A.D. historical context.
  • Explain the role of Jesus within his context and understand the difficulties and resistance to who he was and to what he said.
  • Understand some of the key biblical texts which speak of the life, teachings, and work of Jesus within the literary and cultural setting of his day
  • Discern the various political and philosophical movements that provided the backdrop for the actions of Jesus and which provide further meaning to Jesus' life story.
  • Embrace an understanding of the Jesus of history and not simply the traditions which emerged centuries after his death.
  • Examine the narrative of the story of Jesus to see his works within a Jewish context as a fulfillment of the work of the God of Israel and the vindication of that work through the resurrection from the dead.
English [Auto] When we look at the accounts in the Gospels of what Jesus public career seems to be all about the phrase which comes out again and again is the kingdom of God God's kingdom. This is the time for God to become king. And what we find in this passage when Jesus comes back to Nazareth where he had grown up is the beginning of the announcement of the kingdom of God. Jesus is going to be going around doing things and saying things which say in a variety of different ways God is becoming king. But here he is in the synagogue taking the Scriptures and expounding them. This happens immediately after an extraordinary scene at the beginning of Luke for unparallelled in Matthew 4 where Jesus goes out into the wilderness and is tempted by the accuser the Satan the Devil. And that description seems to belong with a larger vision of Israel's history that just hours back at the beginning Israel had spent 40 years in the wilderness mostly getting it wrong. So now Jesus is spending 40 days in the wilderness and it's as though he is going back to the places where all the mistakes happen right at the beginning only he now is going to get it right. So now he is going to come back into the land back to Galilee in the first instance and say now is the time. Now is the time of the great renewal. Now's the time that Deuteronomy 30 was talking about the time when everything is going to be put right. And so in Nazareth he reads from the stroll of the prophet Isaiah the spirit of the Lord is upon me because it isn't just that God is doing something in general it's God is doing something through Jesus. In particular people have often said Well you know Jesus preached about God and then the early church preached about Jesus. So isn't that a bit false. Doesn't that mean that the early Church is inventing things to put back onto Jesus that Jesus himself never thought about. And in this passage and many others we see the true answer to that that yes of course Jesus was talking about God becoming king but he was talking about God becoming king because that was the explanation for what he himself was doing that he was aware of having been anointed for a particular task to tell the poor the good news release for prisoners sight to the blind to set the wounded victims free and to announce the year of God's special favor. Now this idea of a particular year goes back to the idea from the book of Leviticus the idea of the jubilee that there would come a time they were supposed to have it every 49 years but that seems not to have happened on a regular basis should we say but it remained in the popular consciousness that roughly every half century there would be a time when debts would be remitted when everything would be put right so that people could start again could start over that slaves would be freed the property would return to the people who owned it originally and life could begin all over again. And in that vision from the Book of Daniel Daniel Chapter 9 when it talks about 70 weeks of years. Seventy times seven is a kind of jubilee of Jubilees the idea of the end of exile the forgiveness of sins. This is the time when there will be this cosmic sigh of relief that debts will have been wiped away that slaves will be freed and we can all begin again in God's new world. And that seems to be what Isiah had in mind and it certainly seems to be what Jesus Himself had in mind both here and throughout his public career. There was something missing. There was a one line phrase which in his ire comes directly after that it goes like this to announce the year of God's special favor and the day of vengeance of our God. That's a very different picture as I had in mind and many Jews of Jesus day had in mind the fact that their enemies had been oppressing them all this time and now God was going to smash them and smite them and send them packing and do all sorts of unmentionable things to them in order then to liberate his people. And it looks as though Jesus could see right then and there that his people were bent on vengeance and it was more vengeance that they had in mind than the freedom which would come as a result of it because again and again when Jesus talked about God's way of peace the new idea of the kingdom which he had grasped him was trying to get across to them. He ran into severe resistance and that was what happened here. Everyone remarked at him they were astonished at the words coming out of his mouth words of sheer grace. There was no note of vengeance in what Jesus said. Instead he said to day this scripture is fulfilled in your own hearing you can hardly begin to imagine what it meant if people have been telling themselves this story for literally hundreds of years that one day God would do it. Somebody would come along and say Today it's happening here and now and that today actually resonates on through Luke's gospel. There's one passage in Luke 19 where Jesus says to day salvation has come to this man's house you don't have to wait for some future day. Salvation is here. And on the cross famously in a passage will look out later Jesus says today you will be with me in paradise. A strange dark promise which you have to unpack later on. But once Jesus runs into the problem of local unbelief they start to scratch their head. Can this really be. How can he say today it's happening because I'm. We know this man. He's Joseph son. Well Luke's reader knows that that is at best a half truth but that's how they see him. He's the son of Joseph and Mary and Jesus says yeah I know how it is when a prophet comes to his own country his own home. People don't take him seriously. He's just a local lad. I remember thinking this the first time I had to preach in my home church in front of my parents and people who'd known me since boyhood. It's actually quite a different experience from when you're anywhere else. Any other town any other church and so it seems to have been for Jesus. They'd heard that he had been doing strange things down in Capernaum a few miles away on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. So OK can you do that here now that you're back home let's see what you're made of. And already he ran into a kind of automatic inbuilt resistance but there's something more than just the rejection of a local lad because well we know him we remember him as a boy we can't quite take him seriously. He says this is the solemn truth. Think back to the time of the prophets and think about the great things that God did and how it actually worked. It's never simply been a matter of the dreams of Israel going on. And then God saying right I'm not going to fulfill those dreams exactly as you imagined because at the heart of Jesus message as with the prophets with the Lijah Fleischer all the later Great writing prophets. There is always the note of critique as well as of fulfillment. You can't simply say like John the Baptist saying don't think you can say we have Abraham as our father because God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones. You can't simply say we're part of the True Family. Therefore we're always going to be in the right and our enemies are the ones who are going to get the vengeance. No says Jesus. There were plenty of widows in Israel in the time of the Prophet in Niger. That's back in first kings. Seventeen says Heaven was shut up for three years and six months. It was a great famine all over the land people were starving. Put in Lijah wasn't sent to any of those windows in Israel he was sent to a widow in the town of Zara afast which is in the territory of Sidon. That's outside the land away from Israel. What's going on. What was that about. You can feel people in the synagogue getting a bit shifty he saying this this year of God's special favor is this to be for other people rather than us. Surely they're the ones who've been oppressing us and then it gets worse. Remember the folk memory in Jesus day was of the Syrian empire of Antiochus Epiphanes that had oppressed them mightily in the one sixties BCE and there were stories told about the people who had died who had been martyred because they'd refused to go along with what the Syrians wanted and that was one of the great hate figures from the past was this wicked Syrian empire. And that went way back to the time in second kings when Syria was again a great imperial power and there was constant warfare between Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the time of a live show. But then Jesus says there were plenty of people with the rulers skin diseases. What we used to call leprosy though that's probably an inaccurate and unhelpful term. Now there are plenty of people with those diseases in Israel in the time of her life of the Prophet and none of them was he or only name the Syrian Ne'eman was the commander of the enemy army. So what are you saying that the year of God's special favor is going to reach out and actually rescue or heal the very people who are oppressing us and when they heard this and now we understand why everyone in the synagogue flew into a rage. This is not the message we wanted to hear. And this goes right through the gospel. Jesus is saying and doing new things which do not simply underwrite the expectations that people have got but actually challenge them at the core something different is going on here. God is doing a new thing and you are not automatically going to be able to say oh good when I'm waiting for this all along. And now at last it's here. Isn't that fine. That would be merely to domesticate this explosive message that God is doing the new thing. But it doesn't look like what people imagined. So they tried to kill Jesus. They tried to take him to a rock which you can still see tourists in Nazareth can still go and see the rock sort of halfway up the greatest scarp and they're looking down on the valley beneath. And they tried to throw Jesus often somehow doesn't say how he slipped through the middle of them and went away. That's a tricky puled on various occasions including in John's gospel Jesus seems to have had a knack of being able to escape at the crucial moment. And so already in the Gospel we see something which cuts against the way there's a lot of people who've read the story of Matthew Mark Luke and John people particularly in the 19th century liked to imagine that there was what they called a Galileans springtime of Jesus gospel ministry that he had a wonderful success story healing people teaching the crowds being everybody's favorite new figure and then only halfway through his public career something went horribly wrong. And as he went to Jerusalem he realized he was facing death instead. That's never how it is in any of the four gospels. Always from the very beginning Jesus is announcing that God is doing a new thing and opposition is starting to be aroused and that opposition will grow and swell and take a variety of different forms until it finally bursts over his head as he goes to the cross. So we see here all ready Luke telling us that the Kingdom of God is happening that Jesus is announcing it that he has been anointed by God to do this but that it both is and isn't matching the expectations of the people of his day and that that is going to get Jesus into trouble here. As so often in the gospels we see that you can take the whole story from right through the Gospels and put it into this little picture which says so much of what is then going to be expanded. And for us today we have to reckon that this history is very strange. It's it's remote. We're used to thinking of Jesus as somebody who teaches us how to say our prayers or who tells us how to go to heaven or whatever it may be we may find it difficult to think our way back into the first century. And we often try to escape that and make some general truth out of it. Maybe the general truth that God doesn't come into our lives simply to underwrite our expectations. That is certainly true personally. Nationally the internet it to this day. But the point of the Gospel story is not just that it's an example of a set of general truths which as it were hang around in the sky in which we can apply to different situations though we can and we must do that in due course. It is rather that in this unique moment in history one man Jesus of Nazareth was set apart by God to be the vessel and vehicle of God's own revelation that this was what the prophets had been talking about only the people who had read those prophecies all the time had somehow managed to turn them into something which was serving their own agendas their own lives their own possibilities rather than the larger global vision which God had in mind when he talked about the Jubilee of Jubilees the day of freedom the day of release which Jesus was announcing.