John T. Willis

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Religious People try to Kill Jesus--Luke 4:15-30

When I first begin preaching at a very young age, I naively assumed that church people would openly accept the message of God based on the Bible and kindly help me change when I misunderstand the message of God. For a while this worked well. But it did not take long to realize that people are people. We all carry a huge amount of spiritual baggage which is ungodly. Oh, we do not realize this. But it is as true as the Bible teaches. Early in Jesus' ministry, he went to his home town, Nazareth, and preached in the synagogue there. His message was contrary to the earlier beliefs and understanding of the people of his own home town, so when they heard his message from God, they tried to kill Jesus. This account is in Luke 4:14-30. This paragraph falls into four parts.

I. Introductory Summary. Luke 4:14-15.
a. After relating Jesus' encounter with the devil in the wilderness south of Jerusalem in Luke 4:1-13, Luke now summarizes what Jesus did for the next several weeks. This is an overview of the Galileean ministry of Jesus--see similar statements in Luke 4:32-32, 40-41; 6:17-19.
b. After Jesus defeated the devil, Jesus was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, calling to mind his baptism in Luke 3:22 and the initial statement about his conflict with the devil in Luke 4:1. Jesus returned to Galilee, where his public ministry began--Luke 23:5; Acts 10:37; 13:31 reiterate this fact. A report about Jesus was spread abroad through all the surrounding country in Galilee. 4:14.
c. Jesus began to teach in the synagogues in the cities of Galilee. At first, everyone praised Jesus for his teaching. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Luke describes Jesus as the great Teacher--Luke 4:31; 5:3, 17; 6:6; 11:1; 13:10, 22, 26; 19:47; 20:1, 21; 21:37; 23:5. Most scholars think the origin of the Jewish synagogue was in the Babylonian Captivity (587 BCE following) when Jews could not return to the Jerusalem temple. The term "everyone" indicates that Jesus desires to proclaim his message universally. 4:15.

II. Jesus read and Old Testament Text in the Nazareth Synagogue. Luke 4:16-20.
a. Luke tells his audience that Jesus went to his home town of Nazareth, "where he had been brought up" (see Luke 2:51-52; 4:24) went to the synagogue on the sabbath [and early Christians followed Jesus' example of doing this--Acts 2:46; 3:1; 4:1; 5:12, 42; 21:26] there with which he was very familiar, "as was his custom," and stood up to read an Old Testament text. The verb "read" has nothing to do with "silent reading" as in a library or a carrel or private room, but means "oral reading" so the audience might "hear" the message declared. 4:16.
b. Someone [probably the president of the synagogue] gave Jesus the only scroll in extant in that synagogue, the scroll of Isaiah. Jesus unrolled the scroll and "found" the passage in Isaiah which he wanted to read to the audience. 4:17.
c. Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1a, b, d; 58:6d; 61:2a. This passage says the Spirit of the Lord is upon me--obviously Jesus applies "me" to himself, a reference to his baptism, since "he has anointed me" refers to his baptism. God anointed Jesus to accomplish FIVE things in his ministry: (1) bring good news to the poor; Luke emphasizes God's concern and care for the poor--Luke 6:20; 7:22; 14:13, 21; 16:20,
22; 18:22; 19:8; 21:3; taking care of the poor is NOT a SOCIAL message; it is a RELIGIOUS CHRISTIAN message--James 1:26-27 emphasizes this truth; (2) proclaim release to the captives; God is concerned with people imprisoned; (3) recover sight to the blind; God is concerned with blind people--see Luke 7:22; (4) let the oppressed go free; unfortunately, often the church oppresses honest, upright, godly people; (5) proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. 4:18-19.
d. After reading this text orally in public, Jesus rolled up the scroll again, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. Everyone in the synagogue fixed on him to see Jesus' comments on this text. 4:20. Fixing the eyes on someone is a continual gaze of esteem and trust--Acts 1:10; 3:4, 12; 6:15; 7:55; 10:4; 11:6; 13:9; 14:9; 23:1. 4:20.

III. Jesus declares that his message is for all people of all nations. Luke 4:21-27.
a. First Jesus tells his audience that this text in Isaiah 58 and 61 has been fulfilled in their hearing. 4:21.
b. All the people in the audience spoke well of Jesus and were amazed at the gracious words he had uttered. They said to each other, "Is not this Joseph's son?" They knew Jesus very well, and thus he had nothing to offer; this is why they were amazed at this message thus far. 4:22.
c. Jesus anticipates what his audience think: they will quote to Jesus the proverb: "Doctor, cure yourself" [Euripides, Fragment 1086; and Genesis Rabbah 23 [15e] contain the same proverb] and say, Do in Jesus' hometown of Nazareth what Jesus did at nearby Capernaum, a town in Galilee (Luke 4:31) on the western shore of Lake Gennesaret, which most scholars identify with Tell Hum. Capernaum probably means "village of Nahum". 4:23.
d. Jesus responded by quoting a well-known proverb: "No prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown"--see the Oxyrhynchus Papyri P1 1:29-35: "Jesus says, 'A prophet is not acceptable in his own homeland; and a physician does not work cures on those who know him,'" and the Gospel of Thomas paragraph 35 87:5-7: "Jesus said, 'No prophet is accepted in his own town; a physician does not heal those who know him.'" The same proverb also appears in Mark 6:4; Matthew 13:57; John 4:44. Here Jesus identifies himself as a PROPHET. In Luke 4:14-30, Luke underlines the fact that Jesus is a TEACHER and a PROPHET. It is quite possible that "teacher" and "prophet" are synonyms. 4:24.
e. Jesus cites two examples from the Hebrew Bible about events in the lives of the prophets Elijah and Elisha to emphasize that God's purpose is to deliver ALL people, not just God's chosen people. First, Jesus cites the story of Elijah when Yahweh told him to go to Zarephath, a Phoenician town, to live with a widow and her son during the three and half years of drought in the days of King Ahab of North Israel. This story is in 1 Kings 17:8-16. The widow of Zarephath was not an Israelite, not a member of God's chosen people, but this woman made a home for the prophet Elijah and Yahweh sustained her and her son while Elijah was there. Second, Jesus cites the well-known story of Elisha when the Syrian commander named Naaman went to Elisha when Naaman was a leper wishing to be healed. Yahweh healed Naaman. Naaman was not an Israelite, not a member of God's chosen people, but Yahweh healed him, and then Naaman turned away from his own god Rimmon and worshipped Yahweh. This sets the stage for Jesus to launch his mission to deliver people of all nations from their desperate situations. 4:25-27.

IV. The Members of the Nazareth Synagogue try to Kill Jesus. Luke 4:28-30.
a. The people in the Nazareth synagogue were Jews. They were "religious" people. But they did not know God. Their heart did not resonate with the heart of God, because God loves and is concerned with all people, not just his chosen people. So, when these people "heard" Jesus' message in the synagogue at Nazareth, they were "filled with rage." They acted like the true prophets described in the Hebrew Bible. Many people become angry when they realize God loves all people, not just themselves. 4:28.
b. The people of the synagogue at Nazareth drove Jesus out of the town, led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built so they might hurl Jesus off the cliff to kill him. This foreshadows the location of the crucifixion of Jesus--Luke 23:26. 4:29.
c. Jesus "passed through the midst of" the members of the synagogue at Nazareth. No one knows HOW Jesus did this, but this text suggests he did something unique or miraculous so he would escape. This was important so Jesus would spread the word of God. See Acts 13:46; 18:6; 19:9. Jesus went on his way--in time, this way will lead to the cross in Jerusalem. See 4:42; 7:6, 11; 9:51, 52, 53, 56, 57; 13:33; 17:11; 22:2, 39; 24:28.

How do WE respond to Jesus when he proclaims his message from God? Do WE have baggage which makes US behave like the members of the synagogue at Nazareth?

Share YOUR attitude toward the message of Jesus. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, December 30, 2011

Lift Up Your Heart

As we approach the New Year 2012, I want to say and do everything I possibly can to encourage everyone near and far. The next several blogs are designed to make this attempt. These blogs are built around the biblical term "LIFT UP." The primary Hebrew terms for "lift up" are the synonyms nasa' and rum. These blogs are based on the biblical use of these terms in scripture.

God encourages his people to "lift up their heart" or "soul" or "spirit." To lift up the heart assumes an individual is despondent or feels hopeless. Each person can come to feel this way for many things that happen in life. But God encourages us to lift up our hearts. Quit focusing on earthly matters and concerns; instead, focus on God and heavenly matters and concerns.

Here are a few texts.

Psalm 25:1-2, 4-5: "To you, O Lord, I LIFT UP MY SOUL.
O my God, in YOU I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me. . . .
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for YOU are the God of my salvation;
for YOU I wait all day long."

Psalm 86:3-7: "Be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to YOU do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to YOU, O Lord, I LIFT UP MY SOUL.
For YOU, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on YOU.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on YOU,
for YOU will answer me."

Lamentations 3:40-41: "Let us test and examine our ways,
and return to the Lord.
as well as our hands to God in heaven."

Colossians 3:1-4: "So if you have been raised with Christ, SEEK THE THINGS THAT ARE
ABOVE, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. SET YOUR
for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be
revealed with him in glory."

Share YOUR inner feelings and aspirations and hopes. The life above is much richer and inspiring than anything on this earth. Buy into that life.

John Willis

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Commitment, Then Testing--Luke 4:1-13

When an individual commits himself or herself completely to God, IMMEDIATELY AND FROM NOW ON, the devil=Satan will attack that person in numerous ways to break and destroy his or her commitment. This is precisely what happened in the life of Jesus. Jesus committed himself to God completely through submitting to baptism (Luke 3:21-22), and immediately and from now on the devil tested him, to which we now turn in this blog to Luke 4:1-13. The same pattern appears in Matthew 3:13-17 then 4:1-11; and Mark 1:9-11 then 1:12-13.

A comparison between Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 reveals that the order of the three tests is in a different order. The order in Matthew is: (1) turning stone into bread; (2) jump off the pinnacle of the temple; (3) worship the devil and Jesus will rule over all the kingdoms of the world. The order is Matthew is: (1) turning stone into bread; (2) worship the devil and Jesus will rule over all the kingdoms of the world; (3) jump off the pinnacles of the temple. Obviously, the Bible does not portray the chronological order of these events. Rather, Matthew and Luke portray these events in some sort of theological way. It seems most likely that Matthew put the test of worshipping the devil so he might rule all the kingdom of the world last because of the motif of a mountain in Matthew--see Matthew 28:18-20; or because Jesus rejected worshipping Satan in order to serve God alone. Matthew's order is in reverse of the texts in the Hebrew Bible which Jesus quoted: Deuteronomy 8:3 in Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 6:16 in Matthew 4:7; and Deuteronomy 6:13 in Matthew 4:10. Luke probably portrayed this order geographically making jumping off the pinnacle of the Jerusalem temple as the final scene that occurred in Jerusalem.

The devil puts three tests to Jesus. The Bible does not portray these tests as inner conflicts in the heart of Jesus. NO!!! They are ACTUAL EXTERNAL tests presented to the devil=Satan. The devil or Satan is a REAL PERSON. Like numerous angels, the devil is invisible from human beings on earth. But he is very real. Throughout the life of Jesus, many people were hostile to Jesus, opposed Jesus, and rejected Jesus, and put him to death on the cross. As divine and as the Son of God the Father, Jesus was constantly tested or tempted to overthrow or destroy his enemies. See Luke 22:31-34. The author of Hebrews explains: "He [Jesus] had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested" (Hebrews 2:15-16). "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). As the Son of God the Father, Jesus was obedient to His Father's will and refused to be seduced by the devil or Satan to use his power or authority as Son of God for any reason other than that for which God the Father had sent him into the world. The connecting tie between the three scenes in Luke 4:1-13 is the quotations from Deuteronomy, texts which recall three events of the exodus from Egypt in the days of Moses, where God tested the Israelites as they moved into the wilderness wanderings. The Israelites failed; by way of contrast, Jesus succeeds. We will follow each of these tests.

I. The First Test: Changing a Stone to Bread--Luke 4:1-4.
a. Luke begins by emphasizing that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, a clear reference to the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism (see Luke 3:22). Now, Jesus conquers the devil because he is filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke underlines this important theme in 4:14, 18; and throughout Luke and Acts. This may seem strange to us, but this text emphasizes that Jesus was in subjection to the Holy Spirit. How are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit related? We would all love to know, but this is a mystery. In other texts, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit. But here, Jesus is in subjection to the Holy Spirit. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit from the Jordan River where he was baptized to the wilderness at some undesignated location south of Jerusalem. 4:1.
b. Jesus was being tested by the devil forty days in the wilderness. This event echoes the forty years Moses was on Mount Sinai--Exodus 24:18; 34:28. Typically, the wilderness was a place where wild beasts and demons lived--Leviticus 16:10; Isaiah 13:21; 34:14; Tobit 8:3. The devil is Satan, the arch-enemy of God the Father. The verb "test" in this context means to put to the test with a sinister purpose, as in Acts 5:9; 15:10. Jesus fasted during these forty days; he ate nothing at all; and now he was famished. This calls to mind similar events of Moses in Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9; and Elijah in 1 Kings 19;8. This was the ideal time for the devil to attack. 4:2.
c. The devil tested Jesus with this challenge: "If you are the Son of God [as God the Father just declared in Luke 3:22], command this stone to become a loaf of bread." The devil assumes Jesus IS the Son of God; now the devil builds on this to test Jesus' character of the Father's Son. The devil seizes on the situation that Jesus is extremely hungry, and ultimately seeks to thwart Jesus' mission to save the world. Will Jesus submit to his desire to seek food for himself to satisfy his hunger, or will Jesus be obedient to his heavenly Father? This is the first test.
d. Jesus responds with a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3: "It is written, One does not live by bread alone." Like the Israelites in the wilderness wanderings, Jesus opens his heart to receive God the Father's miraculous manna, some unknown food which human beings had never experienced before. [Matthew 4:4b adds the statement: "but by every word that comes from the mouth of God," which is not in Luke. The term "word" can mean "thing" or "word." A similar text to shed light on this line is Lamentations 3:38:
"Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come?"
The point is: God the Father provides everything we have. We are all recipients of God's bountiful blessings and gifts. Jesus is not dependent on his own power. He is dependent on God the Father, who can give Jesus ample food, just as God the Father did to the Israelites when he miraculously gave them manna. 4:4.

II. The Second Test: If the devil will worship him, the devil will give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Luke 4:5-8.
a. God the Father created the devil. The devil has great power, but still under God the Father's limitations or restrictions. Job 1:12; 2:6 contains the same concept of the devil's limitations under God the Father. The devil led Jesus up at some unknown place or position and showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world "in an instant." 4:5.
b. The devil confidently declares that HE is under the control of all the kingdoms of the world BECAUSE IT HAS BEEN GIVEN OVER TO ME, AND I GIVE IT TO ANYONE I PLEASE." This is a powerful, challenging statement. The passive "has been give over" obviously assumes that God the Father gave all the kingdoms of the world to the devil. John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; and other New Testament passages state that the devil is "prince" or "god" of the earth and claims authority over it and seeks that all human beings will worship him. Other texts suggest this is because all people have rebelled against God our Creator and Master. See Psalm 14:1-3; Romans 3:23. Under the limitations of God the Father, the devil may give the kingdoms of the world to anyone he pleases. The devil challenges Jesus to accept worldwide dominion over all kingdoms from himself and to switch allegiance from the God the Father to himself, who is subservient to the Son. 4:6-7.
c. Jesus responds in a similar way he did to the response in the first test. He quotes the Hebrew Bible, this time in Deuteronomy 6:13: "It is written, Worship the Lord your God and serve only him." Yahweh sent his Son to earth on the mission of declaring Yahweh's kingship rules over all human beings. Yahweh is the only king of the world; all must serve Yahweh alone. Thus, Jesus the Son submits himself to his heavenly Father. 4:8.

III. The Third Test: Jump Off the Pinnacle of the Jerusalem Temple. Luke 4:9-13.
a. Now the devil took Jesus from wherever he had been to the Jerusalem temple, and summons Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple [no one can know the exact location of this pinnacle since the Bible does not reveal this location], quoting a text from the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 91:11-12, assuring Jesus that God the Father will send his angels to protect Jesus and they will bear Jesus up so he will not dash his foot against a stone. Satan says that Jesus should prove himself that he has great notoriety or brilliancy of achievement before the people now present at the temple to conform to the popular ideas of what a messenger from heaven of the people they expect or anticipate. The devil is using Psalm 91:11-12 for his own purposes, not to proclaim the true message from God in this psalm.
b. Again, Jesus responds in a way similar to the first two tests. Now he quotes Deuteronomy 6:16: "It is said, Do not put the Lord your God to the test." In the wilderness wandering, the Israelites put Yahweh to the test by demanding water when they were thirsty. Exodus 17:1-7. Moses called that place "Massah," the Hebrew term for "test." 4:12.
c. After Jesus passed all three of these tests triumphantly, the devil left him "until an opportune time." Jesus is the great conqueror because he is armed with the sword of the Spirit, the word of God--see Ephesians 6:17. The devil quotes scripture from the Hebrew Bible for his own purposes, but Jesus is more powerful (see Luke 3:16; 11:22) standing guard over God the Father's eternal plan and obedient to Scripture itself. The devil left Jesus for a while, i. e., until the death of Jesus when the devil will make another powerful attack against Jesus. At the same time, the devil worked constantly attacking Jesus throughout his ministry, as later events show. 4:13.

Share the TESTS YOU are facing and ways in which YOU are dealing with each one. Share YOUR problems and concerns with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Great Sin--Part III

In this blog, we conclude Chapter 8 in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis--with several additional comments.

Before leaving this subject I must guard against some possible misunderstandings.
(1) Please in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the women whose beauty is praise for her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says "Well done!" are pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in fact that your have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, "I have pleased him; all is well," to thinking, "What a fine person I must be to have done it." The more you delight in yourself and the less you delight in the praise, the worse you are becoming. When you delight wholly in yourself and do not care about the praise at all, you have reached the bottom. That is why vanity, though it is the sort of Pride which shows most on the surface, is really the least bad and most partondable sort. The vain person wants praise, applause, admiration, too much and is always angling for it. It is a fault, but a childlike and even (in an odd way) a humble fault. It shows that you are not yet completely contented with you own admiration. You value other people enough to want them to look at you. You are, in fact, still human. The real black, diabolical Pride comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you. Of course, it is very right, and often our duty, not to carewhat people think of us, if we do so forthe right reason; namely, because we care so incomparably more what God thinks. But the Proud man has a different reason for not caring. He says "Why should I care forthe applause of that rabble as if their opinion were worthy anything? And even if their opinions were of value, am I the sort of man to blush with pleasure at thecompliment like some chit of a girl at her first dance? No, I am an integrated, adult personality. All I have done has been doneto saiisfy my own ideals--or my artistic conscience--or the traditions of my family--or, ins a word, because I'm That Kind of Chap. Ifthe mob like it, let them. They're nothing to me. In this way real thoroughgoing Pride may act as a check on vanity; for, as I said a moment ago, the devil loves "curing" a small fault by givie you a great one. We must try not to be vain, but we must never call in our Pride to cure our vanity; better the frying-pan and the fire.
(2) We say in English that a man is "proud" of his son, or his father, or his school, or his regiment, and it may be asked whether "pride" in this sense is a sin. I think it depends on what, exactly, we mean by "proud of." Very often, in such sentences, the phrase of "is proud of" means "has a warm-hearted admiration for." Such an admiration is, of course, very far from being a sin. But it might, perhaps, mean that the person in question gives himself airs on the ground of his distinguished father, or because he belongs to a famous regiment. This would, clearly, be a fault; but even then, it would be better than being proud simply of himself. To love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step away from utter spiritual ruin; though we shall not be well so long as we love and admire anything more than we love and admire God.
(3) We must not think Pride is something God forbids because He is offended at it, or that Humility is something He demands as due to His own dignity--as if God Himself was proud. He is not in the least worried about His dignity. The point is, He wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble--delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and uphappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ungly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about likethe little idiots we are I wish I had got a bit further with humility myself: if I had I could probably tell you more about the relief, the comfort, of taking the fancy-dress off--getting rid of the false self, with all its "Look at me" and "Aren't I a good boy?" and all its posing and posturing. To get even near it, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.
(4) Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call "humble" nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

Obviously, a classic example of this principle appears in Jesus' Parable of the Pharisee and the Toll Collector in Luke 18:9-14:

"He [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the oather a toll collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even this toll collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all myu income.' But the toll collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

We all struggle with THE GREAT SIN--PRIDE, SELF-CENTEREDNESS, INGRATITUDE. May God forgive us for who we really are.

Share YOUR understandings and emotions with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis