Luke 4:14-21: The Mission of Jesus
What was the mission of Jesus? What did He come to accomplish? There are various answers to those questions. The reason the answer is so important is because the Church is called to line up with Christ’s own mission. Today there are those who believe in a social gospel who believe that Jesus is primarily interested in social justice, transforming social structures, alleviating injustice and renovating cities. This has an extreme edge in Liberation theology that says that spiritual salvation is irrelevant, social liberation is all, and some have even advocated violence as a way of realising the kingdom of God. On the conservative side we have seen those who believe that Jesus is only worried about souls and not bodies, the church and not society, heaven and not the earth. The portion that we have before us Luke 4:16-21 is a very important one because in it Jesus outlines His mission for us.
Let me give us the context and then we will dig in. V14-15, ‘And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.’ Jesus has begun His public ministry. Luke has told us about the preparation of John the Baptist, Christ’s baptism as well as His temptation. What Luke does not tell us is that Jesus did a few other things before this public appearance in Nazareth happened. John chapters 1-4 all take place before this appearance in Nazareth. A ministry on Jesus part is hinted at by the fact that there was a report of Him in all the surrounding country as well as the fact that Jesus taught in ‘their synagogues,’ plural. It may have been as long as a year before this portion before us happened. This is important because it means that of all the things Luke could have used to begin noting Jesus public ministry he chose this part of His early ministry. It was cherry picked because it gives a clear indication of His purpose, His identity, and is followed by a typical rejection.
We are told that He was ‘being glorified by all.’ This of course will not continue and will finally result in the crowds of Jerusalem calling out for His crucifixion. So here we have the honeymoon stage of Jesus ministry. He has probably done some amazing miracles, His well-articulated teachings were still a novelty, but v22-30 anticipates more of what is to come. We are told that Jesus taught in their synagogues. Synagogue worship sprung up during the time when Judah was in exile in Babylon cut off from the Temple and its worship. It became a standard form of worship when Israel returned to the land. In order for a synagogue to form you needed at least ten men to form a synagogue. So when we see Paul in Philippi in Acts 16:13 having to go to the women’s prayer meeting to preach, it was because there were not enough men to start a synagogue there. Galilee Josephus tells us had about 240 synagogues, Jerusalem alone had about 480. Synagogue worship has a few aspects in common with Christian worship. The synagogue was ruled by elders, you could be cast out of the synagogue, a type of church discipline. The worship included singing, reading set prayers, readings from various parts of the OT as well as a message based on the readings. The service ended with the reading of benedictions.
V16, ‘And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.’ V16 tells us that the setting for Jesus mission statement was His hometown of Nazareth. Now we know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but He grew up in Nazareth. This was a small and insignificant town of about 500 people. It is not mentioned in the OT because it was so small and unimportant. So for people to call Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, it could have been a slight and insult as if we called someone Temuka Tom.
We must note in v16 that Jesus was in the habit of going to the synagogue. He was a Jew and was bound by the fourth commandment to set aside a day to worship God, a day that as Christians we continue to observe as the Lord’s Day. Jesus was not an anti-religious rebel, but a lawkeeping worshipper of God. His critique of the system of first century Judaism is not because He is an atheist or agnostic or a mystic with a private religious point of view, but rather someone who was zealous for the pure worship of God. Jesus met with God’s people to worship, even the Son of God felt this to be important, how much moreso ourselves.
V16 also mentions that Jesus stood to read, this was the typical posture for reading in the synagogue, sitting was the posture of teaching. Well we have set the scene now we are ready to examine this section under two points, Jesus ministry of preaching and Jesus ministry to the needy.