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The Servant at Work, Getting People Ready for God’s Kingdom: Preaching, Teaching, Healing, Reaching, Training (chapter 4, verse 14 through chapter 19, verse 27)
Service in Galilee
Jesus rejected at Nazareth
Luke chapter 4, verses 14-30
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
The time of preparation has been completed; the Servant of the Lord is ready to go to work. That work is first of all to get people ready for God’s kingdom. By preaching, teaching, healing, reaching, and training, Jesus heralds the coming of God’s rule. When asked when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus responds, “The kingdom of God is within you” (chapter 17, verse 21). He himself brings the kingdom. He invites all to enter by trusting in him as the Savior.
Galilee is the scene of this early ministry. Jesus had grown up in this northern province ruled by Herod. In many ways it had felt the influence of the Romans and other Gentiles much more than the Jewish area around Jerusalem. Consequently, Galileans were treated with some disdain by the religious leadership in the south.
The Jesus who returned to Galilee was charged with the power of the Spirit. At his baptism he had heard the voice of his Father, and the Spirit rested upon him; in the desert he had defeated Satan. In no time at all, news about him and his activities spread through the whole countryside. He went into the village synagogues to teach the people. These synagogues were the buildings where the people assembled for worship and study of the Old Testament. Everywhere Jesus was praised.
After reporting in general on the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, Luke tells of one specific incident in Nazareth that provides a contrast to the usually favorable response. Nazareth had only one claim to fame: it was the insignificant village where Jesus was brought up. Mary probably continued to live here; Joseph seems to have died, since no mention is made of his activity after the story of the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple.
Jesus was in Nazareth on the Sabbath Day. As he had so often done in the past, Jesus went into the village synagogue on that day. The synagogue service included the reading of the Old Testament law and prophets. Jesus was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he read Isaiah chapter 61, verses 1 and 2. The words were those of the servant of the Lord who declared that the Spirit was on him. He had been anointed to preach good news to the poor, to open the eyes of the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
When Jesus had finished the reading, he rolled up the scroll and handed it back to the attendant. Already his reading of this passage must have deeply impressed the people, for their eyes were fixed on him as he sat down to expound this Scripture. His words at first pleased them: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The age of the Messiah has dawned; the Servant of the Lord has come.
But gradually the implications of what Jesus was saying struck home. He himself was that servant of the Lord who had been anointed with the Spirit. His ministry was to preach and teach and heal. This was too much for these people; they knew the identity of the one saying these things—“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?
The hometown people had not known this man to be a miracle worker when he was among them. Rumors had come of some healings performed by Jesus in Capernaum, but these people of Nazareth needed convincing that Jesus was anything more than a rather precocious Bible student. Jesus makes reference to their doubts in a well-known proverb that asks the doctor to prove his wares by doing some healing.
No healings were forthcoming from Jesus. Rather, he declared that his ministry is one much wider than simply to impress people back home. He cited two well-known Old Testament stories about the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Elijah was sent to help a non-Israelite widow survive the severe famine, though there were many suffering widows at home (1st Kings chapter 17, verses 7-24). Elisha healed the gentile general Naaman, though there were many lepers in Israel (2nd Kings chapter 5, verses 1-19).
The people at once caught the implications of what Jesus was saying. They needed to break out of the narrow view of the Messiah as coming only to establish an earthly kingdom for the Jews. The Servant of the Lord came to seek and to save the lost wherever they might be and whoever they were. This was too much for the Nazarenes. Filled with fury, they drove their native son from the town and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, intent on throwing him down the cliff (we are reminded of the devil’s temptation asking Jesus to jump from a height).
But the time for Jesus to die had not yet arrived. Making use of his divine power, he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. Jesus does not go elsewhere because he rejected the people of Nazareth. Rather, the people reject him because of his implied announcement that he is going elsewhere. Later, the people of Capernaum had the same reaction when Jesus left their presence; they tried to keep him for themselves (chapter 4, verse 42). The response of Jesus: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
This story of the rejection in Nazareth is a preview of a whole series of rejections that Jesus would experience. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John chapter 1, verse 11). The stubborn self-centeredness and pride of people continues to resist the good news of the kingdom of God. Only the power of the Spirit through the Word of God overcomes this resistance and leads to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.
Jesus drives out an evil spirit
Luke chapter 4, verses 31-37
Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.
In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.
All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.
Leaving Nazareth behind, Jesus went down to the city of Capernaum, situated on the Sea of Galilee. This was a more culturally important place than Nazareth. The Romans had a company of soldiers here. Many incidents from the life of Jesus took place in Capernaum. We may regard it as his home during his earthly ministry (see Mark chapter 2, verse 1). Peter and Andrew lived here, plying their fishing trade on the nearby sea.
On the Sabbath, Jesus is again in the synagogue teaching the people. His message possesses a power and authority that amazes those who hear. Throughout this section of his gospel, Luke will be stressing the power of Jesus in word and deed.
While in the synagogue, Jesus is confronted by a man possessed by a demon, an evil (or unclean) spirit. All disease and illness, both mental and physical, is the result of sin, which came into the world because Adam and Eve obeyed the devil. Throughout his ministry, Jesus shows himself to be the opponent of every form of sickness. The devil recognizes that Jesus is the enemy, naming him “the Holy One of God.” The devil knows also that his ultimate end will be destruction.
Jesus shows his present power and authority in healing this man instantly by commanding the demon to come out. This is the first of 21 miracle stories included by Luke in his gospel. These miracles benefit those who are afflicted and troubled; they also reveal the divine sonship of Jesus.
The devil understood Christ’s true nature, but the people in the Capernaum synagogue can only ask questions. They are amazed at the power of Jesus, which allows him even to order evil spirits around. The news continues to spread. The popularity of Jesus is on the rise.
Jesus heals many
Luke chapter 4, verses 38-44
Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.
When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.
At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
From the synagogue Jesus goes to the house of Simon. This is the same person who in chapter 5, verse 8 is called Simon Peter; it was Jesus who gave him the name Peter (chapter 6, verse 14). Jesus had known Simon from previous conversation (John chapter 1, verse 42), so we are not surprised that he goes to the home of Simon.
Upon arriving, Jesus finds that Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever. For the first time in this gospel, a request for help comes to Jesus. His response is to rebuke the fever (the use of the word “rebuke” seems to indicate the handiwork of the devil), and this woman was healed. Immediately, she begins to wait on Jesus and the others who were present. Perhaps she was one of the women whom Luke mentions in chapter 8, verses 2 and 3 as helping to support the ministry of Jesus.
At the end of the Sabbath, as the sun is going down, the streets leading to Peter’s home are filled with people bringing their sick to Jesus. What miracles were worked! What joy was experienced! What power was demonstrated! Truly here is evidence of God’s rule over the ravages of sin. It is a scene that will be repeated on the Last Day.
These people, also including Peter and his family, did not fully understand the divine nature of Jesus. They were familiar with the Old Testament stories of healings worked by God through prophets and thought of Jesus in the same way. Only the demons (showing their angelic roots) fully recognize Jesus. They know that he is the Son of God and shout it out. They know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.
Jesus did not want the witness of these evil spirits. They witnessed from evil intent and with the purpose of undermining the true purpose of Christ’s mission. Too easily people would come to think of the Messiah only as a miracle worker and not as the Servant of God come to redeem sinners from eternal death and hell.
Early Sunday morning Jesus went out to a solitary place. The Sabbath had been long and hard; he had been engaged in bitter warfare with the devil. Now he needed time for meditation and prayer. But the people would not leave him alone. They surged out of Capernaum, begging him to come back. But Jesus could not answer their prayers; for his ministry must take him into other towns to preach of God’s kingdom.
The word “Judea” in verse 44 is found in the oldest copies of the Greek New Testament. Later copies have the word “Galilee,” which also appears in the King James Version. Here is evidently a case where a later copyist changed the Greek word to make it better fit his idea of where Jesus was preaching. Luke’s use of the word “Judea” no doubt referred to the Roman name for the entire country (as in chapter 1, verse 5), which would also include Galilee. This broadens the extent of Christ’s preaching.
The calling of the first disciples
Luke chapter 5, verses 1-11
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Up to this point, Luke has pictured Jesus as going it alone in proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. He seems to have no companions as he makes his way through the synagogues. This solitary ministry, however, comes to an end rather quickly as the first permanent disciples are called.
If we only had the gospel of Mark, the call of the first disciples would appear to have happened out of the blue (Mark chapter 1, verses 16-20). But by reading the gospels of Luke and John, we realize that Jesus and the first disciples were rather well acquainted even before their call to follow. In the previous section we heard how Jesus had gone to the home of Simon and healed Simon’s mother-in-law. When he now makes use of Simon’s boat, it does not seem at all strange. Simon was simply returning a favor.
Jesus needed to use Simon’s boat because of the people crowding around him at the Lake of Gennesaret as they listened to the Word of God. Gennesaret is the name of a small district west of the body of water more commonly named the Sea of Galilee. The multitude of listeners points to the popularity of Jesus as a teacher and the authority with which he spoke. The need for helpers in this ministry was becoming more evident all the time.
When Jesus had finished speaking, he told Simon to row out into deep water and let down his nets for a catch of fish. Simon protests that a night of fishing had yielded nothing; to catch fish in deep water in the heat and light of the day seemed highly unlikely. But Simon followed Jesus’ instructions. Why? “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Simon was yielding to the word of this person whom he knew to speak and act with a strange and mysterious authority.
The catch was awesome! The nets began to break; the cry went out to bring another boat to help; both boats were so full of fish that they began to sink. Simon had never seen anything like this in all his life. It was truly a fisherman’s delight.
And now Luke uses this man’s full name, Simon Peter, as he falls down before Jesus, saying, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Peter spoke truthfully about himself. He was a sinful man. The miracle that he experienced overwhelmed him and made him aware that he was in the presence of the Holy One. The sinner dare not remain in such company; Peter begs the Lord to go away.
Jesus does not go away. Instead, he tells the sinner Peter that a new occupation awaits: “From now on you will catch men.” Peter’s last catch was the most impressive one he ever had as a fisherman. It was a preview of things to come. On Pentecost Sunday, Peter preached a sermon that led to the conversion and baptism of three thousand persons. Here was a catch greater even than the one on the Lake of Gennesaret.
Peter and his partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed Jesus. It was quite a sacrifice to turn one’s back on equipment and a business that had furnished the living for several families. The powerful word of Jesus compelled these men to follow. They become the first disciples, destined to be with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and in that room with bolted doors on Easter Sunday evening. Then again they would hear encouraging words from Jesus: “Don’t be afraid. Be my witnesses in all the world.”
The man with leprosy
Luke chapter 5, verses 12-16
While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Peter had fallen at Jesus’ knees acknowledging his sinfulness. The man with leprosy fell to the ground begging Jesus to make him clean.
The English word leprosy comes directly from the Greek and here does not necessarily refer to what modern medicine describes as leprosy, an affliction caused by Hansen’s bacillus. It seems that in biblical times various kinds of skin diseases—such as psoriasis, lupus, and ringworm—were included under the term leprosy. Skin diseases were very common, and lepers are often mentioned in the gospels.
The Old Testament law ostracized a person who had an infectious skin disease. “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” (Leviticus chapter 13, verses 45 and 46)
This outcast knows that Jesus is able to make him clean; he only questions the willingness of Jesus to do so. His prayer is a model for us Christians. There should never be any doubt in our minds that God is able to help, but our prayer must always be “Your will be done.” In humility we submit ourselves to the will of God.
The reply of Jesus is music to the ears of this man: “I am willing. . . . Be clean!” At once the man is cleansed from his leprosy. In the very same way, God’s word of forgiveness cleanses us from all sin. Here is cause for rejoicing!
Jesus sends this man off at once to the priest to offer the proper sacrifices commanded by Moses (Leviticus chapter 14, verses 1-7). By this action Jesus wants to show the religious authorities that he had not come to overthrow law and order. Jesus recognized that there is indeed a proper place for the law in the lives of people. The law concerning the examination for leprosy was meant to protect public health, and Jesus heeds this law. In several stories that follow, we will hear how Jesus comes into conflict with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law over some of his activities which they regard as sinful.
In chapter 4, verse 37 Luke notes how the news about Jesus was spreading; now this information is repeated to emphasize the increasing popularity of Jesus. Just as in Capernaum when the crowds came to hear him and be healed (chapter 4, verse 40), so again lines of people stream to Jesus. But often Jesus needed time alone to pray, which provided spiritual refreshment and renewal from his strenuous life of service.
Jesus heals a paralytic
Luke chapter 5, verses 17-26
One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
This story is the first of several that describe the growing conflict between Jesus and the religious leadership of his day. Luke here mentions the Pharisees and the teachers of the law for the first time in his gospel. The name Pharisee likely means “separated ones.” They were non-priestly interpreters of the law and advocated a rigorous practice of all the commandments, both those written and those handed down (as they believed) by oral tradition from the fathers of Israel. They separated themselves from the society of people whose observance of the law they considered too lax.
The teachers of the law are also called scribes or lawyers in some Bible translations. They may have been a specific group among the Pharisees who were specialists in the study and teaching of the law. This is a gathering of these law observers from all over the country to scrutinize the activities of the Galilean teacher and healer who was making such a sensation among the people.
As Jesus is teaching with the Pharisees sitting in the audience, four men come carrying a paralytic on a mat and attempt to enter the house to lay him before Jesus. Finding this impossible because of the crowd, they remove a part of the loosely constructed flat roof, lowering the disabled man directly in front of the Savior.
The faith of this paralytic and his friends is evident to Jesus. At once he says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus had accepted the sinner Peter as one of his disciples. Jesus had healed the unclean leper. Now he declares this paralyzed man free from sin simply on the basis of faith. But this is more than the Pharisees and teachers of the law can take.
Nothing is said in protest, but Jesus knows what the Pharisees are thinking: “This is blasphemy! This man is making himself the equal of God, for only God has the right to forgive sins.”
Jesus questions their thoughts and then proposes to validate his divine power to forgive by making this paralyzed man walk. Without waiting for the Pharisees to answer, Jesus orders the man to take up his mat and walk home. Immediately, the man stood up in front of them and went on his way, praising God. Everyone echoes the praise. Here was another remarkable event. The Greek word that Luke uses for “remarkable” is our English word paradox. It is sometimes translated as “contrary to opinion, unexpected, strange.”
It was contrary to Jewish opinion that human beings had the power with a word to declare the forgiveness of sins to someone who had made no kind of sacrificial offering. Jesus demonstrates that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” The title “Son of Man” is quite common in the gospels. When applied to Jesus, his human nature is being emphasized. As a human being, Jesus has the power to forgive sins. This is a power Jesus passed on to his disciples ( John chapter 20, verse 23) and likewise to the entire church. It is evident from what follows that the Pharisees who questioned the authority of Jesus to forgive remain unconvinced; their opposition to Jesus will grow fiercer and finally lead him to the cross.