Lenten Bible Study – Bristol Road Baptist Church 17th March 2004

Christ’s use of the Scriptures 1
Luke 4 14-30 (Cf. Mt. 13:53–58; Mk. 6:1–6) This is the second of a Lenten series of Bible Studies in which we shall be studying aspects of Our Lord’s use of the Scriptures. In Luke’s narrative we visit the synagogue at Nazareth – and we see how Jesus uses the Scriptures in the context of worship and teaching. This study builds on the previous studies in our own reading of the Bible. INTRODUCTION This narrative provides an interesting insight into synagogue worship in the time of Jesus. Reading it we can imagine what it would have been like to be able to go to Nazareth Synagogue when the guest speaker was Our Lord Himself! After the time of praise and the Shema, the Law would have been read and translated into Aramaic and possibly commented on. The reader would take the scroll from the Tabernacle steward and stand to read a portion from The Prophets. The scroll would be returned, and the teacher would sit for the "talk". On this occasion it was the scroll of Isaiah - but unlike the text used by the Ethiopian – it would be in Hebrew. (Luke renders the words in the Septuagint translation – presumably because that was the Greek version with which he readers would be familiar.) For about a year now Jesus has been staying in Galilee so his return to the town in which he grew up and in which he is well known as the "carpenter's son" is greeted with considerable interest. We imagine that the synagogue would be crowded. What will he choose to read, and what will he say? Jesus uses the Old Testament scriptures in two ways when he is in the synagogue "as was his custom". He reads from Isaiah the Page 1 of 9

Lenten Bible Study – Bristol Road Baptist Church 17th March 2004 Prophet and he illustrates his "talk" with two stories from the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. A brief overview of Luke’s narrative shows us the Lord using Scripture in the familiar (“as was his custom”) context of worship in the synagogue. It shows us what passage he chose – and His single line comment: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Clearly that was not all that Jesus said – for by itself it scarcely illuminates their reaction to His words: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” From verses 23 – 27 we have what seems to be a further extract from his teaching – seen as a reaction to their incredulity in v 22. In His development of His theme, Jesus gives examples from the lives of Elijah and Elisha that provoke hostility from the whole congregation – such hostility that they threaten to kill him there and then. Notice that we have certain distinct parts of the passage which help us in our understanding of Christ’s uses of Scripture: • The manner and content of His reading Notice where and how He read, and where He stopped reading • The reaction of the people to His reading Their reaction covered a wide range of emotions from being impressed to outright rejection of His message • The application of His reading to His audience

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Lenten Bible Study – Bristol Road Baptist Church 17th March 2004 Centred of course in HIMSELF – and, when they questioned His authority extended to a general discourse on Elijah & Elisha When we have examined those points we shall move on to look more closely at the passage before us, but first of all let’s take a closer look at those three points: 1. The manner and content of His reading He read in the context of synagogue worship – and, given the extraordinary insight of this passage to that worship – we should take note of the importance of public reading, and of the place of the Scriptures in the fabric of worship. As we have already noted there would have been the Shema, Prayers, Reading of the Law, the Prophets, the sermon and benediction. Whilst there was a lectionary for the Law – the passage from the Prophets – which would form the basis for the sermon – was open to the invited teacher. Jesus chose the passage He intended to read and comment on. He used that choice to set before the people a statement of the Messianic prophecy. As he does so He stops in what we would call the middle of a sentence – something which might well have been noted by those who were regular worshippers. 2. The reaction of the people to His reading Whereas Jesus was well received in the region of Galilee – He received a decidedly mixed reception at His home town Nazareth. This is well documented in Matthew and Mark. In Luke – as we have seen – the reaction is to His reading of the Scriptures. • At first they are filled with anticipation (v20)

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Lenten Bible Study – Bristol Road Baptist Church 17th March 2004 • Then they are astonished by His words – words of grace. (22) • They ask about his origins and authority (22b) • When they hear His words about Elijah and Elisha they almost lynch Him. That our Lord’s preaching should provoke such a range of responses is not surprising as this is the pattern for many more similar occasions. But in their reaction we see the stresses that Jesus placed on the words and the ways in which He declared it for a reaction. The Word must provoke such a range of reactions – curiosity and interest, astonishment at His claim, remarks about His delivery as well as the “grace” that marked it – and finally must be either accepted or rejected. As Luke tells the story the rejection is down to the message itself. Yes they were offended by the home-grown prophet – but His words about His messianic claim and the ministry of prophets to outsiders finally tips the balance and provokes a violent reaction. 3. The application of His reading to His audience As we watch the people in the synagogue we sense the growing outrage at His claim “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” and the suggestion that both Elijah and Elisha ministered to outsiders. Of course we do not have anything like our Lord’s complete discourse – but by paying attention to those parts of His exposition that provoke such a reaction we can see the thrust of His application.

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Lenten Bible Study – Bristol Road Baptist Church 17th March 2004 Those essential ingredients in Luke’s story help appreciate how the Lord read and used the Scripture. Reading – the Scriptures in a manner which reveals His intention by his choice of passage – and illustrative material. So let’s turn to the passage itself In examining the Lord’s use of Scripture we need to note: • His quotation from Isaiah • His teaching about the prophets • His application of the scriptures to Himself and to His times THE QUOTATION FROM ISAIAH I have produced a printout so that you can compare side by side the texts from the Hebrew of Isaiah 61 (and 58 v 6) and the Septuagint version which Luke gives in his narrative: As you look at it you can see how Luke has quoted the Greek version of the passage from Isaiah – and how it differs from the original passage, and seems to incorporate another phrase from elsewhere in the same section of the book.



in the context of worship in the hearing of those who acknowledge the value of

“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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

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Lenten Bible Study – Bristol Road Baptist Church 17th March 2004 What strikes us at once is the directness and appropriateness of Jesus’ choice of reading! There would have been no doubt on the part of His hearers that Jesus was using a passage regarded as Messianic. He boldly, and unambiguously makes His point – once He has taken his seat as rabbi: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” There is a dramatic pause whilst he rolls the scroll and returns it to the attendant. They are expecting the sermon – and it follows. Notice that Jesus : • Expects the scripture to be fulfilled. • He interprets it of Himself. He claims from the verses in Isaiah – the anointing of the Spirit of the Lord with a clear purpose to preach the good news, proclaim freedom and recovery of sight – to release the oppressed – and to announce the year of the Lord’s favour. His omission of the reference to “the day of vengeance” is obviously intentional. Vengeance will indeed be fulfilled – but it is for a different time. (That in itself suggests to us that prophecy is open to a particular form of interpretation – it has meaning to its own time, the time(s) prophesied about, and doubtless more beside.) In this particular case Jesus does not need to appeal to the textual context – or to explain cultural differences – His words have a direct application to His hearers that cannot be avoided. The second aspect of our Lord’s use of Scripture is in:

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Lenten Bible Study – Bristol Road Baptist Church 17th March 2004 HIS TEACHING ABOUT THE PROPHETS

“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his home town. 25 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. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 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.”
Christ’s exposition of His theme moves on from the text in Isaiah as he responds to the views of his hearers, but although he responds to their comment “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” He does so using examples from two other prophets – Elijah and Elisha. Once again he selects his material to address a particular issue or issues. He challenges their view of prophets in general. He depicts Elijah and Elisha ministering to the needs of Gentiles. Do you think these illustrations are appropriate? What is the main point that Jesus wants to make? In the case of the passage from Isaiah there is no ambiguity at all. It would seem that our Lord’s stress is upon what the people of Nazareth have lost – because of their rejection of Him. It is the other gospels that will tell us of the offence He caused them – but clearly here they lose out in much the same way as the majority of widows in Israel and the majority of lepers in Israel missed out at the time of the prophets’ ministries. The reaction of the people however tells us that Jesus has touched a raw nerve. Perhaps that was the intention? Page 7 of 9


Lenten Bible Study – Bristol Road Baptist Church 17th March 2004 as earlier – the main thrust is:HIS APPLICATION OF THE SCRIPTURES TO HIMSELF AND TO HIS TIMES In the context of worship Jesus uses the Scripture to point to Himself as the Anointed One who comes in accordance with His Father’s will. In this sense Jesus teaches us the most important exegetical lesson of all – SCRIPTURE MUST BRING US TO HIM At first the application seems to be working – they note His words of grace! But as the narrative continues Jesus challenges them less about the nature of Scripture – an issue not in doubt here – than ABOUT HIMSELF. In the matter of applying His teaching to the times in which He Himself lived and ministered on earth there can be little doubt that – as Luke will constantly affirm – He comes to bring strife and conflict – a conflict that will culminate in the cross.

So what can we learn about OUR view of handling Scripture from this passage? 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. That Scripture should be a central part of our worship. That Scripture must be understood and applied – also within the same framework of worship. That Scripture has its primary reference in Christ Himself. That the pattern of Old Testament ministries challenges us today – as it did His people then. That the teaching of scripture must challenge us in our preconceptions. To reject it is to lose out profoundly. Page 8 of 9

Lenten Bible Study – Bristol Road Baptist Church 17th March 2004

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