Luke 4

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A Key Verse

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed.

Luke 4:18

What’s Happening?

Thirty years old and newly baptized, Jesus starts his ministry by going out into the wilderness to pray and to fast, which means to abstain from eating for a period as a spiritual practice.  The Devil appears and tempts Jesus.  Temptation does not mean Jesus sinned, just that He faced the same bodily urges and same social pressures we all humans do.

After resisting the devil successfully, Jesus goes to his hometown, Nazareth, but everyone still knows him as just Joseph the carpenter’s son, and rather than accept his message, the men of his own synagogue, probably men he had known most of his life, tried to stone him, an ancient way of execution in which he would be thrown over a cliff and pelted with stones from the top until he was dead.  Imagine how heartbreaking this was for Jesus.  These were the people he knew best, rejecting him cruelly.

Journey to Capernaum, things start going better for Jesus and his ministry of preaching and healing begins to thrive.

This Chapter’s Mini-Message

Temptation of Christ, Ary Scheffer, 19th century France

Jesus’ temptation

4:2 forty days  The length of time of “40 days” is found lots of places in the Bible, most famously for the 40 days of flooding in the story of Noah’s Ark.  Forty seems to be a literary way ancient Jews said “a lot,” similar to how we often say “a million” without meaning precisely one million.

4:2 devil Who was the devil?  Perhaps we picture a red man with a pitchfork?  Robert E. Obach explains, “Jewish people of Jesus’ day had strong convictions about the reality of good and evil spirits.  Among the evil spirits one of the most powerful was known as Satan or the devil.  The devil was seen as one who placed obstacles in the path of God’s people.  This would happen in two basic ways: (1) inflicting people with physical or mental illness; (2) inciting people to rebel against God’s purposes” (A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, pp. 44-45).  The first way we see best illustrated in the Bible by the Book of Job.  The second way is what we see here with Jesus.

C.S. Lewis said, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight”  (The Screwtape Letters, p. 3)

The story of Jesus in the wilderness seems to be Luke’s way of striking the balance Lewis encourages.  The devil is very real, but Jesus is superior.  Also notice that the devil quotes the Bible at Jesus!

4 Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.”[a]

Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”[b]

The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you 11 and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.[c]

12 Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.”13 After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.

14th century, Visoki Dečani Monastery, Kosovo

Jesus announces good news to the poor

14 Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. 17 The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

4:18 Anointed, which means spiritually set apart to a special duty, is the root of the word “Messiah” or “Christ.”  Those in attendance at the synagogue probably understood this passage from Isaiah 61 to be about the promised Messiah, and understood Jesus was claiming to be Messianic by saying “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled” in verse 21.

18The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
19     and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

20 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. 21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

22 Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?”

23 Then Jesus said to them, “Undoubtedly, you will quote this saying to me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we’ve heard you did in Capernaum.’” 24 He said, “I assure you that no prophet is welcome in the prophet’s hometown. 25  And I can assure you that there were many widows in Israel during Elijah’s time, when it didn’t rain for three and a half years and there was a great food shortage in the land. 26  Yet Elijah was sent to none of them but only to a widow in the city of Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27  There were also many persons with skin diseases in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha, but none of them were cleansed. Instead, Naaman the Syrian was cleansed.”

28 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was filled with anger. 29 They rose up and ran him out of town. They led him to the crest of the hill on which their town had been built so that they could throw him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.

Jesus in Capernaum

31 Jesus went down to the city of Capernaum in Galilee and taught the people each Sabbath.32 They were amazed by his teaching because he delivered his message with authority.

4:33 demon Belief in the reality of demons was commonplace.  Just as the Devil, the chief demon, knew the Bible well, this demon knows who Jesus is, and calls him “the holy one from God.” Arthur Just notices, “Until Peter’s confession in Luke 9, no human participant in the Gospel knows who Jesus is” (Luke 1:1-9:50, p. 200).  Demons were a common way to explain both physical and mental illness, but Luke tends to treat physical illness distinctly from behavioral issues, which he usually calls demons.  Whether or not you believe that the people in these stories were possessed by demons or simply “sick” in a modern sense, Luke wants you to see the power of God through Jesus to heal people.

33 A man in the synagogue had the spirit of an unclean demon. He screamed, 34 “Hey! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.”

35 “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” The demon threw the man down before them, then came out of him without harming him.

36 They were all shaken and said to each other, “What kind of word is this, that he can command unclean spirits with authority and power, and they leave?” 37 Reports about him spread everywhere in the surrounding region.

4:38 Simon Here is Luke’s first mention of Simon Peter, who will become the lead apostle, interacting with Jesus as he asks Jesus to heal his mother-in-law.  We also can tell by this passage that if Simon Peter had a mother-in-law, he was married with a wife.

38 After leaving the synagogue, Jesus went home with Simon. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a high fever, and the family asked Jesus to help her. 39 He bent over her and spoke harshly to the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and served them.

40 When the sun was setting, everyone brought to Jesus relatives and acquaintances with all kinds of diseases. Placing his hands on each of them, he healed them. 41 Demons also came out of many people. They screamed, “You are God’s Son.” But he spoke harshly to them and wouldn’t allow them to speak because they recognized that he was the Christ. 42 When daybreak arrived, Jesus went to a deserted place. The crowds were looking for him. When they found him, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said to them, “I must preach the good news of God’s kingdom in other cities too, for this is why I was sent.” 44 So he continued preaching in the Judean synagogues.

Things to Think About
  • The devil knows the Bible and even quotes it at Jesus.  How have you seen the Bible used in ways that contradict what you know about the love of God or the message of Jesus?  Does Jesus offer an example of how to deal with those who use Christianity for purposes that you don’t think match the message of Jesus?
  • Do you think demons are real or just a way ancient people explained things we now understand through science?  Do you need to believe that demons are real to believe that Jesus’ healings were real?
A Prayer

Always faithful God, help me resist the temptation to doubt the love you offer
Help me feel that love and share love with others, Amen.

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