K:JNWTS 31/1 (May 2016): 31-36
There will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times he treated the land of Zebulun and Naphtali with contempt, but later on he shall make it glorious . . . Galilee of the Gentiles. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined (Isaiah 9:1-2).
This is a surprising narrative, is it not? No, I am not referring to its uniqueness—only Luke records this reading from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue at Nazareth. Luke's selection and positioning of this story is embedded in the redemptive-historical thrust of his two-volume work, Luke-Acts. There is something here in Jesus taking up the scroll of Isaiah which is programmatic for Luke and his readers. No, this pericope is not surprising from its uniqueness, it surprises from its antitheses—its polar opposites. Did you notice that basic opposition when I read the text? Look at the antithesis between v. 22 and v. 28. After Jesus reads, the listeners in the synagogue speak well of him (v. 22); but within a few short moments, the synagogue audience is filled with rage against him—to the point of trying to kill him (vv. 28-29). What a surprising—even shocking—about face! The same audience which commends him does a one eighty and condemns him. But perhaps what surprises us does not surprise Luke; perhaps the antithesis surrounding Jesus is programmatic; perhaps the antithesis is embedded in the history of redemption.
Antithesis has not been the theme of this gospel to this point—at least, not ostensibly. Luke's wonderful Christmas hymns inaugurate the opening two chapters: Mary's Magnificat; Zachariah's Benedictus; the angelic Gloria in excelsis; Simeon's Nunc Dimittis. From Christmas hymns, Luke moves to Spirit anointing—the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at the Jordan in chapter 3. And now, after temptation in the wilderness, Jesus comes home—Jesus comes home to read the Bible. Especially at the Advent time of the year, we think of Luke's Christmas narrative with its nativity scene and angels hovering and shepherds wondering. These are scenes of great joy to us: peace on earth, good will to men. Any antithesis—any radical opposites seem far away from the hills around Bethlehem; far away from the exultant mothers, Elizabeth and Mary; far away from the theophanic voice at the Jordan, "Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased" (3:22). But what seems far away is only apparent. Aged Simeon prophesies, "This child is appointed for the rise and fall of many in Israel and for a sign to be opposed" (2:34)—"a sign to be opposed"! Satan assaults Jesus after his baptism with a barrage of antitheses—a three-fold staccato of opposition (4:1-12). Jesus refuses each one, but the adversarial element has been foreshadowed at the outset of chapter 4. We know that Christmas is followed by Good Friday—the manger gives place to the cross. Even the baptism in the Jordan is a washing from sin and guilt and death—these ultimate antitheses vicariously assumed by the Son of God himself. Sin and guilt and death must be washed away from us—cleansed and washed by the substitution of the Son of God in our place. The antithesis of the Christmas story; the antithesis of the baptism story—the antitheses of our story are intimated in the first three chapters of Luke's story of Jesus' story.
But here in chapter 4, and especially in our text, we have a dramatic, even shockingly surprising antithesis. And you will notice how Luke masterfully embeds this antithetical theme in the structure of the narrative—as if to indicate that narrative structure serves narrative theology; as if to indicate that narrative structure serves narrative biblical theology. I want to begin by pointing out how Luke has framed this pericope. In other words, there are narrative markers which set this section of the third gospel apart. Notice v. 16—Jesus comes to Nazareth. Now notice v. 30—Jesus departs from Nazareth (in v. 31, he comes down from Nazareth to Capernaum). Notice the antithesis—the opposite of Christ's arrival in Nazareth is his departure from Nazareth. And Jesus leaves Nazareth, his hometown, never to do the opposite again—never to return again. A narrative unit framed by the obverse—a narrative unit framed by the opposite directions: Luke brackets this story with its shocking opposition (his hometown wants to kill him)—Luke brackets this story of surprising opposition with opposites—to Nazareth, from Nazareth.
So, in a unit of narrative antithesis, a narrative antithetical marker. But Luke provides even more structural clues to his thematic antitheses. Jesus stands up to read (v. 16); Jesus sits down after reading (v. 20). Opposites! Jesus is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah (v. 17); Jesus hands back the scroll of the prophet Isaiah (v. 20). Opposites! Jesus opens the prophet Isaiah (v. 17); Jesus closes the prophet Isaiah (v. 20) Opposites! Luke carefully delineates narrative opposites in framing the quotation from Isaiah 61 in vv. 18-19. And he structures this narrative frame antithetically because opposition is the narrative motif of this narrative unit. I remind you once more of the striking opposition—the furious antithesis—between the reaction to Christ in v. 22 and the reaction to Christ in v. 28. Luke is drawing out clues for us; in fact, Luke is drawing out biblical-theological or redemptive-historical clues for us by framing this narrative with opposites (v. 16 with v. 30), by framing the Isaiah reading with opposites (vv. 16-17 and v. 20). The opposition to Jesus which surprises us in the synagogue at Nazareth is framed in a narrative pattern of structural antitheses.
But I invite you to look one step further for reinforcement of Luke's antithetical paradigm. I direct you to Capernaum in v. 31 where Jesus descended after departing from Nazareth. You will note he enters a synagogue there (v. 33) and in that synagogue is a man possessed by the antithesis of Jesus and his kingdom—the man is demon possessed. After the opposition in Nazareth, demonic opposition in Capernaum. And before his arrival in Nazareth? before the opposition of the hometown crowd? Luke 4:1-13—Satanic opposition. Before the opposition from the synagogue at Nazareth, opposition from the supreme opponent himself. The Devil opposes Jesus with the most insidious of antitheses before Jesus faces opposition from the worshippers in the synagogue at Nazareth. Luke has surrounded this Nazareth pericope with opposition to Jesus: opposition to Jesus from Satan himself and from Satan's demons. The glorious Christmas hymns of Luke 1 and 2 seem a distant memory when we come to Luke chapter 4. Simeon's prophecy is being fulfilled—this child will be for a sign to be opposed. Satan opposes him; the demons oppose him; his own neighbors oppose him. The Christmas hymns are songs of doxos (doxology); but they must be balanced by the songs of pathos (sorrow). We must not lose sight of the rest of the story—even at Christmas, Luke will not let us.
So far, I have side-stepped the reason for the opposition in the synagogue crowd at Nazareth. Why the well-speaking (v. 22) reversed in evil-seizing (v. 28)? The antithesis in the crowd's reaction cannot be explained from the hometown boy syndrome. No, the hometown boy syndrome appears to be what grants Jesus the permission to read from the Isaiah scroll. Well then, why are they so furious with him? The answer lies in the combination of antitheses here in chapter 4. Jesus opposes the Devil in Luke 4; Jesus opposes the demons in Luke 4; and Jesus opposes his hometown crowd in Luke 4. Jesus comes home from being opposed by Satan; Jesus will leave home for Capernaum to be opposed by Satan's minions; and sandwiched between, at home, Jesus returns to the village where he was raised—to the synagogue where he customarily worshipped each Sabbath day—Jesus returns to oppose his neighbors.
Now you will notice how I phrased that last statement—Jesus returns to oppose his neighbors. I have been detailing the opposition to Jesus, but here I state Jesus' opposition to his neighbors. Is this not the reciprocal of the antithesis: Satan opposes Jesus—Jesus opposes Satan; the demons oppose Jesus—Jesus opposes the demons. Now, in vv. 16-30, Jesus opposes the synagogue crowd in Nazareth; the synagogue crowd in Nazareth opposes him. Christ's opposition to Satan and his imps is easy enough to grasp. But his opposition to the synagogue crowd? What is going on here?
The key to this incident is yet another antithesis. Notice what enrages the synagogue crowd. The reading of Isaiah 61 itself? No. What enrages the synagogue crowd is the participation of Gentiles in Isaiah 61? Jesus folds down the uncircumcised Gentiles into his reading from Isaiah 61. And the crowd goes ballistic! Jesus says God's grace includes a Syro-Phoenician widow and her son and the crowd goes berserk! Jesus says God's grace includes a Syrian leper and the crowd becomes murderous! Notice that it is after Jesus specifies the gracious beneficiaries of the miraculous power of God through Elijah and Elisha that the synagogue audience becomes enraged. Elijah bypasses the widows of Israel; Elisha bypasses the lepers of Israel. Foreigners—Gentiles, non-Jewish foreigners receive God's grace and mercy and the synagogue at Nazareth flies into a rage. God's grace and mercy is for Israel. It is for us says the synagogue crowd. It is not for Gentile sinners; it is not for those outside Jewish synagogues. God's grace is not for those opposed to us—those we oppose. If you declare God's grace is for them, Jesus, you are not one of us—even if you are a hometown boy. The kingdom of God is within Jewish borders; it is reserved to Jewish synagogues; the kingdom of God is us—no one opposed to us—no one else but us. And because you include some persons other than us, Jesus, you oppose us. And because you oppose us, we are antithetical to you—you and your inclusive Jewish-Gentile kingdom of God.
Thus, we reach the bottom line—the fundamental antithesis—the redemptive-historical antithesis—the eschatological antithesis. Or is that not what Jesus brings? With his Christmas hymns, with his theophanic baptism, with his wilderness temptation—does he not bring the redemptive-historical antithesis ("unto you is born this day, a Savior"—antithetical to a Curser; "Thou art my beloved Son", Spirit anointed—antithetical to the Spirit-less, not my sons, not my daughters; "worship the Lord your God and serve him only"—antithetical to the kingdom of anti-Christ). In the synagogue at Nazareth, the redemptive-historical, the eschatological antithesis is found in the reading from Isaiah 61. An eschatological Spirit-possesser declares the dawn of the eschatological gospel with attendant eschatological liberation and concomitant eschatological sight in the eschatological year of Jubilee.
A declaration of the eschatological turning point of the ages is proclaimed in the synagogue at Nazareth, even as it is declared to the shepherds in Bethlehem and to the penitents at the Jordan and to Satan in the wilderness. Isaiah 61:1-2 with Luke 4:18-19 signals the advent of the eschatological Jubilee-year of the Lord. Jesus says so in v. 21, "Today this text—this prophetic eschatological text has been fulfilled in your hearing." But not an ordinary Israeli Jubilee year; this Jubilee from Christ's advent and announcement includes those outside Israel. It includes those inside and outside Israel captive to the opposition—enslaved by the forces antithetical to the good news of the gospel—blinded by the dark light of the prince of darkness—imprisoned and crushed by the tyrants of evil. The bringer of Jubilee brings the opposite to all those who were once upon a time antithetical to him and to his kingdom and to his Jubilee. The opposite of the antithesis comes with him: good news, emancipation, sight, liberty, the year of God's grace.
Jesus proclaims the eschatological Jubilee. Proclamation is sufficient. Or is it? In the season of incarnation, what good are prophetic promises as proclamation alone? In the season of incarnation, what good are angel hymns without embodiment? In the season of incarnation, what good is theophanic announcement without filial enfleshment? In the season of incarnation, what good is opposition to Satan without historical actualization? What good are the words without the reality? They are abstractions, impersonal theories, intellectual games, ideas without substance. This is the malaise of much modern preaching and preaching theory—abstract, impersonal, moralistic, applicational, not existential—not experiential, not affectional. The words of Luke 4:18-19 are abstractions, intellectual idealisms, empty sophistries, if they are not incarnated—if they are not embodied—if they do not become part of redemptive history, part of Christ's story; if they do not become part of the story of those united to Christ. Abstract preaching—even abstract redemptive-historical preaching—is mere intellectualism. It is a form of an ego trip; it lacks any incarnational vector, any true participatory identification. Union with Christ is real. It is a sublimely real, existential, experiential, affectional ecstasy. And it is that ecstasy which is missing in so much Reformed and evangelical preaching of the 21st century.
Now I want you not just to hear what Jesus proclaims in Luke 4. I want you to fell how he incarnates what he proclaims. I want you to feel as surely as you were leaning on him, clinging to him. Because he incarnates the proclamation, your life is different. Because Jesus embodies this Jubilee proclamation, your life of bad news, your life of bondage, your life full of blind darkness, your life full of oppression—because of Jesus' life in history, your historical life is different.
Do you see what happens here? The antithesis seizes Jesus; the opposition presses in upon Jesus. Jesus is opposed and he does not resist. Jesus is the victim of the antithesis and he does not escape. And Jesus does not resist, he does not oppose the antithesis so that he may join you to himself and carry you along with him into the eschatological Jubilee.
In Luke 4, the center of the antithesis—the focus of the opposition—is Jesus. The opposition focuses upon—seizes Jesus. Jesus becomes the embodied antithesis of Isaiah's proclamation. And Jesus becomes this reversal for you and for me and for all who are afar off.
Jesus proclaims good news, but the opposition proclaims bad news. And that bad news is our biography—our story. Jesus says, "I will make your story my story." And he enters into the antithesis; Jesus allows the antithesis, the bad news to seize him, to arrest him, to nail him, to kill him, to bury him. Jesus participates in the antithesis, even proleptically in the synagogue at Nazareth because he knows there is no other way to deliver his loved ones—his elect loved ones from the antithesis—from the bad news—from raging death and Satan and Hell; no way except he submits to the opposition in their place. There is no good news except Jesus makes your bad news story, my story, our story his story; and so makes his good news story your story, my story, our story.
Jesus proclaims liberation and freedom, but the opposition proclaims bondage and slavery. And that bondage and slavery is our biography—our story. Jesus says, "I will make your story my story." And Jesus enters into the antithesis; Jesus allows the antithesis—the bondage and the slavery—to seize him, to bind him, to shackle and chain and enslave him. Jesus participates in the antithesis, even proleptically in the synagogue at Nazareth because he knows there is no way to liberate his loved ones—his elect loved ones—from the antithesis, from the bondage, from raging, oppressive, tyrannical, Satanic, Hellish slavery—no way save he bends himself to the opposition in their place. There is no freedom from bondage except Jesus makes your bad news story, my story, our story his story; and so makes his good news story your story, my story, our story.
Jesus proclaims sight to the blind, but the opposition proclaims darkness, even darkness which might be felt. That dark blindness is our story. Jesus says, "I will take your darkness and make it mine." And so his eyes are shut with darkness; into the realm of darkness he descends—no light in those all-seeing eyes. Jesus allows the darkness—the blindness, the antithesis—to shut out the light because he knows there is no way for the light to shine unless the darkness first overcomes it. And then, on that glorious Easter morn, break forth O beauteous light! No more darkness now! There is no light except Jesus makes your story—your dark story, my dark story, our dark story his story; and so makes his story—his Light of the World story—your story, my story, our story.
Does this not affect you? Are your affections—your emotions—not moved with love—with passionate love—for this Savior? who faces the opposition, endures the antithesis, vicariously assumes the evil and the bondage and the darkness and the wrath you and I deserve. This is Luke's post-Christmas story to us—to include you and me—Jews and Gentiles—in the eschatological Jubilee. His narrative structure; his narrative theology; his biblical theology; his eschatology—his story of Jesus at the synagogue of Nazareth is to fold you in to Jesus, to draw you into Jesus, to unite you unto Jesus, to affect you with love for Jesus—love for his good news, love for his capturing captivity, love for his eye-opening mercy, love for this new-beginning year—this beginning of the eternal year of God's grace and favor. Not an abstraction, not an intellectualization—a real, intimate union with Christ and his story in the synagogue at Nazareth.
This is your eschatological Jubilee—if you are united to this story, to his story, to the story of your Savior.
For the Spirit of the Lord is upon himBecause he has been anointed to preach to you who are poor, the good news of the gospelHe has been sent to proclaim release to you who are captivesAnd recovery of sight to you who are blindTo set free you who are downtroddenTo proclaim to you the favorable year of your Lord