16 January 2018Luke 4:31-44
“Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.” (v. 41)
Psalm: Psalm 150
In chapter 4 of Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus proclaiming the kingdom of God in Galilee (Luke 4:16-31). It is important not to impose an understanding from a later history and a different context on the ministry of Jesus in Galilee. Jesus is not engaging in the kind of evangelism that developed out of 19th-century American and British Protestantism – the ‘ABC’ type of approach which calls on individuals to ‘accept’ Christ as personal Lord and Saviour, ‘believe’ that Jesus died on the Cross to save us, and ‘confess’ that we are sinners in need of salvation. The New Testament does indeed testify that Jesus is to be acknowledged as Lord, that he is the Saviour whose death on the cross restores us to fellowship with God, and that we need to turn from sin as part of the salvation which Jesus gives. All of this is ultimately implied in the good news which he proclaims, but it is not the substance of what Jesus proclaims in the Gospels and in this passage of Luke’s Gospel in particular.
Jesus’ proclamation is that the long-expected reign of God has been inaugurated through his ministry (Luke 4:21). When, as this passage goes on to say, the demons cry out that Jesus is “the Holy One of God” (v, 34) and “the Son of God” (v. 41), this does not refer to him being the second Person of the Trinity (although in due time Christians came to recognise that). Instead, it was “because they knew he was the Messiah”. The role of the Messiah was to bring the reign of God in, in this world. The coming of the Messiah is about a new Age or in Paul’s phrase, a new Creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The reign of God upends human ideas of power, not only those of the 1st-century Jews who looked for a Messiah who would defeat the power of Rome, but also of Christians who seek to use the world’s methods of power to achieve the purposes of God. In his poem High and lifted up G A Studdert Kennedy, the much-loved chaplain and poet (also known as Woodbine Willie), who saw the worst outcomes of worldly power in the Great War, came to understand this truth of the kingdom of God:
“God, the God I love and worship, reigns in sorrow on the tree.
Broken, bleeding but unconquered, very God of God to me.”
- In this passage it is the demons who recognise the true significance of Jesus. When do we as Christians not truly see what Jesus is about?
- In a democratic and gender-sensitive age the term ‘kingdom of God’ often fails to resonate. Is ‘the reign of God’ more helpful or is there another phrase which captures better the essence of what Jesus proclaimed?
- The Jews of Jesus’ time were expecting a Messiah who would meet and defeat the powers of the 1st century on their own terms. Christians have often fallen into the same understanding of God’s power. What contemporary expressions of this do you see?