Friday, June 17, 2016

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review-"According to Luke"

from the catacombs of Rome fourth cent.

Reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings, one finds many characters, such as Gandalf or Aragorn, who are not always who they seem. They are mysterious and multidimensional personalities, but if their whole being was not, eventually, revealed in the stories, the stories would not qualify to be truth as it is understood by Tolkien.[1] Jesus, who is Truth, is multidimensional, he is teacher and prophet and king. But above all he is God incarnate and Lord of the Church.

Judy Yates Siker, author of the Presbyterian Women’s 2016-2017 Bible Study, “Who is Jesus? : What a Difference a Lens Makes,” in the lesson “According to Luke” focuses mainly on Luke 4:16-30. This is the story of Jesus’ reading prophetic texts in the synagogue in Nazareth. He speaks of himself as the fulfillment of those words, which combine some of Isaiah 61 and 58.[2] Siker sees Luke presenting Jesus as God’s prophet.  And yet, although he is a prophet like Moses, (see Dt. 18:15 & Acts 7:35-37), in Luke, as in the other gospels, he is so much more.

Siker, looking at Luke 4:16-30 including Jesus’ rejection by the people of Nazareth, writes:

‘This, in a nutshell, is the story of Jesus in Luke, a prophet of God, rejected by his own, as so many other prophets of old had been rejected. What we see here, and what we will see throughout the Gospel of Luke, is a Jesus who comes in line with the prophets who have come before him and whose ministry reaches (eventually) beyond the Jews to the Gentiles. While this doesn’t happen in Luke’s Gospel as much as in Acts, Luke uses the story of Jesus as a prophet to carry the story from the Hebrew Bible to Jesus and the Church.”

Siker uses her focus on Jesus as prophet to emphasize his ministry to the outsider, the poor, the oppressed, the Gentile. This is not wrong. Jesus came to minister to broken people. He came to save sinners, But Jesus, in Luke, is more than the prophet of God. In fact, E. Earle Ellis in his commentary points out that in the ninth chapter of Luke, the transfiguration, God rebukes Peter because he equates Jesus with Moses and Elijah. Suggesting that they build a booth for all three.[3]

Instead, God states, “This is my Son, My chosen One, listen to him.”

These are the words that truly clarify “who Jesus is” in the gospel of Luke. Additionally, the prophet John, as his father Zacharias states, goes before the Lord, to prepare his way. (1:76)  The angel’s words to Mary should be added, “He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will have no end.” (1:32-33)

Of the words that Jesus appropriates for himself in the Isaiah texts, at one point amid the skeptics at Nazareth who question why Jesus has not performed any signs among them, Ellis writes:

“The original perspective of Isaiah’s prophecy was deliverance from political oppression. Its messianic fulfillment has a much vaster scope. It is a personal and cosmic deliverance from the power of sin and of death. Demonic possession and sickness are visible manifestations of these powers. Therefore the ‘signs’ of Jesus’ ministry are pre-eminently exorcism and healing.”  

Siker ends her study with reference to a text with which she uses to begin that part of her study that focuses on the question ‘who is Jesus.’ It is part of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:22-24; 32-36. It contains the reference to the Psalm where David states, “The Lord said to my Lord. ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  It also contains the end of Peter’s sermon, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” This is who Jesus is.

Without commenting on Peter’s words except to say that Luke also uses this to answer the question of who Jesus is, Siker writes that she will return to the text at the end of her study. This is what she writes at the end of her study:

“Because we are able to see the rest of the story in the book of Acts, we have a picture of Jesus that is fuller in many ways than in the other Gospels. Here, as the disciples gather at Pentecost (Acts 2) we are able to see how, according to Luke, God keeps God’s promise to Israel and pours out upon the disciples (Now Apostles!) God’s spirit. This is the same spirit that came upon Mary, that animated Jesus throughout his ministry, that brought healing and compassion to the outcast, that Jesus gave up to God at his death and that now has been poured out by the risen Jesus upon his followers (and us).”(Italics mine)

Siker goes on to write of our continuing ministry to the outcast, as she puts it, “this prophetic ministry of preaching the good news of inclusion of the outcast, this challenging message to all insiders to be attentive to the outsiders among us.”

In these statements are several problems. The first is that Siker returns to the text that points to Jesus as Lord, but doesn’t comment on the identification. One problem may be editorial, but it is none the less a problem. If Siker is speaking of the ‘spirit’ as the Holy Spirit then Spirit should be capitalized because the Holy Spirit is one of the persons of the Trinity.

One problem is a muddle. Siker says the ‘spirit’ is the same ‘spirit’ “that Jesus gave up to God at his death.” That is where Jesus states, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” That is not the Holy Spirit.  It simply means that Jesus gave up his life. Augustine put it this way, “He gave up his life because he willed it, when he will it, and as he willed it.”[4]

The final problem is the dismal process of reducing the good news to news of inclusion and a wariness that insiders not neglect outsiders. It is certainly true that the good news brings the wanderer home. And it is true that we all must be attentive to those who are on the margins of society. But this is not the good news. The good news is that Jesus Christ, who is fully human and fully God, entered our human world to live for us, die for us and be resurrected. Because of his love we who had no hope, no forgiveness, no joy, now hope in Christ Jesus, are forgiven by him and live in his joy. We have the promise of forever in his presence.



[1] See J.R.R. Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories,
[2] E. Earle Ellis, The New Century Bible Commentary; The Gospel of Luke, reprint (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans  1991)
[3]Ibid.  Ellis, Century, 143.
[4] Found in Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament, Synoptic Gospels, reprint of 1886  (Mclean, Virginia: McDonald Publishing Company  no date) 145.