Readings in Luke Continued – No.6
Lk 4:14,15 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
There is a time in the early life of the Church when Luke recorded, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46 ,47). It was a good time when the blessing of God was clearly on the Church. After the Ananias and Sapphira affair it took on a different slant: “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” (Acts 5:13). It has been said that in the early centuries of the life of the widely scattered Church in the Roman Empire, when an emperor decreed a persecution of the Christians, local Roman leaders warned the local Christians of what was to happen so that they could flee for however long it took for it to blow over, so well thought of were they in their communities. We are called to be salt and light and as such we can be a blessing to the community in which we live.
For the time being, in these early days, Jesus received the praise of everyone. He started his ministry teaching in synagogues and obviously all that he said was well received. He is, after all, the Son of God with the wisdom and grace of God and his teaching would be exemplary. However the approval he seems to be getting is almost the lull before the storm; it is about to change, but we’ll have to wait for the next meditation to see that. So far Jesus has merely affirmed the truth of God’s word, for that is what he would have been doing in the synagogues for they were primarily teaching places, where the truth of God’s word was conveyed to the local population. So far he has not said anything that will bring a challenge. So far he has simply been acting as a teacher of the Scriptures and so far that has been very acceptable.
This preliminary phase of his ministry is uncharacteristic of what followed, because soon he would declare himself, soon he would be performing signs and wonders, and soon he would be seen as a threat to the religious establishment – but none of that has happened yet. Writing this in the early part of 2008, I believe that many churches in the United Kingdom at least, are in a similar position. Having found ourselves relegated to the fringes of society, we have heard the word of the Lord to go into our communities with acts of good works. There, many of us are well thought of, and we often receive the praise of community leaders for the acts of service we perform in this needy land.
There is going to come a time, I suggest, when as more and more doors are opened to us and more and more hearts are opened to us, that we will speak the Gospel into more and more hearts and will see a harvest that is greater than has been seen for a long time. It will be at that time that we will find ourselves moving into the second phase of Jesus’ ministry, when opposition arises because we become a challenge and a threat. The larger part of the book of Acts records the hostility and opposition that the early church received as the Gospel was proclaimed. Various Roman emperors issued decrees against the Christians because they threatened the deity that such emperors dared to proclaim. Indeed early Christians were called atheists because they did not believe in the Roman gods.
John, in his Gospel, records that Jesus was full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). In this early phase that grace was seen and appreciated. If was only as the truth was brought to bear, that more and more, that appreciation was eroded by the religious leaders.
That raises a question for us in the Church today. Are we well thought of before we preach the challenging Gospel? There are two negative approaches or outlooks to be considered. First, that we say and do nothing and are totally unnoticed. This is the church that is completely ineffectual by inaction. The second alternative is that we simply blast the Gospel at whoever we meet without having earned the respect of the listeners and are largely rejected as religious freaks. This is the church that is ineffectual by insensitivity and ignorance. Now I add ignorance, because it suggests that we have not learnt from Jesus. A careful observation of Jesus will reveal that he went first performing signs and wonders with great healing, doing good for needy people. He also mixed with the needy and the sinners and accepted them where they were. It was only subsequently that the convicting words of truth came and caused either a harvest of salvation or opposition.
Yes, John in his Gospel describes all these acts of power as ‘signs’ pointing to God, but they would have also warmed and melted the hearts of people towards him. When you have just healed someone of a serious illness, they feel good towards you! They are willing to listen to you. Jesus was using the power of God to do good and to open hearts to hear the truth. Some accepted it and some didn’t.
Thus today, it is a valid question to ask, are we doing the same? We may not have the same power that was flowing through Jesus, until God moves in sovereign power through us, but we may seek Him for that and get ready. In the meantime, we do have His grace to be people who bring blessing and goodness into our communities to open doors and open hearts. It is only the preliminary stage, but are we actually doing that? It bears thinking about.