Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gospel and Kingdom Fulfillment


The more I read the Bible, the more I see what a rich tapestry it is, intricately woven together into a grand design from beginning to end. I see this in the Gospel According to Luke, even from the very first verse, where Luke lays out his purpose. “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us …” (Luke 1:1). It is there in the word “fulfilled.” What he writes is about fulfillment. It is an indication that what we have here is not a brand new story but the continuation, leading to completion, of an old, old story, one that God began with the creation of the heavens and the earth. What is fulfilled is the trajectory of that story, and all the promises God made concerning the Messiah who would come to rule and reign and set everything right in the world.
  • We find this echoed when the angel of the Lord comes to the aged Zechariah and announces that he and his wife Elizabeth (also old, and barren) would have a son. This son (John the Baptist) would turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, that he would, in the words of Malachi, “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Luke 1:16-17, quoting Malachi 4:6).
  • We see it again when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she would bring forth a Son who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and His name would be Jesus (which means “Yahweh saves”). He would sit on the throne of King David, to whom He was heir. “And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33).
  • We hear it in the song Mary sang, magnifying the Lord because He had now come to rescue His people and set things right in the world, in fulfillment of the promises He made to Abraham and the fathers of Israel” (Luke 1:46-56).
  • We hear it again in the song Zechariah sang over his newborn son, John, about how the Lord had remembered His covenant promises to Abraham and the fathers of Israel (Luke 1:68-79).
  • We hear it in the song the angels sang when they announced the good news to the shepherds, about the birth of the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord, in the city of King David. The time of God’s messianic peace was at hand (Luke 2:10-14).
  • We hear it once more in the song Simeon sang as he held the infant Jesus in his arms. His eyes were now beholding the salvation which God had prepared for all peoples. God’s promise was beginning to be fulfilled, right before his eyes (Luke 2:29-35).
  • We see it in Anna, a prophetess who was standing nearby at the time. She had long been looking for “redemption in Jerusalem,” and now here He was in their midst (Luke 2:36-38).
  • We see it again in the witness of John the Baptist, who came in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the LORD” (Luke 3:4-6, quoting from Isaiah 40). This Messiah, soon to come, would baptize with the Holy Spirit and also with fire (Luke 3:16-17). He would gather in the “wheat” (the just) and burn the “chaff” (the wicked). All this in fulfillment of major prophetic themes and promises in the Old Testament.
  • We see it when Jesus was baptized of John (Luke 3:21-22). The Holy Spirit descended upon Him and the voice of the Father said, “You are My beloved son; in You I am well pleased.” This echoes the messianic passage in Isaiah 42:1, “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him.”
  • We read it in the genealogy Luke gives, where he traces the lineage of Jesus all the way back through King David, all the way back through Abraham, all the way back to Adam, and from Adam to God (Luke 3:23-38).
  • We see it when, after His baptism, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where He was tested by the devil. “If You are the Son of God …” came the taunts, and the offer of all the kingdoms of the world — on the devil’s terms. But Jesus the Messiah would fulfill God’s promise only in God’s way (Luke 4:1-13).
This brings us to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He returned from the wilderness “in the power of the Spirit” and began preaching in the synagogues of Galilee and the surrounding regions (Luke 4:14). Mark’s account puts it this way: After the temptation in the wilderness, John was put in prison, and “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel!” (Mark 1:14-15). Matthew’s account shows Jesus, after the temptation, coming to Galilee with the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). A fuller explanation is given in Matthew 5, in what we call the Sermon on the Mount (I like to call it The Sermon of Heaven on Earth, which is what the kingdom of God is about). It begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

Luke, however, chose to use a different moment to highlight Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom. After the temptation, when Jesus began preaching in Galilee and the regions, He came to Nazareth, his home town. On the Sabbath day, He went into the synagogue, where He was invited to give a Scripture lesson. They handed Him the scroll of Isaiah, which He opened up to the portion we know as Isaiah 61 (there were no chapter and verse divisions in those days):
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
(Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2)
It was a passage about the messianic age and the one anointed with the Spirit of God. It was about good news for the poor, healing the broken, freeing the captive and oppressed. It was about the time of God’s favor, of God’s kingdom coming into the world, with God’s anointed King establishing righteousness (that is, setting everything right).

Jesus closed the scroll, handed it to the attendant and sat down — the sign that He was about to give the lesson. All eyes were on Him as He began to teach:
Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
This was a stunning announcement, and from one of their own, the son of Joseph the carpenter. Jesus knew that many of them would not be willing to accept it, because it did not come in the way and the form they wanted. But He also knew that, though many in Israel would reject it, many Gentiles would gladly welcome it. And that morning, He told the congregation as much. This infuriated them and they wanted to throw him over the cliff — literally.

But He somehow passed through their midst unscathed, and He went to other towns to preach the message. “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent” (Luke 4:43).

There is fulfillment all the way through. But we will stop here for now.