Luke follows the pattern of the other gospel writers by documenting Jesus' ministry in chronological order beginning with the start of His public ministry. After a brief mention of His baptism by John, which took place in the Jordan River near Jerusalem (Matthew 3:13-17), and a description of His temptation by Satan while fasting in the desert for 40 days and nights (Luke 4:1-13), a scene also described by Matthew and Mark (so we will not discuss it here), Jesus returns to the northern part of Israel to the region of Galilee. This is where Jesus begins His public ministry near His home town and among the people He knew and grew up with.
Jesus Begins His Public Ministry — 4:14-44
14And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district. 15And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.
- Luke 4:14-15
As was the writing style of the times, Luke begins describing Jesus' ministry by giving an overall summary before providing details. He mentions the two basic components of His ministry: miracles (power of the Spirit) and teaching (in their synagogues). Luke also says that initially He was enthusiastically received by everyone (praised by all). However, this enthusiasm quickly changes as Jesus returns to His home town, Nazareth, in order to teach.
Jesus Teaches at Nazareth – 4:16-30
Before, Luke described Jesus' miracles and teaching in a general way, but now he provides a more detailed account of not only His teaching, but how the people reacted to His instruction.
16And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
18"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
19To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord."
20And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
- Luke 4:16-21
The substance of Jesus' preaching and teaching included three basic themes:
- The Messiah and the things that would happen when He came were now at hand.
- He was the divine Messiah according to Scripture.
- Those who believed would become the people of God/chosen ones/kingdom/saints, etc. Those who did not believe would be excluded.
The passage that Jesus reads is from Isaiah 61:1-2. At the time of writing, Isaiah's words were meant to be a short range prophecy concerning the eventual release and return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity. I say "short range" prophecy because the prophets spoke (prophesied) in three time periods. They taught (prophesied) about current events and issues, encouraging and warning their hearers to obey God's directives, avoid certain behaviors or face the consequences of Divine judgment. They also taught (prophesied) and made short range prophecies concerning future events that could be one day, one year or one century into the future (i.e. Jeremiah's prophecy about the 70 year exile and captivity of the Jews in Babylon, Jeremiah 25:9-12). In addition to these types of utterances, they made long range prophecies about events that could be many centuries in the future (i.e. the coming of the Messiah or the end of the world). Sometimes the same prophecy had both a short and long-range significance. This passage in Isaiah 61:1-2 is one of these. As I previously mentioned, it spoke comforting words to the people of his time, promising the return of Jewish exiles from Babylon. In addition to this, Isaiah's prophecy also had a long-range vision in that it spoke of the wonderful things that would happen with the eventual coming of the Messiah at a time in the future that no one knew but the people hoped for (in this case nearly 700 years into the future).
At the beginning of the passage Luke talks about Jesus being in the Spirit and thus performing miracles and giving Spirit-filled teaching. When Jesus sits down He declares that this Scripture is fulfilled by Him ("in your hearing" refers to the one speaking to you). Essentially He is saying that the Spirit-filled teaching and the Spirit-powered miracles that they have seen and heard from Him are the things that this passage refers to. In other words, the time that Isaiah spoke of in this passage is now here, His teaching and miracles bear this out.
Jesus, therefore, begins His public ministry by declaring that the Messiah they have read about and waited for is here.
And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, "Is this not Joseph's son?"
- Luke 4:22
At first they react positively to His words but are conflicted and begin to doubt because they know Him as someone who grew up among them and also knew His earthly father, Joseph.
23And He said to them, "No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'" 24And He said, "Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. 25But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; 26and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." 28And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30But passing through their midst, He went His way.
- Luke 4:23-30
Jesus is aware of their doubt and understands that what they want is a miracle performed in order to prove His claim. The Lord refuses, citing examples of their lack of faith in the past. This accusation enrages them and they attempt to kill Him, but He escapes.
Jesus Performs Miracles – 4:31-44
Luke has given us a close-up view of Jesus' teaching and how it affected many of the Jews, especially in His home town. The gospel writer now describes the other major component of Jesus' ministry: miracles.
31And He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and He was teaching them on the Sabbath; 32and they were amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority. 33In the synagogue there was a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34"Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!" 35But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet and come out of him!" And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him without doing him any harm. 36And amazement came upon them all, and they began talking with one another saying, "What is this message? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out." 37And the report about Him was spreading into every locality in the surrounding district.
- Luke 4:31-37
In this scene Luke describes both the miracle and the people's reaction to it. It is interesting to note that the evil spirit acknowledges Jesus even before the Jews do. The Lord silences it because He refuses to receive witness from devils. The people are amazed and on account of this His fame spreads throughout the country.
In verses 38-44 Luke describes many more miracles that serve to establish Jesus' identity and growing ministry. He finishes the chapter with the statement that Jesus continued His teaching ministry in the synagogues located in the northern region of Galilee (this section began with a statement like this and Luke closes it with a similar one).
Jesus Chooses Disciples – 5:1-6:16
Luke has already mentioned that Jesus was busy teaching in the synagogues and performing amazing miracles. This naturally stirred interest but also created a need for others to help with Jesus' continually growing ministry.
1Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat.
- Luke 5:1-3
This event takes place in Jesus' adult home town of Capernaum the day after He healed Peter's mother-in-law (4:39).
4When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets." 6When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!" 9For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." 11When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.
- Luke 5:4-11
It is evident that Peter and his fishing partners knew Jesus since they all lived in the same area, and Peter agreed to take Jesus out in his boat. After finishing His teaching, which Peter heard, Jesus tells him to let down his nets to fish. Peter is reluctant at first and with reason:
- He, an experienced and knowledgeable fisherman, had caught nothing. How could this rabbi (teacher) instruct him about fishing?
- It was the wrong time to fish (daytime). The time to fish was at night into the pre-dawn.
- It was the wrong place to fish. The deep waters were not where the fish were in this lake.
- It was inconvenient. Peter had finished cleaning and storing his nets, ready for the next day.
- It was demanding. Peter and the others had just put in a hard night of work and needed to be at home resting, not sailing about looking for fish at the direction of a religious teacher.
- It was embarrassing. The entire village was watching what was about to happen. If he caught nothing again he would be ridiculed by the other fishermen.
We know how this story ends, however. Jesus' teaching has brought Peter to faith (he took Jesus out on his boat so He could teach the crowds). Jesus now challenges him to take an additional step of faith (lower the nets) that is costlier than the first one (inconvenient, embarrassing, etc.). Peter's faith is rewarded by witnessing Jesus' power in a context that he can relate to: fishing. Peter, the fisherman, knows that this is a miracle catch.
He reacts in the same way that every person reacts when facing the Lord or an angelic being: weakness, shame, awe. The Bible describes both men and women who bow down or fall on their faces and worship or are blinded when they come into the presence of the Lord or one of His angels. In Peter's case he is instantly aware of his unworthiness, and Luke says that his two fishing partners (James and John) were amazed by what they saw. Jesus comforts Peter by telling him that He will give him a new task, now that his life has been changed by what he has just witnessed. And so, by His ministry of teaching and miracles, Jesus calls the first three of His 12 Apostles.
The story is told in a few verses but these three men probably knew Jesus from living in the same area and may have been early disciples receiving His teachings. However, with this miracle they make a full commitment to leave everything behind and follow after Him exclusively.
Luke continues to outline Jesus' ministry of miracles by describing two healing miracles.
12While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." 13And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately the leprosy left him. 14And He ordered him to tell no one, "But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." 15But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
- Luke 5:12-16
Note here that this is the first time Luke describes someone coming to Jesus in order to ask for a healing. Leprosy had no cure and those who had it were considered to be already dead. Note this man's boldness, faith and humility. He was relying completely on Jesus for his healing, and addressing Him with the same deference as Peter (Luke 5:8), both fell down before Jesus in respect and faith. The man's advanced leprosy was healed instantly.
17One day He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. 18And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him. 19But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. 20Seeing their faith, He said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven you." 21The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?" 22But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, "Why are you reasoning in your hearts? 23Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins have been forgiven you,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? 24But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,"—He said to the paralytic—"I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home." 25Immediately he got up before them, and picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God. 26They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, "We have seen remarkable things today."
- Luke 5:17-26
Another amazing miracle takes place, but this time Luke describes the animosity building towards Jesus because He was healing on the Sabbath. The Pharisees (lawyers and religious teachers) taught that even the healing of a person on the Sabbath was considered "work" and violated the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8). Later on this will become one of the major stumbling blocks for the Priests and Pharisees who will try to accuse and destroy Jesus because He worked on the Sabbath, and as seen in this passage, claimed that He was the Son of God.
In the next section, verses 27-32, we see Jesus continue adding Apostles with the call to Levi, a Jew, but a hated tax collector.
33And they said to Him, "The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink." 34And Jesus said to them, "You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? 35But the days will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days." 36And He was also telling them a parable: "No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. 38But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, 'The old is good enough.'"
- Luke 5:33-39
This selection leads to more controversy because now Jesus is calling people not known for their academic or religious positions. This criticism provides the Lord with the opportunity to warn the people that great changes are coming and they are not prepared to receive them:
- Old cloth = unbelieving Jews
- New patch = gospel/Christians
- Old wineskin = Jewish religious system
- New wine = gospel/Christianity
The old cannot accommodate the new without damage. The old must change in order to blend with the new.
Again, we see a mixture of teaching and miracles by Jesus in order to reveal Himself and His kingdom to the people, and how they can become part of it.
1Now it happened that He was passing through some grainfields on a Sabbath; and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating the grain. 2But some of the Pharisees said, "Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" 3And Jesus answering them said, "Have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, 4how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread which is not lawful for any to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?" 5And He was saying to them, "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
6On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. 8But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, "Get up and come forward!" And he got up and came forward. 9And Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?" 10After looking around at them all, He said to him, "Stretch out your hand!" And he did so; and his hand was restored. 11But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.
- Luke 6:1-11
Note that Luke separates the different instances where Jesus chooses Apostles with descriptions of His on-going teaching and performance of miracles, as well as the reaction that the people have to these.
12It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. 13And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: 14Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; 15and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; 16Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
- Luke 12-16
Note that Jesus prayed before appointing the 12 Apostles (Apostle: one commissioned and sent; i.e. ambassador). He called up many disciples but chose only 12. His night of prayer was on their behalf, He was the Son of God and did not need guidance in choosing. He knew, however, the challenges they would face, and prayed for their faithfulness and success.
Even though we are covering Luke's gospel in survey fashion, only reading and highlighting certain passages, the material we have examined still contains valuable and practical lessons for everyone. For example:
Rejection by Leaders at the Synagogue
Lesson: Beware of spiritual complacency.
The religious leaders were so invested in their traditions that they refused to believe a truth that contradicted their religious habits, even when this truth was supported by a miracle.
Let us always use God's word to establish and perpetuate a practice, not human ideas about what God would find pleasing. God is pleased when we obey His word.
Miracles do not Always Work
Lesson: The surest confirmation of God's presence or direction is His confirmed word, not miracles.
Jesus performed many miracles (37) and yet most rejected Him, including those who witnessed the miracles with their own eyes. Many believers base their faith on unusual or "miraculous" things they have read about in popular religious books or heard from others, but trading on these accounts is not the way to establish or build faith. "Faith comes by hearing the words of Christ" (Romans 10:17). The surest way to build faith, according to God, is to read, believe and obey His word.
Jesus is Still Calling People Today
Lesson: To this day Jesus continues to call people, through the preaching of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20), to be saved by faith in Him and express that faith by repenting and being baptized in His name (Acts 2:38). Jesus also calls Christians into ministry a) through His word (which describes the type of person needed and the task or ministry to be fulfilled), b) through His Spirit (who moves believers' hearts toward service of some kind), and c) through the church that confirms and commends (trains and appoints) ministers (elders, deacons, evangelists and teachers) into His service.