How do we come to perceive ourselves spiritually?
Many Christian faiths make much of authority, applying tradition and requiring education in order for priests and preachers to actually minister to our needs.
How did Jesus define himself in that regard? Do we have record that his education or a calling was necessary in order for him to minister?
We know he was educated formally in the traditional ways of his culture. We also know that in his race and culture, actual priesthood authority – the authority to perform the ritual and ordinance of the specifics of Judaism – was lineal. Jesus was not a Levite; probably a Pharisee and his works were not the works of priesthood ordinance.
Yet Jesus spoke of his calling and role often.
Whence came that calling and role?
We often speak of ourselves as hearing the call and needing to move into a role that is in harmony with that calling. It seems that in traditional churches a blending arises in which priesthood necessary to perform ordinances like baptism and marriages are interlocked with duties around preaching and sermonizing. In many Christian churches those who hear the call then move into formal preparation and study designed to achieve authoritative and credentialed authorization as ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet that seems not to be the path taken by Jesus himself and we are left pondering how Jesus saw himself and his path?
There’s an interesting clue found in the 4th chapter of Luke in which Jesus returns to his hometown and endeavors to qualify himself to those who knew him as a child. This is an interesting moment in the record of Jesus’ ministry because its theme is that of qualification to be recognized as someone of spiritual authority in one’s own community. As recorded in Luke, Jesus declared the following about himself:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”
Of all the proclamations and declarations made by Jesus in the Gospels regarding whom He is/was, this is the most personal and the most powerfully self-defining. This declaration rises above the rhetoric and orthodoxy of other New Testament passages where there appears to be evidence of historical evolution from what Jesus actually said to what became traditional Christian orthodoxy (Catholic and Protestant) with it’s idealized portrayals of Jesus as God-come-to-earth.
There does not seem to have been any need to put orthodoxy into Jesus’ mouth in the 4th chapter of Luke. Why then did Jesus’ quote Isaiah to describe himself?
I’d like to propose that an examination of the latter chapters of Isaiah might very well reveal the source of Jesus’ sense of calling and his understanding of the role given him by God.
I’m going to start at the 51st chapter for no other reason than I see at that chapter, the beginning of a prophetic writing that seems to relate over and over to the theme’s of Jesus’ preaching. Again I challenge you to exercise your mind spiritually and let yourselves be caught up in the imagery of scripture – more so than any literal reading of the verses.
If you understand that Jesus was aware of his on-going relationship and communion with the Father, Isaiah 51 becomes very personally relatable as a direct inspiration to the reader. It is, in a way, the Father introducing or reminding the reader who the Father is. The entire chapter is to be read, as all verses are relatable.
Chapter 52 in its entirety is a what-to-say text in which the Father declares that which He wills for humanity.
Chapter 53 in its entirety is an advance presentation of what will happen if Jesus accepts his calling and role.
Chapter 54 in its entirety is the Father’s personal revealing as a God of Compassion.
Chapter 55 is an incredibly beautiful relating of the Father’s place in our lives as a God of Compassion. Note particularly the marvelous 8th thru 13th verses that not only illustrate the Father’s higher wisdom, but also the suggestion that verses 10 to 13 are echoed in Jesus’ response to temptation in the wilderness.
Chapter 56 provides context for the universality of Jesus’ declarations; including the “outcasts” of Israel, the “sons of the stranger” and a criticism of the unrighteous dominion at the hands of spiritual rulers who are “greedy dogs which can never have enough”, and “shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.”
Chapter 57 seems to lay out the sins of a populace that has run amok under the very eyes of the formal “shepherds who cannot understand” but then concludes again with a declaration of a loving Father of compassion.
Chapters 58 and 59 have a universality of exhortation to both priests and people as to what is required by the Father as a means to repentance and wholeness. The concluding verses of Chapter 59 are astounding in that Isaiah as the primary basis for Jesus’ scriptural recognition of his role is a distinct possibility. Verse 20 expresses the coming of a Redeemer. Verse 21 seems then to be the very calling of Jesus as that Redeemer.
Having laid scriptural groundwork for ourselves in the previous 9 chapters, in chapter 60 we find a sublime “mysterium tremendum” in the communion between a Heavenly and Eternal Father and a son in mortality.
With a sense of how scripture is best utilized when personalized, we get a glimpse of how intimately applicable spiritual writing is meant to be. In this regard, the Bible – actually any spiritual writing – comes alive and the idea of a Holy Spirit invigorating human understanding becomes something quite palpable.
In conclusion then, when Jesus’ declares the words from chapter 61 of Isaiah to those for whom He has the least credibility, we sense perhaps that Jesus gave the most difficult challenge of understanding to those who knew him the most intimately before He actually became the Redeemer.
They were dared to move outside the social box in which they lived most of their lives in order to see one of their own in a vastly different light.
Perhaps that is the biggest challenge facing Christianity today. From within our 2000+ years of living in a social box that has proven itself to be as blindly narrow as that of the letter-of-the law society Judaism had become at the time of Jesus, we are challenged to see our long-time Christ in a vastly different light.
Are we judgmental to a fault?
Do we worry so much about conformity and the absoluteness of an inerrant Bible that we have become thoroughly unable to personally discern a spiritual scriptural truth that at first glance goes against traditional Christian “orthodoxy”?
Do we live – even unconsciously – in fear of knowledge that is not approved or in conformity with what we are told by many “shepherds who cannot understand”?
Is our perception of the God of Compassion marred by long-time public perception that a God who cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance implies a judgmental God who keeps score and will eventually get you in the end?
Is that why the exhortation to “fear God” leads us almost subliminally to be in a place where God must be placated by conformity and lip service to an absolute and inerrant Bible?
The calling and awakening of the Redeemer in Jesus that is implied in the latter chapters of Isaiah does not imply that Jesus had need of contemporary authorization in order to teach.
It does in fact clarify that Jesus at no point ever inferred that “I learned of God in my own way, a way not appropriate for you. For you there is only a rigid and inflexible formula of rules and specific beliefs.”
One illness that afflicts contemporary Christianity is the emphasis of form over substance. It is that emphasis that empowers a relative few who then make their living preaching rigid formulaic sermons at the expense of the relative many who continue to live entrapped in a narrow world of what is deemed “orthodox” belief.
In reality, there is no real conforming orthodoxy of belief taught by Jesus. If one examines Isaiah, finding in those chapters themes upon which Jesus himself elaborated, one understands that Jesus taught a gospel of action, not a gospel of what to believe and how to believe it.
If, in fact, the question “What would Jesus do?” is to be fully appreciated, such can only be done if “What did Jesus teach and pattern?” is allowed to rise above the self-appointed authority of those who preach themes limited by orthodoxy and tradition. Jesus’ life and teachings were radical to the society in which he was born.
They must remain radical in our own society as well. The alternative – the contemporary weakness of Christian doctrine and practice, outlook and expectation, rigid morality and judgmental societal thinking – come more and more to resemble that same society in which Jesus was born.
There was a need for Jesus at that time. The nature of that need has not changed. Jesus is as necessary today as He was in his own historical time – and for precisely the same reasons.
Read Isaiah as Jesus read Isaiah.