Throughout the first four chapters of Luke, we have heard the announcement that God is finally becoming King in and through the arrival of the Messiah. The angels in Luke 2:10 told the shepherds that the birth of the new king was good news for "all people." But, in spite of that, we find that there are many people who are not at all happy about this news, and some of those unhappy people are Israelites! Luke doesn't introduce us to the unhappy current "king of the Jews", Herod, until later in his gospel, but he does tells us about Simeon's words to Mary when she brought the baby Jesus into the Temple: "This Child is appointed for the rise and fall of many in Israel..." While the birth of Israel's deliverer king must certainly be consider good news for Israel, there was apparently a sifting determined right from the beginning. It seems that not all Israel was truly Israel, as the Apostle Paul would later famously say (Romans 9:6). But Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist, was already ahead of Paul as he warns the people of Israel not to use heritage as a claim for being the covenant people of God.
"Don't start saying to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father;' let me tell you, God can raise up children from Abraham from these stones! The axe is already laid at the roots of the tree--so every tree that doesn't produce good fruit will be thrown into the fire." Luke 3:8-9 Who really is the true Israel, the people of God? That has been a reoccurring question throughout the opening of Luke's Gospel. This is a question about "justification". That is to say, it is a question about who can be justifiably declared to be part of God's covenant family in these all important days when God was bringing the covenant to its fulfillment. We will find that Luke's answer, or rather, Jesus' answer is shocking throughout the Gospel as people find themselves on the outside who assumed they would be on the inside and vice versa. Some people hate surprises, especially when the surprise is a shocking splash of cold water in the face. The water of John's baptism was refused by some, but it still had its shocking effect by acting as a dividing line in the community. And now that Jesus arrives on the scene, He picks up right where John left off.
Jesus stands up in the synagogue and reads from the prophet Isaiah. This would have been a near equivalent to our Sunday church services, nothing too out of the ordinary. But Jesus declares that the long awaited day of God's saving act was being fulfilled right before their very eyes in Himself. But Jesus knows already that He will be challenged on this claim and he warns the people of His home town with two stories from the prophets where all of Israel was suffering and needing deliverance but the only ones who received God's rescue were Gentiles! That was not what the people of that synagogue wanted to hear. But they inadvertently prove Jesus' point by nearly succeeding in throwing Him off a cliff! It seems that some of the people who should have been the very first to receive the blessings of God's Messiah and Kingdom, didn't want anything to do with it. So who will actually benefit from what God will accomplish in Jesus? That is one of the questions that Luke is presenting to us in his Gospel and it is a question that is still very relevant today. Many people call themselves Christians but are they really benefiting from God's saving action? As we continue to read through Luke's Gospel, ask yourself "who do I identify with most in this story?" Will you be found in the crowd who is receiving the benefits of the kingdom of God or are you one of those who would like to throw this whole idea over a cliff? Maybe, you aren't either of these groups. Maybe you still haven't decided. If that is you, keep watching and keep listening and keep reading until you see who this Jesus really is. That is what Luke would want you to do.