In this part, we’ll begin sorting through the “kingdom” passages in Luke, because Luke so often refers to the “good news of the kingdom.” Obviously, we can’t understand “good news” without understanding “kingdom.”
And the goal isn’t so much to define “kingdom” as to get the flow of thought. What’s the big deal? Why did God take human form and walk the earth to preach “kingdom”?
Jesus’ birth announced to Mary
When an angel told Mary she would bear Jesus, the angel said,
(Luke 1:30-33) But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.“
We learn —
- Jesus in the Messiah
- He’ll sit on David’s throne
- He’ll be Son of the Most High
- He will rule over Israel
- His kingdom will never end
Mary responds soon thereafter with a prophecy called the Magnificat (after the first word in Latin) —
(Luke 1:46-55) And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”
We learn —
- God is our Savior
- God is merciful to those who fear him
- God does mighty works
- God scatters the proud
- God brings down the rulers
- God lifts the humble
- God fills the hungry
- God sends the rich away empty
- God blesses Israel as has been prophesied
This is very much in the tradition of the Prophets and is in many ways the theme of Luke-Acts. We don’t see it because Acts comes so much later — and someone slipped John in between. But Acts begins with the hungry being fed, the rich being brought down (shamed by their crucifixion of Jesus, thwarted in their efforts to stop the spread of the kingdom), Israel blessed, God doing mighty works. But Acts 2 isn’t so much the fulfillment of the prophecy as it shows how an apostolic church fulfills the prophecy. (If that’s not so, then the prophecy is no longer being fulfilled.)
Thus, if we truly want to be a New Testament church, we’ll emulate the Jerusalem congregation, not in terms of acts of worship so much as in terms of lifting the humble, feeding the hungry, and refusing to bow to the rich and powerful. Yes, there’s a pattern. We just missed it altogether.
The Sermon on the Plain
Luke contains only one lengthy speech by Jesus. Early on, we see Jesus speaking about the kingdom —
(Luke 6:20-49) Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.
27 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
39 He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.
41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”
Now, the parallels to the Sermon on the Mount are obvious, but it’s not necessary to assume this is the same sermon. After all, Jesus surely used the same material more than once. All preachers do.
And it’s a mistake to read this through the lens of Matthew as though Matthew were more inspired than Luke. Rather, we need to read this sermon for what it says.
We learn —
- The Beatitudes in this passage follow Isaiah’s prophecy of good news and the Magnificat. They are about the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, those who are persecuted. Many try to spiritualize the lesson, taking “hungry” to mean “hungry for sound doctrine” or such like, but that’s not what Jesus says in Luke, and we have references in Luke-Acts to Jesus feeding the hungry by the thousands and to the early church having all things in common and raising money across the Empire to feed the poor. (And compare vv. 24-25.)
- The Jesus of Luke preaches a radical form of charity. “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” It’s unlikely that Jesus wants us to enable theft. The subject is charitable giving. Under the Law of Moses, Jews were expected to lend to the poor and to not collect the debt if the poor could not afford repayment. This passage is all about caring for the needy.
- The good news of the kingdom, therefore, includes the formation of a community that is radically, astonishingly generous to the needy.
- The kingdom will not judge each other as the world does.
- The kingdom will “do unto others.”
Jesus puts some meat on the “love thy neighbor” bones. This kingdom is about salvation, but Jesus’ preaching is about caring for those in need, doing unto others, and refusing harsh judgment.
And so we see much of the content of Jesus’ preaching the “gospel of the kingdom.” And we see how Jesus intends for Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled.