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LUKE - ACTS      Luke Acts


JESUS AND HIS CHARISMATIC COMMUNITY


In his work Empowered for Witness, R.P.Menzies describes the Christian community in Jerusalem as a "prophetic community empowered for a missionary task". [1] In this study we ask whether Luke in his Gospel sees Jesus beginning to shape such a community before Pentecost. [2]

1. CHRISTOLOGICAL TITLES AND THE IDEA OF COMMUNITY

That Jesus intended to form a community can be deduced from the titles he used and accepted.

Messiah
"He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end" (Lk.1:33). The promises given at the nativity of Jesus spoke of him receiving a kingdom.  But is this kingdom the nation of Israel, or is it larger, a spiritual kingdom - the messianic kingdom of God? Jesus did call people to himself - his messianic mission included proclaiming the good news (9:1-2). [3]

Master and Lord
The terms of discipleship, Master and Lord, may be seen as communal terms.  The members of the Jewish and Hellenistic churches in the Acts are called disciples (e.g., Acts 6:1,2,7; 14:21,22).  The disciples of Jesus included women (Lk.8:1-3).

Son of Man
In the OT book of Daniel the Son of Man is an apocalyptic person, who represents a community of "the saints" or "the holy ones" (Dan.7:9-14, 26-27). Did Jesus use the title to represent his messianic community? T.W.Manson says that the demands Jesus made on his disciples suggests this.[4] Jesus, he says, in adopting this title of solidarity, expected the purposes of God to be accomplished in the community that gathered around him.  He says:

This at once suggests that what was in the mind of Jesus was that he and his followers together should share that destiny which he describes as the Passion of the Son of Man; that he and they together should be the Son of Man, the Remnant that saves by service and self-sacrifice, the organ of God's redemptive purpose in the world. [5]


2. THE CALL TO DISCIPLESHIP

The Gospels witness to the fact that Jesus called people to follow him.  The Lord's apostles were with him for three years before the Easter events.

The call to follow
Luke records that Jesus called his first followers after a period of preaching.  This was when Simon, and the sons of Zebedee followed him (Lk.5:1-11). [6] There was something very compelling about Christ's call.  It was a call to follow him - not a belief, philosophy or group (5:27).  Again, uniquely, Jesus' community was to be a missionary community - they would "catch men" (5:10).  The followers of Jesus were called "disciples". [7] John the Baptist had disciples (11:1), but the call of Jesus and his concept of discipleship must be compared with that of John's.  J.A.Fitzmyer compares Jesus' disciples to "the sons of the prophets" (e.g., 2 Kgs.2:3,5,7,15), [8] the pupils of the Jewish rabbis, the Qumran disciples, disciples of the Pharisees (Lk.5:33), and those associated with the mystery religions and philosophical schools. [9]

The challenge of discipleship (9:57-62)
After the account of the rejection of Jesus by a Samaritan village, Luke brings together three stories that feature Christ's challenge of discipleship.  Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem - and the cross (Lk.9:51). 

The first man expressed a zealous ambition to follow Jesus (9:57-58).  Jesus' reply, in the form of a Son of Man saying, indicates that the man had not really counted the cost of what discipleship would mean (cf.14:28-33).  "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (9:58).  L.Morris says that here we are given an incidental glimpse of the cost of the incarnation and comments: "It shows that the follower of Jesus must not reckon on luxurious living". [10]

The second man is challenged to follow Jesus.  In response the man first seeks permission to bury his father (9:59-60).  Jesus challenges any delay to his call - the spiritually dead can look after the dead - Jesus' call must have priority.  If the man wanted to stay at home until he had performed his family duties then the Lord's challenge is in keeping with the challenge: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he cannot be my disciple" (14:26).  The challenge of Jesus would have greater urgency if the man's father was already dead. [11]

The third man who expresses a desire to follow Jesus, wanted to say farewell to his family (9:61-62). The story is reminiscent of that of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs.19:19-21). Jesus must have sensed some indecision in the man's request when he responded. According to I.H.Marshall, "He had to be told that there can be no turning back in the service of Jesus, any more than a backward-looking ploughman can expect to produce a straight furrow". [12]

The call of Jesus was direct and demanding, as the three challenges recorded in Lk.14:26-33 demonstrate.  To follow Jesus entailed an undivided commitment (v.26), the willingness to face persecution and death (v.27), and self-denial (v.33).

3. THE DISCIPLES SHARE IN THE MINISTRY OF JESUS

"Discipleship means to be totally bound to Jesus' person and his mission.  It was only as they shared in his mission that his disciples shared in his authority and charismatic power (Mk.3:14f.; 6:7 pars.; Lk.10:19)" (J.D.G.Dunn). [13]

The disciples in mission
Jesus called people to follow him, and those who responded became his disciples.  Some disciples journeyed with Jesus, while others stayed at home (Lk.9:38-42).  Luke records that after prayer the Lord chose twelve men from among his disciples and designated them as apostles (Gk. apostolos, apostle, messenger, or sent one) (6:12-16). [14] In Luke chapter nine the Twelve are sent on a mission to "preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick" (9:1-2).  In Luke chapter ten 70 (or 72) are appointed and sent out to heal the sick and to announce, "The kingdom of God is near you" (10:9).  Both missions were successful (see 9:6; 10:17). [15]

Power and authority
"When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick" (Lk.9:1-2).  There is a strong sense of fellowship in the community [16] of Jesus (10:16).  The disciples were called to share in the ministry of Jesus in a real way.  He gave them his power and authority.  If the power of Jesus was "the power of the Spirit" (4:14), then the Spirit's power is shared with the disciples.  This "power" enabled them to lay hands on the sick so that they were cured.  The touching of the sick brought healing (8:46).

The terms "power" (dunamis) and "authority" (exousia) are sometimes synonyms in Luke. [17] However, the thought of exousia as "delegated authority" is meaningful in the context of Luke 9 and 10.  The story of the centurion's servant illustrates this authority (7:1-10). The comments of R.Stronstad on "the transfer motif" may apply here. [18] As there was a transfer of the Spirit from Moses to Joshua, and from Elijah to Elisha, from Saul to David, so Luke uses this charismatic motif for Jesus and his disciples. [19]

The church with a mission
Luke's record of the Great Commission includes the vision of Jesus: "Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations" (Lk.24:47).  J.D.G.Dunn says that those who gathered around Jesus "did so to share in his task, to follow him in his mission, and for no other reason". [20] T.W.Manson says that the call of the Twelve indicates two objectives: "the creation of a circle of intimate companions, and the establishment of a missionary body". [21]

4. DID JESUS INTEND TO FOUND A CHURCH?

Did Jesus seek to organise a community - a fraternity of people that would be the church? [22]

The term "church"
An answer can be sought by asking whether Jesus used the word "church" in his teaching.  The fact is, in the Gospels, it can only be found in Mt.16:18 and 18:17.  This had led some scholars to doubt whether Jesus used it at all.  The term ekkēsia (assembly, church) is not found in the Gospel of Luke, but it is found in the Acts.  It is used in a secular sense in Acts 19:32, 39 - it is used by Stephen of the congregation of Israel in the OT (Acts 7:38). [23] In a Christian sense it is used of local Christian communities (Acts 11:22; 13:1; 15:41; 16:5), as a collective term of communities in an area (9:31) and of the universal church (20:28). 

But in his ministry Jesus does use other words and pictures that suggest a settled community of God's people.  His use of the titles Master, Lord and Son of Man intimate his purpose in creating a community.  Then, the metaphors of the kingdom of God (e.g., Lk.18:17), the shepherd and the sheep (12:32; 15:1-7) and the family (8:21) also support this view. [24]

Further intimations
That Jesus expected his disciples to continue as a church can be argued from the following points:

  • Jesus appointed the Twelve as spiritual leaders of his community (Lk.6:12-16; Acts 1:15-26).

  • He commissioned his followers to make disciples from the nations (Lk.24:46-49; cf. Mt.28:19-20).

  • He gave the sacraments of water baptism and the communion (or Lord's Supper) to his community (Lk.22:19-20)

  • He gave teaching to his community (e.g., Lk.6:20-49; 11:1-4). [25]

We can expect the lessons Jesus taught his inner circle of disciples in community for three years to be applied to the new communities of the Jerusalem church.  Acts 2:42-47 does represent the continuation of a close fellowship of believers meeting in table-fellowship.  If Jesus planned to form a church it was not in the sense of a religious organisation with a hierarchy of officials.  The church of the Acts is a dynamic church - an organism unified and inspired by the Holy Spirit! The apostles continued the ministry they had shared with Jesus in an augmented sense as the Spirit came on them at Pentecost as the Lord promised (24:49).

5. QUESTIONS

1. Note C.A.Craig's comments on Lk.12:1-59. [26] On vv.13-21 he says, "The disciples must also learn not to be diverted from their commitment to Jesus by greed for wealth and material possession, a theme that is important to the evangelist Luke". [27] Is this teaching applicable to today's church?

2. Can the doctrines of the so-called "prosperity gospel" be found in the teaching of Jesus?



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