Set Free – January 27, 2013 – Luke 4: 14 – 21

Today’s Scripture reading is a rich story.  The Scripture caption calls it: “Jesus announces good news to the poor.”  The story goes…

Jesus had been baptized then disappeared in the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days.  He emerges from the wilderness in the power of the Holy Spirit ready to begin His ministry of teaching and proclaiming the word of God.  “In the power of the Spirit” is the way Luke puts it.  Luke likes to use that phrase about Jesus, using “it over a dozen times in Luke and Acts.” [1]

News about Jesus had spread throughout the whole countryside.  People were talking about his teachings.  The people loved Him.  “There had been too many years of one cruel Gentile ruler after another—first, the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, followed by the Persians and the Greeks, and now the Romans”[2]  This Jewish boy seems to be filled with promise and hope for a new reality.  The people praised Him when He taught.  The Greek says he was “glorified – doxozemenos – by all.”  He was a popular guy.

Jesus heads to his hometown Nazareth in Galilee stopping along the way to preach and teach in the synagogues.  Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  This was a habit he obviously picked up from His mother Mary and Joseph.  They had, as the Bible tells us, taken him to be circumcised, taken Him to the Temple, and observed the Passover.  He had been raised in the Jewish tradition.  Going to the synagogue on the Sabbath was a natural part of His week, as natural as us coming to church on Sundays.

On that evening in the synagogue, Jesus stood up to read the text.  The gathering would usually start with prayer followed by the reading and interpretation of Scriptures.  Jesus stood up to read.  Any man could volunteer to read the Scriptures simply by standing up.[3]

Luke takes particular attention to the precise movement of the events of the story. Jesus stood up.  The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah.  Jesus unrolled the scroll.  He found the place in Isaiah.[4]

Jesus reads from Isaiah 61: 1 – 2, which reads:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The passage Jesus reads from Isaiah speaks of a prophet being anointed by the Spirit and led to speak on behalf of God to the people.  These words are the promises of God to the people that one will be sent who will fulfill this great calling.  God’s goodness and mercy are coming to the poor.  It is very good news.  The captives will be released, the blind shall see, the oppressed shall be set free.

And, the final promise is the year of the Lord’s favor.  This year the prophet speaks of is the year of Jubilee.  It is mandated in Leviticus 25.  Leviticus is that book that doesn’t get much attention because it is 600+ laws for the Jews to follow.  The year of the Jubilee is worth our attention.  The year of the Jubilee is celebrated every 50 years in which families who have lost land may buy it back, as well as debtors may be forgiven of their debts, and slaves are set free.  It is called the year of release.  The year of the Lord’s favor in Isaiah 61 recalls the Jubilee.[5]

Jesus reads the passage from the scroll likely accenting “me” within the reading.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon ME, because the Lord has anointed ME.  He has sent ME…This reading ties Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit descending upon Him with the mission that the prophet Isaiah sets forth, which will be bringing good news to the poor.[6]

As the story continues, Luke is once again attentive to the details of how this all takes place.[7]  After the reading, He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down.  “It was the Jewish custom to read standing, but to preach sitting.”[8] The reader would read the Scripture then sit down to offer his interpretation.  This was so that there would be no confusion between the written word of God and the interpretation.  However, in this instance, Jesus both reads and speaks the Word of God.[9]

As He sits down, every eye is fixed on Him waiting for His teaching.  He speaks what is likely the shortest sermon ever.  I should have taken His cue and kept today’s short, but I didn’t.

He speaks, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” Or, as you were hearing it.  In those few short words, He makes a bold proclamation.  He claims He is the One anointed by God, filled with God’s Spirit and fulfills the sending of a prophet to bring good news to the poor.[10]

There is a familiar Christmas carol, “What Child Is This?”  The song asks,
“What Child is this who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
while shepherds watch are keeping?”

Since the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, we have many characters who have answered the question.  The angel Gabriel tells Mary that her son will be the Son of the Most High.  Mary’s cousin Elizabeth said Mary’s son would be blessed.  Mary and her cousin’s husband Zechariah recount the Lord’s mighty deeds.  The angels declared to the shepherds that their Savior was born.  The shepherds told others about seeing the Savior.  The holy man Simeon said the boy would be the sign of the rising and falling of Israel; his wife Anna spoke about his role in the redemption of Jerusalem.  John the Baptist says he is one in the wilderness preparing the way for God’s Savior.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, we have a number of characters who have revealed who Christ is.  Jesus’ first public act is to affirm what all the others have said, not by action.  He speaks the Word of God.  Luke 4: 14 – 21 is essentially a statement of Jesus’ ministry and His purpose.  It reveals who Jesus is, what He will do, and where He has come from.  Jesus sets His ministry on the path of God’s ongoing commitment and promise to the Jewish people for redemption and salvation.  It is not just the people of Israel; God’s promise is specifically for the poor, marginalized, oppressed, downtrodden, God fearing descendants of Abraham.  This promise of God to the people of Israel will be embodied in Jesus’ ministry. [11]

Once again in this season of Epiphany, we have a moment of revelation.  In this Scripture text, Scripture is the revelation as Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise.  Jesus fulfills the promises in His earthly life and ministry.  Throughout the Gospels, we read stories of His healing and miracle ministry proving He was filled with the Holy Spirit anointed by God and had a mission to set free all those captive to the ills of life.

If we didn’t have enough proof in the stories about His life and ministry, we have the proof of the resurrection.  Paul Scott Wilson writes, “The resurrection of Jesus is the divine act that rightly banishes despair, brings forth justice, pours out mercy, lifts up the weak, frees the oppressed, feeds the hungry, cures the sick, restores sight to the blind, offers a home to the homeless, and brings outsiders into community.”[12]

Usually, I try to leave you with something to do or to reflect on.  Or, I will give you an idea for how the text applies to your life.  No application this week.  There’s nothing to do.  There’s nothing more to say.  The Scripture is life.  We simply listen to the word of God and see it revealed as Jesus Christ.  We are given the gift of Jesus Christ who is prophet and servant who has come to set us free.  Today, we receive the gift that sets us free.  It needs no action or application.  It is what it is.  Jesus is the Word of God.

[8] From Wesley’s Notes. John Wesley (1703-1791).


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