I have two questions for you this morning. First, what do you think when you see a person who looks to be in their 80's working as a greeter in Wal-mart. I wonder if this is what they want to do at this stage in their life or are they financially strapped and have to do this work. I wonder if when that person was in their 30's they had dreams of doing things in their retirement and now those hopes and dreams have pretty much disappeared even though they longed for it. The second question: Do you believe that Jesus is coming again? Of course! When do you think that will be? Do you think it will be in your lifetime? We know that it’s real and that it will happen but to think that it will happen within our lifetime just doesn’t seem very realistic.
Both of those kinds of longing and waiting help us to understand the mind set of many Jews in Jesus’ day. They knew that God had promised a special time when they would be at peace, but it seemed so far removed... until one day in a synagogue in Nazareth where they heard a sermon that completely astounded them. Let’s read Luke 4:14-21.
There is a detail here that helps us understand what is happening in this next stage of Jesus’ life. Verse 14 says, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit...” The Spirit that drove Jesus to the desert now drives him to Galilee. The Spirit is the force that is guiding and driving Jesus to do what he is supposed to be doing and going where he should be going. So Jesus now returns from the desolate desert to the populated region of Galilee.
Verse 14 says, “News about him spread through the whole countryside.” More than likely the reason for his reputation spreading is because of what Luke says next: Jesus “taught in their synagogues.” What Jesus taught will be clarified in 16-21. The result was that “everyone praised him;” they appreciated his teachings. However, this phrase also reflects who Jesus is. Praise elsewhere in the gospels is given by humans only to God and so here we may get a hint of Luke saying who Jesus is. But for now Jesus is creating a “buzz” in Galilee.
II. Next we look at the synagogue reading in verses 16-19.
Verse 16 says that Jesus returned to “Nazareth where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.” The synagogue occupied a central place in Jewish religious life in the first century. On the Sabbath it was the place for the reading and exposition of Scripture. There was free exchange of ideas among those gathered in the Synagogue and anyone was allowed to speak who had something of significance to say. Notice that Luke says that Jesus went to the synagogue “as was his custom.” Not only did Jesus reveal his devotion to the Scriptures by attending the synagogue, but he evidently often was one who read and expounded the Scriptures.
Jesus then stood up to read and verse 17 says, “The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:...” I love Luke’s sense of action and drama that is reflected here. He stood up, was handed the scroll and he unrolled it. Notice how each action of Jesus is highlighted and how this slows the story down. Luke makes it possible to imagine Jesus being in the synagogue and creates anticipation of what will happen next. The text that Jesus reads is from Isaiah 61:1-2 from the Old Testament. There are two slight differences that are significant to notice. First, from Isaiah 61:2b the phrase “the day of vengeance of our God” has been omitted by Jesus when he reads the passage. Second, the rest of the quotation is from Isaiah 58:6, which says literally, “to send for the oppressed in release” has been added to the end of Luke 4:18. Jesus includes this text along with the Isaiah 61 verses in order to draw special attention to the word “release” as a characteristic activity of Jesus’ ministry.
Notice as well how Jesus slowly reveals what he is about to do. In Greek, the first three lines each end with “me,” thus emphasizing in the clearest possible way that it is his mission “to proclaim good news to the poor.” Finally notice that the passage begins with “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” which highlights what Luke had just said: Jesus was guided to Nazareth by the Spirit. This is not just a man who is taking up the mantel of being a messiah. This is a Holy Spirit-driven mission that Jesus is fulfilling. Jesus very intentionally chooses this passage to introduce what his mission will be.
So what is the mission as described by Isaiah and claimed by Jesus? Isaiah says that the Messiah will come to preach good news to the poor. This is more than the spiritually poor or even the economically poor. The poor in Jesus’ day reflects an entire social status. It included things like education, gender, family heritage, religious purity, vocation, economics and so on. The poor are those of low status and other disadvantaged conditions. The Messiah will come to bring release to the prisoners. The ones Isaiah and Jesus have in mind are those who are outside the boundaries of God’s people because of socio-religious reasons. Jesus makes it clear that even outsiders are also objects of God’s grace.
One of the key words here is “release,” which is repeated twice in the Greek. The year of Jubilee is called the year of “release” and “the year of the Lord’s favor.” This was every 50 years when the slaves were freed and debts were cancelled. The land itself was to rest and land was returned to the original owners. Both Isaiah 58 and 61 develop Jubilee themes and describe the people’s coming redemption from exile and captivity in the language of Jubilee release. And so what we see here is Jesus announcing the great feast of Jubilee, perhaps the most amazing feast of the Jewish calendar and perhaps never celebrated before. It was an ideal never before achieved in the Old Testament and an ideal that seemed out of reach except for maybe when the Messiah would come. It would be like us wishing for peace on earth; a nice thought but unattainable. So with that in mind, listen to what Jesus says next.
III. Let’s look now at the Fulfillment in verses 20-21.
Now picture the scene here and remember that Jesus’ listeners didn’t know what we know. They simply heard Jesus’ words without any of the hints Luke includes for his readers. They had heard these very Scriptures read and likely many times in anticipation of the hope that is promised in them. Most people would not expect it to be fulfilled at any time in the near future. Also, again notice the deliberate action of Jesus here. He carefully reverses the actions he took before the reading and Luke carefully records them to highlight the anticipation. “Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.” It’s a powerfully dramatic scene as the eyes of everyone were focused on him, waiting to see what this new teacher would say about this amazing prophecy. I can imagine them expecting Jesus to say that someday this will happen. Or this is how we are to live as we await God’s Jubilee.
Instead Jesus simply says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” That simple statement must have completely astonished his listeners! Today!? Right now!? How can that possibly be??? Jesus boldly announces not only that the year of Jubilee is now going to be a reality, but that he is the one who will usher it in! And when he says “in your hearing,” it’s an invitation to accept what he is saying. The age of the great salvation has come with Jesus; how will they respond?
Stan Purdum tells of a member of his church named Peg, who told him a wonderful story from her 58-year marriage to her late husband. She explained that sometimes they'd both be tired from a day of work and would go out to a restaurant for dinner. On some of those occasions, when they had nothing specific to talk about, her husband would look at her and say “A.” Peg would respond with “B.” He responded to her with “C,” and so on they'd go back and forth through the alphabet until conversation or even laughter emerged. It was an invitation to respond to him. Jesus says “in your hearing” because now it’s time for them to respond to the invitation of the good news of the jubilee that Christ is bringing!
IV. Is there Jubilee for us?
Jesus has certainly come and the age of salvation is now here! It is here for us and we should celebrate it and live in it. We praise God for it daily and thank God for our release from sin daily. And we must live in gratitude for it day after day after day. And it is here for the world and we must do what we can to share this with others. We can let others around us know the reason why we have hope and joy. We do this in our workplaces, our neighborhoods and families. We have joy and peace; something that many others in the world don’t have.
But what about the “release?” Jesus said that he now releases us from all the things that hold us down and enslave us. And yet we are still struggling with the sins in our lives. And so we wonder, “Is there really release as Jesus said?” The answer is “Yes!” While we may still struggle with sin and its effects, the victory has been won. The decisive battle has been fought and Satan cannot win even though he is still very dangerous and still wreaks havoc on people’s lives. We have been released from sin and guilt by the grace of God.
And now Jesus invites us to extend that release to those still enslaved. We are to extend that release to the poor and imprisoned in the world. Many are out of the mainstream or disenfranchised in their setting. The refugee families in our neighborhood are far away from their country and trying to make it in a new country that is so different from theirs. And there are the blind in the world. There are those round us who don’t know the truth and we need to bring the light of Jesus to as many people as possible. But we do so in a way that brings release to those who are on the outside.