Intro – I ran across a cartoon that shows an old man rocking in his chair accompanied by loud squeaks. After several futile attempts to get rid of the squeaks, the angry man gets his shotgun and blows the chair to smithereens. But as the man walks away, the squeaks are still there – in his knees! Jesus runs into a similar problem in our text when He returns to his hometown as hero, identifies issues of sin He has come to resolve, only to be ridden out of town on a rail because people are blind to the fact that they are the problem!
After Jesus hung up his tool belt for the last time after 30 years as a carpenter, He made His way 70 miles south to Jerusalem to attend the annual Passover Feast. Shortly thereafter, His public ministry began when He was baptized by His cousin and forerunner, John. Then He was tested for 40 days in the wilderness by Satan – all under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
That takes us through v. 13 of Luke 4. But there is a large gap in time before v. 14. For the next 1-1/2 years, Jesus continued to minister primarily in Judea, around Jerusalem. None of the synoptic gospels (Matt, Mark or Luke) tells us about that, but John fills us in in the first 4 chapters of his gospel. Jesus does take side trips back to Galilee, like to attend the wedding in Cana recorded in John 2, but mostly He is in Judea. Eventually things get hot in Judea as religious leaders becoming increasingly jealous of his popularity and hostile to His message. He returns to Galilee, up north, and begins a year of ministry. He is greeted with wild acclaim at first, but His popularity diminishes as He presses the spiritual nature of His ministry and refuses the role of political savior that Jews everywhere imagined for their Messiah.
Vv. 14-15 summarize much of this Galilean ministry: “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” Note that Jesus is always being led and empowered by the HS. If Jesus needed that, how much more we need to follow Paul’s instruction in Eph 5:18 to “be continually being filled with the HS.” We need to be giving ourselves to Him on a day-by-day and minute-by-minute basis.
Now, Jesus left as a carpenter; He returns as a full-blown celebrity. His name is on everyone’s lips because of His miracles and His teaching. Everyone is anxious to see Him and they are not disappointed. Galilee was a region in the north of Palestine comprised of rolling hills that was amazingly fertile – with a great climate and plentiful water. It was the garden of Palestine. It was about 50 miles north to south and 25 miles wide, bordered on the east by the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that there were as many as 204 villages, none less than 15,000 people – a population of 3,000,000 –an exaggeration, but representative. To this region Jesus now gives His attention and Luke records this Galilean ministry from here through Luke 9:50.
Now, notice v. 15: “And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” Jewish worship centered around the temple in Jerusalem. Sacrifices could only be offered there. But beginning at the time of the Babylonian captivity in 606 BC, the widely dispersed Jews need places to center their worship and community life. Synagogues were the result. Much like modern churches, they kept scrolls of Scripture and became the center for learning and social life and worship each Sabbath. They were governed by elders, though they typically had no permanent pastor or teacher.
Services consisted of reading from the OT in Hebrew (which many people did not understand by that time) which was translated into Aramaic or Greek. There were prayers, some songs and someone – a visiting Rabbi or respected community leader, would teach. Synagogues were perfect places for Jesus to center His activity as He went from town to town. Notice in v. 16 that when He arrived in Nazareth, “And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.” It’s tempting to camp there. It teaches us Jesus was a church-goer. One can only imagine how bad the teaching must have been sometimes from His perspective, as rank amateurs attempted to explain what He increasingly knew to perfection. Nevertheless, He habitually went. It seems to me if Jesus found the need to be in church, we need it all the more. Beloved, don’t let weak excuses keep you away. We all need the teaching and the fellowship even if it is less than perfect. That’s why the writer to Heb says in 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” We have an awesome responsibility to both give and receive in the House of God, and Jesus never neglected either.
Now, in vv. 16-30 Jesus comes home. Luke includes this account because it precisely captures Jesus mission. If you want to know what He was about, here it is. Jesus returns as a hometown hero. It should have been a glorious homecoming. It did start that way – He was invited to speak that morning, and the initial response was very positive, but it quickly turned very ugly. Why? The nature of His sermon! Paul told Timothy in in I Tim 4:13, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” That’s the preacher’s job description. It’s all about the Word. Read it; explain it; apply it. Exactly what Jesus does. The reading and explaining go fine – but it all came apart as it often does in the application. I think Luke positioned this right after the last temptation of Christ because it illustrates people don’t want the real work of redemption – soul-cleansing repentance. They want spectacular. That was the case in Nazareth and it led to disaster. To understand what happened, our outline is to look at the Exposition, the Exhortation (application) and the Exasperation.
Vv. 16-21: “16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” After the preliminaries, the ruler of the synagogue hands Jesus the Isaiah scroll. Jesus “finds” the passage He wants to teach – a well-known passage on Israel’s future glory from Isaiah 61. The reading was dramatically appropriate. Now comes a double whammy.
The first whammy is – Jesus stops right in the middle of the passage from Isaiah. If you check it out you will see that He reads through the first phrase of Isaiah 61:2, and then He stops. He reads, “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor;” He leaves out “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Everyone would have wondered, “Why did He do that? Why stop in mid-sentence?” Well, from our distant perspective, we know why! What Jesus read perfectly describes the healing, redemptive work of Messiah. He left out judgment. We know now that is because these are dealt with in 2 separate comings. He came the first time to suffer and die and offer salvation to all who would believe; He will come the second time to bring judgment and final reconciliation of all things. And so, as often happens in the OT, we have a prophecy of the first and second coming of Christ right together in the same sentence. They could not know that, but Jesus knew, and so He stopped.
Then came the second whammy. “20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down (typical position for teaching. He was not rejoining the audience) And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. (What will the hometown hero say? What He said blew their minds!) 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Are you kidding me?! How would you like to go to church, having someone read a prophecy and say, “Well, that’s me, Friends. What Isaiah prophesied 700 years ago – it’s happening, right here, right now, right before your eyes. It’s a new age.” Then he explains the text.
Now – there’s a big question here? When the text talks about the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed, is it talking about physical disability or spiritual brokenness? Many assume these are strictly physical descriptions and make Jesus’s ministry all about righting societal wrongs, taking the side of the disenfranchised and bringing social justice. And as secondary issues, those things are in view – but they are in the background. It is primarily the spiritual bankruptcy of mankind that is addressed here. That’s why He came.
1) We know that first of all because he says these are being fulfilled today – right now – right as they sat there. And what was happening was spiritual, not physical. 2) Further He notes that captives will be freed. But at no time during Jesus’ earthly ministry did He physically release prisoners. This is a spiritual reference. 3) We also have Jesus own comment on His ministry in Luke 19:10, “But the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” That is reference to spiritual lostness. 4) Finally, we have the reaction of the crowd at the end. They reject the message – something they would have never done had these been physical references. That’s what they wanted! Jesus did do miracles, but even those were intended to point to the greater miracle of spiritual renewal, rebirth and restoration available through Him. These are spiritual issues. So, let’s take a brief look at each.
A. Good News for the Poor
Middle of v. 18, “to proclaim good news to the poor.” The poor that Jesus has in mind here is the same as those He had in mind in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5:3 when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor in spirit are those who realize they are spiritual impoverished before God – having nothing by which to ingratiate themselves with Him – nothing that could possibly satisfy His holiness and make up for their sin. They are poor because they have nothing to offer. Nothing. They see that their own righteousness is like filthy rags (Isa 64:6) against God’s holiness. That even their good deeds are selfishly motivated. That in themselves there is no good thing. They know “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” They bring nothing, but throw themselves on God’s mercy. And amazingly, those are the ones who will inherit the kingdom of God; those are the ones to whom he proclaims good news – the good news that He became poor so they could become rich spiritually.
Which means, dear friends, that if you think you are good enough, you are not poor. If you want to offer to God that you are as good as the next guy, you are not poor enough to be evangelized. You are not poor enough to inherit the kingdom of heaven and eternal life. To be poor is to confess your spiritual bankruptcy. Todd Wilken wrote in Modern Reformation magazine how most people think things work. They would plead as follows: “Members of the jury, I am not asking for mercy or pardon. I want justice. I am demanding full acquittal. Yes, I committed the murder of which I am accused. But I am not guilty. Members of the jury, you must consider all my good deeds – not merely as mitigating circumstances but as reason for exonerating me. The goodness of my other deeds outweighs the crime I committed. My good deeds require a "not guilty" verdict.” Ridiculous, right? But that’s how most people think they will approach God. They are not poor in spirit and they will not inherit the kingdom of God. The good news is for those who are impoverished. It is for those who pray, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.” Is that us?
B. Release for the Captives
V. 18, “He sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives.” Not release from jail – release from something much worse – release from guilt! The word translated “proclaim liberty” is the Greek word αφησις (aphesis) -- “forgiveness”. The same word is in “to set at liberty (forgive) those who are oppressed”. Twice for emphasis. The word is used 17 times in the NT and in all except these 2 it is translated “forgiveness.” You can’t miss the point. All people are spiritually captive by sin and Satan and in desperate need of forgiveness. But we don’t really believe that! In our lostness we imagine that we are free. It is a tragic deception. Turn with me to John 8:31: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Case closed. If you sin, you are a slave and you need to be set free – forgiven on the basis of Jesus’ death in your place.
Do you believe that we are all slaves to sin before we ask Christ to save and forgive us? Spiritual slavery is a horrendous reality, Beloved. Irwin Lutzer tells of a missionary who told how tribal people capture monkeys. They cut a hole in a pumpkin, put monkey treats in the bottom and wait. The monkeys come along and grab the treats. But the hole, while big enough to allow their hand to slip in, is too small to allow a fist filled with goodies to come out. Even when capture is imminent, they will not let go. Enslaved, like people outside of Christ holding tightly to sin. They prefer their sin to Christ. But their sin traps them into an eternity apart from God – unless they accept the forgiveness of Christ. Have you been forgiven? He came to forgive captives.
He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me. – Charles Wesley
C. Sight for the Blind
Jesus third Messianic purpose in v. 18: “and recovering of sight to the blind.” Jesus healed physically blind people. But that was simply an outward evidence of His ability to bring light to the spiritually blind. Spiritual blindness is the condition of fallen mankind. God has a devastating word in Jer 5: 21) “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not. 22) Do you not fear me? declares the LORD. Do you not tremble before me?” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Spiritually blind people just don’t get that. They see a God of love, but reject His holiness and see nothing to fear. They are blind, Beloved.
II Cor 4:3-4, “ And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” That’s clear, isn’t it? People insist that God will accept their goodness reject the gospel because they are blind to their own sin. Blindness is an awful thing, isn’t it? Harold Krents, a blind author, illustrates this truth by telling of his baby book. “The first several pages contain the usual: my birth weight, the date of my arrival home, the day I got my first tooth. Then comes the page headed, May 23, 1945. I was eight months old and because of mounting suspicions, my parents had taken me to see an eye specialist in Boston. The entry reads: ‘We have just returned from Boston with Harold. My baby is blind.’ All of the remaining pages are blank.” It is an awful thing to be blind – even worse to be blind and not know it. Like Helen Keller who was isolated in both blindness and deafness. Remember the heartwarming story of how her teacher, Annie, finally reached her with sign language communicated by touch? And that wonderful moment when little Helen stopped cold as she realized what was happening for the first time. Annie had reached Helen’s isolation and a whole new world opened to her. That’s what Jesus came to do – to give sight to the blind who do not even know they are blind.
Paul described it beautifully in Eph 5:8, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” Are you light this morning? Have you allowed the Savior to penetrate the darkness of your existence without Him? If you have not, why not? If yes, are you living like light? Christ came to bring recovering of sight to the blind.
D. The Time is Now
V. 19, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” When is the year of the Lord’s favor? Beloved, it is now. The time is now. Now, before the inevitable judgment of God falls and finds you still in your sin. Paul said it: II Cor 6:2, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” He’s reminding us we don’t have forever to humbly confess our poverty. We don’t have forever to escape our captivity to sin. We don’t have forever to allow His light to overcome the blindness of our existence outside of Christ. We just have now. The favorable year of the Lord will soon be over. When? We don’t know! We are not promised one more breath. Now is all we have. Do you have Christ? Then you must accept Him now while the time is right. It will never be easier; it will never be more clear; it will never be more favorable. Reject Him now and it may be the last time.
One young man took a skiing vacation and on the first day he fell and seriously injured himself. As the doctor examined him, he moaned, “Why couldn’t this have happened on my last day of skiing?” The doctor looked at him and gravely replied, “Son, this is your last day of skiing.” The point is, we do not know when our last day will be, do we? All we have is now.
Three years ago Patty and I were part of a Mission Team to Guatemala. While there we met a love and talented young couple of who had been with Food for the Hungry for less than a year. Yet in that short time they had already had an impact with a mountain village that they had taught to make and market candles, while sharing Christ with them as well. We ended up spending some time with David and Melinda Evans when they drove us to the airport, and we found out just how committed they were. In addition to a couple of children of their own, they also had at that time 4 adopted children, all with varying degrees of special needs – any one of which would have buried us. What a remarkable couple.
By the time we got home we felt led to become part of their support team. Thus we kept up with them. Last year they finished their mission in Guatemala and moved on to the Dominican Republic where God led them. The conditions as they arrived around October, 2012 were primitive indeed. They were struggling to settle in with such basic needs as water and electricity challenges and often unavailable. Meantime, in November, Melinda went on her own to China to pick up another child – an albino girl with hearing and seeing issues. The last couple of months they have been getting Naomi Rose settled into their family.
Last Wednesday I opened my email to find a request from David that we pray for them. He had been struck with Dengue Fever, was mostly recovered but still very fatigued. Meanwhile Melinda had been at home in bed for 4 days until it became apparent that she needed to go to the hospital because she was dehydrated. She was stable but they were doing blood work to look for further signs. Naomi Rose was showing early signs of the fever. So, we began to pray. On Friday, Dick Mulhern, who is with Food for the Hungry, passed on an email he had just gotten from Victor Cortez, director of that region for FFH. It announced that Melinda Evans had died. And she had died on the very day that David sent out his prayer request. I had to look again at the email as I could hardly absorb this news. It was devastating. And yet somehow it was in the plan of our great, gracious, and loving Father.
Please pray for the Evans family, will you, as David determines how to cope with the tremendous burden of responsibility that has fallen onto his shoulders in the midst of his grief. But I share that story with you this morning to urge upon you again the shortness of the time. The time is now. Melinda was 42 years of age and had everything to live for, yet the Lord called her home. Thankfully, she knew the Lord. Check her blog and you will find a woman who was obsessed with clinging to the Lord in the midst of the most trying of circumstances. But how would it be with you? What if he called you home today? None of us have a guarantee for another day, let along another 10 years. We don’t know. And Dengue Fever has little to do with it. Psalm 139 assures that our days are written His book. There is not changing His decree. It matters little when the time comes whether it is Dengue Fever, heart attack, cancer, being hit by a car or dying of old age. It will come quickly and it will come unexpectedly. Are you ready? Do you know Jesus? I urge you – confess your sin, give your heart to Jesus. Do it now while the time is favorable. Now – is all the time you have. Let’s pray.