We’re in the middle of Luke 4 and we’re just about to hear Jesus’ mission statement.
Having been commissioned at his baptism and declared war on all that is evil in the desert with Satan, he’s set to begin his ministry. Luke shows us an episode in Nazareth, Jesus’ home town.
It’s programmatic of Jesus’ life and ministry.
- It says so much of who Jesus is and what he came to do.
- Jesus is framed in beautiful, positive language.
- And yet he’s wilfully misunderstood, and rejected.
- That’s his life and ministry, and very much the shape of yours too, if you follow Jesus.
We begin with Good News though!
The Good News is very good (16-21)
Last time we saw Jesus emerge from his time of testing in the desert and then go about preaching.
Read Luke 4:14-15.
So with that in mind, you can imagine that there’d be quite a bit of interest in his boyhood hometown when he came along: Read Luke 4:16.
- As I said a few weeks ago, those of you with children ought to think carefully to model your family life as Christ’s was; he went to the synagogue every week.
Why would you think you might not?
- But this Sabbath was different!
- There had been rumours of him teaching and (whisper it!) doing miracles!
- Expectations of something extraordinary are high.
- He’s there to read and preach – completely as normal. And yet, this week, it’s not normal at all.
So, as normal, things progress: Read Luke 4:17.
Don’t miss the fact that Jesus turned to the specific part of Isaiah that he wanted. He chose this reading as a deliberate self-declaration. Read Luke 4:18-19. He’s starting his ministry. This is Jesus’ mission statement. It’s been labelled his “Nazareth Manifesto” (C J H Wright).
It’s tempting to over-spiritualise:
- Good News to the poor in spirit
- That the spiritually blind will see
But he’s reading Isaiah 61:1-2. There’s an extra phrase added (from Isaiah 35) and a last line left out.
And the language of Isaiah 61 is the language of Jubilee. In Leviticus 25, laws are given for the year of Jubilee.
- It happened every 49 years, a Sabbath of Sabbath years.
- All debts would be cancelled.
- All slaves would be freed. All land bought and sold would be returned to ancestral families.
- No-one could gather unlimited wealth, and no-one could become irreversibly destitute.
- Nothing could be harvested that year, but God promised to provide bumper crops the year before.
So to keep the year of Jubilee was an act of faith in God, a celebration of his providence, and a sharing in his own care for the poor, the weak, the vulnerable. It meant no-one could gather unlimited wealth – a reminder that true riches come from being a child of God.
Isaiah 61 uses that imagery and says that when God’s messiah comes he will usher in the year of God’s favour. And Jesus read it out and said, in effect: “That’s me. I am bringing in the year of God’s favour (the eschatological year of Jubilee.”
That’s why we mustn’t over-spiritualise – we can miss the full dimension of the kingdom Jesus brings:
- He brings the kingdom of God to earth, to you and me.
- And that kingdom brings spiritual and material change: Under God’s rule, you live out his love for others.
What does that look like?
- To you who are poor in spirit, he gives life.
- If you’re held captive by guilt, anxiety, addiction – he sets you free.
- To you struggling to make sense of life – he gives sight.
And then, as you love others and care as the Lord does,
- You distribute your wealth, caring for the poor.
- You share the Good News with others, seeking to release them from guilt, anxiety, addiction.
- And you live out life in peace of heart and mind.
There was something added and something not read out:
- The reference to “the blind will see” links to Isaiah 35, another beautiful chapter on the new world Messiah brings
- The bit Jesus didn’t read is Isaiah 61:2b. The verse says, (CSB) “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour, and the day of our God’s vengeance”
- Jesus’ coming does speak of a day when he will come again – a day like no other, when he will judge the earth and rule forever.
- But that day in Nazareth, Jesus was announcing the year of the Lord’s favour – a year we’re still in.
- This is “the year of our Lord 2022” if you like.
And so Jesus still reigns and rules, and still brings good news to all. To you. So hear his call on your life. Hear his message of Good News! You know his call. Now answer it. Turn to him! And, having turned to him, enjoy that good life he gives.
Then, having enjoyed the spiritual sight and life he gives, live out that kingdom life:
- With your money, time, energies. Live not for yourself, but work for the benefit of the Lord’s glory.
- Live out his kingdom ethics at the shops, in work, at home.
And it’s worth noticing how Jesus frames his message, his manifesto:
- It’s wholly positive. What Jesus brings is Good News.
- Given a choice of posters with Bible verses, would you choose “The wages of sin is death” or “Come to me, all who are burdened”?
- Both are true, of course. But Christ’s invitation to you and everyone else is open, and generous, and welcoming: This is the year of the Lord’s favour. Come.
But the people of smalltown Nazareth had a problem. They thought they knew Jesus already.
The Good News is (the real) Jesus (22-23)
Jesus read to them, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.”
Then he said, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
The response was mixed, to begin with. Read Luke 4:22.
They’re sort of impressed with what he said. But they can’t believe what he said because they think they know who he is.
- You can imagine them thinking, “You think you’re bringing good news to the poor – but you are poor!”
- Or something like, “Sight to the blind? You’ve been here all these years and you’ve never healed anyone!”
- “Messiah? You’re not a conqueror, you’re a carpenter!”
- Read Luke 4:23.
We’ve read the book. We know:
- Jesus is Son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit to the virgin Mary.
- The hopes and fears of all the years were met in Bethlehem, when Jesus was born as the fulfilment of all Old Testament prophecy, pattern, and promise.
- Jesus has been commissioned, sent by the Father and anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism.
- We know who he is. Those Nazareth folk didn’t.
They saw Jesus, the poor carpenter’s son. Still single at 30.
Jesus isn’t a poor boy come good
He’s not a self-starting cult leader or religious freak. Jesus is God the eternal Son who came into the world to save sinners.
- Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil.
- He came to proclaim good news – and to make that good news happen.
- He is the sacrifice for sin, the perfect sinless, guiltless substitute who laid down his life to take the punishment due to sinful, guilty people like you and me.
- And now? He’s raised from the dead and ascended to rule and reign over the whole of creation – seen and unseen.
- And, through the Bible and his churches, Jesus still proclaims Good News to you, if you will just come to him!
- It is still the year of the Lord’s favour. Until the day of God’s vengeance.
If you have an understanding of Jesus as “just a very special man who lived 2000 years ago” – you need to put that in the bin.
The Good News is offensive (24-30)
Here’s something you really need to get hold of: Since the Good News is bound up in who Jesus really is, rejecting Jesus puts you outside of what God is doing.
We spent time in 1 & 2 Kings recently. The northern and southern kingdoms both went very much their own ways, abandoning the covenant God had made.
- They went their own way, spurning God’s love – and therefore experiencing his curse instead of his blessing.
- In the days of the prophets Elijah and Elisha in the middle of 1 & 2 Kings, God actually sent them to bless people outside Israel (to Gentiles)
- Read Luke 4:25-27.
Now the people Jesus spoke to might have said, “Good point, well made!” They might have said he was an idiot and ignored him.
But their reaction was actually surprisingly strong. If you’ve read this a thousand times, see it again.
- Why on earth were they so violent?
- He was one of their own! And seemingly from nowhere they’re so angry they want to kill him!
- What got them so angry?
Read Luke 4:28-30.
- Now it seems there aren’t any cliffs near Nazareth (at least, not today).
- But as a mob (not an execution) they were probably setting up to stone him.
- You’d push your man down a rocky slope so that everyone could throw stones and rocks down onto him.
- Whatever the situation, it was violent and deadly.
But why? What had he said that got them so worked up?
It’s hard to hear, “You’re wrong”
Jesus had told them truth they didn’t want to hear:
- In effect, “You are wrong about me. Wrong about God’s plan. You are outside what God is doing.”
- He said that in a synagogue where the word of God had just been read.
- They’d maybe sung a psalm or two and prayed.
- How dare he say that they were outside God’s world?
- In their eyes, they were the apple of God’s eye and the very embodiment of what God had planned for his people.
- They didn’t “agree to disagree” – they were livid and objected violently to being told they were wrong.
I said a few weeks ago that repentance is a major theme in Luke’s gospel. I said it’s really two components: Realisation + reorientation.
- You can’t turn to God in faith until you’ve realised you need to.
- And it’s hard to do that, because you have to be ready to say, “I was wrong. About God and about me. 100% wrong.”
It’s easy to see how people’s hearts harden – I’d rather convince myself that I’m right than admit how wrong I was. It’s common to see people on Twitter block people they disagree with, and only follow people they do agree with. Social Media algorithms are designed to lock you into what you already believe. We like that because no-one like to say “I was wrong.”
Programmatic for Jesus and his church
So it’s also easy to see how this whole passage is programmatic for Jesus’ ministry (which is why Luke has put it just here):
- Jesus is the herald of Good News!
- He’s the one who makes the Good News happen! He brings in kingdom rule that is Good News for everyone.
- But he’s wilfully misunderstood, opposed, and rejected.
- And rejection of him puts people outside the kingdom of God. But, as Luke will show over and over, repentance (realisation about Jesus and about you, plus reorientation towards Jesus by faith) puts you in the kingdom of God.
And if that’s programmatic for him, so it is for his church and you:
- Living the Christian life, a herald of the Good News.
- Likely to be rejected and opposed.
- How critical that you pray for the Spirit to break down hard hearts, to open the eyes of the spiritually blind, to bring hope to the poor in spirit – to bring the lost to Jesus.