By Gretchen Potma
Luke 4: 14 – 30
“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.
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 favour.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marvelled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.”
As Jesus leaves his sojourn in the wilderness, Luke makes sure we know that Jesus has not left the Spirit behind and is still going forward in His power. He was on the defence against Satan, but he has not been exhausted by the confrontation. Jesus had refused glory on Satan’s terms, so it is gratifying to see that God grants that he would be glorified by the people who hear him preach, even though we can be sure that praise from the crowds of people is not what is motivating or strengthening him. And good thing too, because the praise doesn’t last long.
In the power of the Spirit, he goes on the offence and begins to intentionally butt heads with the system by going to the synagogue and announcing through the Scripture reading that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. At first his proclamation is well-received. The men in the synagogue like the passage he has chosen, and who wouldn’t want to hear about good news and liberty and the year of the Lord’s favour? It is a short but purposeful passage for a sabbath reading in the synagogue. They might not consciously realize it yet, but Jesus has basically told them that he is not just a rabbi, not just a prophet, not just someone who is saying the Messiah will come. He is saying that he is the Messiah. Those who were listening carefully would have realized that he left off an important phrase from the passage he read from the prophet Isaiah. The original says “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.” To our ears that sounds like good news that the day of vengeance has been postponed, but for the Jews who were currently being oppressed by the Romans, and previously by many others, this would more likely set their teeth on edge. Even so, they were still willing to praise Jesus. They knew his (earthly) father and wanted to compliment him on how well his son had turned out. If Jesus had stopped there, they might have even been willing to entertain the thought that he could possibly be the promised one. But still led by the Spirit, he knew what else needed to be said. He reached back into the Scriptures again and reminded them that God had been at work in the past outside the borders of Israel among the Gentiles. That was when his moment of being glorified and accepted by the people of Nazareth turned into outrage. Why did their opinion of him change so quickly? The Jews rested in being God’s chosen people and they didn’t have much else to call their own, so they were not eager to share that special privilege with anyone else.
Jesus was given a mission by God that he has passed on to the church, His chosen people. The Spirit of the Lord is also upon us and we are also “to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” while it is still the day of salvation. Believe it or not, the day of vengeance of God has not yet come because of His patience.
During this time, we shouldn’t allow our focus to be only on meeting the physical and social needs of people around us, but we should be actively looking for opportunities in our community and neighbourhoods to share the load of suffering.
But as we know that the Lord’s patience will one day come to an end, “let it be declared unashamedly and reasonably that the greatest and most loving thing we can do for anyone is release them from the captivity of sin (Romans 6:22-23) heal them from the blindness of unbelief (Acts 26:17-18, II Cor 4:4) and set them at liberty from the oppression of Satan (2 Timothy 2:26)” (John Piper)
We also need to be careful not to limit who we think God should be granting salvation to. It is just as easy for us to look at certain groups of people and decide that they don’t deserve salvation as it was for the Jews of Jesus’ day to decide that Gentiles were not worthy of God’s favor. The majority of the unbelieving world can be divided into 5 groups (easily remembered with the acronym THUMB): Tribal, Hindu, Unreligious, Muslim and Buddhist. Maybe when we encounter someone from one of those groups, we feel angry about and threatened by the worldview they represent. In more recent years, many have begun to wonder if they even have the right to say that the differing worldview or religion of those people won’t also lead them to God. Praise God that all those groups are represented in Windsor. Let’s pray for opportunities to confidently and boldly tell them about Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.