“Jesus’ Mission on Earth”
Lesson Text:Luke 4:14-21
Background Scriptures:Leviticus 25:8-55; Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4: 14-21
Devotional Reading: John 1 0:1-10.
Luke 4:14-21 (KJV)
14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.
15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
To summarize the purpose of Jesus’ earthly ministry as He expressed it in Nazareth.
To emphasize that Christ’s message of salvation provides comfort and encouragement no matter what we are facing in life.
Prepare a presentation of the Good News of Jesus that can be used to proclaim this news to someone in the coming week.
Which Comes First?
The twentieth century saw Christians from various traditions engaged in debate regarding what the church's primary focus should be. Should we concentrate first on people's souls and then address their material needs after they convert? Or should we act to meet their physical needs first in hopes that they will appreciate our generosity and will be drawn to our salvation message about Jesus as a result? And what should we do if people only pretend to listen to our spiritual teaching because they want to keep receiving material blessings from us?
Such debates continue into the twenty-first century. A central issue in the debate is whether Jesus focused on one or the other during His earthly ministry. Today's Scriptures help us wrestle with this issue by exploring the biblical story line in this regard, a story line that spans the Old and New Testaments. It begins with God's teaching of Israel through Moses, it continues with the prophecy of Isaiah, and it finds its ultimate expression in Jesus.
Behind today's passages from Isaiah and Luke stands Leviticus 25:8-55, which discusses the year of jubilee concept. Since Isaiah and Luke's discussion of the year of the Lord is best understood in this light, this invites us to review the passage from Leviticus in its own context.
A primary reason that people of the ancient world did not flourish was that most of the world's power and resources were concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy persons, who often used their power oppressively. This was the Israelites' experience as slaves in Egypt. So when God freed them from Egypt, He taught them His ways and formed them into a people who would exhibit His justice. Even before God brought the Israelites into the promised land, He knew that some people would fall into hardship in that "land of milk and honey." To keep that from happening, He established a procedure that, if followed, would prevent the land and people from falling under the permanent control of a few.
That procedure was the concept of a year of jubilee. Every fiftieth year—the jubilee year—the poor who had had to serve as hired hands as indentured servants were to be released to return home (Leviticus 25:13, 39-43, 54), and land was to revert to ancestral ownership (25:28, 31). That year, when the Israelites' physical and economic freedoms were reset, is the backdrop of "the acceptable year of the Lord"—the year prophesied by Isaiah and then announced by Jesus. This understanding allows us to appreciate fully the Good News that was proclaimed by the prophet and fulfilled by the Messiah.
Fulfillment (Luke 4:14-21)
Our New Testament text takes us hundreds of years forward from Isaiah's time. Jesus is just beginning His Galilean ministry, having recently endured His temptations in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13; covered in last week's lesson from Matthew's perspective). Therefore the passage to follow comes very early in Jesus' public ministry.
Jesus Teaches (Luke 4:14-15)
1. Where did Jesus return from? (Luke 4:14-15)
When we read that “Jesus returned” (Luke 4:14), we naturally wonder “from where?” Luke 3:1-3, 21 indicate that He has been to the Jordan River (to be baptized by John, John 3:1-22), and to a wilderness area; 4:1 (to be tempted by Satan, last week’s lesson). Today’s lesson is where we pick up when next, Jesus, being filled with the Spirit’s power, returned to Galilee. Soon Jesus became well-known throughout the surrounding country (v. 14), and He won acclaim from those who heard Him teach in their synagogues (v. 15).
2. What do we know about the town of Nazareth? (Luke 4:16-17)
The focus now shifts from the region of Galilee in general to the town of Nazareth in particular. This is Jesus’ hometown, where he had been brought up (compare Matthew 2:23). He is now at the local synagogue, where He likely received the most instruction while growing up.
Synagogues served a key role in Jewish life in the time of Jesus. It is also helpful to recognize that Jesus regularly worshiped with other Jews and did not purposely separate Himself from the faith community. Likewise, Jesus was quite familiar with Scripture, and with ease found the passage from the scroll of Isaiah, which He read to those in the Nazareth synagogue (v. 17).
Focusing on Isaiah’s Prophecy (Luke 4:18-19)
3. From what prophetic book did Jesus read? (Luke 4:18-19)
After Jesus accepted the invitation to read, He carefully unrolled the sacred scroll and proceeded to read Isaiah 61:1-2. The prophet Isaiah described in powerful, vivid, and specific terms what the Messiah would do when He came. The Savior would be anointed and guided by the Holy Spirit. The Messiah would reach out to people with a multitude of spiritual and physical needs. Isaiah’s prophecy mentioned the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed (Luke 4:18). These groups represented, all people in need. The basic point of the prophecy is that everyone needs redemption, regardless of his or her status in life. God promised to send the Messiah to deliver them from their spiritual maladies. He would announce the wonderful time of God’s grace, mercy, and love (v. 19).
As discussed in the Lesson Background, the mention of “the acceptable year of the Lord” probably referred to the Year of Jubilee (see Lev. 25:8-55). This period of time was supposed to occur every 50 years. On that occasion, all slaves would be freed, all debts would be canceled, and all ancestral property would be returned to its original owners. When Jesus drew attention to the statement found in Isaiah 61:2, He announced the dawning of the messianic age. This was a time when those oppressed by sin and its consequences would be freed through their trust in Jesus as their Savior.
What Do You Think?
What does Isaiah 61:1, 2 say about the priorities the church is to have today?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Concerning the content of preaching | Concerning the content of teaching
Concerning the nature of benevolent ministries
Concerning the audience(s) to be addressed | Other
Jesus Fulfills (Luke 4:20-21)
4. What did Jesus do after reading the Scripture? (Luke 4:20-21)
There is no dozing off during the service this day! How can the people be anything but alert and expectant given Jesus' spreading fame and His reading of a passage as rich as Isaiah 61:1, 2? Surely this hometown teacher has something powerful to say about this passage! Rather than look to the regular teachers to offer commentary on the day's reading, all eyes are on Jesus.
When Jesus finished reading Isaiah 61:1-2, He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. In one sentence, Jesus told His audience that “This day” Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled “in your ears” (Luke 4:21). At first those in the synagogue spoke well of Jesus. In fact, they were amazed by the gracious words that had fallen from His lips. This prompted them to wonder how Jesus’ messianic claims could possibly be true.
Jesus applied all of this to His own ministry, not in a political or economic sense, but in a physical and spiritual sense. He had certainly brought Good News of salvation to bankrupt sinners and healing to brokenhearted and rejected people. He had delivered many from blindness and from bondage to demons and disease. Indeed, it was a spiritual "Year of Jubilee" for the nation of Israel!
5. How did the people of Nazareth ultimately respond to Jesus’ teaching?
In the verses that follow (not in today's text), we learn that Jesus knows the thoughts of the audience and that the people are not kindly disposed toward His sublime claims. The problem was that His listeners would not believe in Him. They saw Him only as the son of Mary and Joseph, the Boy they had watched grow up in their own city. Furthermore, they wanted Him to perform in Nazareth the same miracles He had done in Capernaum, but He refused.
When He exposes their negative thoughts, they are enraged and seek to drive Him out of town and throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:29).
What a shame! At first, they admired the way He taught, but it didn't take long for their admiration to turn into antagonism. Why? Because Jesus began to remind them of God's goodness to the Gentiles! The Prophet Elijah bypassed all the Jewish widows and helped a Gentile widow in Sidon (1 Kings 17:8-16), and his successor Elisha healed a Gentile leper from Syria (2 Kings 5:1-15). Our Lord's message of grace was a blow to the proud Jewish exclusivism of the congregation, and they would not repent. Imagine this hometown Boy saying that Jews had to be saved by grace just like the pagan Gentiles!
What Do You Think?
Are crowds of opinionated people as fickle today as they seemed to be in Jesus' time? What does this tell us, if anything, about how and where the church should focus its efforts?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Issues of social media (Twitter, etc.) | Issues of crossing cultural lines
Issues involving the pace of modern life | Other
POINT TO PONDER
Our mission from the Father is to carry on the work initially begun by the Son (Matthew 28:18-20). This is a daunting task, and one filled with great risk. For instance, we face the possibility of being rejected by loved ones, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. They might ridicule our beliefs or scoff at our virtuous way of living. They may even make fun of us for choosing to serve God. Nevertheless, God wants us to be ambassadors for Jesus and spiritual light in the midst of darkness. God also calls us to love and to forgive others, and to do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). To achieve these lofty goals, we have to confess our sins, abandon our selfish motives, and put ourselves completely into the hand of our loving and wise heavenly Father.
From and For
This lesson began by rehearsing the debate about whether salvation is concerned first with spiritual matters or with bodily matters. Sometimes the debate is framed in terms of how Jesus was concerned with religion or with politics and social justice. It is true that Jesus did not pursue politics and/or social justice the way certain Jews wanted Him to in the first century. He did not overthrow the Roman Empire and establish a new earthly kingdom with himself on the throne instead of Caesar.
Yet Jesus was indeed concerned with social justice and political practices as He came to liberate people spiritually from the worldly powers that had bound them for centuries. True liberation is won not by beating the system at its own game but by pioneering a new system that is not subject to the limitations of the old one. To this end, Jesus began incorporating people into a kingdom that is not limited by geography or ethnicity. Jesus was freeing people from primary allegiance to worldly nationhood and economic systems for incorporation into the church, of which He is head.
The church should be the place that models where true justice is rendered and where no spiritual or physical need goes unaddressed. To the world, this system is not the wave of the future. But we know that the jubilee we have begun to experience will come in full when Jesus returns in glory. That's when Jesus' enemies are fully subdued, when God and His kingdom stand alone.
Father, we rejoice that Jesus has made possible our eternal freedoms from and for. Make us bold to proclaim those freedoms in His name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Eternal freedom is available to everyone!