Not too long into His public ministry, Jesus returned to His home town of Nazareth. Being the Sabbath day, he went to the Synagogue as any good Jew of His day would do. Perhaps because he was there as a guest or maybe because word had spread all over Galilee about what He was preaching and doing, He was asked to read the days Scripture reading.
I’m not certain if the reading for that day was actually Isaiah 6:1-2 or if he scrolled through the scroll a bit to find it, but what He read was a powerful message. Let me give you the entire Luke passage in context:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:14-21, NIV).
I remember when I was younger, I used to wonder why He sat down. If he was going to preach, get behind the pulpit and preach! Well my worldview was from a Western, Protestant standard. In that faith in that time, the guest would read the passage then sit down to discuss it.
OK, fine but His introduction sure seems like it would have been off the wall. Imagining myself as a Jewish man sitting in that synagogue in the 1st century, hearing that passage from Isaiah, I think I would be scratching my head saying, “huh?”
But looking back from the 21st century, having read the rest of the story, it’s clear to me that He realized, and was trying to communicate to the Jewish men in that group, that He was that anointed one on a mission.
This article doesn’t allow the time or space to delve into the Missio Dei that runs through the Bible from nearly the beginning clear through to the end, but let me briefly say that God’s mission was to bless the nations, the peoples, of the world first through Israel. This continued through His new covenant people, His Church. Jesus was announcing that He was continuing that mission. I want to look more closely at what this mission is, but first let’s consider why it’s important for us to understand what Jesus’ mission was.
We see all through the Gospels and the first part of Acts, Jesus preparing the disciples to take on His ministry. In John 17 Jesus prays for Himself and His disciples. In verse 18 He prays, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Jesus sent His disciples into the world with the mission that the Father sent Jesus into the world with. His disciples have been sent; are you His disciple?
In John 14: 12 Jesus told His disciples, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” What works had He been doing? Well for one, He had been doing what the text in Isaiah said He was anointed to do. And He said His believers would be doing those works and more! Are you a believer?
Finally in Matthew 28 and Acts 1 His disciples (you and me, right?) were told to “go.” To go be His witnesses, to go make disciples, to go baptize and teach them to obey. We are called to go and continue His mission, the Missio Dei.
So when we speak of what Jesus was anointed to do, I believe that we can safely say that His mission is our mission. That we are a part of the Missio Dei.
Now on to Jesus’ mission as described in this passage:
The first aspect of the mission is to preach good news to the poor. I used to spiritualize this passage when I’d preach it. I would equate the “poor” with those who were spiritually poor because they didn’t know Jesus and that our mission was to share with them the Gospel message so that they could experience the riches of God’s spiritual Kingdom. I now think that that was an incorrect interpretation. Sure, we are supposed to share the Gospel with those who don’t know God in a saving way, that is all through the New Testament. But I don’t think that is what this particular passage is talking about.
If you were poor, what would be “good news” to you? I mean really poor, not just not having enough money to get a new car every couple of years, or not able to take European vacations or Caribbean cruises every year. But really poor. The kind of poor where you didn’t know where your next meal was coming from. The kind of poor where you didn’t know whether you’d get a bed in the shelter or would have to sleep outside. The kind of poor that meant you had to suffer with that disease that is killing you without medical care. I’m talking about the kind of poor where you don’t feel like you have any hope. If you were that kind of poor, what would be good news to you?
Do you think some guy coming along and promising that someday in the future you can live in Heaven with God if you receive His son into your heart and life today- would be the good news that they’re wanting to hear? Even if he promised that you would have joy today and be happy today, but still would have to scrounge for food and look for a place to sleep and suffer with your health . . . but you could be happy! Would that be good news? I don’t think so.
I think that the good news the poor want to hear is news of how they can get food in their stomachs, a roof over their heads, a place to live, medical care. I think the good news that they want is a relief from their poor-ness.
“Isn’t that what welfare is for?” you ask. “Aren’t the soup kitchens and compassionate ministries there for them? Isn’t there some ministry to do that? If all these things were good enough, we wouldn’t have many poor left, would we? Remember what Jesus said: “He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” He wasn’t anointed to point the poor in the right direction. He wasn’t appointed to write a check. He wasn’t appointed to sit back and let someone else do it. He was “appointed to preach good news to the poor”!
Now, remember what we said earlier that as His disciples, as believers, we are called and commissioned to continue the Missio Dei. So what are we going to do with this? What are we going to do with the poor? Well, Jesus said to take them the good news. How are we going to do that?
Remember a few weeks back when Governor Huckabee called on believers to eat at Chick-fil-a one particular day to show support for the owner’s stand on Biblical values? My wife and I and our kids did that. We had to drive about an hour to get to our nearest Chick-fil-a, but we did it. We waited in line for a while and finally got our chicken. We felt good showing our support for this Christian business-owner. I posted pictures on Facebook.
As I read posts about this event over the next couple days, I read things (from opponents) about how that was such a waste, how it didn’t really help a cause, or even the poor. It hit me that while we did show support, the owner of Chick-fil-a probably didn’t need our money. I think my goal was “to show them!” instead of actually doing good. That Friday as I was online ordering pizza for the family, I was invited to “share a slice of hope” and donate a dollar to World Hunger Relief. I did it. The next time I ordered from Pizza Hut I did it again. The next time I gave 2 dollars! So now I’ve given $4 for world hunger, but how has that helped the family downtown who just got evicted with nowhere to go? How did that help that homeless vet who was hungry? How did 4 bucks really help anybody?
I’m not saying there’s no value in that, I’m still going to do it. But it’s not enough. It wasn’t a sacrifice for me. It didn’t hurt a bit. I need to do more. You need to do more.
So what do we do?
I don’t know what you are supposed to do. But I do know who does know and it’s in our passage in Luke.
In Luke 4:14 we read, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” In verse 18 Jesus read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me . . .” I think this is the key to finding the answer: the Holy Spirit.
We read in the Gospels how much the disciples bungled their ministry until after Acts 2. What happened in Acts 2? Let’s go there:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4, NIV)
Did you see that, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”! Then their ministry took off! Then they were able to preach, they were able to heal, they were able to continue the Missio Dei. We notice later in that chapter what that infilling of the Holy Spirit did for them:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47, NIV)
Do you see what they did? The apostles taught, they had fellowship, they broke bread and prayed. They performed wonders and signs, they had everything in common, they sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. They continued to meet together, they broke bread in their homes and ate together. And they grew.
All that is great but I want to zero in on more than just what they did, and it’s not really written in the text but is clearly implied: They knew what to do! This was all new to them. For the last three years they always had Jesus to tell them what to do. This whole “Church” thing had never been done before, so they couldn’t read the stories of the pioneers who had gone before them. They were the pioneers! They were on their own. It was sink or swim!
Now I Know that the Scripture record doesn’t give us every thought and detail but I believe that it gives us what we need to know. And I don’t see the struggle here. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit guided them and helped them to know what to do.
So let’s get ourselves back to the 21st century. We’re told to take good news to the poor. The good news that the poor needs is to be less poor. What do we do? We let the Holy Spirit guide us. More than His guidance though (or as a prerequisite of His guidance) we need His filling!
If you haven’t been filled with the Spirit, you’re just a believer without power. If the Spirit hasn’t filled you, you’re just a disciple who doesn’t know fully what to do for the poor. I want to encourage you today, seek the Holy Spirit! Ask Him to fill you! Open yourself up to Him!
Then you can know what you are to do, how to “preach good news to the poor.”