Luke 4:16-21 (NIV) He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 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 preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 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, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus finally made it to His hometown. Word about Him had preceded Him, and all of the people were packed into the synagogue, waiting to hear what this hometown boy turned wonder worker had to say.
Jesus didn’t get to pick the scripture that He read that morning. The law and the prophets were set up on a regular cycle to be read in the synagogue services, which is why the Isaiah scroll was handed to Him. He unrolled it to the marker for that day, which “just so happened” to be right where He needed to read to bring God’s message to the people. (“Just so happened” is code for God working behind the scenes!)
In context, this passage from Isaiah is right in the middle of a section (Chapters 60-62) where the prophet is talking about the restoration of Israel, and the remaking of the people into a holy people of God. This process would begin with the appearance of the Messiah, and then continue until God’s people filled the whole earth, resulting in the wholesale transformation of people, governmental structures, and whole societies.
Chapter 61 is significant because it begins with signs that God’s kingdom is becoming a reality. First, the Messiah, filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, will arise, preaching the good news of the kingdom of God to the poor and disenfranchised. This Jesus was already doing (Matthew 4:17), and the poor and disenfranchised were believing and acting on this good news.
Next, the Spirit-anointed Messiah would proclaim freedom for the prisoners. This is a broad term that included releasing the sick, even the long-term sick, from their prison of disease and disability, as well as releasing those trapped in a cycle of sin, freeing them from their prison of helplessness and self-destruction, and inviting them out into the fresh air of forgiveness and spiritual freedom.
The Messiah would proclaim recovery of sight for the blind. This absolutely included those who were physically blind, even those blind from birth, who would be given their sight. But it also included those who were spiritually blind, whose eyes were closed to what God was doing due to the impact of sin in their hearts. Through faith in Jesus, these could be given spiritual eyes that could see the spiritual dimensions of life and the spiritual truths that could enable them to live lives of purpose and power.
The Messiah would also proclaim release for the oppressed. This was not referring primarily to physical oppression, but to spiritual oppression, brought about by demonic influences. When Jesus came, He found many people whose lives had been totally wrecked by demonic possession. But He released those people with a word that sent the demons running for cover.
Finally (in this shortened version, there is more in the original Isaiah passage), the Messiah would proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the message that God had not forgotten His people, but was in fact acting now to save them and reconstitute them as His people after a 400-year silence. Jesus actually embodied that message as He moved among the people., taught them in ways that no one else ever had, and doing amazing miracles.
When Jesus declared the words, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” He was saying much more than simply claiming to be the Messiah (although that was definitely a key part of His message that morning). He was also telling all of those gathered there that in Him God was on the move to finally make real all of the promises He had made through Isaiah 700 years earlier. The Messiah was now here and, through Him, God was actively restoring His people and remaking them into the holy people of God, a process that would not stop until God’s people filled the whole earth.
Father, this prophecy is full of amazing promises that are for us as fully as for the people of Jesus’ day. I am struck by how far below our potential the average Christian seems to live. We tend to live lives that are little different from the average person, instead of living the life of the kingdom, a life that is characterized by real freedom, genuine spiritual awareness, power against the darkness, and joy inspired by knowing that You are on the move, transforming our world right now. Help me, Lord, to live that kind of life today and every day, a real AD kind of life, living consciously in the Year of the Lord, so that everyone can see the difference. Amen.