“What Jesus Has Been Anointed and Sent to Do” (Luke 4:16-30)

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 23, 2022

“What Jesus Has Been Anointed and Sent to Do” (Luke 4:16-30)

Here’s a question: What did Jesus come to do? Today Jesus himself tells us. He’s at church, and he stands up to read the Old Testament Reading–well, actually, they were all Old Testament readings at that point. He reads it, and then he says, “This is about me.” Boom! Mic drop. Jesus’ ministry, described in a few short lines. Oh, and you’re included in this text. So listen now, as we hear “What Jesus Has Been Anointed and Sent to Do.”

The situation is this: Jesus has been baptized in the Jordan, and now it’s some weeks later. He’s come back to Galilee, back in his hometown of Nazareth. “And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.” Jesus unrolls the scroll and finds the text he’s going to speak on. It’s from Isaiah 61, and this is what he reads: “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This text from Isaiah 61 describes perfectly the ministry of Jesus Christ, the great messianic office he was called to carry out. This is what he was anointed to do, this is what he was sent to do, for you. Your very salvation is described in the words of this text.

This prophecy from Isaiah is written as coming from the mouth of the Messiah. That it is the Messiah, the Christ, is clear from these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.” In ancient Israel, certain kings and priests and prophets were anointed. They literally had oil poured over their heads–that’s what it means to “anoint.” This anointing marked them out, set them apart, as God’s choice. God was pouring out his blessing and power upon them. The Lord was pouring out his Spirit to empower them to carry out their office. Remember how young David was anointed for his office as king.

Well, God had promised King David that one day one of his sons, one of his descendants, would sit on his throne as the great once-and-for-all king for God’s people, to reign forever over an eternal kingdom of blessing. This promised son of David, the end-time king who would undo all the woes and miseries that we suffer–this promised deliverer that God’s people looked forward to became known as the Messiah, the Christ–literally, the Anointed One. The question was, who would he be and when would he come?

Now in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus is reading this messianic prophecy: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.” Okay, the people are thinking, he’s reading about the Messiah to come. Fine. But when Jesus finishes the reading, he says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What does he mean by that? “Fulfilled in your hearing”? “Today”? Yes, that’s what he said. But how can Jesus say that it’s fulfilled today here in Nazareth, in this synagogue? Is Jesus claiming to be. . . ?

The Messiah? Yes, Jesus is saying that he is the Messiah! That’s the point. That’s why he’s quoting this Scripture and saying it is now fulfilled in him. As astonishing as it must have sounded, it is absolutely true. Remember what happened when Jesus was baptized. The heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” You see, Jesus’ baptism was his anointing into his messianic office. And so now Jesus says, quoting Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.” The Father was sending forth his Son to do his will, to be the divine deliverer sent to rescue us from our misery. That’s why Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus is declaring that he is the Messiah. But he is not anointed to hold an office just to hold an office. Jesus is the Christ not for his own sake, but for yours. His anointing has a purpose. It’s stated right here in what Jesus reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” “To proclaim good news to the poor”: That’s what he came to do. Jesus has good news to proclaim. And the people he comes to proclaim it to are the poor.

What does it mean to be “poor” in this sense? It’s not necessarily talking about your bank account. But the poor are those who realize their poverty before God. The poor are those who recognize they have no resources of their own to rely on when it comes to their standing before God. It’s like Jesus says in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Are you poor? Do you realize and recognize your lack? Do you sense your need for a righteousness you don’t have in yourself? Do you feel your need for forgiveness? This is a need only God can supply. You have no righteousness of your own to boast of before God. Is there an emptiness in your soul that only God can fill? The gas tank is on empty, the bank account shows a negative balance–that’s what it means to be poor before God.

Is that you? Then I have good news for you today: Jesus of Nazareth has good news for you today! Jesus has been anointed to proclaim good news to the poor, and that’s you! He has a blessing to confer upon you today. Jesus is proclaiming, today in your hearing: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” Then the text goes on to say the same thing in several different ways: “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives.” This recalls the Babylonian Captivity. The people of Judah had been conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar and were taken captive to Babylon. They were hauled off to live there as exiles. Finally, Babylon itself was defeated by Persia, and their king, Cyrus, issued an edict that the captives were now free to go home. Back to Judah, back to Jerusalem, back to the Promised Land! What a joy and relief that Edict of Cyrus must have been! “To proclaim liberty to the captives”!

In an even greater way, this is what King Jesus came to do. He has an edict of his own to issue. Jesus has defeated the powers that held us captive–sin, Satan, death, and hell. Jesus won the victory over our enemies by his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. Our Babylonian Captivity is over! Jesus proclaims liberty to the captives, and now we are on our way home, heading for the Promised Land of heaven.

Our text continues–Jesus continues: “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” All this is the good news Jesus proclaims to the poor, each phrase expressing the same wonderful reality, each with its own shade of meaning. “Recovering of sight to the blind”: When Jesus opens our eyes, we begin to see straight. We now can view God aright. We see that he is our merciful and loving Father. We even can see our neighbor as God sees him, which is, as someone to love.

“To set at liberty those who are oppressed”: Are you broken and crushed by all the grief and misery we experience in this world? Sickness and sorrow, conflict and confusion, death and dysfunction–they all press down upon us. Jesus comes to set us free from our oppression, free from all the misery we endure in this vale of tears. God’s mercy meets our misery in the person of Jesus Christ. There is refreshment now. There is healing and wholeness and complete restoration on the way. We will experience it in full on the day when Christ returns.

Jesus wraps up the reading from Isaiah by saying he was sent “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This language recalls the “Year of Jubilee” in ancient Israel. Every fifty years, all debts were canceled, all slaves were released. Everyone got a clean slate, a fresh start. It was the year of the Lord’s favor, the time when his grace set everything right. The Year of Jubilee pointed ahead to what Jesus would fulfill. In Christ, all your debts are canceled, your slate is wiped clean, because of the forgiveness won for you by Christ on the cross. Jesus brings in the year–the unending years–of God’s great grace and favor.

Dear friends, today we have heard what Jesus has been anointed and sent to do. His entire ministry is summed up in the words he reads from Isaiah: “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” These marvelous words of grace are coming from Jesus’ mouth today straight into your ears. And what makes them so marvelous is that Jesus actually accomplished the things he set out to do. And now he delivers them to you for you to receive and rejoice in. Therefore I can say to you today, with full confidence: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Published in: on January 22, 2022 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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