Pastor Scott Andrews | December 17, 2023
As most of you know, I love books, love to read. Recently, I mentioned J.C. Ryle, a 19th Century English evangelical pastor and Anglican bishop. Don Loss then brought me Ryle’s autobiography, which I just finished reading last week. It was really good. I found out Bishop Ryle and I were born on the same day – not the same year – he was born 144 years before me – but the same day. So, that means J.C. Ryle and I and Bono share the same birthday. Bono and I were born on the exact same day – I know that’s shocking – he seems so much older than I. Well anyway, the autobiography was quite good, and quite convicting. You see, in the 1800s, many churches in England were not evangelical, that is, Ryle says they rarely preached the gospel.
I paused each time he wrote those words, and pondered, I hope we do. How can a church not proclaim the good news – not just to sinners, but to saints. I hope you hear the good news of the gospel here regularly. Yes, we go verse-by-verse through books of the Bible – but Jesus Himself said this Bible is all about Him. One day, He told the religious leaders, you search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life – it is these Scriptures, Jesus said, which testify about Me. In other words, you search the Scriptures because you think they tell you how to gain eternal life. In a sense – you’re right, because they are all about Jesus. Now the amazing thing is, when Jesus said those words, there was only the OT – the NT hadn’t been written yet.
Further, when we get to the end of Luke, in Jesus’ last couple of recorded words – messages if you will – we’ll find He opened the Scriptures and showed how they all pointed to Him. First, there were the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem, when Jesus appeared and started walking with them. It was after the crucifixion, and even the resurrection –Jesus had only appeared to Mary Magdelene at this point. Further, some angels had appeared to the women when they came to anoint the body of Jesus but found the tomb empty. Why are you looking for the living among the dead – He is not here, He is risen, just as He said. These women went back and reported it to the disciples, who were amazed, but it seemed nonsensical to them. So, these two disciples are depressed – confused. We read these words in Luke 24 when Jesus appeared to them:
25 And He said to them [they didn’t recognize Jesus at this point – they thought Him dead], “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!
26 “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”
27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
That’s amazing. All that has happened is just as prophesied. Then, as these three sat down to eat, Jesus revealed Himself to them, but then immediately disappeared. These two disciples rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the other eleven disciples, it’s true, just like the women said – Jesus is raised from the dead. At that very moment, Jesus appeared, and we pick up the story:
36 While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.”
37 But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit.
38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?
39 “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” [in other words, it was a bodily resurrection]
40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.
41 While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
42 They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish;
43 and He took it and ate it before them. [again, spirits don’t eat]
44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,
46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day,
47 and that repentance for forgiveness [release] of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
48 “You are witnesses of these things.
You are witnesses. What glorious truth: the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus for sinners. And so, I hope you hear that regularly here. Because, you’re going to hear it again, today. And I can’t think of a better time – the week before Christmas, in which we as Christians celebrate the first coming of Christ. And we will be reminded of why He came. It is also true people attend church more during Christmas and Easter than any other time of the year. You might be here because that’s what you do around Christmas. I want you to hear – perhaps again – why this time of the year is so important.
We have been in a study of the gospel of Luke. Just last week, we finished Luke’s introduction to the book in which he demonstrated clearly Jesus was indeed the Son of God. It ended with Jesus withstanding the attacks of the evil one as Satan tempted Jesus three times to abandon His mission. Jesus is now ready – finally, three and half chapters in – ready to enter His ministry.
Now, we’re not sure exactly why, but the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all skip Jesus’ first few months of ministry. Only John records that Jesus, having been baptized and anointed by the Spirit, actually began His ministry down south in Judea. We have stories that only appear in John’s gospel, like calling of several disciples: Andrew and John, then Andrew’s brother Peter, Philip and Nathaniel, the marriage supper in Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine, Jesus’ famous conversation with Nicodemus which included such statements as, you must be born again, and God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Only John records the story of the woman at the well in Samaria. In fact, 90 percent of John is not found in the other three gospels.
These three synoptic gospels all begin with Jesus’ ministry up north in Galilee. But by now, up to a year has passed since He was baptized, anointed, tempted in the wilderness. From verse 13 to verse 14, up to a year has passed. To this point, Jesus has begun to make a name for Himself down in Judea, but now, He has traveled north to Galilee where He was from. News about Him, His teaching and miracles, had begun to spread like wildfire. We pick up the story in Luke 4:14-21.
Are you listening? Today, good news, the gospel is proclaimed – he uses that word three times – it’s preached to the poor, the captives are released, the blind receive their sight, and the oppressed are set free. We know from the gospel narratives Jesus spent most of His ministry in Galilee – and this is a sampling of what He preached. Do you see – in this text He read in Nazareth, we have an example of how the OT – in this case, the prophet Isaiah – pointed to Him.
It’s amazing. Now interestingly, Jesus’ visit to Nazareth takes place later in Matthew and Mark. But Luke puts this visit to Nazareth here because it fits his purpose. Meaning, yes, this happened, but the timing is not particularly relevant. You see, Luke places it here because he wants us to know that Jesus knew, early in His ministry, who He was, and what He came to do. And He proclaimed it to all who would hear. Now, not everybody accepted the message, as we’ll see a little later. Let me outline the text for you:
- Very simply, we see the Background or the Setting of the Sermon in verses 14-15.
- Then, we see the Content of the Sermon in Nazareth in verses 16-21.
Again, the next time we’re in Luke, we’ll see the response to the sermon. And we’ll find it mirrors the response of many to the message of Jesus today. Really, you expect me to believe He was the Son of God – the Christ? And many who are familiar with Him – that’s who these people in Nazareth were – so also, people familiar with Jesus today are offended by His claims, no matter how well-proven – and refuse to believe. They prefer rather to throw Him off a cliff –kill Him, rather than be held accountable to Him.
Well, let’s begin with a few comments on the background or setting of the Galilean ministry in verses 14-15. Luke will focus on the Galilean ministry from here to through chapter 9. We see Jesus returned to Galilee – because that’s where He was from – in the power of the Spirit. Luke has made much of the Holy Spirit – to include in the life of Jesus. Jesus was anointed by the Spirit at His baptism; He was full of the Holy Spirit thereafter; He was led by the Spirit around the wilderness to face the temptations; and here, when He returned to Galilee – the northernmost part of Israel – He was empowered by the Spirit.
You see, when Jesus came to earth in the incarnation – He was born of the virgin Mary when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, such that the child born was the Son of the Most High God. This is an incredibly important – indeed, indispensable truth of the Christian faith. Jesus was the son of Mary – fully human – and He was also the Son of God – fully God. We call it the hypostatic union, when two natures – divine and human – united in one person in the birth of Jesus. Such that He was one hundred percent God, and one hundred percent man.
We’ll talk about that more next week on Christmas Eve – the absolute importance of the incarnation. But what I want you to notice is when Jesus came, Philippians 2 says He emptied Himself – the text doesn’t say of what He emptied Himself. We can say most assuredly He did not empty Himself of His deity, as some heretically say today. But most agree – He set aside the voluntary use of His divine attributes, thereby making Himself dependent on the will of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit to do His work. So here, we see He returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. The Spirit empowered Him for His divine work – teaching, miracles and the like.
And so, as He returned to Galilee, news about Him spread throughout the surrounding district – that is, Galilee. Now, it is true part of Jesus’ ministry was His miracles – which demonstrated the power of the Spirit and authenticated the message. But the message was central. Interestingly, Luke doesn’t mention the miracles – he focuses rather on Jesus’ teaching. The truth is, the miracles supported the message, but they were in fact secondary to the message. The gospel is propositional truth – it is the perfect life, death and resurrection of Christ for sinners. It is a message of words that must be communicated for people to believe and become Christians. Meaning, no one ever became a Christian because they saw a miracle – the miracles demonstrate and support the truth – but the truth is the message of the gospel, which Jesus proclaims here.
Don’t miss what I’m saying. No one will ever become a Christian because of any of your actions – miraculous or not. For example, because you’re a good person – a good neighbor, a good co-worker, a good roommate, whatever. All that supports the truth of the gospel, but it is the message of the gospel that saves. You must share the good news of Jesus with people, or they will never be saved. Our witness includes a godly lifestyle, doing good – which supports the message of truth. In other words, lifestyle evangelism is good – inasmuch as we ever get to the evangelism part. Lifestyle is not evangelism – lifestyle supports evangelism. So be a good neighbor, but share Jesus.
Notice verse 15, “And He [Jesus] began teaching in their synagogues and was praised [glorified] by all.” This word praised is only used of God – except here, when it is used of Jesus – oh, but wait, He is God. But don’t miss the emphasis on the teaching aspect of Jesus’ ministry. He went to their synagogues to teach.
Let me tell you about synagogues. Most suggest they came about during the Babylonian Captivity, after Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. While there was no place to sacrifice, they still needed a place to worship. And so, synagogues came into being – which were really not buildings or places as much as they were people. Synagogues were where Judaism continued, and were found wherever there were at least ten Jewish men. Yes, they often met in specific places – sometimes in a specific room in a person’s home. Eventually, the larger groups had places to meet – they were called synagogues – like in Capernaum. It’s like the church – this building is not the church – the church is the people of God who gather for worship. Now, it is said there were a couple hundred synagogues in Galilee, and obviously a lot in Judea. Eventually, the temple was rebuilt – a place of worship and sacrifice – but the synagogues continued as it wasn’t particularly easy for Jews in the dispersion – outside Israel – or even in Galilee to make regular trips to Jerusalem.
And so, the synagogues became important centers where worship, community life, and even education took place. Now, eventually, synagogue worship took on a specific order of service. It often went like this:
- The Singing of Psalms 145-150
- Recitation of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
- The Eighteen Benedictions (a form of prayer, with response of amen by the congregation)
- The Reading of Scripture (read in Hebrew, but translated into Aramaic)
- First, from the Torah (first five Books of Moses)
- Then from the Prophets (former and latter prophets)
- The Sermon
- The Benediction (Aaronic Blessing from Numbers 6:24-26)
So this was the normal synagogue order, which brings us to our second point – the sermon in Nazareth. Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up as the son of Joseph and Mary – the carpenter’s son, who Himself had become a carpenter, until the age of thirty. That’s important – they knew Jesus, from the time He was a little boy till adulthood. Sure, He was nice guy – great guy. He seemed gently fastidious about keeping the Law. He was an incredible example – dare I say perfect example of a committed Jew. Committed to the Law and to the proper worship of God – always at the synagogue.
But, when He reached thirty, He disappeared for a bit. Of course, we know He went down to the Jordan River to meet John and be baptized by him. It’s possible others from the small village of Nazareth were there – don’t know. Oh, and don’t forget, Nazareth was a backwater town in the middle of nowhere – most estimates place the population at less than 500. Archeological excavations have uncovered nothing of value – no jewels or precious metals – not even any fine pottery. It was a poor town – one of many such nothing towns in Galilee.
But, Jesus shows up, and He had already become a bit of a celebrity. Word had spread throughout Galilee that Jesus of Nazareth was an incredible teacher – He spoke with authority, like no one they’d ever heard. His teaching stirred their hearts like never before. Then, there were those miracles. It seemed everywhere He went, people were being healed of every imaginable disease. So when He showed up at His own hometown, the people were excited – a local, now a celebrity, has come for a visit. Let’s see some tricks, Jesus. He went to the synagogue, as was His custom. We already read He taught in synagogues throughout Galilee – but as was His custom might also speak to His life in Nazareth when He could always be found at the synagogue on the Sabbath. He was such a good Jew.
Undoubtedly, the place was packed that day – standing room only. Yes, there were certain seats for children, for men, and for women. But those filled quickly. Everyone wanted to hear what Jesus had to say. He stood up to read. You see, the ruler of the synagogue could call on any qualified man to read – but it was often the practice to call on a traveling or visiting rabbi – as Jesus had become known. Throughout the book of Luke, He is called the teacher.
So Jesus stood, probably invited to do so, at the time the prophet was to be read. Another official of the synagogue would get the sacred scroll. They were expensive – who knows how many scrolls, how much of the OT the little town of Nazareth had. But, they had the Isaiah scroll, which perhaps Jesus asked for. He unrolled the scroll, which by the way, would have been quite long, given Isaiah’s 66 chapters. And remember, there were no chapter and verse divisions then. But Jesus made His way to the portion He wanted to read that day – Isaiah 61, verses 1 and 2. He also included a verse from Isaiah 58. And He began to read:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
The reading is from the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the OT. It’s interesting to note – perhaps some in the congregation noticed He changed a couple of words, and left out a couple of phrases. You see, Isaiah also talked about the judgment to come – the day of vengeance of our God. Where’s that Jesus – that’s what we’re waiting for – a political Messiah. But this was not the time for judgment – this was the day of God’s favor. So, Jesus rolled the scroll up, and gave it back to the attendant – whose job it was to carefully rewrap the scroll and return it to the ark – the cabinet that kept the sacred writings.
Then Jesus sat down on an elevated dais or platform, the position of a teacher – and everyone fixed their eyes on Him. But before we get to the one-sentence sermon, let me share briefly what Isaiah wrote – and what Jesus meant when He read it. You see, Jesus exposes the text. Now, some have suggested this is a passage promoting social justice – that we, the church, should be about caring for the poor, releasing captives or prisoners, recovering sight to the blind, that is, medical care, and setting free the oppressed. Now, I’m not suggesting the church should not be concerned about these things – but is that what Isaiah and further, Jesus meant?
You see, most agree these point to spiritual conditions, spiritual truths. There are four metaphors to describe our desperate condition. Consider. Jesus started with, the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. We, the readers know, that is true – the Spirit of God was seen to descend on Jesus at His baptism and remain on Him. Because, God has anointed Jesus – to do what? To preach or proclaim the gospel to the poor.
Now, when Isaiah wrote that, the good news was that God would bring His captive people, who were poor, back to their homeland. But, most everyone agrees when Jesus quoted it, He was referring to a different kind of good news – the truth of His death and resurrection for poor sinners. That God would indeed bring His people to their homeland, through the work of Christ.
But, who are the poor? Is it just the economically disadvantaged? Those in extreme poverty? Or is it to a larger group of poor people? I would suggest Jesus is not talking about material or physical poverty here – and the rest of the NT bears that out. It’s not physical poverty, but spiritual poverty. You see, the truth is, everyone is spiritually poor. And the word poor is a word that speaks of total bankruptcy – total spiritual poverty – spiritual depravity. The truth is, the gospel is for everyone since everyone is totally spiritually bankrupt – we bring nothing to the table. We have an utter lack of any spiritual resource. It takes the good news of the gospel – the work of Jesus since we have no good work to offer. His work alone will save us. So God has sent His Son to spiritually impoverished people – to proclaim the good news that through His finished work, we can be saved.
He, who was rich, became poor, so that we through His poverty might become rich. He’s not talking about solving your bank account balance – He’s talking about your spiritual debt – one that you could never afford. We come to Him in humble contrition, confessing our need and lack – and His resources as the only ones that will satisfy. We’re like the tax collector in Luke 18 who comes to the temple, doesn’t even his face toward heaven, but beats his breast and says, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
Now many point out, rightly, that those who are physically poor, captive, blind and oppressed are more likely to respond to the gospel. They, of all people, know their need, so they are quick to respond. The problem with us is we think we are not poor, captive, blind and oppressed. But we are. It’s why Jesus once said, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Why? Because those who see themselves as rich don’t see their desperate need.
The same ideas can be applied to the next three descriptions. We were all held captive by our sin and the enemy of our souls. But Jesus came to destroy the works the devil, to atone for our sins, and set us free from our own sinful captivity. Again, we live in a world that sees freedom of every expression as true freedom – and we don’t see sinful expression as true captivity. Those expressing their sinful freedoms don’t see themselves as dead in trespasses in sin, held captive by the prince of the power of the air; held captive to do his will. Jesus said that everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
This is so important – Jesus said God has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives. That word release is often translated forgiveness in Luke. God has sent me to extend forgiveness to those held captive by their sin. Charles Wesley wrote it this way in his famous hymn, “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free.”
We were also blind to our spiritual condition, having been blinded by Satan and our sin. II Corinthians 4 says Satan “has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Unbelievers love their sin and see it as desirable, not realizing sin – all sin – is ultimately destructive. Jesus came to remove the blinders so we might see the glorious gospel found in Him. He is the light of the world. We were in darkness, but now we are light in the Lord. Again, in II Corinthians, Paul said, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of the darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
Finally, we were all spiritually oppressed. This is not talking about social justice and the oppressors and the oppressed, but the fact that we have all been oppressed, the idea is crushed and afflicted by our own sinful choices. Jesus came to do something about our crushing, self-afflicted oppression.
He came to proclaim good news to poor, captive, blind, oppressed people. The favorable year of the Lord. When Isaiah wrote it, he was referring to the year of jubilee which came every fifty years, when slaves would be freed, and debts would be forgiven, land returned to proper owners. But he was prophesying of the great jubilee that would come, when the Messiah came to bring salvation to His people. And so now, that is available to all who believe in Jesus – freedom from slavery to sin, freedom from the debt we could never pay – Jesus took that debt and cancelled it by nailing it to His cross.
Do you see? This is all gospel language – what Jesus accomplished in His first coming. And such gospel wealth and freedom are available to all who believe in Jesus. That’s what He said when he handed the scroll back to the attendant, sat down as the teacher, with all eyes fixed on Him. And His one-sentence stunning sermon was this: “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This was shocking. His hearers would have known this as a Messianic text. This is what the Messiah would do when He came. Of course, they saw its fulfillment as physical, material and political. They didn’t understand its ultimate fulfillment would come spiritually, through the work of the Christ.
Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. And it either has been, or can be fulfilled in your hearing as well. Whether you realize it or not, you are broken – in total spiritual destitution, captive to your sin, blind to the truth, and oppressed by the enemy of your souls. But by simple faith in Jesus Christ and His work – today, you can find spiritual wealth, release or forgiveness from sin, the light of the hope of the gospel, and freedom from self-administered spiritual oppression. It comes by grace through faith in Jesus – who He is, and what He came to do. Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”