English Service - July 17, 2022
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
Being Set Free and Fulfilling Prophecy
Our journey continues through the stories in the gospels of Christ where God keeps His promises (prophecies) through events, situations, and people who often don’t even know they are part of that great work. Up to now, we have seen God demonstrating that He is in control, even when we human beings are weak, suffer, face evil, and receive unfair treatment. He is the king even when our faith is weak. He reigns when our understanding, resources, and even our dreams are lacking.
But, as I promised, we are not only going to focus on the bad things that happen in life and God’s work there. We also see throughout the stories of Jesus’ life, His work through the good times, the opportunities, the willing cooperation, and many blessings of life. To be sure, they often grow out of the bad things that happen to us, as you might expect. But these positive parts of life are under God’s control, too, and He uses them for His great purposes. So let’s explore how He does this in the Bible stories and our lives today. In the Luke 4:18-21 episode, Christ’s message focuses on His work of setting people free.
Setting us free. . . . That has been God’s work throughout the centuries, Jesus reminds us. He’s reading from Isaiah 61 in the Old Testament, verses 1 and part-way through 2. God liberated His people from Egypt physically, economically, politically, and most of all spiritually, the Bible writers recount for us again and again. But even that life-transforming central event was not a one-and-done thing. God gave His Law to people because He knew we continually need to be set free in our hearts, minds, and souls by knowing what is right and wrong. He later sent the prophets to His people, Israel, because they often were not living in the inward freedom He wanted them to have. They needed to be warned and called back to it.
Jesus now reads the words of Isaiah 61 as part of the weekly worship on a Saturday in His hometown of Nazareth. They are written not in book form as we have today but in scrolls. Most people at this time do not know how to read, but they are able to learn God’s word regularly by hearing it read aloud in sections. By listening together to the Bible being read, and by keeping the practice of memorizing parts of it, as a community, they manage to keep a relatively high level of Bible education in their society. It would be a mistake to think we understand it better today just because high percentages of us can read.
In a typical synagogue there are seven readers—a priest, a Levite, and five other members of that particular synagogue. Sometimes a guest reader or speaker will be there, as Jesus is this day. In turns, they will read from the Law, the Prophets, and other sections of the Old Testament (the Psalms, for example). After these oral readings, someone who has been chosen to teach from one will do so. That person will sit down to teach rather than stand as I am now, and the learners will sit on the floor and listen. You may read the phrase, “sit at the feet” of a teacher, as Mary does at Jesus’ feet and learns from Him in Luke 10:39. That’s why it makes sense when Luke tells us that after Jesus finishes reading, He sits down (v. 20). It doesn’t mean He’s finished speaking but ready to begin explaining. Luke says that the Lord begins by telling them that these words are coming true as they listen (v. 21).
The prophecy being fulfilled, God keeping His promise, is to set His people free from all that enslaves us. Yes, this is happening here and now, Jesus says. He’s not quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 strictly as it’s written there. It seems Luke is giving us the version from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. Also, readers and teachers in synagogues are free to piece together different sections of the Old Testament to help the listeners see how the various parts explain and interpret each other. For example, the words, “He wants me to free those who are beaten down” in v. 18 do not appear in Isaiah 61:1-2. But they do appear in basically the same form in Isaiah 42:7 and 58:6.
Now I think you have a pretty good idea what is happening as Jesus speaks here. So let’s look a little closer at what He is actually telling us. Here’s a quick question-and-answer overview.
What has God done? He’s anointed and sent Jesus (Luke 4:18). Kings are anointed, or chosen and set apart for special important tasks, for example. God has designated Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and sent Him to save His people, or set us free.
What has God anointed and sent Jesus to do (vv. 18-19a)?
To tell the good news (some translations say “proclaim” or “announce”).
To announce freedom.
“So that the blind will see again.”
To free those who are beaten down.
To announce the year when He will set His people free.
To whom did God send Jesus? To “his people” (v. 19), that is, to everyone willing to believe and follow Him in faith, of course. But here He focuses on . . .
those who are beaten down.
What does God tell us about these particular groups of people? He says that . . .
poor people need the good news.
prisoners need freedom.
the blind need to see again.
those who are beaten down need to be freed.
his people need to be set free.
This is Jesus’ message and the identifying marks on His work that show He is the Messiah. Remember this story from Luke 7? John the Baptist is in prison, things aren’t looking as good as he seemed to say they will be when the Messiah arrives. So his disciples go to Jesus and ask Him if He really is the one they have been waiting
for to come and set God’s people free. Jesus’ response to them (7:21-23) shows some very important things about His identity.
At that very time Jesus healed many people. They had illnesses, sicknesses and evil spirits. He also gave sight to many who were blind. So Jesus replied to the messengers, “Go back to John. Tell him what you have seen and heard. Blind people receive sight. Disabled people walk. Those who have skin diseases are healed. Deaf people hear. Those who are dead are raised to life. And the good news is preached to those who are poor. Blessed are those who do not give up their faith because of me.”
In other words, Jesus is not only making claims with words but demonstrating with acts of convincing power and love that He is the Christ, the Son of God. That is why His presence and teachings are so life-transforming to people who accept them. But at the same time, some don’t accept them can find them so outrageous that they want to kill Him. That’s what the people in His home town try to do here, and eventually the leaders of the nation do that.
That is how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies and so shows us the reliable character of our God. But there’s more. As you remember, we have been looking at examples of people in the Bible whose actions and words in particular situations in effect fulfill promises the Lord has made, often long before. Jesus, of course, knows what He is doing and makes the promises of God come true intentionally. Yet He meets a wide variety of people as He goes about teaching and healing. Then the disciples He equips to carry on His work after He is gone help many others. And things happen to them that call us to pay close attention.
For one, He encounters poor people such as a woman in Luke 21:1-4. She puts only two coins in the offering container at the Temple, but Jesus sees something special about the spirit with which she gives. He says (21:3b-4),
That poor widow has put in more than all the others. All of those other people gave a lot because they are rich. But even though she is poor, she put in everything. She had nothing left to live on.
Those words are good news for her and all of us to hear. People who don’t have a lot of things can often receive a message from the society around them: “You don’t count for much.” But Jesus sees deep meaning in who she is and the great spiritual value in her gift. He lifts her up as an example for us to follow. She is one of the few people He directly praises in the gospels. She didn’t know she was going to be a person through whom God fulfilled the prophecy of the Messiah who gives good news to the poor. But that’s who she is.
This gospel leads to a freedom greater than money can provide. Financially rich people in the Bible like Zacchaeus can have it, too. But it’s often the poor who somehow just seem to receive it more readily. Who are the poor people that you know? It may be that you are in a position to help them in Christ’s name. It may also be that they can help you. As we link up through the power of God’s Spirit with the people around us, we discover that we are all poor in various ways. But we also serve a rich, rich God. And He is very good at blessing His people as we learn to share and rely on Him to meet our needs. When we do, the prophecy of Luke 4 is fulfilled.
Prisoners. In Acts 16, Jesus’ followers Paul and Silas are in prison because they have been helping a woman in Christ’s name to become free from an abusive employer. God sends an earthquake, and it knocks the prison doors open. Instead of escaping, knowing the jailer will have to kill himself or be killed for not keeping them there, they stay and tell him about Jesus. He becomes a believer. Pretty soon, Paul and Silas receive the word from government officials, “Now you can leave. Go in peace” (v. 36).
That is Jesus the Messiah at work through those He calls to be His disciples. He knows that prisoners need freedom. Today, too, there are Christians who work for the release of people who have been wrongfully imprisoned. There are also people who have been justly put in prison who meet Christ there. Some of them are released and begin lives as solid members of society who contribute to it greatly. Others remain in prison but experience an inner freedom through meeting Jesus Christ that is real and vibrant and inspiring—one that no prison can hold. That kind of freedom is available through our Lord to all who will accept it by faith. That includes people in the prisons of religious cults, of modern slavery (human trafficking for sex, drugs, or whatever), and of addiction (to alcohol, other drugs, pornography, worry, or other life-destroying things). What imprisons you and me? Where do we need to experience more true freedom in our lives? As we find the answers to these questions and learn to live as the truly free human beings God so deeply wants to make us, the Luke 4 prophecy of the Messiah is fulfilled in us.
The blind. When Jesus talks about these people, he may have in mind the prisoners He has just mentioned. People in prisons in Jesus’ time are often in dark places. Burning lights in general is not nearly as common in most places as it is today, and especially in prisons, making sure there is good lighting is far from a priority. But I suppose we could also say that anyone who does not have the gift of sight is in a type of prison. So in that sense, we can think of “the blind” pretty broadly.
A blind man named Bartimaeus in Mark 10 is sitting beside the road when Jesus passes by. He makes it his business to get Jesus’ attention, even when others are telling him to be quiet. Jesus seems impressed with his attitude, stops, and asks him what he wants. His answer (v. 51) is one that we could do well to make our prayer today: “Rabbi, I want to be able to see.” Jesus gladly heals him, and Bartimaeus begins his life as a person with not only eyesight but insight into the character of Christ. He now lives with a vision also of the kind of person he can become under Jesus’ leadership and care. When Bartimaeus sat down beside the road that day, he very likely wasn’t planning to be a tool God used to bring about the fulfillment of prophecy. But that’s exactly what happens.
Where are the “blind spots” in our views of the world? One big part of the work of God is to help us see things as they really are—even the things we don’t want to see. They could be things about our personalities or particular sins. They could be people in need whom we’d rather not see but God wants us to help. Whatever these areas of blindness in us are, in His time and way, He can lead us to face up to them honestly, then respond to them in faith and love. As we do, we will find the prophecy of Christ being fulfilled in and through us. “He has sent me so that the blind will see again.” Yes, Lord. Make that true of us here and now, today and every day.
Finally, those who are beaten down (v. 18b). Other translations describe these people as “the oppressed” (New International Version) or “the bruised” (Young’s Literal Translation), for example. In another story of Paul, this one in Acts 14, he is attacked physically (stones thrown at him) because of his work for Christ (vv. 19-20). He is drug outside the city where he is, and left for dead. Somehow, he survives under God’s protection. There is nothing to suggest that Paul woke up that day planning to make these events unfold so that Jesus’ prophecy about freeing the oppressed would come true. But, again, that is what happens.
Our Lord knows that people who are oppressed and feel beaten down need to be freed. That is not to say that God always wants an easy, comfortable life for us, and we can get it whenever we ask Him if we just believe strongly enough. No, freedom in Christ is not just doing whatever you want, and that is not how it works. In fact, Paul is very aware of how difficult living in Christ’s freedom really is. He says (Acts 14:22), “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Giving up our self-centered desires and willingly submitting them to God’s good desires is, paradoxically, the way to true freedom, He teaches us. Our Father in Heaven does offer us a deep, inner knowledge that we are free to live as our true, best selves within a close relationship with Him. His presence in our hearts, minds, and bodies gives us every reason to live in freedom from the fear, doubt, and other sins that so often put us in bondage. As we learn to do this, we take our place in being part of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Christ as the liberator of the oppressed.
Jesus finishes His selected reading from the Bible by mentioning “the year when (the Lord) will set his people free” (v. 19b). We need to be set free. Some translations call this time “the year of the Lord’s favor.” Others describe it as “the acceptable year of the Lord.” They seem to be talking about the Year of Jubilee. That is the special time each 50 years when the Old Testament Law requires that debts be cancelled and slaves set free. That is God’s will and plan. Yet it is not clear that Israel ever observed it literally and thoroughly. In the end, that is only going to happen when we are in Heaven. So we claim it now as a basis for a solid, unshakeable hope that in His time, all the things that rob us of our freedom now will fall away. We will live for all time in His presence, where nothing evil can stand. Even the knowledge that that time will come gives us a strong reason for living in expectation and strength here and now in this world. It also guides us to prayer, so let’s talk with our Heavenly Father now.
God, your Son, Jesus, joined fully with you in your work of setting people free. Help us to do the same. He said that your Spirit was on Him, leading and empowering Him for that work. Fill us with that same Spirit and help us to grow strong under His guidance and join with you in your great work of setting people free. In Jesus Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Gill, J. (1746-1763). John Gill's Exposition of the Bible. Retrieved July 6, 2022, from https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the- bible/luke-4-18.html Henry, M. (1706). Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Retrieved July 7, 2022, from https://www.biblestudytools.com/ commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/luke/4.html
Wesley, J. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://www.biblestudytools.com/ commentaries/wesleys-explanatory-notes/luke/luke-4.html