Christ’s coming allows us to behold wonders in His life and work. However, it is easy to misunderstand parts of the gospel as those who lived during Christ’s time did. In this message on Luke 4:16-30, Bart Box calls Christians to celebrate the gospel when considering Christmas. He explains three dangers to avoid.
- We may misunderstand the intended scope of Jesus’ mission.
- We may misunderstand the radical mercy behind Jesus’ mission.
- We may misunderstand the personal relevance of Jesus’ mission.
Praise His name! He came to, and He does indeed, set the captives free. If you would, take your Bible and turn with me to Luke 4:16–30. My wife and I have been here at The Church of Brook Hills for somewhere around eight months or so. I was thinking about that as I was preparing and reflecting on our time here, and I was thinking about all the things that have transpired in those particular eight months just as a church. Some of the big things – it’s not everything, certainly – but some of the bigger things that have happened in the eight months that we’ve been here at this church, the church has adopted a church covenant, redirected global mission efforts, launched a church planning initiative, established a center for disciple-making, taken a responsibility for orphans in Shelby County, given $525,000.00 to the poor and needy in India, and proposed a radical budget in 2010.
And I was thinking about that, and just thinking it’s good to be at a church that takes things slowly and deliberately, isn’t it? David two weeks ago had outlined a number of things that we are going to walk through as a church, as families, as small groups in the coming year. To pray for the entire world, to read through the entire Word as individuals, as families, as small groups, as a church. To radically change our giving and our spending habits for urgent spiritual, physical need around the world. To give 2% of our time in another context, and to commit ourselves to a small group.
It’s a lot of things that David has sort of outlined, and the elders. And I’m grateful for them leading us in this direction. And as I think about it, I’m not terribly concerned or not overwhelmed by the thought of doing these things in January or February. But you know I begin to think, “What about March? Or June, or September, or maybe on into December? Can I sustain this? Can my family sustain this? Where does the strength come from? Where does the power come from? Where’s the resolve come to do these things?”
And I’m reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:8–9. Timothy was a young pastor. He was intimidated. He was concerned about the future that awaited him there in Ephesus. He was tired. He was facing a daunting task, and Paul was really encouraging him in the task of the gospel. And he says something in 2 Timothy 2:8–9 – he says something that’s radically simple. He says simply this to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ.”
Luke 4: 16–30 Calls Us to Remember Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice
Now you think that that’s sort of an odd thing to tell a preacher. I mean he ought to get that, right? He ought to be able to remember Jesus Christ, or even to tell a believer, “Remember Jesus Christ.” How would I ever forget Jesus Christ? But it wasn’t an odd thing for Paul to tell Timothy, and it certainly isn’t an odd thing for the Holy Spirit to tell us, to remember Jesus Christ. It’s not likely that we’re going to forget who Jesus is, but we may not appreciate, we may not understand why it is that He came, or may not understand in all of its fullness how that impacts us day unto day.
And as we approach this Christmas season in particular, we may forget why it is that Christmas is such a big deal at all that God would come to live among us. And as we dive in in the next few weeks, into why it is that Jesus came, tonight I want to encourage you; simply to encourage you in the gospel; to encourage you in Christ; and to remind you of a reason, one of the reasons why it is that Christ has come. Now I want to walk you through Luke 4:16–30, and as we do, I want to point out a few things that ought to encourage us as we step back and we look at it.
Wonders to Behold…
Things that we can behold. Wonders that we can just look at and worship over and drive us forward. And then also some dangers that we may want to avoid. I want you to look with me, if you would, in your copy of God’s Word, in Luke 4 beginning in verse 16. Luke says:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. 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. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“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.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away (Luke 4:16–30).
Let’s pray together.
Father, we are grateful for your Word. We are grateful for your Son, Jesus Christ. We’re grateful that He came and He preached good news – liberty to those who are captives. The recovering of sight to those who are blind. Liberty to those who are oppressed, and the favorable year of the Lord. We are grateful for the good news of the gospel. And I pray tonight that as we look into your Word that you would help us to see with fresh eyes what it is that you have done. Why it is that Jesus has come, and why it is that that ought to drive us to worship and to adore you. We pray that your Spirit would lead us into all truth tonight. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We See a Powerful Gospel in Luke 4: 16–30
Two wonders to behold. First of all, we see a powerful gospel. We see first a powerful gospel. We have a record here of Jesus going into the synagogue. Jesus has come to His hometown, and He’s been performing miracles out and about, and word has reached the town where He was raised, in Nazareth, that Jesus is doing all these things. So He comes into the synagogue, and we have a record of Jesus appearing in the synagogue.
And what we know about the worship that would take place in the synagogue, typically there would be a prayer read. There would be some kind of reading from the Law and the Prophets, and then there would be, on most occasions there would be a sermon that would be delivered from that reading out of the Law or out of the Prophets. And so normally – not always, but normally, the ruler of the synagogue – you had to have ten men to have a synagogue. And normally you would have one of those that would be designated chief or the leader. And typically he would then read the Word, and he would then deliver a sermon. He would rise to read the Word. They would hand him the scroll. He would read the text for the day. And then he would sit and he would begin to teach the Word of God.
And so we have an episode of Jesus coming to Nazareth. And as a visiting preacher more than likely Jesus is given the honor. In most of the places He went, if you look back in verses 14 and 15 and 16 you see that most of the places that Jesus goes He is given the honor of preaching the Word of God on that particular day. And that’s what we have.
If you look in verse 17 again it says that, “…the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him” (Luke 4:17), and notice what it says. It says that Jesus “unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written” (Luke 4:17). Notice it says that Jesus found the place. Now in some cases the reading was fixed, and so they would read through the Old Testament every three years. But in other cases it seems that the person that was speaking, the person that was preaching the Word of God that day, he would be allowed to choose the text. And apparently that’s what we have here in this instance, that Jesus is given the opportunity. We don’t know if He was given maybe the opportunity to read anything in the Old Testament, or maybe he’s just given the scroll of Isaiah, and it’s said to Him, “You find what you would like to read. And you find what you would like to preach.”
It’s interesting to me that Jesus takes the scroll of Isaiah, and of all the things that He could’ve chosen, whether it’s from Isaiah or the Old Testament, out of all the things that Jesus could have chosen, Jesus does not go through and select a law or a set of laws to summarize His ministry. He does not go through and select an instance of judgment. He does not go through and select an instance of condemnation, though they were all through the Old Testament. Jesus selects gospel as the summary of His ministry.
The scroll is before Him, and He goes to Isaiah 61:1–2 and says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” And if you look in the rest of the Gospel of Luke you notice that these verses are what might be called programmatic, or they’re the kind of a script for the Gospel of Luke.
And so everything that you see in this text, everything that you see in verses 18 and 19, that is what Jesus does the rest of the Gospel of Luke. And so He preaches good news. He proclaims “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” (Luke 4:18–19). Gospel— good news to the poor—summarized the ministry of Jesus.
Now we have to be careful. When we hear that – when we hear that gospel, good news to the poor, summarized the ministry of Jesus, we have to be careful. Because we hear that, and we say, “Oh, good news to the poor. Jesus came to preach to those who are economically disadvantaged. To those who are physically, literally poor.” I mean that’s what it says, that He came to proclaim good news to the poor. And immediately our mind runs to a slum in India, or it runs to starving children, or in this text it runs to the poor people in Jesus’ day. And that is at least part of it.
I don’t want you to hear me say that Jesus is not saying that He came for those that are economically poor. I think we are near to the heart of God when we take care of those who do not have food and do not have clothing. Those that do not have the necessary things for life. But that is not all what Jesus is saying. Clearly Jesus is not just saying that those that are poor, those are the ones that I came for. And you say, “How do you know that?” I want to show you.
I want you to flip over if you would to Luke 6. It’s just a page or two over in your Bible. Luke 6:20, and having found that passage, what I would like for you to do is hold your place there in Luke 6. Hold your place in Luke 6, and also open up to Matthew 5:3. Luke 6:20 and then also Matthew 5:3. You have really two records of Jesus’ preaching, and we refer to the one in Matthew as the Sermon on the Mount. And so what you have in Luke 6 is really a parallel of that. No doubt Jesus preached the same message on many occasions. The content was essentially the same. But I want you to notice first in the Gospel of Luke what Luke records for us.
In Luke 6:20 we hear that He lifted up His eyes on His disciples and said this – notice what He says, “Blessed are you who are poor.” No adjective, no explanation, no expounding on that. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). And so we read that and we think, “Well, that’s exactly in line with what Luke says that Jesus said in Luke 4 that He came to proclaim good news to the poor.” And so the poor, theirs is the kingdom of God.
But now I want you to flip over to Matthew. Look over to Matthew and look what Matthew records. Matthew says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Now we’re faced with two seemingly different things, and so a lot of commentators take that and say, “Well, see, what Jesus really said is found in Luke 6:20. What Jesus really said is that Jesus came for those that are poor. Those are the ones that inherit the kingdom of God. And what Matthew has done then in Matthew 5:3 is he’s taken what Jesus said and he’s kind of spiritualized it. And so he’s moved it from the realm of the poor, the physically poor, into all those who are spiritually poor. Those who recognize their poverty before God. And so Luke’s message is the real message. Matthew’s message is the spiritual message.”
I don’t think that that’s the intention at all. In fact, I don’t think that these two are mutually exclusive, but rather they go hand-in-hand. Luke clearly is not saying that those who are poor, they automatically have a ticket into the kingdom of God. That is not what Luke is saying. Luke over and over again emphasizes that those who are poor physically, they are the ones who most often recognize their spiritual poverty.
I mean don’t we see the flip side of that when Jesus encounters the rich young ruler in Luke 18? You remember, he comes to Jesus and there’s this interaction and there’s this talk of eternal life. And Jesus tells him, “I tell you what you do. You go and you sell everything you have and give to the poor.” And do you remember his reaction? It says that he went away sad. Why? For he was extremely rich. And Jesus in verse 24 explains what happens. He says, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24–25). Luke is not concerned about whether we are poor or whether we are rich, but rather he is concerned with those who are wealthy who rely upon their wealth.
Now when we step back and try to put those two together, think about this. How often is it that we are sitting at our table, or we are sitting in our living room, and we have money in the bank account. And our children are serving the Lord and they’re doing well, and we have health, and everything is just right. How often is it in those circumstances that we’re just overwhelmed, or we’re just broken about how needy we are? But you let the bottom fall out – you let everything go wrong – and the name of God is immediately upon our lips.
Luke 4: 16–30 Reminds Us that Poverty Exists in Many Forms
It is an eternal truth that those who know real poverty – those who know real poverty are most often the ones who recognize their spiritual poverty. But that does not mean – that does not mean – that we are excluded from the message of Jesus because He came to proclaim good news to the poor. The idea is that Jesus came to proclaim good news to those who recognize their spiritual poverty. There are poor people all around us. We live in certainly one of the most prosperous nations in all the world, but there are people that have houses that are full, closets that are full, attics that are full, garages that are full, but they are as empty as they can possibly be because they do not know Christ.
And so Jesus came for these kind of people – the people that recognize their spiritual poverty. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor – to you and I, if we recognize our spiritual poverty. In the same way He came, He says in verse 18, “to proclaim liberty to the captives” (Luke 4:18). Is that only those who are physically captive? Is that only those who are actually in exile? I don’t think that’s all that it meant. I think it means all of us who are bound by sin. Jesus came to deliver us who are bound by sin. Is it just those who are physically blind that Jesus came to restore sight to? No. Those that are blind physically, yes, but also those who are spiritually blind. He came to liberate people from the bondage of Satan. And He came, He says, “To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
Now what is the favorable year of the Lord? Well, it’s actually a beautiful picture of the gospel. If you go back and you read in Leviticus 25 – we won’t do that tonight for the sake of time. But if you make a note out in your Bible, Leviticus 25, that is the reference here to the favorable year of the Lord. Most often in the Old Testament, particularly in that text, you will find it referred to as the year of jubilee. Perhaps you’ve heard of the year of jubilee.
That every 50 years – they had things set up really in cycles of 7 years. And so in seven years certain things would happen in Israel, and then another seven years, another seven years. But when you had 7 7s – roughly 50 years – you would celebrate as a nation the year of jubilee. And in that year, land is returned to owners. Servants return to their families. Loans forgiven. A clean slate every 50 years.
Can you imagine that? I mean can you imagine a clean slate? You ever daydream of what it would be like if you have a mortgage, but can you ever daydream of what it would be like if someone were just out of the blue pay your mortgage? And so one day you were under that debt, and then the next day you were free. No strings attached, but you have all this freedom. A new way to live. A new way to give. No burdens. Absolutely clean slate. But I would remind you, brothers and sisters, that Jesus has done far more than that.
Because you think about it. If you had a mortgage – you had a debt, a large debt. If you work hard enough, and if you save smart enough, and you discipline yourself enough, and you persist enough, eventually – 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, maybe. But eventually you will pay it off. But Jesus has paid a debt that we could never pay. He has paid a debt. We owe absolutely perfect obedience to God. We have rebelled against God, but Jesus has obeyed God perfectly. We owe God an immense penalty of physical debt, spiritual debt, eternal debt. We owe that to God. But Jesus had paid that debt in full.
It’s easy to me – I don’t know about you – it’s easy for me to read these verses. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, 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” (Luke 4:18–19). I’ve read them so many times, and I’m so familiar with it that I’m not really in awe. I’m not really blown away that Jesus has done this.
We find in this text and we find in the ministry of Jesus that the gospel addresses the most profound needs of our souls. The gospel addresses the most profound needs of our souls. That as our brother shared, that we are a depraved people. Paul says in Ephesians 2:1 that we were dead in trespasses and sins, but Jesus has brought good news to people who were dead.
We see and we know that we were captives. The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, Paul says (Romans 8:7). It does not submit to God’s law – indeed, it cannot submit to God’s law(Romans 8:7). You hear what Paul is saying? There is no way in our fallen condition that we can ever submit to the law of God. Try as we might, we are shackled in chains. We are captives, and Jesus shows up with the master key. That we are blind. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” And God has dispelled the darkness and given us sight. That we were oppressed, but He has delivered us from that oppression. That we were debtors, and He has paid the ultimate price – not with perishable things, Peter says, such as silver and gold, but with His very own blood (1 Pet. 1:18–19).
I don’t ever—and I find this in my soul—but I don’t ever want to be numb to the power of this gospel. Paul said that the gospel is the power of God (Rom. 1:16). The gospel – nothing else does he say that about. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). And I’m reminded of what Spurgeon said. He said, “Others may preach the gospel better than I do, but none may preach a better gospel.” There is no better news in all the world than Jesus Christ shedding His blood for our sins. He does not bring a law that leads to death, but rather He brings a gospel that brings to life. And He continues to bring that to young girls, young boys, old men, old women, hardened sinners, and religious hypocrites. It is a powerful, powerful gospel.
We See a Powerful God
And not only do we see a powerful gospel, we see also a powerful God. A powerful gospel, yes, but also a powerful God. Luke is intent on showing us, albeit subtly, that they misunderstand who Jesus is. Look in verse 22, if you would, of Luke 4. It says, “And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’” (Luke 4:22). And it seems like a reasonable question. I mean you can imagine – if you’re in that situation, you’re in that synagogue, and you have seen Jesus grow up. And you knew Him 20, 25 years ago, and now He appears in your presence. And you’ve heard all of these things that He is doing, and now He stands before you and He reads Isaiah 61:1–2, and He says, “Today in your hearing this Scripture has been fulfilled.”
You can imagine the reaction. Isn’t this the one that used to live over there? Isn’t this the one that’s kind to so-and-so? I mean isn’t this Joseph’s son? But Luke is intent on showing us that many of Jesus’ contemporaries failed to perceive His true identity as God. That many of His contemporaries failed to perceive His true identity as God. If you look at the Gospel of Luke – I encourage you to read it, perhaps over this Christmas season. If you look at it beginning in chapter 1 from His miraculous birth to His declaration. “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased,” at His baptism, to His triumph over the devil in temptation to His anointing by the Holy Spirit to His preaching with authority to His miracles.
All of these are designed to show us the fact that this is no ordinary man. That this is not the son of Joseph. Rather this is God in the flesh, and they missed it. God was reading His Word to them, and they missed it.
But you know before we are too quick to criticize or wonder, “How in the world could they have missed that? How could they not have understood that this was God standing before them?” Just think about John the Baptist. If you flip over a couple of chapters into Luke 7:18 and following.
If you look over in Luke 7:18 and following, you’ll see that John was in prison. And John being the forerunner of Jesus, he finds himself in prison. He has proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, and now he is in prison, and he begins to wonder, “Was I right? Was I led astray? Was I wrong to place my faith in this man named Jesus?” And look what he says there. Luke said that, “The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, (Jesus) saying” (Luke 7:18–19). Notice his question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” John, the greatest born of women.
John asks the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:18–19). And they go back. It says in verse 20 the men had come to Him. They said, “John the Baptist sent us to you saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ In that hour [Jesus] healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them…” (Luke 7:20–22)—and I love the answer of Jesus. “He answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me’” (Luke 7:22–23).
In other words, the words that Jesus spoke in that synagogue that day, they were not mere words. He does these things. He restores sight to those who are blind, hearing to those who are deaf. He cleanses the leper. He makes the lame to walk, and He raises dead people unto life. And what does that demonstrate?
In the words of John the Baptist, there is no need to look for another. This is the one who is to come. This is the Lord. This is the Messiah. This is Immanuel—God with us. Which answers the question why is this gospel that Jesus proclaims in Luke 4, why is this gospel such good news to the poor? Why is it that it’s able to liberate captives? Why is it that it’s able to restore sight to the blind? Why is this gospel able to establish a year of the Lord’s favor? Why is it in our contemporary context that this gospel is able to resurrect marriages, and why is this gospel able to change lives? Why is it that this gospel is one in which we can rely upon, build our lives upon, and rest our eternity upon?
It is because standing behind this gospel is the God of the gospel—Jesus Christ. That standing behind this gospel is the God of the gospel, Jesus Christ. That Jesus is the substance of the gospel. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Firstborn over all creation, the hope of glory, the image of the invisible God, the anointed of God. As Isaiah says He is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. This is now and forever more our fuel for worship.
This is what drives us. This is what – when I mentioned earlier, this is what sustains us, that this is the God of the gospel. This is what we celebrate this Christmas. This is what makes our hearts to swell and our spirits to soar and our hands to rise into the air, that God in the flesh. That no mere man, no mere king, no politician, no one but God Himself could do what God has done.
That He has looked upon our sinful condition. That He has instead of consigning us to everlasting torment, which we rightfully deserve. Which I rightfully deserve. What I have earned. Instead of doing that, God became flesh and He dwelled among us. And He took my sin and He took your sin. He took my shame and He took your shame. He took my guilt upon Him, and He took your guilt upon Him. He took the very wrath of God that was due unto me, and it was due unto you, and He absorbed it all. That is worth celebrating this Christmas that He has done these things. There are wonders to behold. There is a powerful gospel, and there is a powerful God that stands behind this gospel.
But as I read the text, it just intrigues me. It intrigues me that Jesus didn’t stop right there. I mean you look at it in verse 22. It seems like a good place to roll up the scroll and go home, right? To finish the teaching. It seems like a good place just to put a period on it. Say, “I’ve enjoyed our time here. It’s good to see all y’all again, and I’m going to go on my way.” “Good sermon, preacher.” Because you notice that they’re filled with wonder and they marvel at what He said, and they say, “Is this not Joseph’s son? Our local boy has made good. This is great!” But if you get to the end of the text, they were filled with wrath.
Why not stop in verse 22? I think He doesn’t stop because Jesus desires to expose sin in their hearts. In particular, not only does He desire to expose sin in their hearts, but He actually desires to expose sin in all of Israel’s heart. And also to expose sin in our hearts. The rejection that we see at Nazareth – it is His home town. But it really is a microcosm. It’s an example of what’s going to happen all throughout His ministry, where that in the end even His own people hang Him on a cross.
Luke 4: 16–30 Helps us See Dangers to Avoid
And so Jesus wants to expose that. He doesn’t just want to leave them where they’re at. He wants to expose the sin in their heart, and I suspect He wants to expose the sin in our hearts as well. So I want to walk you through just a few misunderstandings that we want to avoid.
We May Misunderstand the Intended Scope of Jesus’ Mission
Number one, we want to avoid misunderstanding the intended scope of Jesus’ mission. They misunderstood the intended scope of Jesus’ mission. Many Jews in Jesus’ day, they expected the blessing of Israel alone. They were right that Jesus did come to bless Israel.
They were right that He was a Jewish Messiah. He had come to the lost for the lost house of Israel. But Jesus expands that far beyond the borders of Israel, and He does it by telling two stories.
Look in verse 24. In verse 24 He says, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them” (Luke 4:24–26). Notice that. “Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow” (Luke 4:26).
He reminds them of Elijah, and the time in which God had shut up the heavens for three and a half years, and there was a famine over all the land. And Elijah, the man of God, was sent not to a Jewish widow – there were Jewish widows. There were Jewish widows who were looking for their very next meal. But God did not in this case send Elijah to them, but rather He sent him to a widow beyond the borders of Israel.
And then he flashes over to Elisha. He goes from Elijah to Elisha in verse 27. He says, “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha” (Luke 4:27). There was an outbreak of leprosy, and so there were leper colonies springing up. “And none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27). God didn’t send Elisha in this case to the Jews, but rather to Naaman the Syrian. To a pagan outside the borders; outside the grace and the mercy of God. Probably not the best closing illustration of Jesus’ preaching career, right?
But it does get across the intended message, and that is simply that Jesus is not interested in local affection alone, but Jesus desires global adoration. That Jesus is not interested in local affection alone, but desires global adoration. Paul says in Romans 15:8–9, “I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs”
(Rom. 15:8). What Paul is saying, he said Jesus came. He came as a Jew and He came as a Jew for a reason – that God had promised all kinds of things through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He had made a promise that He was going to deliver the people of Israel. And He delivers on that promise in Jesus, but that is not all. He came, yes, to do that, but He continues. He says in verse 9, “and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom. 15:9).
I’m thankful. I really am thankful, and I know that you are as well, to be a part of a church that I think gets this. That understands that God has a heart for the nations. So I’m thankful that we want and we long for and we pray about and we sing for God’s glory in all of the nations. But that still doesn’t mean that our scope is as wide as the scope of Jesus. In other words, we may love and long and pray to see God’s grace extended to the Sudanese. But do we long and pray and sing toward God’s grace, God’s mercy being extended toward a president with whom we may disagree, or Congress with whom we may disagree, or in a family situation? Do we long for God’s grace and God’s mercy to be extended towards those that we do not like? Do we long for God’s grace to be extended toward an ex-wife or an ex-husband? Or a father-in-law or a mother-in-law that we do not get along with? Do we long for the grace of God? Yes, we long for it over there, but do we long for it here? Do we long for it for religious hypocrites around us, or maybe among us?
They were content to draw the circle as tight as they desired, and so they were happy so long as God’s mercy and God’s grace extended to certain places. But not beyond those borders. They loved to see the grace of God toward them, and they loved to see the mercy of God when it terminated upon them.
But Jesus reminds them, shows them that they seriously underestimate, they undervalue the worth and the glory of God. That He does not intend to be a local God only. That He intends to be shown, to be seen to be worshipped as the God of all the nations. Every tongue, every tribe, every people, every nation worshipping Jesus. Not local affection alone—global adoration. We need to be careful that we don’t limit the scope of Jesus’ ministry.
We May Misunderstand the Radical Mercy Behind Jesus’ Mission
But number two, also we need to make sure that we don’t misunderstand the radical mercy behind Jesus’ ministry. That we don’t misunderstand the radical mercy behind Jesus’ ministry. I want to show you something really profound. Really just it grabs my heart when I see it in the text. If you would, look at Luke 4:18–19 again. Keep your hand there, and I want you to turn back to what Jesus is quoting in Isaiah 61:1–2. So keep your hand at Luke 4:16, 17, 18, 19. Keep your hand there. And then I want you to look also in Isaiah 61:1–2.
So Jesus quotes Isaiah in Luke 4 saying in the middle there, “He sent me 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” (Luke 4:18–19). Notice where He ends, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19). That’s where Jesus stops quoting.
Now I want you to turn with me back to Isaiah 61, and I want you to notice something. This is the original text. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1–2). There it is. That’s where Jesus stops. But notice the very next line. Not only to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, Isaiah says, but also, “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2). And Jesus does not quote that part of the verse.
The Jews in Jesus’ day longed for military vengeance. They longed for military vengeance. They longed for the realization of this verse: the day of vengeance of our God. They longed for the overthrow of the Romans, for the annihilation of their oppressors. But Jesus reminds them by stopping short – it’s not that Jesus doesn’t agree with that verse. But Jesus stops short, and He reminds them that today is the day of salvation, not condemnation. That today is a day of salvation, not condemnation.
And this is consistent with the ministry of Jesus. You remember right after John 3:16, the verse that we love to quote? In John 3:17, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Paul says essentially the same thing in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Behold, now is the favorable time.” Hear what Paul is saying. Now is the favorable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.
Brothers and sisters, there is coming a day of judgment. There is coming a day of fierce judgment, when people will hide themselves from the judgment of the wrath of the Lamb of God. But that day is not today. Aren’t you glad that that day is not today? We may long for – indeed, I believe that we should long for the day when Jesus will be seen as victorious over all of His enemies. We will praise God for His judgment upon them in that day, but that is not today.
Today is a day of radical mercy – of radical mercy toward the Muslim and toward the Jew and toward the atheist and toward the one that we disagree with. Toward the one that we do not like. Today is a day of radical mercy.
So we may misunderstand if we’re not careful. They longed for the day when God would show His vengeance, and they desired that day in their own time. But Jesus reminds them that that is not today. It’s the day of salvation, not of condemnation.
We May Misunderstand the Personal Relevance of Jesus’ Mission
We may misunderstand the intended scope of the ministry of Jesus, the mission of Jesus. We may misunderstand the radical mercy behind Jesus’ mission. And one last thing, we may misunderstand the personal relevance of Jesus’ mission. We may misunderstand the personal relevance of Jesus’ mission. Why is it that they were filled with wrath?
I mean you think about it. They knew that God was going to extend mercy to the Gentiles. That was the promise to Abraham, that in Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed. If you look at Psalm 67 it’s a global psalm, that all the nations would recognize God as savior. It’s in the Old Testament. It is there. But why is it that they were so filled with wrath as Jesus talked about Elijah going to the widow and Elisha going to Naaman? Why is it that that made them so angry?
I think at least in part it was what they thought about what Jesus was saying about the outsider. What Jesus was saying about the Gentiles. But I think they were just as angry about what Jesus was saying about them. That yes, the Romans needed the mercy of God. Yes, the Romans needed the grace of God. Yes, the Romans needed the forgiveness of God, but guess what? They did as well. They needed the gospel just as much. They failed. Many in Jesus’ day – many Jews failed to see their unity with the Gentiles. That they shared a common captivity. They shared a common blindness. They shared a common poverty. They shared a common oppression. That even though they had the Law and the Prophets, that they had the priests and the temple, and they had the Word of God, that they needed the gospel just as much as the Romans.
And is it not the same for us? The gospel is not just about getting saved. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, day unto day, from faith unto faith. He came – Jesus says here, He came to proclaim good news to all of us. Saved and lost. Oppressed and those that are coming out of it. To the pagan and the religious. To the outsider and to the insider. This is, brothers and sisters, the good news of Christmas. This is what we celebrate, that we are a messed–up group of people. That we have sin that has worked its way down into the farthest reaches of our hearts.
That we have lingering issues of pride and arrogance. That yes, we are giving more perhaps of our money, but we still have that desire that tugs at our heart to hang onto it; to be greedy and to struggle with materialism. We still struggle with hatred and with bitterness with those with whom we disagree. We fashion idols as quickly and as naturally as we breathe air. But the gospel continues to be the answer to every single one of those sins. That is what we celebrate. The gospel is the essence and the gospel is the goodness of Christmas.
Hope to Embrace…
I read a couple of years ago a brief outline or a brief how-to. A how to get into the Christmas spirit on eHow.com. That’s where I get all my stuff in case you were wondering. How to get in the Christmas spirit. It says,
Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace, love, and good will to all. But with all the stress and commotion of the season, many of us end up feeling more like Mr. Scrooge than Santa Claus. And so what do you do about it? Well, step one: shop early. Nothing takes away the Christmas spirit like fighting for parking and struggling through crowds. Number two: wish people that you meet in stores and other casual environments a happy holidays. Number three: drop spare coins in the Salvation Army collection buckets. Number four: do something nice for someone. Number five: volunteer your time for a worthy holiday cause. Number six: organize a food drive at work. Seven: play Christmas music. Eight: watch Christmas movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Nine: read A Christmas Carol. Ten: decorate your home for the holidays. And 11: don’t spend more money than you have. Anxiety over after-Christmas bills can ruin your holiday.
It’s kind of a reverse radical experiment. “The true holiday spirit, bottom-line,” they say, “is about love and kindness, not materialism and shopping. Do your best not to get caught up in the latter. That is how to get into the Christmas spirit.” No word of Jesus. No reference of salvation. No talk of the gospel.
This evening I want to say and suggest that there’s nothing wrong with family time of giving gifts to one another, enjoying Christmas music, volunteering, decorating, dropping some money in the Salvation Army bucket. But that is not the essence. That is not the spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Christmas is not about gifts and lights and parties and trees. It is about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is about the worship and the adoration and the magnification and the glorification of Jesus Christ, who has come and He has set the captives free.
Brothers and sisters, I want this for my family. This is my prayer. This is the bottom line. I want for my family – I want for me – I want for this body of believers – I want for us this Christmas, more than anything else. I want us, I want you, I want me to revel in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I want us to make much of God, to make much of the good news that He came to proclaim to the poor. To setting free of the captives who are bound by sin. To giving sight to those who are blinded by sin. To liberating us from the oppression of the evil one, and to paying our debt absolutely in full. Why would we not make much of that gospel?
That’s my prayer, and I pray that it’s your prayer this Christmas God make this Christmas a celebration of your gospel—greater liberty, better vision, less oppression, and greater freedom—for your glory and the good of your people.
He Came to Set the Captives Free
Wonders to Behold
- We see a powerful Gospel
- Gospel-good news to the poor-summarized Jesus’ ministry
- The Gospel addresses the most profound needs of our souls.
- We see a powerful God
- Many of Jesus’ contemporaries failed to perceive His true identity as God
- The Gospel is powerful because standing behind it is the God of the gospel-Jesus
Dangers to Avoid
- We may misunderstand the intended scope of Jesus’ mission
- Many Jews of Jesus’ day expected the blessing of Israel alone
- Jesus is not interested in local affection alone; Jesus desires global adoration
- We may misunderstand the radical mercy behind Jesus’ mission
- The Jews of Jesus’ day longed for military vengeance
- Today is the day of salvation, not condemnation
- We may misunderstand the personal relevance of Jesus’ mission
- Many Jews failed to see their unity with the Gentiles
- He came to proclaim good news to all of us
Hope to Embrace
God make this Christmas a celebration of Your gospel-greater liberty, better vision, less oppression, and greater freedom-for Your glory and the good of Your people.