THE MISSION OF THE MESSIAH
Neh 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Cor 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21
Today’s gospel passage shows Jesus making a the “mission statement”, what the Father sent him into the world to do. In a nutshell, his mission was to liberate people from all forms of oppression: physical, mental and spiritual. You find it in the Gospel of Luke 4:14-21. That was what the prophet Isaiah had said the Messiah would do (Confer Isaiah 61:1-2). To understand his “mission statement”, every movement and act of Jesus at this scene counts.
- The Church Service
Luke 4:14 begins by telling us that Jesus returned to Galilee and to Nazareth, the place where Jesus had been brought up. Jesus has already made a little bit of a name for himself. We are told, “news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.” (Lk 4:14) The synagogue was the local church in Judaism. No sacrifices took place in the synagogue. These only took place at the Temple in Jerusalem. The local synagogue was the place for prayer, the reading of Scripture, and instruction. It was very similar to what we think of as the local church. It was common for any visiting teachers to be invited to teach.
Let us not miss the fact that Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth because “it was His custom”. He did not go there because of the music or because He was looking for some good teaching, or because he had a great need. He did not go there because it was conveniently near to his home. He went because this was the discipline of His life. He went because it was the habit of His life. Does this teach us something about our church attendance? What is our motive for attending Mass on Sunday? What motivates us to attend Mass in one parish and not in the other? It is worth examining our motives here.
- JESUS IS THE ONE THAT ISAIAH WAS POINTING TO
Jesus (as the visiting Rabbi) was invited to speak. Don’t miss the drama conveyed by the action verbs. He stood up. Then He was given the scroll. Then He unrolled the scroll. When he came to Isaiah 61:1-2 he read the passage. We don’t know if he chose the text or whether this was, in God’s providence, the text of the day. It was a passage often applied to the anticipated Messiah. Notice what it said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The Messiah is described as one who would help people in trouble, would set free those who were imprisoned in various ways, and would mend those who were broken. The Year of the Lord’s favor referred to what the Old Testament calls the Year of Jubilee. In the Old Testament Law (book of Leviticus) God prescribed that every 50 years all the prisoners and slaves were to be set free, all the land was to be returned to its original owners, all debts were to be canceled. It was to be a new beginning. The Year of Jubilee was designed to eliminate any permanent class distinctions and oppression. There is no record in the Old Testament that the Year of Jubilee was ever observed.
Jesus rolled the scroll back up and then sat down (the common position for the teacher). We are told all eyes were fastened upon Him. Everyone waited for His exposition of the passage. Jesus let the silence build some suspense and then he basically said, “THIS PASSAGE WAS TALKING ABOUT ME.” Jesus was saying the time of the promised renewal had come. There may have been more to his message, but the only point people remembered, or needed to remember, was this one: Jesus was claiming to be the One that Isaiah was pointing to. In other words, Jesus is the One who came to bring good news to the poor, comfort for the brokenhearted, and freedom for captives. The one thing all of these people have in common is they are broken people. He came to make a practical difference to hurting people.
- WHO ARE THE POOR?
The Greek word for poor means “one who is destitute of wealth, influence, position, honour”. In other word, it is not just people who do not have a lot of material riches. The Greek word indicates that Jesus was going to preach good news to the outcasts. He came to preach good news to those the world saw as valueless. Jesus did not come to associate with the “movers and shakers”, nor to settle scores with the powerful and popular people of the world. He came to preach good news to the very people the world often overlooks. Many people feel insignificant in the world:
- They have no remarkable talents
- They do not possess that rare physical beauty that makes the world take notice
- They don’t have the money for designer clothes
- They can’t afford the toys that others have
- They have a very poor control over their emotions which causes others to stay away from them
- They have a disability of some sort
- They have an abrasive or harsh personality
- They are not intellectually gifted
- They do not possess athletic ability
- They are “average”
To tell the truth, most of us feel somewhat insignificant in the world, no matter how well-to-do we may feel we are. Most people feel empty to the extent that they could leave this earth and few people would mourn. This means that Christ came to earth to reach out to the majority of us. He came to reach the average people of the world. He came to reach you and to reach me.
The Hebrew word for “poor” seems to carry a different shade of meaning. The word contains the same idea of the Greek word but adds the idea of humility and meekness. It is the same thought we read in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. Jesus was coming to preach good news to the people who had the right spirit. He came to bring good news to the humble. He came to address the people who were aware of their need. He came for people who were open to instruction. The poor people in this case are the people who recognize their own sin nature. They are the ones who know they need help. Most of these people have at one time or another cried out, “O Lord, please help me!” Jesus came in response to their cries. Jesus did not spend a great deal of time working with the religious leaders who were so wrapped up in their own significance. They were unwilling to hear and listen. They did not think they needed a Saviour.
- WHAT IS THE GOOD NEWS?
There are several elements to this good news:
- a) God knows who you are. In a society where you feel like outcasts it is easy to believe that you do not matter to anyone. That is the way many people feel in life. The good news that Christ came to give to the world is this: God sees us. The world may not notice us, but God does. He knows our name, He knows our hurts, He knows our longings. The Creator of the universe knows you! God knows the wounded, he knows those whom the world dismisses, He knows you and he knows me. The fact that God knows us is very good news.
- b) God loves you: God does not only know us, but he also loves us. God could have sent Christ into the world to proclaim a message of judgment. He could have pointed out our sin and extended God’s judgment. But he did not. He came to bring us GOOD news.
God tells us that “You are valuable enough for Jesus to die for you. We are loved so much that God paid the highest price to make us a part of His family.”
- c) Christ has provided the way for you to have forgiveness and new life: The most common use of the phrase “good news” in the Bible is in reference to the good news of salvation. The good news of salvation is that sinful people (like you and me) can be forgiven, made new, and welcomed as part of God’s family. The good news of the gospel is that there is hope. This hope is found in the one who delivered the good news. It is found in Jesus.
God sent Christ into the world to pay the price for our rebellion and sin. He sent Him to die so that we might be set free to experience and enjoy God’s love forever. Our job is to put your hand in his and trust his ability to pull you out of the mired circumstances of your life. This is the gospel message. This is the “good news”.
- WE ARE ALL BROKEN PEOPLE
Jesus came for broken people. It is worthy to note that we are ALL broken people. One of the things that should draw us together is the reality of our brokenness. The thing that should help us show grace to each other is the reality that we are all a mess in one way or another. This realization is so important as we think about reaching out to a lost world. The world looks at the church and assumes that it is comprised of people who “have it all together”. We need to take every opportunity that we have to remind people that we are not perfect. We are broken people who have been made new by an undeserved grace. The church is God’s reclamation center (THE CHUCH IS A HOSPITAL FOR SINNERS not a HOTEL FOR THE RIGHTEOUS —Popr Francis). We enter as a mess and we work together with the Lord to become something of value and honor. Jesus healed people of diseases and infirmities. He delivered those who were possessed and mentally tormented. He gave forgiveness to those who were noteworthy failures and extended love and tenderness to those who had been cast aside. Look at the make-up of the disciples: fishermen, tax-collectors, and even a political zealot. This was not some elite army. These were common people who had been called by God for an extraordinary work.
This, however, is not an excuse for sinful behavior. What we are saying is that we need to remind others and ourselves that we are REDEEMED PEOPLE, not PERFECT PEOPLE. In other words, we are broken people who are in the process of being made new by Christ. When we come to Christ He begins a process of transformation. But it is a process. Recognizing this is very liberating.
- JESUS BRINGS HOPE WHERE THERE IS NONE
We live in a hope-depleted world. One of the most annoying phrases young people use is, “Whatever” or “Who Cares”. These are statements of people who believed nothing matters. This is a natural result of the teaching of evolution and the growing rise of atheism: without God life is meaningless.
This sort of hopelessness is the message of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. If you have ever tried to read that book you likely found yourself feeling a little depressed. In it, Solomon observes that materialism, pleasure, riches and power leave you empty. They satisfy, but only for a moment. He looks at life and sees good people dying young and wicked people living long. He sees people who work hard all their lives to save something for their children only to see the children squander their wealth when they are gone. Solomon says it doesn’t make sense to work hard and to sacrifice because we all end up as dust in the end. Solomon is looking at life apart from God! At the end of the book Solomon concludes that the only thing that brings value and meaning to life is a relationship with the Lord. He advises us to live God’s way because it is our only real hope.
Jesus reminds brokenhearted people that there is more to life than what we see. He reminds us that God is at work even in the painful times of life. He declares to grieving people that when we are followers of Christ, death is not the end. It is merely the next step in living. Jesus reminds us that living a godly life is not for nothing. Even if no one else notices (or cares) when we live God’s way, we are making a deposit that will reach maturity when we get to Heaven.
The mission of Jesus is also the mission of the Church, since Jesus founded the Church to continue his mission on earth for all time and in all places. As disciples of Jesus and members of the Church he founded, we should also join his mission of making a practical difference in the lives of hurting and broken people:
- a) By being honest about our own brokenness and accepting that others are broken too.
- b) By acknowledging and helping others (our children, neighbours, husband/wife, our difficult friends, work-colleagues, etc.) to realize that God loves us in spite of our broken-hearted nature.
- c) Finally, pointing hurting people (including ourselves) in the direction of Jesus. Jesus is the great physician. He understands the real problem and has the resources and the desire to address those problems. “Come to me, all you who labour and are over-burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).