Jesus’ mission on Earth (May 11, 2014)

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: Luke 4:14-21

Luke’s Gospel frequently emphasizes the powerful impact Jesus’ teaching had on his listeners. Luke describes Jesus as a celebrated teacher who “was praised by everyone” (4:15). He reports that “all spoke well of him” (4:22), “they were astounded at his teaching” (4:32), “they were all amazed” (4:36), and “the word about Jesus spread abroad” (5:15). Similar statements can be found elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel. Many a preacher or teacher today would like to be described in those glowing terms. Another emphasis of Luke’s Gospel, frequent references to God’s Spirit, helps explain the powerful impact Jesus had on his hearers. Jesus is “filled with the power of the Spirit,” Luke reports (4:14).

Luke 4:14-15 — Jesus begins his public ministry in Galilee 

The power of the Spirit is manifested in the healing miracles that sometimes accompanied Jesus’ teaching (e.g., 4:33-36; 6:18-19). Both teaching and healing characterize Jesus’ Spirit-filled ministry.

While Luke’s summary statements underline the powerful impact Jesus’ teaching had on his hearers in the synagogues of Galilee, Luke 4:14-30 gives us a more complete picture by illustrating the content and method of that teaching early in his Gospel. Luke placed his account of Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth at the very beginning of his public ministry. Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, place this event significantly later in the unfolding of Jesus ministry. Luke provides both a dramatic example of Jesus’ powerful teaching and a foretaste of the hostile reaction Jesus will receive.

Luke 4:16-19 — Jesus reads from Isaiah in the synagogue 

Luke reports that Jesus came back to his home town of Nazareth. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath to worship God as was his custom. It is good for Christians to be reminded that Jesus was an observant Jew. What Luke does not tell us is whether that regular participation in the life of the synagogue included training to be a reader and interpreter of the Scriptures in worship. The Gospels do

not mention any formal training Jesus may have had. John 7:15 says Jesus’ hearers did not think he had any special training. Nevertheless, people frequently addressed him as “Rabbi” or “Teacher.”

Since he was a guest whose reputation for powerful teaching was evidently well known, Jesus was given the scroll of Isaiah to read and to comment on a passage. Jesus chose to read from Isaiah 61:1-2. (Luke’s account also includes a phrase from Isaiah 58:6.) By choosing this passage Jesus is clearly identifying himself and his mission with the mission of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus is anointed, that is, he is the Messiah called by God to carry out God’s purposes. His mission is to bring good news to the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed. They are the ones Jesus is especially concerned about.

Luke 4:20-21 — Jesus fulfills God’s promise of redemption 

The Messiah’s mission is “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:2). As Isaiah 49:8-13 declares, God’s favor is the liberation from captivity experienced by the former Jewish exiles now freed to return to their homeland. With the eyes of all in the synagogue focused on him, Jesus proclaims that his mission on earth is to fulfill Isaiah’s vision of salvation for God’s people and the renewal of the earth. God’s gracious redemptive act in Jesus Christ brings freedom from oppression and renewal of the land. The poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed are freed by God’s grace.

Following the mission of Jesus, a strong commitment to freedom and service on behalf of the poor has characterized Christians throughout the history of the church. From the appointment of deacons to care for widows in Acts 6 to the founding of academies and hospitals by John Calvin and the recent washing of prisoners’ feet by Pope Francis, Christians have been deeply involved in ministries to the poor from the beginning. To use more recent language that originated with liberation theologians in Latin America and has now become a fundamental principal for many Christians, Jesus’ mission is characterized by a “preferential option for the poor.”

For discussion 

  • In what ways do you and your congregation carry out Jesus’ mission of teaching and healing?
  • What good news does the gospel have for the poor?
  • Another word for God’s favor is “grace.” What grace of God have you experienced?