Luke 4:14–21 14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through all the surrounding area. 15He was teaching in their synagogues and being honored by everyone.
16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As was his custom, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
20He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began to tell them, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). Amen.
Eleazar was in tears.
Eleazar was 10 years old when his family were ripped out of their home by King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces. He and his siblings, his parents, his cousins and neighbors who lived with him in Jerusalem were chained together and led on the 900-mile march from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Life in Babylon was surprisingly satisfactory. Eleazar was able to grow up, learn, work and socialize. Life seemed rather normal. But he never forgot that he and the rest of his people were strangers in a strange land. Though they weren’t in chains or in prison, they were still captives to their foreign invaders.
They were captives for 70 years.
Then came the stunning announcement from King Cyrus of the Persian Empire, which had conquered the Babylonian Empire. In the first year of his reign, the Lord moved Cyrus to proclaim: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them” (Ezra 1:2-3).
Eleazar volunteered to return home with Ezra, the priest. Though he was now 80, walking with a cane and struggling to hold a hammer with his arthritis, he worked alongside much younger men to rebuild the temple and the walls of Jerusalem. These younger men had never seen the splendor of Solomon’s temple or experienced the safety of living within Jerusalem’s walls. They had all grown up in captivity.
But now they were free.
As Ezra read from the book of the Lord, Eleazar joined with the rest of his people who been freed from their captivity by lifting up their hands and kneeling on the ground. Eleazar was crying. His family and friends were crying. They were tears sorrow because they had not heard God’s words like this in 70 years. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites, who helped the people understand, said to all the people, “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or cry! Do not grieve, because the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:9-10).
Eleazar really was one of the leaders who returned to Jerusalem with Ezra after the Babylonian Captivity. I embellished the account to give you a flavor of what men like Eleazar, Ezra and Nehemiah must have felt when they were finally released from their captivity. Their tears of sorrow were turned to tears of rejoicing.
It is a feeling that we share with Eleazar, Ezra and Nehemiah. For we have been released from our captivity.
You know what it’s like. So often on a Sunday morning, we put on our Christian clothes, we turn on the Christian radio station, and we put on our Christian face. So, when anyone at church asks us how we are doing, we automatically reply, “I’m fine.”
When, we are anything but fine!
On the outside we appear good, faithful, and even almost holy. On the inside we know there is nothing good that lives within us.
Prisoners are not always confined by concrete walls and barred doors. Sometimes our prison cells are of our own design – cages we don’t even know we are in.
We are captives to our materialism. We are always trying to make comfort and recreation and stuff the goal of life.
We are convicts to our tongues. We keep gossiping, lying, and slandering.
We are hostages to our tempers. We know the right words to defuse the situation and the right steps to walk away from an argument, but we refuse to say them or take them.
We are conmen (it isn’t proper English to say “conwomen”). We talk a good game. We have everyone fooled. They have no idea what we are really like in our homes with our spouse and children.
We are willing pawns. The devil is a grand chess master. He knows exactly what he needs to do to separate us from God’s Word, worship and prayers. And we don’t put up a fight.
We are all prisoners to some degree. Like Eleazar in Babylon, life as a prisoner is surprisingly satisfactory. Without the words and works of the Holy Spirit, we would neither recognize the state of our captivity nor find a way to escape. But God has come to our aid. He opens our eyes to our status as sinners and he breaks the unseen chains that bind us.
Four hundred fifty years after Eleazar, Ezra and Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian Captivity, Jesus stands in the Nazareth synagogue to preach. Jesus came to fulfill these words from Isaiah’s scroll: “Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Jesus has come to save the Jews of Nehemiah and Ezra’s time who had returned from their captivity. He has come to save His hometown friends who were trapped in the captivity of thinking of Jesus as only being Joseph the carpenter’s son. He has come to save us who are trapped in the captivity of our various and sundry sins.
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the captives.” The Jews had been exiles held captive by another nation. But God set them free. We were captives in a prison house more inescapable than Alcatraz prison. We were captives of Satan through sin. We keep going back to the same old sin. The alcohol; the anger; the doubt; the fear; the sex; the internet images; the bank account – they all surround us. We can’t break free. We are trapped.
But Jesus brings freedom from our captivity. He went into battle against Satan. The Lamb of God went toe-to-toe with the great dragon. The Lamb was slain but the dragon was crushed. Jesus defeated our captor and slammed shut the gates of hell so that we might be rescued and be granted a new home in heaven. Jesus shed His blood on Calvary’s hill so that we might be set free from the sin that binds us. Jesus rose from the dead so we might be released from the grave that claims us. It is also important to note that the Greek word used here by Luke for “freedom” or “release” is the same word for “forgiveness” – literally, a “sending away” of sin – out of God’s sight forever.
“To proclaim recovery of sight for the blind.” Some of the Babylonian exiles were no doubt lying bound as captives in a deep, dark dungeon. They were returned to once again see the light of day. Ours is not a physical blindness, but rather a spiritual blindness. We can’t see clearly because we are trapped by old habits, addictions and illusions of happiness. We are oppressed by our own choices and situations. But Jesus has come to open our eyes to our sin, but even more than that, to open our eyes to our Savior. The light of Christ shines in the darkness that is all around us. God’s Word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105).
“To set free those who are oppressed.” The Jewish exiles were not only strangers in a strange land, under the oppressive rule of heathen kings. They were also crushed in spirit. What joy surged through their hearts when they were released and they could return to their own beloved country and their venerated Holy City of Jerusalem. The same is true for us sinners whose souls have been aching and groaning under the burden of our sin and its evil consequences. Our guilt is removed. Our conscience is calmed. Our joy has returned. The peace of forgiveness that Jesus brings is indescribable.
“To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Every 50 years the Jews would celebrate the Year of Jubilee. In that year all lands would return to their original owners; every person who had sold himself into indentured servanthood would be released; and the farmlands would lay unused and rest for the entire year. This Year of Jubilee is meant also for us. Through our baptism we have been returned to the Lord. Adam and Eve had sold their children into indentured servanthood to the devil, but Jesus released us. We are now God’s blood-bought children. We enjoy rest for our souls through the anointed Messiah’s atoning work.
John Hartley Robertson was a Green Beret whose helicopter was shot down while on a secret mission over Laos during the Vietnam War. It was assumed he was dead. That's why his name is on the black granite monument in Washington, D.C.
But Robertson survived the crash. He was captured, spent a year in a bamboo jail cell, and was tortured by the Viet Cong. When he was released, he married a woman who helped nurse him back to health.
Recently, another Vietnam Vet, Tom Faunce, tracked Robertson down. What happened afterwards is the subject of a documentary film, Unclaimed. In summary, the movie tells Robertson's story. It shares how Robertson, now 76 years old and with mild dementia, has forgotten how to speak English. Although he remembered he had an American wife and two children, he couldn't remember their names.
All in all, it is a sad story. Robertson has been found, but he’s content with his life in Vietnam. His discovery could reunite an American family, but his children are now in their 40s and dad is no longer the man they remember from the pictures.
Sadly, too many people, like our Green Beret, don’t want to be rescued. They think things are fine just the way they are. No, they don’t want to be set free and be reunited with their real families; they just want to be left alone.
Sin put you in prison. Sin locked you behind the bars of guilt and shame and deception and fear. Sin did nothing but shackle you to the wall of misery. We were imprisoned by sin, Satan and death. It was the worst kind of imprisonment because, on our own, there was never a chance of escape.
Even though we were helpless, the Lord did not forget His people. The only way to be set free from the prison of sin is to serve its penalty. Someone must die – either you or a heaven-sent substitute. You cannot leave prison unless there is death. But that death has occurred – at Calvary! And when Jesus died, you died to sin’s claim on your life.
“So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36)!
Don’t return to your captivity.
Live in this freedom.
Keep reaching out to those who remain spiritual P.O.W.s.
Whenever Satan tries pulling you back into your self-made prison, just shout at him, “I’m FREE!” Amen.
Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).