Luke 4:14-21 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 "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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Aaron Rodgers threw a 41-yard Hail Mary pass to Jeff Janis to put the game against the Cardinals into overtime. But three plays later, the Arizona Cardinals were victorious. The Green Bay Packers were unable to fulfill their goal of winning the Super Bowl this year.
Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders promises to provide free health care to undocumented immigrants in the United States. Republican candidate Donald Trump promises to deport all illegal immigrants. Our nation can’t afford proper health care for our military veterans, let alone to undocumented immigrants. Our nation has little evidence to find all the illegal immigrants to deport them. Our nation is better off without those campaign promises being fulfilled.
Your boss promises you a raise, but the next week your company’s stocks tank. Two weeks later you are laid off. You get married to the love of your life, but a few years later that marriage ends in divorce. Your doctor gives you reason to belief that the treatment is working, but months later, the cancer is back with a vengeance.
The promises made to you are left unfulfilled.
The destruction those unfulfilled promises leaves behind is devastating. Within 10 minutes you go from jumping up and shouting in exhilaration after one pass to falling on your knees and groaning after another pass.
You’ve heard the same rhetoric before in debates and on campaigns. You have little trust in the promises of politicians.
Whether it is at work or at home or with your family and friends, there is always a little bit of you that is holding back. You don’t want to fully give yourself over to the other person. You’ve been let down too many times. You’ve been hurt too many times. Anger and disappointment fill in after the initial happiness has been stolen from you.
It is truly disheartening and devastating when promises that were made are so easily broken.
That’s why the words of Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue are so important. There is Someone we can trust. Someone who keeps His word. Someone who holds Himself accountable. Someone who fulfills every prognosis, every promise, every prophecy, He has ever made.
Jesus had been anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism in the Jordan River. He returned to Galilee in the north with the Holy Spirit’s power. It with this power that Jesus performed miracles and taught to large crowds. News about Him spread throughout the Judean countryside. His reputation grew so that the people in Nazareth learned about Him.
In His travels, Jesus visited Nazareth, where He had been brought up. On the Sabbath day - their Saturday day of worship – He went into the synagogue to teach, as was His custom now that He was a rabbi. The Jewish synagogues had an established liturgy – order of worship – where they read an appointed section of Scripture from the Pentateuch – Genesis to Deuteronomy – and then from one of the Prophets. After the second Scripture reading, the priest or Levite or rabbi who had read was free to apply these words in a sermon.
Jesus was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll until He found the passage that He wanted to read and apply in His sermon. He read from Isaiah 61:1-2: “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.”
Then Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue attendant and sat down. (It was customary in those days to give a sermon while sitting in a chair.) His opening words were a clear declaration and assertion that He was indeed the Messiah they were looking for: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
The words Jesus read were written some 700 years before Jesus’ birth. They were originally written to bring comfort to God’s people, the chosen nation of Israel. Israel definitely needed comfort at that time. As a nation they had left the Lord. They prostituted themselves with false gods. They were not concerned about the poor or homeless or hungry. Through Isaiah, God declared the nation a “wicked” and “evil” people. As part of their discipline, God had the mighty nation of Babylon carry off Israel into captivity.
To bring comfort to those who were mourning the dire situation they had brought upon themselves, God through Isaiah, gave a promise that better days would follow. He would send them a Savior, the Messiah, His Anointed One.
At Christmas, we have the testimony of the angels testifying to Jesus being the fulfillment of God’s promise that David’s Son would be David’s Savior. At Epiphany, we have the testimony of the Magi testifying to Jesus being the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem. At Jesus’ baptism, we have the testimony of the Father from heaven testifying to Jesus being the fulfillment of His promise given to Adam and Eve. Now in the Nazareth synagogue we have Jesus’ testimony that He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Jesus had come to save the Jews of Isaiah’s time who were going to be carried into captivity. He had come to save the Jews of Nehemiah and Ezra’s time who had returned from that captivity. He had 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.
God’s promise through Isaiah was fulfilled when the Jews were released from their 70-year exile and returned to Judah. But that was only a partial, preliminary fulfillment. The prophecy found its complete fulfillment in Jesus Christ and His spiritual deliverance. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
He fulfills this prophecy in our hearing: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” The Jews were poor because they had lost God and His Word for so many years. We, too, are poor in our relationship with God. We are beggars. We have nothing to bring before God … except our sins. But Jesus has come to preach good news to us.
And what is that good news?
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.” The Jews had been exiles held captive by another nation. But God set them free. 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 all surround us. We can’t break free. We are trapped.
But Jesus brings freedom, release 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 proclaim … release for the 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.
In the book, “Science Speaks,” the authors set out the odds of any one man in all of history fulfilling even only eight of the 60 major prophecies about the Messiah fulfilled by the life of Christ. The probability that Jesus of Nazareth could have fulfilled even eight such prophecies would be 1 in 1017. That's 1 in 100, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000.
The book claims that many silver dollars would be enough to cover the face of the entire state of Texas two feet deep. Texas is a big state. That’s a lot of silver dollars.
Mathematically the fulfillment of that number of predictions is incredibly impossible. A reasonable person must acknowledge that God’s divine hand has been involved. There is no rational explanation for mathematically impossible prophecies to be fulfilled in the person of one man – Jesus Christ.
It is also reasonable to assume that we are going to be let down by our sports teams, our politicians, even our employer, health, friends, and family. It is mathematically impossible for them to keep all their promises. They will all make promises to us. Promises they will not or cannot keep.
Jesus Christ is different. His promises are mathematically, theologically, divinely fulfilled. For you. Jesus began His ministry in the synagogue proclaiming: “This is fulfilled in your hearing.” He ended His earthly ministry on the cross proclaiming: “It is finished! It is fulfilled!” Amen.