In his Nazareth sermon (Luke 4:18) Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . .to bring good news to the poor. . .to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. . .to let the oppressed go free.”
As I studied for certification as a Christian Educator, in one class I was asked “What implications do these words have for your ministry?”
Robert Spivey and D. Moody Smith in Anatomy of the New Testament note that “What happened to Jesus occurred according to the word of God, known through the Old Testament. Thus Jesus’ first public act was to preach fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth.” Matthew Henry further notes, “He found the place which was appointed to be read that day in course, which he needed not to be directed to; he soon found it, and read it, and took it for his text. Now his text was taken out of Isa. 61:1, 2… There was a providence in it that that portion of scripture should be read that day, which speaks so very plainly of the Messiah, that they might be left inexcusable who knew him not, though they heard the voices of the prophets read every sabbath day, which bore witness of him, Acts 13:27. This text gives a full account of Christ’s undertaking, and the work he came into the world to do.” The text from Isaiah was the designated text for this particular day, assigned much as our lectionary readings are today. The very fact that Jesus was reading in the synagogue on that day reflects the perfect timing of the beginning of his ministry.
Here are some thoughts that come to me in looking at this account of the beginning of Christ’s ministry.
1.) It shows Jesus’ specific knowledge of God’s calling on his life.
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me….”
2.) It shows Jesus’ specific acceptance of that calling and his being commissioned
“He has anointed me….”
3.) There are specific tasks associated with that calling:
“ “bring the good news”-
“proclaim release…. and healing…and the year of the Lord’s favor”
Jesus is the bearer of that news. John Darby in his commentary on Luke 4:18 says, “Now Jesus does not announce promises, but their fulfillment in grace by His own presence. The Spirit is upon this man, full of grace; and the God of grace in Him manifests His goodness. The time of deliverance is come; the vessel of His favour to Israel is there in their midst.”
4.) There are specific groups of people to whom Jesus brings his message:
“poor”- the good news is the currency of wealth in the kingdom. He brings it
to those who have no resources of their own.
“captive”- those who are held against their will by someone or something else.
“blind”- those who can’t see the facts, reality, and truth for themselves
“oppressed”- those under threat or intimidation from an outside source
I note, too, that Jesus’ knowledge of his calling leads him to have the courage to stand in the synagogue and read words that he must have known would begin a tense and conflict-wrought existence with the powers that were in charge there. John MacArthur’s commentary on verse 20 notes that it was customary to stand to read from the scrolls as a sign of respect, then to sit down to teach. He finished the reading, returned the scroll to the attendant, then sat down and proclaimed it fulfilled in their hearing. He was in the midst of people in Nazareth who’d known him all his life. There were bound to be some who would deride him and mock him for his proclamation since it was so obviously a claim to messiahship.
It was, at the same time, perhaps, a way of inviting accountability and scrutiny in order to show them that he was prepared to fulfill the messianic role he’d been born to. Their first reaction was amazement and speaking well of him.
The more he spoke, however, the more they were enraged by his suggestion that not everyone in the sound of his voice was to benefit from his ministry, but only a select few, including some whom they, the Nazarene Pharisees and priests, considered unworthy. Robert Spivey and D. Moody Smith in Anatomy of the New Testament note that initially the Nazarenes’ response to Christ appears to “proceed from surprise rather than from anger. Nevertheless, in Luke, too, Jesus is finally rejected, not because he claims authority, but because he extends salvation to the wrong people.”
In looking at these points, I would say that I, too, have
1.) specific knowledge of how God has called me into His ministry of teaching. By choosing
to work on staff at the church and beginning to mold my future to that calling, I have
2.) demonstrated my acceptance of His call.
3.) My tasks in ministry are specific, too. Teaching is my gift. Faith and encouragement
are also gifts of which I am aware. I am aware that there are certain tasks to which I
am to apply myself and that I am not to take on broader roles that lie outside my
calling. I am also aware that
5.) my ministry is to adults. That is where God has placed me and I do not experience satisfaction or success in trying to do children’s ministry. Even within my area of adult ministry, not all people respond to my style and methods. I realize that there are some who will not respond to me. I do not get caught up in that but rather, trust the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing those to me with whom I am to have influence.
When I became convinced that God was calling me into teaching ministry, I gained courage for stepping out in faith and making myself available in my church. I, too, have sought accountability and been the subject of scrutiny by members of the pastoral staff and lay leaders and those in my charge.
It is humbling to realize that many of the aspects of Jesus’ ministry- the call, acceptance, preparation for specific tasks and to specific people, courage for the task- are things I can relate to in my own experience. No doubt that is what Christ intended, to set an example for those who would follow in his footsteps in ministry.