Good News to the poor. 4:14-21


Jesus, the son of a village carpenter in Nazareth, is now quite famous "through the whole countryside." Returning home, he attends the local synagogue on the Sabbath and is invited to read the scriptures. The eyes of all in the synagogue are fixed on Jesus as he reads from Isaiah 61:1-2. Isaiah is writing about the promised release of captive Israel from the Babylonian bondage, and does so in terms of the Year of Jubilee, that special time when all slaves are set free and debts retired, cf. Lev.25. Having read the words, Jesus announces to the congregation that what they have heard read to them is fulfilled this very day. Now is the year of the Lord's favor; God's people, enslaved by powers secular and satanic, are now a people set free.

The passage

v14-15. Jesus had stood the test in the wilderness and followed this up with a time of ministry in Galilee. He made a powerful impact and received wide support. Luke's comment, "in the power of the Spirit", may refer to the impact of the gospel in signs (miracles) and word, although "under the guiding hand of the Spirit" is probably what Luke intends.

v16. From a very small child Jesus was "brought up" (raised) in Nazareth, and as was typical of devout Jews, regularly attended the local synagogue. On visiting his home town, Jesus maintains "his custom", and attends the Sabbath service. Following the resurrection, Christian Jews continued to visit their local synagogue when able to do so, Ac.17:1f. Note that a rabbi would stand to read the scriptures and sit to expound them.

v17. The intention of this verse is to show that Jesus probably read the passage assigned to him, most likely using the Lectionary of the time. None-the-less, some commentators argue that "he found" means he found what he wanted to read, although it could just mean "he found the place on the page / in the scroll."

v18-19. The passage is from Isaiah and is made up of a number of different texts, probably the texts Jesus preached on rather than read. The speaker in Isaiah is the Servant of the Lord, and Jesus ends up identifying himself with the Servant. Jesus, as the Servant, was set apart by God to both proclaim the coming day of redemption and achieve that redemption for the oppressed remnant (the "lost" - "poor", "captive", "blind"). "The year of the Lord's favour", or the acceptable year, is the year of Jubilee, the fiftieth year when all slaves are released and debts are forgiven, Lev.15. The Jubilee images the coming kingdom of God when forgiveness is offered even to Gentiles, and it is to this end the Servant serves.

v20-22. As far as Luke is concerned, the response of the congregation bears testimony to the fulfilment of Isaiah's words in Jesus. The congregation is "amazed" at Jesus' message of grace, although their amazement does not move them to faith. Jesus' audience is faced with a dilemma, they can remember Jesus as a child and so find it difficult to accept him as anything more than a Rabbi (teacher), and even this is difficult.

The Servant of the Lord

The verses quoted by Jesus from Isaiah concern a mysterious figure in the Old Testament known as the Servant of the Lord. Jesus identifies himself with this person. He is the one whom the Spirit of the Lord has anointed to preach good news.

In Isaiah we find the Servant witnessing, blessing and suffering. In particular, it is his suffering role that is his most mysterious characteristic. For this reason he is usually called "the suffering Servant." Isaiah speaks of the coming Servant as someone called and elected by God to suffer in the service of a great cause.

Who then is this mysterious figure?

i] The Nation of Israel is at times called the Servant of the Lord, in particular her kings (eg. David) and sometimes even her prophets. Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles and so channel God's blessing to the whole world. Yet, Israel failed in this task and so the prophets pointed to the coming of a new Servant who would faithfully serve.

ii] Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah's prophecy. He was called and empowered for service by God, Lk.4:18. His prior role was to witness to the incoming of the kingdom, and in the end, to suffer for it, Lk.22:37, cf. Isa.53.

iii] Today, the messianic people (the body of Christ, the church) is the Suffering Servant. We are the ones called to witness and administer the blessings of God to a broken world, and to suffer in that role.

A servant's role

Isaiah tells us that the Spirit of God is upon the Servant, not only to enable him to announce the good news, but to achieve the content of the message itself. God has "anointed" him, set him apart, to achieve the realization of the kingdom of God. The primary role of the Servant of the Lord is that of proclamation. He is to "preach", "proclaim". His service to God is to carry a message to mankind, rather than implement a social or political reform agenda. He is to work through words, not through war. He is to "preach good news", ie. to evangelize, to communicate God's important message concerning the gift of eternal life for a dying world.

The message of the Servant of the Lord concerns the dawning of "the year of the Lord's favour", the dawning of the new age, the long-awaited Jubilee. He announces the end of trials and sufferings for the faithful remnant. The "poor", "captives", "blind", "oppressed" are about to be liberated.

So, here we are today, God's Servant in Christ, with a message, not only to receive, but to proclaim. May we not fail to announce God's Jubilee.


How does a church perform the role of the Servant?

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