When someone starts something new they usually send out a press release and hold a media event.
The official announcement always starts with the phrase “For Immediate Release” and proceeds with a clear and concise description of who you are, where you came from and what you are about to do. Once the reporters gather to hear you speak it’s also a good idea to leave room for Q&A so you can expand upon your core message.
When Jesus started his ministry that’s what he did too. Of course in His day He couldn’t just send out fax and invite all the reporters from the local newspaper down to the town square. Instead before He had any followers or had performed any miracles, Jesus went down to the synagogue and spoke to the elders.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and 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 proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
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 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4:16-22]
He starts by repeating the opening verses of Isaiah 61. This is a passage in which Isaiah gives a vivid description of what will happen when the messiah comes. He didn’t need to read the rest of the chapter, His intent was clear and by stating that the scripture was now fulfilled everyone present knew that He was claiming to be that messiah. The elders where at first very impressed and no doubt proud that the long foretold and awaited messiah was a home town boy.
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” [Luke 4:22]
However during the Q&A session that followed Jesus said some shocking things that nearly got Him killed and no doubt planted the seeds of resistance that would do just that three years later. How did He go from home town hero to zero in what seems like only a matter of minutes?
While the elders were congratulating themselves for finding such a great prophet within their midst Jesus reminded them of a scandalous point of history that they had conveniently forgotten and did not want to be reminded of; the message of healing and hope the messiah was to bring wasn’t just for the Jews but available for everyone!
I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian. [Luke 4:25-27]
To a modern reader the significance of those two events is lost until you realize that the region of Sidon and the Syria were not Jewish areas. Jesus was in fact reminding the elders that when God moves He often does so by first revealing himself to gentiles, and those on the outside of the covenant, while good Jewish men and women die of starvation and leprosy.
The elders in the synagogue did not want to be reminded of that. They were the chosen people. The Messiah was to be their saviour and no one else’s. The good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight, and anything resembling the Lord’s favor was assumed to be only for the Jews and cursed be anyone who suggested otherwise.
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. [Luke 4:28-30]
While it is obvious today that Jesus’ press release was intended for far more than just a Jewish audience there is still a challenge in this message for us. For a modern reader the poor, prisoners, blind and oppressed that need the Lord’s favor now are no more Christian today than they were Jewish two thousand years ago. We can never forget that He showed mercy to a widow from Sidon and a leper from Syria long before He made his presence known to us.
Therefore the Christian message can never be used to point to any kind of hierarchy or to oppress other faiths. Our messiah was a lamb led to the slaughter and a wounded healer who opened his ministry by preaching freedom for the oppressed, not so that they could turn around and seek revenge but so that ALL could be free, regardless of gender, race or even religion.
The Kingdom of heaven is now, and this is what it looks like.