The “Gospels” are narratives of the life of Jesus Christ, but the “gospel” refers to the “good news” as proclaimed and modeled by Christ. Following Jesus’s temptation by the devil in the wilderness, forty days and forty nights during which the Lord “ate nothing (Luke 4:2), Jesus “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (4:14).
Of all the places Jesus could have begun his ministry, he chose to return to those who knew him best, the people of Nazareth, his home town. The spiritual rhythms of village life are on display. It’s the Sabbath (Saturday), so where else would people be but at the synagogue?
“And as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read” (4:16).
When Jesus unrolled the scroll, he read Isaiah 61:1-2a. Luke 4:18-19 provides the quotation:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
David Neale notes that “compassion for the disadvantaged is placed at the center of this Gospel” [See Luke 1-9, in The New Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill, 2011), 120]. Who is the good news for? It’s for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. Each of these groups receive the compassionate, life-changing ministry of Jesus, some of them already by the end of Luke 4 but all of them before Luke’s Gospel comes to a close.
- poor people – Jesus had received the anointing of the “Spirit of the Lord” so that he could “bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). Jesus never recommended riches as the solution for poverty, since riches are often a spiritual snare (Matthew 19:24). Instead, he underlined our duty to feed the hungry (Matthew 25:35a). Further, he taught the importance of having enough and the dignity it affords. This is the meaning of his prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), which echoes the “neither poverty nor riches” teaching of Proverbs 30:7-9.
- imprisoned people – At the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus announced that the LORD has sent him “to proclaim release to captives” (4:18). Chains may represent destructive habits or attitudes, deep ruts that sinful practices have carved out in our lives. Jesus can break those chains and give us a fresh start. Yet there is a more literal understanding of Jesus’s words in Luke 4. In 2020, there were 1.8 million people incarcerated in the United States, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. What alternatives to prison exist that can help those convicted of serious crimes pay their debt to those they’ve wronged but also eventually find a fresh start?
- blind people – In Luke 4:18, Jesus promised “recovery of sight to the blind.” The story of blind Bartemaeus (Luke 18:35-43) is one example of Jesus restoring vision. In our time, Christian Blind Mission (CBM) helps not only the blind but those with other disabilities in the developing world, a continuation of the ministry of Christ while on earth. Spiritually, “blindness” symbolizes our insensitivity to the things of God prior to our conversion. Only God can restore our spiritual sight. The late songwriter Keith Green (1953-1982) captured it perfectly in his song, “Your Love Broke Through”:
Like a foolish dreamer trying to build a highway to the sky
All my hopes would come tumbling down
And I never knew just why
Until today, when you pulled away the clouds
That hung like curtains on my eyes
Well I’ve been blind all these wasted years
And I thought I was so wise
But then you took me by surprise
Like waking up from the longest dream, how real it seemed
Until your love broke through
I’ve been lost in a fantasy, that blinded me
Until your love broke through
4. oppressed people – Luke 4:18 records Jesus’s promise to “set free those who are oppressed.” Chapter 4 begins with Christ’s victory over the devil in the wilderness, and this victory over the powers of darkness picks up steam as the chapter progresses. In 4:33, Jesus encounters “a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon” and Jesus casts the demon out of him, with no lasting harm to the man. This was no anomaly, but happens again in 4:41, this time with demons “coming out of many.” In all cases, demons recognize his authority as the “Holy One of God” (v.34) or the “Son of God” (v. 41). Does our gospel today make a place for delivering those who are oppressed by Satan? This is not a call to see a proverbial “demon under every rock.” However, every Jesus follower must be aware of our authority in Christ to overcome evil forces when they stand in the way of God’s work.
Who is the good news for? Whether poor, imprisoned, blind, or oppressed, Jesus reaches out in love to people! The most important thing about us is not our socio-economic standing, our chains, our inability to see, or our oppression. Rather, the most important thing about us is our humanity. We are people, made in the image of God and for whom Jesus died and rose again. The anointing of the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism, and was confirmed by his wilderness temptations, but the proof of the anointing was his compassion. May you and I – overflowing with love and compassion – share that same gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.
All Scripture quotations are from The New American Standard Bible (Holman, 2020).
Image Credit: “Healing of the Man Born Blind”
Orazio de Ferrari, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons