The Time of the Lord's Favor
The preliminaries were over.
Jesus had been baptized and tested. His reputation as a teacher was growing.
He had some disciples following him. He performed his first miraculous sign at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.
John the Baptist recognized him, announcing to everyone that this was the Lamb of God.
However, He had not publicly declared himself. By this time, He had traveled some in the area of Galilee, speaking in the synagogues. Everybody gave good reports of Him. Luke 4:15 says, “He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.”[i]
When it was time to announce His ministry, His message and His mission, He starts in his hometown, Nazareth.
He recognized, “No prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” (Luke 4:24) Nevertheless, He started in His own hometown.
We can learn a lesson from where Jesus chose to start. The lesson is that we should start right where we are. If you believe God has called you to a ministry, start where you are. God will open doors for you. We all must face our origins. You may have come from the wrong side of the tracks. You may feel God cannot use you because of where you come from. Or, perhaps you believe where you come from makes you special. Any issue of this nature will eventually have to be faced.
Even though He knew it would not be accepted, Jesus chose to announce His ministry, message and mission in His boyhood home.
Nazareth was not the center of the nation. It was a backwater town. When Philip told Nathanael that they had found the very person that Moses and the prophets had written about, Nathanael said, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46) Jesus did not look to go to Jerusalem, Rome or any of the important cities of His day. Just as His birth took place in a stable, He announced His ministry in an out-of-the-way place.
His announcement covered three things. These three things were: 1) His ministry, 2) His message, and 3) His mission.
Following His example, we can learn much about our own calling as His followers. His ministry, message and mission have not changed.
We do not need to seek out the big places, the Romes or Jerusalems of our day. Rather, we need to be sure we are on task with the ministry, message and mission that He announced, carried out and then entrusted to us.
First, let’s consider what He said was His ministry.
I am using the word ministry in its sense meaning service. The word minister originates with the meaning to attend to the needs of someone.[ii]
In a short time, Jesus built a reputation as an exceptional teacher. Luke 4:15 tells us that He was praised by everyone. Therefore, when the scroll was handed to Him in His hometown synagogue, there were great expectations. Jesus chose to read from chapter 61 of Isaiah. Of course, it was a scroll. It was not divided into chapters. It was not in English. It was not even punctuated or divided out in the ways we are familiar with today. However, Jesus went unerringly to the precise location He wanted, right where it says, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me.” In our current translations, the location He is reading from is Isaiah chapter 61 verses one and two. However, He does not even read all of verse 2. He stops in the middle of the sentence.
For His audience, this is part of His statement. They know this passage. Stopping in the middle would be similar to us saying, “For God so loved the world…” You and I know to fill in the rest, “that he gave His only begotten Son…”
These people are waiting. Verse 20 tells us, “All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently.” They are wondering, “What can we expect from this man?” So, Jesus tells them, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21)
The focus of “What can we expect?” is the focus of ministry. It is the question of service. Government offices are called ministries. There are ministries of education, finance and the interior. The expectation for the ministry of education would be that it would serve in the area of education.
The passage Jesus chose starts with “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
Although this does not seem to define an area of service, it is the definition of His ministry. It is the definition of our ministry.
Consider the first part Luke 4 with me. Verse one tells us, “Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” Then verse fourteen tells us, “Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power.” It is hard to miss the stress on the fact that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Here is the point: His ministry, our ministry, is not need driven, is not purpose driven, is not goal driven. It is Spirit driven.
I love Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Church. Our ministry does need to have purpose. I support our local food bank, and I am not speaking against need-based ministry. However, as important as need and purpose are, these do not define who we are or what our ministry is.
We are the Body of Christ. As His Body, the Spirit of God controls us. Jesus was not squeezed into the mold of His day and culture, because He ministered/served according to the Spirit’s direction, and not according to external indicators, demands or needs.
This is an important distinction for us to make, because although we are concerned with needs, social concerns and the problems of the world around us, these things are not our primary focus. Too often, these things become the tail that wags the dog.
This is the first thing we see in Jesus’ announcement, His ministry. The second is His message, our message.
He refers to it when He says, “Good News,” and uses the word, “proclaim.” However, there is something that should be obvious to us all. He is quoting Scripture. He is not making these words up as He goes. As God, these are His own Words, but as the man Jesus, standing in the synagogue in Nazareth, these are the Words of God taken from the book of Isaiah.
His message, our message, is the Word of God.
Jesus stressed this. He said, “The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me.” (John 14:10)
I read and hear a lot of material that tries to explain why the Bible is not God’s Word. This is foundational. If we cannot trust the Bible, we have no reason for even gathering. If this book is not God’s message to us and for us, we are without a message. The Bible can stand up to examination. It is supported by historical evidence. An honest, inquiring mind will find honest answers. However, the Church that denies the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures cannot and will not stand. It has lost its foundation.
18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:18-19)
Our ministry is defined by the Holy Spirit, our message is shaped by the Word of God, but what is our mission?
We find our mission in the action words used in the passage that Jesus quoted.
Before we look at those action words, let’s review the commission that Jesus gave us just before He ascended into heaven.
Matthew 28:19-20 says:
19Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This commission, given when He departed, is consistent with what He announced at the beginning of His ministry.
In Luke 4:18, Jesus says He is anointed to bring Good News, and sent to proclaim.
His mission is proclamation. It is delivery of the message.
His Good New was for the poor. His proclamation was that captives will be released, the blind will see, and the oppressed will be set free. These are all aspects of salvation that, as the Savior, Jesus accomplished. The completion of the deliverance is included in the latter half of the passage, the half that Jesus did not read. The completion of all that He came for is waiting His return. However, our deliverance from the spiritual poverty, bondage and blindness we were in is realized already. Jesus announced the favorable time of the Lord, the Jubilee. Our debt has been forgiven. We have been set free.
The point is our mission is the proclamation of the Good News. This is the favorable time of the Lord. Today is the day of salvation.
We are not the providers of salvation. We may suffer for the cause of Christ, and thus, as Paul says, “I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church.” (Colossians 1:24) Even this participation in the sufferings of Christ was understood by Paul as being subject to the mission. He states the mission in verse 25, “God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his entire message to you.”
The life-changing power of the Church lies in the Holy Spirit empowered, proclamation of the Word of God. This is our Ministry, Our Message and our Mission.
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.