“Today This Scripture Is Fulfilled in Your Hearing” (Sermon on Luke 4:16-30, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)
“Today This Scripture Is Fulfilled in Your Hearing” (Luke 4:16-30)
The Holy Gospel for today is the account of Jesus at the Nazareth synagogue, right as he was starting his public ministry. Jesus gets up to read one of the lessons. He unrolls the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he reads this passage from Isaiah 61:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolls the scroll back up, and he says to the congregation, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
What did Jesus mean by that? And what relevance does this have for you and your life? That’s what we want to hear this morning. Is it true for us, as it was for the people back then, that “Today This Scripture Is Fulfilled in Your Hearing”?
We’ll start with this passage of Scripture that Jesus reads, the prophecy from Isaiah 61. And we’ll ask three questions: Who is speaking here in this passage? To whom is the speaker sent? And what is he sent to do?
First, who is speaking here? The passage begins: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.” So this is someone the Spirit has anointed. And in the context of the Old Testament, the identity of the speaker is clear. These are words that the Messiah would speak. This is a messianic prophecy. The Hebrew term “Messiah,” or its Greek equivalent, “the Christ,” means “the Anointed One.” Think back to when the prophet Samuel anointed young David. He literally poured oil, fragrant olive oil, over David’s head. This was to mark David out as God’s choice for king. It was showing that the Lord’s blessing and favor and power were coming upon David to equip him for his office as king. David was the Lord’s anointed, in that sense.
Then years later, another prophet, Nathan, came to King David and told David that after him one of his sons would become king. And this son of David would have an even greater kingdom. The blessing and power of God would be upon him in an even greater way. This son of David would have an everlasting kingdom, full of end-time blessing for God’s people.
The term that became associated with the promised son of David, the great king and deliverer to come, was–you guessed it–the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. And so when Isaiah writes this prophecy several hundred years after David, it is clear that these are words the Messiah would speak. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.”
Now, does Jesus qualify? Yes, he does. Is he right when he says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”? Yes, because Jesus is that very Messiah promised for centuries. He is the Christ.
Before Jesus was born, the angel told Mary, “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Jesus is the Son of David, the great king with the everlasting kingdom. Then when Jesus grew up and was baptized, what happened? The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and rested upon him. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.” Just what Isaiah prophesied–the anointing of the Spirit on the Christ–was fulfilled in the baptism of Jesus. The apostle Peter would later speak of “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”
And that brings us to our second question: To whom is the Christ sent? Our text tells us: “To the poor.” “To the captives.” “To the blind.” To “those who are oppressed.” So now the question becomes: Do you qualify? Do you fit these categories? Poor, captive, blind, oppressed? Yes, you do, whether you realize it or not. Whether you admit it or not. Now I hope that you do admit it, that you do realize it, or else you will not be ready to receive Messiah’s help. But these are the ones whom the Christ comes to help. These are the ones to whom he is sent.
The poor, the captives, the blind, those who are oppressed. That’s us. That is you and me. By nature we are poor. We are bereft of any riches on which we can rely. Some of us do not have much money to start with, but even if you do, you can’t take it with you. Earthly treasures will do you no good as you lie on your deathbed.
The captives. “Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay; death brooded darkly o’er me.” That is our condition by nature. In prison, and unable to free ourselves. Man is not able to set himself free from this captivity to sin, this bondage of death, no matter how hard we try or how nice of a person we are.
The blind. Without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, you and I and all men are spiritually blind, groping around in the dark, not knowing who God is or how to reach him, always bumping into obstacles we ought to be able to avoid, running into one another, and straying off the path that leads to life. What a sorry state is our lost condition!
Those who are oppressed. Sin presses hard against us every day. The devil won’t leave us alone. The world whispers its sweet nothings, its enticing messages, into our ears. Our own sinful flesh rises up, and our selfish desires drown out the sound of God’s voice. This is the battle we are in, my fellow Christians, and it won’t end until we reach the land of rest.
So I’d say we need help. I know I do. How about you? I’ll ask you again: Do you qualify? Are you that sinner in need of help? Do you sense it? Do you feel it? Do you realize your need, the lack of righteousness within you?
If so, I’ve got good news for you. You are the people for whom Jesus came! The Christ comes precisely to rescue you. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is Jesus’ word for you today!
God’s grace and favor come to you and are proclaimed to you in the person of Jesus Christ. He is good news for the poor. In Christ, you have riches laid up for you in heaven beyond your wildest imagination, which no one can take away from you. Jesus Christ is liberty for the captives and the oppressed. He opens the prison doors and sets the captives free. He delivers you from the oppression of devil, world, and flesh, an oppression that would otherwise crush you. Jesus Christ is sight and healing for the blind. He shows you the way and says, “Follow me.” He himself is the way and the truth and the life. Christ shines the light of life on your path and leads you on it, all the way to heaven.
This is why he was sent. This is what he was anointed to do. This is why Jesus can take the scroll of Isaiah and read it and say, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
But how he fulfills it, ultimately, is what is so strange. You see, when Jesus reads this passage in the Nazareth synagogue, at first the people are impressed. They like what he has to say. But then their unbelief rises up, and they can’t believe their hometown boy Jesus, whom they’ve known since he was a kid–that he could possibly be the Christ. And they don’t like the fact that he hasn’t done a big miracle in their town yet. And then on top of that, Jesus tells them of some examples of miracles in the Old Testament–only, the recipients of the blessings were Gentiles, not Jews, and the people don’t like to hear that, since they think they’re entitled to special favors by virtue of their ancestry. And well, the whole thing goes downhill fast. In fact, that’s what the crowd wants to do–throw Jesus down a hill, fast, and kill him! But his hour has not yet come. It’s not time yet for him to die. But the point here is that his own people reject Jesus. They do not receive him as their Messiah.
Ironically, it is in that rejection that Jesus will fulfill his mission as the Messiah. The fulfillment will take him to the cross. There the Messiah will die in shame to cover and atone for the sins of his people–and our sins, too. This is how Messiah sets us free. By dying in our place, Christ, the Son of God, looses the chains that bound us. The sacrifice of Christ liberates us from the bonds of sin and death and Satan. The prison doors are opened, and the open tomb confirms it: Christ is risen, and all who trust in him and are baptized with him–we will rise with Christ and live forever.
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Yes, today, dear friends. Right here, right now, in your hearing. Jesus is still speaking these same words today. He is proclaiming the good news into your ears here in this congregation. Good news for the poor, liberty for the captives and the oppressed, sight for the blind, the permanent and eternal year of the Lord’s favor–all of these are yours in Christ. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”