Tuesday 20th February – Luke 4:14-21 ‘The anointed rescuer’

Luke 4:14-21

To really understand a thing, you have to go back to its roots.  This is good rule of thumb for life, and it’s also true for plumbing the depths of scripture.  ‘The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is by the New revealed’ – that’s one way of understanding the relationship between the Old and New Testaments in the bible.  I’ve also heard it expressed as: ‘The New is in the Old contained; the Old is by the New explained’: you can decide which you like best!

It’s certainly true when we approach today’s passage.  Indeed, we’ve already seen several places in Luke’s narrative where he (or Jesus) goes back and quotes something from the Old Testament to explain what’s going on.  Last week, John the Baptist was the fulfilment of Isaiah 40; and yesterday we saw Jesus reply to the devil by quoting bits of Deuteronomy.  This is significant because Deuteronomy was Moses’ sermon to the people of God on the threshold of them claiming their (earthly) kingdom.  In the same way, Jesus is now about to claim his spiritual kingdom, and he does it in the relatively unremarkable setting of the synagogue in Nazareth.

Luke sets the scene for this world-changing moment with great aplomb.  The young rabbi Jesus gets up to read the scripture (vv16-17), and then preach what we might call the sermon.  Everyone is watching and listening (v20).  What will he say?

What Jesus says confounds everyone’s expectations.  He’s just read one of the greatest of all the Messianic prophecies, Isaiah 61.  It is a vision of what every devout Jew was longing for: the renewal of the people of God through the ministry of an anointed servant/rescuer/king.  This Anointed One (the literal meaning of Messiah) would bring good news, freedom for the prisoners and the oppressed, and ultimately would bring in a new and prolonged era of the favour of God. 

How their hearts must have leapt as they heard it!  And yet, also, how they might have shed a tear as well, since their lived reality must have seemed so far from this vision of dynamic blessing.  And yet… ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (v21)  In other words, this new era is here!  And more implicitly, Jesus is declaring: ‘I am the Anointed One you’ve all been waiting for.’

Looking back, we know this to be true, and can praise God with joyful hearts today.  But let’s spare a thought for the small congregation of Nazareth trying to take this in.  And perhaps we can also pray for those we know and love who struggle to take this ‘good news’ in, too – that they might have ‘ears to hear’.  May the Lord grant us grace to keep pointing them to the divine bringer of freedom and favour, the greatest good news there’s ever been.