Good News for the Poor
GOOD NEWS FOR THE POOR
We’ve been in Luke for two months now, and we finally get to the ministry of Jesus. The foundation has been laid, the footers cemented in place as Jesus is affirmed and confirmed as the Son of God at his baptism, he is filled with and led by the Spirit, and he knows the route to bringing God glory is that he will suffer. Glory will come – but first, the cross.
Starting with our text this morning and all the way through most of chapter 9, Luke is describing the actual performance of the Spirit-empowered Jesus as he carried out his ministry. So if you want to think of this in terms of sports, if everything we’ve read in Luke was pre-season practice, learning roles, defining which player will do what. Now today is the first game and the next five chapters are the regular season, where sometimes he’s home, sometimes he’s away, sometimes on the road in between cities. We’re going to be in this section all the way through the end of May before we break from Luke for the summer.
When we pick back up in Luke next September, everything for that second year of the book will be about his journey to Jerusalem and ultimately the cross. That’s the playoffs. Not the greatest analogy, but not a terrible one, and you get the point.
Last week, we found Jesus out in the wilderness being tempted by the devil for 40 days, and anointed by God the Father, and filled and empowered by God the Spirit, Jesus, God the Son is ready to get to work.
Looks like the ministry is off to a pretty good start, right? People are happy, he’s filled with the Spirit – I mean that’s the dream, right there.
This isn’t the first time the people here at the synagogue had heard this scripture. Here’s how they might have thought about what they were hearing.
Preach good news to the poor. So first, who are the poor? Economically or financially poor? In these days, “poor” wasn’t limited to either of those. Poor included anyone who was on the outside looking in. So sometimes that included poverty, but other times it was anyone disadvantaged, like certain women, Gentiles, tax collectors, foreigners, the terminally ill… anyone who was outside the traditional boundaries of who had access to God and his kingdom.1
The blind, the captives, and the oppressed would be examples of the poor; those who are physically and spiritually on the outside looking in.
20] He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him.
All eyes are on Jesus. Any good Jewish person would know that Jesus forgot one line from Isaiah 61. Let’s compare the two.
- Spirit of the Lord is on me
- Good news to the poor
- Heal broken-hearted
- Liberty to captives
- Freedom to prisoners
- Year of Lord’s favor (Jubilee, slaves free, land returned, debts forgiven)
- Vengeance on enemies, which leads to comfort, joy, dancing
- Spirit of the Lord is on me
- Good news to the poor
- (Heal broken-hearted)
- Liberty to captives
- Freedom to prisoners
- Year of Lord’s favor
Isaiah’s prophecy didn’t only include favor for God’s people, but destruction of their enemies. And this ridding Israel of the oppressive powers over them would bring comfort to those who mourn, a crown instead of ashes, oil instead of mourning, new clothes.
So as Jesus is reading in Isaiah 61, he stops reading at the comma. Which is possibly why they are all looking at him there in verse 20. You gonna finish the sentence? …AND THE DAY OF GOD’S VENGEANCE!?!?
But Jesus just takes a breath and  He began by saying to them, "Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled."
In other words, “Isaiah was talking about me. I’m the guy who is anointed to bring good news to the poor. I’m going to bring liberty. I’m setting people free. I’m proclaiming forgiveness of debts”, but what Jesus knew that they didn’t know is that he in fact was not bringing vengeance on the oppressive Roman government. That part of the scripture was not going to be fulfilled right away.
Now he probably said more than just that, based on their reaction in verse 22 – They were all speaking well of him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from his mouth; yet (there was one thing they couldn’t get past) they said, "Isn't this Joseph's son?"
The people aren’t sure what to think. This is his hometown, so they no doubt heard the story of angels and shepherds and Jesus at the temple, and prophecies fulfilled. They watched him grow up; they know his story. They know what his favorite food is. They’ve been in his house. He’s been in theirs. They are amazed by what this hometown kid has become. Yet, he is making a pretty big claim here, to say that Isaiah’s prophecy is about him.
You may or may not believe me here, but do we have any Chicago Bears fans in the house today? A couple. The Chicago Bears head coach is a guy named Matt Nagy. Matt grew up in my hometown back in Pennsylvania, and man this makes me feel so old, but when I was 14 & 15, I went to every single high school football game Matt played in and cheered him on. He was an excellent quarterback, took us deep into the state playoffs a couple times. He was fun to watch.
Now, I think it’s pretty cool that he’s an NFL head coach. While I don’t live there anymore, I’m sure his hometown is proud of what he’s become. I’m guessing there is a picture of him somewhere at the high school, like, this guy is one of our own. But if Coach Nagy starts telling everyone he’s the best coach the game has ever seen and he’s going to change the NFL forever by the way he coaches, and that the Bears are going to become a Dynasty and win 12 championships in a row, we’re all going to go, ehhh… love you pal, but you might be on drugs.
If Jesus is claiming to be a prophet, fine. But prophets can’t bring deliverance. They just talk about it and predict it. Jesus, however, seems to think he will be the one to usher in deliverance, release from oppression, which squarely puts himself in the role of the Messiah, the Deliverer.
And here is where Jesus forces a choice. Either Jesus is still getting high on the frankincense he got from the wise men, or he is the messiah. Either he is really the fulfillment of God’s promises or he is an imposter full of empty words. They had to decide. And so do we.2
Jesus knew what they were thinking, and so Jesus opened his mouth and said in effect, “I know you’re going to ask me to back up my claim,” and then, using the examples of two of the most iconic prophets in Jewish history, Elijah in verse 25 and Elisha in verse 27, Jesus basically tells them no.
His examples in verses 24-27 highlight that back in Elijah and Elisha’s day, Israel had many outcasts, like widows and lepers, but when prophets were sent to help Israel (to the home team), they were rejected. So, they went to the gentiles. Even though many in Israel needed help, they rejected God’s voice, and it was only a non-Jewish widow and a non-Jewish leper, both majorly distanced from the community of God’s people, who got relief from their suffering.3 Grace. Mercy. Goodness for outsiders.
Jesus is showing that “good news to the poor” embraces the widow, the unclean, people of the lowest status…and, much to his hometown’s dismay… non-Jews. For the people in Nazareth who assumed the Messiah would rescue the insiders from the outsiders, not bring the outsiders in, this was not good news at all, and not what they had been taught the Savior to do.
I’m guessing someone yelled “false prophet!”, and according to the law in Deuteronomy 13, they all knew, hometown kid or not, false prophets need to be killed.
Can you imagine this? These were the people he grew up with. People he went to school with. People he went to church with. People he did work for. There’s a good chance some of his family is in the crowd. And they are enraged that Jesus is implying the Messiah would come to set free and release enemies, while saying NO to the people on the home team!
I can almost imagine that for Jesus this is as much a temptation as the ones in the desert with Satan. You have your own family and hometown friends furiously angry with you, wanting to push you off a cliff. I think I would try to defend myself, like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa – let me explain myself a little bit more. Calm down! Let’s eat lunch and talk about this,” but like Moses parting the Red Sea, Jesus walks through them all and leaves.
He’s not here to raise support or build a fan base. In fact, when Simeon blessed Jesus back in Luke 2:34-35, he told Mary and Joseph “your child is going to bring division wherever he goes. He’ll cause the rise of some and the fall of others, and you’re going to have to make a decision about him yourselves.” Right here at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus’ family – mother, brothers, sisters, don’t know if Joseph is in the picture yet or not – have to choose how to respond to Jesus.
But I can’t imagine Jesus walking away angry. I think he walks away with tears in his eyes. His mission is going to be costly. He’s on earth to serve the purposes of God, even if it means his own friends or even his family disown him, call him names, or drag him out to the edge of a cliff and threaten his life.
Maybe some of you know how that feels, where your parents do not approve of you following Jesus, or your children don’t approve of how you’ve decided to give your time/money to the Lord, and wish you’d give more of both to them, or wish you wouldn’t drag them to church. If either of those are you, I’m sure that’s tough. Come talk to me afterward, and I’d love to just pray for you.
Jesus would go on to say in Luke 14:26, that if we want to follow him, we have to be willing to do the same thing he did. No matter how much you love your friends or your family, if you wouldn’t be willing to anger them, disappoint them, even leave them in order to do what you know is the will of your Heavenly Father he says, you can’t be a disciple of Jesus. No earthly allegiance can mean more to you than allegiance to Jesus. That’s part of taking up your cross to follow him.
But Jesus shows us that his allegiance is to his Father. Anything else is second place.
He is teaching with authority. Satan offered him authority back in the wilderness, but Jesus didn’t need it from him. He already had it from the Holy Spirit. In that authority we see three scenes play out in the rest of chapter four as Jesus does exactly what he said he came to do. I’m not going to go into much detail on these, we don’t have the time, but here’s the summary of a day in the life of Jesus:
- Scene 1: Jesus is doing what he does: teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, when a man with an unclean demonic spirit starts to make a scene. Jesus has a clear authority over the spiritual world, and even when the demon calls Jesus “The Holy One of God,” Jesus shuts up the demon and releases a captive who had no other hope. Release the captive, set free the oppressed.
- Scene 2: On the way out of the synagogue after the gathering, he is invited to visit a Jewish woman stuck at home with a high fever. The fact that Jesus was called in probably indicates she’s in pretty bad shape and might not make it. In that culture, there was normally a social distance kept between a Jewish teacher and a woman. But Jesus breaks through that social barrier and with authority over the physical world, releases her from the captivity sickness. I love that.
- Some of you needed to hear that today, that Jesus has authority over demons but he also cares about your fever.
- The third scene is more general, but the impression is that when the Sabbath day was over, Jesus continued releasing physical and spiritual captives, rinse and repeat, healing everyone that sought him out.
Jesus’ mission is well underway. It’s clear by now that while Jesus will continue to face demonic opposition, it is no match for him, whether it’s head on in the wilderness, or sneak attacks in the synagogue.
But it’s also clear that Jesus comes with a choice. Some people are going to reject him, but Jesus is the bringer of God’s grace to people who believe his message of hope. He offers healing for those with broken hearts. He offers release and forgiveness to those that sin has held captive. He offers light where darkness once ruled. He offers freedom to those who have been under demonic influence. And instead of vengeance, he offers the favor of God. Grace.
Oh vengeance is still coming for those who continue to refuse his offer. Isaiah’s prophecy isn’t only partly correct. There is still a great and terrible day of the Lord on the horizon, when Jesus returns a second time, not as a baby in a manger, but as a conquering king, with blood on his robe from taking vengeance on his enemies.
But for now, there is grace, even for those who initially have rejected him. He doesn’t call down fire on Nazareth for trying to kill him – he walks away, giving them time to repent and come to their senses. For now there grace, even for sinners. Grace, even for the ungodly. Grace, even for liberals. Grace, even for conservatives. Grace for people who have made family their idol. Grace for people who have made money or business their idol. Grace for people who have made sports or entertainment or education or work their idol.
This grace is free to anyone who will call out to him for it, but it was costly to him. We don’t celebrate cheap grace here at River City. Cheap grace says, “Oh you sinned? That’s okay. Yeah you’re not perfect, but who is. I’m not okay, you’re not okay, but that’s okay.” That’s cheap grace, and we want nothing to do with it.
The plan all along was that Jesus would come to earth, live as the fulfillment of God’s promise, and when the Father’s timing was right, Jesus would step forward and willingly allow himself to be tortured, beaten, and nailed to a Roman cross, writing the check with his own life, to pay the penalty for our rebellion against God. That is costly grace, and it cost him dearly.
But that’s where his offer of forgiveness comes from. That’s where his offer of freedom from the power of the enemy comes from. It’s at the cross where we clearly see God’s favor on display. We know the cross worked, because on the third day, God raised him back to physical life as proof that the check cleared! The cross worked!
We’re going to remember the Lord’s death through communion this morning, where we hold in our hands the tangible sign of his broken body and spilled blood.
As we participate in this bread and cup today, we are identifying ourselves as one of the poor that Jesus came to save. We don’t pick up these elements and say, “Lord, I’ll try to do better this week.” We are invited to the table so to speak, with gratitude that Jesus came to people whose sin didn’t make them bad, but made them dead; In this meal, we express our gratitude for the release and forgiveness of our sin; the willingness of Jesus to die for us, his enemies; gratitude that Jesus is our spiritual food that will sustain us all our days and into eternity. When we take this bread and cup today, we rejoice that God’s undeserved grace has come to Riverside.
We practice open communion here at River City, which means if you truly have repented of your sins, you are practicing love, humility, and grace toward your neighbors, and like Jesus, you intend to let the Holy Spirit lead your life - following his commands and walking in his ways, then we invite you to participate in this Communion today, even if River City isn’t your home church.
But, this meal isn’t for everyone. Like the people of Nazareth, not everyone even here today is thankful for Jesus, or thinks they need his grace. If you are someone who knows that you have not been living up to God’s purposes, you’ve let earthly things or your own purposes have first place in your heart, if you are holding onto bitterness toward someone or refusing to forgive, or you are still exploring the things of Jesus and you aren’t sure if you believe it yet or not – this meal isn’t for you today, unless you first repent of your sin and unbelief.
Maybe when you hear me say that, you think, good grief. It’s a piece of bread and a thimble of grape juice. What’s the big deal?
Eating this meal identifies you with the life and death of Jesus. The danger is that if we eat this bread and drink this cup without any sort of intention to actually count the cost and follow Jesus, we’re no different than the demons in verses 34 and 41 who said “Jesus is Lord” with their mouths, but had no intention of actually following him.
That is why we say to you parents, this isn’t a snack for your young ones. If they have made a credible profession of faith in Jesus, and you’ve seen evidence of a heart change in that they genuinely want to follow Jesus, they repent on their own accord when they sin, then they are welcome to participate – that is on you. But if they have not, I encourage you to disappoint them when the plate comes around by telling them no, and take this opportunity to share with them what it means.
So before the team brings the bread and juice around, I’m going to give you a few minutes to examine yourself before the Lord. Do some business with God. Let the grace of Jesus lead you to repentance in this moment.
If you need to make something right with someone who’s not here, or you have been refusing to forgive someone, thanks for coming today but go take care of that first. Step outside and make the call or drive to their house.
Green, Joel B, The Gospel of Luke. NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1997, 210-215
Bock, Darrell L. 1994. Luke: 1:1–9:50. Vol. 1. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 400-420
Leifeld, Walter L, NIV Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke. (Zondervan, 1984), 267