By Sam E. Stone
Each Gospel adds details and insights that help us better understand the broad ministry of Jesus. Lynn Gardner reminds us, “Luke omitted many events that occurred after Jesus’ baptism and temptation and before his preaching ministry in Galilee (Luke 4:14ff). These events are described in John 1:19–4:42.”
Luke describes Jesus’ traveling and teaching ministry in Galilee, where he not only performed miracles but also preached with authority and love.
Isaiah 61 begins with words of the Servant-Redeemer. It continues the predictions of the glory of Zion from chapter 60. William Fitch wrote, “The subject is once again the city of God and the people of God as fulfilling the divine purpose. The mission of this Servant is . . . threefold: to announce to the faithful that the time of their trials and sufferings is ended; to announce the commencement of the age of God’s favor; and to announce the vengeance of Jehovah.”
Just who was Isaiah describing when he announced relief for the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the prisoners? The Israelites had turned away from God’s plan for them. The Lord had intended that they live in expectation of a Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-55). This would prevent having the world’s power and resources all in the hands of a few wealthy people who would oppress others. When the 50th year came (their Year of Jubilee), indentured servants were released to return to their homes (Leviticus 25:13, 39-43, 54). Ownership of the land reverted to the ancestral family who originally lived there (Leviticus 25:28, 31).
While the people often suffered in difficult life situations, they could always hold on to the hope that a time of freedom, redemption, and opportunity was coming. This can help us understand the freedom which Isaiah promised and which Jesus ultimately provided.
After a time of temptation in the Judean wilderness, Jesus returned to the area where he had grown up. Now at about 30 years of age (Luke 3:23), he began delivering God’s message to the people. His fame quickly spread throughout Galilee (see John 4:45). As he taught in the various synagogues in the area, everyone praised him.
We know Jesus worshipped regularly each week because of Luke’s parenthetical explanation, as was his custom. The fact that he stood up to read is typical of what a rabbi did—standing while reading the Old Testament Torah, but then seated as he taught (Matthew 5:1). We don’t know if Isaiah 61:1, 2 was simply the normal place to read in the worship plan or if Jesus specifically chose the text. It was certainly most appropriate.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me.” At his baptism some months earlier, the Holy Spirit had descended on Jesus like a dove (Matthew 3:16). “He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,” Jesus explained. Priests and kings were anointed with oil to set them apart for their work. Symbolically, Jesus was as well. He came “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus had been meeting all types of needs as he walked the hills of Galilee. He followed the path chosen by his Father, knowing that one day it would lead to Calvary.
The Old Testament was copied onto long scrolls which were kept at the synagogue for the rabbis to study and teach. When Jesus was through reading the text to the people, he rolled up the scroll. At this moment, the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. We can imagine the excitement when the hometown boy with the growing reputation returned to the place where he had been raised. The reading from Isaiah 61 describing the Messiah’s reign summarized Jesus’ life and ministry. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus told them.
His message of hope and comfort was extremely well received! Verse 22 reads, “All spoke well of him.” This is typical of human nature today. If someone is generally well thought of and popular, he can do no wrong. Jesus warned about this practice (Luke 6:26). “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” “We know him! How did he get so smart?”
In the verses that follow our printed text, Jesus responded to their wanting him to perform his bag of tricks (see John 6:26-33) and reminded them that no prophet is accepted in his hometown (see also Matthew 13:57). Those words angered the crowd. Nevertheless, Christ’s words and work ushered in the messianic age, making true freedom available to all.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.a