Ask the Spirit to speak into whatever situations you’re facing today through today’s Scripture.
We see once again (as in yesterday’s reading) the convergence of Spirit and Scripture. It is the Spirit who anoints Jesus for mission (v 18a); it is the Scriptures that spell out what this mission entails (vs 18,19). ‘And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man’ (Luke 2:52). This commentary on Jesus’ ‘hidden years’ is also true of the early part of his public ministry. Awareness of Jesus is widespread (v 14b); he gains acceptance (v 15a), wins approval (v 15b), invites attention (v 16b), and arouses interest (v 20b). ‘… in the power of the Spirit’ (v 14), Jesus exercised an uncontainable influence.
A long pause
This first coming of Jesus heralds ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ (v 19; Isaiah 61:2a) – a very long pause before ‘the day of vengeance of our God’ (Isaiah 61:2b) – which is the final judgement that will accompany Jesus’ second coming, the ‘other side’ of the coin of salvation.
We don’t have the sum total of Jesus’ sermon, but the brief comment that Luke records represents a staggering claim: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (v 21b). Jesus didn’t merely preach deliverance; he himself is our deliverance. Our response to Jesus now, during this long pause, has eternal implications.
Spirit of the Sovereign Lord, for what work, for what tasks, have you anointed me today?
The Spirit came on Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:22), empowering him to undertake his new and difficult path. The Spirit then sent him to the desert (Luke 4:1), to learn how, in the power of that same Spirit, he could summon the inner resolve to overcome the temptation to deviate from that path. Now the Spirit empowers him for his ministry of teaching and healing (v 14). Luke’s research had no doubt provided a range of incidents from the opening of Jesus’ ministry; this one, in the Nazareth synagogue, clearly suited him well, with its emphasis on both Spirit and Scripture and its depiction, so early in Jesus’ ministry, of the differing ways in which people would respond.
Faithful as always to the discipline and rhythms of the old covenant, Jesus went to the synagogue ‘as was his custom’ (v 16). Jewish synagogue worship at that time began with the Shemaprayer from the Torah: ‘Hear O Israel …’ (eg Deut 6:4), followed by the Ten Commandments, the eighteen benedictions, the readings, the psalms, the sermon and the blessing. By the first century, the three-year cycle of Torah readings was set, but readings from the prophets were probably not. While Jesus could have timed himself to be there for the Isaiah reading, it is more likely that he chose it himself.
Jesus the Messiah knew now that he was the bodily fulfilment of Isaiah’s anointed one. By using the Greek text rather than Hebrew,1 Luke arranged the Isaiah reading to emphasise the active verbs – to bring good news, to liberate and to proclaim. These actions will mark the whole of Jesus’ ministry. He will not flinch, though they lead to his death. They will also define the missionary vision of the early church, which also did not flinch, despite the martyrdom of thousands. These same actions must dominate our witness today.
1 Isa 61:1,2, SeptuagintJohn Harris