Picture by Nicholas Noyes
This post is based on a sermon I preached at all Saints Milton on 24/01/2016 if you would rather listen to the sermon (complete with the worlds largest cough right into the microphone) you can here
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. (Luke 4:18-19)
I wonder what the reaction would be if someone said this is parliament. How would the media react? How would the electorate react? Would they vote for them come election time? Would you vote for them?
In many ways it is wrong to look at Jesus as a political leader. That was the mistake of the Jews who were expecting a politician Messiah who would free the them from the Roman oppressors. Having said this, I still think we can look at this as Jesus’ ‘Manifesto’. This is not the first sermon that Jesus has preached (Luke 4:15), but it is the first sermon that Luke has chosen to share the content of with us. It comes directly after Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the desert. This is what Jesus had to say at the very beginning of his public ministry. In this sermon he sets out what his ministry is about.
I’ve set myself the slightly ambitious task of trying to convince you that if this is Jesus’ manifesto then, as his followers, it is ours as well. So I am hoping to do three things in this blog post
- Firstly, to very briefly unpack this manifesto and what the big idea behind it is.
- Secondly to look at how Jesus delivered on it in his life and ministry
- And then to finish we’ll ask how God has used the church to deliver it in the past, and how he might use us to deliver it in the present.
The first thing to note is that the quote that Jesus reads in verses 18 and 19 is actually taken from two places in Isaiah. We have the first two verses of Isaiah 61 and then we have Isaiah 58:6. And when I read these two passages in Isaiah in context and look at the way in which the ‘year of the Lords favour’ is described, I see very strong echoes of the Jubilee festival.
If you haven’t come across the idea of the jubilee before, I’ll read you the definition on the always reliable Wikipedia –
If you were around in the late 90s you may remember the Jubilee 2000 movement which campaigned to have third world debt written off by the year 2000. It managed to get a reduction of 29%, which was less than the hope was, but it did raise the issue onto the world wide agenda.
I just wanted to mention that at this point because there is a clear social justice agenda in our passage that we need to acknowledge from the off, but I do want to park it for now, as there is another thread that I think we need to examine first.
Throughout the Bible, the language of debt is used very closely alongside the langue of sin.
When you read the Old testament law the words ‘redeem’ and ‘redemption’ are often used to describe transactions, such as the sale of land or (as uncomfortable as this makes us) slaves. But when we come to the New testament they are used to describe how God has brought us into relationship with him. We can see this by comparing two passages from the Old and New testaments.
If many years remain, they shall pay for their redemption in proportion to the purchase price; and if few years remain until the jubilee year, they shall compute thus: according to the years involved they shall make payment for their redemption.(Leviticus 25 51-52)
Redemption is being used as a legal and financial term, whereas in Romans 3 23-25 the term is being used to show forgiveness of sin.
since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Romans 3: 23-25)
I don’t want to labour this point any further, but I promise you this link between the forgiveness of debt and forgiveness of sin is really there throughout the Bible.
So what does this mean in the context of our passage? Well I think that it means when see ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ we will see it both it a very literal, financial kind of a way (like we saw in the Leviticus passage) but also in the more spiritual, allegorical way that we saw in Romans
Our passage gives us three things to look out for which will show us that we are in the year of the lord’s favour. They are all in verse 18
- The release of captives
- The recovery of sight to the blind
- Freedom for the oppressed
And we can see these being fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry, in that literal way:
- We see the recovery of sight for the blind in Luke 18 when Jesus heals the blind beggar
- In Luke 23 we see the release of captives when the people shout to have, the criminal Barabbas freed rather than Jesus.
- In Luke 5 the oppressed are set free when Jesus heals a leper.
So in a very literal, physical way Jesus fulfills these three signs in his ministry, but he also shows them in that more allegorical, spiritual way;
- In Luke 24 the blind receive their sight when Jesus appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He explains everything to them and we are told ‘Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him’.
- In Luke 23 we see someone who was captive to sin freed, when Jesus promises the criminal crucified next to him that ‘today you will be with me in paradise.
- In Luke 19 the oppressed are set free in the form of Zacchaeus. The hated tax collector is accepted by Jesus. Because Jesus accepts and challenges him he changes his behavior and (we assume) becomes a less hated member of society.
So we see the fulfilment of the year of the Lords favor in Jesus’ life and ministry, but I think that it continues after Jesus returns to heaven through the work of the church. First in the book of Acts, but then throughout the last 2,000 years of church history. Both in the literal, physical sense, and in the more spiritual sense.
We see the release of captives
- When Peter and Paul are freed from prison in Acts 12 and 16
- In the work of William Wilberforce and the abolition movement, who had their roots in the church, when they successfully fought for the abolition of the slave trade.
- In the more allegorical way, we see it summed up in Charles Wesley beautiful hymn and ‘can it be‘ – My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee’. Expressing what many people who have come into the church and become Christians have felt.
We also see the recovery of sight to the blind
- In Acts 9 Paul is blinded, but Ananias lays hands on him and his sight comes back to him.
- In the spiritual sense alpha and Christianity explored courses go on all around the world today, revealing Gods gospel to people who haven’t heard it before. Who were spiritually blind, but now see.
And we have seen freedom for the oppressed throughout the churches history
- The fair trade movement which started in the churches and now even has Nestle paying producers a fair price to (some) of their producers.
By way of finishing up I want to ask what our part is in fulfilling Jesus’ manifesto? There are limitless ways that we could be called to do this, and potentially it could be very different from person to person, so that’s more homework to look at, but just to close I want to throw three ideas at you, one for each of our three signs.
- Firstly on a personal level, in our own spiritual lives. Are you free or are you a captive? Is there a sin in your life that is keeping hold of you? Maybe it’s a sinful habit that you just can’t break. Perhaps it is a sin in the past that you are still struggling to let go of and ‘feel’ forgiven. If you are captive to sin, now is the time to lay it before Jesus. In the forgiveness that he brings, the captives are set free. Let Jesus set you free this morning.
- Secondly a question for us with regards to our own lifestyles. Are we ready to help bring sight to the blind? Apparently average weekly attendance at Anglican churches has dipped below 1 million for the first time. That means that there are a lot of blind people. People who don’t know about the forgiveness that Jesus brings. They can’t see the error of their ways, they can’t see the hope that is right in front of their noses. Will you pledge today, to offer yourself as someone who will bring sight to the blind by pointing them to Jesus and his forgiveness.
- Thirdly a challenge to us as a whole church. Will we be a voice to the oppressed? Is there a group that God has put on your heart? Christians persecuted in the middle east. Refugees camped in Calais. People living on the streets be because society has given up on them. Whatever it is that God makes you passionate about its time to sign that petition, send that e-mail to your MP. Volunteer with that charity.
“The Spirit of the Lord is with us, he has called us to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent us to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to help the oppressed go free. He calls us to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.