16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
Luke 4 16-21 NRSV
Thought: What does the cross teach us within the light of the ministry of Christ on Earth? In other words: How does the mission of Christ and his teachings combined with his overall purpose help us interpret the cross and the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection?
It seems the writers of the gospels are on purpose telling the whole story of Christ leading up to the great climax of the cross. Everything else they wrote is connected to that finishing moment with the resurrection. Some try to completely divorce Christ's earthly ministry from the eternal work of salvation on the cross. Some go further and say Christ's ministry was part of the old testament and the new testament began after the resurrection. There is truth in that thought because the new covenant was not possible until after the resurrection but it's not that simple.
What was Jesus doing in preparing his disciples for this new covenant? Whilst some others dismiss the old testament law and the prophets as irrelevant as now we have a new covenant in the grace of God.
However, we should call the old testament scripture, as that's how Jesus and the apostles read and understood it to be. So we, some two thousand years, later view the scripture in the light of Christ's teachings of them and course and most importantly view from the vantage point of this side of the Cross and resurrection.
When reading scripture today there are many perspectives, two of which I will focus on, what was the interpretation of the listeners at that time and what implications are there for us today? Context and relevance.
I spoke recently about the cross and the victory of God as one metaphor for the atonement and the work that Christ accomplished. Today I'm teaching on the Freedom or liberation from oppression as illustrating Christ’s work of spiritually freeing us from sin and restoring our relationship with God. However, considering Christ’s manifesto in Luke 4 we should consider a further step toward liberation from poverty and repressive regimes and their wide-reaching influence in political, social and economic arenas. This certainly may have been the impression of those Jews listening to Christ at the time in light of the current Roman occupation.
One of the metaphors of Christ’s work on the cross is found in the substitution work of Christ in taking our place and liberating us from the oppression of sin by becoming sin for us, thus suffering for us so that we can become righteous with God.
Others emphasise that the cross signified God’s ultimate and complete solidarity with the most vulnerable and most despised, this is perhaps why Jesus describes the purpose and fulfilment of His work at the beginning of his ministry with a reading from a prophecy in Isaiah,
This rings true if we look at Christ as depicted as the suffering servant who was wounded for our transgressions and represents the oppressed and the despised by Peter, who quotes Isaiah by saying ‘“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed” 1 Pet 2.24 NRSV
- Freedom from Oppression
It was for freedom that Christ set us free, no longer subject to slavery. This is the Good news Jesus proclaimed that was being fulfilled now. The year of the Lord's favour was the time that the Jews had been waiting for.
Reading Isaiah Jesus invokes the thought that the ‘captives’ Jesus spoke to were like those in the days of Isaiah, which were in Exile from the promised land. Those Jews dispersed to Babylon and Syria. At the time of Christ speaking, the Jews were well aware of the oppression of the Roman empire and their longing for a messiah to restore the kingdom of God. a place where the rule of God was the final say and kings and governors no longer oppressed their subjects. He continued in John 8 after setting the woman free who was caught in adultery.
“Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
John 8:31-36 NRSV
The truth, which will set us free, still applies the same way today. Although today we don’t seek safety from the corruption of the Roman empire, we still all suffer under the bondage of sin. Perhaps today we seek safety from debt, stress and anxiety, lack of discipline, or several other issues. If we are focused on these words, then we will likely limit a verse like “the truth will set you free” to the things we want or need. However, what Jesus taught us in John 8:32 hits our souls, not only our minds, and is greater than our emotions.
Christ’s message today I believe speaks to the popular culture around us and addresses suffering which Christ wants to set us free from. Therefore as well as spiritual, we can include physical, emotional and mental oppression. To understand liberation what Christ preached is to challenge the established and prevailing social order and that liberation also deal with the liberation of the mind, body, and spirit … dealing with racism, classism and sexism as well as poverty and economic injustice.
Jesus’ life and message embodied liberation and therefore it is a vital component when communicating the gospel in our modern society. The ultimate expression of liberation is in the resurrection as a symbol of newness, transformation, and change. Moreover, the resurrection is a symbol of victory and vindication.
- Christ’s life and death
For us to understand what Jesus was doing in his healings and his miracles we combine them with what was accomplished on the cross. I have often wondered why Jesus healed people all those thousands of years ago while knowing they would die a few years or decades later. I used to think there must have been a purpose to those healings and miracles other than to attract a crowd so he could get across his message. Jesus perhaps sums this up in Matthew 9.36
35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38, therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ (Matt 9.35-38) NRSV
or perhaps when Jesus lamented over the city of Jerusalem in Matthew 23. 37 ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matt 23 37-38) NRSV
This passage shows Christ's frustration as those he came to set free didn’t recognise the hour of the visitation of Christ the messiah, the son of God. Jesus' ministry also shows the heart of God, making improvements to the lives of those around him and not just getting them entrance into His kingdom. Additionally, to teaching his disciples who God is, showing them how they should operate in this kingdom on earth when he sends them the Holy Spirit and continue his ministry of the good news he was anointed by the spirit to preach.
Christ also had a bigger picture in mind. saying to Pilate in his final moments before his death he acknowledged that his kingdom was bigger than this world and that what he was doing would be recognised as something eternal. The greatest power was that of the evil one, the old serpent from the beginning that needed to be defeated. Sin and death had to be destroyed.
So Jesus by his temporary healing ministry was a necessary part of the redemption of those who came to Christ. Their ultimate need was that of being made part of the eternal kingdom, something only his death and resurrection would accomplish.
- Contemporary liberation
Today as we read these stories we understand that there is a need for Christ to liberate us from all forms of oppression and for a relevant gospel message to be preached. Christ’s victory in his death and resurrection provides the liberation from these powers that humans need to start afresh and to live in the new age of the new covenant by the power of the indwelling Spirit. Paul writes of this freedom to the Galatians.
“For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Galatians 5:1 NRSV
Knowing what it means to be liberated and made free by Christ's work on the cross is vital for Christians today. In New Testament, this yoke of slavery typically refers to the bondage God’s people were in before Jesus Christ came and laid the path to salvation through His death on the cross — the bondage of sin and God’s Law. The freedom we have in Christ is the freedom to live in faith, to put all our hope and trust that God welcomes us through His Son into His holy kingdom.
Someone said that with freedom comes responsibility That is the freedom we must hold onto. As Paul writes, “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,” meaning keep the faith. Stay true to your beliefs.
Reading the verse in Galatians where Paul tells us to “stand firm” and knowing that there is a responsibility that comes with my freedom in Christ.
Standing firm, and being brave, is just that. It’s holding on to the One who is stronger and letting Him hold on to me. We don’t have the strength or size to weather the storms on our own.
Standing firm is the responsibility that comes with our freedom. Our freedom in Christ means we hold on and remain obedient. We do what He has called us to do and we do it with our whole hearts, holding on to the One and weathering the storms.
Freedom means we are free to hope, free to love, free to trust, free to persevere, free to share Christ, free to do so many things – we are free to be brave, to boldly step into places we would never have imagined because it’s where He has called us. The storms will come for all of us.
The Christian life is not easy, Jesus never promised that it would be but we are simply responsible for our obedience, not the results, the responses, or the reactions. We have been given much, but with it comes a responsibility to live out what we believe in a world that needs to know. The strength, faithfulness, and love of our Savior make us free to stand firm.
The cross brings the ultimate freedom from sin and death, as a continuation of the life and ministry of Christ. The command to preach the good news given to his disciples applies to us today. The same Spirit that anointed Christ to bring liberation from oppression in whatever shape or form applies to us today. When we see those held captive we, by the Spirit, are called to liberate them, heal them and ultimately bring them into the kingdom of Christ. By understanding their context and relevance we bring that ancient text into today's fulfilment