18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4:18-21 (emphasis mine)
This is great news! In fact, this is the message of the gospel. Jesus had come to give us freedom, for we have all been prisoners to sin, blind to the eternal kingdom that awaits us and oppressed by the wickedness that haunts this world and our own hearts. This is the year of the Lord’s favor for us who believe!
This would be great news if Jesus had stopped there. Every one of those cards, email forwards and Facebook posts would lead you to believe that Jesus said no more. It would be convenient to believe that, because it leaves us with no bad news–and any time you have the opportunity to take good news without any bad, I say take it!
The problem is that Jesus didn’t stop there. In fact, what started off as the best news anyone in attendance had ever heard quickly turned violently bad. Let’s read on.
22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
23Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ”
24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
28All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Why didn’t Jesus just leave it at good news? Why did He have to go and wreck a perfectly good sermon with some cranky talk about not accepting God? Why did Jesus have to take such an accusatory tone with them?
Because Jesus did not have any good news to deliver to those in attendance that day; He had only bad news. Those hearing Him knew exactly what He was getting at. They understood that Jesus was likening them to the unfaithful of Israel in the days when Elijah and Elisha were sent to pagans in lieu of healing Israelites. They weren’t stupid, but they were angry.
Jesus made it very clear that the good news that He, Elijah and Elisha had to offer to the people in their respective days all hinged on acceptance. To those who were willing to accept God’s correction, He had forgiveness and good news for them. For those who were unwilling to accept God’s correction: bad news.
One of the most oft-unspoken aspects of the story of God’s grace (the gospel) is why we need it. We are broken, wicked people. We are so prone to evil and unable to change, but in 2013 almost no one expresses this because we have the same aversion to facing our horrible blindness as the people did in Jesus’ day.
The good news of the gospel is not good news unless we first understand how desperately we need God’s forgiveness, freedom, sight and healing. If we don’t understand our state, we cannot accept His. If we do not agree with Jesus about our state, He will not allow us to accept His favor. Jesus made that point quite clearly when He told the following parable.
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
What all this means to us, is that if we come to God with a humble heart, acknowledging our wicked, fallen state without Him, this is the year of the Lord’s favor for us. If we come to Jesus proud and self-justifying; not so much.
I explain what this passage means to each of us individually and corporately as a nation in my book, The Year of the Lord’s Favor? I encourage you if you want to know more about what God is speaking to our nation at this pivotal time in our history to buy the book at Amazon.com today.