It seemed to be an ordinary Sabbath—filled with ordinary Sabbath ritual. Each man and woman expected a reading from the scroll, prayer, and perhaps an admonition.
God brought dynamite instead—upending their expectations and challenging them to believe an impossible thing—the Messiah had come and was present as a man they knew well. He was the son of Mary and Joseph, a humble carpenter with a questionable birth story, a boy who had played with their children, the person who had repaired their doors, fixed their carts, and mended their yokes. Kind? Yes. Helpful and skillful? Absolutely! Messiah? Blasphemy!
Jesus left the family workshop in Nazareth several weeks earlier to be baptized by John. After that, He went into the wilderness for a forty-day fast and a furious fight with evil. Then, He went back home, perhaps for a home-cooked meal and to spend time with His family before His public ministry officially began. Perhaps He needed to attend a wedding. For whatever reason, the Sabbath came while He was there. Then, as was His habit, He went to the synagogue. Providentially, someone handed Him the parchment; Jesus took it and slowly and patiently unrolled the scroll until He found Isaiah 61. He began to read. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
Jesus closed the scroll and sat down. “The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”(Luke 4:18-21 NASB)
Those who heard Him were confused. At first they thought the words were “gracious.” Could this be? But…reason took over. “This is the carpenter’s son. He is claiming to be a prophet and accusing us of being like those evil men who reject their hometown prophets.” Their irritation grew to fury as they accused Jesus of blasphemy, and then they shoved and pushed Him forcibly out of town to the edge of a precipice where they tried to throw Him to his death.
It was no ordinary Sabbath.
Favor. Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 speak of favor—a favorable year—the year of the Lord’s favor. The idea that God would bring favor in this particular package provoked them. It was peculiar. Unexpected. Preposterous. The Messiah was to be glorious and kingly; this humble man was no king.
The deity and humanity of Christ still provoke people to anger. It is absolute foolishness to those who don’t believe, but to us who do, it speaks of an incomprehensible humility and grace unseen in other faiths.
Moslems, for instance, consider our claims to be insulting to God. God, in their minds, would never go to such humiliating extremes to let mankind know of His love and mercy—of His grace and favor. Man should bow to Allah and seek him, not the other way around. God loses face to come in search of man—but that’s exactly what God does in Christ. He chases us down so that He can bestow favor on us.
With these verses, Jesus introduced a 3-½ year ministry that would change the face of faith. He introduced intimacy with the Father. Kinship with God. A brotherly relationship with His people.
These startling words in Luke 4, the subsequent ministry of Christ, the Gospels, the Old Testament references to Messiah, and the Epistles explain the nature of God’s favor.
We are no longer his enemy; we are His friends.
He has torn down the veil between us, and we have bold access to His throne.
We no longer fear punishment, but are loved by the Father like Jesus was loved.
We are also empowered by the same Spirit to do those things He commands us to do. By God’s grace and with his approval and delight, we get to walk into a broken world in God’s strength, and in the midst of the world’s heartache and sin, demonstrate outrageous love, mercy, goodness and grace. We have the privilege of extending God’s hands of favor to others, just as he extended that favor to us.