June 18, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 4:17-21 (NRSV)
[The] scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to [Jesus]. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “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 favor.” 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. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
For context, you can read all of Luke 4:16-30 here.
In Luke 4, Jesus makes a shocking claim. He is the anointed one foretold in the prophecy of Isaiah. He has come to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. Jesus has come to free the oppressed and announce the time of God’s favor. What Jesus began so many years ago he continues to do today through those who follow him faithfully and are filled with his Spirit.
At the conclusion of the 2008 blockbuster film Iron Man, Tony Stark is conducting a press conference. He is reading from a carefully produced script in which he will deny unequivocally that he has any connection with the mysterious superhero called Iron Man. Yet, at the press conference Stark is confronted with unanticipated questions. He tries to explain that he could not be a superhero: “That would be outlandish and . . . fantastic. . . . I’m just not the hero type, clearly.” Then, after reflecting for a moment, Tony Stark goes on, “The truth is . . . [pause] . . . I am Iron Man.” Pandemonium breaks out in the press conference and the movie ends.
This is surely one of the more shocking confessions in recent movie history. (What’s even more surprising is that, according to the script, Tony Stark was not supposed to reveal Iron Man’s true identity. Robert Downey Jr., the actor playing Start, did it on a lark and it ended up in the film.) Yes, it was quite something for Stark to admit to being Iron Man. Yet I would suggest that Jesus did something even more astounding in Luke 4. Of course, this confession has the added advantage of having actually happened in our universe, not the fictional Marvel Cinematic Universe.
One Sabbath day, as he was in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth, Jesus read from the scroll of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. The passage, either chosen by Jesus or assigned to him, was the beginning of Isaiah 61, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me. . . .” This passage was treasured among Jews in the time of Jesus as a prophecy of the coming anointed one, or in anglicized Hebrew, the messiah. He would be empowered by God’s spirit to transform the world, especially for the poor, captives, blind, and oppressed. Many Jews in the first-century yearned for the coming of God’s special representative, who would set them free from Roman oppression and establish the time of “the Lord’s favor.”
The fact that Jesus read from Isaiah 61 was not particularly stunning. But what he said next was truly shocking: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). In effect, Jesus was saying, “I am the anointed one from Isaiah’s prophecy. I am the one who will bring freedom, salvation, and favor. I am the one.” The response to this bold confession was not, as in the film Iron Man, immediate pandemonium. At first the listeners were impressed. But, before long, pandemonium showed up as they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff (Luke 4:28-30). Jesus’s neighbors were ultimately shocked by what he had said, and they were not happy.
So much could be said about this crucial passage from Luke 4. I’ll reflect some more on it tomorrow. Today, I’d like to encourage you to let Jesus’s reading from Isaiah sink in. See the suggestions for Reflect and Act below.
When you read Luke 4:18-21 (the New Testament version of Isaiah 61:1-2), how do you respond?
In many places in the New Testament gospels, Jesus is reticent to say who he is. Why do you think he was so clear and bold in today’s passage?
If Luke 4:18-19 lays out Jesus’s mission, what might this mean for those of us who are seeking to following Jesus today?
Set apart at least five minutes for reflection time. Read Luke several times, slowly and prayerfully. Pay attention to what stands out to you. What do you hear God saying to you today through this text?
Gracious Lord, as I read this passage from Luke, I find myself wishing I could have been there in the synagogue that day. It would have been amazing – okay, even shocking – to hear you read from Isaiah and then claim to be the one about whom Isaiah had prophesied. I wonder how I would have responded. Would I have been amazed? Impressed? Open? Or would I soon have joined the crowd that tried to kill you?
Now matter how I might have responded then, the main point is how I respond now. Show me, Jesus, how I should follow you today. Show me what it means to share in your mission to the poor, captives, blind, and oppressed. May my heart be open to what you are saying to me even now. Call me once again, Lord, to follow you. Amen.
This devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Work’s Ultimate Meaning (Isaiah 60ff.)