Unleashing God's Truth, One Verse at a Time

Jesus' Return to Nazareth: Preaching in the Synagogue

Luke 4:16-21

Code: 42-54

Let's open our Bibles to the fourth chapter of Luke, and again this morning, Luke chapter 4. This is part two in the mission of the Messiah...the mission of the Messiah, a very definitive portion of Scripture. And as we will learn in the ongoing study of Luke, if we haven't already learned it, Luke is very, very selective in the material out of the life of Christ that he chooses and it seems as though all of it is preeminent, all of it is significant. And that is certainly the case in Luke chapter 4 verses 16 to 21 where we are now studying.

Let me back up a little bit because I'm very aware of the fact that we have many visiting friends and folks who are kind of coming into our church and haven't had the opportunity to be carried along with all of our studies, I want to just give you a sort of a large context in which to fit the message that I want to give to you this morning.

The great theme of the Bible is salvation. If anybody ever asks you...the Bible is a big book, its got 66 books inside of it, what is the message of the Bible? You can tell them the message is salvation...that is the message. The message of the Bible is that God, the creator of the universe, graciously rescues doomed sinners from the eternal punishment of hell and brings them instead to the eternal joy of heaven. That's the theme of the Bible. I'll say it again...that God, the creator of the universe, graciously rescues doomed sinners from the eternal punishment of hell and brings them instead into the eternal joy of heaven. And from Genesis chapter 3 where man falls into sin, clear to Revelation chapter 22, the very end of the Bible, salvation is the theme of all 66 books of Scripture. Salvation from hell, salvation from sin is the one constant message throughout the Bible. To put it another way, God, the creator of the universe, for His own glory has chosen to create and gather to Himself a group of people to be the subjects of His eternal Kingdom who will praise, honor and serve Him forever while enjoying the full riches of His blessing. That's the theme of the Bible.



And because all people are sinners and cannot save themselves from hell, cannot rescue themselves from the punishment that they deserve for their sin, God therefore must rescue them. God must devise a way in which to save sinners from sin and hell. God must come up with a plan by which He can forgive sinners for all their sin. In order for Him to do that, a just payment for sin has to be made, His justice has to be satisfied, there must be a payment for sin to satisfy His holy justice, while at the same time it can't be the sinner who pays for his sin or he will be damned to hell, the only way he can pay the price for his sin. Therefore, God must come up with a substitute. God must have a substitute who can pay the penalty for the sins of His people. God has to find someone to die in the place of sinners, to feel the wrath of holy justice on sin. The Bible tells us that that One is the Son of God who is God who came into the world in human flesh to be the substitute who would bear the wrath of God and die in the place of sinners is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Throughout the Old Testament we're told that He is coming, that the Son, the Savior is coming. He is the main person in the Old Testament by way of anticipation. The Old Testament begins to talk about Him in Genesis 3:15, He is referred to as the "seed of the woman, He who will bruise the serpent's head." He is the pierced one of Zechariah, to whom Israel turns and by whose death God opens the fountain of forgiveness for all who mourn over their sin and believe in Him. He is the one symbolized in all of the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law. He is the suffering servant, the suffering substitute of Isaiah and the other prophets who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities and the chastening for our peace with God is laid on Him, by His stripes we are healed.

So, throughout the Old Testament the Messiah is presented as the one who will come, the one who will bring the Kingdom, bring forgiveness, bring the age of salvation, the one who will die for the transgressions of His people, the one who will become the substitute, the sacrifice, the true Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world. So the Old Testament anticipates the coming of the Lord and Savior, the Messiah. And all the Jews knew that and they were waiting and waiting and waiting, centuries they were waiting for the Messiah to come. Then He came and the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, record His arrival. We're studying Luke's account and the four gospels are parallel accounts that can be co-mingled together to get the full story. They are complementary to one another. But certainly the arrival of the Messiah is worthy of four biographies looking at the richness of the fulfillment of all that Old Testament prophecy. So we're looking at Luke's account of the arrival of the long-awaited, oft-promised Lord and Savior and Messiah.



Now let's look at verses 16 to 21 as we are finding ourselves here in the fourth chapter. The Messiah has reached the age of 30 now and He has just begun His ministry. Luke records for us the first incident in His gospel in the ministry of Jesus. As I told you before, it isn't the first of Jesus' ministry, He had ministered for up to a year already but Luke skips over that. It occurred, for the most part, down in Judea and Luke begins with the ministry of Jesus in Galilee, in the north, and with one incident that sort of launched that ministry, that is His preaching at the synagogue in His own hometown of Nazareth. Verse 16, "And He...the Lord Jesus...came to Nazareth where He had been brought up. And was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him and He opened the book, or scroll, and found the place where it was written, '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 downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.' And He closed the book and gave it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him. And He began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'" We'll leave it at that point.

Now as you remember, Luke skipped over the first few months of Jesus' ministry. His ministry actually began with His first miracle up in Cana which is a town adjacent to Nazareth. After being baptized by John, He was tempted by the devil 40 days in the wilderness, after that He was ministered to for a while by the angels, then He went up to Cana to attend a wedding to which His family had been invited. Weddings usually lasted a week, it was there that He did the first of His miracles, turning water into wine. After that, He left and came to the north end of the Sea of Galilee, a town called downtrodden where He ministered for a few days and did some miracles, as verse 23 in this passage indicates, then He proceeded directly back south into Judea and Jerusalem where He ministered for many months in His first Judean ministry. Luke doesn't tell us about that, neither does Matthew or Mark, but John fills in the gaps there in the first three chapters of John's gospel, actually the first four chapters because in chapter 4 He's trekking north and goes through Samaria where He meets the woman at the well and many of the Samaritans believed in Him as Savior and Lord. So Luke picks up the story after He's come back into Galilee and launches His Galilean ministry.

Now as I told you last time, the Galilean ministry is defined for us in verse 14. "He returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit and news spread about Him...about Him spread through all the surrounding district and He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all." The Galilean ministry lasts about a year and a half of Jesus' life and Luke's record of it goes through chapter 9 verse 50. So we'll be talking about His ministry in Galilee for quite a while. The nature of it was He was teaching. The venue in which He taught was the synagogue. There were about 240 towns and villages in Galilee, as I told you, each of them would have at least one synagogue and some of them would have more than that. There were plenty of places for Him to teach and that's what He did for that year and a half...taught and did, of course, some wondrous miracles as well. That all begins then in verse 16. He launches that Galilean ministry by going to Nazareth, His own hometown on the slopes of the Galilean hills...a wonderful place to visit even to this day. You can even go to the village of Cana where He did His first miracle which is near by.

And Jesus had been brought up there, it says. After He left Bethlehem and escaped into Egypt to avoid being killed by Herod, He then left Egypt and returned to Nazareth where He lived most of His 30 years and in obscurity without ever teaching or doing any miracles, just quietly with His family in Nazareth. It was His custom all the while in His 30 years while He was growing up to go the synagogue on the Sabbath. Synagogues were gathering places, sunagogesor sunagogosmeans a gathering place, or a gathering. And these were places that grew up after the Babylonian captivity where the Jews assembled, they were called by Philo "houses of instruction," the purpose was to go there and hear the Word of God explained. It would be read and explained every Sabbath, as well as during the week there were many, many other times during the week when the Word of God would be read and it would be explained, but particularly on the Sabbath.



Now this was an unusual Sabbath. For the first time it was Jesus, verse 16, who stood up to read. He was chosen to be the reader and the expositor. What they did was read the Scripture and then exposit it, or explain the meaning of it. And that is exactly what Jesus does. Many, many, many Sabbaths He had been in that synagogue, everybody there was familiar with Him, watching Him grow, familiar with His family, His father, His mother, His brothers and sisters. They were familiar with the folks in the community. It was a small enough place and synagogues were small enough congregations and if, as some historians guess, Nazareth had as many as 20,000 people, there would have been many synagogues...that one would have been one they were very familiar...where they were very familiar with each other and so they would know Him well. But He had never taught before, He had been always quiet and now it is His time to stand up and read, which means to read the Scripture and to explain it, to be the preacher to give the sermon that day.

Verse 17, the chazon(?) called the attendant down in verse 20, gave to Him the scroll of Isaiah, apparently unopened and Isaiah may have been the normal reading at that time. There was a calendar of readings, as I told you, in the Mosaic Law which was always done. There may well have been a calendar of reading in the prophets also, while the Mosaic Law was prescribed as to exactly which verses, there may have been a little more latitude with the prophetic material and it seems as though he simply handed Him the scroll and Jesus opened the scroll and found the place where it was written. It is possible that Jesus selected that place. It is also possible that that was the place that was prescribed to be read, we can't be sure either way.

First He read from Isaiah 61:1 and 2, and Jesus, no doubt, gave an entire sermon, which means He read them and gave detail in regard to their exposition. What Luke is doing here is summarizing the textual material used by Jesus in His synagogue sermon. A normal synagogue sermon would take one text and there would be an exposition of it.

Now Jesus is essentially saying to them, as we saw last time, "I am the fulfillment of these prophecies and the favorable year of the Lord...verse 19...is now." Favorable year of the Lord is the era of salvation, the age of redemption. He is simply saying the promised Messiah is here, salvation has arrived, it isn't any longer future, it isn't any longer something you look forward to, it is here, it is now. I who stand before you am your Savior and Messiah. I am the fulfillment of these prophecies.



Now they knew from Isaiah 61:1 that when the Messiah came, they knew it was a messianic passage, that the Spirit of the Lord would be upon Him and He would be anointed, as the first part of verse 18 says. And, of course, that's true of Jesus. Back in chapter 3 verse 21 Luke makes a very clear point that Jesus was being baptized, while He was praying heaven opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. In chapter 4 verse 1 He was full of the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit. Chapter 4 verse 14, He returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit and very importantly the Messiah is to have the full power of the Spirit of God upon Him. And that is the case of Jesus. So Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He anointed Me." And as I told you in the past, in His incarnation the second member of the trinity set apart the independent use of His own attributes, became a man and submitted to the power of the Holy Spirit who came upon Him to enable Him to do His ministry and to anoint Him with divine power. So Jesus is that Messiah and He says it in verse 21, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." I am the Messiah and this is the day of salvation.

Now Jesus in His lifetime in the synagogue heard many, many sermons. Every Sabbath day they heard sermons and every week there would be days during the week, a Tuesday, a Thursday, a Wednesday, a Friday when they would go to the synagogue and they would hear a reading of Scripture and another exposition of Scripture. They were used to this. And the greatest subject for them to deal with was the hope of Messiah's coming. And so it was very common that they would hear the message of Messiah, particularly, of course, when the prophets were read, but even when the Mosaic Law was read and they were brought again under the condemnation and obligation of the law, there could be a declaration of the fact that there was going to come finally the ultimate sacrifice, the one who would make the final atonement for sin. So constantly in the synagogue preaching, Messiah, the coming of the Lord and Savior, would be the subject of the sermons and it would keep the hearts of people highly anticipatory of Messiah's arrival.

I did a little research this week and I wanted to find a typical synagogue sermon, something that a first-century Jew would have heard on a typical Sabbath in the synagogue and I found one from the first century. This sermon has been preserved through the centuries and it was a sermon that somebody preached in a Judean synagogue in the first century A.D. based on Isaiah 61:10. "He has clothed Me with the garments of salvation." So it would have been right out of the same scroll, right out of the same Isaiah. The Scripture would have been read, "He has clothed Me with the garments of salvation." And here is an English translation of what the sermon was. "Whoever the preacher was he said this, seven garments the Holy One, blessed be He, has put on and will put on from the time the world was created until the hour when He will punish the wicked. When He created the world He clothed Himself in honor and majesty, as it is said in Psalm 104:1, 'Thou art clothed in honor and majesty.' Whenever He forgave the sins of Israel He clothed Himself in white, for we read in Daniel 7:9, 'His raiment was white as snow.' When He punishes the peoples of the world He puts on the garments of vengeance, as it said in Isaiah 59:17, "He puts on garments of vengeance for clothing and was clad with zeal as a cloak.' The sixth garment He will put on when the Messiah comes, then He will clothe Himself in a garment of righteousness, for it is said, 'He put on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation upon His head.' The seventh garment He will put on when He punishes Edom, then He will clothe Himself in adom, or red, for it is said in Isaiah 63:2, 'Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel.' But the garment which He will put on the Messiah, this will shine afar from one end of the earth to the other for it is said in Isaiah 61:10, 'As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, so He will clothe Me with the garments of salvation.'"


So they were seeing this as a messianic prediction of the Messiah clothed with salvation. And then the preacher said, "Blessed is the hour when the Messiah will come." This was his conclusion, "Blessed is the womb out of which He shall come. Blessed His contemporaries who are eye witnesses to His arrival. Blessed is the eye that is honored with the sight of Him, for the opening of His lips is blessing and peace, His speech is a moving of the spirits. The thoughts of His heart are confidence and cheerfulness. The speech of His tongue is pardon and forgiveness. His prayer is the sweet incense of offerings. His petitions are holiness and purity. O how blessed is Israel for whom such has been prepared, for it is said in Psalm 31:19, 'How great is Thy goodness which Thou has laid up for them that fear Thee.'"

In other words, there was in the sermon tremendous excitement and anticipation of the Messiah's coming. "Blessed is the hour when Messiah comes. Blessed is the womb out of which He comes. Blessed His contemporaries who are eye witnesses." Well, all of that was reality on this day. Sermons they had heard many times about how when the Messiah comes He will be clothed with righteousness, He will bring forgiveness and blessing and here He stands before us, today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Now we went through that last time but we left out the message of verse 18, and I want to direct your attention at it today. His ministry is here defined. When the Messiah comes, what is it that He will do? It says He will preach the gospel to the poor. He will proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and set free those who are downtrodden, in proclaiming the favorable year of the Lord. His ministry then is described in a series of phrases in verse 18, phrases built around infinitives that describe the work of Messiah, the work of salvation. And there are four metaphors...the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed. These four metaphors described the unredeemed, they described the unsaved, the describe the lost, the unconverted, the unforgiven. They sum up the work of salvation. He preaches good news to the poor, release to the prisoners, sight to the blind and freedom to the downtrodden, or oppressed. Each of these provides for us a metaphoric picture of the sinner in the desperate condition of his need. And you will remember that I read earlier Psalm 107. Psalm 107 has a number of parallels, I'll allow you the privilege of jumping back and forth to see them there, but it is a magnificent expansion of the imagery you have right here, that's why I read it earlier in the service.



When you think about the unconverted in the world, this is how you are to view them. They may, in fact, be rich. They may, in fact, be free. They may, in fact, have no physical infirmities whatsoever, let alone blindness. And they may appear to be on top of the world, eminently successful. But the fact of the matter is, any sinner falls into these categorizations. Apart from the salvation that Christ brings, they are poor, they are prisoners, they are blind and they are oppressed. This is the desperate condition of the sinner and until the sinner comes to a recognition of that condition, there will not be any compulsion to seek a solution. When we look at the world around us, we cannot look at them superficially. They may on the surface be rich, as I said, they may have what they believe to be absolutely unlimited freedom, which is the way most sinners in our society live, free to express themselves they think in any way they want. They may have great physical health and well-being, taking advantage of all the fitness and all the medical assistance they can get. They may think they're on top of the world in terms of life style. But the fact is, spiritually they are poor, they are prisoners, they are blind and they are oppressed. They have to come to see that in order for them to turn to the One who can deliver them. Like the people we read about in Psalm 107, they have to realize that they are wandering in the desert, they have no water and no food and nowhere to find it. They have to realize that they have a blindness and a darkness and a shadow of death, a pall of death hanging over them they can't do anything about. They have to realize that they are in a storm that they can't cope with and the end of the storm can be their demise. They have to realize there are no personal resources to which they can turn to solve their imminent deadly dilemma. And that is the point of what Jesus is saying here as He opens the meaning of Isaiah 61. When the Messiah comes He will deal with the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed. Let's take them one at a time.

The first one in verse 18, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me," that is identifying Him as the Messiah, the Spirit has anointed Him, the Messiah means the "anointed one." And the first purpose is to preach the gospel to the poor. You hear the word "gospel" a lot, it's simply a word for good news. It's an old English sort of derivative from what was good. It is the good news. Messiah will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the good news to the poor. The good news is not that poor people are going to get rich, the good news is not economic prosperity. The good news is not material enhancement. We're talking about spiritual riches here. The good news is to people who are spiritually impoverished, spiritually poor. The good news is you can be released from your poverty.

Let me talk about that word "poor," if I might, for a minute. The Greek language is a wonderfully rich language which has almost limitless nuances both in vocabulary and in word form. And here is a word that enriches our understanding greatly, it is the word ptochos, p-t-o-c-h-o-s if you transliterate it, ptochos. It is from a verb that means "to cringe" quite interestingly, or a verb which means "to shrink back," or "to cower." It conveys the idea of a beggar, it is the word that refers to a beggar, someone who cringes in the shadows. Classical Greek used the word to refer to a person in total destitution who crouched somewhere in a corner begging. And in classical Greek the image was that one hand went out and the other hand went over the face to hide identity. This was so shameful. Here was a person who had reached the person of abject destitution. Here is a point where there is utter and total bankruptcy of all resources. It is used, by the way, this word ptochos, to describe in Luke 16:20 a beggar by the name of Lazarus who was begging for crumbs, anything to eat. It is not the ordinary word for poor. The ordinary word for poor, penichros, means somebody who has very little.



For example, the widow in Luke 21:2 is the widow who had just a few pennies, she was poor. She had very little. But ptochosmeans you have absolutely nothing, and that is the word here. The Messiah will come and bring good news to the people who are destitute, the people who have nothing. And spiritually speaking, this is talking about people who recognize that they have nothing by which to commend themselves. In Luke 6:20 Luke records Jesus saying, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God." And again it's a repeat of Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in...what?...in spirit," not in money, but the poor in spirit. That is the condition of every sinner. Every sinner is morally bankrupt. Every sinner in the words of Isaiah could count his righteousness as filthy rags. Every sinner is destitute of anything to commend himself to God. And, of course, this goes contrary to the Jewish mentality, they thought that by their good works and by their self-advancement by keeping ceremonial law and obeying the Mosaic system, at certain points being fastidious legalists they would earn salvation. And Jesus comes and shatters that entire view and says, "The only people that Messiah is going to be able to bring salvation to are those who recognize their spiritual destitution." As long as you think you're a good person, as long as you think your religion counts for something, your morality counts for something, you're damned to eternal hell and you have an irremediable condition. The poor are those, on the other hand, who recognize their total spiritual destitution. They are completely unable to recover without help. They're like the people in Psalm 107 again, wandering in the desert, no food, no water and they know it. They're like those people sitting in darkness. They're like those people sitting in chains, like those people in the storm of the sea, there are no human resources to solve their dilemma, they can only cry out to God. They're the true poor, the true prisoners, the true blind and the true oppressed. So the person who comes to the realization there are no saving resources available, they can only beg for mercy from God alone, they and they alone receive the grace of salvation. All pride is gone, all self-assurance is gone. They are utterly empty-handed, without commendation, who alone can turn to God and receive from Him what they cannot themselves generate.

Their poverty is not an act, by the way, it's not a false piety, it's not a false humility, it's the real thing. They have the humble and broken spirit of Isaiah 66:2, the broken heartedness and crushed in spirit referred to in Psalm 34:18, or the broken and contrite heart of Psalm 51. They're like the publican in Luke 18 beating on his breast, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." And he falls down and he won't even look up, he won't lift his eyes to even look toward heaven because he's cringing and cowering in his spiritual destitution. And next to him is the Pharisee saying, "I thank You that I'm not as other men, but I fast and I tithe and I do all these good things. Aren't I great?" And Jesus said, "The man begging, the man with his face down went home justified, not the other one. It is the state of spiritual bankruptcy then where a person really sees their own helpless condemnation.

The imagery is pretty graphic in a similar passage of Revelation chapter 3 verse 17 where Jesus says, "Because you say I am rich and have become wealthy and have need of nothing, and you do not know that you wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked," and there's all that same imagery again. Your problem is I can't help you because you don't understand your desperation. You think you're rich, you think you have what you need, you don't understand. You're poor and miserable and blind and naked.



So please note, folks, He's not talking about the economically poor. But it is true, and I want to add this as a footnote, it is true that people with economic need, people who are genuinely poor, people who are in desperate economic conditions ARE fertile soil for the gospel because their human circumstances drive them to a level of despair that many people spiritual circumstances don't, as long as they have what they need physically. We know that people who are poor, people who have very little are drawn sometimes to God where people who have everything materially are not. Jesus put it this way, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for...what kind of man?...a rich man to enter heaven." His riches become a barrier to his entering the Kingdom because he has no sense of his need. That's why in 1 Corinthians 1:26 Paul says, "Consider your calling, brethren," this is the Corinthian church, "there were not many wise according to the flesh, there aren't many scholars in the congregation, there aren't many mighty," that is there aren't many elite there. "Aren't many noble, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong, the base things of the world, the despised God has chosen, the things that are not that He might nullify the things that are that no man should boast before God."

If you look at the Kingdom people you will see that God chooses the poor. It is the poor who come more readily to the level of personal desperation that reaches out in spiritual bankruptcy for God. James 2:5, "God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom." While we're not talking about the economically poor being made rich, we're talking about people who realize their spiritual bankruptcy and largely people who come to that realization are people who have dire circumstances to face in life.

So here we're talking about lost sinners, restless sinners without resources, starved, hungry, thirsty. Like Psalm 107 says in verses 4 to 9, "Wandering hopelessly, aimlessly searching for a city where they can beg for something to drink and something to eat and finally in the end they cry out to God and He delivers them." The Messiah brings good news to those who are spiritually bankrupt, spiritually destitute and who know it and who come to the Lord with the words like that hymn, "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling."



The second picture is of prisoners. It's an equally graphic one. In verse 18, "He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives." God sent His Son to free the prisoners. The sinner can also be viewed as a prisoner. Not only as a poor person, someone who is bankrupt because he has nothing of value before God, no matter what he has in the world, no matter what he has religiously, he has nothing of value before God, he has nothing to buy his salvation, buy his way into heaven, so he has to realize his spiritual destitution...it is also true that he is a prisoner. This is another metaphor describing the same person, the lost sinner. And the good news is that He has come, the Messiah, to proclaim release, aphesis, and the word aphesistranslated release really has the idea of forgiveness...forgiveness. The reason somebody is in prison, think about it, is because they have been put there by someone else. They have been put there as a punishment. Now we know He's not talking about actual prisoners here, He wasn't talking about economically poor people before, He's not talking about actual prisoners here. There weren't any prisoners probably for sure in the synagogue at Nazareth, the prisoners would have been in prison. So He's talking to people who are spiritual prisoners, people who are in spiritual bondage. And spiritual bondage is to guilt and to the penalty of that...to sin, to guilt, to the debt of that guilt which is the penalty. These are captives, aichmalotos, it literally means prisoners. It can mean prisoners of war, those who have been taken captive by some powerful source, brought into prison for crimes that are deemed that they have committed and are waiting their own execution. That's how He sees the sinner. The sinner is a prisoner.

You know, there's nothing probably truer of sinners today than that they think they are free. Would you say that's true? They...in fact, they see Christianity as some kind of bondage, don't they? And they think they're free. This is all about rights, everybody's got their rights and nobody is going to infringe on my rights, I can be what I want to be, I'm free to be myself. You hear that inane statement again and again and again. They are not free. The Bible would define them as prisoners. They are prisoners, sin has indebted them to God. They cannot pay that debt. They are held prisoner to God, really, by His justice and His holiness. They are in bondage and they are awaiting death. Satan wields, according to Hebrews 2:14 and 15, the power of death and holds them in bondage all their lifelong by the fear of death. They are the children of wrath, of Ephesians 2:1 and 2 says, they are under the power and authority of Satan. So there's a sense in which they are captive to sin, captive to Satan and to the dominion of Satan, the prince of the power of the air, and yet all of that is only a sub-definition. The real sovereign over them, the real judge over them who has imprisoned them and held them guilty and sentenced them to death is God Himself. It is God who destroys both soul and body in hell. So the sinner is a prisoner. He is a prisoner of Satan, he is a prisoner of sin, but more than that, he's a prisoner of the eternal executioner who is God who holding him accountable has him awaiting his eternal execution.

In Psalm 79:11 it says, "Let the groaning of the prisoner come before Thee, according to the greatness of Thy power preserve those who are doomed to die." That is the way it is with sinners. They are prisoners by virtue of their sin. They are doomed to die. Isaiah 42:5, "Thus, says God the Lord who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it, I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you. I will appoint you a covenant to the people, a light to the nations to open blind eyes...this is the Messiah...I'll have You the Messiah open blind eyes and bring prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in the darkness from the prison." That's what God says. I'm going to send My servant, the Messiah, to do, to give sight to the blind and to free the prisoners from the dungeon. And that is precisely what you see again in Psalm 107, as I read earlier, people sitting in the dungeon, sitting in chains, sitting in the darkness without light, without hope because of sin, under the judgment of God. And the only hope for them in Psalm 107 is the Lord. The only hope, of course, here is the Messiah.

Back in the praise of Zacharias chapter 1, you remember verses 77 to 79, when the Messiah comes He will give His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. And when it says "release to the captives," that word release, aphesis, means forgiveness. The way you are freed, the way a prisoner is freed is when his sin is forgiven, when his crime is forgiven. And that's precisely what the Messiah will do, He will release the captives because He will forgive their sins. That great, great dominating truth is one that we always want to put at the forefront of our understanding of the gospel. Forgiveness sets the prisoner free. The only way we can be forgiven is because Jesus took our penalty. That's why Charles Wesley wrote in that great hymn of Christ, "He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free."


So poor and the prisoners are the pictures of the sinners. Thirdly, the blind, "And recovery of sight to the blind." Here is the third metaphor for the damned...not physically blind, although Jesus did heal blind people, we'll see some of that as we go through Luke's gospel, but He's talking here from Isaiah 61:1 about those who are in spiritual darkness, as was Zechariah. Again back in chapter 1 when he talked about the Messiah as the Sunrise from on high who would shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. There's a picture all through the Bible, I wish I had time to develop it, all through the Bible of spiritual blindness, spiritual darkness. The sinner is not only without spiritual resources to commend himself to God and thus poor, he is not only guilty of sin thus bears the debt of sin which brings the penalty of sin and is therefore a prisoner under the justice of God, but he is also blind in the fact that he cannot see or understand the truth. Spiritual blindness is commonly discussed in the Bible. It is natural to fallen man. Psalm 82:5, "They do not know nor do they understand. They walk about in darkness." Jeremiah 5:21, "Hear this now, O foolish people without understanding, who have eyes and see not, and who have ears and hear not..." This is the state of the unconverted. "The natural man understands not the things of God, he can't know them, he can't understand them," "because they're foolishness to him."

So naturally, just by virtue of being a fallen sinner, the sinner is blind. Judicially, another category of blindness, he's also blind because God has blinded him. John 12:40, "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn and be healed," and that's quoted from Isaiah 6. So God literally judicially blinds. So here is the natural mind blind to start with, then God compounds his blindness by sentencing him to blindness for a punishment for his sin. Isaiah 29:10, "The Lord has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep and has closed your eyes."

A man is further blinded by Satan. He's blinded naturally. He's blinded judicially by God. He's blinded satanically. Second Corinthians 4, "Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded." So we're talking about very, very comprehensive blindness. Blind naturally, blinded further by God judicially, blinded further by Satan who has blinded the eyes of those who don't believe.

And then Romans 1 says this is the reason that when we know God we don't honor Him as God and our foolish hearts are darkened. There are many other passages along that line. So the sinner is seen as a blind person...can't see, can't know the truth. That's why you can take the greatest scientists in the world, you can bring them together, let them fuss around forever trying to discuss origins or anything else for that matter that relates to the creator God, that relates to the supernatural dimension and they are utterly unable to come to the right answer...to say nothing of salvation. The natural man cannot solve the dilemma of his blindness spiritually on his own. John said, "Unbelievers hate the light," John 3:19 and 20, "because their deeds are evil and they love their evil deeds.



So what does the Messiah come to do? It says in verse 18, "To give sight to the blind." Isaiah 42:7, "To open blind eyes," as well as to bring out prisoners from the prison. John 8:12, Jesus says, "I am the light of the world, he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life." Second Corinthians 4:6 , "It is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." When you...when you realize you're in blackness and darkness and you come to the Messiah, He gives light. "Once you were darkness," Ephesians 5:8 says, "now you are light in the Lord." Colossians 1:13, "He has delivered you from the power of darkness and taken you into the Kingdom of the Son of His love." The light shines in the heart of one who meets the Messiah.

In Acts 26 Paul gives his testimony, he said to the Lord on the road to Damascus, "Who are You, Lord? The Lord said, 'I am Jesus who you are persecuting. Arise, stand on your feet, for this purpose I have appeared to you...I love this...to appoint you a minister and a witness, not only to the things which you have seen but also to the things in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins, an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'" That's just one of the great passages of the Scripture.

So the Messiah has come to those that are spiritually bankrupt and know it, to those who are imprisoned and waiting death and execution and know it, to those who are blind spiritually and know it, and finally He comes to those who are called the downtrodden, or the oppressed. And again the word release is used here, set free it's translated, but it's athesis, again. It's used in a little different way, to free those that are oppressed. The oppression here is not the idea of a prisoner, it's not someone in chains in a dungeon, it's someone overwhelmed by the pain of life, overwhelmed by relationships that are abusive, overwhelmed by illness, overwhelmed by whatever kind of troubles life can bring to bear and there's a certainly an almost endless list of those things that I don't need to go over. This is the person who is so overwhelmed by life, this is the afflicted person, this is the distressed person who has lost all joy. This is a person to whom Jesus spoke when He said, "Come unto Me all you that...what?...labor and are heavy laden." This is the person who is overburdened. And by the way, to set free those that are downtrodden is drawn from Isaiah 58:6. And in that passage God complains against Israel for failing to be a source of deliverance for the oppressed, but the Messiah will do that. Messiah will loose the burden. Remember what Jesus said in that wonderful passage that I just quoted, "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest," Jesus...that's in the end of Matthew 11, Jesus said, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, I'm gentle and humble in heart and you'll find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy and My load is light."



One of the things a Messiah does is come to the person who is overwhelmed and oppressed. And what is that oppression? It is sin. It is sin. It is the burden of sin, the wearying burden of sin, the weight of the law being unable to keep the law. The Pharisees bound on the people all kinds of law, as Matthew 23 tells us, and they didn't help the people to carry it and the people were crushed under this absolutely wearying, heavy burden of trying to keep the law of God which they couldn't keep. And well beyond that, trying to keep the law of man as the Pharisees were inventing laws upon laws. Jesus will come, the Messiah will come, take the whole burden of sin, the whole burden of trying to keep the law off and give you rest...rest. And 1 John 5:3 says, "This is the love of God that we keep His commandments and His commandments are not a burden." They're not a burden.

To those who are spiritually bankrupt, to those who are in the dungeon of their own sinfulness awaiting final execution and hell, to those who are blind to truth and reality, to those who are oppressed by the heavy, heavy burden of sin and all the issues of life that come with it, the Messiah comes. He comes to poor prisoners blind and oppressed by sin and He comes to make them spiritually rich, to bring the forgiveness that sets them free from death and hell, to give them sight and to deliver them from all the issues of life that oppress them and give them rest. This is why this is the favorable year of the Lord, folks.

And when Jesus was speaking, by the way, this was already happening because He had already been preaching for many, many months. The poor had already received the good news. They were receiving it even as Jesus spoke and are still receiving it today, and you and I are among them. We are the poor who have been made rich spiritually. We are the captives who have been set free. We are the blind who now see. We are the oppressed who have been delivered. For all true believers it continues to be the acceptable year of the Lord, it isn't just a year, it's a lot longer than a year because we're still in it today.

Jesus stopped at that point. As I told you, He didn't read the rest of Isaiah 61:1 and 2, the rest of Isaiah 61:1 and 2 says, "And the day of vengeance of our God." He said, "To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord," and closed the book, verse 20 says. He didn't want to talk about vengeance, that's the next time He comes. The time of judgment is still future. While judgment is not future for us, it's only future in the sense that we face it at death, but the time of Messiah's great world judgment is future. For now, it is the age of salvation. Paul said it, "Today is the day of salvation." It's the time for the poor prisoners, blind and oppressed, to come to the Messiah and be forgiven and receive God's salvation. Let's pray.


Father, we thank You that the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has come to rescue us forever from our spiritual poverty, our spiritual prison, our spiritual blindness, our spiritual oppression. We thank You that He has come to give us riches, freedom, sight and deliverance. That's what He said to the people that day, and that's what He says to the people today. He's still the preacher, for it is His sermon that we have heard this morning. And may there be in this congregation some poor who cry out in recognition of their destitution, some prisoners who cry out in recognition of their doom, some blind who cry out in recognition of their darkness, and some oppressed who cry out in recognition of the seriousness of their distress as they bear the burden of sin and we know You will hear and You will save because that's why You sent Jesus Christ. Do that mighty work, we pray, for Your glory. Amen.




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