Good News for the Discouraged
At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on him. The coming of the Holy Spirit onto a person brings power for ministry. Jesus’ ministry began when, after forty days in the wilderness, he returned to Galilee, “in the power of the Spirit…” (Luke 4:14) Anointed by the Holy Spirit, the Son of God began his ministry in Galilee teaching in the synagogues. In Luke 4:16, 17, “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read... ”
Consider this powerful combination: the Son of God, the Holy Spirit, and the Scriptures. At that very important moment in time, what passage would Jesus read? We’re told that “the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.” In Jewish synagogues, there is a set cycle of Scripture readings. We don’t know if Jesus chose this passage, or if it was, providentially, the passage scheduled for that day. What we do know is that Jesus was chosen to fulfill the passage!
The Lord Jesus began to read, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me…” The word “Christ” from Greek, and the word “Messiah” from Hebrew both mean “the anointed one.” Hebrew kings, priests, and prophets were anointed with oil to consecrate them as they took their positions of power and service. Jesus’ anointing was from God: when the Holy Spirit descended on him, the voice of the Father spoke from heaven, saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
God the Father anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit for his ministry. Jesus read the passage in Isaiah 61:1-2 as his own mission. It was a mission of proclaiming good news and bringing freedom. The passage speaks of four groups: the poor, brokenhearted, captives, and prisoners. The poor are those without means; the brokenhearted are those who are deeply grieved and discouraged. Captives are those taken into slavery by the enemy, and prisoners were often people who couldn’t pay their debts.
All of us find ourselves in one or more of these roles: poor, brokenhearted, captive, prisoners. We are all born into spiritual poverty, captive to the enemy, and prisoners to sin. We feel the burden of our separation from God, and in a broken world we experience grief and discouragement. Jesus’ mission was to “proclaim good news to the poor...bind up the brokenhearted...proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” He came “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” that is, the time when God saves us and frees us from our captivity.
In the synagogue in Nazareth that day, Jesus ended his reading mid-sentence. In Isaiah 62:2 the prophet continues, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God…” Jesus did not come to proclaim vengeance, however, but “the day of the Lord’s favor.” In John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Jesus rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. Then, as all eyes looked intently at him, he said, ““Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) That very day the Anointed One had come to proclaim to them the good news of God’s favor!
Many years before, the passage he read from Isaiah brought comfort to the exiled captives of Judah. God promised them blessings in exchange for the troubles they had endured. The prophet spoke of three exchanges: beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and praise in place of despair. Beauty for ashes: the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed, and its gates burned down; it was desolate. Where those ashes lay, God would raise up again a beautiful city to his praise. Joy instead of mourning: the captives mourned the loss of their homeland and their temple, but in place of that grief God would give them the anointing of joy. Praise in place of despair: After decades in captivity, some may have given up hope of ever being able to return to Jerusalem; in place of their despair God would fill their hearts with praise.
Can you relate to the people Isaiah describes - poor, captive, imprisoned, grieving, even despairing? Jesus came to restore us, to free us, give us new life, and fill our hearts with hope, joy and praise!
Far away in Babylon, discouraged in their captivity, the people of Judah could hardly imagine what God had in store for them. Through Jeremiah God promised them “a hope and a future.” Through Isaiah he showed them what they would one day become. He gave them a vision of a better future so that they could live in joyful anticipation of it:
“Those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 51:11 NIV)
It brings us great joy to know that whatever our current circumstances, through Jesus we can say, “It is Well With My Soul.”