Project 119: Isaiah 61:1-2 and Luke 4:16-30

 |  Project 119  |  Mary Splawn

Have you ever had one of those moments where you were in the presence of greatness and didn’t realize it? Last year during the SEC Baseball tournament, a college athlete friend of mine was in the elevator at Ross Bridge Hotel with an older man who started making small talk about baseball. Right before exiting the elevator, the man introduced himself as Fred McGriff. As the elevator doors closed, my friend lamented the fact that he had missed his opportunity to get an autograph and hear any wisdom McGriff might share about the game. He had been in the presence of a baseball legend and didn’t know it until it was too late! 

In first century Nazareth, something similar happened. The people in the synagogue mentioned in Luke 4 were worshiping alongside the all-time Great, the Creator of the universe, the Word of God who had become flesh and they didn’t even recognize the significance of their encounter! 

Let’s try to imagine the scene. Jesus enters the synagogue, sits down in the large room with bench style seating along the walls to worship alongside His relatives, friends, and other townspeople. The synagogue worker goes to the closet where all the scrolls are kept and gets out the one written by Isaiah. He calls on Jesus, the carpenter’s son, to read. Jesus takes the heavy scroll and carefully lays it out on a podium of sorts and unrolls it with His calloused hands until He finds the text of Isaiah 61:2. With humility and confidence, He speaks these words to the people gathered together: 

“‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.’”                           

When Isaiah first penned these words some 700 years earlier, they were meant as consolation for a future hope, for the day when the Messiah would come to save the people of Israel. Now the Messiah is on the scene - He has shown up to deliver and He has graced this crowd with His presence. Salvation has entered the room, and yet…they don’t understand. 

After Jesus speaks these prophetic words, He sits down in the teacher’s seat (see Matthew 23:2) and all eyes are on Him. Simply, Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The people cannot yet grasp the significance of His words and they end up running Him out of the worship place. They don’t recognize His majesty. They don’t embrace His salvation plan. 

This is a real danger for us today as well. Jesus is at work all around us but we have to put on our spiritually minded lenses to see Him. When we do, we recognize Him at work in the casual conversations we have, in the people we meet, in the situations we find ourselves in, and in the struggles we incur. Jesus is in the elevator with you, He’s at your church and your job, and He’s in your heart (as a believer) reminding you that you are anointed with the same Spirit that brings hope to the hopeless and news of salvation to the sin sick. 

So today, watch for Jesus. Who knows where you’ll see Him at work? And when you do see Him, tell the world, because through your witness, someone might just believe in Him. 

Isaiah 61:1-2 (ESV):

1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn; 
Luke 4:16-30 (ESV):

16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" 23 And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, '"Physician, heal yourself." What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'" 24 And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.