daily biblical sermons

Jesus will bring release to the captives and set at liberty those who are oppressed
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, after Epiphany, January 09, 2020
1 John 4:19-5:4, Psalm 71, Luke 4:14-22a

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“And he [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as was his custom, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable 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 on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:16-22a).



This is a programmatic introduction to Jesus’ messianic ministry. He begins by reading in the synagogue the prophecy of Isaiah telling them that he has been anointed by the Spirit (“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18)) “to preach good news to the poor … to proclaim release to captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19 quoting Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6).



Jesus is here applying Isaiah’s words to himself and speaking as the great liberator of his people, for he says right after reading this passage, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). He has come to liberate his people from their afflictions and problems, setting prisoners and captives free and liberating those who are oppressed from their oppression.



It would be easy to interpret this in a political, even militaristic sense, as the Jews at that time were only too ready to do, for this is the type of Messiah that they popularly expected, someone who would free them from slavery to Rome and once again restore them as a proud and independent nation of importance in the world. They imagined that this would be done by a great political/military son of David who would sit on David’s throne in royal majesty and rule with pomp and circumstance in military might and revolutionize the political situation of the world.



We know, however, that Jesus did not approve of this imagery or of this notion of the Messiah, for he came as a lowly son of a workingman in a town of no importance, without any formal higher education, although he was of the royal blood of David, but in reduced circumstances. His kingdom would be a mighty kingdom all right, but it would not be like the material kingdoms of this world, at least not until the millennium and/or the new earth under a new heavens where his glory and majesty would finally be fully manifest to the world at his Parousia (second coming).



Until then, though, his kingdom will be a kingdom in the hearts of his believers, for, as he said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21 NKJV).



Jesus came to renew the human race that had fallen in the sin of Adam, as St. Paul told us, “As one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19).



This is the kind of liberation that Jesus will bring. It is above all a liberation from sin and its consequences, a liberation which we cannot grant ourselves and no one else can give it to us either, but it is the most important liberation of all; for if we are living in sin and guilt, we cannot be happy, we cannot know heavenly peace in our heart, nor can we know true joy in God, for we are alienated from him and we need someone to overcome our alienation. That is the task of Jesus, namely to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).



We had lost our original righteousness, which was a gift of God, but God sent his own only divine Son as a man to restore this lost righteousness and to reckoned to us his own righteousness so that we might once again shine with the righteousness of God himself within us. Christ overcomes our alienation from God by paying for us our debt that we have with God for our sins, which is suffering and death in punishment for them. And he did this on the cross so that all that put their faith in him will have God reckon to their personal account Jesus’ suffering and death for our sins as paying their debt that they have with God of suffering and death for their sins.



Hence when we put our faith in Christ and his work for us, we are acquitted of our sins and of their punishment. And since our sins have been justly paid for by Christ and his payment has been applied to us by God through our faith, God therefore declares and thereby makes us ungodly sinners righteous, reckoning to us his own righteousness.



This is the liberation that Jesus came to bring to the world, for his one act of salvation on the cross in atoning for our sins and making full reparation for them “leads to acquittal and life for all men” (Romans 5:18). His one act of obedience in dying on the cross for our sins causes many to be made righteous – that is, all that put their faith in him and genuinely repent of their sins and leave them behind.



This is the greatest liberation of all. One can be liberated from a physical prison and still be miserable, walking in inner darkness, crippled by guilt and constant depression because of his sins that have not been dealt with. True liberation requires the overcoming of our alienation from God because of our sins and the subsequent reconciliation with him by faith, because of the atoning, reparation-making work of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins.



With such a liberation, one can know true joy and heavenly peace in his heart. And who can give us this liberation? No one but the Son of God himself, and that is what he was sent by the Father into the world to do.



We can use the imagery of Isaiah, as Jesus did in this sermon, the imagery of oppression, prison, captivity, blindness, darkness, and poverty as images of the deeper inner reality that Jesus came to liberate us from.



There are still many poor people who are Christians. There are still many blind people who are Christians and still cannot see physically. There are still captives who were criminals and are justly incarcerated for years, even for life, that are now Christians, but are still incarcerated, yet their spirits have been liberated.



This is the focus of Jesus’ mission in the world. He comes to free us from our guilt for our sins which causes us depression, darkness, captivity, blindness, and oppression of spirit. He comes to justly liberate us from all this by himself paying the just price and punishment that we owe God for our sins, which is eternal punishment in hell after death, and he pays for this by his death on the cross – “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3).



But to experience this liberation we must put our faith in him. We must believe that his death was a vicarious death, that his wounds were my punishment for my transgressions, that his bruises were a punishment for my iniquities, that his chastisement on the cross makes me a “new man,” now spiritually whole, and that by his stripes I am healed, for “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Why is it that his suffering healed us? It was because “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6) and punished it in his flesh on the cross (Romans 8:3-4).



This is the great liberation that Jesus came into the world to bring us. This is the great good news (the gospel) that he was sent to preach to the poor – the physically poor as well as the spiritually poor. And what good news is this? It is the gospel. And what is the gospel? It is the proclamation that Jesus and his apostles made that our sins were punished in him so that we could be justly acquitted of them, since full and just punishment was suffered for them for us by Christ on the cross. And who can benefit from this? Anyone and everyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ and genuinely repents of their sins and leaves them behind them.



That is why Jesus says, after reading this beautiful liberation passage from Isaiah, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). There is the whole message of what Jesus is, why he came, and what he did in this world. He came to fulfill this liberation passage of Isaiah, “To preach good news [the gospel] to the poor … to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord [a Jubilee year of forgiveness and restoration]” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus himself is the answer to all these problems if only we put our faith in him and genuinely repent of our sins and leave them behind us.



It is an error to interpret this quotation in an overly literal sense as meaning (as the Jews of that time expected) an actual liberation of all people who are now in prison for their crimes so that the doors of the prisons might be opened and they might immediately go out. This was not the kind of Messiah that Jesus was. But unfortunately there are people today (Christians) who have a mentality very similar to that of the Jews of Jesus’ day, whose views Jesus rejected. They imagine him to be a political, even perhaps a military type of Savior who will totally revolutionize the political and economic situation of the world. Jesus’ kingdom is primarily spiritual, but if people are genuinely transformed by his salvation, by his justification, then this will have a trickle-down effect even on our political situation, for transformed people create transformed governments.


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