Jesus’ manifesto

Sermon for 23 January 2022, Epiphany 3 Year C

Readings: Psalm 19.1-6; Luke 4.14-21

As we travel through the season of Epiphany, we consider those first revelations of Christ leading to the start of his ministry. We began with the visit of the Magi, whose adoration and symbolic gifts demonstrated that the salvation significance and dominion of Jesus extended beyond the children Israel to include all nations and all peoples. 

At the Baptism of Christ, we discovered again the revelation of Jesus as the beloved son of the almighty, and remembered our own welcome into this family through our own baptisms, called to live in loving community and sharing in the radical inclusion of God.

With Jesus’ first public miracle at the wedding at Cana, we were shown Jesus’ presence across all spaces – ceremonial and mundane. He revealed his power over matter itself, yet used it in service for our enjoyment. In doing so he revealed the abundant goodness of God’s provision. 

And on this third Sunday of Epiphany we join Jesus in his early teaching ministry – standing up to read from scripture in the Synagogue in Nazareth. In the Gospel of Matthew, this moment acts as Jesus’ self-revelation of his purpose – the opening statement of his manifesto. For those hearing the stories of Jesus’ life for the first time, it answers the question: what did Jesus think his purpose was?

The passage Jesus reads is from the prophecies of Isaiah: we know it as Isaiah 61.1-2a. In this chapter of Isaiah, the Anointed One of God testifies to his God-given ministry of transformation. By referencing this passage and proclaiming its fulfilment, Jesus directly aligns himself with this Anointed One and all but declares himself to be the prophesied Messiah. By proclaiming ‘The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me…’ he discloses the divine intention guiding his purpose, and reveals himself as someone important and set apart by God (just as Elijah anoints Elisha as prophet, and Samuel anoints David as king). 

Yet you may have noticed that Jesus didn’t read the whole song of prophecy from Isaiah 61 – indeed, he alters the text and stops rather abruptly at the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favour (known also as Jubilee – the time at the end of the levitical seven year cycle in which debts are to be forgiven, slaves and prisoners are to be freed, land ownership would be restored, and the mercies of the Lord would manifest). 

J. Alec Motyer suggests that by not proceeding in his reading on to the day of vengeance, Jesus ‘expressed his own understanding of his mission at that point, not to condemn but to save the world’ (see John 3.17).

Jesus’ manifesto, then, is one of transformational hope (or, perhaps, hope in the transformation). It is a promise that the Kingdom is coming, and all things shall be redeemed through him. 

And yet his mission plan is also inherently practical as he lists clear objectives:

  • To bring good news to the poor
  • To proclaim release to the captives
  • To proclaim recovery of sight to the blind
  • To let the oppressed go free
  • To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour

And, significantly, this is exactly what Jesus goes on to do. His words in the synagogue are not lofty rhetoric, but are directly linked to his actions. This is not mere lip-service, but the start of a transformational ministry of practical works, each symbolic of a greater change Jesus is bringing to the world. 

By bringing good news to the poor, Jesus both shares news of hope and transformation in the lives of the downtrodden and disadvantaged – and spiritual transformation and forgiveness to a people caught in the poverty of spirit, downtrodden and excluded from life in the fulness of faith. 

By proclaiming release to the captives, Jesus not only works to liberate a people under the oppressive regimes of the day, and stands in justice on the side of the wrongly accused – but also tells of liberation from the captivity of sin, of freedom from guilt and fear and death. 

Jesus’ next objective-action deviates from the text of Isaiah (which reads ‘bind up the broken-hearted’) but carries the same purpose. By acting to bring healing and wholeness to the people who need it, Jesus restores their sense of self-value, their place in the community, and demonstrates the miraculous healing power of God – because if he can restore lost vision with a word or a touch, then his proclamations of forgiveness must also be true. And further, he also reveals that he will open the hearts and minds of those who have closed themselves off from God and have become unable to perceive his truth in the world. 

Next, by letting the oppressed go free Jesus not only helps the people who believe in him to escape the powers, situations and patterns of behaviour which oppress them, but also reveals a greater liberation from an oppressive system of interpretation that limits access to salvation. No, the salvation Jesus preaches is for all: no matter what you origins, gender, nationality, social status, etc.

And as previously stated, Jesus proclaims the Year of the Lord’s Favour – this is simultaneously an instruction to live according to the principles of Jubilee, and also a revelation of the new world order and the fulfilment of God’s promises from this moment on and for ever more. 

There’s a lot more that could be said in analysis of Jesus’ statements (and indeed on the whole of Isaiah 61) but instead I want to land on this summary: that Jesus saw his purpose as to bring transformation into the lives of God’s children. He revealed a radical love seeking change and restoration of the worlds physical, emotional, and spiritual. He stood with the poor and the oppressed, and called us to recognise the poverty and oppression in our own souls. 

By following in his way, we too are invited to welcome the Spirit of the Lord, to allow it to drive us out in this shared purpose of radical faith and practical actions. We are called to be true to the Gospel we proclaim and live it out in our daily lives. We must practice what we preach.

I can’t speak for what this will look like for you exactly, but we too can share in Christ’s objectives:

  • To bring good news to the poor
  • To proclaim release to the captives
  • To proclaim recovery of sight to the blind
  • To let the oppressed go free
  • To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

I wonder, what do each of these mean for you, and how could you proclaim them through words and actions in your week ahead? What objectives could you set yourself? 

Perhaps…

This week, I will tell someone that they are loved. I will find the courage to challenge someone who speaks hate. I will help someone find truth. I will share my joy with another. I will pray for someone who is hurting.

This I will do, for the sake of Jesus.

May the spirit of the Lord God rest upon you,

    May the Lord anoint you;

May you bring good news to the oppressed,

     bind up the broken-hearted,

proclaim liberty to the captives,

    and release to the prisoners;

And in all you do, may you proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,

Amen.

References:

 J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, IVP: 1993, p.499.

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