Why Jesus Came

Author: Tim

Date Posted: December 4th, 2012


Why Jesus Came
#1/3: Why Jesus Came
Luke 4:16-21

December 1st / 2nd 2012
by Pastor Colin S. Smith

He came up to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Luke 4:16

This event took place probably about a year into the ministry of Jesus. If we only had Luke’s gospel, we might think this was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The other gospels make it clear that this was not the case.

Matthew and Mark both record this story later on in the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 13 and Mark 6), and John tells us about the early days of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem.

Luke puts this story at the beginning for a reason that we’ll come to later, but consistent with the other gospels, he makes it clear in verses 14 and 15 that Jesus had already been ministering in Galilee, already he had been teaching in other synagogues, and that news about him had already spread throughout all the surrounding country.

You can imagine the level of interest that there must have been in Nazareth, Jesus’ home town, where he had grown up as a boy. The kids he had played with were now in their thirties, many of them married with their own children.

Some of the folks in this small town would have had a chair that Jesus repaired or a table that he had made in their home. How many carpenters would there have been in Nazareth?

It was his custom to worship at the synagogue in Nazareth, so the people in this congregation would have personally sat or knelt or sung beside him, and heard the exposition of Scripture together.

This would have been the case for years, but now everybody was talking about Jesus, and when someone from a small town becomes famous it’s a big deal for everyone else.  

Nazareth wasn’t on the top ten list of desirable places to raise a family. It was a rather “down in the heel,” unfashionable place. The folks who lived there had to put up with other people saying “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Now it seemed that they might have an answer to that question! Everybody is talking about Jesus, well guess where he came from? He came out of Nazareth!

The great day
He came up to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.  Luke 4:16

Word would have got around quickly, and everybody would have been saying from house-to-house “You’d better get to synagogue early, because there’s going to be a big crowd this weekend.”

It’s not hard to imagine the excitement as the word spread. What a moment this must have been for Mary, his mother. How she must have looked forward to this occasion. Every mother looks forward to the homecoming of her son, bringing the Word of Life to his own people.

You don’t need me to tell you how dreary the whole business of “religion” can sometimes be—how deadly dull, how oppressive, how endlessly tedious, and completely boring it can become—instruction from an ancient book, the dead weight of years and years of tradition, and the pious superiority of some clerical gentleman spouting off.

But this day was different… the service in the synagogue would have followed a familiar pattern: The singing of psalms, the recitation of the Shema, the pronouncement of many blessings, a reading from the law of Moses, and then a reading from one of the prophets.

Encounters with God
This was the moment when Jesus stood up… the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written—Jesus chooses the reading. It was from Isaiah 61 and this is what he read:

“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.” Luke 4:18-19

Then “he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down…” (Luke 4:20), which of course, was what all the rabbis did when they were about to teach.

“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” (Luke 4:20-21). It was unlike any other sermon they had ever heard.

I expect that what they normally got was a scribe or a Pharisee talking about Isaiah. You know the kind of thing… “Isaiah the prophet lived 800 years ago…” (as they settle into the pew).

“Isaiah ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, Ahaz, Jotham, and Hezekiah who reigned in the southern kingdom…” (…quick look at the watch to see how long we still have to go).

The prophet speaks about a day to come “when the Lord will visit His people…” So much preaching is about prophesies from the past and promises for the future. This leaves ordinary people in the congregation saying, “What in all the world has this got to do with me today?”

But look what is happening here: Prophecies from the past and promises for the future become gifts for today through Jesus Christ. No wistful nostalgia for some golden age in the past. No pious platitudes about a better world in the future.

No! Christ says, “I am here to tell you there is hope for you in your life today!” They had never heard preaching like this before. No wonder the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. He speaks to them! He speaks for today! And what he speaks is good news!

The preaching ministry of Jesus is the model for every preacher who has the privilege of speaking in his name. Christ takes the word that was there and then, and makes it here and now.

The message isn’t, “God has done great things for other people, and it’s recorded in the Bible,” but “God can do great things for you.” Christian preaching isn’t about imparting information—how much Bible we get into our head—it’s God’s means of bringing transformation. Jim Packer says the purpose of preaching is “to mediate encounters with God.” [1]

That is precisely what was happening here in the preaching of Jesus. The question is: Is this happening for you?

Many of you have been raised with all the traditions and all the trappings of religion. Church was part of your life, but it never made much difference. There were priests and pastors and prayers and songs and rituals, but it did not connect with the realities of your life.

Jesus Christ changes all that. Place the Bible in his hands, and through him it becomes God’s word of hope for you today. If you could know this Christ, if his ministry were to touch your life, your whole experience would be different. 

In the time that remains today, I want to show you what the good news is, and how it can be yours.

The Year of the Lord’s Favor

“[Christ came]… 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.”  Luke 4:19

“The year of the Lord’s favor” was the pinnacle of a raft of wonderfully compassionate laws that God had given to protect the poor in Israel…

i. Every seven years, all debts were to be cancelled
At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release.And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor.  Deuteronomy 15:1-2

Imagine if that was the law in this country. Can you see Visa and MasterCard adopting this law? They’ll cancel all debts every seven years. 

ii. Every seven years all slaves were to be released
If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. Deuteronomy 15:12

When folks were unable to pay their debts, if they did not have the means, they could honorably fulfill their responsibility by offering their labor. But God said this could not go beyond seven years.

iii. In the fiftieth year, all purchased land was to be returned
You shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. Leviticus 25:10

When God’s people went into the promise land, God gave a portion of the land to each tribe and to each family. The jubilee law was given to make sure that it stayed that way.

Over the years some people would find it necessary to sell their land, but so that certain families did not accumulate land, once in every lifetime on the 50th year, the land was to be returned to the original owners.

In other words, land that was sold was sold on a leasehold basis, not a freehold basis. That meant the price or value of the land was determined by where you were in the 50-year cycle.  

The nearer the Jubilee you got, the lower the price of the land, because it would soon return to its original owner. If you bought the year after the Jubilee, the price of the land would be higher, because you would have the land for 49 years before it would be returned to the original family (see Leviticus 25:15-17).

These were marvelously compassionate laws. They placed a check on the growing power of those who had accumulated wealth. They made sure that the children of the wealthy would have to find their own way, rather than floating through life on massive inheritances. They gave a new start to the poor and the oppressed once in every lifetime.

Please understand this: No other country ever had laws like these. No other culture has ever protected the poor like this. God says, “You are my people, and this is what I call you to do.”

How would you have liked to live under these laws?
A lot would depend on whether you were a borrower—in this case it would be great, or a lender—in this case it would not be so great. These laws were great for debtors. But they were costly for creditors.

God gave these laws to Moses when the people were in the wilderness. He said, “When I bring you into the promised land, this is what you are to do:  Every 50 years you are to sound the trumpet and you are to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Now, in all the history of Israel, how often do you think this happened? Never! Not even once! [2] It’s not difficult to work out why: The folks with the power were also the folks with the money. When they looked at what the Jubilee would cost them they said, “We’ll do it next time.” So the trumpet never sounded.

By the time of Isaiah, God’s people had been in the land 700 years. So, there should have been 14 Jubilees by then, but there hadn’t been a single one. The trumpet never sounded. The year of the Lord’s favor was never proclaimed! That’s why the Old Testament prophets are so scathing about how God’s people had neglected the poor.  

It’s not surprising: These laws could only operate in a community of people who loved God with all their heart, and who loved every neighbor as much as themselves. There has never been a country or culture where that was true! God’s perfect law shows us how selfish we really are, and how much we need a Redeemer, who will come and do what we would never do.

So God spoke to Isaiah about one who would come to preach good news to the poor, bring freedom to the oppressed, and proclaim the Jubilee—the year of the Lord’s favor. Who would do this? Who would have the power and be willing to pay the price?

I have come…
Then Jesus came to the synagogue in Nazareth: He stood up and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent meto proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and said: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Christ says “I am the Promised One of whom Isaiah spoke. I have come to proclaim the year of God’s favor!” What does that mean? Did Jesus enact some kind of economic plan in Israel? 

God is going to do for you what you would not do for each other. He is ready to cancel all your debts to him. He is ready to set you free from Satan’s power. He is ready to give you back the inheritance that Adam lost, so that you will enjoy life in his presence forever: “I’m here because God wants to give all that back to you.”

That’s the promise of the Gospel, and it is the most marvelous good news. But the year of God’s favor that brings hope and joy to us came at an incredible cost to him. If you write off a debt, here’s what it means: You incur precisely the amount of that debt as a loss to yourself. When God writes off our debts to him, he absorbs all of it in himself.

That is why Christ went to the cross. He bore the loss to cancel our debts and restore our inheritance. God canceling all debts! God restoring lost inheritances…in Christ! This is why Christ came and this is what He offers to you.  

Recognize Your Own Need

Jesus quite clearly identifies the people to whom he brings good news. He identifies them in four ways: The poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed (those who have been crushed).

Some people want to limit the ministry of Jesus, in some way, to people who live without money or without freedom or without power. If that were the case, Jesus would have nothing to offer many of the people in the synagogue at Nazareth, and nothing to offer many of us today.

Some of the people in the synagogue would have run a small business. Most of them would have good eyesight, some of them 20/20 vision. None of them were in prison. By definition, they all had freedom to attend the Sabbath service at the synagogue on Saturday morning. So Jesus is not describing a limited group of disadvantaged people.

“Poor, captive, blind, and oppressed” are words the Bible uses to describe the condition, not of some people, but of all people before God…

…to the wealthiest person, Jesus says, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” If you gain everything and lose your soul, you have nothing. That’s precisely what you have—apart from Jesus Christ—nothing.

…to folks like us who rejoice in our freedom, Jesus says, “Whoever sins is a slave to sin.” There’s a power in you that you can’t get free from.

…to those who feel that they are quite capable of finding their own way, the Bible says, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.”

Jesus is not saying that he came into the world for a particular group of disadvantaged people. When Jesus speaks about “the poor, the bound, the blind and the oppressed,” he is describing the spiritual condition of all people before God. Norval Geldenhuys says:

“No one will ever be able to do much for mankind unless he has a deep realization of the terrible need of the human race. An imperfect insight into the actual needs and misery of man results in giving inadequate prescriptions for finding relief.”

It is no help to you if you have cancer and the doctor gives you an aspirin.

“Now it is a characteristic of the Savior’s preaching that he referred in a remarkably plain manner to the unfathomable spiritual need of mankind…

Sin makes a man inwardly poor… makes him a captive to its stranglehold, makes him spiritually blind so that he loses all vision and all power of clear judgment, and crushed his personality.” [3]

There is a poverty that sins brings, and Christ has come to make us rich in him. There is a bondage that sins brings, and Christ has come to set you free. There is a blindness, an inability to see, that sins brings, and Christ has come to give us sight. There is a bruising, a crushing, that sin brings, and Christ has come to heal our wounds.

Christ Jesus cuts though all the moral talk about what we should be and what we ought to be, and he would say to you today…  

I have come because you are poor. You don’t have what it takes before God. You can’t offer what he asks of you. 

I have come because you are bound. You are trapped. You do not love God. You do not trust Him. You do not find joy in Him. You are stuck and you don’t have the power to change your position.

I have come because you are blind. When you follow your own heart it leads you into all kind of trouble. You do not know how to put your life together in a way that will be blessed by God.    

I have come because you have been crushed. The sins of others have piled on top of your own sins and left you with wounds that only I can heal.

Here’s your choice: You could say, “Wait a minute, I’m not poor. I’m not blind. I’m nobody’s prisoner. I’ve got what it takes to live this life. I can find my way. I can be the captain of my own soul.” If you say that Jesus Christ has nothing for you, you’ll never receive anything from his hands, because he offers to those who see their own need.

But suppose you were to say, “When he speaks to the poor, bound, blind and bruised, he is talking to me. Somehow I am beginning to see that this is me.” That puts you in a position of hope, because he says that he brings good news to the poor, liberty for the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

Draw Near to Jesus Christ

“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 the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Luke 4:18-19

You come to Christ, not to offer him something, but because he hold the gifts of God in his hands. Christ is the one who brings these gifts: Me! Me! Me! So many people miss out, because they come to him this way.

Christ brings these blessings into your life. It’s not the church. It’s not other Christians. It’s not a change in your circumstances. The gifts of God become yours when Christ is yours, and Christ is yours when you become his.

When we sing the carols this Christmas, we will sing words about Jesus being God and Jesus being man: These things are wonderfully and gloriously true, but there’s more to knowing Jesus. Bishop Ryle says:

We must know Jesus as the friend of the poor in spirit, the physician of the diseased heart, the deliverer of the soul in bondage. [4]

That’s why Jesus came into the world—to be your friend, your Savior, and your peace. What have you known this week of Jesus as your friend? Your help? Your strength? Your deliverer? Your peace? How different this coming week would be, if you were to receive what he is able to give. 

As we think of Jesus Christ coming into the world, why was he sent?

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me…”

The Father sends, the Son comes, and the Spirit anoints. Here, in Jesus Christ, God is for us. God is with us. And he’s offering himself to you, and he’s offering all the gifts of God to you.

What circumstance can you not face if this Christ is with you?

What sin can you not overcome if this Christ is really for you?

What need in your life cannot be met if this Christ provides for you?

What wound in your life cannot be healed if this Christ should touch you?

The Savior is reaching out to you today. I invite you, come to him, trust him, look to him, ask of him, follow him, and feed on him. “Anyone who believes in him, will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:11).



[1] J. I. Packer, “Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life,” p. 120, InterVarsity, 1999

[2] Howard, Kevin and Rosenthal, Marvin, “The Feasts of the Lord,” p. 179, Thomas Nelson, 1997, “There is no historical record, biblical or extra-biblical, that Israel ever once observed the Jubilee year.” 

[3] Norval Geldenhuys, “The Gospel of Luke,” p. 169-170, Eerdmans, 1979

[4] J. C. Ryle, “Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke, Vol. 1,” p. 117, Banner of Truth, 1997


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