The Word that Works

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 4:16-19

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, 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, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Luke 4:16-21 rsv

I’ll never forget the first time I came back to preach in the church where I had grown up. It had all the emotional overtones you might expect, seeing people you’ve known for a long time, wanting to make a good impression, yearning to communicate the word of the Lord, adrenalin flowing freely. But there were other things about this occasion that made the experience profoundly moving for me. The occasion was a memorial service for my mother, who had died of cancer at age 52. Further, this was a church that had had very little biblical preaching, very slight exposure to the heart of the Christian faith. I wanted very much, preaching on the occasion of her death, to present the gospel to them clearly and faithfully. I remember how I got through the service in good shape and was able to say what I wanted to say, then dissolved in tears after it was all over.

Now imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to speak for the first time at the synagogue in His home town, Nazareth. Remember, He had grown up there as a carpenter’s son, with no rabbinical training. Now He was going to speak from the Scriptures. He was coming back to people who had known Him and His family for decades to present Himself not only as a new prophet but as God’s Messiah. What would they think? How would they react? What would happen there at the Nazareth synagogue? What a moment that must have been for Jesus! Having just begun His ministry, having passed through a wilderness testing, now He was about to confront the home folks with a stupendous message.

Listen as I read about it. This is from the gospel according to Luke, chapter 4, beginning at verse 16:

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, 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, 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.”


Let’s look carefully at what Jesus quoted. What was being fulfilled on that day? First, Jesus Himself was the servant of the Lord on whom the Spirit was to descend. Several of the servant songs in the prophecy of Isaiah had spoken of this coming One. Listen to these words, “Behold, my servant whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations” (42:1). And in Isaiah 61, the servant himself speaks. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. . . “ (v. 1).

You’ve probably heard the word Messiah. It’s a Hebrew word that has come to mean in popular language, “a Savior, a deliverer, someone who comes to help and liberate.” The word originally meant “the anointed One.” Leaders in Israel, kings, prophets, priests, were customarily anointed with oil as they began their work. This was a ceremony to set them apart for their task. The oil placed upon their heads was a sign of the Spirit’s enduement of power. They were being equipped by God Himself for the work they were about to do.

But among all the kings, none measured up to the divine ideal. Israel looked forward to the greatest of all kings in David’s line, to a prophet like Moses, to a great high priest. He, this coming leader and redeemer, would gather up in Himself the significance of all these lesser figures. He would be the anointed One, the Messiah. That’s the claim that Jesus was making when He read from Isaiah 61 and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke makes a special effort in this fourth chapter to show us how completely the life of Jesus is controlled by the Holy Spirit. After His baptism, He is said to be full of the Holy Spirit. As He goes into the wilderness for communion with His Father and to be tempted by the devil, He is led by the Spirit. And after that wilderness encounter, we read that He returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee. Later on, we read how Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God seems to be governing His entire personality, filling Him, directing Him, empowering Him, flooding His whole being with heavenly joy.

So that’s what Jesus was saying to His neighbors and acquaintances in Nazareth, “You’ve heard of the Messiah who was to come on whom the Spirit would rest without measure. Now the anointed One is in the midst of you. I, the One speaking to you, am he.” No wonder they wondered, as we read, at the gracious words proceeding out of His mouth. No wonder they said quizzically, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”


The second note of fulfillment was this: Jesus, Isaiah said, had been anointed to preach. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,” He says, “because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives . . . to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Jesus’ ministry would be many-sided, addressing all kinds of human need. He would go to the poor, to the captives, to the blind and the oppressed. But in every case the heart of His ministry would be proclamation: preaching good news, proclaiming release, announcing the reign of God now breaking into history.

Again, this is a major emphasis here in Luke’s gospel. Listen to these words at the close of chapter 4: “And when it was day he departed and went into a lonely place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them; but he said to them, `I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’” When they try to detain Him, when they want Him to settle down in the midst of them, He declines. He feels constrained to press on to other cities. He wants everyone to hear the good news of the kingdom. It’s for this purpose, He claims, that He has been sent. Jesus the Messiah is anointed to preach.

Why do you suppose Luke sounds this particular note so strongly? It’s because of that second volume he has in mind, the Book of the Acts. The gospel is about what Jesus began to do and teach. The Book of the Acts is about what He continued to do and teach by His Spirit, through His followers. Just as He is empowered by the Spirit in the waters of the Jordan, so the disciples receive the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. He is the Messiah. They are the Messianic people. He is the Christ. They are the Christians. The same Spirit who filled, guided, and empowered Jesus now rests upon them.

Their mission is also the same. He is sent to preach, and so are they. The Spirit moves Him from city to city with the good news of the kingdom. And they also go from Jerusalem to all Judea to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. Jesus is the greatest of missionaries, the chief evangelist. And they, on whom He pours out His own Spirit, then follow in His steps as His witnesses.


Now notice something extraordinary about this preaching Jesus does. He says He is anointed to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed. His preaching, apparently, is more than words, more than polite discourse. It is charged with power. Jesus’ proclamation is a word that works. It’s a creative message. It brings about the very thing it announces. It makes things happen. When Jesus proclaims release to the captives, they go free. When He announces recovering of sight to the blind, they see again.

Now this was the amazing thing about Jesus’ ministry. The people noticed it. He spoke with authority, they said, and not as the scribes. He could say to a leper, “Be clean” and the man’s leprosy vanished. His skin became pink and fresh like that of a little child. He could say to a man with a withered hand, “Stretch out your hand.” Our son Billy, paralyzed after encephalitis, had a hand much like that. From working with him, I know that stretching out that hand was the one thing Billy could not have done. And yet at Jesus’ word, this afflicted man did it. He stretched forth His hand.

Jesus stopped a funeral procession one day. To the astonishment of those around, He spoke to the deceased, “Young man, I say to you, `Rise.’” What’s this? He’s telling dead people to get up. What kind of word is that? And it actually happened. On this occasion the dead man sat up and began to speak.

And that wasn’t all. This Jesus, asleep in the boat during a howling storm on the Sea of Galilee, was aroused by His terrified friends. “Master, don’t You care that we’re perishing?” He stirred from sleep, stood up in the boat, and said to the storm, “Quiet down.” The wind fell. The waves flattened out. The lake was calm again. Jesus spoke words of unimaginable power.

And didn’t the disciples do the same thing? When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, three thousand people were pierced in conscience, crying out, “Brethren, what shall we do?” The apostles gave witness, we read, with great power to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. These early Christians became known as those who turned the world upside down by the power of their message. This is, friends, a word that works. Paul could describe the gospel as going out into all the world, “bearing fruit and growing.”


But on that day in Nazareth, the response was mixed. First, they all spoke well of Him and wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth. But later when they heard the rest of His message, they became violently angry. They hurried Him out of the town and were about to push Him off a hillside. How can we understand that?

Jesus hints at the reason. “Truly I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country” (Luke 4:24). Their familiarity with Jesus tripped them up. They thought they knew all about this man. When He said something controversial, they weren’t about to take it from Him. “Let Him leave if that’s the way He feels,” they said, “and we’ll help Him on His way.”

The gospels tell us of another occasion when Jesus did no mighty works in a certain area because of their unbelief. That’s what stands in the way of people being transformed by this mighty gospel. With some, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “The word is not mixed with faith among those who hear it.”

Again and again, Jesus was saying to people, “According to your faith be it done to you. Your faith has saved you. Fear not, only believe.” And that’s His word to you today.

Jesus comes to preach good news to the poor, and all of us by nature are spiritually impoverished, aren’t we? He comes to proclaim release to the captives, and all of us have known what it is to be enslaved by our own desires, trapped by our sins. He preaches recovery of sight to the blind, and many of us have never really seen His light. His word is coming to us today, and all the power of heaven is in it. Are you ready to admit that you are spiritually impoverished, morally disabled, blind to the things that really matter most? Are you willing to acknowledge yourself to be one of the sinners whom Jesus came to save? Friend, if you will trust Him in that way today, if you will acknowledge Him to be God’s Messiah, God’s Son, your Savior, then His message will be the most amazing good news to you. Prison doors will swing open wide, and you’ll find yourself saying something like this, “Once I was blind, but now I can see.”

This same Jesus who preached His first sermon in Nazareth went on to die on a cross for all the guilty oppressed ones. He rose again to set them free. Hear that gospel today. Mix it with faith, and you’ll find it to be for you a word that really works.

Prayer: Lord, speak Your word to us today afresh with power. Quicken faith in the hearts of those who hear it. Let new miracles of grace happen in our lives. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.