Isaiah 61:1-2a NIV
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Isaiah 61:1-2a opens our eyes to a breathtaking vista of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah the prophet comes through again, with the word of the Lord. This Old Testament passage lies at the center of a pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Luke, and reveals just how the Spirit behind the Good News works.
Our Lord is invited to read from Isaiah in his local synagogue in Nazareth where he grew up (Luke 4:16-21). The room is probably packed. News about his teaching and miracles has been spreading. It’s possible that the room is filled with the faithful, the curious, and the cynical. “Maybe a miracle or two would determine which of us is right about Jesus? I’ve heard he performs them in other places; I’d like to see one myself!”
Jesus, a hometown boy in a hometown synagogue, is handed the scroll. He opens it, and Isaiah 61 is his passage of choice. It is a prophecy about the Holy Spirit resting on God’s Messiah. He knows the stir it will cause if he reads it. But he has just come out of the desert having fasted and faced down the Accuser of all of our souls. He is filled with the power of the Spirit after that encounter (Luke 4:14)—he is filled with resolve . . . with focus. Jesus didn’t come this far to turn back now simply because he is being quietly scrutinized by his entire hometown.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me . . .” He finishes the passage. Can you feel the drama? You could have heard a pin drop. He sits down. The room is silent, and staring. Then, he says it: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Slowly, nervous smiles break out across the room. For a moment, they speak well of Jesus and his fine presentation, his effective performance. Compliments to his father Joseph (“If he really is his father,” they may have whispered to one another). Then, as if the favor of the crowd means absolutely nothing to him, Jesus proceeds to let them have a holy piece of his mind. He tells them that a hometown is a bad place for a prophet to find favor. He tells them what their questions will be (who likes that?). In a fit of rage, the crowd drives him to the edge of a cliff, where he is miraculously left to walk away. So much for being a hometown hero.
The Spirit of God, through Jesus, proclaims good news. But the good news the Spirit brings doesn’t always feel good to everyone. If you’re rich and content and don’t consider yourself poor, the good news (“to the poor”) might not sit well with you. If you are a heart-breaker, the good news (“to bind up the broken-hearted”) will call you out. If you are someone who traps people, making them captive to you and your will, the good news (“to bring freedom to the captives”) will reveal your manipulation and deception.
And if you are a person who savors the favor of people and the public, then God’s favor—favor that gives grace to the humble, that will resist your pride until you are shaken, trembling, and ready to let go—is a favor that may break you before it builds you.
Jesus sought only the favor of God. In a day when many of us as Christians are eager to court the favor of the culture around us, Jesus models for us that the Spirit behind the good news will give us the grace to handle the rejection, as well as the accolades, that come with the Spirit’s work.
Jesus, I receive the Holy Spirit. I relinquish my need to have favor with others; I want to live a life that has favor with you. Come, Holy Spirit, show that favor to me and my congregation; awaken us to your heart of love, beating behind the good news you’ve given us to share. In Jesus’ name, amen.
What does it mean to you to have the favor of God in your life? How does that differ from having the favor of people?
For the awakening,