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Proclamation of Liberty

Luke 4:18-19 - The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

Read Luke 4:14-30.

Bicentennial celebrations throughout this year have called our attention to the principles on which this country was founded--political and religious freedom with liberty and justice for all. Election Day reminds us that we still have considerable civil liberty and power of choice--we are not under a dictatorship or military regime.

Hey, wait a minute! Let's stop the flag waving and nostalgia and take a harder look at actual conditions in our country. Isn't it a stretch of the imagination to say that there is liberty and justice for all? And look at our elections. Do we really have a choice? We must admit that the hard look at our country reveals much that we cannot "wave the flag" about.

The Lord Jesus Christ came into this world and proclaimed liberty. The liberty He proclaimed was not immediate political and religious freedom. It was not instant relief from financial burdens and other problems. The liberty that Jesus proclaimed was a far more important liberty--liberty for the individual souls of people. He proclaimed freedom from sin--freedom from the power and control of sin; freedom from the direct effects and eternal consequences of sin. The liberty that Jesus proclaimed, then, was not quite the same as what we sing about in "My country 'tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty."

Therefore the growing Christian is not exactly a flag-waver! Yes, we are thankful to the Lord for whatever political and religious freedom we have--and you'd better believe we've got a lot compared to many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. Furthermore, in spite of short-comings and problems and evil that exist throughout the government, we are thankful for the liberty and justice that are still present in this land. But as true Christians who are members of the Body of Christ around the world, we recognize that our main concern is not to wave the flag. It is rather to reach out to the individual souls with whom we are in contact, and proclaim to them the liberty that the Lord Jesus still offers.

In Luke 4 we see the Lord announcing the liberty He had come to proclaim. It was early in our Lord's three years of ministry; the scene was a synagogue in Nazareth, where Jesus spent His boyhood. The fact that Jesus regularly attended the synagogue (v16) should be a lesson to us. The Lord certainly recognized that there were many hypocrites in the synagogues who misused and misapplied and misunderstood the Word of God. The Lord certainly recognized that the synagogues were not the "ideal church". (Synagogues weren't even instituted by God in the Old Testament--they arose mainly during the 400 years between the Old Testament and the New Testament.) The Lord certainly realized that it was only a matter of time before His proclamation of liberty would completely do away with the synagogue system. Yet in spite of all the hypocrisy and imperfections, the Lord regularly attended the synagogue. Why? Because the Word of God was at least read and revered there. Do you see a lot of imperfections in the church you're attending? Are you disillusioned with the hypocrisy of some of the people who attend there? Don't just quit going to church! If the Word of God is read and proclaimed there, stick with it! Let's not get hung up with the hypocrites in our churches, and the problems and faults they may have. Rather let us personally continue to do our part there, proclaiming the liberty of Jesus Christ.

In the synagogue services of those days, after the preliminaries of prayer and a reading from the Law, any male who was of age could stand up to read and teach the Scriptures. On this occasion, Jesus stood up and read from the book of Isaiah, which was handed to Him by the synagogue attendant. The Lord purposely unrolled the precious hand-written Hebrew scroll to the place where it was prophesied that the Messiah would proclaim liberty when He came (vs17-19). How did the Lord know where to look for these words in the rather large and cumbersome scroll? Jesus had studied and learned the Scriptures as He was growing up there in Nazareth. And it wasn't easy! He didn't have a pocket Testament to read in study hall or before He went to bed at night. No way! Before the printing press, hand-written copies of the Scriptures were hard to come by, and the sacred Scriptures were kept mainly in the synagogues. A constant and determined effort had to be made to get to the local synagogue and literally "burn the midnight oil". How often Jesus must have left the carpenter shop and gone straight to the synagogue to study the Scriptures until late at night. What a lesson for those of us who, almost reluctantly, spend a few minutes (if that) each day reading the Word of God--and we have the Bible readily available to us at "arm's reach"!

The passage which the Lord read to the people was from Isaiah 61:1-2. Notice that the first person is used, and the whole object of Messiah's mission is announced--to proclaim the liberty that only He can bring to mankind. What is very significant here is that the Lord left out the last part of Isaiah 61:2 which says, "to proclaim the day of vengeance of our God." Why? Because the day of judgment had not arrived! It will come when Christ returns. Right now it is still the "favorable year of the Lord." The liberty from the shackles and oppression and blindness of sin which Christ offered (vs18-19) is still available. The good news that Jesus announced was authenticated by His physical miracles, such as the literal recovery of sight to the blind (v18). But the main emphasis of our Lord's announcement was that liberty from both the present control and the eternal consequences of sin was now available through Him.

Jesus finished reading the Scripture and then, according to the custom of teaching and preaching in the synagogue, He sat down to explain the passage He had just read. Everyone there knew that this Scripture was speaking of the Messiah who was to come some day, and they were eagerly waiting to hear what Jesus would say about it (v20). Think of the drama of the moment when Jesus said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Never before had such words been spoken in Israel! At first the people were impressed with the words of Jesus (v22), but it was only because they did not catch the full implication of Christ's claim. The people of Nazareth had known Jesus as the good and honest young carpenter who was associated in the trade with his father Joseph. Now, after spending some time in Judea (v14), their gifted carpenter was emerging before their very eyes as a gifted speaker! How wonderful! But the Lord Jesus knew the truth about them. They were ready to receive Him as a great carpenter and speaker, but not as God--only as Joseph's son (v22)! How true this is today. Many people accept Jesus as anything from "a man of peace" to Superstar--but not as God!

In verses 23-27 the Lord proceeded, step by step, to uncover the real heart of the people. He knew their attitude would soon change when they heard the full proclamation of liberty. They would want to see His miraculous works but not accept His mandatory words (vs23-24). The liberty that Jesus proclaimed would come only if there was repentance from pride, from unbelief, from sin. The Lord drove home this point with two illustrations from the Old Testament. Because of an unrepentant attitude in Israel at the time of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, God purposely withheld His acts of mercy from the Jews and extended His blessing to individual non-Jews who believed in Him. The widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) and Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5) were Gentiles who had faith in the living God of Israel (vs25-27). In the same way, the unrepentant and unbelieving attitude of Israel at the time of Christ would result in the blessings of the proclamation of liberty being largely withheld from the Jewish nation, and instead going out to individuals of any nation who would repent and believe.

As the necessity for repentance and faith was made clear to the people, their reaction was one of anger (v28). The reaction today is the same! When the liberty that Christ offers is shown to include the necessity of repentance from sin, and faith in the Lord Jesus as God, people get uptight. No one gets mad when Jesus is proclaimed as a great man who did good things, but when He is proclaimed as God, before Whom we sinners must repent, the reaction is different. People get angry when the good news is fully proclaimed. All Christians have a responsibility to present the full message of the gospel. We compromise the truth if we just say that Jesus wants to be "your friend". We stop short of the total proclamation of liberty if we do not stress the necessity of repentance from sin and submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. When people hear this side of the proclamation of liberty, many of them jump off the "Jesus band-wagon"--even in anger!

The synagogue service broke up irreverently as the people tried to violently do away with Jesus (v29). The religious false front of the people was gone. Jesus had exposed their real heart of unbelief. But they could not do away with Christ--He just walked away from them (v30). Jesus was always within easy reach of those who wanted to receive Him, but out of reach of those who rejected Him. The same is true today as people receive or reject the Lord Jesus and His proclamation of liberty.
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