And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, "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." And he rolled up the scroll 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." Luke 4:17-21 ESV
At first glance, it can be difficult to see the significance of Jesus’ words in a modern context. But this dramatic reading of Isaiah 61 and poignant abrupt cutoff of the last verse was the mic drop heard throughout the cosmos. The earthly ministry of the Son of God had begun. But why were all the eyes of the synagogue fixed on Jesus in rapt attention? These people would have been familiar with the scripture being read, and they were likely confused as to why Jesus suddenly stopped speaking and sat down mid verse. After “to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,” the next line should be “and the day of vengeance of our God” but to the people listening, it seemed like Jesus forgot the best part. Everyone in that room had an expectation that salvation and judgement would arrive together simultaneously. The prophets all thought this, everyone in the synagogue thought this, but Jesus ends his reading with “the year of the LORD’s favor.” All the eyes in the room follow Jesus as he sits down. Surely He has more to say. This must hold the record for the shortest and most confusing scripture reading this synagogue has ever encountered. Then Jesus drops what is likely the most shocking thing these people have heard, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It’s too much. They start to murmur, “Isn’t that Joseph’s son? Who does this guy think he is?” And they become angry.
The Jewish people listening to Jesus recite Isaiah 61 were angry at his omission of the coming wrath and vengeance of God because they saw this as a promise of God specifically to the nation of Israel. They were looking for a gospel of deliverance from their oppressors. Every Jewish ear that heard, “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” assumed they would be the only recipients of that promise. And it would take the form of some sort of political or military power that would literally deliver them from their oppressors. When Jesus makes it clear that he is indeed the Messiah that they’ve been waiting on for hundreds of years yet the vengeance of God will be delayed for a season and salvation will look different than what they wanted... they become furious. They were looking for justice and vengeance now, not later. In their minds, they were thinking, “You stopped at the wrong part! Finish the sentence! What about the justice we deserve for enduring hundreds of years of oppression?” But Jesus stopped his reading at a comma. A pause. And that’s where we live now, the brief pause between the acceptable year of the Lord (the time for salvation for sinners) and the coming wrath of God.
Keeping steadfast eyes fixed on Jesus is crucial for living in that comma. Everyone in the synagogue was fixed on Jesus right up to the moment his gospel didn’t jive well with their expectations and desires. Today, many approach Jesus in the same manner. Many will look to Jesus with the hope that if they call themselves Christian they will be healthy, wealthy and blessed with everything their heart desires. But the message of Jesus is not malleable, we cannot mold it and shape it to fit in our lives how we like it. If we do, it becomes a different gospel and we have things backwards. We are the ones to be molded like clay, shaped and fashioned into Christlikeness. We need to take the gospel - Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension - and apply it to every area of our lives and allow ourselves to be transformed by it. For example: Instead of trying to shape the gospel to fit into our own ideas of what marriage should look like, our marriages should be put into the mold of the gospel and the excess trimmed away. Instead of trying to tack the gospel onto our own views of money, parenting, social justice, gender roles, church, politics, you name it, we must take those things and hold them up to the framework of the gospel that we see in Scripture. And then we humbly allow God’s words to change us. And sometimes it hurts. And sometimes we experience trials and difficulties.
Would you endure a year of being sick and poor if you knew you would be healthy and handed a billion dollars at the end? Would you feel tempted to grumble and complain during that year knowing that health and a hefty payout were just over the horizon? You might have good days and bad days, but the knowledge of what was to come would keep you going. It would feel worth it. A little suffering now for a short time, unbelievable riches later. Keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus is keeping your eyes on the prize when trials come. We need to keep our eyes on the prize because of what is at stake. A billion dollars sounds like a life changing amount of money, but compared to the riches of being with God for eternity, it’s just loose change in the couch. We may experience what feels like crushing trials now, but these will melt away as a “light and momentary affliction” with our first glance at the Savior welcoming us into glory. Living steadfast in the comma will have been worth it.
Zach Boomsma serves as the Worship Director and a Small Group Leader at Center Church. He is married to Andrea and they have 4 delightful children. He is an Air Traffic Controller at PHX airport but is somehow still terrible with directions while driving.
(Picture via istockphoto)