Can you imagine running into your home, grabbing the thief, and then right before you get ready to tie him up he says, “I’ll tell ya what, here’s the deal. Even though I broke into your home and am having my way with it, I will let you have your home back. But there is a catch. I will run this house my way and you will have to serve me and operate by my rules.”
Tweaking our previous story a little, I am sure that we all can quickly agree that a scenario like that is just insane. It doesn’t make any sense. In fact, it is completely counter-intuitive to everything that we think and know. Why would your home now belong to a thug who just recently broke in, ransacked the place, and took your family captive? How ridiculous, audacious, and implausible would it be for the thug to offer to let you and your family still live there? Even more, how unbelievable would it be for the thug to have the nerve to suggest that you and your children need to serve him and operate by his rules! The house is still your home. Your children are still your children. The best thing that could happen is for you to evict the fool, set your children free, and get your home back in order.
If that story sounds familiar at all, it should. In a dramatic confrontation right before Jesus began his public ministry, the adversary approached Jesus at the end of his forty-day fast and tempted him.[i] In one of the more peculiar, and in our case insightful exchanges, Satan led Jesus to a very high place and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. And to Jesus he said, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I please. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” In other words, “If you serve me and follow my rules, I will let you have your house back.”
I am sure that if you are like me you would have a few things to say to this trespasser, thief, kidnapper, and ransacker. I can think of a few hundred things that I might say, and some of them aren’t very nice! But despite this ridiculous offer, which was woven with the lie that it has all been given to Satan and he can give it to anyone he pleases, Jesus calmly responds, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” It is as if Jesus, with such a short and simple response, knows something that the adversary doesn’t know. It is almost like He is thinking, “You are already defeated and you don’t even know it. You have been operating on borrowed time. I’m about ready to tie you up, turn this world upside down, release all of the prisoners and captives, and put this thing back in order! You have no idea what is coming. I am like the Trojan horse breaking into enemy-occupied territory and unleashing the most subversive counter-attack in the history of the world against you!” Don’t you love it?
Jesus doesn’t spend time arguing with him, which may be a great lesson for all of us, about whose home it really is or who was there first. He simply replies, “Worship God and serve Him only.” And it is with that one statement that the proverbial “line in the sand” was drawn. Either we worship you or we worship God. Either we serve you or we serve God. It is either your way or God’s way. We can either be citizens in your kingdom or in God’s Kingdom. There’s no straddlin’, no half-steppin’, and no dual allegiance in this place. We can’t have one foot in one kingdom and another foot in the Kingdom of God. The battle line has been drawn and it is now time to choose sides. In Jesus, the rescue operation was initiated. The enslaved created order that had been broken into and held hostage was being reclaimed and set free. The reign of Satan was being confronted and overthrown by the Reign of God. Every kingdom of the world was being confronted and overthrown by the Kingdom of God. The entire working order of the fallen world was about to be turned completely upside down by a new Kingdom.
But how do you notify those around you that you are the long awaited Messiah, the Anointed One who is about to turn the world upside-down? I am just curious. How do you announce that you have been sent to set the captives free and to make the blind see, anyway? If you are going to make a big announcement like that, you may want to do it in the biggest way possible, you know, on a big day with a lot of important people around. At least that is my thinking.
Making a big announcement usually sends people buzzing and talking about it for quite some time. News cycles run big announcements over and over and over until they are sure they have covered every possible angle of a story. People talk about and debate big announcements at the water cooler at work and at the local pubs. In the United States we go into an absolute frenzy when a person simply announces his or her intention to run for president! So you can imagine a Jewish man taking center stage in a Jewish synagogue, sitting in front of the respected Jewish religious leaders of the day, asking for a scroll and reading:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day. Luke 4: 18-19, 21
If you had been sitting in the audience that day, as a good Jew, you would have understood the reading of those words much differently than you do now. As a Jew hearing that proclamation, you would have had a deep sense of expectation and excitement that Yahweh (God) was finally acting in history to liberate and vindicate your people, God’s holy and chosen people, against the foreign pagan oppressors and the idolatry that had been enslaving your people for so long.
No doubt you would have been sitting in the audience thinking about the faithfulness of Yahweh and everything that your ancestors had been through and what you and your family were currently going through. It had been a long and difficult journey, but could it be that Yahweh was finally sending the long-awaited Messiah to make things right, restore Israel, and bring justice throughout the land? Could it be that Yahweh was finally sending His Messiah to crush the foreign enemies that had been so heavy-handed toward your people? Could it be that Yahweh was finally acting decisively in history to rescue your people from their idolatrous ways so as to be their first and only love?
The announcement of Jesus would have sent your mind reeling, thinking back about Yahweh’s restoration plan through one faithful man, Abraham, and his family, who God said would outnumber the stars. You are a part of this family who was to be a blessing to all nations by being the image-bearers of God in the world, the bearers and extenders of God’s righteousness, mercy, and love. You are a part of a family who was given the task of putting the broken pieces of the world back together so as to restore the shalom (peace) of God among the nations and throughout the world. But your mind quickly shifts to think about how your people, the people of God’s promise, have suffered greatly at the hands of those who made God their enemy.
How terrible it was for our ancestors to be enslaved by the Egyptians, you think. But you also remember how Yahweh was faithful. Working through His servant Moses, Yahweh delivered the Israelites out of slavery, through the water, and into glorious freedom. And it was in that freedom that your people, the Israelites, received the law of God on Mount Sinai. It was the law given to your people to mold them and craft them into the likeness of Yahweh, in order to live out and extend God’s ways throughout the world.
Your mind quickly shifts to thinking about how many ups and downs your people had experienced in their faithfulness to Yahweh. The Israelites desperately wanted to have a king like the other nations, rather than having Yahweh as their only King. Despite a rocky start and their first king not working out so well, the great Golden Age in Israel was at its height during the reign of their second king, David, who obsessively chased after the very heart of Yahweh. All was good and right in the Kingdom of God under the kingship of David. The nation was strong, rich, and at peace.
If it wasn’t the ups and downs of your people continually turning from Yahweh, compromising righteousness and their holy identity while putting their trust in pagan idols, it was the continual enslavement to the foreign pagan oppressors. The Golden Age in Israel was a distant memory, and you could almost hear the haunting cries of your ancestors, “Yahweh, if we are your holy, chosen people who are to be a light among the nations then why are we continually enslaved and oppressed?” It was the recurring cry of a people under the weight of kingdom after kingdom: the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans. The nation of Israel had been invaded, held captive, dispersed throughout many lands, and then returned to their land only to be under the weight of a new occupying force. The peace and prosperity that was once experienced for a short amount of time in their past was now a distant memory.
The past you know so well through the reading of Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, and the retelling of its stories does not seem so distant now. The ancient cries of your ancestors are the present cries of you and your people who are now under the tight fist of the Roman Empire. And, this empire is one of the most ruthless in history. Not only are the roads lined with dead bodies on crucifixes to remind you that Rome is in control, but nearly all of your income is taken from you in the form of tithe, tax, and tribute, leaving you and others frustratingly poor. You feel helplessly oppressed and enslaved. You hardly feel chosen. Maybe more like forgotten.
“Has Yahweh forgotten us? Will Yahweh ever give us a deliverer like Moses who will lead us out of captivity and into freedom once and for all? Will Yahweh ever again give us a king like King David who will once and for all defeat the pagan oppressors and restore the Kingdom of God? Will Yahweh ever send the Anointed One who has been spoken of through the prophets so long ago?”
All of these thoughts come together as you hear this Jesus, who had been spoken of as the Anointed One ever since his birth, now announcing that he is indeed the Anointed One. He is the one who will proclaim freedom to the enslaved and oppressed. He is the one who will lead the captives out from under the weight and strain of bondage. He is the one who will announce that there is good news for the poor. And, he is the one who is announcing the Year of the Lord’s favor.
There was certainly a buzz of excitement along with some cynicism and skepticism that day. Some people argued that Jesus was just another in a long line of freedom fighters who called themselves Messiahs and who tried to rally the troops against the mighty Roman Empire, only to be crushed and put on display for the people see. Others were not so dismissive, especially when Jesus read that he was announcing the Year of the Lord’s favor. That was something to get really excited about!
The Year of the Lord’s Favor
Everyone knew that the Year of the Lord’s favor referred to the Year of Jubilee. Within the law that God gave Moses and the Israelites was instruction to celebrate the Sabbath year. This meant that every seventh year the land, animals, and people were to be given a rest from work. It was a time for rejuvenation and replenishment. During the Sabbath year, Yahweh would care for the people and provide everything they needed. And then, after seven cycles of seven Sabbaths (forty-nine years) the people would celebrate the 50th year as a Jubilee year, or the Year of the Lord’s favor.[ii]
Like a normal Sabbath year, the land, animals, and people would be given rest from work during the Jubilee year. But what made the Jubilee year special was Yahweh’s instruction to the people to proclaim freedom throughout the land. All lands would be returned to their original owners. All debts incurred would be cancelled. The poor would no longer be oppressed or taken advantage of. The slaves would be set free. The Year of the Lord’s favor was a great reminder that since Yahweh brought the Israelites out of slavery and into freedom, they should continue the blessing by freeing the oppressed and enslaved brother or sister in their land.
That is why so many people were excited when they heard the announcement of the Year of the Lord’s Favor in Jesus’ reading. Could it be that the time of judgment, freedom, and vindication had finally come? Could Jesus be like Moses and lead God’s people out of slavery and bondage and into freedom once and for all? Could Jesus be like the great King David who had finally come to vindicate Israel from the foreign pagan oppressors and usher in another Golden Age in the Kingdom of God? Could Jesus be the one who would reclaim the land, cancel the debts, let the slaves go free, and proclaim the Year of the Lord’s favor? The excitement was certainly building.
Little did they know that the announcement of Jesus was bigger than anything they could even get their head around. Little did they know that Jesus wasn’t just coming like another Moses only to free the enslaved Israelites. He was coming to lead all of humanity out of slavery to sin through the waters of baptism and into the glorious freedom of God. Little did they know that Jesus wasn’t coming only to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom to the poor of Israel but to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom to every person in the world. Little did they know that Jesus wasn’t coming only to reclaim the land of Israel that had been occupied by governmental forces but coming to reclaim the entire created order that had been occupied by the oppositional forces of evil. Little did they know that Jesus just wasn’t coming only to cancel the debts of the poor in Israel but of every single sinful person who was indebted to God. Little did they know that Jesus wasn’t coming just as another King David to vindicate Israel, defeat the pagan oppressors, and restore a bricks and mortar political kingdom but that he was coming to break into the kingdoms of the world, draw a line in the sand, vindicate humanity, and defeat the Adversary and the powers and principalities of evil in order to establish a new Kingdom in the hearts and minds of those who follow Him and who call Him Lord.
That is how you make an announcement full of power! An announcement with that much history and full of that much anticipation certainly got everyone’s attention. Jesus wasn’t interested in all talk and no show. He was interested in proclaiming the Kingdom of God and demonstrating the Kingdom of God. He was interested in teaching and training his disciples, not just with His words, but with His life. So much more than anyone had expected was at stake, and God was acting decisively and unexpectedly in history through Jesus Christ to proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favor for all of creation, especially humanity.
The Kingdom of God was launched and established in Jesus Christ himself and this Kingdom began to grow and extend in the hearts and minds of those who turned away from the kingdoms of the world and gave their lives uncompromisingly to God. The blind would now see. The enslaved would now be free. The poor would now be made rich. The tables of history would now be turned completely upside down. The rogue kingdoms of the world would finally and decisively suffer defeat. The Kingdom of God was on the march. It was not a matter of talk, but of power. And in Jesus Christ was the life and power to overthrow the adversarial forces of evil, defeat sin and death, release captive humanity, reclaim that which is rightfully God’s, and initiate His Kingdom reign on earth as it is in heaven!
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[i] Matthew 4: 1-11.
[ii] Leviticus 25: 8-55.