Good News for the Broken and Needy
Passage: Luke 4:14–4:30
Good news sounds good when you know how badly you need it.
One of the practices of being a Christian is serving other people. We develop a servant mindset where we aren’t thinking about ourselves but we are thinking about other people. We want to help. We want to care. We want to do what we can to make other people’s lives easier. Jesus was a great example of what it looked like to serve others. His greatest act of service was laying down his life in love to save us, but throughout his life he was found serving people: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, protecting the outcast, and so forth.
Sometimes we struggle with helping others. We feel like we have too much of our own to deal with. They should take responsibility for what they have going on and figure it out. We don’t feel like we have the time or energy. Perhaps we feel unqualified. Maybe we just don’t feel like it - we’d rather do something else. But part of growing as a Christian is learning to be less selfish and serve others.
What we struggle with even more is asking for help. For many of us, the last thing we will be caught doing is asking someone for help. Even if our life is a wreck and unmanageable, we won’t ask for help. Even if we have no idea how we are going to pay our next bill, we won’t ask for help. There’s those surveys that ask people what they are most afraid of. Usually public speaking is number 1 and death is number 2. I’d like to cast my vote for “asking for help” as number 3.
If you had to choose between “giving help” and “asking for help”, which one would you choose? What is it about asking for help that we find so difficult? I think it’s rooted in what it says about us to ask for help. What are we admitting to people when we ask for help?
A CNBC article was talking about how the pandemic has created a lot more reasons to need help. Then it listed some psychological reasons behind why we have trouble asking for help:
- It makes people feel uneasy because it requires surrendering control
- People fear being perceived as needy. We don’t want to be ashamed of our situation or come across as incompetent so we work really hard so others don’t see us this way. Plus we feel that others have their own worries to take care of, so our aren’t significant.
- Some people are afraid they will be shunned or rejected if they ask for help. So we make a lot of excuses for not making the request for help. (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/22/why-asking-for-help-is-so-hard-and-how-to-get-better-at-it.html)
Can you relate to any of these or to the list we created?
If you had to choose between “giving help” and “asking for help”, which one would you say is a greater mark of Christian maturity? Both are marks of Christian maturity. But I think that “asking for help” may actually show greater maturity in most cases. The reason this is important is because the degree to which you are able to ask for help will determine your spiritual health.
Today we are continuing our sermon series in The Gospel According to Luke called “To Seek and To Save”. In today’s passage, we get to hear Jesus’ inaugural sermon. When presidents take office, they give an inaugural address on inauguration day when they begin their term. This speech typically highlights their values and commitments and is their opportunity to cast their vision for the future. Jesus’ sermon does the same thing.
As we hear Jesus’ sermon, we will see the kind of people that will be excited about his message. In short, people who know they need help will be excited about his message. People who are able to see and admit their neediness, weaknesses, failures, shortcomings, and sin. People who have made a mess out of their lives and who know they’ve fallen short. These are the people that will get excited about what Jesus has to say. It will sound like good news to them.
So think about yourself: how good are you at asking for help? Are you able to admit to people when you need help? Are you able to be seen as needy before others? Can you admit your sins to another person? When was the last time you asked for help? Do you see yourself as needing God’s help?
Let’s begin looking at Luke chapter 4 verses 14 through 30.
When Jesus launched his ministry, he was quite popular. His base of operations in the beginning was the region of Galilee. People were impressed with his teaching. He was praised by people and a report about him spread.
His method was to teach in the synagogues on the Sabbath day. This is what he did when he came to Nazareth, which was his hometown where he grew up. Verse 16 tells us that it was his custom to go into the synagogue on the Sabbath, telling us that he was a regular attendee of the synagogue.
Now you may be wondering what a synagogue is. The synagogue was a Jewish meeting hall for teaching and prayer. As you can see in the picture, they often had tiered seating around the entire building where people would sit. There would be a cabinet where the scrolls of the Hebrew Bible - our Old Testament - were kept. The use of synagogues probably began during the Babylonian captivity when Israelites were away from the temple. So they set these buildings up as a place to worship through teaching and prayer. Their use continued even after the Jewish people returned to the land of Israel because they were spread out around the Roman Empire.
The description of what happens during Jesus’ visit to the synagogue here in Luke chapter 4 is the earliest record we have of what happened in synagogues. Descriptions of the traditions from later in history may date back to the 1st century, but we’re unsure. If they do, then the service would have included a recitation of the Shema, prayers, a reading from the Law (the first five books of the Bible), a reading from the prophets, teaching or interpretation of the passages, then a benediction. The readings from the Old Testament would be in Hebrew and then would be translated into Aramaic. The attendant would take the scroll out of the cabinet to read then would put it back. After this, an invitation would be given to the audience for any qualified male to interpret. It was customary for the readings to be done while standing and then for the teacher to sit.
We see several of these elements in our scene in Luke 4. Look at verse 16:
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. (Luke 4:16-17a)
Apparently Jesus served as the reader on this occasion. He stood up, indicating that he would read. You would know who was qualified to be a reader at the gathering and Jesus' reputation has already spread. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Then Jesus unrolled it and found a specific place. The bulk of the scroll would be held in the left hand and it would be unrolled with the right and read from right to left. They would typically be 9 to 11 inches high and 20 to 30 feet in length, depending on the length of the work. The Isaiah scroll found among the Dead Sea Scrolls with 35 feet in length. I saved this old window blind from our house years ago with this specific passage in mind. This is bigger than 9 to 11 inches, but it can give you a picture of what it would be like.
Jesus mostly reads Isaiah 61:1-2 but he leaves out one line and includes one line from Isaiah 58:6. It’s very possible that Jesus read both passages and Luke is summarizing. The speaker in Isaiah 61 is the messianic servant of Isaiah. The text describes what the servant will do. Let’s read what Jesus read:
He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
20 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. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:17b-21)
After the reading, Jesus sat down to teach on it and the eyes of all in the synagogues were fixed on him. They were waiting with anticipation to see what he’d say. What he said to them is unlike anything they have heard before: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What a moment! Jesus has just read from one of the prophets where the messianic servant was declaring God’s salvation and Jesus says it has been fulfilled in their hearing! Wow! So what exactly is Jesus fulfilling? What is this passage he reads from Isaiah 61 about?
I want to start to answer that by showing you a way of sharing the gospel using three circles. If you don’t have a bulletin or something to write on, I want you to get something so you can draw this along with me. This is the message that Jesus sends us as messengers to communicate to others. This gospel presentation is called the three circles.
Everywhere we look in our world, we see brokenness. Things are not right. If you watch the news, you can see our broken world. We see how broken our world is in how people deal with politics or race. There is conflict, war, poverty, and hunger. Many people fight hard only for their side to win. Some people are rich beyond our imagination and some people don’t have money to even buy food, clothes, or housing.
But the brokenness isn’t only out there; it’s in here too. Our lives often feel like they aren’t right. We all know what brokenness feels like: emptiness, guilt, rejection, shame, regret.
God didn’t create the world to be broken. God actually had a perfect design in mind. God has a design for everything in our lives: relationships, money, work, sex, parenting. [Arrow] But we have a tendency to leave God’s design. When we depart from God’s design, the Bible has a word for that called sin. Sin is anything against God’s design. When we leave God’s design, we live in a place called brokenness.
When we get into a place of brokenness, we try to fix it. We may try to fix it through hard work, through money, through control, through relationships. We want to get out of brokenness.
Brokenness feels bad, but it actually does a good thing. It shows us the need for change in our lives. But the change doesn’t come from inside ourselves.
God had a plan to restore us which brings us to the third circle. Jesus was God and he came down into our broken world. He entered into our brokenness. But he was perfect. He never sinned. He was not broken and did not contribute to the brokenness. This enabled him to die for our sins in our place on the cross. He paid for our ways of living against God’s design and the brokenness we have caused in our world. Then he rose from the dead and is alive today to restore us to God’s design [arrow from Jesus to God’s perfect design]. This message is called the gospel, which means good news.
If we want what Jesus offers, we need to respond to Jesus. We need to let Jesus into our lives so he can forgive us for our sin and heal what is broken. First, we need to turn from our way of living that is against God’s design. Then we need to surrender to Jesus which puts him in charge of our lives. This is how we receive forgiveness and enter into a new way of living.
It doesn’t matter how much sin you have in your life or how broken you feel, this good news is for you. Anyone can turn from their sin and surrender to Jesus and he will rescue you from your brokenness and begin restoring you to God’s perfect design.
When we turn from our sin and surrender to Jesus, he promises to restore us to God’s design and he comes to be present in our lives to help us with two things. First, he helps us to grow in our relationship with him and into God’s perfect design for us. Second, he tells us to go into this broken world and tell others this good news that has changed our lives.
Now, let’s look at the types of people mentioned in Jesus’ reading of Isaiah 61: the poor, the captives, the blind, those who are oppressed. These are people who are experiencing the brokenness of the world as well as their own brokenness. Who are the poor? Someone with no money would be considered “poor”, but in that culture and in Luke’s gospel it also has a broader meaning. It’s anyone who for whatever reason has a low social status. It is similar to those of humble estate from Mary’s song in 1:52. Someone could have low social status for financial reasons, but it could also be because of education, gender, occupation, family heritage, religious purity, and more. It is anyone who finds themselves on the outside of religion and society. These are people who aren’t part of the in-crowd. They are outcasts for whatever reason. They are left out, cast aside, and ignored by the religious and societal mainstream. If it were high school, these would be the unpopular kids that people tend to bully, make fun of, or leave out.
And who are the captives? “Captives” often meant those in exile because they were taken into captivity by foreign nations but it also had spiritual overtones because the exile was a result of sin and idolatry.
Who are the blind? This has both a physical and spiritual component. Jesus did perform miracles to heal people, but he was also enabling people to see in a spiritual sense. They are going from darkness to light.
Who are the oppressed? This also could refer to those in exile, which at this point is the whole nation of Israel. Though they live in the land God gave to them, the Roman Empire is in charge. They are under military occupation with soldiers everywhere. In that sense, all of Israel is oppressed as a nation. But this could also refer to people suffering at the hands of injustice.
The poor, captives, the blind, and those who are oppressed. These are all people experiencing the brokenness of this world. They are people who are hurting, suffering, and longing for things to be different. They are looking for a fix. Some of them are in their broken situation because of their own sin and some didn’t choose it. What’s common is that these are people who have been pushed out and pushed down in some way.
So what does Jesus come to do? First, he reads “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.” The Spirit descended on Jesus and anointed him at his baptism (3:22), Jesus was full of the Spirit and led by the Spirit in the wilderness (4:1), then the first verse of our passage said Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (4:14). God has affirmed, blessed, and empowered Jesus with the Spirit.
And what has he been anointed for? To proclaim good news to the poor. In the next line, Isaiah 61 says “He has sent me”. To do what? To proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind and to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Jesus has been given the Holy Spirit and sent to these people who are experiencing brokenness in their lives and this world.
The last line says he has been sent to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. This refers to a very specific event in Israelite history. There was the Sabbath day. God created the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested and he called the seventh day holy and blessed it. The practice in Israel was to rest on the seventh day, the Sabbath. No work was to be done.
You have a sabbath year every 7 years. Then after 7 of those, 49 years would have passed. In the 50th year, it would be called the year of jubilee or later it was called the year of the Lord’s favor. What was supposed to be done this year is pretty crazy. The year of jubilee had two main themes: freedom and restoration. First, freedom meant all debts were forgiven. If you had fallen on hard times and were in debt, you would become debt free in the year of jubilee. People who were struggling with crops and money and who got into debt often had to sell themselves as slaves to their fellow Israelites so they could continue living. So freedom also meant you would be released from your debt slavery.
Second, restoration meant that if you lost your land because you had to sell it to someone else, it would be returned to you. When people were buying land, they really weren’t taking ownership of it but paying to use it until the next jubilee year. If your family had been broken up due to debt bondage, you would also be restored to your family.
The reasoning for this freedom and restoration year is grounded in the exodus. In the exodus, God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to give them the land he had promised them. The land of Canaan was owned by God and he gave it as a divine gift to Israel. It was distributed to each tribe, clan, and family so everyone had a piece of that land. That means there aren’t supposed to be a few Israelites who over time buy up other people’s land. The year of jubilee restored the land back to the families. It is ultimately owned by God and was a gift to them and this keeps it distributed appropriately. That’s one piece. The second is that they were slaves in Egypt and now they belong to God so they are not to make slaves of one another. That’s why Israelite slaves are liberated in the year of jubilee.
The year of jubilee would be announced through the blowing of a ram’s horn on the Day of Atonement which happened once a year to offer a sacrifice for all of Israel’s sins. How appropriate that on the day the people are freed from their debt of sin to God that the year of jubilee starts when debts would be forgiven and bond slaves would be freed.
We have no evidence at this point that the year of jubilee was ever practiced. But in the prophets the year of jubilee or the year of the Lord’s favor became an image for God’s future salvation. God would bring freedom and restoration. The year of jubilee became a model or image for what the kingdom of God. will be like. God will restore humanity and nature to their original purpose.
Who’s going to be most excited about the year of jubilee? Those who have lost the most. Those who have the most debt. Those who are in the worst situation. Those who have sinned and really messed up and who are living with the consequences. Those are living in the brokenness of their own sinful decisions. The year of jubilee is a fresh start! The penalty of their foolish actions is erased and they are free and restored. This is what Jesus says he has been anointed to do: to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
The people have a hard time swallowing this extravagant claim by a hometown kid: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Jesus is aware of what the people are thinking and anticipates what they will ask, “Do here what we have heard you did in Capernaum?” “Physician, heal yourself” basically means to do for your own what you’ve done elsewhere. They’ve heard he did it in Capernaum, now they want him to prove it so they can have proof that he can really fulfill this passage.
But Jesus won’t be put to the test like this. He reminds them of two stories of prophets in the Old Testament. Both were active during difficult times in Israel’s history when Israel was suffering the consequences of their unfaithfulness to God. Though there were many widows in Israel, Elijah was sent to a Gentile widow outside of Israel. Though there were many lepers in Israel, Elisha healed a Gentile leper. Jesus’ point is: “If God’s people don’t listen to God’s prophets, then God will send them elsewhere, even to Gentiles.” The theme of the prophets is that their message was rejected. The prophets try to bring reform. They try to wake the people up to their sin and idolatry. They address the heart. But they aren’t listened to. The whole history of the prophets in Israel shows how broken Israel is.
The people catch his point and are offended and they haul him out of town to kill him. This is a mob taking the law into their own hands. They would often stone people by first tossing them off some sort of hill or cliff then throw head-sized rocks down on them. But somehow, Jesus walks right through the mob and goes on his way. This should sound familiar to the devil’s temptation: “If you think God is reliable, why don’t you throw yourself off this building and see if he protects you.” Jesus won’t test God, but God protects him here from this mob.
How does this create certainty about what they’ve been taught? It shows that rejection of Jesus doesn’t mean Jesus was a failure. This is how people have always responded to the prophets. And the whole story so far has predicted that people will reject Jesus and Jesus knew people would reject him. It’s built into the plan. Why was he rejected by those in high positions and why did he hang around such broken people?
Jesus’ message is both an announcement and an invitation and he knows not everyone will accept the invitation to be part of the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus will be divisive. Simeon told Mary that Jesus was appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed, so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” John the Baptist said Jesus will come to sift the grain, separating the wheat from the chaff. All the people Jesus came for are unpopular people. They are people who live broken lives and know it. We need to see ourselves as these people: people who are in need of God’s favor. The people who missed out on Jesus’ message of God’s favor were those who thought they already had it because of how good they are. They didn’t see themselves as broken like those people. They didn’t see themselves as needy, weak, and sinful.
The year of the Lord’s favor is a year of reversals: debtors become debt free, slaves become free, land that was lost is restored, families that were broken up are brought back together. In the year of jubilee, the worse off you were the better it would sound - the greater your reversal. Jesus is telling people what the kingdom of God is like: it’s a kingdom of reversal. The blind can see. The oppressed are set free. The poor are made rich. Sinners are made saints. The low are exalted and lifted up. The empty are filled. The hungry are satisfied. The thirsty are quenched. Those who are alone belong. The dead are raised. The far are brought near. The lost are found.
And it’s totally grace - God’s undeserved favor. It’s radical grace built right into Israel’s laws. The year of the Lord’s favor is done at his initiative, not based at all on what we’ve done. This is the kingdom of God. Do you want to be part of it? The first step is admitting that you need it. You need help from the outside. You need Jesus to do for you what you cannot do yourself.
God’s favor is for those who admit they are far from him. For those who admit they fall short. For those who admit they owe a debt they could never pay. Who desire healing of their own brokenness.
Good news sounds good when you know how badly you need it. The worse off you admit you are, the better the gospel sounds. The issue is that we need to be able to accept, acknowledge, and admit that we are desperately in need of God’s favor. We are broken and need someone to fix us and our lives and that someone isn’t us. We need someone from the outside. We need God to come down into our lives and bring the freedom, restoration, and healing to our brokenness that only he can bring. We need to be able and willing to ask for help, to say, “God, I need you. Help me please.”
The issue is that we often want to be self-sufficient or at least appear that way. We don’t want to admit that we have problems, needs, imperfections, deficiencies, and last of all, sin. If our goal is self-sufficiency, we will not enter or experience the kingdom of God. If we are saying, “I take care of my problems. I don’t burden others with my problems. I can handle my problems myself thank you. I’m fine, really” (Safe People, 127) then we well miss out. Or perhaps you would describe it more positively: I am responsible, independent, and grown-up (Safe People, 127). That just doesn’t work in the kingdom of God.
The book Safe People says that the advantage of self-sufficiency is that “you get to avoid all the uncontrollable problems and risks that needy people can’t get away from. Here are a few examples:
- You don’t have to experience your incompleteness, which is painful.
You don’t have to go to the trouble of finding people to love you.
You don’t have to show other people the hurting, imperfect parts of yourself.
You don’t have to look anyone in the eye and say, ‘I need you.’
You don’t have to risk asking others to comfort and support you.
You don’t have to humbly receive what they offer, in gratitude.
And you don’t have to do it again and again and again.” (Safe People, 128)
Grace goes where need is uncovered. God’s favor is for failures. Sinners. Outcasts. Those far from him. Those lost. Those who don’t belong. How do we feel when we ask for help? Weak, needy, incompetent, unprepared, irresponsible, ashamed, embarrassed, like failures. But the reality is that we are in need of help and it’s in asking for help that we can actually come to God.
We may think that maturity and growth means we need to ask for help less. We will know more, have more skills, and be more capable of handling things that come our way. But it’s actually the opposite. Maturity is measured by your ability to ask for help. To admit you have a need before God and others and that you need someone outside of yourself to meet it. Until we are able to do that, our relationship with God and with others will remain shallow and guarded. We will feel that we need to handle things on our own so we will put on a show for other people and for God.
Consider this: what is a need you have right now. Write it down. Or write down several. The challenge I want to give you this week is to ask God for help and ask someone else for help with that need.
The beauty of a community that really believes this is that we can actually be safe people to each other. We can actually start to do life with one another. We can actually start helping one another. The unique thing about Christian community isn’t that we serve people. Lots of groups do that. The unique thing about Christian community is that we know we fall short and that we are messed up and broken but we aren’t afraid of it or afraid of making it known because the kingdom of God is for people like us.