Luke 4 covers a lot of territory in just 44 verses – a number of stories from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: His temptation in the wilderness, followed by His reading of a passage from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach 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 …”
After He was done reading, He told the men in the synagogue that He was the Messiah prophesied about in that passage. When they questioned His claim, He prophesied against them – making them so angry they tried to throw Him off a cliff. He left town for Capernaum, where He cast out a demon from a man, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and healed and delivered many others. The next morning, He has this exchange with the people:
At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God … because that is why I was sent.” Jesus declares right here that He has been sent by God –
“anointed” for the task, the same thing He read in the synagogue from Isaiah 61:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news …”
“Preach the good news” – that’s actually one very long word in Greek, and
that word has been modified only slightly to give us the word “Evangelize”.
Today is Evangelism Sunday – a day for emphasizing “Preaching the Good News.” That was our Lord’s assignment – His marching orders from His Father – to preach the Good News. And that is our assignment, too.
Please don’t get hung up in the differences between the two passages.
Isaiah 61 said that the Messiah would preach good news to the poor, to the brokenhearted, to the captives and prisoners, and to those who mourn.
They would be restored – as individuals and as a people – and would be given an everlasting covenant, covering them with salvation and righteousness.
In Luke 4, Jesus says He was to preach the good news of “the Kingdom of God” – which is what was listed in Isaiah 61, and then some.
The Kingdom of God is not – as many might tell you – just Heaven in the future, or something that will come with Jesus’ return. It is so much more.
John the Baptist and Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God being “near” or “here” – at the time of His first coming to earth. Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 12:28
“… if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God,
then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
The Kingdom of God is God’s activity in the world – His redeeming, restoring, and re-creating His creation – of which His people are the crowning glory. It is an eternal kingdom – without beginning and without end – so it is whenever and wherever God is at work.
At work in Jesus – and at work in secret – and at work in us by His Spirit.
The Kingdom of God is two young men kneeling and praying before a public high school football game.
The Kingdom of God is people running into the face of danger when others are running away.
The Kingdom of God is people standing up for justice and refusing to be quiet.
The Kingdom of God is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, visiting the imprisoned, calling the lonely, sitting at lunch with the kids no one hangs around, putting an arm around the hurting, loving the unlovable, extending grace to the sinful.
God has anointed us to proclaim the Good News that the Kingdom of God is here and now – that God is busy at work here and now – and He has called us to join Him in doing that kingdom work.
Evangelism certainly involves telling people the Good News that Jesus died for sin so that they can share eternity with Him – but evangelism also involved helping make this life better for them, whether they embrace the Jesus’ sacrifice or not.
But when we demonstrate the reality of Kingdom of God by our words and actions, we are helping to create a bit of Heaven on Earth – giving people a taste of what they can also experience.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote in his pastoral letter
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
If you provide food and warmth to that person you are proclaiming – not so much in words, but in deeds – that the Kingdom of God is here. You are doing Kingdom work – and proving that God is at work in His world.
Some Christians – including Martin Luther – have suggested that James was off-target, that he should have written about feeding people the Bread of Life and not real bread. After all, they would argue, Jesus Himself said that everyone gets hungry again after eating regular bread, but He satisfies the hunger of the soul permanently.
And yet, it was that same Jesus who provided food for five-thousand families one day – and four-thousand a little bit later. And that same Jesus told His followers in Matthew 25 that when they care for others in any of a number of ways, they are caring for Him.
Because Jesus understands hunger and thirst and cold and loneliness and imprisonment and injustice and death – because He experienced all these human conditions. So Jesus understands the principle that it’s hard to hear the Gospel when your stomach is growling.
A group called Friends of Mission International tells of Anna Marie, a widow living in Zimbabwe. After her husband’s death, she was left to provide for her three children. She did not know where their next meal would come from.
But a Global Aid Network Food Program partner in her community provided food for her family and got Anna Marie a job so she could continue to provide for her family. But most of all, they taught her the love of Jesus.
Love that was show in a basket of food – which came as Good News to her starving family. The Apostle John understood what Jesus meant when he wrote in his first pastoral letter:
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
St. Francis of Assisi is remembered for his love of nature – even preaching to the birds – and for being the patron saint of animals. But his best-known quotation is “Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.”
We have been commissioned by Jesus to preach the Good News that the Kingdom of God is already here. However we preach that Good News – whether it be in words or in actions – we are following in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.