Read Luke 4:14-21

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NLT)

Man with hands chained above head, high section (toned B&W)

Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

Part 6: The Captives. Standing in the Synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read the passage from Isaiah slowly and deliberately to the people gathered around. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for God has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.” This was a message that, at least in the moment, was resonating with a people who had been under foreign occupation since the days of Assyria and Babylon. This time around their oppressors were Rome and the Jewish people were looking for the Messiah to come and save the day. This text in Isaiah had long been seen as the promise of the coming of the deliverer, the Messiah who was both anointed King and the liberator of the people Israel. Could this Jesus, this carpenter from their own village, really be that Messiah? They had heard of the great and amazing miracles and signs he had performed around Galilee, and they were hoping he’d prove his worth and identity here.

Jesus continued, “God has sent me to proclaim that the captives be released.” There were plenty of captives, for sure! The people in Nazareth knew that. If Rome or their puppet Tetrarch Herod Antipas had it out for you, you either ended up captive, put to the sword or, worse yet, crucified. Just a short while before Jesus was born, King Herod (Antipas’ father), had 2,000 Galileeans crucified for rebelling against his rule. John the Baptist, the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan, had become a critic of Herod Antipas’ and his wife. As a result, Herod had him arrested and, ultimately, beheaded. Yes, there were many prisoners who were looking for the day that the Lord’s Messiah would come and give them their freedom. The people in that synagogue were no doubt waiting for the day when the Messiah would come and set captive Israel free.

Yet, as the people of the Synagogue were about to find out, Jesus didn’t just have prisoners of Rome and Herod in mind, nor did he see the role of Messiah in quite the same way that they did. It was true that he was purposefully reading that passage in Isaiah 61, and it was true that he was proclaiming to them that he was the Messiah and that he was, in their hearing, fulfilling the words of the prophet. Yet, what Jesus meant by those words was not limited to the political captives of Rome or Herod. Nor was it limited to the releasing of captive Israel from Roman and Herodian oppression; rather, Jesus was about to fulfill the words of Isaiah, by freeing Israel from being captive to themselves. They were captive to their own biases, to the suffering of the “least of these” around them, and to all who were captive in any sense of the word.

Jesus came to liberate people through truth and awareness. Using the truth, and his example of servant-leadership, Jesus brings liberation to the people who are held captive by their social status. Jesus liberates the people who are held captive by their sins (and which one of us aren’t)? He came to proclaim release for the captives of elitism, of self-righteousness, of pride, of hatred, of bigotry, of hypocrisy, or discrimination, of social injustice and oppression, and of systemic evil. In other words, there is no limit to the understanding that Jesus had of what it meant to be captive. What’s more, if the captives of sin would accept such freedom in Christ, they would be transformed into liberators themselves, working alongside Christ to bring release to all captives in the world (both literal and spiritual). Christ is calling us to be freed by the truth, and to work for the release of all of the captives in our communities and beyond.

“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.” – Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:34 NLT)
Lord, set me free from the bondage that holds me from doing your will in working toward the liberation of others. Amen.

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