Good News For The Poor
December 10 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
The Arrival Of The Year Of The Lord's Grace
1. One certain Sabbath, Jesus read aloud from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth where he was raised.
2. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me; for, the Lord has anointed me with oil in order that I can announce good news to the poor. The reason the Lord has sent me is to announce the liberation of those who are captives, the restoration of sight to the blind, to bring liberty to the oppressed, and to announce the year of the Lord's grace," (verses eighteen and nineteen). Then the Lord made this proclamation, "The words of this scripture, today, when you heard them, were fulfilled."
3. Just as the Lord had read [it] out loud, Jesus had come as the messiah, that is, as the anointed one from God. Jesus had announced the arrival of God's hour. The time had come for the captives to be set free by God! The time had come for those unable to see to be made able to see by God! The time had come when the oppressed would be liberated by God! Jesus had come in order to announce the arrival of this "year of the Lord's grace." Jesus said, "The words of this scripture, today, when you heard them, were fulfilled."
4. Where are these persons - "the captives," "the blind," and "the oppressed?" Are they off somewhere else? No, it was in the synagogue where Jesus had recited from Isaiah, it was also in [that same sanctuary room of the] synagogue where Jesus had announced the fulfillment [of that scripture passage from Isaiah]. Those words have been read in a similar manner in this sanctuary. Here in this room, it is to us whom the Lord is speaking. Are there not "captives" here in this place? Don't we have persons unable to slip out from under this tight world locked down in endless wrestling? Don't we have people bound up by one kind of power or another and unable to make a move [from it's grip on them]? Are there not "persons who cannot see?" Are there not persons [here] who are wandering about yet stuck in ignorance of either where they are or where they are going, unable to see any light of hope? Are there not persons who are "oppressed?" Aren't there some who feel like they are being squeezed from having to shoulder a heavy load that is just about back-breakingly unbearable? And, even more than all that, when it comes to being captive to this sin-and-death-and-devil controlled world, we can probably say [something] about all of us. "The captives," "the blind," and "the oppressed" are none other than you and me.
5. But, we, just as we are, are now assembled together with Jesus. Being the church is just that. When we're with Jesus, we're quite all right because Jesus has announced liberation. Jesus said that he has come "in order to announce the year of the Lord's grace." "The year of the Lord's grace" has arrived with Jesus. And even right now in this place he is speaking the good news. "The year of the Lord's grace" has already arrived. We're right in it.
6. It is important that this has been called "the year of the Lord's grace." When we read Leviticus chapter twenty-five, a precept is written there about the special year called "the year of Jubilee." It is a special year that the Lord has prescribed. "A jubilee" is a horn. Since a horn was blown at the new year throughout the nation, it has been called "The Year Of Jubilee." It is written in detail in Leviticus chapter twenty-five, but to put it simply, it was a year of liberation that came once every fifty years. For example, when you consider that there were people who had relinquished their lands [for whatever reason] they would receive it back without charge on the Year of Jubilee. Or, those who had sold themselves as slaves because of poverty would be set free unconditionally when it became the year of Jubilee, and their debts would be zeroed out. (It doesn't seem like they had ever actually practiced this, but still and all this year was prescribed into law by God.) In this way then, it was a year when the poor were to be restored and set free based entirely upon grace and not because of anything they themselves might have done and not because of any qualification or authoritative right they had, [but because] it was the Year of Jubilee. "The year of the Lord's grace" was originally a message showing forth this "Year of Jubilee."
7. And in today's passage, Jesus had announced the arrival of this "year of the Lord's grace." It is obvious what [he] meant. [He] meant that the captive would be set free by God, that the blind would also come to see, that the oppressed would also be set to liberty by God, just as in the Year of Jubilee, and it would be unilaterally granted as [gifts of] grace. It means precisely that [these things] have been given entirely as a gift of grace by God from him alone and not based on what I have done, on what qualifications I have, or on whether I am right for it or not. That's right; God's salvation, deliverance and liberation are given as "grace" entirely free of charge.
8. However, please think with me here about "the Year of Jubilee" once again. Had "the Year of Jubilee" actually been practiced would everyone all over the country be happy? No, they probably wouldn't be. When the Year of Jubilee came the only ones who would be happy would be "the poor." It would only be the poor happy about the grace of God. It was only the poor who understood that unless it came from the unilateral grace of God alone, by a grace that was free of charge, they would never be set free. It was the poor who could not claim that they ever deserved to be set free or that they had any right to be set free. It was only the poor who could simply receive in grace as grace, who [could] only rely on and cling to grace. Therefore, even in the passage that Jesus read aloud the text says, "... in order to announce the good news to 'the poor,' the Lord anointed me with oil."
9. Well, just ago I made mention that "When we're with Jesus, we're all right because Jesus has announced a deliverance that comes from God." However, I think something else needs said on this. It is that "the poor person" is the one who is able to taste and know the liberation that comes from God which Jesus had announced. It is "the poor person" who accepts [God's] grace as grace and understands that he or she can never be saved unless it comes from the free grace of God. It is "the poor person" who truly lives with joy "the year of the Lord's grace" that Jesus had declared. Therefore, the issue falls on whether those of us here in this place are "poor persons" or not. Actually, the next statement from Jesus that follows will actually ask that question of us.
The Poor Who Hear The Good News Of The Gospel
10. Having heard his message so far, all of the people praised Jesus and were admiring the gracious words coming from his mouth. In particular, as this was the hometown of Jesus, there were plenty of folks who had known Jesus since he was little. After the son of Joseph, whom everyone also knew well, had declared himself as the messiah, the anointed one, and the arrival of "the year of the Lord's grace," they were probably shocked over that. Be that as it may, generally speaking, it seems that the response of the people so far had been favorable.
11. But, Jesus' attitude towards those people gradually became defiant. I would like to read to you again the words that Jesus spoke to them. "Jesus said, 'You will surely quote the proverb, O physician, heal yourself. and say that [we] have heard the various things [you] have done in Capernaum, do them here for us in your home town.' And he said, 'I clearly say to you. The prophets were not welcomed in their home towns. I tell you for sure. In the time of Elijah for three years and six months, the rain did not fall, and when a great famine occurred in the entire region, there were many widows in Israel, and Elijah was not sent to any single one of them, but he was sent only to the widow of Zarephath in the area of Sidon. Also, in the time of the prophet Elisha many were afflicted with leprosy, but no one other than Naaman the Syrian was cleansed," (verses twenty-three through twenty-seven).
12. Do we understand what Jesus was trying to say through his statements about "Elijah's time period and Elisha's time period and all that?" These words were actually sharp for those who heard them because whether in the story about Elijah or the one about Elisha, to get to the point, "the ones who had received the grace of God were the Gentiles and not the Israelites who boasted themselves as the people of God." Of all stories he was telling these very stories like that to the Jews as they assembled in the synagogue. To be brief, "Jesus says, 'The year of the Lord's grace' may have come, however, you are not the ones who are receiving the grace of God, you are defiled, and it is the Gentiles whom you have despised who are. You're not the ones being saved, the Gentiles are, though you think that they should not be saved."
13. When he said this, they surely got all mad at him. The members who were there had already gotten mad enough to want to kill Jesus. They led Jesus outside of town and were about to pitch him over the cliff. They were that angry at him. Even Jesus surely had understood that. Since he had said this stuff, if you were an ordinary Jew you would have blown up over this. Why would Jesus have spoken like this?
14. [He probably spoke that way] because they were not "poor." Indeed though, even though they were truly poor, they did not see themselves as poor. Because they did not understand that they were poor, they were not able to receive grace as grace. Even though the year of the Lord's grace had arrived, they could not receive [his] grace. Jesus understood that sad reality so much that it hurt.
15. The Lord spoke to them, "You say that [we] have heard the various things [you] have done in Capernaum, do them here for us in your home town.'" He probably meant by this, "You think that the works of God which have been manifested through Jesus, the miracles which have been manifested else where, ought to be manifested among yourselves as well." "Whenever you claim Jesus is the messiah you think that he's just supposed to do something among you as well." And Jesus understood that they would not say the same thing at all in regard to the Gentiles. God will save the Gentiles? God would save those defiled things? How ridiculous! They were fixed on talking like that. Therefore, Jesus dared to bring up the stories of the times of Elijah and Elijah and said to them, "It is not you but the Gentiles who will receive the grace of God."
16. As expected they got mad sure enough. They got violently mad. He told them the whole story. They were told, "You will not receive it, but you will become angry and it will be because you think you're supposed to receive it." They were told, "Somebody else will receive it," and you will be angry because you think you're more fit to receive it than they are.
17. This figure of them so enraged is nothing other than a question directed towards us. Are you just like them? Do you compare yourselves with other persons and entertain the thought that you are worthy of receiving [things while they are not]? Do you entertain the thought that you are supposed to be given [certain things]? Or else is there anyone here as someone who is clinging to the mercy of God alone, like those who have lost their land because of poverty, like those who have sold themselves [to slavery] because of poverty? Is there anyone aware of the fact that they cannot be saved except by that unilateral grace that comes from beyond themselves? The scriptures are giving us these questions.
18. The anointed messiah has come. The year of the Lord's grace has arrived. The Lord has announced liberty. We do not need to live as captives still. We do not need to wander about still blind. We do not need to be squeezed under by heavy pressures. We should be seeking for the working of God in our lives as the Lord had announced. We should be seeking for God's intervention. And we should believe that ultimately a perfect salvation in the kingdom of God will be given to us. But, those who will taste and see that salvation of God are those who only cling to God's grace, not bringing up whether one has the qualifications or not, not thinking of whether one deserves it or not. [Those who will taste and see God's salvation] are the poor who will simply receive grace as grace. The Lord has announced the good news of the gospel to the poor. He is also announcing it to those of us here in this place.