By this time in his life, Jesus had left his hometown of Nazareth of Galilee. He was visiting cities and villages and already becoming quite a well-known teacher in the synagogues of the country. Wherever he taught, the people spoke well of him. The reason for this acclamation from the people was because Jesus taught with an authority that was his own, and not one that was passed to him simply based on the tradition (Matthew 7:29). This was especially bothersome to the Pharisees. In their eyes, Jesus did not possess the proper credentials to teach. He was not of their group.
When Jesus came back to his home town and when the Sabbath day came, he went to the synagogue as he always did. And, as usually was happening at that time, he was given the opportunity to speak. The attendant gave him the scroll containing the book of Isaiah. Jesus unrolled it to the place he was looking for, and this is what he read:
“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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
After reading these two sentences, Jesus rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant. Then he sat down. He read no more. It was a short reading. Everyone in the synagogue fixed their eyes on him, expecting him to continue.
Finish the Sentence!
At the point where Jesus rolled up the scroll of Isaiah and gave it back to the attendant, he had stopped, as it were, right in the middle of a sentence! He read the first part, but before he even finished the entire sentence, he rolled up the scroll and handed it back. He did not even finish the very sentence that he was reading! No wonder the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed upon Jesus.
“Why do you not finish the sentence?”
It would be like me telling you, “I am going to the store to buy some milk and some…”
Then I stop. I don’t finish what I am saying. I simply stand there, remaining silent and leaving you hanging onto my words.
“Milk and…?” You ask me… “Milk and what!?”
That is a little how the people in the synagogue felt. Jesus left them hanging onto his words.
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This portion of Scripture from which Jesus read is in chapter sixty-one of Isaiah. This passage in Isaiah alludes to another yet earlier writing in Leviticus chapter twenty-five. This chapter of Leviticus explains the Year of Jubilee. In the Old Testament, the Year of Jubilee was a celebration that would usually happen only once in one’s lifetime, or perhaps not even that. It came every fiftieth year.
As you no doubt know, the Hebrew calendar week, like our own, was based on a seven day week. The seventh day of this week was called the Sabbath, on which no person was permitted to work. Men were not even permitted to put their draft animals or other animals to work. The Jews were usually very strict about this.
It seems they had good reason, because God was very strict about it.
In Exodus 31, God says, “You shall surely observe My Sabbaths… Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall surely be put to death” (vs 13-15 NAS).
We can see that this was a very important issue for God, so much so that he made the fourth of the Ten Primary Commandments. God again said:
“Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.” (Deuteronomy 5:12-14 NAS)
I do not know all of the reasons why this was so important to God, but I do know some of the reasons. God explains one of these in the giving of the Ten Commandments:
“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15 NAS).
With these words from God, we can see that this commandment was not given merely an arbitrary rule, or only because God somehow thought that he should demand it so that the people would give him at least one day to pay him respect. One major reason was for the benefit of the people themselves. It was so that they would remember where their security actually lies.
The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt, and it was God who delivered them. It was not they who rose up against their Egyptian masters and won their own freedom by their own efforts. It was God, through his servant Moses, who led them to freedom. It was the mighty hand of God and his outstretched arm that made them free.
The Sabbath, to the early Israelites, was meant to remind them of this. It was to be a day of rest. A slave does not get a day of rest. Only free people get a day of rest. The Sabbath was a day when the people should remind themselves that they are free because of God. It was to remind them that their security actually lies only with God.
Their security and well-being did not lie in that little bit of extra work that they thought that they might be able to get done on the Sabbath. Their security did not lie in their own efforts any more than it does for us. If they continued to think in this way, it only demonstrated that they did not yet know what if meant to be free.
In one sense, they still had a Master. It was God. But this Master was one who had given them their freedom. The day of rest was to be the demonstration of that freedom.
The Year of Jubilee
After this background of the Sabbath, we come now to the Year of Jubilee. Here is what the first few verses of Leviticus 25 say:
You are also to count off seven Sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven Sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow, nor reap its aftergrowth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its crops out of the field. (vs. 8-12 NAS)
Many people think of the word jubilee as a form of the word jubilation. Indeed, there was much about that year which one could feel jubilation. It was a year of great celebration and rejoicing. However, the word that is translated jubilee in English, comes from the Hebrew word yobel (יֹּובֵל), which means “ram’s horn”. This was because ram’s horn trumpets were blown to announce the start of the Year of Jubilee.
Our word jubilation, on the other hand, arises from a Latin word which means to raise a shout of joy. Its origins seem to be quite unrelated to the Hebrew word yobel. It may be that the similarities of the two words are coincidental, but it is a happy coincidence. In the Year of Jubilee, there was much in which to rejoice. The people had been set free!
What Jesus Said in the Synagogue
And now we finally come to the words of Jesus that he quoted from the prophet Isaiah, and where he said, “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Do you see what Jesus was announcing here to the people in the synagogue that day? He was bringing to them an announcement of liberty. Of freedom! He was announcing to them the good news of their deliverance! Good news to the poor. Liberty to the captives. Sight to the blind. Liberty to the oppressed. The Year of the Lord’s favor. That was what Jesus was announcing that day in the town of Nazareth.
But as we have already learned, Jesus stopped reading in Isaiah right in mid-sentence. He left the people hanging. Why did he stop where he did? When he finally did again speak, he still did not finish the sentence in Isaiah. He instead said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21).
What Jesus Did Not Say in the Synagogue
Jesus never did read the rest of the verse in Isaiah to the people. What is the remaining part of the verse? Here is what it says, it is just a short phrase: “And the day of vengeance of our God.”
If he would have taken the entire sentence without a break, Jesus would have read, “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.”
Do you see how this sentence describes two contrasting thoughts? The first part is all positive – God’s blessings, but then the last phrase suddenly describes just the opposite – God’s wrath.
When Jesus stopped in midsentence in the synagogue that day, and when everyone there was left hanging and waiting for him to finish his sentence, instead of finishing the sentence, Jesus simply said to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Why did Jesus stop where he did? Why did he not read the part about the vengeance of God?
How Jesus Ruined it for Himself
The words that Jesus chose to read were easy words to hear. Who does not like to hear about how they will be blessed, about freedom and liberty and having one’s sicknesses healed? Certainly the people in the synagogue that day appreciated the words. The text says that all were speaking well of him.
I especially like the way Luke records their reaction: The people “marveled at the gracious words that were falling from his lips.” Listening to the words of Jesus falling from his lips was like hearing the blessings of heaven falling from the sky.
“Is this not Joseph’s son?” they asked.
I want you to especially notice this warm reception to the words of Jesus, and even to Jesus himself. And this was their hometown boy! I want you to especially notice this because of what happens next.
Jesus begins to ruin his own popularity.
He first said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’”
The people had heard about the wonderful things that Jesus had done in other places. In Capernaum he had healed a man that had been paralyzed. Jesus also had healed another man with a withered hand, and he cast demons out of people, healing them as well. He was doing wonderful things, things that were like the gracious words that had fallen from his lips in the synagogue.
But then Jesus had to ruin it for himself by saying this: “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
Jesus quotes two well-known instances in Israel’s history when God chose not to bless Israel, but instead sent his blessing on a people from other lands.
These words were not so nice for the people in the synagogue to hear. When Jesus said these things, no longer where the people talking about the wonderful words that were falling from the lips of Jesus. In one of those instances in the ministry of Jesus where the attitude of the people completely changed 180 degrees in a matter of moments, they now were suddenly filled with rage at Jesus. They forced him out of the synagogue, out of the city, and up onto the brow of a great cliff so that they could cast him over the edge!
The Vengeance of God
The words from the book of Isaiah that Jesus had read in the synagogue were nice words – wonderful words. They declared the blessings of God.
But Isaiah also spoke of the vengeance of God. Not only was this the part of the sentence in Isaiah 61 that Jesus did not read, but Isaiah wrote also in other places about the vengeance of God. In fact, he wrote about it quite often – not only against Israel but against all those who continually look only for the blessings of God but still refuse to recognize him as Lord.
Here is what Isaiah wrote, just a few of chapters later. It again speaks of the blessings of the Lord, but it also mentions his vengeance.
I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, the praises of the LORD,According to all that the LORD has granted us…
For He said, “Surely, they are My people, sons who will not deal falsely.”
So He became their Savior.
In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them;
In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them,
And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.
But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit;
Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, he fought against them.
(Isaiah 65:7-10 NAS)
Tell Me Only About the Blessings
In very many ways, we are no different than the people sitting in the synagogue in Nazareth on that day. We like to hear about the blessings of God. We like to know that God will do good things for us and give us stuff.
But we are not so keen to hear about the vengeance of God that will come to those who are willing to accept the good things from him, but who refuse to recognize him as the Lord and the Master of their lives. Many people, when they hear about this, are ready to throw God off a cliff.
The Good News for Us
The good news to all of us today is that Jesus stopped reading where he did. When Jesus came to us the first time, he came as an emissary of peace to all of those who would listen to his words. As we read in Isaiah, “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them.”
Indeed, “He became our Savior.”
Jesus still comes to us as a Savior. He offers this freely. We have rebelled against him, but he offers us peace and freedom.
Jesus did not read the second part of the sentence that day in the synagogue, because at that time, he was on a mission of peace and reconciliation. However, the teachings of Scripture are very clear. This same Jesus who first came as an emissary of peace and reconciliation, one day will return to those who, although they have gladly enjoyed the blessings of God, still “rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit.” Will turn Himself to become their enemy and fight against them.
He will, in the part of the sentence that Jesus did not read, come not as an emissary of peace on that day, but instead to announce “The day of vengeance of our God.”
In that day, all who had been so ready to receive the good things from God but who did not want to recognize him as God, will have no recourse.
In that day, all who treated God lightly, as if he had no real meaningful and life-changing role in their lives, will find that now there is no escape from him.
In that day, all who have rebelled against him, denied him, and who in other ways have grieved his Holy Spirit, will know what the vengeance of the Lord means.
May all who read these words accept the salvation, peace and freedom, offered to us by Jesus. This offer of peace and freedom will not last forever.