It was early on the morning of the Sabbath.
Bearded, robed men passed between rows of pillars as they took their seats in the dusky room, lit by a clutter of low-hanging oil lamps. In the center of the room, an angled desk topped a low platform. Backless benches lined all sides, and a balcony filled with the wives and daughters of the men looked down on the room below.
A row of dignified men sat in front of a heavy curtain at the end of the room. One of them rose from his seat and spoke briefly to several others in the room, one of whom was the builder from Nazareth, Yeshua ben Yusef — Jesus, the son of Joseph.
He walked to the raised desk, the same place where, as a boy, He had celebrated His bar mitzvah. All eyes in the room followed His lean form, made more gaunt by the recent ordeal He had endured during a forty-day fast in the Judean wilderness.
An air of expectation mingled with smoke from the lamps as He ascended the rostrum. Rumors about Him had been spreading through the countryside. This moment had been anticipated by many.
Jesus’ strong voice commenced the service with a series of prayers and recitations. Then He waited, briefly, while the chazzan carried a scroll to the podium. Jesus took the bulky scroll with a skill that betrayed practice, and deftly unrolled it. He found the passage He sought, lifted His eyes to the congregation, and spoke without another look at the text.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,” He said.
Puzzled looks shot among the men; this was not the haphtarah, the scheduled reading, for the day. Up to that point, Jesus had led the synagogue service in customary fashion, but this was unexpected, a strange departure. He was reading from a passage of His own choosing.
Jesus continued, old words ringing with new meaning: “Because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Silence followed His reading. Jesus rolled the scroll together, handed it back to the chazzan, and sat down in His seat, as any rabbi of that day would do when he was ready to begin teaching. He gazed around the room. “Today,” He said, “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Sound the Jubilee
That sermon in Nazareth, recorded in Luke 4, was Jesus’ inaugural sermon, the first official act of His public ministry. And His text, in verses 18, 19, was not part of the schedule of readings for synagogue worship. In other words, He did something that was not done: He chose His own text, marked in our Bibles as Isaiah 61:1, 2. And He chose it for a specific purpose. He used it to announce His mission, an announcement that would have been understood by everyone listening as applying to Himself words that prophesied the Messiah, words that referred to “the year of Jubilee.”
This custom of the Jews, ordained by God, designated not only every seventh day of the week as a Sabbath — a day of rest — but also every seventh year so the land would be given a rest from cultivation and productivity. And after every seventh Sabbath year (i.e., every fiftieth year) a year of Jubilee was intended. In that year, all slaves were to be set free, all whose poverty had forced them to sell their lands would receive them back again, and those who had lost family members into slavery or imprisonment would be reunited with their loved ones (Leviticus 25).
Jesus announced His mission as a Jubilee. What the law prescribed, what Isaiah promised, Jesus said He fulfilled. He came to bring good news to the poor, the kind of news that was designed to cause dancing in the streets every fifty years. He came to bring broken families together, to bind up the brokenhearted, to heal the hurting. He came to free the slaves, open the doors of darkness, untie men’s hands, and unfold their wings. He came to proclaim the acceptable year, the year of God’s grace, the year of Jubilee — but not once every fifty years. That was already supposed to be the case.
Jesus came to bring a worldwide Jubilee, that every year, every day, would speak good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, healing to the brokenhearted, forgiveness for the guilty, freedom for those who feel controlled, release for those who feel trapped, deliverance, laughter, relief, joy . . . Jubilee.
Spread the Jubilee
The mission of Jesus was not just His mission; He “went around doing good” Himself (Acts 10:38, NIV). He also commissioned others to accept, adopt, and adapt His mission. And though the messengers change from one generation to another, the mission remains the same. Jesus still invites men, women, and children to join His Jubilee. He calls everyone to heal and help and bless and bring good news everywhere they go.
Regardless of your career, you can follow Jesus in His mission and spend your life spreading His kingdom. Paul said, “Life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus — the work of telling others the Good News about God’s mighty kindness and love” (Acts 20:24, TLB).
That is the mission of Jesus and the work He assigns to you. Reach out in mercy, grace, and love to all who need it (and everyone needs it). Find ways of surprising people with love. Don’t worry so much about correcting their wrong actions or bad language. Instead, help captives find release, help the blind to see, help the oppressed to be set free, and help everyone experience the reality that Jubilee has come . . . to them.