"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 4:18).
Jesus returned from the wilderness energized by the Holy Spirit and exercising new authority. He began to teach. News of a remarkable new rabbi spread throughout Galilee, and synagogues welcomed Him. But Jesus was not after fame. He wanted something else, and when He came to the synagogue in Nazareth, surrounded by childhood friends and family, He chose to make a bold — and unpopular — stand.
Asked to read from Isaiah, Jesus chose a passage that would have been a keynote for any first-century Jewish patriot, Isaiah 61:1–2. The words of the ancient prophet promised good news for poor, desperate nations like Israel, promised that brokenhearted, Roman-hating Jews would be strengthened, promised that political prisoners would be set free. God would smile again on His people and wreak vengeance on their enemies.
Except that wasn't the way Jesus read it. Jesus read Isaiah 61:1–2 as His personal mission, an inaugural address of His ministry. "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21). He stated it subtly, but everyone in the synagogue that Sabbath understood His meaning. The great prophet Isaiah speaks of me. I am the one who is anointed to fulfill these promises. And Jesus understood that these words of the prophet marked the climax of a recurring theme in the book of Isaiah, a major concern the Hebrews had forgotten in ancient times and the Jews still didn't understand. God wasn't concerned about national sovereignty. He was concerned about justice.
Justice comes up again and again in Isaiah. "Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17). "He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited." (Isaiah 11:4 NLT). "I will make justice the measuring line" (Isaiah 28:17). "Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations" (Isaiah 42:1). "For I, the Lord, love justice" (Isaiah 61:8).
The Jews had forgotten Isaiah's passion for justice, but Jesus had not. That Sabbath He announced the beginning of a new mission, not a patriotic one, but a personal one. When He found the poor struggling day by day, He would give them good news. When He found the disheartened, He would encourage them. When He found those who were captive, maybe by others, maybe by their own beliefs, He would set them free. When He found those who were blind, literally or figuratively, He would give them sight. And when He found the oppressed, the downtrodden, and those being stepped on, He would lift them up.
Repeatedly the gospels show Christ in His mission of justice. He never missed an opportunity to defend the minority from the majority or the weak from the powerful. When the Pharisees called tax collectors low society, beneath Jesus's attention, Jesus said such people were who He was sent for (Matthew 9:10–13, Mark 2:15–17). When Simon the Pharisee scorned a woman washing Jesus's feet, Jesus stood up for her (Luke 7:36–50). When His disciples accused a man of being blind because of his own sin or his parents' sin, Jesus refused to blame either (John 9:1–3). When His disciples rebuked mothers bringing their children to see Jesus, Jesus rebuked His disciples (Matthew 19:13–14, Mark 10:13–15, Luke 18:15–16). When a woman was caught in adultery and threatened with execution, Jesus disbanded the lynch mob (John 8:3–11). When the religious leaders chastised His disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath, Jesus accused the religious leaders' venerated King David of doing worse (Matthew 12:1–4, Mark 2:23–26, Luke 6:1–4). Time and again Jesus defended those being attacked from their attackers. He placed Himself as a shield between the vulnerable and the fiery arrows of condemnation aimed at them.
Jesus kept His promise to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. Any encouragement He could give He gave. Whenever He saw injustice, He stepped in to abort it. What He promised in the synagogue He fulfilled on the street. And if we study Isaiah's message of justice in full, we will see a prophecy that Christ's justice will one day be needed again:
"Then the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; And His own righteousness, it sustained Him. For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak" (Isaiah 59:15–17).
Call to Action
The time is coming when the world will run out of justice, and Christ will have no choice but to put on His holy armor and invade. We cannot change this Earth's fate, but we can do as Jesus did in His ministry. We can stand up and defend the downtrodden. We can bring in the outcast, encourage the mocked, give attentions to the ignored. We can be miniatures of the Messiah, ambassadors of Christ. That is the mission to which we are called.
Who do you know who needs your help? Is there anyone you've encountered who needs a hand? Do they need encouragement? Do they need to be defended against someone more powerful? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how can you represent Jesus in your actions.
Unless noted otherwise, scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.