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Jesus in the Synagogue

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Beloved for the way in which it highlights Jesus' care for those on the margins of society and for its care in telling the story of our Savior's life and ministry, the gospel of Luke has always been treasured by the Christian church. Dr. Sproul's expositional study of this inspired account of Jesus looks at the significant events of His life and His teachings while unfolding the meaning of both for us today.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Servant Comes to the Synagogue

  2. article

    That the Scriptures Might Be Fulfilled

  3. devotional

    The Spirit and the Lord's Servant

The Servant Comes to the Synagogue

Our goal this year in studying the Old Testament prophets is to understand these inspired writers in their original historical context and to explore how the New Testament describes the fulfillment of the prophetic oracles. Isaiah 61:1–2, which is part of Isaiah's climactic presentation of the Messiah, as today's passage indicates, is a key text for understanding how Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah's vision.

Luke 4:16–30 provides the first detailed description of our Lord's teaching ministry after His baptism and temptation. First-century Jews often allowed a man of note to read and explain a portion of Scripture when they gathered in synagogues on the Sabbath to worship God and study His Word. Having grown up in Nazareth, Jesus was the logical choice to give a reading on the Sabbath day Luke describes. Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1–2, substituting the phrasing of Isaiah 58:6 for "the opening of the prison to those who are bound" in 61:2, thereby using Scripture to interpret and clarify Scripture.

In any case, the text from Isaiah sets the stage for the Lord's ministry during His first advent, as Jesus is clear that the text is all about Him (Luke 4:21). We readily see evidence for His claim during His earthly ministry. Jesus received His messianic anointing in His baptism, when "the Holy Spirit descended on" Him (3:21–22). He preached good news to the poor (Matt. 11:1–6), which is a reference not merely to material poverty, though it is within the purview of both Isaiah and Jesus. The term poor is a broad one, signifying anyone who truly recognizes his deficiency before the holy God. Of course, we lack the space to recount all the miracles whereby Jesus made the blind to see, freed people from the oppression of demons, and more (Matt. 8:16; Mark 8:22–26).

Notably, Jesus ends His citation of Isaiah 61 before mentioning "the day of vengeance of our God" (v. 2). This is not because He was preaching a deity who winks at sin or because He did not know the text. Instead, the way He cites Isaiah 61 indicates that part of His work is delayed, from our perspective. In Jesus' first advent, "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17). His purpose in coming was to bring salvation to the world. But Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. If we do not receive Him as Savior before then, He will proclaim eternal vengeance upon us for our sin.

That the Scriptures Might Be Fulfilled

John Piper

The glory of Jesus Christ shines more clearly when we see Him in His proper relation to the Old Testament. He has a magnificent relation to all that was written. It is not surprising that this is the case, because He is called the Word of God incarnate (John 1:14). Would not the Word of God incarnate be the sum and consummation of the Word of God written? Consider these summary statements and the texts that support them.

1. All the Scriptures bear witness to Christ. Moses wrote about Christ (John 5:39, 46).

2. All the Scriptures are about Jesus Christ, even where there is no explicit prediction. That is, there is a fullness of implication in all Scripture that points to Christ and is satisfied only when He has come and done His work. Graeme Goldsworthy explains: “The meaning of all the Scriptures is unlocked by the death and resurrection of Jesus” (see Luke 24:27).

3. Jesus came to fulfill all that was written in the Law and the Prophets. All of it was pointing to Him even where it was not explicitly prophetic. He accomplished what the law required (Matt. 5:17–18).

4. All the promises of God in the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. That is, when you have Christ, sooner or later you will have both Christ Himself and all else that God promised through Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).

5. The law was kept perfectly by Christ. And all its penalties against God’s sinful people were poured out on Christ. Therefore, the Law is manifestly not the path to righteousness, Christ is. The ultimate goal of the Law is that we would look to Christ, not law-keeping, for our righteousness (Rom. 10:4).

Therefore with the coming of Christ virtually everything has changed:

1. The blood sacrifices ceased because Christ fulfilled all that they were pointing toward. He was the final, unrepeatable sacrifice for sins. Hebrews 9:12: “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

2. The priesthood that stood between worshipper and God has ceased. Hebrews 7:23–24: “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.”

3. The physical temple has ceased to be the geographic center of worship. Now Christ Himself is the center of worship. He is the “place,” the “tent,” and the “temple” where we meet God. Therefore, Christianity has no geographic center, no Mecca, no Jerusalem. John 4:21–23: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.’” John 2:19–21: “‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ … He was speaking about the temple of his body.” Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

4. The food laws that set Israel apart from the nations have been fulfilled and ended in Christ. Mark 7:18–19: “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him…?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean).”

5. The establishment of civil law on the basis of an ethnically rooted people, who are ruled directly by God, has ceased. The people of God are no longer a unified political body, an ethnic group, or a nation-state, but are exiles and sojourners among all ethnic groups and all states. Therefore, God’s will for states is not taken directly from the Old Testament theocratic order, but should now be reestablished from place to place and from time to time by means that correspond to God’s sovereign rule over all peoples, and that correspond to the fact that genuine obedience, rooted as it is in faith in Christ, cannot be coerced by law.

The state is therefore grounded in God, but not expressive of God’s immediate rule. Romans 13:1: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authorit y except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting.”

Let us worship the wonder of Christ, who unleashed these massive changes in the world.

The Spirit and the Lord's Servant

Isaiah's vision of the salvation of the world through the reflection of God's glory in faithful Israel is glorious indeed (Isa. 60). His wisdom in overturning what sinners define as glory and power is seen in His use of the small nation of Israel as the vehicle to draw great nations and kings to Himself (vv. 1–3). The Lord proves His grace and love for Israel in blessing this undeserving people with the world's riches. Innumerable camels, symbolizing the wealth and goods of trade, will bring wares to Zion (vv. 4–7). All enmity between nations will cease and city gates will be left freely open because there will be no evildoers to invade (v. 11). Violence will be gone as peace and righteousness rule the people (vv. 17b–18). Moreover, God's people, Jew and Gentile alike, will experience the greatest covenant blessing of all—the presence of the Lord Himself among His children as their light and glory (vv. 19–22; see Lev. 26:10–11).

But who accomplishes all of this? The prophet has already answered this question. The Messiah must come as the ideal Israel, fulfilling Israel's vocation to be a light to the world, dying an atoning death for His people, and rising again to rule creation in perfect righteousness (Isa. 9:6–7; 42:1–7; 49:1–7; 52:13–53:12). Today's passage reinforces this point in its first-person description of the one who comes "to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor" (61:1–3). Although some commentators have said otherwise, the speaker in Isaiah 61 cannot be the prophet himself. Isaiah nowhere else describes himself in such lofty terms or in a manner that ascribes the same kind of authority to himself as the preacher here. More importantly, there are numerous conceptual similarities between the figure of Isaiah 61:1–3 and the messianic figure described elsewhere by the prophet. Consider, for example, the parallels between the preacher of Isaiah 61 and the Davidic king of Isaiah 11. The Spirit of the Lord rests upon both individuals (11:2; 61:1). Righteousness adorns the Son of Jesse in 11:5, and in 61:3, the preacher's work effects righteousness in the people. Both figures speak words of immense power (11:4; 61:2).

We have, then, in Isaiah 61, what one commentator describes as the "climactic representation" of the Servant of the Lord. This Servant is the ideal Israel, the Davidic Messiah who frees His people not only from the captivity of human enemies but that of sin and death. In so doing, He gives eternal beauty to His own (61:3).

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