If you’d like a particularly rich study in the New Testament, I suggest that you consider the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4, and beginning at verse 16. The Lord Jesus, as the son of Adam (you read that in Luke 3 and verse 38), succeeds where Adam the first failed. In the first part of chapter 4, you read the story of how Jesus perfectly resists the temptations that the devil (the one who successfully tempted our first parents) – that the devil has put before him. Following that great victory, Jesus is further empowered by the Holy Spirit, and he begins his public ministry. It’s interesting that he begins that ministry in Nazareth (in northern Israel), the place where he was raised as a child, as a boy, and as a young man. The people in Nazareth knew this Jesus – he was the hometown boy!
It’s a Saturday – the Jewish Sabbath Day – and Jesus goes to the synagogue where it was his custom to publicly read the Old Testament portion for that week. This week Jesus stands, unrolls the Old Testament scroll which had been given to him – the prophet Isaiah – and begins to read from what we would know of as Isaiah chapter 61 and verses 1 and 2: The Spirit of the Lord God 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 good favor. Then, probably much to the surprise of those gathered for worship that morning in the synagogue (because they were accustomed to much longer readings from the Old Testament), Jesus rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant, and sits down. That means that he’s ready to explain and apply the text.
The “sermon” (if I may call it that) was one of the shortest and most remarkable in all of history. As the eyes of all in the synagogue are fixed on this hometown boy who is now a rabbi, he says simply (but remarkably): Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Now Jesus would have said more than that because the Word of God states that he “began” his sermon this way, and also that the congregation members “marveled at the gracious words that were coming out of his mouth.” But the Holy Spirit doesn’t record what those words were. Only this: Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
As I said, it’s a particularly rich study to learn and think about what it means that Jesus’ coming into the world and beginning his public ministry brings “good news to the poor, the proclamation of liberty to captives (the language of the Old Testament year of Jubilee), the recovering of sight to the blind, and the setting at liberty those who are oppressed.” In the four Gospel accounts and in the book of Acts (which, the writer Luke says, is a continuation of the things Jesus began to do and teach – now by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles) you can read many literal examples of these:
- The Gospel coming to the poor and despised of their age and their culture.
- Imprisoned apostles being set free in miraculous ways.
- Blind people (like Bartimaeus) receiving their sight.
- People oppressed by demons and disease wonderfully liberated by Jesus or by those who continued his ministry – the apostles.
These were very literal examples – we would call them “signs” – confirming that Jesus was the Messiah and that His words (and the words of the Apostles) were the very words of God. They are little intrusions of the eternal state of liberation from sin and death wonderfully brought into human history.
That unique place of these signs (as given in Luke chapter four and verse 18) is a fascinating study. They are, again, very literal and very physical examples demonstrating what God is doing in “the year of the Lord’s favor” – the whole Gospel age as a time of Jubilee. God’s order for this age is to proclaim liberty to captives – not only captives in the land of Israel, but captives from throughout the whole earth. Now, by the power of God, we make disciples of people of all nations – followers of Jesus Christ. Those united to Him in faith are truly free. If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.
Are you enjoying this age of the Lord’s Jubilee? Are you one who’s been freed by the power of the Gospel?
Now while it is very true (and sadly and painfully true) that everyone by nature is a slave of sin – inmates in the personal prison house of original sin and all the wickedness that proceeds from it; it’s also true that prisons – in very striking ways – are metaphors (symbols or pictures) of the individualized imprisonment that sin brings:
- A persistent reminder of guilt and shame.
- The constant sense of not being in a state of mercy and grace, but of being under law and confinement.
- Freedom gone.
- All enjoyments accompanied by chains of one form or another.
- For some, the only expectation is death.
And not infrequently physical imprisonment, in the hands of our gracious God, becomes a portal to make men and women see their spiritual imprisonment and come to Jesus Christ in faith and repentance. Those in literal captivity hear how Jesus gives liberty to those in spiritual captivity. They believe, and they’re freed from within, even while they remain in physical prisons.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray. I woke! The dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off! My heart was free! I rose, went forth, and followed thee!
So beautifully and poetically wrote Charles Wesley, describing his own conversion to Christ that had come just a few weeks before. Charles Wesley had never been in physical prison; but those in physical prisons can sing that hymn with the same joy – because the Gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord – has power to bring liberty to captives – to give liberty from within to those in prison.
My guest today is a testimony to that power of the Gospel. He was in prison – a real, physical prison (often called a “correctional facility”). But Christ liberated Him from the prison of his own sin and guilt. Later he was liberated from physical prison. And – what’s more – he’s now a pastor who loves to proclaim the Gospel of liberty to captives. It’s an amazing story – and you’ll hear all about it on today’s Visit to the Pastor’s Study. I’m calling it: “From Prisoner to Pastor: The Power of the Gospel to Liberate Those in Prison”
Here’s a link to the full program:
Yours in our matchless liberating Lord,