During the early months of Jesus’ ministry, he was seen as a teacher (Rabbi) who travelled around the Galilean countryside teaching in their synagogues. People loved Jesus right from the start. His message was fresh and insightful and often came with a demonstration of the power of God in signs, wonders, and miracles.
On one particular occasion, Jesus returned to Nazareth, the small rural town of about 400 people where he had been brought up. “On the Sabbath day, he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:14-21).
The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Jesus for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he was teaching them from the Scriptures, so they were focused on him and secondly, Jesus had stopped reading halfway through a sentence, and they probably wondered why.
Focus on the Good
We don’t know what Jesus taught the people that day. For whatever reason Luke didn’t deem it essential to record the sermon, just the text, and to let us know that Jesus had told the people that this 700-year-old portion of the Hebrew Bible was fulfilled in their hearing on that day! Wow!
The fact that Jesus stopped reading the Isaiah prophecy halfway through a sentence was very profound. Those in the congregation who knew their scriptures well would have realised that Jesus didn’t complete Isaiah’s sentence: “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God.” There’s no comma or full stop after the word “favour”. Jesus just stopped reading, rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.
Jesus came to declare the beginning of a period known as “the year of the Lord’s favour.” It’s worth noting that favour is spoken of as a Year whereas vengeance is a Day. These are symbolic rather than real periods, but it’s encouraging that favour lasts a long time whereas vengeance or judgement passes quickly. Jesus didn’t come to bring judgement – he warns of it as a future event, but his emphasis is on the favour, which is the good news, the gospel.
To realise more deeply what Jesus is referring to, it’s helpful to have some understanding of the Hebrew calendar. The Torah mandated a seven-year agricultural cycle for the land of Israel, something which is still observed in contemporary Judaism (Lev 25:10). Every seventh year was to be a Sabbatical year in which the land was rested. No ploughing, sowing or harvesting was to be undertaken. The fields would rest and then be ready to produce crops from the next year, and the cycle would begin again. Then every fiftieth year was to be a Year of Jubilee (or year of the Lord’s favour). It was a sacred time of freedom and celebration when everyone received back their original property, non-commercial debts were cancelled, and slaves would return home to their families. Clearly, this was very GOOD NEWS for many people.
A Modern Jubilee
In modern terms, the closest thing we have to a jubilee is an amnesty. In 1996 the Howard government responded to the Port Arthur massacre by allowing owners of illegal firearms to hand in weapons without penalty. “All up, more than 700,000 guns were removed from the community and destroyed. No other nation had ever attempted anything on this scale” (The Age). More than 50,000 guns were collected at the second amnesty in 2017. Usually possessing an illegal firearm would incur a penalty, but not during an amnesty. That’s what Jesus declared by his statement about the year of the Lord’s favour – a time when we can literally hand over all our sins, and mistakes (that would usually incur a punishment) with no questions asked and no penalty to pay. That’s the time we’re in right now – living in God’s favour; our debts have been cancelled, our sins are forgiven, and past offences are forgotten or overlooked.
The year of God’s favour is a whole new age in which God lifts his people out of their distress. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are continually living in his favour. While I was meditating on this a few days ago, the Holy Spirit impressed upon me that Bayside Church is coming into a Year of Favour – not 365 days but rather a new beginning, a fresh start. Christie and I are so excited about this. We’ve shared it with the church board and staff, and now I share it with you too. May I encourage you to draw close to your church at this time and benefit from all the Lord is doing.