By Winston Ko
I would like to wish you all a Happy Chinese New Year. Gong He Xin Xi!
The Davis Chinese Christian Church has designated this fiscal year the year to emphasize on Missions. The central theme is the Great Commission, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28: 18-20). Last month we had an encouraging Missions Conference led by Rev. Peter Chou. A little over a month from now, there will be our whole-church retreat, which will emphasis on missions again.
Today I would like to call attention to some fundamentals contained in the Good News that the Church is called to proclaim. It is our Lord's own announcement of a manifesto - the declaration of objectives and plan. In his sermon at Nazareth Jesus proclaimed to the assembled congregation his understanding of his mission. It is, if you like, the Mission Statement of Jesus.
Let us read Luke 4:16-21. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 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 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." 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, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
No other Scripture so clearly and distinctly defines the objectives of Jesus' life and ministry while he was on earth. This was the reason why God sent his only Son to die for us. This was the reason Jesus left heaven. This was the reason Jesus willingly sacrificed his life and suffered the excruciating pain on the cross. He said, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." I hope this scripture will speak to all of us today. If you have not yet accepted Jesus as your savior, listen carefully what Jesus can do for you. If you are a believer, but feel tired in your Christian walk, remind yourself the Good News of Jesus. Examine whether complacency got in the way of your relationship with God. Finally, if you are inspired by Jesus' Mission Statement, ask yourself: would it be your Mission Statement as well?
I. Background and the occasion
Let us start with examining the background of this account and put us in the context. It had not been very long since Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan. There the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. Being filled with the Spirit, he returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Having overcome the devil by the Word of God, Jesus returned from the desert to Galilee 'in the power of the Spirit' and began his ministry (Luke 4:14). He begins teaching in the synagogues, where he was well received until he arrived in his hometown of Nazareth. Just as he proclaimed here, the "Spirit of the Lord is on me", Jesus began his mission with the power of the Spirit.
Now let us have a picture of this occasion. It was customary at that time in the synagogue for anyone who had sufficient learning to be invited to take part in the service by reading from the Scriptures. The service started with reading from the Law, then the Prophets. It was during the latter that Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2. It was also the custom that one read the Scripture standing up and make comments sitting down, just as Jesus did here. On that day our Lord stood before the people in the synagogue -- he stood before the world as the evangelist, the healer, the emancipator. He proclaimed his manifesto.
II. Exposition of Jesus' manifesto
a. Jesus took this occasion to proclaim that his mission is "to preach good news to the poor." He preached the gospel, the good news - to the poor. The words "the poor" can and have been interpreted two different but, I believe, compatible ways. "The poor" are people in desperate needs. Most commonly, it means people in physical or economical needs. Here it means people in spiritual needs. No doubt there is a large overlap of the two - those not so well-off economically are more likely to seek and see the divine help. Jesus is compassionate to the poor; to both the physically and the spiritually deprived. But the gospel, the good news, is for the latter.
The good news is that God himself would intervene on our behalf. Inasmuch as, we found ourselves to be completely helpless and powerless, God sent his only Son to intervene on our behalf. Jesus sacrificed his life to cleanse us from our defilement - our sins. But this gospel, this Good News, is only good news to the poor! To the proud of heart and self-righteous, this gospel is not good news at all; it was extremely offensive in fact. After all, such people were in need of no one - not even God!
b. Then he continued, "He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners" Once again, we find a message which only the poor of heart can embrace and can only offend the proud of heart. In order to be set free, we have to admit that we have lost the control over our own lives. In other words, slaves! John 8:33-36, 'They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."'
What is freedom here? The concept of freedom is based on the freedom of choice. When we study the book of Genesis, we learn that after God made the world and everything in it, God made man and woman and gave them the command. Genesis 2:16-17 says, "And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'" In light of this command, we learn that we have freedom in God. Freedom is God's great gift for all mankind. God gave man freedom for the glory of God. God gave man freedom for the utmost happiness of mankind. Yet, mankind abused this freedom. They wanted to be free from God instead. They are defiant of God's command. This defiance defiled mankind as God's perfect creation - it brought on sin. Sin is at first a transgression, but soon it becomes a tyranny. As a result, freedom led to the bondage of sin! How ironic? But our Lord Jesus Christ came to set us free from the bondage of sins. Galatians 5:1 says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
Paul understood the concept of freedom very well. He said in Galatians 5:13, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love." Peter understood it too. He said in 1 Peter 2:16, "Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God." It is the time that we must learn how to use freedom in God. Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31,32).
c. Then he continued, "(to) recovery of sight for the blind". As the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, he is in reality empowering us to see our true spiritual condition. Jesus gave us insight to the cause of our spiritual blindness. It is our self-centered, proud, hard, and arrogant heart. John 9:39-41, 'Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.' With this verse we come to understand that if we continue to reject the efforts of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, there remains no hope of sight.
d. Then he continued, "to release the oppressed". In time past and present, oppression comes from our cruel master and makes us suffer endlessly. The people of Israel had been oppressed by Egyptian masters. We live in a "free society". So we are supposed to be happy. But many are not. Many are angry. Biblically speaking, they are oppressed by the torment of the devil.
This verse, in fact the whole manifesto of Jesus, is not without controversy in interpretation. Some use it as "liberation theology" to preach the revolt against an oppressive regime. For this I would like to tell a moving testimony of famous preacher who was jailed in China twenty years ago. Couple years after coming out of China, he said it was easier to be a good Christian in then China than now in America, because "An open spear is easier to defend than hidden arrows". The "hidden arrows" of the devil refer to the temptations associate with a free society. The devil tries to tempt us into the trap of sin that become a real burden of our lives. This include: "the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does" (1 John 2:16). The media in Taiwan these days are obsessed with LOTTO winning. Temples are full of people to plead good luck. In California we have SUPER-LOTTO. In America, we have Enron scandal. We are indeed the generation of greed. Many would sell their soul to satisfy their greed. We are constantly tempted. None of us are immune. Even Jesus has to endure these temptations by the devil in the wilderness for forty days. He overcame them. He can do it for us also. He did it with a great price.
In order to save men from their sins, Jesus became a ransom sacrifice, shedding his blood. So when we take Jesus' yoke we can be free from all the oppression. Matthew 11:29-30 says, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." In this verse, the yoke of Jesus stands for the bond of love. And the yoke of the devil is the burden of sin.
e. He continued, "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor " Jesus read this passage from the book of Isaiah (61:1,2). It referred to the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25), a time of restoration. Debts forgiven and prisoners set free. Here Jesus announced to mankind that for a fixed period of time God was willing to extend his hand of mercy toward his creation -- you and me. This is a time when God would allow mankind the unprecedented gift of unmerited favor. This proclamation gives us the hope. People think that the world is in a vicious circle. But the vicious circle is broken in the year of the Lord's favor.
III. Year of the Lord's favor in our personal lives
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 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." These are wonderful promises. They are wonderful, that is, if we know ourselves to be poor, blind, oppressed, in need of God's favor. If we are complacent, if we know everything, if we think we deserve God's favor and in fact deserve more of it -- then we are at the center of our own world, and Jesus doesn't have anything to offer to us. As long as we and our own resources are at the center, we are far from Jesus. We will never know God, who wants to meet our needs, until we come to him with our needs. We will never know the one who heals t he blind until we have realized our blindness. We will never feel him releasing our chains until we have admitted that we are in bondage!
Pray a simple prayer. God, show me in what ways I am poor today? What is my need that I cannot provide myself? Am I poor in love for others? Do I have this profound sense of insecurity? Am I poor in self-control? I believe the moment we become poor before God, the moment we admit that we need something only can he give, we will come to actually know him. So don't wait. Start to become poor today, admit our blindness today, cast our burden here before we leave because the moment we do we will be released, and if we put it off we'll just spend more days in futility and emptiness. Don't miss out. This is the year of the Lord's favor. Today this Scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing.
IV. Year of the Lord's favor in someone's life because of missions
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed such a high value on this gospel message, they literally held nothing back, even unto the sacrifice of God's own Son. If that is the case, what does God expect from us? We find the answer to our question in John 17:18, "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." And again in John 17:20, " My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message." Jesus makes it very clear that his prayer in John 17 was directed at all believers. The same mission objective Jesus started is now handed over to us to finish by bringing the gospel message to all mankind.
It is important to remember that our ministry is the ministry of Jesus in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. "The Spirit of the Lord is on me." Just as the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus, so he anoints -- sanctifies and equips us for mighty work.
Like Jesus Christ, sent by the Father, the first Missionary, we are to proclaim the Good News to the "poor", to the "prisoners", to the "oppressed" of every era and region, to all people, since this salvation is for every person. Every man or woman on earth has the right to hear the gospel, the good news: it is a matter concerns people's eternal destiny. Romans 10:13-15: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'".
Will this year be the year of the Lord's favor in the live of each one of us? I hope so. Will this year of Missions emphasis be the year of Lord's favor in some people's lives because our obedience to the Great Commission? May the Spirit empower us to be part of this endeavor. Then, when we say Gong He Xin Xi (best wishes for the new jubilee) there is a whole new meaning to it - because this is the year of the Lord's favor!
Title: The Year of the Lord's Favor
By: Winston Ko
Davis Chinese Christian Church
536 Anderson Road
Davis, CA 95616, USA