Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and 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 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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

—Luke 4:16-21

In Luke 4, Jesus begins his ministry in earnest. After fasting for 40 days, he is tested by Satan in the Judean wilderness. He uses the Scriptures to respond and overcome the temptations presented by Satan. The devil flees but promises to return at a more opportune time.

Jesus then proceeds to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. Though it was clear he was meeting needs and doing miracles, Luke stresses that he was going from one synagogue to another teaching the people the good news of the Kingdom. Making his way through Galilee, he finally reaches Nazareth, the place he grew up and where he had honed his carpentry skills, grown in wisdom and stature, and most important, found favor with God and man.

There is nothing like going back home. Old memories flood our mind—lessons learned, character formed, hurts remembered, and joys relived. Relations renewed, hopes rekindled, purpose refined; all this and more when we get back to our roots.

Since synagogue attendance was his custom since childhood, there must have been a reassuring calm as Jesus found his favorite seat near the front. No doubt there were one or two eyebrows raised when he stood up to read from the scroll of Isaiah. I’m sure thoughts raced through their minds: “Why, isn’t that Joseph’s boy”; “I think he put that new doorway in our house a couple of years ago”; “It seems like only yesterday when I would see Mary bring him to help fetch water at the well—now here he is all grown up.” Those pleasant thoughts of a favored hometown son would disappear as abruptly as Satan did. It was not so much what he read, but how he applied it.

This pivotal episode from the ministry of Jesus is crucial, for it presents concepts of discipleship that Luke will develop throughout his gospel. In his own home church, Jesus spells out the purpose of his life and ministry. Jesus shares from Isaiah 61:1-2. In this powerful messianic passage, it speaks of a person upon whom the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord will be on. As was the custom, Jesus stands, reads the scripture aloud, rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant and sits down. Now with every eye fastened on him, and everyone on the edge of their seat, Jesus says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” I’ve heard a lot of great opening statements for discussions and sermons, but never heard one as memorable as this.

Rest assured, Jesus now had the attention of everyone in the room and what began as a gracious dialogue with a sympathetic crowd is soon transformed into a murderous mob intent on killing the deliverer of the synagogue sermon.

Jesus states emphatically that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. He uses this acclamation to make clear the purpose of his life and mission. Jesus identified himself as the very one who will proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free.

It is easy to see how this is an apt description of the ministry agenda of Jesus. The gospels are replete with Jesus teaching crowds, training the apostles, healing the sick, feeding the hungry and setting free those bound by Satan and sin. It’s clear that it was a package deal. He never separated his teaching ministry from his healing and/or meeting needs ministry. Later in Luke 19, as people were complaining about Jesus reaching out to Zacchaeus the tax collector, Jesus describes his ministry in a nutshell: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

This was the ministry of Jesus and through discipleship it is duplicated in the lives of the apostles. Reading Volume 2 of Luke’s writings (the book of Acts), we see a replay of the work of Christ. Preaching, healing and meeting needs—only now, it is done by those he trained. But this call is not just for Jesus and his apostles. It is for all who decide to follow Jesus. The final words of Jesus before his ascension are unique in their specificity and breath-taking in their scope: “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.” If the example of Jesus’ ministry itself was not enough, he codifies his vision for the world into three basic steps: 1) Go make disciples. 2) Baptize them. 3) Teach them to obey his commands. When this happens, he promises that he will be with us.

We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that many have abandoned this call. The culture is determined to squeeze any absolutes from the vocabulary of the church. Satan has used the pandemic to destroy the oneness of the church and isolation has bred an independence that is both selfish and destructive. Big tech (social media, television and smart phones) is influencing our children more than the church. Some extreme culture warriors will not allow anything but total conformity. But perhaps most alarming are older disciples whose faith and commitment that once burned red-hot has now been cooled by the failures and disappointments of life. This perfect storm of challenges (and these are only a few of them) could overwhelm the church. But we have this enduring promise of Jesus: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).

A good first step in overcoming is to return to our roots and commit heart and soul to the mission of Jesus. Let’s make 2023 the year that we proclaim the Good News!

Toney Mulhollan

Read more stories about the life and ministry of Jesus in the book Jesus With the People