This is the third in a series on the Gospels. Each week in June we will look at how one of the Gospels opens, in July what happens in the middle of each one, and finally how they each conclude.
While Matthew wants us to know there is a new King and a new Kingdom, and Mark begins with a focus on a Man with a mission, Luke reminds us from the start that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah. A Deliverer has come.
Almost all the early speakers in Luke— John the Baptist, his father Zachariah, Christ’s mother Mary, the priest Simeon, the prophetess Anna, and even the angels singing to shepherds, point toward the prophecies that a deliverer would come. And indeed had come.
Luke is writing to his friend Theophilus, “so that you may have certainty
concerning the things you have been taught (1:3).” And the idea that Jesus was the promised Messiah seems to be what he wants most to clarify, in his “orderly account.” But it is easy to miss the most important point of all this: He is a Deliverer for all peoples, not just the Jews. “Of His Kingdom there will be no end,” the archangel tells Mary, speaking as much about space as about time.
Certainly, Zachariah and Mary seem focused on their Jewish interests. “He has helped his servant Israel (1:54),” Mary sings. “He has visited and redeemed His people, (1:68)” Zachariah prophecies. But Zachariah also notes that his son John the Baptist “will give light to those who sit in darkness )1:79),” an idea echoed by Simeon who says the baby Jesus will “be a light to the Gentiles (2:32).” John the Baptist himself, quoting Isaiah, says in Christ, who he identifies as Jesus, “all flesh shall see the see the salvation of God (3:6).”
Although these ideas came from the Old Testament prophets themselves, generally speaking, the Jews, even pious ones, had missed it. That this deliverance was for everyone who believes, not just Jews, was a radical idea. After Jesus reads the Scripture in his home town synagogue, it says everyone “spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming out of his mouth (4:22).” Just a few minutes later they are ready to throw him off a cliff. Why? Because he pointed out that although there were many widows in Israel, Elijah had been sent to a foreign one, and while there were many lepers at the time of Elisha, only a Syrian was healed.
In this same way, Jesus begins his ministry of healing and preaching. Deliverance had come, but it had come for the lame, the blind, the crippled, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and even the foreigners. And from the start, this Promised One reaches out to those on the margins, to those who want and need it the most. He had come to deliver the sinners, not the righteous (5:31-32), he says. (That would be us.)
This is the inclusive nature of the Good News we call the Gospel. God is doing a wider work in a wider world, drawing to Himself broken and needy people from every nation and tribe, from every stratum of society, from every forgotten or overlooked corner of the world.
At that first sermon (chapter 4) he reads this text:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord 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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And then, he hands the scroll back to the attendant and says “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled.”
We should all be very glad. Because a Deliverer has come.
And He has come for us.