A 30-year-old man arrives for weekly worship in his home town. He’s lived there since he was a child, worked in the town with his father, and no doubt most of his family are sat with him that morning. It’s his turn to read from the scriptures, and when the time comes he gets up and walks to the front. The eyes of everyone are fastened on him, and he begins to read….
It could have been any ordinary Saturday 2,000 years ago. A traditional community, a traditional synagogue, the familiar rhythms, the same faces, a particular quirk of the Nazareth reading rota (nothing changes – every worshipping community needs a rota!). True enough, the passage was especially stirring – Isaiah 61, one of the great prophecies about the liberation of Israel, the new and radical in-breaking of the kingdom of God: ‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me…’
But no-one could have foreseen what happened next…. ‘Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ Those words did not just shatter the peace of a quiet, conservative, rural community – they changed the world. The reader had just claimed that the anointed Servant of God promised 600 years ago by the kingdom of Israel’s greatest prophet was here – and not just here, was him!
And so an uneventful Saturday in Nazareth finds its way into the pages of Scripture – Luke ch4 – and heralds the start of Jesus’ public, Messianic ministry. Jesus claimed to be the fulfilment of Isaiah 61 – soaked in the Spirit, he was the One who would bring about God’s true purposes for humanity.
What is the kingdom of God about? Isaiah 61 is a pretty good summary. Ultimately it is about God’s favour freely given to flawed human beings. What does that favour look like? Just as the passage describes it: it looks like good news, healing, freedom, joy and praise. Those who were once beaten up and bowed down can now become a ‘planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.’
And this is what the Spirit of the Lord comes to bring – for us and for our world. It is good news! Our past does not have to define our future. What has bound us, or blinded us, or led us into mourning and despair can be put right. We can enjoy ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ – not just this calendar year, but every year.
Today, take a few moments to remind yourself of all the things that make what we believe good news. It could be the wonderful promises of this passage, the assurance of God’s unconditional love, or anything else besides. Jot them down if it helps. And let that turn our despair into praise.