Luke 4:16-22 (CEV)
16 Jesus went back to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and as usual he went to the meeting place on the Sabbath. When he stood up to read from the Scriptures, 17 he was given the book of Isaiah the prophet. He opened it and read,
18 “The Lord’s Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor.
The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers, 19 and to say, ‘This is the year the Lord has chosen.’”
20 Jesus closed the book, then handed it back to the man in charge and sat down. Everyone in the meeting place looked straight at Jesus.
21 Then Jesus said to them, “What you have just heard me read has come true today.”
22 All the people started talking about Jesus and were amazed at the wonderful things he said. They kept on asking, “Isn’t he Joseph’s son?”
What Kind of Messiah?
Marvel came up with Spiderman and Captain Marvel; DC Comics have Batman and Superwoman; and Pixar came up with The Incredibles and Frozone. Each of them have awesome super powers. Each of them “fight crime” with unique weapons. None of them are afraid of destroying a few dozen square blocks of a major city in the process. All of them spend most of their lives under another identity. There are clearly differences between the different characters, and anyone who’s a Comicon-level fan will probably have a very clear, very logical argument about why their particular superhero is the best. It may focus on their unique superpower, on the type of bad guys they tend to go after, on their gender or race or alter ego. But ultimately these characters share some fairly important characteristics – that’s how we as the audience can always tell that they’re the superhero!
The Jewish people had been waiting for the Messiah for hundreds of years. Some were waiting for a powerful military leader who would free the people from Roman oppression. Others assumed the Messiah would be an incredible teacher, who would straighten out people’s theology so thoroughly that they would finally be “right” before God, become an independent nation again, and judge the nations over and around them for being morally inferior. According to theologian Tom Wright, the Jewish people had been waiting for a Messiah who would “condemn the wicked nations around them” – who would “pour out wrath and destruction on them.”
Regardless of their preferred superpowers, the people were waiting for a superhero. And they assumed that he (yes, they had a gender bias) would have characteristics that meant they could tell that he was a superhero when he arrived.
And then Jesus shows up. Jesus – who’s lived in their village with them, gone to the synagogue with them every week, probably made some of their tables and chairs, basically been just the slightly odd kid in the neighbourhood – this everyday guy, shows up. And he reads these verses out to them that don’t have anything to do with blasting the bad guys out of the water, don’t have anything to do with the supremacy of the Jewish people, don’t have anything to do with overthrowing the corrupt powers they live under, and basically says, “I’m your superhero.”
Everyone knows that’s what he’s done. No one is left wondering. This is one of the key passages about the Messiah. But Jesus misses a bit at the end. He leaves out the really important line that immediately follows this. It’s supposed to say, “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God.” (see Isaiah 61:1-2) Because without that, where’s the violence? Without that, where’s the explosions and the fight scenes and the bad guys getting what they deserve. Without that, how do we know that we’ve won?
What kind of a win is it if the prisoners and those suffering are freed, the blind can see, the poor hear good news, but nobody smotes the bad guys?!?
This is the kind of crazy talk that Jesus is saying. He’s telling them that he’s the long awaited Messiah, yes. (You might be a bit doubting if one of the kids you grew up with said they were a superhero, so that’s hard enough to swallow!) But he’s done more than that. He’s taken the focus of what the people think the Messiah’s purpose is going to be and completely upset it. Because it turns out that thing about vengeance? It’s just one little bit of the prophecy about the Messiah in Isaiah 61. And it doesn’t even show up in the similar prophecy from Isaiah over in chapter 58.
Everybody likes a superhero. But it turns out, that’s not quite the superhero God had in mind …Journal Questions:
- How would you design your perfect superhero?
- What evils would they battle against?
- What would their superpower(s) be?
- What would they do as their alter ego?
- How would the world be a better place if they were allowed free reign?
- How would you design your perfect Messiah?
- If you can, take the time to read through the prophecies in Isaiah 58 and Isaiah 61. Use these passages to describe what Isaiah expected out of the coming Messiah.