Luke’s Gospel is quite expressive and expansive as to the ministry of the Lord Jesus. This Gospel is larger than any of the others of the Synoptic evangelists’ account of the Lord’s redemptive activity. The Gospel writer shares episode after episode of the encounters that Jesus had with not only the high and holy but also the meek and lowly. The Galilean Rabbi and Preacher intrigued and baffled those who were of the noble and knowledgeable of his day but comforted and gave hope to those who were the under served and undeserving. We enter this new millennium bringing a lot of baggage from our past. Some have declared that in these times we need to know all we can, to get all we can while we can by stepping on anybody we can. Even some in the church have abdicated their place in Kingdom activity because they have joined forces with the “now and me” culture. The cynicism and incredulity evoked by misanthropy and mistrust among groups of people demand a word from the Lord and the “Word made flesh.”
How I pray that this word would speak both to us as Christian individuals and to the Christian faith community, the church. When I was introduced to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship in seminary, I was intrigued by his discussion on the silence of the church. Huge churches with great coffers did little to nullify the words of Adolf Hitler and the philosophy and practices of Nazism. Fear had gripped and stifled the church. The activity of the church was reduced to the ceremonial and made little impact on the powers and principalities. Judgment had come upon the church in Europe because people had forsaken, according to Bonhoeffer, the call and cause of Christ to the oppressed. The prophets, though few, during those times felt the urgency, the call of God to make a difference. Their foundation, their theological underpinnings were the same as Jesus.
Jesus came out of the prophetic tradition of his day when he gave the purpose or what I call “the mission mandate” for his engaging ministry. Listen: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).
This mandate that Jesus reads from the book of Isaiah is emphatic, pointed and engaging. The times of Jesus demanded that God would fulfill his promise. The Messiah comes to preach Good News to the poor and those who are destitute. He comes to the humble, hungry and humiliated. He comes to those who are helpless, hopeless and hapless. He comes for the up and out and he comes for the down and out. He comes to those who are disenfranchised by demonic systems of injustice. The Messiah would come to make reality the day when God’s people would be free from Roman domination and other oppressors. He embodies the love of God by coming to those who are prisoners to sin and to the incarcerated who are a part of the prison industrial complex. He comes for those who are prisoners to shame and guilt who struggle with life and seem not to rise above life’s burdens and cares. These issues and concerns are both personal and societal.
Hence, God is calling all of us who are believers, who have been baptized in his name, saved by his grace, redeemed by his sacrifice to reclaim and to reconsider our role in the prophetic ministry of the church. God is calling men and women to do his thing for such a time as this. The mission of Jesus is our mission. The purpose of Christ is our purpose. The concern of Christ is our concern. If we are to engage in this gospel enterprise then what implications does this text have on our lives? What should we consider as we engage in redemptive activity?
First, the Lord appoints or calls all of us to serve in this thing called ministry. It is amazing how many of us in the church have shunned the call because we think that ministry is reserved for the clergy. Many think it is some one else’s responsibility or charge. But every baptized believer’s life ought to give testimony to the goodness of God and the salvific claims upon our life. God is calling us forth as witnesses to proclaim his word, share the deliverance we have experienced, the joy we have encountered, the healing we have undergone, the freedom that we have obtained. People will never know unless we yield to that call.
Look at the prophet Isaiah. He felt the urge to minister and speak on behalf of the Divine. He said, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1). And further in verse 8 it reads, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’”
Nehemiah answered the call. You may recall he was King Artaxerxes’ cup bearer. He was among the exiled when certain of his brethren told of the ruin of the gates and walls and great trouble they had in Jerusalem. It was after he heard these words that he said, “I sat down and wept, and mourned for days; and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” After a rendezvous with God, the prophet is given what he needs to return to his homeland and rebuild Jerusalem. But not until they hear the word of the Lord, are the people invigorated to work. The call was given to the prophet and the minister of God calls the people of God to action. It is summarized in Nehemiah 8:2—10).
After Jesus was baptized the Scripture says that heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” When he began his ministry he was about thirty years of age. He was tempted, tried and trained to engage in such activity. He was called and we are called. But let me add that when you are called there is something else this text infers.
Second, we are engaged in the ministry with the urging, power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus read that portion of Isaiah as an authentic source for his salvific mission. Jesus is saying that I have not only been appointed but I have been anointed, blessed, consecrated and dedicated by the Holy Spirit to engage in divine activity. We as a church need always be the conscience of this nation. People in high places need to understand that the “earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” They will resist the claims that God wants to make on their lives. God wants us all to be saved. People will demand for your life because you dare speak and rail against injustice. They will ostracize you and criticize you because you represent the causes of the Nazarene. Jesus reminded his disciples that “you will be hated because of me.” If they hate me; they will hate you. When this happens, the Holy Spirit is there to guide, counsel, encourage and lift us. Oh what a mighty God we serve. We as a church are called to confront and then rebuke sin and wickedness in life. If systems and institutions are in the business of oppression then we must take our stand for the Lord against them.
God has promised never to leave us alone. I hear the lyrics of Isaac Watts who asked: “Am I a soldier of the cross? A follower of the lamb? / And shall I fear to own his cause or blush to speak his name? / Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? / Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God? / Sure I must fight if I would reign, Increase my courage Lord! / I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by thy Word.” We can do ministry at every level when we are led by the Spirit of God. The Lord needs Christian advocates who have compassion for the sinner, care for the dying, remedies for the poor and messages of hope for those who are spiritually and physically blind, spiritually and physically bruised. The Spirit of God that was on Jesus compels us to go forth but not without his power. God never asks us to do anything without giving us the resources and the power to do it. Sometimes you will become discouraged and think your works in vain, but then the Holy Spirit will revive your soul again. But there is something else I see here.
Lastly, we are appointed and anointed to activist ministry because God loves his people. The church need always be that community of faith who demonstrates God’s love to the afflicted, the bruised, the sick, blind and lame. For God has no hands but our hands and God has no feet but our feet. If you know you are loved, then share that love with the unlovely and unloved. There are many ways to do this. As Jesus said when standing in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Let us live out, as the church of the living God this text.
John was right when he gave us these words: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” If God loved us then we must love his world. If his Son could die for it, so can we.
God bless us today! God keep us today! God love us today! Let us heed God’s call by following Christ’s example and living out this mission mandate. Amen and Amen.