When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:16-19 NRSV)
As I happened across this passage this morning, something came out I had not noticed much before.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
...to the poor
...to the captives
...to the blind
...to the oppressed
I have looked at this from different angles over the years, how Jesus came to minister in specific ways to our varying needs. But suddenly it occurred to me that maybe the reason the promise and hope this passage should bring to us often seems to not connect because we do not yet identify ourselves fully with any of these groups Jesus came to minister to.
Oh, I can claim that I am poor in one way or another. But how deeply do I really feel that way?
I can spiritually reason out how I am held captive by sin, or I even may be imprisoned literally. But how much do I really comprehend at a deep level just how restricted my freedom really is?
It is easy to admit that I should understand myself to be at least partially blind spiritually. But do I really get it? If I have never really seen how can I even know how blind I really am?
And of course, most of us could think of ways we think we are oppressed – or might that better be said 'inconvenienced'? But having never lived in true freedom from inner oppression from lies, from false perceptions of reality, how can I even begin to grasp just how much oppression I am actually under until I first begin to catch a glimpse of what life might be like otherwise?
Maybe instead of just focusing on the wonderful part of this powerful mission statement describing what Jesus came to do for us, it might be helpful to also take a serious examination of my real condition. After all, the problem Jesus ascribes to those living in the days in His message to the church of Laodicea is that we really don't know our true condition and are very comfortable assuming we have our life pretty well together. You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
I'm not too sure it is even possible for me to appropriately have a realistic awareness of my own condition without some serious divine intervention and enlightenment . And this must be at a much deeper level than just hearing a few words of rebuke or appeal in the Bible. What I need to really position myself where I could identify with even one of these conditions and appreciate my enormous need for deliverance and healing would be to catch a glimpse of what life could look like outside my current condition. Not until I begin to grasp what healthy or freedom feels and looks like will I be able to experience a more profound sense of intense hunger to accept what Jesus came to offer me.
There is a principle that has started emerging into my attention of late. As I become more aware of how complete the work of God is, how unconditional His love and forgiveness is and how the need for change is totally on our side of the problem, I have realized as I read Scripture how the factor of receiving is essential for entering into the experience of salvation.
For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11:13-15)
Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all. (Mark 10:15)
Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. (John 3:11)
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)
And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:22)
For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)
And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
(2 Corinthians 6:1)
Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)
This last passage confused me for years until I began looking more closely at it in context. I used to assume it was telling me that God would withhold answers to my prayers if I were not able to work up enough faith whenever I asked for wisdom. I felt that way for many years which only made me very frustrated with God, like I was always playing a sick game with Him but was always kept at a disadvantage because I could never completely eliminate every hint of doubt from my mind.
One day it suddenly became clear to me that this was not the problem I had with God. Clearly right in the passage it declares that God is generous and does not reproach those who make requests of Him. That meant that my assumptions about Him were false and rooted in fear-oriented feelings I grew up with about Him. What this passage was saying was that if I believed contradictory things about what God is like and how He feels towards sinners like me, my ability to receive anything from Him would be so handicapped that I would be unable to receive anything until I first changed my feelings about who He is and how He felt about me. My beliefs about God were sabotaging my ability to connect to Him.
That actually became a very motivating revelation for me, prompting me to want to know the real truth about God more seriously. I realized that if I was not receiving answers to my prayers or hearing from God, it was not because of any reluctance on God's part as I had always assumed, but rather it was due to my dark views about what He was like that was inhibiting me from taking hold of truths that could liberate me and put me in line with much more of His blessing.
Now I see more readily why it is helpful to first come to realize my own desperate condition before I try to lay claim on the blessings or ministry that Jesus spoke of in His mission statement above. If I don't really feel poor, whether in spirit or some other way, then my desire and capacity will be too small to receive what He has to offer me. If I can't really identify with what it means to be held captive or to genuinely realize how blind I really am or how much oppression hidden lies about God puts me under, then I will not have the necessary intense desire for something better that will open up my own heart to take firm hold on what Jesus is freely offering for my healing and benefit.
We all know that it is far easier and even more pleasurable to enjoy a good meal when we are really hungry. If we don't have much hunger but just eat because it is time or we are supposed to, it is much easier to just pick around and only eat what is exceptionally tasty or appealing whether or not it might be good for us. But when we have maybe missed a meal or two and had considerable exercise that has made us ravenously hungry, even things we normally don't care for suddenly have much more appeal and we take conscious notice of just how tasty different foods can be. We are willing and even eager to receive a good meal when we are keenly aware of our desperate need for food intake.
The same goes for water or any other basic need we have in our body including air. Only when we keenly feel our need for something does it motivate us to focus all our attention on receiving it with joy when it finally becomes available for us.
I suspect God knows how much we need to have a much deeper hunger for Him so that we will be more of a mind to seek Him with greater desire. I recall something from the Old Testament as well.
When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13 NRSV)