Every one of the actions in verses 18-19 has to do with words. Everything that came out of Him came out of an absolutely pure heart. He said, "I'm going to preach the gospel to the poor." The poor are those deprived or powerless, and the reason for His preaching was to give them vision and hope. Moses gave the enslaved Israelites good news of a similar sort: "God is going to free us and lead us to our own land."
Then Christ says, "I'm going to heal the brokenhearted." He means those whose hearts are broken in repentance. It is as if He says, "I'm going to take care of all your past mistakes. I will heal you and give you comfort so you can start out the journey to the Kingdom of God in good spiritual condition."
After this He says, "I'm going to preach deliverance to the captives." He will inspire enthusiasm and give hope for a bright future. He will recover the sight of the blind. He will provide truth, and therefore direction and clear thinking, to people. He will set them at liberty by forgiving them of their sins—and keep them free. He will preach the acceptable year of the Lord—the time is now—and instill them with urgency. Each of these steps is Him working on our mind.
Hardly any of us have moved an inch, as it were, since our calling. Most of us live in the same general area in which we were called. Even if we did move around the country, we are still under the same human government. Our location does not matter to God. He is after our mind. He wants to change the heart until it is pure like His Son's. In all of these functions, God is working on the mind by means of His word, His truth, empowering us through an educational process, and by the addition of His Spirit to make the best possible use of our free moral agency in our lives.
John 1:12 says—in the chapter where Jesus is identified as the Word of God, the Logos, and as the Light of the world, which is the truth of God that points out the way—that we are given the right to be sons of God. The word "right" is an accurate translation, but the marginal reference is better: "authority." Perhaps an even better word is "empowered," which is the Greek word's real meaning. We are empowered to become part of the Kingdom of God. That empowerment has come by means of God's calling, the revelation of His purpose through His Word, and all the other instruction that is necessary for the accomplishment of the great purpose God is working out.
That Word He has revealed to us is pure and unadulterated. It is the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Freedom and Unleavened Bread
This is the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, we could call it His inaugural address. Jesus began His ministry on a Sabbath. His ministry ended on a preparation day, Passover. He completed the cycle. Major things happened to Christ on the Sabbath, for instance, He was resurrected on a Sabbath. Major things occurred in the history of Israel on the Sabbath as well. All those events draw attention to one supreme purpose for the Sabbath.
Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1-2 and Isaiah 58:7. "The acceptable year" is not a time when God is acceptable to us, but when God, in His sovereign mercy, moves to make men acceptable to Him. In other words, it is an appointed extension of His grace, of His calling of men, to make them acceptable to Him. It is a time when He moves to deliver people.
More specifically, "an acceptable year" refers to two Old Testament institutions, which these people in Nazareth would have undoubtedly recognized: either 1) to the seventh year land Sabbath or 2) to the Jubilee year. If it was the sabbatical year, think about its purpose: It was given to give the land rest, to relieve it of the responsibility of growing food. The land was to lie fallow and to produce food voluntarily for the poor, for the dispossessed, and for animals. Also in the seventh year, slaves were freed and debts were remitted.
These things, plus an additional one, occurred in the Jubilee year: seized property was restored to its original owners. They may have lost it many years before, but in the Jubilee year they were relieved of the burden of their indebtedness. They were restored the ability and power, therefore, to earn money once again, since all wealth ultimately comes out of the land. This freed them of the burden that they very likely put upon themselves.
In what is Christ's inaugural address, we see that He is stating His mission, and in each point, it involves setting at liberty.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)
First, note the sign He gave them and all those who claim to follow Jesus: Our Savior keeps the Sabbath. Second, the more arresting sign, everyone in the synagogue understood His reading from Isaiah 61:1-3 to refer to the Messiah's responsibilities, and Jesus boldly stated, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” By this, He claimed divine anointing (messiah means “anointed”), and He declared that He would set them free from what held them in bondage, another sign of the Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph and Mary—the Man who lived next door, as it were—announced with beautiful words and great conviction that He was the Messiah.
For this reason, the townspeople quickly turned against Him and attempted to kill Him by casting Him off a cliff. To them, His words were blasphemous, making Him deserving of death. God spared Him, but three-and-a-half years later, the Jews insisted that Pilate crucify Him on the same basic charge.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Eleven): Signs
The Sabbath is so significant that Jesus' ministry formally began on a Sabbath and ended on a preparation day just before another Sabbath (John 19:31)! We see Him open His ministry in Luke 4:16-19, where He gives His mission statement. By quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 in His inaugural sermon, Jesus identifies His mission as setting people free from bondage. He specifically mentions freeing the poor (weak, without power), brokenhearted, captive, blind, and oppressed.
"The acceptable year of the LORD" is not when God is acceptable to us, but when God, in His sovereign mercy, moves to make us acceptable to Him. It is a time when He chooses to deliver people. More specifically, it refers to two Old Testament institutions, either the seventh year land Sabbath or the Jubilee year. Israelites considered these years liberators of the oppressed. During them, the land lay fallow and what food it produced on its own went to the poor, dispossessed, and animals. Slaves were freed and debts remitted. During Jubilee years, debtors received back their land lost due to mismanagement.
Jesus says in verse 21, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." It was a Sabbath, and through the typology, Christ is clearly showing that His redemptive mission included the liberating intent of the Sabbaths, weekly and annual. In Mark 2:27, Jesus says, "The Sabbath was made for man." God made it to equip us to come out of spiritual slavery—and even more so, to help us in staying out.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part Two): Christ's Attitude Toward the Sabbath
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Luke 4:17: