Posted by: Jim Black | January 25, 2011

Missio Dei: The Role of Christ… “A Savior Has Been Born!”

Luke 2:1-14
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” NIV

What a beautiful text to read… I can’t help but remember the Charlie Brown Christmas special… and Linus reading these words every year… the children singing around that poor pitiful little tree. This story is especially important this time of year as the world pauses to remember the significance of what God did in the sending of his Son! Today amidst all the hustle and bustle of the season… and the battles that wage over Santa Claus & Snowmen… that those of us who know of the truth of THIS story won’t let it die… and won’t let it be heard ONLY this time of year… but all year round! It is perhaps THE most significant story in all of human history… it was certainly the biggest NEWS story as far as Heaven was concerned on that day… “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you!” But what does that mean? “A Savior has been born to you”???

We’re talking about the Missio Dei- the Mission of God… and looking at what his grand plan has been for his fallen world. How God has been working his plan to bring all things “in heaven & on earth” back unto him… (cf. Col 2) … to rescue his fallen creation from the dominion of darkness & into the kingdom of Christ! That is what he has been up to since the very beginning… even taking Abraham & Sarah (an elderly childless couple living in Babylon) and forging their descendants into a nation… a people who existed for the purpose of “blessing the nations.” We know now that one of the ways they were a “blessing” was in their being the family thru which the Messiah would be born. Joseph & Mary both trace their ancestry straight back to Abraham & Sarah!

Today, I want to focus our lens on Jesus… not because its Christmas… but because He has been at the center of this grand Missio Dei all along! The Bible doesn’t give us much about Jesus in the years that immediately followed those events in Bethlehem… The gospel of Luke gives us more than the others. In ch. 2 we read about Mary & Joseph presenting the baby Jesus at the Temple and the blessing by Simeon who had waited his whole life for the Messiah. We also get the story of Jesus getting left behind in Jerusalem and his distraught Mom finding him in the Temple, listening to the teachers. (that’s right where your kids would go if you left them, right? School.) In ch. 3 (at the age of 30) we see Jesus presenting himself for baptism at the Jordan River… and the great moment when John baptizes him… the heavens open, the Spirit comes down, the Father speaks “THIS is my Son!” and Jesus is anointed for ministry. Of course in ch. 4, not immune to the temptations of the devil, Jesus squares off against the Tempter himself… but unlike Adam & Eve, Jesus stands & doesn’t succumb to the tempter’s snares.

But its his first official act of ministry in Luke’s gospel (ch. 4) that I want to look at more closely this morning… because it’s a fundamental text for understanding Jesus’ mission. If you were to ask Jesus, what’s YOUR mission statement… I think this would be it. It’s a hugely significant text… and for us Gentiles we may not get the full sense of whats going on here without a little background. Let’s look at it…

Luke 4:14-22
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. NIV

Galilee—we know Jesus was born in Bethlehem, just outside of the big city of Jerusalem… but Nazareth was home. That’s where his Momma & Daddy were from and that’s where he was raised… and that’s where people knew him. News about him spread—we know about how news travels in small towns, right? The Synagogue—of course this was something Jesus did every week… not once or twice a year, but this was his custom. It was just a natural part of his life. And folks were used to men standing up to read scripture… but look at what he reads. It says he “found the place where it is written”… he deliberately selected Isaiah 61 to read. Why? Was it the random selection that day? No, he chose it and he chose it for a reason!

Isaiah 61… which Isaiah wrote some 800 yrs before Jesus… was about the Messiah. Clearly that was understood as a Messianic text. When Isaiah spoke of the “Lord’s Anointed” he was talking about the Messiah… who would bring good news! And so when Jesus selected that passage and then said, “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing” he was saying to them, “I’m him! I’m the anointed one. I’m the messiah. And I’m the one who has come bringing good news! THIS is the year of the Lord’s favor!” More than just being a great quote from a great prophet, Jesus was setting the stage for the rest of his ministry. As you read thru the gospels, you see that this mission is really the framework for what Jesus would do in the next 3 yrs.

THIS was his mission… and it ought to be ours, too!

Notice Jesus saw it as his mission to…

“To Preach Good News to the Poor”

Who needs ‘good news’ more than the poor? The poor are constantly the focus of Jesus’ attention. In Luke 6:20 he said, “Blessed are the poor.” In Luke 12:32-33 he told an audience of hearers, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” NIV In Luke 14:13 he said, “When you throw a party, invite the poor… b/c they can’t repay you.” Over & over again, Jesus taught & modeled looking after the needy.
Matthew 6:2
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. NIV
And when he told stories as he loved to do… the poor were often the heroes! Like in the story of the rich man & Lazarus in Luke 16. The rich man is portrayed as proud & arrogant. Lazarus has nothing… and yet the point of the parable is that it’s the poor man who ends up at Abraham’s bosom… while the rich man burns in torment.

Why all this attention given to the poor? Maybe it’s because the poor often responded to Jesus more readily than others? I think of the story in Luke 21 of the widow who put in two very small copper coins (worth only a fraction of a penny) into the Temple treasury. Yet when contrasted to the fellow who threw in a massive amount, SHE was commended for her offering… because he gave out of his abundance and she out of her poverty. Maybe it’s because God has always had a heart for those who realized they needed NOTHING but Him in this life. So, when Jesus came… he ministered to the poor, and he fed the hungry… not because it was the politically correct thing to do… but because it was a heart of God thing to do! And we could do that, too!

“To Proclaim Freedom for the Prisoners”

The word transl. ‘freedom’ here is elsewhere in Luke translated ‘forgiveness’… and that makes sense doesn’t it? That’s what most prisoners need most… forgiveness. Now is Jesus/ Isaiah speaking of those literally imprisoned? I think so. But is he also speaking of a spiritual bondage… a spiritual imprisonment? That too! Unforgiven sin holds each of us prisoner… and in a way no physical jail cell can accomplish! When we have unforgiven, aka unconfessed sin, in our lives… it holds us back… enslaves us…

But OH, how liberating it is to be set free from all of that! What do you suppose it feels like to be a prisoner? I’ve never been in jail (other than at Cahoots) but it can’t be a good feeling… can’t go where you want to; can’t do whatever you want to; can’t act on your own; completely at the mercy of the one who has bound you. Like sin? I understand that. We just this Fall finished a 9 week series in Galatians… and the theme: “Finding Freedom in Christ.” It could have just as easily been called… “Finding Forgiveness in Christ” because that’s what freedom is! Jesus said in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” NIV
Paul wrote to the Galatians 5:1
1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. NIV
There were those who did not understand that freedom… either wanted to take it away from others… OR wanted to turn it into a license to sin. T for those who understood!

They understood that THIS was the very reason Christ had come! To secure their freedom!
Matthew 20:28
28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” NIV
What’s a ransom? It’s the price you pay to free somebody from bondage! When the jailer is the government you call it ‘bail’ but when it’s a kidnapper or the devil… it’s a ransom! Jesus paid it… with his own life! We could tell people that message, too, couldn’t we?

“And Recovery of Sight for the Blind”
Do you think Jesus is talking about a literal, physical blindness or a spiritual one? Yeah, probably both! We know that Jesus healed many blind folks! (almost a specialty!) In Luke 18, there was a beggar on the side of the road as Jesus was going to Jericho. He cried out to Jesus, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Even though he was annoying everybody around, Jesus took the time to go to the man, talk to him, and he healed him. And people praised God b/c of it. In Matt 9, there were two blind men… same thing. In John 9:25, the authorities hauled in a man whom Jesus had healed and they were questioning him… he told them, “I don’t know who he is, but one thing I DO know… I was blind but now I see!” (sort of sums it up well!)

There was a lot of spiritual blindness, too… in Jesus’ day AND in ours. Jesus in fact said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” John 9:39 NIV What was he talking about? For those “who had eyes to see” who were ready to believe… Jesus lifted a veil from their eyes! But for those who weren’t ready… the veil remained. Isn’t it a shame… that there are so many with 20/20 vision who cannot see that God is real! Or cannot see all that he has done!

Our world is darkness… that’s the way John describes it…
John 3:19-20
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. NIV
Jesus came to shine a light into our dark world… “I am the light of the world,” he said (John 8:12). Isn’t that what WE ought to be doing, too? Shining our lights? Its going to make some uncomfortable. Its going to make some run & hide from us. It may even make a few folks mad at us. But the world doesn’t need any more darkness! It needs light!

“To Release the Oppressed”
The 21st century is much different from the 1st, but we know a thing or two about oppression, too! Have you ever felt beaten down by the world… by the drudgery of life? By sin, sickness, circumstances? Has the hurt & heartache of the world ever gotten you down? Ever felt like the score was “The World – 17…. Me- 0”?? Ever felt like life wasn’t fair… (you’re right!)

This world is a fallen place and part of what Jesus came to do was to release people from the oppression… from the cares… from the burdens & worries of this life! He said, “If your Father in heaven cares about the birds of the air and the grass in the field… how much more do you think he’ll take care of you?” (paraphrasing here –Matt 6)

“To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor!”
What a proclamation! “The Lord loves you! The Lord is looking with favor/ kindness upon you!” Wouldn’t you love to get THAT in a Christmas card from God? And it harkened back to the year of Jubilee. Built into the law (Lev. 25:8-17) was this provision, that every 50 years Israel would celebrate the “Year of Jubilee” as a reminder to them of God’s grace and provision! Debts were forgiven. Slaves were freed. It was a time when God would bring freedom from the guilt & effects of sin and a time in which Israel would look expectantly towards a new age when these problems would be done away with once & for all!

Jesus was proclaiming, “That time is NOW! NOW is the time of the Lord’s favor!” With Jesus, God was ushering in a new era… an era in which God would act to finally do away with the problems of sin & death once & for all! Jesus would go to the cross and take those with him… so that we wouldn’t have to!

THIS was Jesus’ mission… the center of the overarching Mission of God (Missio Dei)… and it is OUR mission, too!

Not to get ahead of myself… because I want to talk about the role of the church in the next post… but as the body of Christ on the planet today… isn’t it incumbent on US to continue the work of Christ in our day & time? To continue his ministry to the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, the oppressed? Including those who are poor in spirit, those imprisoned by sin, those blinded by the glitter of this world AND those oppressed by the fallen structures of this world?

WE have good news to share! “A Savior has been born!” It doesn’t get any better than that? What are we doing to proclaim that message? What are YOU doing?

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