The Spirit and Success

(Read Isaiah 61:1-3 & Luke 4:14-30.  I use the NIV – you use whichever version of the Bible you prefer.)

Message: Isaiah predicted the Messiah would successfully do the work of God because of the Spirit’s anointing.

The story is told of a new bank president who met with his predecessor and said, “I would like to know what have been the keys to your success.”

The older gentleman looked at him and replied, “Young man, I can sum it up in two words: Good decisions.”

To that the young man responded, “I thank you immensely for that advice, but how does one know which are the good decisions?”

“One word, young man,” replied the sage. “Experience.”

“That’s all well and good,” said the younger, “but how does one get experience?”

“Two words,” said the elder. “Bad decisions.”

(Today In The Word, November, 1989, p.23.)

Clarence Jordan was a man of unusual abilities and commitment. He had two Ph.D.s, one in agriculture and one in Greek and Hebrew. He could have done anything he wanted. He chose to serve the poor. In the 1940s, he founded a farm in Americus, Georgia, and called it Koinonia Farm. It was a community for poor whites and poor blacks. As you might guess, such an idea did not go over well in the Deep South of the ’40s.

In 1954, the Ku Klux Klan had enough of Clarence Jordan, so they came one night with guns and torches and set fire to every building on Koinonia Farm but Clarence’s home, which they riddled with bullets.

The next day, a reporter came out to see what remained of the farm. The rubble still smoldered and the land was scorched, but he found Clarence in the field, hoeing and planting.

The reporter said in a haughty voice, “Well, Dr. Jordan, you got fourteen years into this farm, and there’s nothing left of it at all. Just how successful do you think you’ve been?”

Clarence stopped hoeing, turned toward the reporter, and said quietly but firmly, “About as successful as the cross. Sir, I don’t think you understand us. What we are about is not success but faithfulness. We’re staying. Good day.”

Beginning that day, Clarence and his companions rebuilt Koinonia and the farm is still going strong today.

(Holy Sweat, Tim Hansel, 1987, Word Books Publisher, pp. 188-189.)

  1. Isaiah 61:1-3 predicted the Messiah would be anointed with Holy Spirit power.

CONTEXT: These vs. begin a chapter of good news (which is why we refer to Isaiah as the “Gospel of the Old Testament”) for the people of God returning from captivity in Babylon. These verses are here to get the reader to take the following verses more seriously as it establishes the credentials of the one who will fulfill the prophecy.


What the anointing means on a literal level is to apply oil.  This was done for ceremonial, religious, and/or medicinal purposes.  On a spiritual level, it means to apply Holy Spirit power to someone to endow them for ministry.

It is not typical in the Old Testament for these things to be mentioned together. Only in King David do these two concepts come together.  This makes me think Isaiah is anticipating a unique individual and there has never been anyone as unique as Jesus Christ.

What the anointing would accomplish initially, was that all these things would have happened when the Jews returned from their captivity in Babylon.  (Notice how these verses sound like the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.)

– PREACH GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR = The word POOR may be literal, but poverty and piety often went together in the Old Testament (see Psalms 40:17; 72:12-14).  In fact, the righteous poor were called the anawim.

– BIND UP THE BROKENHEARTED = This can be sorrow over sin or over life’s wounds.

– PROCLAIM FREEDOM FOR THE CAPTIVES = The word for FREEDOM is only used for the freeing of slaves in the Sabbath and Jubilee years. Judah’s release from the Babylonian captivity is the obvious and immediate fulfillment, but Jesus bought us greater freedom from a worse captivity; a spiritual one.  He has set us free from a slavery to sin.


– PROCLAIM the following…

THE YEAR OF THE LORD’S FAVOR = FAVOR showed to His people, in contrast with VENGEANCE on their oppressors.  These were considered two sides of the same act.

THE DAY OF VENGEANCE OF OUR GOD = The justice of God is difficult for us to comprehend.  Though the Assyrians and Babylonians were wielded by God as instruments of wrath on His people, He still holds them responsible for their actions Israel and Judah.  An answer is that this shows how God is so powerful He is able to turn evil and use it to accomplish His will.

– COMFORT ALL WHO MOURN = COMFORT is one of Isaiah’s favorite words.  It is both the promise that things will get better and actions to resolve situations favorably.

– Turn signs of mourning into symbols of joy.

ASHES were put on the head as a sign of deep DESPAIR and in times of MOURNING.

These were exchanged for a CROWN OF BEAUTY, OIL, GARMENT, which are all typical preparations for a feast, or celebrating a wedding.

– OAKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS and A PLANTING 0F THE LORD are symbols of redemption.

Why do all this? FOR THE DISPAY OF HIS SPLENDOR. It’s about God, not us. The highest good we can do for one another is to direct our attention to God (GLORY).

  1. The prophecy came true in Luke 4:14-30.

The occasion is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry = HE RETURNED TO GALILEE. He had been to the Jordan River to be baptized by John (3:21-22). That experience left Jesus FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (4:1). The Spirit lead Jesus out into a nearby wilderness area where He fasted for 40 days and was tempted by the devil (4:1-13).  Similarly, that experience left Jesus IN THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT.

So when Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet ISAIAH, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS ON ME,” He really meant it!  We’ve seen that asserted twice already!

The setting is a typical Saturday service in the synagogue.  This was a worship service that consisted of prayers, readings from Scripture and a message that explained the readings, usually showing how they were related.

The outcome was mixed.

Jesus’ ministry had been successful throughout Galilee. NEWS (pheme) is the Gk root of our word “fame.”  Jesus was just starting & already becoming famous.  He was not only famous, but popular: EVERYONE PRAISED HIM.

His ministry in Nazareth, however, is met with disapproval.  In Nazareth, people are impressed, but not persuaded.

Apparently Jesus’ reputation preceded Him.  The people in the synagogue had evidently heard the rumors from other parts of the region and were looking at Jesus to see if they were true.  Look at v. 20 = THE EYES OF EVERYONE IN THE SYNAGOGUE WERE FASTENED ON HIM.

Initially, their reaction was favorable: V. 22 = ALL SPOKE WELL OF HIM AND WERE AMAZED AT THE GRACIOUS WORDS THAT CAME FROM HIS LIPS.  This good impression didn’t last long, as they began to question Jesus’ claim.  “ISN’T THIS JOSEPH’S SON?” THEY ASKED in v. 22.  How could HE be the Messiah?

At first, Jesus’ response to them in vs. 23-27 seems out of proportion to this question. Without going into a lengthy historical explanation, we could summarize Jesus’ response as a warning that if they reject Him as Messiah, they will be guilty of a greater blunder than their ancestors’ worst moment.

Also, He knew their hearts and noted two things:

–  One, that they showed up at the synagogue not to hear His teaching, but in hopes of seeing some miracles of the kind they’d heard Jesus did earlier in Capernaum.

– Two, that they were just a few minutes away from being angry enough to throw Him off a cliff!

As Jesus confronted their lack of faith in Him, their amazement changed into anger.  Vs. 28-30 = ALL THE PEOPLE IN THE SYNAGOGUE WERE FURIOUS WHEN THEY HEARD THIS.  THEY GOT UP, DROVE HIM OUT OF THE TOWN, AND TOOK HIM TO THE BROW OF THE HILL ON WHICH THE TOWN WAS BUILT, IN ORDER TO THROW HIM OFF THE CLIFF.  BUT HE WALKED RIGHT THROUGH THE CROWD AND WENT ON HIS WAY.  Note the word ALL in vss. 22 + 28. The whole crowd in the synagogue had this reaction to Jesus.

The primary message here is “Don’t be like the home town crowd, be like the other crowds.  Have faith in Jesus.”  The secondary message has to do with the Spirit and success.  Success is to be defined as faithfulness to God, regardless of how people react.  If we will keep the main thing the main thing (directing people’s attention to God) then we can be considered faithful.  Let God take care of everything else.

In his commentary on Luke, Darrell L. Bock wrote a couple things about how we can successfully apply the promise and fulfillment of Jesus the Messiah in our increasingly hostile culture.  As we’ve talked a lot about this lately, I want to share his insights with you.

“It is important to appreciate how central good teaching is to ministry.  In an era when feelings and interpersonal relationships are high on the agenda, it is wise to reflect on why Jesus spent so much time instructing people.  One of the fundamental biblical assumptions is that human cultures distort reality.  Our minds need reshaping and renewing, so that our feelings and reactions, will be more like what God desires.” (Bock, pp. 139-140.)

“Since Jesus’ ministry was built around his teaching and since he showed that God’s will was not what the religious culture was delivering, then how careful should we be to make sure that our communities are well instructed and grounded in God’s truth.” (Bock, p. 141.)

“The church has a difficult task.  On the one hand, to discuss redemption and release we must mention sin.  On the other hand, the offer of the gospel is ultimately positive, so that the goal is not a message of doom but of hope.” (Bock, pp. 143.)

Here’s the hopeful thing we’ve learned today.  God kept His promise and sent the Messiah He promised.  This is not just a historical or Jewish thing, but is essential for our message.  God sent THE Messiah, the only hope of salvation.

Rather than let the world define success for us, we need to trust that the God who keeps His promises will also equip us with all we need to not just survive but thrive in this 21st century world.  Let success be putting that hopeful message out there on a congregational & personal basis.

(The NIV Application Commentary (Luke), Darrell L. Bock, Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.)


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