“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:18–19 (NASB)
When Jesus announces His public ministry in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, He presents a holistic call which brings about spiritual transformation through salvation. In his teachings and example, Jesus also models social transformation, especially in the case of children and women. Jesus’ earthly ministry had both spiritual and social implications, and to recognize this is to understand the whole Gospel message.
Yes, through Jesus Christ we are set free from the penalty of sin, but there is also a freedom that comes from taking on a new identity in Christ which challenges social classifications. Yet, even today we struggle to fully live out a oneness within humanity across gender, age, and ethnicity (or so-called race). Galatians 3:28–29 still lingers at the door of many churches, hoping to be invited in and fully embraced.
Jesus Brings Reconciliation with God and One Another
In Luke 4, Jesus proclaims that the Spirit is upon Him and that He has a call to preach release, recovery, freedom, and favor. We get a glimpse into the social implications of this calling by seeing in the Gospels how Jesus interacts with children, women, and second-class citizens, specifically Canaanites and Samaritans. Jesus is the open door to eternal heavenly citizenship, but He is also the radical one who challenges and dismantles second-class citizenship across gender, age, and the man-made racial construct.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3:28–29 NASB)
Jesus’ proclamation in Luke 4 can be connected to the writing of Paul in Galatians 3 to see Jesus as the One who comes to fulfill the promise. The fulfillment of this promise leads to reconciliation between God and humanity through faith as well as right relationship restored within humanity. The reconciliation power of Jesus gets us right with God, but also gets us right with one another. Consider these words of Paul in his second letter to the church at Corinth:
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18–19 NASB)
After Jesus announces His public ministry in the synagogue, His words are so radical to those listening that some attempt to kill Him right then. But He escapes to continue fulfilling his mission, so we might see Him confront the culture’s social classification across boundaries of age, gender, and ethnicity.
Jesus Recognizes the Value of Children
In the gospels, we see many examples of Jesus challenging how the culture viewed children, the poor, and women. In Matthew 19, children were brought to Jesus and rebuked by the disciples. Jesus responds by rebuking the disciples. His challenge brings a transforming value to children.
This text is part of a biblical theme of God using children and youth to advance His Kingdom and bring about social change as well. Young David, Esther, Jeremiah, Josiah, and Timothy are all stories of God using children and youth to do incredible things on earth. By laying hands on the children that were brought to him, Jesus not only blesses them, but also ordains their value in the Kingdom.
But Jesus said, Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. (Matt. 19:14 NASB)
Jesus Dismantles Second-Class Citizenship
In Matthew 15, a Canaanite woman approached Jesus and begged Him to heal her daughter. Once again, the disciples play into the social norms and roles of the day by asking Jesus to send this woman away. How dare she disrupt the community and work of the men! Yet, Jesus engages in conversation with her, and even speaks to her role in society as not only a woman, but also as a Canaanite, an ethnicity that was not considered part of the privileged people of the house of Israel.
As a Canaanite, this woman would have been known as the descendent of a cursed people. Noah cursed his grandson Canaan, because Canaan’s father, Noah’s son, looked upon the drunkenness and nakedness of Noah. This mistake created a generational curse of slavery and second-class citizenship. Yet Jesus in His social interactions, death, and resurrection dismantled the curse that haunted this woman.
Jesus was controversial to religious figures and others around him during His earthly ministry because He challenged the way in which women and those considered cursed should be treated. We must ask ourselves, who are the cursed today? I look at the community in which I minister today and I think about the young, single mothers struggling to make things better for their children, and I believe that the church must interact with them as Jesus did with the Canaanite woman. They might feel as if their situation is generational and they need to know that the church is here to be used by God to break generational curses.
We must also wrestle with what it is that enables generational curses to continue. We might first say that the person themselves must take responsibility and not consider the broader institutional issues that come into play. There are systems that must be addressed in order for curses to be broken. Some of those curses can’t be addressed outside the church, if they’re not addressed inside the church.
The real question is, is the church dismantling or participating in the systems that continue to exploit and oppress the poor, people of color, and women? Jesus was bold enough to take the position of dismantling and this should point us to the heart of God on these issues.
Jesus Preaches the Whole Gospel
With all this in mind, the question becomes this: what will the church do today about Jesus’ proclamation, life, death, and resurrection? Will the church limit the transformation that Jesus brings to eternal salvation, or will it also see Jesus bringing change to the social constructs within humanity? Who are the poor, captives, blind, and downtrodden of today? Yes, this text in Luke 4 speaks to those who live in sin, separated from God, but it also speaks to those in our society who are relegated to second-class citizenship.
The proclamation of the public ministry of Jesus must live today as the public ministry of the church! The church must vocalize freedom and Good News within the contemporary context of today’s society. The Good News indeed must bring about freedom for the poor and oppressed. To some this is a social Gospel, but what is wrong with that? The Gospel must be both spiritual and social in order to be the complete Gospel.
As an African-American and Evangelical pastor, I must preach a Gospel that lives within today’s tension of being both evangelistic and socially just. This is what I call a holistic approach to ministry. If people are giving their lives to Christ, but we tolerate domestic abuse and the treatment of women as second class to men, what difference does the Gospel truly make? In turn, if we fight for equality and peace, but do not proclaim the necessity of new birth, we present an incomplete Gospel.
At its best, the Church preaches new birth, has women in positions of pastoral leadership, believes children and youth can advance the Kingdom, is multicultural, and sees social justice as essential to true missions. This is a living community which represents the fullness of the public ministry of Jesus.