The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…. And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent. — LUKE 4:18, 43; CF. ISAIAH 61:1–2
Isaiah prophesied during a time of steep decline in the spirituality of God’s people. It was a dark time in which Israel had forsaken her God. Though they were outwardly prosperous, the people indulged themselves in the pleasures of the world rather than show gratitude to God for those blessings. For that reason Isaiah was commanded to pronounce God’s judgment on Israel. In the fullness of time, God would send the Assyrian army to devastate the countryside of Judah and besiege Jerusalem. In 722 BC many Israelites from the northern kingdom were carried into exile in Assyria, never to return.
In the midst of this fearful prophecy, God also told Isaiah to give the people hope (chapters 40–66). According to the word of the Lord, Isaiah predicted the fall of the oppressors of God’s people and said that a remnant of them would one day return to the Promised Land. He challenged that remnant to remain loyal to the Lord upon their return. Truly Isaiah could say, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek” (Isa. 61:1). But Isaiah was not just speaking about himself in this prophecy, nor was His good news only for the poor people living in the era of the divided kingdom.
More than seven hundred years after Isaiah, a relatively obscure carpenter’s son from the small town of Nazareth walked into His hometown synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood to read. He was handed the scroll of Isaiah. He opened the book and read the prophecy about the one who had the Spirit of the Lord upon Him and was anointed to preach the gospel to the poor. He read a few more lines, closed the book, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down to teach. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him, especially when He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). The one whom the Spirit had anointed to preach the gospel was here. It was Jesus.
Jesus came to earth to be anointed to preach, or to proclaim with authority, the gospel to the poor. Like those who listened to Isaiah’s message, Jesus’ audience needed to hear good news. Although they were in their own land, Israel was subjugated by the Romans. The good news that Jesus proclaimed was not that the Romans would be overthrown (although eventually that would happen) but that He had come to rescue sinners from sin and themselves.
After hearing this passage read at family worship, a young child might ask the question, “If Jesus came to preach the gospel to the poor, did He come to preach to us? We’re not poor.” Of course, both princes and paupers can be poor, for all of mankind has lost everything due to Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden.
Prior to the fall, man, as God’s image bearer, reflected the wisdom, righteousness, and holiness of God. According to the Canons of Dort, “His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things” (III–IV, 1). Adam knew God. He walked and talked with Him. His heart and will were upright and positively inclined toward his Creator. He agreed with God. All his affections were pure. Adam had no mixed motives. Resisting sin was easy. Certainly he had to resist the fruit of the forbidden tree, but his resistance was not like that of a believer today who agonizes over temptation. In his original condition, man was inclined not to sin. How rich he was!
How poor we are! Our sins have exiled us from God. By nature we are prone to hate God and our neighbor. We need to hear the good news that Christ came to preach to us. We need to appreciate the beauty of “the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isa. 52:7). In Psalm 40:10, David envisions Christ preaching to His people, and we need to hear Him:
Before Thy people I confess
The wonders of Thy righteousness;
Thou knowest, Lord, that I have made
Thy great salvation known,
Thy truth and faithfulness displayed,
Thy lovingkindness shown.
— versification of Psalm 40:10, The Psalter, no. 112:1
Joel R. Beeke; William Boekestein. Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations On The Incarnation