Jesus came on the scene preaching Good News. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It’s in our midst. It’s breaking in even as we speak. Jesus, speaking in Luke 4 in his hometown of Nazareth, reads Isaiah 61, which is itself drawing from the year of Jubilee in the book of Leviticus, to declare the year of the LORD’s favor.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
But Jesus doesn’t immediately start talking about heaven, spirituality, and life after death. Instead, Jesus declares, today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
Today. Right now. Jesus is announcing good news. Not good news that one can go to heaven some day. Not good news that someday God will right all wrongs. Not good news that eventually evil will be punished and sin will be no more. Instead, good news spoken into the very muck and mire of life. Good news for this world. Even better news than the year of Jubilee instructions in Leviticus 25. God is right now proclaiming good news to the poor, liberty to the captives and oppressed, and recover of sight to the blind. This is salvation and redemption in every aspect of life. Not just spiritual, but physical, emotional, political, and economic redemption of life. God is making all things new.
That sounds great on paper, and is wonderful to preach, but how does it work in real life? Truth is, real life is hard. It is full of pressures. People still get sick. Cancer still ravages the world. Death comes way too soon. And that’s just considering health struggles. What about relationships, marriages, and strained friendships? What about vocational struggles, demanding bosses, too high of expectations, and bickering at work? All of these stresses become demanding pressures, sapping the joy out of life, and causing doubts in the goodness of God. We want to believe the good news of God, but at times, it’s hard to keep the faith. As the popular saying declares, the struggle is real!
It’s into this struggle that Psalm 31 provides hope. The Palmist who composes the 31st Psalm captures so many of the emotions that we carry with us on a given day. The pressures are staggering, so much so that at times we wonder if God is there, or if God makes a difference. The pressures of relationships. The pressures of finances. The pressures of jobs and expectations. The pressures of health and security. At times it feels like we are drowning. This is not what we signed up for when we gave our lives to God; when we entered discipleship. We were promised good news, but this doesn’t seem to be good. We were promised that God would take care of us, but this doesn’t seem to be provision or care. Maybe this God stuff or church stuff works for some people, but it’s not what’s right for me. These thoughts aren’t new to you and me. We aren’t the first ones who have ever questioned God, or ever felt the pressures of life surrounding us from every side, pressing in around us so much so that it feels our bones are breaking. The Psalmist felt those same fears and troubles. “Be gracious to me, for my eye is wasted from grief. My life is spent with sorrow. My strength fails. My bones waste away. I have been forgotten. I am a broken vessel. There is terror on every side.” When this happens, we want to join the Psalmist and cry out, be gracious to me O LORD, because I can’t take anymore.
But then the Psalm makes a turn. “But I trust in you, O Lord. I say you are my God. My times are in your hand…save me in your steadfast love!” The Psalmist recognizes that even though the struggles are real, the good news is real as well. God will save, the Psalmist declares with full knowledge, because it’s who God is. God has saved in the past (from slavery, from hunger, from enemies pressing in all around), and God will save again. The question is not if, the question is when.
That’s the hope of the resurrection. It’s the reminder that the good news is real. Death, the ultimate enemy, has been defeated. There is hope.
Yes life is hard. Yes the pressures seem more than we can bear. But the King has come. Salvation is here. Even now.