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The Vision for Mercy
Two thousand years ago God’s kingdom entered our world in a new way through the person and work of Jesus Christ. In Luke 4, Jesus begins his public ministry by giving his inaugural address in a Jewish synagogue in Nazareth. After standing up to speak, Jesus unrolls the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, finds the place we call Isaiah 61, and reads these words:
“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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus’ audience represents generations of Jewish people longing for God to send his promised anointed one, the Christ, the seed of King David, to restore God’s kingdom to Israel and rule over it forever. Isaiah prophesied that a King was coming who would usher in a new kingdom on earth.
God promised them that the dominion of his coming kingdom would never end. And his anointed King will defeat all of his and their enemies and then cause righteousness, peace, and justice to rule over all the earth forever. When God’s anointed King arrives, he will proclaim this good news to the poor.
Who are the poor? Isaiah describes the poor as captives who will be liberated, blind who will receive sight, and the oppressed who will be liberated. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the lame will walk.
But centuries past for the Jewish people with no anointed Messiah King. Instead, the Jews listening to Jesus in the synagogue that day were suffering under the harsh oppression and injustice of the Roman government. They were wondering if this king and kingdom would ever come.
What happened to them next came as quite a shock. After reading this passage from the scroll of Isaiah, Luke 4 tells us he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus is telling them that he is God’s promised, anointed King they’ve been waiting for and he has come to preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the poor.
To the surprise of many, the essential message Jesus came to preach was not only the good news of forgiveness of sins. It includes forgiveness, but it’s much more. This is the good news that, through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God is at work restoring his fallen humanity and creation to its ultimate intended destiny, the kingdom of God on earth.
This is the good news that 2000 years ago God’s kingdom came to earth in a new way through Jesus Christ and by his Spirit. And our God is now reigning over all things through the ascended King Jesus as he advances God’s kingdom on earth today through his Church.
And it’s the good news that God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness when Jesus returns to bring heaven back down to earth, restoring God’s rule over all spheres of human life and creation forever. Everything in our badly broken and corrupt world will be brought back under Christ’s authority as Jesus makes all things new.
Therefore, central to Jesus’ mission and ministry is proclaiming the good news in word and deed to the spiritual and physical poor:
And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal … And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere … Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 9:1-2, 6, Luke 10:9)
Although Jesus did not immediately overthrow the Roman government and establish himself as an earthly king, his focus on caring for the spiritual and physical poor was proof that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah who was bringing God’s kingdom to earth.
So, how is King Jesus continuing his ministry of word and deed today to the spiritual and physical poor? He continues his kingdom mission on earth today as head of his visible body the Church. His Church is the only institution on earth he promises to build and bless. Jesus promises, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).
Jesus’ church is not just individual believers scattered throughout the world, but also local, visible gatherings of believers who are carrying out ministries of word and deed to the spiritually and physically poor in their communities under the oversight of church leaders. God gives elders to the church for overseeing these ministries of word and prayer and deacons for overseeing the ministries of deed.
But the Church is not only God’s primary instrument of kingdom mercy to the spiritually and physically poor. It’s also the primary sign of God’s kingdom on earth. Just as Old Testament Israel displayed a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom to all the pagan nations by how they cared for the poor, so God means for his Church today to be a “sneak preview” of what the world will look like when Jesus returns and makes his invisible kingdom visible over all things.
Therefore, in the first passage that describes the church in the book of Acts, we read, “There were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34). This is the same vision God gave to his people Israel in Deuteronomy 15:4, saying, “There shall be no poor among you.” When the people of God care for the poor in their midst, the world catches a glimpse of God’s coming kingdom on earth.
The Scriptures teach that God’s people are to show mercy to everyone who is poor, but especially to the poor within the church. Paul writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). God calls his people to eliminate poverty within the church but to also help alleviate poverty outside the church.
In his church, God creates a new society that is not only his instrument to bring good news to the poor, but also his vision of what all of life will one day look like when Jesus returns to restore the kingdom of God on earth forever.