One of those mind-bending questions that has plagued mankind for millennia is, “What am I here for? Do I have a purpose?” Surely life, especially for those of us who are followers of Jesus, must be more than clocking in and out of work, paying taxes, and binge watching The Office.
Jesus knew His purpose. He knew His mission. Much to the Pharisees’ shock and upheaval, He expressed it clearly when He read from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
And my dear friends, you have the same purpose! The Church and its people are quite literally an extension of Jesus’ ministry. In the exact same way that God sent Jesus into the world, Jesus sends us into the world (John 20:21). So if you’ve ever wondered what your purpose in life is, this may be a helpful guide.
1. Proclaim good news to the poor!
Even a quick skim of the Gospels will show that Jesus didn’t merely whisper good news in hushed, embarrassed tones, nor did He wait indefinitely for others to initiate a spiritual conversation. He proclaimed! There’s something powerful about proclaiming, don’t you agree? Jesus proclaimed that mankind is riddled with sickness, poverty, and unforgiveness, which are all symptoms of a poison called Death: a permanent, conscious damnation and separation from God and from all things beautiful and good. But the good news is that Jesus utterly destroyed Death and invites everyone to be completely re-born into His Kingdom of life and laughter and love, free from the symptoms of Death and Death itself. Yes, sicknesses can be healed! Yes, marriages can be restored! Yes, lack can become abundance! Yes, addictions can be broken! Yes, hate can transform to love for enemies! And most importantly, every person can be restored to friendship with God, the ultimate reason for our existence! (Read a more extensive piece I wrote on the good news of Jesus here.)
So now we, too, proclaim good news! The proud may not receive this message, but the poor—or, desperately in need—always will. Don’t whisper. Don’t let your moral behavior “speak for itself” (which is a sly way to avoid evangelizing). Don’t wait for others to initiate conversation. Proclaim! Proclaim the message of God’s Kingdom! Proclaim Jesus—always, only, ever Jesus!
2. Proclaim freedom for prisoners!
Jesus announced that He had supernatural power to release prisoners—which is a little controversial, when you think about it. Someone is exiled to prison because she has committed a crime worthy of punishment, yet part of Jesus’ mission statement is to fling wide the doors of prison! Jesus is mercy personified! Sinners deserve the death penalty, but Jesus instead lavishes forgiveness and fresh starts.
We also announce that Jesus’ heart is to bring freedom to those trapped in the prison of sin. Those broken souls who are locked in habitual drug misuse, are tangled in pornography, are involved in abusing others, are cheating the government, dishonor their parents—it is our great joy to declare that Jesus has power to set such individuals free!
However, some might say, “Let those people rot in their prisons. They deserve it!” of those who are “especially sinful,” whatever that means. But in so doing, these Godless individuals who promote condemnation against others actually align themselves with Jonah, who ran from ministering in Ninevah because his hard heart was convinced that judgment was better for the Ninevites than God’s mercy. Stone-cold Jonah was even upset when the Ninevites repented. This is in direct opposition to Jesus’—and our—mission: to announce that God delights in setting people free from sin and shame, and to rejoice when He does so!
3. Proclaim recovery of sight for the blind!
Jesus famously healed many who were physically blind, and today He is still healing people who are physically blind. I know testimonies from all over the world that Jesus cures sicknesses and diseases of all sorts!
While healing physical needs is unarguably an exciting and relevant component of Jesus’ ministry, I believe Jesus is referring to those who are spiritually blind. Jesus is poised to reveal Himself to those who are searching for truth. The Passion Translation renders this portion as, “[Jesus Himself will be] new eyes for the blind,” which is stunning.
Today, as always, humans are frantically looking for Jesus and may not even know it. Yes, Jesus is the answer for every longing heart! As atheists, Muslims, Hindus, and even those who are Christian in “name only” look for truth, Jesus will (and does) give them eyes to see Him! As straight whites, the sexually ambiguous, immigrants, those with mental illnesses, and literally every other person on the planet wonder about eternity, Jesus will give them sight!
4. Set the oppressed free!
Much of Jesus’ Jewish audience during His earthly ministry fully understood oppression. They suffered the cruelty and prejudice of the Romans, and they themselves oppressed one another with religious legalism and societal inequality. But Jesus shared meals with outcasts, ministered directly to women, hugged the unclean, valued children, and loved Samaritans and members of other races.
A literal translation of the word “oppressed” or “captive” in this passage is “prisoner of war.” These days, social justice is a trendy—and applaudable—theme, as is sticking up for victims of assault and harassment. Make no mistake, Jesus has long been the Advocate for the broken, even before it was trendy, and He will still be the Defender for the voiceless long after the trend may wear off. And He is committed to healing the heart of the victim until it becomes the heart of a loving, healthy, generous, kind victor! He wipes tears away, is a gentle Husband to the widow, and a loyal Best Friend to the lonely.
Jesus has always been concerned with everybody, always. Notice that His mission statement includes ministry to those who are imprisoned for their own wrongdoing (prisoners) and to those in captive by no fault of their own (the oppressed). Yes, He is invested in the restoration of the abuser and the abused, the breaker and the broken. So it is with us! It is our mission to set the oppressed free!
Let this not be a trend for Christians. Let this be our ongoing mission. May we defend the vulnerable, adopt orphans and support children in need, take care of our widows, place dignity on womanhood and manhood, confront racism, fight ageism, and promote compassion for all.
5. Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor!
Jesus was referring to the Year of Jubilee when He associated Himself with this passage from Isaiah. The Year of Jubilee is mentioned in the Old Testament to have occurred every fiftieth year, and was a celebratory year where debts would be forgiven and slaves would be freed. Jesus announced that His coming ushered in a new season in humanity’s history. Eugene Peterson depicts this part of Jesus’ mission as such in the Message: “This is God’s year to act!”
This is our mission: to announce that Jesus releases people from their debts! Whatever the remainder is that a person owes, He covers it in full and then some! It is His delight to set people free from slavery—spiritual captivity and literal bondage! For those who have sown in tears, Jesus will cause them to reap in joy!
These five components have been and will be Jesus’ mission, and as such, they have become our mission. As Christians, this is our assignment. You can see that each of these requires activity and intentionality, not quiet passiveness. Indeed, all that proclaiming and setting others free will set the believer up for a life of incredible adventure!
Now, a bit of pastoral encouragement here. As Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit to carry out these various aspects, you are as well. Let that sink in. You are anointed to let people know that they can be set free from their pornography addiction! You are anointed to share with your coworker that God wants to heal his heartache! As you begin to speak, the Holy Spirit will empower you. Focus on what you know: that God is good and that He does good things. If you are asked a question you can’t answer right away, don’t be proud or become defensive. Admit that you don’t know how to answer right now, but ask if you can spend a few days looking into the question; then, schedule a follow-up conversation.
If you’re not accustomed to sharing the good news of Jesus with others, then it may feel scary. You may feel like you’ve stumbled over your words, or that you didn’t present your thoughts clearly. That’s okay! Jesus is so proud of you for speaking up at all!
And the last thing I will leave you with is to approach each of these elements with expectation! If you are sharing with someone that Jesus wants to rebuild her marriage, then simply expect in faith that it will happen. Expectation makes all the difference.
Now, let us carry on Jesus’ ministry!
Yours in Christ,