What does salvation look like? Well, I guess it depends on whom you ask.
If you ask someone who is drowning, it looks like a lifeguard or a life-preserver. If you ask someone who is being crushed by uncontrollable credit card debt, it might look like a surprising inheritance check or a winning lottery ticket. If you ask someone who is a prisoner in an enemy camp, it looks like a jailbreak or sounds like a Blackhawk helicopter. What does salvation look like to you?
Most of us (me too) think of salvation in terms of heaven. It’s paradise. It’s forgiveness. It’s an end to pain and suffering. It’s all those things and concepts that belong on puffy clouds and amidst angel choirs. But that’s not what Jesus had in mind. In this Sunday’s lesson from Luke 4, Jesus shows us what his own understanding of salvation is, and it’s not what I usually think of.
Quoting from Isaiah, Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” and then goes on to describe the work he came to do. It’s bringing good news to the poor. It’s proclaiming release to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind. It’s letting the oppressed run free and announcing the year of the Lord’s favor.
It’s not forgiveness—at least not directly. It’s not atonement. It’s not reconciliation. Instead, Jesus talks about himself and his divinely appointed mission as if the only thing that he really cares about is lifting up the downtrodden.
Yes, I’m sure Jesus came to die for our sins. Yes, I’m sure he came to reconcile us to the Father. Yes, I believe that I will spend eternity with God in heaven because of what Jesus came to do. But that view of salvation isn’t as immediate as what Jesus had in mind. There aren’t that many places in the bible in which Jesus talks about himself as God’s anointed agent (messiah). He doesn’t often let the cat all the way out of the bag. But in this case—in one of the few instances where he takes off the veil and talks openly about himself in rather grandiose terms—he describes his work as the kind of thing that makes a difference here and now. Jesus isn’t focused on the pearly gates. He wants to see salvation a lot closer than that.
What sort of salvation are we preaching? As the church, how did we get so far away from what Jesus had in mind? How did we get from “release of the captives” to “seated at the right hand of the Father?” Yes, we need to preach salvation in the heaven-bound sense, but we can’t forget salvation also comes in this life as a release from whatever binds us.