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Today we are starting a new series! We are still in the book of Luke, starting a new section. Luke 4: Jesus: Man of Marvels. That’s the key idea in this whole section: Jesus astounded people.
- Luke 4:21: People marveled at the gracious words he spoke
- 4:31: When he taught, the authority his words carried astonished people.
- 4:36: People were amazed at how he could command demonic forces with a word.
- 5:9: Blue-collar workers were astonished at the work of his hands.
- 5:26: People were seized by amazement and in awe of the miracles he performed.
- 8:25: Sea-tested fishermen fell at his feet, marveling at his command over nature.
- 8:56: Parents were amazed at the work Jesus had done to save their daughter.
- 9:43: People were astonished at the majesty of God working through Jesus.
- Luke 9:43 concludes this section: They were all marveling at everything Jesus was doing.
Wow – isn’t this exciting? Our God is an amazing God. This would be a good series to invite non-Christian friends to. That they could hear the word of God, shining a spotlight on our astonishing savior, and then you can personally testify to them after the service of the amazing things Jesus is still doing! So: Jesus, Man of Marvels.
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
After four chapters of introduction and origin stories, the ministry of Jesus has begun! The same Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested now fills him with power to conduct his ministry. This is the same Holy Spirit at work in us who believe, by the way. It’s not like Jesus got the extra shot of the Spirit and then we get some sort of leftovers. So Jesus returns to Galilee in the northern reaches of Palestine and people start talking about him. And he indeed gets a great reception everywhere he goes. He’s teaching in the synagogues – like their Jewish churches, and people are getting excited, in fact they are praising and even glorifying him. So far, so good.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.
The first not-so-obvious thing that I want to bring to your attention is that Luke is telling this story out-of order. If we carefully study the gospel of Luke against the gospels of Mark and Matthew, we see this clearly. And I warned you about this when we first started studying the gospel of Luke that sometimes Luke prefers to arrange his telling of the life of Jesus geographically and thematically rather than strictly chronologically. So when Luke deviates from the order in the other gospels, we should ask why. Well, here it is pretty clear: Luke’s highlighting that the message Jesus teaches in Nazareth is foundational to his entire ministry. So let’s listen in:
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “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.” And 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.
Here’s how this would work. The synagogue meeting functioned a lot like our church service. In the time of Jesus the synagogue had become the center of the Jewish faith, especially for those living outside of Jerusalem. Every town or village that had 10 mature men would form and build a synagogue. There would be a big room with chairs situation 3 or 4 rows deep around the perimeter so that we could all sing and hear one another. There would be psalms and songs sung and readings and prayers given from the front. Instead of everyone carrying their bibles to the church, they would have a big closet in the corner where they would store the synagogues scrolls. So they would bring out the scroll that contained the reading for the day, and then one of the men would read it, and then sit down and give a small message explaining it, and then other men could discuss it, or bring up other portions of the scriptures and discuss them. So we don’t know if this was the assigned reading of the day, or if Jesus asked specially to read this passage, but he’s definitely following appropriate synagogue protocol and he’s got everyone’s attention. And so here it is, the text of Jesus’ first sermon, in fact, what might be the shortest sermon ever preached:
And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Shortest sermon ever preached. Amen. My dad would go to Jesus’ church. Now, that’s a joke, there is obviously more going on here than this one sentence. Jesus preached a full sermon, we know this because it says in the next verse: And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. So he said more than “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” We also know this because if we look at the quotation from Isaiah, we find that it is not a direct quote from one passage of Isaiah, but it is actually a combination of some verses from a couple of different chapters of Isaiah, so putting these scriptures together would have required a bit more explanation from Jesus that Luke is simply summarizing for us. So what was the content of Jesus’ message to his hometown?
1) He is the servant-savior of whom Isaiah foretold: Jesus used his first sermon to point people to himself. The first three lines especially emphatically put the focus on Jesus. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” “For he has anointed me”, ”He has sent me”. So to say that this scripture has been fulfilled today, Jesus is clearly making Messianic claims for himself – He is the Christ, the Messiah, the savior of the world.
2) He has a mission of deliverance to accomplish: In fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, Jesus claims that the Lord has anointed and sent him to accomplish a mission of deliverance, namely: to proclaim good news to the poor … 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.” The temptation for us is to push our interpretation of Jesus’ ministry as being either a solely literal or solely figurative fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. For example, did Jesus come to proclaim good news to the poor, or to the poor in spirit? That is, is the gospel for the economically poor or the spiritually poor? Did he come to literally free the captives, to release the socially detained back into society, or to set free those trapped in spiritual bondage? Did he come to help the blind recover their sight, or did he mean that he came to show us the light? Did he come to seek justice for those who are oppressed by the unjust, or did he come to bring freedom to those oppressed by spiritual forces? In proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, the jubilee year, was he declaring that all debts are now cancelled and the slaves and captives would go free, or was he proclaiming that this is now a new era of grace for sinners and spiritual freedom? Was Jesus mission to accomplish a social gospel or an evangelical gospel?
Tell you what, I’m not going to answer that question. That’s what the rest of the book of Luke is for, for that’s where, obviously this question is going to be answered. I want instead to direct you to your own desire to have the answer to that question. How do you want me to answer that question? See, we want Jesus’ mission to be aligned with our mission. So if we’re into social justice, we want to hear that Jesus is into it. If we’re into evangelism, we definitely hear Jesus saying the later. We hear what we want to hear.
The people listening to Jesus did this same thing. They heard what they wanted to hear. And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Out in the Narthex they threw a party. Jesus, hometown boy, chosen to be the Messiah! Finally our little town will gain some notoriety, this will put on the map. If Messiah has come to Israel and he’s one of us, that’s good right? After all, “Doctors look after their own bodies first right”, so if God’s going to use him to do all these things everywhere else, just think how things are going to be for little old Nazareth!
Let me illustrate for you what is going on. This summer I read an article online about
Marissa Meyer, the new CEO of a small company called Yahoo. Marissa Meyer is the youngest CEO ever of a fortune 500 company, only a year older than me. She also is one of only a few women CEO’s in the tech industry – she’s been called the most powerful woman in tech. It was an interesting article for in the article she talked about her life priorities, for her it is God, family and then Yahoo. But what caught my attention was a reference to the Green Bay Packers, that she grew up a packers fan. Well that’s my part of the country – and then it hit me, Marissa Meyer? I know a Marissa Meyer, and sure enough a quick Wikipedia search later confirmed that she indeed was the Marissa Meyer that graduated from my high school the class before me. My first thought: Woah, our high school’s going to get a nice tech endowment.
I can imagine all Nazareth is like, put us on the map Jesus! Jesus, actually has an answer for them: And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.”
(Luke 4:14–30 ESV)
And with that Jesus’ first sermon went from everyone speaking well from him to his high school classmates wanting to kill him! Why do they get so agitated? Because they misunderstood his identify and they tried to subvert his mission.
They misunderstood His identity: They did not understand who he was. If Luke has tried to convince us of anything in recounting Jesus’ origins for the first 4 chapters, it is that Jesus is not Joseph’s son, but that he is uniquely the Son of God. So when Luke records them saying, isn’t this Joseph’s son, its kind of like an inside joke Luke is making with us his readers. It’s not Joseph’s son! They mistook his identity.
They tried to subvert His mission: But more than that, they also are trying to co-opt Jesus’ mission and he calls them out on it. They want to keep Jesus for themselves, a kind of local miracle worker to meet their needs and serve their desires. Do here Jesus, what you did in Capernaum! Now imagine this, Jesus has just spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted every day with the unrelenting temptation to put his own well-being ahead of God’s mission for his life. Repeatedly Jesus fought off the devil’s attack, thinking not of himself, but of the plan of the father that was given him for our salvation. Yet now he comes and preaches to the people whom he has resisted temptation to save, and the first thing they do is think not of Jesus and his mission, but of their own selfish desires! So Jesus calls them out on it, reminding them that God’s kingdom has always been grander in scope than we are comfortable with – yes there were many widows and lepers in Israel, but God sent his prophets to show mercy to outsiders. Jesus is declaring to them unequivocally, you cannot co-opt or submit Jesus’ mission under your own. His mission is first, it has to be first or we are not saved.
This hits us right in our heart. Do we expect Jesus to serve us as Lord, or do we serve him as Lord. Do we try to fit him into our life, or do we find our life in him. Do we use him to advance our political agendas, or do we simply obey him as our king? We want him to be the spokesperson for our causes, the stamp of approval for our agendas, we want him to fulfill all of our whims, we use him as a talisman or a lucky rabbits foot to meet our needs. We lock Jesus up in the church when he wants us to get out into the world to save the world. How do you co-opt Jesus?
Do you really want Jesus to come into your life and rearrange your furniture? Or if you had the chance and he told you to follow him in a way that screwed up your agenda, you’d be looking forward for the first chance to throw him off the cliff?