Luke 4:14 – 30
Local boy makes good!
I was at a conference in Sydney a couple of years ago, along with several hundred other people, and as part of the proceedings they did a video link up with a woman living in New York.
She’d been living there for a number of years, previously working with the UN, but was now working for the organisation that was involved in this conference, seeking to resource and support thousands of churches across the world. So it’s a pretty significant work she’s involved in.
And when they interviewed her, she said “I come from Australia, from a small town outside the city of Adelaide, called Mount Barker”, and I was so excited, I let out an enormous cheer in this huge conference venue, and everybody else knew, that Mount Barker was my hometown too!
There is something isn’t there, about the hometown hero.
And Luke, our historian shows us that at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, there is a positive kind of “local boy makes good” feel to what’s happening.
You can imagine Jesus getting a really good write-up on the front page of the Nazareth Courier, and they’d interview one of his teachers from the local high school who’d talk about what a good boy he was in class, all that kind of thing!
At least initially, Jesus’ ministry is well-accepted. Everyone in the whole countryside hears about him, He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
Any town where there were 10 Jewish men, could start a synagogue, and so lots of the towns and villages in the region of Galilee would have had one. Larger towns had several, Jerusalem itself was said to have over 400 at the time of Jesus.
The picture here is of Jesus, travelling from town to town, what today you might call a “preaching tour”, as he teaches in these various synagogues.
But notice the key role of the Spirit of God at this, the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Verse 14, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.
The Spirit enables Jesus as his work begins, and as the story progresses we see the same thing in the book of Acts, the early church is enabled by the Spirit of God for its ministry.
Luke likes to draw the parallels, between Jesus’ earthly ministry, and the ministry of the early church, which he sees as a continuation of Jesus’ own ministry.
And so the early reaction to Jesus is very positive. In fact, in verse 15, Luke says, literally, “everyone glorified him.”
It’s language that Luke normally reserves , just for God.
People really liked Jesus and his message.
For those of you who are into history, this is the oldest written description of what happened in a synagogue on a Sabbath day. You know, none of their service leaflets have survived to this day, so we can only piece together bits and pieces from what Luke and other historians tell us.
The general pattern was that a part of the Scriptures would be read, of course in those days that was just the Old Testament, and then someone would explain it.
And if there was a well-known teacher visiting the synagogue that day, they’d be invited to read and to teach.
And so it’s not surprising, that Jesus, famous local preacher, is invited, in his home synagogue, to read and speak.
Who better to have speak than the local boy who’s made good?
Luke presents a very positive beginning to Jesus’ ministry;
People love to hear him teach the Scriptures,
Doors are opened for him,
People are interested in what he has to say, and excited when he turns up.
But we know that things don’t stay this way for long!
Isaiah told God’s people to look forward to deliverance and salvation
But first let’s think about his passage from Isaiah that Jesus reads and teaches about. Isaiah was a prophet in the 8th century BC. He lived in Jerusalem during the time when Assyria, to the north of Israel, was growing in power, and eventually, in 722 BC, Assyria marched against the northern kingdom of Israel and destroyed it.
All this was a precursor, as Isaiah saw it, to the Babylonians future attack on Jerusalem.
And so from about Isaiah chapter 40, the focus of God’s promises shifts to those from Jerusalem who going to be in exile in Babylon. And God speaks to them a message of hope and comfort, that even though they’re in exile, all is not lost.
So think of those words we know from Handel’s Messiah,
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
The middle section of Isaiah has this background context that God’s people are prisoners in Babylon.
And then by chapter 56, the focus shifts again, because God promises that he’s going to being his people back to the land,
Back to Jerusalem.
And the message is for the exiles who return, and for the subsequent generations of God’s people. And God tells them about what he’s going to do among them,
How they ought to live in the land,
How they ought to relate to other and to God,
And of course, how God’s big plans for humanity are going to continue to be worked out into the future.
And so it’s from this third section of Isaiah, with its focus on coming back to the land,
Promises of restoration,
Promises of God’s plans moving forward,
That’s where this promise from Isaiah 58 and 61 is taken.
Sometimes I’ll hear a song on the radio, and immediately I’m reminded of some moment in my life, where that song was also playing.
It most often seems to be those cheesy Christmas songs that have this effect, so I’m not quite sure what that says about me!
But for Jesus’ audience to hear these words from Isaiah, would instantly take them back, not to some earlier moment in their own, individual lives, but it would take their minds back to that earlier part of their nation’s history, when they were in exile in Babylon, and God spoke these wonderful words of restoration and deliverance.
They’d automatically be thinking of the things that God was going to do among his people when he came to fulfil all his promises to them.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor
Freedom from their poverty,
Freedom from captivity, in fact some Bibles translate prisoners there in verse 18 as prisoners of war, so embedded is this promise I the history of the exile.
Isaiah pointed people’s eyes forward to the year of the Lord’s favor.
year , not meaning 365 days, but the designated time.
There is a time coming he said, when salvation,
And salvation, will all be achieved.
No longer will God’s people be all held in captivity,
No longer will they be subject to the nations around them,
No longer will they bear the cost for sin and rebellion against God, and cut off from relationship with God,
Cut off from the temple of God in Jerusalem where God’s presence dwelt.
The good news in Isaiah, is good news of restoration and deliverance for God’s people.
The scattering and separation caused by their sin will be undone.
Jesus’ says he’s the one God has sent to save his people
So that’s all very familiar to God’s people sitting in the synagogue in Nazareth on this particular Sabbath day, what’s unexpected is what happens next.
Jesus sits down, that’s not the unexpected bit! Although you’d stand to read the Scriptures in the synagogue, you’d sit down to teach, so that bits normal, but Jesus sits down, and then utters these words, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Every now and then I do some training of preachers, and one of the things I say to these people who are learning how to teach the Bible, is that you’re not ready to stand up and preach a passage until you can explain in one sentence what it’s about!
So feel free to ask me at any point, the one sentence for any passage that we’re looking at together,
But if we were to apply that rule, to this section of the Scriptures that Jesus reads out, our one sentence summary would be something like “One day God’s going to send someone to save his people.”
But Jesus says something different, doesn’t he?
Jesus says he’s the one God has sent to save his people.
The day of God’s salvation has arrived.
The promises contained in the words of Isaiah the prophet are fulfilled.
Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
The era of salvation,
And relationship with God, is not in some future age,
Not something we still wait upon,
It is today.
Today, is the year of the Lord’s favour.
And this fits with what we saw last week, doesn’t it? What happened after Jesus’ baptism?
The Spirit of God descended on him, marking him out as the Suffering Servant of God who would take on himself the sin of the people.
What’s the promise in Isaiah? That the Spirit of the Lord will be on God’s servant.
Well, already we know that this is being fulfilled in Jesus.
And the language of being anointed also reminds us that this is a claim by Jesus to be Israel’s Messiah, or the Christ.
Those words simply mean “anointed one”, and the anointed one was going to lead and deliver God’s people,
Rescue them from their enemies,
And rule them with justice and righteousness.
For Jesus to say Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, is an unmistakeable claim to be the long-awaited Messiah.
Jesus is anointed by the Spirit of God, in order proclaim good news to the poor, to preach the good news of deliverance and restoration that God offers his people.
And so notice that Jesus is sent to proclaim, this good news,
But also to bring it about.
Jesus announces the good news;, Freedom, sight, the favour of God, and he’s the one who brings it all about.
Today this scripture is fulfilled, he says. And notice how or where Jesus says it’s fulfilled? in your hearing. Literally it’s “in your ears.”
Jesus is doing the very thing that fulfils the promise from Isaiah, isn’t he? He is proclaiming the good news.
He is doing the very thing that God said would happen.
He is doing what the Spirit of the Lord anointed him for.
He’s telling people, “You can be the recipients of God’s favour,
You an God, can be like this.”
But Jesus leaves a bit out.
But there is something surprising in what Jesus reads from Isaiah. Or actually what he doesn’t read.
The first half of Isaiah 61 verse 2 reads to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God
And yet Jesus just leaves that bit out! The promise that God made through Isaiah, was yes, a time of God’s favour, but also a time of God’s anger.
There was a promise of restoration, but also a promise of judgement.
And, of course, that’s necessary, isn’t it?
If God simply restored his people back into relationship with himself, but does nothing about the problem of sin and evil, it will be back to square one, but with the same problems still ahead of them.
It was their sin that caused them to be scattered and exiled, cut off from God in the first place.
You know what they say, the definition of stupidity is doing exactly the same thing again, but expecting different results!
Well, God’s not stupid, he’s not going to restore his people to relationship with himself and do nothing about the problem of sin and evil that actually caused the estrangement and relationship breakdown.
So there is going to be judgment on sin and evil.
Those people who live as God’s enemy, even politely ignoring God, will have to give an account for why they’ve lived in God’s world with no regard God.
So there’s no question over whether God’s judgment will come. It has to come. We need it to come.
We need sin dealt with,
We need evil punished.
And yet Jesus stops when he gets to that bit in the quote. Everyone would have been expecting it, and then there’s just silence!
A friend of mine was telling me that they’d been in a Roman Catholic church service recently, and you may know that when Catholics say the Lord’s Prayer, they don’t include the line “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.”
So my friend was happily saying the prayer out loud with everybody else in this service, they all stopped, and he sailed on merrily at the top of his voice, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory, etc”
That kind of jarring abrupt ending, is what those in the synagogue would have felt here, as Jesus breaks off his reading of Isaiah, part way though verse 2.
Now, we know that Jesus did speak of judgement, of God’s anger at sin and evil. It’s not that Jesus is embarrassed by the idea of God’s judgment or anything like that.
But he wants to make a point.
Today, for Jesus, is a day of release and freedom,
The judgement of God on sin and evil is coming, but it’s not yet.
Jesus is saying that this point in his ministry is a time of opportunity, opportunity for salvation.
Skipping the last line emphasises what’s available now.
And of course, although we stand a long way removed from first Century Nazareth, the same is true today.
Today is the opportunity to hear and respond to Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and relationship.
God will judge sin and rebellion against him, but now the offer of salvation still stands.
Now is the year of the Lord’s favour.
But who are the poor and oppressed?
But who are the poor?
What is the freedom that Jesus says he offers?
Who are the prisoners?
Is Jesus talking about actual prisoners, or metaphorical prisoners?
So there have been some Christians, who want to make Jesus’ words here all about social change.
freedom for the prisoners they say, means that the gospel of Jesus must first and foremost be about advocating for those who are literally prisoners in our society,
And that proclaiming good news to the poor means the good news can only be a message of social transformation.
You might have heard of what’s called liberation theology, a movement that came out of Latin America in the 1960s, that sought to change social structures, in order to alleviate poverty and oppression.
True followers of liberation theology will argue that reforming structures or societies is not enough, and that revolution is what’s necessary, for the church to truly be on the side of the poor and the oppressed.
And this passage here, where Jesus identifies the flavour, if you like, of his ministry, is one of the passages where the liberation theologians find their motivation.
Jesus is on the side of the poor and the oppressed, they say.
Jesus wants prisoners to be freed,
The prime purpose of Jesus’ ministry, then, is to set the oppressed free, and so anything else we might say about who God is, or what he requires of us, is secondary to the question of what are we doing, to free the oppressed?
And of course, while there’s great truth in God’s heart for those who are suffering,
And there are explicit commands for God’s people in the Scriptures for us to do good, to look after widows and orphans, for example.
The danger with using a passage like this to narrow down the purposes of God, to a particular praxis, a particular practical expression of the Christian faith, is that we will necessarily limit Christianity, to whatever particular social challenge that we face, that we can identify at any given time.
So in the 1960s when liberation theology was born, it was the post-colonial deprivation in Latin America where you found the oppressed.
And the gospel of Jesus was narrowed down, to message about their physical needs.
But actually today in Australia, the oppressed, might also include anyone who dares to disagree with the prevailing moral and social current of our day.
Last week, Chris Uhlmann from the ABC wrote a piece in The Australian, in which he observed, “It is now considered tolerant to demand silence from nonconformists.”
If you disagree with current social policy, you will be actively silenced.
That’s a form of oppression.
Is that the only group that Jesus has good news for?
No, the consistent testimony of the Scriptures is that the good news of Jesus is good news for all people.
We saw last week that Luke deliberately presented Jesus’ family links with all of humanity.
Jesus is good news for everyone, for rich and for poor.
The gospel of Jesus is even good news for those people who do the oppressing. They are not beyond the reach of the gospel.
And so I want us to see that the gospel of Jesus is not first and foremost, a message of revolution,
A call for the upheaval of social structures.
The gospel is revolutionary,
And the gospel may cause social structures to be upended, you only need to think of the work of Christian people who laboured to see the slave trade outlawed,
Christians today working to bring an end to female circumcision,
Fighting for the rights for girls and women in various parts of the world.
The good news of Jesus is revolutionary.
But upheaval and the tearing down of social structures are not its starting point, but will be in some cases, many cases, one of the effects of the good news of Jesus taking hold in peoples’ lives.
What’s revolutionary about the gospel in terms of its social impact, is the call that Jesus places on his followers to submit their desires, and their preferences, even their needs, to the needs and preferences of others,
To love our enemies, as we love ourselves,
To do good, not just to those who do good to us, but even to those who wrong us.
And so Jesus must mean more than that he’s come for those who are physically poor , blind, and oppressed, but he doesn’t mean less than those who are physically poor , blind, and oppressed.
And we see throughout the rest of the New Testament, that Christian people took seriously the example and the commands of Jesus to look after those who were in particular physical need.
It’s something that we as a church have opportunities to do in our local community,
And it’s something that we as individuals have opportunities to be involved in as God leads us.
But we need to make sure that we don’t isolate these promises here about the shape of Jesus’ ministry from the other promises that God had made about what Jesus was going to accomplish.
The Old Testament is filled with the promises of God to restore relationship between people and himself,
Promises to pour out his Spirit on his people,
Promises to offer forgiveness.
The promises of the Suffering Servant that we heard last week from Isaiah 42, were necessary, because simply changing social structures or changing the way people relate to each other were never going to be enough.
Humanity needed God’s gracious intervention in the world if we were ever going to have access to God and relationship with him.
When Jesus says the promises of Isaiah 58 and 61 are fulfilled on that day, fulfilled in him, he’s painting a picture of the breadth and depth of the message and hope that he offers.
It’s a picture that has both physical and spiritual dimensions.
Should Christians seek to serve those in prison? Yes.
Some among our own church family here have a very hands-on role in that. But it would be wrong to insist on freedom for all those prisoners, wouldn’t it? As if their crimes didn’t matter,
As if there was no need for rehabilitation.
And every time in his 2 volumes, that Luke uses this word translated freedom there in verse 18, he always uses it to refer to having sins forgiven,
For people who have rebelled against God, to be offered relationship with God.
Even the language of the poor, yes, automatically we think of people with physical needs, but Luke uses this language to speak of people who recognise their poverty before God.
The poor are those who recognise their great spiritual need, that they have nothing to offer God, and they come to God, eager for what he offers them.
The reality is, that in the Scriptures, it’s so often those who are materially poor, who hear the message of Jesus and respond.
While the rich can easily think they have no need for God.
Those who are happy with their position in life, with everything that life’s given them, it’s hard for them to hear Jesus’ message that you’re out of step with God,
You’re separated from him,
You need him to achieve something that you cannot achieve for yourself.
So, just a few pages on, in chapter 6, Jesus draws a parallel between the poor, and the prophets of God in the Old Testament, And another parallel between those who are rich and the false prophets who told lies to God’s people.
Now, Jesus doesn’t think, that if you’re poor, you’re automatically in right relationship with God, and that if you’re rich, then you’re out of step with God.
But he uses this material language, to describe spiritual realities, while at the same making the point that it’s the materially poor who are often most responsive to what Jesus offers.
Which should serve as a warning for us!
On global terms, we are among the very richest!
If those who don’t have much, are most likely to hear and respond to the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation that Jesus offers, then we who have much, need to pay special attention.
Jesus says today this promise of wholeness, restoration and relationship, is fulfilled in himself,
The things that the prophets spoke about, can be taken hold of by anyone who hears and responds,
Anyone who recognises their need.
The person who realises that they are a prisoner to sin, can be freed,
Whoever has been out of relationship with God, can now be drawn in, and instead of being alienated from God and opposed to God, because of Jesus and his message and ministry, they can receive the Lord’s favour.
The announcement of God’s favour brings rejection!
But the thing about this great message of deliverance and restoration and reconciliation, is that it has to be accepted.
And Luke showed us that at the outset, Jesus’ ministry was well-received, and even after he claims that the promises in Isaiah have come to their fulfilment, people still spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.
The local boy has made good!
You know how when someone’s footy team is winning, they talk about it as if they’re actually on the team?
“We did this, we did that, we won.”
But when the team is losing, it’s, , they! “They made that mistake,
That’s a bit of what happens with Jesus’ ministry;
Initially positive, hometown boy makes good, but then the tide starts to turn.
Alongside the amazement at Jesus’ words, is a hesitancy to accept his message. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked
And Jesus understands this question over his ancestry to be a question over his ability to make the sort of claims he just has.
See verse 23, Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’
Jesus is speaking the mind of his audience, putting words in their mouth, if you like. They’re demanding, “show us the proof.”
The Australian version would be “put up or shut up”
In saying “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”, Jesus has made a claim about himself,
That he is the one on whom God’s plans for his creation centre,
That he is the Messiah, the king, who will deliver God’s people, and that the time of restoration and reconciliation with God has now begun.
But Jesus perceives that the people, his own neighbours, are not willing to hear his claims, or accept his role as God’s agent for salvation.
Jesus gives a warning
And so Jesus gives a warning.
To reject God’s message, and God’s messenger, is to cut yourself off from the sphere of God’s blessing.
Jesus picks 2 prophets from the Old Testament, Elijah and Elisha.
God provided for Elijah through a woman from over the border in Zarephath, during a severe famine. And the description of this woman as a widow is repeated here. That is, in terms of social standings of the time, not very important.
A foreigner, and a widow, no less. The point is, she’s not very important to the Jews,
But that’s who God chose, to support the vital work of his prophet, and she also received God’s blessing and provision during that time.
The same point is made in the example of Elisha. Out of all the many in Israel with leprosy during the time of his ministry, none of them were healed, except Naaman, the Syrian, who was willing to humble himself and ask God’s prophet for what he couldn’t achieve by any other means.
Jesus’ point in reminding his audience of these events in their scriptures, is to say that Nazareth can’t make any special claim on him just because he came from there.
Have you heard that joke? How did the hipster get burnt?
He drank his coffee before it was cool!
Come see me afterwards if you need me to explain it!
The people of Nazareth can’t say “We knew Jesus before he was cool.”
The people of Israel can’t say, “Well, Jesus is one of us, he’s a Jew, so we’re all taken care of!”
No, the ministries of Elijah and Elisha demonstrate that God has always had an eye on the Gentiles, non Jews,
God always wanted to bless the nations.
And if Nazareth rejected Jesus,
If Israel rejected Jesus, there would be plenty of others who would welcome him, and welcome his message.
Well, by this time, the hometown hero bit has worn off entirely.
The people are furious at being lectured by some upstart kid they’ve known since he was in nappies! They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.
30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Already we see the kind of response to Jesus that ultimately leads to his crucifixion. And Luke doesn’t let us miss the shadow of the cross, even here, will he?
There is no mistaking that the good news of the Lord’s favour will not be welcomed by some.
And here, in this first recorded sermon from Jesus and its aftermath, we have in microcosm, his message, his whole ministry, and the responses that Jesus’ message and ministry generate.
But while Jesus gives a warning to those who knew him best, there’s also a warning for us. Perhaps, for us who think we know Jesus best.
We can’t help but notice the positive reception that Jesus’ ministry evoked;
Reports of him spread,
People spoke well of him,
Everybody praised him,
People were amazed.
And yet the story concludes with this same group of people who marvelled at his words, trying to kill Jesus, because of his words.
See, it’s possible to hear about Jesus,
To hear Jesus’ own words,
To know heaps about Jesus, and yet not take his message to heart.
It’s possible to hear Jesus announcement that he brings the Lord’s favour, and yet still try and win that favour for ourselves,
It’s possible to hear Jesus speak of the poor, and be deafened to what he offers by the plenty we enjoy,
It’s possible to hear of the freedom from sin and the forgiveness that Jesus accomplishes, and yet have so rationalised or justified our sinful behaviour, that we don’t hear the clanging chains holding us captive,
It’s possible to hear Jesus promise sight to the blind, and yet be so convinced we see things clearly, that we continue to wander in darkness.
It’s possible, to claim that we know and love Jesus, and yet keep him at arm’s length,
Which is not quite trying to push Jesus off a cliff, but it’s the first step.