Monday, April 06, 2009

Sermon: Luke 4: 14-30 Jesus: HIs Message

I’m sure you’re familiar with election manifestos. Coming up to the time of elections, suddenly the post man has to struggle with the extra weight of all the leaflets and flyers from the various parties and politicians, looking for your vote. In those leaflets, you see the manifesto - the message they’re promoting and the promises they make.

Tonight, we’ll see the message of Jesus - his manifesto, if you will, as he begins his public ministry in his home town of Nazareth. What is it he says? What is the message of Jesus? You might find it useful to have the passage open, but it will also be on the screen. Luke 4:14-30. We’ll see the message, and then the rejection of that message.

Let’s set the scene. Jesus has just been baptised, then spent forty days in the wilderness. His public teaching ministry is beginning, first in Capernaum, and now in Nazareth, where he grew up. The scroll of Isaiah has been given to him, and he begins to read from chapter 61. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.’

Having read, he then sits down to speak on the passage. This was entirely normal, and no doubt the passage had been spoken on and explained many times down through the years in the synagogue. But there was never a sermon like this one.

Luke records just the opening words of the sermon, yet they are enough for us to grasp Jesus’ message. ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ What Jesus is saying here is that these words, written approximately 700 years beforehand, are all about him. The prophet Isaiah looked forward to the one who would be anointed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news.

If you remember those words at the end of Luke’s Gospel, on the road to Emmaus. He explains that he had to die, and ‘beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.’ (Luke 24:27)

That word anointing just means being blessed, set apart, equipped, empowered by the Holy Spirit for the job at hand. In the Old Testament, kings were anointed, so too were prophets, and priests. In a special way, then, Jesus is anointed by the Spirit - which is precisely what the title ‘Christ’ means - the anointed.

So as we look for the authentic message of Jesus, we find that it is a big ‘me.’ The ‘me’ in this passage of Isaiah is Jesus. It’s all about him, and what he will do. The message of Jesus, the message about Jesus, is one of good news. Look at the various things he will do (that he is doing) - proclaiming good news to the poor, proclaiming liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberty for those who are oppressed.

How could you fail to be glad if these things were proclaimed and performed for you? Liberty, freedom, sight, good news. And it all flows from Jesus - this is the message that he preaches - himself!

And yet, as you read the passage, you notice that the congregation begins to turn against him. Jesus publishes his manifesto, but the people don’t want to vote for him. Do you see what they say in verse 22: ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’

What is it they mean by this? Well, it appears that as Jesus identifies himself as the Servant of the Lord from Isaiah, the people don’t like this. He’s identifying himself as the Lord Jesus - the Son of God.

This is what Luke has been showing right through his Gospel. If you have a Bible, flick back to Luke 1:32: ‘He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High.’ Then to Luke 3:22: the voice from heaven says ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’ The angel Gabriel, the voice from heaven, and even Satan recognises Jesus as the Son of God: ‘If you are the Son of God’ (4:3)

But the people like it better when he’s just Jesus the son of Joseph, the carpenter’s son. They remember his growing up, and when he starting working with Joseph in the workshop, and when he took over the business when Joseph died. They can handle the carpenter, but not the Christ. The man Jesus, but not the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friends, it seems to me that the congregation that day turned to unbelief because of over-familiarity with Jesus. They like him fixing furniture and making doors, but not when he reveals himself as the subject of Scripture. Could it be that we can also be over-familiar with Jesus, so that we fail to see the great blessings of the good news? Have we heard about the cross so often that it just washes over us? Let’s pray that this week we will hear afresh, and really focus on the wonder of the cross!

Perhaps they thought that they didn’t need him. The message he brings is, as we’ve thought about, one of freedom, release, recovery, restoration. Yet to benefit from the message, to receive the blessings that Jesus offers, we have to admit our need - we have to see ourselves as needing to be released from the power of the devil; we have to confess that we are blind, spiritually blind without the light of the Lord; we have to admit that we are captives to the world, the flesh and the devil.

The people couldn’t bring themselves to admit those things. After all, they were good Jews at synagogue - what need would they have? Surely they were in with God!

Yet Jesus illustrates their profound blindness, by likening them to the days of the classical prophets, Elijah and Elisha. Are you familiar with these two? You might like to read 1 Kings 17-19 and 2 Kings 4-8 to recall their stories.

What Jesus is saying as he points to Elijah and Elisha is that God is bigger than the Israelites, and that God’s good news is for everyone, not just the people of Israel. That God is sovereign, and will give his grace to those he chooses. You see, the people of Nazareth expected that Jesus would perform miracles there, as he had in Capernaum. Yet as in Israel’s history, God is in charge:

So during the famine, Elijah goes to stay with a widow in Sidon, away from Israel, when there were plenty of widows he could have stayed with inside Israel. Similarly, while there were lepers in Israel, it was only a foreigner, Namaan who was healed of his leprosy.

Do you see where their rejection leads? They become so angry that they want to get rid of Jesus, by throwing him over the cliff. By rejecting his message, they also reject Jesus himself, and seek to destroy him. Yet he is able to pass through them, away to safety.

So as we draw to a close, let’s remember that the authentic message of Jesus is found in the Scriptures, and is the message of himself - ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.’ The Scriptures testify to Jesus. Let’s pray that we don’t reject him, but that we receive the great blessings of the good news - liberty, freedom, sight, and knowing the year of the Lord’s favour.

I want to close with the words from John’s Gospel: He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ (John 1:11-12)

This sermon was preached at Sunday at 6.30 in St Elizabeth's Halls on Sunday 5th April 2009.

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