Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sermon: Luke 4: 14-21 The Saviour's Manifesto

The former North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il was well known for making some outrageous claims. In 2000 he claimed to have invented the ‘double bread with meat’ - or as we’ve known it for a lot longer, the burger. Another time, he claimed to have scored a massive 38 under par round of golf - the best Tiger Woods has ever managed is a measly 11 under par. Big claims, but ultimately false.

Perhaps more believable, although not by much, are the claims that you might hear from the mouths of politicians. Thankfully there are no elections coming up this year, but when election season swings around there are lots of claims made by the politicians, lots of promises about what they can do and will do. It’s only as time goes on that you see how they measure up to their words.

Our Bible reading today also contains a big claim, perhaps it might even seem unbelievable. It comes from the lips of Jesus in the last verse we read, verse 21: ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ For the rest of our time we’re going to think about these words to see what he’s claiming, and if we can believe his words.

The scene is the synagogue in Nazareth. This is the town Jesus grew up in, the place he was known best. Those gathered in the synagogue remember him from when he was wee, they’ve watched him grow up, they’ve maybe even hired him as a carpenter in the past.

They’ve heard reports of his teaching and preaching around Galilee, and now here he is, back in Nazareth, in their synagogue on the Sabbath day. We’re told that it was his custom to go to synagogue - the place where the Jews would gather to pray and read the scriptures. He makes a priority to be with God’s people on the Sabbath. When it comes time for the reading, he’s given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and begins to read from chapter 61:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Right there, he stops, rolls up the scroll, and sits down at the front, ready to teach. The eyes of everyone are on him, they’re ready and listening, waiting to hear what he will say. They could not have expected or predicted how he would start. Here’s what he says: ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

Let’s break it down. This scripture - these words of the prophet Isaiah were written about 700 years beforehand. Towards the end of Isaiah’s prophecy there are a series of ‘servant songs’. In these, the voice of the promised king is heard - the promises of who he is and what he will do. In Isaiah 53 we find the most famous of the servant songs, as the sufferings of the Messiah are spelled out. But in this one, from Isaiah 61, the Messiah, the Servant of the Lord declares that God’s Spirit is upon him, empowering him, having anointed him for action.

And what will he do? He will bring good news to the poor - those without hope will be given hope. Those suffering in prison as prisoners of war will be released and freed. Those who are blind will be given sight. Those who are oppressed will go free. It’s freedom from suffering and sorrow. It’s the best kind of good news. And it’s all tied up in the Lord’s favour. How good it is to know that the Lord is for you, not against you. This is the news being proclaimed by the Spirit-anointed, Spirit-empowered King.

This is the Scripture that has been read for seven hundred years... yet still they were waiting. This is the hope they clung to, even through exile and defeat and suffering. This is the scripture that gives hope to the hopeless.

And in that synagogue on that day in Nazareth, ‘this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ Jesus says that the waiting is finished. Jesus says that the promise is now being fulfilled. No matter how many times before they had heard and hoped and longed for the Messiah to come; they need wait no longer.

Jesus sits and says the ‘me’ is ‘me’: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me (Jesus), because he has anointed me (Jesus) to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me (Jesus)...’ It’s no longer a puzzle to be worked out. He’s a person to welcomed.

Now as we said at the start, perhaps this is just another big claim, maybe this is just another politician’s manifesto - says one thing, and then does another. But just trace through the rest of Luke - what Jesus sets out here, he accomplishes. Flick over to Luke 7:20. John the Baptist is in prison, and he wonders if Jesus really was the one promised. How does Jesus respond? ‘the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.’ (Luke 7:22)

The Old Testament points forward to Jesus. He fulfills the promises of God. So as we read the Old Testament, it’s all about Jesus. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20 ‘For in him every one of God’s promises is a Yes.’

This Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. Jesus is filled with the Spirit to accomplish the work and promises of God to release those who are suffering and to bring freedom. It’s the good news we rejoice in today as we baptise Amelia, and pray that she too will share in our joy. But there’s one other word in that sentence of Jesus we need to examine. It’s the first word: ‘Today.’

Jesus stopped reading from Isaiah 61:2 halfway through a sentence. In fact, he stopped at a comma. The rest of the sentence continues: ‘to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God.’ What Jesus is saying is that that day, indeed right through to this day, it’s the year of the Lord’s favour- not a calendar year, but a season, a time period that has so far extended 2000 years. We’re in the days of the Lord’s favour, but when Jesus returns it will be the day of vengeance, of judgement.

In this day, today, Jesus has given us his Spirit, we too share in his mission. All who are Christians have been filled with the Spirit, and we are sent to share the good news in word and deed; to bring justice, and freedom and liberty. To reach out with acts of love and grace. To pass on what we have received from Jesus so that others can share in the celebration.

So it’s appropriate and right, since we share in Christ and his Spirit, to declare that the Spirit of the Lord is on you; that you have been anointed to bring good news to the poor. You have been sent by him to proclaim release & sight & freedom; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

How would that change your actions this week? How will you live out the Spirit’s presence in your life? Could we together make an impact on our community, on our workplaces? The Lord has given us all we need - his own self. Let’s step up, as we are led by the Spirit, to demonstrate his love and share the good news, for his praise and glory. Amen.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 27th January 2013.

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