Mission statement - Luke 4:14-30

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 14th September 2003.

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It appears that in today's world it is necessary for every company to have a mission statement. You'll find it on all the company's advertising, and all their paperwork. And these vision or mission statements go right to the heart of what the company really wants to give the public. For instance, Mark's and Spencer's mission statement is this: 'Our vision is to be the standard against which all others are measured.' Sadly that standard has rather slipped in recent years but they are trying! British Telecom's mission statement goes like this: 'Our vision is of a communications-rich world - a world in which everyone, irrespective of nationality, culture, class or education, can benefit from the power of communication skills and technology. This vision is at the heart of our determination to be 'the most successful worldwide communications group''. Not exactly a small goal is it! Coca Cola's website says this about themselves: 'Coca Cola exists to benefit and refresh everyone it touches.' And one final example comes from the company that my brother used to work for, the chain of hotels called the Moat House Hotels, and the motto for the conference department of the hotels is 'Where meetings mean business.' Not particularly catchy but you know what they do! All these mission statements reveal exactly what the company is about.

Now this morning we are looking at another type of mission statement, but this time not of some multi national company but of Jesus Christ. Now Jesus has been having a tough time. He's been subjected to temptation by the devil for 40 days and nights in the desert, which Luke records for us at the beginning of the chapter. And that testing time in the desert showed us what Jesus had not come to do. He had not come to glorify his own name, or show off his undoubted power. He was tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread, to hurl himself from the Temple and test his calling and finally to receive all the world by bowing to the devil. But Jesus was having none of it. He would not endanger his mission by doing any of those things.

But now we're told what he did come to do. And the content of this mission statement is so amazing and so revolutionary, that it is the sort of mission statement most companies would die for. It contains the sort of promises Coca Cola would love to attach to their product. It's a mission statement that proclaims freedom to the oppressed, sight to the blind and new life for the poor. If you could market that then you'd be a multi millionaire. But as we'll see, Jesus has something very different in mind to what we might at first think. This is not the mission statement of a power crazed business executive. It's not the political manifesto of some liberation seeking revolutionary. No this is the divine charter of the mission of God's Son, Jesus Christ. For Jesus' mission is one of spiritual freedom and liberty, of spiritual new life and sight. And that is why this mission statement is so contemporary. Because unlike Coca Cola or M & S whose products will one day fail and be consigned to the shelves of history, what Jesus offers is relevant and necessary in every generation.

And that's why Luke records this synagogue speech in particular. You'll notice that in verses 14-15 of our chapter that Jesus has been doing the rounds of the local synagogues. He's been preaching and speaking in a number of different places, and he's got quite a reputation. He's well known as a teacher and preacher. And Luke could have recorded any of those speeches for us. But there's something different about this synagogue speech. This one crystallises what he came to do, and also how people reacted to him. And as such it is perfect example not only of Jesus' mission but of mankind's response to him. And it's those two things, Jesus' mission and man's response that Luke comes back to again and again in his gospel. So as Jesus begins his public ministry Luke wants us to be in doubt whatsoever of who Jesus is and why he came. And whilst we might think we know all about it what Jesus came to do, yet as always with Jesus there is a sting in the tail. So let's turn to this manifesto:

1) The Mission Statement is Published (Vv 14-21)

2) The Director is Interviewed (Vv 22-27)

3) The Public Respond (Vv 28-30)

1) The Mission Statement is Published (Vv 14-21)

And the first thing we find is that the mission statement is published. It's what every company does when they first launch into the market, and it's what Jesus does as he begins his public preaching career. It's Jesus' first recorded sermon in Luke's gospel, and he gives it back in his home town of Nazareth. It was the Sabbath, and so as usual, he goes into the synagogue, the local church, where he'd sat as a boy and learnt the Scriptures and debated with the religious officials. It was a scene he knew only too well. And as Jesus is the local boy turned celebrity who is back in town, he is asked to read the reading and give the sermon. And so Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 61. Let's follow his reading in Luke 4 v 18: 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.' And then having read the reading, he rolls up the scroll, hands it to the church warden and sits down, taking his position for the sermon. And every eye is trained on Jesus, every ear straining to hear what this famous preacher has got to say. And what does he say? Verse 21: 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.' And those eight words that Jesus spoke that day were absolute dynamite.

Now it's hard for us to understand the full impact of what Jesus is saying here, because we are not 1st century Jews. But we'll understand something of the force of Jesus' words if we grasp a little about the OT. You see, for centuries the Jewish people had been taught to expect a rescuer, a Saviour, a King who would come and save his people. This King, or Messiah, was said to be a mighty warrior, God himself in flesh, who would come and destroy all of Israel's enemies and bring the people back to God. And there were prophecies throughout the OT looking forward to this great King. And Isaiah 61 was one such passage. This was a passage which explained what this Messiah, this Saviour King would do when he came. So imagine that you are sitting there in the synagogue that Saturday morning listening to this passage being read. You know that it's about the Messiah, the one you were taught about in Saturday School and the Nazareth Holiday Club as a boy, just like your dad, and granddad and great granddad and everyone else in your family. And then suddenly, this bloke comes along, the guy you sat next to in Nazareth Primary School, and he says 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.' It's staggering. Suddenly everyone is listening. No-one's bothered about whether the roast in the oven is going to burn. What on earth is Joseph's lad doing? Has he gone mad? Has fame gone to his head? Certainly not. Instead, Jesus is making two staggering claims:

a) Jesus' Identity- First he's making a claim about his identity. He is claiming to be the Messiah, this Saviour-King promised in the OT. Now Luke has already given us three clues in his gospel that Jesus is the Messiah, because three times he has said that Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Jesus has been equipped and empowered with the Spirit of God. In 3 v 22, we're told the Spirit came upon Jesus, and then in 4 v 1 and 4 v 14, Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit or in the power of the Spirit. And so we are prepared for verse 16: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon meJesus is God's Messiah. Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, because I am here, he's saying. I am the One promised in the OT.

b) Jesus' Task- But secondly Jesus is making a claim about his task. Because Isaiah 61 makes clear what Jesus has come to do. God has sent his Messiah to 'preach the good news to the poor'. He has sent him to 'proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.' Now there has been a lot of debate about exactly what Jesus meant when he said these words. Some people think that Jesus was simply interested in political and social reform, and these verses prove it. He came to reverse the social injustices of his day, to lift up the poor, to help the weak in society, to release the political prisoners. And, say those who commend this view, that is what Christians are to be involved in today. Well there is certainly some truth in that view, and certainly Christians today are to have a deep concern for social injustices. Jesus himself was deeply concerned about the poor, he helped the weak, and Luke more than the other gospel writers is concerned to show Jesus in this light.

But that's not the whole story. For a start, Jesus is also concerned for the rich. Do you remember Zacchaeus, the richest man in Jericho? Jesus spent a good deal of time with him, though he was very rich. Jesus also went to parties at the homes of the rich and famous, as well as in the homes of prostitutes and the poor. No, Jesus didn't see himself primarily as a social political revolutionary, whoever much his disciples wanted him to be so. Some of them wanted Jesus to take over the Roman army and drive them out of Israel. John the Baptist was seriously peeved when Jesus didn't come and break him out of prison. He even began to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. But Jesus answered him in the words of Isaiah 61 to show that he was, even though the freedom Isaiah spoke of did not mean John was freed by Jesus from prison. In fact quite the opposite, as John was later executed.

So if Jesus hadn't come for social revolution or political takeover, then why had he come? What did he mean when he quoted Isaiah 61? Well the context gives us the clue to seeing what Jesus meant. You see this passage in Luke, vv 14-30 is sandwiched between two passages which teach us about the spiritual battle Jesus was engaged in. Vv 1-13 tell us about Jesus' battle with Satan in the desert. And vv 31-37 tell us about Jesus' victory over an evil spirit. It's in the spiritual dimension that Jesus has come to claim the victory first and foremost. All these descriptions of oppression and captivity from Isaiah 61 are first and foremost to be applied spiritually. Because whilst Jesus does care for the oppressed and the poor, yet his greater concern is for us spiritually. Like it or not we are all spiritually poor, we are all spiritually blind, we are all spiritually oppressed and we are all spiritual captives. We are all enslaved to sin, and God's Messiah Jesus came to give freedom to the captives, sight to the blind and riches to the poor. And there is no better news than that. Social revolution is very important. But Jesus came to bring spiritual revolution, which can change our very eternal destinies. That is what Jesus came to do.

Now many of us here will be Christians, and we will know that these things are true, that Jesus came for us to release us and give us sight. But I wonder if sometimes familiarity with these truths breeds, if not contempt, then certainly a 'shrug the shoulders' type of apathy. There was a biographer of Lenin who traced a particular curator at the British Museum where Lenin had worked when he was in London before the First World War. When the biographer questioned the curator about his memories of Lenin, he said: 'Ah yes, Mr Lenin. I remember him well. He used to come in almost every day. I knew him very well. But then after the war I never saw him again, and I've not heard of him since then.' This curator was so familiar with Lenin that he failed to realise that the man who had come into his museum every day was the same man who was the architect of the Russian Communist State and a world leader after the First World War.

And sometimes familiarity with the stories of Jesus makes us forget what an amazing thing it is that Jesus has done for us. Have you perhaps grown a little cold with the things of God? Do you feel that perhaps you are in a bit of a rut spiritually, that it's just a bit of a chore and grind being a Christian? Maybe you feel worn down with the struggles of life that it's been a while since you felt the joy of being a Christian. You maybe feel you've just slightly lost that first love. Well reflect again on the staggering truth of these verses and thank God for Jesus. We were blind, but now we see. We were enslaved but now we are free. We were poor but now we are rich. And Jesus achieved this not through a glorious victory in battle, not through a triumphant social revolution, but on an old rugged cross, bloody, naked and alone. Charles Wesley wrote these words about Jesus in his hymn 'O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing': 'He breaks the power of cancelled sin, he sets the prisoner free, his blood can make the foulest clean, his blood availed for me.' Remember what Jesus has done for you and what it cost him. And thank God his mission was fulfilled.

2) The Director is Interviewed (Vv 22-27)

So the mission statement is published. But next the director is interviewed. Like any claims made it's only fair that the claims are tested. If I claim to you that I have invented a pill which stops you ageing then you'll want some evidence. You'll want proof that I am actually in my late fifties and have four grandchildren. And that's what happens in the next section of Luke's story. There's a demand for evidence. And at first the people are very positive towards Jesus. Verse 22: 'All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.' They thought he was great. But unfortunately the flattery is skin deep. 'Isn't this Joseph's son?' they asked. You see underlying their flattery is the thought that this man is just a local boy turned good. And as Jesus will say in a minute, the hardest people to convince are you own friends and family, your own townsfolk. No prophet is accepted in his hometown. And Jesus knows what they are thinking. They've seen Jesus grow up since he was knee high to a grasshopper. Some of the young men would have gone to school with him. One or two would have played in the same Under 16 cricket team at Nazareth YPI. A few would have done the same HND course in carpentry at Nazareth College. They know Jesus. They know that he's the kindest, most generous man in the town. But the Messiah? 'No, they say. Come off it.' And Jesus can see straight through the flattery.

So Jesus seizes the microphone and takes the initiative. See what he says to them in verse 23: 'Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum. I tell you the truth. No prophet is accepted in his hometown.' The proverb, 'Physician heal yourself,' was common at the time and meant something like: 'Prove it!', 'show us the evidence'. Of course, the daft thing is, Jesus has already produced the evidence in Capernaum. Luke doesn't fill us in on the details, but we know from verse 15 that he's been around other places. But the Nazarenes don't want the testimony of other people. They want to see it with their own eyes. They won't believe until they've seen it themselves. 'Come on Jesus, show us your tricks, they're thinking. Do here in Nazareth for us what you did in Capernaum.' But Jesus is not in the business of performing for the sake of it. He refused to be tempted by the devil when he urged Jesus to turn stones into bread, and he refuses now. And the real problem for these Nazarenes is their pride. They just can't swallow the truth that Jesus is their Messiah, that he's their Saviour and King. And they refuse to accept it.

So by way of illustration, Jesus reminds them of two OT stories. The first happened in the time of Elijah the OT prophet, and is told in 1 Kings 17. So Jesus says in verse 25: 'I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.' This woman was about to die when she met Elijah. She had enough grain left for herself and her son to have one last meal together. But Elijah tells her to use her last grains to make him a cake and something for herself and the boy, and if she does that she would never go hungry until the famine passed. And that's what happened. This gentile woman realised she was in a desperate situation so she trusted the prophet and God provided for her. Jesus' other illustration makes the same point. Verse 27: 'And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed, only Naaman the Syrian.' Again the person in need is a Gentile, a non Jew, this time a Syrian general. But his desperate need is leprosy. And in order to be cured he must bathe in the Jordan seven times. It was very humiliating for this important man. But again he recognised his need and trusted God's prophet.

And the application to Jesus' hearers is clear. They must be like the two gentiles in the story. They must recognise their need and humbly submit to God's prophet. They must admit that they are spiritually blind, captive and poor and come to Jesus for sight, freedom and spiritual riches. But of course they won't because they are proud. They won't admit their spiritual need. And they certainly won't admit that Jesus is the one to offer the solution. You can almost hear them muttering to themselves can't you: 'He's not seriously suggesting we should be like those Gentiles in those stories is he? He's not seriously saying we're blind and need him to save us. That's outrageous. What arrogance!' How proud they were. Completely unwilling to admit their need.

And pride may well be a barrier for some here this morning to come to Jesus for rescue. Because the Bible says some things which are hard for us to hear. It says that we are spiritually blind, that we're captives to our sin, that we are spiritually impoverished without God. Have you swallowed your pride and admitted that yet? Have you had the humility to come to Christ, admit your need of him and asked for forgiveness. The Nazarenes couldn't do it. They just couldn't stomach the fact that Jesus was God's rescuer King come to save them. Have you humbled yourself before God and come to the foot of the cross to receive that sight that Jesus gives, that freedom that he offers that new life he is willing to give. Don't let pride get in the way of coming to Christ. It's just not worth it.

C S Lewis was a very proud man. He was a professor of English at Oxford University in the 1920's. He was a staunch atheist and strongly refused to acknowledge the existence of God. But slowly God humbled him and brought him to his senses. Listen to the way Lewis puts it: 'You must picture me alone in that room in [Oxford], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the [Winter] Term of 1929 I gave in; I admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.' Lewis had to swallow his pride and admit that God was God, and that Jesus Christ was the only one who could give him the spiritual sight and freedom he needed.

But pride can also be a barrier for many Christians in their walk with God, even though they have admitted their need before God and come to him. Imagine a young couple recently married. They have just bought a new house and they move in all very excited. But there is a lot of work to be done. The roof leaks, every room needs redecoration, there's damp in the basement and kitchen is pre-war. So gradually they set about redecorating and over the years the home has more and more their own personal stamp upon it. It's the same for the Christian. It's as if we have let Christ into our lives. We've given him the keys of our lives. But if we're honest we know there is much redecoration to be done. There are many things in our lives which need sorting out. We nee to let Christ shape every room of our lives, that we might become more like him. And the danger is we refuse to let Christ into some rooms in our life. We're too ashamed to let him decorate those particular rooms. We don't want to lose control of certain parts of our lives. We're too proud and afraid of what he might find. Maybe we're scared of him being Lord of our work, or marriage. We're too proud to let him have the reigns over our finances or our health. We're happy to let Christ in to the house, but we don't want him to get too comfortable. And so in those areas we keep him at arms length. Well if that's us, then we need to humbly admit our need. We can't do it on our own. We can't keep some rooms locked. He demands to be Lord of our whole lives. For he is the master rebuilder, he is the expert redecorator of lives. He knows what is best, even though we're sacred and anxious. Don't be scared. He will not put out a smouldering wick or crush a bruised reed. He is the one who brings sight to the blind, and freedom to the captives. So trust him. Be willing to put your life in his hands. Don't let pride get in the way of your relationship with God.

3) The Public Respond (Vv 28-30)

The mission statement is published, the director interviewed, and then finally and briefly the public respond. How do the Nazarenes react? Well they cannot have this Jesus among them. Their pride leads them to drive Jesus out. Verse 28: 'All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 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 down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.' It's a terrible moment as they drag Jesus up the to the top of the hill and threaten to throw him off the top. And it illustrates exactly how human beings react to Jesus. They will either reject him, and get rid of this Saviour who so offends human pride, perhaps by cold apathy or heated rejection. Or they will bow before him and call him Lord and King. There are only two possible reactions, no middle ground. And perhaps the saddest comment in this whole passage is the last verse. Jesus went on his way. There was no way this angry mob could have taken Jesus' life at that point. It was not his time to die. But what is sad is that Jesus walks away. He accepts the town's rejection of him and goes to others who will receive him. And as far as we know, he never returned. It is a mark of God's judgement upon us that he lets us reject him at will. And Jesus' judgement upon Nazareth that day was that he walked away from them. They drove away their only hope of salvation and rescue.

And whilst today is still the day of salvation, whilst there is still the opportunity to come back to God today, yet one day the offer will close. Because in his reading from Isaiah 61, Jesus stopped short at verse 2. For there Isaiah says that the Messiah 'has come to proclaim the day of the Lord's favour and the day of vengeance of our God.' Yes the day of favour is still with us. But one day, Jesus will return to wrap up history, and the time for rescue will have finished, and only God knows when that day will be. Then God will act in judgement and just vengeance on those who have rejected him and his Messiah Jesus. So Jesus urges us to receive his rescue while there is still time, while the offer still stands, before it's too late. Don't be like the Nazarenes who drove Jesus out of their lives. Receive the rescue while there's still time.

Well I wonder what you make of Jesus' mission statement. I'm sure you'll agree it's far better news than Coca Cola can gives us or even Mark's and Spencer. Jesus offers freedom for the enslaved, sight for the blind, and good news for the poor. May God grant that each of us here today see our need and come to Christ for help.


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