Jesus - The Message - Luke 4:14-30
Have you noticed how purpose, or mission statements have become vogue in the latter years of the 20th century? As Im sure few of us could have failed to notice mission statements are carefully crafted sentences that sum up what an organisation, a company or school considers to be its reason for being.
I received through the post the other day the purpose statement of my old university. "The university will serve the national, regional & international communities by a) the provision of educational & training opportunities to the highest standards & b) The conduct of internationally recognised research & scholarship " That is functional if rather dry! I don t suppose many lecturers & students have memorised it or have it framed on their walls to inspire their activities!
What we have before us this evening however is rather different. It is in some ways the mission statement of Jesus Christ. It is his manifesto, his policy document outlining at the start of his public life, what he has come for, who he is & what he is to do.
The content & the effect of this purpose statement are far from being merely functional & dry they are words which have been the basis for many millions finding something of ultimate value & in turn inspiring them to a purpose & mission that continues to this very day.
We pick up Lukes account of Jesus life & work in chapter 4. Already in Luke there has been a fair amount of interesting information given about the central character. We thought last Sunday about his remarkable origins, origins which point us to him being truly divine & fully human at the same time. At his birth the angels announced he was [2; 11] "a saviour Christ the Lord". After he grows into adulthood he is baptised by his cousin John & a voice from heaven announces "You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased" (3; 22).
We pick up the story after Jesus has spent 40 days in the desert where he has undergone a gruelling spiritual struggle with the devil. A battle in which he is asked to reject Gods way, but in which he stands firm.
Jesus public reputation is increasing as he takes part in a preaching tour in the Galilee region. Part of the tour included Nazareth, his hometown. On this particular Sabbath day Jesus does what is quite ordinary. v16 "he went into the Synagogue as was his custom".
The service was quite routine. There would have been prayers; quite ordinary. There would have been a reading from one of the 1st 5 books of the Bible (Law) quite ordinary. Then Jesus as the visiting rabbi read from the prophets, the book of Isaiah in itself quite ordinary.
Then Jesus as the reader sat down & began to explain the passage quite ordinary.
But what he says is quite extraordinary. Jesus sermon is only 8 words long but it was the most astonishing sermon these Nazarenes had ever heard. Let me repeat it for you; v21 "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing".
Lets see what Jesus was saying & why these 8 words are so mind blowing.
The 1st thing to notice is that;
1) Jesus is Gods unique servant king. The portion of the Bible Jesus read, comes from Isaiah 61. Jesus reads v1, 2."The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me..". And he adds on finishing; "This scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." In other words - This is me! (p) Jesus may have been a visiting rabbi but these Nazareth folk, they knew him. Theyd been to School with him, theyd played football with him (or local equivalent), theyd bought furniture from his dads shop! But now here he is Josephs son saying that these words written 700 years before are about him!
Those who heard Jesus in church that morning knew the background of the book he read from they knew the whole story. They knew that in Ch 11 of Isaiah (verses we read at carol services) someone is to be sent from God who "will come up from the stump of Jesse". In other words one from King Davids family (Jesse Davids father). This person will be one who will be a king. A king with "the Spirit of the Lord" on him". Its clear Jesus is saying he is the long awaited Spirit strengthened king sent by God.
Also these people knew ch42 where God encourages the people to expect his special servant. A servant, God says, "I will uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight. I will put my Spirit on him & he will bring justice to the nations". Its clear Jesus is the long awaited Spirit anointed servant of God.
Ch 61, that Jesus reads from in the synagogue is rather similar "The Spirit of the LORD is upon me because he has anointed me " Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
The conclusion is unmissable; Jesus is the messiah. Jesus is Gods specially commissioned servant-king. They may have been waiting 700 years, but finally the waiting is over. He is here.
You know this is the true Jesus. Gods messiah Gods unique king equipped by Gods spirit. He is Gods agent who rules by serving, the one who, we learn later, serves by dying. It is this, full blooded, true Jesus that we must focus on if were to understand what hes about & relate to him as he really is. And you know, we need to be continually called back to this true Jesus because there are many Jesus we might get offered at the turn of the 2nd Millennium. Among many others there is Jesus the new age guru offering advice on attaining "cosmic consciousness" & self-realisation. Fix it Jesus offered to remove all our personal problems, Jesus the political activist, encouraging an alternative programme of social reform & theres Jesus the personal therapist who can be called on to help us feel better about ourselves.
I suspect we live in a world where increasingly the real Jesus - the one who even though he was God in human form gave himself up to death to serve others, the one who spoke of his death fulfilling his role as messiah, as being to deal with our rebellion against God, the one who as King as well as servant demands allegiance & an insistence on truth - this Jesus will not be a popular figure in the early years of the 3rd Millennium
At times we will be tempted to make him a little less controversial or disturbing. That temptation will be present in relation to our own lives & as we introduce him to others. But if were to understand him, even encounter him as he makes himself known in his purpose statement, we must recognise him as he himself has made himself known to us Gods unique Spirit strengthened kingly servant.
What we then see is that: 2) Jesus brings a message of rescue for the spiritually needy. Jesus public Bible reading continues; v18, 19 "he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners & recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed."
Here is Jesus mission statement. This is what Jesus has come to do. At 1st hearing it appears that Jesus mission is economic (good news for the poor) political (prisoners freed & the oppressed released) & medical (blind). Does Jesus coming mean that we shouldnt need a Chancellor of the Exchequer or a prison service or ophthalmologists?
One of the extraordinary things about Jesus that we learn in the pages of the gospels is that he was certainly not affected by the prejudices of his day. He is not impressed by privilege, wealth or status like most people are. He was concerned for those who were outcasts including those with incurable diseases, the disabled, the spiritually tormented, the morally dubious. To read of his interactions with such people may still be shocking to those who consider themselves decent & respectable & even religious!
But if Jesus had come to make economists, doctors & the police unnecessary then on the evidence of Lukes gospel he should be judged a failure. After all in only the next chapter Jesus brings good news to a rich man (tax collector, hes clearly not simply interested in financially poor people.) And as for prisoners (which literally means prisoners of war) we dont find him anywhere getting people such freedom.
Whats more we have these words just after the recording of Jesus winning a spiritual battle over a spiritual enemy, the devil. Its clear that the prisoners Jesus brings freedom for, are spiritual prisoners. The oppressed are those damaged by spiritual forces. The blind are those who cant see the crucial spiritual realities of life.
In short, the poor Jesus comes to bring good news to, are those who are lost; those who are spiritually needy & helpless & who know it.
You may have heard the words of an anonymous poet who expressed well the need of humanity for such good news "If our greatest need had been for information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been for money God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been for technology God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been pleasure God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was for forgiveness so God sent us a rescuer".
And dont we indeed need a rescuer? The Bible is clear that we are naturally trapped in our rebellion against God, we need his help so much but were cut off from him. We are helpless without his help.
And it is a preparedness to recognise this reality that defines the kind of poor Jesus has come to bring good news to. That is poor in the sense of needing Gods help & knowing that only God can help for no one else can.
Such "poor" people may be financially poor as well, perhaps the financially rich are less likely to recognise spiritual reality because their money numbs them in some way, but with these ultimate realities, how much is in your bank account isnt the issue. It is the spiritually poor, that Jesus has good news for. Jesus has come to give sight & freedom to the humble poor that recognise they are prisoners to sin & have been blinded by the ideas of this godless world around them.
Can I ask tonight - are you prepared to admit that you are poor? Spiritually unable to help yourself? Do you see you need what Jesus came to bring, the good news of freedom, sight, and release? Or are you still pretending you are really OK anyway?
A story is told of a boy who managed to get a valuable porcelain vase stuck on his head when he was playing spacemen one day.
His mother rang her husband at work to get advice; "Shall I break it?" she asked "Dont you dare" came back the reply I had it valued at Sothebys last week & its priceless. Take him to casualty".
The mother ushered the boy to the car, but it was not there. Then she remembered it was being serviced & the awful truth dawned on her- she would have to take him by public transport, what would people think if she got on the bus with her son who had a vase where his face should be? She just couldnt think what to do. Then she had an idea- she would dress him up in his school blazer & put his school cap on top to try & cover the situation up.
Are we not rather like that with our human nature? We instinctively want to cover up our spiritual poverty, but Jesus cant help until we are prepared to admit it & look to him for help. Jesus came for people like you & me who are poor, imprisoned & blinded by our rebellion against God. He is the great need of the human race, all the human race. Our greatest need is of a rescuer. But Jesus can only rescue us when we see our need.
What about those of us, who know well enough were spiritually poor & have found in Jesus the good news of freedom, sight & release? We want to pass onto others where good news can be found, we know everyone needs this good news whatever the surface image thats presented, yet we find it hard for so many reasons.
Let me encourage you with the opportunities that are within our grasp at the moment. Did you know there is to be training for "reluctant evangelists" on Nov 21st here at St Johns? If youre a student Derek can tell you of similar training on campus at the moment.
There are also opportunities to invite friends to hear about the good news- Do try & make the "Releasing the captives" eve on Nov 3rd (spot the origin of the title?) Michael Green has been one of the most used evangelists by God in this country over the past decades great to have him come to Hull. You can be sure hell be clear, contemporary, interesting & most importantly faithful in presenting the true Jesus & his good news.
Its not long before our next Christianity Explored eves start chance to find out about the true Jesus & what he is really about asking any questions you like without embarrassment.
Jesus brings good news to the poor, good news that needs to be received & passed on.
3) Jesus introduces the limited time of opportunity Jesus is the servant king come to rescue the spiritually needy. And he adds another clause to his mission statement; v19 "to proclaim the year of the Lords favour".
Let me fill in a little background. In the OT, Israel, Gods special people lived in small clusters of families who worked the land for their living. In a bad year they might have had to borrow money to keep going. These loans required repayment & so if another bad year came they might have had to send one of their number to work for the lender as payment or even sell some of their land. The consequences of these kinds of things in an agricultural community could be disastrous. Quickly families would fall into the poverty trap.
So God in his goodness & to point forward to what he was going to do in the future at an even more profound level, told his people that every 50 years all debts were to be cancelled, people working for others were to go home to their families & all property, all inheritance, was to be returned to original owners. This way the poverty trap was sprung.
This provision (described in Lev 25) was called the year of Jubilee (where campaign for release of 3rd world debt Jubilee 2000 gets the idea.) Imagine the reaction of people when they knew the 50th year coming up. Who would be the people most looking forward to the year of Jubilee? Those who couldnt pay & needed help from another, the poor.
Listen again to v18/19 with this in mind; "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 & recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed. To proclaim the year of the Lords favour Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" In other words Jesus has come to announce a year of spiritual Jubilee for those who are in need & who know they were in need
You see, we have all forfeited our plot in heaven- we have had to leave, our debts have piled up. But once in a lifetime, once in eternity, God declares a Jubilee.
Through the life & death of his son God can pardon our sins, there can be life with Gods family & we can be given an eternal inheritance in heaven. Jesus said hes come to herald the "year of the Lords favour", a Jubilee & 1999 is still part of that year now is the time of the availability of God s mercy through Jesus.
This is wonderful! Yet there is something rather serious & sobering about it too;
Let me take you back to that Synagogue service in Nazareth. Jesus stands up to read, the attendant hands him scroll, finds passage in Isaiah & reads until he comes to what is a phrase in 2 halves, but he only reads the 1st part "to proclaim the year of the Lords favour". Jesus stops there and so misses out what comes next. Let me read to you the whole verse "to proclaim the Lords favour & the day of vengeance of our God".
This is very important. Jesus is the Servant-King messiah. He has come to bring spiritual life to those who know they are in need. His coming has brought in the year of Gods favour but it has not yet begun the day of judgement. At this stage of history Jesus is not going to bring Gods judgement on rebellious people & societies. That will come later when he returns.
That means that this year of the Lords favour, this Jubilee, is a time that will end. There is a closing date for Gods offer to his rebellious creatures. It is, in advertising speak truly "for a limited period only". Gods patient mercy represented by a year, is long, but when it is over then the short but inevitable & desirable day of judgement will come. Wherever we stand before God this evening there is an urgency about Jesus mission statement; Gods favour is available through Jesus to us & to our friends but Gods year of grace & favour wont last forever. Decisions made now during the time of Gods favour will influence our position on that day of Gods accounting.
As we close we need to see the effect this Jesus has on those he spoke to as he presented his mission statement. At 1st Jesus is treated like the political party leader whose made his keynote address at the autumn party conference; V15 "Everyone praised him". v22 "all spoke well of him & were amazed at his gracious words"
But Jesus can see that these responses are merely superficial he knows that theyre thinking local boy prove it (Physician heal yourself) show us some evidence you are who you say you are. Jesus unmasks their superficial response by reminding them of 2 incidents from their Bible that really presses some buttons in that local community.
In a nutshell Jesus reminds them that these 2 great OT prophets Elijah & his protege Elisha are used by God to help those who were examples of people Jesus has just spoken of as poor those who were helpless & lost & spiritually underprivileged. They were in need & knew they couldnt help themselves.
To these spiritually privileged Nazareth synagogue worshippers this is too much theyre furious. Indeed v29 "they took him to the brow of the hill in order to throw him down the cliff". What had been praise & warm words for Jesus turn out to be murderous intent under the surface. The proud & spiritually self-sufficient hate to think of God being concerned for the helpless. But the spiritually poor are those for whom Jesus came.
So how do you respond to Jesus Mission statement? Are you prepared to accept reality or are you pretending youre really OK?
Are we ourselves willing to take on the mission, to go to the spiritually poor with good news? The truth is were all poor the reality is those who think theyre not, find Jesus manifesto a total loser but for those who know their need it is the best news they have ever heard
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