Mission announced - Luke 4:14-30

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the evening service on 21st January 2007.

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A young woman was driving on a long journey one night and she pulled into a service station to refuel. She then went inside to pay and buy herself some chewing gum and crisps. But as she drove off, a huge truck pulled out behind her. Out on the motorway, the girl realised that the truck was very close behind, uncomfortably close! She stepped on the accelerator, but to her dismay, the truck driver accelerated too. "I must be imagining this," she thought, trying not to panic. Yet whether she slowed down, changed lanes or speeded up, the truck stayed with her, its big headlights shining straight into her car. Unable to stand it any longer, the girl turned into the next service station she came to. The truck pulled off the motorway right on her tail. Jamming on the brakes, she jumped out and raced to the driver's side of the truck. At the same moment, a man leapt out of the back of her car where he had been crouching ever since the last stop. The truck driver was too quick for him and caught him just as he tried to make it to the open field behind the station. Later, after the police had come, the truck driver went over to the young woman. "I saw him jump into your car just before you came out of the petrol station back there, but there was no time to warn you before you drove off. The only thing I could think of was to stick so close to you with my high beams flooding your car so that he'd know I'd see him if he tried to do anything to you.” Well the woman was stunned. All she could say, with a mighty sigh of relief, was, "And here I was wondering how I was going to shake off a crazy truck driver!"

            Sometimes in life things aren’t always as they seem and it’s easy to draw the wrong conclusions. And often such misjudgements happen through complacency. We just assume things are the way they seem. So truck drivers, we assume, are always maniacs, so the truck driver must be out to get the girl. But we don’t know all the facts and we’ve drawn the wrong conclusion because we’ve grown complacent. We’re not willing to consider another possibility or another perspective.

            Now when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ, the danger for many of us who would claim to be Christians is that we think, although probably never admit it,  that we have Jesus sussed. We know who he is, we know what he’s come to do, we think we know his power and his majesty. In short we’ve got him taped, boxed in where we want him, safe so he cannot make us feel too uncomfortable. And that is why studying the gospels is actually so important. In fact it is vital for our spiritual health. Because the Jesus of the gospels is far greater and bigger than we make him out to be. For this Jesus is God himself, who cannot be tamed or put in a box, or assumed to work in a predictable way. He is a God of surprises. And it’s this majestic, holy, surprising God that we meet in the person of Jesus Christ.

            So over the next few months we need to be prepared for some surprises. Jesus will challenge us in ways we have not considered. He will reveal things about himself that we had not thought of. He’ll remind us of things we’d forgotten. In short he will show us that he is far far greater than we often make him out to be. So let us not arrogantly assume that we can second guess Jesus. Rather let us humble ourselves before him and let us listen to what he says to us about himself. Because if we come to Luke’s gospel thinking we have Jesus sussed, then not only are we in for a major shock, but we are also treading on very think spiritual ice. Because complacency in the things of God is a very short step from apostasy, that is turning from him. For we will quickly grow cold and hard hearted. And none of us wants to go down that route.

            So we begin this evening at the start of Jesus’ public ministry as he explains back in his home town just who he is and what he has come to do. And we’ll see that as Jesus shows what kind of Lord and King he is, then he challenges us to respond appropriately if we claim to be his followers. For we must:

1) Admit our need of the saving Lord (Vv 14-21)

2) Practise humility before the sovereign Lord (Vv 22-27)

3) Expect suffering in following the rejected Lord (Vv 28-30)

1) Admit our need of the Saving Lord (Vv 14-21)

And the first challenge we encounter from the Lord Jesus is to admit our need of the saving Lord. And it’s the fact that Jesus is the saving Lord that becomes clear in his sermon that day in Nazareth. So let’s pick up the story in verse 16: “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.” Now when Jesus enters Nazareth, he is definitely the local hero returning home. Luke has already told us in verse 14-15 that he’s become famous throughout Galilee because of his preaching and healing ministry. Everyone was speaking about him. He was the talk of the phone ins on Radio Galileeside, the web blogs, the Nazareth Daily Mail, the ladies at the tanning salon, the school gate. So when he turns up at church on Saturday, the very place he went as a boy, then everyone wants to hear from him. Verse 17: “The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "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." So 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. Because he is making an amazing claim!

            So what exactly is it that Jesus is claiming for himself? Well first and foremost he’s claiming something about his identity.  He is claiming to be the Messiah, the Saviour-King promised in the OT. Many passages in the OT looked forward to one who would come and rescue his people. Passages like Isaiah 61. And all of Jesus’ contemporaries would have known that. And now Jesus is saying that he’s the one. He’s the one who fulfils Isaiah 61. 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 me….” Jesus is God’s Messiah. He is the Spirit anointed rescuer that God is sending into the world.

            But he’s also claiming to do all the things that Isaiah said this Messiah figure would do in verses 18-19: “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." Now a lot of people debate exactly what Jesus meant by 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 Jesus was also concerned for rich people like Zaccheaus, or Joseph of Arimathea, or Nicodemus the religious leader. Yes, the materially needy do often respond to the gospel more readily than those who are materially well off perhaps because it’s easier to recognise a need. But that’s not the full story of Jesus’ mission. These verses are not encouraging us to think of Jesus as a political revolutionary. No something far more profound is going on.

            And it’s the surrounding passages that help us to see what Jesus is really claiming. Because Luke 4 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. So notice how Isaiah describes us. We are spiritual paupers. We are destitute, in rags, having nothing in our hands to bring. Some of us perhaps vainly cling to the fact that we can offer some riches, some good deeds. But the Bible tells us that even our good deeds are like filthy rags. We are spiritual prisoners. We are chained to sin, like a condemned criminal is chained to the wall of dark dank prison. There’s no way of escape. Our rebellion, our sin is so great that we can never pay off the debt we owe God. We’re outlaws deserving the punishment for treason against the king. We’re spiritually blind. We cannot see God with our own eyes. We even need help to see just how blind we are. We don’t even realise it. And we are oppressed. Captive to sin and the devil who keeps us locked up and on a short tether. That’s our natural position. That is what we are like. And until we admit our need before God we will never see how wonderful is Jesus’ offer. Because it’s Jesus who claims to be the liberator bringing good news. He brings us spiritual riches, spiritual freedom, spiritual sight, spiritual victory. That is why the coming of Jesus is such good news. It’s the year of the Lord’s favour. That is all the debts have now been cancelled through the work of Jesus. It will lead him to the cross, but now says Jesus the journey is begun. I am the liberator. I am the one to give sight. The Spirit of God is upon me to preach good news, says Jesus.

            Now there may well be some here today who have never admitted their spiritual need. You believe you are fine with God. You don’t believe you have anything to worry about. You’re not a bad person and you hope God will be impressed with your good deeds when you die so that you can go to heaven. Well let me tell you bluntly. You’re mistaken and misguided. Jesus says you need to admit your need. Because everyone here is a spiritual pauper, prisoner, blind and oppressed. And you need to come to the Saviour, the liberator who died for you.

But I guess most of us will know this. We 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. We think we’ve heard it all before and it leads to react in a non committal sort of way. We fail to see the incredible truths that are spoken of here because we grown accustomed to it. Maybe you have perhaps grown a little cold with the things of God. Maybe 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.” We must never forget who we once were and what we were like. Remember what Jesus has done for you and what it cost him. And thank God his mission was fulfilled. We must admit our need of the saving Lord.

2) Practise humility before the sovereign Lord (Vv 22-27)

But that leads us on to Jesus’ next challenge in his sermon, and that is to practise humility before the sovereign Lord. Because it becomes immediately apparent through what happens next that the people of Nazareth are very unwilling to accept what Jesus is saying about himself because of their pride. Now 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. He’s just Joseph’s boy! The carpenter’s son.” And Jesus can see straight through the flattery.

            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. We saw that back in verse 15. 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 never accedes to anyone’s demands because he knows people’s hearts. 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 evening to come to Jesus for rescue. For if truth be told you are unwilling to believe Jesus’ diagnosis of our spiritual state. Now there’s no doubt about it, what Jesus tells us about ourselves is very painful to hear. As we’ve seen, he says that we are spiritually blind, that we’re captives to our sin, that we are spiritually impoverished without God. But the only way forward is swallow our pride and admit. 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.

            But pride can also be very destructive in a Christian’s life too. You see in many ways we can be like these Nazarenes. Perhaps staring at the truth face to face and yet not acting on it. 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 need to let Jesus shape every room of our lives, that we might become more like him. And the danger is we refuse to let Jesus 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 humbly to admit our need of his gentle restoration. We must humbly submit to the sovereign Lord. 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. And what is required of us is humility, humility to allow Jesus to reign over us. So lay our pride before his throne and submit to him.  

I came across a story a while ago about one particular church which had seen a number of wonderful conversions. One man was a burglar who had been sent to prison for seven years and had become a Christian on his release. Well one Sunday, the pastor was leading the communion and he noticed the burglar receiving communion next to a High Court Judge, the very same Judge that had sent the burglar to prison. Neither seemed to be aware of the other. After the service the Judge asked the pastor, “Did you see who I was kneeling next to during the communion?” “Yes,” said the pastor, “but I didn’t think you’d noticed.” There was a pause and then the Judge said, “What an amazing miracle of grace.” “Yes, it is,” replied the pastor. “Oh,” said the Judge, “But I’m not referring to the burglar, I’m talking about myself.” He went on to explain. “You see, it was natural for the burglar to receive the grace of God when he came out of prison. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw that Jesus was his Saviour he knew there was salvation and hope and he knew how much he needed Christ. But look at me. I was taught from the cradle to live as a gentleman; that my word was my bond; that I was to say my prayers, to go to church, to take Communion and so on. I went to Oxford university, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a Judge. But it was God’s grace that drew me; it was God’s grace that opened my heart to receive it. I’m a greater miracle of his grace.” And that humility before God is vital if you are and I are to grow as Christians. Humbly to submit to him each day and allow him to have the reigns of lives. In short to practise humility before the sovereign Lord.


3) Expect suffering in following the rejected Lord (Vv 28-30)

But there’s a final thing to notice and that is that we must expect suffering in following the rejected Lord. Because rejection is what Jesus meets with Nazareth. And rejection is what his followers can expect too. 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 for those of us who follow Jesus, then time and again in the NT we are reminded that this will be our lot as well. That as we hold out the word of life, the message of Jesus, then proud human beings will stubbornly refuse it and will react against his Jesus’ messengers. And we must be prepared for that. So we mustn’t be discouraged by rejection. It is a reaction against the gospel and against the Lord Jesus Christ. And if we follow the rejected Lord, then we too must be prepared for rejection.

But surely that is a small price to pay in following this Lord Jesus Christ. For he is far greater, far more wonderful than we often realise. So let us repent of our complacency towards him. Let us pray for grateful hearts for all his has done for us in setting us free and giving us sight. And let us seek to follow him whatever the cost, as we too proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.         

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