January 26 & 27, 2019 – Epiphany 3
Luke 4: 14-21
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
I don’t know if you noticed the theme of today’s sermon printed in our bulletin. “Guest preacher today: Jesus.” I hope you weren’t too disappointed to see me walking up to the pulpit and not Jesus. The sermon is titled such because today in our text we see Jesus being a guest preacher. What was his sermon like? What did he preach about? What was the reaction of the crowd? All of these fascinating details are recorded for us. But of primary importance for us is to examine the content of his sermon. Because, although Jesus isn’t physically standing before you preaching today, the message he shared in that synagogue 2000 years ago, is the very same message he preaches to us today.
Our text begins: Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through all the surrounding area. He was teaching in their synagogues and being honored by everyone. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As was his custom, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll.
Jesus returned to Galilee (he had been preaching and teaching in southern Palestine). His return to Galilee wasn’t a quiet event which no one noticed. Jesus returned in the power of the Holy Spirit. He had been anointed and commissioned at his baptism. He had been going about preaching and doing miracles. News of Jesus spread all around the area.
Our text says, “As was his custom, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.” Jesus’ normal behavior was to keep the 3rd Commandment always. We often talk of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, but just as important for our salvation was that fact that he lived a perfect life in our place for us. Our text makes it clear that Jesus always kept the 3rd Commandment by regular attendance at the synagogue. And we might ask ourselves this as well, “If Jesus considered it vitally important to be in church every week, shouldn’t we also?”
Now imagine yourself listening to Jesus’ sermon there in Nazareth. You know the guest preacher well. You know Jesus personally because you grew up with him. You watched him grow up in the house of Mary and Joseph. Now he’s one of the local carpenters. Lately you’ve heard news about him going on a preaching tour through the region and he’s gotten good reviews. Today he’s preaching before you. He opens the scroll of Isaiah and turns to the same exact passage we heard in the First Lesson: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Then he sits down to deliver the sermon and everyone’s eyes are glued on him. He began to tell them, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
It’s been called the shortest sermon ever preached. It’s quite possible the sermon included more than that. But whether or not he went on, just that one sentence was sufficient. “God promised you a Savior. Here I am!” Would you have believed him? You could certainly have come up with a many reasons not to. He says he comes from God but I know he comes from just down the street. He says he is the fulfillment of Isaiah but I can remember not too long ago he was studying Isaiah. He talks about setting captives free and giving blind people sight and poor people hope but I know him and he’s not a politician or a doctor. He’s just a carpenter. Imagine yourself sitting in that synagogue 2000 years ago in Nazareth. Would you have believed him?
Or you can stop imagining what you would have done had you been there and just listen to Jesus say it now. After all, he didn’t just say it to someone else. He says it to you: “God promised you a Savior. Here I am!” Do you believe him?
Maybe you can come up with many reasons not to: He says he comes from God but based on my past I’m pretty sure God’s not my biggest fan. He says he is the fulfillment of God’s promises but I can’t remember the last time God kept a promise to me. He talks about setting captives free and giving blind people sight and poor people hope but I’ll believe it when I see it and I sure don’t see it and I sure don’t feel it now. But whether or not you believe it, Jesus still says it and it’s still true: “God promised you a Savior. Here I am!” And right now he is allowing those words to ring in your ears so that you might believe them without an ounce of doubt. So there’s nothing better that you could be doing right now than listening to Jesus as if he’s preaching just to you: “God promised you a Savior. Here I am!”
One reason Jesus could keep his sermon so short was that the words he read from Isaiah were already his words. Isaiah wasn’t writing about himself when he wrote, The Spirit of the Lord is on me. The Son of God was using Isaiah’s pen to talk about himself. In other words, the one who preached the sermon in Nazareth in about 27 AD was the same one who had authored the sermon text in about 700 BC. The Spirit of the Lord was on Jesus. He visibly descended on him in the form of a dove at his baptism to show that Jesus was sent from God and he invisibly went with Jesus thereafter as he carried out the work God sent him to do.
And what was the work God sent him to do? To preach salvation. More specifically, to preach salvation for those who needed it most. Look at his words about the poor and captives and blind and oppressed and it sounds a lot like the people in third world countries hit by natural disasters. Think back to the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010 which left 200,000 dead and 2,000,000 homeless. Much aid was poured into that country. But even today people are still suffering terribly from it. Many of the people are simply beyond help.
Do you have that image in your mind? That’s the image Jesus uses to describe the people he came to save — people beyond help. He came to preach salvation for those who need it most. When you hear his words about the poor and prisoners and blind and oppressed, he is not describing third world people. He’s describing you and me. We are people who are beyond help. Because even people with lots of money can be poor, poor in a spiritual way, without a single thing to offer to earn God’s favor. Because even people who have never spent a night in jail can still be captives, prisoners in a spiritual way, held captive by a cycle of sin that they just can’t stop and by the guilt over their sins that they just can’t shake. Because even people with 20/20 vision can be blind, blind in a spiritual way, stumbling down a path that leads to hell without even realizing they’re headed in the wrong direction. Because even people who live in a land of freedom can be oppressed, oppressed in a spiritual way, unable to break loose from the devil’s grip and a slave to temptation, losing so often.
Jesus came to preach salvation for those who need it most. Do you realize you need salvation, the kind that only Jesus can give from sin? Do you realize you desperately need it? Do you realize you are the poor, captive, blind and oppressed that Jesus came to save? Then there could not possibly be any sweeter sounding words to your ears than Jesus’ one-sentence sermon: “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
The words of Jesus bringing salvation mean everything, because that means you’re saved. When Jesus preaches, the message is salvation. The message is not how to be saved, as if the recipe comes from him but the ingredients come from you. Jesus’ words mean that you are saved. It’s already done. The salvation Jesus preaches doesn’t come from you; it comes from the Lord. God sent Jesus to save you and Jesus saved you. With Jesus, you don’t stand in poverty before God with nothing to offer because Jesus has given you his perfect life as your own. With Jesus, you’re not a captive to your own sin and sentenced to God’s punishment because Jesus took your sins to his cross and paid their price. With Jesus, you’re not stumbling blindly down the road that leads to hell because the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to see how Jesus lived for you and now lives with you to lead you safely to heaven. With Jesus, you’re not a slave to the devil; you’re not a slave to temptation. With Jesus you’re free.
That’s why there could not possibly be any sweeter sounding words to your ears than Jesus’ one sentence sermon: “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” It’s done. You are forgiven. You’re saved. You’re free. You can look around yourself and come up with a million reasons why that can’t be true, but then you’re looking in the wrong direction. Look at Jesus. He doesn’t just say it to everyone else. He says it to those who need it the most. He says it to those who feel it the least. He says it to the least likely candidates for God’s favor, the ones beyond all help. He says it to you and me. “God promised you a Savior. Here I am! It’s done.” When Jesus preaches, the message is salvation.
What a blessed message we have heard today from our guest preacher, Jesus. He has revealed something amazing: he is the one who fulfills the prophecies of Scripture. All of God’s promises to Old Testament believers are completed in him. And his message: You are rich. You are free. You are released. You are under God’s favor. What is your response to this? Believe! Rejoice! Serve God with all your time, talents and treasures that his name may be praised by more and more. Amen.