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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Fulfilling the Word of the Prophets (Luke 4.16-30)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - February 2, 2014
Text: Luke 4:16-30; Isaiah 61:1-3

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Prepare the Way, O Zion" (Robert Powell)
Song of Praise: "Prepare the Way" (Evans/Nuzum)
The Word in Music: "Jesus Saves" (Cottrell/Moffitt)
Hymn of Sending: "And Can it Be?" (SAGINA)
Postlude: "Toccata" (Leon Boellmann)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 
16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, 19 TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” (Is 61:1-2; Lev. 25:10) 20 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” 23 And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ ” 24 And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. 25 “But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; 26 and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29 and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, He went His way. (Luke 4:16-30)
We are continuing today in our series entitled, “It is Written.” We are looking at the ways in which Jesus quoted, used, and interpreted Scripture as well as where he fulfilled or completed it as he described in Matthew 5:17 when he said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” We will continue to see not only that he was a wise interpreter of Scripture, but that he actually fulfilled and completed it in and with his life.

Today we move on after three weeks in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. We turn today to another well-known public event in Jesus’ life and ministry, when he returned to the synagogue in his hometown to read from the prophet Isaiah. Not only did he quote Isaiah, but he declared afterwards, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Let’s look at the words he read, how they were fulfilled, how the people responded, and what that means for us.

The Year of the Lord

Let’s start with the last part of what Jesus read (v. 19). In the time of the Old Testament, the Year of the Lord was hoped for in the future, but was also depicted and “practiced” in the Law of ancient Israel through the practice of Jubilee.  Let me read you a short description from Leviticus 25:
You are also to count off seven Sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven Sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years.  You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land.  You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants.  It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.  (vv. 8-10)
That provision for a time where God’s people would forgive debt, release slaves, and celebrate God’s forgiveness was a part of the Law. It was God’s grace built into God’s Law!  According to the New Testament, the Law was to begin to teach God’s people what He was like, what He wanted, and the joy that comes from obeying God.  The freedoms and blessings that were part of the Year of Jubilee were a taste of the freedoms and blessings that God intends for us to know.  And so, every fifty years – roughly once in a person’s lifetime, all of God’s people would experience together a year of Jubilee – in anticipation of a time when God would pour out his favor and blessing without measure.

What exactly is God’s favor and blessing?  Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah, from what is Isaiah 61:1-2 in our Bibles.  Isaiah describes this fuller vision of what will happen when God pours out His favor and blessing:

    The poor will hear Good News proclaimed.
    Those who are captive will be released from bondage.
    Those who are blind will recover their sight.
    Those who are oppressed will be set free.

…is Here!

Jesus fulfills these great promises, both literally and spiritually.  He was traveling and proclaiming the Good News of God’s Kingdom; he was healing the afflicted and forgiving sins. He references Capernaum here; according to Luke he goes from Nazareth to Capernaum and casts out a demon, setting a man free from that bondage. Time and again he went on to do just what Isaiah prophesied.  After reading from Isaiah, Jesus closed the book and then told the people, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He said that because he was the living fulfilment of the favor and blessing Isaiah foretold.

The time of preparation and anticipation was over.  There was no longer a need to observe the Law of Jubilee, because it was time to experience the REAL Jubilee.  For a time Jesus would walk alongside of us, orienting us to the new reality.  Jesus would literally heal and set free those who were sick and blind and captive.  But what he was preparing the world for – what he was preparing us for – was to receive God’s blessing and favor as we look to him in faith.

Good News and an Angry Reception

Why did the people get so angry? You’d think they’d be overjoyed, or perhaps just unbelieving. But why angry? Is it just the difficulty of believing the home-town boy they knew could be the Promised One of God? Maybe… they did know his mother and father; they did know where he grew up and where he came from. It may have also been the comparison to the great prophet, Elijah; or, if they really understood, the claim to divinity necessary for Jesus to say what he said. But I think there’s more to their anger than disbelief or shock at blasphemy; they were enraged!

It reminds me of what Jesus was confronting in the Sermon on the Mount that we have been considering the last three weeks. This teaching clearly moved the hearers out of the realm of written Law and into the living realm of truth and grace. To be fair, Jubilee had been set up so that God’s people could experience grace and reconciliation, but the Law had not been followed or experienced.  These blessings in Isaiah were not realities; they were more like fables. And Jesus was claiming them in real-time and in himself. That’s radically shocking; it’s a shift of worldview and a shift of religious understanding. It’s a word of hope and when one isn’t inclined to believe in hope, anger is often the alternative response.

If the Sermon on the Mount was offensive for pointing out that we don’t take the truth seriously enough, this is offensive for pointing out that we don’t take God’s grace seriously enough. Can God really do these things? Does God really do these things? Jesus says yes.


So what can we take away from this?

God gave His people a Law to be followed, so they would get in the habit of looking to Him for freedom, hope, and salvation.  We need to cultivate those habits every bit as much as those ancient people, and studying and following God’s Word is what grows that faith.

I’ve mentioned reconciliation in the past few weeks as we spoke of that freedom that exists in the space between grace and truth. In order to reconcile us to Himself – to make a way for us to once again enjoy the freedom to live in the presence and relationship with God – God gave us the Law, then the very presence of Christ, then the assurance that we could know the joy of living in faith in the here and now.

Jesus walked among us for three short years, bringing God’s forgiveness, healing, and blessing; then he left us to press on in faith with the presence and help of the Holy Spirit. I’m not talking primarily about salvation – the Bible is clear that salvation is once and for all through Jesus Christ.  I’m talking about life as God’s children, under His favor and blessing – life with joy! Jesus words here challenge us and invite us to that “freedom to live” that I’ve hinted at the last few weeks.

Jesus only quoted the first two verses of Isaiah 61, for he was at that very moment bringing about the time of God’s favor and blessing.  But what that “year of God’s favor” would bring about was an ongoing time of jubilee or joy.  And Isaiah spoke of this promise in the very next verse after what Jesus read:
[I will] give those who mourn a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting… So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.  (Isaiah 61:3)
Jesus life and ministry declared and brought about a permanent jubilee – a time of joy because of what God has done.  And that means that jubilee and joy are for us today.

The simple message is this:
There is freedom in Jesus Christ; and that freedom to live with joy is God’s desire and gift to you. Trust God to help you in the ways you need help the most.  He has kept His ancient promise through Jesus Christ to forgive, heal, set free, grant hope and bring joy.  That is true jubilee, true freedom, true life, true joy! Amen.

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