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Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Good News is Help, Healing, and Salvation (John 4.14-21, 7.19-23)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
May 10, 2015
Text: Isaiah 61:1-3; John 4:14-21; 7:19-23

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, piano
Special Music: Prayer for Mothers (Children's Choir) (Donna Butler)
Hymn of Praise: "O For a Thousand Tongues/One Great Love (David Crowder)
The Word in Music: "Amazing Grace" (Choir) (Courtney)
Offering of Music: "Simple Gifts" (Elizabeth Austell/Maggie Slade, piano) (arr. Richardson)
Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Song of Sending: "Prepare the Way" (Evans/Nuzum)
Hymn of Sending: Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano

:: Testimony (audio)
Cynthia Roberts shares part of her story in response to the question "What is the Good News?"

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today and through the end of May we are going to focus on answering the question “What is the Good News?” The church word for this was the “Gospel,” but that’s just older English for “good news.” In a world filled with so much bad news – on tv, in the papers, on the internet, all around us, and even in our own lives – it can be easy to get discouraged, lose hope, and despair. But Jesus came with good news. This Bible is a message of good news. I want to look with you at what it says and what Jesus said and see if we might not find some encouragement and help.

So over the next few weeks we are going to look at different ways Jesus and the Bible answer that question: “What is the Good News?”

A Hopeful Word (Isaiah 61)

About 700 years before Jesus, God raised up a preacher for His struggling people, Israel. The ten northern tribes had been conquered and carried into Exile and the southern tribes were in the process of the same. They knew struggle, defeat, poverty, and enslavement. They knew what it was to lose hope and live in desperation. They would lose their homes and livelihoods and land and feel like God had left them.

And Isaiah carried a message from the Lord: “The LORD has anointed me to bring GOOD NEWS to the afflicted… to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD.” (vv. 1-2) The thing is, that message was for something yet to come; that “year of the LORD” was to be in the future. So the people had to wait and trust and hope.

Good News (Luke 4)

Fast-forward 700 years. Jesus has been born into the world, grown up, and has just come out of forty days in the desert, where he was tested and tempted by the Devil. We understand this to be the beginning of his public ministry. He survives the test and is ready to reveal himself to the world. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t rush to the Temple in Jerusalem and leap from its walls, as he was tempted to do. He goes back to his hometown synagogue, the one he grew up going to, and he participates in the regular rituals of that synagogue. When it comes time to read from the Prophets, he stands up to read and opens to that passage from Isaiah 61. He reads those words about good news for the poor and afflicted; he reads those words that still ring as a hopeful promise of God all these years later.

It’s a new generation, but there is still plenty of suffering and oppression, discouragement and depression to go around. The Assyrians and Babylonians have long since gone away and God’s people got to return home; but now the Romans rule the world and God’s people are still oppressed and “captive” – they just have a new captor now. So, those words still ring out just as good and hopeful as they did in Isaiah’s day. Good choice, Jesus!

But then Jesus did something most shocking. Everyone new that those words were for a day still off in the distance. The Day of the Lord was in the future. But Jesus closed the scroll and declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (v. 21)

Jesus announced that the Day was come, that hope was reality, and he located that reality in himself. And this set everyone off. Didn’t we grow up with him? Isn’t he the son of Joseph the carpenter? And they drove him out of town to the edge of a cliff and were prepared to throw him over.

Why? Why is this response to good news that people are desperate to hear? This is the same good news God declares to us. How do you hear it? Is it good? Is it too good to be true? Is it threatening? Does it somehow stir up anger or another strong response in you, as it did the people that day?

Signs of God at Work (Luke 7)

We also heard a passage from Luke 7, only a few chapters after the first one. In this passage, some of the followers of John the Baptist have come to ask Jesus if he is the “Expected One” (i.e., the Messiah). His answer is interesting – it is rooted in that same promise from Isaiah. Jesus tells them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news proclaimed to them.” (v. 22)

In fact, if you look at the details of Jesus’ ministry, it is full of these very things: healing and help for desperate, sick, and hurting people. It’s also full of something else… something MORE. In his ministry, Jesus would not only demonstrate signs of God keeping the promises from Isaiah; he also made the connection between the immediate physical help/healing and the more lasting and spiritual implications. So Jesus healed but spoke of forgiveness; he healed physical blindness and spoke of spiritual blindness. And this was not something new with Jesus; it’s there in Isaiah as well. If you keep reading past the part Jesus quoted, God not only promises help and healing, but also promises comfort, joy, and the ability to praise God: “a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.” (v. 3a) Even beyond that, Isaiah offers imagery of new life and new growth: “they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (v. 3b)

The Good News is that God sees and hears and cares about our present circumstances, challenges, loss, and needs. In addition to our physical and material needs, God cares about our spiritual and emotional needs – our ability to know peace, joy, and connection with Him. God not only promises help and healing, but rescue and salvation. And in his teaching and ministry, Jesus not only upheld ALL those promises, but announced that they were no longer future hope, but present reality. That is the GOOD NEWS!

What Have you Seen and Heard?

I want to do more than talk at you about this. I want to do what Jesus did with the followers of John the Baptist who came to check him out. I want to ask you what YOU have seen and heard. Whether it is physical, material, and immediate or spiritual and emotional or something new, a new “planting of the Lord,” what have you seen or heard God do in your life?

We have handed out slips of paper for this purpose. I’d ask you to consider how you have seen the Good News evidenced in your life and write that down (in a sentence) on that paper. No name is necessary, though I’d ask you to put your age. We’ll collect those and share them back with you in a few weeks as part of our answer to that question, “What is the Good News?”

In just a few minutes, when it is time for the offering, Cynthia Roberts is going to share a bit of her story. Then, while the offering plates are passed, Maggie and Elizabeth are going to share a piece on the piano. I’d ask you to fold your slip of paper and put it in the offering plate when it is passed. Just a sentence answering “What is the Good News – what have YOU seen and heard?” and your age.

I look forward to your response! Amen.

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