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Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Testimony of Two (John 8.12-18)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - February 23, 2014
Text: John 8:12-18

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft
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: "Fairest Lord Jesus" (Sorenson)
Hymn of Praise: "Arise, Your Light is Come" (Walter/Duck)
Song of Praise: "Marvelous Light" (Charlie Hall)
The Word in Music: "Walk in the Light" (Thomas
Offering of Music: "Renew Me, O Eternal Light" (Manz)
Hymn of Sending: "Of the Father's Love/Love Shines" (Prudentius; Austell)
Postlude: "Bright and Glorious is the Sky" (Bedford)

:: 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. 
"12 Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to Him, “You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 “You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone. 16 “But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me. 17 “Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. 18 “I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me. " ~John 8:12-18
We continue today in our series, “It is written.” We are looking at how Jesus used Scripture in his teaching and ministry and, increasingly, how he fulfilled it himself. Most of the texts we have looked at involve some sort of run-in with the Pharisees, and today is no exception. In today’s text, Jesus is teaching and the Pharisees more or less call him a liar. Jesus answers using scripture and, in the process, re-asserts the original thing he was saying.

As we look at this text, let me highlight one more thing about it. Sometimes scripture texts tell us to do something, like “love your neighbor” or “you shall not murder.” Other times the scripture tells a narrative story and we learn something about God, ourselves, or others. Other texts, like today’s text, are more declarative – they state something as true without particularly connecting that to a “to do.” We will see that here Jesus is primarily making a statement about his divinity and purpose in the world. It is a “this is who I am and why I’m here” teaching. There are some implications that can be drawn in response, but those are left to us as readers rather than explicitly stated in the text.

The Light of the World

Let’s start with Jesus’ teaching: “I am the Light of the world.” (v. 12) Earlier in the service you heard readings from the first chapter of John which describe and name Jesus in this way. When you read those words you start to get a sense why the Pharisees were upset. John describes Jesus as the “True Light” the “Light of men (humanity)” who was in the beginning with God and who WAS and IS God. John powerfully concludes the introduction to his Gospel in 1:14 with “…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Now here’s the thing; no one today (then or now) really disputes that this is what John thought of Jesus. But many today think that this divine Savior Light of the World God-Man was a kind of over-exaggeration by Jesus’ followers. Jesus, they say, was just a wise teacher who ran afoul of the religious establishment because he didn’t play by their rules. And if you insist on thinking this is how it played out, I won’t be able to talk you out of that or prove otherwise. But do note that unless John also put words in Jesus’ mouth and made up the whole encounter in chapter 8, Jesus does have something to say about who he is.

Using “I am” – the classic word combination for the name of God, he declares: “I AM the Light of the World.” This is one of many times recorded by John that Jesus used this combination. He also said, “I AM the Bread of Life,” “I AM the Way,” and “I AM the Shepherd of the Sheep” (and many others). And the Pharisees did not miss the implication: Jesus was claiming to be God and to have been sent by God.

They claimed he was bearing witness to his own truth-claims and called him a liar. Before we get to their challenge don’t miss that here we have Jesus and John (narrating) and multiple Pharisees all bearing witness to this: Jesus was claiming to be God and be sent from God.

As C.S. Lewis famously pointed out, Jesus might have been lying or might have been crazy, but he did claim to be divine. It ignores multiple testimonies to assert that his message was something else.

True Testimony

So, Jesus gives a somewhat maddening reply to the accusations of lying. He basically said, “I know I’m telling the truth because I know where I came from and where I am going; but I know you don’t know that.”

But then he questions their judgment – their ability to truly judge who he is and what he has claimed. And that’s where he refers to scripture, paraphrasing from Deuteronomy: “In your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true.” (19:15)

Ironically, as the Light of the World, he is uniquely qualified to testify about himself and judge himself, but that is lost on those in the darkness. Is there anyone who could bear legitimate testimony to one who claims to be God and be sent from God, who was “in the beginning?” Well yes, says Jesus, “the Father who sent Me testifies about me.” (v. 18) But of course that is also maddeningly unprovable. But would any lesser answer have sufficed? “My mom says I’m the real deal.”

Is that too philosophical for you? Imagine a group lost in a dark cave and someone comes in and finds them and says they know the way out.

“How do we know you aren’t lost, too?”

“I found you and I’m here now.”

“How can all of us trust the judgment of the one of you?”

Because I’m not alone; someone out there sent me in to find you.”

I can understand the Pharisee’s frustration. Sometimes we just want proof. But God wouldn’t be God if we could add up His existence with a calculator. You can weigh risk and reward. You can evaluate character and the “truthiness” of someone’s words and actions (even Jesus). You can take an honest look at your own motivations, situation, and trustworthiness. (Like, “Am I really lost myself?”) But in the end, I think this God-thing comes down to trust. Is there something or someone bigger than, stronger than, truer than, what I can apprehend or accomplish; and can I know… or perhaps more importantly, trust such a one?

Those questions are not answered in today’s text, but they are raised. What is present is Jesus’ declaration: “I have been sent to find you and help you.”

The Light of Life

He does say a bit more: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (v. 12) Jesus never chose his words haphazardly. “Light” is a compelling word: it dispels darkness; as “illumination” it is a metaphor for understanding; it helps us to “see” and find our way. As John makes clear in his opening chapter, as this living, breathing Light, Jesus shows us God.

As Jesus says here, one who is following him will not walk in darkness, though there is darkness all around. The presence of Jesus in our life has bearing on all of life.

Yes, it is circular and self-authenticating to say that “in my light you will understand and see who I am” and “without my light you will not understand or see who I am.” But God must be self-authenticating; there is no greater power to prove or authenticate God (or His sent Son) to us. As creatures, we certainly are not in a position to do so.

So what are we left with?

We are left with a declaration of this Jesus that he is the Light of the World and, for those who believe and follow, the Light of Life.

We can reject that and call him a liar; or we can accept that and strive to understand. Jesus does say that in believing him, we will experience some illumination and understanding. If he is who he claims to be, that will prove true!

That’s either great news or it’s no news at all.

I imagine at this point Jesus would say, “For them with ears to hear, let them hear!” Amen.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tradition and Hypocrisy (Mark 7.1-23)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - February 16, 2014
Text: Mark 7:1-23

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft
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: "Be Thou My Vision" (Hopson)
Song of Praise: "Praise is Rising" (Brown, Baloche)
The Word in Music: "Create in Me a Clean Heart" (Reeves)
Offering of Music: "Lord, Dissolve My Frozen Heart" (Red Mountain Music; Murphy)
Hymn of Sending: "Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart" (MORECAMBE)
Postlude: "Triumphant March" (Tambling)

:: 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. 
1 The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, 2 and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; 4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) 5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” 6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 7 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ 8 “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” 9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”
14 After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. 16 [“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”] 17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. 18 And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) 20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” ~Mark 7:1-23
We continue today in our series entitled, “It is written.” We are looking at the way in which Jesus interpreted and enacted Scripture, captured most succinctly in Matthew 5:17, where he says, “I have not come to abolish the Law and Prophets, but to fulfill them.” Today, we are drawn to a passage in the Gospel of Mark where, prompted by criticism of the disciples not washing their hands before eating, Jesus quotes from the Prophet Isaiah and then speaks to deeper matters of heart-obedience. This chapter is similar in method to the Sermon on the Mount, where he used scripture not only to challenge the rather empty religious practices of his day, but to invite a deeper obedience. So again Jesus demonstrates that he does not intend to abolish or do away with the Law, but to fulfill or complete God’s intent through His Word.

Breaking Tradition

So the text describes the situation pretty thoroughly. The Scribes and Pharisees, the usual folks taking exception to Jesus, gathered around with the complaint (accusation?) that the disciples of Jesus were not keeping the “traditions of the elders.” (It’s okay if the song from Fiddler runs through your head at this point – me too!) And the text parenthetically provides quite a bit of the background. It had become the practice, the tradition, to carefully wash hands, cups, pitchers, pots, and more after being in public. It was an interpretation and application of the Law of Moses and an expectation of being a “faithful Jew.”

And as we’ve come to see, the Scribes and Pharisees had it out for Jesus. So, when they saw the disciples eating bread without having washed their hands, they thought they had something to use against Jesus.

To be clear, this washing was not required in the Law; it was interpretation and practice developed by Jewish teachers over hundreds of years. It might be comparable to modern traditions like having a steeple on a church or using traditional choirs and organs only or saying the “God is Great” blessing before meals. There is nothing wrong with tradition, in and of itself. Religious tradition often begins as well-intended interpretation or application of scripture. But they are not biblical commands and can also disconnect from biblical origins as they are transported over generational or cultural transitions. Further, religious traditions can become substitutes for actual faith and take on a kind of superstitious or ritualistic meaning that is counter to God’s Word.

Pulling Back the Covers

Jesus responded by quoting scripture. Quoting Isaiah, he as much said to them that they were only giving lip-service to God’s Law (well, and he outright called them “hypocrites”): “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me.” (Isaiah 29:13) That verse goes on to say “…and their reverence for me consists of tradition learned by rote.”  That’s just the move Jesus made with the Law in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. It is not enough, Jesus says, to keep God’s Law outwardly if our heart inwardly betrays those externals. In the Sermon on the Mount he said, “You don’t murder; but what of your angry hearts?” Here he is saying, “You wash your hands; but what of your filthy, unwashed heart?”

He goes even further and calls them “experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.” Then he presses in with more scripture, with a case-in-point to illustrate. He quotes the Law of Moses, both from the Ten Commandments’ “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12) and the startling (to us), “He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9) His point? No doubt that the Law teaches that we are to honor father and mother.

But then he describes the practice of the day whereby someone could declare resources that should have been used to support aging parents as “an offering” (corban). After doing so those resources would not have to be used for the parents. This practice was not even as spiritual as it might sound because the evidence we have says the Corban resources were not actually given to the Temple. The practice was just used (or misused) to throw a seemingly spiritual cover over dishonoring one’s parents.

And Jesus concludes, “[You are] invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down.” And, he says, this is just ONE example of such behavior. (v. 13)

This is just what Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount; you can see why it did not endear him to the Scribes and Pharisees!

Going Deeper

From here, though, Jesus heads in a different direction. He expands on his response, first with the crowd and then even more so privately with his disciples. Returning to the original accusation of eating with impure or “defiled” hands, he elaborates: “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” (vv. 14-16)

We could pause there and try to interpret, but in the next few verses the disciples question him about the meaning of his words, so let’s let Jesus explain: the reason that what goes into a person from outside cannot defile him is because it does not go into the heart, but into the stomach. He is specifically referencing food here, and Mark notes that in teaching this Jesus declared all foods clean. (Note: this continued to be a point of tension with early Jewish Christians for at least a generation!)

It’s the heart that matters, Jesus says, because it is FROM the heart that evil things come forth, and it is those that “defile the man.” Jesus cites a sin list of evil thoughts, sexual sin, theft, murder, coveting, and many more. Said another way, our problem is not skin deep where a surface religious practice is going to take care of it. Our problem is heart-deep, at the root of our being, and only God’s Word and intervention will address that need.

Yet that is just what God has done. In that same passage that Jesus quoted from Isaiah, condemning God’s people for their lip-service and hidden hearts, God also declares, “Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people… wondrously marvelous!”

Whole Hearts

What are we to do? Our tendency is just that of the people in Isaiah’s day and in Jesus’ day, isn’t it? The last thing we WANT to do is lay our hearts bare before God. That’s where all the worst stuff is hidden, the stuff that we hold closest to the vest. And it is so easy to cover over the visible part of me – my face, my reputation, even my emotions – with whatever religious behavior or practices cause me to look holy. That can be anything from dressing up for church to singing in the choir to preaching in the pulpit to being on the front lines of feeding the hungry.

Clearly, none of those things are wrong. Each came about and can continue as an authentic response to God’s leading in your life.

But if we’re honest, all of them CAN be abused in the way the word “Corban” or “offering” was in Jesus’ day? I’ve seen it in others… and I’ve seen it in myself.

And if we are really honest, our sin and darkness and evil isn’t primarily something that we can pin on some external thing or person; it exists in the human heart… in my own heart. And yet God’s Word is not that if He discovers that, He will crush us; it is that He will “deal wondrously marvelously” with us. God delights to bring healing and wholeness to the human heart – the human life.

As I’ve said in recent weeks, that is freedom! It is freedom to recognize our failure, experience redemption, and live. What a tragedy to miss that and substitute (consciously or unconsciously) the false veneer of surface religious behavior and tradition. Jesus offers so much more; God desires so much more.

If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear! Amen.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Last Great Prophet (Matthew 11.1-15)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - February 9, 2014
Text: Matthew 11:1-15

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft
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: "The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns" (Martin)
Song of Praise: "Build Your Kingdom Here" (Rend Collective Experiment)
The Word in Music: "Prepare the Way, O Zion" (BEREDEN VAG FOR HERRAN)
Offering of Music: "I Hear the Prophet Callin'" (Choplin)
Our Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Hymn of Sending: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" (Getty/Townend)
Postlude: "Morning Song" (Burkhardt)

:: 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. 
1 When Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities. 2 Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” 4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. 6 “And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” 7 As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! 9 “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. 10 “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’ 11 “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. 13 “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 “And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. 15 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.   ~Matthew 11:1-15
Last week we heard the account of Jesus reading from Isaiah in his home-town synagogue and announcing that “today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” We’ve been talking for weeks about Jesus’ use of Scripture, reminding his listeners of its true and deep meaning as well as beginning to point people to how it would be fulfilled in him. As we draw closer to Easter we will not only continue to see how Jesus taught scripture, but we will see this fulfillment embodied in him, even as he announced in the synagogue in Nazareth.

Today, we look at a passage that is the perfect follow-up to last week. Jesus announced the fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecies of the “Year of the Lord.” Today we will see more directly how Jesus was fulfilling those scriptures as the followers of John the Baptist come to Jesus to ask just who he is.

The Last Great Prophet

John the Baptist is an unusual figure in the New Testament because his life and ministry really come BEFORE Jesus public ministry begins. There is some overlap at the end, which is what we read about today, but John is properly understood as the last of the great prophets. His calling is to look ahead to the coming of the Messiah and his message is one of repentance in preparation of that day. At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, John has been put in prison. We read later in ch. 14 that it was for speaking out against Herod’s marriage to his sister-in-law.

John knows Jesus, of course, since they are relatives. And there has already been a powerful interaction when Jesus came to be baptized and God spoke (Matthew 3). But whether it is a bit of that “I’ve known you all my life” dynamic or last minute doubts kicking in as John faces death, he sends some of his followers to ask Jesus if he’s really the one.

We’ll look at how Jesus responded to that question in a moment, but first let’s look at what Jesus said about John, beginning in v. 7. He asks the crowd gathered there, in effect, who they thought John was. He repeats the question three times: “Who did you go out to see?”  A failure – a reed shaken by the wind? A spectacle – man in soft clothing? Or a prophet – he’s even more than that!
Though they may have had some sense John was a prophet, Jesus affirms this and more: “A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet.” And he quotes scripture from Malachi to say that this is the one about whom IT IS WRITTEN, “Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” (Malachi 3:1) In other words, quoting the scripture, Jesus holds up John as the last great prophet (“no one greater” v. 11) to prepare the way for the Messiah.

Jesus goes on to talk about the violence waged against the Kingdom of God (v. 12).  Likely he has in mind the action of Herod against John, first to imprison him and soon to execute him. And then in v. 13, Jesus says something very interesting, that the Law and Prophets prophesied UNTIL John; again, Jesus is not discounting the old scriptures, but announcing their fulfillment and completion. Something new is beginning and John’s arrest and death marks a significant shift from expectation to fulfillment. Jesus even holds John up as “Elijah who was to come,” also prophesied by Malachi: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” (4:5) Later on Jesus will affirm that John is this promised one like Elijah: “‘…I say to you that Elijah already came and they did not recognize him’… then the disciples understood that he had spoken to them about John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:12-13)

Having said all this, John would be the first to say that he is not the focal point here; it is Jesus, the “Expected One.”

The Expected One

From prison, John sent some of his followers to ask Jesus: “Are you the Expected One or shall we look for someone else?” Jesus responds with an invitation not just to listen to his teaching, but to look at his ministry as proof. Without his usual, “it is written,” he nonetheless quotes from Isaiah 35, which speaks of the judgment of God coming, but with it, salvation: “He will save you. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.” (Isaiah 35:4b-6a)

Jesus says, “Look at what I’m doing and see if I am not fulfilling all that was written.” At this point, Jesus was healing the blind, lame, deaf, and mute (Matthew 9 for multiple examples). He was casting out demons and lifting up the poor and outcast. He is connecting the dots for a people full of expectation and looking the wrong direction. God had sent the prophet to prepare the way and now the time was at hand.

This is just what Jesus read from the scroll at the synagogue in Nazareth: today these scriptures have been fulfilled in your hearing… not just an announcement that the day was here, but that the day was here IN JESUS. Don’t ever buy the claim that Jesus was just a teacher and it was those who came after who made him into something more. Jesus explicitly claimed to be the promised and expected Messiah of God. And the themes of his teaching and the proof of his ministry bear that out even when he isn’t speaking. Every word and action is full of that declaration!

Takeaway: What are Your Expectations?

What an important question that John asked of Jesus. It is one that many ask today and one some of you may periodically ask as well, even if you’ve spent years in the church or with faith. 

Is Jesus the real deal or is there something else

 It’s a great question and you are in good company to ask it. John the Baptist asked it and he knew Jesus personally (and was the last great prophet!).  At least several times a year I think it in the middle of the night or as I go about this work that is predicated on Jesus being the real deal.

God can handle our questions and our doubt; so ask away!

And here’s Jesus’ response: check me out. Listen to my words; look at what I did in my ministry. See how I keep, fulfill, and complete God’s ancient promises. Look at the lives I have changed and the signs of God’s Kingdom that accompany everything I do.

And related to that, don’t forget what God HAS done in your life; your willingness to remember may significantly strengthen your own faith. Your willingness to share that story may significantly strengthen another person’s faith.

The worst thing we can do in regards to our own faith is not to doubt, but to refuse to look and listen. Likewise, we don’t do anyone else favors by keeping what God has done in our life a secret.  Besides, doubt ASKS questions; doubt seeks; doubt looks. It is unbelief that refuses to look.

And we’ve only scratched the surface of Jesus’ teaching and actions; the most significant is yet to come as we move towards Easter and follow the narrative of how he gave up his life in obedience to God and for the sake of love.

I’ll remind you of the “questions at the Table” jar out on the Communion Table. I’ll remind you of our Wednesday night Bible study where we are asking some of the hard questions together.

Your questions are welcome here: that’s good news AND encouraging news, isn’t it… if you are willing to accept it. As Jesus said, “Let the one who has ears to hear, hear it.” Amen.

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
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: "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.