Sermon Theme: Luke 4:14-21
Pastor Steven Pagel
In the name of the God we worship this Epiphany season, the One who reveals himself to us through mighty words and miraculous deeds, dear friends:
For two weeks in January it was my privilege to go back to school and attend classes at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. In case you are curious, I took two classes, a verse-by-verse Greek study of 1 Peter and (because of the recent growth of our congregation and its ministry and the potential for more in the future) another class on congregational strategic planning. To cover for my absence, we enlisted the services of two guest preachers, both seniors at the seminary.
Three weeks ago the person standing in this pulpit was Jordan Bence, a son of the congregation who was born and baptized and confirmed at St. Matthew’s. It was January 6, Epiphany Sunday, and he preached a fine Epiphany sermon based on Ephesians 3. If you were in church that day, you might remember the story Jordan told from his grade school days when he was taking a catechism test with Pastor Schroeder and totally blanked on what the word, “Epiphany,” means.
But what if, instead of preaching on one of the lessons appointed for Epiphany Sunday, what if Jordan would have opened up his Bible that day and read from the prophet Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 61, to be even more specific Isaiah 61:1-2:“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 favor” (Luke 4:18-19). And after reading those words, what if Jordan would have closed his Bible, cleared his throat, looked out at the congregation and declared with confidence: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
I know this is just a hypothetical situation, but let’s carry it to its logical conclusion. If Jordan would have uttered those words, he would have been in effect saying: “When Isaiah wrote the words I just read, he was talking about me. The Spirit of the Lord is on me. I am the one you have been hoping and praying for. I am the anointed one. You are all looking at the promised Messiah.”
I can only imagine the possible reactions. “Who does this kid think he is? Isn’t this Jim and Amy’s son? Isn’t he the brother of Kyle and Heather? We can remember when he was this tall. Some of his former teachers are still teaching at St. Matthew’s, and I’m sure that they can tell some stories about him. Jordan Bence thinks he is the Chosen One? How arrogant! How full of himself! How delusional! How can he expect anyone to believe that?”
Okay, let’s get back to reality. To be clear, Jordan never said anything like that. I know Jordan, and I know that he would never say anything like that. It would be difficult to imagine a scenario in which a person would go back to his hometown and announce to his friends and relatives that he was the Son of God. Difficult, but not impossible. Because something like that did actually happen…in the small Galilean village of Nazareth…in our text for today.
Not long after Jesus began his public ministry he went back home. He went to Nazareth and preached a sermon that people would be talking about for a long, long time. You and I may be separated from these events by thousands of miles and thousands of years, but the opening words of that sermon still resonate with us. This morning Jesus speaks to us, and he declares…
THIS SCRIPTURE IS (STILL BEING) FULFILLED IN YOUR HEARING
The frontpage headline in the Nazareth newspaper could have read something like this: “Local Boy Does Good.” Maybe it was his miracles. Maybe it was his message. Maybe it was a combination of the two, but Jesus had made quite a name for himself. And people from his hometown were eager to see him.
On the Sabbath day Jesus went into their synagogue “as was his custom” (16). As was his custom. This is not the main point of the account, but it’s worth a couple paragraphs in a sermon. Did you ever talk to someone who made the claim that they don’t have to go to church to be a Christian? Or have you ever run into another Christian, maybe even a fellow church member, who said something like this: “I don’t need to go to church. I already know all that stuff.”
Jesus knew “all that stuff” too. In fact, Jesus knows everything. Jesus has a perfect knowledge of God’s Word and God’s will. And yet there he was…in the synagogue…the place were God’s people gathered for weekly worship…as was his custom. And with those four little words, he sets a good example and gives a gentle reminder to the rest of us.
On this particular Sabbath Jesus was not there to listen to the sermon. He had been invited to preach it. He stood up to read and was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is a long book…66 chapters…hundreds of verses. But Jesus was looking for just two. Unrolling the scroll, 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 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 favor” (18-19). When he was finished, Jesus rolled up the scroll and sat down.
Luke doesn’t describe the scene in great detail, but this is how I picture the synagogue that day. There was no movement. There was no sound. There were so many people pressed into the synagogue that it was standing room only, and every person was looking intently at Jesus, waiting for Jesus to speak. And then he did. He said: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (21).
It’s likely that Jesus had much more to say after that, but I wonder if most people remained fixated on the opening sentence. I wonder how many people were thinking to themselves: “Did Jesus really say what I think he said? Did he really mean what I think that means?” After Jesus was finished, Luke tells us that everyone spoke well of him, at least at first. But the initial words of approval quickly gave way to furious anger. In fact, the same people who were so eager to hear Jesus were even more eager to kill him.
So what happened? Why did these people who knew Jesus, people who had literally put him up on a pedestal in the synagogue now want to throw him off a cliff? It was at least partly because of what Jesus had said about himself. He claimed to be the Anointed One, the promised Messiah, the Son of God. And they all knew who he was (or at least they thought they did). He was Joseph’s son from Nazareth, and everyone knows that nothing good can come out of Nazareth (see John 1:46).
But there was something else, something else Jesus said that got under their skin, something else that must have made their blood boil. When Jesus spoke about preaching the good news to the poor and freeing the prisoners and releasing the oppressed, the people in the synagogue connected the dots and realized that he was talking about them.
Before you dismiss these people as a mob of hot-headed Galileans, before you condemn them for being way too sensitive, ask yourself how you would like it. How would you like it if your friends treated you like a charity case (poor)? How would you like it if your neighbors behaved differently around you because there was a rumor going around the neighborhood that you were a convicted felon (a prisoner)? How would you like it if your family members thought you were so weak and helpless that you couldn’t stand up for yourself (oppressed)?
Just thinking about it makes the little pride hairs stand up on the back of my neck. No one is going to tell me that I am worthless. No one is going to suggest that I am helpless. I dare you. I dare any one. Who is going to get up in my face and tell me that I can’t take care of myself? Jesus is….and not just once. He will do it as many times as it takes.
Yes, Jesus came into this world to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). But that won’t mean anything to you unless you realize that you are lost. And so Jesus is willing to have the hard conversation. Jesus is willing to call out your sin. Jesus is willing to look you in the eye and point out the plank in your eye and call you what you really are: a poor, helpless, blind sinner.
Do you know why he is willing to say those things to you? Because he loves you. Jesus loves you so much that he is willing to make you uncomfortable. And Jesus loves you so much that he was willing to make himself more than a little uncomfortable. Jesus did more than just preach. He practiced what he preached. He became poor so that we might become rich. He made himself a slave so that we might be set free. Shortly after Jesus quoted Isaiah’s prophecy, he fulfilled those words of prophecy, and every other Old Testament prophecy about his birth and his life and his death and his resurrection.
This is the good news Isaiah wrote about. This is the good news Jesus spoke about. This is the good news that gives us hope: we have a Savior who was born into this world for us and died on the cross for us and is preparing place for us in heaven. And because we have heard this good news again today, because we get to hear this good news when we gather for worship every Sunday, we could say that our Savior is still speaking to us and that this Scripture is still being fulfilled in our hearing. Amen.