“The Beginning of Ministry”
February 5, 2017
How will you respond to God’s plan fulfilled in Jesus?
I. Scripture fulfilled – Jesus comes to proclaim Good News (Luke 4:14-21)
II. Mixed response – Jesus admired and despised (Luke 4:22-30)
Gail and I spent our teen years in Central New Jersey, on the far edge of the New York suburbs. It was the epitome of 1960’s middle America. The town I grew up in was even called Middletown. Gail’s had the slightly better name of Fair Haven. Down the road from us was Asbury Park, a little beach resort town. Gail and I went on our first date there, walking on the boardwalk by the beat up amusement park and the Palace amusement hall and a little night club called the Stone Pony. We played miniature golf, and she beat me. This was a place kids wanted to get away from, and in the years America was immersed in the Vietnam War, there was a lot of angst and rebellion. After the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan in 1964, every kid in town picked up a guitar, trying to figure out this thing called rock ‘n roll and make it big, and get out.
So imagine our surprise when, in 1975 our favorite rock ‘n roll stations began playing a song called “Born to Run,” by a local kid named Bruce Springsteen. It was a rock anthem, getting out of town on a motorcycle: “Chrome wheeled, fuel injected,and steppin' out over the line. H-Oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back. It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap We gotta get out while we're young `Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”
He goes on to talk about the Palace and the amusement park, and leaving it all behind because he was born to run. But he never really did. The Jersey shore and Asbury Park became staples of Springsteen’s music, even after he became “The Boss” and made best selling albums for decades. He was a small town boy who made it big, but those of in the area never forgot his roots. That doesn’t mean all were equally enthusiastic about him. Gail’s brother Michael was. He went to Springsteen’s concerts even before he got famous, and when he used to come back to play at the Stone Pony, Michael was always there. But Gail, even with her brother’s influence, was not really a fan. And I was indifferent. I didn’t mind listening to Springsteen on the radio from time to time, but I never would have shelled out money for a concert. I liked the fact that he was a local boy made good, but it didn’t really mean anything to me.
I think that’s the same way Jesus’ home town reacted to him. Some were thrilled that this local boy was making a splash on the national scene, though some were angry he didn’t do miracles for them. But some were indifferent. They knew he was just Joseph’s son. And Jesus will not put up with indifference. He forces them, and us, to confront the question “how will you respond to God’s plan fulfilled in Jesus?”
Our text is Luke 4:14-30. In the first half of the text Jesus proclaims himself the fulfillment of God’s Big Story. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. 16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In verse 14 Luke summarizes the ministry of Jesus: He returned from the desert, the temptation, in the power of the Spirit. Just as the Spirit had led him there, now He leads him back to Galilee. He taught in their synagogues. News about Him spread. And everybody glorified him, or praised God on account of him. We don’t know how much time this summary covers, or what events are included, but Jesus himself later implies that that time included miracles and healings at Capernaum, where both Mark and Matthew place the start of his ministry.
It’s significant that Luke says he taught in their synagogues. Sometime before the birth of Christ, the synagogue had become the center of social and religious life in the Jewish community. It was a place of worship, prayer, teaching and fellowship. Often the only copy of the Old Testament in each town was the one kept at the synagogue. If you wanted to learn Scripture, that’s where you went. Luke doesn’t detail what happened in all those synagogues but moves immediately to the synagogue in Nazareth. The event that happened there was an early concrete expression of Jesus’ ministry. Nazareth, of course, was the home town where Jesus grew up and was known by all. Now he goes back to that town and as in the other towns he’s visited, he goes to the synagogue.
Some references to the synagogue indicate that the custom developed early of standing to read and sitting to teach. Jesus does exactly that in this passage. In later years there was a strict rotation of readings but there is no evidence that such a lectionary existed in Jesus’ day. Instead, the scroll was probably selected by the synagogue ruler, or even the reader. On this day the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him, and he quite deliberately, according to the language Luke uses, unrolls the scroll to what we would call chapter 61 and uses verses 1-2 to explain the inauguration of his ministry.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” The Spirit has anointed me: this is a reference back to Jesus’ baptism. But to anoint translates ‘to messiah’. The Spirit has Messiahed me. Jesus was the Messiah. The verses he quotes were widely understood to be messianic prophecy. I’m this Messiah, and my anointed mission is to proclaim good news to the poor. Literally, to evangelize the poor. To tell needy people the gospel. Jesus sees himself as the anointed messenger of God’s good news to us. He was the one who would proclaim freedom for the prisoners, sight for the blind, release for the oppressed, and the year of the Lord’s favor. This verse can be taken two ways, and I think both are intended by Jesus as he looks forward to the work God has given. The first is the literal rescue of those in need. Literal ministry to the impoverished and hungry, literal healing of the blind, literal release of those oppressed by sin and demonic powers. Watch Jesus as he serves people in the Gospels and you’ll see him do these things.
Responding to Jesus, we do well to be concerned for the same things, helping those with real needs. Last summer we looked at opportunities for compassionate outreach. Since that time we have settled on six ministries that fit Trinity like a glove, and we are working to continue or expand ministries that help people in need. The six ministries, we’ve recognized as reaching our own Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, are a Foster Adopt Ministry, Awana, a ministry called Caring Allies which we hope will expand the benevolence ministry we’ve had for years, the Community Pregnancy Center, Galveston Urban Ministries, and global ministries, especially where we have personal involvement, as in Slovakia. There are more, but these we intend to feature as Trinity’s ministries of compassionate outreach. Overall my conviction is that God is on the move in these things and we want to be enthusiastically on board what he is doing. But as you look at the list, notice that some ministries focus more on physical needs, while some focus more on spiritual, and many, like Caring Allies or Foster Adopt or Community Pregnancy Center address both people’s physical needs and the spiritual needs that accompany them.
By the way, since we’re studying a verse were Jesus promises to create liberty for those who are oppressed, I want to say a few words about the controversy over refugees. If you remember our week in Deuteronomy 10 last summer you already know that I think God has a special place in his heart for refugees, sojourners and the oppressed, and desires that his people share his heart and be his hands in helping. So it’s exciting to me that the Lord is opening a door for Enoch and Megan Bauer to minister to two different refugee populations in Dennison, Iowa. And it terms of the current debate, I think its good to speak on the side of those who welcome refugees, even at the cost of taking risk.
Not that we don’t vet those who apply and put them through a process, but I endorse making a process that works so that the oppressed and needy can find a home here, even while we support organizations like Samaritan’s Purse and Preemptive Love who are making a difference closer to their homelands.
But we have to recognize, as Jesus did, that there’s more than just physical poverty and need in this world, and ministry that does not address spiritual need is incomplete. Jesus brought good news for the spiritually poor, those desperate for salvation and eternal life. He taught and brought recovery of sight to the spiritually blind, release for the spiritually oppressed. Scripture consistently portrays humankind as spiritually needy. We are not the masters of our fate, captains of our souls. We’re utterly bankrupt, dependent on God for rescue.
Even if you don’t believe that from the Bible, a glance at the media should convince you. We see the stories of radicals who wantonly kill, politicians who are corrupt, the husbands who abuse their wives, the voices that insist on acceptance for their particular sin. Further, we know in our own lives, how easy it is to succumb to the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the boastful pride of self-centered living. So we need the good news Jesus brought. We need release, freedom, recovery, favor. All who place their faith and trust in him find these things even today.
Notice that Jesus stops half way through verse 2 of Isaiah 61. The phrase he leaves out is: the day of vengeance of our God. This is the part his listeners may have wanted to hear. They expected the Messiah to bring God’s wrath against their enemies. But the day of vengeance, the day of the Lord, was not what Jesus was doing in his first ministry, not what he had come for.
So he stops there, rolls up the scroll and sits down to teach: Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. It doesn’t get much plainer. I’m the one, the bearer of good news, the promised messiah and today is the day of the Lord’s favor. He tells them, he tells us, the truth in black and white. I’m the fulfillment.
The question is what will we do about it? We know that God had been working toward this moment for centuries, that prophets had foretold it, that all the threads of promise came together in Jesus, blessing for the nations, a sacrifice to pay the price of our sins, a king who to reign over the wayward hearts of his people. All these things came together in Jesus. He proved it by his words, his deeds, his prophecies of his death and resurrection and in the fulfillment of those prophecies and promises at the cross and the empty tomb. We know that apart from all men, religions, isms and philosophies, there is salvation, rescue, only if we turn to Jesus from our sins and ourselves. This is not just initial justification before God, but it is grace for sanctification and obedience.
We call this the Good News. But is it good news to you? I confess I’m amazed and appalled that so many people are indifferent toward this wonder. Is that you? It’s just not that interesting? I’ve been intrigued by the use of the word ‘meh’ in recent years. Apparently, it’s been around a while but was popularized by The Simpsons. It signifies indifference, when someone simply does not care. How was work? Meh. Are you excited about the Super Bowl? Meh. How do you feel about Jesus? Meh. Do you think this is Good News? Meh. The opposite of love isn’t always hate. The opposite sometimes is indifference. It chills my heart that people in this room are meh about the good news.
Luke goes on to sketch the responses to Jesus. Some are thrilled, but apparently some are ‘meh.’ And Jesus won’t have it. He provokes the people to choose between approbation or disdain, love or hate. He doesn’t allow the ‘meh’ option. Verses 22 to 30: And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” 24And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30But passing through their midst, he went away.
The response of the audience in Nazareth is mixed. On one hand they spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words coming from his mouth. They were kind of amazed by their home boy. But it’s superficial: they are not taking him seriously even by approval. We know this from the way they begin to talk. In essence: “Oh, that’s nice.” “Won’t Mary be proud that one of her boys is going into the ministry?” Others seem to be think “Right, he’s gotta give us a miracle now. You heard what he did in Capernaum? Made a lame man walk.” None of them appears to have been listening to what he read. None of them seem to react to his claim to be the Messiah. How can that be? I think it’s simply that we tune out the familiar. This was just Jesus, Joseph’s son. He’s just reading Scripture. That fulfillment stuff must be allegorical, or some spiritual application. Don’t tell me this doesn’t happen, because it does. Scriptures that should shock us, behavior by Jesus that should move us, doesn’t.
Even communion, which should astound us every time we do it, can be ritual. His body broken for us, His blood shed, ought to mean something. It ought to be more than a worn-out symbol. If Jesus came in and died on the floor, there wouldn’t be a complacent person in the room. But because it’s just the same old Scripture, we are unmoved. Don’t be too hard on these folks. They were distracted by the novelty, a local boy making a name in the towns of Galilee. They missed the message, to the Good News that he brought from Scripture.
Jesus chooses to confront them with their situation. In verse 23 he puts into words what at least some of them were thinking “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’” In other words: “If you’re so hot, prove it. Another modern equivalent might be: Put your money where your mouth is. You say you’re the messiah? Do something like you did elsewhere.”
But Jesus responds with a proverb of his own. Verse 24: “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” As far as we can tell, Jesus originates this particular phrase, though similar things were said by Greek thinkers. And we say similar things. In business, it is widely joked that an expert is someone who comes more than 50 miles. We also have the phrase: familiarity breeds contempt. Thinking you know a person, their strengths and their limitations, brings some dismissal of what they say. I mean, this guy telling them all this was a carpenter, son of a carpenter. They may have felt this sawdust guy, couldn’t be the messiah, or even claiming to be the messiah.
Jesus exposes that attitude in them, and then illustrates it twice from the prophets. First, he says, remember the prophet Elijah. He prophesied a tremendous drought, a judgment on Israel lasting three and a half years. But God miraculously provided for Elijah, not by means of any of the widows in Israel, but through a Gentile widow in Zarephath, a little town on the Mediterranean, north of Israel. Jesus implies three things: One: the prophet wasn’t accepted in Israel. Two: this was judgment on Israel. Three: the prophet had a ministry beyond Israel, to the Gentiles. The same things are in his other story: Elijah’s successor Elisha was also rejected by many in Israel, and had a ministry to the Gentiles, specifically the healing of Naaman the Syrian from leprosy.
So Jesus tells these home town folks if they don’t get with the program, recognize him for who he is, they will see the same thing happen. Judgment will come on them. Ministry will move to another place, even to the Gentiles. Jesus takes them by the shoulders and shaken them: “You’ve got to break out of your pre-conceived notions of who I am. You’ve got to break out of your ‘meh,’ or you’re going to be in trouble. You’ve got to really hear me and see me.”
Do we need to be shaken in our relationship with Jesus? Are we so comfortable with a Jesus who loves and cares for us, that we can’t hear him when he challenges us, criticizes, encourages us to grow? Is our relationship with him worn into comfortable grooves? A pleasant time on Sunday, a few moral principles of living, an attempt to provide something for our children, but no life challenge, no step beyond the comfort zone? Even worse are we comfortable being indifferent to Jesus, happy enough to see the Good New as another ‘meh’ floating across the display screen of our lives. Jesus wants our relationship to be real, not make believe, not deadened by indifference, vibrant and growing.
How will we respond to the Good News fulfilled in Jesus? When Jesus confronts and awakens these people, they do not respond in relationship, but rather in rejection. Verse 28: “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.” It’s threatening to be confronted by Jesus. Sometimes we respond in anger. These people are furious. They even try to kill him, pushing and shoving to the crest of the cliff. But then, whether miraculously or by stealth he simply slips from the mob, and goes on his way.
So how will you respond to God’s plan fulfilled in Jesus? If we take verse 22 as at least a little sincere, we have three options. The end of the section shows anger and hatred. Some people still respond to Jesus that way. It’s usually some combination of life experience and biased education that leads to anger. Lenin, for example, reacted to his father’s death by rejecting his father’s Orthodox faith. He reacted to the state execution of his brother by becoming radically Marxist and atheist. There have been cases like this in our own church family and community where people, at times through tragedy, at times through hurt, at times through rebellion, have become angry at God and even at Jesus.
But far more common is indifference, meh, the attitude Jesus had to jolt the people of Nazareth from. Many people we know don’t have the energy or the interest to be angry at God. They just don’t care. And to move from indifference to following Jesus usually takes a crisis of some sort: family, work, addiction, failure, disease. Praise God he does intervene, draw people from indifference to himself. But the kind of indifference I’m more concerned about this morning, is the kind that may be sadly common in this room. It’s you who believe the truth but it really doesn’t make much difference to you. It’s even more you who know the Good News, but it doesn’t seem that important to you. It’s you who would characterize your faith, or even more your Christian life as ‘meh.’ My prayer is that you would see Jesus in all his goodness and grace, his compassion and rescue and find a fire burning in your soul.
Because the third kind of response, taking verse 22 now as sincere, is to speak well of him and marvel at his gracious words. That’s what I pray for, and I thank God continually that he has allowed me to be changed by his gracious words. A few weeks ago I looked for new music and I found a song recommended by Andrew Peterson. It’s called “Ghost of a King” by the Gray Havens, and the song pictures that change. It’s the story of a man who “met the ghost of a king on the road.” And the king spoke words of fire. He said “you are a lonely soul, with a heart of stone that rakes against your thirsty bones.” That’s Jesus’ diagnosis of us. But the king offers healing, if we will accept it, good news. I’d like us to listen to this we move toward communion. Notice especially how the singer, the narrator is impacted by the gift of the water of life.