by Robert Brow
(www.brow.on.ca) on January 22, 1995.
Today we look at Jesus’s first recorded sermon, and it was preached in his own home town of Nazareth. It was a very ordinary church situation. A synagogue service was very similar to ours with readings of the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the Prophets. Jesus had attended this synagogue every Saturday as a boy. "When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom" (Luke 4:16). He was on the roster of readers as are some of you here in this congregation. Two of you read this morning.
Instead of having a Bible as we do, each book of the Hebrew Old Testament was on a separate scroll. "He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was brought to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place" (4:16-17). A similar copy of the Isaiah scroll was found in a jar among the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls. The Jewish scrolls had no chapter and verse divisions. They did not even have spaces between the words. All the letters ran in together without a break. So Jesus had to unroll the scroll and find the passage he wanted to preach about.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor" (4:18-19). Having read these words, he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant.
The people in the synagogue obviously expected him to explain what the passage of Scripture might mean. They had heard about his preaching in other synagogues around Capernaum and by the sea of Galilee. What would he preach about in his own home town? He began by saying that the text referred to himself. "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (4:21). He was bringing good news to poor people. He was freeing people from bondage, and restoring sight to the blind.
Some of Jesus hearers were poor in the sense that they lived from hand to mouth. But all of us are poor in one way or another. Some of Jesus’ hearers had been thrown into jail by the Romans. But all of us are in bondage to bad habits, feelings of guilt, and nagging discouragement. We are not free to be the kind of people we would like to be. And all of us are blind in the sense that we can’t see a way through or understand what life is about. We are confused, in a fog, can’t see God at work. Many of us feel oppressed at work, in our family, even in our churches. If you think about it, you know that you have some needs that only God could satisfy.
At first sight these seemed like beautiful gracious words. In our churches the Gospel is meant to be good news of what God can do for ordinary people. If what we have to offer is bad news and complaining, we might as well close down our church buildings. But some people prefer the bad news the newspapers and television serve up for us. They do not really want good news, especially if it comes from someone they know. Wasn’t this Jesus the son of the man they remembered as the local carpenter?
So instead of turning to God and looking to him for healing, joy, and freedom, they demanded some miracles. They had heard what Jesus had done in and around the Sea of Galilee. "Do also in your home town the things that we have heard you did in Capernaum" (4:23). Jesus pointed to the well-known observable fact that "no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town" (4:24).
He then reminded them that Elijah’s great miracle of providing for a destitute widow was not in Jewish territory but among the hated Canaanites of the city of Sidon. And Elisha did not heal one of the thousands of lepers in Israel. Naaman the leper was the commander in chief of the hated Syrians. Evidently God loves everyone, but it is often easier for those that we consider outsiders to receive it.
This infuriated the people of Nazareth who imagined that only the Jews had a corner on God’s blessings. So"they got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way" (Luke 4:29). When people reject the message of the good news, they want some miracles to impress them or they want Jesus out of the way, but the Lord moves on to bless those who will welcome him. And they are often the most unlikely people.
If you want Jesus out of your life and your family, he will meet the needs of others elsewhere. But if you hear Jesus speaking to you this morning, and turn for him to deal with your frustrations and lack of joy, he is right here for you. Be honest, be bold, ask him to come in to your life.
Prayer Lord, I don’t want to be like those people in Jesus’ home town.
I need your good news for my family.
I long for freedom from my hang-ups and frustrations.
I want my eyes opened to see your love and good purposes for the way ahead.
I believe you could bring meaning into my empty life.