'Bible Sunday' Year C : Luke 4:16-24
A man in Kansas City was severely injured in an explosion. The victim's face was badly disfigured, and he lost his eyesight as well as both hands. He was a new Christian, and one of his greatest disappointments was that he could no longer read the Bible. Then he heard about a lady in England who read braille with her lips. Hoping to do the same, he sent for some books of the Bible in braille. Much to his dismay, however, he discovered that the nerve endings in his lips had been destroyed by the explosion. One day, as he brought one of the braille pages to his lips, his tongue happened to touch a few of the raised characters and he could feel them. Like a flash he thought, I can read the Bible using my tongue. When I read of this the man he had "read" through the entire Bible four times.
Today is Bible Sunday and, in today's gospel, we have Jesus saying that he is the fulfilment of a prophecy of Isaiah, given over 600 years before Jesus' birth. Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies recorded in the Old Testament over a 500 year period.
When studying Jesus' life, it is important to realise the chronological order of events. Unlike Matthew and John, who wrote for Jews, Luke moves quickly from the temptation of our Lord into the Galilean ministry because he was writing with Gentiles, or non-Jews, in mind. In doing so he passed over almost the first full year of our Lord's ministry with the Jews in Judea and the Samaritans in Samaria. That year is covered in the first four chapters of John's gospel and included the first sign at Cana that we looked at last week..
We know from verse 14 that Jesus returned to his hometown in the power of the Spirit. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit when he was baptised. This was at the start of his public ministry and this reminds us that we all need the Holy Spirit to live and minister for God. Again and again in his gospel and in Acts Luke writes of the importance of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit ( 2 Tim.3:16 ), and we also need the Holy Spirit to help us to understand the Scriptures.
News of Jesus' preaching and miracles would have spread to Nazareth before he arrived there. Perhaps there was great anticipation as those who had known Jesus and his family for many years waited to see what people were talking about. Was this home town boy really as good as they were hearing ? Had he changed in some way ?
As usual, Jesus went on Saturday to the synagogue, verse 16. The temple in Jerusalem was used for special feast days such as Passover, Pentecost, and the Day of Atonement. Jews would go there to worship God and make sacrifices to him. The synagogue, however, was like our local church, meeting the spiritual needs of a local community on a weekly basis. Someone would read from a scroll, out of Deuteronomy, the She-ma: "Hear O Israel, the Lord God is one." Then there would be a time of prayer. Someone would then take the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses, and read a passage from it. Everyone would praise the Lord, have prayer again, and then thank God for the Pentateuch. Following that, another attendant would invite an older man or visitor to read from the prophets. The scroll was read, and then followed a time for the reader to comment on the text. This is the role that Jesus performed on this occasion. Finally, there was a time of praising the Lord for what was spoken out of the prophets, prayer, and lunch.
Isaiah wrote four "servant songs" in which the servant is the Messiah: 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12. He is what "Israel" should have been (49:3). The nation was to be a kingdom of priests (Ex 19:6), but the Messiah would be the high priest who would atone for the sins of the world (53:4-12). The servant would deliver the world from the prison of sin. In the royal terminology of the ancient Near East "servant" meant something like "trusted envoy" or "confidential representative."
The book of Isaiah steadily moves towards the goal of the Lord's kingdom on earth, with its righteous Ruler and his righteous subjects. Chapter 61, from which Jesus quotes, is referring to this goal.
18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
Earlier in Isaiah it is written that the Messiah, would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would give him the wisdom to act wisely and provide the power to carry out his ministry.
to preach good news to the poor.
The majority, perhaps 80% of Israel, were considered poor. The theology of Jesus' day was that riches showed that you had God's approval, and poverty suggested you had done something to displease him. Jesus opposed this and pointed out that wealth was an enormous obstacle to entry into the kingdom of God.
Jesus wasn't talking about the materially disadvantaged here, but those who are spiritually poor. That is to say, those who sense their failure to follow God's ways, who feel powerless, humble, in need of a Saviour. For people like that Jesus is good news. The Greek for 'good news' is 'euangelion' from which we get the word 'evangelism'. Jesus provides great hope for those who are prepared to turn to him in their need and poverty. Such people can receive faith and changed hearts through the Holy Spirit working in them.
But Jesus is bad news to those who are proud and self-sufficient and want to earn their way into God's kingdom.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.
A prisoner is someone whose freedom is restricted, who is restrained by something and/or someone. Jesus was talking about the way that sin keeps human beings prisoners. Prisoners to sinning, to our past, to our circumstances, to guilt, separation from God and the fear of death. Jesus is the key to escaping from the prison of sin...
John 8: 34 Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Jesus sets people free. Freed by God's undeserved favour to be forgiven, to be able to follow God's ways and to have right relationship with Him.
In Zambia the Bible Society works with the Jesus Cares Ministry to spread God's message of hope to those in despair. Charity was expecting her third child when she discovered that she was HIV positive. Her husband threw her out and sent her back to her family. She said, "I would sit alone crying for hours. I felt as though I had been locked up in a prison and there was no way I could break free."
She was given a Bible by the Jesus Cares Ministry and showed passages that would help her most. She continued, " God's word spoke to me in the HIV prison and showed me that there is a way out. Now that I have given my heart and my life to the Lord I want to serve him for the rest of my days and am experiencing the wonderful way in which he is taking care of me" ( from "The Open Book 2000 : Bible Society" www.biblesociety.org.uk )
Everyone is imprisoned until they come to Jesus. He has secured our freedom by his own death on the cross. Until we give control of our lives to Jesus we can never be truly free. Some people may think the Christian faith to be restrictive. But imagine two people jumping out of an aircraft. Which one has more freedom. The one with the parachute, or the one without one ?
and recovery of sight for the blind,
Jesus healed many blind people. As well as relieving the suffering and separation of the blind this was a sign, pointing to the way that Jesus cures spiritual blindness. Without God's grace everyone is spiritually blind, unable to comprehend the things of God.
I have known many people who read the Bible and it never made sense to them. But, once they came to faith that blindness was removed and they understand it and live in the light of God's Word.
I have also seen people's eyes dull over as they understood something of Christ, but didn't have the humility and faith that they needed to make the last, crucial step of commitment to Christ.
We need to pray for people's eyes to be spiritually opened by Jesus.
to release the oppressed,
This has some similarities with the freedom for prisoners, although the idea of oppression can convey oppression by an evil force. The devil and his demons are still active today. But they are fighting a losing battle since Calvary. And Jesus still has the same power to defeat them today as he did nearly 2000 years ago. We can pray in the name of Jesus the drive out evil forces that can occupy people or places.
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
Every fifty years the Jews enjoyed a 'Jubilee Year'. At this time land was restored to it's original owners, slaves were set free, and debts cancelled. It was new start for people, wiping out the past.
Jesus brought in a new age of salvation. Through him people can be restored to God, people can be freed from the slavery of sin, people's debt to God has been paid.
Last week we saw how Jesus transformed the water into wine. Something ordinary became extraordinary. Jesus does that to people. He makes the spiritually poor rich. he sets free those who are slaves to sin and those who are oppressed by evil forces. He opens the eyes of those who were unable to understand the ways of God. Jesus brings in a new kingdom where God's undeserved favour is shown to those who are in need.
When the political parties publish their manifestos the electorate can decide who they want to vote for. Which party's policies they support. Jesus forces people to make a choice...
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Jesus is saying, 'I am the one who this prophecy refers to. If you want to receive the good news, be free, see and receive God's favour then you have to come to me.' Jesus treated the Old Testament as authoritative, coming from God, and he proclaimed that they revealed who he is, the Messiah.
From verses 22-30, we discover that, although the people of Nazareth were amazed by Jesus words they would not accept him because they knew him. Jesus refused to be swayed by fickle popularity. Indeed, he defied it when he said that, although he would be rejected by his own people he would be accepted by Gentiles, or non-Jews. His words offended the people of Nazareth so much that they tried to throw him off a cliff. They wanted a Messiah for themselves. One who would free them from Rome with military power and establish a powerful, prosperous kingdom. They didn't want someone who would help the helpless.
This follows a typical pattern in Luke : Jesus reveals himself to the Jews as Messiah; he is rejected; so the gospel is taken to the Gentiles.
This reminds us that Christianity has never been an easy or a popular option. Jesus wants people to follow him throughout their lives. When things are difficult as well as when things are easier. In return he will transform our lives. Setting us free to enjoy the life that God wants us to have. Opening our eyes to God's ways. Giving us forgiveness, freedom from guilt, and eternal life.
We saw last week that we need to persevere in our prayer life and in our devotion to God. This week we might add that we should persist in reading the Bible. We still have some reading plans in the Entrance Hall for those who would value guidance to enable them to read the whole Bible in a year. If the blind man from Kansas managed to read the Bible with his tongue four times, what is to stop those of us who can read with our eyes from reading it once?
Let us hold on to our salvation and enjoy the life that Jesus has won for us.
Let us live that life in the power of the Spirit, praying for and witnessing to those who are poor, imprisoned and blind, even though this may be unpopular.