Normanhurst Uniting Church, Epiphany 3, Sunday, 27th January, 2019 Sermon Summary
Text: Luke 4.14-30 Title: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
Sometime in the first half of 1981 The Leprosy Mission International, asked me to choose a bible text that meant a lot to me. This programmatic text would be printed on the pamphlets and business cards that they were preparing for me, and which I would hand out to people I visited and spoke to while doing deputation work in Australia.
I was bound for southern India, where I was going to help people afflicted by leprosy by working in a leprosy hospital laboratories. So I came up with Isaiah 61:1-2:
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;”
This text provides the quote from Luke 4. Luke quotes Jesus as quoting this text in His sermon in the Nazareth synagogue. It seems to me that this is very much about the Spirit. In Luke’s version, Jesus has recently beaten off the devil’s attack by temptation. Filled with the power of the Spirit, says Luke, Jesus returned from the wilderness - we think it was in the trans-Jordanian wilderness - and he returned to Galilee, home territory. He gets a good reputation as a preacher and teacher. Then he comes home to Nazareth and it all falls apart. He goes to synagogue on the Sabbath, just as we go to church on Sunday. He gets up to read, and he’s given the scroll of the book of the prophet Isaiah to read. The people would have expected this. They’d heard of His reputation. Now the interesting bit develops. What He doesn’t read looks really significant. According to Luke He finishes with “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. Which means that He doesn’t read “...and the day of vengeance of our God.” Isaiah goes on to predict the salvation and vindication of Israel, a message that would have been tremendously reassuring for Isaiah’s readers, who were waiting with keen anticipation for this very thing. For them to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour was the same as proclaiming ”the day of vengeance of our God”. But Jesus stopped before vengeance, rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant and sat down. Instead of speaking of vengeance he spoke of Himself: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” So it was upon Jesus that the Spirit of the Lord came. That happened at His baptism in the Jordan, which Luke described in ch 3.21-22. And He described His program. Jesus was anointed with the Spirit of God to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free; and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
But let’s go back to that word “Spirit”, and it’s derivative “inspiration” again. I thought that Rafael Nadal played an inspired match against Stephanos Tsitsipas the other night. I wish he hadn’t! Partly because I prefer Roger Federer’s style, but more importantly, a brilliant young player was bullied and abused in the nicest possible way! There’s some similarity between Nadal and Jesus here, and I don’t say that just because I like tennis! When Jesus said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”, Luke has already let us in on the secret behind this. His long years of preparation, as evidenced by his discussion in the temple with the religious authorities when he was 12. His life of prayer leading up to His baptism. The confirmation of His vocation, then its testing in the wilderness. Then at last, going public with His early deeds in Capernaum. What’s the definition of genius? 1 per cent of inspiration and 99% perspiration? Well, even inspiration involves lots of prior work. There is a real discipline to the Christian life. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous book title puts it there is a cost to discipleship.
If He didn’t know this already (and I think that He did) Jesus was about to find out. His years of preparation in prayer, study of the scriptures and thought kicked in. He preached the inspired sermon He claimed. Initially the congregation liked it. They thought they were getting the “year of the Lord’s favour” for themselves and the day of the Lord’s vengeance for their hated conquerors. Then it started to dawn on them that this local boy was not just going to tickle their fancies. He was going to put His finger RIGHT on their deepest hurt and hatred, the hurt and hatred that the book of Jonah explored, Jonah, the reluctant prophet who hated the enemy God sent him to preach to so much that he fled and was swallowed by a whale.
His townsfolk wanted to domesticate Him. “Physician, heal thyself!” “Do here what you did in Capernaum.” Capernaum, 40 miles down the road? Jesus had set his sights way further than that. So He afflicts them. First with another saying: “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” Then 2 biblical examples. Elijah was sent to save not an Israeli widow but a Sidonese one from Zarephath. And Elisha healed not an Israeli, but a hated Syrian general from leprosy. The thing that’s at stake here is the gospel itself. God had anointed Jesus to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, revelry of sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed to people everywhere! But His townsmen thought it was just for them. They thought they had got their very own, domesticated superhero. And no one domesticates Jesus!
So here’s the thing. Jesus, by His own reckoning, was filled with the spirit. But the only good thing that I can see which came out of His preaching His program-defining speech in His hometown, was that somehow He managed to walk through them and escape being thrown over the cliff. What does that say to us? That our tendency to reducing following Jesus to “being nice”, avoiding conflict, is almost completely wrong. ALMOST completely? Somehow Jesus also got to be called “Prince of Peace”. Clearly what He meant by “peace” is not the same as what we mean. But that can be the subject of another sermon for another day.