At the very beginning of Jesus’s ministry we read this.
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
Before anything else Jesus FIRST became known for his teaching!!! And to begin with his message was popular. But when Jesus preached in his home village of Nazareth the tide turned!
28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.
Three full years before the crowds in Jerusalem shouted “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” we find the people of Nazareth ready to murder Jesus. It was his home town. Everybody there knew Jesus. They loved Him – or they did until that sermon.
So what on earth had Jesus said to make them that angry? There were three separate sayings – all making the same unpopular and unexpected point. All starting with Jesus’s first recorded sermon – his Nazareth Manifesto!
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
And Jesus reads from Isaiah 61. We all remember what Jesus said. And here is the original text from Isaiah 61
Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the blind, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD ’s favour
We all know that this is Jesus’s message. Good news for the poor. Binding up the broken hearted, freedom for the captives (especially those trapped by the devil and all his demons) release from darkness for those blinded by sin, the year of the Lord’s favour, the age of blessing which the Israelites had been expecting and waiting for and longing for, for a thousand years!
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.”
What an amazing event. To be there when Jesus said – what you have been waiting for has arrived. The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon ME!
22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.
But then the doubts set in. Then the questions started.
“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. How can the Spirit of the Lord be on Jesus? Our neighbour? Our lad from our village? Why was it that Jesus the prophet was not accepted in his own home town? Where did their doubts come from?
We know the message Jesus brought. The problem was, so did the people of Nazareth! And they knew that Jesus had not finished the quotation from Isaiah. Because the verse in Isaiah 61 actually carries on like this.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the blind, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD ’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God,
Surely Jesus had made a mistake. Surely he got the quotation wrong! It was the year of the Lord’s favour for God’s chosen people Israel. But why didn’t he finish that verse? Why had Jesus missed out the bit about the day of vengeance of our God on Israel’s enemies? The promised Messiah was going to bring blessings for Israel. But where was God’s judgment on the Gentiles. That was part of the reason the Messiah was coming – to punish the wicked. Surely you can’t have one without the other. Jesus had got the message wrong!
Of course everybody there was happy at the idea that God’s blessing was coming – God’s reward for the nation of Israel’s faithfulness. What made them angry was Jesus didn’t say. By cutting the verse short, Jesus as good as said that God’s judgment was not coming – or at least not yet.
Those who heard that first sermon were happy at the idea of good news for the poor – as long as it was for them, Israel’s poor, of course. They didn’t like the sound of good news for any old poor – Gentile poor, Samaritan poor!
Binding up the broken hearted – comfort for those who mourn, great for Israel’s broken-hearted. But surely not for those who did not follow God – their destiny should surely be judgment and punishment. They deserved all the sadness they got!
Freedom for the prisoners – if they were Israelites surely yes! But if they were God’s enemies, justly imprisoned for their crimes, why should they get a second chance?
Sight for the blind – wonderful for Israelites. But if Gentiles, those who were not Jews, were blind then surely that was God’s punishment on them for not believing in the one true God! Surely God would leave them in their darkness.
The year of the Lord’s favour was great news. But the people of Nazareth just couldn’t believe that Jesus would miss out the second part of the quotation. They couldn’t believe that the day of the Lord’s favour would not bring the day of vengeance of our God at the same time.
Perhaps secretly we feel the same. There is something deep within us which wants us to see evil punished. See the wicked get their just desserts. Although we all need mercy, although we are all grateful that God shows his mercy to us, something in us wants other people (or some others at least) to face the wrath of God – because they deserve it!
So this is what shocked the people of Nazareth about Jesus’s sermon. The very idea that God might bring mercy and freedom and sight and the year of the Lord’s favour to EVERYBODY – and miss out the judgment of the day of vengeance of our God!
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that judgment will never come. Just that judgment has been postponed. There will still be a day of reckoning and of righting of wrongs and of punishment of the wicked. But in God’s mercy that day has been delayed.
2 Peter 3:8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance
Judgment day is coming! I am not saying that nobody will be punished in the end. But what Jesus made very clear at Nazareth is that our preconceptions about who will be saved or who will be punished may be very wrong. The gospel was not exclusively for the Israelites. The gospel is not exclusively for “our kind of people.” The good news Jesus proclaimed is not for people who are deserving – by definition it is for people who are undeserving. And if we think we know which people will be blessed in the year of the Lord’s favour and which people will suffer in the day of vengeance of our God, we may well be very much mistaken.
Because that’s the point Jesus goes on to make. He tells two Old Testament stories from the times of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha. Stories about two people blessed by God who you wouldn’t have expected God to bless. Neither of them were Jews. One was a woman. The other was a leper. Jesus reminded the people in Nazareth that even in Elijah and Elisha’s time God’s blessing did not come to the Israelites. But to the Gentiles. The enemies. Those who were in need.
25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.
We find that story in 1 Kings 17. God sent Elijah to a woman who herself was starving, down to her last handful of flour and drop of oil. Because she shared the last food she had with Elijah, God worked a miracle which provided for all their needs.
1 Kings 17 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’ ”
15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.
Here was a woman God richly blessed. Not because she was an Israelite – but because she was poor and hungry and God cares for all who are poor and hungry. Truly the gospel is good news for the poor – for ALL who are poor. Christian poor and Muslim poor and Hindu poor and atheist poor. God blessed the woman because she obeyed the prophet Elijah’s instructions and in doing so put her trust in God and His promises. And later on her faith was rewarded again when her son died and through Elijah’s prayers God brought that son back to life again!
God cares about all poor and hungry and grieving people – not just Israelites. When we think about the poor we must bear in mind that God’s mercy is wider than we can imagine! Like the Israelites we can have some irrational unbiblical prejudices about who God does and does not love. Some Christians think that the poor in Africa in some way deserve God’s mercy because they were born into their poverty but that people trapped in debt or on benefits on our doorstep somehow deserve their poverty because they have perhaps mismanaged their money. The gospel is good news for the poor – for ALL who are poor! And we who are so rich must never forget that!
In the same way Jesus reminded the people of Nazareth of another Old Testament character who was unexpectedly blessed by God.
27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
We read in 2 Kings 5 that Naaman was a Syrian in the time of Elisha when they were Israel’s enemies. He was the commander of the army of the king of Aram, but he had leprosy. He came to Elisha and asked for healing. Naaman gives us an example of faith and obedience.
10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
….. 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.
God cares about ALL sick people – not just Israelites. Not just Christians. God healed Naaman because he was obedient. And God will answer prayers for healing from anybody who asks. Not just the faithful churchgoer. But ANYBODY on whom God chooses to pour his blessings.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. There are no “poor people” for whom Jesus is NOT Good News? The gospel is good news for EVERYBODY.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. There are no prisoners who God will set free, if they only turn to him? Murderers? Rapists? Paedophiles? The gospel is good news for everybody, whatever our crimes.
Recovery of sight for the blind, None are so blind that God cannot make them see?
To release the oppressed, ALL who are oppressed, in any nation, of any religion or none. The glorious liberty of the children of God is God’s gift to ALL who believe.
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” God’s offer of forgiveness and new life is for EVERYONE. The day of vengeance of our God is coming. But until then He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Is there anyone beyond the pale? NO! Anyone so lost that God cannot find them? NO! Anyone so wicked that God has given up on them? NO! NO! The gospel is good news for EVERYONE!
So we need to seek God’s guidance for him to lead us to the poor and the blind and the captives in North Springfield who He is waiting to save. Jesus calls us to step out boldly to take this good news to everybody we can! And he fills us with the same Holy Spirit who filled Jesus.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on US, because the LORD has anointed US to preach good news to the poor. He has sent US to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the blind, to proclaim the year of the LORD ’s favour!