Straight after his baptism and period of testing in the wilderness we read
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
Jesus FIRST became known for his teaching!!! And to begin with his message was popular. But then 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 down the cliff.
Right at the start of His ministry, 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.
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, in Isaiah 61
Isaiah 61 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 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 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? 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 actually goes 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 got the quotation wrong! It was the year of the Lord’s favour for God’s chosen people Israel. But where was the day of vengeance of our God on Israel’s enemies. The 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!
So everybody there was happy at the idea that God’s blessing was coming – God’s reward for the nation of Israel’s faithfulness. But they were angry at Jesus suggesting 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 were blind 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 come without the day of vengeance of our God.
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!
I preached a couple of months ago on that wonderful episode in the life of Elisha when God acted in swift judgment on those who dared to insult his spokesman the prophet.
2 Kings 2:23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!” 24 He turned round, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. 25 And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.
We were musing on the fact that God does not seem to bring down that kind of instant justice any more. Here were a mob of ancient near eastern hoodies hassling an Old Age Pensioner. Hey presto – in comes a bear to teach them all a lesson! We might secretly applaud that kind of justice. I find myself cheering on the bear! You wouldn’t need CCTV cameras or ASBOs if every time teenagers stepped out of line there was a convenient neighbourhood bear to maul them and put them straight! But God does not seem to do things that way so much any more.
And 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 on 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! Nor am I saying that nobody will be punished. 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 gospel 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 the Old Testament stories from the times of Elijah and Elisha of two people blessed by God who you wouldn’t have expected God to bless. Neither were Jews. One was a woman. The other was a leper. God’s blessing did not come to the Israelites of those days. 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.
1 Kings 17:7 Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
12 “As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”
13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 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 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 whereas 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 at a time 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. I preached a couple of months ago about Naaman and his 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.”
….. 13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and 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. Are there any “poor people” for whom Jesus is NOT Good News? Of course not – the gospel is good news for EVERYBODY.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. Can you think of any prisoners 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.
19 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? Anyone so lost that God cannot find them? Anyone so wicked that God has given up on them? NO! NO! The gospel is 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. We need to step out boldly to take this good news to everybody we can! Jesus said it.
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!” – THANKS BE TO GOD!