Luke 4 - Jesus' Synagogue Sermon

The Good News & the Hard Truth

The Good News & the Hard Truth

Adrain Taylor

Jesus returned from the wilderness to Galilee. He began to teach in their synagogues, the Jewish place of meeting and worship, and his words were met with high praise and nods of approval. He travelled throughout the countryside and there wasn’t a town that he visited that hadn’t heard a rumour concerning him. A person with such a powerful effect like this had not been witnessed since the time of the prophets. Many people whispered behind their hands that the Spirit of the Lord was with him. People no doubt questioned in their hearts, “What was God up to with this man?” and “Why might God have sent him?”

Jesus arrived in Nazareth, where he was raised, and the buzz there was no different to begin with than any other town. As usual, he went into the meeting place on the Sabbath. This was the Jewish day of holy respite and worship–a God-initiated breathing space at the end of each week. On this particular day he stood up to read in the presence of those eager to listen. A scroll was handed to him. He opened it up, almost unrolling the whole parchment in a long dramatic pause. Perhaps by this time all those gathered had come to realise this was an important moment. He spoke the words of Isaiah as if they were his own, declaring,

“The Lord’s mighty hand blesses me –
the Spirit of God weighs upon me like a cloak;
yes, as a mantle of full respect.
This is because God-My-Priest has poured fragrant oil on my head.
Who are the people who will belong to me and call me King?

How will I serve them? Am I not called to the poor –
the broke, the broken and the desperate?
Will I not put good news into the very mouths
of those who have no voice?

Then the prisoners will join with me,
singing the songs of the free,
the blind will no longer be overlooked but will join with me,
seeing before them what I have always seen,
those browbeaten and controlled by others will walk with me,
through an open gate into true lightness of spirit,
we will proclaim together that the Lord acts in our favour,
now and for all time to come!”

With that Jesus abruptly rolled up the scroll, letting where he had stopped the reading take its full effect. He handed the scroll back to the man who had given it to him and sat down. As was the custom, everyone waited for him to relate to their lives some insight or understanding of the scripture that had been read aloud. What he shared would widen every horizon and stretch out every assumption of God ever made. He simply began by saying,

“Today, the mystery of these words will begin to be unravelled. You will mark this day as the day from which all ears are re-opened to the Lord.”

What else he said is not recorded but when he had finished it was clear that his words were well received. Indeed everyone gathered there turned to one another, and agreed that his speech was full of humility and wisdom. The energised community were amazed by his teaching, and some said, “Isn’t this man the builder’s son?” For they could hardly believe this sort of understanding came from one untrained in the law.

Then Jesus gave them a challenging message. He began, “Let’s get directly to it. This is what you’re thinking I’m here for: A doctor takes care of his own people. We wish you’d hurry up and do the signs and wonders that we heard you did in Capernaum. Give some reason for rumours about us too.” He continued, “This is the hard truth of it: a prophet cannot play favourites with his hometown–and as a result the men God sends are not welcome for long. Take Elijah for example. There was a drought for three and a half years, and in the harsh famine there was scarcely enough food to go around the whole country. Who did the Lord in his wisdom send Elijah to? Yes, that’s right, a widow. She was not only a poor widow, but an outsider, not even among God’s people. There were plenty of widows in Israel but God looked to Zarephath in the area of Sidon to find a woman ready for God to act. Consider also the prophet Elisha when God showed power to heal leprosy. Was anyone of God’s chosen nation healed that day? No, only Naaman the outsider was cleansed. Oh and where was he from? Yes, that’s right, Syria. It seems the only favouritism God shows is toward faith over right-by-birth. Wouldn’t you agree? I’ll tell you this much: God our Father, in deep humility, is now giving those who you call outsiders an inheritance–born of faith–which you have taken for granted as exclusively yours.”

By the end of this message the people who had received Jesus so gladly, had become hostile. Their anger then boiled over into blind rage. Jesus was man-handled up to the crest of the hill that the town had been established on. They were intent on pushing him over the edge of the sheer face. But this was not the mob’s day and he pushed against the leaders, slipped into crowd, and walked back down the hill leaving the town of his youth behind.

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