The Year of the Lord's Favor Begins

April 2, 2023

Book: Luke

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Scripture: Luke 4:14-30

What did Jesus come to do?

Let me tell you, one of the hardest things to do when you are first becoming a pastor. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but being a pastor isn’t the sort of thing that just happens overnight. Now, you might be hired by a church and then they give you the title pastor. You get that overnight. But becoming someone’s pastor is actually a lot longer process than that. And this is especially true when you are first starting out in ministry. Most guys who go into full time pastoral ministry start off pretty young like you do in most career paths. But if there’s one calling in life where lots of experience and obedience and time to prove yourself is vital, it’s in pastoral ministry. The word elder implies that you’re old, doesn’t it? It doesn’t mean that you’re old, but it does mean that you’re spiritually mature. And that takes time. And time makes you old. So the word elder usually makes sense if you’ve got a few years on you. But you know what doesn’t make sense for it? It does not make sense for the 26 year old dude right out of seminary who just became the leader elder of your church. And I’ve been in that situation before and it’s awkward. It’s very strange. What’s even harder than that is being a spiritual guide to people who you knew before you became a pastor. Okay. That’s even stranger to some degree. I didn’t become a Christian until I was halfway through college, and when I told my friend who knew me in high school that I was going to be a pastor, they were like, seriously? You? Really? Let’s just say I’m not looked to with the same sort of spiritual leadership recognition that I am here at Calvary. All right. That group. That group sees me a little bit differently. They were too familiar with the old Kyle to embrace this new Kyle.

Between youthfulness and familiarity, young pastors have a really steep hill to climb to reach the place where they’re looked to as spiritual leaders. Now, it shouldn’t be that way. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Spiritual maturity and leadership are related to age, but they are not dependent on age. Paul told Timothy as a young man to appoint elders in his church and not to let people look down on him because of his youth. Timothy was a mature follower of Jesus with a robust faith that was instilled to in him by his family. So he was a young guy at the same time, but it was right to appoint him into an elder position and then for him to take on that young pastoral role. Now, on the flip side, I’ve known plenty of older men and women who have not matured in their faith at all. They just haven’t matured at all. And sometimes you’ll see men who are not mature enough get put into eldership simply because they’re older.

I start with this this morning because at roughly the age of 30, Jesus entered into the first stage of his public ministry. By going back to Galilee, h  e’s going to go back to his home region and he’s going to go to his hometown of Nazareth. That’s going to come with some mixed results, because when Jesus declares who he is and then when he shows people who he is, that’s going to bump up against the familiarity that these people in his hometown have with him. You heard that phrase, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’? You know that phrase when someone knows you too well, they tend to have some contempt for you. Well, we’re going to see that a little today.

But do you know where Jesus is also a little too familiar? Right here in Minnesota. Jesus is very familiar here. Here in the United States, where for so long Christianity has been wedded to culture and everyone has an opinion on who Jesus is, or at least who Jesus should be. In our increasingly post-Christian culture, we have this weird dynamic going on. It’s a very strange dynamic. While the knowledge of scripture decreases, opinions on Jesus are not decreasing and opinions of his church are not decreasing. But they’ve become more diverse, and they are increasingly disconnected from Scripture because the knowledge of Scripture is dipping lower. So although people may feel familiar with Jesus, they don’t actually know Him or even why He came.

Our passage today is a direct answer to the question What did Jesus come to do? What did he come to do? After this morning, you should lay aside any opinion that you have about Jesus, or what He represents, or what He came to do, or how He should be talked about today. If your opinion doesn’t match up with what Jesus says about himself., we need to listen to Jesus tell us who He is and what He came to do. I want you to really consider this. I want you to listen carefully and think clearly about what Jesus says about his own mission. And if at the end of our time what Jesus says simply doesn’t match up with what you want to think about Him, well then here at the end of our passage, you’ll see the proper thing to do with Jesus today. But I think that you’ll be really happy to hear what Jesus has to say about why he’s here. It’s very good news. So please open your Bibles If you have them this morning, you can open to Luke chapter four. We’re going to begin in verse 14 today. We’re going to look at what Jesus says about himself. Then we’ll look at the mixed reaction to what Jesus says about himself. And then we’ll look at Jesus’ explanation of their mixed reaction. Okay? Did you follow all of that? Well, look at what Jesus says, how they respond to it, and what Jesus has to say about their response.

So let’s start by looking at what Jesus has to say about himself (Luke 4:14-21) “’And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and he stood up to read: “And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll, and he found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”. And he rolled up the scroll and he gave it back to the attendant, and he sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

All right., so let’s talk a little bit about Jesus’ strategy here. The Holy Spirit guides Jesus to go to Galilee, which is the northern region of Israel. And as I mentioned earlier, it includes his hometown, where he grew up, his hometown of Nazareth, and he’s on a teaching tour. He’s going to the different synagogues in the region of each of these towns. Now, a synagogue is a gathering place where Jewish people would come together to hear scripture, to read and to hear it taught, and to pray. This was not unlike our church buildings that we have today. And everywhere Jesus goes, he is being well received, it says. It says that he’s being glorified by all, but don’t read glorified here as worship. They’re not worshiping Jesus. What they’re doing is they’re applauding him. They’re saying, wow, this is pretty amazing. Listen to this guy teach. He’s got some amazing things to say. Part of this amazement comes from hearing Jesus teach in a way that is unlike the other teachers of scripture. So when someone teaches Scripture, generally they point to God and they teach something about who God is and who we are in relation to God. That’s what I do. That’s what every good teacher of Scripture does. But Jesus does something very different here, and it’s pretty amazing. He reads the Bible and then he points to himself. He reads the scriptures and then he says, This is about me. His teaching puts himself in the center and shows how all of the scriptures point to him. Now, there are only two things that this can mean. There’s really only two ways to take this. Either Jesus is a very committed, narcissistic con artist who has the brave audacity to travel all over the Jewish region, falsely claiming to be the focal point of their scriptures and the key to their entire religion. Or he actually is. That’s it. It’s one of those two. He actually is the key to understanding and fulfilling every promise that all of these people have been trusting in for their entire lives.

And by the way, that’s the decision that’s before us today. We have the same decision to make as the people of Nazareth. Jesus goes to his hometown synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom. Remember, this is Jesus’ hometown. So these people watched Jesus grow up in the community. These are the people that saw him from when he was very young. Have you seen some of the cute little babies that we have here at Calvary? Just out and about, people carrying around their little baby suitcases. Right. And you glance in there and they’re all cute, right? And it’s so awesome. You always want to catch a glimpse of them. Imagine for a moment that one of those babies grows up to become a really good Bible student and then a really good Bible teacher. Let’s say that he comes back to our church one day and you remember him. Oh, my goodness. You remember holding him when he was a little baby and you remember him in the nursery. You remember him running around in the lobby, jumping over the green couch. Right? And you remember him doing all these cool little things? You saw him doing the little VBS, the hand motions with the songs, you know, And it was as fantastic. Right? And then this boy, who’s now a man, he gets up on Sunday morning and he’s been picked for the reading that morning and he gets up and he gives a beautiful reading of Isaiah 61 like we just heard. We just had a reading like this. He gets up and he gives a beautiful reading of Isaiah 61 and you’re probably thinking, wow that is so great. Look at this young man maturing and becoming a dedicated worshiper of the Lord. And then he closes the Bible and he says that all of that scripture is about him. Now how do you feel? He says all of it is fulfilled in me. Hmm. That’s a little difficult, isn’t it? Now you’re getting the sense of how these people would have heard Jesus that day. They’ve been hearing this scripture read their entire lives. Someone’s gotten up and unrolled the scroll so that they could hear it and remember what God has promised. And now this kid they just saw grow up his whole life, He comes up and he unrolls the scroll, He reads it and says, I’m here. I have arrived and all of this is fulfilled in me.

What is Jesus claiming here? Let’s start with that quote. Isaiah 61 is part of a larger passage that describes how the Lord is going to restore the nation of Israel after the exile. God has sent the people into Babylonian exile because of their sin, but now he’s bringing them back out. He’s bringing them out of Babylon and he’s bringing them back into the land. And the healing process is going to culminate in a period of time that Isaiah calls the Year of the Lord’s Favor. That’s the phrase The Year of the Lord’s Favor. This was the dawning of a new age when God would finally and completely bring salvation to all his people and to all the nations that would come and become part of God’s people so that God’s people would be saved, and then other nations would come and be saved as well. You’ll see there in Isaiah chapter 61,or chapter earlier, Isaiah chapter 60, verse 11, it says that the gates of the city of God’s people will never be shut so that the nations can come into them and bring their wealth. The Jewish understanding of these chapters in Isaiah were that they described a dawn of a new era that would be marked by God’s salvation. Now, when you get to Isaiah 61, the way God is going to bring this new era comes into focus. There’s going to be a servant. In fact, it’s this servant who is speaking in Isaiah 61, and he says that the spirit of the Lord is upon him. So he’s been anointed by the Holy Spirit, and this will be a spirit-led spirit, empowered person. And the Spirit will empower this servant to inaugurate the year of The Lord’s Favor by accomplishing a number of tasks. There’s going to be a number of things that are going to come that you know will bring about this year of the Lord’s favor.

First, he’ll preach good news to the poor. If you are a reader of Scripture, you know that one of the things that God cares about most is the problem of poverty. He cares very deeply about it. He cares about the plight of the poor and the abuse that is inflicted on the poor by unrighteous people. God’s law has plenty of instructions for how God’s people are supposed to treat the poor to make sure that they’re cared for. But, and you’re not going to believe this, the Israelites didn’t do it. They failed to hold up their end of things. In fact, they figured out that they could actually use their money and power to gain more money and power by taking advantage of the poor. It’s one of the major indictments that God has against his people, which is why he sent them into exile. He said, You’ve been mistreating all of these people that I love. You’ve been stepping on their heads. You’ve been pushing them down to raise yourself up. Those who are struggling with not having enough, though, have an advantage in a certain way. They’re in a unique position of advantage when it comes to God’s good news of salvation. See a person who struggles to pay bills or to feed their children, to get an education, and is laboring away in a job that is unfulfilling or doesn’t pay enough, that person is in a unique position because they can feel the brokenness of this world in a way that a rich person can’t. And we’re going to see this come up over and over again throughout the Gospel of Luke. That’s why poor people loved Jesus. They were longing for him. He came to preach to them that there is a salvation that pulls you out of this broken kingdom that you’re in, and gives you entrance into a new kingdom where you will not suffer. You will be brought into God’s family. That’s an incredible, incredible invitation to those who are hurting. And if you’re hurting in this world, that invitation sounds even better to you.

But this isn’t just referring to the physically poor. Jesus didn’t come just to preach to them. This is referring to all those who are spiritually poor. Anybody who lacks what he needs spiritually and is looking for good news that will fill up this spiritual poverty will find it in Jesus. Being in an impoverished state simply means you don’t have what you need. And if you find that your soul is impoverished, you want what Jesus has to say and to offer. And we know this is what Jesus means, because Jesus says that he also is sent to proclaim liberty to the captives. Does that mean that Jesus wants everybody out of jail? No. In fact, he doesn’t release anybody from jail. This is referring to those who are spiritually in bondage. These are the strongholds of addiction, and sinful behavior, and broken bodies that the gospel sets free. And some of you have experienced that kind of bondage, that kind of captivity before. And, you know, the beauty of the release that comes when Christ becomes your king and sets you free. He’s going to give sight to the blind. Jesus is actually going to perform some miracles where he heals blind people. But these few exceptions, these few times that he does that are not the fulfillment of what Isaiah is saying. It’s actually the other way around. The few examples where Jesus heals people who are blind points to the spiritual reality that Isaiah is referring to. Jesus ministry is going to give sight to spiritually blind people. That’s how the Bible describes those who are lost and broken in sin in our world that they can’t see. They’re blind to the truth. People lost in sin have no way to escape. And the gospel for them is going to be like light. It’s going to be like switching on a light in the darkness to guide people out of that darkness and out of that evil in this world into the kingdom of God. He’s going to liberate the oppressed. Again, Jesus isn’t going to lead an insurrection against the powers that are holding Israel back, even though they want him to. In fact, that would be one of the mistakes that the people in Jesus’ time make with him. They think he’s going to lead this insurrection against Rome. They wanted him to do that. But instead he’s going to liberate those who are spiritually oppressed by demonic forces and sin and evil in this world. The good news that he brings is going to accomplish all of this. He’s going to preach this good news and it’s going to start to accomplish all of this. And you say, well, how can preaching do that? How can simply preaching, speaking do all of that? Well, it can when the preaching is of good news that is true, because that news is not just some good ideas about how the world ought to be. It’s not just some speech about how here’s how the world might be a better place. But is tied to salvation that comes into the world, that’s tied to an actual transformation that comes through this servant. It’s true news about divine salvation. It’s the work of divine salvation on the cross that will fill the spiritually poor and free the spiritually oppressed. And Jesus reads this part of Isaiah, and he heads over and he hands the scroll to the scroll guy and he sits down, and everyone is looking at him. Everybody is looking at him, they’re captivated by what he will say next. What’s he going to say? And he says today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. It’s no longer something we’re going to look forward to. It’s something that’s happening right now. And the people just don’t know what to do with that. And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son? Now, this is worded a little bit awkwardly, but it’s clear what happened. The crowd was unified in their amazement of Jesus, but it was divided in their opinion of them. Okay. So they were unified. This was amazing what he just did. But we’re divided on the opinion. Everyone thought he spoke really well, but there were some in the group who weren’t convinced. These guys thought, wait a minute, isn’t this Joseph’s son? Hold on a second. That was a nice reading. Wait a minute, though. Don’t we know his dad? Isn’t this Joseph’s son? I mean, how can the savior they’ve been waiting for be the guy that made their dining room table? The son of the guy? Right. How is that possible? They’re so familiar with Jesus that they can’t accept who Jesus says he is.

Let me talk briefly here this morning to the skeptics in the room. Is it possible that your low view of Jesus has more to do with you than it does with Jesus? Is that possible? Do you think it’s possible that you formed an opinion about Jesus that’s based more on what you already think, or what you’ve committed to believe, than it is on who Jesus actually is and what he accomplished? I’ve talked to a lot of skeptics over the years who have a very low view of Jesus, but at the same time, they also cannot describe the gospel. They can’t explain the good news, and they have no biblical understanding of Jesus. Yet they’re convinced they have Jesus figured out, they know exactly who he is. A lot of people, like the people in Jesus’ hometown, they think they already know Jesus when they really don’t. And so I would challenge you if you’re in that position to ask yourself, Do you really know Jesus, the Christ of the Bible? Or do you just think you do? Listen to Jesus explain this reaction. It is not what you would expect. And he said to them, doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, Physician, Heal Yourself. What we have heard you did at Capernaum do here in your hometown as well. And he said, truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the heavens were shut up three years and six months and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed. But only Naaman, the Syrian.

You know how sometimes you will say something that you think is fine, but someone else will have their feelings hurt a little bit by the thing that you said and then you backpedal a little bit to try to save the other person’s feelings. You know Minnesota culture, right? You know how that’s like, right? Jesus doesn’t do that at all. Jesus will have none of that. And Jesus does the opposite. When Jesus offends people, he is not surprised by that. He simply explains to them why they’re offended. That physician heal yourself line is just a way of saying if you are who you say you are, prove it. Prove it to us. These people had heard that Jesus had done some things in Capernaum and in the surrounding area, and he healed sick people. That’s what happens in the rest of the Book of Luke. Jesus anticipates their thoughts. They’re skeptical of him and they want to see him back up his big talk about the start of the year of the Lord’s favor with some miracles that prove that he really is the one who has the spirit of God, and Jesus will not play along with that. He’s not playing. He even explains why he won’t perform a miracle for them. And it is not a flattering explanation. He uses two of the biggest Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha, to make this point. When the famine happened during Elijah’s ministry, there were plenty of people in need of help. But Elijah was only sent by God to help the widow who was in Zarephath. In the days of Elisha, there were plenty of people who were struggling with leprosy, who were dying of leprosy. But God only had Elisha heal Naaman, who was from Syria. You know what these two had in common? They weren’t Israelites. They weren’t Israelites. There were plenty of people in Israel who could have received the blessings of God through these two prophets, but God sent them outside of Israel to save people.

The point is, God isn’t in the business of showering his blessings out just because a person is a part of Israel. Just because a person claims some nationality, there is no privileged nationality. There’s something else that divides those who receive God’s salvation and those who don’t. And the dividing line is faithfulness. Its faithfulness. It is those who come to the Lord with a heart of faith and obedience who will see the Lord’s power. Israel pushed away the prophets God sent to them. He sent them to call them to faithfulness and they said, no, we don’t want any of that. We don’t want to be faithful. We don’t want to be obedient. It is those who come to the Lord with a heart of faith and obedience who will see the Lord’s power. The people of Nazareth are now in danger of rejecting the God’s prophet again. Do you see that? It’s their turn. They’re now hearing the gospel. They’re hearing the good news of salvation. And they’re pushing away God’s prophet this time, the ultimate fulfillment of all prophecy. They’re pushing him away again, just like the hard-hearted fathers before them.

The same choice is now presented to us. Friends, this is the same thing that we face. You know, everything people want in this world right now is a part of God’s kingdom. Everything people want really, really want. When they think about what would make this world better, they will find it in God’s kingdom. Have you noticed that people want an end to poverty? There’s a lot of people talking about it now. Living wage. That’s a phrase that gets used a lot, right? People want to make sure people are taking care of, people don’t want the system to be to be rigged against people. They want justice in the courts. They want oppression to stop. They want purpose and hope and peace. There’s a desire in us, in our society for these things. You know, a politically minded person could take what Jesus says here and turn what Jesus says here into some sort of a political pundit. You could take Jesus and say, well, he’s on my side. People have done that. But I’d say to you, those of you who want the evils of this world to end are actually longing for the Kingdom of God. You don’t need Jesus to be on your side. You need to be on His. You need to understand what it is that he’s bringing into the world. Your longing for the kingdom brought into the world through God’s anointed servant, that’s why that longing is there inside of you. Here’s the challenge. Will you embrace this servant? You want what only Jesus can offer. Do you want Jesus, though?

Let’s see what the people decide to do with Jesus. When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away. Well, that didn’t end well. Why are they so angry? Why are they so angry at Jesus? Well, they’re angry because they didn’t get what they wanted out of Jesus. They wanted the hometown kid to perform for them. They wanted to see if what they’d been hearing in other places was true. And not only wouldn’t he do what they wanted, Jesus explains to them that because of their hard hearts, God wasn’t going to bless them at all. So they drove him out of town to the edge of the cliff. And just about threw him over the edge. It says that he passed through their midst. Now, this either means that they changed their minds, the crowd changed their mind, or the Lord intervened and stopped them. Either way, Jesus walks through the crowd because no one takes Jesus’ life until he’s ready to give it. So what about you? What about you? There are only two things that you can do with Jesus. Only two. You can follow him, or you can throw him. If you think that you’ve got Jesus all figured out and you’ve decided to reject him, to reject the good news and find justice and goodness in this world some other way, I invite you to reconsider. You won’t find what you’re looking for some other way. What you’re longing for in your heart is a kingdom that’s not of this world. And it is a kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate. It is the Year of the Lord’s Favor. God is bringing about the transformation we are longing for through Christ. Don’t push away Jesus as you seek justice in the world, join with Christ who brings good news of the Kingdom of God, where the pain and the oppression of this world is being undone.

Let’s pray. Lord God, what a gift. What a gift that you would send Jesus, our savior, to come and to inaugurate a transformed world. It’s not fully transformed yet, God, but through your people we’re seeing lives made new. Evil undone. Through the movement of the spirit, we’re seeing lives transformed, death vanquished. And so Lord, we thank you for this kingdom and I pray for those who are struggling today, who want this kingdom, want what happens in it, but don’t yet want Jesus. I pray, Lord, that by your spirit you would move them to see that Jesus is the key to the longings of our heart. We pray this in Jesus name. Amen.

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