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Seventh Sunday of Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, February 20, 2022

Why Is the Gospel Good News?

Text: Romans 10:9–17

Our daughter Amy had a birthday this past week. Every year it’s not unusual for me to recall the night of February 17, 1976, when she was born. I remember that after the long labor I was exhausted, and I suspect that Teresa was as well. While Teresa rested and the nurse took Amy to clean her up, I called my parents and Teresa’s parents to let them know they had a granddaughter. Then I walked across the street to get a hamburger and to reflect on this momentous event in our lives.

It was a cold Tuesday night, and the little bar and grill across the street from the hospital wasn’t all that busy which was fine with me. They had a good live band and when they took a break the lead singer came over to my booth to just say hello probably because I was by myself in a restaurant on a cold Tuesday night. I told him that my wife had just given birth to a precious and amazingly beautiful little girl. He asked me her name and I said it was Amy. When the band started back to do another set they played, “Amy” by Pure Prairie League. I raised my glass in appreciation and thanked them before I left.

As I walked back to the hospital I reflected on how huge this news was for Teresa and me, but that it didn’t really matter to the people in the cars whizzing past me, and now that I was gone, the members of the band and the waitress would likely not give the event a second thought. I mean babies are born every day, not a huge event for the world or even for Roanoke.

That night I went home alone because Teresa would be in the hospital for a day or two. I laid down in the realization that when Teresa came home there would be three of us. I confess that I was scared and yet I could hardly wait. That little 8 lb 4 oz bundle of sweetness had already captured my heart. I woke up the next morning and the first thing on my mind was the fact that I was a father, and always would be now. The birth of our daughter immediately changed our lives because this event really mattered and the longer I thought about it to more I saw it as good news.

What makes news seem good to the hearer? If you were in a restaurant and asked for a glass of iced tea but were given water, would that be good news? Probably not, but if you were walking across a hot and arid desert and were given a glass of water, that would probably be very good news. So for something to be “good news” there needs to be a realization that the something is important but is lacking and therefore needed.

In our passages from the Old and New Testaments, the Psalm, and the Gospel we are pointed to the real event of the coming of Jesus Christ and made aware that this was and is very good news to those who have a relationship with Him. To those who do not it’s merely another story. Like any story, how you respond depends on how you understand the story and your place in it. So for the next few moments we’ll consider what was foretold about the coming of Christ, His explanation of that coming, and how we should respond to it.

Three weeks ago we considered Luke 4:17–21, where Jesus stood up in the synagogue in Nazareth and quoted from Isaiah 61:1–2 that we read this morning.

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 gave it back to the attendant and 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.”

I pointed out that Jesus' claim that He was the fulfillment of this passage was a very bold statement that placed both listeners and now readers in the position of having to make a choice.

For those who realized their absolute need of God, and longed for the appearance of the Messiah, Jesus had a message of good news. The year of the Lord’s favor had come and for those who were waiting for this promise to be fulfilled it wouldn’t matter what situation they found themselves in.

Remember the story of Simeon and the prophetess Anna who rejoiced when Jesus was brought to the Temple for consecration as the first-born male in the family of Joseph and Mary. The Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon the identity of the child and in joy he lifted up the baby and proclaimed in Luke 2:29–32,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

This event was such good news that Simeon was ready to depart in peace because this was what he had been waiting for, what else could compare with that moment of glorious clarity. How did he know the identity of the child? Luke tells us in chapter 2:26–27,

And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple… when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God…

then in verses 34–35 Simeon turned to the parents,

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

What a confirmation this must have been for Mary and Joseph. Once again God provided evidence that they were on the right course, and I guarantee that they would need this encouragement as the child grew older and into manhood.

Two things were at work in this story. First, Joseph and Mary brought the child to the temple in Jerusalem out of obedience to the law of God found in Exodus 13:2. By doing this they were walking in the will of God and were able to see the amazing confirmation of the identity of the child that the Angel Gabriel promised Mary.

Secondly, Luke records that Simeon was a devout man who was waiting for the consolation of Israel. He was focused on the things of the Lord and therefore knew how to be led by the Holy Spirit, both in hearing God’s promise to him and being prompted to go to the temple at the right time. He could have been very aware that the Messiah would be coming soon. Perhaps he heard from the shepherds the message of the angels to them on the night of the birth of Jesus. We should pay attention that Simeon was not blinded by the things of the world, and therefore was able to see through the eyes of the Holy Spirit. He recognized Jesus for who he was, even as a newborn baby. His prophecy was filled with love for his long-anticipated Savior, though he had never seen Jesus, his spirit bore witness with the Spirit within the child. We who know so much more about Christ should love Him even more.

The child was born into an especially dark time in Israel where no prophet of God had spoken in over four hundred years.

As we turned back to Jesus’ claim to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 61, it’s helpful to remember that His concern for the poor expressed itself fully through the details of what He was claiming. If God’s people were faithful to the demands of the Law that they claimed as their unique heritage, then those who were physically or financially poor should already be taken care of. Jesus came to address the greater problem of those who were poor in spirit which was true of all who did not know God, no matter their social position or their wealth. Their spiritual poverty and bondage to sin separated them from God and consigned them to His holy judgment instead of covenant blessings. This would be a poverty that was far worse than hunger or lack of anything tangible. It was an eternal poverty.

Jesus was pointing those present in the synagogue to the good news that the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1–2 was in their midst. In this passage God promised to come and release them from their bondage to sin and darkness. He came to restore them to the place of their calling as the people of God. If He was telling the truth then this was indeed good news because they were promised to have God’s favor once again as His chosen people. It would require that they understood the seriousness of their sin and separation from God and they must come to Him in humility and genuine repentance. They had turned away from God’s word first given to Israel on Mt. Sinai and then later they ignored the Prophets, even killing them. They remembered that Moses gave them their identity as God’s chosen people, but they walked in disobedience for so long that they were hardened towards God. How long had it been since they had gathered in the synagogue or the temple in Jerusalem and sang Psalms to the Lord who was worthy of their praise, worship, and honor? How long since they had experienced the manifest presence of God in His Shekinah glory. Did they even have any idea what that was like? Did they miss it?

This morning as we read Psalm 96 together did you feel your heart soaring as we were encouraged to lift up our voices to the Lord? Or were you thinking about something else? I want to take a moment to go back to Psalm 96 verses 1–6. Close your eyes while I read again the words of the Psalmist,

 Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth
 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!  For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.  For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.  Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary…. Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.

The Psalms were to be sung by the congregation in praise to God who alone was worthy of praise, honor, and glory. When they came on the Sabbath they were to offer God the worship that He is due. The Psalms were songs for a variety of situations. There were Psalms of praise and of Lament, but each was meant to bring the covenant community in worship together to praise God and remind them of His Lordship over every area of their lives. Their worship was meant to be focused on God who was believed to be present in the Holy of Holies but as we have talked about before, at the time of the appearing of Jesus the Messiah the glory of the Lord had been gone from the Temple in Jerusalem for hundreds of years (Ezekiel 10) and most were likely unaware of it.

Even though by the time that Jesus stood up in the synagogue to read from Isaiah 61, Simeon and Anna were surely long gone. But they were living proof that Jesus’ announcement of His fulfilling the promise of Isaiah 61 should have brought about unbelievable joy had those present been able to hear from the Lord through the Holy Spirit. At this point in the story of redemption they had no understanding of what Jesus had come to do. Though all that He did and taught should have gladdened their hearts if they had remembered all that the scriptures taught concerning the Messiah. If they had been seeking God in the ways He had taught them, like Simeon their spirits should have resonated with the Spirit of God indwelling the Son of God. Jesus should have been recognizable to them and sadly for many of the religious leaders Jesus was recognized by the spirit of the evil one indwelling them.

They would need to repent of their arrogance in their claims to be the people of God. Jesus came to restore sight to those who played the harlot with the gods of the pagan nations around them. He had come to awaken them to their blindness of the law of God they claimed to honor and obey. They were blind to their apostasy and unaware that they had willingly fallen away from their covenant relationship with Yahweh. Their blindness prevented them from seeing themselves through the lens of the scriptures, which reminded them that God gave them His word that promised blessings to those who obeyed Him and judgment on those who did not. Jesus was bringing to the listening ears and receiving hearts the good news that God remembered His promise of restoring all things.

One of the greatest examples of someone receiving unexpected and undeserved good news is in the case of Barabbas in Luke 23:18–25,

But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”—a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!”  A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.”  But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted.  He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.

Barabbas was a scoundrel and robber. He was an insurrectionist who was thrown into prison for taking part in a rebellion against Rome and charged with the murder of a Roman. He was notorious, well known among the people, and was scheduled to be crucified. According to early biblical scholar Origen and other commentators, the full name of Barabbas was Jesus Barabbas. Barabbas means “son of the father” (bar abba) indicating that his father may have been a Jewish leader. In all of scripture there was only one person with this name. Some manuscripts write that the full name of this person was Jesus Barabbas.)

16At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (Matthew 27:16–17 (NIV)

In ancient Israel, Jesus, the Greek form of Joshua, was a common first name. The crowd was given a choice to decide between two persons having the same first name - Jesus Barabbas or Jesus Christ? A notorious criminal, murderer, rebel and robber or a loving Shepherd and Savior?

Imagine for a moment that when the crowds were screaming “Crucify him, Crucify him” Barabbas heard the uproar and possibly assumed they were demanding his death. Suddenly the Roman soldiers came to his cell. He is probably prepared to resist even though it would be useless. Instead they told him that he was free to go. Some else was going to take his place. Was this considered good news by Barabbas? I guarantee it. Is this grave miscarriage of justice good news to us? Absolutely.

Let’s briefly consider the Apostle Paul’s view of the Good News. In the Book of Romans Paul makes it clear from the beginning that “his gospel” sought to bring the mutual fellowship of the Jews and Gentiles into one body of Christ. He wrote in Romans 1: 16–17,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The word Paul used for “Gospel” in Greek is “euangelion” where we get the word for evangelist. It is translated as ‘good news’ or ‘glad tiding’ and Paul used the word because the power of preaching this good news, this gospel, had a regenerating, life-changing impact. The power of God that accompanied the preaching of this gospel was the only thing that was able to overcome the resulting damage and brokenness that sin brought into human lives. It was God’s means of restoring the men and women who were deeply marred images of God.

Romans is Paul’s most comprehensive explanation of the gospel. St. Augustine and all of the Reformers saw Romans as crucial to a proper understanding of the rest of Scripture. From chapter one to chapter nine Paul lays out the case that both Jews and Gentiles are both born in sin and without hope apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through this section we learn that all men and women are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, seen through the word of God alone.

By the time we arrive at chapter ten Paul has proven soundly that salvation comes from the new Covenant in Christ. Jesus was the end goal of the Mosaic law. To try and work for our salvation is to seek to accomplish what only could be done by God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I’ll close with reading again Romans 10:10–12 and 15–17,

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.

And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

I can’t imagine hearing better news than this. It’s the way of salvation for all. That includes our family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and any we come in contact with. Who will tell them the Good News? Will you?

Let’s Pray. (Reading from ‘The Valley of Vision”- The Mover p. 12)

©2022 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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