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Third Sunday of Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, January 23, 2022

God Manifests Himself Throughout His Word

Text: Luke 4:14–21

Have you ever been reading a book, or an article and suddenly realize that even though you have come to the end of a chapter, or a page, you have no idea what you just read? Your mind was preoccupied with something else to the point that you weren’t paying attention to what you were reading. I’ve actually made myself go back and reread the section only to realize that I’m still not paying attention.

If what I’m reading is important then I find it helpful to ask the Holy Spirit to allow me to focus on what I need to glean from it. That’s the main reason that when we gather to worship God. I pray for us to be able to focus on what God is saying to us through His word, and to be engaged in actual worship instead of merely going through the motions.

So with that in mind, today we begin week three of the Season of Epiphany, which means “manifestation.” We will continue to meditate on the manifestation of God and the revelation of his good news to the whole world. You’ll notice that each of our readings today focuses our attention on the various ways that God manifests Himself. We see the epiphany or the manifestation of God through the reading and meditating on the Scriptures in Nehemiah 8, through God’s revealing Himself through creation in Psalm 113, through the announcement of the messianic mission by Jesus in Nazareth in Luke 4, and through his “body,” the local church in 1 Corinthians 12. Each of these readings points us to the same place—God’s revelation of Himself through His word and Spirit. When we are engaged in the Word of God we must always seek what God is teaching us, in order that we might enter into a deeper relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is always the goal and there is tremendous joy and blessing there.

A few weeks ago we looked at Jesus’ baptism and saw that in submitting to the baptism of John, he was in fact submitting to the will of the Father. As he entered the water Luke records that he was praying, probably affirming to the Father that he was prepared to go through with the agreement that they had made before the foundations of the earth (Ephesians 1:4).

The effect of his prayer was that the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove and descended on him. The Father’s response was to express his absolute delight in the Son by proclaiming, “This is my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

Today our focus will be on Luke 4:14–21 where Jesus declares that he is the promised one, the Messiah. It’s helpful to remember that the Jews had been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years and over that time many people had come and made the claim to be the one. God promised that through the coming Messiah he would bring salvation for his people.

Then Jesus came to declare that he is the fulfillment of what God promised to their forefathers. But as in many great moments the question arose, “Is this really the one and is God finally working to fulfill his promise to Israel?”

Gathering for reading and understanding the scriptures, had probably emerged during the times of exile, and was certainly established in the land after the exile from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Here in this passage, we see Jesus following in the tradition of Ezra and the Levites, in reading and teaching the scriptures to the people. The passage emphasizes that “he went, according to his custom on the sabbath day, into the synagogue, and stood up to read.”

As Luke writes this account after all these things have happened, the question was still out there, “was Jesus the anointed one and if so, what was he offering?”

If you remember, I have commented often that Luke liked to write using themes to convey the gospel message and he often did so by showing contrasts between one thing and another. The contrasts that Luke will be revealing to us in this passage is that Jesus’ piety was not like the Jewish leadership and for Luke’s readers he is pointing out that they must choose which side they will land on.

Despite the tension that this would create Jesus does not attempt to separate himself from Judaism but rather, he presents his mission as the natural extension and realization of Israel's hope. As Jesus came to show, the time of fulfillment had come. The opportunity to share in the hope and experience the release of bondage according to God's promise had come that very day (v. 21).

Let me set the scene that Luke is recounting. This is played out at a local synagogue in Nazareth which was very different than going to Jerusalem to the temple. There were no sacrifices at a synagogue service, but it required the presence of a minimum of ten adult males. At the service, the Shema was recited (Deuteronomy 6:4–9), followed by prayers. After this the Scripture was read, beginning with a portion from Torah (Genesis–Deuteronomy) and moving next to a section from the Prophets, then instruction from the passages would be given. The service then closed with a benediction.

Jesus chose to speak during the reading of the Prophets, and he reads from Isaiah 61:1–2, a passage that promises the coming of God's salvation. His commentary, unlike most sermons, is brief, declaring simply, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." The claim was so great that we need to work through the elements of the Old Testament passage carefully.

In Luke 4:14, Jesus returns to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.”

Jesus returns to the area that would be the center of his earthly ministry, and the word had gotten out that he was certainly someone that was worth looking into. Perhaps some had been there at his baptism and seen the dove descending down upon him or perhaps they had heard John the Baptist proclaim that he was, “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The town of Cana was in this region and perhaps one of the servants at the wedding feast had been talking about this fellow who turned water into wine.

Either way, Jesus was becoming the topic of conversation and Luke says that he had been teaching in the various synagogues and everyone was praising him. However, he now was returning to Nazareth where he had been brought up and on the Sabbath he went to synagogue, as was his custom.

He stood up to read from the prophet Isaiah and this is where it all comes together. It is here that Luke begins the process of making a clear distinction between Jesus and the religious authorities, by essentially saying, “This is who Jesus is. Will you follow him, or will you continue to follow the deadness of the religion of the Pharisees?”

Let’s consider the claims of Jesus.

He began with, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”

The Jewish audience hearing this claim that the Spirit was upon Jesus would probably have assumed that he was claiming a divinely directed ministry, but they likely would not have realized that the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism was not just for prophetic ministry but was to empower him to accomplish the role of the Messiah. This statement points us back to the Father speaking concerning the Son in Luke 3:21–22, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

He came to reveal God’s will and fulfill God’s promise, but that promise is to deal with the real issues plaguing Israel and not the external cravings of power that they desired.

Jesus began by defining what he came to deal with and that would begin by proclaiming “Good news to the poor.” This theme has already come up in Luke’s gospel in Mary’s song (Luke 1:51–53). Mary began her song by addressing it to the object of her praise: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (v.46–47)

He has shown strength with his arm;
     he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
   and exalted those of humble estate; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and the rich he has sent away empty.” (51–53)

One question that arises from Jesus’ declaration is what does he mean by the term “poor.” Is this about class struggle or political liberation for the poor? Certainly God showed a real concern for those who were abandoned or marginalized, and Mary’s song shows his compassion for those who have been humbled by their circumstances. Paul recognizes in 1 Corinthians 1:26–29 that the poor in circumstance are often more receptive to the hope of the gospel because they sense their absolute need and have no delusions of power, control or independence.

However I believe that what Jesus refers to here is not a political statement or a statement about the socio-economic conditions of many but of the absolute poverty of spirit of those who are without hope in God. For those who are inwardly broken and poor in spirit, Jesus is the answer. For those who are without hope and realize it and that includes both rich and poor economically, Jesus came to bring a message of good news. In John 10:10 Jesus declares,

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5:3,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

Anyone without Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is completely impoverished.

Next, Jesus was sent to “proclaim liberty for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

Jesus was making it clear that the oppression and the blindness are primarily spiritual. Mankind, both then and now, are in a struggle between the forces of darkness and the kingdom of Light and Jesus came that light would expel the darkness. When you turn on a light in the room, the darkness goes away and everything in that room is seen for what it is. The things that are hidden come out of their hiding place so they can be dealt with.

Jesus came to bring healing and relief from addiction, pain, suffering, loneliness, and dark despair. This struggle has no economic or class boundaries but is certainly the condition of everyone without Christ, and often is a struggle even for those who are in Christ. Jesus ministered through demonstrating his power over extreme physical disabilities, sickness, demonic possession, and even death as a way to show that he had the authority over darkness and only he was the light that could do that.

The performing of miracles pointed past the miracles themselves to the authority of Jesus to perform them. Remember that when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead after he had been in the tomb for four days. Of course everyone was amazed, but before long Lazarus died again. The best news in that story is when Jesus told Martha, the sister of Lazarus in John 11:25–26,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

His miracles were revealing him on two levels at the same time; he could heal the blind eyes and also heal those who were bound up in the darkness of sin and despair. The fact that he is able to bring freedom to those imprisoned, blind, and oppressed reveals that he is the Messiah that came to fulfill the promise of God and that he is more than a prophet. Jesus alone effects salvation for those who will come to him believing that he is the answer to all their needs.

Luke is pointing the reader to see the difference between what Jesus was offering and what Israel had settled for. They had turned from a commitment to being the revelation of their God to the nations, into those who were bound up in a religion that was as dead as those practiced by pagan nations.

Remember our Old Testament reading from Nehemiah 8:4–6

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all,

“This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:2–10)

The reverence that Israel had once felt at the reading of the law of God had been lost by them and by the time that Jesus came on the scene no prophet had spoken to them in almost 400 years. They had come to the place of darkness and despair and instead of being the chosen nation who revealed the creator God to other nations, they once again found themselves captives, this time to Rome.

Again, Luke is writing this so that the reader can see what God was doing and why they should choose Jesus over pagan religions or dead orthodoxy.

Long before, Moses had prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:18;

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth. He will speak to them all that I command him”

God remembered His promise and here Jesus, the fulfillment of this prophecy, was standing before them, and they simply did not recognize the God whom they claimed to serve. The Manifest Presence of God was right before them and yet in their spiritual blindness was a complete stranger to them.

Why? Because over 500 years earlier the manifest presence of God had departed the temple. Ezekiel 10:1–22 recounts that the temple was so defiled by sin that God would not remain there. Sadly, when they came to perform their rituals no one seemed to notice that God’s presence was no longer there. Sadly, this is probably true in many churches today.

God knew their complete poverty of spirit and that is why he had come “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Finally, the promise was being fulfilled and here Jesus is alluding to the year of Jubilee, the cancellations of debts (Leviticus 25:8–17). What happened every 50 years was that debts were canceled, slaves were freed and all property that had been leveraged or lost due to debt was returned to the original owner or his family. Jesus was claiming that he had come to bring that kind of freedom and restoration for those who would turn to him.

This had to puzzle and amaze those who heard his claim and they had to be asking, “what does this mean.” Jesus essentially says to them, “Everything I just read to you just now? Well, today it has been fulfilled in your hearing” and then He just sits down to let that sink in for a moment.

I don’t know if you have ever recognized what Jesus didn’t say from Isaiah 61. The year of the total forgiveness of debt is now turned into a metaphor for salvation. Jesus had come to proclaim that God was ready to forgive sin totally. However Isaiah 61:2b is omitted by Jesus: “… and the day of our God’s vengeance.”

Listen to Isaiah 61:2 in its entirety, “to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,  and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…”

Jesus’ first coming was to be seen as inaugurating “the year of the Lord’s favor,” and in his grace, he left the sobering message of the day of God’s vengeance for the future. The year of God’s favor is the basis for the proclamation of the good news. Jesus was the fulfillment and reason for God’s favor. His ministry continues through those who proclaim salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Christ's first Advent emphasized healing, while His second coming will emphasize both judgment and healing. Whether you experience His eternal healing or judgment will totally depend on whether you have come to saving faith in Christ or turned away from His offer of salvation.

Jesus’ claim places both the reader and the listener in the position of having to make a choice. There is no neutral position here, there never has been. Jesus claims that He is the promised one of God. This is not an ethical teaching but a claim to divinity and he is either telling the truth or he is lying. Most of us are familiar with the C.S. Lewis quote from his book, Mere Christianity, that the claims of Jesus were so clear and definitive that he was either “a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord.” There is no neutral ground.

I believe that I have mentioned before that years ago a friend of my father opened a ministry in Roanoke called “Hands for Christ.” Bob had retired after a very successful business in construction. He decided in retirement to start a ministry providing theological libraries to pastors in third-world countries. Different publishers would send him overruns and surplus stock and many people would send in their libraries for distribution. He printed bumper stickers and gospel tracts in-house, and you could walk in and get whatever you wanted at no charge. One day he came to me with a box of bumper stickers that he wanted me to hand out while I was traveling over the road. They said, “Jesus is the Answer.” He asked me I agreed with the message but being the smart aleck that I am I responded, “well I guess that depends on the question doesn’t it. I mean if someone says to me ‘what time is it’ then the answer shouldn’t be Jesus.”

I felt that I was being really clever, but it wasn’t until much later that God begin to speak to me about that encounter. I realized that if Jesus wasn’t the answer to the questions that I was asking, then perhaps I was focusing on the wrong questions. The answer to all the ultimate questions concerning life is most certainly Jesus as he is revealed in the claims that he was making in the synagogue in Nazareth.

The answer to what is the Good News of the Gospel is certainly Jesus.

The answer to how the poor in spirit will find relief is only in Jesus.

The answer to how those who are in bondage to sin, despair, addictions, and misery will find freedom and hope is Jesus.

The answer to how those who are blind and oppressed will find sight and joy is Jesus.

The answer to how we find God’s favor revealed is simply Jesus.

If Jesus has not been the answer to the things that we care about the most, then possibly we are passionate about the wrong things.

If you are oppressed, miserable and find very little joy in life then you are missing out on the very reason that Jesus came—to set you free to live life with Him.

In our Old Testament reading from Nehemiah we have seen that the people had bowed down and worshipped the Lord and had wept probably with a combination of conviction and relief when the law of God was read. Convicted by their sin and relieved that the God of Israel was offering forgiveness of sin through the sacrifice. Listen again to Nehemiah’s encouragement to those who were weeping,

Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:9–10)

Where was joy and strength to be found? In the Lord, and nowhere else. That is the same offer that Jesus was making and continues to make to those who will come and follow him and find that the life that God always intended for us is fulfilled only in Jesus Christ. Clearly, he was revealing to Israel that everything that had been promised to them by God through the law and the prophets was now fulfilled. God’s answer to the dilemma, begun in the Garden of Eden by man’s rejection of God’s command, was that he would come in the flesh to meet us at the point of our need. No longer do we need to ask God for the answer to hopelessness, oppression, and poverty of spirit because he has given the answer already—it’s Jesus!

Our prayer should be that the Holy Spirit will burn this into our hearts and give us the wisdom and passion to reveal that Jesus is the answer to those around us who are still asking the question, “Who will come to my rescue?” What is the answer _____?

Let’s pray,

Lord Jesus, we thank you that you came to save us from sin, oppression and hopelessness and that you brought the best news ever that God was restoring all things through you. Let us see this promise for what it is and be able to see that it answers all the most important questions of life. Let this be our joy, that you are now our strength. Let us have a passion that others might know this too. In your name we pray. Amen

©2022 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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