Read Luke 4:14-30
Imagine being in Nazareth on that Saturday. The service began as it always did, most likely with the Shema.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
There was probably a prayer somewhere early in the service. Then a young man, a Rabbi for sure, stepped forward and was handed a scroll. Perhaps certain scrolls were read on specific Sabbath days during the year or perhaps the speaker for the day did not know what he would be handed. In any case, Jesus was the speaker for this service. The attendant handed him the scroll or one of the scrolls of the prophet Isaiah.
Some of the people who gathered surely recognized Jesus as the son of Joseph and Mary. Some probably thought, “How nice. The carpenter’s son has become a Rabbi.”
Some might have thought, “He reads very well not to have gone to any fancy schools.”
In any case, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah and then something unexpected happened. He stopped in the middle of a verse. He stopped in the middle of a verse in Isaiah 61. Of course there were no chapter and verse designations at this time, but certain sentences belonged together. Jesus had split the pair.
Nobody paid much attention to this because of what Jesus said when he stopped reading and sat down. Sitting down after reading the scripture was probably common practice. Telling those gathered in the synagogue that the scripture that was read had just been fulfilled in their hearing, now that another matter.
When the people see you as the carpenter’s son now serving as a rabbi, that’s acceptable. When the people see you as the carpenter’s son saying that he is the fulfillment of prophecy, well that might just get some folks excited.
Jesus knew the thoughts of those gathered in the synagogue. “If you are going to make these claims, we want to see some signs or miracles.”
Now Jesus had already performed miracles in other regions, but had done no mighty acts in his own home town. The hometown folks thought that they were entitled to some sort of show.
Jesus would not oblige them. Instead he reminded them of the patterns of unfaithfulness that had marked God’s own people. Disobedience to God resulted in famine and during this time God’s prophet Elijah was not sent to any widows except Zarephaph—a gentile.
After that time, many were touched by leprosy. Elisha was sent to none of them to take away this horrific disease; yet, Naaman the Syrian commander had come and was healed of his leprosy.
God’s people seemed to miss the boat again and again. This was obviously not the lesson that the people wanted to hear that day. The people took him out of the Synagogue and brought him to a cliff with the intention of throwing him off.
Then the people got their miracle. They just didn’t realize it. Jesus walked through the middle of the crowd and left. He didn’t slip away. He didn’t sneak out. He didn’t get beamed up to the Enterprise. He walked right through the middle of them and went on his way.
This was an angry mob ready to throw Jesus off a cliff and he walked through the middle of them and went on his way. We know that his time had not yet come, but a certain time had come.
Consider the verse that Jesus did not complete.
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
Jesus came to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. That time had come, but it was not yet time for the vengeance of God. Jesus came to save not to judge. He came to heal not to condemn. He came with good news, liberty, and sight for the blind.
We are told that there will be a day when God will pour out his wrath, but we do not live in that day. We live in the acceptable year of the Lord. We live in a time that sets captives free and lifts the chains of oppression.
Jesus reminded the people of the first century and the people of this century that there was a time in which there were so many lepers in the land; yet, the prophet was not sent to heal any of them. Elisha healed a gentile military commander but none from his own land.
Naaman had come ready to pay a high price and perform difficult tasks to receive his healing. Elisha’s servant sent him to wash in the Jordan 7 times and Naaman was healed. So many of God’s own people were not.
God’s people have this terrible habit of rejecting those whom God sends to them. They rejected the prophets. They rejected Jesus. They rejected the first apostles and eventually killed most of them.
As we consider the gospel messages, we should be reminded of the blindness of the Pharisees. The people who should have recognized the Messiah not only didn’t know who he was, they plotted to kill him, and succeeded.
Are we any different today?
We don’t have prophets in the same sense as the people did two thousand years ago. We have prophets in the sense that every Sunday and occasionally on other days priests, pastors, preachers, and those given to the exhortation of the word of God are given to delivering immediate messages from God.
And our messages are a continuation of the one that Jesus began in Nazareth, preaching the gospel to the poor, healing the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed. We continue with the message begun in a synagogue and proclaim life and liberty in the name of Jesus Christ.
We proclaim good news for all.
We don’t see much leprosy today but we see all sorts of cancer and blood disease and tumors and other illness that would rob us of our health and livelihood.
We proclaim a great Healer.
But are we listening?
Are we skeptical?
Do we too demand a sign?
Are we aching for a miracle?
Are we just so many lepers feeling hopeless in our ailments wondering why God doesn’t send Elisha to heal us?
Are we so comfortable with our routine that we would rather ignore the messages that God sends us than change the way we live.
When we say that Jesus is Lord we are saying that he has the final say in everything.
When we say that I have decided to follow Jesus, that means wherever he leads.
When we say that we have died to the world and been born anew in Christ, why do we keep resurrecting our old self.
Jesus came into the Synagogue in Nazareth and told the gathered assembly that the scripture he had read had been fulfilled in their very presence. They were not ready for that.
We have been called to follow Jesus, and maybe some of us are not ready for that.
We are really good at pointing fingers at how God got taken out of the school or the courthouse and doesn’t seem welcome in most television programming, but are we ready to follow Jesus.
Are we ready to be the revolutionaries that Jesus is calling us to be?
We don’t need to start growing our hair out and digging those tie-dyed shirts out of the rag pile, but we need to stop being those suffering in famine or with leprosy.
Jesus brings good news.
He heals the brokenhearted.
He proclaims freedom for the captives, sight for the blind, and liberty for the oppressed.
He has proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord and we live in that year, in that age, in the Lord’s favor.
We still live in a time when so many people would love to snatch Jesus out of a place of worship, haul him the edge of town, and throw him off a cliff. And we could get angry about this, protest against this, we could sue somebody.
But the people in Nazareth couldn’t throw Jesus off a cliff two thousand years ago when he stood in their midst and they are not going to do it today when he sits at the right hand of the Father.
Today, we have flooding and we have drought, and sometimes wonder if God won’t send the water from one area to the other.
Today we have cancers and diseases that impact every family and wonder when God will put an end to cancer.
In too many ways we are like so many lepers.
In too many ways we are like those gathered in Nazareth.
We want a sign.
We want a miracle.
Then we will follow faithfully.
But the sign has been given.
The miracle is known to us.
Jesus came as God in the flesh, walked the earth as a man, did not sin, did not die until his appointed time, and even then gave up his life in obedience to the Father. After 3 days he rose from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead, but that day has not come.
Today, we live in the acceptable year of the Lord.
Today, we live in the Lord’s favor.
Today, we live in God’s grace that we know in Jesus Christ.
And as we consider the disease and disasters and hardships of the world today, we too may need to look at them as Paul did with his affliction and proclaim that God’s favor, God’s grace, living in the acceptable year of the Lord is enough.
That doesn’t mean that we stop praying for rain.
That doesn’t mean that we stop praying for healing of the sick.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t long for the completeness that we will know in the age to come, and pray for it to come now.
It means that we have decided to follow Jesus.
We will follow through the storm or the drought or through cancer or leprosy or through surgery or through painful loss or through whatever this world may hold for us.
Our discipleship is not conditional. If God does this, then I will follow. If I get this sign, then I will follow. If God will fit his will into my comfort zone, then I will follow.
We sing the world behind me, the cross before me.
We sing though none go with me, I still will follow.
Do we number ourselves among so many lepers waiting for God to heal the ailments of this world before we live right with God?
Do we number ourselves among those gathered in God’s house full of doubt and not ready to believe the Christ has come?
Or do we believe that Jesus has pronounced the Year of the Lord’s favor—the acceptable year of the Lord?
Let us live as people of good news, as people of the gospel. Let us live as those who once were blind but now we see—we see the truth of love greater than our sins. We know the freedom of being liberated from sin and death. We do not live under the chains of oppression.
For whatever trials, tribulations, storms, famines, disease, and disaster may come into our lives, we live in the acceptable year of the Lord.
We live in God’s favor.
Thanks be to God!