Bible Passage: Luke 4: 14 - 44
Big Idea: Jesus, more than an Itinerant Rabbi
Intro: Well Morning friends and visitors. My name is Pastor Matt Johnson and today we start a new sermon series called Portraits of Jesus. All too often we have portraits of Jesus in our mind that have been put through our own personal photo-editing programs. You know – we photoshop Jesus to make him look more like us. So after the year we’ve been through – I figure one of the best things for us all to do – would be to focus again on Jesus as he really is – in all his RAW, NATURAL, BEAUTY…
Well our photo for today is Jesus the Jewish Rabbi. Particularly, Jesus the Jewish Rabbi preaching the good news of Jubilee.
Have you all heard of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The Bell was made by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London in 1752 and was originally called the State House Bell. It was used to summon the politicians to the legislative assembly. Now that legislative assembly met in Philadelphia on the 4th July 1776 to ratify the United States Declaration of Independence and when it was formally passed – the bell was rung to mark the momentous event. And then, each year afterwards the Bell was rung on the 4th July to mark the historic event – until it eventually developed a crack in the side of the bell.
Now lots of people think the Liberty Bell got its name from the line in the Declaration of Independence; “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” But no. The Liberty Bell which featured heavily in the Nicholas Cage’s movie “National Treasure” has an interesting historical aside that was NOT shared in the movie. The LIBERTY BELL was first called the LIBERTY BELL in an 1835 article written in New York against slavery. And so the “Liberty Bell” became known as the Liberty Bell and became an iconic symbol against slavery in America – because on the side of the bell it quotes Leviticus 25 – the year of Jubilee (ENTER). The full text of Leviticus 25:10 says (ENTER). Thus it became known as the Liberty Bell and became an iconic symbol in getting rid of slavery in America.
Now for those who still have NO IDEA what I’m talking about the Year of Jubilee was God’s instruction about 1) setting slaves free and 2) cancelling everyone’s financial debts every 50 years. God taught the Jews that every 7 YEARS the land itself got a Sabbath rest. Every 7th YEAR the Jews had to let the land lie fallow – no farming or agriculture. Every seventh year. Then after 7 lots of 7 years (49 years) – every 50th year was like a party year. (You can read about it in Leviticus 25). God decided that no matter what mistakes people made – every 50th year – was GOOD NEWS for those in physical and financial slavery. The Jubilee year was good news for those who got themselves in trouble.
And in Luke 4:19 (where it says) “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” its talking about Jubilee. The year of the Lord’s favour, the time prisoners and slaves to be set free was the year of Jubilee.
Point 1: Jesus the Itinerant Rabbi preached the Good News of Jubilee
Show: Lk.4:14-17 (READ)
Explain: Well as we begin today, let me say Jesus probably did start his ministry in a Jubilee year. The prophet Ezekiel writes this in Ezekiel 40 (Slide 3; Ezek.40:1). Now to you and me this doesn’t mean much. But Jewish Rabbi’s have long noted that Rosh Hashanah (the festival of trumpets) usually occurs on the first day of Tishrei, not the tenth day of Tishrei. The tenth day of Tishrei is actually the Day of Atonement. And as every Jew knows the only time Rosh Hashanah (the festival of trumpets) and the Day of Atonement fall on the same day is in a JUBILEE YEAR. Leviticus 25 tells us that in a Jubilee year the trumpets get sounded on the 10th of the month, not the 1st of the month. So many Jewish rabbis believe Ezekiel has just given us a date of 574BC as a Jubilee year. 574BC.
Now if you subtract multiples of 50 from 574BC (over and over again for each Jubilee cycle) you’ll eventually work out that 26AD would have been a Jubilee year. 26AD is also when most scholars believe Jesus started his ministry. So, when Jesus says in verse 19 that he has come “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”, this is overlaid with all sorts of Jubilee desires and expectations. In fact, it is highly probable that it was a Jubilee year.
Now with all that said I want you to notice the word “SYNAGOGUES” in verse 15. That’s plural. You see the same thing in the last verse of Luke 4. Luke 4:44 says Jesus kept preaching in all the synagogues of Judea. Now we’re talking 100’s of synagogues across Galilee and Judea. Jesus is literally going from synagogue to synagogue teaching as an itinerant evangelistic Rabbi. And when we get to the synagogue in Nazareth (verse 16 following) – we are told Jesus took the Isaiah scroll and preached from Isaiah 61. Now again, it’s highly probable this is Jesus’ preferred, go to text in all the synagogues. Like an evangelistic, itinerant preacher he is probably preaching the same sermon over and over again. Isaiah 61 – is the perfect text for Jesus to explain his ministry.
The reference in verse 18 to “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” harks back to Jesus’ baptism and the Spirit descending like a dove. The reference in verse 18 – “to preach good news” sums up Jesus’ ministry. The word GOSPEL and GOOD NEWS are interchangeable. And the content of the good news is 1) freedom for prisoners, 2) release for the oppressed and 3) proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. Isaiah 61 – is not just a one-off sermon. Jesus is saying right across the synagogues of Israel – if you want to know me and my ministry – look at Isaiah 61.
Now let’s think for a moment about SYNAGOGUES. Every Jew went to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God at 1) Passover, 2) Pentecost and 3) the Day of Atonement. But for the rest of the year – the Jews would just meet together each Sabbath in their local village synagogue. IT WAS LIKE A CHURCH. In some places it would have been a public building and in smaller villages it may have just met in someones house. But each synagogue would have a lead Rabbi (like a pastor). And each Saturday the Jews in a particular village would meet together to sing some Psalms, hear the Bible read, a sermon would be preached and some prayers. It was very similar to church.
Now Jesus has just turned 30. In Luke 3:23 it says (Slide 3; Lk.3:23). So Jesus would have been a similar age to our student minister Matt Goldman and may have even looked like Matt Goldman – who has Jewish ancestry. (Only Jesus probably didn’t have the TATTOOS or the NOSE PIERCINGS). But you get the picture. Jesus is a young man, and somehow he already has the respect to preach in all the synagogues. Now welcoming itinerant preachers was fairly common in synagogues. That’s why the apostle Paul (whenever he came to a new town) used to go to the local synagogue. But the local Rabbi didn’t just let any larikin up the front. Faithful Jews took the preaching of God’s Word nearly as seriously as Sydney Anglicans. So, it makes you wonder how Jesus got the kudos and respect to demand this privilege in all the synagogues at only 30 years of age.
Perhaps, Jesus had a letter of recommendation from John the Baptist or perhaps he’d already become well known as a wise, young man himself. But either way – this is how Jesus began his ministry as an itinerant Rabbi traveling from synagogue to synagogue.
Now as we look at the sermon in Nazareth we need to remember this is Jesus’ home synagogue. The old ladies are there who taught him the 10 Commandments in Sunday School. (I mean Saturday School). And the elders are there – who probably busted Jesus and his brother James when they were young for putting a cricket ball through the synagogue window. (Now, I’m not sure the Jews play cricket). But you get the picture. This is like LIAM or ZACH or LEVI getting up in church to preach – after 30 years of watching them grow up. So look again what Jesus says (Slide 7 & 8 – Luke 4:18-21).
Apply: Ka-Boom. This is not Jesus meek and mild – lying in a manger. Everyone in the synagogue has just been put on notice. Jesus saying; “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” is off the charts – bold and in your face. Prior to Pentecost (30AD) – the only Jews anointed with God’s Spirit were prophets, priests and kings. Yet, Jesus (who they all watched run down the synagogue aisle as a kid) is saying the Spirit is upon me. What the?! Is Jesus claiming to be a prophet, priest or king (or all of the above). Then he goes on to say he has the Spirit so he can preach good news to the POOR, freedom for PRISONERS, sight for the BLIND and release for the OPPRESSED. Jesus just told the synagogue they are a bunch of poor, blind, oppressed prisoners, but don’t worry I’m here to save you. (O to be a fly on the wall in one of those synagogue sermons). Imagine Zach preaching that to us. This is not Jesus meek and mild. This is big, bold and assertive. This is Jesus is going from synagogue to synagogue on a Jubilee year – telling everybody; “I’m somebody super-significant, now sit up and pay attention now.” Naturally;
Point 2: Jesus’ Bold Words led to Amazement, Requests of Proof & Anger
Show: Luke 4:22-24 (READ)
Explain: Now we’re not told the EXACT CONTENT of the sermon – but we are told in verse 22 that Jesus’ words were “GRACIOUS”. The word “gracious” at its most basic level can mean attractive and pleasant. But GRACIOUS can also mean something that is given freely without cost. In this case both are probably true. Talk of freedom was as an ATTRACTIVE IDEA to the Jews under Roman rule, just as it is to us – after 3 months of lockdown. If Jesus started talking to us right now about freedom I’d imagine it would be music to our ears. We’d be like “Jesus are you talking about real freedom? Or are you just talking about picnics for 5 people who are vaccinated within 5km from home?”
Now whether Jesus clarified what he meant by freedom in the rest of the sermon we can’t be sure. But we do know that later in the gospel freedom means 1) spiritual freedom, 2) physical freedom and 3) even to some extent civil freedom. Now first and foremost, Jesus’ promise of freedom means freedom from sin, addiction, destructive behaviors and God’s condemnation. Perhaps, this resonates for some people today. Perhaps you’ve been battling with some secret sin or addiction that is holding you in a type of slavery. Well, be assured Jesus is promising that with him you can have spiritual freedom.
But Jesus was also promising freedom from OPPRESSIVE LEADERSHIP and governments. Jesus promised that if he was our king – we would find his yoke EASY and his burden LIGHT. As we come to Jesus he promises that one day he will completely set us free from oppressive and evil leaders.
But in Luke’s gospel Jesus also talks about setting people free from sickness, disease and ultimately even death. Jesus promises that all who come to him will ultimately be set free from sickness, pain and even death in a whole new creation. These are gracious, beautiful promises of freedom and liberty.
Now I know our government is also promising us freedom as soon as we get to 80% vaccination. Not just picnics of 5 anymore. But maybe even church – with one person per 4m2, with face masks and no singing – but only for the vaccinated. Yay! What glorious freedom. Friends, if you look at ISRAEL AND ENGLAND who already have 80% vaccination – there are still 650 cases of coronavirus/day/million people. So, when we open up at 80% vaccination, NSW can expect about 5000 cases of coronavirus per day. That’s the reality. This idea that vaccination is going to save us (in some sort of utopian way) is actually becoming a FALSE GOSPEL. (Now I’m not telling people not to get vaccinated. Nor, am I saying get vaccinated. You’ve got to weigh the pluses and minuses yourself). What I am saying is that 1) whether we are vaccinated or 2) not vaccinated the only thing that will ultimately and truly save us is REPENTANCE from sin and FAITH in Jesus.
The real problem in our world is still SIN. Coronavirus is simply one of the symptoms. The penalty for sin against God is always negative consequences like sickness, war and death. Sow to the wind, reap the whirlwind. It was this way in the Old Testament and its still this way today (GOSPEL). But when Jesus died on the cross, he accepted all the NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES for sin upon himself – so that we can be spared. Jesus took the penalty for our wrongdoing. And the Bible says – if we believe in Jesus as our Saviour and repent of our sin God will save us and give us liberty as part of his free gift.
Now exactly how much Jesus explained about SALVATION and FREEDOM in those sermons on Isaiah 61 we don’t fully know. But based on the content of Isaiah 61 – it’s reasonable to believe that Jesus began to explain God’s free gift of salvation and liberty and it sounded beautiful to some of the people…
Apply: But Jesus is confronted with 3 responses. Some people are AMAZED. They marvel at Jesus and say “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” The problem is – they are so familiar with Jesus – that it’s hard to believe – he can really deliver the freedom he is promising. Now maybe that’s you? Maybe you’re so familiar with the Jesus story – that you doubt Jesus can really save you or help you.
Others, pretty much ask Jesus TO PROVE what he is claiming. They say “Do here in Nazareth the miracles that we heard you did in Capernaum.” C’mon prove – you can give us freedom. Of course, Jesus did prove it – 1) when he died on the cross and rose again. And 2) Jesus continues to prove it – in the lives of those who do trust and follow him. Jesus liberates Christians who really trust him and changes them in ways that are truly miraculous…
But still other people get angry. Down in Luke 4:28 – we see the people get furious at Jesus. They don’t like being told that just like Israel missed out on God’s salvation in the days of ELIJAH and ELISHA – they too are in danger of missing out – if they don’t come to Jesus. They just want a vaccine. They just want a nice bedtime story – that ends and they all lived happily ever after. But they don’t seem to want Jesus. So they get angry and want to kill Jesus.
And this is largely our world right now. Some people 1) are too familiar with Jesus, 2) others want more proof and 3) still others want salvation and freedom some other way. But true freedom will only come with Jesus at the last trumpet…
Point 3: Jesus Did Demonstrate the Power to truly Liberate
Show: Luke 4:40-44 (READ)
Explain: Well in several different stories Jesus proves he can bring the sort of freedom he promises. First, Jesus brings freedom from SICKNESS – which proves he can give physical freedom. The Jesus also brings freedom from DEMONS which proves he can give spiritual freedom. Wherever you are and whatever you face Jesus has real power to save you and help you if only you will come to him.
But Jesus also speaks in verse 43 of the good news of the Kingdom of God. The Jews longed for God’s kingdom. In the first century the Jews had some religious freedoms in the Roman Empire, but it was far from ideal. They longed for true freedom. In China we see the government telling people how much gaming they can do each week, what they can and can’t talk about online and also seriously curbing religious freedom. Again, Chinese people long for freedom. And here too, in Australia we now long for the freedom we used to have only two years ago. It was a freedom we largely took for granted. But it is now a freedom we again long for with all our heart.
Apply: Jesus started his ministry by promising real freedom in God’s Kingdom to everyone who repented of their sin, trusted and followed him. As Christians we have TASTED little bits of the freedom Jesus offers. We’ve experienced deliverance from addiction. We’ve tasted freedom from guilt. Scars in our life have been healed. But what we have tasted in part, we will soon enjoy in the heavenly banquet of God’s Kingdom forever. THE TRUE FREEDOM that we all long for will not come from vaccines or nuclear submarines or alliances with United States, England, Japan and India – but by faith in Jesus. As Psalm 20:7 says “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” But what are we really trusting in?
When Jesus came the first time he came announcing Jubilee. He told the synagogues in Judea; “I’m the man. I’m the one you need for true freedom.” And the Bible says – when Jesus comes again, the rosh hashanah trumpets will sound, the world will come to an abrupt end and the wicked will be judged. But all those who believe in Jesus will be set free to enter into Jubilee. The Book of Revelation is made up of 7 lots of seven (Slide 13). 1) the Seven Spirits; 2) the seven angels 3) Seven Churches with their lamp-stands; 4) Seven Seals; 5) Seven Trumpets; 6) Seven Plagues; 7) Seven Bowls of Wrath – and then the trumpet sounds in Revelation 19; Jesus returns on a white horse and the church enters into Jubilee. This is the gospel. This was and still is the message of Jesus. There is Jubilee only for those who repent and come to him.
Some trust in VACCINES and others in SUBMARINES but we trust in the name of Jesus – the King of Kings and Lord of true Jubilee. Despite the madness of our world this needs to remain our only message – for everything else is a false gospel…