Sunday, August 17, 2014

God's Greatest Gift (Luke 4:14-21)

1.     Salvation History

How would you describe a relationship?

One important part of a true relationship is that it has been entered into voluntarily by choice.

Once God gave humankind freewill, there was going to have to be a plan for salvation. In a way God set himself up for a fall with freewill, allowing his creativity and love to be thrown back in his face. But at least, and this was the Divine purpose here, people would enter into relationship with God voluntarily. It would never be a real relationship if there was no other option – if relationship with God was compulsory or it just happened irrespective of a decision to do so … that’s not a relationship, that’s enslavement.

How would you describe salvation?

One important part of an experience of salvation is that it is continual and ongoing.

From the moment of the first sin or act of rebellion to God, there was the need for a plan of salvation. There were many offerings of love from God, like the exodus … the liberation from Egypt; there were many offerings of guidance through the Hebrew prophets; as well as clear judgements on anti-God behaviour, like the flood in Noah’s time, and various political defeats and resultant periods of exile – but the people of Israel never seemed able to stay on a straight course. These incidents and experiences would tend to remind people of God’s existence, yet never really, it would seem (from any reading of the Old Testament), lead, with some exceptions, to a permanent abiding obedient caring relationship with God.

There would need to be another way. Hebrew prophets like Isaiah saw and understood how God would ultimately act. Isaiah preached many words that were ultimately fulfilled in Jesus (some seven centuries later). We have read some of those words today. God would enter into the human environment himself in the person of Jesus to make an ultimate sacrifice that brings about forgiveness and salvation. And the resurrection opened the path to a different style of life. This was God’s greatest gift!

Why then at this particular point in history? ‘Pax Romana’ / ease of movement for trade / spreading message.

Galatians 4:4-5 – But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

2.     Spiritual Revolution

Jesus entered the local synagogue on the Sabbath day and read from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus was able to personalise this scripture and show how it had been fully fulfilled in his own person – refer verse 21 – Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. And when Jesus said (in v.18) – The Spirit of the Lord is upon me – he meant this quite literally! This passage is preceded by the scenes of Jesus’ baptism and then temptation in the wilderness. In a way, Jesus didn’t need to be baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan (for, being God, he had nothing to repent of). Yet he did so as a demonstration of what human beings needed to do, and also as an opportunity for people to witness the Holy Spirit descend bodily upon Jesus in establishing his earthly ministry (Luke 3:21-22). The temptation scenes that follow show that the devil was no match for Jesus, and that the obedient person filled with God’s Spirit is able to endure and resist the most pressing temptation (4:1-13).

How was it that Jesus was handed the scroll of the prophet to read? Did Jesus find his name on the roster to read the Word that day? Was it because he was gaining a reputation as a teacher or at least a distinguished person? Was it because Jesus had such an aura or a presence that this became such a natural thing to happen? Yet, there was soon to be a major reaction against Jesus that very day in Nazareth. So, there was a readiness to hear from Jesus as long as he toed the line or didn’t upset the apple cart? With the coming of Jesus there was going to be a spiritual revolution that not everybody was going to like. Some, completely on the other side, would soon start planning Jesus’ demise (or what they thought would be Jesus’ demise).

This revolution would involve true repentance, where people’s actions would have to align with their stated faith, and where people’s attitudes would have to fall in line with God’s attitudes. This revolution would promote an unprecedented call to care for other people. Jesus’ revolution included the message of grace going out (from the Jews) to the Gentiles, as had been envisioned so long ago when God told Abraham that through him there would be a blessing on all nations (Genesis 12:1-3). This would not necessarily be easy to hear, especially for those who had been cruising along in the rarefied air of their own importance.

Did Jesus select these particular verses from the prophet Isaiah, or was this the set passage for the day? Either way we see God's preparation - this was to be a momentous occasion for Jesus to clearly state was he was about – what his ‘job description’ was if you like. This would include: bringing the good news of grace to those who had the least (and lived on the margins), releasing those who had become captive and oppressed, offering sight and light to those who were living in darkness, and proclaiming God’s offer of forgiveness for the lost. This would allow a new movement to arise, those who would gather together in Jesus’ name to promote salvation to the rest of the world (based on their own experience of God’s grace). 

[And it is also very interesting where Jesus stops reading. Refer to Isaiah 61:1-2 and note the significance of where Jesus stops – no more vengeance towards enemies. What Jesus presents is not what we generally see on the news!]

3.     Personal Transformation

We could understand these verses (v.18-19) in a number of ways, and I want us to see how they apply to both everyone collectively, and then also very personally to ourselves individually.

(a)  Good news to the poor – to those who are restricted in their resources, Jesus’ coming is good news … because Jesus promotes such a new consideration and generosity toward others, that any level of poverty should tend towards being alleviated. We could argue how well the Christian Church has done in this area. But equally, Jesus’ coming is good news to the poor in spirit, to those who are humble or have been humbled, to those whose experience of life has led them to be open to a new alternative – such as these have encountered God through Jesus in a personally accepting and transforming way. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).

(b) Release to the captives – to those imprisoned legally, there is still hope!! To those imprisoned in tyrannical circumstances, because of their ethnic grouping or because of their faith or because of their desire to overthrow unjust authority – there is a chance that their claims and their cries will be heard by those who stand with Jesus for compassion and justice. There is the surety that God dwells with innocent sufferers of violence. But also, Jesus wants to grant us personally release from anything that captures or oppresses us or tends toward destroying us, whether this be materialism, habits, addictions, fear, or just the ravages of sin. Jesus brings the promise of freedom.

(c)  Recovery of sight to the blind – in Jesus’ time there were many instances of sight being restored to blind people, and remarkably even sight given to persons born blind. These were great acts of healing brought out of God’s compassion. In each case these healing acts were communicated by the Gospel writers as ‘signs’ of an even greater reality, and that is the gift of spiritual sight. This is where people come to see beyond just the obvious physical and material world into the greater meaning of things. This is a great offer to those living in darkness oblivious to God’s love. There is a way forward, and God, who some may have felt was distant and elusive, has been brought close to hand through the coming of Jesus.

(d) A time of favour – the “year of the Lord’s favour” likely connects back to the concept of the ‘year of jubilee’ in Leviticus, where God decreed that after 50 years slaves would be freed, debts would be cancelled, and family properties that had been lost through debt would return to their original owners. This would be a reaction against economic imbalances. There is little evidence that this decree was ever really practiced. But in the coming of Jesus there was a reminder to all that debts could and should be forgiven, after all, this would be the centre of Jesus’ very activity on earth – making ultimate forgiveness available. Rather than building up more and more division and bitterness, Jesus was about reflecting God’s forgiving nature.

[Note: Jesus calls us to be both exodus and jubilee type people – those who have been liberated, finding ways of liberating others from all things that oppress them.]

4.     Contemporary Interest?

We here can all see the relevance of this. We here know that we need salvation. Most of us would have experienced something from each of these areas of Jesus’ activity:
·        grace that has enriched our lives,
·        release from being captive to various negative behaviours, attitudes or thought-processes,
·        sight to see things differently and more spiritually,
·        and most powerfully … forgiveness … so that we might come to know God more closely.

Yet, is it right that we often see little interest in such things outside the church?!? Why is this? What stops people being able to trust in God? Well there would be a multitude of answers to this, including the age-old question of so much pain and suffering in the world, right through to the rampant self-interest of so many people. There are various hypocritical abuses that have occurred in the church, through to a sometimes influential and antagonistic media.

We generally see less interest from government schools in churches and Christian groups being involved in their school community, despite the many advantages that have been evident over the years. What can we do about this? What creative ideas and plans can we have locally to offer a Jesus-style ministry to children and young people, not only a ministry … but Jesus himself?!? How can we share God’s greatest gift?

Let’s keep listening, praying and working to try to get some answers!

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