The Sixth Sunday After Epiphany February 16, 2014
1 Corinthians 12:12-21,26-27
129, 391, 132, 511(1-4)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
In the fall of 1940, Great Britain and Prime Minister Winston Churchill were getting frantic. Hitler’s Germany had already won control of France, or more accurately, the French had given up their country without a fight. Now, the Germans were expecting London and the home islands to give in to them as well. The British, on the other hand, fully intended to defend their empire. As the battles raged, Britain began to look to the United States for help…and they looked…and they looked. The situation worsened for Britain, but the United States was neutral and isolationist and very reluctant to help anyone who engaged in another great war. As the British pleaded for aid, they longed to hear President Roosevelt say, “Today your help has arrived.”
For those in Israel who had waited and waited for God’s promised help to come from Heaven, for those who had suffered through times of sorrow and disgrace, for those who had watched their world fall apart around them, the wondering questions arose: “When is the Messiah going to come? When is the chosen One from Heaven going to appear and set things right?” Isaiah and others had prophesied that He would come. People longed to hear the words, “Today your help has arrived.”
For our mediation, we consider the day on which that encouraging word was delivered—by Jesus—to those gathered at the synagogue in Nazareth. We will consider how that message means so very much to us too, whenever we find ourselves waiting for help from Heaven and wondering when it will arrive.
The people in the synagogue of Nazareth were not expecting to hear what they heard the day Jesus was handed the scroll and began to read from Isaiah. They were no doubt familiar with the words of prophecy which Jesus read: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” [vv.18-19]
That much, surely, they had heard before. But, just as surely, many of them would have wondered, “But when are all these good things going to happen? When is the LORD’s anointed going to appear and preach good news to the poor? When is freedom for the prisoners going to be proclaimed? When will recovery of sight for the blind and release for the oppressed going to become a reality? When is God going to show us His favor?
There were many in those days who were upset about what had happened to Israel, the way the Romans now ruled them with an iron fist, the way they had lost so many things they had once had—respect, power, and leadership. It is easy to imagine them hearing Isaiah’s prophecy and thinking, “Nice words, but they’ll never happen. We’ve been waiting and waiting for the One who will do all these good things for us and he never comes.”
Imagine the shock when Jesus delivered the bombshell sentence: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” [v.21] This the people did not expect. This prophecy is fulfilled now? This man standing here is the one who does all these things today? The One sent by God is already here? The answer to all of these questions was, “Yes.” Jesus was plainly revealing that He was the One Isaiah had been talking about. He was the One for whom they had been waiting, and all the good things that Isaiah foretold were fulfilled in Him.
Jesus said “the Spirit of the LORD is on me.” [v.18] With these words He clearly indicated that He was the person chosen by God the Father in Heaven to come and make things right for mankind. There was no doubt about it. This was the Man and He had already come!
But how could it be that Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy when things still looked so bad for His people? They didn’t even control the historic capital of Jerusalem any more and here Jesus was saying that their Messiah was standing among them that very day?
Actually, Jesus did fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah in every way. Right down the line: He was chosen to preach good news to the poor, and that is exactly what He did. Not to the financially poor—although many He spoke to were that too. Rather, in the context of this prophecy, it is evident that Jesus is talking about the spiritually poor, namely, those who have nothing in and of themselves to offer to God. These “poor” are the ones who are burdened by their sinfulness, who recognize that in every way they have done what is evil in God’s sight. The “poor” are those who understand that even if they were to sell everything they owned, they could not pay the debt they owe to God—the debt they owe for their disobedience. Each of us, in fact, would be this sort of poor, and Jesus preaches good news to us. He preaches the good news that sin has been covered, that the debt is paid—not by us, but by Jesus on the cross of His suffering. The good news is that the poor re not really as poor as they seem, for Jesus has made them all rich by He Himself giving to God what was required of them.
Likewise Jesus proclaimed freedom for the prisoners just as Isaiah had said. No, it’s not that the doors of the Nazareth jail sprung open at that moment and all the convicts were released into the streets. Jesus came to release spiritual prisoners. These are they who are held captive by their sin and unbelief—those who have no power to love God or to choose what is good and right. They are the ones who go around living to please themselves alone without any regard for God’s will, those who are caught up in the temptations of the Devil, those who live the way of life of the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers. Jesus delivers to them freedom from this, changing hearts and minds, taking away sin’s power over them by proclaiming, “I’ve paid your debt. Trust Me. Say, “No,” to the Devil.”
Jesus gave recovery of sight for the blind. He opened people’s eyes so they could see their spiritual captivity and its solution. Just as He did for us who, when we were first born, were enemies of God knowing and caring nothing for Him. He opened our eyes to see the light of His forgiveness, the promise of Heaven, and peace with God.
Jesus releases the oppressed who are burdened in their consciences by things they have done, who have been bruised and battered by troubles they have brought on themselves.
Indeed, in Jesus the “year of the LORD’s favor had come.” [v.19 NIV] In the Old Testament, every fiftieth year was to be celebrated as a special year called the “Year of Jubilee.” In that year, debts were to be canceled. If land and property had changed hands it was to be returned to its original owners. Slaves were to be given their freedom. It was a year of favor. Jesus told the people of Nazareth that today was their spiritual “Year of Jubilee.” In Him they were given freedom from sin, death, and the power of the Devil.
The people of Nazareth were being told that all the good things Isaiah had prophesied were now theirs. That the time had come for all those wonderful sayings to be fulfilled. They were fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ. “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” the LORD said to them.
So, here we stand centuries later. Do these words of Jesus still mean something to us? Instead of a synagogue in Nazareth, let’s set the scene in our church and in our time. Around us all over the world are many of the same troubles that surrounded the citizens of Nazareth: governments that do not lead their people well, conflicts and wars, economic instability, false teachers who run after idols rather than the true God, immorality, corruption, and all manner of other evil.
Do you ever sit and worry, “When is some sort of help going to arrive?” I would say many of us probably have and do. Maybe, we even hear Jesus’ words about good news for the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and think to ourselves, “That sounds good. I wish it would happen now.”
So then Jesus issues His shocking statement to us too: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” He wants us to realize that nothing has changed since that day in Nazareth. Just as He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy then, so He still does.
Yes, today your help has come too. Even with all that is bad around us? Yes! For it is not the sort of help that promises to eliminate poverty on the earth, or silence all weapons of war and destruction forever, or make it so you will never suffer disease or disappointment, or never have to face the sorts of tragedies common to all who live in this fallen world. No, today a greater help has come. Today, the Son of God says that He makes you right with God. Today, no matter what happens, those who count on Jesus to take away their sin and prepare them for the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come—no matter what happens they are safe with Him forever.
Today He preaches the good news to you who are spiritually poor. Today He gives recovery of sight to the blind and releases the oppressed. He says to you even now, “You are living in the year of the Lord’s favor.” And isn’t it true that you are? You have been favored by your God. While everyone else is worried about all the terrible things going in in the world, you can say, “Whatever men do to me, my God has planned for me to live with Him forever and He will be faithful.”
If you ever feel like you’re always waiting for God to do something great for you, then remember Jesus’ words in Nazareth. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The great things Isaiah said the Messiah would do have been done for you and are being done in the world—today. Think about those things a little more often, and take heart! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.