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Today’s Gospel lesson is the story of Jesus preaching his first sermon – or at least his first recorded one. This sermon is very significant in Luke’s telling of the life of Jesus. John, as we heard last Sunday, began his account of Jesus’ ministry by telling of his first miracle. Luke begins with Jesus’ first sermon. The content of that sermon, and the reaction it caused, sets the tone for Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ life and message.
I remember my first sermon, and also the reaction it caused. My first sermon was delivered at a large church in a small farming community in Iowa. The text was from Galatians. I spoke about so many things in that sermon that when I was asked later for the sermon’s title all I could come up with as a good summary was: “the Gospel.” So the reaction the sermon caused me was to learn to narrow my focus a little more next time. Beyond that, I’m not sure the sermon caused any great reactions from the parishioners, except that they allowed me to preach again in a few weeks, for which I was thankful. One dear older man, however, shared his reaction with me directly. He told me the sermon was fantastic and that he loved it. You can imagine how pleased I was to hear this, even if I suspected that perhaps he was just being nice.
This past week I was very pleased to find a sermon by a fellow pastor on today’s text that I liked very much. I will often read a couple of other pastor’s sermons, or at least their notes, as a preparation for my own. Usually I find a good point or two, but not a sermon that I’d use myself. This time, however, the sermon outline and notes by Rev. David Peter of St. Louis Seminary really impressed me. I’m using them quite liberally in this sermon today.
The first sermon of Jesus, as recorded by Luke, is based on a text from Isaiah. In that text, Isaiah is preaching to the people of his day and explaining how the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. He says that he has been anointed to bring good news. He goes on to expand on that good news, repeating again and again that he has been called to “proclaim” it. This is sermon language. Isaiah was making known his calling to the people as a preacher of God’s Word.
When Jesus gave his sermon, based on this text, he was making known the same thing to the people of his day – and to us. Jesus, too, had been anointed by the Spirit of God. This was made clear at his baptism—which we remembered two Sundays ago. And now he makes it clear as he begins his ministry of preaching.
Jesus does this, appropriately enough, in his hometown of Nazareth. On the Sabbath he enters the synagogue and is extended the opportunity to expound on the sacred writings. The portion of Isaiah from which he reads, chapter 61, was recognized as a Messianic prophecy—meaning that it predicted the coming of a great leader to save Israel. The people would have expected Jesus to re-iterate the promise of the Messiah’s future coming, as the preachers of the day regularly did. But Jesus didn’t do this. Instead, he said something shocking: “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
At first the people don’t recognize the words as shocking. They think of them as gracious—meaning, I suppose, that they sounded nice. Perhaps they simply thought of them as a way of saying “God is among us.” Yes, of course He is. How nice.
But Jesus is saying much more than this. He’s saying that he, Jesus, is God among them. He is the Anointed One – the Messiah—sent by God. Jesus identifies himself as the fulfillment of the prophecy, thereby claiming to be the Messiah.
This is a proclamation of revelation. Jesus is revealing something new. The people will need time to grasp this shocking new revelation, and the time has not yet come for a full explanation from Jesus. There was still much for him to say and do. But he does want them to know that his proclamation is much more than they expected. So he goes on to say some things he knows will be hard for them to hear. He reminds them how their ancestors often rejected God’s true prophets. The people understood this message clearly, and in their offense they drove him out of town.
Jesus came to reveal himself as the Messiah. He makes this clear in his very first recorded sermon. And by doing so through the use of Isaiah’s prophecy he also identifies his purpose. In a word, Jesus’ purpose is one of restoration.
As the Messiah, Jesus is anointed and sent to deliver “good news to the poor.” This good news is much more than just one of economics. Yes, Jesus’ good news will help raise the economic condition of many poor people, since his message frees people to be generous, kind and fair. But even more, it is a message of restoration—between God and us, and between us and one another. It is a message which announces the restoration of wellbeing to those impoverished by the debt of sin. Jesus comes to save poor sinners, like you, me and everyone.
Likewise, Jesus came to proclaim the “release of captives.” The “captives” he releases are, again, all of us. Here we have another way of understanding our human predicament. We are not only poor – in our behavior and life situation—but we are also, essentially, in prison. Our sin holds us captive. As we say in one of our confessions: “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” When Jesus comes to bring restoration, he gives a restoration of freedom from the bondage of the broken law of God.
Isaiah knew that the Anointed One would also proclaim a “recovery of sight to the blind.” Jesus does that. On several occasions he literally restored sight to someone who was blind. But for all of us who will receive him and listen to his Word, he does even more. He restores our ability to see the goodness and mercy of God. He works in our hearts and helps us to understand the mysteries of God’s will. Dr. Peter in his sermon notes says it this way: he brings the restoration of the beatific vision by faith. We Lutherans don’t often use the phrase “beatific vision,” but sometimes we do. It means seeing God in his glory—in particular, seeing his face. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 may explain this best: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
The Anointed Proclaimer of Isaiah also comes to “set at liberty those who are oppressed.” This means the restoring of dignity to those debased by Satan. The Devil often attacks us by the lies he whispers in our ears. These lies can haunt us, for we often believe them. Jesus comes to set us free from these attacks. He frees us as we believe his words of hope and joy instead. He will free us forever in the day we enter into his glory.
And finally, Jesus brings “the year of the Lord’s favor. Again, this is the restoration of the eternal inheritance realized in the ultimate year of Jubilee. The Old Testament called for “Jubilee” years in which property rights would be restored. The “Jubilee” year in Jesus’ proclamation is the restoration of our right to a heavenly home.
The purpose of the Messiah was to deliver the message of each of these blessings. That’s what Jesus did. However, as with many of the prophets before him, and as also prophesied by Isaiah, delivering that message cost him dearly.
The people of Jesus’ hometown who heard that first sermon of his rejected him. Jesus may have brought things to a head with his provoking words, but he knew he would be rejected by many of them eventually. He knew that a message which included the Gentiles would not sit well with some of them, as was the case in the days of Elijah and Elisha. He knew that some people would only follow him as long as he was doing helpful miracles for them, as he had done in Capernaum. He knew that some would reject him because they felt he was simply a man like them—Joseph’s son.
The people drove him to the brow of the hill in order to throw him down and kill him, but Jesus escaped. He walked right through them because his time had not yet come.
Three years later, however, his time would come. The rejection of Jesus in his hometown foreshadows the final rejection of Jesus by the crowds who will cry “Crucify him!” At that time he would not walk through the crowds, but instead humbly submit himself to their angry will.
The path of Jesus was one of rejection. “He was despised and rejected by men,” as Isaiah predicted. And yet his death was not the end. He rose again to life eternal. God vindicated him, because his death was not deserved.
In the same way, God will vindicate us—though not because our death is undeserved. We are vindicated because of Jesus, our Savior, who brings good news to the poor, proclaims the release of captives and recovery of sight to the blind, setting at liberty those who are oppressed and announcing the year of the Lord’s favor.
Our text today concludes by saying that Jesus “went on his way.” He went on his way to preach more sermons, to challenge more lives, to heal more illness and walk the way of the cross.
Jesus invites us to walk with him. In doing so we may face times of rejection by others too. But we will also learn to marvel at the revelation he has shared with us, and our lives will be changed because of the restoration he brings. Jesus is our Anointed Proclaimer. He has good news for each of us. The way of Jesus may be the way of the cross, but it is also the way of true life.
May this good news strengthen and sustain you always and forever. Amen.
Introduction: A first sermon
1. The Proclamation of the Messiah: Revelation
A. Jesus is the one prophesied by Isaiah
B. Jesus’ words were shocking, not simply “nice”
2. The Purpose of the Messiah: Restoration
He does this by delivering…
A. Good news to the poor
B. Release of captives
C. Recovery of sight to the blind
D. Deliverance of the downtrodden
E. The year of the Lord’s favor
3. The Path for the Messiah: Rejection
A. Jesus’ words were not welcome – like Elijah and Elisha
B. Jesus leaves them, for his time had not yet come
C. Jesus’ time would come when he went to the cross
- Conclusion: Journeying on our way
Entrance – #400 Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning
HOD – #398 Hail to the Lord’s Anointed
Communion – #401 From God the Father, Virgin-Born
Sending – #849 Praise the One who Breaks the Darkness
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