On June 5, I preached a sermon at the Auburn Church of Christ, where I work as the campus minister. It was on Luke 4:14-30 –– Jesus’s synagogue sermon in Nazareth –– and it was the opening sermon in a ten-week series that I am co-preaching with the other ministers on staff. Here is the manuscript that I used, which is roughly, though not exactly, what I preached.
The Dog’s Eye Drops
A few years ago, when we lived in Kentucky, I received a phone call from my sister. She was panicked, almost crying. My father, she said, had blurry vision and they were worried he was having a stroke. One of my sisters is a hospital CFO and had already consulted with some of her doctors on his symptoms. They told her to get him to ER ASAP.
They were rushing him to the hospital. But there was one problem: he didn’t want to go. But my father is stubborn and wanted to see his cousin, who is an optometrist, before he went to the ER.
To get to the optometrists, he had to drive twenty minutes past the ER. And they get there and the offices were closed. So my sisters and my mother are yelling and crying. I hope you can imagine the chaos.
They convince my dad to go to the ER, but when they arrive, his cousin returns his call, and says he’ll drive into the office to see him. They are in the parking lot of the ER, my dad with stroke symptoms, and he makes my sister turn the car around and drive back to the optometrist’s office, where they had to wait for a half-hour for the doctor to arrive. More panicking. More yelling.
The eye doctor finally arrives, and he begins examining my dad’s eyes. He asks my dad if he’d been using any kind of eye drops. And my father shows him the bottle he’s been using, which was some kind of moisturizing drops….
….or so he thought. My dad had been putting drops in his eyes that he thought moistened his dry eyes, but they were actually drops that were meant to numb the eye before surgery, and they had been prescribed to Gidget…my parents’ pug.
So these two hours of panic and fear and anger and tears had been caused because my dad was using eye drops for his dog which he thought were just normal saline drops.
My father should have made sure that he knew the purpose of those eye drops. That would have avoided a lot of wasted time, confusion, and frustration. Because generally, when you don’t know the true purpose of something, there is confusion, frustration, and wasted time.
Knowing the Purpose of the Church
For this reason, Matt Tignor, Matt Dabbs, and I have planned a ten-week summer series for us to see how the Bible describes the purpose of the church. Knowing the purpose of the church would have enormous impact upon everything we do.
And this doesn’t just have implications for planning church events and programs. Throughout history, the main source of purpose came from your community. And I think, fundamentally, this is still true. For Christians, our most important community that we are apart of is the church. So I think will find your purpose through finding out the purpose of the church. So this has a bigger impact than just planning ministry events and programs; it impacts your lives.
Why Luke 4:14-30
And to begin this series, let’s look at Luke 4:14-30. Jesus has been baptized by John and anointed by the Holy Spirit, and he’s resisted the temptations of
the Holy Spirit Satan. In this passage, Jesus goes back to the synagogue in Nazareth and delivers a sermon that outlines his ministry.
We typically don’t go to Luke 4 to understand Jesus’s ministry. But Luke puts this at the beginning to Jesus’s ministry to define his ministry. In two places in Luke and Acts, Luke seems to reference this passage to summarize Jesus’s ministry and the church’s ministry. In other words, Luke sees this passage as describing mission of Jesus, but also the broader mission that the church is carrying on in Jesus’ absence.
The theologian Darrel Bock writes that this passage is “a paradigm for [Jesus’s] ministry….The passage portrays God’s plan and Jesus’ role in it.” (p. 394). So let’s look at it to learn more about the mission of Jesus.
Jesus’s Sermon (Luke 4:14ff.)
Empowered by the Spirit (vv. 14-15)
So let’s pick up in verse 14, Luke writes:
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
So at the very outset of his ministry, Luke lets us know that it is a ministry that is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Joel Green writes:
“Thus, all that Jesus does throughout his public ministry follows from and grows out of his having been empowered by the Spirit” (The Theology of the Gospel of Luke, p. 39).
We’ll see throughout this series, this is true of the church, too.
Attending the Synagogue (vv. 16-17a)
Now Luke is going to focus on one time that Jesus taught in the synagogue. Luke writes.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.
This is what the inside of a synagogue probably looked like. We don’t really know what a synagogue service would have looked like, but it probably was something like this:
They would have begun by singing from Psalms 145-150, and then recited the Shema (“Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one”). Then there would have been a recitation of the Eighteen Benedictions, a common Jewish prayer.
Then they would read from Scripture, with men asked before hand to read from the scriptures and someone asked to give a sermon. Someone would get the Torah and read it. It would probably be read in Hebrew, with pauses for someone to give an Aramaic translations or paraphrase. Then they would likewise read from the prophets.
After this, someone would stand up to teach the congregation. And this is likely what Jesus was doing.
So when Jesus stands up to preach, he reads from Isaiah. Think about how significant that is! Jesus picked these verses from Isaiah to define his ministry! Luke writes:
“Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. [When he says he sat down, there was probably a bench in the middle of the floor. It was customary to sit down when explaining Scripture, to show that these words were not from Scripture.] The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Year of Jubilee
The Isaiah passage is about a Year of Jubilee that occurs when God finally rescues his people, his creation. So it’s important to know what the year of Jubilee was. But the Year of Jubilee came every fiftieth year, and it was a time in which debts were canceled, in which land was given back to the original owners, and those among the Jews who had sold themselves into slavery would be set free. It was this massive time of freedom and joy. Now, ask yourselves, why would God this? As a reminder that everything was God’s; that God was in charge; and that God’s reign had one big practical implication: when God’s reign was realized, then His people were released from bondage.
And Jesus is proclaiming that with his presence, with the start of his ministry, the plan of God has been put into motion to release the world from bondage. And it’s all gloriously centered on Jesus: from his proclaiming the good news here, to his entire earthly ministry, to his death and resurrection when death and sin were defeated, to the ministry of the Church, His Body –– all of this is God enacting this eternal Jubilee.
Release From Bondage
What does “release” from bondage mean? In Luke and Acts, it comes to have a broad meaning: a release from sins, but also a release from suffering and disease and oppressive powers. It includes the release from physical oppression and spiritual oppression; it’s not that spiritual salvation isn’t enough; it’s that a purely spiritual salvation is not a comprehensive view of the Bible’s view of salvation.
Is there a way to summarize this meaning of “release” from bondage? Yes. It means release from anything that God did not intend to dominate our lives.
God didn’t intend 3.1 million children a year to die from undernourishment. God didn’t intend for 4.5 million women and girls to be victims of sex slavery each year. God did not intend for you to be addicted to pornography. God didn’t intend for about 40% of the world to live in unreached people groups — that is, people groups where there are not enough indigenous Christians in it to evangelize the rest of the group. God didn’t intend for your friend or child or husband to walk away from the faith, abandoning God and the Christian community.
This is how Scot McKnight describes it:
“For Jesus, the kingdom will be marked by the end of oppressive injustices against the poor, the mourning, and the righteous; and the establishment of a Torah-observant people from the inside out, people who do God’s will as taught by Jesus, which means they are holy, reverent, loving, and wise.” (Kingdom Conspiracy, p. 192)
This is Jesus’s mission.
What does this mean for us?
The implications for our church should be pretty obvious, I think. We have a mission. As this series proceeds, we’ll unpack this more.. But here’s one obvious implication: the primary goal of our church isn’t to make you more comfortable in your life, or even more comfortable in this church. What we do in our church should be calibrated towards bringing God’s rule more wholly — “His Kingdom come, His Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” — when all is as God intended it to be.
This means sharing the gospel. It means supporting missions. It means reaching our campus and community, no matter the cost or how uncomfortable it can make us. It means taking on oppression, no matter the cost. As John Piper said, “To be a Christian is to move toward need not comfort.”
Think of William Wilberforce. He was a great British politician and a devout Christian; it cost him dearly to fight against the slave-trade, often nearly alone in waging war against the massive financial interests that favored continuing the slave trade. It wasn’t comfortable for him; but he was continuing the mission of Jesus.
And, individually, Jesus’s mission matters for us. But this has so many implications for our lives. Let me just name one: our careers. We should see our work as a part of God’s mission. But what does it mean to carry out God’s mission at work? I think we’ve been weak on this. We have sometimes made it sound as if Serving God at work is mainly about squeezing some bible studies into your coffee break or giving a bible tract to all your clients.But it is so much more than that.
If you understand Jesus’s purpose are broader than that — to bring God’s rule to the entire creation — then your job is a part of your career when it serves this purpose. Of course, how this looks depends on your particular career. Two examples:
Teachers, the way you can carry out the mission of Jesus in your workplace is by making sure each kid is loved as a child of God, and making sure that they receive the best education they can no matter their socio-economic background.
Businesspeople and managers, living out the mission of Jesus for you can mean that you don’t take advantage of others, even if doing so would make you a “shrewd” business person. You never treat the size of your profits as more important than people. The Old Testament prophets have a lot to say about business people and the wealthy taking advantage of less privileged workers. It’s very clear that God doesn’t intend for people to be taken advantage of in this way in his Kingdom. So not doing so is a way for you to live out the mission of God, to set things back to rights, to make things as God intended them to be.
And so Jesus’s mission can provide our careers with a purpose that goes beyond our own self-interests.
Tim Chester has a nice summary of how our churches and our lives are affected by this mission of releasing the world from bondage:
“The Christian community is both a sign and a promise of God’s coming liberation. We are the presence of God’s liberating kingdom in a broken world. We are the place where liberation can be found, offering a home for exiled people. We are to welcome the broken people to a community of broken people. We are the community among whom liberation is a present reality — the jubilee people who live with new economic and social relationships. We are the light of the world, a city on a hill. The challenge for us is to articulate Jesus’ message of liberation in a way that connects with people’s experience and offers a place of liberation in the Christian community.” (Taken from Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People, p. 112)
But the audience didn’t rejoice at these implications; they got angry. Let’s see why.
A Conflict With Church People (vv. 22-30)
After Jesus finishes his sermon, people react. Yes, they are amazed, but more than that happens. Luke writes:
22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
So apparently there were some doubts; some questioning. But he knew their hearts, and he continues:
23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ [This was a proverb commonly used to say that they should benefit their relatives in the same way they are benefiting others.] And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
And look at what happens:
28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
What in the world happened here? Jesus stands up and announces that God’s Reign is finally here — in him! And they are amazed. Then he follows it up with something that somehow leads them to want to kill him!
A Temptation of the Religious
One reason the Nazarenes’ anger is surprising is that we don’t get the Old Testament references. Jesus refers to two Old Testament stories where God does a mighty act of rescue — of releasing a widow from impending death caused by a famine and a military commander from the oppression of leprosy — among the Gentiles. Not among God’s people.
Now, remember how earlier I said that Jesus quotes Isaiah and defines his message as taking the good news to the poor; that is, he’s taking it to those considered outside the honorable bounds of society?
Well, Jesus stands up and says to this crowd of church-attending people and says: God’s mission isn’t going to be limited just to those people who are considered worthy and honorable. All can be a part of the Kingdom of God; all can receive the grace of God.
A Warning for a Mission-Minded Church
And I think that this is a good warning for our church. Many churches have a good enough idea of the mission of Jesus, and so the church’s mission, to live out the church’s purpose. But they don’t. Why?
And I think that Luke wants us to see this. It’s not the idea of living on mission for God that we object to; it’s when the mission leads us where we don’t want to go. We don’t want to be taken out of our comfort zones: our comfort zones socially, financially, ethnically, out of our comfort zones of tradition, out of our comfort zones of what the mission of God demands of us.
As we begin this series, we can be confident that God will stretch us in ways we never expected. And when that happens, we can circle the wagons. We can expect that our church activities look the same as they always have; we can insist that our brand of Christianity remain mostly a place for white, Southern, Americans. That everything looks like us: racially, ethnically, nationally, socially. That we stay focused inward and never go out to reach the non-Christians and serve the helpless and take care of the widows and orphans, and take head-on the institutions of ungodly injustice that exist.
But if we do that, we won’t be living out the mission of Jesus. For that’s not how our Lord lived.
So let’s search ourselves: do we have such a narrow view of the mission of God that we end up opposing it?
I love this passage. Because it both pushes us towards the mission of Jesus, setting it in a broader framework than we normally think about it. But it also warns us. It’s easy for church people to oppose the mission of God to keep their own comfortable routines…and do it all in the name of God.
So as we continue, let’s aim to be the hands and feet of Jesus, bringing his good news to the world, releasing them from spiritual oppression, and, eventually, the physical and social oppressions that result from sin.
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