What is the best sermon that you have ever heard?
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Chris, Amen.
What is the best sermon that you have ever heard?
For some of you it may be the sermon that brought you to saving faith in Jesus Christ. For others it may the sermon that brought you great comfort in a time of great sorrow, or clear guidance in a time of indecision. Or for others still it may be the sermon that brought you back to God after wandering away from him.
Of all the sermons that have ever been preached in history, no one has ever preached a better sermon than the first one that Jesus preached in his hometown of Nazareth. The sermon is a marvelous example of Jesus’ teaching, which was the primary focus of his ministry while on earth. Jesus’ teaching contains glorious truths about himself, and how anyone can receive the good news he spoke about. So I’m not going to hold you in suspense, I’m going to say right out, the first Christians sermon was the best the world ever received.
I am under no illusions as to my skill level in preaching compared to Jesus Christ, but even so, let’s examine an example of Jesus’ teaching as set forth in Luke 4:16-30, our Gospel lesson today.
Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. Although he was born in Bethlehem and later made Capernaum his hometown as noted in Matthew 4:13, Jesus was always known as “Jesus of Nazareth”.
And as was his custom, Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. This was the synagogue where he had attended for most of his life. Every Sabbath day Jesus was in worship at the synagogue. Jesus maintained a regular pattern of worship. This was his custom. Jesus sang the Psalms, listened to God’s Word, and prayed to his Father.
If going to the worship service every week was Jesus’ custom, then surely it should be ours as well? I doubt that Jesus ever missed a worship service. Weekly worship attendance is the foundation of any life that glorifies God.
On this particular Sabbath day, Jesus was asked to read the Scripture for that day. The synagogue ruler could invite any visiting teacher or qualified male to read the Scripture.
Jesus, of course, knew almost everyone in the synagogue that day. He had started his public ministry about a year earlier and his ministry was astounding people. They had never heard such teaching or seen such miracles. So, there was tremendous excitement when the hometown hero had come back and was about to read and expound the Scripture.
And so, having been asked to read, and out of respect for the Word of God, Jesus stood up to read.
Let’s take particular note of the Scripture for Jesus’ teaching.
When he stood up, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
All those in the synagogue that day knew that these verses were a prophecy about the coming Messiah. They knew that one day God would send the Messiah to deliver his people. What a great Scripture for the hometown hero to read!
This Scripture summarized the ministry of the coming Messiah. By means of four metaphors, the coming Messiah would bring deliverance and freedom to people.
So, what would be the ministry of the coming Messiah?
First, the Messiah would proclaim good news to the poor.
Isaiah was not referring to material poverty, but to spiritual poverty. The spiritually poor are those who recognize that they have nothing of value to give to God. They recognize that their good deeds are worthless and unacceptable to God because even their good deeds are tainted by sin. They are spiritually bankrupt before a holy God because they have an enormous debt of sin that they cannot pay themselves.
But the good news that the Messiah would proclaim is that he would pay the debt for all of their sin. By trusting in the Messiah they would receive forgiveness for their innumerable sins, have their debt paid, and receive the gift of eternal life. Now, that is good news!
Second, the Messiah would proclaim liberty to the captives.
People think that they are free. But they are not. No one is truly free. All people are sinners, and are enslaved by their sin. They are held captive by their sin.
But the Messiah would come and proclaim liberty to the captives. The Messiah will set free—spiritually free—all those who are in bondage to sin and Satan.
Third, the Messiah would recover the sight of the blind.
All people are spiritual beings. That is why every culture in the world is religious. They worship some god or gods. The sad part is that they have manufactured those gods out of their own imaginations because they are spiritually blind to the capital “G” God and his truth. They are like blind men groping their way from one place to the next. Someone once said that the leading cause of blindness in this world is sin.
But the Messiah would come and recover the sight of the blind. He will “open blind eyes” (Isaiah 42:7) so that men and women, boys and girls can see their sin and need of a Savior, believe in him, and receive the gift of salvation.
And fourth, the Messiah would set at liberty those who are oppressed.
Isaiah was speaking of people who were crushed in spirit and shattered by the hard experiences of life. He was speaking of those who have experienced the powerful forces of evil in this world.
But the Messiah would come and set at liberty those who are oppressed. He will set them free. When they put their trust in the Messiah, they will discover true liberty!
So, the Scripture that Jesus read in the synagogue from Isaiah spoke of tremendous need: spiritual poverty, imprisonment, blindness, and oppression. And the people in the synagogue that day knew that the Messiah would bring salvation, freedom, sight, and liberty.
Let’s look at the message of Jesus’ teaching.
The Scripture reading was finished. So Jesus rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. In those days the teacher sat down and taught.
And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. The crowded room was completely quiet. Everyone was looking at Jesus. They all knew him, of course. What was he going to say?
Jesus in turn looked at each of them. He knew them too. All of his childhood friends were there. All of his family members and neighbors were there. All of the people for whom he had built something as a carpenter were there.
After a long pause, Jesus began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Imagine the congregation listening to Jesus. Other teachers spoke of a future fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. But Jesus said that this prophecy has just been fulfilled in their hearing! Jesus was saying that he—the one they all knew so well—was in fact the Messiah!
What an astonishing statement! What a remarkable claim!
Initially, all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. Their first impression of Jesus’ message was favorable.
And then they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Once Jesus’ words sank in to their minds, they could not fathom how he could possibly claim to be the Messiah. After all, they all believed the widely-held notion that the Messiah would be unknown to anyone until he suddenly appeared to redeem Israel (John 7:27). So, how could Jesus, whom they had all known since he was a toddler, be the Messiah?
Let’s look at the application of Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus continued speaking. He knew these people well too. He knew what they were thinking and what they were whispering to each other.
So Jesus gave three applications to his message.
The first application was a proverb.
Jesus said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ In other words, “Prove your claim to us.”
Jesus knew that the congregation now wanted him to prove that he was the Messiah by revealing his power to them. They had heard of the miracle he had done in Capernaum, and they thought, “What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well”.
Jesus’ point is that their problem was not lack of evidence, but hardness of heart. They had known Jesus all his life. He had never told a lie. He had never been in trouble. In fact, everyone liked him. So, why would they not believe him now?
The second application was a rebuke.
Jesus then stated a truism and said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown”.
Sadly, the ones who knew him best did not receive what he had to say, reminding us of John 1:11, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
And the third application was by way of two illustrations.
Jesus talked of two well-known and much-loved prophets.
The first illustration was of Elijah and the widow.
Jesus said, “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow”.
Elijah prophesied in the days of King Ahab, one of Israel’s most wicked kings. God sent a scorching drought that lasted three years and six months. And during the drought Elijah was sent to none of the people of Israel. Instead, he was sent to a woman who was a widow living in Zarephath, in the land of Sidon. Zarephath was a town far north of the borders of Israel. Elijah asked the widow for some food. She only had one meal left before she and her son would die. At first she refused to give Elijah some food. Elijah told her not to be afraid, but to go ahead and bake the food for himself, herself and her son. He also gave her a promise from God that her food would last until God sent rain again. The widow trusted God’s word through Elijah. She baked the food, God supplied all her needs, and she became a believer in God (1 Kings 17:8-24).
God sent Elijah to save a Gentile woman who was in tremendous need. Her physical poverty matched her spiritual poverty, bondage, blindness, and oppression. Yet she trusted God, and he saved her. Jesus’ point was that if his listeners refused to abandon their self-righteousness and acknowledge their desperate spiritual need, they could not be saved.
And the second illustration was of Elisha and Naaman.
Jesus then said, “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (4:27).
Elisha told Naaman to go and bathe in the Jordan River. Naaman was unwilling at first. However, he humbled himself, obeyed the words of the prophet, was cleansed, and acknowledged the God of Israel as the only true God (2 Kings 7:3-15).
Naaman was not only a Gentile, but he was also a leper. Lepers were considered the lowest of the low in their culture. So, Naaman was a double outcast.
Jesus’ point was unmistakable to his audience. God’s salvation is for all who see themselves as spiritually poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed—regardless of nationality or condition.
Notice the reaction to Jesus’ teaching.
At this point the congregation could listen to Jesus no longer. How could they—upright, religious, law-abiding, and Jews of all people—not be in favor with God? So, when they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.
Let’s observe the result of Jesus’ teaching.
But Jesus’ time had not yet come. Whether by miracle or by some other natural means, Luke simply notes that passing through their midst, Jesus went away, leaving his home town crowd to their unbelief.
Therefore, having analyzed an example of Jesus teaching as set forth in Luke 4:16-30, we know that in order to be counted as Christian and saved by grace through faith, we must respond in faith to his message. Jesus is the messiah!
Jesus taught that only those who recognized that there was no hope for them apart from God’s mercy, receive God’s grace.
A lot of people today do not believe that they are spiritually poor, captive, blind, and oppressed. Instead, they may view themselves in the manner of a book written half a century ago which was titled “I’m okay, you’re okay” which obviously means they don’t see any need for God’s grace and forgiveness. Or they might see themselves as upright, religious, and law-abiding, and they strongly oppose any thought that they are in of need God’s grace.
For some folks their upright lives and church activities insulate them from their spiritual need. In effect, they cast Jesus out of their lives. Sadly, those most in need of God’s grace often know it the least.
Pastor Kent Hughes tells the story of a large prestigious British church that had three mission churches under its care. On the first Sunday of each New Year all the members of the mission churches would come to the parent church for a combined Communion service. In those mission churches, located in the slums of a major city, were some outstanding cases of conversions—thieves, burglars, and others. But all knelt as brothers and sisters side by side at the Communion rail.
On one such occasion the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England—the very judge who had sent him to jail where he had served seven years. After his release this burglar had been converted and became active in Christian ministry.
After the service, the judge was walking out with the pastor and said to him, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?”
The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.”
The pastor nodded in agreement. “A marvelous miracle of grace indeed.”
The judge then inquired, “But to whom do you refer?”
“The former convict,” the pastor answered.
The judge said, “I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.”
The minister, surprised, replied, “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.”
“You see,” the judge went on, “it is not surprising that the burglar received God’s grace when he left jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he understood Jesus could be his Savior, he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help. But look at me—I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman, that my word was to be my bond, that I was to say my prayers, go to church, take Communion and so on. I went through Oxford, obtained my degrees, was called to the bar, and eventually became a judge.
I was sure I was all I needed to be, though in fact I too was a sinner. Pastor, it was God’s grace that drew me. It was God’s grace that opened my heart to receive Christ. I’m the greater miracle.”
Only those who acknowledge themselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving his displeasure, and without hope save in his sovereign mercy receive the grace of God.
Today, do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving his displeasure, without hope except through his sovereign mercy? If you do, ask God to daily gift you with saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.