If your boiler ever breaks, your house needs re-wiring or you have a new radiator that needs to be plumbed in, then it’s a good idea to check your tradesman’s qualifications in advance.
• Before you let a strange electrician loose on your domestic appliances you will probably want to know that they are properly trained.
• If you want to be sure your plumber isn’t going to flood your bathroom, you may wish to consult his entry in the Yellow Pages.
• And before you let someone tamper with your house gas supply, you’ll want to make sure they are CORGI registered!
The same principle applies to spiritual matters too – even more so, in fact. Before you entrust yourself to a religious leader you will want to know his theological qualifications. Before you commit to follow a specific spiritual and moral path, you will want to know its God-given credentials.
Indeed, before you entrust your eternal destiny to a particular faith-leader, you will want to know that he is well-qualified to take care of your immortal soul!
The Messiah’s qualifications
And so in the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel, Luke has gone to great lengths to convince us of Jesus Christ’s credentials. Over the past few weeks, as we’ve gone through the first few chapters of Luke, we’ve seen that Jesus is amply qualified to be the Lord of our life and our Saviour from sin. Luke has shown us that Christ’s credentials are unsurpassed.
• So, for example, in the opening verses of Luke chapter 1 he assured us that everything we read about Jesus is carefully researched and grounded on eyewitness testimony. It is fact not fiction.
• In the rest of chapter 1 the angel Gabriel and the virgin Mary, plus her relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah all testify that Jesus is the Heaven-sent Saviour.
• Then in chapter 2 the angels above Bethlehem, plus the prophetess Anna and aged Simeon all speak with one voice to confirm that – in Jesus – the long-promised Messiah has arrived.
• And in Luke chapter 3, at Jesus’ baptism, we hear the loud voices of both John the Baptist and God the Father proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth is truly God’s Son. An identity that is further confirmed when the Holy Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove.
And then last week (at the start of Luke chapter 4) we saw the character and ‘moral fibre’ of Jesus tested. Tempted three times by Satan in the wilderness, Jesus did not succumb. He refused to act selfishly, he refused to disobey God’s words, he remained pure and blameless in every respect.
So as we come to the second half of Luke chapter 4 today, we should be in no doubt that Jesus is amply qualified to be our Lord and Saviour. He possesses all the personal spiritual and moral qualities necessary for the Messiah.
But what had Christ come to do? What was his Messianic mission, his agenda for action? Parliament is debating Theresa May’s plan for Brexit. But what was Christ’s plan for his ministry? Well, in today’s passage we find out, because we’re told about the Messiah’s power and the Messiah’s manifesto.
The Messiah’s power
Do keep your Bibles open at Luke 4 verse 14. Because Luke begins his account of Jesus’ public ministry with the following words: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit”
The Holy Spirit had descended on Jesus at his baptism and accompanied him in the wilderness and now stayed with Jesus as he began his Messianic mission.
We can’t understand all that Jesus was able to accomplish in his ministry without appreciating the fact that he was the ultimate Spirit-filled man – he was ‘charismatic’ in every sense of the word. It was the Holy Spirit who gave Jesus the power to perform his miracles, to preach with conviction, and to endure his suffering.
Luke tells us that the Spirit’s power in Jesus succeeded in drawing a crowd, and made him a first-century celebrity. We’re told that: “news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.”
Now, if even God’s Son needed God’s Spirit to navigate his way through life on earth, then surely so do we. It should come as no surprise that the New Testament urges Christians to be “filled” with the Holy Spirit, and to “keep in step” with him.
One of our most frequent prayers should be that God’s Holy Spirit will increasingly take control of our heart and mind. We should pray regularly that the Spirit will help us to understand the Bible, live like Christ and endure tough times. We should be asking frequently for the Spirit to produce his famous “fruit” in our lives. Fruit of love, joy, patience, self-control and all the rest.
The Messiah’s manifesto
So we need to seek the same spiritual power that Jesus the Messiah made use of – the power of God’s Holy Spirit. But what was the Messiah’s manifesto? What was Jesus going to do with the power he possessed?
Well, Luke tells us that Jesus returned to his hometown to lay out his stall, just like an American politician might return to their home state to announce their candidacy for the US presidency. Luke tells us that it was in Nazareth, surrounded by those who knew him best, that Jesus declared his Messianic agenda.
Listen again to verses 16 and 17: “Jesus 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, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.”
For a start, its interesting to note that Jesus attended synagogue every week – it was his “custom” says Luke. Every Sabbath, Jesus took time to gather with God’s people, to read and study the Scriptures with them, and to worship together. It’s a subtle challenge to us to prioritise weekly church attendance, isn’t it?
We should make church attendance a fixture in our weekly routine, and to encourage others to do likewise. That’s one reason, why I’m so pleased we can now offer Sunday Club three times a month, so there is ministry for children (as well as adults) here at St. John’s each and every week. Just like Jesus, let’s make weekly worship our custom and our habit.
So what did Jesus say in the Synagogue? Look again at our passage. Because Luke tells us in verse 17 that Jesus unrolled the copy of Isaiah he had been given, and “found the place where it is written: ‘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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’
With those words, the carpenters’ child was claiming to be the long-awaited Christ. Mary’s son was declaring himself to be the Heaven-sent Messiah.
Just imagine the scene in that Synagogue – mouths must have hung open, jaws must have dropped! It was a truly staggering claim for this thirty-year old man to make. But as Luke has shown us already, Jesus was supremely well-qualified for the role.
Its important we understand what Jesus meant when he said that he’d come to proclaim good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, liberty for the oppressed, sight for the blind and so on. Many people interpret this messianic manifesto in a very literal, physical and socio-economic way. They think that Jesus was committing himself to a programme of practical social action and political reform. But this is a mistake.
Yes, Jesus did literally give sight to some blind people, and heal many others, in wonderful and remarkable ways. Yes, he did call his disciples to love their neighbour and show generosity to those in need. But he didn’t go around breaking people out of jail, nor was he a political revolutionary or a first-century social worker. People’s physical needs were not his first priority.
To understand what Jesus’ manifesto was (and is) really about, we need to go back to Isaiah chapter 61 – the passage Jesus read out in the synagogue. In that passage the people Isaiah was referring to are the people of Israel in exile. The poor, oppressed people that Isaiah was writing about were the people of Israel in captivity in Babylon – the people of Israel languishing far from home because they had rebelled against God and experienced his punishment.
They were a people in need of forgiveness, people in slavery to sin, people imprisoned by guilt. People who were morally and spiritually blind and in need of a Saviour. In fact, the New Testament makes clear that this remains the natural condition of every human being to this day. All have sinned says Romans chapter 3. Human beings have a shared need for a Saviour from sin, for someone to rescue us from God’s rightful anger at what we’ve done wrong.
And that’s where Jesus’ manifesto comes in. Because as Bible commentator William Taylor writes: “Jesus’ manifesto has everything to do with his mission to rescue men and women from their own sin and spiritual ignorance, and from God’s judgement, and little to do with economics, fair trade, environmental action or medical aid”, worthy though they are.
Elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel Jesus makes his mission even clearer. In chapter 5, for example, he tells a paralysed man his sins are forgiven BEFORE he heals him physically. Jesus’ primary vocation, his core mission, was to call sinners to repentance and saving faith in him.
When we realise that Jesus principally came to offer God’s grace to sinful, spiritually blind humanity, it helps us to understand why he went to the Cross at Calvary. It was at the Cross where Christ became our sin-bearing substitute. It was at Calvary where Jesus secured the spiritual freedom, the liberation from sin and guilt, which he’d first promised in that synagogue in Nazareth. Unlike the empty promises of many political manifestos, Jesus really delivered on what he’d promised.
So as I finish, how are we to respond to Jesus’ messianic manifesto? What is the appropriate reaction to Jesus’ Nazareth mission statement? Let me make a couple of suggestions.
Firstly, if you are a Christian here this morning, then our task is to make Jesus’ manifesto more widely known. Most people in our society, are not Christian believers. They urgently need to know that in Jesus Christ their liberator, their Spirit-filled Saviour has come.
Finally, can I draw your attention to Jesus’ final sentence in his messianic mission statement? He said he had come to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” That is a wonderful summary of what it means to become a Christian. To put your faith in Jesus is to enjoy the Lord’s favour forever. It is to enjoy God’s forgiveness, enjoy God’s friendship and enjoy eternal life.
That’s good news to believe, good news to celebrate and good news we must share!
Copyright © 2015-2018 St John the Evangelist, Ashton Hayes. All rights reserved.