Epiphany 3 – January 24, 2016-01-22
“Today this Scripture is Fulfilled”
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. 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. 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. 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.” – Luke 4:14-21
So far in the Epiphany season we have looked at three New Testament stories, all of which revealed critical truths about Jesus. From the story of the Magi who traveled long distance to visit the Christ child, we learned that God had revealed the arrival of His Son, Savior of the world, even to the Gentiles a world away. In the story of Jesus’ baptism, the Father spoke and identified Jesus as His Son, Savior of the world: “This is my beloved Son. In Him I am well pleased.” And in last week’s Gospel lesson we learned about Jesus’ first miracle—the changing of water into wine at a wedding in Cana—by which Jesus made a powerful impression, demonstrating that he had come to be a joy and a blessing in peoples’ lives.
Today we have a different kind of epiphany moment. Here there is no miracle…. No water turned into wine…. No miraculous healings…. And for that reason perhaps not as impressive and awe-inspiring as the other epiphany revelations. Here Jesus proclaims himself the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the promised Messiah.
Jesus had been traveling through Galilee, teaching in the Jewish synagogues in towns and villages. Luke reports that news about Jesus was spreading, and that he was “being glorified by all.”
Luke does not record what subjects or topics Jesus was teaching in the Galilee synagogues. Other examples of Jesus’ teachings are recorded elsewhere in the Gospels, like the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus taught the law, pointing out hypocrisy and sin, and calling sinners to repentance. And at other times Jesus preached the Gospel, comforting his listeners with the promise that God cares about them, hears their prayers, and is always ready to help.
And in today’s story we have this example of Jesus’ teaching. This story happened in the synagogue (congregation) in Nazareth- Jesus’ home town. First, you should take note how Luke makes it a point to tell us that Jesus had gone to the synagogue on the Sabbath day “as was his custom.” Sometimes people like to imagine that Jesus was a complete rebel, thumbing his nose at Jewish tradition, breaking all the rules, and forging ahead with a brand new, revolutionary religion of his own. This story says otherwise. Jesus did not buck tradition, but attended the synagogue on the Sabbath day with all the other residents of Nazareth. And this was not a rare occurrence for Jesus, rather this was his custom.
During the synagogue service, Jesus was invited by the elders of the congregation to read one of the lessons. Here too Jesus conforms to tradition. Luke says he was handed the scroll of Isaiah the Prophet, and Jesus found the correct place and began to read. You see, the Jews had a practice in their weekly synagogue meetings much like our church today. They had a traditional system of scripture readings which they followed through the year. Each Sabbath one of the elders, or a visiting teacher like Jesus, would read the appointed selection from the Books of Moses, and from the Psalms, and from the Prophets. That way the people heard “the whole council of God” throughout the year. So Jesus did not cast out the tradition and demand the right to read from some other book of his choosing. He read the appointed lesson for the day from Isaiah the Prophet.
All of that might seem like a minor detail about Jesus, but it reveals his respect for the traditions of His people and their religion— so long as it was sincere and godly, respecting the Word of God.
But there is an additional, more profound epiphany about Jesus in this story. And that is contained in the last sentence of our text. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Ordinarily that would come off as a totally arrogant, even delusional thing to say. Imagine if a preacher were to stand in this chancel today, read the Scriptures, and then say “I am the fulfillment of that Scripture this very day!”
The Scripture that Jesus had just read was a prophecy about the promised Savior, what he would be like, and what he would accomplish. So when Jesus says that the prophecy “has been fulfilled in your hearing today,” the people immediately understood that he was claiming to be the promised Messiah, the Christ, as promised in that Scripture! This event happened in the early days of Jesus’ public ministry. It was meant to be a forecast of what Jesus would accomplish. In broad strokes Isaiah’s words depict Christ’s entire ministry, from his Baptism, to the cross, to the resurrection and ascension. The Spirit came upon him in his baptism in the form of a dove. He spent his time proclaiming good news to people buried under a load of guilt, shame, and fear. His preaching proclaimed freedom from sin and death through his sacrifice on the cross. He set free all of those oppressed under the works-righteous religion of the Pharisees. In his ongoing miracles he healed the sick, and gave sight to the blind. Most importantly he gave spiritual sight to all who would listen and believe. Their eyes were opened to the way to redemption and eternal life.
And this good news first preached by Christ in Nazareth is still coming to you today. Here I can say “this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Not that I am in any way a savior or messiah, but that THE Messiah—- Jesus Christ— is right here with you today. If you are captive to sin and all its dreadful consequences, Jesus wants to forgive you and set you free. If you have been blind to the truth, Jesus’ Gospel will give you insight into the real truth. Right now Jesus in His Gospel proclaims to you the time of God’s favor. Though you may have been running from him, avoiding him, even renouncing him and his Church all your life, it is not too late.
“God says, ‘I heard you at the right time, and I gave you help on the day of salvation.’ I tell you that the ‘right time’ is now. The ‘day of salvation’ is now.” – 2 Cor 6:2
Listen to Jesus’ words and believe. You can have repentance. You can have forgiveness. You can have faith. You can have freedom from sin, and from guilt, and from shame, and from fear of eternal punishment. You can be another captive set free by Jesus! Amen.
-Pastor K.J. Anderson