SERMON JANUARY 27, 2019 GAME ON-REV. PAUL DAKIN

GAME ON

A sermon on Luke 4:14-21

First Baptist Church of Lynchburg

January 27, 2019

By Paul Dakin

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

 

This morning, we begin by thinking about an experience that is perhaps common to a lot of us. Maybe not all of us…but certainly many of us know what it is like to leave home for an extended period of time…and then to return to family and friends. Probably most folks do something like this at some point in their lives. Sometimes the return is only for only a brief time. Sometimes the return means that you are coming back for good…

 

Maybe you had gone off to school at a college out of town or out of state. You had been gone for a semester or two and you returned home for summer break. Or maybe you had joined the military and you returned home on your first furlough after finishing boot camp and awaited your new deployment. Or maybe you had gotten married. You and your spouse moved away and now you are returning for a visit. Or maybe you had landed a good job in a faraway city and now you are home on vacation.

 

Whatever the circumstance, it can be odd experience for you and for your loved ones. On the one hand, you are deeply aware of the fact that you are not the same person that you were when you left. The truth of the matter is that you have grown and changed since you were “home” last. New experiences have shaped your understanding of yourself and of the world around you. In some ways, the changes that you have undergone are obvious to everyone around you in the way that you dress…or the way that you talk…or in how you understand things. Other changes are perhaps much more subtle and less noticeable. But deep down inside, you have the sense that you are not the same person that you were when you left, how-ever-long-ago it may have been. The changes in you are not necessarily good or bad—they just are….

 

But on the other hand, friends and family still tend to see you as the same person that you were before you left. You are different but they may not recognize it as such. There’s not any malicious intent in their interactions with you. It’s just that the folks who knew you “way back when” make assumptions about how you think…or what’s important to you…or what you believe. The assumptions that they hold may have been true about you years ago. But their perceptions of you are no longer accurate because you are not the same. In navigating the waters of these relationships, it can make for some awkward moments…

 

I suppose that I have experienced this “going away and coming back home” a number of times over the course of my life, but none so evident as when I returned from a twenty two month assignment as a “journeyman missionary” to Japan in 1982. I was 23 years old and barely out of college when I left. Adjusting to life back in the States was not as easy as I had thought it would be. But trying to figure out how to pick up the threads of my life when I returned was still more difficult…

 

Upon my return to my mother’s home in Birmingham, I began to hang out and socialize with some of the same people that I had gone to college with. One good friend later remarked to me, “It was really kind of strange, actually. For the first six months or so after you returned, you said very little about your time in Japan.” I was surprised by her comment at first, but upon further reflection, I knew that she was right.

 

Part of that was intentional on my part. I did not want to bore my friends with a whole slew of “Japan stories” that might cause them to roll their eyes after a while. In the 22 months that I had been away, I had had a lot of unique experiences. I had seen and experienced a lot of things for the first time. Some of those things defied description. There were few words for them that I could find that would adequately explain them. My life had changed in so many ways. Regardless of everything else, it was clear to most everyone that I was different than when I left…and I was still processing those changes internally. And I wondered what they meant…

 

And in some ways, my friends were different too. Some of my very best friends—Bill and Ramona, Michael and Bonita—had gotten married during the time that I had been gone. As a 25 year old single guy, it was not always easy to figure out how I could relate to them now that they were married. Different changes than what I had experienced, for sure—but no less significant for them.

 

In today’s gospel text from Luke 4, Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth after an extended period of absence. I am sure that it was a strange homecoming for Jesus. And no one could have predicted what happened…

 

In the previous chapter, Luke tells us that Jesus left Nazareth to begin his public ministry when he was about thirty years old. First, Jesus went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. The place where Jesus was baptized is traditionally said to be near a place called “Aenon near Salim,” which is about two days’ journey south and east from Nazareth.[1] While he was there by the riverside, he heard John preach and then heard him declare that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Then as he was being baptized, Luke tells us that “the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven”—a voice that apparently the whole crowd standing on the riverbank heard as well—“You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Certainly strange and unusual events. I am left to wonder as I ponder: How did these things affect Jesus? What did he think about them? What did they mean to him? I think it would be safe to say that they were life-changing experiences for our Lord…I am sure that Jesus was not the same after he had experienced them…

 

At the beginning of chapter four, Luke tells us that Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the desert” where he stayed fasting and praying for forty days. (The gospel of Mark uses a different word to describe this action. In Mark 1:13, Mark writes that the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the desert—that is, it forced him into the desert. The word difference gives the Spirit’s action a whole different understanding of what was going on…)

 

You know the story. While Jesus was fasting in the desert, we are told that the Devil came to him to tempt him. We are not given a lot of the details as to exactly what happened. For example, did Satan actually come in physical form to confront Jesus face-to-face? If so, what did that look like? Was it during the day time or during the night? What other sights and sounds accompanied these encounters? Were there sounds, noises and sights that accompanied their conversations? Was it a frightening experience to go toe-to-toe with the Devil? I cannot imagine that it could have been any other way. He could not have left the experience unchanged…

 

Then we get to today’s text. Luke tells us that, after he left the wilderness of temptation, Jesus went throughout the Galilean countryside and taught in the local synagogues. Matthew reports that, in addition to teaching that the Kingdom of God was near, Jesus began healing “every disease and sickness among the people,” including those who were suffering severe pain, those who were possessed of demons, those having seizures and those who were paralyzed.[2]

 

What a sight that must have been! Imagine with me the scene. People who are unable to walk were brought to our Lord. Jesus said a few words and then, right before the astonished eyes of the crowd, they witnessed useless, crooked limbs slowly become straight and strong. Someone walking for the very first time! A man having a seizure is brought to Jesus. Jesus lays his hands upon him and, incredibly, the seizure automatically stops at his command. Someone who is possessed by an evil spirit is brought to Jesus, and he performs an exorcism right there in front of the astonished crowd, so that the victim is now in their right mind. What an incredible display of power! Large crowds began to follow Jesus because they had never seen anything like it before. They marveled at what Jesus was able to do. Such healings surely made an impression upon Jesus as well as on the crowds that followed him…

 

In verse 16 of today’s text, we read that Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth, a village of perhaps 400 people. How long had Jesus been away? We do not know. Certainly several weeks—maybe even several months—had passed since he left home. That is not so important. What is important is that, during that time, Jesus had changed. He was no longer the same person that he was when he left. He was no longer just the son of the local carpenter. He had become something much bigger…something much greater…

 

This is evident from the time that Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. This is the same synagogue where he had grown up, the same synagogue where he had gone to school as a boy, the same synagogue where he had been taught the scriptures from an early age. The leaders of the synagogue handed him the scroll for the day’s reading. He opened up the scroll and read from Isaiah 58 and Isaiah 61. Both texts point to the coming of God’s Chosen One—the one through whom God would redeem his fallen world. It details what this person would do as the good news was proclaimed during the year of the Lord’s favor. And then, to cap it all off, Jesus gives his first sermon in the gospel of Luke. We do not know all that he had to say in that sermon. We are only given the first sentence—but it is arresting in its simplicity. Jesus began his sermon by stating, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

 

My guess is that Jesus’ sermon was radically different than what the hometown folks were expecting him to say. They were probably anticipating that Jesus would give them a standard sermon like they were used to hearing on the Sabbath. Such as sermon would do little more than to reinforce the teachings of the scribes that had been handed down through the generations—teachings from the scriptures with maybe a little extra commentary on them. But Jesus didn’t follow the usual script. He did something entirely unexpected. The truth is that Jesus had changed—but they had not noticed…

 

By starting off his sermon with those words in verse 21, Jesus served notice about two things. First, he was identifying himself as the Messiah. Everyone knew that the subject of the Isaiah texts was God’s special servant—the Messiah. And by Jesus telling them that the scripture was fulfilled in their hearing, he was claiming that mantle for himself.

 

Secondly, Jesus was announcing to them that this is what his ministry was going to look like. These were the values that would characterize the rest of his ministry…a ministry of bringing healing and wholeness. It would be a ministry of bringing the good news of God’s love and forgiveness to all those who desperately needed it.

 

One of the buzz words of the business world in the last couple of decades has been the phrase “mission statement.” This is a list of the core values that guide a particular company in how they conduct their business, what they are trying to accomplish, what the company deems to be important. For a while, it was also quite the fad for churches to adopt this same model—articulating the core values to which a particular church espouses. In these verses, Jesus announces to the world that the words of Isaiah would be his own mission statement. They were going to be the principles that would guide him for the rest of his earthly ministry. It is really what he was all about…

 

The rest of the chapter tells a sad story about the rest of his visit to Nazareth. At first, Luke tells us that the people were amazed at the gracious words which flowed from Jesus’ lips. Everyone thought well of him. (I have a hunch that they praised him because they really had not understood the significance of what he had been saying…)

 

But then things turned ugly. When it became obvious that our Lord’s message included the teaching that God’s favor was not limited to just Jews, but instead it was for everyone, regardless of who they were, the townspeople quickly turned against him. Luke concludes the story by telling us they drove Jesus to a cliff outside of town and that they would have thrown him off of it. But Jesus managed to escape and went on his way. It is sad to note that, as far as we can tell from the scriptures, Jesus never returned to Nazareth. He had had to stare down the homefolks who rejected him and he apparently felt no reason to return…For Jesus and his ministry, after he had been rejected by the hometown folks, it was “game on” from there on out…

 

The people of Nazareth rejected Jesus because he was saying and doing the unexpected. And Jesus did not offer them what they believed they needed. They did not need more words about how their life could be better by obeying God’s laws. They had heard those words their whole lives. They did not need instructions of how to gain a better life. A rehabilitated life. An improved life. No—Jesus knew that that’s not what they needed. They needed to have their lives turned upside down. They needed something that would change what was old into what was new again. They did not need new dietary rules like they had in the books of the Law. They did not need a new regimen. They did not need a new commitment to new habits that for various reasons fall by the wayside because they could not keep them.

 

NO—they needed to know that God sees them—that God knows them, warts and all—that God looks with favor upon them. Because when that happens, it is nothing less than life-changing. We do not need to be better people. We do not need a life-improvement plan. We need nothing less than a life change. That’s what Jesus offers. That is what the gospel is all about…

 

That is the thing that many people—even those who desire to follow Jesus—often miss. The Christian life is not so much about rules as it is a relationship with the Risen Christ. Diana Butler Bass, a church historian and popular Christian author, describes it like this:

 

Throughout the first five centuries, people understood Christianity primarily as a way of life in the present—not as a system of beliefs or as the promise of eternal salvation. By followers enacting Jesus’ teachings, the Christian faith changed and improved the lives of its adherents and served as a practical spiritual pathway. This way—and the earliest Christians were called “the people of the Way”—bettered existence for countless ancient believers…[3]

 

                Christ has not come to help you clean up your life. Nor has Christ not come to make your life better. That is not his desire. Not. At. All. Instead, Jesus wants nothing less than to transform your life. He wants to give you new eyes to see, new ears to hear, and a new mind with which to love and serve him and others. He wants you to join his mission to bring good news to the poor, to bring release to the captives, to help recover eyesight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 

That’s why Jesus came. That’s what Jesus does. Now the question for you is: What will you do?

 

To God alone be the glory! Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] John 3:23.

[2] Matthew 4:23-24.

[3] Diana Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2009), 27.

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