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The Good News (On the Way to the Cross - Part 2)

August 25, 2013 Speaker: Micah Mercer Series: On the Way to the Cross

Scripture: Luke 4:16–4:21

Synopsis: Jesus came to proclaim the year of God's favor to the poor. This good news was good both spiritually and physically, but it has some limitations. First, the year of God's favor is limited in time, second it is limited to those who will respond in faith to Jesus.


Don't kill the messenger! Sometimes being the bearer of news can be a complicated task. Especially when the news is good for some and bad for others. I remember one such situation when I was on CQ duty in the army. CQ stands for Charge of Quarters and the job entails a single 24 hour shift where you wait at the entrance of a building to maintain security, answer the phone, and pass messages along to people inside. We had a monthly roster for CQ that was continuously subject to change for reasons unknown to all except the company headquarters.

One Friday I was on CQ and the message came down from headquarters that the schedule had changed for Saturday. At that moment I had conflicting feelings about what I had to do next. You see, it was my duty to go and tell one soldier that he no longer had CQ on the weekend. Naturally, he would be overjoyed. Not so the other soldier to whom I had to bring the bad news that whatever he had planned for Saturday was now canceled. So I went and knocked on the door to his room and the first thing I said was, "Don't kill the messenger."

There is a conflicted feeling you get when you know that the message you have to deliver will cause one person great joy while provoking another person to intense anger. That feeling is even stronger when you have no idea who will respond one way or the other. Have you ever felt like this about telling someone the good news of Jesus? Have you ever been unsure how to answer a question about your faith because of the offence it could cause? You wonder if you should sugar coat the message or preface it with some sort of disclaimer to soften the impact. But you know that too much sugar coating and the message will not be understood, robbing someone of great joy in order to avoid offending them. Should I tell or shouldn't I?

Last week, the journey began with Jesus' temptation in the desert. We concluded that Jesus faced the temptation in order to demonstrate his unyielding obedience to the Father, to overcome Satan as the 'new Adam,' and so legitimize his claim as the head of a ‘new humanity.’ This new humanity he would create by redeeming them through his death on the cross and resurrection. After overcoming all temptation, we read that Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit and his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding countryside as he traveled from town to town teaching in the synagogues.

This week we move into part two of Jesus' journey toward the cross which focuses on what Jesus was sent to do: To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. From last week we know that Jesus taught powerfully in every town he visited and received a very positive response, but his actual message was not yet revealed to us. In our passage today though, we will get our first taste of what the good news that Jesus proclaimed was about. We will also witness the people of the synagogue in Jesus' home town, so infuriated by his message that they tried to kill him.

Luke 4:16-44 (ESV)

16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been
brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the
synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up
to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was
given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the
place where it was written,
18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to
the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in
the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he
began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has
been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke
well of him and marveled at the gracious words
that were coming from his mouth. And they said,
“Is not this Joseph's son?” 23 And he said to them,
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb,
‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you
did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.”
24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is
acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you,
there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah,
months, and a great famine came over all the land,
26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to
Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was
a widow. 27 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.” 28 When
they heard these things, all in the synagogue were
filled with wrath. 29 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. 30 But passing through their
midst, he went away.

31 And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee.
And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32 and
they were astonished at his teaching, for his word
possessed authority. 33 And in the synagogue
there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean
demon, and he cried out with a loud voice,
34 “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of
Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know
who you are—the Holy One of God.” 35 But Jesus
rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of
him!” And when the demon had thrown him down
in their midst, he came out of him, having done
him no harm. 36 And they were all amazed and
said to one another, “What is this word? For with
authority and power he commands the unclean
spirits, and they come out!” 37 And reports about
him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

38 And he arose and left the synagogue and entered
Simon's house. Now Simon's mother-in-law was ill
with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her
behalf. 39 And he stood over her and rebuked the
fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and
began to serve them.

40 Now when the sun was setting, all those who had
any who were sick with various diseases brought
them to him, and he laid his hands on every one
of them and healed them. 41 And demons also
came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of
God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow
them to speak, because they knew that he was
the Christ.

42 And when it was day, he departed and went into
a desolate place. And the people sought him and
came to him, and would have kept him from
leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach
the good news of the kingdom of God to the other
towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

The central point of this passage is that Jesus' mission was to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God.

Jesus stated his mission at both the beginning and end of our text today. In v.18 he said, "[The Lord] has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor." And in v.43 he said, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose." We can think of this as Jesus' mission statement that he came to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God.

Many organizations, including churches, have what are called their mission statements. They are usually a concise attempt to explain the heart around which their activities revolve. Here at ECC, our mission statement is to "bring unbelievers to faith in Christ and believers to maturity in Christ." Everything we do as a church revolves around this mission. Likewise, Jesus' activities revolved around his mission to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of God.

I would like to highlight three aspects of Jesus' proclamation of the good news that would have brought great joy to some and great offense to others.

The second aspect of Jesus' proclamation that brought great joy to some and great offence to others is that The Gospel is good news both physically and spiritually.

Let's look again at verses 18-19 that Jesus read in the synagogue.

18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

Jesus said he had been anointed (read given authority) to proclaim good news to the poor. This would include three parts: liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and setting at liberty (liberate) those who are oppressed. He read this text from Isaiah 61. We need to take notice of the original context in order to capture the fullness of Jesus' intentions when he quoted it.

The main focus of Isaiah's prophecy when he wrote it was the reconciliation and restoration of Israel. One day God would have favor on Israel again and restore the nation to greater glory than before. The poor, captive, oppressed Israelites would be liberated and prospered in the year of the Lord's favor. That was what the people in the Nazareth synagogue had in mind when Jesus said, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Their expectation was that this would mean freedom from their latest conquerors, the Romans. "Now that's great news," is likely what they thought as they marveled at his words.

But Jesus had something else in mind when he proclaimed liberty for the captives and oppressed and recovering of site for the blind. For just a moment, let's take these statements in the context of Luke chapter 4. After Jesus left Nazareth he went to Capernaum where we witness his activities in two scenes.

First, he went to the Capernaum synagogue and astonished the people with his authoritative teaching. While in the synagogue, a man oppressed by a demon started causing a commotion. So Jesus, without ceremony, magic words, loud noises, etc., simply commanded the demon to be quiet and come out, and freed the man from this oppression. The people were rightly amazed at his authority to command unclean spirits and news of this traveled fast.

In the next scene, Jesus went to Simon's house and healed Simon's mother-in-law's fever. The word used in verse 39 is rebuked. Jesus sharply reproved the fever and it left her. Again, there was no ceremony, no magic words, but only Jesus' authority. Then people from all around brought those who needed help to Jesus so that he stayed up all night laying his hands on those with diseases and rebuking demons that oppressed others.

Jesus fulfilled the passage from Isaiah that he quoted, but not in the way they were expecting. He did not lead anyone on any grand revolt against Rome. Instead his ministry revolved around teaching at synagogues, setting free those oppressed by Satan, healing the sick, and finally liberating them from sin by dying on their behalf. Jesus here demonstrated a balance between satisfying spiritual needs and caring for physical needs of people. His ministry was truth proclaiming and compassionate.

Among many churches today, there is a debate about our focus in evangelism. Some believe that the only valid ministry is gospel proclamation, others believe that our primary focus should be feeding the hungry and caring for the sick. The issue that both sides of this argument seem to miss is that Jesus is God and Jesus is a man. He understood that eternity was at stake and he knew what it is like to be human.

I would argue that when we consider how best to serve the purposes of Jesus and his good news in the world, we need to have the same holistic focus he had. Jesus met the spiritual needs of people and had compassion on their physical needs. We may not have the same supernatural power of Jesus to heal the sick, but we can demonstrate the same heart of compassion by meeting their spiritual and physical needs.

A good example of this type of holistic ministry can be found in the history of the Evangelical Church here in UAE. Did you know that it was the physical care provided by missionary doctors in Al Ain during the 1960’s that God has used to generate favor within the royal family of this country? That is why they are so generous as to allow Christians to build churches and worship freely whereas just to the North this is not yet possible.

The good news Jesus proclaimed was good news both spiritually and physically. Up to this point things seemed to be going well for Jesus. He claimed to be the Messiah who fulfills Isaiah's prophecy and it seemed as if the people there were going to believe him. But then the question came, "Is this not Joseph's son?"

You see, Jesus was known in his home town as the son of the carpenter, not the Messiah and that was exactly their problem because, The good news must be received by faith.

The question asked in the synagogue was really a challenge against who Jesus claimed to be. Jesus perceived the truth of the question that what they really wanted was a miraculous sign of some sort even though they likely still wouldn't believe if they got one.

Instead of giving them what they wanted, Jesus gave us a very helpful guide for inciting murderous riots. Just as the people were displaying doubt about him, Jesus really let them have it in v.24-27:

24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 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, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 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.”

Jesus mentioned two Old Testament events that clarify his intentions as Messiah.

1. Elijah and the Widow (1 Kings 17:8-24): God sent Elijah to a gentile widow during the severe drought he had proclaimed. God supplied the widow with flour and oil until the drought finished, and healed her son from the brink of death. After that she proclaimed her faith in God -> Jesus said that there were certainly many Israelite widows struggling to survive at that time, but God passed over them all and only showed favor to a foreign widow and her son.

2. Elisha and the commander of the Syrian army (2 Kings5:1-27) Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army who led raids against the borders of Israel had leprosy. On one raid he carried off a little Israelite girl and made her the servant of his wife. She told him that Elisha the prophet could heal his leprosy. After getting permission from the king of Syria, he went down to Israel to find Elisha, but was very disappointed with his instruction to bathe in the Jordan river. After being convinced by his servants, he returned and did as Elisha had instructed him and his leprosy was healed. After this, he committed to worship only YHWH. -> Jesus said that there were many lepers in Israel at that time, but God passed over them all and only chose to heal the commander of an opposing army.

Both of these events contain three elements that are important to understanding why Jesus brought them up. First, they are both stories of gentiles who listened to a prophet of the Lord and put their faith in God. Second, they take place during times that Israelites remained faithless. Third, they both reveal God passing over his chosen people Israel to bless these faithful gentiles.

For all of us Gentiles, this is really great news! The gospel is not for Jews only, but anyone will be accepted by God if they respond to Him in faith. For the people in the synagogue at Nazareth, this could have been good news also. The problem was that the expectation of many first century Jews was that they were favored by God simply by being born an Israelite.

When Jesus showed from scripture that this was not the case, instead of responding to the good news in faith, they were deeply offended. In v.28-29 we read

28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 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.

This event reveals for us a very important truth of the gospel. That is, for those who respond in faith, it is wonderful, glorious news. But for those who will not it is offensive in the extreme. Let’s look at two statements Paul made in his letters to the Corinthian church.

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)

Think about that for a moment. To atheists, humanists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and even Jews, our good news is at best foolishness and at worst the offensive smell of death. Unless God draws them and the aroma of Christ becomes the fragrance of life and the cross becomes the power of God. The good news is available to all who respond in faith.

This brings us to the next point. The good news must be received by faith while the Lord's favor lasts.

In verse 19, Jesus said he had been sent to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Have you ever waited in expectation for something? I remember when I was very young and I ordered something by mail from the back of a magazine for the first time. It was just a fake book with a safe inside the cover, but I remember expectation I felt in waiting for it to be delivered. I checked the mailbox every day hoping it would be there, every day disappointed but hopeful.

I imagine that this was something like the experience of faithful Israelites waiting for the year of the Lord’s favor that Isaiah prophecied. And here in v. 21 Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The time for liberty, sight, healing, and all the blessings of the acceptable year of the Lord had finally come. Once again though, they had to respond in faith, but they also had to respond right away. You see, this bright light of God’s favor also casts a shadow upon those who would not respond in faith.

There is a curious thing about Jesus' reading of Isaiah 61 in verse 19 of our text that reveals this shadow. That is, he stopped reading in the middle of the sentence. The full quote of Isaiah 61:2 reads:

"to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God."

During my time in college, I lived in a suburb of Sydney where the trains only came once per hour. Whenever I made an appointment to meet someone in the city I had to plan accordingly to be sure I got there. Now think about this for a moment, when is it good news that the train is on time and when is it bad news? Naturally, if I am at the platform when the train arrives on time, it is good news. But if I am not there and I miss the train, it is bad news. It’s the same with year of the Lord’s favor.

We now live in a period of time in which it is possible to receive the good news by faith and be saved. But it will not last forever. The time in which it is possible to repent and believe the gospel will come to an end. For all those who do not respond in faith while they can, there year of favor will be followed by the day of judgment.

Therefore, for all who will put their faith in the One God has sent to be the sacrifice for our sin, this age of salvation is great news. We don't want to miss this train. In fact, we need to order and plan our whole lives with this age of salvation in focus because there is no second chance. The good news will become very bad news for all who do not put their faith in Christ when the year of favor ends and the day of vengeance begins.

In the midst of this lies a great dilemma for us who proclaim Christ. That is, how can we hold out the wonder of salvation to people without also exposing them to the terror of hell? The truth is that we cannot. The reality of eternal separation from God in Hell is unavoidable. Even though it makes the gospel offensive to many people, even among the church, it is integral to the gospel if sin is as bad as God says it is. You see, only in the context of knowing how wrong and deeply evil our own sin is does the age of salvation really become good news.

Jesus came to proclaim the good news. It was not the good news people expected and not the good news that many of them wanted. And this is still true today. In the end, there are only two possible responses we can expect as we proclaim the good news of Jesus: faith or rejection. Just like Jesus faced in Nazareth and Capernaum.

Two Towns Demonstrate Two Responses to Jesus

Nazareth and Capernaum are side by side in our text today. In both towns, Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom of God. One wonders if he taught from the same text in Isaiah. In the first town he was violently rejected whereas in the second town he was gladly received.

In Nazareth, Jesus preached the good news and it filled the people there with such wrath that they tried to toss him off the cliff the town was built on. They rejected Jesus and his good news. After "passing through their midst," Jesus went to Capernaum and taught there too, conceivably the same message as in Nazareth. The people of Capernaum however were amazed at his authoritative teaching and saw his power as an expression of his authority. They believed Jesus and received him. They didn't want him to go, but begged him to stay.

Everyone who hears the gospel of Jesus will either believe it or reject it. There is no middle ground. When you have faithfully proclaimed the good news, you can only leave it in God's hands to draw people to Himself. They will either love it or hate it. Even Jesus was rejected in his home town. We also will be rejected by family, friends, and coworkers because of the gospel. There is always a risk involved in telling the good news because for many it is actually bad news.

Naturally this is not easy, but for the joy we have in Christ and for the hope that others also will share that joy, we must continue to proclaim this good news.

On the Way to the Cross

We have now seen Luke 4:16-44 close up, so now let's step back and see how it relates to Jesus' journey toward the cross. Well, there is a saying, "don't let your mouth write a check that you can't pay." The point of this saying is that you should only promise what you are able to deliver. The bible goes a step further than this in Psalm 15 where one of the answers to the question, "Who may dwell with God?" is "he who swears to his own hurt and does not change."

Can you imagine how things might be different in our world today if our leaders lived by this? Or if even we lived like this? Keeping your promises even when doing so means hurting yourself is a virtue according to God. A virtue that Jesus possessed and displayed in our text today.

When you look at Jesus' life and ministry in the context of his journey toward the cross, one striking thing you should notice is that many of the things Jesus said and did relied on his death on the cross for fulfillment. In other words, every time Jesus preached his good news and anyone believed in him, the people of Capernaum for example, he in essence wrote a check with his words that he would have to redeem through his own pain at the cross. He knew the full extent of what that meant for him.

At the cross, Jesus would face the terrible, full strength wrath of his Father to redeem everyone then and now who puts faith in him. In this light, being chased off a cliff in his hometown must have seemed a small thing. Jesus love for those people was so great and his love for us is so great that he preached his good news and gladly accepts all who come to him.