Jubilee (Redux)

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
8 July 2018
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost / Ordinary Time

Our sermon text for today is Luke 4:16-30.

Today I want us to pay special attention to the man, the message, and the mission of Jesus Christ. It can all be summed up in the good news of Jubilee.

Jubilee is not something we know much about or talk about much.

Hopefully, that will change after today.

We just read the sermon text for today and you saw that Jesus preached from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet and told two stories from the Book of the Kings.

Before we delve into our story in Luke 4, I want to fill in some of the biblical-historical background of this text.

Isaiah 61 echoes a merciful and gracious law which is found in Leviticus 25.

According to Leviticus 25, once every 50 years, on the Day of Atonement, God’s people were supposed to observe a Sabbath of Sabbaths and the priests were supposed to proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the people. (The Greek word for ‘liberty’ means ‘release’ or ‘forgiveness’.)

So the Year of Jubilee was designed and intended to be a time of rest, release, return, and refreshment for all people.

In a nutshell, the Year of Jubilee was a time of redemption and restoration.

Redemption because it happened on the Day of Atonement. All sins were forgiven and all debts were cancelled. Restoration because things lost were returned, things loaned were repaid, and things locked up were released.

Who says there is no grace in the OT?!

Jubilee was supposed to be a time of redemption from sins and debts, reconciliation with God and man, and restoration of people and property.

Sadly, the people of Israel refused to practice the law of Jubilee. As a result, they were eventually expelled from the promise land for seventy years. Even after all that, they refused to release each other from debts and trespasses.

Now, by the time we enter the synagogue in Nazareth (several hundred years later) we see that God’s people have fallen into a new state of exile. They are still in their homeland, but they are under the rule of the Roman Empire.

They are abused, broken, crushed, despised exiles under house-arrest.

So, it was in that context, with all that historical baggage, that Jesus came to Nazareth and entered the synagogue.

THE MAN – vv 16-24

Jesus came to his hometown, the place where he was raised. Everyone knew he was the son of Joseph the builder and all spoke well of him. What they did not yet know was that Jesus was a prophet and even more than a prophet. They are about to find out that Jesus is the Messenger of the Lord.

And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.

Just a quick side-note: Jesus was not a missing person when it came to church attendance. It was his custom to go to church. He was an active member of the local synagogue in his hometown—a gathering place where the word of God was read, preached, and discussed.

On this occasion Jesus was handed the scroll of Isaiah. (He was recognized as a Rabbi by his community!) He unrolled the scroll and found the text he wanted to preach—what we call the text of Isaiah 61.

One reason he chose this text is because it outlined his mission and purpose as the Christ, a messenger of redemption and restoration.

As was their custom, he stood up to read the Scriptures and sat down to preach.

And what did he preach?

He preached the good news of Jubilee from Isaiah 61.

This scripture and story serve as the Table of Contents for the rest of Luke’s Gospel. In it we see Jesus’ Mission Strategy.

When Jesus read “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he anointed me” he meant that he was the one set apart by the Spirit for a special mission and purpose.

In the OT prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with oil and formally ordained to serve in an official capacity. Likewise, when Jesus was baptized and the Spirit descended on him, he was anointed with the true and better oil of the Holy Spirit and ordained for the ministry.

Jesus was not claiming to be just a prophet like Isaiah, a priest like Aaron, or a king like David. Jesus was claiming to be the Christ, the suffering Servant of the Lord.

So according to Isaiah 61, the suffering Servant of the Lord was to be anointed with the Holy Spirit in order to do the nitty gritty work of preaching the good news of Jubilee to the abused, broken, captive, and despised people of the world.

The suffering Servant of the Lord was to come in the power of the Spirit to preach the gospel of redemption, and reconciliation, and restoration.

The Christ was to come and proclaim the good news of Jubilee, the acceptable Year of the Lord.

And that is what Jesus did.

After he was baptized in water and anointed with the Spirit he went throughout Galilee in the power of the Spirit, preaching the good news of Jubilee in all the synagogues (4:15).

THE MESSAGE – vv 16-21

Jesus cares about us body and soul, heart and mind.

That is why he preached good news to the poor –

like the crowd on the plain when he said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (6:20),

like his disciples who had left everything to follow him (Luke 18:28-30);

and like the widow who gave two copper coins (Luke 21:2-3).

Jesus cares about us body and soul, heart and mind.

That is why he proclaimed liberty to the captives –

like the woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten up. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed/released from your disability” (Luke 13:11-12);

like John the Baptist who was on death row wondering if Jesus was the Christ, the true suffering Servant of the Lord. And Jesus said blessed is the man who does not fall away because of me” (Luke 7:20-23).

Jesus cares about us body and soul, heart and mind.

That is why he proclaimed recovery of sight for the blind –

like the beggar who was sitting by the road to Jericho. As Jesus passed by he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight—your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God (Luke 18:35-43);

and like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus opened the scriptures to them on the road and when they sat at the table Jesus took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him (Luke 24:30-31);

and like the disciples in the upper room when Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. It is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” (Luke 24:45-47).

Jesus cares about us body and soul, heart and mind.

That is why he proclaimed Jubilee to the oppressed –

like the wild and naked homeless man who lived in a graveyard because he was possessed by a legion of demons. Jesus released him from demonic oppression and restored him to his right mind and clothed his body (Luke 8:26-39);

and like the father whose only son was afflicted by an unclean spirit that seized the boy, and made him cry, that shook the boy, and made him foam at the mouth, that shattered him, and hardly left him alone. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God (Luke 9:38-43).

Jesus cares about us body and soul, heart and mind.

That is why he proclaimed the acceptable Year of the Lord—the good news of Jubilee.

THE MISSION – vv 16-21, 25-27

Jesus was sent on mission to save real people in real life.

By declaring the scripture fulfilled in their hearing, Jesus was claiming at least two things:

(1) that he was the Christ, the suffering Servant of the Lord.

(2) that his hearers were the poor, the captives, the blind, and the crushed.

They needed the good news of Jubilee.

He was the Savior of the world. They were the ones he had come to redeem and restore.

Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He colored outside the lines of religion, culture, and politics.

Like the prophets before him, he crossed man-made borders to proclaim the good news of Jubilee to all the inhabitants of the earth — whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, rich or poor, male or female, adult or child.

He showed no partiality or favoritism.

But just in case we missed that point, Jesus tells two stories from the OT Book of Kings.

Not random stories, but relevant stories that illustrate what Isaiah 61 says:

Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks;
foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers;
but you shall be called the priests of the Lord;
they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God;
you shall eat the wealth of the nations,
and in their glory you shall boast.

According to Jesus, the gospel of Jubilee is for Jews and Gentiles.

The first story is about Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-24).

There were many needy widows in Israel during the drought and famine, but God sent the prophet Elijah on mission beyond the borders of Israel to a widow in Sidon.

Elijah entered the town and met a widow gathering sticks for a fire. He asked the widow for a little water and a little bread. At first she resists and hesitates.

She said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.

So, she trusted the word of the Lord and gave what little she had to the prophet. And God rewarded her gracious offering by generously supplying her with plenty of flour, water, and oil for the duration of the drought which he had sent on the region. Thus, he saved her life and the life of her son.

So, just a foreign, Gentile, poor, widow received Elijah as a true prophet of Yahweh and was saved, so the nations were going to receive him as the Lord and Christ and be saved.

The second story is about Elisha and the Leper (2 Kings 5:1-19).

Naaman was commander of the army of the King of Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he also had a form of leprosy.

The Syrians were a thorn in the side of Israel. They frequently sent raiding parties into Israel – they took property and people. Naaman’s wife had little servant girl who had been carried away from Israel by the Syrian army. The little girl knew about Naaman’s leprosy and informed her mistress about Elisha, the prophet of God in Israel. So Naaman secured permission and safe passage to visit the prophet.

When Elisha heard that Naaman was coming to see him he sent a servant out to meet him and commanded him to go wash himself in the Jordan River in order to be cleansed of his leprosy. After pitching a fit and putting up some resistance, Naaman repented and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times. And his flesh was restoredand became clean like that of a young boy.

So, just as a foreign, Gentile, leper, enemy received Elisha as a true prophet of God and was cleansed, so the nations were going to receive him as the Lord and Christ and be saved.

Why did Jesus tell these two stories? At least three reasons:

To show that Yahweh was always concerned about all the nations, not just Israel.

To show that the gospel of Jubilee – redemption, reconciliation, and restoration – is even for the Gentiles.

To show that he (like other missional prophets) would be rejected by his own people Israel and yet received by the nations of the world.

Application / Conclusion

Jesus was sent on mission to save the abused, broken, crushed, and despised on the margins of the world.

Jesus was not anointed by the Spirit to promote the health and wealth of white upper-middle class Americans only, but to proclaim the good news of Jubilee to the abused, broken, captive, and despised exiles on the fringes of the world.

So today we proclaim the good news of Jubilee to you–

To you who are poor, broken-hearted, captive, blind, and oppressed.

To you who are lowly widows in desperate need of bread for your souls and oil for your wounds.

To you who are filthy lepers in dire need of a compassionate touch and cleansing water.

To you who are dirty and diseased, like dead men in need of the cleansing Word and consecrating Spirit of grace.

To you we proclaim Jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favor, the gospel of God’s grace.

Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, to preach the good news of Jubilee to you, and to proclaim your sins forgiven, your debts cancelled, and your chains released.

The moment you turn from your sins and trust in him, he will declare all your sins forgiven and he will release you from all your bondage, guilt, and shame.

That is the good news of Jubilee in the name of Jesus Christ.