17.5.15 – A Grace Opportunity Blown – Peter Cheyne

We have been following the early part of Jesus’ ministry in John’s gospel but, at this point, those who have studied these things say that the next incident is found in Luke. You will remember that Jesus was in Galilee. The first part of Luke’s passage summarises Jesus’ Galilean ministry: READ Luke 4:14-15

Jesus ministered in the power of the Spirit. What He did, He was empowered to do by the Holy Spirit. News about Him spread through the whole region. He obviously travelled around. He taught in the synagogues of the various towns and villages and He was very popular. People praised (or, worshipped) Him. He was obviously quite a sensation.

Then Jesus visited His home town – the town where He had grown up – Nazareth. I want to look at this in two halves: first, the offer and then the rejection of that offer.

Let’s look at the offer. READ Luke 4:16-22.

Jesus read from Isaiah 61. Presumably that was the reading for the day. Isn’t it amazing that God had planned that this passage would be read on this day when Jesus was in the synagogue in His home town, because it is Jesus’ mission manifesto? In His home town, He announced His mission.

Again, it started with the empowering and the leading of the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me. He has anointed me… He has sent me…”. Next Sunday is Pentecost, when we will remember the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. Prior to the church receiving the Holy Spirit, Jesus had already modelled what it was to be Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered. He offers the same gift to us, and we need it.

Jesus said the Holy Spirit had anointed and sent Him to do five things:

  Jesus offers… To whom?  
Proclaim Good news The poor Have nothing to contribute
Proclaim Freedom Prisoners Trapped
Proclaim Recovery of sight The blind Don’t see reality. Don’t get it
Set Free The oppressed Pushed down (by circumstances or people)
Proclaim The year of the Lord’s favour    

Look at what Jesus offers. How good is that? His ministry would be about freedom, release, healing, newness – in short, it was about experiencing God’s favour; God’s grace.

Now look at the “to whom” column. Who was it for? Would you describe yourself as poor or a prisoner or blind or oppressed? What if we add an explanation?

How would you summarise the right hand columns? The needy. The extremely needy. Those who knew clearly that they were needy (or came to realise it.)

I think we need to understand the right hand column both literally and figuratively. There were people who were literally poor. Often the poor were those who were rejected by society and so had no means of support. But there were also the poor in spirit – those who knew they were spiritually needy, spiritually bankrupt; those who knew they had nothing to offer and were desperately in need. There were those who were literally blind and those who were blind in other ways – who didn’t understand the things of God; who just didn’t get it. We have no record of Jesus releasing literal prisoners but there were people who were prisoners in other ways – people who were prisoners to greed, or to addictions or to poor choices.

So let us test this. Who actually received Jesus’ ministry? Who experienced the grace of God? Give me some examples.

  • Lepers – the poor, rejected, desperately in need
  • Demon possessed – prisoners, oppressed
  • “Tax collectors and sinners” – rejected, considered beyond God’s love
  • Woman at the well – poor, rejected, prisoner to a desire for love sought in all the wrong places, used by men.
  • Bartimaeus – literally blind
  • Royal official (last week) – poor. Desperately in need and able to do nothing
  • Nicodemus – doesn’t appear like one of the most needy but actually was blind

What about the group of people who received most of Jesus’ attention? The disciples.

  • They didn’t always recognise their need but sometimes they did.
  • Often blind
  • Often inadequate – e.g. unable to heal demon-possessed boy
  • Came to Jesus asking for help – “Teach us to pray”
  • In the end, completely broken and bereft – defeated, had nothing to offer

The greatest evidence of their awareness of their neediness was their prayerfulness. After the resurrection and before Pentecost, the apostles joined together constantly in prayer (Acts 1:14).

God offers amazing grace. Who receives that grace? Those who know they need Jesus. Those who are humble and come seeking help. Those who are in prayer.

Jesus went to His home town and offered that amazing grace. Were there people in Nazareth who needed Jesus? Were there people who were poor or spiritually poor? People trapped in bad situations; trapped in their sin? Were there people who needed their eyes to be opened or people who were oppressed – carrying heavy burdens? Undoubtedly there were. He said to them, ‘I am the One who can give you this freedom; through me you can experience the grace of God. This Old Testament prophecy is being fulfilled today in your hearing.” There could have been huge rejoicing in Nazareth if only… If only they had been humble enough to receive what Jesus offered.

But something went wrong. READ Luke 4:23-30

We can sense the beginnings of scepticism in the question: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? How can this boy we know claim to be the Messiah? “Jesus detected their cynicism. “You want me to prove myself, don’t you? You want me to do in my own town what you hear that I did in Capernaum. Other people have welcomed me and accepted me but my own townspeople are sceptical. No prophet is accepted in his own town.”

Then Jesus gave two examples from their history- both from the time of Elijah and Elisha. When there was no rain for three and a half years in Israel, there were many widows – many who were in desperate need, many who died of starvation. During this time, God performed a miracle. He gave one woman a jar of oil that never ran out. But it wasn’t an Israelite widow. It was a Gentile in the region of Sidon. Imagine it! There were many suffering Israelite widows but it was a Gentile who received the miracle.

Likewise, there were many in Israel with leprosy during the time of Elisha, yet not one of them was healed. Oh just a minute, there was a person healed but he was a Gentile; Naaman, a Syrian.

Well, the people in the synagogue were furious! How dare He compare them to one of the most sinful periods in Israel’s history! How dare He suggest that God loves Gentiles more than them! How dare He suggest that they were far from God and their enemies were much closer!

Isn’t it interesting that the hated Samaritan woman and many people in her town, had come to believe, but the people of His own town, Nazareth, were sceptical and easily offended?

Opportunity knocked and they told it to go away. They had the opportunity to experience the grace of God bringing healing and freedom and they missed out.

Why? Because they didn’t want to admit they were the poor, the blind, prisoners, the oppressed.

They believed they were close to God and it was others who were far away. Those who think they are closest to God tend to think they are OK. But Jesus came for those who know that they are not OK – who know they need Him. Jesus said that He came for the sick, not for the healthy. No one is healthy but some people think they are and that they don’t need a doctor (Mark 2:17).

God does want the poor to hear good news. God wants those who are trapped to be set free; the blind to see and the oppressed to be released. The danger for us is to think that we are in church; we know God; we are the ones He loves. We will receive His goodness.

But the question is not whether we are in church. It is whether or not we receive Jesus. Are we humble, deeply aware of our need of Him? Do you identify with those labels? Are you spiritually poor, or a prisoner, or blind, or oppressed? It is the humble, who are aware of their need, who receive God’s grace.

The key evidence of the apostle’s humility and awareness of their need, was their prayerfulness. The same is true for us. Our prayerfulness is an indicator of our humility and neediness. Prayerlessness indicates that we think we can cope by ourselves. Prayerfulness says we need God.

That is true for us individually and as a church. As a church, do we feel that we are in desperate need of God or are we going to grow through our own efforts? If we desperately need God then we need to be desperately praying. I hope that you are regularly praying that we will see a move of God in our church but can I also encourage you to join one of the prayer groups or to meet with others to pray for this church? If we want to experience God’s grace, let’s cry out as needy people.

Luke has emphasised how Jesus ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit. We need power way beyond our own human abilities. We need to see the power of God working in us and through us. Just like the apostles before Pentecost, let’s continue together constantly in prayer seeking the Holy Spirit power we so desperately need. Let us beseech God. Let us plead with God.

Are there people in Mornington who are poor, blind, prisoners or oppressed? Are there people who need to experience the grace of God? Could there be huge rejoicing as people experienced new freedom and new understanding and their burdens lifted? There are thousands of them. That is why we need the power of the Holy Spirit. That is why we need to be in our knees before God. There are people all around us who need Jesus.

Jesus’ mission is still the same. He still comes to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed. Nazareth could have experienced that but they missed the opportunity. Instead of saying, “Jesus we need you”, they said, “Jesus, we know you.” It would have been very humbling for the people who had watched Him grow up to say, “Jesus, we need you.” But that is exactly the point. It requires humility. It requires the humility to say, “God, I have nothing to offer You. I am blind. I am powerless. I am trapped. Jesus, I need you.” It is those who cry out from their poverty who experience the year of the Lord’s favour.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

Jesus said, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)

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