Summary: Jesus comes to us with a message to reach out to those who are on the edge of society but also to realize that we are in need of his ministry of healing from sin.
I had arrived only a couple weeks before in the Czech Republic and was living with a retired Czech couple in a small village. Being the only American in the area I was somewhat a celebrity. One day a couple elders from a local church visited me to ask if I would preach in their church later that summer. I agreed. And so the Sunday morning finally came and I met early with my translator to go over what I would say. When the time came I got up, preached and made sure I stayed within the 20 minutes they had given me. After I sat down there was a great stir and the pastor looked very flustered. I didn’t know what was going on but he got up and began talking for another 20 minutes. We closed with a hymn. The leaders were visibly disappointed in me and I didn’t know what I did or what I said. Finally, I found out that I was supposed to preach 20 minutes which didn’t count the translation – in other words a 40 minute sermon. No, they didn’t try to throw me off a cliff like they did with Jesus in Nazareth but in some ways it reminds me of that story. What happens when expectations are not reality?
In Nazareth expectations were high. People from Nazareth had heard about a man from their town who had been doing some amazing things in the country. Not long ago he had attended a wedding in Cana, only seven miles away and had turned water into wine. Then only recently he had returned to Cana, met a nobleman and had healed his son who was lying sick by the seaside of Capernaum. They were amazing miracles.
And he had been traveling from village to village attending and teaching in the Synagogue services and being “glorified by all” according to Luke. People are even talking about him being the Messiah. Their own who has become famous is coming home at long last to worship in the Synagogue of Nazareth. People were excited!
The Synagogue was like a local congregation where believers worshiped. Normally they met twice during the week for worship and then on the Sabbath for a special service. On that day the Chief Ruler of the synagogue would ask a leader or a special guest to lead the service. He would be the one to not only lead the service but also to be responsible for one of the important Scripture readings: the reading of the prophets. Since Jesus was the honored guest this Sabbath, he was asked to be the leader according to custom.
A traditional synagogue service from that time had two parts. The first half was liturgical. It was filled with many prayers that were read and occasionally a free prayer. The people had their own “creed” which was called “The Great Shema” (Deut. 6…The Lord our God, the Lord is One…).
The second half of the service was not so different from the second half of our service. The main focus was on the Scriptures. Whereas we have two or sometimes three readings, they would have seven. First a priest, then a Levite, and finally five ordinary laymen would read.
The last reading would be from the prophets and as I mentioned before would be led by the service leader – in this case it was read by Jesus.
After the last reading there would usually be a sermon which could be preached by any Israelite who was capable and didn’t require ordination. (They believed in “lay-preachers.”) And finally at the end would be a brief prayer and the service would be over.
So now we can enter into the situation of our text this morning. Jesus has just led the liturgical part of the service and then six men have come in front of the congregation to read their apportioned Scripture. Now Jesus stands up and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah is handed to him. He opens up the scroll to Isaiah 61. Now remember – there was no chapter or verse. Scripture WAS divided but not numbered. He reads from what we know as verse 1 and begins reading verse 2 and then stops and sits down. People are shocked! Why?
Jesus is filled with the Spirit of God. He is anointed and the Spirit leads Jesus to do something that is completely contrary to what is to be done. He doesn’t even read 2 verses. The rule was that each Scripture reader was to read 21 verses or else read several verses and then continue with a devotion or sermon. But Jesus stops short, rolls up the scroll and sits down. No wonder everyone was staring at him. Why did he do that?
Jesus knew their hearts – he knew what they wanted to hear and he knew what they wanted to see. These are people who had heard about his miracles and about his fame. They wanted him to do a healing for them – make a show! Do something to show his power!