Summary: Preached 1/31/2010 at Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, Little Cove for a joint service of the McConnellsburg Lutheran Parish.
Today is a big day for all of us in the congregations of the McConnellsburg Lutheran Parish, isn’t it? Today, for the first time in two years, you have your own Pastor in your pulpit. Now I hear that in the time leading up to my arrival, Pastor Joe Hall did a wonderful job as a part time supply pastor for the Parish, but there’s still nothing quite like having your own pastor, is there? Especially after such a long vacancy! In talking with a lot of you both when I was here for the call vote last month, and again since I arrived in town on Wednesday, I’ve sensed a great deal of hope for your future. Today marks a lot of new beginnings, both with a new pastor, and also with a new synod, as today marks the beginning of your affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Conference & Ministerium (ELCM) with my beginning as your Pastor.
I found it rather interesting that on my first day as your Pastor, marking the beginning of what I hope to be a LONG ministry here in the McConnellsburg Lutheran Parish, our Gospel reading takes us to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It takes him to his hometown of Nazareth, where He makes a rather bold statement. What was so important about what Jesus has to say that day in his hometown synagogue? What can we take from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry there to our ministry in the McConnellsburg Lutheran Parish? Those are the questions I want to explore with you in our time here this morning.
At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is fresh off His baptism in the Jordan river, and his 40 day temptation in the wilderness. He returns from these experiences to Galilee. He begins by stopping in the various synagogues, teaching as he goes from place to place. His teaching is pretty amazing, as we’re told in the text that he was “being glorified by all.” Needless to say, word is spreading about Jesus, and His teaching.
At this point in his preaching, Jesus stops in Nazareth. It’s the Sabbath Day, and Jesus does what any Jew wishing to fulfill the 3rd Commandment would be doing, be in the Synagogue for the Sabbath Day service. One of the customs of the day was for an establish Rabbi to read from a scroll, which would have contained the Scriptures, and the appointed reading for the day is this prophecy from Isaiah 62:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
This text is a prophecy to the people of Israel of the coming of the promised Messiah. If there was a people needing to be reassured of what God was doing for them, it was the Israelites. They were being warned that if they did not repent of their sin and turn to God in repentance and faith, they would be carted off into captivity. It’s a message of hope for the remnant that remained faithful to God and His promises in His Word. It told them what the Messiah would do for them. The good news the Messiah would bring is that He had come to set them free: free from all that troubled them in this life by bringing forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. To those who were held captive in sin, the Messiah would set them free from that prison. For those who were blinded by the things of the world, the Messiah would restore their sight to the things of God. To those who were oppressed by the wages of sin, the Messiah would set them free.
So this is the text that Jesus reads to the people assembled in the Synagogue that day. He hands the scroll back to the attendant, and sits down. His reputation as a teacher has already preceded Him, remember, it was being said that he was being praised by everyone. No doubt word had gotten back to Nazareth about Jesus. People were wondering: what would He have to say to us? What kind of amazing thing does He have to share? This has to be good. The suspense is killing us! (Similar thoughts to what you all had as I stepped into this pulpit for the first time today, right? Just kidding)
And what does Jesus say? “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (v. 21) Essentially, what Jesus is saying to those people in the synagogue at Nazareth that day is this: “I am that Messiah you have been hearing about, praying for, waiting for. I am the One who has the Spirit of the Lord upon me. That’s the Good News that I have for you today!”