Summary: A sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
During this season of Epiphany, the baby who was born in the manger on Christmas comes alive for us. During this season, we see who this child really is. We see Jesus in many different ways during this season. Last Sunday, we saw that he was concerned about his mother and wedding party he had attended. Jesus spent some time in a social context, he spent time with his family and with his friends. He spent days, not just a few moments of time that was his supposed duty, but Jesus valued the time he spent with his family, getting to know them, getting to see them as people and as friends. And in today’s gospel lesson, we see Jesus in a different light. We see him in the synagogue and it was his turn to read. He turns to a passage on Isaiah which is our first lesson and reads it. Then he sits down and begins to explain the passage, to bring the passage alive for the people.
To fully understand all the significance of this passage, we must first understand the Jewish synagogue system of worship. In the synagogue, sacrifice was not done. The synagogue was a place for teaching and reading. The temple in Jerusalem was the place for the priests to offer sacrifice to God, but in the synagogue, men came to learn. Another difference between the synagogue and the temple was in the temple the priests were in charge, but in the synagogue there were no priest, no preacher. Each man had an opportunity to participate in the time of reading and learning. A man would volunteer to read a passage from the scrolls of the Old Testament, and then afterwards, he would sit down and explain what those passages he read meant to him.
So on this day, Jesus was taking his turn in the synagogue to read the lesson and then to explain it. He picked a lesson that was very familiar to the Jews, a lesson that stirred up the hearts and the passions of all Jews. This passage from Isaiah was a passage of hope, a passage of deliverance, a passage that reminded the Jews that God was indeed still with them, still caring for them. This was a great passage to read, because it was one of the favorite passages from their ancient traditions. Then Jesus hands the scroll back to the attendant to put away, returns to his seat, the eyes and the minds of the men present follow him, for they know that he will now explain the passage, he will teach this passage to them.
Jesus sits, and he begin to speak, and speak he does. He begins his sermon with the most amazing sentence, He really grabs their attention by saying, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus is saying today he has fulfilled this scripture, today he is God’s salvation to the world.
Our text stops with this first line of his sermon, but next week we will have the rest of his sermon and the reaction of the men in the synagogue to his preaching. But today, we dwell only on Jesus’ first line, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus is dropping a bomb shell on this congregation. He is shaking them up. He is telling them that he is God’s salvation in the world. Through him God’s deliverance, God’s promise of hope, God’s promise of freedom has come to his people. Jesus is revealing something about himself, he is making clear his mission, his calling, his task as he goes about his ministry on this earth. Jesus is setting the scope, the limits, the horizons of his ministry.
I think as we look at this text for us, as we try to see how this text fits our situation in life, we need to dwell not on the fact that Jesus surprised his synagogue with this remarkable statement, that he was God’s salvation, nor do we want to look ahead and see the reaction of those people to this statement of Jesus, for we will deal with all of that next week, but today I think we need to concentrate on what it means that Jesus is our salvation. What does it mean that he has fulfilled this passage in Isaiah for his time and for our time.
I think the best way to get a handle on this is to first look at this passage as Isaiah said it to his people many years ago. The people had returned from captivity in Babylon. They were trying to rebuild their ruins, but things weren’t going very well. The people were getting discouraged, they thought God had abandoned them. Times were hard, food was scarce and hope for the future was in short supply. The people were so desperate so full of mourning that they even covered their heads with ashes, and wore sackcloth, the garment of mourning. But Isaiah comes and says to all of this God is here, He will deliver, He will save, He will make you a mighty nation. Through you, God will keep his promise to bring salvation to the world. This passage is one of hope, of freedom, of release, a passage of salvation.