Summary: Jesus offered the people in the syngogue at Nazareth ’the Year of Jubilee’ - release from the bondage that the fall of man has brought but they refused to accept it.
THE YEAR OF JUBILEE
We’re going to have to use our imagination this morning/evening. We must imagine that we’re transported in time to the year 28 AD, when Jesus was beginning his ministry in the land of Israel. Instead of sitting in a church building we’re sitting in a synagogue in Nazareth, a town of Galilee, of about 20,000 people. There was only one Temple in the land, and that was in Jerusalem, the capital city, but there was a synagogue in every town and village. It was there that the Jews would gather every Sabbath day to worship Jehovah, their God who had revealed himself through the patriarchs and prophets of Israel over the best part of 2,000 years. The synagogues were designed for worship and preaching, much like our churches today.
So here we are sitting in the congregation. The president of the assembly looks around for someone to read the passage of Scripture. I wonder who will do it this morning, he thinks to himself, and then he spots Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary. For 30 years Jesus had lived in that community working as a craftsman in the family carpentry business. Some months earlier he disappeared into the countryside. Reports had filtered back to his hometown of a religious revival down by the Jordan associated with John the Baptist, a fiery preacher of the same tradition as the prophets of Israel who had become part of history some 500 years before. But Jesus had a quieter style and had quickly established a reputation as a perceptive teacher as he moved through Galilee teaching in the synagogues.
There was a breath of fresh air in his ministry. It wasn’t the dry as dust stuff that the religious leaders of his day were serving up the people arguing over obscure points of interpretation of the legal code. What was so different about Jesus? There must have been something about him that we read that news of his ministry ’spread through the whole countryside’ and before long he was being ’recognised and honoured and praised by all’ (Luke 4:14). We’re not given any specific details as to his words or actions that sparked off such enthusiasm, but it’s not difficult to imagine the situation. He had come into Galilee ’in the power of the Spirit.’ Yes, that’s why his ministry was so dynamic. It’s a word not to be forgotten by anybody who seeks to lead others in worship. May we be delivered from the deadness of ’services as usual’ and be liberated into the place where God speaks and people hear the word of the Lord and are blessed.
St Paul had this in mind when we wrote of his visit to the church at Corinth, ’my message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (I Cor 2:4). It was ’being in the Spirit’ which gave the Old Testament prophets their insight into the word of the Lord for their particular time; it was ’being in the Spirit’ which gave the Apostle John his unique vision of the risen and triumphant Christ in the book of the Revelation. It’s the same Spirit of God that gives life to our worship and ministers the presence of Christ. This is something that the people of God have known throughout God’s revelation of himself: when God met Jacob in the wilderness, Jacob could but say, ’How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God: this is the gate of heaven’ (Gen 28:16). May we know more of these times when, as the hymn says, ’heaven comes down our souls to greet’.
But back to the synagogue. As the president of the synagogue looked around the congregation I’m certain that Jesus caught his eye because Luke tells us that Jesus got up. He didn’t have to be asked twice. He had come to that meeting, not because it was the correct thing to do on the Sabbath day, not as an observer, but as a participator. What a lesson to church attendees! Meeting for worship is much more than a social gathering - we can do that just as well at a club or committee meeting - it’s meant to be an encounter with Almighty God for which we need to be prepared.
When the Queen comes to Guernsey and holds a ceremonial Chief Pleas think of the preparation that many hundreds of people go through for the privilege of merely being present. The dress shops in Town must make a killing! But that’s not the preparation that the Lord looks for when we come to church. Our external appearance isn’t nearly so important as our spiritual preparation. Do we come with a sense of expectancy? Are we like the Apostle John, ’in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day’? (Rev 1:10). It makes all the difference to whether our service is an encounter with God or a non-event.