Moving Beyond Entitlement to Repentance: Two Reactions to Jesus’ Inaugural Sermon (Luke 4: 14-30)

Preached at United Reformed Church of Clifton, January 17, 2021

This Wednesday, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States of America.  As a part of his inauguration he will deliver a speech in which he will try to bring some healing to our troubled nation and will sent his agenda for the next 4 years.  His inaugural speech will be the very first thing he does as President and it will define who he is.

This morning we have Jesus’ inaugural sermon and the start of his ministry.  In it we catch a glimpse of who Jesus thinks he is and what his agenda will be.

By the time Jesus came to Nazareth his reputation had preceded him. Luke 4:14-15 tells us

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

The phrase that he was “filled by the power of the Spirit” suggests Jesus has already performed some healing miracles.  So there must have been a certain excitement in the air on that Sabbath morning as everybody came out to see the hometown boy made good. 

When Jesus stood to read the scripture, all eyes were on him.  Now the scripture lesson morning was from Isaiah 61: 1-2.  You may recall that we read this scripture just one month ago and that it speaks about the coming of the Messiah.  When Jesus was done, he sat down and began to preach.  “The gist of his message was this: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

David Guzik points out that with these words Jesus answered three questions

  • “Whom did Isaiah write about?”
    Jesus answered, “Isaiah wrote about Me.”
  • What did Isaiah promise?
    Jesus answered, “Isaiah wrote of redemption.”
  • “When will this come to pass?”
    Jesus answered, “Isaiah wrote of now.”
    (David Guzik, Enduring Word Commentary

    https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/luke-4/)

Let’s consider these three points for a minute

First, whom did Isaiah write about?  Jesus replied, “Isaiah wrote about me.”

In Greek, when you want to emphasize a particular word, you move it either to the beginning of a phrase or to the end.  Joel B. Green in his commentary on Luke says that in this prophecy from Isaiah “The emphasis falls on the word ‘me.’  It is repeated three times in an emphatic position at the end of each phrase.”  (Joel B. Green. The Gospel of Luke, p. 211. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition) It’s as though Jesus is saying.

  • The Spirit is upon ME!
  • The Spirit anointed ME!
  • The Spirit sent ME!

That’s important.  Some people think that Jesus was just a great teacher who came to show us a new way of living.  But Jesus is more than that; he is the Savior, the Messiah! Jesus didn’t come to teach us; he came to save us. The Gospel first and foremost is not about how we live, rather it’s about knowing Jesus.  Once we know Jesus, we can learn how to live, but first we need to know Jesus. The Gospel is all about JESUS.

Second, what did Isaiah promise?  And Jesus answered, “Isaiah wrote about redemption.” 

In the second part of Isaiah’s prophecy, it says, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives … and to let the oppressed go free.”  Now our translation has done us a disservice here because, the same word that is translated “go free” is the same word that is translated as “release.”  So a more literal rendering of this verse would be “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives … and to let the oppressed be released.

Now why is this important? Joel B. Green tells us

Elsewhere in Luke-Acts, “release” is often translated as “forgiveness”— that is, “release from sins” or “forgiveness of sins”— with the result that Jesus is presented as the Savior who grants forgiveness of sins.  (Green, p. 211-212)

The fact that the word release is repeated twice in a very short time tells us Jesus’ mission is one of forgiveness.  Jesus came to release sinners from their guilt and also their self-serving perceptions and actions.

However, we can never receive that forgiveness unless we are first willing to admit that we need forgiveness.  There are no “good people” in the kingdom of heaven; only forgiven sinners.  As long as you are saying to yourself, “Well, I’m not as bad as some people,” then you don’t fully understand your condition.

Third, when will this come to pass?  And the answer Jesus gave is “Today.”  Joel B. Green puts it this way.

The appearance of the word “today,” so important elsewhere in Luke-Acts, keeps us from missing the point, particularly given its emphatic location at the beginning of the sentence. With the onset of Jesus’ ministry, the long-awaited epoch of salvation has been inaugurated. (Green, p. 214)

The time of waiting is done; the time of fulfillment has come.  Hence every day is now today, because now is the moment when we can enter into God’s new thing.

So how did the congregation respond to this message?

Their initial reaction was one of pride and approval. Verse 22 says, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?””

Dr. Randy Hyde says, “

This expression, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  Can be taken in at least two different ways. It could express their collective contempt. “Who does he think he is, talking like this? Why, he’s merely the son of the carpenter.”

[Or it could express their collective pride.] It’s a feather in their cap for someone notable like Jesus to be associated with Nazareth
.   (Luke 4:21-30 In and Out (Hyde) – Sermon Writer)

I think that the people were proud of Jesus. Luke tells us that the people of Nazareth are pleased with Jesus (at least at first.)  They are amazed at his powerful grace-filled words and everyone speaks well of him.  To quote Dr. Hyde again

Watch their buttons popping as they wonder if it might possibly be true. “Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter, the long-awaited Messiah… Could it really be true? If so, maybe he will do some of the same things in his hometown that he is reported to have done in Capernaum. Why would he not do the same for them? After all, he’s one of us!”

Now this is the kind of reaction that warms a preacher’s heart.  Every preacher, myself included, longs for the approval and affirmation of their congregation.  But Jesus knows better than to fall into the trap of being a people pleaser.  Jesus recognizes that their approval is only skin deep and they don’t fully comprehend his message. They’ve heard what they want to hear, not what they need to hear.  His message is only for those who know that they are poor and wretched, those who know that they are sinners.  His message requires not enthusiasm but repentance.

And so Jesus provokes them.  Robert Williamson, Jr., at the podcast Bible Worm, says, “Jesus not only prods them, he uses a cattle prod on them.”  He gives them a tremendous shock so that they will realize just how wrong they have gotten his message.  He says to them

“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”

I used to think that this was a statement of doubt and contempt on the part of the crowd, as if they are saying, “We don’t believe you.  Prove it by showing us some miracles.”  But after studying this passage, I have come to the conclusion this is really a statement of entitlement. 

The people of Nazareth think that Jesus owes them something.  “You’re one of us” they are saying, “so we deserve to be at the head of the line.” Joel Green tells us

Doctor, cure yourself!” was a well-known maxim in antiquity… [It was used] to insist that one must not refuse to do favors for one’s own relations if you do favors for others.  [In other words, “family first” or “charity begins at home.”] Jesus addresses the parochial vision of his townspeople directly, countering their assumptions that, as Joseph’s son, he will be especially for them a source of God’s favor. (Green, pp. 216-217)

“Jesus,” they say, “you’re one of us.  We’re entitled to your care.”

That sense of entitlement is still with us today.  This week I heard a story about how rich folks are trying to jump to the head of the line for Covid vaccinations.  In New York City there is a special kind of doctor, called a “boutique” doctor, who caters only to the rich.  If you can afford to pay them $20,000 a year, you get unlimited access to their services.  When the Covid vaccine came out, many of these boutique doctors saw a rise in the number of rich people wanting to retain their services.  They thought that a boutique doctor would enable them skip to the front of line.  Fortunately, that ploy did not work, because these boutique doctors do not have access to the vaccine. 

The people of Nazareth are infected with the same kind of entitlement. In order to cure them of their entitlement Jesus tells them two stories: the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper.  You may remember that we looked at the widow’s story last fall.  Both of these people were outsiders, both of them were not entitled to God’s mercy and grace, but God chose them and made them a part of his big story.  Jesus is saying to them, the fact that I grew up with you does not entitle you to special treatment.  God’s grace is for everyone and especially for those who are outcast. 

And this infuriated them.  When people who have been entitled all their life feel their entitlement threatened they often react very violently.  And so they took Jesus outside of the city to throw him off a cliff.  James Ernest says,

Jesus knew that the hometown congregation was composed of Nazareth-firsters. This crowd was composed of people who were proud to be not foreigners but Israelites. Seeing themselves—rightly! —as people chosen by God, they consequently expected—wrongly! —God, and anyone legitimately sent by God, to be all about serving them, caring for them, restoring their religious freedom, and expounding Scripture to them in a way that reassured them of their own importance in God’s program in the world.

And I think really Jesus was willing to do all those things for them! All they had to do was recognize themselves as the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed, no better or worse than the all the other poor, blind, oppressed captives in every other city throughout the ethnically mixed region of Galilee. But no. Nazareth first! Themselves first. And themselves not blind, but seeing. And Jesus will not pander to them. So they identify Jesus, with his offensively broad gospel of acceptance, as their oppressor. They will have none of his “good news.

James Ernest, Jesus meets the Nazareth-firsters (Luke 4:14–30) https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/179758045/posts/1137

This story becomes a model of Jesus whole ministry.  He seeks out those who are sick, poor and outcast.  He touches lepers, welcomes women of questionable virtue and eats with tax collectors, people who are not entitled to anything. And they welcome him. 

But those who are entitled, feel threatened by Jesus compassion and seek to destroy to him.  Will we stand on our entitlements or will take our stand with the poor, the outcast and the foreigners? Grace is a gift, not an entitlement. God’s grace is only for those who know they have no claim on it.

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