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3. Jesus’ “Nazareth Manifesto”

| Martin Charlesworth
Series 3: Episode 3
Luke 4:16-30

Jesus in his home, Nazareth, reads in the synagogue from Isaiah about the Servant of the Lord. This is Jesus' spiritual manifesto. The Spirit appointed him to preach, proclaim freedom from sin, heal, free the oppressed and declare God's favour. Mixed reception from his hearers.

Jesus in his home, Nazareth, reads in the synagogue from Isaiah about the Servant of the Lord. This is Jesus' spiritual manifesto. The Spirit appointed him to preach, proclaim freedom from sin, heal, free the oppressed and declare God's favour. Mixed reception from his hearers.

Transcript

Hello and welcome to Series 3 and Episode 3 and this episode is entitled: 'The Nazareth Manifesto'. It's about what Jesus said at the beginning of his ministry to define what his ministry was going to be like - what was going to happen when the Kingdom of God came, or was coming through everything that he was doing.

Introduction and Recap

We're going to read the text in a moment, which will be from Luke 4 but first of all, let's remind ourselves of the situation which we described in some previous episodes. After Jesus' baptism, going into the wilderness and going up to Jerusalem, he eventually came back to Galilee. That's the situation that's in the background of this particular episode. He came back to Galilee and, as soon as he came back, he started preaching. He started saying that the Kingdom of God had arrived; that people needed to respond to the arrival of the Kingdom of God. He went from place to place teaching - he taught in the Jewish places of worship, their synagogue - and he also started performing miracles - healings and deliverances from evil powers, or evil forces, operating within people.

Jesus' Home - Nazareth

This story has already begun to happen. It's been going on for a little while in Galilee, the northern province of the nation of Israel, far away from the capital city in the south - Jerusalem. Here in the north, things were beginning to happen - very dramatic things, things that indicated something unique was happening. I want to describe to you the situation in Jesus' hometown because the story in this episode deals with Jesus' hometown of Nazareth. The interesting thing is that he hasn't been in Nazareth since he left several months prior to this event to go to the River Jordan and to be baptised by John the Baptist, so the residents of Nazareth (the people who'd known Jesus for about 30 years, known him all his life) would have been hearing many stories about things that he was doing and what had happened to him - quite dramatic, remarkable stories but they, for the most part, hadn't seen him unless they'd travelled to other places. He'd come back to Galilee; he'd been operating down by the Sea of Galilee (a few kilometres away) based in a little town called Capernaum. He'd been to a nearby town, called Cana, where he performed a couple of miracles - we've looked at where the royal official's son was healed and water was turned into wine in a wedding. There were many stories circulating about Jesus but, from the point of view of people living in Nazareth, they hadn't really seen this amazing transformation. What they knew was that Jesus belonged to an upright family - Joseph and Mary's family. They knew he had four brothers (their names are given to us in the Gospels) and some sisters (we don't know how many sisters he had) so he was the oldest son in a large family. The family business was carpentry and building so Jesus would have spent many years working in the family trade. His stepfather, Joseph, may well have died by this time - he's not mentioned in the Gospels, Mary and all the other brothers and sisters are specifically mentioned. From the point of view of those in Nazareth, they knew Jesus as a godly, hard-working single young man, who carried on his family business and attended synagogue and was very devout and godly. They also, knew the amazing stories surrounding his birth - but that took place in Bethlehem, a long way away. Suddenly, they're confronted with a changed man! They'd heard about him but in this episode we are going to see the moment when Jesus actually returns, for the first time, to his hometown after he's started his ministry and he's become somewhat different. He's taken on a different identity; he's now performing; he's now living his life as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Deliverer of Israel, rather than just the carpenter's son. That's the background.

Our passage is Luke 4: 14 to 30. We've already looked at 14 and 15 in a previous episode but I'm going to read them again. Luke 4: 14 to 30:

‘Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, (and) to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn't this Joseph's son?” they asked. Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut (up) for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went (away).’

Luke 4:14-30, NIV
Jesus Chooses to Read Isaiah

It's a very dramatic scene that is unfolding before us: the first visit of Jesus back to Nazareth. The level of expectation and interest was enormous and when he was in the synagogue, and given the opportunity to make the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, everyone was wondering which passage he would choose. It seems that he chose this passage. He was given the scroll of Isaiah - every book of the Hebrew Scriptures (what we know as the Old Testament) in those days was in the form of the scroll made of parchment (made of animal skin, dried animal skin) and rolled up so you had to unroll it to find a place that you wanted to study or to read. That's exactly what Jesus did and the passage he chose is remarkable and surprising. It's the first few verses from Isaiah 61. This particular passage is one of a group of passages in Isaiah (the last of a particular group) which describes the work of a person that Isaiah prophesies will come to Israel who is known as ‘The Servant of the Lord.’ There are other passages to study that tell us about this person in earlier parts of Isaiah. We can find references in Isaiah 42, verses 1 to 9; Isaiah 49: 1 to 7; Isaiah 50: 4 to 9 and Isaiah 52: 13 to Isaiah 53: 12. These are passages that are prophecies about a person who Isaiah identifies as ‘The Servant of the Lord’ and this person is going to come, to bring salvation to Israel, give a message of salvation to the Gentile nations (be a light to the Gentile nations). This is a person who is going to come and suffer and die - which we see particularly in Isaiah 53 - and then in Isaiah 61 we see the ministry (or the work) of this person, this mysterious ‘Servant of the Lord’ described in detail. We know that this Servant of the Lord is another description of the Messiah, the Son of God.

Jesus' Manifesto

In this passage, which Jesus described as being fulfilled in that moment - taking place right at that time - there are a number of things stated about this Servant of the Lord. In fact there are five things stated. I want to mention these five things to you so you're clear what Jesus is really saying and why I'm calling this a manifesto. It's a spiritual manifesto, a bit like a politician might bring a political manifesto to say, ‘These are things that I intend to do when I'm in office as a political leader.’ Jesus as a spiritual leader, (having been anointed with the Holy Spirit, having been identified by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God and having been commissioned to start his ministry) now says here, definitively, the things that he will do and the things that will happen. This is the only place in the Gospels that he makes such a definition; this incident isn't recorded in the other three Gospels. Let's have a closer look at the things that are actually stated.

He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” When did this anointing take place? It took place by the River Jordan because at that point, when Jesus came up out of the river, having been baptised by John, the Father's voice is heard from heaven and the Holy Spirit comes on him in bodily form like a dove. We saw this described in earlier episodes and this is the moment when the power of the Spirit came on Jesus to fulfil his ministry. You'll notice in verse 14 that this point is made by Luke: ‘Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit’ and the Spirit has enabled him, first of all to proclaim good news to the poor. He's starting to proclaim truth; proclaiming what we call the Gospel, especially to those in need - the poor economically, socially, physically, mentally, and psychologically. People who are poor for one reason or another, who are in need of help, are the priority. (Not excluding other people but there's a priority here in Jesus' ministry). It's a preaching ministry, number one.

He's been anointed to preach and to proclaim ‘freedom for the prisoners.’ This is almost certainly a poetic way of describing the freedom from the imprisonment of sin. Sin imprisons us, it controls us; we don't really have control over our life if sin is the dominant force and the New Testament teaches us - especially Paul in Romans - that sin is like a driving force inside us. It's not just individual actions, it's an inner force, a selfishness or an orientation away from God, a desire to be independent of God, to do things our own way, to control our own lives and destiny. Jesus said, “I came to proclaim freedom for people who are imprisoned by sin through the good news that's being proclaimed”. In other words, through the work of Jesus - which, ultimately, is the work of Jesus on the cross when he died for us, making atonement, making it possible for us to be reconciled to God, for Christ to take our place in judgement so that we don't have to pay for our own sins. We're granted forgiveness, new life and the Holy Spirit. That Gospel will be explained much more fully as the story goes through, but it's there in embryo in these wonderful pithy and poetic statements: ‘He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.’

Thirdly, ‘recovery of sight to the blind.’ This is a direct reference to healing miracles - blindness being a common miracle that Jesus healed and one that the Jews often associated with the coming of the Messiah, like a symbolic miracle. Jesus was going to come and perform physical miracles that would heal the sick miraculously without any other intervention. This had already begun to happen but in the episodes that will follow this, we'll see time and time again that healing is right at the centre of Jesus' ministry.

Number four: ‘to set the oppressed free.’ Who is oppressed? Who is pushed down? As you read the Gospel stories, you'll find the people who are pushed down, controlled by external forces, are, most frequently, those who are oppressed by demonic or evil forces that have infiltrated their lives to one degree or another (maybe to a very small extent, maybe to a larger extent) and brought trouble mentally, and physical ill health along with it. He says he's going to set people free from such powers - we'll see examples of that following, very shortly, in the episodes that follow this one.

Then finally, ‘to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.’ This is an interesting expression which refers back to a special year in Jewish life, described in the Law of Moses in the book of Leviticus 25. It's called the Year of Jubilee and it took place every 50 years. Every 50 years there was a redistribution of land and economic resources to help the poor people and to make sure the rich people didn't get too rich. In ancient Israel, every tribe had land holdings. They had ancestral land that belonged to their tribe, their clan and their family. The whole of the land was divided up in this way. Over time, people were often separated from their land; they had to lease it out to others and they couldn't work on the land for one reason or another, and, after 50 years, the rule in the Law of Moses was that the land should return to the original family from whoever has taken over the land; and also if people have become household servants, or domestic workers, or farm workers under pressure or under force (bonded labour we might call it) they should be free; and also if they had debts, financial debts, they should be cancelled. Those three things happened in the Year of Jubilee. So Jesus is saying that in his Kingdom, something similar was going to happen. In other words, the benefits of God's Kingdom are not only spiritual (forgiveness of sins), not only physical (healing), not only taking us away from the power of satanic forces, but also material - in the sense that Jesus designed his Kingdom to enable the poor and impoverished to be lifted up, to have God's favour. We'll talk more about this theme in other episodes.

Jesus went on and said that ‘today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.' He's basically saying “These things will be starting to happen.” The response of the people was unusual and ambiguous because it looks at the beginning as though they're saying how amazing Jesus was. They say, “Wasn't this Joseph's son?” They're thinking, “He's Joseph's son. We thought he was an ordinary, godly, upright, hard-working Jewish boy but now he's proclaiming himself to be the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah!” They're trying to work out how can these two things be true at the same time. Jesus, by using some examples from the Old Testament in the time of Elijah and Elisha (two prophets in the northern kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament), points out that, very often, it's the outsiders (in this case the widow at Zarephath and Naaman, the Syrian) who received God's blessing when the people who should be in a place of blessing don't have the faith to believe. He's saying to the people of Nazareth, “You of all people should believe wholeheartedly in me because you've known me all my life; you know me better than any other people in the whole country, and yet you're ambiguous, you're uncertain and you're risking being unbelieving - not being able to accept the change that's taken place in me and my true identity as the Son of God and the Messiah.” This is the thrust of that particular second part of the passage, that's what Jesus is identifying: that the prophet isn't going to be welcome in his home-town. He's already said something similar in the discussion with the royal official in John 4 that we've looked at. Jesus appears to be suggesting that the people who know him, or have known him, are familiar with him, may find his messianic identity and mission hard to come to terms with. That, in fact, turns out to be the case here because they immediately turn very hostile. Remarkably, this story ends in a very difficult and controversial way because they get so angry with him for suggesting that other people will receive God's blessing before them, that they might be unbelieving, that they try and assassinate him. It's an extraordinary event, they get so worked up about it!

Outside the town of Nazareth, there is a little piece of raised land which looks like a little mini-cliff where you can literally go up, stand and look over and you could fall off the edge of it. This story relates to something that could have happened in the geography of the town. But Jesus ‘walked through the crowd and carried on his way.’ What an extraordinary story! What an important story this is for us! Here in the Nazareth manifesto we have a definition of what Jesus' ministry and the Gospel should be.

Reflections

In my final reflections, as I bring this study to a conclusion, I want to give us a few things to think about, and learn, from this amazing passage. The first thing I want to say is that from here we can say, without any doubt, that there are five clear dimensions to the Gospel message that Jesus brought and they're indicated in this passage. First of all, the Kingdom of God and the ministry of the Church is about preaching - especially to those in need. Secondly, it's about preaching that changes lives through the forgiveness of sins. This actually implies atonement and Jesus' death on the cross. Although it's not stated directly in this text it will appear later on in the narratives. It's about preaching - communicating, testifying about Jesus - and it's about the power of that message to change people and bring them freedom from sin. Thirdly, it's about supernatural power to heal. Fourthly, it's about supernatural power to overcome any spiritual darkness that lingers within us. Finally, it's about the fact that Jesus' discipleship community, his ministry (and subsequently the Church), will be a place that brings about economic benefits for the poorest people. It will bring help to those who are in urgent need; there will be God's help and grace to the poorest people. How will this work out in the life of the churches to come in the future? We're not told in this passage. We have to read the book of Acts; we have to study the letters of Paul, and other parts of the New Testament, to find out how this happens but I would say that wherever your church might be in the world - in a rich country, in a poor country - there will always be people in need and one of the priorities of the Church is to bring actual, practical help to people in need in our communities as part of the Gospel message.

The final thing that I want to say is that this passage indicates, very clearly, that the Gospel and Jesus himself divides opinion. Jesus divides opinion. Whilst the crowds were receiving him very warmly around Galilee and Capernaum (we've already seen a little bit of that in the narrative so far, we'll see more of it, much more later on); there are some people who turn against him. Jesus and the Gospel will divide opinion. That was true then; it's true now in the 21st century. It's true in my country; it's true in your country. It's true in my experience; and it's true in your experience and if you're a disciple of Christ, don't be surprised or alarmed if that should happen. Hold onto your convictions and hold onto your certainty of faith and remember that Jesus himself, in his own home-town of Nazareth, was, in this moment, rejected as the Messiah. Yet his ministry continued, very fruitfully, for all the years to come. These two realities - for and against, the division - are always there in the ministry and the life of individual Christians and disciples, and church communities in every nation of the world.

Thank you for joining us for this episode and I hope we'll be together again for future episodes.

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