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Good News of Liberation without Distinction

Date: 10 Apr 2022

Sermon Text: Luke 4:14-44

Speaker: Pastor Luwin Wong

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Rejoice in the Liberating news of Jesus (4:16-19)

The fifth of May is a big day in Holland. On that day, the Dutch celebrate Liberation Day. Because in May 5th, 1945, Holland was liberated from Nazi Occupation during WWII, after 5 brutal years of hardship, hunger and oppression.

Liberation day mark a full day activity throughout the Netherlands. It begins with a 5th of May lecture by an invited speaker, impressing upon the nation on how precious freedom is, and how it cannot be taken for granted.

It is followed by festivals. These Liberation Festivals taking place across the country, there is at least one major festival held in each of the Netherlands 12 provincial capitals. There will be music and activities relating to the theme of freedom. They will have meals called freedom feasts. And this year’s freedom feast menu includes a freedom soup, a celebrity chef created its recipe just for the occasssion. These liberation festivals have grown to become the largest single-day cultural event in the country.

And then the day concludes with a huge concert featuring the best of Dutch performing artists.

But what I perhaps ought to mention, is that Liberation Day is really the second half of a two-day event. On May 4th, the Dutch commemorate Remembrance Day. On that day, they remember all the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the fight for freedom. At 8pm, on Remembrance Day, the entire country is silent for two minutes. You will not be out shopping at the time because all shops are required by law to close at 7pm on 4th of May, so that the country can honor that two-minute silence. International football matches and even concerts will halt for two-minutes at 8pm sharp. Trains stop, buses stop, traffic comes to a standstill. If you are in public, you too stop and stand still.

Remembrance Day is serious, it is solemn, it is culturally sacred. And then it gives way to music and dancing and eating and drinking on Liberation Day. Because you celebrate good news. And liberation is such good news.

In our text today, Jesus sees his ministry as one of liberation.

14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. — Luke 4:14-15

Jesus began his public ministry by preaching. He went around the synagogues, which is basically Jewish church, and taught in the synagogue. And Luke reports that he was glorified by all.

I once told a friend that Charles Haddon Spurgeon was known as the Prince of Preachers. She responded, “Oh, who’s the king?” Jesus. Jesus is the king of preachers. In fact, if it has anything to do with Christianity, the king is Jesus. I hope we all get that by now.

But even if he’s the king of preachers, why would they glorify him for this teaching? If someone glorified me for my preaching (not that I’m in any danger of that), then surely something is amiss, surely sound preaching would lead the listener to glorify God, rather than the speaker. But they glorified him.

So what was he saying? The following verses tell us:

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” — Luke 4:16-21

This is a reference to Isaiah 61:1-2.

Three things to note: First, this is good news of liberation (v18-19).

Jesus has come to proclaim the good news of liberation. It’s liberation year for all in Jesus Christ. It’s good news worth celebrating. The church’s Easter Weekend, coming up next week, is the Christian equivalent for 4-5 May in the Netherlands.

The solemn commemoration of Good Friday when we remember Jesus’ sacrifice gives way to the joyful celebration of Easter Sunday where we rejoice in Jesus’ liberation.

But what is the nature of this liberation?

Well, we know it’s not a literal fulfilment of Isaiah 61. Because Jesus never released any prisoners during his ministry on earth. His cousin, John, who baptized him, was killed by Herod while in captivity.

Doesn’t “the recovering of sight to the blind” indicate that the prophecy is intended to be taken literally? Because Jesus did physically heal a blind man in Luke 18. But that healing is much more than a recovery of physical sight. It is spiritual in nature.

39 But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” — Luke 18:39-42

Do you see, his recovery of sight, is linked to his ability to see of Jesus for who he is – as the Christ. The recovery of his physical sight is a consequence of his spiritual sight.

Which is the reason why Jesus has also “open the eyes” of those who can see perfectly well.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. — Luke 24:28-31

These were two men whom Jesus met on the road to Emmaus after the Resurrection. They were not blind. But they did not recognize for who he was, so in that sense, they needed their “eyes to be opened” in order to see.

The same thing with the conversion of Paul in Acts. Blinded, because he didn’t recognize Jesus. And had his sight recovered by God.

In other words, it's not just the physically blind that needs their “sight recovered”. Because Jesus has come to administer a recovery of spiritual sight. He has come to liberate us from spiritual blindness.

Which means, that it’s likewise not a liberation from a literal prison that Jesus means when he says he has come to “set the captives free”. It is a liberation from spiritual captivity.

You may say, “I was never in captivity, I was never a slave, I was never imprisoned”. Well, yes we are. We are slaves to our passions and desires. We may be free to do what we want, but we are not free to want what we want. And like an addict, sometimes our greatest craving is detrimental to our being. There are people who go to prison for drugs, and return to prison because of drugs, there are people who lost family and homes because they keep returning to the casino, people who can’t stop chasing likes on Instagram, people who can’t stop grasping for a higher rung on the corporate ladder, for a bigger house, for a faster car, for a better spouse, people who can’t break free from the devilish tentacles of anger and resentment that wraps around their heart and chokes all love and compassion from it.

We all like to imagine we are free. But the reality is this: “What our heart most wants, our minds finds most reasonable, our emotions deem most valuable, our will is bound to choose.”

In that sense, all of us as humans, are bound.

Which brings us to the second thing to note about this good newsIt is liberation to live under a good rule.

Jesus sets us free to live righteously.

You know, when the Dutch celebrated the first Liberation Day on 5 May 1945. It’s not a celebration of freedom per se. It’s not a celebration of transition into anarchy and the abolishment of authority structures and rule of law and government.

Nope, it’s a celebration of liberation from the evil, oppressive, inhumane rule under the Nazi regime, and a transition into life under a government of their own choosing, a government that serves the welfare of the people. It is a celebration of a transition from an evil government to a good government. That’s the good news of Liberation Day.

In the same way, the liberation of Jesus is not to set us free so that we can now live however we please, without law and rule. It is a liberation from captivity to evil and darkness, where death reigns, and a transition into the kingdom of righteousness and light, where life flourishes. It is freedom to live in the kingdom where Jesus, the servant King reigns. That is the good news of the liberation that Jesus brings.

Which is why the good news is that of a kingdom:

43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…” — Luke 4:43

Third, this liberation is fulfilled in Jesus himself.

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” — Luke 4:20:21

Jesus isn’t predicting that a liberator will be coming. He is proclaiming that he is here. It is him. He is the Saviour, the liberator.

That is why all eyes were fixed on him. That is why they were all glorifying him. He is the chosen one who will save us from our spiritual captivity to sin.

But who is this us, exactly? Who has Jesus come to save? Who has he come to liberate?

In Luke 2, when the baby Jesus was brought to the temple, we see Simon “waiting for the consolation of Israel”, we hear Anna speaking of the “redemption of Jerusalem”. Is he to be a national Saviour?

When Donald Trump ran for POTUS, he ran on a platform of MAGA. Which means that he will take an “America First” approach to things. Is Jesus an “Israel first” saviour?

Renounce your Parochial view of Jesus (4:20-30)

On the 26 Aug last year, reports emerged that Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the world’s greatest football player, was going to sign a contract to play for Manchester City.

Ronaldo used to play for Manchester United who were fierce rivals with Manchester City, but that was more than a decade ago. But upon hearing that news that Ronaldo had signed for City many United took to twitter to post videos of them burning their Ronaldo jerseys. Within 48 hours, however, Ronaldo signed for United instead. So the jersey could have been saved.

But this is not a situation for rational thinking. No matter how many trophies you have won for United, no matter how loved you are by United fans, you will be rejected and hated the very moment you go to City. You’re supposed to be one of us, how dare you benefit one of them!

That’s the way tribal identification works. It creates in-groups and out-groups. It fosters a us vs them mentality. It breeds rivalry and hostility, and irrationality.

And a tribal mindset doesn’t just exist in football fandom. It’s everywhere. I’m from this school you’re from that. I speak this language you speak that. My skin is this colour, yours is of another. I’m from this denomination you’re from that. These are my people, those are not my people.

It is this mindset that resulted in the Jan 6 Capitol Riots. It is this mindset that brought about Brexit. It is this mindset that led to the war in Ukraine. It is a mindset that held sway in the synagogue when Jesus preached that day.

22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph's son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. — Luke 4:22-30

“Is not this Joseph’s son?” Now what did they mean by that? When we read it, it’s hard not to take it as a bit of an insult. Because who is Joseph to us? We hardly know anything about him. He isn’t Jesus biological father and he’s a carpenter. That much we know. So in our eyes, all Joseph was is a humble carpenter. And so being called “Joseph’s son” is pretty unflattering. As if the crowd was saying, “Get a load of this guy. Jesus the liberator? Gimme a break. Who does he think he is? More like, Jesus the carpenter amirite?”

But that doesn’t fit into the context at all. There are two clues to help us understand what they actually mean: (1) the way Luke sets the up the narrative, and the way Jesus responded to this comment.

Luke introduces the setting this way:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. — Luke 4:16

If the point was about geography, why add this descriptor to Nazareth? Because it’s not so much about the geography, but about the sociology and psychology of the Nazarenes.

The fact that Nazareth was “where Jesus had been brought up”, is significant to understanding the story. It means that Joseph isn’t a stranger, nor a mere humble carpenter. He’s a friend and a relative and a colleague to some of the men present at the synagogue that day.

“Is not this Joseph’s son”, therefore, is a statement of tribal identification. It’s saying, “Hey, what do you know, the liberator is one of our own! Joseph is one of the guys, one of us, and this is his son.”

Jesus caught on to their meaning immediately, and so he responded this way:

And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” — Luke 4:23

“Physician, heal yourself.” Which means take care of yourself, take care of your own. Focus on you.

And in order to make the proverb more explicit, he continues, “What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” In other words, Jesus knows that they want. They want him to be a Make Nazareth Great Again Saviour. A Nazareth First Liberator.

And Jesus firmly banishes that thought, he bursts their bubble on the spot.

He uses two examples from the Old Testament to make the point that God does not exclusively favour Israel. He may have chosen uniquely chosen Israel to be his people, but the intention was that through Israel the nations of the world will be blessed. God’s people existed for the good of others. It was never supposed to be an Israel-first mentality.

So Jesus uses two examples to make his point.

First, Elijah and the Widow in Sidon.

There was a great famine in Israel at the time. God ordained a 3 year drought. And many were starving. And if you were a widow, you were struggling in the best of times, what more in a famine. And Jesus said, remember, how at the time, Elijah the great prophet did not go to provide food to any widow in Israel, but was sent only to Zarepath, a widow in Sidon. Sidon was within Israel’s borders, but it was a Gentile nation, with their own gods and their own king. And they were a thorn in Israel’s side. But God chose to favour a widow in Sidon, ahead of the widows in Israel. Not Israel first, Israel after Sidon.

And then we have the example of Elisha and Naaman the Syrian

Naaman was a commander of the Syrian army (2 Kings 5:1), who was an actively at war with Israel at the time. Doubtless Naaman was responsible for the deaths and misery of many Israelites. Jesus said, remember that although there were many lepers in Israel, Elisha the prophet cured none of them, but he did it for Naaman the enemy. Naaman the outsider; Naaman the Syrian. It was not Israel first. It was Israel below Syria.

And upon hearing this, the Jews did a complete about-face. From marveling and speaking well of him, they were now enraged and tried to kill him.

And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. — Luke 4:29

Because evidence be damned, how dare Jesus suggest that God does not prioritize Israel over the Gentiles? How dare he suggest that “the year of the Lord’s favour” wasn’t going to benefit Israel more than Israel’s neighbours?

It isn’t. This good news is for all the people.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. — Luke 2:10

How dare he suggest that God doesn’t love Israel more than Israel’s neighbours?

But he really doesn’t. Why else would the great commandment, which reflects the heart of God, be to love your neighbour as you love yourself? If you were meant to prioritise yourself above your neighbours?

And who is your neighbour? Everyone, everyone. That’s the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Friends, are you able to live this way? Are you even willing? Or is a tribal mindset, a “me and my family-first” still the dominant perspective of your lives today?

Francis Chan was a pastor in California who wrote a book called Crazy Love. And within a year it sold 500,000 copies. Within 3 years it sold over 2,000,000 copies. He never a single cent of those royalties, because it all went to a trust which gave the money away to charitable causes.

And some of his church members told him, as husband and a father, that’s rather irresponsible, because he should have saved some of those money for his children, you know, in case of an emergency.

And this was his reply, “There are children starving now, there are children who do not have access to clean water and medication and education now, there are children being sold and trafficked for sexual exploitation now. Are these not emergencies? Or is it only an emergency when it comes to my family?”

Friends, the gospel of Jesus Christ does not allow us to draw neat lines between us and them. The command to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, doesn’t allow us to establish a neat hierarchy of “my family, my friends, the rest of the world”.

Because if we do so, we never seem to get beyond our families, some of us can’t even seem to get pass ourselves.

The Nazarenes in today’s passage, couldn’t even see past Nazareth, do you see? “Physician, heal yourself”, “Son of Joseph, prioritise the town in which you grew up”.

I wonder what Hermon might be if we loved our fellow Hermonites as much as we loved our families. Would the thought of leaving ever cross your mind? However busy you are, would you not make time, to meet others in Hermon, to serve others in Hermon? And if we are finding it hard to see past our own noses, how are we going to be a church that exists to bless the world? The church of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The gospel calls us to renounce our narrow, local, parochial view of Jesus, and to broaden your horizon of who he has come to love and liberate, not so much besides you, or in addition to you, but through you. Through you, for your neighbour, through your family for the church, through the church, for the world. That is the call of the gospel.

Respond to the Authoritative word of Jesus (4:31-44)

Finally, in the closing section of our text today, we witness Jesus not merely proclaiming liberation through words, but performing liberation through works.

And my question is, which excites your more greatly? His preaching or his healing?

31 And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority — Luke 4:31-32

And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” — Luke 4:36

See how Luke describes, those who witness the miracle of Jesus healing the man with an unclean demon. What astonished them? What amazed them? It wasn’t so much the miracle of work. It was the authority of his word.

Would you rather come to a plain old worship service like ours, where the preaching of the word is prioritized in a worship hall, or a miracle service in what they call a ‘healing centre’?

But didn’t Jesus do both, didn’t the apostles do both? Shouldn’t the church do both? It works, it draws the crowds.

Yes, Jesus did works of healing to accompany their preaching, and so did the apostles. But they did it for a reason – to authenticate their message. It’s easy to say that I have come to liberate, it’s difficult to actually free people from demonic captivity. Jesus wants to evidence that he is in fact who he claims to be – the fulfillment of the Isaianic prophecy.

Which means that the miracles serve as something like a certificate of authenticity. The careful record of Luke-Acts has authenticated the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. Which is the reason why, in order to persuade Theophilus of the certainty of the gospel message, Luke didn’t say, come let me show you a miracle. He simply said, “see what the Lord has done”.

The bible has shown us that Jesus is trustworthy, the bible has authenticated the apostolic gospel.

Now, if you were a promoter of this Rolex watch, what should be your focus. Our focus is not on the certificate, our mission is not to churn out as many certificates as possible, that is not the point. The point is not to draw the attention of the public to see how nice the certificate is. See the quality of the paper, is the type of ink, see the neatness of the font. No, you hold out to them the watch you know is real, and valuable. The point is the watch. No matter how many people would like to buy the certificate, you go, “Uhm, I’m selling the watch”.

The purpose for which Christ came, is to essentially proclaim the good news, and he performed the miracles evidentially. To authenticate the good news.

Which is why he was willing to cease his healing ministry, which was drawing a crowd, for the sake of the word ministry.

42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea. — Luke 42-44

We have not, the authenticated word, the authoritative word, the true gospel, in our possession. Our task is to proclaim it, to share it, to announce it to the world.

And for those of us who are hearing it for the first time today, I want to invite you consider your response to the good news of the king Jesus.

The liberation that Jesus brings is offered to you today. We are all captive to the sin, we are all heading for death. But the good news is that we can be freed and we live forever in this kingdom, if we only believe.

Would you consider Christ and his claims seriously? Would you respond in faith to him? I invite you speak to a Christian friend to ask more about Jesus, or to continue listening to what the bible has to say about him as we journey through the gospel of Luke. This good news is for you.

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