Luke 4:14-24 “The Start of Ministry”
The last place we left Jesus was on the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem. That must have been a sight to see. All the worshipers and priests there look up and see Jesus there on the roof. The devil had brought him there as the last temptation—to throw himself off the top of the temple so that the angels might catch him. How DOES Jesus get down from the top of the temple? We do not know. We assume that there was a miracle involved. After all, they did not have an elevator to the roof like on the Empire State building.
Interestingly, even though Jesus is dropped off right there at the temple, he decides not to start his ministry in that place. That would have been a grand setting for the start of his glorious preaching and healing, but rather he is hiking back to Galilee. He is healing and preaching along the way. It is clear from our text that he had some serious ministry going on in Capernaum before making it back to his home in Nazareth.
Yet, all of this traveling from the time of his temptation in the wilderness, and the forty in the wilderness itself, is done “con solo,” that is alone. Jesus has not called his disciples yet. And, one of the great questions we should ask in regards to the text this morning is where is Jesus’ family when he returns to Nazareth. Where is his great homecoming? Where is the cake and ice cream? He is strangely alone in his own hometown it seems. The start of Jesus’ ministry, not unlike the end of his ministry on the cross seems to be a strangely lonely ordeal.
Yet, we know that the Spirit of God is with him. That is the first verse today, as it was last week. We should take solace in the fact that indeed the Spirit is with us in our loneliest times. Indeed, we are never ever fully alone when we believe in God in heaven and Jesus as our Lord. His presence in our lives means that we are never really alone.
Also we see that Jesus seeks others out in his hometown. Although his disciples are not yet with him and his family is strangely absent, he goes to the synagogue, the church of his day, to be with other people. If you are feeling alone, going to a church is a real lifesaver.
I also wanted to point out most specifically the author’s, that is Luke’s, explanation of Jesus going to the synagogue. It was the Sabbath and that was the custom of the day. We will see that Jesus and later his disciples are very happy to go anywhere to preach the good news, but this day was the Sabbath, and it was the custom to go to church.
I really adore this understanding! You see, today many people do not go to church on Sunday because they would rather sleep in, go to the mall, or do almost any other thing. They do not accept the custom that is rooted in the Ten Commandments, number four, “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”
This is the case despite the fact that those same people have lives rooted in customs. Every birthday they bake a cake and put candles on it—because it is the custom. They paint eggs at Easter because it is the custom. They put up lights and a tree at Christmas because this is the custom. They carve pumpkins, eat turkey and cranberry, and even pinch people not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day—because it is a custom. However, the one custom ordered by God to His people—the one custom affirmed in our reading today by Jesus himself—is summarily set aside. Jesus went to pray with others in the synagogue because it was the Sabbath and the custom was to go to be with God’s people on the Sabbath.
Jesus goes to the temple and he is given a text to read. That is where the worship starts—with the written Word of God. Even for the ministry of Jesus Christ, it starts with the scriptures!
This last summer in Switzerland I was talking with a Pastor who was super excited about a new innovation in his worship time on Sunday morning. He had parishioners read the Bible in public at the start of his worship. I was really baffled by his excitement.
I have never regularly attended a church before that did not start with a public reading from the Bible. I have been to churches from time to time that have a half hour of praise singing and then a long sermon without a public reading of the sacred text. The sermon might mention a few scriptures, but you will never know the true context of what is being said. To hear the public pronouncement of the Word of God is the start of worship!
Jesus is given the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah and reads Isaiah 61. Isaiah happens to be my favorite OT prophet. Seemingly he is Jesus’ favorite prophet too. Jesus quotes Isaiah more than any other prophet. It is the prophecy of a caring God who wants to save all people—but not just save them to heaven, but to save the people of the earth in their commonplace lives.
The theologian Marcus Borg makes this point about God’s sending of Jesus that everything that Jesus did was about making the present earthly population more righteous and godly. It was about establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. God really is about poor people, captives, blind, and oppressed. Sometimes we might forget that. Jesus is reminding us now. Jesus started a “justice-based” ministry in his day. He did not hang out with the Sadducees in Jerusalem. He went out to be with the people in need in the countryside. This should be the start of ministry always, looking to the needs of the people around us.
The people are amazed at his reading of the scripture because he reads with authority. He then adds that the prophecy is fulfilled in our hearing. The Kingdom of God is established. It was established as soon as the King was born on earth. The scripture says that all the eyes were fixed on Jesus.
Last week the power went out in the middle of the worship service. If you were here, you will recall that I had to raise my voice to preach without a microphone. Sorry for raising my voice in church! Ruth had to switch from organ to piano in the middle of a hymn. We all sang one verse without accompaniment. Bill noted that we stayed perfectly on pitch while that happened.
Now I have been thinking about this because I have heard in other churches that the power going off meant the people did not know what to do. In one church, the people just started getting up and leaving the service. The pastor did not know what to do, so he just started talking about just about anything. Yet, in our church, it really did not matter so much; we stayed focused on Jesus. The praise continued. The Word was given. All eyes stayed fixed on Jesus! In fact, I was really amazed at how intent we were to continue to worship Jesus even when other things are happening around us. Let us always keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
In Jesus’ day all eyes were fixed on him until he said something that got people a little bent out of shape. We did not read that far, but it is important to understand that this is the story of Jesus about to be killed by the people of his hometown. “No doubt you will want to see miracles!” Jesus chides. ‘You all are like the people of Israel in the time of Elijah and Elisha, and that is why God went to outside of Israel to do miracles!” Elijah was sent to Sidon in Lebanon. Elisha was sent to heal a Syrian.
So, Jesus senses that everyone was watching him because they thought that he was about to do a miracle—as others had reported he was capable of. He had been living in Nazareth for thirty years, and now they think that he has just started doing miracles! I find that a little funny to say the least.
This reminds me of Moses before the Pharaoh in Egypt. You will recall that God had given Moses a staff that seemed to have the ability to do many miracles in God’s behalf. Exodus 4:1-5, God takes the staff in Moses’ hand and causes it to become a snake. God then tells Moses to pick it up again. It becomes a staff again. God tells Moses that he is doing this so that others will believe that God has sent him. From verse 5, “That they may believe that the Lord the God of their fathers. . . .has appeared to you.”
Those people are watching to see if a snake is going to appear. They are waiting for some kind of magic from Jesus. They really are not interested in the coming Kingdom of God. They are not interested in helping the poor and oppressed. They are not interested in freeing slaves. They want to see Jesus put on some kind of a show. When they do not get it, they get irked.
What does Jesus give them? It says he tells them the truth! And, that is in a way a miracle. In this day and age of “post-truth” politics, it is absolutely a miracle if we hear the truth about anything at all!
Then, Jesus does his other miracle. He escapes the crowd just by walking away! Yet, if he had just walked away, he would have been caught and thrown down the hillside. No, the Bible says that he just “passes through the crowd.” Of all the miracles that Jesus does, this is the most fascinating to me. You see, in this world, we can just be part of the angry crowd, or we can follow Jesus and miraculously pass right through it!
This is the start of Jesus’ ministry. Let it be the start of ours too. Amen.