"The Spirit's Anointing - for Uplifting Ministry"
Jan.21/07 Annual Meeting Lk 4:14-21
Let's start today with a little exercise. This'll help us get into the dynamic of what Jesus does in our text from Luke, where He describes His mission. In a moment I'll ask you to close your eyes and picture a whiteboard in your mind's eye. On this whiteboard you're to take your virtual marker and write something: that is, your top 3 goals in light of relationships and eternity. Note - that ought to disqualify earthly goals such as "I want to make a million dollars" or "to own a mansion": I'm talking about LASTING goals, God-honouring ones. Your top 3 goals in light of relationships and eternity; what's most important for you to be and do in this life? Got it? OK, let's start. Close your eyes - you've got 1 minute!
[after a minute] There now, were you able to come up with some top goals? Do you want to share them? These aren't for grading or comparison! Mine would be something like this: 1) come to love and know the Lord better, walk with Him and discover His fulfilment of my personal gifts and abilities. 2) be a good husband to my wife and father to my family [not to mention grandfather to any imminent grandchildren!]. 3) shepherd the flock of churchgoers God has entrusted to my care, and lead them to discover the ministry He has waiting for us.
Were yours similar or different? Anyone want to tell us what you came up with? [pause - if no volunteers, can share during fellowship time after] It's not surprising if other people figure prominently in our top goals, those closest to us. As Christians, one of the most important things is to love God and love one another. Today as we review Jesus' own declaration of His personal "Mission Statement" at Nazareth, we see it reveals whom God most concerned about helping - through our particular gifts and calling.
Be Prepared: Frequency & Familiarity
Luke gives us a bit of a lead-up to something so significant as Jesus' Mission Statement. This passage comes right after the account of Jesus' temptation by Satan - His rejection of wrong goals such as personal pleasure (bread), power (earth's kingdoms), and fame (jumping from the pinnacle of the temple). V15 says He returned to Galilee "in the power of the Spirit"; there intervened about a year's worth of ministry in which the word about Him spread, He taught and performed miracles, becoming widely acclaimed. In v23 those at Nazareth refer to what they've heard Him do already in Capernaum. So He comes to His hometown where He'd been brought up, accompanied by exciting reports and rumours. Will He live up to His press clippings?
But there's more to His history than just His most recent miracles. V16, "On the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom." First of all, note that Jesus prepared for His mission by FREQUENCY: He made it His habit to attend worship, regularly. This is what He was 'used' to doing. Jesus didn't suddenly emerge like a meteorite: for some 30 years He had soaked in Sabbath worship and the word. He's an example to all of us when we're tempted to skip church on Sunday or oversleep on our daily devotions.
The revolution begins with setting aside time regularly to attend to God (give Him your attention). Bruce Larson comments: "That's something to keep in mind when we are tempted to rationalize. 'I can worship just as well at the eighteenth hole; I can worship on the lake in a sailboat; I can worship under the morning sun on the tennis courts.' On the Sabbath day, Jesus went to church, however dull or interesting it was. On the Sabbath our Lord sought the faithful people of God."
That's Frequency; also, Familiarity helps prepare us for our mission. V17, when Jesus stood up to read, "The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written..." It's not certain whether there was a fixed lesson He was supposed to turn to, or whether as visiting Rabbi He could choose any passage. Either way, He knew His way around in Scripture. He was familiar with how to operate the scrolls, which turned on a sort of rack between two spools. He found Himself in God's book, God's revelation of what He was about to do.
If we would be keen to know our place and purpose, God's mission for us, it helps to be familiar with His word. The Lord's not going to give you a special cause which runs counter to the Great Commandment, or Great Commission, or the Ten Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, or other apostolic teachings. This week I was listening to a Ravi Zacharias recording in which he quoted the last rantings of Jim Jones as he persuaded hundreds of adults and children to drink fatal poison. Thinking we're 'above Scripture' (or smarter than God) can lead to dangerous and life-threatening heresy.
Another help in this area of Familiarity is experience in God's church. Other people can help us know ourselves and where we fit in well in the life of the body. A spiritual gift assessment is another tool that can help us discern His purposes for our life.
For Immediate Release
And just where does Jesus find Himself? Surprisingly, He reaches back some 700 years to the oracles of the prophet Isaiah. The prophet was foretelling the deliverance of Israel from cpativity in Babylon, how God would restore the disciplined tribes to their land in Canaan so they would be a planting for His glory. But these very words of restoration become a nutshell summary of the ministry of the Messiah they came to hope and long for. The words in vv18-19 are from Isaiah 61(1-2) with a phrase interjected from Is.58(6). Listen - here's Jesus Mission Statement: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
When I asked you to visualize your top 3 goals, probably there were what you'd consider some Very Important People as part of that. If this is a summary of Jesus' top goals, who are HIS VIPs? The poor; prisoners; the blind; the oppressed...Kind of surprising. The religious people of Jesus' day, the scribes and Pharisees, probably expected the Messiah to come and rescue the righteous, those who had it 'all together' spiritually speaking - but Jesus' target group is totally different. The needy; those 'captive at spear-point', feeling trapped; those who can't see their way ahead; those whose hearts are breaking from hardships. Not the 'deserving' (on another occasion He quipped it's not those who are well who need a physician, but the sick - Lk 5:31). No, it's those who are down-trodden and at the margins, who don't have anything to boast about, that He's come to help. For it's the year of the Lord's FAVOUR - grace.
A couple of times the word "release" is used here ('freedom for the prisoners / release the oppressed' - same word): "release from bondage or imprisonment; forgiveness or pardon, of sins (letting them go as if they had never been committed), remission of the penalty." Christ is our Deliverer, releasing us from bondage of all kinds. Robinson comments on the word translated 'oppressed' literally bruised or broken: "One loves to think that Jesus felt it to be his mission to mend broken hearts like pieces of broken earthenware, real rescue-mission work. Jesus mends them and sets them free from their limitations."
Sometimes we can get trapped, stuck like that fuel truck with the back wheels just over the edge of our driveway, 15 tons sinking it up to the axle: spinning the wheels but not going anywhere. We need Jesus' tow-truck to come and hoist us out of our emotional bondage, or the blockage of our circumstances. He frees us up! The phrase, "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" resonates with Jubilee. Leviticus 25(10) tells us that was the 50th year, the Sabbath of Sabbath years, which the priests were to announce with trumpets signalling all debts were forgiven, and lands returned to their original owners. Jesus proclaims liberty, He re-enfranchises what we'd lost due to sin.
The critical home-town crowd was looking for proof their 'local boy made good' was really the Messiah others were talking about. Jesus clips this passage from Isaiah and points to it as proof of His credentials. Release and deliverance are here now, they're already happening. Jesus did the same thing when the disciples of John the Baptist (then imprisoned) came asking whether He was really the expected Messiah. Jesus healed many as they watched then turned to them and said, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." (Lu 7:22) The miraculous signs were the predicted proof.
How ought the church's credentials mirror those of Jesus? Should we not also be showing practical release to the burdened? Bruce Larson comments: "Jesus gave them the credentials of Isaiah and claimed them as His own, and they were all in the area of social concern...These are still the authentic credentials of the people of God. God's Spirit is at work where personal and social concern are demonstrated. If we are God's people, we care about the physical, social, temporal needs of the world. Our authentic credentials are not primarily in the area of self-improvement, our spiritual maturity, or our knowledge of Scripture and theology...We still get hooked on the wrong kinds of credentials. Let's suppose for a minute that Mother Teresa is being examined by her spiritual superiors. They find that her nun's training did not include Greek and Hebrew, that she failed her Scripture-memorization course. They're concerned that she doesn't speak in tongues and has never attended a successful churchmanship seminar. Such a scene is ludicrous. Her credentials are that God is using her to care for the poor and the outcast. She needs no other credentials, nor do you and I. When the Spirit of God is upon us, these are our credentials."
Does such a grand mission seem a tall order? It's meant to be. In fact, it's meant to be so big that it's impossible in our own strength. Note the opening words in v18: "The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because Has anointed Me to...[etc]" It's only by the Spirit's power or anointing that we can conduct uplifting ministry on Christ's behalf. Does it seem inconceivable that we could manage to construct a church building or branch out into multiple ministries in the community? Excellent! That means we're thrown upon God's resources, we've got to depend on Him to make it happen. Note the context of these verses back in Is.60:21 and 61:3: God's covenant people are supposed to be a planting 'for the display of God's splendour", [NLT] "in order to bring Myself glory". If we could do it in our own strength, on our own steam, God wouldn't be glorified; we'd be tempted to boast we did it on our own. The Spirit's involvement is the hallmark that 'it had to be a God-thing'.
Today's the Day
Are you ready for great things to happen? Our text ends with v21, in which Jesus says to the keenly attentive crowd, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." What an opening line! "Today this word has come true, right as you heard it." The prophecy, dormant for 7 centuries, suddenly sprang to life and was looking them in the face. A commentator writes, "It was a most amazing statement and the people of Nazareth were quick to see the Messianic claim involved. Jesus could only mean that the real year of Jubilee had come, that the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah had come true today, and that in him they saw the Messiah of prophecy."
Are you excited to see what the Lord's about to bring to pass through your life, and our adventure as a local church? Jesus promised His followers would do even more astounding things as we partner with Him in faith; John 14:12, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."
Today we praise God for another wonderful year together, by His grace, as review what He's accomplished through our Annual Report. He has provided; He has guided; He continues to stretch us as we purchase land and make plans for ministry areas and eventual construction. People are launching out in leadership in various groups; individuals are 'plugging in' to their area of gifting; even something like increased participation in leading parts of worship has been a stretch. This week a local store-owner approached me offering ministry space downtown if we were interested in providing counselling to victims of domestic abuse. A youth drop-in would be a real possibility at minimal cost. Another member of our congregation is feeling a nudge to start a program for pre-schoolers. The rubber of grace is hitting the road!
It was good to hear what's happening in our area at the Wingham Ministerial this past week (graciously hosted at affordable rates by some in our congregation). St Andrews Presbyterian is offering space for Janine Schultz' By Peaceful Waters Christian Counselling ministry to operate as a local base. Melissa & Adam Shepski (workers with Youth For Christ) have a youth group of about 30 going in Brussels, and are welcomed into the halls and cafeteria at FE Madill. They host a lunch-time discussion group/Bible study. It's reported young people there, some of them former self-proclaimed atheists, are discovering Jesus as a real option: one of these recently said, "I'm starting to think I'm on the wrong team."
So start today to "proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" - even small favours count, as His Spirit prompts. Be on the lookout for those who are poor, burdened, stuck - who need Christ's uplifting kindness.
A couple was loading their car in the parking lot of the immigration service in Laredo, Texas, when a long-haired young man holding a pair of scissors approached. "Can anybody here cut hair?" he asked. "I can't get a Mexican tourist visa until I get a haircut." After taking full account of his striped flared jeans, bare chest, and peace beads, a gray-haired woman in the next car volunteered. She snipped and clipped with obvious pleasure, while the young man bemoaned the locks falling around his feet. A small circle of amused tourists gathered to observe the impromptu barbershop. When someone remarked that a haircut was worth ten dollars, he groaned even louder. As she finished cutting, the woman said, "Haircuts are only seven dollars in my hometown, but this one is worth ten dollars - to me." And having said that, she handed the surprised young man a ten-dollar bill, climbed back in her car, waved, and drove off. Let's pray.