Help the Hurting, Support the Lame
from sermon series
“Learning from Isaiah”
by Pastor Dave Strem
Used by permission
This sermon in Nazareth was Jesus’ inaugural sermon. Scholars agree that Jesus had read something that was not the normal reading for that time. It was not the Haphtarah, the scheduled reading for synagogue worship. In other words, He did something that was almost never done, especially by a layman, especially by a carpenter’s son. He chose his own text, a specific text for a specific day, for a specific purpose. Luke (Luke 4:18-19) tells us that He unrolled that scroll until He found that specific text, for the specific purpose of announcing his mission.
It was early in the morning on a Sabbath when bearded men with long robes passed between pillared columns and took their seats in the room. A room that was lit with low-hanging, oil-burning lamps. In the very center of the room was an angled desk atop a low platform and backless benches were arranged on all sides looking toward the center. A balcony above was filled with women, with wives and daughters of the men occupying the room below and a row of dignified men sat in front of a heavy curtain at the far end of the room. One of them rose from his seat and spoke briefly to several others in the room. Finally, he went over to a carpenter, a young carpenter whose name was Jeshua ben Joseph, Jesus, son of Joseph. The room was full with many men standing when Jeshua walked up to the raised desk in the middle of the synagogue, the same place where as a thirteen year old boy He stood during His bar mitzvah. The eyes in the room are riveted on His lean form that was even more gaunt than usual because of the recent ordeal He had experienced during a 40-day fast in the wilderness of Judah. An air of expectation arose in the room as He ascended the rostrum. Sensational rumors had been spreading all over the countryside about Him. The Sabbath appearance in His hometown of Nazareth today might bring something special. The carpenter’s strong voice began reciting a series of prayers and then He waited briefly while the Chazzan, the man whose duty it was to carry the heavy scrolls from the cabinet to the rostrum, made his way over to Him. He unrolled the bulky scroll with skill as the crowd waited. He found the passage and lifted His eyes to the congregation and spoke without another look at the scroll. “The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me,” He said. Immediately, puzzled looks were exchanged among the men as they recognized this is not the scheduled reading for the day. Up to that point Jesus had done everything in the synagogue in a customary fashion. But this was unconventional. This was a jarring departure, it was unexpected. The son of the carpenter was reading from a passage of His own choosing. The ancient words flowed from His mouth, ringing in with new meaning. He finished the passage: “The spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then, in surprise and quietness, this carpenter rolled the scroll up and handed it back to the Chazzan and sat down in his seat. He looked around the room at the man and then in the stillness, He said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Words that do not mean a lot to us, but it meant everything to them. Jewish bible scholars interpreted this passage as referring to the Messiah. Jesus was telling them, early in His ministry, that He was their Messiah.
Isaiah is filled with warnings of judgment and sprinkled with promises of hope. In Isaiah 58:1 it says, “Shout it aloud and do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion. To the house of Jacob declare their sins.” Then Isaiah 59:1 says, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save nor his ear too dull to hear.” Further down verse 20 adds, “The redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins.” These verses promise that God is going to send His redeemer and deal with sin. Then in Isaiah 60:1, we find a promise of how good it is going to be: “Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. Darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over all the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” Hope is coming.
After a Hebrew reads Chapters 58-60 with the general promises for deliverance and divine action, he reads Isaiah 61 that speaks about the One who will come to do the things promised in Chapters 58-60. It was Isaiah 61:1-2a that Jesus read and applied to Himself. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to announce that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” That phrase “to tell those who mourn of the Lord’s favor” rang in the men’s ears. They knew that referred to something the Old Testament calls the year of jubilee. God gave Israel a custom that is interesting. As I tell you about it, keep in mind what debt has done to many in this country. Every seventh day God called the Sabbath, a special day of rest. It was to be a day of focusing on important things, family relationships, and our relationship with God. Then He gave them another tradition to follow. Every seventh year was also called a Sabbath. The purpose was to give farming land a rest to replenish. They would not farm that land for an entire year. Then after every seventh Sabbath year, or 49 years, the 50th year, a year of jubilee would commence. The year of jubilee was special year. In that year all slaves would be set free. All men whose poverty had forced them to sell their lands would receive them back. All those who had lost their family members because of slavery or imprisonment, would be reunited with their loved ones. Get the picture. If grandpa, who had to sell his land to pay a debt and then finally himself to provide for his family, he would get to come home in the year of jubilee. His house, his land, his family would be completely restored, a fresh start. God wanted the people of Israel to have their land continually, and to see it distributed to all the people, not just the rich. And so every 50 years it reverted back to its original owners. Families would be reunited and made whole again. It was a reminder of God’s grace and forgiveness.
You can be sure the Israelites looked forward to that time every 50 years, especially those who were poor and oppressed. It was comforting to know that one day all would be forgiven. Can you begin to grasp the heritage and the power of Jesus’ selecting Isaiah 61:1-2a to read? Jesus brought worldwide jubilee, not just for a year, but every year and every day. Israel was waiting for a temporal, temporary jubilee, but Jesus brought an eternal spiritual jubilee, and later will bring new heavens and a new earth (Revelation 21-22). Until Christ’s blood covers our sin, we are all slaves to sin. Each of us has a debt to God and it is a debt we will never be able to repay. But Jesus proclaimed, “I have come to give you life and abundance. I am the good news. I bring healing, forgiveness, liberty and deliverance. I bring jubilee. Freedom for those who feel controlled. Release for those who feel trapped.” When you call to God in prayer, trusting that Christ paid it all for you and you throw yourself on His mercy and grace, then you receive pardon. Your record is wiped clean, the ledger is marked “paid in full.” I hope that is you today. I hope you can call yourself a “paid up” child of God. The year of jubilee freedom is still going on, so spread the good news about it. If it is good news for you, then it is good news to someone else.
Jesus defined his purpose at the outset of His ministry and the purpose of the church is to partner with Him in His purpose. The purpose of every local church is to equip believers for worldwide ministry. We are to bring the healing power of Jesus to broken hearts around us. We are to proclaim the power of God over evil. That is the purpose and mission of the church. A church does not exist for its own benefit, but actually for the benefit of others. The leadership of a church is not there just to meet its members’ needs, but to show them what they can do to meet the needs of those in their community. Like our master, we are here not simply to be served, but to serve.
To help you answer the Lord’s call to ministry, we want to help you think, not in terms of, how can my church meet my needs and cater to my preferences? But how can my church help me meet my neighbor’s needs? Do you see the difference? The longer a church exists, the more likely its resources are used for its own preservation rather than outreach and evangelism. The natural human tendency is to design ministries that meet our own needs. God’s tendency is for us to design ministries that meet the needs of a lost world.
Being a Christian defines your stance before God. You have accepted Christ as your personal savior. Being a disciple defines where you are going with God. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. We are called not just to make Christians, but to make disciples. And so our focus is equipping believers for worldwide ministry. That does not mean there will not be Bible studies and Sunday School classes and family fellowship events and youth and children’s activities and women’s and men’s groups, but it does mean that we want to be diligent to ensure that all that we do helps us to achieve our purpose of equipping believers for worldwide ministry.
Most people miss the incredible impact of what Jesus said in the synagogue. After all, there are many texts that Jesus might have taken for his first sermon. He could have stopped a few chapters earlier at 42 and simply read, “Here is my servant whom I will uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight. I will put my spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not falter nor be discouraged until he establishes justice on the earth.” But that is not the passage Jesus chose. He chose none of those texts, nor did He choose one of the hundreds of other passages that speak of His coming. Instead He chose a simple one with only 24 Hebrew words in it. Jesus’ mission statement made it clear that people are His priority. People who are broken, people who are battered, people who were bruised by the lost world around them. If you look closely at Jesus’ purpose statement, you see that it is all about restoring and strengthening people. And that is the church’s mission, as well. Our purpose is worldwide ministry. Catch that. Not church ministry. Not church-centered ministry, but ministry that takes Jesus to the streets of your town, of your city, of your country, and finally the streets, hills, and valleys throughout the world.