Jesus is Revealed… As the Prophet
A sermon based on Luke 4:14-21
Sunday, January 24, 2016 – Epiphany 3C
With popular movies like the Matrix trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Harry Potter series, the idea of prophecies and fulfillments are becoming very familiar. The problem with these prophecies, however, is that they're obviously all fictitious—the inventions of some author's imagination. Other prophecies, real ones, like those of the stock market analysts and those who make election predictions, or even those of the famous French "prophet," Nostradamus, don't always (in fact, rarely) come true.
That's the problem with most prophets. They're either invented fairy tales or they're regularly waaaay off base. Only a few dozen prophets have proven to be without error in every single one of their predictions. Those prophets of course, are the Biblical authors. Every word written by them has proven to be true (or will prove to be true) because these men were inspired by God. But no prophet was as great as the Prophet—Jesus of Nazareth.
This morning as the Great Rabbi returned to his home town and went to worship at the synagogue, he had the opportunity to guest preach there. And with everyone listening intently to what he had to say, Jesus read a prophecy from the book of Isaiah (the Old Testament lesson for this morning that we just read). And he pointed out that Isaiah was right on multiple levels. Not only was he right about the Israelites being released from captivity, but Jesus himself was the greater fulfillment of these verses. Jesus revealed himself as the Prophet sent from God, to fulfill all Scripture and to fulfill our salvation. Listen now to the Gospel Lesson for this 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany as it's recorded for us in Luke 4:14-21…
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 "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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20 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, 21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
I. To Fulfill All Scripture
Roughly 700 years before Christ, Isaiah wrote the prophecy we just read earlier in the service. (cf. Isaiah 61:1-6) He claimed to be inspired by God with the Spirit of the Lord on him. Anointed as a prophet of God, he claimed to speak on God's behalf, being sent by him. But how do we know his claims were true? Well Jeremiah tells us the test of a true prophet in Jeremiah 28:9: "But the prophet… will be recognized as one truly sent by the LORD only if his prediction comes true."
So how about Isaiah's prediction? Did it come true? Was there good news for the poor? Were prisoners set free and the oppressed released? The Israelites were in captivity in Babylon when Isaiah wrote, but what happened to them? Do you remember? They were released from their oppression and set free from their prison. Cyrus, the king of the Persians, released the Israelites sending them back to Jerusalem, just like Isaiah predicted.
And once more the people celebrated the year of the Lord's favor. Now this phrase is one used of the Old Testament festival of the Year of Jubilee. This was a year-long celebration that took place every 50 years. It was a time when all the people, all the animals, even all the land, rested with no farming and no work taking place. It was a year when everything was reset and property was restored to its original owners. This way, if debt and hard times forced someone to sell his land, it was given back in the 50th year. If even harder times forced someone to sell themselves as a slave, they were released from their slavery in that Year of Jubilee. (cf. Leviticus 25)
Released from their Babylonian slavery, with their family land back in their possession, this prophecy of Isaiah's was fulfilled.
But there was a second fulfillment to these verses of his. There was a greater fulfillment.
20 Then [Jesus] rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
If you have a red-letter edition of the Bible, you'll find that the editors chose to put the quotation of Isaiah in red ink, a color they designate for the words of Jesus himself. And they were right to do so, not just because Jesus read these words, but because he spoke them through Isaiah the first time. These verses did find a partial fulfillment in the release from Babylonian captivity. But they find their complete fulfillment in Jesus and the greater release he brings.
Jesus fulfilled this (and every) prophecy of Scripture! Jesus had the Spirit of the Lord on him. Jesus was anointed, not just with oil, but with the Holy Sprit. (We saw that two weeks ago at his Baptism.) And Jesus proclaimed good news to those poor sinners in that synagogue that morning. What an awesome treat they had! To have Jesus not only expound upon the text and preach about it—what a great sermon that must have been!—but to fulfill that text himself!
And, dear friends, what an awesome treat we have! Jesus still comes to us today. He's right here with us fulfilling this prophecy in your hearing! What a privilege is ours to hear him speak to us in his Word every day in our Bibles!
Dear friends, take advantage of those opportunities Jesus gives you. Follow his example and make it your custom—your habit—to go to church every week, just like Jesus did. And learn how not just this one, but all of Scripture is fulfilled in Jesus. Learn the Word and see for yourselves how the Bible is completely trustworthy. And be assured that he will fulfill every promise just as he has already fulfilled our salvation!
II. To Fulfill Our Salvation
Let's take a look at Isaiah 61:1-2 again and see how Jesus would fulfill this particular prophecy. Jesus said, 18 "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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
With four pictures Isaiah describes what the Messiah would come to do. With these words Jesus tells us what he would do: Bring freedom to prisoners, restore sight to the blind, release the oppressed, and proclaim the Year of Jubilee.
November, 29, 2005 Robin Lovitt, a convicted killer sentenced to execution by lethal injection, was waiting in a locked cell. The very next day the sentence was to be carried out. But that night, a phone call from Mark Warner, governor of Virginia, changed everything. After Gov. Warner reviewed the case and found that some evidence against Lovitt had been "accidentally" destroyed, clemency was granted. Lovitt's life was spared and not a minute too soon.
In a similar way clemency—mercy—has been granted to each of us. Jesus brought freedom to us captives—a freedom, not from the prison of Babylon or of some cell on death row, but a freedom from hell where Satan held the key. Guilty of a life of sin, of neglect of the Word of God, of selfish behavior every day, we were sentenced to an eternity of death in hell. And there was no chance of any prison break.
But Jesus stepped in and changed everything. He took our place. He set us free, giving us his perfect, sinless life—a life that always worshipped God, not just once a week, but with a life that loved to hear (and share) God's Word. And he took our crimes on himself. He took the sentence we deserved because someone had to pay for what we've done. And he was executed for us. In that act he set us free from death and from hell.
And how does this pardon become ours? Also through, Jesus who fulfilled every aspect of our salvation! You've heard of the three blind mice, but have you heard of the blind mice who regained their sight? In November of 2007 scientists in the UK have done just that. Through some new medical research they've successfully restored the sight of some mice with macular degeneration.
And while Jesus literally restored sight to the blind, even greater still is the sight he's given to the spiritually blind. You see, left on our own, none of us would even be aware of our impending doom in hell. We would continue in our rebellion against God and rejection of him and his love. But through Baptism and through the preaching of the Word, Jesus has given us sight. He let's us see what he's done for us on the cross. He creates (and sustains) the faith in our hearts that trusts in that love.
And when he does that, he also releases us from our oppression. We are no longer crushed by guilt as we try to live up to God's impossible (yet just) standard of perfection. We don't live our lives in fear of losing God's love by our sin. Instead, released of any obligation to do anything more for our salvation, because Jesus has done it all, our hearts soar! And we celebrate not just a year, but a Life of Jubilee—a life of rest, a life that's been reset as we've been restored to our original owner, a life released from the slavery of sin, free to serve God in love and thanks!
What good news Jesus has preached to us spiritually poor, impoverished sinners—that through this perfect Prophet, Jesus, who fulfilled the Scriptures, who fulfilled our salvation, we are no longer poor. We're as wealthy as you can get. We have joy in spite of the sorrows of this life. We know we'll have eternal joy and release from all oppression and pain forever in heaven. What good news! That every prophecy of Scripture is fulfilled in Jesus! That every aspect of our salvation has been fulfilled by him! That we have become rich through him. As Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." Enjoy the wealth, dear friends, in Jesus, revealed as the Prophet. Amen.