Six Spokes of the Wheel - Sharing God's Love with Others (Word-Centred Life)
Luke 4:16-21, 42-44
Presence of Jesus ...
Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth, the town where he grew up, and announced that this was the time that the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1-2) had promised long ago - the time the whole nation was waiting for - the time when the Lord would save his people.
It was great drama. Jesus' old neighbours were sitting there - those who knew him as a boy - those he had done carpentry work for - perhaps some extended family. They had heard the gossip about what Jesus had been doing elsewhere but now they wanted to hear what he's got to say for himself back home in Nazareth.
Someone handed Jesus the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he unfurled it and read
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor and proclaim freedom for captives, sight for the blind, release for the oppressed ... the Lord's favour.
In one way Jesus was continuing a long tradition. From the very beginning God had tried to communicate with lost humankind through the spoken and written word. From the beginning humankind had been afflicted by sin - the self-centred, self-elevation condition of the heart which causes suffering, hurt, broken relationship and, as we remembered last week, industrial-scale wars. Sin causes separation from each other and separation from God, leading to decay and death.
God loved lost humankind too much to leave people in suffering and sin. From the beginning he tried to call them back to himself. When Adam and Eve turned away from God and hid in the Garden of Eden, God called out trying to find them. Through the centuries God chose leaders, messengers and prophets to reveal himself and his love for his people - Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, prophets such as Isaiah himself - a long line of often colourful characters which ended with John the Baptist.
So, in one way it was the same as before when Jesus read the scroll but in another way it was completely different. When Jesus sat down the townsfolk pressed him to say more and to their shock, Jesus said that Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled right there in their presence - in that synagogue - in their hearing - as Jesus spoke.
This was different. This was the pivotal point in human history. God had come to earth himself in Jesus - Jesus who had been with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity of God, from the beginning of time. Now he was here on earth. This time the messenger was the message. Jesus is the Living Word - his presence communicates the love of God. Jesus presence is Good News.
... brings Transformation
So what does this Good News entail? Why is it good news? Jesus proclaimed sight for the blind, freedom for captives, release for the oppressed - Transformation. Jesus brought transforming love.
We talked about transforming love earlier in the year, when we considered the so-called Parable of the Prodigal Son parable and more recently on the Prodigal God course. The father in the parable welcomes his errant younger son back home despite his earlier transgressions - his sin. The father throws a great party in the son's honour - the lost is found - the hungry is fed - the separated joined - transformation - outrageous transforming love.
... as Revealed in the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Jesus wasn't accepted in his home town Nazareth but he travelled around the neighbouring towns and countryside, bringing Good News. He healed the sick, welcomed the outcast, challenged people with stories and teachings about God. Jesus wasn't self-centred and self-elevating - he didn't suffer from sin like everyone else. Wherever he went Jesus reached out to others and always glorified his Father God not himself.
And Jesus is Good News for us still today. The Good News didn't end when Jesus died because his death was different from everyone else's. Jesus wasn't afflicted by sin, decay and death like the rest of us but even as he died on the cross, still showed love for those around him. And God raised Jesus to life again three days later to prove that his transforming love was greater than death itself.
After his death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus' followers preached about him and demonstrated his love to others. People were affected by what they experienced - 3000 repented of their former ways on the Day of Pentecost. More and more people experienced God's transforming love and forgiveness themselves. God gave them his Holy Spirit to help them change. They had a new start - a new life in Christ.
Jesus followers came to understand that Jesus covered the cost of all human sin on the cross - the sinless one died for the sinful that the sinful might go free. God raised Jesus to life again three days afterwards. He broke the cycle of separation and death. Jesus followers wrote about him - the New Testament gospel accounts and letters we have in today - and spoke about him and witnessed to his continuing transforming presence in their lives.
We've included some definitions on the service sheet. Not all Christians agree on every word but these are our definitions to help us at Highbury now.
Repentance - a change of heart, mind and direction
Repentance is a turning - a change from elevating ourselves to elevating Jesus - a change from putting ourselves at the centre to putting Jesus at the centre. Each of us need to make the good news our own, thanking Jesus for what he has done for us and welcoming him into our hearts and lives.
Repentance can happen in different ways ...
Someone lent me a fictional novel once called "Never Ending Story". In the novel a boy is given a book about a faraway fantasy land that needs help. As the book progresses the dynamic of the story starts to change - subtly at first but then more strongly. Eventually the boy goes into the fantasy story he is reading and has amazing adventures there.
Repentance can be gradual like the "Never Ending Story" - we start to hear about Jesus and experience Christian love and then gradually the good news becomes a part of us and we know Jesus' presence for ourselves - we become part of the good news story.
Or repentance can be a special moment of clarity at a particular point in time, when we suddenly realise what Jesus has done for us and know his forgiveness. Having spent some year away from the church as a teenager, trying to have nothing to do with God, I experienced such a moment on Good Friday 1976 and it remains very special to me still.
Mission - to make the good news/gospel known.
Just like Jesus' first followers, as we "join the story" and know Jesus ourselves, we have a role in making the good news/gospel known to others.
Different bibles translate Luke 4:18 differently. Some say Jesus preached good news whilst others say he brought good news. The Greek word isn't the standard word that means to preach or proclaim, but another very common New Testament word which means "to evangel". "Evangel" is good news so the noun becomes a verb - "to good news". We must share the gospel story about what Jesus has done in history, of course, and our stories about what he continues to do now but "to good news" means more than words. We must also share God's love and Jesus, the Living Word, alive in us and amongst us now.
I could include many sermon illustrations about Christians who have helped me to understand the good news though word and deed and character, but this one personal testimony.
A few years ago, I met a Christian lady at a family funeral. My father was the youngest of a large, poor, family with minimal contact with church. This lady lived across the road and she had taken him to Sunday School as a small boy.
Years later the church up the road - Buckland Congregational Church, Portsmouth - helped his family more and then, very bravely, let the social services run a youth club on its premises. Both my father and mother attended the youth club as teenagers and met there. Both were so impressed with the leader that they eventually started going to church on Sundays too where they learnt more about Jesus. Eventually, my Dad went to Church Membership Classes and came to faith himself. He went on to lead Sunday School and the Youth Club in that church. He became a deacon and after we moved to Bath, he became Church Secretary. A long way to travel. Transformation.
And, of course, without the lady who took my Dad to Sunday School, the church that let a youth club use its premises, the Christian youth club leader and those who taught my parents the faith, I wouldn't be standing here today. I wouldn't be the person I am.
Thank God for all those who have shared the good news with us. Help us to share God's love too.