Text for the Week: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” Luke 4:18-19
Welcome to our services today and a special welcome to any worshipping with us for the first time. Today is Sunday Special and so our young people are meeting for a late breakfast and activities from 10-15 and for the first part of our service. All the best TV dramas begin each episode with that tantalisingly brief collection of snippets from previous episodes that enables you to catch up with the story. So, in that tradition, Previously … we began on Easter Sunday in the very last chapter in Luke’s Gospel on the Emmaus Road when Jesus opened up the Old Testament to two of his followers. That evening he did the same with the rest of his followers back in Jerusalem. From that day on they ‘got it’: they now began to read the Old Testament Scriptures in the way Jesus had opened up for them. Reading through Luke’s story of the beginning of the Church in Acts we’ve seen that the first followers of Jesus drew on the insights Jesus shared with them in their reading of the Old Testament: we’ve seen it in the speeches of Peter, Stephen, Philip and Paul. It’s is as if Luke in Acts is getting us to see that as followers of The Way, as Christians, we are to read the Old Testament through the eyes of Jesus and see in Jesus that all it stands for is brought to fulfilment. The story finishes in Acts with Paul under house arrest in Rome preaching about the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking with all boldness and freedom. All the best TV dramas come to an end with a taster of what’s in store. Having accompanied Paul on so many of his travels and arrived with him in Rome, Luke went on to draw on the researches he had already started to commit to writing the story of Jesus and the movement he started. And so today we go back to the very beginning of the story he had to tell … and we’ll discover a thread running through the story that shows how Jesus read the Old Testament. This, I believe, is one of the pressing stories of our time: how we read our Bible. In Acts, as we have seen, and in Luke as we are going to see there are pointers that can transform the way we read some of the most difficult bits of the Bible.
Welcome and Call to Worship
213 Every new morning
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Back to the beginning
All the best TV dramas begin each episode with that tantalisingly brief collection of snippets from previous episodes that enables you to catch up with the story. So, in that tradition, Previously … we began on Easter Sunday in the very last chapter in Luke’s Gospel on the Emmaus Road when Jesus opened up the Old Testament to two of his followers. That evening he did the same with the rest of his followers back in Jerusalem. From that day on they ‘got it’: they now began to read the Old Testament Scriptures in the way Jesus had opened up for them. Reading through Luke’s story of the beginning of the Church in Acts we’ve seen that the first followers of Jesus drew on the insights Jesus shared with them in their reading of the Old Testament: we’ve seen it in the speeches of Peter, Stephen, Philip and Paul. It’s is as if Luke in Acts is getting us to see that as followers of The Way, as Christians, we are to read the Old Testament through the eyes of Jesus and see in Jesus that all it stands for is brought to fulfilment. The story finishes in Acts with Paul under house arrest in Rome preaching about the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking with all boldness and freedom.
All the best TV dramas come to an end with a taster of what’s in store. Having accompanied Paul on so many of his travels and arrived with him in Rome, Luke went on to draw on the researches he had already started to commit to writing the story of Jesus and the movement he started. And so today we go back to the very beginning of the story he had to tell … and we’ll discover a thread running through the story that shows how Jesus read the Old Testament. This, I believe, is one of the pressing stories of our time: how we read our Bible. In Acts, as we have seen, and in Luke as we are going to see there are pointers that can transform the way we read some of the most difficult bits of the Bible.
Who knows … and there are all sorts of possibilities.
The one I’m drawn to is the one that goes back in the mists of time to the early traditions of the church – that Luke and Acts were written by Luke the beloved physician who was a travelling companion of Paul.
It’s in Acts 16:10 that the narrative in Acts changes to the first person – I’m persuaded that’s when Luke joins Paul. Luke is with Paul in those bits that are in the first person plural.
Acts 16:10-17 in Philippi. The next parts of the story are in the third person until 20:5 when it’s ‘we’ again. What’s telling is that we are back in Philippi at that point. It looks as if Luke stayed in Philippi when Paul moved on. 20:5-16, Paul in Luke’s company travels to Miletus where Paul summons the leaders of the church in Ephesus and shares with them his message again. Then Luke accompanies Paul on his fateful journey to Jerusalem as he takes the collection there. Luke is with Paul in Jerusalem … 21:1-19 but we don’t have any more of the ‘we passages’ until and the decision to sail to Rome – but the implication of 27:1 is that Luke has by now joined Paul in Caesarea. That suggests that Luke is around in Jersualem and then Caesarea for the couple of years this covers. Then he is with Paul on the journey to Rome and with him in Rome. 27:1-28:16.
IN my imagining Luke has taken the opportunity while in Jerusalem and Caesarea to meet with people who had been around with Jesus and get the story of Jesus. It is at this point maybe that he begins to turn his hand to the task of putting the gospel together. It could be that that is in the 60’s. It maybe he continues to do his research and it takes him into the 70’s.
It’s at this point having followed the story through Acts we can return with Luke to the way he tells the story … and as we do that we are on the look out for the way in his telling of the story he notices how Jesus himself has a way of reading the Hebrew Scriptures we think of as the Old Testament that is apparent in that story as it unfolds.
Luke’s gospel begins as Luke explains how he is going to write. Is he writing to a particular person called Theophilus or to anyone who is a Theo Philos – a friend of God. I rather like the idea – because I think of him as writing for me!
Reading: Luke 1:1-4 – Gwyneth
Many people have done their best to write a report of the things that have taken place among us.
Interesting that right at the beginning Luke acknowledges that he is drawing on other accounts of Jesus. There’s a very strong argument to be had that Luke draws on Mark and on a collection of sayings of Jesus – and if you map out all the verses of Luke’s Gospel and set it alongside Matthew and Mark you can demonstrate that pretty effectively. We had the chart on the wall in our Sixth Form RE room at school. It was given me out of the blue by James. I found it on the wall of David Wenham who teaches NT in Oxford when we had that shared mission with St Luke’s and Holy Apostles and I have used it in my teaching ever since.
2They wrote what we have been told by those who saw these things from the beginning and who proclaimed the message.
What’s interesting is that Luke also says that those people were drawing on eye-witness accounts that he also makes use of. I am persuaded of that too. Felicity and I went to the Hay Festival and when Romola’s daughter chaired a panel discussion with four short listed for the Templeton prize for a religious book. I found myself in conversation with the winner in an Evensong service later that evening and bought the book. He makes a convincing argument from close study of the frequency of names in Jewish communities around the Mediterranean that those who are named in the Gospels have names that are characteristic of Palestine. He suggests they are named because they were the ones who told their story –Zachaeus is the one I always think of, Bar Timaeus is another.
3And so, your Excellency, because I have carefully studied all these matters from their beginning, I thought it would be good to write an orderly account for you.
Luke has made a study – interesting he should research … so his book is not just random. It has a basis in serious research. And then it is ordered. Interestinly in that chart you can demonstrate that he treated his sources carefully and accurately, quoting Mark when he used him … and slotting in other material he came across without spoiling the passages he has used form Mark.
He writes with a clear purpose he states at the outset.
4I do this so that you will know the full truth about everything which you have been taught.
We know where we are with Luke – and we are with someone who has done his research.
And so he begins his story. What’s apparent is that the first two chapters are very long, they tell the story of how Jesus came to be born and of his birth … they also link him with the birth of John the Baptist his cousin … and they include an account of the birth that’s also unique to Luke.
Luke has the best Greek of the New Testament. He knows what he is doing as he writes.
And the style of these two chapters is different.
They almost read as if they are written in the style of the Old Testament.
It is almost as if they are rounding off the Old Testament to bring us into the New Testament.
Whether it’s the Priestly tradition of the Temple or the tradition of the Prophets or the ways of the Psalmists in writing their Psalms it’s all there in the first two chapters of Luke.
As so often happened in the telling of the story of Israel at key points a song or a psalm shows you the significance of what’s happening.
And that happens here as well. With three songs, psalms traditionally known as canticles that give the message behind the story.
So the birth of John the Baptist is announced, the birth of Jesus is announced, Mary visits Elizabeth and then Mary’s song of praise brings out the significance of all that’s happening.
And it’s wonderful to sing …
86 Tell out my soul
Then we come to the birth of John the Baptist and Zechariah’s prophecy – and it’s this psalm or song that brings out the significance of John’s ministry and the way it relates to Jesus.
HTC 599 O bless the God of Israel
Now that we know the significance of what’s going on Luke tells us of the birth of Jesus, of the shepherds and the angels, of the way Jesus is named and of the way Jesus is presented in the Temple.
There is that a woman, the prophetess Anna, becomes the first to speak about the child to all who were waiting for God to set Jersualem free – a woman the first to declare the Good news. Never let it be said the Bible prohibits women from preaching and speaking!
Or older people for that matter.
For it is Simeon who has recognized Jesus for who he is just before.
And his song is one of the most wonderful of all – and it reminds us of the significance of this little one.
HTC 55 Faithful vigil ended
Listening and Asking Questions
Jesus then returns to Nazareth where the child grew and became strong; he was full of wisdom, and God’s blessings were upon him,. ~And the we jump to the point at which he comes of age, as it were. The age of the Jewish Bar Mitzvah. And we find the Boy Jesus in the Temple. Or at least his parents find him after he goes missing for three days in the temple among the teachers of the law. They find him listening and asking questions.
Reading: Luke 2:41-52
Every year the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. 42When Jesus was twelve years old, they went to the festival as usual. 43When the festival was over, they started back home, but the boy Jesus stayed in Jerusalem. His parents did not know this; 44they thought that he was with the group, so they travelled a whole day and then started looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45They did not find him, so they went back to Jerusalem looking for him. 46On the third day they found him in the Temple, sitting with the Jewish teachers, listening to them and asking questions. 47All who heard him were amazed at his intelligent answers. 48His parents were astonished when they saw him, and his mother said to him, “My son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been terribly worried trying to find you.”
49He answered them, “Why did you have to look for me? Didn't you know that I had to be in my Father's house?”50But they did not understand his answer.
51So Jesus went back with them to Nazareth, where he was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 Jesus grew both in body and in wisdom, gaining favour with God and people.
That’s the classic Jewish way of reading the Scriptures.
There’s a tendency among especially Protestant Christians to narrow the meaning down of a passage of Scripture and say ‘this is what it means’. The Jewish way of reading the Scriptures is always to ask more questions.
Luke then tells us of the Preaching of John the Baptist and his arrest not before he had shared in the Baptism of Jesus. We then learn of the Ancestors of Jesus and the temptation of Jesus. And then Jesus’ ministry of teaching, and healing begins. It’s not long before he goes back to Nazareth where he is welcomed as a teacher in the Synagogue gathering that has been a part of his growing up. The place where people teach and people ask questions of the Scripture.
Luke has left us in no doubt by now that Jesus knows his Scriptures. No wonder he is asked to speak.
Words of Grace
Reading: Luke 4:16-22
Then Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath he went as usual to the synagogue. He stood up to read the Scriptures 17and was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind;
to set free the oppressed
19and announce that the time has come
when the Lord will save his people.”
20Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. All the people in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on him, 21as he said to them, “This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read.”
22They were all well impressed with him and marvelled at the eloquent words that he spoke. They said, “Isn't he the son of Joseph?”
The Good news Bible lets us down when it speaks of ‘the eloquent words that he spoke.” Literally it can be translated ‘words of grace’ that he spoke.
I like that translation – that’s the point.
Jesus speaks wonderful words of grace – that was the message of Jesus Luke had absorbed from Paul – grace was at the heart of his understanding of the Christian faith. It is right here at the beginning.
Let’s join in singing a celebration of these words of grace …
Hy-Spirit – Only by grace
But something happens then that changes the atmosphere. In verse 22 everyone there is well impressed and marvel at those words of grace.
But by verse 28 the mood had changed and those there were filled with anger, filled with rage so much so they took him out of the town and tried to push him over a cliff. What happened to make them change?
Reading: Luke 4:23-30
He said to them, “I am sure that you will quote this proverb to me, ‘Doctor, heal yourself.’ You will also tell me to do here in my home town the same things you heard were done in Capernaum.24 I tell you this,” Jesus added, “prophets are never welcomed in their home town.
25 “Listen to me: it is true that there were many widows in Israel during the time of Elijah, when there was no rain for 3.5 years and a severe famine spread throughout the whole land.26 Yet Elijah was not sent to anyone in Israel, but only to a widow living in Zarephath in the territory of Sidon.27 And there were many people suffering from a dreaded skin disease who lived in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha; yet not one of them was healed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
28When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were filled with anger. 29They rose up, dragged Jesus out of the town, and took him to the top of the hill on which their town was built. They meant to throw him over the cliff, 30but he walked through the middle of the crowd and went his way.
The powerful words from Isaiah 61 that Jesus reads from are like a manifesto statement of his mission. And it’s what the people want to hear.
There’s good news for the poor … but they really are only concerned about their own poor.
There’s liberty for the captives but it’s really only their own captives they are concerned for.
There’s sight for the blind so long as it’s their blind,
Freedom for the oppressed so long as it is their oppressed.
All that is taken for granted. And it’s so often how we feel. Charity starts at home. It’s those who are like us we are concerned for.
But Jesus then goes on to follow a classic Jewish way of teaching. He explains what is meant in those words from Isaiah by telling two stories. It is not insignificant that the first is a story of Elijah and the second a story of Elisha. Elijah was the first of the great Prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures who spoke God’s word to the powers that be of his time. And Elisha took up his mantle and followed on in his footsteps.
Elijah gave food to the Gentile widow of Zarepath and Elisha healed the Gentile commander of the enemy Syrian army Naaman.
Jesus left no one in any doubt hehad come to bring
Good News to the poor whoever the poor might be, Jew and Gentile.
Liberty for the captives whoever the captives might be, Jew and Gentile.
Sight to the blind whoever the blind might be, Jew and Gentile.
Freedom for the oppressed, whoever the oppressed might be, Jew and Gentile.
Here Jesus is offering an alternative way of reading the Scriptures they had not encountered before.
It opens them out to include all people.
And it is a powerful and radical way we need to hear today as well.
We live in dangerous times.
It’s our people that are all important.
No, says Jesus it is all people that are all important.
The first decade of the Twentieth Century was a time when people put us first – Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem in which he said with great pride East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.
The Minister of one of our churches, who wrote poems and hymns under a pen name as John OXenham, wrote a hymn that was a riposte to that Me First way of thinking.
624 In Christ there is no east or west
Prayers of Concern
HTC 324 God of grace
Something to share
A Hy-Spirit Song
Words of Blessing