Third Sunday after Epiphany: January 23, 2022
Deacon Ben Remmert
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-2
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As some of you know, we are in the season of Epiphany. Epiphany is a season of the church year where we see through the Gospel readings Jesus revealing to the people of His day, and to you and me today, who He is and what He came into this world to do. Think back to the Gospel readings we have heard the two Sundays prior to today. Two weeks ago, our Gospel reading had us at the banks of the Jordan River, where Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. We read in Luke “the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’” ( Lk 3:21b-22) Last Sunday, our Gospel reading from John 2 took us to a wedding in Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle, turning water into wine, showing His power over creation, giving us a visual clue that He is indeed God in human flesh. And now, today, Jesus is telling us the purpose of all these things, and the things that He would do in the future: they were to show us that He is the Savior from sin, death, and the devil; what God had long promised!
At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is fresh off his baptism in the Jordan river, and his 40-day temptation in the wilderness. He returns from these experiences to Galilee. He begins by stopping in the various synagogues, teaching as he goes from place to place. His teaching was amazing, as we’re told in the text that he was “praised by everyone.” Needless to say, word is spreading about Jesus, and His teaching.
At this point in his preaching, Jesus stops in Nazareth. It’s the sabbath day, and Jesus does what any Jew wishing to fulfill the 3rd Commandment would be doing, be in the synagogue for the sabbath day service. One of the customs of the day was for an establish rabbi to read from a scroll, which would have contained the scriptures, and the appointed reading for the day is this prophecy from Isaiah 62:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
This text is a prophecy to the people of Israel of the coming of the promised Messiah. If there were a people needing to be reassured of what God was doing for them, it was the Israelites. It’s a message of hope for the remnant that remained faithful to God and His promises in His Word. It told them what the Messiah would do for them. The good news the Messiah would bring is that he would come to set them free: free from all that troubled them in this life by bringing forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. To those who were held captive in sin, the Messiah would set them free from that prison. For those who were blinded by the things of the world, the Messiah would restore their sight to the things of God. To those who were oppressed by the wages of sin, the Messiah would set them free.
So this is the text that Jesus reads to the people assembled in the synagogue that day. Right here, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus tells us clearly what his mission is about. He boldly claims to fulfill the words of Isaiah, who speaks of the Spirit anointing him, sending him, compelling him to bring good news to every one of God’s children who is bound up, pressed down, broken in spirit, impoverished, imprisoned, and desperately hungry for good news.
The “poor’ Jesus is referring to has to do with economic status as well as other factors that lowered one’s status in the first-century world—factors such as gender, genealogy, education, occupation, sickness, disability, and degree of religious purity. Jesus’ mission is directed to the poor in the holistic sense of those who for various reasons are relegated to the margins of society. Jesus refuses to recognize these socially determined boundaries, insisting that these very “outsiders” are the special objects of God’s grace and mercy.
Essentially, what Jesus is saying to those people in the synagogue at Nazareth that day is this: “I am that Messiah you have been hearing about, praying for, waiting for. I am the One who has the Spirit of the Lord upon me. That’s the Good News that I have for you today!”
“Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Just as these words were true for the people gathered in the synagogue at Nazareth, they are true for you, the people of God gathered this morning. Today, and every time we gather in this
place around our Lord’s gifts to us, these words of Jesus ring true again and again. In fact, it’s reflected in the way we worship each Sunday in our liturgy.
At the beginning of this service, we began by confessing an unpleasant truth that we have revealed to us: that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed by what we done and left undone. That there is no way that we can live up to God’s expectations of us. Through His Word of Law, we see how we have failed to live the lives God intended for us, and that because of our sin, we deserve our death and separation. But, once we have confessed our sins, we hear the good news, that in Christ Jesus, our sins are forgiven and are adopted into the household of Christ and inheritors of eternal life. That “today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” You hear that because of Jesus’ perfect, sinless life, sacrificial death, and resurrection, that He has destroyed the power of sin, death, and the devil and will raise us up to new life! It’s not because we’ve been good enough on our own, it’s all because of who Jesus is and what He has done for all of us.
And as Christians, what happens here each week isn’t so much to focus on ourselves, as it is to focus on Christ, and how He has fulfilled all the scriptures for us. Then, having been set free from our sin by Christ’s forgiveness, we are sent out into our vocations that God has placed us in to serve Him, and to bring His Word that we hear in this place to other people.
As we heard in Paul’s letter to the church of Corinth, we belong to the body of Christ. The meaning of Paul’s metaphor is clear: all members of Christ church are equally necessary for the church to flourish. Hearing this message, I cannot help but think of the movie Encanto and the themes of the movie. Encanto is the newest Disney movie which tells the story of The Madrigals, an extraordinary family who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a charmed place called the Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique magical gift — every child except Mirabel. Every member of this family has a call, a responsible for helping the people of the town with their gifts. Without giving away too much of the movie, Mirabel through all her struggles to find her miracle and purpose, indeed has a gift. A gift that brings her community together and healing to her family that is burden with responsibility, duty, and anxiety from the pressures of being the perfect family. We come from diverse backgrounds and gifts and are united in one baptism by the Holy Spirit, that with all our gifts, we can bring the good news and promises of Jesus Christ to us all.
And there are a LOT of hurting people in our world today who need what Christ has given to us. We have the privilege of telling them God’s love for them, that Jesus gave His life for them so they could have a new life! To those who are mourning the death of a loved one, we have the promise of eternal life, that their loved ones are at a place where there is no suffering, grief, or death, but peace! For those who are afflicted by sickness or injury, we have the good news to proclaim to them that Jesus Christ is the ultimate physician of body and soul. Jesus will one day release us from this world of sickness, pain, and injury, to an eternity with God, where those things will never afflict us again! For those that are burdened by the work of this world and to keep up with the perfect image, Jesus takes all our burdens off our shoulders to give us peace. That’s some good news! That’s what Jesus is talking about in our text when He says that “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” When we hear His Word, when we take it to heart, when we share it, we realize quickly what Jesus really came here to do for us!
It’s quite a bold statement Jesus makes toward the beginning of His public ministry, yet today, we have come to see that indeed, it has. That Jesus is our ultimate source of healing, freedom, and hope. We see why we can have such great joy to share that message of the Gospel with those around us. And we see why God has brought you and I together in this community: to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, to help all recover their sight, and be with the oppressed! This is our work together when we are baptized into the Christian faith. This is our call to rally together with all our brothers and sisters of the different Christian faith traditions as we pray for Christian Unity. Our work together is not always going to be easy, but I know through our continued support, care, and love for each other (and with God’s help) we will be ready in the coming days. May God be with each one of you as you go out into the world this week to tell the good news about Jesus Christ, to live as freed and forgiven children of God! Amen!