Scripture Readings Neh. 8:1-10 • Ps. 19:1-14 • 1 Cor. 12:12-31a • Luke 4:14-21
Jesus’ Inaugural Address
Note to preacher: For the introduction you might talk about inaugural addresses you’ve heard---ones with hollow promises concerning what the speaker says they will do, all the while knowing they won’t or can’t.
During the season of Epiphany, most of our Gospel readings focus on the early part of Jesus’ public ministry, showing him taking aim at the idols people worship. Much like explosions purposefully set to demolish a building, Jesus demolishes our idolatrous temple.
Two weeks ago, in Luke 3, we heard John the Baptist calling the people of God, the Jews, to repentance—not just repenting of idolatrous practices, but the idolatrous content of their hearts. BOOM! Our self-righteousness is blown to bits.
Then last week, in John 2, we saw Jesus demolish expectations by his focus on relationships when he turned water into wine at a wedding party. BOOM! Our self-centered agendas come tumbling down.
Today, the demolition continues. In our reading in Luke 4, Jesus takes aim at the idolatry of exclusivity. He tears down our human tendency to be judgmental—to determine who is “in” and who is “out.” He topples our understanding of who the deplorables are as compared to God’s favorites. BOOM! Any idea of “us versus them” comes tumbling down.
Some context will help here: The Jews of that time believed God would deliver them by destroying their enemies—particularly the Roman occupiers. Based on their reading of the Old Testament, they saw this deliverance as largely physical and political, with Israel being exalted among the nations as God’s favorite. From that perspective, the rest of the world could, quite literally, be damned.
In a rather shocking way, Jesus comes into town, railing against this attitude of exclusivity. Let’s look at Luke, chapter 4:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. (Luke 4:14-15)
Jesus had just gone through a time of severe testing—a time when he was emptied so that he could be filled with the Holy Spirit as he begins his public ministry. Now, in the power of the Spirit he comes teaching:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)
Jesus was doing what visiting rabbis were invited to do: read from the scroll of Scripture, then offer a short sermon as commentary. But something is different here. The congregation is aware of this Jesus guy, and what he has been up to. Word had spread far and wide about his teaching. And here they were, waiting for him to say something clever.
You can imagine their shock when, after reading a passage from Isaiah, Jesus then declares, “It’s about me—what Isaiah prophesied is now happening!”
BOOM! Another support beam blown up. Jesus was reading about God’s great deliverance of Israel—the deliverance they are all waiting for. Yet, he makes it sound dramatically different from anything they thought it would be.
Jesus is talking about those who are the undesirable, those who are broken and on the margins: the blind, the poor, the prisoners, the oppressed. Luke’s Gospel often talks about Jesus’ special love for the poor and downtrodden. But the definition of “poor” here is wider than that. It describes those who are of low social status in that society: women, children, disabled people, the blind. Here Jesus is stating that the vision of God’s kingdom starts with and always includes such people.
One commentator refers to Jesus’ declaration here as his “inaugural address.” Newly elected presidents, in their inaugural addresses set forth their vision for what their time in office will look like. Rather than talking about specific plans, they tend to focus on the tone and themes for their time in office. They might emphasize national unity, economic recovery, or foreign relations. But Jesus begins his public ministry by demolishing the people’s expectations of what the kingdom of God will be like. The kingdom is not for those who think they have it all together, but for those who know they are broken. That’s the bombshell here: Jesus makes it clear that he has not come to save the righteous, but sinners. He didn’t come to rain fire down on the bad guys, but to show the good guys and the bad guys that they need a Savior.
Filmmaker Mel Gibson gave himself a cameo in his movie The Passion of Christ. Rather than taking a large, heroic part, he portrayed the executioner who drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet. Those who know they would have been the one holding the hammer are on their way to the kingdom. But it’s easy to miss this mindset in the Western world where Christianity has been the dominant religion for centuries.
But times are changing. Though most of us remember the time when almost everyone went to church and the world stopped on Sunday, younger generations are growing up in a world where a Christian worldview is a minority position. Can we Christians approach other viewpoints with humility rather than with fear and bitterness? Can we learn to be thankful that we know Christ rather than condemning those who don’t? The saved hostage doesn’t judge those who are still imprisoned—he aches for them, prays for them, is grateful every moment that he has been rescued. Let’s let that be our attitude.
Jesus’ strongest, critical words were for the most religious people—those who think they have it all together, and so are quite unpleasant to be around. In contrast, it can be joyful and freeing to hang with people who know they don’t have it all together—folks like recovering addicts who have looked in the face of complete loss, even death, and know that every blessing in their lives is an added, undeserved bonus. They live with a certain freedom, knowing what it’s like to lose everything, knowing that they are just as capable of evil as the so-called “bad guys.”
In his inaugural address, Jesus says he is proclaiming “the year of the Lord’s favor.” In doing so, he is referencing what is addressed in the Old Testament book of Leviticus:
Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields. (Lev. 25:10-12)
In the year of jubilee, which occurred every 50 years, all property was to be returned to its original owners, and the land rested from being cultivated. Those who had become indentured servants due to poverty were set free. It was a year of liberation, return of property, rest and simplicity. The people were to live on what grew naturally, letting the land and the people rest. This would have been a simpler time. Wealth and competition would have been at a lull because everyone was living under the same restrictions.
Sadly, there is no record that the year of jubilee was ever kept. Yet here is Jesus proclaiming that it’s ultimate fulfillment has arrived. You see, the Sabbath day and Sabbath years pointed to the great Jubilee—the great and ultimate rest and deliverance for the people of God.
Last week in John chapter 2 we read about Jesus’ inaugural miracle—turning water into wine, the symbol and lubricant of partying. Now here in Luke 4 , Jesus gives his inaugural address, proclaiming the true Jubilee.
We are God’s people, you shall know us by our parties? By our feasting? No, Jesus is declaring that the people of God will be identified by simple joys, by starting over from ground zero. Over-complicated, hyperactive, sin-infested ways of “who owes what to whom” and “who offended whom” and “who’s winning and who’s losing” need to be demolished, so that we can start from scratch.
The Jews in the synagogue that day were not thrilled by what Jesus declared, particularly when he, in not-so-veiled terms, went on to explain how God delivered other nations—gentile nations—instead of them:
There were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian. (Luke 4:25-27)
God cared about Naaman the Syrian—commander of Israel’s enemy? Jesus’ radical point is that the Jubilee is for everyone, for all nations. The release from oppression he declares is not just for Jews—it is release for ALL people from the most brutal tyrant of all: OURSELVES.
Incensed by Jesus’ declaration, the Jews took him to the edge of a nearby cliff, intending to kill him:
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. (Luke 4:28-29)
Not long before this, Jesus had been atop the highest point of the Jerusalem temple (Luke 4:9-12), invited by the devil to throw himself down to prove his identity as the Son of God. Now Jesus stands atop a high cliff near Nazareth. At the temple, the devil twisted the words of Psalm 91 to try to tempt Jesus to show off. But Jesus refused. Now, due to his humble obedience to God, Jesus faces execution. But he is delivered, perhaps by angels:
[Jesus] walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (Luke 4:30)
As we ponder Jesus’ inaugural address, here are three takeaways:
- Jesus didn’t come for those who think they have it all together, but for those who know they are broken. We would be the one holding the hammer and nails at Jesus’ crucifixion. He knows that—he’s always known it. Everything in life is extra, every blessing we have, a gift; so let’s be freshly grateful.
- We as God’s people need to be gentle with those who don’t call themselves Christians. Jesus gives several examples here of God’s mercy shed on those who are “outsiders.” He had his strongest words for the religious establishment, for the US not the THEM. Let’s continue to tell truth in love, and be known for our welcoming and hospitality, for our feasting, instead of how well we withdraw from those who are not like us. Let’s pray for others, get into their lives, be living examples of Jubilee.
- The year of Jubilee that Jesus declared has never ended. It is the year—the era in which we, through him, are released from sin, guilt and shame. Do you need that time, that Jubilee, in your life? Is there something you need to let go of? Some bitterness, some rage against someone, or against life itself? Let this be your year of Jubilee. Let this be the year when you claim God’s peace and love against all odds. Let this week be the start of you bringing Jubilee to someone close to you. Forgive, let go, love. This is what we do, and this is how we are known.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- Have you ever watched a president’s inaugural address? In person? How do they compare with each other?
- Throughout his ministry, and definitely in this passage, we see Jesus expanding the Israelites’ notion of who’s “in” and who’s “out.” Here he mentions Gentiles—even Israel’s enemies—who received God’s favor (Luke 4:24-27). What does it mean to show God’s love to those on the outside or in the fringes of society? Why is that important in the kingdom of Christ?
- Jesus refers to the Year of Jubilee practice in Israel, a year in which indentured servants were freed, land was returned to its original owners, and debts were cancelled. How can we practice this as a church community today? How can we practice “Jubilee” in our own lives by forgiving, giving grace, giving love to those who don’t “deserve” it?
- Here as in other places, we see Jesus “breaking the rules” by interpreting a passage in a brand-new way. Can you think of any other examples in the Gospels of Jesus “breaking the rules”? What do these changes in the program tell us about Jesus? Has Jesus ever “broken the rules” in your life?
- Jesus didn’t come for those who think they have it all together, but for those who know they are broken and in need of him. What does it mean to live with this reality in mind? What does it mean not to trust in our own strength and street smarts, but instead in his gracious protection and provision? What does it mean to be in touch with our own brokenness—how does that change our approach to others and ourselves?
- In Nehemiah 8:1-10, Ezra read from the Torah. What was the response of the people? How does it compare to when we hear God’s word read to us?
- Read Psalm 19:1-14 and share what the words mean to you.
- Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 in terms of who’s in and who’s out. What is God saying to you in this passage? What does it mean in saying that the body is made of many members? To whom would Jesus say, “I have no need of you”?