Part Two

Heritage Presbyterian Church

4th Sunday After Epiphany
January 30, 2022

Scripture – Luke 4: 21-30

Last Sunday, our Gospel reading focused on Jesus returning to Nazareth after preaching, teaching, and healing in the Galilean countryside for about a year.  When he arrived in his hometown, the excitement and anticipation must have been great.  After all, these hometown folks had heard all about what he had been doing, and they were ready for a little “home-cooking” in Nazareth.  We stopped last Sunday with Jesus reading from the Prophet Isaiah who wrote:

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.” [Isaiah 61: 1,2]

After reading from the Isaiah scroll, Jesus sat down to begin teaching, as was the custom in the synagogues of that day and time.  His first words reset everything they knew, understood, and expected that day.  Jesus said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4: 21]

This was supposed to be the beginning of the second part of Jesus’ ministry…the part where the people knew the truth, the part where he proclaimed it clearly, boldly, and honestly.  This was why he had come to earth in the first place; remember that the healing, the miracles, and casting out demons were not Jesus’ first purpose.  He came to bring the Good News to the people, and that what he had also been doing for about a year.

Unfortunately, when a new leader or a new boss or a new head of the company comes in, it is naïve and foolish to hope that nothing at all will change.  That points to an ineffective leader, a weak leader, a leader who is afraid of making waves and just wants things to continue as they were.

Jesus was most definitely NOT that kind of leader.  And he was more than ready to begin Part Two: The New Work.

First of all, Jesus revealed the truth, no matter the consequences.  The Nazorean crowd was so upset and confused by this that they were quickly in an uproar.  Jesus pointed out to them that old proverb: “Physician, heal thyself.”  In doing this, Jesus was telling them that he had not come to heal people or cast out demons; he had come for another more powerful and important reason – and he had just confirmed it when he commented on the reading from Isaiah.  

Not exactly what they were expecting…

Then Jesus doubled down on his words and his main purpose: he basically said the same thing that the Apostle Paul said multiple times many years later: “If you won’t listen or receive this message, then I will take it to the Gentiles!”  He even quoted Scripture by giving two examples in which God healed two Gentiles instead of his own people. [Luke 4:24-27]

I’ll bet that stung!  The Israelite people were extremely sensitive about God only loving and caring for them.  They would accept outsiders into their faith – but only up to a point.  Those outsiders were labeled “God-fearers” and “righteous.”  But they weren’t really considered full members of the people.

Jesus smacked the crowd in the face with his words – and they were angry enough to throw him off a nearby cliff.  I know people today are pretty good at insulting one another – especially when we can hide on social media – but I don’t often  read stories in which a whole town of people is ready to throw some wise-guy off a cliff for his words.

Remember how the crowd reacted to Stephen’s speech in the Book of Acts, in which he said he saw the Son seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven… and the crowd stoned him to death, making Stephen the first Christian martyr.  Sometimes the new plan, the new words are not just rejected, then are hated AND violently rejected!

But now that Jesus has begun Part Two of his mission, he can begin the rest in earnest.

Next, he assembled the rest of his staff.  In Luke’s very next chapter, Jesus calls Peter and his fellow fishermen to follow him; he follows this up by calling Matthew the tax collector – right in the middle of Matt doing his tax collecting!  By the end of chapter 5, Jesus has assembled the whole crew of Twelve.

Now that Jesus has taken this step, chopping out the deadwood will surely follow.  Jesus was challenged repeatedly during his ministry by all sorts of religious leaders of his day:  chief priests, teachers of the Law, scribes, elders, pharisees, and Herodians.  In each case, he debated and answered their questions each and every time.  At no time in any of the four Gospels is there a single passage in which this new leader, Jesus, ignored his challengers.  No, he answered them every time.  And his followers noticed this.  Those various religious folks were never going to agree with Him anyway – at least not most of them.

So, cutting them away from his ministry was also cutting the deadwood away from what was beginning to live strong.  

Yet, that was not the only deadwood Jesus cut away.  At various times, Jesus would say something or demonstrate something that came under the heading “hard teaching.”  When he did this, we are often told that “many turned away and no longer followed Him.” [John 6: 59-71] Jesus also cut those whose faith in his words and actions was weak at best.  That is also deadwood, and no effective leader needs it if things are going to truly change.

Jesus also began to teach and even demonstrate his new vision of this Part Two.  He re-interpreted the Scriptures that the people thought they knew so well.  The Law that God’s people held to so fiercely was written with the love of God; the people had turned it into something else.  Remember when Jesus challenged the leaders about their own loophole on divorce?  The Commandments said one thing about marriage, but the religious leaders themselves had all sorts of reasons why they could just hand a certificate of divorce to their wife, cast her out of his house, and be free to marry another.  

Jesus wondered – and it’s a good question – where is the love in that?  Even if you truly believe you need a divorce, nothing is going to work out, caring for your former partner is the least you can do.  But the religious scholars hid themselves behind their version of the Law and turned it into something hideous and cruel.

The ministry of Jesus was not going to follow anything that went directly against the love of the Father.  Part Two was all about the Father’s love.

Jesus was known far and wide as a great teacher; even his enemies constantly affirmed that.  But in teaching his followers and all the people he encountered, Jesus implemented his vision for Part Two of his ministry.  Although we have many, many of Jesus’ lessons, sermons, parables, and speeches in the Gospels, we also have countless examples of his words doing a lot more than just inspiring the people to do better.  

Jesus trained them, pushed them, often embarrassed them with their own narrow-mindedness, and made sure he did a lot more than just leave the crowds with great words.

Remember when he called to Zacchaeus, the tiny tax collector who climbed a tree in order to see Jesus?  He basically said, “Zacchaeus, guess who’s coming to dinner!”  You just know that freaked out the people… “He’s eating at a tax collector’s house?!?!?  I thought he was a righteous man!!”

Or when the Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his beloved slave, but also refused to let Jesus “defile” himself by entering the centurion’s house.  Instead, this Gentile Roman told Jesus to just give the command, and he knew his slave would be healed.  Remember how astonished Jesus was?  But he proclaimed his astonishment in front of his followers.  

Jesus was training his followers, demonstrating what he wanted them to do, and implementing his new plan.

Finally, and this is where Jesus makes all leaders look no better than second-best: Jesus stayed the course, no matter what happened.  We always say, hear, and believe that Jesus gave his life for our sins.  Then we add, “…even death on a cross” – as if we need to be reminded of that horrible fact.  Yes, Jesus stayed the course, even to his own death, because…  

  • Without his death, there would be no debt paid on our account, no forgiveness of sins.
  • Without his death, there would be no resurrection.
  • Without his resurrection, there would be no hope of our own resurrection.
  • Without our own resurrection, there would be no seeing Jesus again someday.

Jesus came to preach the Good News and to set all the people free.  In doing so, Jesus became the greatest example of a new leader the world had ever seen.

In that synagogue in Nazareth on that long-ago day, Jesus introduced Part One and Part Two of his true ministry and saved us all for all time.