God-breathed 12: The Universal Mission of Jesus

There is a story that has been told about a woman who died after a long illness and went to the gates of heaven. And by the way, this is not how getting into heaven really works. But the story says that she was met by St. Peter and she said, “Heaven looks like such a lovely place. How do I get in?”

St. Peter said, “You have to spell a word.”

“What is the word?” the woman asked.

“Love,” replied St. Peter. The woman spelled the word “love” and St. Peter welcomed her into heaven.

About few months later, St. Peter had to do some other business elsewhere in heaven, so he asked this woman if she would be the gatekeeper to heaven for him for a while, which she agreed to do. While she is at the gate, her husband arrived. She asked him how things had been going in his life and he said, “Great! Of course, I grieved for you after you died. But I ended up marrying that cute young nurse that was taking care of you, and I won the lottery. So I sold that little house you and I have and bought a mansion. My wife and I do a lot of travelling around the world. In fact, I was on holidays and I was water-skiing when I wiped out and one of my skies hit me in the head, and that’s why I am here. By the way, how do I get in?”

“You have to spell a word,” the woman said.

“What word do I have to spell?” the husband asked.

“Czechoslovakia,” the woman replied.[i]

We human beings tend to get jealous of other people’s success, especially if it looks like they were given an unfair advantage over us. Like when you have been working at a company for ten years and someone who started after you did becomes your boss. Or you are waiting in line at the coffee shop to place your order and someone cuts in front of you. And there is even a religious version of this jealousy we tend to have. The religious jealousy happens when someone with less time or less perseverance in the faith than us jumps the queue and somehow ends up closer to God than we do. That, we think, is not right or fair! So how do we deal with this jealousy that tends to rise up in our hearts? That is what we are going to think about today and to guide us in our reflections we are going to dig into Luke 4:14-30. If you have a Bible or a Bible app with you today, I invite you to turn there now.

Jesus’ Mission

As you do that, you will see that we have moved from the Gospel of Mark to the Gospel of Luke in our journey through the New Testament. And today’s passage describes events that happenee early in the ministry of Jesus, shortly after his Baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, and the forty days of fasting in the wilderness, a time when Jesus successfully resisted several temptations by the devil.

Shortly after that, Jesus returned to his home region around the Sea of Galilee, and because of what the Holy Spirit is doing in his life, he is famous. Luke tells us, And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.  And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. (Luke 4:14-15)

So Jesus is famous in the region around the Sea of Galilee and then he goes to his hometown of Nazareth. Nazareth is not that big of a town and people remember Jesus. He is the hometown kid who has done well. It is like when someone from your hometown makes it to the NHL. It causes you to have a little bit more pride in your community. So people are watching him to see what he will do. Maybe he will do a miracle like he has done in some other towns.

As was his custom, Jesus attended worship at the local synagogue, and back then, just like here at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, people would take turns reading the Scriptures. Jesus stood up to read, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah is brought to him, and Jesus read these words from Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) 

Then he gave the scroll back to the attendant and sat down. Back then, rabbis sat down to teach instead of standing as we do today. Then Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) Up until this point, everyone present in the synagogue that day still spoke well of Jesus and marvelled at his teaching.

Who’s Side is God On?

But in a moment, everything changed because Jesus blew apart his listeners framework for how God works and who he is for. In Isaiah’s prophecy, who are the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed that the Messiah would come to heal and set free? For first-century Jews, they were the people for whom the Messiah would come. They were God’s people and the Messiah was to come through them and for them. And that was true. But all throughout salvation history, God dropped hints that he had bigger plans in mind. In Genesis 12, when God blessed Abram, he said, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) In Isaiah 49:6, God says to his servant,

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

But it is one thing to say that God’s plan of salvation includes the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people. It is quite another to point out times in salvation history when God actually showed favoritism to Gentiles over Jewish people, and Jesus went there. He brought up the time when Elijah was a prophet and he was sent to help a Gentile widow in the land of Sidon instead of the many widows suffering in the kingdom of Israel. And he also brought up the time when Elisha was a prophet and the general of a foreign army, Naaman of Syria, was healed of leprosy but none of the many people in Israel with leprosy were healed.

At this, the people in the synagogue became enraged and they tried to take Jesus to the brim of a hill and throw him over the edge. Their jealousy of God’s treatment of Gentiles caused them to want to kill the Jewish Messiah. But Jesus passed through their midst and went on his way.

You Cannot Lose with Jesus

So what are we to glean from all this? First, we need to understand what jealousy is. Jealousy is a fear of losing something or someone you value. It’s the fear that you will be replaced in that special person’s life.[ii] Perhaps Jesus’ listeners in the Nazareth synagogue that day thought that they would be replaced if God’s Kingdom was opened up to Gentiles. Maybe they feared losing their special relationship with God.

But here is the thing: You cannot lose with Jesus. In Jesus, we have the assurance that God is always for us. It might not feel that way to you, especially if you are new to the Christian faith or coming to church for the first time. You might look around at others and think that they are so much further down the road in their journey with God that they must be a lot closer to God than you could ever be. God doesn’t look at whether we are members of a church or not, or how long we spend in Bible study and prayer. He looks at our heart. He is looking for people who realize that they are oppressed and in bondage to their own sin and brokenness and want to be set free. The Good News is that, because he loves you, Jesus willingly went to the cross to suffer and die so that the cost of forgiveness for the sins of the whole world could be more than paid for in full. With his resurrection from the dead on the third day that followed, Jesus has opened for you the door to new life with him, a new life that begins in the moment you first believe in him as Lord and Savior, a new life that continue into forever, and which reach its fulfillment when Jesus comes back to this world to make all things right and new, including us.

 In Jesus, you and I have everything. Jesus has given you his place in the family of God and you are now an heir to all the riches of heaven. You have God’s favour and the freedom of his complete and total forgiveness. You have been set free from sin, death and everlasting condemnation and you have been set free for life in God’s kingdom, reflecting the love and grace of Jesus into the world around you.

And the many spiritual blessings Jesus has showered down upon you reveal themselves in the smaller, tangible blessings God showers down up you each and every day. Did you have people around you that love you? That is a blessing from God. Is your health good enough that you can get up and walk around today? That is a blessing from God. Do you have a dry roof over your head and a warm bed in which to sleep? That is a blessing from God. We often take these things for granted, but each one shows us a fraction of God’s infinite love for us.

The remedy to our jealousy is not to get more stuff, but to see what we already have.

And this is why Jesus’ mission is what matters most because it is a mission to tell the people of the world what they have in Jesus. Those verses that Jesus read from Isaiah describe his mission. Jesus came to declare good news to the poor and freedom for the captives. He came to give sight to those who are blind, to give liberty to those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. This last phrase refers to the year of Jubilee and when all Jewish slaves would be set free, all debts would be canceled, and all family land would be returned. It is far too easy for us broken human beings to get hooked into chasing after fame, wealth or looking good. But Jesus has infinite love, mercy, grace and forgiveness for us, and he is offering us a life of freedom in him. Not only that, he is also inviting us to join him on his mission and be part of his work of redeeming and restoring all things. Partnering in life with Jesus, even the smallest, most ordinary aspects of our everyday life can have eternal significance as we live in his grace and follow him wherever he leads.

The Legend of Ali Hafed

There once was a wealthy Persian man named Ali Hafed who owned a very large farm with grain fields, orchards and gardens. He was content with his life until one day when he entertained a guest who told Ali all about diamond mines and how wealthy Ali would be if he had one.

Ali sold his farm and searched throughout the world for the rare stones he desired. He never found them and eventually, broken and defeated, he committed suicide.

One day, the man who bought Ali’s farm was watering one of his camels in a stream when he noticed a flash of light in the water. He dug in the sand of the stream and pulled out a stone that reflected all the colors of the rainbow. He had discovered Golconda, the most magnificent mine in all human history.

If Ali Hafed had stayed at home and tended his crops, orchard and gardens, he would have had acres of diamonds.[iii]

In the same way, when we stay with Jesus and tend our lives in him, we will discover that we are blessed beyond our wildest dreams.

Remember What You Already Have in Jesus

So the action that I am setting before you today is to remember who you are, the possessions you have been and the purpose you have been given in Jesus. When you do, you will realize that God does not operate on a zero-sum basis. Someone else’s blessing does not mean that there will be less for you. Quite the contrary. God’s kingdom is characterized by generosity and abundance, and by giving away to others what God has first given us, the total amount of generosity and abundance get multiplied, and we are blessed as we give. As Pastor Karl has often said, “You cannot outgive God.”

So we can be happy for other people when God blesses them, even when it looks like they jumped from behind to ahead of us. Their blessing is a sign of the incredible generosity of God, and that same generous God has greatly blessed us too. Amen.

(This sermon was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on March 26, 2023. For more info about WGLC, please go to wglc.org.)

[i] “Jealousy and Revenge,” Preaching.com (Internet; available at: https://www.preaching.com/sermon-illustrations/jealousy-and-revenge/; accessed arch 20, 2023).

[ii] Zawn Villines, “What Causes Jealousy?”, GoodTherapy (Internet; available at: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/jealousy-causes-envy-relationships-1216127; accessed March 25, 2023).

[iii] “The Diamond Mine of Golconda,” Ministry127 (Internet; available at: https://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/the-diamond-mine-of-golconda; accessed on March 25, 2023).

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