More Than Us


We’re going to be in Luke 4 today.

Today is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday
and it marks the beginning of the season of Lent
the season of sobering reflection that leads us to the crucifixion of Jesus.

Today we reflect once again
on God revealing himself
to the world in Jesus.

The Great Mystery,
the Source, the Meaning of Life,
has revealed himself to the world:

If you want to know what God is like,
you look at Jesus.

Let’s see what Jesus is up to Luke 4.

(We’re going to be reading and reflecting in two parts today.)

(Luke 4.14-21)

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.

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.”

How epic of a sermon is that?

If you’ve ever want to listen to a short sermon,
Jesus has you covered.

You get up, read the scroll of Isaiah, sit back down,
and then say: “Prophecy fulfilled—I’m here.”

(I would try that sometime, expect for the fact that I’m not God incarnate. )

So Jesus returns to Galilee (v14)—to where he grew up—
and news travels fast that Jesus is here.

He’s doing some lecturing and teaching in their synagogues (v15)
and the town is buzzing with excitement.

They’re probably saying,

“Jesus is here, Jesus is back, Jesus is here,”

There was a presidential buzz around Jesus
an excitement that he might be the guy who would finally set things right.

They had all kinds of expectations about what a king could do—
conquer and deport all of these Romans,
the Jewish homeland to them,
usher in the kingdom of God.

“Jesus is here, Jesus is back.

He might be the Messiah—the Christ, the King
that we’ve all been waiting for.”

We still do this.
We still get enamored with Messiahs.

We still pin a lot on personalities.

Just look at the 2008 presidential election.

For that matter—on a smaller scale—
just look at this election.

At the excitement on both sides—
the buzz surrounding a billionaire businessman and a democratic socialist.

It’s the same excitement on both sides—
“this might be guy.”

This might be the guy who can transform the world—
who can right the wrongs,
who can restore what’s broken,
and can help us as a people.

And Jesus doesn’t help—
he just throws fuel on the fire

because he reads an I-might-be-the-guy passage
from the scroll of Isaiah.

Jesus reads what we call Isaiah chapter 61.

We’ve got Luke 4 there on the left,
and the scroll of Isaiah there on the right.

And he creatively supplements it—he spices it up
with little bits Isaiah 42 and 58.

People had been reading Isaiah’s poetic prophecy for centuries,
pouring over the words and wondering:
“when will their God do this?”

Isaiah’s words haunted them.

When will God rescue us?
When will God set us free?
When will God restore our fortunes?

When will we experience the year of the Lord’s favor—
the great Jubilee year to end all Jubilee years?

I think Isaiah’s words haunt us a lot times.

It takes countless different shapes in our own lives,
but what we really want to know is:

When will God rescue us?
When will God set us free?

When will God restore our fortunes?

Jesus comes into the synagogue,
stands up and reads this bit of Scripture,
and says, “You’re watching history. It’s happening.”

“In me—in what I’m doing—
you’re seeing the rescue of God.”

if you’ve ever wondered what God is all about,
Jesus just read it to you.

This is what Jesus reveals about God.

God’s design, God’s desire, what God does,
is rescue, save, redeem,

God wants
to open eyes,
to set free,
to heal.

He often defies our expectations about how he should do it.

I mean, Jesus doesn’t overthrow Rome
or give the Jewish people their land

but he does bring the kingdom of God.

He does bring freedom and healing,
and this is what God is always up to.

Jesus comes to Nazareth full of the Spirit of God (v14)
and this is what the Spirit of God does.

God is always healing,
always saving, always setting free.

In the person of Jesus
we have the year of the Lord’s favor
proclaimed to us in the clearest of ways.

God’s choice
is to rescue
not to abandon.

God’s choice
is to forgive
not to condemn.

Just remember the prayer that Jesus is gasping from the cross:
“Father forgive these people—these people who are killing me.”

This is the epiphany—the “Aha moment”—
we have when we look at Jesus.

Jesus puts what God is like on display.
Jesus puts the love of God on display.

Jesus reveals to me
that God loves me.

Jesus reveals to us 
that God loves us.

Jesus is proclaiming the year of the God’s favor to us.

That’s good news.

Now let’s keep reading this story.

(Lk 4.22-30) All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that 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.”

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. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

So the people of Nazareth hear Jesus read the scroll of Isaiah
and (v22) they all speak well of him and his gracious words.

He quotes one of their favorite bits of Isaiah,
and says that he’s fulfilling it—

Jesus is the walking, talking, flesh-and-blood confirmation
of God’s love and loyalty and forgiveness.

But then something happens.

It happens quick.
it might be easy to miss.

But for sure,
something happens.

Because in verse 28
the people go into a frenzy
and try to kill Jesus.

They drive him out of town (v29)
and want to throw him off a cliff—
probably to stone him.

That’s how a stoning would often work.

You would throw someone
in a pit, in a quarry, off a cliff,
and that would hurt them.

And then you throw big rocks at them until they died.

What is it that happens
that drives people into such a frenzy
and makes them want to kill Jesus?

I mean, Jesus is the hometown celebrity—
“this is Joseph’s son” (v22)—
he’s one of them.

What on earth happens in verse 24-27?

I think Jesus pushes them a bit.

He uses a common expression of the day (v23)
because he knows that everyone is going to want
the physician to heal himself—
to heal the hometown.

They’re all going to want him to put on a magic show for them—
to do the kinds of things he’s been doing other places (like Capernaum).

They all feel a little entitled
(“You, Jesus, should be doing certain things here”)
and Jesus is addressing it head on.

And so Jesus pushes them a little bit
by bringing up two prophets from the Old Testament—
Elijah and Elisha.

He says:
There were a lot of people who were hurting back in Elijah’s day—
a lot of widows even.

But Elijah wasn’t sent to the hometown widows
to the widows who felt entitled to God’s blessing.

Elijah was only sent to help the widow
in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.

Not the widows of Nazareth.
Not the widows of Jerusalem.

Elijah helped a non-Jewish widow—a pagan widow.

And Elisha was even worse.

He didn’t cleanse any of the hometown lepers
who felt entitled to God’s cleansing

He cleansed Naaman the Syrian of leprosy.

Naaman was an enemy warlord, a commander of enemy forces.

That’s aiding and abetting the enemy.

Nazareth doesn’t get worked up when Jesus proclaims
the Year of the Lord’s Favor for Israel.

For the religious people.
For the right people.
For our people.

Nazareth gets worked up
when Jesus starts proclaiming
the year of God’s favor for all people.

At first it’s: “God cares for us, God remembers us, God loves us”
and they grin ear-to-ear about his gracious words.

But then Jesus says
God loves more than just “us.”

God loving me—that’s great.

God loving us—those around me, my family and friends—that’s great too.

Jesus is here to put the love of God on display
to bring healing and love and mercy and restoration
to our lives.

God loves me. God loves us.

That makes us feel warm and fuzzy.

But God loving THEM…

those pagan widows,
those enemy warlords,
God loving THEM is what makes people angry.

That’s where people go ballistic.

That’s why people try to throw Jesus off a cliff.

At first that seems so inconceivable—so unrealistic.

People don’t just snap like that, right?

But imagine—for just a second—

what would happen if someone came into a church
and put the Iranian flag on display next to the American flag
at the front of the sanctuary.

Imagine what would happen if the music leader
tried to lead a faith community in a rousing chorus
of “God bless North Korea.”

People would go ballistic.

It’s easy for us to think
that the Year of the Lord’s Favor
is for us and us alone.

It’s easy to drift into thinking
that we’ve received the Lord’s Favor
because we’re God’s favorites.

But God has no favorites.

That’s some of what Jesus is saying here in Nazareth.

Jesus is here
to bring healing and love and mercy
to the people we think deserve it least.

To those people who aren’t like us.

To those people who don’t think like us,
or act like us, or believe like us.

To that ex.
To that arrogant boss.

To that liberal.
To that conservative.

To those terrorists.

To those people who started it,
to those people we’ve written off,
to those people whom we secretly despise,
to those people who literally are our enemies.

Those are the people God wants to heal and restore.
Those are the people God wants to set free.

Those are the people God loves.


Jesus reveals to us
that God loves more than us.

Jesus reveals to us
that God loves them too.

That’s the epiphany in Nazareth that we might not care for.

God loves me, God loves us—yes, that’s such good news.

AND…God loves more than us
God loves them too.

That’s when people come unglued.

Whoever “them” is.

Them people who aren’t doing it right,
them people
who don’t deserve it,
them people who had their chance—
who have had chance after chance after chance.

They don’t deserve God’s love—
they deserve something else.

They deserve God’s vengeance.


Let’s throw that comparison slide back up.

Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah,
but then he stops short.

I think he stops before he gets to everyone’s favorite part.

He leaves off the end of Isaiah 61, verse 2.
He leaves out the part about God’s vengeance.

It’s not because
Jesus doesn’t take Scripture seriously.

It’s not because
Jesus doesn’t take God’s holiness or God’s justice seriously.

It’s not because
Jesus doesn’t take human sin seriously.

I think it’s because

Jesus takes human sin
more seriously than we do.

He knows that we misunderstand that vengeance part—
that we—if we’re honest—we kind of relish the idea of God’s vengeance.

Of the people we despise
getting what they deserve,
getting a good smiting from God.

And so Jesus has got to stop short in Isaiah—
he just leaves his sermon at the Year of the Lord’s Favor
and then he proceeds to tell them that God loves even “them.”

Even pagan widows.
enemy warlords.

Whoever it is that we’ve written off
that we might delusionally think God has written off
God loves “them” more than we can imagine.


Who does God love?
Well, who do you hate?

Because that’s who God loves.
And God is eventually going to fill you with love for them too.

There’s a really big difference between us and God.

We get tired of loving those
who want nothing to do with us.

But God doesn’t.

We get exhausted with reaching out
to those we count as our enemies.

But God doesn’t.

That’s the gospel.

That while someone else’s enemy
that while we’re God’s enemies
that while we’re murdering the man that Nazareth couldn’t—
the reality is that Christ was dying for us (cf. Rom 5).

The reality is that in Christ
God took the Day of Vengeance
onto himself.

The Day of Vengeance was the day of the cross.

Jesus takes the vengeance we all deserve
so that we can all receive what we don’t deserve.

God condemned sin on the cross
so that he could save sinners.

That’s what this table is about.

None of us deserve
God’s love and mercy and healing.

None of us deserve God’s forgiveness.

God just freely loves
God just freely forgives.

And God loves more than us.

God loves them too.

As we come to the table this morning,
who’s your “them”?

Maybe it’s a person who has hurt you—
and somewhere along the way you’ve written them off.

Maybe it’s a group of people—
an organization, a political party, a religious group.

As we come and receive from the table this morning—
as we receive a bit of cracker, dip it in the juice—

as we touch and taste reminders of God’s love for us,
maybe these could be reminders of God’s love for them too.

Maybe we could remember “them” as we come to the table,
and pray that God would fill us
with his love for them.

Sometimes literally don’t have any love for “them”
and so we need God to fill us with his love for them.

That’s what Christians are meant to be in the world.

We’re meant to look like Christ.

Maybe we’re supposed to be those people that others want to throw off a cliff
because we love the people everyone else has written off.

Maybe we’re supposed to be the people who love
those who don’t deserve to be loved.

God’s loves them,
and as we’re filled with his Spirit,
eventually we’re going to love them too.

We celebrate an open table—
it really is open.

This table is open to more than us.

The only requirement for coming to this table
is to recognize and remember that we
we of all people—don’t deserve it.

Every single day—and even in this moment—
we can receive the love of God,
not because of our goodness
but because of God’s goodness.

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