14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through all the surrounding area. 15He was teaching in their synagogues and being honored by everyone.

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As was his custom, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to set free those who are oppressed,

19and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

20He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began to tell them, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

 

Jesus’ Message of Release

 

Dear Friend in Christ,

          This past summer, a teenage in northern England received a commendation from the local police department for her efforts in helping to save lives.  Officials say that her efforts helped to save at least 8 lives.  What did she do?  She wrote more than 40 heartfelt notes of encouragement and then attached them to the railings of a local bridge.  The notes, officials say, helped to provide a critical boost for those who might be in the midst of a mental health crisis. 

          So how are you doing?  On the outside, perhaps you’re doing fine, but what about the inside?  Are you able to hide the inner turmoil?  Sin is the culprit that causes that turmoil.  We see the wickedness of the world.  We are affected by the evil words and actions of other people.  And then there is our own sinful nature.  We are held captive by our own thoughts.  Thoughts of things that we did wrong in our past.  Thoughts of the sin we are currently struggling with.  Thoughts that wonder when it’s all going to end.  Take heart, and know that Jesus realizes your struggles.  Even more, take heart and know that Jesus has some encouraging words for you.  Let’s take the next several minutes to reflect on a special message from Jesus: Jesus’ message of release

          Jesus made his way back to his home town, and his home congregation.  The synagogue where he would have attended through the years he grew up and into early adulthood.  By now, word had gotten back to these people.  Jesus was now becoming famous.  Just 6 miles down the road in Cana is where Jesus changed water into wine.  This miraculous act, coupled with word about what Jesus was saying, made this a highly anticipated visit. 

          This particular group of listeners was somewhat unique.  They had seen Jesus grow up.  They knew he had been in the family business, he was a carpenter. There hadn’t been anything too notable about Jesus in the past.   And yet, Jesus had been generating a lot of excitement.  The people gathered there were curious at the very least as to what Jesus might say. 

          Jesus was in that synagogue to preach.  It was the custom that renowned guest speakers be given a chance to preach or teach on a lesson from the prophets.  Jesus was accorded that privilege. Leading up to Jesus’ sermon, allow me to set the scene.  Our worship services have their roots in the synagogue services.  So there are similarities between what we are doing today, and what was done in those synagogue services in Jesus’ day.  There would be prayers and Scripture lessons.  Generally there would be a lesson read from the Law, which was from one of the books of Moses – Genesis through Deuteronomy – and there would be a lesson read from one of the prophets.  Following the reading from the prophets, a speaker would often provide commentary on the lesson.

          This is what Jesus provided on this particular day.  He would read a lesson and then essentially preach a sermon on it.  The Bible was contained on a series of scrolls, and so Jesus took the Isaiah scroll and came to the part he wanted to read.  He read from the lesson that serves as our Old Testament reading today: Isaiah 61.  Did you note the reaction of the people once Jesus read the text and then got ready to preach?  “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.” 

          Is there a time in your life that you can’t wait to hear what someone has to say?  They have your rapt attention.  You hang on their every word.  That’s what was happening at that synagogue in Nazareth.  Their eyes were glued to Jesus, curious as to what he was going to say next. 

          All we have of what Jesus said next is essentially his theme for his sermon.  He said: “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  In other words, what he just read from Isaiah is all about him.  These were striking words.  Words they would have never heard before.  In fact, much of what they would have heard is a message of the law.  You must do better!  You must be better! 

          But for the person being held captive by their own sin, that wasn’t a message that could bring any comfort.  In fact, it’s a message that could finally only drive a person to despair. 

          That’s what is so refreshingly different about the message that Jesus offered to them.  Jesus has good news to preach to the poor in spirit.  He has come to proclaim freedom to the captives, and to set the oppressed free. 

          This would have been a message that resounded with the people.  After all, they were looking for help from someone historically.  Their ancestors had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians.  And now they had felt the oppressive weight of Roman rule in their country. 

          But Jesus has a message of release!  Not release from the oppressive government.  That was never going to be permanent anyway.  The message of release that Jesus gave was much deeper than that.  It is a release from sin and guilt.

          Some time ago, the police department in Minersville, Pennsylvania received an envelope with $5 in it and a note accompanying it.  The note read: “Dear PD, I’ve been carrying this ticket around for 40 plus years.  Always intending to pay.  Forgive me if I don’t give you my info.  With respect, Dave.”  The man wrote as the return address: “Feeling guilty, Wayward Road, Anytown, CA.” 

          Can you imagine carrying around that guilt for all those years?  I think you can imagine it.  And you likely do more than imagine it.  You live it.  You carry around guilt.  Guilt from how you treated someone.  Guilt from a sin you’re struggling with privately.  Guilt from not living up to someone else’s expectations.  Guilt from not living up to God’s expectations. 

          Whatever guilt you are carrying around, Jesus has a message for you.  A message that releases you from your guilt because it releases you from your sin. 

          Jesus’ message to you is that you are living under his grace.  Think about what that means.  He knows that you sin.  He knows that you carry guilt because of it. He knows you are incapable of making up for the wrongs you have done.  He also knows that you are incapable of doing everything right as you go forward.  You are incapable of being perfect. 

          The message he has for you then is that he came to provide you the release that you need.  It is Jesus who came to do everything, and I mean everything right.  He accomplished exactly that.  And in so doing, he also died in your place so that you would be released from all your sins.  He literally sent sin away out of God’s sight forever.  Jesus tells us that we are free from the bonds of sin, because it is Jesus himself who has released us. 

          That means that you are now living in “the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Jesus’ original audience would have understood that when talking about “the year of the Lord’s favor,” he was talking about what was known as the Year of Jubilee.  The Year of Jubilee was something God had commanded in Leviticus that the people were to mark.  The Year of Jubilee took place once every 50 years.  During that year, 3 primary things were to take place: 1. Any land people had acquired was to be returned to their original owner.  This was a reminder that what they had wasn’t really theirs in the first place.  It belongs to God.  2. There would be no crops grown.  The land would lie fallow.  This was a reminder that they were to put their full trust in God, who promised to provide them in abundance before the Year of Jubilee came.  3. Any person who couldn’t repay a debt and had subsequently sold themselves into the service of another person, would now be released from their obligation.  What a great reminder that is of the release that Jesus has provided for you!

          So think of your life as a perpetual Year of Jubilee.  You are living in God’s grace.  You are living in his forgiveness.  He has released you from the debt of your sin, so that now you can freely serve him. 

          Jesus knows that his message of release is not something that comes naturally to us. Sin and guilt are daily companions.   That’s why he encourages you to hear it often.  Come back next Sunday, and hear it proclaimed to you again.  Let Jesus proclaim it to you every day as you make his Word your daily companion.  Jesus has released you!  Enjoy living in the year of jubilee…in His grace.   Amen.