We are presently in the season of Advent. A time when Christians look forward firstly to celebrating Christmas but also we look forward to Jesus’ return. No one knows when he will come again. many have tried to work out the date from the Bible and other sources. Yet Jesus made it perfectly clear that only God, our heavenly Father, knows the date. However it is certain that we are a day nearer to Jesus’ return than we were yesterday.
I preached the following sermon on Sunday 5th December 2010 at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church.
Luke 4:16 – 21
“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 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 preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” 20 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, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Every year through December Christians look forward to not only celebrate Christmas, Jesus’ birth but we also look forward to when he comes back in great glory. And when he returns many of the old testament prophecies which were partially fulfilled when he was on earth, will be completely fulfilled.
This morning’s reading from Luke’s gospel is at the start of Jesus’ public ministry and we find he is reading from Isaiah 61 a wonderful chapter of hope and comfort. In fact you could say it’s Jesus’ job description. In 1 John 3:8 we are reminded that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”.
In these verses quoted from Isaiah, Jesus is talking about spiritual issues. Yes as Christians we should have compassion on the physically poor and needy and have care for prisoners especially those who have been dealt with unjustly. And definitely we should take care of the disabled and the sick in our communities. But Jesus is speaking about spiritual issues.
Many people are spiritually poor. Thy have a hole in they lives which nothing but God can fill. People try everything to fill the hole, that aching that only God can truly satisfy. Drink, drugs, sex, gambling, work, possessions, false religions are just some of the things people use to fill that hole. But to be truthful nothing works. You can have a sackful of monopoly money or a big bag of chocolate coins but you can’t do your weekly shop in Asda with them.
You can even come to church, but unless you have a relationship with Jesus its as much good as standing in the queue at the bank and not actually having an account. When you get to the cashier you can’t take any money out because you don’t have any.
Put it another way. Say you need to buy a washing machine. You go to Curry’s or Comet or some similar store and look at the machines, even speak with a salesman and come away with a brochure. Its no good returning to the shop with your laundry basket, standing there for a while and taking the full basket home with you. Its no good if you do that every day. You are only going to get your washing clean when you make that decision and buy the washing machine and use it. Until you come into a relationship with Jesus nothing will happen to get your life sorted.
But Jesus came to bring good news to the spiritually poor in effect to say that they can have an account with him with so many blessings in it that its inexhaustible. Jesus gives us so much that we can never be overdrawn!
Now I taking these verses out of order. But what about the spiritually blind? Those who can’t see Jesus for who he is. Maybe they’ve left him as the cute baby in the stable at Christmas. Or maybe they have in their great wisdom decided he was a good man, but one amongst many good men. Many of the world’s religions attempt to deal with Jesus. They say “He was a prophet but not as great as mohammed” or “he is another reincarnation of our particular god”. Some people just don’t see the need for a Saviour “I’m a good man, so I’ll be alright with God when I die”. Some even declare that there is nothing after death, so why worry about the future and whether the consequences of our actions catch up with us, as we just cease to exist.
But Jesus came to bring sight to the spiritually blind so that they can see him for who he is, and indeed they can see the world properly. Saul of Tarsus, a very religious man, was blind until that day he met with Jesus on the Road to Damascus. Then he could see the futility of his life fighting Jesus and relying on rules and regulations.
When you see the world from God’s perspective things begin to make sense. You realise what is important and what is trivial. As an hymn writer put it “passing soon and little worth are the things that tempt on earth”. You can also see the truth in Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
In Luke 4: 19, Jesus states he has come to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. Way back in the Old Testament, when God instructed Moses how the Jews were to live when they came to the promised land, he set out the Year of Jubilee. You can read about this in Leviticus 25. Every 50 years, loans were to be written off, mortgaged property returned to its rightful owner and slaves would be set free.
You may say that we now longer have slavery in this country thanks to William Wilberforce and other Christians of his era. And in the main, that is true.
But what about addictions? If you are addicted to something then you are a slave to it. It owns you rather than you own and control it. People can be addicted/enslaved to all sorts of things. Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, gambling, sex, computer games, shopping to name but a few. Life revolves around their addiction. They live for their next “fix”. Last Monday I conducted the funeral service for a young lady of 40 who would drink at least a bottle of vodka a day. That’s 40 units of alcohol when the recommended maximum for a woman is two units a day. She left behind two young daughters.
Some time ago I tried to counsel a man who clearly had a drink problem. He couldn’t leave the house before he had drunk at least one can of strong lager, which probably put him over the limit as he drove off in his struck. When I saw him in the early evening he’d had five cans of lager before I met him! It was clear who ruled his life.
In this country many addicts are taken off heroin and put onto methadone. But whilst it is less harmful than heroin it is many more times more addictive. I was listening to a radio programme about a lady who runs an addiction clinic in this country and she said that one of her clients had been on methadone for 30 years. That is how the health service cared for him. Ever day he would go to the chemist for his dose of methadone. He is enslaved by that small measure of green liquid that looks just like Fairy Liquid.
But Jesus has come to set people free, to proclaim their freedom.
Maybe you’ve heard of Jackie Pullinger a missionary in Hong Kong whom God is using mightily to set people free form heroin addiction.
Also “the year of the Lord’s favour” talks about returning property and entitlements. So when you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, you get back all that the enemy has taken from you and especially the close relationship with God whereby we can truly call him Father and we become his precious sons and daughters. Lets face it many non believers don’t feel that they are precious and loved and have no idea of their value.
And so to verse 18 “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners...” Have any of you every been in prison or in police cells? Many years ago a friend of mine spent time in Pentonville. It wasn’t as clear cut as the court report would have you believe and indeed one person could have spoken for the defendant to set the record straight and save him from incarceration. But that man decided not to as he didn’t want to cause trouble. So my friend was banged up and he found that he wasn’t master of his own destiny. He was not free. Although, we prayed for him and he was out in six weeks rather than the six months he was sentenced to.
When you are in prison you can’t live life as you should. Your choices are extremely limited and it is highly unlikely that you can free yourself. Those miners in Chile were imprisoned underground for months until they were rescued. They couldn’t set themselves free.
So what can imprison us? Surely in Christ we are free? As a Christian we have the ultimate freedom that when we die we know we will go to heaven to be with God and with Jesus and all the other believers. But here on earth we can still be imprisoned or restrained by many things.
There is an old saying that “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me”. Well, that is not always true. Words are very powerful and can act as a curse on our lives. Here are just a few of the words that not only condemn us but bind and imprison us:
Maybe comments have been made about us: “you’ll never be any good”, “Who would want to go out with you?” “Nobody wants to listen to you” “you’re not as good as your brother” Even, I’ve heard of people leaving a church being told that they’ll never be happy at their new church.
Or how about when we curse ourselves by saying words like “I’ll never forgive myself”, “God can never forgive me for what I’ve done”
The list is endless but we curse ourselves and other people often without realising it.
We can be imprisoned by our sins and indeed the sins of others. I’ll call her Kathy. She had been sexually abused in teenage years and felt so unloved and undervalued that she participated in all sorts of sinful activities and was so emotionally and mentally damaged by others that her psychiatrist told her she would never cope in the world on her own and never hold down a job. But my friend Jean, a Christian counsellor, stuck with her for some seven years showing her God’s love and praying for her and with her. Eventually Kathy went to college and got a full-time job and more importantly came to faith in Jesus. And was set free.
We can also be imprisoned by our worries and our concerns.
And the good news today is that as the hymn writer put it when talking about Jesus: “He comes the prisoner to release in satan’s bondage held. The gates of brass before him burst, the iron fetters yield”
Jesus can and does set people free, not only from their own sins but from anything else that imprisons them. If you are a Christian then you should have the desire to do what Jesus did. The idea of a disciple was that he saw what his rabbi did and then did the same. And Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to live in each and every believer so that we not only become more like Jesus but also we can exercise his power and authority.
And in case you think that setting people free and delivering them from the evil one is only for “special” Christians and not for you then this is what Jesus says in John 14:12 – 14 “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
So today if you find that you are enslaved or imprisoned or we are spiritually poor or blind, the good news is that Jesus came to redeem you and release you. And we are to bring this good news to the world and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. Amen.