Jesus’ Brilliant (and nearly fatal) First Sermon: A New Year Meditation

Well, most of us do not face the possibility of getting thrown off a cliff after our next sermon. This is a good thing to be sure, but makes one question ones preaching. As one Anglican pastor has said, “After Jesus’ sermon, they tried to kill him…But after mine, they invite me for tea”.

Well, whether you are a preacher or not, Kenneth Bailey once again helps us think through why Jesus’ first sermon was so anger-inducing for some and why this first sermon is so important for EVERYONE who follows Jesus.

So why such provocations?

  1. First, Jesus shifted/changed/left out several verses that he was reading which everyone would have noticed (evidently you were allowed to do this in official readings as long as it carried a thought along clearly and didn’t stop the flow of the reading for the translator).

Luke 4:16-31 (*indicates changes made to original text)

16 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,17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me

  1. to proclaim good newsto the poor.                                                         PROCLAIM
  2. He has sent me* to proclaim freedom for the prisoners                        SENT
  3. and recovery of sight for the blind,                                                                          SIGHT
  4. to send forth the oppressed free,*                                                                  SEND
  5. to proclaim* the year of the Lord’s favor.”*                                        PROCLAIM

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 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All [witnessed against him], and were amazed at the words of mercy that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 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.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 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. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy[b] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 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. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

  1. What did Jesus change?
    1. In the first, “to bind up the broken hearted” is LEFT OUT COMPLETELY.
    2. The second appears after an entire phrase IS BROUGHT IN FROM ISAIAH 58:6
    3. The third marks where the word “to call” has been upgraded into a word that means “to proclaim a message”.
    4. The final asterisk is where a verse has been cut in half with the second half OMITTED (“a day of vengeance of our God”).
  2. The last verse notes the reason for the crowd’s “witnessing against him” (though the NIV reads ‘spoke well of him’). This was not that they were initially happy with his words then turned sour. These words are a stumbling block. WHY?
    1. The whole of Isaiah 61 speaks of Gentiles being defeated > Gentiles (aliens) as Israel’s servants > Israel as rulers enjoying dominion> and the Gentiles wealth in the hands of Israel…etc. etc.
    2. This is a picture of Israel gloating over – and rejoicing at the expense of their Gentile neighbors. This is their final victory that they were all waiting for from God (and the Messiah).
    3. Jesus turned this JUDGEMENT text (and picture of the future) into a MERCY text. They wanted the Messianic age to be a golden age for “US” and vengeance on “THEM”, but Jesus effectively turned it up side down.

The people who they thought were in (themselves)– were actually out. And the people they thought were out (Gentiles) – were actually in. (This is disturbing indeed. Good thing this has nothing to do with us…;))

    1. The Qumran scrolls denote a Messiah who would:
      1. Have the Holy Spirit resting on him
      2. Preach the good news to the poor
      3. Release the captives
      4. Open the eyes of the blind
      5. Raise up the downtrodden
      6. Heal the sick
      7. Raise the dead
    2. *So here is Jesus referring all of these things to himself from Isaiah
  1. So why does Jesus re-arrange? (Perhaps to show what his program is all about?)
    1. Kenneth Bailey suggests Jesus is declaring what his ministry is about.  It is about breaking the economic, social, political and spiritual chains that kept people in bondage. It is about turning our images of God and of others upside down. It is about coming face to face with a God who shows pure grace and compassion to all people – regardless of race, sex, religion, gender or vocation.
    2. Note the A B C B A chiastic structure. (A A’) has to do with proclamation. (B B’) speaks of justice advocacy. (C C’) tells of compassion (sight for the blind). Thus we have:

A    proclamation

                B     justice advocacy

                                C     compassion

                B’     justice advocacy

A’     proclamation

  1. Some NOTES:
    1. AA’ – “the poor” here is anawim (rather than ani) which denotes “meek or humble” rather than an economic identification of “low wealth”.
    2. BB’ – note that the first one is sent out in freedom and second, the anointed sends out someone else to bring about freedom.
    3. CC’ – A lot of talk about this but in short, sight for the blind was always a Messianic hope of compassion for those who are in pain, hurting, at the edge of society, oppressed.
    4. NOTICE that the church is focused on what they will get from the Messiah and the Messianic age.
    5. But Jesus is saying “Being apart of me inclines you to be like me. This is what I am doing and I want to send you out to do the same”. 
  1. NOTICE finally the two examples Jesus uses: a) widow and b) Naaman
    1. Widow: In short, the widow pledged faith in a God of mercy (who was not in her territory, as many believed then) and yet she trusted that the God of Israel is a God merciful to all people, not just to Israel.
    2. Naaman: We all know this story, Jesus is recalling the remarkable faith (most specifically of Naaman and his household) – again, of someone who trusts in the grace of a God – whom Naaman knows – has no reason to be gracious to him.

*Jesus is basically saying “If you want a part of this golden age, you need to have faith like these Gentiles. These Gentiles put their faith in a God who shows no partiality, with an authentic faith of trust and obedience. 

*And secondly, notice that Elijah left Israel (sent out) for the widow. And Elisha attracted Naaman to Israel. Bailey notes how these scriptures denote the centrifugal and centripetal forces of mission.

*Thirdly, these stories also denote a full-bodied form of faith. Faith here is a) intellectual assent b) daily walk of trust and c) obedience. Faith is authentic in so far as it is being acted upon in daily trust and obedience.

  1. In Summary (here are some take-a-ways for the NEW YEAR):
    1. Jesus is FOR you – but Jesus is also FOR the people that you don’t like and don’t think are necessarily “in” because of ______ or ______ (fill in the blank).
    2. Jesus is SENT OUT with a particular agenda and then SENDS OTHERS out with the same agenda.
    3. Therefore, Jesus calls each of us to participate with him in proclamation (word or deed), justice work (in every form), and compassion (daily acts of kindness, love and openness to those around us).
    4. Finally, Jesus illustrates faith using a woman and a man (both of whom are racially Gentiles). In other words, Jesus is in the business of tearing down barriers that we constantly set up (whether it be church, race, religion, gender or sexuality). His Kingdom is one of “equal footing” in every way (as he cleverly shows us over and over again).

So no “resolutions” for me this year – just the re-recognition of Jesus’ resolutions. A constant re-look at what he is on about in my proximity.

Perhaps as much or more than any other age – this is a time that we need to hear Jesus saying that God is FOR all people – especially those who our (Christian) society suggests are out.

May your New Year bring you in line with God’s agenda – which always orients around gracious compassion for every person throughout your day.

May your New Year bring you to a place of recognizing that God is FOR you so that you can learn to be creatively FOR others. 

Though do be careful when preaching at churches on high cliffs.  🙂


Published by Ryan Hayes

Ryan Hayes is a development practitioner, teacher and co-author of his first book of poems, Paralipomenon. Being born in Nairobi, Kenya and living most of his life in Africa, he has a wealth of experience and understanding into the cultural and linguistic factors of South-East Africa. Ryan is happily married to Justine with whom they have begotten three beautiful girls – Amelie, Lily and Rylee. He is a lifelong learner and devoted student of Jesus, mysticism, quantum physics and the human psyche.

7 thoughts on “Jesus’ Brilliant (and nearly fatal) First Sermon: A New Year Meditation

  1. Hi Ryan!! I finally got to read this as my morning devo this morning!!! LOVED IT! So very good and insightful and well-written!! Don’t you just LOVE Jesus!!! Such a GOOD, GOOD Father that we have!
    Love you so much! Hope to see you by Skype this weekend!!!

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