This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on January 24, 2016.
The preacher will certainly want to spend time in prayer before writing this sermon, otherwise capturing the essence of the moment in Luke’s gospel may prove difficult. We’re told in this opening act of Jesus’ public ministry that he returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, a state that Jesus claims for himself with the opening line from Isaiah. One might assume that Jesus is always filled with this kind of power, but Luke seems to suggest otherwise. The Spirit of the Lord has come upon Jesus in a particular way, for a particular purpose, at this particular time. How, when and why did this happen?
Some answers come when we consider what has occurred before. It might be tempting to read this story in a vacuum, in which case the reader will assume that Jesus’ empowerment is instantaneous and happens simply because he is Jesus. However, the Spirit does not empower him without cause or context. Jesus has spent years in thoughtful, prayerful preparation, growing in favor with God and others (Luke 2:52). His vocation was then affirmed (Luke 3:16-17) just before he was baptized (Luke 3:21), filled with the Spirit and then led by the Spirit through a season of formational testing in the desert (Luke 4:1-2). Two things worth noting here: 1) it’s not coincidental that the pattern of Jesus’ life bears resemblance to the story of Israel. Before Jesus announces the fulfillment Isaiah’s promise, he passes through the waters and is led into the dessert to wrestle with temptations like miraculously making bread. The preacher might decide to do something with this. 2) Spiritual power didn’t just come over Jesus in the synagogue, it came with him, and powerfully worked through him, because he had waited and worked so powerfully with it over an extended period of time. In other words, when Jesus returned home to launch his public ministry, he came spiritually prepared, and the gospel writer does not want us to miss this.
If you miss the Spirit in Luke’s gospel, you’ve missed the essence of his gospel and the source of its power in this world. Luke stresses the Spirit more than any other gospel writer. It’s not insignificant that Luke has emphasized the work of the Spirit in the life of Jesus so much to this point, nor should it be forgotten that it is in the second volume of Luke’s work, Acts, that we learn of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and how the Spirit worked in the life of the early church. This emphasis on the Spirit’s relationship with Jesus and the church gives the preacher the opportunity to reflect upon the congregation’s own relationship with the Spirit. What role should the Spirit play in a church’s strategic planning for the future, as well as the ongoing maintenance of ministry programs in the present? How should the Spirit be engaged in the preparation process of professional and volunteer ministry leaders? Are individuals in the congregation giving adequate attention to the leadership of the Spirit in their own lives? So many possibilities for application could be explored, including the Spirit’s role in implementing the Isaiah prophecy.
The stated gospel work within the Isaiah text requires the Spirit both for proclamation and implementation. The words read from the Isaiah scroll serve as the mission statement of Jesus’ ministry, his self-proclaimed purpose in the world. This gives the preacher the opportunity to reflect upon the character and implications of the gospel as it is defined by Isaiah’s prophecy.
One cannot read Luke and ignore the fact that Jesus’ work is meant to be good news for the poor. The term “release” in Luke’s gospel is used primarily for the forgiveness of sins, but within the gospel we witness Jesus offering release for economic, physical, political and spiritual bondage as well. The recovery of sight for the blind can obviously refer to physical healing, but might also symbolize empowering people to see as God sees. The year of the Lord’s favor is connected to the Levitical legislation for Jubilee, a fiftieth year mandate that offered freedom to every inhabitant throughout the land (Leviticus 25). It’s been over 2000 years since Jesus read that Isaiah text in Galilee and sadly, its tenants are still relevant for the church today. The people of God still have work to do, work that cannot be accomplished apart from the Spirit’s power.
The invitation here is implicit. Will the people of God, gathered for worship, go from worship with a greater sense of their own vocation in the world or, at least, a desire to discern it? The Spirit is present in the world and among God’s people now just as it was then. In Luke’s gospel the Spirit was instrumental in the preparation, empowerment, and purpose of Jesus. Likewise, the Spirit continues to serve as a source of preparation, empowerment, and purpose. The same Spirit that was so significant in the life and work of Jesus is now available to us as we engage in the work of God in the world. How will that Spirit shape the preacher, the sermon, and the people of God this week?
Dr. Jason Edwards
Second Baptist Church, Liberty, MO
Tags: spirit, prayer, spiritual preparation, mission