Sermon: Being Good Messengers
“‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.’” [St. Luke 4:18-19]
These words are words of great beauty and power. Jesus, in this passage, is quoting Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me;
because the LORD hath anointed me to
preach good tidings unto the
he hath sent me to bind up the broken-
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to them
that are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all that mourn;
To appoint unto them that mourn in
to give unto them beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of
that they might be called trees of
the planting of the LORD, that he might
be glorified. [Isaiah 61:1-3]
Although Christ does not quote the whole passage, He does quote that part which He is fulfilling. And in quoting this passage, Jesus is announcing to all that He is the Messiah. And in the beginning, these people were very pleased with what Jesus had said.
However, at this time in Judea, the people were expecting a Messiah that was a warrior and a liberator. Jesus knew these people did not fully understand. He stopped in the quotation exactly where it should be stopped to convey the proper message. And now we know that the second half will be fulfilled at Christ’s Second Coming. But that did not help those who were listening.
In the passage immediately after this one, Christ tries to explain to the people that, what they expect, they will not get. And when Jesus said, in a rather indirect way, that he may not be healing anyone or performing miracles in this town, the people became angry and tried to kill Him.
There are several things that strike me about this passage. The first is how wonderful this passage really is. Christ says that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him. He is FROM God. In fact we know that He IS God. Christ is the eternal Son of God. So, Christ did not BECOME the world’s anointed Savior. He always IS our Savior. Jesus has been our Savior from the very foundation of the World. This is why we know it was Christ speaking through Isaiah.
It is also interesting that Christ does not say, “The Spirit of the Lord has come upon me.” Rather, He says that it IS upon Him, revealing His divine nature.
But this isn’t all that is contained in this passage. Christ tells us that He has fulfilled the preaching of the gospel to the poor; He has healed the broken-hearted; He has preached deliverance to the captive; He has brought sight back to the blind; He has set free those who have been bruised; and finally, He has proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord. And He says that He has done all these things when He concludes this passage with these words:
And he began to say unto them, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”
How wonderful these words really are. And they speak on more than one level. Although He literally brought sight back to the blind, most of these things speak to us on a much deeper level.
Christ’s Gospel has, through the centuries, healed the broken-hearted. It IS literally the “good news.” That is what “gospel” means, “good news.” And it is this good news that has healed many broken hearts. But there is even more.
Look at the next part, to preach deliverance to the captives. Yet, in our Epistle lesson, Saint Paul is writing from a Roman prison, awaiting execution. How is he delivered? Well, as many will recall from their catechism, we ARE delivered – from the prison of sin.
Likewise, we are all blind. We are blind to our sins, to our short-comings, and to the reality of God and His creation. Only when we become Christians, only when we accept Christ as our Savior do we begin to see. Christ was also speaking of this blindness when He gave Isaiah this passage and again when He read it in that synagogue so many centuries ago.
Everything that Christ quotes as being fulfilled in the ears of these listeners IS fulfilled through our faith. It was fulfilled in that synagogue; and it has been fulfilled every time someone listens to the Gospel and believes!
So, as wonderful as this message is, why do so many reject it? After all, these people aren’t the ONLY people who reject Christ’s message. So why do they do this?
As Christians, it may be hard for us to understand why so many reject this message of hope. Even I, who has been a Christian for the last thirty years, have a hard time remembering how I felt and why I rejected the message. But, as I wrack my brain, there are certain things that come to mind.
The first is that I did not think sin WAS sin. I rejected the need for a savior by rejecting the notion OF sin. If something is wrong, it is wrong because of reasons that have nothing to do with God – I thought. However, the truth is that, if we remove God, nothing is wrong. Nothing is prohibited. But, I did not even try to figure this part out.
The second is that the blind, if blind from birth, do not really notice a difference. They think being blind is natural because it is natural to them. Likewise, being born sinful, without being told that it is sin, makes us blind to its nature. And although we may gain an understanding of sin that makes it possible for us to see the more egregious cases, the subtler types may escape our notice. Only when we become Christian do we start to understand the extent of our nature and of sin itself. But again being blind may lead us to reject Christ’s message to us.
But the final reason that people reject Christ’s message has little to do with the message and a lot to do with the messengers.
We know that Christ spoke with power and authority, and that many came to believe in Him, even though they may not have fully understood what Christ was telling them. But many people who speak in Christ’s name do more damage than good.
Now, there are basically two types of people who actually hurt the spread of Christ’s message: those who are false Christians and those who are true Christians, but who come off too strong. And both have the same inherent problem. They both allow themselves to get in the way of the message.
The false Christians are the most destructive. These are the people who warp Jesus’ message to fit their own personal view. Some are heretical; others are just purely full of hate. The minister that instantly comes to mind is the Reverend Phelps This present day false Christian says that God is punishing our nation. What is his Christian response to this belief? He and his congregation go to funerals of fallen soldiers and hold up signs so that their family can see saying that the soldier is going to burn in hell. What a loving act of Christian kindness. This is an extreme case, but these are the types of people that cause non-believers to reject Jesus’ message of hope and love.
The second group means well, but they are so zealous that they come off badly. They are actually annoying. And, although we can write this enthusiasm off in the beginning, after a while, I begin to wonder if it is pride or egotism that is getting in the way. Do they see themselves as the savior? Do they not know that no one really converts unless the Holy Ghost is working through them? These people are the type of person that even believers avoid because it is just too much. This also causes many non-believers to stop listening. And this is a pity.
But there is a final level of message in our Gospel passage for today, and it has a lot to do with why it was chosen for the Feast of Saint Luke. We need to read this passage and the passage from Isaiah as referring to US as well.
We are all in the priesthood of believers. We have all, by our faith, been anointed to preach the Gospel to the poor in spirit. We are to allow the Holy Ghost to work through us so that God can heal the broken-hearted. We are to allow God’s Spirit to preach through us deliverance to the captive and sight to the blind. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to set at liberty those who are bruised and most importantly to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
It is time we stop thinking that it is the “other person’s job” to preach the Gospel. It is time we all step up to the plate, accept our responsibility as Christians to spread the Gospel, and to do so. And the best way we can do this is to get ourselves out of the way of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray that He uses us, and that we are never stumbling blocks to others in their faith. And, if we do this, people WILL come to Christ and maybe even to our Church.