A Lot of Good News Today
Thirty years ago Anne Murray sang how "we sure could use a little good news today." We'll today we need more than a little, and we get our first clue that we're going to get it by comparing what Isaiah wrote in the Old Testament lesson with what Jesus read from Isaiah in the Gospel. Did you notice the two phrases Jesus left out? "To heal the brokenhearted" and "the day of vengeance of our God" are left out. I'm not sure why Jesus left out the part about the brokenhearted, but I do know why He left out the day of God's vengeance: because He has a lot of good news today.
Just who is the good news for according to Jesus? He says it's for the poor not the rich, the prisoner not the free, the blind not the seeing, the crushed not the all together. If you consider yourself rich this good news isn't for you today or any other day. If you think you're free, then the good news is not for you. If you think you see everything clearly now, go on and remain in your blindness. If you're not crushed, Jesus is not talking to you.
If you have nothing to offer Jesus, not riches, not talents, not time; if you have no excuses, no promises, no best efforts to lay before Him; if nothing in your hand you bring no opinions, no knowledge, no truths, then Jesus has something for you. If you are bankrupt of not only faith, hope, and love but can't even offer your repentance, remorse, and contrition to God, then there is more than a little good news for you here today.
The good news here today is for prisoners not the free. You are not free because you mock your chains. You are not free because you think you can break your chains anytime you want to. You are not free because you can't or won't see your chains. Remember the movie Truman about 15 years ago? For 30 years Truman lived inside a movie set without realizing it. He was a prisoner and didn't know it, but his ignorance didn't make him free. Likewise, sin, Death, and Devil keep many ignorant of their chains. For these there is no good news today. How could there be? Only one who knows he's in prison can ever be set free.
The good news Jesus proclaims today is for the blind not for those who see. If you don't know as Paul says that we come into this world spiritually blind, if you think by your own powers of sight you clearly perceive the things of God, then what do you care for the recovery of sight? You're the petulant child who gets so upset when you point out what you know they can't see. They'd rather remain blind than be shown they aren't seeing.
Last, Jesus says the good news is for the oppressed. I translate that "crushed." This verb means to break, shatter, crush, and it is a perfect passive. That means someone or something else has crushed you, and you are in a crushed state now and will be forever if no one intervenes. The good news is not for those who "have it all together." The good news is not for those that God's rules don't crush, break, or shatter. The good news is not for you if the Law brings forth from you well-crafted excuses or best laid plans to do better.
If we go back to the Old Testament lesson, we see that the good news, according to Isaiah, is for mourners, grievers, despairers. It's not for the bold and beautiful, the certain and sure, the little orphan Annies who just know the sun is going to come out tomorrow or little engines who know they can. The confident, rich young man walked away from the good news. The proud Pharisees had no use for it.
Ever catch a news story in the middle? Ever tune-in to a movie in progress? Isn't it exasperating when the news keeps mentioning a person but don't say what he's in the news for? Isn't it frustrating to be missing the key piece of information that makes the movie intelligible? Well, you could be exasperated and frustrated now. I've told you who the good news was and wasn't for, but I haven't told you what the good news is.
The good news Jesus says He's been anointed to preach is specifically the good news of a victory. It's good news to be told God is not angry with you; God loves you; God accepts you. That's all many think the good news is. But such good news leaves out Jesus. It leaves out God sending His only Son into flesh and blood to fight a battle, to fight our battle. God sent His beloved Son to war with only the weapons of flesh and blood to fight. Oh He had Divine power and might, but if He won with those, the victory would be God's not man's. So Jesus went into battle against our sins, the Death they bring, and the Devil who uses both to stake His claim on our souls, with nothing but our flesh and blood.
The good news is that Jesus won. Sin never established a beachhead in Him. Jesus, though tempted in every single way you are, never sinned, but you did, and because of that Death had a claim on you that the Devil prosecuted. So having won your war, Jesus still pled guilty to deserving your death, your hell, and all the punishments you rightly fear. And Jesus paid the last drop of blood, sweat, and tears owed. The last breath of life Jesus willingly gave to Death for you. This gave Jesus and you the victory over sin, Death, and Devil. The Devil can't find one sin of yours that Jesus didn't suffer and die for and rise victoriously over already.
So the good news is that you are freed from the prison of your sin and sinfulness. When Jesus says He has been sent to proclaim "freedom" for the prisoners, that's the Greek word usually translated "forgiveness." And that's how you should hear it. Jesus sets prisoners of sin free not by empowering them never to sin again, but by forgiving their sins. Free, unconditional forgiveness for the sake of His perfect life and guilty death is what opens the door for prisoners of sin.
The good news is recovery of sight. This happens because Jesus paid for your spiritual blindness. That's what God says in Isaiah 42:19, "Who is so blind as My Servant?" Because we are born spiritually blind doesn't mean we have an excuse for not seeing spiritual things. Our inability to see spiritual things is not like physical blindness for which there is no guilt. Jesus, the perfectly seeing Son of God, was convicted of being the most spiritually blind person ever, and won spiritual eyesight for all humanity. The good news is that as freely and as easily as Jesus gave physical sight that's how free and easy He gives recovery of spiritual sight.
And when we come to the crushed, we're back explicitly to forgiveness of sins. The word translated "release" in our insert is that same Greek word usually rendered "forgiveness." Hear that word here. The good news is forgiveness to those crushed by the weight of their sinfulness, or shattered by the weight of just one sin, or broken by many, many sins. And you don't really get how desperately the Lord wants to forgive your sins until you hear Isaiah 53:10 saying, "The Lord was pleased to crush Jesus, putting Him to grief" to make Him a sin offering. Rather than crush you, the Father was pleased to crush Jesus. Rather than you continue to be crushed by your sin or guilt, He wants to forgive you for Jesus' sake.
How then does this good news become yours? Isn't Jesus plain about that? Doesn't He say, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing?" Not so fast. That's not what Jesus actually says. He says literally, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears." Substituting these things on the outside of your head for something going on inside of your head makes the whole thing subjective. If this Scripture, which is all good news to poor, blind, crushed, prisoners of sins, is fulfilled in my hearing, what questions, what doubts, what anxieties immediately follow? Have I heard rightly? Did I hear correctly? Was I really hearing or was I daydreaming?
Jesus doesn't say His proclaiming the good news today is fulfilled in your hearing but in your ears. Well, really He says even more than that. He says it has forever been fulfilled in your ears. "Fulfilled" is another perfect passive. You don't do the fulfilling. God does, and He fulfills it forever and ever in your ears. This is objective. It's not about how you heard or are hearing but what you heard, what is in your ears? Good news is. The good news of a victory over sin, Death, and the Devil is in your ears today.
Notice how Jesus makes no mention of faith, of believing the good news. He doesn't say as many want to make Him say, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in you ears if you believe it," or, "as long as you have faith." Don't misunderstand the good news is the promise of victory, of forgiveness, of sight, and promises are made to be believed. But faith needs a place to hang it's hat. Faith needs something to hold on to. When faith isn't pointed to the place it's to hold on to, it turns inward, and you end up with faith in faith. You end up believing you believe. You make God's promises only as sure as the believing going on in your fallen heart.
Jesus would rescue us from this today. The good news that enriches poor sinners with salvation, frees sinners from the prison of sins by forgiving them, gives spiritual sight to the blind, and relieves those crushed by guilt by forgiving it, all this took place just now in your ears. All this good news, all this Gospel, all this forgiveness, all this spiritual sight, and all this freedom from guilt are all yours as sure as you have ears.
Jesus has placed all this good news in your ears by my mouth. This is reality. For His sake God has enriched you with salvation, released you from the prison of your sins, enlightened your darkness, and brought you out from under the guilts that crush you. Don't go on living as if you're bankrupt of salvation, as if you're imprisoned by your sins, as if you're blind to God's truth, as if you're crushed by guilt.
People do that you know. They have riches but act as though they're broke. There have been freed prisoners who refused to walk out of their cells. There are people with perfectly healthy eyes who still won't see. And there are people who refuse to put down loads that are crushing them. This is sad when it happens in the physical realm; sadder still in the spiritual. But it doesn't have to happen to you. In your ears Jesus has placed good news today, a lot of good news, so much good news that it will last all your days good days, bad days, happy days, sad days, light days, dark days. This good news will even outlast your last day. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday after Epiphany (20130127); Luke 4: 16-21