“You know this stock market problem that’s been going on this month? I have it all figured out. I have it figured out as to how you can overcome that and how from now on have a two hundred percent growth rate every year for the rest of your lives. You can listen to me.” I have something else for you, too. “You know this presidential nomination process that’s been going on for who knows how long? I have it all figured out as to exactly who is the one who will give our nation peace from all our enemies that will never be interrupted and freedom from any crime that could ever possibly be committed. You can listen to me.” When you hear the preacher preach, you want to believe what your ears hear, right? And as long as the preacher says what God’s Word says, you can. But I assume you might think you needed to get your ears checked if you heard Pastor Casmer or me say something like I just said. But it goes deeper than that, doesn’t it? Those words might come into your ears, but the reality of what you have seen with your eyes and what you know from your experience in life would make it painfully clear that you could not in any way believe the words that you were hearing. If that is what you heard the preacher say someday in church, you would know that it wasn’t your ears that needed checking and correcting, but the mouth of the preacher who would dare to say such foolish and outlandish things.
When Jesus concluded his sermon in the synagogue church of his hometown of Nazareth by saying, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” – literally, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears” — most of the people who heard him say that thought that he was saying something completely foolish and totally outlandish – and that will be one of the main thoughts of next week’s sermon as this lesson from this same chapter of the Bible continues. But today I would like us to think about the comfort of the things that Jesus said and the impact they can have on us every day of our lives. When it comes to what Jesus tells you, “You can believe your ears!”
Jesus’ ears had recently heard two totally different things as he was beginning his earthly ministry. He had heard his Father say, “This is my Son whom I love. With him I am well-pleased,” when he was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, and then he had heard the devil say, “If you really are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread,” as Satan tempted Jesus to do what he wanted him to do and not what his Father had sent him to do.
The ears of the people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth had recently heard something, too. They had heard the news about their native son as people all over the place talked about this man from Nazareth teaching things by his own power and authority, rather than referring to the traditions of the elders, and doing miracles like changing water into wine and empowering someone to walk who had not been able to walk for four decades. It’s no wonder that they asked him to be the Rabbi for the day at their worship service, as the Jews would often do for any visiting Rabbi that came into their area.
But Jesus obviously was a different kind of preacher, because not only did he preach, but he was the very content of what he preached. And that is because of who he is. He is someone who, as the words in the scroll of the prophet Isaiah said, had been anointed by the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,” the Son of God had said in prophecy seven centuries before. Those words are echoed in the opening verse of our lesson where it says that “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” When those words are spoken about Jesus, they are not just saying he was some powerful guy whom the Holy Spirit was helping along. What those words are reminding us of is that the prophet had promised that the Holy Spirit would anoint – or would come upon – the coming Savior in a special way to show everyone what should have been plain to see that he was the long-promised Christ, true God himself, able to be trusted and believed when he spoke.
That anointing of the Holy Spirit is what took place at Jesus’ baptism when the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus in what looked like the form of a dove, and that power of the Holy Spirit was shown when Jesus overcame those temptations of Satan to act like a puny human being and not the almighty God. In other words, you can believe your ears when you hear Jesus talk because of who it is that is talking. He is the Lord God who caused you to be born and the one who came to your world and mine as the one born of the virgin Mary, but also shown by the Holy Spirit, by whom he was conceived, that he truly was the chosen one, the anointed one, the one who had come in earthly humility but heavenly power to set his people free.
That’s why we can believe what Jesus says – because of who he really is. But what really gives us the faith to believe in him are the words which Jesus speaks about the work which he came to do. Those words are the words which Jesus read in the church in Nazareth from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah – the words which are in the second paragraph of our lesson: “The Spirit of the Sovereign 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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Let’s let those words come into our ears for a few moments yet so they can sink into our hearts and show themselves in our lives by the way they flow from our mouths and our hands as we use them in his service.
But here’s the deal that makes the nice-sounding words I just said so difficult to flow from our mouths and our hands in service to our Lord. You know it very well, as do I. Just as Satan tempted Jesus not to do this work, so he tempts us not to believe it. And one way he tempts us not to believe what we hear with our ears is to have us think about what we see with our eyes – or what we choose to see with our eyes.
For those words about what Jesus came to do for the poor and the prisoners and the blind and the oppressed to really mean something to you, what do you first have to see? You have to see that you are poor and a prisoner and blind and oppressed. But often we don’t see that, do we? Why is that? Isn’t it true that sometimes we don’t see it because we don’t want to see it? Have you ever had that experience where you went to the doctor, and the doctor diagnosed something and said, “Couldn’t you see that something has been wrong for the last couple of months?” It’s natural for many of us to not want to see things like that. Much worse, it’s natural for all of us to ignore or not think about God’s diagnosis that we are poor wretched sinners. Or we know very well what he says, but we may not agree it. What I see, we might say, is someone who tries awfully hard to be good and decent, even when people are not good and decent to me, not realizing that if that’s what we are planning on saying to God someday when we stand before him, his ears will be closed to any foolish and outlandish thing like that, just as they would be closed if we would say the opposite thing, which is also a temptation for us: “I don’t care one bit about some words about being spiritually poor and oppressed. I want to break the bonds of that kind of hypocritical religious slavery by doing whatever I very well want to do. It’s my life, and I am not some pathetic street person in the kingdom of God.”
But sometimes Satan uses a totally different attack, doesn’t he – a much more subtle one that preys on people who make an honest assessment of the sins we see in our lives, but then we feel too ashamed and too horrible to ever hope Jesus’ wonderful words could ever be for us. But they are. They are for you and me, as we wonder how we can make it through the hard things life throws at us, and as we wonder how we can be sure that God will always love and forgive us, and as we wonder how it will be possible for us to forever live with him.
When those types of things that you see in your life make your eyes fill with tears or squint with worry, then use your ears to listen to the words which Isaiah said the coming Savior would do, because those are the words which tell you about the works which Jesus did. One way your ears can give you comfort is to let your eyes take one more look at that second paragraph in lines two and three, where you see that Jesus came to bring “freedom” for the prisoners and then in the next line “release” for the oppressed. Both of those words are actually the exact same word in the Greek text of the Bible. It is a word that is not talking about earthly freedom and release, but it is the word the Bible uses for the forgiveness of sins. It literally means to “send something away.”
If you feel imprisoned by something you did long ago – and that there is no way you can ever get free from the punishment that you do deserve because of how you have hurt God or someone else – then let your ears hear what Jesus came to do – and did. Jesus promises you that he came to send that sin away from you, when he told that sin to be placed on himself instead. He was imprisoned by what you did so you will never have to be. Or if you feel oppressed and crushed by the sins you continue to commit day by day, even when you try so hard not to, and you don’t see how you can ever get out from underneath them because they so often make your life hard to enjoy, then let your ears hear what Jesus came to do – and did. Jesus promises you that he came to send those sins away from you, when he told them to be placed on himself instead. He was oppressed and crushed by what you and I do, so we could go to the next minute of our life and the next day of our life and the next year of our life without any burden in our heart whatsoever – and to know, as Isaiah here says, that it is and always will be “the year of the Lord’s favor.” That’s what Jesus came to do – and that’s what Jesus did. He preached good news to the poor… and the prisoners… and the blind… and the oppressed.
And so do we – today preaching in this church of Brookfield exactly what Jesus preached in that synagogue of Nazareth, showing as he went on in his life that he really was the fulfillment of the words Isaiah spoke about who was coming – and showing in his life that he really was the fulfillment of what Isaiah said the coming Savior would do – demonstrated very clearly a short time later when the words “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” were placed above his thorn-crowned head which was about to bow in death so he could send away the sin of the world. There are many things you hear today that you can’t believe, but when you hear who Jesus is and what Jesus did, there is no doubt whatsoever that you can believe your ears. Amen.