“Purpose, Priorities and Passion”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
May 5, 2019
The full impact of today’s text cannot be felt until you take note of where it occurs in Luke’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus. It is near the beginning.
After the birth narratives in the first two chapters, Luke mentions Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and then describes the encounter Jesus had with Satan in the wilderness. You recall Satan wanted a voice in how Jesus would shape and perform his public ministry and tempted Jesus to make it more about him than the people he was sent by God to serve.
It appears Satan had been successful in convincing many of the religious leaders in Jerusalem to be self-serving. Their hearts had grown hard and their ears deaf to the pleas for help by those struggling to survive.
Instead of coming to their aid, many of the most influential and powerful religious authorities exploited them in their pursuit of ways to fund their own lavish lifestyles. Their obsession with power, prestige, pleasure, attention and money blinded them to the divine mission they had been assigned.
Jesus recognized Satan’s motives during that encounter in the desert and, unlike many of his peers, he adamantly refused to fall prey to this faulty way of thinking. Instead of making his ministry about satisfying his needs, he chose to give himself away in service to others. He would be a servant leader who would make hope visible to all he met.
So excited was Jesus about the call from God to begin his ministry and his decision to help the people he loved, he headed straight to his hometown of Nazareth. This city of 20,000 citizens on the western side of the Sea of Galilee was his home for almost thirty years. It was here Jesus grew up as a young boy and came of age as a young man.
On the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue as was his custom to worship God and to discuss the mysteries of life and faith with his longtime friends. He was treated as an honored guest due to the good work he had already done throughout the region, and he was asked to read one of the passages from the prophets.
He was handed the scroll from Isaiah, which meant he probably selected the passages from Isaiah 58 and 61 that he read. No doubt his choice met with broad approval as this was a favorite of people burdened with relentless problems who longed for someone to make hope visible.
“The Spirit of the 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 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
This is where our story takes an interesting twist. After rolling up the scroll and handing it to the attendant, Jesus sat down, indicating he wanted to offer a brief commentary on this passage.
All commotion in the synagogue came to a halt as every eye was fixed upon Jesus. “Today,” he said, “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
All went well until Jesus made it known his mercy and compassion would be extended to everyone he met, including Gentiles. To say the least, this announcement did not go over well. The same people who honored him by asking him to read from the prophets now ran him out of the synagogue and tried to throw him off a cliff.
You would think Jesus would recall that conversation with Satan just days earlier and reconsider his decision to be a servant leader. According to Luke, though, Jesus remained focused and determined to be faithful to fulfill God’s dreams for him and to help those beaten and bruised by the harshness of life.
Immediately after that experience in his hometown synagogue, Jesus began walking those dusty, Palestinian roads listening to people’s stories so he could respond to them with mercy and grace. He proceeded to call twelve disciples whom he could teach and train to follow his example.
He also used his prophetic voice to condemn the religious leaders for their self-absorbed attitude and lifestyle. He called on them to repent and rearrange their values and priorities.
How does this event in Jesus’ life intersect ours? I believe it does so in two ways.
First, it tells me that every church must reflect Jesus’ purpose, priorities and passion. Secondly, it tells me that every person who calls himself or herself a disciple must adopt Jesus’ purpose, priorities and passion. Let me take a few moments to explain what I mean.
I do not understand how anyone can read this story and not recognize what was important to God and to Jesus during his time on earth. Nothing about his mission was the least bit ambiguous.
“The Spirit of the 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 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I find it interesting what Jesus did not say that day in the synagogue. He did not say he knew the Spirit of the Lord was on him because he was blessed with good health, a loving family, a job that allowed him to take care of his mother, Mary, and his siblings, a fine home or wonderful friends and neighbors.
All of this was true, and I am sure he was grateful to God for each one. But on that day so soon after his baptism and dramatic encounter with Satan in the wilderness, Jesus said he knew the Spirit of the Lord was on him because he had been anointed to make hope visible to the most vulnerable and powerless people in Palestine.
This was now his mission and would be his entire ministry. Again, I do not understand how anyone can read this story and not recognize what was important to God and to Jesus during his time on earth.
Every church that exists to continue the work Jesus began must make meeting the needs of others their highest priority. Each ministry and program should be in tune with the needs of the people attending and those in the surrounding community. These ministries and programs must be designed to respond to the cries for help that others ignore or try to silence.
The church is at its best when it does what Jesus did and confronts evil, rights wrong, lifts up the lowly, finds the forgotten, liberates the oppressed, heals the sick, feeds the hungry, houses the homeless, comforts the grieving, loves the unlovely, forgives people who make mistakes, gives people another chance to achieve their potential and teaches people how to live peaceably with one another.
The church authentically reflects the heart of God and the ministry of Jesus when it chooses love over hate, kindness over cruelty, compassion over coldness, truth over deception, integrity over expediency, justice over injustice, inclusion over exclusion, generosity over greed, humility over arrogance, forgiveness over revenge, healing over hurting, sacrifice over self-indulgence and peace over violence.
There is a huge difference between having church and being the church. We will not change the world by coming to church but by being the church.
Based upon what I have experienced these two months I have been with you, I feel you understand what I am saying. In many ways you reflect the purpose, priorities and passion of Jesus.
I can say without reservation the Spirit of the Lord is on you as the Spirit was with Jesus. God has anointed and empowered you to be the presence of Christ in this community and many places beyond your borders. I encourage you to maintain this missional zeal.
In addition to churches reflecting the heart of Jesus, I also believe everyone who claims to be one of Jesus’ disciples must adopt his purpose, priorities and passion. At all times and in all places, we must offer God our time, talents, skills, abilities and resources to be used in service to others.
We need no one’s permission to be kind and generous. We need only to follow the nudging of the Spirit.
Years ago my dear friend, Dr. Colin Harris, taught me one of the most important lessons I learned about how I can give myself away in service to others. “The difference between a talent and spiritual gift,” he told me, “is the way the talent is used. Any talent, skill or ability used to serve others and to make their lives better becomes a spiritual gift, a gift given to God and those we serve in Christ’s name.”
This insight revolutionized my thinking and teaching. Since that day, I have encouraged people to take an inventory of the talents and resources they have and challenged them to use them to help those in need. I have urged them to do this spontaneously in the marketplace as needs arise or in conjunction with others on a mission project. Just do it!
I offer this challenge to you today. Before this week is out finish this sentence, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to…”