Pastor Chris Tweitmann
It’s nearly impossible to go through life without any expectations.
The human mind is wired to operate according to expectations.
Even if a situation or experience is entirely new to us once we’ve been provided with a description of what happened, what it is like, we automatically form expectations – assuming we will have a similar or comparable encounter.
And the more repetition we have with the same situation or experience, the more subconsciously, we assume things in the future will behave like they did in the past.
For example, when I wake up in the morning, I expect I will be able to have a cup of coffee; I expect I will be able to eat breakfast; I expect I will be able to have a hot shower; I expect I will be able to get dressed; I expect my car will start; I expect I’ll be able to get to work on time, and so on.
Our lives are full of expectations, even if we don’t realize it.
More often than not, we realize the expectations we have when they’re NOT met.
And there’s the rub: when reality doesn’t match our expectations, it can be hard to handle – especially when it’s our expectations for or about other people.
When those expectations are not met, they can become dangerous, destructive, and even sometimes, as we’ll see today, deadly.
As the saying, that originated in 12-step programs, goes expectations are premeditated resentments.
The expectations we bear and struggle to let go of can even extend into the divine – into our relationship with the Lord.
For as we turn to the Gospel of Luke chapter 4 today, we encounter a community filled with expectations waiting to be met as Jesus comes not just into town but finally comes home.
Jesus has been living away from his hometown for some time now.
On the other side of being tested in the wilderness, of being tempted by the devil, coming out of his time of trial in the power of the Spirit, Luke in verses 14 and 15 briefly shares with us Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee.
“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.” -Luke 4:14 – 15
Jesus’ home base during this time was the town of Capernaum and from the other gospel accounts we are better informed about his activity – activity Luke will double back to and review after this chapter, after sharing this story first.
So for roughly a year now, Jesus has gathered some if not all of his disciples.
He has been healing the sick and raising the dead.
He’s been teaching with a level of insight and authority that no one has ever heard before.
And all of Jesus’ signs and wonders as well as his teaching is drawing crowds – capturing the people’s imagination and support throughout Gentile lands.
Reports of his ministry had reached the people of Nazareth before he did. So it’s safe to say there are great expectations awaiting him as Jesus at last returns back home. (TEXT)
It is the Sabbath, God’s prescribed day of rest for the people of Israel.
And the citizens of Nazareth have gathered for worship in the synagogue.
Together they have sung from the psalms.
With one voice they have recited the Old Testament version of the Lord’s Prayer, the Shema – recalling from the Torah, the importance of daily centering their lives upon the Lord.
And now, Jesus, once a part of this community but now a visitor – is welcomed back as a local hero and an honored guest.
“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.” – Luke 4:16
As a reputed miracle worker and esteemed rabbi, Jesus is invited to read and deliver the message for the day.
“He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.” – Luke 4:17
He is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
Is this a test? Some sort of challenge? Or just the order of the day in terms of worship?
At the very least, there is a growing sense of expectation as Jesus steps into the pulpit.
After all, these were times of heightened anticipation.
The ministry of John the Baptist had triggered something of a grass-roots revival. Messianic predictions were surging.
And the word on the street is Jesus might just be that long-awaited Savior.
We can imagine the expectations of the gathered congregation as Jesus prepares to read and teach from the words of one of the greatest of the biblical prophets – Isaiah.
Isaiah was a prophet who divinely foresaw both sides of the story of Israel and by extension, humanity.
Isaiah foresaw Israel’s fall – the conquering of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the destruction of the Temple of the Lord and the exile of pretty much all of the Israelites from their homeland.
Isaiah sees everything falling apart thanks to a mess of the people’s own making – their repeated tendency towards corruption and injustice and unrelenting posture of indifference and defiance towards God.
And at first glance, Israel’s self-destruction would also appear to terminate any hope for the rest of humanity as Israel was to be the conduit of God’s salvation and blessing of all the nations in the world.
But Isaiah also foresees, in the aftermath of the leveled city, in the midst of this fallen world, the rest of God’s story for all creation.
As everyone wonders if this is the end, as all fear God has abandoned them, Isaiah catches a prolonged glimpse of an anointed servant of Lord, a Messiah who fully accomplish what God always intended but which none had ever proven able to obediently follow and deliver – to act justly, to love mercy, and to make peace.
Now Isaiah’s recorded words and visions from the Lord make up a rather long book.
Jesus purposefully chooses a passage that definitely is from among Isaiah’s greatest hits – Isaiah 61.
Written in first person, this particular passage describes the self-revelation and divine purpose of the coming Messiah.
“Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:17-19
As he reads this sacred text aloud, Jesus fills the synagogue with the words of God’s promise to Israel – God’s assurance of the redemption of his people through One anointed in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The entirety of the good news Jesus quotes from Isaiah is framed through the lens of the year of Jubilee.
“…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:19
As outlined in Leviticus chapter 25,
“Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields. In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property.” -Leviticus 25:10-13
the Jubilee celebration amounted to the resetting of society every 50 years through the release of all debts, the redistribution of all land and property, a prolonged period of rest, all to ensure that every generation of God’s children had the means to rely on and make a living from what the Lord provides.
Sadly and tellingly, the divinely prescribed observance of the year of Jubilee appears to have been rarely, if ever, practiced by ancient Israel.
Nonetheless, against this backdrop of a great reversal, a divine reset, Jesus, again quoting Isaiah, invokes a vision of more than just forgiveness; but one of healing. Freedom. Favor. Transformation.
“…because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” -Luke 4:18-19
It is a vision intended to become a reality through the tangible release of those trapped in poverty, in captivity, and under oppression, of those who have been blind – either unwilling or unable to perceive hope.
Having read aloud the word of the Lord from Isaiah, Jesus rolls up the scroll and prepares to give his sermon.
“Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.” – Luke 4:20
All eyes are upon him. No one dares to move or speak. Everyone eagerly waits for Jesus’ next words.
And Luke, for his part, only provides us with the opening line of Jesus’ sermon – which apparently is all we need to hear.
To a people who have been waiting a long time, to a community – not just in Nazareth but the entirety of Israel – for the fulfillment of something they had never bothered, had never been able to put into practice – the release of all debts, the redistribution of resources, and experiencing the kind of rest that actually heals and restores life, – Jesus has but one message –
“He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” -Luke 4:21
With the emphasis being on the word, TODAY, Jesus declares the wait is over.
Jesus is explicit, the time is NOW for those brought low in status, for those held prisoner by debts that cannot repay, for those unable to see God’s abiding presence.
Luke places this story out of chronological order, at the very beginning of his presentation of the life of Jesus because this sermon encapsulates the theme of Christ’s ministry.
The good news of our salvation is more than a future promise of going to Heaven TOMORROW – after our life on this earth.
The Gospel is the present execution of the Lord’s plan – to change this world, to rescue and redeem all creation, to transform our lives TODAY.
The salvation Jesus heralds embraces the individual and collective mind, body, soul, and spirit. spirit, soul, and body.
Jesus does not separate or privatize spirituality from economic practices or matters of justice.
This good news Isaiah anticipated which Jesus now proclaims as coming true isn’t metaphorical or theoretical; it is tangible and pragmatic in its manifestation.
Later when John the Baptist will send messengers to ask whether Jesus is really the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God,
Jesus will reply, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the unclean are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” – Luke 7:22
But the good news doesn’t stop there.
There’s a bit more – quite a lot actually – in the single, opening sentence of Jesus’ sermon that Luke shares with us.
The whole of Isaiah’s vision was not just of a messenger but of God, the King Himself coming down.
As Jesus reads aloud the first three lines of Isaiah 61 – declarations that all end with the word “me”
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me… …He has sent me to proclaim…” – Luke 4:18
– words that not coincidentally recall Jesus’ baptism and the voice that spoke from Heaven thereafter as Jesus reads aloud the first three lines of Isaiah 61, he is implicitly indicating Isaiah was talking about me.
To eliminate any confusion that when Isaiah had this vision and wrote these words, he might have been pointing to someone else, notice how how Jesus starts his sermon:
“Today this scripture has been FULFILLED in your hearing.” – Luke 4:21
Jesus positions himself as the subject of Isaiah’s vision as more than just the Messiah but the return of the King.
Initially, everyone in attendance responds with amazement to Jesus’ message of the pouring out of God’s grace.
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” – Luke 4:22
All is well. But then, the moment takes a turn.
The affirmation of the people is short-lived as with abruptness and cynicism, they begin to question Jesus’ claims, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” – Luke 4:22
Jesus was a carpenter’s son, perhaps an educated teacher, but a prophet of God—YHWH’s anointed? Right under our noses?
All this time? That kid? It is all too much for everyone to accept.
Excitement gives way to skepticism. Jesus senses the hometown crowd wants a sign – proof.
If we turn back a chapter in Luke and go back out into the wilderness, suddenly this voice, this demand for verification sounds awfully familiar.
“The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” – Luke 4:9
Jesus looks into the hearts and minds of his old friends and neighbors and perceives the weight of the expectations they would place on him – the prioritization of their own needs.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. – Luke 4:23
Jesus says out loud what everyone gathered in apparently thinking, “Since you’ve supposedly healed others, now take care of your own – back at home.”
But Jesus refuses to audition.
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. – Luke 4:24
He will have none of living up to their expectations.
Instead, Jesus challenges their expectations by referencing two quick stories they all know in order to deliver a truth they do not want to hear.
“I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed —only Naaman the Syrian.” -Luke 4:25-27
Both are stories about people of great need – one a soldier who was financially rich one, the other, a woman, a widow who was financially poor.
What these two people had in common was they were Gentiles – outsiders.
What these two people had in common was their willingness to receive the gift of God’s grace through God’s prophets, Elijah and Elisha.
Back in the day, this stood in stark contrast to the posture of Israel – when those who declared themselves to be God’s people, rejected Elijah and Elisha and thus excluded themselves from the experience of God’s grace.
The hard but timeless truth Jesus communicates is two-fold.
One, the generosity of God’s love and grace extends beyond the borders of our expectations.
Two, it is through the expectations we insist on placing the Lord that we deny ourselves access to the love and grace God offers.
Just one chapter later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus will express the same truth this way, “I have not come for the healthy, but for the sick.”
“Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” -Luke 5:31-32
For now, this is more truth than the people of Nazareth can handle as Jesus first recorded sermon nearly ends in an attempted homicide.
In the dogged persistence to make God’s salvation serve their own purposes, the hometown crowd becomes an angry mob.
“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town…” – Luke 4:28-29
The same people Jesus grew up with, who knew and worked with his parents, and now prepare to drive one of their own, the Messiah they’ve been waiting for, the Son of the God they were just worshipping, off a cliff – the same hill on which their town was built.
“…and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.” – Luke 4:29
Jesus, however, will mysteriously slip out of their grasp and continue on his way.
“But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” – Luke 4:30
Still, it’s a bit of foreshadowing of where, in the end, Jesus is headed.
For this won’t be the last time Jesus will find himself in the crosshairs of the expectations of others.
Nearly everyone Christ encounters will try to fit him into their preconstructed box – their perception of what the Gospel – of what salvation, of who Jesus should be.
Believing they had Scripture on their side, religious leaders will attempt to make Jesus fit into a theological box defined by how Jesus should practice the faith as well as who Jesus should keep company with and who Jesus should avoid and shun.
Among the more politically-minded, either those working with Roman Empire or those working against it, Jesus will be expected to take a stand – to play by the rules and work the angles or to mobilize a force strong enough to overthrow the system.
Jesus’ own family, will, at one point, attempt to take hold of him – to convince Jesus to stop talking crazy and start showing some good sense.
Even those who follow Jesus, who watch him work, who sit under his teaching, will attempt to put limits on him – on how far he could go, on how wide he could reach.
Many of them eventually will walk away when Jesus isn’t going in the direction they anticipated.
On the one hand, Jesus ends up on the Cross because he willingly chooses to go there.
Yet at the same time, ironically, Jesus is put on the Cross – Jesus is betrayed, denied, misjudged, and murdered – because he didn’t meet the expectations of those He came to save.
And make no mistake this isn’t just a narrative of the past, it’s the story we easily can find ourselves replaying in our lives.
After all, if we struggle with putting our expectations upon other people in our lives – holding them responsible for thinking or speaking or acting in the way we’ve decided they’re supposed to, then why would our relationship with Jesus be any different?
We all have our boxes that we try to make Jesus fit into.
Some of us put a self-help box around the Lord — a devotional box, the inspirational Jesus box.
We’re all ears for presentations that package Jesus as our personal therapist or coach – teaching us to live our best life now.
But we’re more distracted or just completely tuned out when Jesus gets more prophetic and more directive and tells us to die ourselves for the sake of lifting up others in need.
We make a grave error as the Church when we present the Gospel as Jesus came to give us a better life. That makes following Jesus sound like an option, a possibility.
Jesus came not to give each of us a better life – where “better” is customized according to our expectations.
No the Gospel according to Jesus is He came to give us life – true life, to give life significance and meaning, to define what it means to live according to God’s expectations.
Meaning before God came to us in Christ, we weren’t really living. We were slowly dying.
Rather than simply exist until we die, we follow Jesus so that we can truly live – not just today, not just tomorrow, but forever.
Another box many of us try to put around Jesus is a religious one. A spiritual box – dividing the sacred from the secular.
This is where we expect our relationship with Jesus to be exclusively personal and private – separate and apart from our public, our professional life.
We love the comforting things Jesus promises to me -forgiveness and eternal life.
But we box out, we selectively ignore Jesus teaching about how he promises to work through me through our sacrifice and service.
And so we only see Jesus in the people we like, in the relationships that will benefit us, and we turn a blind eye, to recognizing Christ in the people we don’t like, we don’t agree with or understand, the relationships that don’t benefit us.
We’re fine with Jesus being in charge when we’re talking about matters of the Church but when it comes to how we do our jobs, run our businesses, exercise our politics, manage our finances, budget our time, or treat our bodies, those are worldly matters and not heavenly concerns.
These concerns have nothing to do with how we exercise our faith in Christ.
We all have our boxes that we try to make Jesus fit into.
Each of our boxes may be different but every single box is crafted by the expectations we attempt to put upon Jesus – the perceived limits we individually and collectively try to place on God as a part of our lives rather than recognizing it is the Lord’s expectations that are the very source, drive, and definition of what it means to truly live.
But the lesson taught here at Nazareth is clear.
Jesus doesn’t come to live up to our expectations. Jesus comes to shatter our expectations.
From this moment forward in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus will continue to surprise, shake up, and shatter all human categories, formulas, and logic.
Repeatedly, Jesus will not conform to the expectations and demands put upon him but will instead extend the boundaries of God’s Kingdom beyond all communal, ethnic, or social definitions.
For the boxes we attempt to put around Jesus don’t limit who Jesus is and what Jesus will do.
Jesus brings the good news regardless of whether it is received.
In the expectations to which we try to bind Jesus – the limits of who we are willing to allow Christ to be and the limits of what we willing to accept that Christ can do, we only limit ourselves in experiencing the fullness of God’s grace.
To put this another way, when we unrelentingly place expectations upon another person, we end up having a relationship with those expectations rather than the actual person.
We miss out on encountering and experiencing the real, living, amazing, creative, and unique person because we are so wrapped up in what we expect them to think or say or act.
Beloved, are we missing out on the relationship we can have with Jesus because we are so preoccupied, perhaps even unconsciously, by the limits, the preconceptions we are imposing on Jesus?
For as we read on through the Gospel of Luke, we will notice the people who closest to Jesus, who received the most from Jesus, were those who cast themselves upon Jesus without reservation.
Nothing held them back from Jesus. They did whatever he said. People like the Zacchaeus in Jericho. Blind Baritmaesus.
The father named Jarius whose daughter was deathly ill.
The paralytic and his friends who dug through a roof to break through the crowds and get to Jesus.
Beloved, we can’t and won’t begin to follow Jesus if Jesus has to live up to our expectations.
We only begin and continue to follow Jesus as we come to Jesus with a posture of discovery rather than an attitude of expectancy.
For what makes the Gospel good news is not whether it lives up to our expectations but how it reshapes our imagination of what is possible, of who is included, of what our life together can be.
The Word of God spoken long ago through Isaiah has become flesh and in Christ is fulfilling the promises of God – breathing new, abundant eternal life into our dying frames. Drenching all creation in his grace.
Ready or not. In spite of hard hearts and violent mobs, all debts will be forgiven, all in captivity will be released, and lasting rest shall be granted.
And God’s favor will not privilege home or country; but it will bend towards justice and mercy for the poor and needy.
Despite trial and torture, come cliff or come cross or being sealed in a tomb, the Gospel will not be stopped.
For the love of God in Christ cannot be bound by the limits of our expectations.
We can only bind ourselves from being immersed in the unfathomable depths of God’s love not only for us but for all creation but the limits of the expectations we place on Jesus. Amen.