Amazing Love, How Can it Be?
Like many of you, I am moved by great songs of the faith, and especially those that articulate the greatness of God, and his Majesty, His provision for us to have a way of salvation, and those songs that contemplate the great mysteries of God’s plan as we marvel at His great love.
One such song for me, that I dearly love and that moves me, is “and can it be” by Charles Wesley. In this song, the lyrics consider a question that can only be asked by someone who realizes their own wretchedness and smallness in comparison to the holiness, majesty, and greatness of God. The first line of the song is “and can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?” Each verse contemplates the miracle of the cross, that one who caused the very pain the Savior went through can somehow receive the benefits of the suffering He went through.
The song explores the mystery of it all, that even the angels long to look into this salvation. This comes from something Peter wrote as he spoke of the prophets who God had sent 1Pet1.12
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
The song goes on, filled with references to scriptures about Christ and salvation. It speaks of the Christ who left his Father’s throne, emptied himself, bled and died for a helpless race of men. Verse 4 speaks of the prison our spirits were in before the grace of God, and from that dungeon we were plunged into the light of Christ. So now there is no condemnation, and the believer can boldly approach the throne of grace.
Few hymns or songs draw so many parts of scripture into such a beautiful declaration of the Amazing Love of God. In a while, something very different is going to happen here at Oasis church, for in the midst of the sermon, this preacher is going to lead you in singing this great hymn, for this is a great day of celebration, and I think it fitting that we rejoice in God’s Word even as it is being preached. We are going to sing it with all our hearts without instruments, because I am quite sure that you, like me, have not yet done with the triumphant singing quite yet.
Now, as it is the holiday commonly called Easter, and we like to refer to as Resurrection Sunday, I want to acknowledge that there is usually in most churches on this day a slightly different crowd than we normally would see. For those who attend here regularly, you have been with me as I have been preaching through Luke’s gospel, and we are going to continue there and the passage that we find ourselves in is Luke4:16-22.
However, many people here are visitors with us this morning, and I want to address them more than those of you who are here every week. Let us right away do away with any pretense and say who it is who is really here this morning. I usually don’t like to divide people into categories, but I think we should just speak clearly about who is here and why I am going to preach in the manner I will this morning.
There are the regular attenders here, you know who you are, and we know each other. Then there are some of you who are regular attenders at your own churches, but because of the holiday, you are traveling and find yourself in our area this morning. We are pleased that you have joined us. I have also observed in my several years of preaching that on holidays you have the reluctant but respectful attenders.
Let’s be honest. You wouldn’t be here except that you want to get along well with and perhaps honor your family by being here. You have someone in your family who is among the faithful and you know they would like you to be here with them this morning, so you have made the effort and come but you have no plans to come back next week, since it will not be a holiday. However, I appreciate that at least out of respect for your grandmother, or father, or uncle, or whoever it is you are with, you have chosen to be here. And it is possible as well that someone is here to please a family member, but not exactly in a cheerful way. It is possible someone here is not at all happy to be here and would rather be anywhere else.
It is those second two categories of folks that I am most interested in addressing this morning. After all, I may not have the opportunity again, and in God’s Providence you are here right now, so I trust that He has placed you in a position to hear the truths that will be proclaimed here today. I will be right up front with you. I am a true believer. I preach because I believe with my whole heart that God’s word is true, and that the very words of scripture are from God, and when they are preached, the Holy Spirit causes them to have the intended effect on each hearer.
Perhaps someone will hear the gospel this morning and believe, or be another step closer to belief. Perhaps someone will harden their heart against the gospel. Whatever happens, everyone here this morning will at least have heard the gospel, that is, the good news about Jesus, and will then be responsible to believe what you have heard, and will be even more without excuse when God’s judgment comes.
Now that we are clear on my purposes, let us examine God’s Word together.
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
This account is near the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Thus far, Luke has recorded the details leading up to and following the birth of Jesus. Some of you holiday attenders will remember this from Christmastime, where Luke 2 is one of the familiar passages. Then Luke tells some things about John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus who was his forerunner, who baptized people who wanted to turn from their sinful, bad ways and pursue right living.
Then we get a sort of genealogy of Jesus, and then right before our text this morning we learned about how Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness for 40 days. This is to show us that Jesus did not sin during his temptations, but also that he can sympathize with us in our own weakness, because he was tempted and yet did not sin.
In today’s passage, then, we see that Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit, that is after he had defeated the temptations he faced, and he began to go around to different villages, teaching in synagogues. So then we see that he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. In other words, his boyhood hometown. And as he had already been doing in other places, he went to the Synagogue. And he stood up to read.
Scholarship on the synagogues of Jesus’ day tell us that it was common practice that men of ability could be asked to read from scripture. Not every synagogue had identical practices, just as churches today vary in their order of service and the way they function. Generally, a reading would be done from the Pentateuch, that is, the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Law or the Law of Moses. The readings would be done while the reader was standing, and then either the same reader or someone else would give a lesson expounding on that passage.
These readings were sometimes just picked on the spot, and in some synagogues there was a set liturgy or lectionary. Having a set liturgy would be to ensure that over the course of time, the various portions of scripture would be taught. We actually use a lectionary here that we get our readings from. For us, each week there is an Old testament passage, a Psalm or other poetry passage, a reading from the gospels, and a reading from the epistles, that is, the letters of the NT.
Some scholars believe the passage Jesus read was preselected. Some believe that the scroll of Isaiah was selected, but Jesus had freedom to choose the particular passage. Some say perhaps Jesus arranged ahead of time with the synagogue leaders that he would read from this passage. We cannot be sure, since the passage does not tell us that explicitly. However, we do know the portion Jesus read from. He read from Isaiah 61:1-2
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
Apparently, however, he did not read the line about the vengeance of God. This was likely to make clear to the people that this prophecy was beginning to be fulfilled immediately, but they should not expect the vengeance or judgment of God just yet. While some of Jesus followers greatly desired him to bring judgment immediately, they did not yet understand that while His Kingdom was present, the completion of his mission would not be immediate, since His followers would be tasked with bringing the good news throughout the world before the end would come. That task is still underway.
Jesus finished his reading and sat down. As I mentioned already, the word of God was honored by the fact that the reader would stand when it was read, and then the teaching would happen as the teacher sat down. Just as I often say, the Word of God is primary. Whatever I may say in trying to explain it is not as important as the words of scripture. The scripture is the highest authority we have. So while teachers ought to do their best to explain it well, the scripture itself is to be revered and obeyed, even over the teacher, unless of course, the teacher is Jesus himself.
In this case, both the reading and the lesson were perfect, since Jesus was indeed God and his lessons cannot be in error, and His Word is scripture. So the congregation in any synagogue Jesus taught in surely had a very blessed experience. You will never receive a perfect exposition of scripture from me, but from Christ, those who listened received perfection. He likely said other things than what Luke recorded, but the important part is Luk4.21
And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
I will get back to that actual passage he read in a moment. But for now, let us realize that the people hearing this would have had no mistake about it. Jesus was claiming to be the Servant of the Servant song passages of Isaiah. He was saying this passage spoke of him. And initially, these people were impressed. Luke4.22
And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
Notice how quickly things changed. In just two sentences, we see how quickly people’s attitudes changed. They spoke well of him, marveled at his words, which were full of the grace of God, and a moment later. “Is this not Joseph’s son?” I wonder what some of the people from my boyhood would say if they knew I was a preacher now. Many people saw me doing stupid things, and making dumb mistakes. I can just imagine how some people would say, “Really? Him? Isn’t that Darrel and Judy’s son?”
And yet Jesus himself had never made stupid mistakes. He had no bad record for people to look down on him for. But there was something that can be just as dangerous when it comes to people and their relationship with Jesus, and that is being too familiar. You see, these people from this small village knew him since he was toddling around. They watched him grow. They may have even been impressed by his good behavior. But they were too familiar. Be careful that you don’t find yourself feeling so familiar with Jesus that you forget that He is the Holy, Holy, Holy God, the Lamb who was the only one worthy to open the scroll. He is the one who is worshiped in heaven.
Being too familiar can cause us to forget our proper place in respect to Jesus. Too many people like to focus on Jesus as their buddy or something. Some of the songs out there are borderline blasphemous. Yes, we are adopted into His family, Jesus being the firstborn of many. He called his closest followers his friends. However, we must not get too familiar with Jesus. He is still Holy, and we are not equal to Him. Every knee will bow to Jesus; they will not bow to his followers. These neighbors of Joseph and Mary perhaps knew Jesus a little too well. They quickly got over their marveling at him and got to questioning him.
And just a little further down, and we will get into that next week, they quickly moved from enjoying listening to him to wanting to kill him. Why? Because he looked into their hearts and called them out on their unbelief. And perhaps even worse to some of them, he pointed out that God’s favor extends beyond just Israel, and some of them did not want to hear that.
So now we have briefly summed up the Sabbath Day in Nazareth in the synagogue, let us return now to that prophecy that Jesus said was fulfilled in their hearing.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
We know already from studying earlier in Luke’s gospel that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth, and this was demonstrated at his baptism when the Holy Spirit visibly descended on him like a dove. We also have seen that while being tempted, Jesus relied on the Holy Spirit, who assisted Him and ministered to Him during that trial.
He was anointed to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Now, some people look at passages like this and they have created an entire theology that says, “You see! Jesus was all about social justice and equality and this means he was politically motivated to right the wrongs of societies against oppressed people!”
Now, to be certain, the entire Bible, and not just Jesus, speaks much of justice and mercy. We are to help the poor, we are to do what we can to see that justice is done for everyone regardless of their economic status or skin color or any of that. Jesus did indeed care about people being mistreated. But his main goal was not to transform society politically. His goal was first to bring salvation to those whom God had elected and predestined to salvation, as scripture teaches. When Jesus comes again, those who are his will enjoy, finally, a world under His perfect rule, perfect justice, perfect righteousness, all of those things that our hearts yearn for even now.
But for now, he is more concerned about completing His work. We are to do good things for the poor and oppressed and hurting in this world, but the first need of every person is the gospel. Some of you have taken a psychology course at some time, and some of you on your jobs attempt to help others by using certain concepts from psychology. And one of the well-known tools is called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Maslow contended that in order for humans to reach what he called self-actualization, that is the desire to become the most that one can be, they had to work through other fulfillments first. He said that before getting to self-actualization, one must have their physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging, and then esteem helped, and then they could finally work on self-actualization.
The first needs people have, Maslow said, were the physiological: air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, and reproduction. Without those needs met, a person could not deal with their safety needs, such as personal security, employment, resources, health, and property. Only after those needs are met, can the person work on love and belonging, friendship, intimacy, family, and sense of connection. After they get all those needs, now they can work on their self-esteem, recognition, freedom, and finally they can work on self-actualization.
Now, I would not say there is nothing to this at all. Certainly it is hard to get someone to work on their relationships if all they can think about is where the next meal is coming from. But there is one very huge problem with Maslow’s hierarchy. It is entirely unbiblical and therefore extremely flawed. And that is because there is one very basic need that every human needs, without which not one of those other needs will ultimately matter. We need Jesus. We need Jesus because we need a way to reconcile ourselves to God.
Since Adam and Eve, every one of us has sinned against God, and this is a huge problem. Not one of us, not even the most mature Christian in the room, whoever that may be, has yet achieved a view of God that properly understands His majesty, His holiness, His perfections, his power, His worthiness. And not one of us completely understands our own fallenness, our own sinfulness, our own depravity. We cannot fully understand that yet, even if we are in Christ, because until he makes all things new we still are in the flesh and battling our sin nature.
So here is a huge problem of proportion. On the one hand, we don’t have a proper view of God, on the other hand, we do not have a proper view of our selves. But those of us in the faith, I hope, continue to grow in this understanding. And as we do, we realize more and more how utterly depraved and sick we are, and we realize more and more how wonderful and holy God is. On that spectrum, then, we continue to have a greater view of the separation that exists between us and God. When we first understand the separation between us in God, it may seem this small, but the more we grow in him, the more we understand that this separation, between us and God, outside of Christ, is infinite in distance.
It is a separation that is impossible for us to overcome. We all have sinned. The ten commandments convict everyone of us. We have all lied, we have all stolen, we have all coveted, we have all at times used the name of God or Christ in too light a manner. We all are guilty. And even if there were a person who only had one sin in their entire life (there are no people like that, but if there was someone with only one sin) that one sin is enough of an offense again the Holy God that the separation between Him and us is infinite. No amount of good works on our part will get us any closer to restoring our broken relationship with him.
All have sinned and fallen short of God’s Glory. And the wages of sin is death. Death is the proper wages or earnings we deserve because of our sins agains this holy God. If you do a good job, you earn more wages. We all have done a very good job of sinning. The wages we have earned is beyond just physical death, it is spiritual death and eternal, conscious torment. Our wages are well earned. The bible tells us that every sin heaps up God’s wrath against us, and if the words of scripture are enough to frighten us about his eternal wrath, then may I remind you that the words cannot even fully prepare us for the eternity that awaits!
For the one who is saved from hell, scripture tells us 1Cor2.9
But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
If it is true that the one who is saved cannot even imagine what God has prepared, then it must be equally true that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart imagined, the terrible effects of the wrath of God poured out on those he judges.
Considering that eternity is on the line, then, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs falls far short on the scale of importance. The number one need of every human is not food, water, or shelter. The number one need of every human is a mediator who will step between us and God’s wrath, and that is what happened when Jesus was nailed to the cross.
Sadly, many Christians have taken Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and made it their ministry model. I have heard Christians, well meaning, but still wrong, who have said that no one can hear the gospel if they are hungry, or if they don’t feel secure, and so forth. Now, before you go and say Pastor Jason doesn’t care about the hungry, that is not at all what I am saying. To the extent that God provides us the ability to help alleviate pain and suffering in the world we should do it. However, if our attitude is that we cannot present the gospel until all the needs in the pyramid are met, we will never get around to presenting it.
It truly is the first need. Water, food, and so forth are crucial to life, but we will all die, and we know not when. Some of us will die hungry and some of us will die with full belly. But we will die, unless Jesus comes first. And if He does come before we die, we still have a problem if we have not trusted in Him. Hungry people most certainly believe that their greatest need is food. But they would be wrong. Their greatest need is a mediator between them and God, one who can take the wrath of God and turn it away from them.
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
When Jesus announced to the people there at the synagogue that the Scripture was being fulfilled, and that he was the one who would preach good news to the poor, he was not speaking only of physical poverty. He was speaking of the spiritually poor. When he said he would proclaim liberty to the captives, he was not thinking of freeing all the slaves who had been sold or sold themselves into slavery, He was speaking of captivity to sin, which all humans are outside of Christ.
Same with blindness and oppression. Spiritual blindness is a greater affliction than physical blindness. Jesus took care of both types, but the most important work he did was not to alleviate physical suffering, although he did much of that. Jesus came to seek and save the spiritually lost, and he is still in the saving business today.
This is what resurrection Sunday is all about. Jesus went to the cross knowing our need. He willingly went. God’s wrath then and now was being heaped up on sinners. A time will come when his patience will run out, and His wrath will be poured out on all the ungodly. When Jesus went to that cross, He took on himself the wrath of God. For those who He saves, when He received the wrath of God, he received it on our behalf. He did this for us.
If you want the sacrifice of Christ to count on your behalf, scripture tells us what we must do. Believe. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. The bible says if we believe in our heart that Jesus was raised from the dead and confess with our mouths that He is Lord, we will be saved. Scripture tells us to turn away from, or repent, of our sins. That means we willingly change our mind and attitudes to serve God with our lives and leave our sin behind us.
But if you are trusting in being saved simply because you repeated a prayer at one time, let me warn you. Saying a prayer does not save you. You must disavow yourself of this notion! If you said a prayer years ago at a VBS or Sunday School or at an evangelistic crusade of some kind, let me tell you something very clearly. Nowhere in scripture does it say a prayer saves you. Belief saves you. If you went to say a prayer but didn’t really believe, but rather you were, in your mind, purchasing fire insurance, you may be a false convert. If you said a prayer 20 years ago but your life never changed, I doubt you are saved.
True faith is evidenced by a changed life. Not a perfect life, but change should be visible. True repentance means turning from those sins, not only that but hating your sin, and feeling sorrow when you sin, and wanting righteousness at all costs. False faith says, “I know Jesus has to save me, because I said that prayer that one time”. No, He is under no obligation. He saves through faith, which is his gift to the beleiver. Yes, even the faith is provided by Him.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
You must have faith. But you are unable to stir up faith for yourself. Even the faith to believe is a gift, according to the Bible. I can’t stir up faith in you. As I worked on this sermon, and had in mind that people may be here who have no faith in Jesus, I was thinking about how there is no clever argument I could make to cause you to believe. I could pace up and down, and use all kinds of public speaking strategies, but none of that will cause you to believe. I could have had a piano player playing holy chords while I preached. That would not make you believer either.
Faith itself is a gift. It is received through the Word of God being preached and the Holy Spirit of God regenerating the heart of stone and making it a heart of flesh. It happens to be called being born again in John chapter 3. But you can not make yourself born again, anymore than a baby can decide to be born. We say that sometimes. If a baby comes before the due date, we use language like “I guess she decided to come early”. But that is not at all what happens. The baby had nothing to do with deciding to be born. We cannot be born again because we just decided to be born again.
Only God can grant that birth. Only God can make your heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Maybe you are thinking, then, what should I do? I’m convinced the preacher is right about the wrath of God, but I’m not sure I have faith. Then you must ask Him to grant it to you. I can tell you this, if you desire to have faith, and you want to believe, that desire itself is most likely an indication that the Holy Spirit has begun a work in your heart.
And do not give up. If you do not feel like you have full faith today, please understand that many believers could not tell you some pinpoint moment where their faith came all at once. Many have a story like that, and that is great. But many people could not tell you a precise moment. Perhaps they grew up in church, they went to Sunday School, they had devotions at home, yet never really had the faith personally. Then one Sunday, they are there in church, and realize they believe the preaching, and they believe what they are singing. And that is sometimes how God’s grace works itself out in someone’s life as well.
Many people will say they heard this gospel message many times throughout an entire lifetime, and they kept turning away from God, and yet He graciously brought them to faith later in life. But do not presume that God will do this in very case. Others are given a chance to respond to the good news and do not, and their hearts are hardened. Do not harden your heart. Believe today. Today is the day of salvation.
Now, I said we would rejoice together and sing this great hymn, so we will do that now.
If you would be set free from your sin, and put your faith in Jesus, then next time you sing that song, you will truly be able to sing with gusto “I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”
This reminds me of Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian and Hopeful are in the dungeon and despairing of their lives. They begin to pray, and prayed all night, and then this is what happened:
A little before dawn good Christian, as one half-amazed, broke out into this passionate exclamation, “What a fool I have been to lie in a stinking dungeon like this, when I could just as well walk free! I have a key in my pocket next to my heart called Promise that will, I am sure, open any lock in Doubting Castle.” “That is good news, good brother; pluck it from your pocket and try it.” So Christian pulled the key from his chest pocket and fit it into the lock on the dungeon door. As he turned the key the bolt released and fit it into the lock on the dungeon door. As he turned the key the bolt released and the door flew open with ease. Christian and Hopeful both fled the dark cell. - Pilgrim’s Progress
If you are in bondage to the sin of your life, there is a key to get you out. The key is called promise, and the promise is the blood of Jesus. “Would you be free from your burden of sin? There’s power in the blood of Jesus.”
Jesus rose from the dead. This is great news for all who believe in faith.
He is coming again. For some, this is bad news. He will come to judge the living and the dead. His judgment will be terrible for those who have continued in their sin. The wrath of God, when it is poured out on earth, is so frightening and painful that people will cry out to the mountains “fall on me”, as though they, underneath the mountain, will somehow be free of God’s wrath. Yet the cup of his wrath is poured out for ever on those who have sinned against him
But the good news is that we have one who would be our substitute, who took the wrath of God on our behalf on the cross. The same substitute becomes the advocate, or mediator, between God and those who have faith in Jesus. Jesus continually makes intercession for those who are his. That means he constantly appeals on our behalf, continually and eternally turning God’s wrath away. If you put faith in Jesus, he will be your advocate, your substitute.
And if you do put faith in Him, proclaiming Him to be your Lord and Savior, truly having faith in your heart, and turning away from your sinful ways, you can have the assurance that His sacrifice on the cross was effective for your salvation, now and forever. And his resurrection, that we celebrate today, gives hope to the believer, because the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead comes to live in us, to empower us to live the life of service He calls us to.
His resurrection is a signal to us of his power over death and hell, and we are reminded that he will come again.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
I close with the blessing the Lord gave to Moses to have the priests pray for the people.
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.