If you have ever wondered why we stand up when the Gospel is being read – this morning’s Old Testament reading has the answer. When Ezra was asked to read the book of the law of Moses to the Jews on the resettlement of Jerusalem, he stood up and all the people stood up to listen to him. (Nehemiah 8).
It is striking and rather wonderful to think that we have followed this morning a tradition begun around 440 BC, almost 2,500 years ago. Striking and rather wonderful. Though you may be glad that our Gospel this morning did not last for the five or so hours of Ezra’s reading to the Israelites!
And Jesus in Nazareth would have been no different – standing up to read the scriptures to a group of the faithful, in the traditional way. And then following up with some exposition and analysis on the reading of the day.
What was extraordinary was what he had to say in his very brief “sermon”
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”
This apparently simple statement was loaded with meaning because the passage which he read contains a prophesy of the Messiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor…
Anointed is Christos in Greek from which we get “Christ”, in Hebrew it is Messiah
So Jesus equates his presence with the fulfilment of the prophesies of the Messiah from Isaiah.
The reaction of the audience is predictable. Initially they are stunned, then they want proof – a miracle. “Who do you think you are” they mutter. “he thinks he is the Messiah but we know who he really is … We know who you are – you are Joseph’s “son” (snigger). We know where you live, Jesus of Nazareth.”
And Luke will go on later in the chapter to say how a prophet is never welcome in his own country and later in his Gospel to tell how Jesus was crucified at the will of his own people.
There are a total of over 40 (and some see as many as 300) prophesies of Christ in the Old Testament. Indeed we recognise these striking links when we say in the Nicene Creed – “and the third day he rose again, in accordance with the scriptures, and ascended into heaven”
I think there is something a little uncomfortable for us in the precision of the fulfilment of these prophesies – as Anglicans we are not comfortable with predestination – that everything is already mapped out for all of creation – it is important to us that even Jesus and perhaps especially Jesus had free will.
Secondly, if that was the fulfilment of the Old Testament where does that leave us two millennia later – what does it mean for us as Gentile people in a post Messianic age? Is this still the day of the Lord’s favour?
Perhaps we need to see this fulfilment another way – in a way which looks forwards as well as backwards. The Greek word “pleiroo” which is used here originally means to fill in the sense of “fill a bucket” and by metaphor to complete something to bring it to completeness, to maturity. This could mean in the sense of completing a period of political office (coming to an end) but also and more often in the sense of fully manning a ship – making it fully functioning, at full strength, as it should be.
And so we may see this as Jesus not bringing to an end the relationship of God to man but rather to bring it to maturity, to full function. As he himself said:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matt. 5:17-18).
And what is that maturity in terms of relationship between God and man? Jesus tells us clearly:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment; and the second one is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40)
He completes the Law of Moses for us not by adding anything new, nor by taking away, but by focusing us on what is really important.
So where does that leave us?
In our Psalm 19 set for today we shall hear – “the law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul”
We need to respond to Jesus’s restatement of the fundamental laws – the commandments to love God and to love one another in order to “revive our souls”
And how do we show our love for the lord?
Each in our own way – as Paul says in our Epistle from 1 Corinthians 12 “you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Each of us has our own role to play, each of us has our own talents to bring.
Each of us has to find our own way to love the Lord our God “with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our minds.”
Each of us has to find our own way to “love our neighbours as ourselves”. Such easy words to say, so hard to fulfil!
But God knows that and knows us and only asks that we do our best
And so let us end this morning by praying in the words of Psalm 19 which are so often used to commence a sermon: “May the Words of our mouths and the meditations of all our hearts be now and forever acceptable in your sight O lord our strength and our redeemer” (Psalm 19)
This morning and always. AmenSermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Andrew’s Box Hill, 27th January 2013