Episode 1. Good News for the Poor
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Most of us like to watch the news, or listen to it on the radio, or read the newspaper. But really, there’s precious little good news these days. It all seems to be bad news, especially for the …
Most of us like to watch the news, or listen to it on the radio, or read the newspaper. But really, there’s precious little good news these days. It all seems to be bad news, especially for the poor. But Jesus said that He had good news for the poor. So what did He mean?
One of the little rituals that I love to perform every night is to watch the evening news on television. It’s just, I don’t know, my way of unwinding for the day and I guess it’s my way of finding out what’s been going on at home and around the world. But have you noticed whether you watch it on TV or listen to it on the radio or read it in the newspaper, there’s actually precious little good news.
Generally the news starts with the biggest conflict or natural disaster or court case or murder or car accident and it just goes down hill from there. In fact when they drop in the odd piece of good news we say, “What have they run out of news tonight?” But we do need good news too. In fact truth be known we desperately want good news. Good news about ourselves, our lives, who we are, but where do you get that?
Have you ever wondered, this whole Jesus story, this whole Jesus thing, if its true why did Jesus, the Son of God, step out of heaven, become a little baby, become a boy, become a teenager, become a man, wander around for three and a half years preaching all sorts of stuff, healing people and then allow himself to be killed on a cross and rise again? Why did He do that? I had an email recently from someone who visited our website www.christianityworks.com and she said, “Look, Jesus, Buddha, Mohamed I mean they’re really all the same, just pick one and get on with it.”
The big difference between Jesus and all those other guys is that firstly, Jesus made a unique claim. Jesus said, “I AM God.” The other’s pointed somewhere else, Jesus didn’t, Jesus said, “you’re looking at Him, I’ve arrived!” And the second difference is, that Jesus said, “Look being a Christ follower, being a Christian, believing in Me is not about working hard and becoming a better person so that you become acceptable to God.” Effectively, that’s what all the other religions say.
Jesus said, “No, no, here look at Me, I’m going the cross to die for you so that you can be forgiven, I’ll pay for your sins, I’ll fulfil the righteous requirements of God’s law and I will pay. And all you need do is believe in me and I will help you to have a new life, and yes new life is about change, new life is about regeneration, new life is about getting rid of the rubbish, but it’s not the starting point. The starting point is the grace of God on the cross of Christ.”
But is it authentic, I mean why did He come? Is there something real here and now that’s going to make a difference? Gospel, the word gospel literally means “the good news” – is it? Jesus was born in Bethlehem; He fled as a little baby with His parents to Egypt because they tried to kill Him. Then He moved to Nazareth in Galilee which is kind of “Hicksville” and at age thirty Jesus began His public ministry.
One of the very first times that He spoke publicly He got up in a Synagogue in His own home town in Nazareth of Galilee, and He quoted something that the prophet Isaiah had written a long time before. He read this from the scrolls in the synagogue. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recover sight for the blind and to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Now effectively by reading this, what He was saying to all those Jews who were sitting in that synagogue and very clearly and very unmistakably was, “I am the Messiah, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me and God has sent me to do these things. Why have I come? To preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for prisoners, the recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Now there’s an opportunity in that for you and for me. And so this week we’re going to be looking at those five reasons, those five promises that Jesus made about why He came. Then you can make your own mind up about this Jesus, do those reasons make it worth while for me to just live my whole life for God? And today we’re looking at the first of those which is, good news for the poor.
The poor literally were lonely and afflicted in the first century as in many places in the world today there was no social welfare in Israel. I’ve a vivid recollection of going to San Francisco and seeing a black man with blood streaming down his head begging outside the McDonald’s store and he looked at us and he said, “Just because I’m black doesn’t mean I’m a bum.” And in India I remember seeing a woman begging and she had a little baby strapped to her, the shop keeper where she was begging came out and chased her away with a stick and beat her across the back. Two thirds of this world live in literal poverty, yet many wealthy people are still poor.
You may have heard me use this quote before but it says it all for me, by a columnist called Bernhard Levin in the UK. He says, “Our world is full of people who have all the material blessings and comforts they desire, together with non-material blessings like a happy family and yet they lead lives of quiet and sometimes noisy desperation. Understanding nothing but the fact that there’s a hole inside them, and however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well-balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it, it aches.” He’s putting his finger there on that silent desperation in so many lives.
Well does that mean Jesus only came for losers? No! Jesus is speaking into a reality; a reality that Bernhard Levin here identifies is so wide-spread even in the wealthiest of societies. We have that materialistic façade but deep down the inner us, the inner you and me, there’s a deep sense of poverty. We’re made in God’s image and that hole inside us is a hole that only God can fill. And when we look at ourselves when that hole is empty, that first century picture of the beggar, the one that’s destitute of wealth and influence and position and power and honour, is so perfect.
I mean today’s mantra is “you can have everything”, but it doesn’t ring true does it? Inside we still feel poor, I mean people can have people around them and yet feel so desperately alone and empty. And Jesus, the very first reason that He lists when he first gets up to speak in His public ministry, the very first reason He lists which is the reason why He came, was to bring good news to the poor, to speak directly into that reality – and boy that hits the mark!
He’s not talking about harsh rules and judgement, he’s talking about good news, a gospel, profoundly good news. The good news that says that the God who created us wants to have a relationship with us, the God that says, “I will be your God and you will be my people and I will walk among you.” The good news of a God who wants that so much that He sent His Son, not just to tell us but to die for us, to pay the price so we can be reconciled back into a relationship with Him. The good news that God knows, the good news that the one person who can fill it has been anointed to come and bring that to us, Jesus Christ.
We have a choice, the people who listen to that, they actually rejected Jesus, they drove him out of the synagogue, that was his own home town, and they rejected him. We can do that or we can accept from Him the good news of a life in relationship with God – not just here on earth but for all eternity. It’s up to us really!