When you’re networking, you carry an elevator speech in your virtual pocket.
Just enough words to introduce yourself in the time it takes to ride an elevator. Just enough words to say who you are, what you do, and why your new acquaintance should care.
So when Jesus first preaches, does he say, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God?” Does he say, “No one is good enough: no one?” Does he say, “the wages of sin is death?” No! He doesn’t say those things first. In fact, those are not Jesus’ words at all. He didn’t say them first- he didn’t say them ever.
Those came from the Apostle Paul, later: they’re found in his Letter to the Romans. Some call those few phrases the “Romans Road to Salvation”. They say those few phrases are all you need to know to get saved. I disagree.
If not the Romans Road, then what? What was Jesus’ elevator speech? (I know, elevators came along much later.) What did he say first to describe himself and make an impression?
The story goes like this. Jesus is new to his call, and he goes home to Nazareth. Maybe you know what it’s like to leave home, then come back. You’ve changed, and they’ve changed: you get the dynamic. Jesus is coming home, again, to make a first impression, again.
Jesus goes to his home synagogue, and they call on him to preach. He calls for his Bible, the Hebrew book of Isaiah. He reads these words, repeated into the story via the Gospel of Luke. They bear repeating again-
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ ”
Luke 4:18-19, 21.
This is Jesus’ first sermon, what he wants us to hear first. Take note of what he says first, and what he doesn’t say first. Not that we’re sinners. Not that we’re bound to die. Not that we’d better get right, or get left. His first words are good news.
Some call these words Jesus’ “Nazareth Manifesto.” Jesus is setting out a vision for the Kingdom of God. Brian McLaren calls it the Dream of God. Think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., preaching that he has a dream.
It’s a vision for a better tomorrow, a brighter day, on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus announces, to great effect, that with his words the Scripture is fulfilled. Good news to the poor! Captives and incarcerated released! The blind see! The oppressed lose their chains! It’s the year of the Lord (that is, the anticipated year when crushing debts are canceled)! All the change we desperately want is here.
That’s how Jesus makes a first impression. That’s how Jesus tells those who will hear what God wants. God’s Dream is real, and God’s Dream is now.
If you did a mental double-take at the word “now”, you’re not alone. It’s a lot to see now that the Dream of God is already changing the world. It was hard to see when Jesus said it the first time.
The story at the synagogue ends when to Jesus says to his people that they can’t see the Dream because they’re racist. They rise up to kill him (Luke 4:24-30). But more about that another time. Seeing the now and the not-yet at the same time takes eyes of faith.
As the elevator doors open, and we step out again into the world as it is, we can take with us those few words of Hope in the Dream. In the words of an old hymn, strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. God has made us free and sets us free because God loves us and wants a better world for us.