Sermon Epiphany 4 1/31/2016

Luke 4:20-32 / Jesus reveals his glory before unbelievers

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” At the beginning of his Gospel, the apostle John wrote these words.  This first verse of John describes for us something beautiful.  John describes God.  But how can we understand a God we cannot see?  How can there even be any description?  John gives to us that answer.  God, in his love for us and knowing our desire to know him more, gave to us his Son.  God himself came to this earth to show us who He is and what He is really like.  Just like the words inside a book reveal to you what the book is all about, Jesus is the Word as spoken of in John 1. Jesus is God.  He is the Word that shows us what God is like.  How fitting to see Jesus in our lesson today!  THE Word, as described for us in John 1, is reading from his very own words in Scripture.

    Every synagogue would often select a delegate from the congregation to occasionally read from the scrolls of Scripture. It wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary to have Jesus read and expound upon words of Scripture in the synagogue.  After all, there was much enthusiasm around Jesus, and his knowledge for Scripture was impressive, to say the least.  What is fascinating, and what we heard about last week, was that Jesus unrolled the heavy scroll and read from a place in Isaiah, which His listeners knew described the Messiah.  After all, who didn’t want to hear about the promised Messiah who would bring back Israel to its glory days? And with this, Jesus rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant, and sat down to speak. All eyes were now on Jesus.

    Any person who read in the synagogue was also expected to conduct devotions and sitting down to address the audience for the devotion was completely natural.  The atmosphere around Jesus, as he sat with people at his feet, must have been charged with electricity.  The curiosity was palpable as the people were wondering what Jesus would say.  What would this man who came from a local carpenter family have to say about these Scriptures? People knew of Jesus and his knowledge.  The crowd was fascinated at his teaching.  But would he live up to the hype? 

    Now Luke doesn’t necessarily record everything here, but he does record the theme and the substance of the address.  Does he remind the people listening around his feet of the glory days when the Lord had performed miracles for the people of Israel, like when they crossed the Red Sea? And does he bring the listeners on a rollercoaster of emotion giving them promises pertaining to the future of “this here great nation,” like we would hear from a presidential candidate? Nope! He speaks to the here and now.  The golden days of our past weren’t so golden.  But with Jesus’ words, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus was saying that the golden age had just arrived. Jesus was that promised Messiah: the Messiah that the nation of Israel had been waiting for all of their history, the Messiah that would bring peace to their people. Microphone drop!

    Up until that point, the people were thrilled with what Jesus had to say about the dawn of the messianic kingdom.  But this guy? I mean, we saw this guy as a kid, with the oozing snot running down his nose wiped away by his mother.  We saw this kid being told by his father to look both ways before crossing the street.  We saw this guy learning a trade, like carpentry, which probably wasn’t a glamorous trade.  I guess he was a smart kid who learned a lot about the bible, but come on! Now he’s claiming to be some big shot, in fact THE one that would save Israel? Would he save Israel with his sand paper and chisel? The very fact that the people of Nazareth were so well acquainted with Jesus family caused them to look down upon him. Who did he think he was anyway?

    In their mind, if he wanted them to believe his claims, he would have to prove his greatness by performing in Nazareth. Better still right here in the synagogue, a miracle similar to those he had reportedly done elsewhere.  They were jealous of the other cities like Capernaum that got to see these signs and wonders.  They did truly believe that Jesus could do these miracles.  Even sin hardened scribes and Pharisees excepted the fact that Jesus worked miracles. But, that did not make them true believers in Jesus as the Christ, the fulfillment of messianic prophecy. 

    Jesus saw this in their hearts and minds.  He knew that they wanted him to prove that he was truly the Messiah.  Before they speak, Jesus reminded us of a proverb of a doctor.  If you need to see a doctor about a bad sore and he gave you some medicine and said that it would heal your sore, would you trust him and his medicine if you noticed that he had a sore twice as large as yours? You’d probably tell him to use his medication on his own sore first and cure that.  Then you would believe that his medicine would help. That was how the people wanted to apply this proverb.  In order to help himself, Jesus had to do a mighty work which would prove he was as great as he said.  They believed he was a great teacher, just not that He was the messiah. But, maybe this could be a start. 

    People today are faced with this same dilemma. Many have thought of Jesus as a teacher, as a good man, or a tragic historical figure who was killed because He was too far ahead of His time.  It’s a sad case when we only see Jesus as a teacher, telling me what to do or what not to do, or when my reason kicks into gear and I see the Bible only as a book, written by men who could make mistakes.  And I become just as jealous with Capernaum as the Jews did. I wish I had the signs in my life to back up his claim!  Jesus gives two Old Testament examples to illustrate why he couldn’t perform the miracles in Nazareth that he had done elsewhere.  It was because of the people’s unbelief! Faith comes not from seeing but hearing the message. 

    However, when the people didn’t respect and believe his Word, he simply took it elsewhere.  This wonderful blessing of salvation would now be given to the Gentiles, because of the misuse of the wonderful gift God had given originally to the Israel nation.  The Jewish people were so mad with Jesus because he wouldn’t perform miracles for them, because he claimed to be the Messiah, and now he was telling them that Gentiles (the dirty scum of the earth, in their mind) would also be part of God’s inheritance.  In their anger, they wanted to kill Jesus by throwing him off a cliff, as if he was nothing.  In this interaction, we see a glimpse of Jesus’ whole ministry. The scene in Nazareth was reenacted over and over during the next three years. In the end, the furious anger of these people led Jesus to the cross. But in this moment, we see this miraculous interaction. It was not yet his time to die and He demonstrates his power. Majestically he went through their midst. He does not run, he simply walks on and on.  No one dared to interfere with his leaving. Whatever may be the explanation, it was He who triumphed. 

    These Jews were sadly mistaken.  They had forgotten their purpose in life. The Jewish nation wasn’t to be the only nation who would inherit eternal life.  They were to be the nation who would take the message of salvation to all people!  Sadly, our human inclination is always to listen without faith. This can only lead us to the brow of a cliff and throwing Jesus out of our lives.  Have we forgotten our purpose as believers? Have we forgotten our purpose at St. Paul? Have we become content with the idea that what we have here and who we have here is good? Are we too lazy to share God’s Word and reflect his love in our personal life? At what point do we simply become a business looking to make money that maybe just happens to have God’s word? Jesus speaks to our hearts today with his powerful word.  He cuts right to our hearts just as he did to the Jewish people.  

     They were looking for a sign as we so often do. But, as God’s word repeats over and over again, and as we emphasize as pastors, faith comes from hearing the message.  Here, THE Word, as described in John 1, read the Word and explained it simply.  What Luke continues to stress is the same thing that Jesus stressed: look at the Word that proclaims Jesus as savior.  Look at how this message comes to us with authority.  His authority calls us out on our sin and says that you are the reason why Jesus had to die. But, look at what I did for you. In spite of your failures, my love for you has never failed. I love you. I love you. I love you.  The people wanted something more and Jesus was giving to them what they needed most.  

    What do we need most to strengthen our faith? Is it in the organ and the music, or the building and it’s renovations? Is it in the pastors? Of course not.  Do you remember when God came to the prophet Elijah? He didn’t come to him in this rush of a wind, or in a powerful earthquake or in the destruction of fire.  He came to Elijah in a whisper.   What’s the point of all these powerful signs if he can speak to you personally?  Here, Jesus speaks to us today.   That prophecy of a Savior wasn’t a joke.  This is reality.  He is our Savior.  This promise wasn’t just meant for the nation of Israel, but for everyone.  

    The teaching of Jesus was unlike any other.  He didn’t skim the surface of scripture, or quote human authorities and basing conclusions on those.  He gave no trivial thoughts.  The “word” of Jesus spoke directly to the heart, clearly displaying the will of God and Jesus’ own great mission. He was the Messiah to save us from our sin. We rest in what Christ was done for us and that he wants all people to be saved.  We come before God in thankfulness knowing that he no longer sees our sin, our poor intentions, and our failed promises to obey him, but he sees perfect children of God blameless in his sight. When Satan attacks us, blaming us for what we have done yesterday, God says, what sin yesterday? Today this scripture is fulfilled.  Today, salvation is ours as a gift because our Savior gives to us His Word.  We pray that God continue to keep us in His Word, every single day of our lives, bringing us ever closer to him. Amen. The peace of God which transcends all understand guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.