Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | January 31, 2010

Sermon on Luke 4:20-32

Jesus Brings You Back from the Edge

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Can you imagine what happened in Nazareth happening at your doctor’s office?  Your doctor says, “There’s nothing else we can do for you.”  Then you grab him by the arm, drag him out of his office and throw him in front of a bus.  No matter how angry you are by the news the doctor gives, your response is not to kill him.

Yet that’s where we find Jesus.  For speaking the truth, for preaching the good news about the kingdom of God, for proclaiming God’s law and God’s gospel, a crowd made up of his friends and neighbors is ready to lynch Him.  The kindly grandparents that babysat Him, the families that brought meals when His brothers and sisters were born, the men who ran the lumber yards where He and His father got their wood, their customers, the boyhood chums – these friends, His fellow Nazarenes have dragged Jesus out of church so that they can murder Him.  Because they didn’t like what He said.

Luke places this trip at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  After John baptizes Him, the Spirit leads Him out into the desert for forty days of fasting and temptation.  Jesus emerges triumphant and returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. Then He decided to head home to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.  The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.

So far, so good.  In fact, more than good, spine-tingling.  What an Epiphany moment!  First, the Spirit descends and the Father speaks as John baptizes Him, marking Him as God’s Son.  Then Jesus turns water into wine, demonstrating the divine power dwelling in Him.  Now, Jesus reveals the fulfillment of the prophets.  God anointed and sent Him to bring freedom, sight, release, and favor, to be the Savior!

But, oh, how quickly the tide turns, eh?  The mood changes from shock and awe to sudden skepticism.  Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Mark records their words from this or another visit:  “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!  Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And then Jesus really steps in it.  [He] said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.  I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.  Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.  And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” He could read their hearts and knew what lay behind those questions.  They didn’t believe His words.  They didn’t believe Him.  And now, He confronts them with their unbelief.  “When people don’t believe, God goes elsewhere with His love, grace, and mercy.  He turns His back.”  And that set them off.  All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.  They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. “Who does He think He is to tell us these things?  What right does He have?  He doesn’t know us!  He’s not such hot stuff!  Let’s get rid of Him!”

Ridiculous, isn’t it?  Ridiculous, that is, until we realize that this is us.  A doctor’s bad news might depress us, and even anger us, but in the end, we listen to him, or maybe get a second opinion.  We don’t kill him.  But when God talks to us, when God tries to establish rules, limits, and guidelines, when God says, “Do this.  Don’t do that.” Or, “You shouldn’t be doing that,” well, that’s another story.  “How dare you God!?  How dare you get into my business!  How dare you tell me that I’m wrong!?!?”  It doesn’t matter what commandment your breaking.  When God speaks His truth, our reaction is irrational anger.

Just stop and think about it before you shake your head “No.”  Think of times when you’ve ended phone calls or not responded to emails because a friend, or a pastor, was telling you something you didn’t want to hear about the way you were living.  Think of the times you’ve thought about not coming to church any more or even leaving the church, or have done that, because they dared to tell you that something you said, did, or supported was against God’s will.  Think of the things that have angered, insulted, and offended you about pastors, elders, churches, and God’s Word.  It’s always when it’s confronted the way you’re thinking, feeling, behaving, or believing.  It’s when Jesus has stood in front of you and rebuked you.  When He dared to contradict you and say, “You’re wrong.”  And your response then, and perhaps even now, is rage and anger.  If you could grab God by the arm, drag Him out of church, and throw Him into traffic…

You’re not better than the Nazarenes.  You know Jesus well.  You’ve grown up with Him.  And yet, when He dares to bring an accusation against you, you reject Him.  For them it was simply unbelief, refusal to see Him for who He was.  What does God say that incites you to murder?  Is it about your job?  Your boyfriend?  Your taste in clothes?  Your lifestyle?  Your worship habits?  Your taste in music, TV, or movies?  Is it when God fences His communion table, tells you that even babies go to hell, that you are the worst of sinners, or that every single person who doesn’t believe in Jesus is going to hell without any ifs, ands, or buts about it?

You may think it’s a small matter, just between you and God.  “I’ll let Him judge me when the time comes.”  But He will.  And perhaps even in this lifetime.  But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.  He just left.  The Gospel came to Nazareth, and then it was gone.  Much as it has done throughout history.  It came to the Middle East, Turkey, and North Africa, only to be replaced by Judaism, Islam, and other pagan religions.  It came to Italy and Europe, only to be replaced by the papacy, and now secularism.  It came to Greece, only to be replaced by Eastern Orthodoxy.  It’s come to the United States, to be replaced by materialism and post-modernism – that thought that says, “What’s good for you is good for you, what’s good for me is good for me.”  It’s come to so many parts of the world.  And it’s left.  And it can leave you.  Jesus can leave you.

So, repent.  Let go of that which holds you back.  Let go of that which angers you.  Let go, and listen. Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. What Scripture?  The Scripture that says Jesus is the One, the Christ, the Messiah.  The Scripture that says He comes to proclaim freedom and release.  The Scripture that says the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.  Jesus knew full well what the response to His preaching would be in Nazareth.  Yet He came.  He brought them the good news.  Jesus knew full well what the response would be to His preaching throughout the world – He knew already of the rejection and the death on the cross. Yet, He came and He proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor.  He didn’t just proclaim it, He did it.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!…For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

More than that, He knew about you.  He knew how you would reject the grace of His Baptism, yet He reminds you of that washing again and again and again.  He knew how you would spoil the meal of His body and blood and ignore the Words of law and gospel He speaks in His Word, yet He brings it again and again and again.  He has not left.  Just as His death was not Him leaving, but the beginning of His resurrection, so His words that speak death to you are not Him leaving, but the beginning of your resurrection.

When Peter’s sermon devastated the crowds in Jerusalem on Pentecost, Luke writes:  When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said…“Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  For all who are far off. Peter was talking about you.  And Jesus was talking to you, dying for you, rising for you.  The Scriptures have been fulfilled.  The edge of that cliff is close.  But Jesus is still the Christ.  It was not beyond His power to walk through that crowd.  It’s not beyond His power to bring you back from the edge.  He proclaims freedom, sight, release, and favor.  Achieved, won, and accomplished by Him.  Offered to you.  Even you.  Especially you.  Amen.

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