Saturday, January 23, 2010
Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany (January 24, 2010)
“Today this Scripture Has Been Fulfilled” (Luke 4:16-30)
It’s possible to become so familiar with something that you begin to take it for granted. Take the Bible, for example. We have heard the familiar stories so often that it’s easy to hear or read them without really taking time to contemplate them and meditate upon the meaning of the words. It is God’s Word, after all. Perhaps we should take more time with those words and mull them over … to do as the old collect says regarding the Holy Scriptures: to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.”
It was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue every Sabbath day. There, he would hear the Scriptures read. The congregation would chant psalms together. A rabbi would sit down and expound upon one of the Scripture readings to the people gathered there. And Jesus would listen attentively … the Word made Flesh meditating upon his Heavenly Father’s inspired Word from what we now call the Old Testament. Jesus was certainly familiar with the Bible. He had a hand in authoring it as True God. But as True Man, he never became bored with it. It was never so familiar to him that he ever said, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all that before. Let’s go on to something else.” That’s a familiar attitude that you and I battle all the time.
Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that we are familiar with something. However, when it comes right down to it, we’ve never really gotten to know our subject matter all that much. This type of familiarity only looks upon externals.
That was part of the problem with the people of Nazareth. They thought they knew who Jesus was. The hometown boy, the son of Joseph and Mary, come home to visit his family. “It’s so nice to see him again.” “Look how he’s all grown up.” Jesus was invited to read the Scriptures in the synagogue service. He reads a passage from Isaiah 61 which foretells the coming of the Messiah and describes his coming kingdom. Like the year of Jubilee in the old covenant – where slaves were released, property was returned to its original owners, and debts were forgiven – under the Messiah’s rule “the year of the Lord’s favor” has arrived. The poor would receive good news, captives liberty, the blind would see again, and those who are oppressed would find relief and refreshment. And then, surprisingly, Jesus declares, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “The kingdom of the Messiah is here and it is found in me.” At first, the people are mildly pleased with the sermon of their hometown boy. “All spoke well of him.” “It really was a nice sermon, wasn’t it?” you can just hear them say. But all they could see were the externals. All they could see was a man standing before them. Their hardness of heart prevented them from recognizing that the Divine Messiah was right before their eyes. They were spiritually blinded. They wanted more proof of this incredible claim coming from the mouth of Jesus. They wanted to see some miracles like they heard Jesus did over in Capernaum a few miles down the road.
And you know what else familiarity breeds. Contempt. The people scorned Jesus and his words. And so Jesus explained that his message was not just for them. It was not just for an elite group of people favored because of their bloodline. His message of salvation would include the Gentiles. Jesus holds Elijah and Elisha up as examples of prophets who, like him, were rejected by their own people and who took their mission to two individuals who were outside the promises of the old covenant … the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian. Jesus implies here that Gentiles, too, were to be included in God’s plan of salvation.
And then what happened? They excommunicated Jesus. Can you imagine that? Excommunicating the Son of God? But that’s what they did. They kicked Jesus out of church! Their contempt turned to rage, and they dragged him out of the synagogue and tried to kill him by throwing him off a cliff. But it was not our Lord’s time to die. And so, he was able to pass through their midst and escape harm until a later time when a cliff named Calvary would figure in his death.
Like the people of Nazareth, you and I often close our ears to what God’s Word has to say to us. It points out our sin. It calls us to repentance. It calls us to meet the needs of those around us who are both familiar and unfamiliar. It reveals our spiritual poverty, our captivity to sin and death, our spiritual blindness and brokenness. We deserve to be crushed under the weight of God’s wrath because of the ways in which we have held God’s Word in contempt. It’s no different than if we had been the ones throwing Jesus out, taking him to the outskirts of town and attempting to throw him off a cliff. After all, it was indeed our sins that sent him to the cross.
But what Jesus said to the Nazarenes is true for us today, too. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The Messiah is present through his Word to bring forgiveness and restoration. Jesus became poor for us. Jesus allowed himself to be taken captive for us, arrested and put on trial and sentenced to death on a cross. There Jesus was oppressed for us by the weight of the world’s sin and the weight of God’s wrath at the cross. He was broken, bruised, and crushed for us and for our sin, as Isaiah says elsewhere (chapter 53, to be exact), “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Is. 53:5)
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” As you hear these words and receive them in faith, Jesus gives what he says. This is “the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is the year of Jubilee. Not just 2010, but every moment following the death and resurrection of Jesus is “the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus makes you rich as an inheritor of heaven. Jesus releases you from the bonds of death, because in your Baptism you have been given the guarantee of your own resurrection on the Last Day. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit upon you to open your eyes of faith so you can recognize Christ as True God and True Man and trust in him as your Savior. Through Christ’s death on the cross, Jesus releases you from the sin and guilt that oppress you.
Now, instead of holding Jesus and his Word in contempt, we can give him honor and glory in our midst. We can thank and praise him for all that he has done for us. We can return to him a small measure of the great love he has for us. We can trust that his Words are true, that they give what they say they give: forgiveness, life, and salvation.
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” It’s a miracle every time we hear and believe God’s Word. We can’t do it on our own. St. Paul says in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The Good News enters our ears and goes right to our souls. It restores our spiritual sight which can now look beyond the familiar, external shell of things. Spoken words are no longer just sound vibrations communicating ideas but are words which the Spirit uses to create faith and give eternal life. Water is no longer just a bath, but with God’s Word of promise it is a “life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.” (Small Catechism, Baptism, Third Part: “How can water do such great things?”) Bread and wine are no longer an appetizer before lunch, but are “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and drink.” (Small Catechism, Sacrament of the Altar: “What is the Sacrament of the Altar?”)
Familiarity breeds contempt, so goes the old saying. But the familiar Word of Jesus has been fulfilled in our hearing. It is familiar to us, but now, we can receive it with joy and thanksgiving, anticipating every opportunity to hear it and be blessed by it.
We are more than familiar to God. He knows everything there is to know about us. And yet, he still loves us and gave his Son for us. We are forgiven and reconciled to God in Christ. Now, we can view those familiar people around us in a different light. Now, we can seek to forgive and be reconciled with those whom we have held in contempt. We have been given new eyes which can look at those familiar people around us, no longer with contempt, but with compassion and concern.