Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 24, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 4:16-30
Sermon Theme: “Word of God: Incarnate or Incorrect?”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; Brokhoff’s Series C Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 26, Part 1, Series C, 2016; online Christians.unite.com jokes; Messianic Prophecies, Bible.org; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; Believer’s Commentary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
While there was only one Temple in Jerusalem, there were many synagogues located in towns throughout Judah, just as there is only one Vatican in Rome, but many Catholic churches in towns everywhere. In the synagogues, the learned Rabbis would read a passage from Holy Scripture (which in Jesus’ day was the Old Testament), and then they would interpret the passage and explain it to the people. That’s kind of what we pastors do every Sunday, isn’t it?
Naturally folks expect their pastor to know the Bible well enough to interpret and explain the lection chosen for each Sunday.
I love the story told about a newly ordained pastor, seeking a call to a church. One church was interested in him, and they asked him to come and be interviewed by their Call Committee.
When he appeared before them, the Chairman of the Call Committee said to the young, inexperienced pastor, “Son, we expect our pastor to know the Bible from top to bottom, — so, do you know the Bible pretty good?”
He said he thought he did, and then the Chairman asked, “Which part do you know best?,” to which the young man replied, “The New Testament.”
“Well, why don’t you tell us the story of the Prodigal Son,” said the Chairman. “Fine,” said the young pastor, and he started telling the story:
“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, who went down to Jericho by night and fell upon stony ground and the thorns choked him half to death.
“The next morning, Solomon and his wife Gomorrah came by and carried him down to the Ark for Moses to take care of. But, as he was going through the Eastern Gate into the Ark, he caught his hair in a limb and he hung thee for forty days and forty nights. The next day, the three Wise Men came and carried him down to the boat dock and he caught a ship to Ninevah. And when he got there he found Delilah sitting on the wall.
“He said, ‘Chunk her down, boys, chunk her down.’ And they said, ‘How many times shall we chunk her down,’ and he said, ‘Not seventy times seven, but four hundred and ninety times. . .’”
At this point, the Chairman of the Call committee stopped the young pastor abruptly, turned to the other members of the Call Committee, and exclaimed, “We’ve heard enough! This young man really knows his Bible good! Let’s issue him a call right away! They all agreed.
In our sermon text, when Jesus was the guest Rabbi in his home synagogue of Nazareth, he read a well-known passage from the Scroll of Isaiah. When he spoke to those assembled about what that prophesy meant, at first they spoke well of Him and marveled at the gracious words coming from His mouth. But when He finished by saying, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” and they finally understood what that meant, instead of being impressed by His interpretation of the Bible, His listeners were shocked, offended, and angry.
The mood changed quickly. Jesus sensed this and even anticipated their wrath. They were saying things like: “How can this carpenter’s son claim to be the Christ, the Savior of God?” “This impostor came from down the street, not from heaven!” “How dare He claim to be equal to God!” The people were incredulous and indignant, because they felt He had blasphemed the holy name of God.
What they failed to consider was that Jesus IS the Son of God, the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, just as the prophets had foretold. I suppose it was just too much for them to believe this ordinary hometown Jewish man is God’s own Son.
No doubt the Rabbis over the years had failed to interpret Isaiah and the other prophets correctly when they prophesied about the Messiah, and the people were not prepared for the truth.
Yet, it was always there in Holy Scripture, much of it in the Scroll of Isaiah alone. Isaiah 7:14 foretold the Messiah would be born to a virgin and be called “Immanuel.” Isaiah 60:3 and 6 had spoken of the coming of the Magi. Isaiah 9:1-2 foretold the Savior’s ministry in Galilee, and Isaiah 35 and 42 had spoken of His miracles. Isaiah 53, 5, 7, 9, and 12 had foreseen the details of Christ’s suffering and death; and Isaiah 9:6 and 7 and Isaiah 66:18 prophesied His Second Coming.
Many Rabbinic interpretations of the first coming someday of the Messiah led the people to believe that the Savior would be a kind of political or military Messiah who would throw off the yoke of Roman oppression. Jesus never fit that concept of a Messianic deliverer, thus in many folks’ eyes He could not be the One who comes to save the oppressed.
Part of the problem was they had always seen their oppression, their being in chains, so to speak, as political-military suppression and subjugation. What Jesus would tell them, was that the oppression they suffered was spiritual bondage, that they suffered from inward spiritual chains. The prophecy He quoted from Isaiah declared, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
They misdiagnosed their need for spiritual liberation as a need for national freedom. Politics cannot fix what’s wrong with us, because politicians are also sinful. All of the chains that bind us, — poverty, war, famine, etc., — are spiritual in derivation. There is no political fix to a spiritual problem.
Donald Trump isn’t going to liberate us and help what’s wrong with the United States. Hilliary Clinton isn’t going to save us from a world economy gone sour. Nor are any of the other candidates for President on the Right, on the Left, or in the Middle. Jesus wasn’t a Trump- or Clinton-type Messiah; He was and is the real thing! Jesus broke free from the power of death; let Him break you out of the chains that bind you. A return to Christ is the only thing that will save America!
Think for a moment about the bars that make a prison around you. Each of us has to look for our own. What are they? Denial of reality? Doubt and spiritual indifference? Arrogance and self-righteousness? Attitudes that are hateful and spiteful? Neglect or abuse in relationships? Overindulgence in food? Alcohol abuse? Addiction to pornography? The list could go on and on. Until we realize that Jesus Christ is the only true deliverer, the list will never end.
Jesus had performed miracles elsewhere, — last Sunday we talked about His first miracle in Cana – but there were few miracles performed in His hometown of Nazareth. In today’s text, Jesus said to the people of Nazareth, “No prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” Matthew adds to that in Matthew 13:58, “And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” Miracles are performed in an atmosphere of faith. He then cited two pointed incidents in the Old Testament where prophets of God were not appreciated by the people of Israel and so were sent to Gentiles.
When there was a great famine in Israel, Elijah was not sent to any Jewish widows – though there were plenty of them – but He was sent to a Gentile widow in Sidon. And although many lepers were in Israel when Elisha was ministering, he was not sent to any of them. Instead he was sent to the Gentile Naaman, captain of the Syrian army.
Imagine the impact of Jesus’ words on Jewish minds. They placed women, Gentiles, and lepers at the bottom of the social scale. But here the Lord pointedly placed all three ABOVE unbelieving Jews! Old Testament history was about to repeat itself.
To be sure, Jesus would be rejected not only by the city of Nazareth but by the nation of Israel. He would then turn to the Gentiles, just as Elijah and Elisha had done. The people of Nazareth understood exactly what He meant. They were infuriated! They tried to throw Him down a cliff.
In Nazareth, the people heard the Word of God in the form of a prophecy about Jesus, read from the Scroll of Isaiah and interpreted by Jesus. They could either accept it as the Word of God Incarnate (the Incarnate Word standing right there in front of them), or as the Word of God incorrectly interpreted. They chose the latter. We know better. I hope. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.