Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Powerful Word!

[Below is a video of today's 11:00 AM worship service with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. After that, you'll find the text of today's message. God bless you this week with a growing faith in Jesus Christ.]

Luke 4:16-30
I was ten years old when my mom spoke words to me that have had an impact, both good and ill, on me ever since. 

She said: “I wish I knew your IQ. You are so intelligent, Mark.” 

On the one hand, those words helped me, for the rest of my life, to feel free in loving to learn. 

On the other hand, they have sometimes made me arrogant.

Such can be the impact of words spoken by human beings like my mom. 

In light of that then consider how much greater the impact can be of words spoken by the Word made flesh, Jesus, God the Son

It is Jesus the Word Who is the means by which we come to saving faith in Him. As Saint Paul says in one of my favorite passages in Scripture: “ comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ…” (Romans 10:17) 

But it’s possible to hear the Word of God and spurn Christ, faith in Christ, and the life with God now and in eternity that God gives to those who believe. This happens when human hearts are hardened to God, caught up in the greatest idolatry of all, the worship of self. As we will see today, it even happens to people who confess faith in the God now revealed in Jesus.

In our Gospel lesson for today, Luke 4:16-30, Jesus returns to His hometown of Nazareth. News of His ministry, filled with the proclamation of God’s Word and miraculous signs, have reached the folks here. He returns to Nazareth as a celebrated rabbi of rising importance.

In those days, when a recognized rabbi visited the synagogue on the Sabbath, they were invited to read one of the appointed lessons for the day. On the day that Jesus visits the Nazareth synagogue, He finds the appointed text from Isaiah, and, having recently been affirmed by God the Father at His Baptism, where God the Holy Spirit also anointed Him as Messiah, He reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

God first gave these words to Isaiah to tell the people of Israel, hundreds of years before, that their exile under foreign conquerors would end. It did end. But when Jesus preaches in Nazareth He says that this Word is also about Him. “Today,” He tells the worshipers, “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

Jesus claims that God has anointed Him to speak His Word that first, proclaims the Good News, or the Gospel, to the poor, whether their poverty is financial or spiritual. He has come to those who, like you and me, are born helpless, unable to resist the temptation to sin and death that comes to us from our human nature, from the world, and from the devil. Jesus has come also to set free all those held as prisoners, in bondage to sin and death, like you and me. He has come to give sight to those who are blind both physically and spiritually, incapable without God’s Word coming to them, of seeing the God of undeserved grace. 

And Jesus comes to bring the year of the Lord’s favor. This last “mission” of Jesus is wrapped up in the Old Testament provision for ancient Israel of a Jubilee year, which came every fifty years

In Jubilee years, God said in Leviticus, all prisoners were to be released, whatever their crimes; all debts were to be forgiven, however much the debt was; and all families were to be given back the properties to which they were entitled when their ancestors first entered the Promised Land, no matter if the property had been lost through mismanagement or misfortune. 

The Jubilee year was a time of pure grace, undeserved forgiveness, and new life. 

Now Jesus is proclaiming the Jubilee of all Jubilees, one to last for all eternity. This Jubilee brings eternal forgiveness and eternal life with God to all who believe in Him. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Initially, Jesus’ fellow Nazarenes react positively to this Word. They feel a pride of ownership and entitlement. 

But as will happen with Jesus’ fellow Jews (and with their Gentile overlords) on Good Friday two years later, they can’t accept that someone with whom they think they’re familiar could be Who He claims to be. 

They demand that Jesus prove Himself by performing a sign for them, a miracle like the ones He’s done in other places. But they have the cart before the horse. The miraculous signs of Jesus’ power over life, death, destitution, and eternity have always been performed in the lives of those who first, however tentatively, believe the Word about Him as the Savior Who brings God’s salvation

The Nazarenes want what they can get out of Jesus without trusting in Jesus. They want faith without repentance. They want goodies without discipleship.

This is often our problem too, which is why so many Christians are babies in their faith even though the Gospel Word that brings faith in Christ and growth in that faith has been shared with them many times.

Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “...the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” 

Now, like a skillful surgeon, Jesus wields the Word of God to cut away the fatal growths of ethnic, religious, and familial pride–sin–that would prevent His Word from giving His fellow Nazarenes the gift of saving faith He wants to give to all. “Surely…you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.,” Jesus tells them.

He reminds the Nazarenes that in Old Testament times, God sent the prophet Elijah, not to all the Jewish widows who may have felt themselves entitled to God’s favor because they were Jews, sending him instead to a widow who was a foreigner. 

And God didn’t use the prophet Elisha to heal a Jewish leper, but a leper who commanded a foreign army. 

God sent His prophets to perform signs of His grace to these foreigners because they admitted that without the God long revealed to the Jews, they were poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed by sin and darkness. They knew how much they needed God, the God now revealed to all of us in Jesus. 

Do we know how much we need Jesus every single day? Or do we only turn to Jesus when we think we could use Him?

Are we willing to daily repent and believe in Jesus' Word?

The people of Nazareth are too proud to receive grace. And now, having heard Jesus’ powerful, life-giving Word of grace, we witness the powerful impact of Jesus’ Word on those who refuse to believe

The hometown crowd realizes that Jesus is telling them that they have no special hold on God, that God loves all people, that their self-righteousness and ethnic pride don’t impress God. So they take Jesus to the brow of the hill on which Nazareth is builtg to throw Him over the edge to His death. 

It’s here that Jesus actually does perform a miracle, although the Nazareth crowd doesn’t perceive it: He walks through the crowd and keeps on walking. Jesus will submit to death in order to conquer it for us, but now is not the time. Good Friday (and Easter) will happen at a time appointed by God and not a moment earlier or a moment later than God has decided. The God revealed in Jesus will have the final Word.

Jesus the Word then, reveals two important truths to us today. 

The first is that He has come to set you free from sin and death and that when you trust that Gospel Word, you are free. Right this moment. Eternity with God starts when we believe this Word, no matter what we’ve done or what we’ve been. That's the Gospel and it's for you, friends! 

The second thing is that the free gift of His salvation comes by way of the cross

It comes by Jesus’ cross. The Messiah will be rejected by the world, even by His own people, so that Jesus can save those who believe. His rejection at Nazareth foreshadows His impending rejection at Jerusalem. 

There’s another cross: ours. Jesus will later say, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23) We bear our cross as, in response to Jesus’ word, we set aside our pride and daily confess our need of Jesus, Who gives us the riches of His grace, freedom from our sin, eyes to see the love God bears for us always, and freedom from sin, death, and the devil.

Once more this morning, Jesus comes to us in His gracious, Gospel Word and, in Word-inspired faith we can now say, “Today, God’s salvation has been accomploshed in our hearing.” This is the power of His Word for us. May God help us daily to receive Jesus and His Word. Amen