In the Name of Jesus
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
From surprise to confusion to unbelief — and then to anger. Can you think of a situation that progression of emotions describes? Deals at the used car lot gone sour? National elections that don't go the way you wished? Newlyweds after the honeymoon has ended? Sermons and Bible studies that challenged what you've always believed to be the way salvation should work?
There are plenty of situations that result in surprise followed by confusion followed by doubt followed by anger. Maybe you've seen it happen with someone you work with or live with. The "what in the world just happened" look giving way to the "I'm gonna put an end to this right now" look.
It's part of the fallen world. It's part of our own fallen nature. We've got it all figured out. We know exactly what's just around the corner. Things are going just the way we want them to go, and then, out of nowhere — wham — someone does or doesn't do what we think they should or shouldn't do, someone says or doesn't say what we think they should or shouldn't say, and our whole plan comes to one screeching, sudden, surprising stop.
Everything was going along so well. Everyone was behaving exactly according to plan. And then all my hopes and expectations — everything I was looking forward to — crashed and burned.
And to add insult to injury, someone had the gall to then announce that the problem lies with me. Me. After all I did and put up with for him. The problem's with me? That's the last straw. Away with him!
That kind of thing happens today. It will happen tomorrow morning. It happened two thousand years ago on the other side of the world. Surprise to confusion to unbelief to anger.
Nazareth was not a big city in Jesus' day. For as long as anyone could remember it held the position of being just another rural town just like a thousand other rural towns. The special thing about Nazareth was nothing special every happened there. People were born, people were married, children were raised, people got old, and were placed next their fathers and mothers in the cemetery just outside the cluster of Nazareth's houses and barns and workshops and markets. That was life in old Nazareth. Life lived on the sidelines of fame and prestige — of greatness and glory. Until, one day, the local newspaper carried the headline: "LOCAL BOY MAKES IT BIG!"
You see, everyone loves a surprise and everyone loves a prophet sent by God to announce his Word (well, at least for a while). Prophets have, for a time, their honeymoon. When the prophets before Jesus suddenly, unexpectedly showed up on the scene there was plenty of interest and excitement, especially among those who could proudly say to everyone in earshot: "He's one of us, you know. He came from our town."
And [Jesus] was teaching in their synagogues, being glorified by all. (4:15)
That's the last sentence of the section of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke immediately before this Sunday's reading. Everything was going according to plan. The young man Jesus was the talk of more and more people troughout the entire region that surrounded Nazareth, and every time they glorified him and his character and his wisdom, they referred to him by the name of his town. The great and glorious Jesus was, of course, Jesus of Nazareth.
And so, at the beginning, when the townspeople's eyes were glazed over with their own future fame and impending glory, they fell over themselves to send their own boy a golden invitation to take a break from his regional road trip and come back to share some of the wealth with his own, to share some of the limelight with those who had raised him and taught him and made him into what he was now: Jesus of Nazareth, the first-born son of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. 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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21 ESV)
What happened to the "you fair people of Nazareth made me what I am today" speech? Where's the "I owe it all to my own town's possibility thinking and hard work" speech? He's preaching the same sermon here that he preached in those other towns that are less deserving of God's grace and blessing. And did he actually refer to his own townspeople as poor and needy and oppressed and in the bondage of slavery? We built this town up from nothing. Without our great work there wouldn't be a Nazareth or a Jesus of Nazareth! Who does he think he is? And who does he think we are?
Pastor Chad Bird reminds us that when we take a good hard look at the prophets sent by God to proclaim his Word, their first sermon is always hard for their audience to swallow. He writes, "Nobody smiles during a prophet's first sermon. Either your heart is broken or you want to break his neck." (Christ Crucified 97)
And so it was with Jesus' first sermon in his little hometown of Nazareth. He called those who thought they had made him into somebody those who were, before God, spiritual nobodys.
They had been blinded by their sin, their self-centered hunger for something glorious, something they could fashion with their own hands and set before God and then wait for his eternal applause. But Jesus — their own Jesus — calls his own neighbors and relatives to confess their need for God's undeserved grace and unmerited forgiveness.
Surprise to confusion to unbelief to anger. And what about us here this morning? Will God visit us with his gracious presence this hour because of our pedigree and performance? What are we to do with our lists of good works we have done for the church? Don't we deserve a little preferential treatment for keeping God's Word alive and upholding our part of the bargain?
The slogan on our front sign says, "Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone." It isn't a slogan. It's a confession, just like the words that come out of our mouth at the beginning of every Sunday service, as we echo who Jesus of Nazareth says we are, and what he says he has come to do in our place.
It's just no fun to be the doctor that diagnoses a deadly disease in one of your own neighbors or relatives. And it's just no fun being a prophet — the Prophet — that comes back home to diagnose the deadly disease of pride and self-righteousness in those with whom you grew-up. But Jesus knows it's all so necessary that they might then receive the shocking remedy for their chronic condition. His perfect life and innocent suffering and death.
A few years after being ordained and installed at this very communion rail, I received a phone call from my hometown church, a church that had suddenly found themselves without a pastor. It was a conference call from the search committee, investigating to see if their hometown boy had what it took to come back and make them proud.
It reminds me of the old saying about the difference between a mediocre preacher and a brilliant preacher. You know what the difference is? About 300 miles from where people actually know you. There's just something about a preacher and his hometown.
When you actually sit down and read the Gospel accounts of Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and Mary's son, you quickly discover that he didn't mess around with what came from his mouth — or his hands or his side. He put things in their place. He announced the bitter reality of our sinful nature and its sin-stained fruit, so that he might announce the sweet reality of God's crazy-sounding cure. Jesus put things in their place. He put himself on your cross and placed your sins and pride and doubt and unbelief and anger upon his shoulders and — with the sins of the town of Nazareth — took it all to the grave to bury it there.
Jesus the Prophet fulfills the prophets by announcing their words of prophecy and then pointing to himself. "It is now fulfilled," he said, "by my rejection, here and outside the gates of Jerusalem." "I have come to proclaim: It is now complete — for you and for the world."
Jesus wasn't the prophet Nazareth expected. Jesus isn't the prophet we were looking for either. But as we hear again from God's Word this morning, Jesus is everything we need — and more.
God continue his gracious work in you this day as he strengthens the undeserved gifts of heaven given on the day you first believed.
May he continue his work of bringing us from surprise and confusion and unbelief — to faith that in this Christ we are made rich, we are made free, we are made to see that with this Jesus, this is the year of the Lord's favor.
Jesus didn't come to earth to be your second cousin or your hometown hero. By his manger he became your brother, and by his Cross he became your Savior.
In the name of Jesus. Amen