Third Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
January 27, 2019
Text: Luke 4:16-30
A hush fell over the crowd as He entered the synagogue. The hometown Boy, the famous Rabbi and miracle worker, had come to preach. Maybe He would even do some of the miracles He had done in Capernaum. It’s only reasonable to expect it. There is His family, of course. Mary, widowed at such a young age. His brothers, James, Joseph, Jude, Simon, and His sisters. None of them rich, but certainly respectable, pillars of the community. The liturgy got underway, the singing of Psalms, the customary prayers composed by the ancient fathers. Now it is time for the reading of Holy Scripture, the high point of the Service. And this time it is extra special. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Jesus stands up to read. He takes up the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah and finds the place. And He opens His mouth, the Word made flesh speaking the Word inscripturated: “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” (Luke 4:18-19; ESV. Cf. Is. 61:1-2).
Now, already, before He has preached, hear the profound and gracious words that pour forth from our Lord’s lips. To begin with, this is a Trinitarian passage. The Spirit of the Lord (the Father) is upon Me (the Son). Jesus begins His preaching, and really, His public ministry, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And then we learn what He has come to do. He has come to preach! Good news, Gospel. To the poor. The poor both bodily and spiritually, those who have nothing, no resources within themselves to provide for themselves, to sustain themselves, to save themselves. And that preaching is a proclamation of liberty. The word for “liberty” could also be translated “release,” or even “forgiveness.” Creation is released from its bondage. Those who are captive to sin, to death, to the devil are set free. Their sins are forgiven. They are brought into God’s Kingdom. You are forgiven, set free, and brought into God’s Kingdom. And, our Lord proclaims, this is the year of the Lord’s favor, His gracious acceptance of the poor, the sinners, as His own. This passage is programmatic for Jesus’ entire earthly ministry and His saving mission. And He tells us as much in His sermon.
Jesus sits down, not back amongst the crowd, but in the preacher’s seat in the front of the synagogue. You can be especially thankful for your pew, because the way it used to work is the preacher sat and the congregation stood. (Come to think of it, I kind of like that arrangement.) The eyes of all the people are fixed on the Lord. What will He say? Is He as good a Preacher as we’ve heard He is? And Jesus begins His sermon with the great announcement that would shake the world: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus is the One anointed by the Spirit of the Father. It happened at His Baptism. St. John is the witness. Jesus is the One sent to preach. He is the Great Prophet of whom all the prophets who went before were but foreshadowings and preparers of the way. He is the Great Preacher of whom all the preachers who have gone before and come after are but instruments, mouthpieces for His continued preaching. Of release. Of forgiveness. Of New Creation and New Life. Of the Grace of God for sinful man. Jesus is the One. Don’t miss what He is claiming. Jesus is the Promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.
It’s a nice message. So far, so good. The people are with Him. Well, maybe. “Actually, now that we think about it, that’s an awful audacious thing to say about oneself. You know what, this boy whom we’ve known since He was yay high is getting a little big for His britches. Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Don’t we know His mother and His siblings?” And now Jesus takes a situation already turning sour and makes it worse. As faithful preaching of the Word of God always does. “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself’” (v. 23). We’re done with your preaching. Do some miracles. Heal the sick. Cast out some demons. Let’s see some fireworks. And Jesus says, “No dice. No prophet is acceptable in his hometown. You do not believe the preaching. Here you have heard the most gracious Words imaginable from the lips of God Himself. Here you have witnessed the ancient prophecy coming to fulfillment. And still you do not believe! Well, I can’t do any miracles then. The miracles are for believers. They manifest the truth of the statement that I am the Messiah. They reveal to you that the New Creation is breaking into the old, that salvation and new life have come in My flesh. Now, you should know this if you know the Scriptures. For all the Israelite widows in the days of Elijah at the time of the great famine, he was sent to a Gentile, to a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon! Because she believed! For all the Israelite lepers in the days of Elisha, it was a Gentile the Prophet cleansed, Naaman, the Syrian, the military commander who had fought against Israel! He didn’t believe at first. But when he followed the words of the Prophet, dipping in the Jordan seven times, he was cleansed by the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. He came to faith! You refuse to come to faith. You have rejected the Word of the Lord. You only want a show!”
Well, the sermon didn’t go so well. There are two marks of a prophet: 1.) They preach the Word and demonstrate the power of the Word in miracles. 2.) They suffer rejection, which is ultimately the rejection of God. Jesus, our Great Prophet, fits both criteria. The people (remember, not a huge company, a relatively small congregation of people who have known Jesus since He was a little Boy), are “filled with wrath” (v. 28). They want to kill Him. They drive Him to the brow of the hill throw Him off the cliff. This is what preaching God’s Word gets the preacher, and, incidentally, you who hear and believe the preaching and confess it in your daily lives and vocations. It gets you the wrath of the people who want you dead. You know that it’s true. You’ve read the reports. You’ve seen the newscasts. But it’s really not you they want dead. It’s Jesus. Nothing more enrages the people of this world than Jesus. And the rage, of course, is demonic. Which is to say, the people who are enraged are deceived. They think they’re doing good. They think they are serving what is right and true and beautiful, so they have all the passion of a raving fundamentalist. They are fundamentalists. Just not Christian fundamentalists. That is the way the unbelieving world responds to the preaching of Jesus. They’re okay with Him, until He starts claiming to be God’s Messiah, the only Savior of the world, and that He won’t save the people who don’t believe in Him.
The people are in a murderous rage, but this time, for now, it isn’t Jesus’ time. He passes through their midst and goes away. See, there’s a miracle after all. But His time is coming, and does come, on a Friday during Passover. It is the ultimate rejection. God is nailed to a cross. The elite scoff. The passers-by gloat. The demons dance. But by God’s grace, we see. This rejection is the very release Jesus has been preaching. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the sacrifice of atonement for the whole world’s sin. It is the good news preached to the poor, the liberty of the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, the liberty of those who are oppressed. It is the Lord’s gracious favor, the forgiveness of your sins, your life, your salvation. It is the end of the old, the satisfaction of the Law, the undoing of the curse. It is the mortal poison death must drink to the dregs. It is the crushing of the serpent’s head. And when “It is finished,” there is rest, Sabbath. And then there is life and the New Creation. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Bodily. And all of this for you.
And today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Because that is the nature of preaching. Jesus is the Preacher. Not me, for crying out loud. I’m just the lump of flesh standing here as His mouthpiece. My words don’t do a thing. Jesus is the Preacher. And His Words do what they say. You are poor. You know it. No matter how much money you have. You are poor, miserable sinners. And to you, Jesus preaches good news. You are free. You are healed. You see. You hear. You are raised to new life. Your sins are forgiven. Because of Jesus. God looks upon you with favor, accepts you as His own, makes you His own child. Because of Jesus. And the miracles? The greatest miracle is that you believe in Jesus. That happens by His Word, in the preaching, by the Spirit. And of course, the miracles point to what Jesus does for you now spiritually, and will do for you finally and decisively in the resurrection of your body. Prophets preach God’s Word and are rejected. But those who believe, you, receive the perfect freedom of life in Jesus Christ, who is risen from the dead. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.