Third Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
January 23, 2022
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 the appointed text. 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.” Certainly both ideas are included here. 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. Thus our Lord proclaims that this is the year of the Lord’s favor; that is, the Year of Jubilee, the year when all debts are forgiven, slaves released, inheritance restored. The Lord proclaims His gracious acceptance of the poor, the sinners, as His own, free citizens of His Kingdom and children of His heavenly Father. That is what the Lord brings in His incarnation, by His gracious presence among us in the flesh and blood of Jesus. So you see, this passage is programmatic for Jesus’ entire earthly ministry and His saving mission. That is what He proclaims to us this morning. And by His proclamation, that is what He gives.
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.) Now 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? They are riveted from Word one. 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, when the Spirit descended on Him as a dove and the Father spoke His love and approval from heaven. St. John is the witness.
And 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 all who 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 knee high to a grasshopper 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. 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. Because they don’t like what He says. They drive Him to the brow of the hill to throw Him off the cliff. This is what preaching God’s Word gets the preacher, and, incidentally, this is what it gets you who hear and believe the preaching of God’s Word, 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 then, it’s really not you they want dead. It’s Jesus. Nothing more enrages the people of this world than Jesus. And this rage they feel when confronted by Jesus’ preaching 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 making demands on them about what is true and what is a lie, what is right and what is wrong, what is holy and what is damnable sin, what we ought to believe and do. They’re okay with Him, until He claims to be God’s Messiah; in fact, God Himself, the only Savior of the world, and that those who don’t believe in Him cannot be saved. But that He does save all who do believe in Him, no matter who they are, even the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, even tax collectors and prostitutes and scandalous sinners, even barbaric Gentiles.
Needless to say, the people are in a murderous rage. No prophet is acceptable in his hometown. You don’t come say that type of thing to any crowd of respectable citizens, least of all to those who knew you when. So they drag Him to the cliff to throw Him off like yesterday’s garbage. But for now, it isn’t Jesus’ time. He passes through their midst and goes away. See… there is 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. 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 a poor miserable sinner. And to you, Jesus preaches good news. You are free. You are healed. You see. You hear. You are raised to new life. Which is to say, 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? Well, they happen here today, too, don’t they? Jesus speaks, and it is so. He gives you His gifts by speaking His Word. You repent. You believe. You are absolved. The Spirit of the LORD is poured out upon you. You come to the Table where bread and wine are Jesus’ true Body and Blood, crucified and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins, because that is what Jesus says. All of it happens by His Word, in the preaching, by the Spirit. Jesus’ preaching in Nazareth is an account of what happens to this very day in the preaching of the Church. Jesus preaches the prophetic Word that He Himself fulfills. And many reject that Word, and so reject Him and His salvation. But not you. You believe, and so you receive the perfect freedom of life in Jesus Christ. And because He is risen from the dead, the life you have in Him is eternal, in His restored and perfected New Creation. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.