Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sermon -- 4th Sunday after Epiphany (February 3, 2013)

LUKE 4:20-32
CHRIST’S KINGDOM COMES
BY GRACE, NOT BY RIGHT.

In the name + of Jesus.

    St. Luke has recorded for us the events of a strange, strange day at the synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus had been going throughout Galilee, preaching and teaching and healing the sick of their various illnesses. Then he came to Nazareth. He read from the prophet Isaiah, and he began to expound on the prophecy. He declared that he himself is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. He is the Messiah. He ushers in a kingdom of grace. He delivers heavenly gifts.  He is what all Israel and all the world have been waiting for.
     The people of Nazareth didn’t know what to make of Jesus. He was their hometown boy. They had watched him grow up, getting bigger and stronger and wiser. I’m sure they respected him and recognized him as a rabbi. But what to make of these claims? Who did Jesus think he was? Surely he had come to Nazareth to do more than shoot off his mouth. Surely he would do the miracles he had done in other towns around Galilee.
     Jesus said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.”  And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” (Luke 4:23-24)  Jesus’ miracles were no secret.  And Jesus knew that the hometown crowd wanted to see the miracles they had heard about.  Why couldn’t Jesus heal all of the sick in Nazareth?  Why couldn’t Jesus cure the troubles of the people who knew him when he was growing up?  Why were the miracles good enough for Cana and Capernaum and not for Nazareth?  They would honor him for performing, but not for preaching. 
     The people of Nazareth seemed to think that they had a right to Jesus’ miraculous powers.  But Jesus pointed out that his kingdom comes by grace, not by right.  He, then, reminded them of how the Lord’s prophets had acted in the past.  “In truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:25-27)  Through his ministers Elijah and Elijah, the Lord did not pour out blessings upon the people of Israel, who seemed to think that they had a right to them.  Instead, the Lord was gracious to the foreigners.  It was the woman from Zarephath who was miraculously given food to sustain her family.  It was the soldier from Syria who was miraculously cleansed of his leprosy.  God’s blessings and God’s kingdom did not come to them because they deserved it.  They were outsiders, after all.  But God’s kingdom comes by grace, not by right.
     But the people of Nazareth felt they had a right to benefit from Jesus’ miracles—either because they wanted to be healed or entertained.  Maybe the hometown crowd felt it was Jesus’ civic duty to do so.  Maybe the people of Nazareth wrongly believed that God owed them because they were God’s chosen people.  Whatever motivated their desires, a sense of wonder turned to a sense of rage when Jesus told them that God’s works come by grace, not by right.
     It is no different for you, especially if you are a life-long Christian.  You might have given yourself the idea that you have earned God’s gifts.  I mean, I get why the outsiders don’t deserve these, but I think I’ve done my part for them.  Perhaps you think that your years in the faith and your service to the church entitle you to special privileges.  You may even become upset because you are not praised or rewarded for your diligence or obedience.  What is that other than believing that you are better than others?  And if you are better, don’t you deserve something from the Lord?  You want Jesus and others to honor you with your due.  Such pride believes that God owes you.  Repent!
     Christ’s kingdom comes by grace, not by right.  You have no advantage over Nazareth or Zarephath or Syria.  There is no difference between the philanthropist and the philanderer, between the one who writes prescriptions for drugs and the one who peddles drugs, between the one who craves love and the one who sells it.  If you believe there is a difference before God, then you also believe that some are worthy of God’s kingdom and others are not.  But there is no difference, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)  All deserve judgment and death and hell.  No one deserves blessings or forgiveness or heaven.  These are all God’s doing.  These are all God’s gifts.  Christ’s kingdom come by grace, not by right.
     The people of Nazareth were disgusted by this.  It was not enough to reject Jesus or to expel him from their synagogue.  They wanted to kill him off.  They rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away. (Luke 4:29-30)  Ironically, the only miracle Jesus did perform for the people of Nazareth was to thwart their evil plans.  Jesus’ death would not come on this day; for it was not his time.  Death would not come from this hill, but from another.  And salvation would not come through a glorious miracle, but from a bitter, humble death.
     Christ’s kingdom was established when he paid for the sins of the world by his crucifixion.  It was not a payment that comes by right.  You do not deserve forgiveness.  The debt you owe God for your disobedience is not something that you can work off.  Sins must either be punished or pardoned.  In Jesus Christ, the Lord accomplished both.
     Jesus Christ suffered and died for sins.  Jesus bore no guilt of his own.  Instead, he was charged with your crimes and was convicted of your guilt.  The death that you deserved, Jesus suffered.  Jesus was afflicted with the pains and the torment that your guilt has earned.  It surely was not fair that Jesus would have to suffer and die for sins he did not commit.  And it isn’t fair.  It is grace.  God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for you.  And Jesus came to save you, not because you are better, but because you are sinners.  You see, the good people do not need to be saved; only the wicked.  And so Jesus came for you not because you deserve it, but because you need it.  He gives you what you do not have and what you cannot get.  Mercy is never deserved; it can only be given.  And forgiveness cannot be earned; but it has been granted.  Christ’s kingdom comes by grace, not by right.
     Jesus did the work that you have not done.  Jesus did not demand better treatment or boldly assert that he deserved more respect.  Jesus willingly submitted himself to the cup that his Father gave him.  And though Jesus was given your judgment, he did not hesitate to consume it.  Jesus consumed death and damnation for you—every last drop of God’s wrath and judgment.  And therefore, your sins have been pardoned—not because you have earned it, but because God is good and kind and merciful and gracious to you. 
     Christ’s kingdom comes by grace, not by right.  Though you are no better than others, you are truly blessed more than most.  Christ has been gracious to you.  In baptism, Jesus has given you the cleansing for your sins which is far greater than the cleansing he granted to Naaman.  In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus sustains you with food that is more holy than the bread he supplied to the widow of Zarephath.  You are no longer outsiders.  Christ has delivered you into his kingdom where sins are pardoned, where death is vanquished, and where heaven is opened.  And you need not have any fear about whether you have done enough to deserve it.  These things are not yours because you have earned the right to them.  It is all by grace alone.  God has given them to you. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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