Sunday, January 27, 2019

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday after Epiphany (January 27, 2019)

LUKE 4:14-21


In the name + of Jesus.

     Epiphany means “appearing or revealing,” and the Epiphany season is when Jesus of Nazareth is revealed to us as the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world.  Critics of the Bible, however, insist that Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God.  They argue that disciples later worked those claims into the Bible long after Jesus' life.  When first confronted by this, Christians will roll their eyes, dismiss it, and walk away.  You know the claim is not true.  But it may gnaw at you a little bit.  And it may result in searching through the Bible for a concrete, undeniable claim by Jesus.  You may look for something as explicit as Jesus saying, “Make no mistake: I am God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.”  That is the Nicene Creed which confesses the Christian faith.  Critics will argue: “But Jesus never used those very words to identify himself, so he never called himself the Son of God.  You Christians invented that.  So there!”
     While it would be a worthy exercise to go through the Gospels and highlight all the places where Jesus did make claims that only God could make, let's focus on the one from our Gospel this morning. 
     Shortly after his baptism, Jesus returned to Galilee and went to his hometown of Nazareth.  He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom.  Now that in itself deserves more attention.  Jesus is the Son of God.  He is the Word made flesh, and so he is the source of the words which were read in the synagogue, just as he is the source of the word read in church week after week.  Jesus really had no need to go and hear the word since he IS the Word.  And yet, Jesus' custom was to be in the synagogue Sabbath after Sabbath.  You and I have need of this word each week.  We need to be admonished so that we do not get lazy and become content with sins.  We need to be encouraged so that we will remain faithful to our Lord.  After all, our attitudes and behavior are influenced and shaped by something.  If God's word does not direct our attitude and actions, then society will.  When the world accuses Christians of being judgmental, they are being hypocrites.  You don't think the world is judgmental?!  Ask the Catholic teens from Covington, Kentucky if the world makes judgments!  Society has no problem shaming people into saying the right words and doing the right things—at least as the world defines right and wrong.  And the world cannot make up its mind, either.  Its truth keeps on shifting from year to year.  There seems to be a continual contest about who is more socially righteous and which cause is most important.  The world will most certainly judge you according to its standards and try to shape your attitude and behavior. 
     Our attitude and behavior will be influenced and shaped by something.  That is why it needs to be our custom to be in God's house each week and in God's word each day.  We must let our Lord influence and shape us.  His truth does not change from year to year.  He is the judge who sets the standard of right and wrong for all people.  Your conscience proves that you are answerable to him for your attitude and your actions.  Since our Lord is the judge, and since he holds our eternal judgment in his hands, we ought to be consumed with knowing his word so that we do not bask in the world's praise for a moment only to be condemned by God forever.  Therefore, it is good, right, and salutary that our custom is to be in God's house to hear his word.
     The Lord Jesus was a rabbi, which gave him the right to read the Scriptures and to deliver the sermon in that synagogue in Nazareth.  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 4:17-21) 
     The Lord Jesus said it very clearly: He fulfills the promises.  He is the one to whom the Scriptures point.  He is the Messiah who comes to bring salvation.  When Jesus spoke these words, he did not tell them to give attention and to devotion to God, but to him.  Jesus declared: I am the fulfillment of the Scriptures.  By seeing, hearing, and believing in me, you have light, and life, and salvation.
     We certainly do well to heed God's word for encouragement, for admonition, and for direction in godly living.  These influence and shape us.  God's word tells you what is good, and God's word tells you want is evil and to be avoided.  But we also recognize that we still fail.  Our attitude is not pure, and our actions are not perfect.  When we seek comfort and acceptance, we are quicker to listen to our friends than to God.  Now if the opinions of your friends are enough for you, then Jesus will not be of much value to you.  But if you recognize that you are a prisoner of your sinful condition, and if you are oppressed by the guilt of your sins and the fear of God's judgment, then Jesus brings great relief.  Jesus secures God's favor upon you.
     Jesus read from the prophet: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)  You and I have nothing to boast of before God.  We have nothing that God should honor or reward in us.  We are bankrupt.  But Jesus has enriched us.  He has done the good God demands, and he has avoided every evil path.  His delight was in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditated day and night. (Psalm 1:1, paraphrase)  So his attitude was pure, and it produced perfect works.  Jesus has credited you with these.  He has rewarded you for his works.  He enriches you with his gracious words.  Jesus secures God's favor upon you.
     Jesus read from the prophet: “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.” (Luke 4:18)  Jesus delivers you from your captivity to sin, death, and the devil.  He has exchanged himself for you.  Jesus handed himself over to let death and the devil do what it pleased to him so that you would be spared of the judgment and the torment.  He subjected himself to everything which is due the guilty.  In turn, you are set free.  You are like Barabbas.  He was guilty on all counts.  But when Pilate offered to set a prisoner free, Barabbas was let go.  The innocent one, Jesus, took his place and suffered what he deserved.  This is precisely what Jesus has done for you.  No longer do you have to hide your shame, pretend your guilt is not there, or live in fear and dread of God's wrath.  Jesus Christ has set you free.  You have received a full pardon.  Jesus secures God's favor upon you.
     In speaking of God's promises of forgiveness, salvation, and divine favor, Jesus declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)  Jesus is God who backs up God's promises and fulfills them.  If Jesus is not really God, then all of his talk about forgiveness, relief, enlightenment, enrichment, and divine favor are just talk.  If Jesus cannot give you want he proclaims, he only utters pretty words.  Those who insist that Jesus is not God and never claimed to be God end up with a Jesus has never really done anything for you.
     But this is what Jesus says after reading God's promise of salvation and peace: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)  And how wonderful for us that he does this!  Sin and guilt are real.  Death and the grave are real.  And your conscience confirms that your accountability before God is real.  Therefore, we do not need pretty words or empty promises.  And we don't have it.  God's forgiveness, salvation, and favor are real.  We have God in the flesh who secures everything he has promised.  Jesus has fulfilled all of this for you.  Jesus relieves you from oppressive guilt.  Jesus frees you from the captivity of death and the devil.  Jesus enriches your life with his gracious words and divine wisdom.  Jesus secures God's favor upon you, because he is God who has come for you.

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

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