Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sermon -- 1st Sunday after Christmas (December 29, 2019)

MATTHEW 2:13-15,19-23

THE SAVIOR WAS DESPISED BY THOSE HE CAME TO SAVE.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The prophet Isaiah had spoken of our Lord Jesus when he said, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)  This verse and the whole chapter it comes from speak specifically about the Suffering Servant who was despised by those he came to save, but who nonetheless was given by God to bear our guilt and to die as a sin offering for us.  There is no denying that Jesus was despised by the religious leaders of his day who plotted his death and rallied before Pontius Pilate to give the order for his crucifixion.  However, Jesus was despised long before this.
     As soon as Jesus entered the world as an infant, he was despised.  King Herod the Great was told that the King of the Jews was born.  Herod was a man who was zealous for his power and his throne.  He had no problem killing his own children when he felt threatened by them.  To hear that another had come as King was met with rage.  To ensure that no newborn boy in Bethlehem would live to rival him, Herod gave the order to have every boy in Bethlehem, two and under, slaughtered.  Herod had no room for Jesus in his heart or on the earth.
     Herod's despising of Jesus seems senseless to us.  Jesus was fully dependent upon Mary and Joseph for everything.  What could he do as an infant?  But Herod was on to something about Jesus.  If Jesus is King, then others are answerable to him.  Even in his infancy, Jesus was still God Almighty.  As God, he has expectations of Herod and you and all people.  Since Jesus is God, all are accountable to him.  Jesus had come to uphold all of God's Commandments.  He is the embodiment of the word of God.  He is love personified, and the main focus of his love is the Lord and his word.  Anyone who does not render due obedience to those Commandments must answer to him.  Anything outside of that he will not praise or bless or tolerate.
     The Commandments of God start with this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)  In the same way, the longest Psalm in the Old Testament, Psalm 119, confesses in each and every verse how we are to love God's word.  If we love the Lord and his word, our love for our fellow man will follow without fail.  Putting God's word first also means that we will despise whatever is opposed to it.  This does not mean you have license to despise other people.  It means you begin with yourself.  Disobedience is not excused because you meant well or because doing right was too costly.  Sins are not different because your children are doing them.  The word of the Lord is always true—in all places, in all circumstances, for all people, for all time.  If we refuse to call sin what God calls sin, then we call God a liar.  God cannot be despised more than when we call him a liar.  If Jesus tells us what is good and we reject it or tells us what is wicked and we do it anyway, we cannot truly call him “Lord.”  We may not become as violent as Herod, but we have the same sinful, stubborn heart, as do all men.
     This rebellious heart is nothing new.  When the Lord acted to save the people of Israel by bringing them out of Egypt, their gratitude did not last long at all.  They grumbled against God's plan and rebelled against God's will.  They even groaned that serving Egyptian gods would be better because at least their bellies were well fed.  At the foot of Mt. Sinai, they gave way to their perverted desires around the golden calf, and called it worship.  These were God's children, but they did not live as the children of God.  And for them, for Herod, for you: God sent a Savior.  The Savior was despised by those he came to save, but he came to save nonetheless.
     Jesus came to give the obedience that we have not.  He proved himself to be God's true Son as he kept the Law and fulfilled God's word.  Like the Israelites, Jesus also went to Egypt.  But unlike the Israelites, when God called his Son out of Egypt, Jesus did not grumble or complain about God's will.  He remained a dutiful Son throughout his whole life.  For all of Herod's rage against Jesus, it did not benefit him at all.  Herod died in hateful rebellion.  Jesus remained King.  And if we persist in our sins, despising to order our lives according to God's word, we will not benefit either.  We will perish.  Jesus will remain King.
     Jesus' glorious reign, however, did not take place until he rose from the dead.  Throughout his life, he was a servant who was obligated to obey all of God's Commandments.  And so, he submitted to the slanderous words of others, to the mockery of friends, and to the attitudes of people who think it laughable that they owe God anything.  But Jesus did not respond with violence, vengeance, or bloodshed.  He came to be the Savior even for people who despised him. 
     Jesus also had to face the heinous plotting of violent men.  By means of Joseph's protection and by other means, Jesus was delivered from a violent end until his hour had come.  When it was his hour, Jesus willingly endured the violence of those who sought to kill him.  He willingly subjected himself to the accusations and assaults of those who despised him.  He willingly submitted to bloodshed, making himself the sinless sacrifice on behalf of all sinners.  The Savior was despised by those he came to save.  But he did not base his love for mankind on how much mankind loved him.  He loved us perfectly and sought only our good.  Therefore, he gave himself up to take away our sins.  He covers us in his innocence.  He converts our hearts so that we do not despise his word, but rejoice in it. 
     From the very beginning of his life, Jesus was committed to humble, obedient service to God's word.  “Out of Egypt I called my Son,” (Matthew 2:15) declares the Lord.  And this Son was fully obedient to the Father.  After he came back from Egypt, the Lord directed Joseph in a dream to go to Galilee.  St. Matthew noted, “And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:23) 
     Although Matthew stated that Jesus' dwelling in Nazareth fulfills the words of the prophets, there does not seem to be any clear reference to which prophet said this.  Perhaps it is a prophecy that was never recorded in the Old Testament, but it seems strange that Matthew would refer to a message we can't confirm.  What we do know about Jesus' residence in Nazareth is that it resulted in people further despising him.  The apostle Nathanael summed up the reputation of Nazareth with the question: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
     The Savior was despised by those he came to save.  He has saved you, and he has made you the people of God.  Now, what God's people are in danger of despising most is likely his grace.  Consider this: We are convinced we know why Herod was damned—because he was evil.  By contrast, why are we saved?  Because we are better.  Herod did what was bad; but God chose us, it is supposed, because he knew we would not reject him.  If this is true, then we don't view salvation as a gift.  It is what we are owed, at least in part.  We believe some are worthy of salvation; others are not.  This is what it means that we despise grace. 
     The Savior is despised by those he came to save, and that includes us.  We have been neither perfect servants nor perfect students of God's word.  There is only one Son who is perfectly obedient to God—the Nazarene who is despised and rejected by men.  And while he would have good reason to despise us, he does not.  He does not tolerate our sins; he atones for them.  He does not overlook our faults; he covers them with his own holiness.  He does not care if we are better or worse; he judges us blameless based on his own perfect life and innocent death on our behalf. 
     God be praised that his love does not depend upon us!  He is a faithful Savior whose love endures forever.  He does not despise what he has created, but he has reconciled us to himself so that he will forever be our loving God, and we will forever be his beloved children.

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

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