The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Maybe it's just me, but if somebody is paying you a compliment and singing your praises, it's probably not very wise or polite to turn around and insult them. Even if you don't like the person complimenting you, good manners dictate that you simply take the compliment and move on. In looking at our Gospel lesson for this morning, it becomes apparent that Jesus wasn't very wise, polite, or well-mannered. This must be the case, right? Why else would He rip into a group of His own hometown folks who were, in fact, speaking well of Him and marveling at the gracious words He was speaking?
That's a good question. Why would Jesus "break the rules" by muzzling the excitement, chastising the very people who watched Him grow into manhood, and in all likelihood, played some sort of role in helping to raise Him? I'll give you a hint. It has nothing to do with IQ, common sense, a lack of social graces, or bad manners. It has everything to do with the words of verse 23: "What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well." And what are these things that Jesus did at Capernaum preceding His return home? According to the first five chapters of St. Mark's Gospel, Jesus healed many sick and demon-possessed people. One demon-possessed man was even healed right in the Synagogue! Jesus had healed Peter's mother-in-law of her deadly fever with just one word. He healed the paralytic man who had been lowered through the roof by his four friends. He "inadvertently" healed the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years when she simply touched the hem of His garment. So great was His power! So great, in fact, that Jesus even had the ability to raise people from the dead, as was evidenced when He resurrected the daughter of Jairus, the Synagogue leader in Capernaum.
Now, with all this mind, you can begin to understand why the hometown crowd in Nazareth was so excited. You can almost see them wringing their hands and licking their chops with greedy anticipation. "Here is the answer to all our problems! Can you believe that this is Joseph's boy? We really hit the lottery with this one!" I'll tell you: I've already heard many of our own local townsfolk saying much the same thing about Tyler Wilson. "We really hit the lottery with this one. Just think of what he will do for us with all that first-round draft pick money!" This is the same mindset of the locals when it came to one of their hometown kids, Jesus. "If He was able to do these sorts of miraculous things for those people over in Capernaum, imagine what He'll do for us!" Folks: This is why Jesus chastised the people. They didn't get it. More specifically, they didn't want to get it.
What do I mean by that? Listen to what Christ reads in the Synagogue—His Word first recorded by Isaiah in chapter 61: "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." I don't know if you picked up on it or not, but proclamation is at the core here, mentioned three times in these two sentences. "Yeah, but it also says that He was sent to recover the sight of the blind." Read the text carefully. What does it say? It doesn't say that Jesus was sent to proclaim and also to perform miracles. Christ was sent to proclaim—proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives, proclaim recovery of sight to the blind, and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
"Proclaim recovery of sight to the blind? Does that make sense? What does that mean?" My friends: Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. It's no coincidence that Scripture repeatedly speaks of sinful faithlessness as blindness—spiritual, deadly, damning blindness. In fact, I find it rather amusing that many times in the Gospels it's the physically blind people who hear and believe Christ and are able to recognize Christ for who He is—Lord God, Son of David, the promised Messiah—while those who are perfectly capable of physical sight often fail to recognize the life-giving reality standing right before them. Their ears of faith are closed, thereby rendering their eyes of faith blind. Conversely, when the ears of faith are opened and attentive to God's Word, the eyes of faith are also opened to the reality of Immanuel—God with us.
This was the problem with the hometown crowd. This is why Jesus spoke such brutal, attention-getting Law. They were stubborn in their spiritual deafness and blindness. They heard the words of Christ, but they didn't hear the Word of God. They didn't listen. Anyone who's been around teenagers knows that there is a difference between hearing and actually listening. As a result of their deafness they saw nothing more than the carpenter's son standing before them. They saw nothing more than a possible meal ticket or a link to bigger, better things. They marveled at His command of such eloquent, gracious words, yet they never truly heard His Words of Grace. They never truly heard Him say, "Today your heavenly Father is keeping His promise of salvation to you. Today this promise is fulfilled in Me. I am the fulfillment. I am." "Yeah, yeah, Jesus…that's nice. Now let's cut to the chase and why don't you start doing some of those wonderful, miraculous things for us that you did in Capernaum. Show some hometown loyalty and hook us up! Oh great physician, why don't you commence with some of that great healing right here with your own family and your own people?"
Truth be told: We're all guilty of such blindly selfish behavior. There's not one of us here who hasn't taken offense at God because He did this, that, or the other thing for someone else, perhaps even a rotten unbeliever or hypocrite, yet all we seem to get dealt is a hand full of misery, pain, and sorrow. "Hey God! I'm a good Christian. I'm a good Lutheran! I'm here all the time. I give my offerings. I help out when I can. What's the deal? Why are you blessing them while I suffer? Why don't you try working some of that great care and providence right here with me, your loyal and faithful servant? I think I deserve that."
Really? What exactly do you deserve? If you truly listen to God's Word, you discover that apart from Christ you deserve nothing but eternal death and damnation. You are a sinner, and the wages of sin is death—period. However, because of Christ Jesus and His unconditional, all-redeeming act of love you are completely forgiven. You are God's precious child and heir, not because of anything you've done to earn it, but only because of what Christ did for you by laying down His life as a ransom payment for yours. God doesn't play favorites. All are equally dead in their sin and all are equally redeemed in Christ's blood.
Before we close, it's interesting to note the sad, tragic irony that this particular text ends on. You see, the people were looking for great and miraculous things from Jesus. However, their spiritual deafness produced spiritual blindness. It's tragically ironic that in their anger over Jesus' proclamation they marched Him out of town to kill Him and be rid of Him, only to have Christ miraculously pass right through their midst and continue on His mission of evangelism and life-giving Gospel proclamation. A great and miraculous thing was done in their midst and they failed to see it! How sad and tragic when the same thing happens again and again in our day as Christ repeatedly manifests Himself in His Word and Sacraments and people fail to recognize Him and perhaps even take offense at Him and His humble means of grace. It sometimes makes you wonder if it's even worth the hassle. Maybe someone else more suited for such punishment can handle the evangelism stuff. Maybe there's a different, perhaps better, way.
Folks: It's impossible to understand unless understood in faith, but God's plan of salvation necessarily includes rejection. God's plan of salvation is centered squarely on a criminal's cross! God's plan of salvation is still centered in the proclamation of Christ crucified. You can't help but hear St. Paul's words here, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." Guys: This is how God grows His Church. This is how God makes disciples. This may blow your mind, but God never promises you anything in this life but a cross. God never calls you to be successful. He only ever calls you to be faithful, even in the face of trial, tribulation, and rejection.
I know that life is tough. I know that you are facing perils and struggles and tribulations in your life, whether they're great or small. Your Lord and Savior knows this too. He knows what you're going through and He can relate. It's not like He doesn't know pain or sorrow or rejection. Take heart. Be of good cheer. Christ doesn't abandon you the minute the going gets tough. Christ comes to you unconditionally with His unconditional life-giving gifts of salvation. In spite of all the trials and tribulations we will daily face in this fallen and sinful world, the eye-opening, eternal life-giving Gospel proclamation that says that you and all mankind are freely, completely, and eternally forgiven in His all-atoning death and resurrection still rings true. This is the unchanging promise and proclamation of our unchanging and eternally-loving God and Lord.
May our heavenly Father, through the working of His Holy Spirit in His Word and Sacrament, continue to bless you with the opened ears and eyes and mouths of saving faith so that in spite of all the trials, rejections, and crosses you will endure in this life, you may continue to joyfully hear, behold, and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected and with us always, to the very end of the ages.
In His blessed name.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
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