"Sin Rejects the Gifts. Faith Receives the Gifts."
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
St. Mark 6:1-13
July 9, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
Imagine, if you will, a knock at your door. When you come to the door, you see two armed security guards on the porch and an armored truck in your driveway. You ask what they want. They inform you that they have come to present you a signed cashier's check in the amount of ten million dollars, payable to you. You ask who put up such a large sum of money, and, reluctantly, they tell you who your benefactor is. The gift is from someone you knew a long time ago, one who was a mere child then, one you thought would never amount to anything. You seek out this person, livid because you received this check as if he might have thought you needed a handout. You express your outrage at this young person, who insists that this $10,000,000 is a gift, one with no conditions and no strings attached. You become even more upset, accusing the sender of this check of lying to you, and you punch him in the nose. As he lies on the floor unconscious, you tear the check into many pieces and stuff these pieces into his mouth. Then you leave to head back home. You had this great gift in your possession, and you rejected it outright. Now move ahead about 15 years or so. The local economy has taken a turn for the worse. Homes are being foreclosed, and you have been served papers as well. Your debt is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you have no way of satisfying your debts unless you file for bankruptcy protection and you sell your possessions. You remember that nice young man who had sent you that check for $10 million several years ago, and you think about how much money you would have had after investing much of it. You call him up, the one you punched out, and he demands that you leave him alone because you rejected his gift. You had your opportunity to receive this free gift, and now you are ruing that day when you violently rejected it.
As far-fetched as this example may seem, it does speak to the importance of receiving good gifts, especially when these gifts come from our great and gracious giver God. The people of Nazareth rejected the gift that "one of their own," in their estimation, came to give them. Our text for today shows that the Lord Himself was not received in His hometown of Nazareth. They remembered Him as the carpenter's Son, yea, even a carpenter Himself. What they heard from the Lord in the synagogue on that Sabbath day was not what they expected from Him. Because of these notions, the hometown kid is not welcomed as he would like to think he is; he will not be received as he would expect them to receive him. The memories and perceptions of the gathered people get in the way of what the homecoming preacher has to offer them, namely, the Gospel.
The Lord returned to His hometown of Nazareth and taught in the synagogue. He read from the prophet Isaiah, just as we hear the Old Testament reading each time we are gathered here. He then began to expound on this reading, just as we today hear the Word expounded upon in the sermon. He began to teach them, beginning with His announcement that this passage He read had been fulfilled in their hearing, by His very coming into the synagogue. The passage He read came from Isaiah 61:1-2: "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" (Lk. 4:18-19). Indeed the Scripture was fulfilled in their very midst, for the Lord blessed this assembly of worshipers with His very presence. But they were astonished. They were scandalized by the words that came from His mouth. They saw His human nature, but they rejected the idea that Jesus, the son of Mary, is also the Son of God. They saw Jesus' earthly relatives among them. They perceived Jesus as one of that family and as a member of that community. It is as if they said among themselves, "Where did He get all this knowledge? He is supposed to be as ignorant as the rest of us." What they heard in the synagogue each Sabbath day apparently did not register with them. Had they paid full attention to the rabbi as he taught them each week, they might have realized that this Nazarene was, is, and ever shall be, the Fulfillment of the Scriptures. But in their anger they sought to throw the Lord over the cliff. They had the Gospel before their very eyes in the Person of Jesus Christ, but they rejected this gift, opting instead to remain dead in their trespasses and sins, following their legalistic rituals, the ceremonial requirements of the Law, which the Lord came to fulfill.
In the second half of our text, the Lord called His disciples together and sent them out for a brief period of time. This would be the rough equivalent today of our seminaries sending out their students for two years to local congregations for the purpose of receiving their field education, primarily on Sundays. An even better comparison would be that of the seminaries sending students out to congregations all around the Synod for year-long vicarages. The seminarian gains valuable practical experience in learning first-hand what happens in the ministry. Jesus gave the Twelve, whom He sent in pairs, instructions concerning what they were and were not to do. They were to stay at people's houses. Since the disciples were acting in the stead and by the command of the Lord Jesus Christ, the disciples' presence among them was to be regarded as if Christ the Lord dealt with them Himself. Those who received the disciples would have the peace of the Lord in their homes. Those who rejected them would see them depart, and the peace of the Lord would no longer rest on that place. In those instances, the Lord told His disciples to shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against them. This symbolic move would indicate that, since those people rejected the Lord and His message of good news, the disciples, God's called messengers, would have nothing more to do with them and that the Lord would deal with them in His wrath as long as they do not repent and do not believe the Gospel.
If there is a common thread running between the two halves of our text, it is that the Lord will remove His presence from those who reject the Gospel and, in turn, reject the Lord Himself. The Lord does not offer His Means of Grace to those who despise the gifts. He does not throw pearls before swine. He does not offer the forgiveness of sins to those who choose to live in their sins and have no intention of repenting. To such people the Lord does not give the Gospel, but He gives them the Law. The Law is for those who are secure in their sins, living comfortably in them. It is this Law that the Lord sent Ezekiel in our Old Testament reading (Ezek. 2:1-5) to preach. He sent the disciples with the message of repentance. Anyone who rejects the teaching and preaching of the Word of God remains under the curse of the Law, for they do not want to hear the Gospel. This is true of Ezekiel's intended hearers. This is true of those to whom the disciples were sent. This is most certainly true of us as well.
We are here with our own preconceived notions of what we think God should be like, what He should do, and what He should say to us. We become angry when the Lord says things to us that we do not want to hear. We do not like to be reminded that we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. We detest the message that we are by nature sinful and unclean. The thought of confessing that we are poor, miserable sinners scandalizes us. No, we would much rather think that we are good people, better than so-and-so or such-and-such. We prefer to think and act like the Pharisees did. Yes, we are, at best, pharisaical and, at worst, sinners who deserve nothing but hell. Yet we continue to act out of either ignorance or arrogance or even both of these. We still think that what we want is more important than what God wants to give to us. We have no greater need than the forgiveness of our sins. Yet we continue to act as if we do not need it, as if we are doing just fine. We daily trample on the pearls that the Lord dearly wants to give us. We let our misgivings about the message, God's called and ordained messengers, and even of God Himself cloud our thinking. The people to whom Ezekiel was sent were hard-hearted, stiff-necked, and rebellious, and these were the people of God. God gave Ezekiel the charge to preach, saying, "'Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them. ...the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to Me. Because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.' Moreover, He said to [Ezekiel], 'Son of man, all My words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, "Thus says the Lord GOD," whether they hear or refuse to hear'" (Ezek. 3:4,7-11). The Lord also says to His called and ordained servants of the Word today, "The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent me" (Lk. 10:16), and again, "The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day" (Jn. 12:48). When we show that the Gospel has no place in our lives and when the messenger shakes the dust off his feet, we will realize that we are all alone, just as Cain was, for the Lord has withdrawn His holy presence from us. And when we die, the Lord will also marvel at our unbelief.
But we are not a people without hope. The Lord has sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we would be led to repentance and faith. It is only by the Holy Spirit that we come to faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. It is only by this same Spirit that we repent of our sins, including our sin of rejecting the Word who comes to us from font, lectern, pulpit, and altar. It is the Spirit of God who moves us to confess to the Lord, "I believe; help my unbelief" (Mk. 9:24b). Such prayers are pleasing to the Lord, for He dearly wants us all to be saved. Our heavenly Father sees the sorrow our sins have brought us, for the Holy Spirit convicts us in our sin. And when our Father in heaven hears our cries of repentance, He declares us forgiven for the sake of His Son. And He continues to send His Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we may live a godly life, free from the sin that has plagued us. For those who wish to continue living in their sins, this gift means nothing. But for those whose souls have been tormented by their sins and wish to shun them forever, this gift from God is great beyond our capacity to express or even comprehend, for with His forgiveness our Lord grants us His peace, the peace which surpasses all understanding, the peace which the world cannot give. We cannot begin to fathom the depths of God's grace and of His love for us. We cannot even start to understand how this is possible.
God is love. That is why this forgiveness is possible. He has shown His love for us by offering up His only-begotten Son in our place to pay for our sins. The Nazarenes failed to put Jesus to death as they sought to toss Him over the cliff. The will of God brought about what they could not deliver—the death of Jesus Christ. The will of God drove Jesus to the tree of the cross. There on the cross Jesus suffered the full wrath of God for us. God the Father shook the dust of His feet, and this dust landed on Jesus. The presence of the holy Father left the Son who became unholy for our sake. We hear Jesus from the cross echoing the Psalmist: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" This is the cry we should be uttering, but God in His love sent His Son to the cross to endure the forsakenness that we richly deserve. Instead we cry out, "My God, My God, in Your love You have forgiven me!"
So that the Good News would indeed be true, our Lord on this day overcame death and the grave and by His glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life. He rose from the dead so that we would live with Him into all eternity. He gives us the gift of eternal life and salvation along with the forgiveness He offers us. He offers these gifts again in His Holy Supper to all who seek His salvation. To those who wish to remain in their sins, be they adultery, slander, cursing, hatred, or even covetousness, and who have no desire to shun these sins, the Lord bids you to not come and trample the pearls He sets before His people. But to those whose consciences are being terrorized by their sins and who seek relief from the Lord, He tenderly invites you to come to the feast, just as He bids you to come this day.
Participation in the Lord's body and blood is not an inalienable right, but it is a privilege our Lord, who alone knows our hearts, offers to all who come to Him in repentance and faith. Coming to the Lord's Table is not only a profession of the faith confessed at this altar, it is also the means, along with the preaching of the Word and with Holy Baptism, by which our Lord gives His gifts to us. The Old Adam in us wants nothing to do with the gifts. But the new man craves the gifts and clings to our Lord's promises. Faith receives the gifts with thanksgiving and treasures the pearls. And, by the grace of God, faith responds to the invitation extended to us by the Psalmist in the antiphon of the Introit for today: "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!" (Ps. 34:8). Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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