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Saint James of Jerusalem

Matthew 13:53-58

Rev. Andrew Eckert

22nd Sunday after Trinity
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Sun, Oct 23, 2016 

“God, I’m ready.  I’m taking the limits off of you.” Thus says popular TV preacher Joel Osteen.  He also says, “It’s our faith that activates the power of God.” Osteen teaches that God is waiting for us to have faith so that He can bless us.  Others who have taught similarly include Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Frederick Price, Joyce Meyer, and Paul and Jan Crouch.

This kind of teaching can deceive many Christians.  It can be packaged as if it is the true teaching of the Bible.  To support their position, people like Osteen may use the verse at the end of our Holy Gospel: “[Christ] did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” It may sound to some that the verse is saying that Christ was prevented by unbelief, as if He could do nothing miraculous unless there was faith.

Think for a moment the kind of Lord this would be.  He would not be truly all-powerful.  He would not really be able to do anything by His omnipotence, if this false teaching were true.  God would be sitting up in heaven, wringing His hands, saying, “Oh, I want to bless people so much, but I can’t, because they don’t believe!” What a poor, miserable God that would be!

The true God is not like that, of course.  Earlier in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Christ says, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” According to our dear Lord Jesus, God does not wait for faith.  He sends blessings anyway.  We can also see this from experience.  If it were true that God only sends blessings on those with faith, then it would be very obvious who has faith and who does not.  The unbelievers would be constantly suffering horribly, while believers would be overflowing with blessing after blessings, riches and prosperity and abundance.

True, we do have many blessings that God sends.  But only believers would have such things, if the false teachers were right.

Of course, these teachers have an answer for that.  If you, as a believer, are lacking anything, then it is because you have not followed the right steps for attaining what you want.  The exact steps vary depending on whom you are listening to, but the main points are usually similar.  They say things like, “You did not speak it into being,” or “You did not think positively,” or “You did not have enough self-esteem.” In the end, all these things amount to the idea that there was something wrong with your faith that caused you to not receive what you desired.

Poor Saint Paul must have lacked faith.  Three times he asked God to remove the thorn in his flesh, yet God did not.  God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

In the pages of Scripture we see a God who sometimes allows His people to remain in suffering.  He even bids us carry a cross.  Instead of saying that we need more faith to remove the cross, on the contrary Christ says that if we are not willing to pick up our cross and follow Him, we are not worthy to be called His disciples.

So what about the passage in today’s Gospel?  Since it is obviously not the case that the people of Nazareth limited Christ’s power by their unbelief, then what is it?  Although the text does not directly state the reason, we can easily fill this in from other portions of Scripture and our common sense, without having to resort to unbiblical teaching.

One reason might be that Christ refused to reward the unbelief with miracles.  Unbelief is the chief sin which must be rebuked.  If Christ rewarded their stubbornness against Him by healing many, then they might think that unbelief is no big deal, or might even be a virtue.  So Christ’s lack of healing could be seen as a stern rebuke against rejecting Him, which we do well to take to heart.

Another reason He did little healing might be that unbelief refuses the gifts of Christ.  What I mean is that someone who did not believe in Christ would not seek Him out for healing.  “Oh, that’s just Mary’s Boy,” was their attitude.  Their familiarity with Him bred contempt.  They could not imagine that the Son of God in human flesh might have grown up in their little village.  He never seemed like anything special to them.  Why go to Him for anything?

The problem with the people was not that they had weak, struggling faith.  No, they rejected Christ altogether.  Such people would not go flocking to Him, bringing their sick to Him for healing, as many other villages did.

Again, we should take this lesson to heart.  Are we seeking out Christ for healing?  I don’t only mean that we pray to Him for healing of our bodily diseases, but also go to Him in this House regularly for the healing of His Gospel.  If we have grown too familiar with Christ and what He does in this place, then we will not be strongly driven to seek Him out where He has promised to be found.

Notice that at least some of the people of Nazareth were still church-attending people.  They came to synagogue and heard the Word of God.  Yet they were not drawn to the Messiah when He appeared in their midst.  They were okay with their religion, and needed nothing more.  When Mary’s Boy came into their midst, they were amazed that such great wisdom and mighty works could come through such a familiar, ordinary source.

So we must not lose sight of the great wisdom and mighty works that the Virgin’s Son does here.  Our sinful flesh wants to think that this place is simply familiar and ordinary.  If we only perceive what is human here, seeking earthly wisdom and earthly works, we will find ourselves going through the motions.  We may congratulate ourselves with how religious we are, even though we may have left Christ out of our religion.  We may still give Him lip service, or perhaps some role in our religion.  Yet if He is not the Source and the Center and the Bread for which we deeply hunger, then He is no longer the true Christ in our hearts.

So be warned that you should not willfully reject Christ, as the people of Nazareth did, and missed the gifts of Christ.  We do that when we forget that here in this house is the wisdom of God in Christ and His mighty works for us.

Yet also be comforted that Christ does not wait for perfection in you to send you His good gifts.  He has and will shower you with too many blessings to number.  Even though your faith is weak and stumbling at times, He still comes to you to speak His gracious Word.  He will not reject you simply because you have not had perfect trust in Him.  On the contrary, He sends His Spirit to work through the Word to strengthen you in faith to life everlasting.

In the same way, He did not wait for the human race to be worthy of Him.  He came into human flesh when we were still enemies.  He chose the Virgin’s womb before even a single human being attained faith on his own.  He suffered and He died before anyone proved himself worthy.  He rose again to show that all was accomplished, and has prepared a place for us in the new heaven and the new earth.

He also selected you to be His own before you were worthy.  He brought you to healing waters.  He spoke to you the divine wisdom of His Word.  He brought you to Himself.

Shall we forget Him in this place?  Shall we only focus on what we do instead of the marvelous wonder of His miracles for us?  No, let us fix our eyes upon Him, the Author and Perfector of our faith.  He has done all to save us.  He has done it all by His mighty power that works through suffering and death to bring us into His family, to call us His brothers and sisters, so that we are His hometown now, His people, the inheritance He has chosen for Himself.

All praise and honor and glory be to this wondrous Savior of men, the Man Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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