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Revealing Reality

Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10; Luke 4:16-30

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Epiphany 3, series C
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

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Sun, Jan 23, 2022 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

As we all know, the word “epiphany” means: to make known; to reveal; to bring to light.  Not surprisingly, the season of Epiphany is all about God doing just that: making Himself known.  In fact, the season of the Epiphany tends to focus quite heavily on how Jesus reveals His divine glory by way of miracles.  And yet this morning’s lessons—Old Testament and the Gospel—show God working in a much more subtle and unassuming way.  In fact, God reveals Himself to His people the same exact way He reveals Himself to us today—by the very ordinary means of His Word; His holy Scripture.  God reveals Himself to His people through the very ordinary means of preaching and teaching that Word.  And how do the people respond?  You see, that’s the other side of all this divine “epiphanizing.” We epiphanize too.  God reveals Himself; His Truth; His Law and Gospel, and we respond.  That response reveals an awful lot about ourselves.  That response reveals our reality, for better and for worse. 

Consider the response of the Old Testament Israelites when they hear the Word of God—particularly the Law of God—proclaimed to them and explained to them.  They hear the Truth about their sins.  They hear the Truth, explained so that all the people understood the Word of God, and in response to this ugly Truth, they break down in tears of mourning and sorrow.  They don’t try to argue with God or His Word or the teachers/preachers of the Word.  They don’t try to make excuses for their sins, as if it was somehow different in their particular case.  Nope.  They hear the Word of God, and it cuts them to the heart.  They bear fruits that are truly in keeping with repentance.  Their response to God’s Word reveals their repentant reality.

Contrast that with those who hear Jesus Himself proclaim the Truth of His Word directly to them.  “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The long-promised Messiah was here, and He was in their very midst, proclaiming His Word of reconciliation and restoration directly to them.  In one ear and out the other.  All they cared about was how Jesus—the hometown boy—could hook them up and increase their prosperity.  They had heard all that Jesus had done for all the other people (including Gentiles); e.g., healing the sick, making the lame walk, the deaf hear, casting out demons, even raising the dead!  You can almost see them wringing their hands and licking their chops with greedy anticipation.  “Jackpot!  Cue the Jeffersons theme song!  We’re a-movin on up!  Here is the answer to all our problems!  Can you believe this is Joseph’s boy?  We really hit the lottery with this one!  If He was able to do all those sorts of miraculous things for those people down in Capernaum, imagine what He’ll do for us, His hometown folks!” Folks: This is why Jesus chastised the people.  They didn’t get it.  More specifically, they didn’t want to get it. Jesus tells it exactly how it is.  The Good Physician, desiring the death of no man, cuts right to the heart of the problem.  “What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.”

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.  As a result of their self-imposed deafness they saw nothing more than the carpenter’s son standing before them.  That’s all they wanted to see.  They saw in Jesus 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.  Here’s what I need you to do for me.”

And when Jesus wouldn’t do for them all that they wanted; when Jesus dared to call them out in their selfish and self-serving sinfulness, they showed their true selves.  They revealed what they really thought about God and His Messiah.  They heard the Good Physician diagnose their sinful condition (and reveal to them the cure), and they were “filled with wrath.” No tears of repentance or sorrow or mourning coming from this group.  Nope!  Just wrath.  Hmm… that’s a problem.  We often hear of God’s wrath against sin, but now we hear how sinners reveal their wrath against the very God who has come to save them from their sin and from the justly-deserved wrath of God against their sin.  Just like Satan and his minions, these folks rose up in rebellion against their Lord, attempting to drive Him out of town with the full intention of throwing Him over the cliff to His death.  And the most miraculous thing of all to come out of all this?  Jesus doesn’t immediately strike them down in their sinful rebelliousness!  Instead, He manifests/reveals/shows forth His divine long-suffering patience and mercy.  He simply passes through their wicked and rebellious midst, going away.

So… what about us?  What about you?  That’s the big question, right?  We can’t speak for everyone else, but what about you?  God reveals Himself by means of His Word; His Law and Gospel.  The Holy Spirit works in and through this Word.  “Faith comes through hearing; hearing the Word of Christ.” God speaks very clearly about the wage of sin and His wrath against sin, doesn’t He?  God speaks very clearly and plainly about those who rebel against Him or don’t take Him seriously.  Do you truly fear God’s just and righteous wrath against unrepentant sin?  You say you do, but if that’s true then why do you so willingly remain in that sin?  If you truly believe what God says about sheep and goats and foolish virgins with no oil in their lamp and how He will come like a thief in the night and the twinkling of an eye, then why do you so nonchalantly blow off God and do what you want to do right now, confident that you’ll just repent later?  What if later doesn’t come? 

Do you call out to God for mercy because of your sin, or do you lash out at others in anger for daring to call the sin what it is; for daring to shine a light on the darkness that is your sin?  “Don’t judge me!” Such a response says a lot, and it ain’t good!  Do you truly desire to amend your sinful ways?  “New year, new me!” Yeah… do you mean it?  If you just keep marching in the same old Adam direction, you’ll never get to the “new you.” It’s impossible.  Turn around!  Repent!  Just imagine someone who smokes a pack a day for decades and decades.  Their lungs are filled with cancer, and death is all but certain.  But your loved one dies, and because they were a healthy organ donor, their good lungs are transplanted into the terminal smoker.  After the surgery, the patient is proclaiming all kinds of praise and thanksgiving.  “Praise God!  I’ve gotten a new lease on life!  I’ve been given a second chance!” And the first thing they do when they walk outside?  They light up a cigarette.  How would you respond to that?  Yeah… now look at that cross.  Are you really any different?  Look at all that God Himself gave up for you so that you could have the gift of life, and have it in abundance.  How do you respond?  Do you light right back up?  How do you respond to all that He says?  Do you repent of your sin?  Do you mourn and grieve over your sin?  You should.  God Himself took on flesh and died for your sin.  That’s how big of deal your sin is to God!  You are God’s number-one priority, and here is the proof.  Is God your number-one priority?  Is this [the crucifix] a big deal to you… or deep-down do you really not care?  Is it really not that big of deal?  Careful, because the fruits you bear reveal the truth of what you believe. 

Just consider yourself in the light of the 1st Commandment.  “You shall have no other gods.” When you explain/understand what this actually means, in plain and simple terms (like the Small Catechism sets forth… you know, the confession of faith that you vowed you were willing to die for), it gets pretty ugly and uncomfortable, doesn’t it?  We don’t fear God above all other things.  We fear our mortality more than we fear God.  We fear suffering more than we fear God.  We fear many things more than we fear God.  We don’t love God above all other things.  We don’t trust in God above all things.  We’re fair-weather Christians, metaphorically, and sometimes even quite literally.  The fact of the matter is that anything that takes precedence in our life over Almighty God is another god; an idol.  Any time we put anything ahead of God, we’ve transgressed the 1st Commandment.  And let’s face it: The biggest false god in our daily lives is the god/idol of the self.  We’re narcissists, each and every one of us.  We love to worship the false god of our own pride/ego; the false god who thinks we’re smarter than God; the one who arrogantly justifies their own sins while boldly condemning everyone else for the same exact sins; the false god who brings the wrath when confronted with the Truth of their sin.  And that’s just a tip of the 1st Commandment iceberg!  How much more could we discuss?  The ugly reality is that we all have many other gods, don’t we?  We know it… and yet such knowledge really doesn’t change us, does it?  It doesn’t really have an appreciable effect on us.  It’s not like we stop worshiping those other gods.  We just keep doing what we do.  After all, we’re saved by grace through faith, right?  We can do whatever we want, because it’s all forgiven in Jesus.  Light up!  Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em! 

If any of this angers you, or if you’re making excuses for your sins rather than repenting of those sins, then that reveals more about you than it does anything else.  We could go on.  Misusing God’s name, Honor the Sabbath, Honor the Authorities God puts over you in life, Murder, Adultery, Slander, Gossip, Coveting… God has a whole lot to say on all of this, doesn’t He?  We could certainly go on and peel back these onions.  Would it make you cry?  We could go on, but do we really have to?  How do you respond?  That’s the question.  There are really only two options—right and wrong.  Either you confess/repent or you don’t.  That’s it. 

You know what though?  Enough with all this.  Look to this cross.  Here is God’s response to your sinful rebellion against Him.  Here is the miraculous response of divine love for those who are, by nature, enemies of God.  Here is God’s long-suffering patience and mercy and grace, in the flesh and nailed to a cross for a bunch of sinful rebels and fools… for you, for me, for all of us children of Adam.  How does faith respond to such amazing and undeserved grace?  Answer: Repentant faith endeavors to keep God’s Word, not in order to be saved, but out of the joy—in response to the reality—that we are saved, in Christ alone and because of Christ alone.  This Good News changes a person. 

Look to this font.  Look to this altar, this pulpit, this lectern.  “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” “As often as you do this, remember what I have said.” Folks: Here is Jesus!  Here is your very present reason to rejoice!  Today all these promises are being fulfilled in your midst!  Look around.  Nothing keeps Jesus from you.  Can you imagine if our Lord acted like us?  “Are you kidding?  It’s cold out.  I’m tired.  I’m going on vacation.  I need a break.  Didn’t I just see you at Christmas?  We’re good.  I’ll see you next week.” Your Lord Christ gave up all of heaven’s majesty in exchange for death on a cross… for you, all so that you could have everlasting life.  Your Lord Christ continues to condescend to you and come down to you, into the very midst of this dark and shadowy valley, all so that He can nourish you with His life-giving means of grace—His Word, His Body, His Blood.  Here is Christ, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven!  How can you not rejoice?  How can you not want this all the time?  Here is your redemption—your salvation—in your midst.  Here is God’s love for you.  How do you respond?  Saving faith simply responds to these gifts in repentant joy and thanksgiving.  There is no prescription.  Such a response can’t be coerced or forced.  Good fruit trees bear good fruit.  That’s just what they do.  May your entire life—all your words, all your thoughts, all your deeds—be one big and unmistakable thankful response to Christ for all that He has done and all that He continues to do for you, purely out of His divine mercy, grace, and love for you. 

To Him be all the glory, praise, and honor… AMEN.

Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.

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