Following His Baptism in the Jordan River and His forty days in the wilderness, the Lord Jesus has returned to His hometown of Nazareth; and on the Sabbath, according to His custom, He has gone to the local Synagogue, where He reads and preaches from the Prophet Isaiah.
His preaching is itself the fulfillment of that very Word He reads. For He is the Christ, the Son of God, anointed with the Holy Spirit by the Father in His Baptism. And He has come in the flesh, God in Man made manifest, to release His people from the captivity of sin and death.
The fulfillment of the Holy Scriptures is found precisely and specifically in the preaching of Christ Jesus. However humble or stuttering the sermon or the preacher might be, it is in the preaching and hearing of His Word that Christ and His Holy Spirit are poured out upon His people.
St. Luke is quite specific in his description of these things. The Words of grace, he clearly writes, come out of the mouth of Jesus and into the ears of the people. It is, therefore, in the ears of the people that the promises of God are fulfilled. So also today in your ears, in this preaching.
It is easy to despise God’s Word as it is spoken to you this way, but it is His Word nevertheless. And though it has been despised throughout history, in the preaching of His Prophets and Apostles, in the preaching of Christ Jesus Himself, and in the preaching of His pastors to this day, yet, by the mercies of God, the preaching of His grace and forgiveness continues, even here and now. And by His Holy Spirit there are those who believe His holy Word and live a holy life according to it.
Now, the people of Nazareth were initially able to admire Jesus as a powerful, eloquent speaker, and as a worker of miracles. He was a local boy done good, and they were proud of that.
But what was it that turned them against Him? Why, then, their rage and their attempt to kill Him? It was because He would not play their games, nor play by their rules, nor cater to their whims and desires. Instead, He read their hearts, identified their selfishness and sin, and brought it all to the surface by provoking them to jealous anger. How different He is from those who go out of their way to appease the crowds and keep them happy, who say whatever itching ears want to hear, even if it isn’t true, and who do whatever is most expedient and popular, even if it isn’t wise.
The Lord has come, not to give the people what they want, but rather to do and say and give what they need — not according to their thoughts and feelings, but by the Word and Wisdom of God.
So Jesus lays it on the line. He is not a miracle-working sugar daddy. He comes to forgive their sins, for which He calls them to repentance. He comes to bury them with Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism, and to raise them up as something altogether new and other than what they are.
Today, the same Lord Jesus Christ is here to do the same for you. Will you repent of your sins and receive His forgiveness? Or will you cast Him down from the prideful hill of your sinful heart?
What begins in this Holy Gospel is the rejection of Christ Jesus by His own people and nation and the subsequent turning of His grace and salvation to the Gentiles. What Israel was supposed to be, as the people of God, for the blessing of the nations, Christ Himself now and ever shall be.
Prophetic examples are found already in the cases of Elijah and Elisha, such as Jesus recalls from the Old Testament. Both of those men, like the Lord Jesus Himself, were rejected and persecuted by the rulers and people of Israel; but they took the grace and Ministry of God to foreigners.
The extension of the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles was not the result of an arbitrary rejection of Israel by the Lord. On the contrary, Israel persistently and stubbornly rejected the Lord and His Prophets. Had Israel received Him as He intended, they would have enjoyed the blessing of His grace, and they would also have been a vehicle of His grace to the nations around them, as well.
It was never supposed to be, nor did it have to be, an “either-or.” Nor is it an “either-or” for you. As you hear and receive the gracious Words of life and love from the lips of Jesus in the preaching of His Gospel, you become a vehicle of His grace to your neighbor in the words that you speak and the works of love that you carry out. But if and when you reject His Ministry of the Gospel, then do not be surprised when He sends a famine of His Word upon you, and leaves you to languish in the leprosy of your sins. Meanwhile, He will not fail to raise up other ways and means of taking His Words of grace, His cleansing waters of forgiveness, and His life-giving Food to others.
Tragically, the people of Nazareth were given what they asked for — to be rid of Jesus. He left them and went on to Capernaum in Galilee. In throwing Him out, His hometown anticipated the time when His followers would likewise be thrown out of the synagogues.
But to be sure, that pattern of rejection, witnessed in the Old Testament Prophets and climaxing in the Cross of Christ, continued in the ministry of His New Testament Apostles, and so also in the service of His pastors to this day. Those who preach in the Name of Jesus suffer in His Name.
The fact is, the Lord Jesus and those who are sent in His Name and stead will always meet with rejection from this sinful world of sinful people. What is far more sobering is the way that many in the church are often found to be leading the world in its rejection of the Lord and His Word.
Consider how it is in this Holy Gospel. It was not the world but the synagogue that rejected Jesus and tried to throw Him off a cliff. It was the pious, devout, church-going folks, like yourself.
Do not presume to rest on your laurels or suppose that you could never fall into such heinous sins. Just when you are most secure in your own righteousness, you may well be engaged in throwing Jesus out. Do not be surprised, then, when He takes His Word away and leaves you with nothing.
On account of your sin, you are always in danger of taking His grace for granted and allowing it to pass on by, on its way to those who will receive it in true faith and genuine gratitude. Lest that should ever happen to you here, I implore you to cling with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and strength, to the Word of Christ and His Ministry of the Gospel. Do not wait until they are gone away to realize what He has so graciously offered and bestowed upon you.
The people of Nazareth refused to accept Him, and left to yourself, you would likewise do the same. As the Lord Jesus has spoken, no Prophet is acceptable in his hometown. And as St. John writes in the opening verses of his Gospel, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, but the world did not know Him. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.”
So that was the situation. But the real issue, in fact, was not the people’s acceptance of Jesus. He had no need or want for their acceptance and approval, in order to be who and what He is from all eternity, that is, the Christ, the Son of the living God. What was absolutely crucial and desperately needed was rather the Lord’s acceptance of the people. That is likewise what you need, as well.
It is not for you to “accept” the Lord Jesus into your heart, as if you even could, and as if He were subject to your approval; but what you need, if you are to be saved, if you are to live and not die, is for the Lord to accept you by His grace, to welcome you into His heart, His city, His Kingdom.
Whenever you presume to pass judgment on Christ Jesus and His Word, or you demand that He meet your expectations, you have forgotten that He is your Judge, that He is the One who judges you, whether you are righteous through faith in Him, or condemned forever in your sinful unbelief.
But this very One who comes to be your Judge is likewise the very One who has come to save you. And notwithstanding the inherent sinfulness at work in the rejection of Jesus — which continues throughout the Gospel, until it reaches its crescendo on the Cross — it is precisely this rejection of the Christ, even unto death, which constitutes His mighty Salvation for you and all the world.
That is the great irony of Epiphany, and of the Christian faith and life: The divine Glory of Christ Jesus, and the glory of His people in the world, is found in His Cross and Passion, in His voluntary suffering and death as the Son of God in the flesh, given and poured out for the sake of sinners. In the footsteps and pattern of the Old Testament Prophets, the Lord Jesus suffers righteously and innocently as the Servant of Yahweh. He is rejected by sinners because He faithfully proclaims the Word of the Lord, the Law and the Gospel. But it is by His death, surpassing that of any other Prophet, that all the Law and the Prophets, all the Words and promises of God, are now fulfilled.
Not only does His death give meaning and purpose to the suffering and death of the Prophets who were before Him — and to the suffering and death of His Apostles and all the ministers of His Word who follow after — but His sacrificial death upon the Cross is the very heart and center of the Gospel, because it is the end of death, the forgiveness of sins, the conquest of Satan, release from captivity, cleansing of leprosy, bread and water in the desert, and life everlasting in heaven.
In bearing the rejection of His own people then — in bearing the rejection of your hard heart and sinful flesh — the Lord Jesus took upon Himself and bore within His flesh and blood all of those sins and the sins of the whole world. So did He also bear your griefs and carry all your sorrows in His Body to the Cross, that He might do away with them forever. By His suffering and death He removed those burdens from you. He has taken them away and does not count them against you. In His divine love for you, He has opened up the way out of death into life with God. For as surely as He has been crucified for your sins, so has He also been raised for your justification.
His Sacrifice is your Atonement and Redemption, and so His Resurrection is your Reconciliation and your Righteousness in the presence of His God and Father. He has borne your hostility with patience, He has embraced you to Himself in mercy, and He has accepted you in peace and love.
Though the nations rage against the Savior and reject Him — and though your own sinful heart has done so, time and time again — His rejection and His death are for the salvation of sinners all over the world, including you. And that great salvation which He has obtained by His Cross and Passion, He freely offers now, to you and all the nations, in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the Words of grace that flow from His lips. It is freely offered to you this morning in these very words now sounding in your ears, and in the giving of His Body and the pouring out of His Blood here at His Altar, for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of your sins, and for eternal life in Him.
By Words of grace from His own mouth, He preaches Himself and all His gifts and benefits into your ears, into your heart and mind, and into your body and life. By the washing of the water with His Word, He has cleansed you from the leprosy of all your sins, and He has made of you a child of His own dear God and Father in heaven. So it is that, here and now, in the synagogue of His beloved Church on earth, He continues to feed you — Today, tomorrow, and always — with the life-giving Food and Drink of His own flesh and blood. For He has made you a citizen of His Kingdom. You belong to His own people, not by genealogy but by grace, through faith in His life-giving Word; and thus do you reside in His own Town, the heavenly City, the new Jerusalem, even now in the midst of this fallen and perishing world, and so forever hereafter in the Resurrection.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.