Not the Preacher We Wanted

Text: Luke 4:16-30
Date: Epiphany III + St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor + 1/24/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

It is great that this day, today, is not only the Third Sunday after the Epiphany wherein we hear of the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry of preaching, teaching and healing, but also that this is the day, today, on which the holy Church throughout the world remembers and commemorates St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor. It is great because the prophetic pattern of Jesus’ earthly ministry beginning to be laid out by St. Luke in our text applies also to the preachers Jesus will send out, beginning with His apostles, then others taught by the apostles like Timothy, then others, then more, up to this day, today. Unfortunately, these days, we hear, more and more, not respect for, thanksgiving to God for, prayer for and spiritual obedience to our pastors, but complaints, frustration, even angry disagreement and conflict between pastors and people, more often than ever now even to the point of dismissing pastors from their divine Call. There are three traditional reasons to get rid of a pastor, namely, if he is tenaciously clinging to false doctrine, immoral life or inability to perform the duties of his office. I used to, then, make the humorous comment that, if you can’t “get him” on any of those grounds then there is always the “Missouri Synod way” of just making life so miserable for the pastor that he wants to leave. I say, I “used to” say that jokingly until that “way” also bit me.

There are two issues about Jesus in today’s Gospel and two different reactions by His hometown people in Nazareth. The two issues about Jesus are His teaching and performance of miracles on the one hand, and His suffering rejection on the other, not only here in Nazareth but, ultimately, by the whole world in His suffering on the cross. It is interesting that the initial reaction to His sermon that day was positive. “All spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.” Well, why not? They are the words of the prophet Isaiah, good words, the Word of God. But how different, then, their last reaction. Not just ignoring Him or even mere anger, but “all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff”! Whoa! And you think you’ve seen violent voters’ meetings! What was it that turned these folks so quickly from their first impression of Jesus?

It is the truth that all the Old Testament prophets were rejected, persecuted and martyred by the very people to whom they were sent. This will necessarily be Jesus’ destiny also. And we should not be surprised to this day when those called to preach God’s Word are shunned, ignored, rejected and even dismissed from their Calls. Why is this the case?

The passage from the prophet Isaiah that Jesus read in the synagogue that day was carefully chosen. It is His Divine Call document. The whole rest of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ earthly ministry is based on this. When the prophet said of the Messiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus brought to mind His baptism by John in the Jordan, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him visibly in the form of a dove and the Voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son.” When the prophet said, “he has anointed me,” that’s Messianic language. “Messiah” means “the anointed one.” He says He has been “sent” by God on a divine mission. His Call was to proclaim, to preach. And what is it that the Savior is to preach? “Good news to the poor,” “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.” What a wonderful goal, to proclaim liberty, freedom, spiritual vision and the release of the forgiveness of sins.

But then it’s one thing to proclaim release from sin and another thing to bring it, to deliver it. That would take disarming sin completely and defeating the last enemy, death. This could only happen by a pure, spotless sacrifice, a holy sacrifice, pure and holy enough to take away and destroy sin. This will be Jesus’ goal and destiny at the end of His earthly ministry. But that good news could already be preached and proclaimed as if the sacrifice had already happened, because it most surely would.

In His sermon and teaching about how this passage from Isaiah was being fulfilled in the people’s hearing that day, He also preached the Law in order to bring about repentance and the desire for forgiveness. He solemnly stated the principle, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” Already these folks were missing Jesus’ true identity. They thought they knew Him, the hometown boy, the son of Joseph (who, most scholars believe, had already died before Jesus began His earthly ministry). But Jesus is not the son of Joseph. Jesus is the Son of God. But because they thought they knew Him, they could not believe what the scriptures say about Him.

They were impressed by the miracles they had heard He did elsewhere. They wanted Him to do those miracles there in Nazareth, too. But to what end? Belief? Or mere entertainment? Jesus refused. He pointed to the examples of Elijah and Elisha, how Elijah was not sent to one of the many widows in Israel but to the foreigner in the land of Sidon, and how Elisha was not sent to cleanse any of the many lepers in the homeland of Israel, but to the foreigner in Syria. This, by the way, foreshadows what the young Christian Church would go through in the Book of Acts where the Spirit and salvation spreads not just to the Jews but to the Gentiles as well in fulfillment of the original promise to Abraham that by his offspring “all the nations” will be blessed.

Jesus did one miracle in His hometown that day, though the people didn’t see it. When they had driven Him out of town to throw Him off a cliff, at the last moment, Luke tells us, “But passing through their midst, he went away.” This is what is most sad…most sad for the congregation or the vocal group within the congregation that despises or mistreats their pastor, or for the person who rejects the Gospel, that Jesus passes through their midst but then He goes away. So, He said, it would be for His apostles and pastors, “wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them” (Lk. 9:5). This brings to mind also Jesus’ threatening words to the Church in Ephesus in the Revelation, “repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 2:5).

It’s a mystery to ponder whether the people saw Jesus just walk through the crowd to leave or whether He somehow blinded their eyes so they couldn’t see Him pass through their midst. Either way, the reason, however, is clear, His “hour” had not yet come. That “hour” will be when the whole world abandons Him to His crowning work of His death on the cross. But it is that death that brought about the release from sin and death for all who have faith in Jesus, risen from the dead, now living and reigning and bringing release, forgiveness and light to all through His word delivered through His Church.

Let us praise the Word Incarnate,
Christ, who suffered in our place.
Jesus died and rose victorious
That we may know God by grace.
Let us sing for joy and gladness,
Seeing what our God has done;
Let us praise the true Redeemer,
Praise the One who makes us one. [LSB 849:3]