I once heard this story from a pastor when I was quite a bit younger. He spoke of an elderly man who was near death. This man was in his home lying in his own bed for what very likely would be his last night on this earth. Suddenly he caught the scent of fresh baked cookies wafting up from the kitchen – he loved cookies. The man slowly made his way out of his bed. His mouth began to water as he took a couple of unsteady steps. He fell to the floor, but that did not deter him. He wanted one last cookie. He crawled stopping every few feet to gather his strength. His breathing was difficult, yet the smell and the promised taste pushed him forward.
Finally, he reached the kitchen. He saw the cookies laid out so nicely to cool on the table. He smiled and began to reach his hand up to grab what he knew might be his last meal when suddenly, WHAP! His wife swatted his hand away rejecting his desire as she said to him, “Those are for the funeral!” That is an amazing rejection. To deny someone, your spouse even, a delicious snack as they are near death…that is amazing.
Today, in the gospel from Luke we find another amazing rejection. Last week Pastor Casmer talked about the verses prior to our lesson and how Jesus pictured our salvation as he read from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Now, here, today, we see the reaction to his words and the salvation that he offered. As Jesus rolled up the scroll from which he read, and as it was put away, we are told, “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.” Everyone was looking at Jesus, all eyes were on Jesus! I wonder if it was silent or if there was some whispering: “What’s he going to say next?” “Shhh…quiet! He’s about to speak.” And then you see Jesus sitting down – the position for teaching back then. And in the silence of the room Jesus said this: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
I imagine this scene too. How did Jesus say these words? Was it very matter-of-factly or did it come out quietly almost as a whisper so that one had to strain to hear him: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing?” (sigh). Either way, boom! There is is! Jesus pictured their salvation; our salvation and it was him. Today! The Messiah is right here. Today! He is right in front of you. Today! This is the one you have been waiting for, the one Isaiah and God’s other prophets spoke of. What a moment this must have been. What a moment it was as we hear of the immediate reaction to Jesus’ words.
First though, recall where Jesus was. In a synagogue, yes, but also in his hometown. He was in Nazareth where he had been brought up. Those eyes that looked at him and waited for him to speak were old acquaintances. They were maybe friends he had once played with, parents who babysat him, children younger than him who once looked up to and idolized him. Here they now stood eyes fixed with wonder on Jesus. They heard him speak with authority and they were struck with astonishment. We read that they “were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” They were impressed by his wisdom and likely knew of his reputation abroad and the miracles it was said he had performed.
But then you start to hear it, the question at the end of verse 22. Those eyes filled with wonder began to analyze the man who sat before them. “Wait a second. Wait a second. Isn’t this Joseph’s son? That carpenter down the road? Yeah, I think he is, well then there is no way he could be who he just claimed to be.” Those two statements, Christ the Messiah and Christ Joseph’s son, could not be reconciled in their minds. God’s Word had been shared with them, but its initial amazement was wiped out. You can almost feel that amazement die replaced by muttering. Doubt and uncertainty as their eyes shifted from the Savior before them and instead to one another as their heads shook with skepticism. They went only as far as their eyes could see and saw only what they wanted to see. And here they saw a man, Joseph’s son, unworthy of what he claimed to be: their Savior. And so, amazingly, they rejected him.
Jesus responded to this amazing rejection by quoting a familiar proverb: “Physician heal yourself!” His eyes looked at them and he knew what they wanted: a sign, a miracle something more amazing than just words that would assure them of what he claimed to be, and he called them out on it. They desired to place their Savior in a defendant’s chair – to place God on trial. To make him prove himself and appease their reason. “Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum!”
It’s here that we at times find ourselves, eyes locked on Jesus, amazed at everything we hear and see about him in his Word. This is my Savior. He came for me, and yet I wish I could be sure. I wish there was a clearer sign. And we may even pray for it, something obvious that we can use, something that puts all our doubts to rest. But nothing ever happens, no sign appears. Then we hear the mutterings of others, “What kind of Lord would leave you with such a mess of a life? What kind of Savior would make such ridiculous demands of you? What kind of God would let anyone go to such a terrible place called hell?” Maybe those thoughts, maybe those questions are ours…Jesus give me a sign!…and he does.
Verse 24, “I tell you the truth”…there is your sign. Jesus, he brings us back to his Word. The result of recognizing the Word as a thing more trustworthy than our own thoughts, as something that is right when everything else is wrong, is not confusion or uncertainty but stillness, and assurance – the only kind we will ever find. For it is in that Word that we hear the greatest miracle, three simple words, “I forgive you.”
Those words, that forgiveness is found here. Our faith hears it. We receive it. Because this is where he, Jesus, said we would find it, where we would find him, in his Word. It’s only here that we read of the miracles he performed, the healing, the peace, the joy, but above all the life. The life he won for you and for me as he allowed himself to be rejected, as he allowed himself to be put on trial, so that he could be placed on a cross to die, so that he could give his life for you and for me.
We hear those words, “I forgive you,” and it is enough. We don’t need anything else. Those words alone are amazing. All your sin, everything you’ve said and done. Everyone you’ve hurt. Every thought…every rejection of him…forgiven. You and I we don’t deserve to hear that. Yet, here it is. Spoken to you today by the one who fulfilled all Scripture, your Christ, your Savior, Joseph’s son, God’s son, who came to this earth that he might have a relationship with you, an eternal one. This was the relationship Jesus came to bring to those people in our lesson, but they rejected him. In verses 25-27, Jesus compared their rejection to that of the Israelites of old whom God’s prophets, Elijah and Elisha, left to instead go and serve strangers and foreigners.
We step back into the story and we find the people’s amazement, then uncertainty, now turn to anger at Jesus’ comparison. We read that they were furious over Jesus’ words. They rejected his warning and the forgiveness that he would have offered “They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill in order to throw him down the cliff” And this is my favorite part “But he walked right through the crowd.” How did that work? Were they frozen and couldn’t stop him? Was Jesus like a ghost? I imagine it being extremely loud as they were forcing him to the cliff and then complete silence as he walked through. The irony of it all is that they saw a miracle in the end. The one who amazed them, the one whom they rejected, was now amazed at their unbelief as he rejected them. And they saw their Savior walk away. Let us not do the same.
This brings us back to that man who was near his death. “Those are for the funeral!” His wife said. It seems like such a silly rejection, let the dying man have a cookie. It seems just as amazing and silly that someone would reject their Savior, and yet so many do. And perhaps there is a simple reason why: To hear the claims of Jesus, to admit that he is who he claims to be, is to suddenly know and admit this all real. Heaven and hell are real and, one day, Jesus will pass judgment on us all. For some that is enough to deny him. For some that is enough to reject him, but in that rejection the real judgment that Jesus came to give is missed, a judgment not of punishment and hell, but a judgment of salvation offered freely to them, to all.
Whom do you know that still needs to hear this simple message…or maybe needs to hear it again? Perhaps, it’s you? Well, take a look. See him there, your Savior. Rejected. Being driven out of town. But watch what he does next, “He went down to Capernaum and, on the Sabbath, began to teach the people” He still had souls to reach and to save and he has not stopped yet He has reached out to you, and you, and you…he saved us all! And he didn’t stop not until his Father turned his face and rejected him leaving him to die on a cross, in this way he saved us all. What an amazing rejection. And we find it here not through incredible miracles and phenomenal signs, not with riches, not with the promise of a care-free easy life, but with his Word, words we find here today. Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in our hearing. Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. Amen.