“You sound just like your father! And you preach almost as well…” The short, silver-haired lady smiled at me as she said it. I’m sure she wanted to pinch my cheek too. It was the first time I preached in the church in which I had grown up; first time church members heard the pastor’s kid they’d known since he was 5. There’s a lot can get in the way of a first-sermon moment like that – familiarity with things I had done or not done, disparity between me and their longtime pastor – my father, and expectations of how that pastor’s kid would sound and what he would say. In some ways it was probably like Jesus’ first sermon at home in Nazareth – people would have known Jesus from childhood, would compare him with the local teachers, would expect him to sound and speak a certain way. But a big difference between my hometown experience and his is this: I’ve always been warmly welcomed there and, despite expectations and comparisons, there never has been a trouble with the Word; Jesus was warmly received too, for a time, but finally, the expectations of his hometown crowded out his Word so that they wouldn’t receive him at all.
That’s actually the key point in Nazareth. There Jesus reveals his glorious Word and, expectations aside, people are finally accepting or dismissing what Jesus says. This morning, we want to consider the kind of Word Jesus brings so that we can better understand how we and others can receive it with joy.
At the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus could have done many things but it becomes obvious despite expectations that he’s only going to do one thing: he’s there to preach. And he preaches something very specific. Jesus’ Word is the message of grace that brings salvation. Jesus read Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah who would powerfully bring God’s favor to a world that, in its sin, does not deserve such a thing. The Messiah was God’s chosen one to send the world’s sins away with miraculous power and all of God’s approval – a message of good news.
Jesus had been anointed at his baptism as God’s Spirit descended upon him. The Father chose and approved with this word from heaven: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” After, Jesus had gathered disciples and done miracles. Later he would do many, many more. Finally, Jesus’ work would mean that “repentance and forgiveness of sins [would] be preached in his name to all nations.” Which is all why Jesus summarizes his Nazareth sermon this way, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” He was saying that everything God said the world needed to receive God’s favor in place of their sins, exactly that Jesus was; that Jesus was there to speak; that his hometown audience should receive.
It’s interesting though, what they actually did receive. It’s hinted at in those words in v.22. A different translation catches the flavor of what happened a little more clearly: “[All] were surprised at how well he spoke.” Jesus’ words sounded good. They sounded as though Jesus had something wonderful to offer. And he did: greatest grace, undeserved love from God for sinners in a Savior who had arrived. But people in Nazareth were hearing only how well he spoke. And when their expectation for miracles and signs was met with the guy they thought they knew who was determined to preach his messiah message and to remind them how serious it was – they drove him out of town to toss him over a cliff.
What do we receive from Jesus? Do you ever come here and Jesus speaks his Word and you kind of just hear nice stuff? You know, familiarity that makes us not hear the meaning but just the sounding of these gracious words… You come too with expectations – we may want certain things from this Jesus – we’ve tried to witness to others but we feel like Jeremiah, “I’m only a child,” “I don’t know how to speak,” and we’re afraid, and we want some convincing-power thing; we love “love” like in 1 Cor 13, but we’d really like if love allowed for a little pride or protected me – but with Jesus we find that love is to know the undeserved love of God and to rest in that love entirely – without fear, in the interest of others, patient at the wrongdoings, unimpressed with mountain-moving flashy things. He doesn’t always bring what we might expect. There’s a shade of the same hometown problem from Nazareth that translates to Brookfield – where we might just hear nice things, we might expect certain things, but if Jesus only brings this thing, this Word of salvation – it can seem not enough, less than we who know him really deserve, less than we need to get along. And these can crowd Jesus out and toss him over a cliff into some dead corner of our lives.
We should fear that kind of angry response, that kind of dismissive hearing, because it can bring what Jesus warned. Jesus’ Old Testament stories basically said that when Israel didn’t want the Word God brought God took his miracles and power and Word to people who would listen. If we fall into temptation and finally unbelief, God can take his powerful Word elsewhere and forever away from you and me – leaving us in our sin with the fearful prospect of judgment.
Indeed, Jesus brings his Word with astounding authority and power, the kind that can dismiss us. When Nazareth tried to toss him out, Jesus walked right through their sinful efforts. Authority and power they couldn’t stop, they couldn’t kill, couldn’t do what he didn’t want done. But Jesus isn’t trying to dismiss us. Instead, Jesus says, “Amen, I tell you…” and “In truth I say…” because he wants us to pay attention to his Word and understand what he brings – rather more like at Capernaum where they received him as many would, “They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.”
This morning, pray with me that Jesus would do here what he did in Capernaum – not miracles, but with his message that he amaze us. Stop and let Jesus’ message knock you out of your pew again, set you beside yourself in awe again. He’s so familiar to us, but he speaks the greatest grace from God for us.
With all his authority and power Jesus brings his love, which is truly all we need. Consider that reading from 1 Corinthians as a way to think about the power and authority of Jesus’ word. Jesus knows our cares and concerns, how we feel built up by the flashy things and the things that seem intelligent and strong. Instead, St. Paul describes a love that makes us truly confident to be patient and kind, free from envy and boasting and pride. Jesus’ glorious Word enables that kind of confident Christian life because He gave his life to assure that nothing can take us away from him and that in him we have all of God’s love and approval already. St. Paul speaks of love that has power to move us past anger and rudeness and score-keeping. That’s because Jesus lets us rejoice in the truth that God’s anger is not directed at us and that our tally with God is all holiness. Loved and protected by his authority and power we can always protect the reputations of the those around us, always trust the brothers and sisters he’s given us, always hope in what he’s promised us, always persevere until we receive it. And the better we know this unfailing love, the more we love to tell it. With all his authority and his power, Jesus drives away your fears and mine – say about speaking his Word – which can seem so unappealing to our world with all it thinks it knows. To Jeremiah he said, “Do not be afraid…I will be with you.” And he promises as we speak with our high school friends and with family who have known us for ages and at our worst, that his message will uproot and overthrow and tear up and break down human, sinful lives – but that it builds and plants hearts of faith too – ones that, despite all our expectations and fears otherwise, recognize his authority and power just as we do. With power and authority unparalleled, Jesus’ glorious Word sets us beside ourselves in amazement, outside ourselves with confidence, and beyond our expectations and fears so that we can simply receive what he says.
And as we do that, this is what we can expect: our Lord Jesus will continue to bring his gracious Word to tell us and others that he is the Messiah – God’s promise of undeserved love and freedom from sin and fear. And when that Word is spoken, Jesus power and authority drive it – to accomplish his salvation in us and in many others too. Today Jesus is speaking – let’s not send him away, but receive what he says with joy. Amen.