The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
February 3, 2019
Don’t Be Afraid— Stay on Message!
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ” “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This has only happened to me once in 33 years. I was in the middle of a mid-week Lenten sermon when one of the men in the congregation got up and left the sanctuary. I wasn’t sure if he needed to use the restroom or what, but when I saw him pacing back and forth in the narthex (the top half of the wall between the narthex and the sanctuary was glass) I knew something was up. He eventually sat down in a chair and stayed there for the rest of the service.
After the service was over and after I had greeted everyone at the door I went and asked him if everything was okay. He said, “No!’ Then he went on to ask me, “Did you really mean to say in your sermon that babies are born sinful?” I said “Yes, because that’s what Scripture teaches.” Visibly upset he wanted to know where the Bible teaches that. I reminded him of a number of passages (See for instance Gen 6:5; Gen 8:21; Psalm 14:2, 3; Psalm 51:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-20) but when I saw that I was not making much progress, I reminded him of two things: Baby Daniel who died when he was 3 ½ months old and Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The fact that death is the result of sin and the sad reality that babies die is clear evidence that babies are born sinful. He had been in my Adult Confirmation Class long enough to know that he could ask the question, “What does the Greek in Romans 6:23 say?” I smiled and told him that I don’t know the Greek off the top of my head, but if he came a little early to the next class I would have an answer for him.
A few days later he did come early to class and I did have an answer for him. I told him that in the original Greek of Romans 6:23 there is no verb. Very literally it says, “The wages of sin— death; but the gift of God— eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Then I told him that because there is no verb in the Greek when we translate into English we either need to add a verb (is) or we could simply put in an equals sign: “The wages of sin = death, but the gift of God = eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He looked at me and said, “That’s just your interpretation. The God I believe in would never say that babies are born sinful. I won’t be continuing with the classes. If that’s what you’re going to teach I no longer want to be a part of your congregation.”
The reason I share this with you today, my friends, is two-fold. First, there are those people who would say that instead of “losing” a potential new member I should have left this an “Open Question” which would allow him to believe that what he thinks is right. Since Scripture is so clear on the teaching of Original Sin or Inherited Sin, I couldn’t leave it an “Open Question.” The second reason I share this with you today is because it ties in very well with how I want us to approach our sermon text for today. Our sermon theme for this morning is: Don’t Be Afraid— Stay on Message!
Our text for today is a continuation of last Sunday’s text (Luke 4:14-21). Last week we saw that in this worship service in the synagogue at Nazareth Jesus deliberately chose one of the Messianic prophecies recorded in Isaiah (61:1,2) as His sermon text. Then He began His sermon by saying to God’s people, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” While the Holy Spirit does not record for us the rest of Jesus’ sermon, He does record for us the peoples’ reaction to Jesus’ sermon. That reaction began on a very positive note. Luke tells us, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” As I said last week, the people in this synagogue had never heard a sermon like this before! Jesus undoubtedly explained to them how God’s love and God’s grace and God’s mercy sent Him (Jesus) to do for God’s people what they could not do for themselves! How “gracious” it must have been to hear the Son of God Himself explain and expound that beautiful Messianic prophecy to God’s people!
Sadly, unbelief quickly overwhelmed the hearts and minds of the people in this synagogue. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. “Isn’t this the same Jesus we watched grow up? Isn’t this the same Jesus who played with our children? Isn’t this the same Jesus who worked in the carpenter’s shop with his father, Joseph? And now he wants us to believe that he is the fulfillment of this Messianic prophecy?” Their human logic would not allow them to believe that this same Jesus whom they had known for 30 years, Joseph’s son, is in fact the long-awaited Promised Messiah!
As the true Son of God Jesus knew exactly what was going through their minds and hearts. That’s why Jesus proclaimed to them such a strong message of Law, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.” Then Jesus went even farther, didn’t He! He used two examples from their own history to remind them that when the descendants of Abraham reject the “gracious” words of the Lord, the Lord God turns to the Gentiles and shares His words of grace and mercy and forgiveness with them.
The peoples’ response to Jesus’ strong message of Law was as negative as one can imagine. Luke tells us, “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.” Was Jesus afraid as the people were screaming and shouting at Him? Was Jesus afraid as they kept pushing and shoving Him closer and closer to the edge of that cliff? Not at all! Why? Because as the Son of God Jesus knew that this was not the time nor the place nor the way that He was going to die. (See also John 7:30; 8:20) So as the Son of God Jesus “walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”
Did this extremely negative response from the people of His own hometown result in Jesus changing the message He was proclaiming? Not at all! Luke tells us that after Jesus left Nazareth “He went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.”
The application of this event to our hearts and to our lives today is not difficult. Let’s go back to the introduction I used this morning. There are times when we faithfully share the Truth of Scripture with someone and they have a very negative reaction. While in some countries Christians are literally killed for sharing the message of the Bible, here in our country the “worst” reaction we might receive is ridicule and rejection. Should we stop talking about Jesus because we are afraid of being laughed at? Should we stop talking about Jesus because we’re afraid of losing someone’s friendship? What if we simply change our message— especially when it comes to the parts of the Bible that we know our society roundly rejects today? Changing our message so that it lines up with that the unbelieving world wants to believe, well, my friends, that is akin to being trapped in a whirlpool out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. One change will lead to another which will lead to another which will lead to another until there is little to nothing left of the message we have been given to proclaim!
So what are we to do? We follow the example Jesus gives to us here in our text. We stay focused on our Savior (Pointing to the cross) and listen to Him as He says to us: Don’t be afraid— stay on message! What does this mean? Let me highlight just three things.
First, it means remembering that Jesus Himself has called us to be His “witnesses” (Acts 1:8). As witnesses for Jesus we are to take the message that our Savior has given to us and share it as He has given it to us! We cannot change the message Jesus has given to us because His message is Truth! (Pointing to the cross) His message is the message that all people need to hear whether they realize it or not. His message contains both Law and Gospel. We need to show people the seriousness of their sin so that they can see the graciousness of their Savior. Whenever we are faithfully sharing the message that Jesus has given to us we also need to remember these words of our Savior, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).
Second we remember that as “witnesses” we do not have the power or the responsibility of controlling how or when someone responds to the Truth we are faithfully sharing with them. There are two passages to remember in this regard. Through His servant Isaiah the Lord tells us, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that is yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10, 11). And in 1 Corinthians 3:6 the apostle Paul confesses, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” I have known people who had the seed of the Gospel planted in their heart by a faithful Sunday school teacher when they were very young and then sixty or seventy years later that seed took root and bore fruit in their heart and in their life. Faithfully do what God Himself has called you to do (which is to share the message of Jesus with others) and let God do what only God has the power to do.
And finally, as you conscientiously strive to stay on message— don’t be afraid! The very same Jesus who had the power to walk right through this very angry crowd, a crowd that was bent on killing Him, has the power to protect us as well! As Jesus Himself tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Is there someone in your life with whom you have been faithfully sharing the message of Jesus (Pointing to the cross), but there doesn’t seem to be any visible results? Keep on sharing! Is there someone in your life whom you have invited to come to church with you on numerous occasions, but they always seem to have a reason to say no? Keep on inviting them! Is there someone about whom you have been praying that God will give you just the right opportunity and just the right words to say so that you can share the message of Jesus with them, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening? Keep on praying!
They “took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.”
Follow this example of your Savior: Don’t be afraid— stay on message!
To God be the glory!