Grace Words (Epiphany IIIc, 2013)

[This sermon was preached at Kramer Chapel on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on January 30, 2013]

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord begins His ministry in Nazareth with the following words from Isaiah 61:

““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me 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.”” (Luke 4:18–19 ESV)

Everything in our Lord’s life and death and life again is bound up in setting us free from the bondage of sin and death. For make no mistake about it: you are held captive by sin and death, you are blind to the mercy of God before your very eyes, you are downtrodden and smushed under the weight of guilt, and you are broken. You need a divine reset button. No, more than that. You need resurrection. Nothing less will do.

These words from Isaiah point to the simple reality that God does all these things by His Word, His only-begotten Son in the flesh. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears,” Jesus says to them. All of it, erasing the guilt of sin and consoling those burdened by their brokeness, all of it is Jesus great and mighty work.

In fact, the people get this right. They marvel at the “gracious words” coming from His mouth. Now I don’t know about you, but when I think about something or someone as gracious, I think of someone giving out an extra dessert at dinner. That’s gracious! But this is far more than that. It is literally grace words or words of grace.

When we talk about our Lord’s life and ministry among His people, it is above all a word of grace. God’s love for you, His wayward children, comes not because of your great deeds or thoughts or feelings for him. Now, His great love for you comes to you because that is who He is. He is the Grace Word who brings that Word of Grace to the poor and downtrodden, the suffering and in need, the brokenhearted and those who are just plain broken.

But it is strange how hard it is to hear grace words. The people of Nazareth marveled at Him, until they realized His grace words weren’t only for them. His grace words are for all, not just the Jews. Our Lord reminds them of this with two episodes in the lives of the prophets, Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, and Elisha with Naaman the Syrian general. In both those stories they were outside of God’s chosen people. One of them could even be considered an enemy! And yet God’s grace word is extended to them. Why? They needed it, and God’s promises never just stay in one place. Grace words are always moving, always spreading when and where He wills them to go.

It was at this point that Jesus’ homecoming sermon, well, it takes a turn for the worse. When the people heard that God’s grace was for those stinking foreigners, in their anger they drove Him out of town, and were prepared to throw Him off of a cliff.

So what is it that angered them? What angered them was that they didn’t have a monopoly on God’s grace words. Jesus’ ministry of grace went out and it kept on going. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, out out out to the uttermost parts of the earth. And yes, those grace words were meant for Nazareth, too. And California. And yes, even Fort Wayne.

Ultimately, it isn’t the Law that raises the ire of the people. It is the grace words. God’s love for His wayward children is irrational. It’s bizarre. Why would He forgive all of them? Like rebellious children always vying for their parents’ attention, we limit God, we are afraid that God’s love is going to run out, and that we will end up getting the short end of the grace stick. We still believe the lie of Satan. We still cling to that old nortion that God is holding out on us somehow. We fear that God’s love cannot be for you or for me.

But God’s love for you will never run out. It is His very nature to love, for He is love incarnate. He gives you a pledge and sign of that love in the grace words of His Testament. This is my body, this is my blood. His very love for you, always for you.

Your sins are released. Your death has been drowned. Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears, for you have heard the Word of Grace delivered to you, in your ear and on your tongue. Fix your eyes on Jesus now, for He comes for you.

Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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