20He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began to tell them, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22They all spoke well of him and were impressed by the words of grace that came from his mouth. And they kept saying, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

23He told them, “Certainly you will quote this proverb to me, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ Do here in your hometown everything we heard you did in Capernaum.” 24And he said, “Amen I tell you: No prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25But truly I tell you: There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut for three years and six months, while a great famine came over all the land. 26Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow of Zarephath, in Sidon. 27And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was healed except Naaman the Syrian.”

28All those who were in the synagogue were filled with rage when they heard these things. 29They got up and drove him out of the town. They led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the middle of them and went on his way.

31He went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbath. 32They were amazed by his teaching, because his message had authority.

Luke 4:20-32

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

You could try to count them, but I bet you’d lose track.  There are literally hundreds of them – hundreds of Christian denominations in the United States.  Sometimes you run into people who are troubled by so many denominations and they’ll say something like, “Why can’t all these churches get together anyway?”  You and I probably run into more people who don’t really care how many different church bodies there are.  And when we do find someone who is concerned about going to church, they just want to know where they can go to hear “the truth.”  But, then again, even their meaning of “the truth” is varied.  Some say the truth is what I believe if relevant in my life but doesn’t necessarily have to be true for you.  Others will accept as truth, that which agrees with their philosophy on life. (Jim, if you have a personal story to tell here, please do).  Still others, thankfully, understand and confess that absolute truth is what God says in his inerrant, infallible, holy Word.  You all know people who talk about churches are not typically interested in denominations but at least want their church to make a difference in their life, and at most want their church to help in their relationship with God.  Perhaps we could boil it down to a simple statement like this: “Is all this church stuff really going to make a difference in my life?”

There are answers to these questions.  The Word of God from Luke 4 directs our attention to The Prophet, Jesus, who is the One who can give us the inside scoop.  He will answer your questions about spirituality, religion and your relationship with God.  All the prophets of the Old Testament pointed to this Prophet—this great messenger from God.  And now it is our turn to

Listen to the Prophet (who makes a difference in our life!  How?)

Who connects himself to us

The high point in the history of Israel was happening in Luke 4.  God promised Adam and Eve a Savior, then to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Then Moses and the other prophets all revealed more and more about the Savior of the world.  He was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, baptized in the Jordan by John and now was going to worship in his home town.  He read from the Prophet Isaiah and  Luke 4 21

“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.”

This was a fabulous day in the life of the synagogue goers!  But, would they recognize the blessing they were now witnessing?  Would they recognize who this man was standing before them?

“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.”

They certainly figured out that something different was happening right before their eyes, but they couldn’t quite figure it out –so Jesus connects himself to them.  However, when Jesus does his connecting of just who he is and just who they were, we are disappointed, even shocked by their reaction as:

“Jesus said to them,…. “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.”

Jesus now was prophesying that their curiosity would give way to skepticism.  But, why?  Think about who these people are?   These people were once neighbors of this boy now all grown up and he was preaching a sermon from Isaiah.  Many were skeptical about the town’s carpenter being the promised Messiah.  Jesus leads them to think deeper about just who he is.  Listen:

“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.”

Jesus knew they would have difficulty with this statement but he pressed the issue, not to be defensive, but to help them see that their trouble was their familiarity with him.  They needed to get past this hang up if they were going to hear the message he was proclaiming.

To drive the point home, Jesus quotes some Old Testament examples of Elijah and Elisha.

“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.”

Do you know the story?  There was no food.  Elijah came to the widow’s house and asked for some bread.  She informed the man of God that there was only enough left to make one more piece of bread for herself and her son, and then die.  Elijah promised that as long as it didn’t rain, her flour and oil would not run out.  We are impressed with this miracle, but even more shocked that God sent the prophet to a foreigner, not to his own people.  Jesus made his point.  He didn’t want them to lose out like the people of Elijah’s time.  Jesus warns them again with his second point:

“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.”

The Israelites were living in idolatry and God sent his prophet to help Naaman – a Syrian, actually, an enemy of Israel!  Why?  What is the point?  Sometimes outsiders see and appreciate more than those who are too close to the situation. All too often familiarity breeds contempt and separates us from the blessings God intends us to have.  Jesus was patiently leading his own people to recognize him as the promised Messiah.  But, first they had to look at him with new eyes of faith and not be resentful of the way people in neighboring villages were praising him.

Jesus has also led us to himself.  Maybe it was your infant baptism for many of you.  Then the Holy Spirit used a parent or grandparent, or Sunday School teacher or Christian friend who led you into a closer relationship with Jesus through the Word.  These people were part of a denomination – probably Lutheran for many of you.  But, why are you here today?  Is it because it is Sunday and you’re good Lutherans?  Is it because of the friendships you have here?  Maybe you are comfortable here?  Maybe you like “today’s guest” preacher?  If so, let me fire a warning shot over your bow!  Your sinful nature will love it if you love a church because of the externals because Satan knows that when he can destroy the externals he will easily destroy your desire to worship here.  (Jim, if you want to say something about coming not because of Pastor Hering….) Even if the truth of God’s Word is being preached here, if we resent the building, the pastor, the decisions made by the Executive Committee or the people in the seats next to us, then we are no better than the people in the synagogue at Nazareth.   If you’re like me, you know how easy it is to get angry and pick up your marbles and go on to leave all this church stuff to someone else. Sadly, some are even tempted to go from church to church trying to find the one at fits you until one day someone loves you enough to say, “Maybe it isn’t the church, maybe its you!”  So, let’s “Get over it and let’s get Jesus!”  Focus your attention on the Son of God revealed in Scripture.  Let everything else be of second importance.  Listen to the Prophet who Connects himself to us through his Word to give us forgiveness, peace, love and hope now and someday, we will enjoy being in his presence forever!

Transition: I know I’m speaking to people who have faith in Jesus. But, I know that you have a sinful side that wants to rebel against what God says and a new life in Christ that can’t wait to serve the Lord.  How blessed you are compared to the people of Jesus’ day who did not yet have faith.  In their anger over what Jesus was claiming the Nazareth congregation became a mob, ready to be both the judges and the executioners of this “blasphemer” Jesus.  Yet, even when facing such a wall of resistance, Jesus, the Prophet sent by God, desires

To Connect them to the Truth.

This makes Jesus, Jesus, doesn’t it?  He confronts God’s people with the law to help them see their own hang ups, even to the point of driving them to become furious:

“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.”

Jesus brought them to a realization of the truth – but the truth ran up against their reason and raised their blood pressure of anger, not their praise of the Lord.  What was Jesus’ reaction to all their anger?  Well, Jesus, was Jesus.

“But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”

He did not try to talk them out of it.  He didn’t display his power in some dramatic way like opening up the earth and swallowing them up.  He simply walked through the middle of them all.  Later, perhaps, they would realize for themselves why they had not been able to do away with him.  It might make them all think about just who Jesus is all over again.  It is our prayer that they were connected to the truth and brought around to the point of receiving the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus.

Likewise today, we all know how hard the devil works to try and disconnect us from the truth of God’s Word.   We all know how hard we work to support Divine Peace, the pastors, the leadership, and the congregation.  The life of the church has many difficult days.  People get upset at the church, or the pastor and each other for so many reasons.  The devil could use that to upset us – couldn’t he?  But, compare these difficult days to what happens when we witness the baptism of a baby Brooke (Jared and Hannah’s baby) at our church? (and the baptism of Ethan Ashburn is coming up soon!)   Don’t you want to bust out and thank God for allowing this place to be here so we could have a house for God’s Word and a place to use his blessed sacraments!   If you’re like me, you’ve had your tough weeks, too.  But, how many times have you come up to receive the Lord’s Supper and looked up to the cross and sighed a thank you to Jesus for his forgiveness and love—yes, for connecting our hearts, souls, and faith to the truth as we listen to the Prophet!

Getting back to Jesus and the account at Nazareth—Can you begin to guess what was going through Jesus’ mind as he walked away from his home town and on to Capernaum?

“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.”

There it is again—amazement.  So, we know what amazed the people!  The fact that Jesus’ message had authority.  It has all authority because it is the truth!  Jesus, the Son of God, the Living Word, did not need the support of experts; he proclaimed the truth he received from his Father.  His messages (let’s call them his sermons) went like this:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, ‘is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”

Matthew 5:21-24

Now compare this to what the people of Jesus’ day were used to hearing when they went to the temple—some teacher of the law waxing on about some trivial distinction of the law without drawing any conclusions from it.  Scriptures were read and argued over, but never driven into their hearts.  But, Jesus said,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Matthew 5:27-30

Then Jesus would say,

“Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven”

Matthew 9:2

Therefore we give thanks—Jesus connects us to the truth!

So, we ask ourselves about denominations.  What church do you want?  What kind of church do you want Divine Peace to be?   I pray that we will always make our church a church where the truth of God is proclaimed.  And how will we know if it is being proclaimed here or not?  That means each of us needs to be in the Word ourselves, with our own eyes, reading, listening, having our souls fed directly from the source.  Then we can come here and know it is for our good when the law stings our hearts and for our eternal good when the gospel sooths our souls.  Do you agree with me about what church you call your church becomes very important: that is if you want one that is proclaiming to you the authoritative teaching of God’s Word.   Having a church that proclaims the truth of God’s Word also calls for our prayers.  Let’s pray for our pastors often, that even in the midst of trials they would faithfully lead us to the truth of God’s Word.  Let’s also pray for our church leaders, as we promised we would at their installation here last Sunday, and taking place in Rockwall today, that when difficult decisions have to be made, they make them according to God’s will and with great wisdom. Then let’s pray for ourselves, that when a message comes to us that threatens our comfortable life, that the message isn’t rejected, but received with thanksgiving and faith as we rejoice in the gospel of forgiveness and restoration.

“Is all this church stuff really going to make a difference in my life?”  Indeed, there are many hundreds of denominations and thousands of churches out there.  They all want to make a difference in your life and most promise to give you a better relationship with God.  Therefore, when you talk to your friends about the different churches don’t argue about who’s right, but what’s right.  You are free to go to any church you want in America.  However, whether a church has all the frills, relationships, and social activities for your family or not, above all else – be sure you are in the Church that proclaims the full counsel of God wrapped in the good news of Jesus the Prophet who connects himself to you and your family through Gospel in Word and Sacrament, and connects us to the truth.  For this, my dear Christian Friends, will have eternal blessings.  Amen.