Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 27, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
. . . [Jesus] began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Luke 4:21 (ESV)
One of the most damaging things to a person's credibility is a broken promise. We often say that we've become so accustomed to broken promises on the part of our politicians that we've come to expect it from them, but despite all of the joking that we do about it, the truth is that many a political career has been brought to a premature end because promises were made that were not kept. Even on the personal level (and perhaps especially on the personal level) broken promises are damaging. Those who repeatedly fail to keep their promises soon get a bad reputation for being unreliable and their word doesn't seem to be worth very much. People don't take them seriously anymore and stop paying attention to what they say.
Against this kind of background we look at the life and ministry of Jesus and find Him to be refreshingly different. He is One who doesn't promise anything that He won't deliver--one who makes good on all of His promises. You would think that the average person would welcome such an individual in his midst. You would think that such an individual would be immensely popular. Well, you might think that but if you did, you would be sadly mistaken. Rabbi Jesus' first sermon in His hometown synagogue was not well received at all. Funny isn't it, how we long for something so much and then when we finally get what we want we take offense at it? Jesus is different not only in that He keeps His own promises; He actually is the Fulfillment of everything that God had promised to His wayward children ever since that dreadful day in the garden when they fell into sin and hid from Him. This morning let's examine the text before us to discover, with the help of the Holy Spirit, what God has promised and how He has fulfilled His promises in Christ.
One thing that God has promised (particularly in His Law) is that sin must be punished--and punished severely. That's a novel idea by today's standards. We've gotten so used to the idea that we won't really be held accountable for what we are supposed to be accountable for that it never seriously crosses our minds that we could ever be confronted with our guilt with such force and finality that there is nowhere for us to hide. But that's the way it is with our God, since He is a God of perfect justice. There's no plea bargaining in God's court--no extenuating circumstances--no insanity defense. The Law of God is clear and unambiguous when it says: "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20) and when it says: "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). There is no escaping it or glossing it over. This is what God, in His infinite wisdom and perfect justice, has determined will be and this is what therefore must be.
But God has also promised something else--something that, on the surface, may appear to contradict His promise of justice. God has also promised that His people will be delivered from the punishment that they deserve because of their sin. Strange though it may seem, it's true. The same God of perfect justice who demands that sin be punished is also the God of perfect grace and love who insists that His beloved children be spared from a fate that they cannot bear. The prophecy of Isaiah that Jesus read in the synagogue just prior to the words of our text speak of the Lord's Messiah coming to relieve God's people of the various burdens of life that have come upon them as the consequences of their sin. In essence, the perfectly just and righteous God has promised through His prophet that His people, who are guilty and therefore have incurred His wrath, will somehow be spared from the judgment that is rightfully theirs. Clearly this is a paradox that escapes human understanding.
Jesus' dramatic words after He closed the scroll offer the explanation and the solution to this paradox, if we only have ears to hear what He is saying. He says: "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." What does He mean by that? --One thing He means is that in Him--the innocent Son of God--the justice of God will be satisfied so that the guilty can be set free from the gruesome sentence that the Law of God has imposed upon them. He means that He is the One sent by God Himself to take man's place under the Law and the judgment that it incurs. He is the One who will obey the Law perfectly--something everyone is obligated to do but no one has done. He is the One who will suffer the just wrath and punishment of God earned by sinners--something that no man can do without being eternally damned--forever separated from the grace and mercy of God. Because of what the Son of God has done for all sinners, our sin has been punished in Him. When we look upon the crucified Christ, we are looking at the just punishment for our sin. If nothing else, that should cause us to take our sin a little more seriously and thus come daily to repentance. The sight of the Son of God suffering in our place ought to move us to see our sin as something more than just human nature.
But there is something more for us in that cross of Jesus--something wonderful. Here we see also our deliverance. Because Jesus suffered and died in our place, the case of God's anger against our sin is over and done with. That's exactly what Jesus meant when He said from the cross: "It is finished" (John 19:30). Our deliverance from sin heralds our deliverance also from all of the consequences of our sin--the burdens mentioned in Isaiah's prophecy. Of course that deliverance is not yet complete in this life. We still have to live with all of the trials and temptations of life, including pain and sorrow, sickness and death--but none of it is master over us any longer. Because Jesus died and rose again for us, the victory is ours in Him. The burdens that we bear now are nothing more than the birth pains of the everlasting life that is ours because of His merits.
A number of years ago, at a meeting of the Pittsburgh Pastoral Conference, our speaker, Pastor Don Matzat (who was at that time the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Bridgeville), talked to us about "Christ-Esteem." His point was that the self-worth that everyone is looking for--what the world identifies as "self-esteem"--can be found only in Christ, not in ourselves. He said that instead of running after the latest theological or self-help fad, what we really need to do is get back to basic Law and Gospel. He put it this way: "The only problem that I have in my life is me, and the only Solution to this problem is Jesus Christ." There is a lot of truth in that. That is what Jesus Himself was trying to tell His hometown parishioners in this morning's Gospel and that's what His Spirit is trying to tell us even today. Everything that we need--everything that we want--everything that God has ever promised--has found its glorious fulfillment in the Savior who He sent. He alone is our Joy, our Contentment, our Hope, and our Confidence--indeed, our Fulfillment.
May the God who caused light to shine out of darkness cause you to increase and abound in love toward one another and toward all people, as His love abounds for us; and may the glory of His Son be manifested to you and in you, that you may be witnesses to all nations now and until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.