16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself. What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear saints, the Gospel is offensive. Yes, you heard me right – the Gospel is offensive. The Gospel is the Good News; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. But it is offensive in two different ways. Follow with me on this:
The Gospel says that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In other words, there is not one person for whom Christ did not die. His crucifixion appeases the wrath of God for all sin of all time. But imagine walking up to a total, complete stranger at the grocery store and telling them, “You are forgiven.” Now, some of them might be Christians and say, “Praise God!” Be I bet that most people and even some Christians would say something like, “Forgiven for what? I haven’t done anything wrong.” For someone who does not have a sense of their sin and guilt, the Gospel is offensive. This is the first way that the Gospel is offensive; it is out of an ignorance of sin and guilt.
The second way that the Gospel is offensive is the exact opposite – for people who have an ignorance of their own righteousness. This is the one that I think is most applicable to you, here. I say that because it is most applicable to me too. It is easy to start comparing ourselves to others – especially as Christians. Sure, we know that we have sinned, but we’ve gotten much better. We have improved. We aren’t as sinful as we were ten years ago, five years ago, last month. Yes, we still sin, but we’re not as bad as the drunks, the abortionists, the terrorists, the adulterers, and the homosexuals. They are the ones who are really sinful. They need to hear a Law-filled sermon and repent of their wicked ways.
But then, we see Jesus giving the Gospel to exactly those people. In fact, those are the very people Jesus is hanging out with in the Gospels. You see, Jesus didn’t come to help those who are basically good and just needed a little help. He came for poor, miserable sinners. He came to those who are captive to their evil lusts, desires, and actions. He came to give sight to those who are blind to any goodness within themselves. He came to release the oppressed slaves of sin.
This is what our Gospel Lesson, which is Jesus’ first sermon, is about. Jesus has come to Nazareth, His hometown. Anointed by the Holy Spirit in His baptism, tempted by the devil in the wilderness, and having manifested His glory at a wedding in Cana, now, here He is. In His synagogue, the place where He had heard the Word of God proclaimed. Now, it is His turn.
He is handed the scroll of Isaiah. He finds the place and reads, “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.”
The people hear those gracious words and wait with bated breath for Jesus to begin preaching. They can’t take their eyes off of Him. Jesus opens His mouth again and says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Now, the people’s response in v. 22 is difficult to decide how to translate. The phrase that gets translated ‘spoke well of Him’ is not necessarily meant to be taken in a positive way. It is actually a very neutral phrase. The phrase is simply ’witnessed Him’ (the Greek is the word ‘martyr’ which means ‘witness’). Some places it does mean ’to speak well of,’ (Jn. 1:34; Ro. 10:2), but other places it means ’to witness against’ (Mt. 23:31; Jn. 7:7; Js. 5:3). So there is a possibility that the people were witnessing against Jesus’ gracious words.
But, there is another option. It could also be that they were speaking well of the gracious words Jesus was preaching. But they were really upset about the not-so-gracious words Jesus didn’t speak. You see, Jesus left something out of His reading in Isaiah. The portion of Isaiah that Jesus read is, mostly, from Is. 61:1-2 (He does throw a line from Is. 58:6). But Jesus doesn’t read the line from Is. 61:2 that says He has come to proclaim “the day of vengeance of our God.”
So the text leaves us with two options: Either A – The people were upset right away that Jesus is saying that the text from Isaiah is fulfilled as He read the text. Or B (the option I’m going with)– The people loved hearing about the poor hearing good news, the liberty for the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, etc. But when they realized that their Homeboy wasn’t proclaiming anything about God’s vengeance on their enemies, they got upset.
But either way, you can hear the people whispering and murmuring to each other: “Hey, wait. Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” “Yeah, He’s the one who made my coffee table.” “He made my made my custom cabinets.” “How could the son of a carpenter be saying this?” “Sure, these words are gracious, but who does He think He is, changing Scripture to skip the line about the destruction of the wicked?”
Brothers and sisters, here lies our danger. We cannot be too eager for the destruction of the wicked. Because of our sin, we deserve the same destruction. Without the Gospel, we too are destroyed. We can get too presumptuous and think that we have moved on past our need of the Gospel. When we start to neglect hearing the Gospel, we are in great danger because we do not know when the Gospel will no longer be proclaimed to us.
The Gospel is the Good News of the forgiveness of sin and is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. You could take Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and a serial rapist and roll them all into one person and Jesus still died for that person’s sin. Because of the cross, all their sins are forgiven. And for any scumbag who believes that Jesus’ death forgives them of their sins, that faith is counted by God as their righteousness. That is the Gospel. We don’t like to hear that. But Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents that over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk. 15:7).
The people of Nazareth didn’t like the fact that Jesus doesn’t speak about God’s vengeance on sinners. So, Jesus’ sermon takes a turn. He stops preaching the Gospel completely because the people are already rejecting those words of grace. And Jesus goes all Law. He says to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’” And, that is basically what the people say while Jesus hangs on the cross in Lk. 23:39, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. If He is the King of Israel, let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him.”
In other words, Jesus is saying, “You are going to demand that I do some miracle before you believe that what I’m telling you is true. You aren’t going to get one. You have to believe My word. Remember the days of Elijah? Many widows were in Israel. But because Israel had rejected God’s word, Elijah wasn’t sent to any of them but only to heathen widow from Sidon, Israel’s enemy. Also, there were many lepers in Israel during Elisha’s day, but they too rejected God’s word. So Elisha didn’t heal any of them. He only healed an officer of the enemy army – Naaman the Syrian.”
This, of course, sets the people off. They are filled with wrath. And they are ready to kill the Preacher of Good News by throwing Him off a cliff. But that death was not the way that God would take away their sin. So Jesus simply passes through that murderous crowd and walks away.
And even in this, we see the grace of Jesus. There was a more torturous death that Jesus didn’t walk away from. As the nails pierced His hands and feet, Jesus prayed for those who were killing Him, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Jesus was there on that cross dying for the sins of those who were crucifying Him. He was dying for the sins of these people in Nazareth who rejected Him and tried to kill Him. And He was dying for your sins as well.
Brothers and sisters, the Gospel that Jesus preaches is offensive, but it is true. He has died for your sins. Jesus’ ministry is all grace. He has been anointed with God’s Spirit to minister to the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed. He has come to bring God’s favor not to the righteous, but to sinners – to you. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.