Monday, February 04, 2013

Sermon on Luke 4:31-44, for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, "Responding to Jesus"

Sermon Outline:
·         Jesus was undoubtedly a person, who if He entered into your life, you could not leave unaffected. We shouldn’t expect any different today. Controversy followed—divided opinions among Jews. Teachings and miracles magnetic—drawing crowds. His Word was challenging, at times provocative, acclaimed for being authoritative. Not just quoting others, building authority on what 5 generations of rabbis had taught. He was authority—He spoke and His Word commanded attention. His Word was self-evidently true—it rang true with the very authenticity that spoke for itself. Taught from God’s Word as though He was its author and rightful interpreter (and He was in fact both!). His teaching compelled people of every stripe to look deeper than mere outward signs of good behavior and church going, to see if their hearts and minds were right with God. To see whether your “inner and outer reality” were in sync. That is—hypocrisy, or show-religion—didn’t impress Him. And neither was He fooled by boasted good intentions.
·         No, you couldn’t truly encounter Jesus without being affected. His Word looks into our hearts—which leads to either repentance, when we discover and lament our sin we find there, or it leads to defiance, as we refuse God’s authority over our life, or Christ’s approach to our heart. One thing is clear from the Word of God, that the ingrown, natural orientation of our heart is not toward God—but away from Him. That’s why we need a dramatic reorientation called repentance. And your “response” to Jesus is not just a one-time event in your life—a point of conversion, or a “first impression”—our lives driven and shaped by Jesus’ Word and presence. “Living response”—a life reoriented by a new magnetic pole, from which we take our heading; or the Bright Morning Star, the Hokuao, that is our guiding light. Navigating always toward His Light, Christ steering our lives and leading us on His Way.
·         Today’s Gospel is a wide-angle snapshot of a flurry of activity around Jesus in Capernaum, a city of Galilee, before He continued on His way south to Judea. Whole host of reactions, responses, to Jesus and His Word (not exhaustive). Some of these responses teach us about who Jesus is, and His power; other responses are worthy of our imitation and reflection, as we consider our own response to Jesus’ Word.
·         First reaction, v. 32 astonished at His teaching, for His Word possessed authority. He taught the kingdom of God, and wasn’t just repeating what someone else had said before, and yet every Word was consistent with the Old Testament Scriptures. Not trained by a rabbi, yet He mastered them all in knowledge. At times He turned the Word of Law, the commands of Scripture, to an unflinching examination of hearts. If we’re honest with ourselves—when God’s Word examines our hearts; when the pure blinding light and magnifying glass of God’s Word shows us our sin—we won’t like what we see. We don’t like to be confronted by where our actions, attitudes, and words are wrong. The law of God shows us our selfishness, our pride, our resentment, our stubbornness, and so on. Even if we’ve believed in the Bible our whole lives, if we continue to engage in God’s Word, we will find it exposing our sins and sinful attitudes our whole life through. Not only was His teaching of Law astonishing, but also the sweetness of the Gospel He proclaimed was astonishing. Forgiveness for the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners. Jesus’ Word is astonishing not only for the clarity that it brings to our lives and thinking, but also for the relevance that spans millennia from ancient times to modern, from cultures agricultural to mega-urban.
·         At least two of the responses to Jesus in the reading today are powerfully negative responses—those of the demons or unclean spirits that Jesus cast out. Spiritual evil is real and powerful, and is something we tend to ignore or discount in our modern rationalistic age. Nevertheless it is present and the devil and his demons will always find themselves opposed to Jesus and His Word. But even greater astonishment (from the people) follows as they see Jesus’ Word take dramatic effect on the demon-possessed, and with a Word He muzzles the demons and casts them out. They cannot stand against Him. The demons’ last frightened words of protest acknowledge Him as the Son of God—but He rebukes them and they cannot speak. The revelation of who He was, wasn’t something Jesus was going to let happen through the mouths of unclean demons, but in His own timing and purpose.
·         When He was ready, in the “hour” of His set time, He would show His full glory at the cross. When His death and resurrection took place, every opportunity was now open for His identity to be fully revealed, declared, proclaimed, spread abroad. With the “linchpin” in place, with the central event of His ministry complete, all could see the full picture of who Jesus was, and know that He truly was the Christ, the Holy One, the Son of God. Then this knowledge would come through no one else, but through Jesus’ own Word and demonstration of mercy and power.
·         When people saw both the power of Jesus’ teachings, and also of His spoken Word, the news spread like wildfire. A key reaction to Jesus was telling other people about Him! Can we grow in our passion for Jesus, to the point where all of us as individuals, are telling others about Jesus? Better than any “gossip”, we would carry the “good word” of Jesus to others? Enthusiasm of the crowds, to bring to Jesus the sick, the needy, and the afflicted. That we would bring His Word of hope to them, that they might find in Jesus forgiveness, life, and salvation. Christ’s Word to the weary; comfort for those weighed down by the cares of life.
·         Simon Peter’s mother in law: rose to serve Him. When lives transformed by Jesus, when reoriented by repentance, He leads us into service in His kingdom. Our hands and feet, our compassion and our love is pledged to extend His help and love to others.
·         When Jesus finally left, the people didn’t want to let Him go! Far from indifference or apathy, they wanted Jesus’ presence, His teaching, and His miracles! What an honorable passion for Jesus—and oh that we would match that fervor! True, some came to Jesus for mixed or misguided motives, but He didn’t turn them away—He sought to reorient them to His true purpose. Who sought Jesus out? Those who were eager and willing to listen. Those who had bodily afflictions, illnesses, or deep spiritual needs (including overcoming demon possession). And these are (we are) the same who need to seek Him today. Eager to listen, eager to have our lives touched and changed by His Word. Many came merely for earthly needs, but He gave them something far greater, when He taught about the kingdom of God.
·         And as He explained why He couldn’t stay—He revealed His higher purpose—the driving mission that superseded the miracles and physical healings. The higher purpose that fueled His love, His mercy, His heart for the lost. That He go and preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well. And so also preaching the Good News, the Gospel, of the kingdom of God should supersede all the other work that the church engages in, and it should orient all our activities. Above all else, above our physical needs that the Lord does care about as well, is God’s desire that we become citizens in His kingdom by responding to Jesus, our King, in faith. That we look to the King who overcame evil, sin, and death for us, and who is the Way to everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Luke 4:31-44. Why was Jesus such a compelling, and even polarizing figure? Describe the variety of responses to Jesus that you find in this passage, as well as in other places in the Gospels. How do they compare to peoples’ responses to Jesus today?

  1. Describe how Jesus and His Word searches the heart. Why was Jesus interested in seeing that inward intentions and outward actions be in harmony? How did He always drive people to the Gospel, His message as the key purpose for His ministry? What did many seek from Him instead?

  1. How is faith in Christ a total life reorientation? How does Christ guide and direct that? John 14:6; Matthew 28:19-20. What is necessary when we get off-track, and wander from His path?

  1. What amazed people about Jesus’ knowledge? Matthew 7:28-29; John 7:15, 40-48; cf. Acts 4:13.

  1. What is profoundly reassuring about Jesus’ power over evil? Why did Jesus not allow the demons to speak of Him? How do we see the spiritual forces of evil at work today?

  1. How should we imitate the response of the crowds in Luke 4:37 & 40? Who needs to hear about Jesus? Who do you know who needs God as their refuge and strength? What single purpose drove and oriented all of Jesus’ earthly ministry? 4:43; John 5:29, 40; 18:37.

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