|Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue - James Tissot|
The text for this Sixth Sunday after Pentecost is Mark 6:1-13.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
As usual, St. Mark gets right to business. He tells us that right after healing the woman of a 12-year hemorrhage and raising a little girl from the dead in Capernaum, Jesus returns “to His hometown” (Nazareth) with His disciples.
It is not a family visit or social call, a chance to renew old acquaintances and catch up with the homefolks. Jesus returns as a rabbi. And so that Sabbath, He can be found teaching in the synagogue. The worshipers all know Him well. He comes to share the Gospel with them. But the question is: Are they ready to receive the Gospel from Him? Or perhaps better stated: “Are they ready to receive Him as the one who embodies the Gospel in His person and ministry?”
Unlike Luke’s account (4:16-30), St. Mark doesn’t give us any details about what Jesus preached. He focuses, rather, on the reaction of the townspeople. “Many who heard Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?’”
Translation: It’s just Jesus, nobody special. We remember Him when He was toddling around town. We watched Him as He went about His daily woodworking. He might be doing some special things, but He’s nobody special. Certainly not any better than we are. Who is He to act like this? Who is He to put on airs? Who is He to be speaking to us this way?
But there’s even more than merely “the hometown boy makes good” jealousy or the “familiarity breeds contempt” thing going on here. St. Luke tells us they drove Him out of town… so they could throw Him down the cliff. St. Mark tells us why: “They took offense at Him.”
“They took offense at Him.” These words are a warning to all Christians, including (perhaps especially) the one who is preaching to you. The warning is this: God does not intend for preaching to compliment you. Preaching is not meant to tell you how well you are doing. Preaching should not be done to entertain you. Preaching is not meant as a pep talk or even for teaching you how to be a better person. Preaching has but one purpose, and that one purpose is to focus your eyes and ears and heart on Christ Jesus and Him alone. Just Jesus… that’s ultimately who you should hear and see when God’s Word is proclaimed to you.
Now, in order for God to give you a good picture of your Lord Jesus Christ, He must first show you a bad picture of yourself—that is, a true, accurate, though unflattering picture of you and your sin. In order for you to receive a good, healthy dose of the doctor’s medicine, you must first become aware of your disease. In order to swallow that bitter pill that brings healing, you must first be made aware and accept the deadly seriousness of your condition. In order for you to benefit from the forgiveness that Jesus earned for you through His death on the cross, God must first proclaim His holy Law to diagnose and warn you about your continual need for forgiveness because sin and death live within you. The people of Jesus’ hometown took offense because they did not want to hear such things.
That is really where things fell apart at Nazareth. Jesus “came to His hometown… and on the Sabbath He began to teach in the synagogue.” Everything was fine up until then. Then, as we find out in St. Luke’s account, Jesus starts preaching about Jesus. Just Jesus. And “they took offense at Him.” They were scandalized because of Jesus and the Gospel.
You and I both should take a clear warning from this. May God guard us against such unbelief and self-centered scandal! May we allow our Lord Jesus Christ to say what He must say about us—our sin, so that we might focus on Him—our Savior. So that we might repent of our sinful ways and continue to receive the gifts of salvation and life that come only from Him—just Jesus.
The second warning of today’s Gospel is this: a personal relationship with Jesus will do you very little good. I know, that sounds shocking given today’s religious environment. All the time you hear Christians saying, “You must have a personal relationship with Jesus” if you are to be saved. But a personal relationship with Jesus, in and of itself, will not save you.
Let me explain. I think the text makes it clear that most everyone in the little town of Nazareth assumed they had a personal relationship with Jesus. They’d seen Him grow up. They knew His family—mother, four brothers, and sisters. They even knew Him as an adult when He plied His trade as “the carpenter.” Yet they took offense at Him.
This is another serious warning, not only for us but also for many of our loved ones and neighbors who find it unimportant to come to worship! Our text does not emphasize knowing who Jesus is or even having a personal relationship with Him. It does emphasize that we hear the words of Jesus and believe. A simple claim to know Jesus or a claim to have personal relationship with Jesus might place you in danger of the fires of Hell. Even the demons knew Jesus. And so, it seems, did everyone in Nazareth. Yet “[Jesus] marveled at their unbelief.”
No, salvation is not based upon a personal relationship with Jesus, but rather faith given by the Holy Spirit through the Word. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned,” Jesus promises in Mark 16:16. Believe in what or whom? In Jesus. Just Jesus. Christ alone, and Him crucified.
Jesus explained this Gospel to Nicodemus: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believe in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:14-17).
It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? The foolishness of unbelief, the disregard for things we consider common. There stands the eternal Son of God, present with His people and speaking His powerful Word, and to them He’s just Jesus—no one special. How could they do such a thing? After all, they’d heard of His marvelous teachings and miraculous powers—even the power over disease and death. You’d think they’d prepare for His coming, and that when He arrived they’d show Him the honor and reverence that is due to Him. You would think that they would receive Him as Savior with open arms and listen to Him and believe.
But then again, the Old Adam makes belief very hard, and we must take care or we will fall into the same trap. And if we have so fallen, then it is time for us to repent. You see, the Lord is here, too. Not just “spiritually present” as so many churches teach. The Lord is as really present here as He was in that synagogue in His hometown. There, He cloaked His godhood in flesh and blood. Now He hides both His divine and human natures to visit you in His means of grace.
You’ve heard of this miracle and mystery many-a-Sunday before this one. By means of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion, the holy Lord Jesus Christ is wholly present here with you. Furthermore, He is present for your good. He speaks His Word of grace and life to you. He forgives your sins for an awesome purpose. He desires that you have eternal life with Him in heaven. That is why He died on the cross. That is why He comes to you in His means of grace. And that is why He is present here. The Son of God is here. To save you.
Now the question I lay before you is this: What kind of welcome will He receive? All over, as people got up for church this morning, Old Adam got up with them. Among the discouragements that Old Adam whispered were these: “It’s going to be really hot in there, and the sermon is going to take a long time. If we’ve got Communion, it’s going to take even longer. And we’ll be singing the same old liturgy again. It’s the same stuff that we do every week, nothing special.”
The Old Adam whispers all of these things to all of us—maybe not this Sunday, but then some Sunday soon. He does so for a reason. Old Adam doesn’t want us to rejoice that Jesus is here. Because, you see, Jesus is here. He is present in these things. In Holy Baptism, He placed His name upon you and wrote your name in the Book of Life. As you hear His word proclaimed and sing His Word in the liturgy, He is working through that Word to give you grace. As you receive His Supper, He shares His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.
Miraculous things are going on here—miracles far greater than healed hemorrhages and stilled storms, even greater than little girls brought back to life—because these miracles give you life forever—eternal life in the presence of God. And yet, when the Old Adam prevails, we approach these things with a sense of apathy and boredom, unhappy with the same old Jesus. Perhaps, even offended?
To illustrate the sadness of this sin, consider this. You know that the car needs gasoline to get you places, and it’s the same routine each time. Pull up to the pump and stop the motor. Slide the debit card and pump the gas. Put the nozzle and the cap back in their places. Understanding the necessity of fuel, are you ever tempted to look for an alternative source of power for your car? One might consider medical procedures as well, say dialysis or chemotherapy. These are not enjoyable treatments, but those who undergo them understand the need. They submit to the same treatment repeatedly, despite the inconvenience and side effects—even if it’s the same again and again.
Now, we need forgiveness repeatedly because daily we sin much. The Lord gathers us here to give us forgiveness and eternal life, and He has prescribed His Word and Sacraments to get the job done. Yet it is so tempting to approach this ongoing feast of forgiveness with the idea that it’s just Jesus, nothing special.
If this is true, it’s because your sinful nature is hard at work. Your Old Adam doesn’t care if you trust in gasoline to get around. And he is unconcerned that you might follow medical treatments. You see, none of these things destroy him and give you eternal life. But forgiveness does, and so the Old Adam works hard to make it seem like just forgiveness, nothing special.
So what is the problem? Thanks to that sinful nature, it’s easy not to see how much we need forgiveness. After all, we make use of medicine and gasoline because we see the need for these things. Could it be that we are tempted to take our Lord’s presence for granted because we don’t really see the need for forgiveness? Because we don’t really see how terribly sinful we are before God?
So I ask you: Did you come here today excited to be visited by the Son of God Himself? Do you make your way here with at least as much enthusiasm as you would to a reunion with an old, dear friend? Do you come enthusiastically into the Lord’s presence—as eagerly as you ought?
The answer is no. Burdened by sin, none of us can honestly say “yes” in this life. Why? Is it that the Lord has changed and is no longer as holy, glorious, or merciful? No. He remains the same. The trouble is with us, plagued by sin and all sorts of afflictions that prevent us from rejoicing as we ought.
If we do not appreciate our Lord’s visit, it is not that the Gospel has changed; rather, it may well be that we have failed to hear the Law that shows us how much we need forgiveness. Bogged down and burdened for one reason or another, and denying how sinful we really are, it is easy to come to church and say, “It’s just Jesus, nothing special.”
This is proof we are sick with sin, and this is confirmed by God’s Word. But if you realize you are sick with sin, then take comfort. Remember, it was the sick in the Gospel lesson who were healed. It was those who didn’t trust in themselves, but confessed their weakness and trusted in Jesus who were healed.
So, here is the Good News. No matter what frame of mind was yours as you came here this morning, the Lord is here—as faithful as always. He remains more than “just Jesus and nothing special.” He gathers you here to forgive your sins, to strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith unto life everlasting. He removes your guilt from you, for He has died for your sins already.
How powerful is His grace? Consider someone who drags himself in with little eagerness to meet the Lord, and who departs with no more emotional or physical energy than when he arrived. Nevertheless, he hears the Word and receives the Lord’s Supper. And as he goes, he can say, “Even though my body denies it with every step, the Lord came to visit me today. And although I feel no different, He has removed my sin and strengthened my faith. He will preserve me in that faith until the day He raises me from the dead. Then, fully released from the bonds of sin and death I will be properly joyful at His presence with me.”
Take heart, dear friends. The Lord is here to forgive your sins. Jesus is in fact the holy Son of God, fully divine, infinitely and eternally powerful and merciful. He is also fully human, who became flesh and died for your sins. Today, He visits you by His Word and Sacrament; and though your Old Adam may say He’s just Jesus and no one special, your faith rejoices to receive Him and to hear Him speak this Good News through His called and ordained servant: I forgive for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.