7th Sunday after Pentecost
On paper, America is a Christian nation. Statistics show that almost 70% of people in this country identify as a Christian of some denomination. You know what is puzzling? When asked about who Jesus was, and his life and the time that he spent on this earth only 30% of those “Christians” said that Jesus was sinless. For the majority of people Jesus is an example to follow, he sets the bar for how to follow the golden rule. They don’t want Jesus for any more than that, they don’t think they need Jesus for any more than that!
Familiarity with Christianity has bred complacency with Christianity. Jesus is not just another ordinary religious leader to add rules to the rule book for us to follow. The Jesus that we see in the Gospel is far from ordinary. The message that he brings is beyond what man-kind thinks he needs, or even wants. He is far beyond human expectations, or man-made pre-conceived notions of who he is. This is what the Holy Spirit shows us today from the words of St. Mark. Recognize your extraordinary Jesus. By his preaching and by his person!
If we go back to Mark chapter five we see that Mark records some extraordinary miracles. The first is the famous incident where he casts out a legion of demons and drives them into a herd of pigs. Then he heals a woman who’d been ill for years. Finally, he raises a little girl from the dead. Actually it’s depicted on the stained glass window right over here. Anyway, news of these extraordinary miracles spread like wild fire through the communities and surrounding areas.
PART 1 – BY HIS PREACHING
Then Jesus does something seemingly mundane. He goes back to his home town, Nazareth. As Mark says, “Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples.” This gives a very human picture of our Savior. He had a home town! The eternal God has a home town! No doubt he walked into town and was greeted by familiar faces. He saw familiar stores, familiar sights, sounds and smells. The places that he used to play when he was growing up. Memories must have been flooding back to him with every step he took through that town. This place was near and dear to his heart – especially, the synagogue. The place where he himself, as a boy sat and listened to his Father’s voice.
Mark writes, “When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.” We actually, at least in part, know what Jesus’ message to the residence of his home town was. We learn from Luke’s gospel that he preached on words from the prophet Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He then said that “Today these words are fulfilled in your hearing.”
What a bold statement! What an authoritative statement, and extraordinary statement. Jesus references the miracles that he’d been performing. But he also comes right out and says that he’s the fulfillment of that prophecy. He’s saying that he’s the Messiah, Immanuel, the Christ – God’s anointed one, great David’s greater son. He has come to set the prisoner free, that he’s come to cancel every debt of sin.
His preaching had the people shaking their heads in amazement and disbelief. Can you hardly blame them for asking, “where did this guy get this stuff?” Indeed, Jesus message was extraordinary, astounding and backed up by miracles. It left the people with their mouths hanging open.
Quite honestly, doesn’t Jesus extraordinary message still leave people with their mouths hanging open today? Just as Jesus told the people of his home town that he was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecy, so today in his word he tells us the same thing, that only he is the “Way and the truth and the life!”
I think that we usually assume that it’s the unbelievers who have trouble with this. It doesn’t seem like they wrestle with that statement so much as just brush it off and say that Christians are nuts. No, on the other hand I think it’s Christians who wrestle with those Words of Jesus, that he is the fulfillment of all prophecy, and that he ALONE is the way, truth, and life. If that extraordinary message doesn’t shock you, if it doesn’t make your jaw go slack then something might be wrong, or you’re already dead and in heaven.
That message is extraordinary because when we ponder what it means our minds naturally drift to – What about all those people who have lead pretty good lives, maybe even exemplary lives – how can God send them to hell just because they ignored the narrow way? If Jesus is the truth, then what about all those people who’ve not heard about the TRUTH? Will they really be damned because they’ve not heard it? If Jesus is the life – what about my life? There are so many times when I wonder what God’s purpose for me is or I wonder when it is that God will just give me a break!
When we wrestle with Jesus’ extraordinary message we have a sinful nature that dogs us. By nature we are people just like those in Nazareth who are still stuck on our own way, our own truth and focused on our own lives.
But that’s why Jesus came to preach it isn’t it. Just as he loved and cared for the people of his home town of Nazareth – wonder of wonders – Jesus has also made his home (Here and here /head and heart). That’s why we have that custom in the Lutheran church at baptisms! He comes to us in his Word and Sacraments again and again he preaches the truly extraordinary nature of that message. That just like the people in his home town – He knows you. You are familiar to him and he came here to this earth for you. And he wants us to hear that extraordinary message of forgiveness of sins. And that means knowing Jesus for who he is being familiar with him – growing in your knowledge of who he is every day.
What makes his message extraordinary is the extraordinary nature of who Jesus is.
PART II – BY HIS PERSON
That is what the people of Nazareth just had a difficult time seeing. They heard these extraordinary Words of Jesus preached in the very synagogue that he grew up in and instead of honoring him. Instead of having ears to hear him – they were blinded by their familiarity with him. They said, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.”
Do you hear the challenge present in those words? “Prove to US Jesus that you are more than Mary’s son! Prove to us that you’re more than a carpenter!”
They challenge Jesus because they think that they know everything there is to know about him already. To them there was nothing extraordinary – nothing special – nothing divine. He was the little kid who ran through the streets playing with the other children. He was the boy who helped his father in the carpenter’s shop. He, himself had perhaps made some of the tables or chairs in their homes. They couldn’t possibly understand how Jesus could be Messiah. And Jesus knew that no miracle would prove that to them, it would only serve to confuse them more.
Jesus was not the bread king, the political leader they were looking for. The extraordinarily humble nature of who Jesus was, was beyond their understanding. That he really was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies – the messiah, the lamb with out blemish or defect. So, they did the natural thing that people do when they can’t believe, or are blinded by familiarity – they ridicule it, challenge it, ignore it. Mark records that Jesus was astonished at their lack of faith, at their lack of trust in God to fulfill his promises.
Yet what does he do? He doesn’t go miracle happy changing water into wine again, turning stones into bread or whatever – in some attempt to say look at me look what I can do!!!. No the last part of the last verse of this text for today says this, “Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.”
He wanted them all, just as he wants us to see our extraordinary need for him.
Let’s go back to that statistic I mentioned in the introduction – 70% of people who call themselves Christian struggle with the idea that Jesus was perfect.
Do you struggle with that? He was perfect. He never sinned, not once, not even a little white lie. He never doubted God’s love. He never doubted God’s plan. He never had a lustful thought. He kept the 10 commandments perfectly.
For us, we can’t go five minutes without breaking half the commandments. The occasional white lie, the dirty joke, the lustful thought – it’s all in a day’s work! It’s normal, it’s familiar, it’s even comfortable.
What’s crazy is that we often don’t think that it’s all that bad – hardly worth repenting over. But the old adage is true – “The more you know about your savior, the more you know about your sin.”
When we learn about the extraordinary person of Jesus – we have to take the complacent little voice in our head that says that “I’m not that bad” and throw it at the foot of the cross and make it look at the price that was paid for our sinfulness.
Just as Jesus went from town to town to teach people their great need for him. He does the same for us! Christians continually learn, and study Scripture to hear the voice of their extraordinary Jesus. He teaches us those extraordinary truths about who he is. And what he did on our behalf to overcome the world. How he as a man, a man with flesh and blood and a home town, faced down every temptation – for earthly power, earthly glory, popularity, anger and hatred and lust – and he over came them. Because “I” can’t, because “you” can’t.
Earlier we sang this – God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ! He, because I could not pay it, gave my full redemption price. Do I need earth’s treasures many? I have one worth more than any – That brought me salvation free, Lasting to eternity! Brother’s and sisters what an extraordinary message, Recognize your extraordinary Jesus. Amen.