July 8, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.’ And He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief.”
What causes people not to listen to the Lord? That is a question that vexes and confounds those in the Church, laity and clergy alike. The Lord’s words are spoken to them, but they will not hear. They hear instruction in the Lord’s Law, but they don’t heed it. The Lord’s promises are made to them, but they don’t believe them.
Why will they not listen? That question has been asked for millennia. It is the question that the prophets pondered. They were chosen to speak to the Lord’s people, those who had been brought into the Covenant. Their audience was not unfamiliar with what the Lord had done or said. And yet, what does the Lord say to the prophets? You heard His statements to Ezekiel: “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against Me. They and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
The instruction to Ezekiel tells about the nature of his audience. What are the people like that Ezekiel is sent to? They are rebellious. They are transgressors. They are impudent and stubborn. That’s their character. That’s what they are by nature. Even though they have the Lord’s Covenant extended to them, even though their ancestors had benefited from the Lord’s actions on their behalf, they refuse to abide in His ways. They have transgressed against the Lord not just in the past, but “to this very day.”
Similarly, Jesus encounters such people in His hometown. That is what you heard in the Gospel Reading: “Jesus went away from there and came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him. And on the Sabbath He began to teach in the synagogue, and 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? And are not His sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at Him.”
Jesus goes to His hometown. He does what He had been doing in other places around Galilee. The Lord’s words are spoken in the people’s hearing. But what is their reaction? They will not hear. They will not receive. They will not have Jesus teach them. Why? Because they rebel against Him. They take offense at the person speaking, and that leads to offense at the speech itself. So Jesus speaks judgment against them: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” Nazareth’s sin is noted and recorded. And the beneficial acts that Jesus could perform are not done for them.
But this is not just a problem that Ezekiel and Jesus faced. No, this is the same problem that happens right here in Mechanicsburg. Rebellion and refusal to listen are not foreign to Central Pennsylvania. The same words that the Lord speaks about the people to whom He sent Ezekiel are spoken about you as well: “They and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn.” But this is not just Dutch hard-headedness. No, this is the rebellion that is common among all people. It is one of the chief symptoms of original sin. No one wants to be under any authority. No one wants to be told what he can or cannot do.
Such hard-heartedness is not only in reaction to the Divine Law. It is also naturally found in reaction to the Divine Gospel of salvation. Recall how the Nazarenes reacted to Jesus: “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?” This is how they reacted to the words of salvation that Jesus was delivering to them in the synagogue. Jesus’ identity as the Promised Messiah was thoroughly rejected.
But that negative reaction is not unique to First Century Galilee. It is found here. It pops up whenever a minister speaks about the identity of Jesus and that is rejected. The promise of salvation is extended, put out for people to receive. Then the full range of objections comes: “What do you mean that Jesus is truly God in human flesh? How can you believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary? Resurrection from death—that’s ludicrous! Salvation is limited to people who trust in Jesus’ words and works—that’s the height of intolerance! How can you insist on forgiveness only being given through preaching, baptism, absolution, and communion! I must submit to the teachings that First Century men wrote down, what unenlightened oppression!” The objections are nearly as numerous as stars in the sky. They are just another expression of the impudence, stubbornness, and rebelliousness of people—even of you.
And yet, what does the Lord do in the face of such rejections? Remember what He tells Ezekiel: “I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Remember what Jesus does in Galilee: “And He went about among the villages teaching. And He called the Twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” The Lord still sends people out in the face of such rejections. They still go out carrying the same Divine Word for an audience to hear.
Why does the Lord do such a thing? Why doesn’t He just stop sending them and close off all hope of salvation? Because it is His will that people be saved. It is His will that people be turned. It is His will that the Word that is spoken will call, enlighten, and gather some. Today’s Collect summarized the Lord’s character well: “O God, Your Almighty power is made known chiefly in showing mercy.” There will be some among that rebellious, impudent, and stubborn household who will turn to Him. So the Lord continues to send out His speakers.
That is why you have had the Lord’s spokesmen sent here to Calvary for 113+ years. That is why His Gospel continues to be offered in preaching, baptism, absolution, and communion. There hasn’t been a Divine Interdict spoken against you, despite the rebellion, impudence, and stubbornness that are plentifully present. The Lord speaks concerning you: “Whether they hear or don’t hear, they will know that a prophet has been among them.” But for those who do hear, there is forgiveness, life, and salvation. There is a giving and restoring of the identity of being the Lord’s people. Ears are turned to hearing. Hearts are turned to believing. Minds are turned to obeying. A transforming takes place. For that is the power of the Lord’s Word, even in the midst of your rebellion, impudence, and stubbornness.
None of this is a matter of merit for you. No, it is a matter of mercy. The Lord chooses to be merciful to you. There is no deserving of it. In fact, the Lord could simply do to you and all creation what Jesus instructed His disciples to do: “And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” Such witness of judgment would be right. Yet, the Lord has mercifully elected to send His Gospel among this place. It is for you who will be turned and will hear, who will repent and will believe, who will be called and gathered.
Today’s Collect prayed rightly concerning you: “Grant us the fullness of Your grace that we may be called to repentance and made partakers of Your heavenly treasures.” It is the petition that comes from those who have been turned and have heard. Such prayer comes from you who have received the Lord’s disciples sent to your midst. Such prayer comes from you who have had the evil spirit cast out, who have been anointed by the Lord, who have been forgiven of sin. Such prayer is offered by those who do not take offense at Jesus, but who trust in His words and works instead. That is what the Lord desires to hear from the people to whom He has mercifully sent His Gospel, for it is the reaction of faith. May that be true here at Calvary, so that it is never said concerning you: “[Jesus] marveled because of their unbelief.” But instead may Jesus’ words always be said to you: “Your faith has saved you.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.