“Not Just Another Service”
Epiphany 3, January 27, 2019
Not Just Another Service
Text: Luke 4:16–30
Another week, another church service. When the alarm goes off, when you are getting ready to come here, do you think or hear: “Do I have to go?” “I want to sleep in today!” “It’s the same thing every Sunday.” I am guessing not every member of this church jumped out of bed this morning saying, “I get to go to church today!” There are many who make a habit out of doing something else on Sunday mornings. Because there are so many things more important, right? Many are satisfied with less Jesus, rather than more. You know the devil doesn’t want you to be here. But you also know you can’t trust the devil, and you can’t always trust yourself.
The devil knows exactly what’s good for you—so he wants to keep you out of God’s Word and away from Jesus. So that’s why this whole church thing can be a fight. You’re always fighting yourself to make it here. Sunday service should be the most natural thing in the world for us to go to, but it isn’t.
It’s not natural for us, but it is for Jesus. We read in the text for today that, “He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (v 16). Another way to put that is that Jesus went to church every weekend. And the Bible is His Word! He wrote it, right? As a child, He studied it. And now as an adult, He’s just as devoted to it. Even though He wrote it. He attends services faithfully. The Third Commandment, the third thing God told Moses that day on Sinai was to remember the Sabbath Day, which means for us, being here every Sunday. His custom and habit is not to, “…despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.” Jesus loved going to Sabbath services. Wouldn’t that be something? To come to church not as a duty or burden, not out of a sense of obligation, not as a “have to” or a routine, not even because we need it but to come HERE because we want to be here, because we love it! Now maybe some of you are here because you love it. I do. Before I got this, I loved going to church. Always felt…comfortable there. Even as a little kid. But that’s weird, right?
That’s the life of Jesus. He loves it! The Bible says He’s the one who lives “not by bread alone” (v 4) but “by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:3). It was normal and natural for Jesus to be in “church.”
But this Sabbath Day was different from others. This time Jesus didn’t come to the Nazareth synagogue because He was “the son of Joseph” (Lk 3:23). He’d done that—been an obedient son—for thirty years. This time He wasn’t there to be a hearer of the Word. This time He went to the Nazareth synagogue as a teacher of the Word, a rabbi, a guest preacher in His home congregation. Before this day, He had been baptized by John the Baptist and done some teaching and some miracles in Capernaum. Now He has come to His home “church” to preach. “And he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘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’ ” (vv 16–19).
Whether they came that day out of habit or obligation or even love of God’s Word, they got more than they expected. This wasn’t just another service as usual, go through the motions and head home. Something BIG was going to happen here. “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” (v 20). Isn’t that a great description? All eyes in the synagogue are looking at Jesus. No dozing in the pew after a late night, no daydreaming about next Sunday’s “Big Game,” no quick glances at a phone or watch. Wouldn’t it be great if those words described us today? “Jesus came and the eyes of all were fixed on him!”
Then came the sermon. It wasn’t a lecture on theology, a list of ten steps to a better you, or a rally on some social issue. In a simple and profound way, Jesus applied God’s Word to the people right there: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v 21). “What Isaiah wrote,” Jesus says, “is about me.” The Spirit of the Lord is upon Him. He’s the Anointed One, the Christ. That’s why He went to the synagogue that Sabbath Day and they couldn’t believe their ears! “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?’ ” (v 22). No, not really. He’s “the Son of God” (Lk 1:35), conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
That’s why He comes to church so faithfully still, including today: to deliver the Good News of salvation to you poor and needy, to proclaim liberty to you who are in debt with sin, to give sight to you who walk in darkness, to set free you who are in bondage to sin, and to let you know that the Year of the Lord’s Favor has begun. It all happens “in your hearing,” you get to hear this every Sunday. That’s how Jesus makes Himself and His forgiveness known to you. It’s like St. Paul said: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). So Today in Your Hearing, This Scripture Is Fulfilled Again: Jesus, the Christ, Comes with the Lord’s Favor for You.
That’s the point of every Sunday. Jesus is here. He is here every Sunday. He is here in His Word, He is here in the Sacraments. Sunday isn’t about you and what you’re doing here, though it’s good that you are. What matters is that He’s here—here for the depressed and those ready to give up, here for the sinner and the sinned against, here for all who are victims, here for all who are guilty, taken advantage of, and suffering.
Not all who hear believe, like the people in His hometown. At first, they “marveled,” which is a neutral word. There is an implication here they wanted to see Jesus do miracles like they had heard about him doing before that day. (Which is why Jesus gave them the old “physician heal yourself” thing…). That made them mad, and in their anger, they wanted Him dead. They dragged Him out of town and up to the cliff the city’s built on. They wanted the one sent to save them from their sins, thrown off a cliff and dead.
Now Jesus did come to die on a hill, but not that one. After Jesus did and said everything He needed to, He was taken to Calvary to be bruised and wounded, stricken, smitten, and afflicted. Jesus came to suffer for all our sins, including for every time we said, “Do I have to go to church?” for every time we thought that having a Bible is no big deal, for the times we’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted away from His Word and Worship.
And instead of taking His Word away and leaving us without hope or help, He continues to come. He comes and extends the Lord’s favor to us again. He doesn’t have to be here. He doesn’t have to do this. He doesn’t need what we give Him—our presence, our prayers, our offerings. But still He comes, week after week, service after service, forgiving, loving, and showing mercy to us and to all.
The joy of life in the church is that it’s never “just another service.” Every week is a little Christmas and another Easter. Jesus Himself is the rabbi, the teacher whose Word proclaims the Lord’s favor. I am not here telling you the Gospel of Erler. I am telling you what Jesus said, and did. And He’s more than a teacher. He’s God with us, right here in this room, visiting us with His mercy and grace. And that’s why we want to be here every Sunday. We should. And it doesn’t matter if you like me. It doesn’t matter if you like my sermons. It doesn’t matter if you like the hymns/songs I pick. What matters is that the Word of God is preached here, and His Sacraments are given out here the way they are supposed to be.
Jesus is here, and He is worth seeing and hearing. It’s Jesus Christ in us, it’s the Holy Spirit in here who drags us out of bed, sometimes kicking and screaming, and into these chairs so that we can receive His gifts again, so the Word can be fulfilled again in our hearing, so His forgiveness and life can fill us.
That’s just the way Jesus is—always in church, always in His Word, always flesh and blood, always crucified and risen for you, always with more forgiveness, until that day when we meet Him face to face. Then we’ll be with Jesus forever, and we will love every minute of it.
In Jesus’ Name.
Adapted from Material in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 29, Part 1.