Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Christ does what He says. . .

Sermon for Epiphany 4C, preached on Sunday, February 3, 2019, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich

    We have a love/hate relationship with authority.  We love it when we have it, but we hate it when we don’t.  When others exercise authority over us, it makes us feel uncomfortable, as if our personal rights are being trampled upon.  We call it into question.  Who gave you the authority?  What gives you the right?  This is our natural reaction to authority.  But surprisingly, this wasn’t the reaction of the people who heard Jesus speak in our Gospel reading.  They weren’t rebellious against Jesus’ authority…they were amazed by it. 
    Just last week we saw Jesus in a similar situation that we have Him in today.  Jesus was in His hometown of Nazareth and He went to the synagogue.  He read from the scroll of Isaiah and proclaimed that He was the fulfillment of those words.  Jesus was anointed by the Spirit to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk 4:19).  He was given the authority to speak the good news of God.  Hearing this, the people of Nazareth reacted like you and I react to authority.  They wanted Jesus to perform a sign to prove His words, to show He had the right to say what He said, but He didn’t do one. 
  Today, Jesus is in the village of Capernaum, and again He goes to the synagogue to teach on the Sabbath.  As the people listened to Jesus’ words they were astonished.  He taught with authority, like no one they’d heard before.  He didn’t teach like the scribes and Pharisees who quoted others, using others’ authority to teach.  No, Jesus was His own authority.  He spoke His own words, and these words had power. 
This power Christ displayed for the people of Capernaum, even though last week, He refused to show it to the people of Nazareth.  There, in the synagogue, was a man who was possessed by an unclean demon.  This demon knew who Christ was.  He knew Jesus was the Holy One of God, the Messiah come to defeat all evil.  Even though this demon spoke the truth, the Lord silenced him.  He wouldn’t let evil proclaim who He was.  So, He commanded the spirit to come out of the man, and it did.  Again, the people of the synagogue stood in awe.  They were amazed at what they just saw.  They recognized the power and authority of Christ’s Word, even authority over demons.  And the news of Jesus spread through the region. 
  After Jesus left the synagogue He continued to preach and teach, and He continued to demonstrate His authority.  He went to Simon Peter’s house and rebuked a fever that afflicted his mother-in-law.  With the news of Christ’s healing word spreading, people brought their sick and ill to Him.  He healed all sorts of diseases and freed many who were possessed by demons.  Jesus showed He had authority over all: authority over sickness, authority over demons, and authority over death. 
The next day Jesus went out to a desolate place.  We see Him do this several times throughout the Gospels.  Jesus would take leave of the crowds to spend time with His disciples, or time just by Himself for prayer.  But He didn’t get much alone time, because the people came looking for Him.  They come looking for Him because they wanted Him to stay, to display His authority again through more signs and more miracles.  But Jesus couldn’t stay in Capernaum, for He needed to continue to other towns, not to perform miracles, but to preach.  Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well, for I was sent for this purpose” (Lk 4:43).  Jesus flat out told the people that His purpose wasn’t to perform miracles, it wasn’t to heal all sorts of disease and ailments.  His purpose was to preach the good news of the kingdom of God.  And this He did with all authority. 
    What we remember most from the Gospels are the miracles of Jesus.  If I were to ask you to name some of these miracles, this could easily be done: turning water into wine; quieting a storm; walking on water; healing lepers, the blind, and the lame; taking 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and feeding 5,000+ with it; and of course, raising the dead.  We remember these signs, but we often forget that whenever these miracles were performed, they came with Jesus’ preaching. 
Christ is always preaching, and that’s the point.  He’s always proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom.  He’s always speaking with authority.  All the miracles we remember, those just direct us to what Jesus is saying.  They point us back to His words, because His Word is what gives life.  
This is what our Lord promises you: life, forgiveness, and salvation.  This is what Jesus was sent to preach.  This is what Jesus was sent to accomplish with His death and resurrection.  And this is what you receive through the hearing of Christ’s Gospel.  The miracles of Christ aren’t what produces faith in our Lord.  It is the Spirit working through God’s Word that does this.  It is the Word of Christ that accomplishes the miracle of life in you, bringing you from the death of sin to the life of Christ forgiveness.  This is what Jesus promises to you, and this is what He does. 
Christ accomplishes everything He says because He has authority.  He fulfills His Word.  Jesus isn’t like you and me who make and break promises.  He keeps His Word.  He does what He says.  So when He says your sins are forgiven, they’re forgiven, because He paid the price for them.  When He says “I am the bread that came down from heaven….And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6:35, 51), He gives you His very body and blood to eat and to drink, nourishing you unto life-everlasting.  And when He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25-26), trust that He gives you this life. 
The people recognized Christ’s authority at the synagogue.  They witnessed it in His miraculous healings, and they wanted to see more.  But Jesus’ signs and miracles weren’t the point.  These miracles pointed to another thing, to what Jesus accomplished with His Word.  He heals, He forgives, He gives you life through the Word of His cross and the Word of His resurrection.  It’s by this authoritative Word that you have what Jesus’ promises: eternal life in Him.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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