7th Pentecost Sunday
July 8, 2018
Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
Sioux Falls, SD
Rev. Norman F. Seeger
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 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.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.
#1) Why Will People Refuse to Believe Jesus is My Savior?
#2) What Can I Do to Make Somebody Believe in Jesus?
Dear faithful followers of Jesus the Christ,
Some catastrophes we can see coming as weathermen issue warnings about a hurricane forming out in the Atlantic Ocean, although no one knows exactly where or when it will hit, nor what devastation it will deliver. Tornado warnings leave us less time to prepare as we are urged to find shelter when Doppler radar shows storm clouds starting to rotate. School shootings are unpredictable. Cars sliding out of control on an icy road or a drunk driver crossing a center line to hit us head-on appear without warning. Heart attacks can appear totally unexpected. But the catastrophe catching our attention today is not physical but spiritual — damaging & destroying our soul, not our body. Is it as unexpected as a heart attack? Is it as unpredictable as a tornado? Most importantly, can it be prevented?
Life might first seem routine. We baptize our newborn baby, obeying our Savior’s instruction to ‘make disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit.’[MT 28] We baptize our baby, for ‘baptism saves us — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God; baptism saves us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.’[1 PT 3] Miracle of miracles! God adopts our little child as a child of God. The Lord washes away their sin in Jesus’ redeeming blood. As the Holy Spirit plants faith in their heart, our baby is ‘buried with Christ through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, our [little son or daughter] may also live a new life’[ROM 6] …a new life in Christ! We rejoice. When the Lord pours out his blessings of forgiveness, faith & life in baptism, we all rejoice.
Applying our Savior’s instruction to ‘make disciples, teaching everything Christ commanded,’[MT 28] faithful parents will tell our baby ‘Jesus stories’ before they appear old enough to actually understand. Every week, every day, we pray for our child. We include our son or daughter in devotions. We feed their soul Bible truths a spoonful at a time for we understand, ‘Faith comes from hearing the message of Christ.’[ROM 10] Expending a little extra effort, we bring our child to our Lutheran Elementary School; certainly to Sunday school. We conscientiously work through confirmation assignments for the family with our maturing child until they publicly profess faith in Jesus Christ. Confirmation Sunday, we all rejoice in gifts of forgiveness, faith & eternal life God delivers through his Word.
Continuing to go beyond bare-minimum parental expectations, we sacrifice in a number of ways so the young adult in our home can be blessed by a Lutheran high school education; maybe even attend a college where Bible-believing professors let God’s truth continue to infiltrate our entire life. Sadly, surprisingly, when they no longer live in our home where parents make worship mandatory, our child might not be seen in church every Sunday. Unexpectedly, our son or daughter may profess a new faith, no longer relying upon Jesus’ life & death for our righteousness & redemption, but trusting some ‘new’ truth – which always circles back to people futilely trusting their own imperfect self to save their soul. One day – catastrophe of catastrophes — our son or daughter may openly reject God – deny his very existence — foolishly claim there is no higher power than human beings who, as the Lord pointed out to Job, cannot even understand all the intricacies of our created world, to say nothing about being in control of our world.
How can such a catastrophe occur? How can a soul Jesus redeemed suddenly jump off the path to heaven & dive into hell? Why will a child we trained to follow Christ quickly reject Jesus? What will lead a Christian friend to suddenly turn away from our Savior? As Mark marches us disciples into Nazareth with Jesus, may I ask, ‘Could any soul see this fatal rejection coming?’ Did any seasoned spiritual observer in Galilee predict a catastrophe numbing Nazareth – eternal death dropping out of a seemingly clear blue sky — as former neighbors ‘take offense at Jesus?’ Refusing to trust Jesus is their promised Messiah – the Savior/Substitute God said he would send to atone for our sin with his own innocent death; to replace our imperfection with his righteous life – souls refusing to believe Jesus is our Savior leave only one absolutely undesirable option: ‘God so loved the world he gave his one & only Son; whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in Jesus stands condemned because he does not believe in the name of God’s only Son.’[JN 3]
When we see Jesus rejected by his neighbors in Nazareth rather than see him hailed as their hometown hero, two critically important questions pop into my mind: Question #1 — Why will anybody refuse to believe Jesus is our Savior? Question #2 — What can I do to make somebody I love believe in Jesus?
Mark’s initial report could be reprinted for any city Jesus enters in Israel. ‘When the Sabbath comes, Jesus begins to teach in the synagogue; many who hear him are amazed.’ Nazareth is normal, at this point. People never heard any other prophet speak with Jesus’ personal authority, not speaking for God, but speaking as God. People never witnessed such powerful miracles Jesus routinely performs as our Creator regularly suspends the laws of nature. As Jesus arrives, amazement is anticipated. What’s new is a negative, antagonistic tone as people question, ‘Where did this man get these things?’ ‘What is this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?’ No one disputes the lofty, majestic truth of his teaching. No one denies his miracles defy natural explanation. But all are at a loss to identify its source.
‘Isn’t this the carpenter?’ They knew Jesus’ work with wood in their city – an admirable trade, but not requiring superpowers; not exhibiting intelligence beyond an ordinary human being. This Jesus they now see & hear is not the Jesus they knew the last thirty years. Is he God or is he Satan incarnate? ‘Isn’t this Mary’s son?’ they ask, a put-down we might not note since we use the same reference – but Jewish boys were always identified by their father. ‘Isn’t this Jesus the brother of James, Joseph, Judas & Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ Is he not one of us — nothing special?
‘They take offense at him.’ Former neighbors in Nazareth stumble over Jesus, unwilling to trust salvation he promises to produce for them & for us by his life, death & resurrection as every soul’s God-given Substitute. Citing Isaiah, Peter pictures two possibilities as souls encounter Jesus. First positively; then negatively, God says, ‘I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen & precious cornerstone; one who trusts in him will never be put to shame… To you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, ‘The stone builders rejected has become the cornerstone; a stone that causes people to stumble; a rock that makes them fall.’[1 PT 2]
Knowing every soul will either stand on Christ, will live forever in heaven, or will stumble over Christ, will faithlessly fall into hell, we ask, ‘Why will any individual ever refuse to believe Jesus is my Savior?’ Why will some souls stumble & fall as faithful pastors, like the apostle Paul, ‘preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews & foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews & Greeks, Christ the power of God & the wisdom of God’?[1 COR 1] No reasonable answer for unbelief is able to be offered. No excuse for rejecting Jesus is ever acceptable. Not now; not then.
‘Amazed at their unbelief, Jesus says, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives; in his own home.’ Not an excuse, but an explanation is offered. People who knew Jesus as a child, as a teenager; as a carpenter, cannot refocus faithful hearts — cannot easily see him as God’s promised Son, their Savior from sin. As prophets were often dishonored in their own town, so a pastor like myself would probably be ineffective if I served in West Salem, where I grew up – similarly, any of the ten vicars training for a year here at Good Shepherd would probably not be the best choice for your call as an associate pastor. Changing people’s perspective to see God’s servant in a new light is difficult. He was a good vicar, you say? Jesus was an excellent carpenter. Jesus was a perfect classmate. Yet too many of his former neighbors would not see him as their Savior.
Why not? Why reject Jesus? While any answer is unfathomable, it certainly is not Jesus’ fault. He proves his power to deliver life with his miracles, even if he only ‘lays his hands on a few sick people; heals them.’ He exhibits godly authority in his preaching, graciously offers forgiveness & life through faith in his suffering as their Savior/Substitute. The soul rejecting Jesus bears all the blame. If a soul today suddenly, surprisingly, catastrophically rejects Jesus, they still bear the blame. Trust me, they will offer excuses – will make it appear we failed as their parent; we failed as their pastor… However – assuming we speak Jesus’ law & gospel truths of sin & salvation to these souls – Jesus will say, ‘I longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.’[MT 23] ‘You were not willing.’ Every individual rejecting Jesus bears the blame for their own catastrophic death, their eternal, spiritual death.
Facing catastrophe, frustrated as a family member – maybe our child – rejects Jesus, we wonder, ‘What can I do to make somebody believe?’ Nothing …nothing other than share the message of Jesus Christ! God makes it clear, ‘No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.’[1 COR 12] I cannot make myself believe, I cannot make you believe; I cannot make my child believe Jesus is our Savior. Only the Holy Spirit produces faith, working in our hearts; using God’s gospel truth to turn souls to trust Jesus’ righteousness & redemption. Realizing, ‘Faith comes from hearing the message of Jesus Christ,’[ROM 10] we will immerse ourselves in God’s Word – regularly reading & studying Scripture – to strengthen our own trust in our Savior, Jesus. Just as Jesus, ‘amazed at their lack of faith’ in Nazareth did not stop preaching – did not assume something must be wrong with God’s gospel truth because some souls refuse to believe – just as ‘Jesus went around teaching from village to village,’ we will also go on sharing Jesus’ truth with our children who appear to reject Jesus. In our family devotions, in our weekly worship services; in our conversations, we will still share law & gospel – mouthing Jesus’ message of sin & our Savior – as we pray the Holy Spirit will use God’s Word to miraculously work saving faith in our son’s or daughter’s heart.
When he does, will we be amazed? Jesus’ human amazement as Nazareth rejects him is countered in Scripture by Jesus’ amazement as a Roman centurion in Capernaum confesses complete confidence in Jesus’ ability to heal his sick servant, even from a distance. ‘Amazed, Jesus exclaims, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’[LK 7] Today; in the years to come, while we faithfully share God’s faith-working Word with our families — whenever the Holy Spirit amazingly produces saving faith in our child’s heart; in our own heart — may the Lord lead us not to sorrow over some human tragedy but to celebrate spiritual triumphs!