Jesus returns home with his growing entourage of disciples. The local boy made good has come to the home congregation to preach to the hometown folks. The place was probably packed. The word had gotten back to Nazareth. He teaches with authority. He heals the diseased, casts out demons. He’s the complete messianic package. And who would have thought it? Jesus, Mary’s kid. The carpenter from Nazareth.
You would think they would have been impressed, but they weren’t. They were scandalized. Offended. Put off. Who does He think He is, anyway? Why I knew Him when He was knee high to a grasshopper? What’s this wisdom given to Him? Where did that come from? He certainly didn’t pick that up in the carpenter’s shop? And what about those miracles? Aren’t these His older brothers and sisters here from Joseph’s side of the family? James, Joses, Simon, the girls. Who does He think He is anyway?
The incarnation of God offends. It scandalizes. It causes people to stumble over their own expectation of how God is supposed to work. If God comes down to us in the flesh, we hardly expect Him to be a carpenter in a no-place town called Nazareth, in the outskirts of Galilee, the kid half-brother to a bunch of sons and daughters of Joseph who married this pregnant virgin named Mary. Scandalous? You bet! And not just at Christmas time. This offends our sensibilities and religious sensitivities. We want God to be Godlike, at least on our terms. Not some woodworker with splinters under his fingernails and callouses on his hands.
“Familiarity breeds contempt,” we say. The closer you are, the worse it is. This was Jesus’ hometown. His people. The crowd who watched Him grow up along with James and Joses and Simon and the girls. He played with their kids in the streets. And while He probably was a really good kid, there apparently was nothing that made Him stand out in the graduating class of AD 8. No shining nimbus around His head. No shining face or garments as on the Mount of Transfiguration. Just this ordinary kid named Jesus who grew up in a carpenter’s shop, learned the trade, and then went off to Judea, got baptized by His cousin John, and came back with a following. The people are naturally suspicious.
We succumb to the same thing. We expect God to be like God, not like us. We are the ones who want to be like God. God isn’t supposed to be like us. And when God comes in the flesh to be like us, we’re offended. Scandalized. It’s not supposed to be this way. We’re supposed to work our way up to God. God isn’t supposed to descend down to us and join us in our work, our life, our wedding parties, our funerals, our laughter and joy, our death. That’s so “not like God.” If Jesus were to show up here this morning, we’d be thinking things like, “He’s so short.” or “He looks so Jewish. I thought He had long blonde hair like Fabio. He doesn’t look anything like my picture of Him at home.”
“A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” Familiarity breeds contempt. You trip over the ordinary because you expect God to be extraordinary. Above it all. But that’s not a God who can save you. That’s a lifeguard who looks great on the beach and in the lifeguard tower but doesn’t want to get into the water. And when you’re drowning in a riptide of Sin and Death, you don’t need a pretty boy on the beach, you need a swimmer who’s going to get out into the tide with you and grab hold of you. That’s what the Nazareth crowd missed. That’s what the religious crowd always misses. That’s what you and I miss too when our old Adam gets the best of us. God is certainly above it all, higher than the highest heavens, outside and beyond this world of ours. But He is also right here, very near, dwelling among us in ways so ordinary you’d walk right by if the Word didn’t point you there.
The Nazareth synagogue scandal is the sacramental scandal. They were offended at ordinary Jesus, the kid from around the corner. We’re offended at ordinary water and words and bread and wine. Same scandal. They’re too everyday, too ordinary to be something God uses. A little distance perhaps. A symbol but not the “real thing.” But the Word tells you otherwise. “This is my body, this is my blood.” This water is a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Baptism now saves you. He who hears you, hears me. Scandalously ordinary, sacramentally powerful. Jesus for you in that water, those words, that bread and wine. How can that be? Don’t ask. Just receive. Faith doesn’t question how. Faith simply receives and says, “Amen.”
“He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” Unbelief gets in the way. Remember that woman last week with the hemorrage, the one to whom Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.” Jesus felt power go out of Him when she touched Him in faith. But no power was going out of Jesus in His hometown of Nazareth because no one believed Him. Faith draws on Jesus; unbelief gets in the way of what Jesus has to give. Unbelief isn’t simply a passive, “Gee, I don’t know” but an active refusal to be given to. That’s what makes it damning. God wants to give you salvation in Christ, but unbelief says, “No, I don’t want any part of it!” He could do no mighty work there because there was only unbelief there.
And yet a few did believe. God always has his little remnant of believers. There were a few who looked beyond the ordinary and familiar face of Jesus and saw the face of God. They trusted Him, they took Him at His Word, they believed Him. And He healed them, all the while marveling at the unbelief of His own home town and synagogue. The people who knew Him best believed Him least. The Lord preserve us from the scandal of familiarity! I pray we never grow so comfortable and familiar with the holy things and become like Nazareth.
On the heels of this less than successful visit, Jesus gathers His Twelve and sends them off two by two. He gives the authority to heal and cast out the demons. In other words, He gives them the permission to do what He’s been doing, to be His hands, His feet, His mouth. He’s training them to be His Body in the world.
That’s what the church is, the body of Christ. Christ is the head, the Church is His body. And it’s more than a Bridegroom/Bride metaphor. It’s the very nature of the church. The church is “apostolic” in two senses. It is founded on the teaching of the apostles. That’s what we mean when we say we believe in one, holy, Christian, and apostolic church. It’s the church that is founded upon the apostolic Scriptures, the preaching and doctrine of the apostles. Christ has no other church. But the church is also apostolic in that it is sent out. An apostle is one who is sent out with authority, permission to act. The church is sent out to be the body of Christ in this world, to be, as Luther said, “little Christs” to a dark and confused and perverse world.
You are light shining in darkness. You are sanity amidst insanity. You are hope in the midst of hopelessness. You bring the comfort of Christ to those afflicted. You speak forgiveness to the sinner. You do works of mercy to those in need. Being the Church doesn’t begin with the Invocation and end with the Benediction. That’s where being the church begins. It begins by receiving, faith drawing upon the Word of forgiveness. Being strengthened and fortified by the Supper. Being refreshed in our Baptism. But there is also a sending. You go in peace, not simply leave, but go in peace to serve the Lord in serving others. You go in peace to serve the Lord as little Christs in this world.
You go out into a world that doesn’t really want the body of Christ. A world whose immune system rejects holiness and spits it out and even tries to kill it. Notice when Jesus sends His Twelve out two by two, He anticipates their rejection. He expects it. “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.” He anticipates their rejection. The world rejected Him. The world rejected them. The world will reject you too. It may even want to crucify you.
Shake the dust from your feet as a testimony against them. It’s hard for our old natures to walk away from a situation where we’ve lost. It’s hard to let go of an argument when the other person won’t be persuaded. We want the world to see it our way, but by and large, the world couldn’t care less. Jesus is teaching His disciples not to waste their energy in the face of unbelief. Just keep going. Just keep doing. Just keep being the body of Christ in this fallen, sinful, darkened world. Keep doing the work of Christ. Keep doing the goodness and the mercy of God in this seemingly godless world. We don’t need to scream louder. We don’t need to take up the world’s megaphone. And we certainly don’t need to ape the ways of the political world. We just need confidently to be who we are in the world – Christ’s body. His hands to do mercy. His feet to bring good news. His mouth to speak words of peace.
There is no failure here. The only failure is to go. Or to circle the wagons and go into hiding. You can’t kill the body of Christ. You can crucify it, bury it, and in three days it will rise again. But you can’t kill the body of Christ forever.
If you would have asked Jesus at the close of the day on Saturday, that Sabbath day in Nazareth, why the mission seemed to go so poorly. He would have said, “No, you’re looking at it the wrong way. The mission didn’t go poorly. The mission was a success. I was there. The Word was preached. I long to gather them, but they would not.” I long to receive them, but they reject. I long to bring the light and life, but they prefer darkness and death. There was no failure here. Only a lesson in the hardness of man’s heart, that even those closest to Jesus and His family, would not believe Him.
John 1:11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
We cannot by our own reason or strength believe. That is the work of the Spirit through the Word. That requires a birth from above by water and Spirit. We must become new creations. We are all by nature Nazareth neighbors of Jesus. Skeptical, unbelieving. But the Spirit has cracked through the darkness. He has said, “Let there be light” in our darkened hearts. He has baptized you to follow Jesus. And the Jesus whom you follow sends you as His apostolic church, His sent ones, to do His mercy, to show His love, to speak His forgiveness.
1Pet. 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.
Go in peace to speak peace.
Go in mercy to do mercy.
Go forgiven to forgive.
Go receiving to give.
Go in peace to serve the Lord.