Worshiping with Jesus (January 27, 2019)
Worshiping with Jesus
What was it like that day? There was excitement buzzing in the air that morning before worship. Everyone had heard, and everyone was talking about it. A son of the congregation, who had gone away to school and been preaching elsewhere, was finally coming home to preach in our church! His home congregation. I’m not sure if you’ve experienced that here. Maybe one of the vicars, perhaps, who was from Texas and came back to do a round of preaching. I’ve been on the other side of that. I’ve had the privilege of preaching at a congregation I had been a part of, and it’s exciting! It’s moving! There’s excitement, there’s congregational pride, and there’s joy!
That’s what was going on that day in Nazareth. News about him spread quickly through the whole countryside. He was teaching in synagogues. He’s on his way home. He’ll be here soon! And yet, what was happening that day was even more than we have ever experienced. His fame preceded him into Nazareth. People had heard about his unique baptism. They heard about the miracles he was performing. And his preaching… Oh, we can’t wait to hear him preach! We’ve all heard how he preaches with such authority, and such wisdom! That’s our Jesus!
No matter where he went, he was always at the synagogue on the Sabbath. And, as is customary, we give this visiting rabbi the honor of reading the Scripture lesson and explaining it to us. But first, a Psalm is sung. “Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.” Then prayers are spoken. And finally, we get to the part that everyone was waiting for…
It’s really neat to see that the worship service of early Christians have many of the same elements that our worship services have. It’s done purposefully. There are parts of the worship service that connect us with a long heritage of believers. Prayers, those have been spoken by God’s people since the beginning – since the “time people began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26). And Psalms, they were regularly used at the time of the Temple. We typically think of David when we hear of the Psalms, but some even go back farther! Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses. Reading the Bible and expounding upon it, that’s something we do every service. It was customary at the time of Jesus. Even going back to the time of Nehemiah and Ezra, when Israel was just returning from the Babylonian captivity, they found the Book of the Law – their Bible – and after decades of not having direct access to such a treasure they immediately read it from daybreak till noon before the whole assembly of Israelites, and explained it to the people (Neh 8).
But what makes worship truly special? Is it the heritage which binds us to believers throughout all history? Is it the songs we sing – the ones that move us or uplift us? Is it the prayers spoken for one another and the Church itself? Is it even the fact that there’s a special guest about to stand up and read? All of those things would mean nothing, unless the Savior was there.
Look through your bulletin at the service. Think about the things that take place here. Words are spoken confessing wrongs and hearing forgiveness. More words are spoken from an old book. Sometimes there is bread and wine. Sometimes there is water sprinkled three times. What is all of this? Why do we do it? If all you hear are words from long ago and the things which you can taste and touch and see, then you need to take a second look. In all of these things, the Savior comes to you. He comes to you with a word of forgiveness. He comes to you in the story of his love. He comes to you with body and blood under the bread and wine. He comes to you with a cleansing flood in the waters of baptism. If you don’t see this, then you need to take a second look. Just like the Nazarenes needed to take a second look at Jesus. Yes, he was there with them physically, but at that time most in Nazareth saw Jesus as merely a son of the congregation. Sure, a great rabbi, but nothing more. That’s because Jesus hadn’t yet revealed who he truly was – the fullness of who he was. Not yet at least.
To realize that it is not just Jesus, but the Savior who’s here with us – who speaks through his Word, and who, from the perspective of the Nazarenes, was speaking the Word to you – you need only hear the gospel!
As Jesus stood up to read, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He began to unroll it and scroll through until he found the place he was looking for: Isaiah chapter 61. Then he read. What was that like? What was the tone of his voice? How does it sound when one speaks with authority, and yet, gentleness and compassion? What does it sound like when the Ancient of Days enters the church and speaks that day? “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19).
Oh, maybe that was one of your favorite verses as an Israelite! First spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah during the time when the Israelites were under the captivity and oppression of the Babylonians. And we know what God did! Isaiah proclaimed good news to the poor, and God brought about that good news. Isaiah proclaimed freedom for the prisoners, and God rescued them and made them free! It was like the year of Jubilee – the year of the Lord’s favor. That’s when, every 50 years the Israelites would observe a year of Jubilee. In this year all slaves were to be set free, all debts were to be cancelled, land and property which was sold was returned to the original owner. And the Israelites were looking for that same intervention by God in their present day. This time, in Jesus’ day, it wasn’t the Babylonian captivity, but the Roman oppression. And the Messiah, the anointed one was going to come and throw off that oppression. Once again, he would proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind! He would set the oppressed free and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And here’s the real heart of the gospel: After Jesus read those words, rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant. After he sat down in the seat at the front of the synagogue – they sat down to preach in those days – Jesus said: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21). In other words, what the Nazarenes just heard Jesus say – little Jesus who you watched grow up, who maybe played with your children not long ago, Jesus who was now grown up and a rabbi, but still perhaps quite young and green – he just said, “I am he.”
“I am the one whom the Lord has anointed. I am the Messiah that you’ve been waiting for. I am the one who proclaims good news to the poor, and freedom for the prisoners. I am the one who will set the oppressed free and usher in the year of Jubilee – when all your debts are canceled, when slaves are released, and your inheritance is returned to you. I, Jesus, am he.”
If you were a Nazarene sitting in the synagogue that Sabbath, eagerly waiting to hear Jesus speak, is that the direction you would have expected him to go? Unfortunately, I have to save that for next Sunday, when we talk about the reaction of those in Nazareth. But what about you here today? You, who know Jesus as the Savior born in the flesh whom Magi visited with gifts. You, who know Jesus as God’s Son, the holy one whom God the Father voiced his approval of when he was baptized. And now you, sitting here in church, hearing the words of this Savior recorded for all time, is this what you would have expected?
We’ve been talking about the Nazarene perspective, let’s back up and take a look from our perspective. What did we start the service with? The confession of sins where we stated the hard truth about ourselves, “I confess that I am by nature dead in sin…. You should cast me away from your presence forever.” It’s hard to say. We use these words often, but when you look at them anew, Lord, you should cast me away. I’m not holy. I’m not worthy. Nothing good lives in me. Although more than anything I want to be with you, I know that because I am a spiritually poor, miserable sinner, I can’t. Lord, cast me away. Why do we often say, not in this service but in the other 3 services we typically use, “Lord have mercy on us?” It’s because I know where I stand with God. I am spiritually poor – robbed of the image of God that he originally created Adam with. A prisoner to my sins – they hold me in their practice and enslave me with guilt. Blind to the good that God wants me to know and to have. “I am dead… you should cast me away.”
But what does Jesus say to you? Does he treat you as you deserve or does he do something completely unexpected? Although these are words recorded and written on a page, Jesus still today speaks through them today, and works through them. “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Mt 18:20). He’s not just there in Nazareth on that day, he’s here today speaking to you, poor in spirit! He’s not just in the words of Isaiah speaking to an oppressed nation, he’s here today speaking to you, prisoner of sin. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me” – chosen me, designated me – “to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19).
Worshiping with Jesus means that he gives you the unexpected! We confess our sins and admit the hard truth that we have no business being in God’s presence, and yet here he is! He comes to you. “Hear the word of Christ through his called servant:” That means, although the words are coming from my mouth, they are Jesus’ words for you, “I forgive you all your sins”! And then right after that, what did we sing? Not, “Let us flee from God,” but “Come! Come, let us sing to the Lord! Come, let us worship and bow down! For he is our God, and we are his people.” The people whom he has released from sin. The people whom he has restored our sight to see the good things God has given us. The people who are made rich because of the grace of God!
What was it like, when once every 50 years it was declared a year of Jubilee? I can’t imagine the joy as debts were canceled, families were brought back together, and inheritances were returned. But you, you have something better! For you, living after the death and resurrection of Jesus, your debts are canceled too! Not physical debt you may have on a house, or a car, or whatever else, but your debt of sin is canceled. That mountain of sin, no matter how serious or how numerous, is just gone. Cancelled. Just like that. You know the words that Jesus spoke on the cross? “It is finished.” Tetelestai, is the Greek word recorded there. Interestingly enough, it’s the same Greek word that was stamped on a bill of sale when it had been paid in full. Families were brought back together. Yes, we look forward to the day when we will see grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, brother, sister, son or daughter in heaven once again – to be reunited. But in the joy of that, don’t lose sight of the more important relationship that is already restored. That is, between you and your heavenly Father. He welcomes you every day with open arms, like the father of the prodigal son ran up to embrace his wayward son. And your inheritance is returned! God said to Adam and Eve, all this I give to you. We await the day when we will look upon the new heavens and new earth with God and he will once again say, all this I give to you, just as I have given my Son. And you don’t have to wait 50 years for this to happen. For you, it happens every day. Every time you open the Scriptures, you are worshiping with Jesus. And the message he has for you, is that of the Lord’s favor.