Amazing Grace, really?
We speak of it, sing of it, share it, believe it, but I don't think grace is all that amazing to us, especially when the words Salvation by Grace roll off our tongue so glibly. And that won't change without a coup de grace which translates literally 'stroke of grace." This refers to the final blow that kills an animal or executes a convicted criminal. What we want a coup de grace of is not us but on our lackluster response to grace.
Well, do we want the wondering at grace we find in our text? "All spoke well of Jesus and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips." Literally, all were "testifying and wondering on the basis of the words of grace pouring out of His mouth." This will only be significant at the end but the word "pouring out" is an intensified form of the word that at the end of the text says Jesus "went on His way."
What words of grace were they wondering over? All our text has is "and Jesus began by saying to them, 'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'" What Scripture is Jesus referring to? Luke alone tells us in verses earlier in Luke 4: "The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Now go home and read Is. 61:1-2 where Jesus gets His sermon text from. Jesus stops halfway through verse 2 with "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Isaiah 61:2 ends with, "And [to proclaim] the day of vengeance of our God." John the Baptist sure preached until the end of the verse, didn't he? We went over that a few sermons back: the chopping axes, the burning furnace, repent or perish. And the OT Church sure didn't deserve to stop at the year of the Lord's favor and the NT Church, our church, surely doesn't either.
There's no parable here, but there 's the over the top nature of a parable in our text. I already mentioned it. Jesus "began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'" Right now in His Person and in His Work, in who He is and what He does, the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins is being preached to the poor who can't pay for forgiveness. People chained by sinful compulsions, addictions, judgmentalness, depressiveness, and more, Jesus proclaims are free today. Those blind to the grace, mercy, and peace Jesus' holy life and guilty, damned death won for them, can see now. And those beset by their sins, their guilts, their griefs, Jesus proclaims them lifted off of them today. And finally, Jesus says today is not an hour, a day, a week or month, but the year of the Lord's favor. We who don't deserve the Lord's favor for a second get a year of it. This is grace.
The texts says they all were marveling at such grace. That doesn't seem like a lackluster response, does it? Wait for it. According to the 3 Gospels that record this incident: This is how Jesus' hometown responded to grace coming from the Man Jesus. They were astonished; they wondered; and they marveled. "Where did this man get all this wisdom?" Don't we know his ordinary brothers and sisters? Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't the infamous pregnant-out-of-wedlock Mary His mom? Isn't this Joseph's "son" wink, wink? Matthew and Mark tell the full result. "And they were scandalized in Him" literally they were put into a death trap in Him. Not stumbling, not offended, not tripping, but caught to death. The Lord had predicted this in Is. 8:14: "He will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem He will be a trap and a snare." In Holy Week, Jesus tells them the results of rejecting the Lord's Stone: "Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed" (Lk. 20:18). Words of grace, not law, not judgment, not commandment streaming out of Jesus' mouth, lead to them being caught to death, broken in pieces, or crushed. Yay grace!
The words of grace gushing out of Jesus' mouth couldn't make up for His disgraceful beginnings, ordinary family, and job. So, they stumbled and fell to their death and damnation. While He proclaimed that today was the acceptable year of the Lord, He recognized that "No prophet is accepted in His hometown." But we think that's not us. John 1 says different. "The world made by Him knew Him not." This is us. Isn't what's in that font plain water only? How can that pastor stand there and actually forgive my sins? How can eating and drinking what looks to be no more than bread and wine do such great things? How can these ordinary things be Means of God's grace to sinners like us? If we really believed what Scripture says about Baptism, that it's a washing that regenerates and renews by the Holy Spirit; if we really believed what Scripture says about an absolution spoken by a man that it unlocks heaven and locks hell; if we really believed that God came down to our altar in flesh and blood for us to eat and drink of Him and live forgiven and immortal, what could keep us away? What would stop us from daily returning to our Baptism?
How do we put to death a lackluster response to grace that is amazing and available in ordinary looking things? Our Large Catechism deals with not having the desire for gracious things (LC, V, 75-78). It says in part: "The fact we are insensitive to our sin is all the worse, for it is a sign that ours is a leprous flesh which feels nothing though the disease rages...As we have said, even if you are so utterly dead in sin, at least believe the Scriptures, which pronounce judgement upon you. In short, the less you feel your sins and infirmities, the more reason you have to go to the sacrament and seek its remedy." And worse still, are those who come every now and again. It's the equivalent of not taking all your antibiotics, or treating an infection a little, stopping, then treating it some more. You know that can kill you bodily or spiritually.
When amazing grace is a yawner to us, or infuriates us, we're in deep trouble. His hometown thinks the only way for Jesus to 'heal' Himself of a questionable parentage, lowly occupation, and ordinary family is to do miracles there like they had heard He had done in Capernaum. That's what I think too when I'm in an unbelieving, despairing, heading towards hell mood of God needing to prove Himself to me. But that's not the answer to being bored or infuriated at God's grace. The answer is salvation by grace. But we have to take the long way home. Jesus starts with preaching the law by means of the most shocking instances of God's free grace ever recorded. Only Luke tells us about starving believers and fed unbelievers; only Luke tells us about believers dying horrible deaths and pagans being healed. While Israelite widows baked in drought; a foreign, unbelieving widow bakes bread. While Israelite lepers washed their skin off literally, a general of a foreign power, the one particularly responsible for the OT Church's defeat, washes off his leprosy.
This enraged the crowd. Yes, there are total unbelievers free of your health issues, family troubles, money problems, and despair. There are militant unbelievers whose cantus firmus is The 59th Street Bridge Song where they're always "feelin' groovy." There are faithful, every-Sunday church goers who life's song is " this is the worst day since yesterday." Dwelling on this will enrage you too, but the very grace you rage against is the only thing that can rescue you. Look what happens in the text.
The furious crowd casts Jesus out and takes Him to the brow of a hill. Both 'casts' and 'takes' are violent words. Still, would any power on earth have been able to get the Man who is God to this hill or the cross, let alone beat Him, torture Him, and crucify Him? Had Jesus not refused to use His divine powers as a Man none of those things could've been done. So the holy blood and body of Jesus that never did, said, or even thought one wrong thing, wouldn't have been tortured, crucified, died, damned in your place. And His blood wouldn't have been shed to cover all the sins you don't deserve to be forgiven of. Which is every single one of them, bar none.
But Jesus, just as He would, in Holy Week gives Himself over to the furious crowd. He allows Himself to be violently thrown out of town and forcibly carried to a hill to be thrown headlong to His death. Jesus gives Himself over to the unwarranted hatred and death sentence. Till, "He walked right through the crowd and went on His way." "Went on His way" is the word used by Luke to refer to Jesus' journey to the cross and on to resurrection and glory. It first shows up in the infancy accounts 4x's. Then disappears till today. Then it's used 14 times more. Luke has 14% of NT Greek words but uses this word 31%. The miracle that proved the words of grace journeying out of His mouth was Jesus not being stopped from completing the journey that won them grace. He had to keep every law in every situation if He were to take their place and ours. A life taken rather than given would not be in place of. So Jesus leaves off suffering for our sins for now and journeys on to complete fulfilling the law for us.
Let me close with 2 stories of putting the coup de grace on a lackluster view of grace. A pastor lay dying. A brother pastor visits and asks what is he doing? Doing! I'll tell you what I'm doing, brother. I'm gathering all my prayers, all my sermons, all my good deeds, all my evil deeds; and I'm throwing them all overboard, and swimming to glory on the plank of free grace (1,000 New Ill., 202). Here's Luther emphasizing it: To Abraham, one who was uncircumcised, who did not have the Law, and who was still an idolator, The Lord says: "'Go from your country: I will be your Protector'" (Gen. 12:1-3); and later the Lord promises he carries the Promised Seed (Gen. 22:18). God made these promises to Abraham freely, without considering his works or merits, whether preceding or following (LW, 26, 328).
God's grace in Christ gives life, death, sickness, health, riches, and poverty where and when it pleases Him, but the one thing His grace always wishes to give sinners is salvation. Yay, that grace. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (20220130); Luke 4:21-30