To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
When expectation doesn’t match reality, it can be hard to handle. Sometimes, when expectation doesn’t match reality, it can be devastating or even dangerous. I don’t think I’m telling any secrets to a room of people who, I’m sure, have experienced some disappointment at some point in their lives. The family vacation you thought would be just what your family needed ended up causing such a vicious argument that it threatened to tear your family apart. The retirement that you’ve carefully planned and saved for has to be delayed indefinitely because of a plummeting stock market. The job you thought you were asked to do because of your unique qualifications turns out to be a hot mess – with none of your coworkers knowing which end is up and everyone looking to you to work some kind of magic. When expectations don’t match reality, it can be hard to handle. Sometimes, it can even be devastating. And you remember how it feels, don’t you? Mr. or Mrs. Right turns out not to live up to their name. Model Son or Perfect Daughter grow up and end up walking away from you, and maybe even the church. When expectations don’t match reality, it can be hard to handle.
In our gospel lesson this morning, we hear about some people with expectations. Those people in the synagogue at Nazareth on that Sabbath day had certain expectations. When they came to worship on the Sabbath, they expected the Scripture to be read. They expected a visiting rabbi to offer his commentary on the lesson. Take a step back and see the bigger expectations – why did they bother to go to synagogue? Because Messiah was coming! They had expectations about who this promised Savior would be and what he’d do. So on that Sabbath day in Nazareth, when Jesus gets up to read and preach in his hometown synagogue, everything was kosher…so far. Jesus read the Scripture lesson from the prophet Isaiah, 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. And the people of Nazareth must’ve been thinking, “What a delightful sermon text, Jesus! Those are some special promises God made about the Messiah, the promised Savior. Jesus, your family, your childhood friends, your neighbors from Nazareth will be so delighted to hear you preach today – local boy makes good!” The people in Nazareth must’ve been thinking those words were for the people of Isaiah’s time, some 700 years earlier. Back then, the Israelites were in bondage, imprisoned, and in need of some good news. After all, they’re the ones who were taken into exile, first by Assyria and then by Babylon. They were the ones who had lost the Promised Land and the temple. They were the ones who needed saving. So, I can’t imagine the people in Nazareth were ready for the attention grabbing opening line of Jesus’ sermon: Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Really? Fulfilled?
Do you remember the Old Testament lesson this morning and all the things Isaiah promised that the coming Savior would do? He was going to be the one to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, release from darkness for the prisoners. He would comfort all who mourn, bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes give them a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. The people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth had certain expectations of this promised Messiah. He would be the conquering hero. He would run the oppressive Romans out of town. He’d restore David’s throne and bring the nation of Israel back to prosperity. He would be great. So when those Nazarenes heard their guest preacher, Jesus, say that he himself was the fulfillment of every one of God’s great promises, that he was the Messiah – how do you think they’ll react?
At first they were in awe of what they heard. All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. Do you see what this means? Jesus spoke gracious words, literally, words of grace. This means a whole lot more than Jesus had a nice way of talking, or he was easy to listen to. Jesus spoke about the unfathomable love of God for unworthy sinners and then took it a step further – Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Here I am! The very love of God himself; the complete release from slavery to Satan; the full forgiveness for your every sin; the best news of all: that God has come to deliver you for eternity – and the people in that Nazareth synagogue said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Jesus, all that stuff about God rescuing his people is great and all, but…come on. We know you – you’re a carpenter just like your father. You and your dad built my kitchen table. Sight for the blind and release for the prisoner sounds nice, but we can smell the sawdust on you! After all, this was Jesus. Sure, we’ve heard the reports about him being a great teacher, but we’ve known him from little on! We know his parents, his brothers and sisters are here. Twenty years ago, he was just a little kid running around the neighborhood and now he dares to say that he’s the Messiah? Jesus didn’t fit the bill for the kind of Savior those people were looking for. Their expectations weren’t met because they were blinded by them instead of being guided by God’s word and promises.
Expectations in life are a pretty pervasive thing. They shape way we view ourselves and the world around us. If our expectations aren’t met, that can be a damaging thing – whether you’re buying a car, advancing a career, or building a relationship. What are your expectations for your spouse? Your children? Your job? Are they fair? Are they met? What are your expectations for yourself? One of the more common criticisms against Christians is that they don’t really look the part to match the status they claim. Christians are going to need to look more saved if I’m going to believe in their Savior. Christians claim they have an eternal victory, but look like they’re worse off than the rest! The world looks at you and, to everyone else you look just like everyone else. You’re not more successful; you have strife in your family, too; you get sick, your diagnosis is terminal, and at the end of it all, you die, too. Let’s forget about meeting the world’s expectations for you, what about your expectations for yourself? You look at yourself to see how you stack up to your expectations of yourself and you always and only come up short. Why won’t that temptation leave me alone?! When will I be rid of this gnawing feeling of worthlessness, loneliness, inadequacy? Let’s take this a step further. What are your expectations for your Savior? Have you ever asked yourself that? What kind of Jesus do you expect? The people of Nazareth were certainly expecting someone else, and when their expectations weren’t met, it led them to try to throw Jesus off a cliff.
What got Jesus in trouble in Nazareth? Not meeting the peoples’ expectations? Hardly. What got Jesus in trouble? Telling the truth – which is always a risky business, especially when you’re telling the truth about where a sinner stands before a holy God. What kind of Jesus are people looking for today? What kind of Jesus are you looking for? People hear about this guy named Jesus in the Bible and think he’s somebody they could get on board with. Jesus always looked out for the poor and downtrodden. He went and spent time with the outcasts of society. He said so many helpful things about love. But when he starts talking about being the very One who will bring forgiveness for sins, resurrection and life in the place of death, and heaven through him as the one and only way, then people aren’t so sure. Sounds kind of exclusive, Jesus! But expecting a different kind of Jesus isn’t just a problem with the world out there. It’s a very real temptation for the world in here, too. I’m ready to say all the right things – I’m a sinner in need of saving, alright! But when Jesus says something that hits a little too close to home or calls my favorite sin a sin - then the reaction is predictable. Jesus would never say something like that – something that hits a little too close to home; something that I just don’t like; something I don’t agree with. Jesus wouldn’t do that…why not? Because he’s a Jesus of your own making.
It’s really easy to make Jesus into what we want him to be – a Jesus who will match and meet our expectations. What’s most striking is how the Jesus I create tends to look an awful lot like me. He says what I’d say, he does what I’d do. He makes sense to me on my terms, because he was born not in the manger of Bethlehem, but in my own head. The Jesus of my own making is for whatever I’m for and against whatever I’m against. The Jesus of my own making would never confront me, but only commend me. The Jesus of my own making wouldn’t dare call me to repentance to turn from sin, but would somehow understand my desire to revel in it instead. At the end of the day, our sinful natures don’t want a Jesus who will tell us God’s truth; we just want a Jesus who will go along with what we already think. We paint ourselves to be better than we are. But painted sinners get a painted Savior. When we deny our deep and lasting need for a Savior, we’ve made Jesus out to be something he’s not. Our expectations mislead us. We overestimate ourselves and underestimate our Savior.
This is exactly why Jesus came into the world in the first place – to preach good news to the poor in spirit – to those who by nature will always and only seek after the wrong gods. We had no hope of finding the true God, so he revealed himself to us. He came to earth to save those who have nothing to offer, nothing to their credit, and nothing but sin. Is that you? I pray it is, because that’s me, too. Listen again to Jesus’ job description and along with me, find yourself as the blessed recipient of his saving work. “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.” Did you find yourself in Jesus’ words? Jesus is the Savior who proclaims good news of free forgiveness to the spiritually bankrupt: you and me. Jesus is the Savior who barges into the devil’s dungeon and throws off the chains of sin and death which held you. With his own death and resurrection he proclaims, You’re free now. Jesus is the Savior who, by his blood shed on the cross, gives freedom from the guilt of every sin. He comes to release you from the oppression of a guilty conscience. To the soul who is crushed by the burden of all you’ve done and all you know you haven’t been, he proclaims, I forgive you. To the soul who thinks about the future and feels panicky, powerless, and paralyzed, Jesus proclaims, I am with you always. So, do you see? Jesus didn’t come to be all that I wanted him to be. Jesus came to be everything I needed him to be.
And just like he said to those people in Nazareth, Jesus says to you and me. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Today God is fulfilling every one of his promises to you in Christ. He fulfills his promises in ways that the world would never expect. Through nouns, verbs, and syllables spoken by this clay pot, his Spirit breathes eternal life into your dying frame. “As a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins.” With just enough water to fit in that font, he drenches you in his grace in baptism. Unexpected? You bet. Incredibly gracious? Absolutely. With a taste of bread and a drink of wine, your Savior gives you his very body and blood so you can taste and see your forgiveness, to know every debt has been forgotten, and an eternity at the heavenly banquet is yours. Every day, Jesus is fulfilling his promise to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and the year of the Lord’s favor for you! With his teaching at Nazareth, Jesus shattered expectations of the people there. And thank God that he does the same for us, because we needed it. Jesus is the Savior who exceeds our every expectation by fulfilling every promise he makes. In Jesus and his word of promise, we find more than we could ever expect and all we’ll ever need.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
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