“The Lord of Glory Attends Worship”

(Luke 4:14-21 – Epiphany 3 – January 27, 2019)

Luke 4:14-21 – Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Dear Redeemed who have come to attend worship with our Savior Jesus Christ:

King Solomon built the first temple at Jerusalem in the middle of the 10th century BC. It was quite an impressive structure. Yet at its dedication, Solomon humbly prayed to the Lord: Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!” Solomon acknowledged that a finite temple built by human hands could not contain the infinite Creator of the universe. But Solomon also knew that God had promised to put His name on this place of worship. That is, He promised to be fully present there with all of His grace and saving power. On the basis of this promise, Solomon prayed: “May You hear the supplications of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and when You hear, forgive” (2 Chronicles 6:18-21).

As soon as Solomon finished his prayer of dedication, Scripture says: “Fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the temple… When all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed their faces to the ground on the pavement, and worshiped and praised the LORD, saying: ‘For He is good, for His mercy endures forever'” (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). Here in the midst of the assembly of worshipers, God gave visible confirmation that He would dwell among His people with all of His saving power. He would be present in this place of worship to hear their prayers and forgive their sins. They responded with worship and praise.

In our text, the same Lord of Glory comes to be present among His people in the house of worship. But this time, He does not fill the place with fire from heaven. He comes in humility as the Son of Man, to attend worship in the little synagogue at Nazareth, to mingle with the people and minister to them. Yet He is the glorious Son of God, present with all of His saving power. Let us see how it is true today: “The Lord of Glory Attends Worship.” 1) Present in His house of worship – then and now, 2) Preaching His Gospel to sinners – then and now.

1)  Present in His house of worship – then and now

The Lord of Glory who was present in the house of worship back then at Nazareth is, of course, Jesus. Not long before this, Jesus had been publicly glorified at His baptism, as He was visibly anointed with the Holy Spirit, and His eternal Father audibly declared Him to be His beloved Son with whom He was well pleased as the Savior of the world (Luke 3:21-22).

It says: “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.” This was Jesus’ first homecoming after beginning His public work as the Savior. As He came into the region, the people glorified Him. Not only did His reputation for miraculous power precede Him; but also we are told in the verse after our text: “All bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth” (verse 22).  Even the people of Jesus’ hometown marveled. This Jesus, with whom they were all very familiar, sure could preach with authority and power!

“And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” There stood the Lord of Glory in the house of worship, in His hometown where He had grown up, mingling among the people as the Son of Man. To look at His outward appearance, you would see nothing different. It would be like if we had a guest preacher today with whom we were all very familiar. You could walk up and shake hands with Him just like any other.

But Jesus was not just like any other. He is the Christ of whom Scripture says: “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). You would be shaking hands with Him of whom it is written: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth… And He is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:15-18).

Yet, attending church and mingling with believers was nothing out of the ordinary for Jesus. As it says, it was His custom. What an amazing thought! Jesus is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14). Yet He could benefit by attending worship, since God’s Word is at the center of worship. Jesus is the Head of the Church. Yet as the Son of Man, He could benefit by that fellowship He has built in as a need among the members of His Body. Jesus is a good example to us. As He regularly desired to be in the Word and share it, how much more do we benefit by attending church, that we may be built up by God’s Word and share it in Christian fellowship.

Truly, just as the glory of the Lord filled the temple in Solomon’s day, the glory of the Lord filled the synagogue at Nazareth as Jesus was present, even though that glory was covered in humility. The same is true today in this house of worship. Jesus is here among us in all of His saving glory. It is true even though we cannot see Him. For Scripture teaches that He who once descended to earth to give His life to save us from sin, has “ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10). Both according to His divine and human natures, Jesus is everywhere present. Yet, He is locally present with us. As He said: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

Think of what a privilege it is for us to gather here regularly in church with our Savior. This place may not be a grand structure like Solomon’s temple. It may not be a modern mega church, with thousands flocking through its doors. But it is God’s house, where He has put His name. He is present with all of His saving power, filling this place with His glory as our Savior.

2) Preaching His Gospel to sinners – then and now

How do we experience His glory? It is through His Word of salvation. The Lord has always revealed His glory in worship especially by preaching His Gospel to sinners – then and now.

This is how Jesus revealed His glory at the synagogue at Nazareth, as it goes on to report: “And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.’ “

According to custom, Jesus was honored as a visiting rabbi by being invited to read from the Scripture and explain it, as we do in sermons today. But as He read these words from Isaiah 61, given through the prophet seven centuries earlier, it was actually His own Word. Jesus was present as the writer of a book, to read in person to His attentive listeners. What joy it must have given Him to preach on that Word. He had nothing but good news to share with poor sinners. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” He proclaimed. It was as if to say: “Here I am, the Messiah promised long ago that you have all been waiting for – anointed and sent by My Father as the Savior of sinners. I am here for you today with salvation!”

Is it any different in our worship service? A pastor may read the Word of Scripture and preach on it, but he is only a spokesman for the true Author. The Word we hear is Christ’s. He has given it to us through His prophets and apostles, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It gives our Savior joy to be present here with us, proclaiming to us His good news of salvation today.

As we gather in God’s house, we come as “the poor” in spirit, desperately in need of the good news of His Gospel. We come as “the brokenhearted,” sorry for our sins. We confess ourselves to be miserable sinners, who could never repay our debt to God. We had nothing to our name but sin, and we could hope to receive nothing but eternal damnation. But we come before Him counting on His boundless mercy, eager to hear His good news that our whole debt has been cancelled. For God so loved us that sent His Son to work off our lifetime debt of sin by His perfect life; and He paid the ransom price of His precious blood to redeem us from sin. Yes, we come to God’s house because we delight to hear that this is “the acceptable year of the LORD,” for we are now living in His grace and forgiveness, and in His gift of eternal life!

We need to hear this regularly. Just this week, how often have we felt like “captives” to sin? The new man in us, the spiritual nature led by God’s Spirit, wants to live to His glory out of thankfulness for His salvation. But as we live among fellow sinners and are tempted by Satan, our sinful nature has stirred us to impatience and anger, to selfishness and unloving attitudes. The lips that have praised our Lord here in His house have spoken unloving words out there. The hands that have folded in prayer and given offerings here have unfolded to shameful actions and become stingy to give in love out there. How often we must say with the apostle Paul: “I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:22-23). Therefore what a great need, and a great privilege, it is for us to come before the Lord and confess our sins, knowing that He sets us free. It is our Savior’s joy to proclaim liberty to the captives.” He declares us forgiven and justified – free from all guilt and condemnation by His blood that paid for our sins, free to live as those who are clothed in His own righteousness.

To His Church, His priesthood of believers, Christ has given the Keys of His Kingdom, with authority to proclaim His Gospel of forgiveness (Matthew 16:19; John 20:23; 1 Peter 2:9). This includes the authority to bind up the sins of the impenitent, but to loose the sins of the penitent. In public worship, as we confess our sins the called minister of the Word declares forgiveness to the penitent. This is not by his own authority, but by the authority of Christ, who is present with all of His saving power and glory. To all who come before God in poverty of spirit, brokenhearted in sorrow over sin, it means everything to hear Christ’s declaration of freedom. His Gospel Key unlocks the prison doors of those captivated by guilt. It looses the chains of those bound up in fear of punishment. To the penitent we declare: “In the name of Christ, your sins are all forgiven! Your Savior has opened the gates of heaven wide to you!”

So He who fills the universe with His glory fills this, His house of worship, with His glory. He does so through the humble but pure preaching of His Gospel to sinners. He whom the heavens cannot contain, comes to us in our Baptism to pour out His Spirit and faith and all His blessings of salvation on us. He continues to open our spiritual eyes to His grace and strengthen our faith through His teaching. He who is infinite comes to us in the finite forms of bread and wine, to let us partake of His true flesh and blood and the fullness of His saving glory.

Truly, our worship in this humble house of God is full of miracles – just as then, so it is now. As the Lord of glory attended worship in the synagogue at Nazareth, so let us see Him with eyes of faith here in our midst, speaking to us, ministering to our souls in His Word and Sacraments. As we behold His glory filling this temple, let us join the believers of Solomon’s day, bowing our hearts in worship and praise to the Lord, saying: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever.” As the Lord serves us in His Divine Service, we can respond to His grace with confident prayer, knowing He is present to hear and bless us in every need. And thus He lets us depart in peace, for our eyes have seen His salvation.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.