The Stable Way, The Womb Way, The Nazareth Way, The Grace Way - For You

Text: John 1:43-51

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth, this tiny town of Nazareth that was not mentioned in the Old Testament, this town that really has nothing spectacular to offer or brag about?

Can anything great come out of a birth of a child in a stable, a child born to a young peasant girl from Nazareth?

Can anything great come out of a Messiah who wanders along the banks of the Jordan through small towns and meager market places?

Can anything good come out of a Messiah that surrounds Himself with simple folks and the poorest and most wretched beggars He can find?

Can anything good come out of a Christ who chooses poor fishermen and uncivilized socially awkward persons from the countryside, to be His followers?

Let’s be honest with each other today, if we were to attempt to make an impression and make a difference in this world, we certainly would not go about things the way Jesus did.  In other words, Nazareth has never made the Top 10; nobody chooses losers to be a part of their team; nobody surrounds themselves with ragamuffins in order to gain important friends and influence powerful people.  Nazareth, beggars, fishermen, uncivilized bumpkins, and a birth in a manger… these are not the signs of a winning team or a successful campaign to usher in a kingdom, are they?

This is all beginning to make sense now.  That is to say, when Philip came to Nathaniel and said, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth,” Nathaniel’s response was puzzled at best.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It was not a malicious response at all, but a reaction of wonder and puzzlement.  “This Jesus is the Messiah promised from the Old Testament?  Really?  But He’s from Nazareth!” 

In all honesty, Nathaniel’s response is really no different than how you or I would have responded:  We would’ve responded by saying, “Shouldn’t the Messiah surround Himself with the great aristocrats in Jerusalem?  Shouldn’t this Messiah have at least some sort of powerful castle or royal residency in Jerusalem?  Shouldn’t the Messiah have bigwigs from the big city as His advisors?  Shouldn’t He have the wise, learned, and holy people from the temple around Him as well?   Umm, can anything good; that is, heavenly and righteous come out of a Messiah who is from Nazareth and conducts His ministry among and with a bunch of nobodies?”

Dear friends, in case you haven’t noticed, Jesus Christ does the very opposite of what we typically do; He pursued His own plan and initiated His kingdom with such absurd simplicity that it offends the wisdom and the common sense of the world.[1]  In other words, Jesus comes to humanity not in a grand castle way; He does not come by way of rockets and their red glare; He does not come by the way of Jerusalem, but He comes the stable way; He comes the womb way; and He comes the Nazareth way.[2] 

What about now, what way do we think He comes to us today?  What about the Gwinner way?  Getting a little closer to home, what about the Zion Lutheran Church way?  In other words, how do we expect Him to come to us and in what ways do we believe Him to come to us? What standards do we place on the Lord to validate His coming to in our lives and in our church?  What criteria does the Lord have to meet, so that we can authorize His presence and not flunk Him out? 
For example:

·        Does the way of large church attendance validate that the Lord is existent among us?  Will God show up to bless us if we have it all together as a church? 

·        Does the way of a mystical feeling in our emotions or a rush of excitement in our gut show that He is present in our midst?  Will God notice our enthusiasm and respond to human wills that are set on fire?

·        Does the way of a full offering plate authenticate that He has come to the center of the church?  Will God be able to finally accomplish His goals if our offering plates became completely full?

·        Does the way of great humanitarian acts performed by church members to those in need allow the Lord to be with us? 

·        Further still, do we expect that the Lord only comes to those who help themselves?

·        Do we expect the Lord to show supernatural favor to us when we have it all together and ignore us when we don’t shine and glimmer? 

·        Is the Lord truly at work when churches are bustling with vibrant activities and successful ministry programs, but absent when the pews are empty and programs are suffering? 

·        Is the Lord and His kingdom dependent on our ambition, our energy, and our assets?

Dear friends, we are ridiculous when we deal with the Lord this way.  This is the way of idolatry.  When we place expectations upon the Lord or validate the Lord’s coming to us on the basis of our agendas and criteria, we not only go the way of idolatry, but we sow sinful seeds that undercut assurance.

So, if the Lord’s kingdom is not dependent on us and if the Lord does not come to us in these ways previously mentioned, how does He come? 

Looking back to the Gospel we see that the Lord and His kingdom are not built on mankind’s wisdom, riches, emotions, works, or ideologies.  Truly, it is very clear from scripture that Jesus and His kingdom come to this world and are established with simplicity, simplicity that shows us that Jesus and His kingdom don’t depend on our wisdom, riches, emotions, works, and ideologies.  Indeed, Jesus and His kingdom of grace and mercy do not depend on anything of this world. The way of castles, majestic rulers, riches, fame, prestige, popularity, and honor are not prerequisites or needed things for Jesus and His kingdom.  Frankly, put my friends, a kingdom that is dependent on mankind is not kingdom at all, but a pseudo-kingdom.

There is also another thing to consider.  Because the Lord’s kingdom comes forth out of Nazareth and is in the midst of losers, ragamuffins, and the poor, the Lord is communicating to us that He is gracious to us not because of anything that we might bring to the table.  That is to say, His kingdom of grace and mercy are not dependent on anything that we can think, say, or do; this kingdom does not dispense grace and mercy based on what we do or don’t do.  The Lord “comes along and shows that He wants to select as His disciples the beggars, [the uneducated], and fools.  It might even be the poor harlot Mary Magdalene, or the murderer . . . Paul.  He wants it apparent to all that no one acquires God’s mercy because of [their contributions], such as riches, wisdom, and power. . . . Therefore, Christ leaves the great [crowd] in Jerusalem behind and ignores the bigwigs in the large cities. ... He goes to the beggars, and in Bethsaida He chooses the poorest and the lowliest as apostles.  Those whom others would have shunned He accepts with kindness, and thereby He [prohibits] anyone’s boasting.”[3]

Dear friends, please do not take this all to mean that the “kingdom of Christ rejects the mighty and the rich and that they are barred from citizenship [in the Lord’s kingdom], or that Christ has no room for people who are pious, honorable, and live a virtuous life.  No, it means that what Christ cannot [live with] is if [we] assume that His kingdom is built on [our] wisdom and riches and that [His kingdom] cannot stand firm and endure without the protection, counsel and service of kings, princes, and lords. . . . He wants it clearly and definitely understood that all who seek entry into His kingdom must seek it by nothing but grace. . . . It is grace alone that counts.”

Baptized Saints, the kingdom of God does not depend on you, but it is indeed for you. 

Furthermore, the church, yes, Zion Lutheran Church is not founded on you and me, but on the Christ who is ‘for’ you and me. 

Finally, we can boldly confess that the way of Jesus to mankind was not Jerusalem, riches, worldly wisdom or bigwigs, but Nazareth, the poor, and the ragamuffins.  The same is true for us today as well.  The way of Jesus to you and me is not through our often fluctuating emotions, our humanitarian endeavors, successful ministry programs, or our budgets—as important as some of these things are.  Here at Zion Lutheran Church the way of Jesus to us is through water, through Words, through Bread, and through Wine.  Yes, it is through the way of words, simple words,
“You are forgiven.” 
Yes, it is through the way of water, simple water,
“I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” 
Yes, it is through the way of bread and wine, simple bread and wine,
“Take, eat and drink the body and blood of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all of your sins.” 
The coming of the Lord and the strength of this church is not in us but in the one who comes to you and me in simple Words, simple water, simple bread, and simple wine, so that no one can boast and so that you might be saved daily and completely by grace alone; grace that is for you as gift. 

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapters 1-4: Luther’s Works Volume 22 ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1957), 189.

[2] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 46.

[3] Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapters 1-4: Luther’s Works Volume 22 ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, 192-193.  

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