Theme: Without Fulfillment there is no Rest
The longer we tend to be involved with something the easier it becomes to forget its purpose. Has this kind of thing ever happened to you in a job, goal, or relationship? I know this doesn’t apply to everyone here but take marriage for example. Life with your spouse is very simple at the beginning, everything is out in front you. But as time goes on, stress and failures begin to weigh on your relationship and you begin act and think differently about things than you used to. Pretty soon you begin to lose sight of how things were in the past, before all the difficulties of life came crashing down.
Same thing can happen with your job. It’s exciting and new to start and to head off into your career. But after a while, things can get monotonous. Each day brings similar challenges, you begin to feel like you’re going nowhere in life; just spinning your wheels and never progressing. It’s easy lose sight of the simple joy you had at the beginning and the contentment and purpose that you had in your vocation.
Maybe these examples don’t fit for you but I’m sure there’s other things in your life that are similar. It’s strange that there are certain things where the longer you’re involved with it the harder it seems to get. You’d think that everything in life would get better and easier the longer you worked at it. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to never lose sight of the purpose behind the most important things in our lives? I wonder if the key to that question is answered by finding the source of our discontent. What exactly is it that leads us to forget the way things used to be? Could it be that the problem is not in our occupations or relationships but with ourselves?
Hold on to that thought as we read today’s Scripture, from Luke 4:16-21:
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. 17 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:
18 "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; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."
20 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. 21 And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
These words are important because they were spoken in church. Sure, this event happened in the synagogue building but what was recorded is no different than what happens here every weekend. And when you think about it, doesn’t church fit right into the mold that we were just describing? Our service theme today is on the 3rd Commandment in which God essentially commands that we be consistent in coming to church for spiritual rest. But isn’t that what trips us up so often; the consistency of it all? Every weekend, every year; the same themes, the same texts, the same hymns, the same topics. Consistency.
After a while it begins to wear on you doesn’t it? Just like so many other things in life, the more you dig and the deeper you get the easier it is to lose sight of why you first started. For many of us here, church is the way it’s always been, even before we can remember. Many of you had parents that first brought you to God’s house through baptism, well before you could fully understand or express the precious gift of faith. In time, many of you have also seen the other side of as you have brought your children to the precious Gospel of salvation, seeing it all again from a new perspective. But sometimes the regularity and familiarity of church makes us feel like things have somehow changed. For those who can remember when they first heard the Gospel or came to faith perhaps you can also remember the fresh feeling that came with it. But even for you, in time the newness of the feeling wears off. For some, this not only leads to confusion about where they are in their spiritual life but also to resentment. The blessed promises of God’s Word that were once precious and vital become ordinary objects of skepticism and ridicule. The soft heart of innocent faith can easily turn to hard stone when one loses their way and forgets what church is about.
But that’s why we come back to our verses for today. As a human, Jesus was raised very much like we are, in the Scriptures and in church. When He was but 8 days old, Mary and Joseph already brought Him to the Temple to be with His real Father. Another important event of the Christ child’s adolescence shows us how important the Word was to Him as He considered it precious enough to study and discuss with the scribes in the temple. And here today we see that the Sabbath was yet another essential activity for Jesus. Luke relates that it was Jesus’ “custom,” literally habit, to enter the synagogue on the Sabbath. If regular attendance in church was important enough for the very Son of God, how much more for us?
Yet, we should be ashamed when we think of our track record of keeping the 3rd commandment, and how far we drift from that standard. How many of us place a higher value on work, physical rest, or even things like football when it comes to church? Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, stopping at nothing to be in God’s sanctuary every Sunday? Would you boast as the sons of Korah did, that you’d rather be a simple “doorkeeper” in God’s house than a comfortable member of the unrighteous? Have you lost the foresight to rejoice in the beauty of this temple, or to use your temple, your body, to glorify your Savior?
Don’t be so quick to think you have kept this command simply because your sitting here today either. It’s easy to stand in judgment of those who have blatantly been absent while ignoring the plank in our eyes. Think of what Luther wrote in our excerpt from the Large Catechism. Trespasses of the Sabbath happen just as much when we sit here listen but don’t really hear as when we skip church completely. Likewise, refusing to be admonished by the Word or to take it seriously leads to the same separation from God.
When you look at the 3rd commandment it was consistently one of the most mis-applied commandments in the entire Bible. A large portion of Jesus’ ministry was devoted to restoring a true, spiritual understanding of the Sabbath day. The righteous offenses that this caused to many Jews were one of the biggest reasons they hated Jesus so much. The same trend continues today, even after 2,000 years people are still mis-understood about the Sabbath. And when I say this I mean a lot more than just worshipping on Saturday. It’s also about how you worship and how often you worship. You tell me, what’s a more serious offense: Forcing people to worship on a particular day or despising worship altogether; whether that be through one’s absence in body or in mind.
Yeah, we’ve got a plank in our eyes. It’s called our sinful flesh. It’s the old man within us that would keep us from our Sabbath. Too busy, too stressed, too tired, too used to it all. To full of our sinful flesh is really the problem. And the most ironic thing is that the very gift God freely offers in church can cure all the problems we face. If we would just focus on that more, we would have rest for our souls.
But we are what Jesus says: poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind, and oppressed.
· We are rich in material wealth but poor in heavenly treasure.
· We are confident in our lives but broken in our hearts.
· We are free in our thinking, in our words, and in our liberties, but captive to curse of the law.
· We see what we desire and love but we are blind to true righteousness.
· We are independent in attitude, but oppressed in reality. There’s no rest in ourselves or in the world, just a greater clamoring for things that will not last.
There’s no lack of agitation in this sinful world either, no shortage of things that keep us stressed and unsure about our lives. But there’s only one thing that brings the clarity of faith in Jesus Christ; one thing that can keep up focused on the pure and innocent joy of being a Christian, that exceptional feeling that the world threatens to destroy in so many ways. Jesus tells us, it’s all about His fulfillment.
Fulfillment is a strange word to many of us, but its meaning is easy to understand. Literally it means to fill something up completely. When something is filled completely it is perfected or not lacking anymore. I like to think of Psalm 23 where David says that “his cup runs over.” He’s describing fulfillment there; God had blessed him to the point of having no need and even beyond. That helps us understand what the word itself means, but we must also think about how the Bible uses the word.
Fulfillment was an especially important term to Old Testament Christians. Their relationship with God was based on lots of different promises from God that needed to happen sometime in the future. At many times God had to remind them to be patient because they had a tendency to want everything immediately, as we would too if we were in the same situation. Each of those promises was like an individual cup that needed to be filled. Without the fulfillment, the promise would not come true.
One of those big promises came from the portion of Scripture that Jesus read in the synagogue that day. Isaiah was foretelling a day when things would change from the way they were. A day when the people didn’t need to wait to see God’s salvation anymore, but a day in which they would live in it because their long-awaited Savior had finally come. The Holy Spirit would usher that day into existence through the power of His Word, which would bring fulfillment on the lips of the Messiah. This was a day of great anticipation for God’s people. It was a time when all their ailments would be healed. Think of it as everything they needed being provided for them. Lives that once were hollow because of the void of sin, were filled to the brim; were fulfilled. The poor, the brokenhearted, the captive, the blind, the oppressed would all be made complete.
When you understand what fulfillment means, you get a taste of what that day meant for the Old Testament believers. The final statement says it well, it would be the “acceptable year of our Lord.” Think of it for your life now, even though you’re not an Old Testament Christian. Because it means the same thing for you. It’s what the Gospel of forgiveness does for helpless sinners. God takes all your needs, comes to you in all the places you lack, and gives you His fulfillment. He can because He earned it. He went through everything in life and even more, just so that He could bless you with His unblemished record. He did it so that you would have a promise of grace, and that that promise would not fall short; so it could be something that you trust; something that is fulfilled. And there’s one promise left that has yet to be filled up.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. 2 I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God's dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. 5 Then the One seated on the throne said, "Look! I am making everything new." He also said, "Write, because these words are faithful and true."
That, my friends, is why we go to church. That’s why it’s important. That’s why it’s called our “Sabbath.” And that’s why God commands it. The antidote to our failures is the same: read and hear about Christ’s fulfillment. The 3rd Commandment reminds us to do this regularly, just as Jesus did. The basis of church has always been preaching and hearing. But often, this is also the most despised part of church. That’s what we get used to and what we tired of; the same preaching again and again. And sometimes we lose the love that we first had.
Has that happened to you? Has it happened to us as a congregation? Are we so tired of the Word, have we been around it for so long, that we’ve forgotten our purpose? Tough questions, but ones worth asking on a regular basis. The fact is this: In this book we have the words of fulfillment of the greatest work ever in the history of the world. A work so powerful that only God could do it. We have the words of eternal life. If that doesn’t compel you to be around it each week, what’s the problem?
Don’t let the little things where we lack distort the purpose behind your life in Christ. Your faith is a beautiful, precious treasure; the most important thing in your life. Regardless of where you’re at in life now, there was a time when you felt that way, all Christians have. You can get back that. To the innocent, childlike faith in Christ and the blessed peace that covers you through it. We are just like those Jews long ago in that synagogue. Today, the Scripture is fulfilled in our hearing. Amen.
The peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.