Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: Jer. 1:1-10, 1 Cor. 13:1-13, Lk. 4:21-30
Epiphany is the season that celebrates God’s glory bursting out into this world through Jesus. This began at His birth, but it went public at His baptism, in His miracles, and through His preaching and teaching the Scriptures. In many ways, we can hear all of this like the people in the synagogue in Nazareth, and we marvel at these gracious words (Lk. 4:22). And yet, for some there’s already a hint of nervousness, and for others it’s about to break out in a furious shock. And this is because we are so easily tempted to try to domesticate the grace of God.
Jeremiah & Moses
Jeremiah reminds us of Moses in some ways. He ministered for around forty years in Judah (Jer. 1:2-3: Josiah 18 yrs, Jehoiakim 11 yrs, and Zedekiah 11 yrs). Moses also protested the call of God like Jeremiah protested his calling (Jer. 1:6). Moses had grown up in Pharaoh’s court and faced the shame of (apparently) turning on those he had grown up with (also making him suspect to Israel). Jeremiah was the son of a priest and grew up closely connected to the ministry of the temple in Jerusalem and faced the shame of announcing its destruction (Jer. 1:1). Like Moses, Jeremiah’s ministry was to proclaim the destruction of an old world and the beginning of a new one. But for Moses, deliverance was leading the people out of captivity in Egypt into the freedom of Canaan. For Jeremiah, the mission was to lead the people out of Canaan into captivity in Babylon. This mission is hinted at in Yahweh’s opening commission: “I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). Whereas Moses oversaw the construction of the tabernacle, Jeremiah is called to oversee Israel through the destruction of the temple. Jeremiah is commissioned to lead faithful Israel to submit to Nebuchadnezzar and to settle in Babylon for 70 years (Jer. 25-29). And Jeremiah barely escapes being put to death for this (Jer. 26).
Jeremiah & Jesus
It’s actually a very similar message that Jesus brings to His hometown of Nazareth. While they are initially impressed with Him, and perhaps rather proud of their hometown boy, it’s His talk of the gentiles that completely scandalizes them (Lk. 4:22-29). Like Moses and Jeremiah, Jesus is the culmination of God’s resolute purpose to display the glory of His grace. And we are all too much like Egypt and Israel and the Jews of the first century. We like grace at the beginning, but we don’t want it to go all the way down. Like the foolish Galatians, we want to pretend that you begin by faith but then you finish by works or that we begin by the Spirit but we are perfected by the flesh (Gal. 3:1-3). We want the Isaiah prophesy to apply to us and to our friends and perhaps some outsiders (for our promotional literature), but what if God in His sovereign grace passed over lots of us for the people we most despise and hate? Jesus says this very thing to His hometown: there were many widows in Israel during that great famine, but Elijah went to one in the idol-worshiping land of Sidon (Lk. 4:25-26). And there were many lepers in the days of Elisha, and they weren’t healed – only Naaman the military leader of the ISIS in their day was healed (Lk. 4:27). And the Jews want to put Jesus to death (Lk. 4:29).
Jeremiah & Paul
We are so accustomed to hearing Paul’s famous description of love that it’s easy not to actually hear it. In context, Paul is talking about how grace works in the life of the Church, in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12). On the one hand, the Christian Church is this international, inter-generational, multi-ethnic people. Corinth is already the beginning of what Jesus announced in Nazareth. And what a mess it was! On the one hand, this is why the Jews (and the Judaizers after them) didn’t want to do it. It’s safer and cleaner not to invite recovering idol worshippers, homosexuals, pedophiles, drug addicts, and scammers into the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9). When you do that, you have to teach them how to repent, and that’s a messy business. But as soon as they all start repenting and walking in grace, Paul knows it’s as easy as dropping your hat for that exact same grace to start being domesticated. That starts inside the Church when we begin to draw new lines about who’s in and who’s out, who’s really important and who isn’t (1 Cor. 12:21). It’s messy to keep needing grace, but when we start riding the breaks, we are trying to control God’s grace. God gives gifts, but Paul says that without love, your gifts are worthless (1 Cor. 13:1-3). It’s true that God gives gifts to His people, but He gives those gifts for the good others, as expressions of His grace.
Grace reaches out and reaches in, and it is grace precisely because it is undeserved and unprepared for favor (Rom. 5:6-10). But when God reaches in, our sin has to be broken down. On the large scale, this often means whole kingdoms have to be plucked up and broken down, destroyed and overthrown, before they can be built and planted (Jer. 1:10). The gospel is this message to us, to our neighbors, and to the whole world. And this is a terrifying message. We, like Jeremiah, immediately feel our immaturity, our ignorance, our weakness. But God says: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth.’… Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord” (Jer. 1:7-8).
Where is God calling you to let grace reach out or reach in? Do you have private, personal hurt or sin that eats at you? Do you resist the Spirit by limiting where He can go in your life? Or have you let grace in to your life and now you wonder if you can survive? Are you tempted to go back? Sometimes grace means standing still and waiting on the Lord. Are you tempted to despair at the state of our country? God has sent us to this place, at this time. Do not be afraid; I am with you, declares the Lord.
Jesus came and announced that the grace of God, the forgiveness of God, the healing of God was for all the nations, for all of you, for all of us – and unlike Jeremiah, Jesus was executed for this treason so that it might be accomplished. This is the light that has come into the world.