God’s Grace

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
February 3, 2013- Epiphany IV

Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

From the Prophet Jeremiah:
And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:
Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Na’aman the Syrian.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

The Prophet Jeremiah hesitated as he looked at the work before him and the wickedness around him, and when he looked at the weakness within himself, Jeremiah was certain that he wasn’t the man for the job.

When God calls us, however, He isn’t making a mistake, and for us to hesitate or refuse to obey is to act on the basis of unbelief and not faith. Its one thing for us to know our weaknesses, but it’s quite something else for us to say that our weaknesses prevent God from getting anything done.

God doesn’t save us, call us, or use us in His service because we’re deserving, but because in His wisdom and grace He chooses to do so. It’s grace from start to finish. “But by the grace of God I am what I am,” wrote Paul, “and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).

It was Jonathan Swift, the satirical author of Gulliver’s Travels, who said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough religion to make us love one another.” Spiritual gifts, no matter how exciting and wonderful, are useless and even destructive if they are not ministered in love. In all three of the “body” passages in Paul’s letters, there is an emphasis on love. The main evidence of maturity in the Christian life is a growing love for God and for God’s people, as well as a love for lost souls. It has well been said that love is the “circulatory system” of the body o f Christ.

Note that all three of the Christian graces will endure, even though “faith will become sight and hope will be fulfilled.” But the greatest of these graces is love; because when you love someone, you will trust him and will always be anticipating new joys. Faith, hope, and love go together, but it is love that energizes faith and hope.

Last week in our Gospel reading we had Jesus returning to His hometown of Nazareth for a visit. The people knew Jesus since he was a boy. The news had spread widely about the miracle worker from Nazareth; so His family, friends, and neighbors were anxious to see and hear Him.

It was our Lord’s custom to attend public worship, so He made His way on the Sabbath to the place of prayer. Jesus was asked to read the Scripture text and to give the sermon. The passage He read included Isaiah 61:1-2, which read, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” He also selected it for His “text.” The Jewish rabbis interpreted this passage to refer to the Messiah, and the people in the synagogue knew it.

At first, they admired the way He taught, but it didn’t take long for their admiration to turn into antagonism. What caused this? Because Jesus began to remind them of God’s goodness to the Gentiles! Our Lord’s message of grace to all people was a blow to the proud Jewish people who thought of themselves as God’s chosen people, but God’s saving by grace is for everyone!

One of the scriptures that Jesus referred to was when the Prophet Elijah bypassed all the Jewish widows and helped a Gentile widow in Sidon (1 Kings 17:8-16). Elijah had lived in Cherith for probably a year, and then God told him to leave. God’s instructions may have shocked the prophet, for the Lord commanded him to travel northeast about a hundred miles to the Phoenician city of Zarephath.
God was sending Elijah into Gentile territory, and since Zarephath was not too far from Jezebel’s home city of Sidon, he would be living in enemy territory! Even more he was instructed to live with a widow whom God had selected to care for him, and widows were usually among the neediest people in the land. Since Phoenicia depended on Israel for much of its food supply (1 Kings 5:9; Acts 12:20), food wouldn’t be too plentiful there.

It’s probable that Elijah remained with the woman and her son for two years and during that time, the widow and her son surely turned from the worship of idols and put their faith in the true and living God.

The woman’s assets were few: a little oil in a flask, a handful of barley in a large grain jar, and a few sticks to provide fuel for a fire. But Elijah’s assets were great, for God Almighty had promised to take care of him, his hostess, and her son. Elijah gave her God’s promise that neither the jar of grain nor the flask of oil would be used up before the end of the drought and famine. God would one day send the rain, but until then, He would continue to provide bread for them – and He did.

The other scripture that Jesus referred to was when the prophet Elisha, Elijah’s successor, healed a Gentile leper from Syria (2 Kings 5:1-15). Elisha was a miracle-working prophet who ministered to all sorts of people who brought him all kinds of needs. “And many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27).

Naaman was a Gentile and the commander of the army of an enemy nation, so it’s no wonder the congregation in Nazareth became angry with the Lord, interrupted His sermon and carried Him out of the synagogue. After all, why would the God of Israel heal a man who was a Gentile and outside the covenant? He was an enemy who kidnapped little Jewish girls, and a leper who should have been isolated and left to die. These people knew nothing about the sovereign grace of God. Like Naaman, they didn’t humble themselves and trust the Lord. Naaman’s experience with Elisha illustrates to us the gracious work of God in saving lost sinners.

The king of Syria was Ben Hadad II, and as commander of the army, Naaman was the number two man in the nation. But with all his prestige, authority, and wealth, Naaman was a doomed man because under his uniform was the body of a leper.

Although Naaman didn’t realize it, the Lord had already worked on his behalf by giving him victory over the Assyrians. Jehovah is the covenant God of Israel, but He is also Lord of all the nations and can use any person, saved or unsaved, to accomplish His will.

Although there is no direct scriptural statement that leprosy is a picture of sin, you can see parallels. Like leprosy, sin is deeper than the skin, it spreads, it defiles, it isolates, and it is fit only for the fire.

Elisha told Naaman, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean (2 Kings 5:10, 14).

By his obedience he demonstrated his faith in God’s promise, and the Lord cleansed him of his leprosy. Naaman gave a clear public testimony that the Lord God of Israel was the only true and living God and was the God of all the earth.

Our Lord’s message of grace and love is to all people: Jews and Gentiles! The Holy Scripture has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Messiah. As we come to your most sacred table Lord; we remember Thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ; that we are partakers of His most blessed Body and Blood; that this Bread and Wine are signs of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us, until His coming again.

Let us pray:
O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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