Worship Helps for Epiphany 4

Artwork: The prophet Elisha and the widow of Sarepta
Artist: Bernardo Strozzi
Date: 1640

Worship Theme: Our human inclination is to listen without faith. This can only lead us to the brow of a cliff and throwing Jesus out of our lives. But the Savior of the Nations comes with his gracious words of redemption and membership in his body. The Word of the Lord is proclaimed through the revelation of his Anointed One. In him faith is rooted, love flourishes, and salvation is known from generation to generation.

Old Testament: 1 Kings 17:7-16 Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 "Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food." 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, "Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?" 11 As she was going to get it, he called, "And bring me, please, a piece of bread." 12 "As surely as the LORD your God lives," she replied, "I don't have any bread-- only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it-- and die." 13 Elijah said to her, "Don't be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.'" 15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

1. Where was Elijah to go?

2. What did the widow tell Elijah when he asked her for a piece of bread?

3. What happened when Elijah told the widow not to be afraid, but to make bread first for him, then for herself and her son?

Epistle: Romans 10:18-11:6 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: "Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." 19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, "I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding." 20 And Isaiah boldly says, "I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me." 21 But concerning Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people." 11:1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah-- how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 "Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me"? 4 And what was God's answer to him? "I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal." 5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

4. Did first-century Jews commonly disbelieve the gospel of Christ because God did not want to save them?

5. Did God reject his people completely? (See 11:1.)

6. As in Elijah’s day, in what manner did God choose to save anyone? (See 11:5‒6.)

Gospel: Luke 4:20-32 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked. 23 Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'" 24 "I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed-- only Naaman the Syrian." 28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. 31 Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. 32 They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.

7. When Jesus claimed that he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, what question did the people raise?

8. What did Jesus say that aroused the people’s anger?

1. God told Elijah to go at once to Zarephath of Sidon (well north of Israel). Evidently his prior pronouncement of no rain made it necessary for him to leave Israel. Authorities would likely have wanted to retaliate against Elijah. Starving people would likely have hounded him for relief.

2. The widow told Elijah she had only enough flour and bread to make a meal for herself and her son. Then they would die.

3. The widow kept having more and more oil and flour. We stagger at the miracle, but Alfred Edersheim wisely points out: “It is difficult to know which most to wonder at: Elijah’s calmness, consistency and readiness of faith, or the widow’s almost incredible simplicity of trustfulness.”

4. No, God very much wanted to save Jewish people, both in Isaiah’s day (about 700 B.C.) and Paul’s day. All day long God held out his hands to them. (Picture it. Imagine the physical weariness / agony.) But they stubbornly refused.

5. No, God did not reject his people. Paul was as Jewish as could be. God had chosen to save Paul.

6. God chose ahead of time to save sinners by grace alone. No human merit could figure in, or grace is no longer grace.

7. The people of Nazareth asked themselves, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” They had seen Jesus grow up among them. They had a hard time seeing him as the promised Messiah.

8. Jesus said that “no prophet is accepted in his home town.” He alluded to the prophets Elijah and Elisha, who helped Gentile foreigners because God’s Old Testament people were, for the most part, unwilling to listen to the prophets’ message. Jesus would have much the same experience. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (Jonn 1:10). Jesus was usually rejected as Savior.

Putting your faith into action
Throughout my life there will be times when I will have to depend on the proverb: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” However, I will never have to follow that proverb when it comes to my Lord and Savior. With him I can always be confident. I can always be certain his good news is true.

A reading from the Book of Concord for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
The New Testament keeps and urges this office ‹of the Law›, as St. Paul says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”.  Also, “the whole world may be accountable to God….No human being will be justified in His sight.”  And, Christ says, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin.
This is God’s thunderbolt.  By the Law He strikes down both obvious sinners and false saints.  He declares no one to be in the right, but drives them all together to terror and despair.  Jeremiah says, “Is not My word like… a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”  This is not active contrition or manufactured repentance.  It is passive contrition, true sorrow of heart, suffering, and the sensation of death.
This is what true repentance means.  Here a person needs to hear something like this, “You are all of no account, whether you are obvious sinners or saints ‹in your own opinions›.  You have to become different from what you are now.  You have to act differently than you are now acting, whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you can be.  Here no one is godly.”
To the Law, the New Testament immediately adds the consoling promise of grace through the Gospel.  Christ declares, “Repent and believe in the gospel”.  Become different, act differently, and believe My promise. – Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article III, Repentance (paragraphs 1-4)

Hymns for this Sunday: 556, 541, 544, 452, 564

564  There Is a Balm in Gilead
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

1  Sometimes I feel discouraged And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit Revives my soul again.

2  If you cannot preach like Peter, If you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus And say he died for all.

Text: African-American spiritual, abr.


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