This morning’s reading takes place very early in Jesus’ ministry. He started his ministry with His baptism by John the Baptist in Judea. When He returns to Nazareth, His home town, his message is rejected. We'll examine why He was unwelcome at home.
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Before I really get into the message this morning, there are two points I want to bring out that are mentioned here. Just kind of background stuff that will help us understand Jesus and what is happening here. First, in verse 16, it said that “on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.” It was His custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath. To put this in a little more modern terms, it was His habit to go to church, He went all the time. I can’t imagine how many things He must have radically disagreed with, how many teachings and interpretations that must have really grated on Him? Yet he went. He went every week.
I’m going to confess that worship in our churches isn’t perfect, and it certainly wasn’t then. I would like to hope that our worship is closer to God’s desire than synagogue worship was then, because we have the New Testament as a guide, and we have the Holy Spirit as our guide, so hopefully we’re closer, but I have no doubt we aren’t perfect. But my point is, even if synagogue worship wasn’t close, still, Jesus never stayed away, He always joined the faithful and worshiped each Sabbath day. And I truly believe that He expects no less from us. Church attendance really is important. Jesus made it a habit to attend church, if we truly want to follow Him, we do the things that He did. And He made it a point to attend church. What I’m trying to say is that if it was important to Him, we need to make it important to us.
The second point is the dramatic difference between Jesus’ message, and John the Baptist’s. I touched on this last week, and I’m getting really convicted by it. The message of the prophets, including John the Baptist, was a message of doom, and a call to repentance to avoid that doom. John said in Luke 3:9, “The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every branch that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Yet Jesus comes and preaches the Gospel – the good news – the love of God. Jesus knew God’s wrath, He is God, but He dressed his message in the context of God’s love for them.
Now, back to our reading, Jesus is back in Nazareth, the town where He grew up. The people knew Him here. They remember him playing in the streets when was younger. They remember Him going to school with their kids. They knew the family – many of them may have had Joseph make them things, furnishing for the house maybe. They knew Mary, they knew the family. Probably nothing special, but solid, down to earth, good folks.
Maybe they were thinking it was good see Jesus making something of himself – after all, He was nearly thirty now. This quiet young man is finally coming out of his shell, talking in public, even if it was just to his church family. But still, we heard these tales of what happened in Capernaum. Miracles! From Jesus? Aren’t these the kind of things that we would think of if we were there? Wouldn’t we want to be there just to hear Him, maybe support Him?
The fact that they drag him out of town to the cliffs to throw him over the cliff is pretty good indication that they didn’t accept His message. So what was His message? Why did they reject the message? And why did it produce such a violent response?
In order for us to understand why they were so upset with His message, we need to understand that the Jews didn’t have anything to do with the Gentiles. The Jews were God’s chosen people –a good Jew at the time thought that the Gentiles were created as fuel for the fires of hell; they knew of no good use for the Gentiles.
Yet here is Jesus, telling them that it was a Gentile widow that Elijah went to when the famine struck. If you remember the story, the flour and oil never ran out, and she and her son, and Elijah, were able to survive the famine. Elisha healed a Gentile from leprosy. Even though many Jews in Elisha’s day had leprosy, God didn’t heal them, yet God did heal a Gentile. Example after example of God showing his love and concern for non-Jews. This kind of talk has no place in a synagogue service! They were furious! And they flat out rejected His message.
Many times today, we hear the message and we reject it, too. Why do we reject it? First, maybe we are too familiar with the messenger. The folks in Nazareth knew Jesus well, and they knew His family. While they probably didn’t think He was anything special, they knew him, they liked Him. So they didn’t think He spoke with any authority. But He did – and they missed it. He was just too familiar. Too commonplace. They were used to Him.
Do we miss messages because the messenger is too familiar to us? Has someone tried to tell us something of faith, and we ignored them because we knew them too well? We say, I’ve known him all my life - what does he know? Especially if that person was a character in the past, we think, “Who is he to talk?” That happens today, just as it happened then. And we might miss the message.
Or maybe we miss it because we’re too familiar with the message. We’ve heard it so many times – we’ve heard it, we’ve read it, we’ve sung it so many times it’s lost its meaning. That can happen in the Lord’s Prayer – we become so used to it that it becomes almost devoid of any meaning. Or with Christmas, we’ve heard the Christmas message so many times, maybe we’ve lost the wonder. Sometimes what we do in church becomes so commonplace, so everyday, that it doesn’t mean anything to us anymore. When that happens, we miss the message. If you find that happening to you, you need to fight to get out of that. You need to treat every element of what we do together as special. You need to recapture the meaning of the message, and the ritual, and the tradition, so it’s fresh and new and captivates you all over again.
Sometimes we miss a message because it isn’t what we expect, so we ignore it. The Jews in Nazareth thought they understood God. They were God’s people. They had the scrolls – the Word of God. And they were so confident they understood it, that when it came and it was different than what they thought, they rejected it. Maybe we’re just so confident that we’ve got it right, that we don’t want to hear anything that might disagree with our understanding of our faith. Or maybe we question our faith, so we avoid things that might shake our faith, because it’s fairly fragile to begin with. The tragedy is that we can only learn when we are tested. It’s only through these times of being stretched that we can come to a better understanding, that we can actually learn something. It is in struggling with a part of the message that we don’t understand, or don’t believe, that we can learn.
A couple of weeks ago I came across a statement in a devotion that really struck me. It said, “You do not become a Christian by asking Jesus into your heart.” That certainly wasn’t what I expected to see. I’ve often told people how simple our faith is – all you have to do is ask Jesus into your heart. That devotion called that belief into question, and I struggled with the statement. Had I rejected that message and moved on, I would have missed something. By struggling with it, I came to better understanding of God’s call in our life. It later said, you become a Christian by being born again. It’s not something we do for ourselves, it something that God does for us. And I certainly can’t argue with that. But I almost missed it. How often do we miss a message because it isn’t what we expect?
And lastly, maybe we reject a message because we lack faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The Jews certainly lacked that faith, wanting to throw him off a cliff rather than admit that He might have something worthwhile to offer. Today, we have the benefit of hindsight to show us that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. We have faith in Him and His message, so we accept it.
Or do we? How many times have we doubted Scripture because it doesn’t seem logical? The Church in American has certainly struggled with this. We struggle to believe in the creation story in Genesis because it sounds a little far fetched. Science has come up with a better theory, though to me it sounds much less believable than the biblical account, others seem to find it more believable. We think abortion might be okay, even though Scripture says that God hand-crafts each person in their mother’s womb. We want to follow God, but we think it’s okay to stop Him in His tracks when He is creating something incredible? Or homosexuality. There are sixteen references to homosexuality in the Scriptures, all of them condemning the practice. Yet we think they somehow mean something else?
Some in the church question the resurrection. How could Jesus be raised from the dead? They believe it was just a story that was spread in the early church to give more credence to their message. They say it just couldn’t have happened the way the Bible says it did. The Bible must not be true. Sometimes we question or we reject because we don’t have faith. But if we’re going to believe in Jesus, we’ve got to believe in His Word! We’ve got to have faith.
The people in Nazareth rejected Jesus and tried to kill Him. They lacked faith. But He spoke with authority. His message was a message of love. It made as much sense as anything they believed at the time, more sense if they would just consider it. But they didn’t. They rejected Him, and they rejected His message. They missed the gift that God had for each of them. Are we missing the gift that God has for us? The gift that comes through faith. There are a lot of reasons we might miss that gift. Make sure you don’t. Because that gift is the gift of life for all who believe.