I would like to do a little sanctified imagining with you today as we begin this message.
Picture two men walking down a dirt road in the city of Nazareth. They’ve just been to a worship service at the synagogue. Their brows are furrowed and one of them is very animated, waving his arms around, anger in his eyes saying, “That preacher made me so mad!” His friend responds, “Yeah, me too.” “He started off fine. He seemed like a nice young guy, but by the end of his message, I could have killed him!” “Yeah,” his friend said, “He’s lucky he got out of town alive! I wonder, by the way, how he avoided getting thrown off the cliff. It was the strangest thing I’ve ever witnessed. Kind of a miracle.”
If this preacher was a friend of yours, would you advise him to move on and start looking for a new call? The preacher those two men were talking about was Jesus. He had just preached in His hometown of Nazareth. He’d read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue service and then expounded on the text announcing He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. The new day God had long ago promised through Isaiah had finally arrived. The release is here. Help has arrived. The year of the Lord’s favor has come. Good news! Good things ahead.
Look at their response. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at His gracious words . . .” You can almost hear it:
• Oh, He read that well.
• I like that passage. It’s my favorite.
• It is really good news, all right – a King, a Redeemer from God coming to help us. Wouldn’t it be something?
At the same time, though, they were asking themselves: But Him? Jesus? Isn’t this Joseph’s son, the carpenter? We watched him grow up in this town. They were skeptical and hesitant to buy into this news.
Maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on them, though. Other so-called “messiahs” had come and gone. They had promised uprisings against the power of Rome, only to fail disastrously and bring their whole community down with them. It is the reason they questioned if they should risk following Jesus. Perhaps they would wind up destroyed just like their neighbors down the road in Sepphoris.
True, they had heard through the grapevine about His preaching and miracles in other towns like Capernaum, but He had not shown any of those signs in His own hometown of Nazareth.
This is not the reaction Jesus was looking for in response to His Good News. His own hometown didn’t respond in faith. They listened to His nice words, then questioned His pedigree. So Jesus didn’t stop there. He kept on preaching to overcome their unbelief.
The second part of His message was actually quite courageous when you think about it. He knew their thoughts and went on to quote two familiar proverbs – “I know what you’re thinking, ‘Physician, heal thyself’. You are waiting for miracles from me like I did at Capernaum.”
Then He continued with another proverb: “Truly I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” He seemed to be referring to Himself as a prophet. A prophet, remember, is one chosen by God to speak God’s truth to His people.
Jesus then used two illustrations from a very dark time in Israel’s history of unbelief and spiritual apostasy against God as the people worshiped idols. “(Speaking of prophets) remember Elijah.” The people were suffering a famine as punishment for their disobedience to God. He chose to feed a non-Jewish woman when everyone else was starving.
Then Jesus told the story of Elisha, which we find in Second Kings. “There were a lot of lepers in Israel, but God chose to only heal the non-Jewish soldier, Naaman, who acted in faith and did as Elisha told them.”
Suddenly the crowd was stirred up! They were angry, up in arms! Hostility filled the room with rage against Jesus. He got a response but not what He was hoping for. Although He was attempting to awaken them to truth, to repentance, and belief, instead He got rage!
Why all this rage? Well, first of all, they hated gentiles, non-Jews. Prejudice ran deep against their enemies. They believed God would destroy the gentiles and elevate Israel to a position of power in the world. They had come to believe God only cared about the people of Israel. So when Jesus talked about God caring for non-Jews, in their minds Jesus is talking crazy, giving false prophecy, and they won’t hear of it. They were right and He was wrong. Let’s get rid of Him. Shut this false prophet up, as scripture says.
They were insulted as well. Jesus seemed to be comparing them to the evil ones, the dark ones who had turned away from God back in history. How dare He say something like that! We are good people, God-fearing people. Not a very happy ending to the story.
They rejected Him so greatly that the congregation became an angry mob and drove Him out of town. They even tried to throw Him off a cliff. Fortunately they didn’t succeed. Why? Because the only miracle they saw that day was Jesus passing through the mob unharmed. How it happened, I don’t know. Did He become invisible? Did everybody just freeze while He walked through? I don’t know. But we do know this: God protected Him, for it was not His time yet.
This episode is actually a witness from God to His people affirming the identity of Jesus. What He said was true. Jesus left them behind in their unbelief and anger, never to return. I would classify this as a tough day in the pulpit, wouldn’t you? And yet this episode is only a preview of what’s to come for Jesus, and eventually His Church. God’s Good News announced, then rejected with hostility and violence. As John, the Gospel writer, says, “He came to His own and His own received Him not.”
So, as we think about our sermon theme, Jesus Revealed, what is being revealed to us about Jesus today?
• Jesus is the appointed Messiah from God, the fulfiller of Old Testament promises.
• He wants us to receive His truth from God; He has come like the prophets of old. In fact, Jesus is the Messiah and says of Himself, “I am the Truth.”
What are we to do with this truth? Receive it! Sometimes the truth can upset and disturb us. Jesus’ words in today’s story challenged people’s prideful and prejudicial assumptions in Nazareth, His own hometown! They had come to believe God didn’t care about anybody except them. They were sure He hated everybody but Jews, even though God had told them in the Old Testament to be a light to the nations, a blessing to the nations of the earth. Somehow, in all their hurt and disappointment over time, this truth had gotten set aside in favor of the idea that God hated those who oppressed them. He hated them as much as they did, and it became the truth they lived by. When Jesus came along and said otherwise, their response was Kill the preacher!
Sometimes the truth can be very upsetting. Jesus’ truth can still upset many even today. Let’s look at some of the assumptions people carry around, which Jesus might shake up a little bit with this truth.
We love Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” It is good, comforting news. We like the idea that Jesus is here to take care of us. Some might even believe life is going to be pain-free and happy with Jesus.
However, later Jesus says, “If anyone would come after Me and be My disciple, let him deny himself and take up His cross and follow Me. It’s in losing your life for My sake that you find it” (Matthew 16:24). This passage is a little more upsetting and challenging to us. That’s not what I was looking for! Some people say, It sounds difficult, sacrificial, inconvenient. I want comfort, not the cross. God wants me to be healthy and wealthy. That is His plan for my life. These words are upsetting, and so I don’t buy it!
Jesus also told us “God so loved the world He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). We like inserting our name in the statement: God so loved Steve, God so loved Mary. But then the same Jesus goes on to say, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” even if your neighbor is someone who’s not like you, someone you might even consider despicable.
And oh, by the way, pray for your enemies who hurt you. This upsets us because we want to believe there are some people even God can’t love. So we don’t have to love them either. Love that person? You’ve got to be kidding, Jesus! We are more comfortable with our prejudices and judgments.
We read these lovely words in John 14: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you?” We like this news. It’s comforting to us, especially in our funerals. But then Jesus goes on to say, “(Remember) I am the Way, the Truth, the Life. Nobody comes to the Father but by me.”
These words upset people. Wait a minute! I don’t like that! I’m tolerant, open-minded. I’ve always believed all roads lead to God. I just happen to be on the Jesus road. My non-Christian neighbor is on her road. Who am I to question her beliefs?
Someone else might respond, If Jesus died for everybody, then everybody is saved. He never intended to be so narrow and exclusive. Maybe He didn’t really say these words. It’s upsetting.
Sometimes people hurt us. We carry our grudges and our bitterness. We long for revenge and think someday they’ll get theirs if we have our way. But Jesus tells us to “Forgive as I have forgiven. If you do not forgive, God will not forgive you.” I’ve seen this kind of talk upset many people. They want their pound of flesh. They want to get even. They believe revenge is sweet.
Jesus can really be upsetting. But here is some good news from the truth-teller Himself:
“If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples.
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” John 8:32.
His truths are given not to hurt, but to help. Listen to Him. Trust Him.
As the citizens of Nazareth tried to throw Him off a cliff that day, little did they know He truly was speaking the truth from God. It was early in His ministry.
You and I, however, live on the other side of the resurrection. God affirmed every word Jesus said as truth when He raised Him on Easter. Jesus is the One who has the words of eternal life.
He has come to save us from ourselves, to expose us to our pride, our false assumptions, our sinfulness, and put us on a new path of freedom with His Gospel, leading us to the way of life God intended for us – eternal life. You see, Jesus didn’t come to soothe you in your sin; He came to save you from your sin. He didn’t enter this world to tell you what you want to hear, but what you really need to hear and believe. Out of love for you, He went to the cross to pay for your debt of sin and rescue you. He rose from the grave proving once and for all He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Him. His way, His truth is life.
Some reject Him in His truth, while others receive Him. To reject Him is to reject life with God. To receive Him is to receive life. Millions upon millions have discovered He is the One who sets us free from our sin and its consequences of death. He is the One who lights up a life with His love, grace, and constant presence. He is the One who has the words of life, which we need to listen to and follow.
I thank God for this disturbing, truth-telling preacher Jesus, for this Savior has spoken into my life and changed it for the better. I don’t even want to think of where I’d be without Jesus in my life. I hope He is in yours, too.
One last word for those who have received Him, who serve Him in His Church and in the world. Remember that, according to chapter 1 of Luke, this story was written for a believer named Theophilus. The story is not only meant to reveal Jesus’ identity to us, it’s also meant to reassure and encourage followers to stand strong on the truth of Jesus Christ.
Don’t be surprised if you face some rejection and take a hit of some sort for the truth of the Gospel of Christ. According to this story, you stand in good company if it happens: Jesus Himself. He promises, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer