JESUS IN THE SYNAGOGUE
This morning, I’m going to share a story from Luke 4. In this story, Jesus is back in his home town of Nazareth. It is where he grew up. All the people know him. They also know what he’s been up to. Jesus has started to do his ministry. Luke 4:14-15 (NIV) says this:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
So clearly, he’s becoming known around the countryside outside of his home town. People are talking about him, what he is doing, what he is teaching and where he is going. But now he comes home. And those who watched him grow up must be at least a little curious about him. After all, they don’t know him as a teacher and preacher. To them he is just Jeshua, the son of a carpenter, a carpenter himself, the man who fixes their plows and furniture and makes wooden bowls and utensils for their kitchens.
They don’t quite know what to make of this Jesus who has been teaching in the synagogues all over the place. And they are curious about what this could all mean.
So they invite Jesus to read in the synagogue on the Sabbath and he chooses a passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah 61:1-2. This is what it says:
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
After he finishes reading, he rolls the scroll up, gives it to the attendant and sits down. But it’s not over because the passage Jesus read from Isaiah is significant. It is a prophecy of the long awaited Messiah. But Jesus isn’t finished yet. Now comes his commentary in Luke 4: 21-22 (NIV):
He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
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.
The people, his neighbours and friends are pleased that he has read this passage. They want the Messiah to come to free them from Roman domination and they are pleased that Jesus is reminding them of the coming Messiah. But Jesus also says that it won’t be easy. He tells the people that they day will come when they will demand that he do signs and wonders to prove who he is. And then he says something else that is not be taken well. Luke 4: 24-27 (NIV):
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 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. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 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.”
This represents a shift in the conversation. Up until this point, everything seems great. Jesus, the local boy has made good. He’s come home to visit the neighbourhood and everyone is thrilled to see him. But then it all changes. All of the joy and delight of having Jesus home is turned to bitter hatred and vengeance. Listen to their reaction, reading from Luke 4:28-30 (NIV):
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 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 off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Just a few verses ago, Jesus was the local hero, the neighbourhood kid made good. But now they want to kill him – literally.
What happened? The answer to that question is not a difficult one if you have read the whole story. All of Jesus’ troubles begin in verse 24 (NIV) when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth…” I tell you the truth. Then he goes on to tell them exactly what God thinks of them. They think they are all so high and mighty because they are God’s Chosen People. They think that the fact that they are Jewish is all that is needed for God to save them. After all, they do the right sacrifices. They worship the way God wants them to. They tithe. They try to follow the law. They do everything that they think is needed to please God.
But Jesus tells them that this isn’t enough. He reminds them that during the famine in Elijah’s time, Elijah could have helped any family in Israel but he didn’t. Instead, he went to the home of a Gentile woman in Zarephath. Jesus further reminds them of the story of Elisha who could have healed any the lepers in Israel but instead cleansed Naaman of Syria. Neither of these people who were helped were Jewish.
We may not pick up on the message right away because to our ears it is a bit subtle. But to the Jews of Jesus’ day, there is no subtlety at all. In fact, the message is crystal clear. “If you think that you’re saved just because you were born to the right family in the right land and have the right genetic pedigree you are sadly mistaken. In the end, your salvation will not depend upon your ethnic origin or your preferred place of worship or the colour of your skin. It will depend on me and your relationship with me.”
John the Baptist gave the same message to the Jewish people who thought they were okay with God simply because they were born to Jewish parents. In Matthew 3:9 (NIV) he said, “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” What he was saying was this: “God doesn’t give two hoots about the fact that your ancestors is Abraham. God doesn’t care that your Jew or Gentile. The stones on the ground are as much children of Abraham as you are. So, stop using that as a free ride. Understand, instead, what I want from you and start doing it.”
These ideas are completely contrary to the popular social and religious context of Jesus’ day when the Jewish people think that they are right with God because they are part of the Chosen People. They think they have special status in God’s eyes, that they are untouchable simply because they are Jewish. But Jesus says, “No, no, no. Not so fast. I have something that I want to tell you and what I want to tell you is the truth.
Jesus tells them the truth about who they are. He tells them the truth about where they stand before God. He tells them the truth and they don’t want to hear it. They say, “No,” to his message and try to kill him by throwing him over a cliff. But they can’t do it because his time has not yet come.
SAYING NO TO JESUS
Here’s something I want you to think about. The world today continues to say, “No,” to the Gospel. The message of Jesus is as unpopular today as it was 2,000 years ago. Look at the many places where they say, “No.” They say, “No,” in the media. Every now and then, I’ll tune the car radio into the local talk radio show in the morning. And even though the hostess claims to be Catholic, she seldom stands up for Catholic teachings or values. Almost anytime the topic of Christian values comes up – things like the sanctity of life and marriage, the uniqueness of Christ or the place of Church in society – she gives the very strong impression that she thinks that historical Christian beliefs are out-dated, old fashioned and should be replaced by a more pluralistic approach.
The media says, “No.” So does the entertainment industry. When was the last time you saw a religious figured portrayed from Hollywood in a positive light. Usually, if there’s a minister or priest, they’ve forgotten the name of the deceased at a funeral. Or they’re in some sexual scandal or they’re buffoons who couldn’t get a real job anywhere else. How often is Christian morality shoved aside in favour of extra marital sex, consumerism and the newest agenda? How many Christmas specials on TV actually mention Christ? And when Christians complain, they are portrayed as narrow minded and old fashioned.
The message of Christ isn’t popular in the world. The media says, “No.” The entertainment industry says, “No.” And here’s the kicker – even in the Church is increasingly saying, “No,” to the truth of the message of Jesus. That message is clear. Every single person on the face of the planet is guilty of sin. What is sin? Sin is anything that separates us from God. It is breaking the Ten Commandments. It is living contrary to the way that God wants us to live. It is about not being the people God wants us to be.
But people don’t want to hear that they are sinners. People don’t want to hear that there is a standard that God wants them to meet, that this standard doesn’t change with the whims of society. God is eternal and unchanging and so are his standards for us. People don’t want to hear that because they think that they should be able to do whatever they want to do and that God should accept them anyway. But the church often doesn’t teach this because the church is afraid that it will make people uncomfortable and the church doesn’t want to make people uncomfortable.
Sin has become a dirty word. So has the word confession. People don’t want to think that they need to confess. And the church doesn’t teach it because the church is afraid that it will offend people and the church would rather water down the gospel than offend anyone.
And what about the words justification and sanctification. Justification means that we confess our sins and turn our lives over to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. We give him control over who we are and what we do. What about sanctification? Santification is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that enables us to live day by day closer to the way that God wants us to live. The church doesn’t talk about these things enough because the church is afraid that these things will drive people away and the last thing the church wants to do is drive people away.
Here’s the truth of the Gospel. All of us are sinners and in need of God’s grace. Jesus died on the cross for each of us. It is only through his blood that we are save and, through faith in him, we are made right with God and given eternal life.
It doesn’t matter if the world says, “No,” to these things. It is the job of the Church to share those truths with a world that desperately needs to hear. The Good News that Jesus shared 2,000 years ago is just as good and just as necessary today as it was back then. I am not ashamed of the Gospel and I don’t want you to be ashamed of it either.
THEY JUST DON’T GET IT
Listen to what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV): “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” What this tells us is that we should not be too hard on the world because one of the main reasons why society has so often said, “No,” to Jesus’ teachings is because it just doesn’t understand. It doesn’t know what he said. It doesn’t know what he taught. It doesn’t know what he did for us. It doesn’t understand the true meaning of the cross or the resurrection or the ascension and it sure has no clue about the second coming. No wonder it seems like such foolishness to so many people of this world.
There’s a problem here and, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, we have to admit that part of the problem is us. We need to do a much better job of promoting the message of Christ in this world. We need to be willing to get out there and share his message when the opportunities arise.
Here’s a newsflash; you don’t have to be a biblical scholar to share your faith. All you have to know is the basics and most of you already know them. You may not think you do but you do. You know that Jesus lived on earth to show us how to live. You know that he willingly gave himself to be crucified on the cross so that he could pay the price our sins. You know that he rose again to give the gift of eternal life to all who put their faith in him. You know that he ascended to heaven where he now sits at the right hand of the Father. You know that one day he will come again to judge the living and the dead. And you know that he changes lives today by the power of the Holy Spirit. You know this stuff and if you say that you don’t then you haven’t been listening to me for the past seventeen years.
You know the basic tenets of the Christian faith. You also have something else in your favour. You have your story. The reason why you are here today is because you have experience the love of God in Jesus Christ. You know the difference that faith makes in your life. You know the difference that Jesus makes in your life. That is your story and when it comes to your story, you are the expert. You know more about it than any other person of the face of the planet. And you can share it.
Faith is not a difficult proposition once you know the basics. At first, those who don’t know them might think them odd and maybe even a bit weird because they are so counter-cultural but what people need to understand is what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:25 (Msg). I’m going to read it to you from the Message paraphrase which reads, “Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s ‘weakness.’” What this tells us is that if you took all the wisdom in the world and found a way to measure it, it would be like one teeny, tiny little soy bean compared to God’s wisdom that is represented by all of the soy beans that will be grown in Essex County for the next 500 years. Does that give you some idea of the greatness of God? It really is unfathomable. No wonder the wisdom of God seems like foolishness to so many people. We simply don’t have the capacity to understand the things of God.
We can’t understand all of the things of God but he has made us with the capacity to trust in him. And sometimes that’s all we can do. I’m the first to admit that sometimes I don’t understand everything. There’s a boatload of things that I don’t know but I do know what I read in John 14:1 (NIV) when Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” I may not know everything but I do know that I can trust God. I don’t always understand him. I don’t always know the reasons why things happen as they do. But I do know that God is active in my life and that I can trust him.
The world may say, “No,” to Jesus and his message but it is our job as stewards of the faith to keep on saying, “Yes,” as many times as it takes until the message sinks in. There are many messages in the world but Jesus’ message is the truth and it is that truth that we are called to share because that truth and that truth alone is able to transform individual lives and then the world for Christ.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Gracious God, we come to you out of our need to give you thanks and praise for the wonders of your love and compassion. You have blessed us so abundantly that it is hard to count how many ways you have touched our lives. We thank you for bright winter days when snow glistens in the sunlight. We thank you for birds that feast at our bird feeders. We thank you for the opportunities for ministry that come our way. We give thanks, especially, for your unconditional love. You are so good to us. No matter what we do, you forgive us and call us back to your path. Thank you that nothing in all Creation can separate us from your love which is given to us in Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Holy God, how great and awesome you are. In those times when we become impatient and anxious, help us to remember that you are working out all things for our benefit. You see things from a different and more holy perspective than we do. Therefore, even though we may not always understand your ways, we know that you will do what is best for us. We can rest confidently in your unfailing love, mercy, and grace regardless of circumstances.
We also pray for the people of the Ukraine as they prepare for a possible Russian invasion. We also pray for the people of Afghanistan who are now suffering once again under a brutal and ineffective dictatorship.
We pray for those who are sick, at home in hospital, especially Carol, Mark, Ron, Sheryll, and ask that you would bless all of us with your Healing Spirit. Heal our bodies, restore our souls and renew our spirits by the power of your love.
Father God, enable us to keep our needs and desires in their proper priority, and not be distracted by frivolous, foolish, or unnecessary concerns or fears. The way we live our lives is by choice, and we choose to focus our attention on you and your way of doing things. We know that as we draw closer to you and to one another, we will better understand your will and purpose. You are our God and we give you praise, honour and glory in Jesus’ holy name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
January 30, 2022 / Epiphany 4
Psalm 71:1-6; Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 4:21-30; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
CALL TO WORSHIP
God is our Refuge and Strength;
the One who walks with us and hears our prayers.
God is our Shelter and Shield.
We come to worship the One who is with us always.
Loving God, your strength is mighty and your compassion boundless. Your words are dependable and true. Your promises will never change or fail throughout all generations. Thank you for providing a firm, foundation on which to build our lives in an otherwise changing and unstable world. Come to us in our worship to renew our lives and refresh us a new measure of your Spirit. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, we know that temptation is always near, waiting for an opportunity to be acknowledged. Come to our aid and strengthen us against the plans of the Evil One. Enable us to lay aside our own plans, wishes, and desires when they conflict with what you have planned for us. We trust you to always look out for our good. Give us the wisdom to discern your leadership and direction in every decision that we make, trusting you to direct our paths… Amen
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Praise be to God who does not leave us in the pits of sin but raises us to new and renewed life in Jesus Christ. As we unburden ourselves of our sinfulness we are freed to soar to the heights of heaven. Thanks be to God that we are forgiven.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Our gifts, our offerings, our lives we bring to you in the full trust that they will be put to your good purpose. May they be used to bring justice to all and to share the Good News of the Gospel of Salvation. Amen.
Our Holy God has touched our hearts. It is time for us to touch the lives of others in Jesus’ name. Go with the full assurance of God’s presence and love every moment of every day.