Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Real Cliffhanger

“Truly I tell you … no prophet is accepted in his hometown.- Luke 4:24

Jesus’ ministry was off to a tremendous start. Within a few months of being baptized and facing down the temptations of Satan, Jesus chose at least four of his twelve disciples. He performed his first miracle—turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. He also shared with Nicodemus the most important verse in the whole Bible—John 3:16.

Suffice it to say: Before he ever rolled into his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus was doing a whole lot of life-changing ministry. When he went to Galilee, news about him spread quickly “through the whole countryside” (Luke 4:14). Luke tells us in verse15 that Jesus taught in the Jewish synagogues and “everyone praised him.” Jesus had reached a ministry sweet spot where most people loved him and cheered for him. His fans were many and his critics were few. But that would all change quickly as he returned home.

Word quickly spread through Nazareth that Jesus had returned, and his new-found reputation as a powerful teacher and miracle worker had preceded him. So, as Jesus entered the synagogue, he must have been approached by one of the religious leaders and asked if he’d like to read a Scripture and offer the exposition on that Scripture. When the attendant handed Jesus the scroll of Isaiah, Jesus stood and opened it to Isaiah 61:1-2, reading its words with just some minor variations: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

After reading those words, Jesus rolled up the scroll, returned it the attendant and sat down. Everyone understood this to be a nonverbal cue that Jesus was about to begin his teaching. But none of them could have anticipated what he said next: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). At first the crowd was supportive. They knew that this passage referred to the coming Messiah, who would preach good news to the poor, release prisoners and open the eyes of the blind. In verse 22, “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.”

But after a few seconds, the reality of what Jesus was saying must have sunk in. Jesus said the prophecy was being fulfilled right here and now…in this synagogue…in this very room. So, their reaction shifted: “The Carpenter Boy that we’ve known for 30 years is actually saying that HE is the fulfillment of Scripture. He is actually saying that HE is the promised Messiah!” The crowd in the synagogue quickly went from being amazed to being offended.

And then they went from being offended to being furious when Jesus made his bottom-line statement in verse 24: “I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” Jesus offered two quick illustrations of this truth. The prophet Elijah was sent by God to a Gentile widow in Zarephath instead of to a Jewish widow in Israel. And of all the lepers in Israel, God didn’t send any of them to Elisha to be healed. God only sent him a Gentile leper. By the time Jesus finished giving these examples of strangers who were more receptive to God’s blessings than the Israelites, the Jews in the synagogue were fuming. It was bad enough that Jesus was claiming to himself be the fulfillment of Scripture. But talking about Gentiles winning God’s favor before the chosen Jews…that was unacceptable!

St. Augustine offers this insightful reflection: “They love truth when it ENLIGHTENS them, but hate truth when it ACCUSES them.” Similarly, Christians today love to hear sermons filled with gracious words. But many of us quickly attack and reject sermons that speak a truth that hits too close to home. And in this case, the crowd attacked Jesus literally: “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” (v. 29). What a bunch of sweethearts!

Interestingly, Jesus’ hometown neighbors were basically repeating Satan’s third temptation in the desert, when he took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and tried to tempt him to glorify himself by doing a 150-foot swan dive to the pavement below. But once again, Jesus resisted the urge to make a flashy escape.

We know that Jesus had the power to defy the laws of physics. In Matthew 14:25, Jesus walked on a lake. If you didn’t realize it…that’s impossible. And so does walking through walls into a locked room and ascending into heaven after his resurrection. So, Jesus certainly could have jumped off the temple roof and survive the fall, or he could have taken a leap off the Nazareth cliff and defied gravity for all to see. But in both cases, he didn’t. Why?

Because Jesus and God the Father had already decided that he wasn’t going to take the quick and easy path, the path of showboating and scaring his followers half to death. Instead, he made himself “of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7). Almighty God had chosen the slower, more humble path of pain and suffering. Jesus chose the path of the cross. And I’m so glad that he did. It wasn’t flashy, but it saved my life…and yours.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.YourVictorvilleChurch.com  and join us for church tomorrow Sundays at 10 a.m.

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