February 27, 2018
Shortly after coming to faith in Jesus at age 25, I was on cloud nine. I knew I was forgiven. I was now clean inside. God had even cleaned up my mouth. Life was good, it was even better than good. I now had a relationship with God who loved me and walked with me every day. I knew God was real. And this new reality was amazing. But there was one thing that was nagging at me. What would my friends think about what I had just done? Would they think I’d gone off the deep end? Would they think I was a Jesus freak? Or would they think this was just a phase I was going through, and I’d be back partying soon enough?
Those questions nagged at me because I had put my faith in a Jesus I barely knew. I knew they would be SKEPTICAL of my new found faith and even make fun of me. At the same time, I had all kinds of doubts about what I had gotten into. So with all those questions and my doubts rattling around, I got my first Bible, an NIV, and started reading so I could learn more about Jesus. I also shared my concerns with my Pastor; so he gave me a book to read. It was by Josh McDowell, called Evidence That Demands a Verdict. And that spring and summer I became a student of Jesus.
You see I came to faith in the early 1980’s where everyone questioned everything. I had grown up in a world that told me to question authority; that told me I wasn’t supposed to trust anyone over thirty; and had lived through Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, that left me and all my friends skeptical of anyone who claimed to be a leader. So you can understand why it was so important to me to make sure that trusting in Jesus was a legitimate thing to do.
And I can imagine, that some of you here struggle with the same thing. You have doubts as to who Jesus really is or you have friends that do. Perhaps you’ve come from a background that taught you to be wary of putting your faith in Jesus; that taught you that Jesus isn’t anything more than a good teacher; that taught you to believe in yourself and to NOT put too much weight on those who claim to have the truth – but to keep an open mind to other forms of religion, other ways of life, and reject this Jesus who claims that He is the way, the truth and the life.
And if that’s you, then I gotta’ believe God wants to speak into your skepticism and doubts this morning. So, if you brought your Bible with you today, let me encourage you to open it to Luke 4:14-30, where Jesus addresses his friends and neighbors and their skeptical response to the true nature of his ministry and identity. So as we come to our passage this morning, Luke sets the scene for Jesus’ homecoming, by describing Jesus as…
- The Next Big Thing 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. Luke 4:14-15
After fasting 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus began his ministry under the power of the Spirit. And as he did, news about his teaching and his miracles spread like wildfire. During this time, Jesus called his first disciples, went to a wedding in Cana where he turned water to wine, had traveled to Jerusalem where he cleared the temple, then through Samaria where he shared the good news of the kingdom with an entire town, and had been to Capernaum where he had healed a man. And everywhere he went he stopped and proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God in their synagogues. And anyone who heard him teach were blown away by this new Rabbi. His teaching was fresh – as Matthew recorded, “He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” Matthew 7:29 So people praised him and his fame and popularity grew. He was the next big thing.
So upon arriving in Nazareth, where he grew up, where he worked along side his father for the first 30 years of his life, the people couldn’t wait to hear what Jesus had to say when they gave him the opportunity to teach. But they were in for a surprise. For they were about to discover that this newly minted Rabbi, this favored son of Nazareth was far more than a Rabbi.
2. More Than A Rabbi He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 14:16-21
After Jesus finished reading, he gave the scroll back to the attendant and sat down and began to teach. But this teaching was unlike anything they had ever heard. For He begins by telling them that this prophecy of Isaiah, is now fulfilled in their hearing. What did he meant by that?
Well, every Jew knew that God had promised a day when His salvation for His people would come in a DECISIVE way. When Jesus says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” He declares that day has come. After nearly 2000 years of promise, stretching all the way back to Abraham, Jesus claims that the promises of Isaiah are realized today in their hearing. The day had arrived where God’s anointed One would bring good news to those who were desperate for God – the poor in spirit. The day had arrived where God’s anointed One would free all those who are enslaved to sin. This was good news to their ears. Jesus was pouring out grace upon grace through His words. Jesus words were igniting the hopes of their hearts. Jesus was telling them that this is the day that God’s anointed will open the eyes of the blind; both physically and spiritually. Now was the time He will deliver all God’s people from oppression. Now was the year of the Lord’s favor. When they heard that, they new that Jesus was declaring that the long hoped for year of Jubilee had come. If this was true, then every debt will be canceled; every slave set free and everything will be made right and good again. This was good news!
But they were also hearing one other claim. Jesus said that ALL these promises are fulfilled in their hearing – including the first one in the list. Listen again to his words: “The Spirit of the Lord is on ME” “The Spirit of the Lord is on ME, 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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This pronouncement has a profound affect on them. And so, they are both 3. Amazed and Confused 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. Luke 14:22
They all spoke well of him. They were impressed at his manner and his teaching. And they were amazed at his gracious words. There was no question his words spoke of God’s favor and kindness to His people. His words fueled their hopes. But at the same time they were impressed with Jesus, they were perplexed by Jesus. Many sitting there had known Jesus since he was a boy. They’d done business at his dad’s carpenter shop… Is Jesus saying what I think He’s saying? Because if I’m hearing him right, He is telling us that He is God’s Anointed One. He is telling us right here in our little synagogue, that he, the son of Joseph, this guy everyone’s been talking about, that he is more than a rabbi. He is telling us that He is God’s Chosen One – that he’s the Son of David who has come to set us free and bring us God’s favor. Is he telling us that He is the Messiah? Wait a minute. How could Jesus possibly be God’s anointed? Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
And with this one simple question, they revealed their skeptical hearts: their unwillingness to believe Jesus. You see, like so many other Jews, they had this preconceived picture of who the Messiah would be. He would come as a conquering hero. He would come to deliver them from the oppression of the Romans. Jesus was just a carpenter’s son who had come as a gifted teacher… but surely he was nothing more than that. “Oh, we’re proud of him. We’ve heard the stories about him, but we know him, and he’s no Messiah. How could he be?”
You could hear in their skepticism an air of incredulity. They were suspicious of Jesus’ claim, and refused to believe that Jesus could be the Messiah. Oh they were fans of Jesus for sure. They admired him, but in no way were they ready to believe in Him. And Jesus knew it. So Jesus confronts their skepticism of Him with the some pretty stinging truth:
Like the old adage says: 4. The Truth Hurts Jesus is about to drop a couple of truth bombs on the, First, 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.’” Luke 4:23
You see, they had heard he did miracles in Capernaum. So if he was going to have the audacity to tell them that he, Joseph’s Son was the Messiah, then he needed to do the same for them. They wanted more than words, they wanted evidence: “Show us your stuff Jesus!” “Heal someone here!” But Jesus had not come to Nazareth to put on a show for his friends and neighbors. In fact, whenever Jesus performed miracles in the Gospels, he always did so in response to faith. So no, he wasn’t going to show his stuff. In fact, his purpose was quite the opposite, for he understood the truth that no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.
So now he confronts their unbelief with the most stinging comparison, hammering home his point with the stories of Elijah and Elisha. Look at verse 24, “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.” Luke 4:24-27
Let me unpack the significance of Jesus’ stinging rebuke: In Elijah’s story recorded in 1 Kings 17:8-16, the spiritual climate was much like it is in the States today, where there is a growing movement of unbelief, people walking away from God, the rise of the nones, etc. The spiritual state of Israel was much the same. At the same time, Israel was in the throws of a lengthy famine, but unbelief was so prevalent in Israel, that God sent Elijah to a widow in Zarepath – a foreigner in the land of Sidon. When the widow of Zarephath met Elijah, she was down to her last bit of food – her last meal. But she trusted Elijah and gave all her food to him. And her one simple act of faith produced a miracle – God gave her an endless supply of food.
In the second story, Israel is still mired in this lengthy period of unbelief. Everyone listening to Jesus knew this. They knew the story well. While there were many in Israel afflicted with the disease of leprosy, God sent Elisha to clean only one person, Naaman the Syrian, a hated Gentile. Syria was Israel’s neighbor to the north. In Elisha’s day, Syria was a growing power who frequently raided Israel, frustrating them and bringing about political confusion. Syria had oppressed Israel, yet God chose to do a miracle, not for them, but for a commander in their enemy’s army.
And as Jesus rebuked his friends and neighbors with these stories, they knew exactly what he was telling them: As Elijah and Elisha condemned Israel for their lack of faith; Jesus, now here in “our synagogue: is using their stories to condemn our unwillingness to believe.” And they weren’t too happy about it. Luke gives us their response: 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. Luke 4:28-30
Wow. What a turn of events. Jesus was the next big thing. So when Jesus came home everyone was a fan. Now everyone was furious and were ready to throw him off a cliff. What’s sad, is that their reaction proved Jesus’ point. Their actions proved that they did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, with their response they made it pretty clear that they were rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.
And what’s even sadder, is that we don’t ever see Jesus return to his hometown after this. So what are we to make of this? Why did this happen? Here we see Jesus announcing Such good news. He comes to them in the power of the Spirit. His Words are full of grace and hope and life. People are going to be saved, healed, set free. God is going to usher in the year of the Lord’s favor.
But when Jesus announces that He is God’s Anointed One come to give them what they all longed for… they FAIL to believe him, and ultimately reject Jesus. What gives?
What gives? What’s the point of this encounter? I would say it this way:
Being awed by Jesus is not the same as accepting Jesus.
Being impressed with Jesus is not the same as believing in Jesus.
Being a Fan of Jesus is not the same as Following Jesus.
And the difference comes down to the state of your heart. Is your heart OPEN to hearing from God? Or is your heart CLOSED? That’s the difference between skepticism and faith. A skeptic doesn’t want to hear from God, because a skeptic wants to hold on to his or her preconceived ideas about God. A skeptic walks on dangerous ground, because his or her skepticism reveals a suspicious or stubborn attitude that refuses to believe even if the truth is starring them in the face. We all know people like this. Perhaps you are a person like this.
So let me ask you this morning: What’s the state of your heart? A heart closed to God is a dangerous thing. Because a heart closed to God is a prideful heart. A heart closed to God is an unbelieving heart.
But a heart open to God listens to God’s Word. A heart open to God does not stubbornly hold on to preconceived ideas, but takes in to consideration God’s claims. A heart open to God can have doubts, but is open to clearing up those doubts. And a heart open to God is ultimately willing to trust that what God says is true. So where are you today?
Are you open to what God’s Word says about Jesus? Is Jesus more than a rabbi?
Jesus claims to be the Promised One, God’s Messiah.
Either what He says is true or He is a liar.
Either He can forgive sins or he cannot.
Either He delivers the oppressed or he does not.
Either He is the good news or He is not.
There is no middle ground.
Jesus doesn’t leave us that.
My prayer is that God will open your eyes to see and your heart to believe, that Jesus is Promised One of God, who has come to set you free.