A Man on a Mission
Jesus had grown up in Nazareth but early on in his ministry career he had shifted from there to set up his base in Capernaum (Mt.4:12). Now after some time away from Nazareth he was back in his home town where the people knew him so well – or at least they thought they did. They thought they had his number and knew all they needed to know – in the event it turned out that they didn't really understand him at all and they didn't know what made him tick.
This morning we're going to look at that dramatic Sabbath day when Jesus visited the synagogue in his home town and challenged the complacency and misplaced confidence of those who turned up.
How important it is for us, for all of us, to understand Jesus, his mission and his way of operating. How tragic it will prove to be if we get this wrong.
Luke has been selective in the details he has recorded concerning Jesus' life and ministry and between 4:13 and 4:14 he has skipped quite a bit – you can look at Jn.1:19-4:42 if you want to know the details. But during that time Jesus had been active and now in the power of the Spirit he returned to Galilee.
What does this Spirit-filled man do?
Jesus' reputation was spreading: he was known as a man who had power and who was good with words: such a combination of qualities made him a popular figure. Folk talked about him and others wanted to meet him and to hear what he had to say
And the first thing we discover is that this Spirit-filled man was a man who frequented the synagogues of the region and this Spirit-filled man was a preacher. Luke insists throughout this section:
v.15 Jesus taught in their synagogues – a general reference to synagogues
v.16 Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and spoke – a reference to a specific synagogue
v.31 Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum – another reference to a specific synagogue
v.44 Jesus was preaching in the synagogues of of the Jews – another general reference to synagogues.
Now the synagogue was the local place to meet for the worship of God, for prayer and for reading and preaching the Scriptures and so we're not surprised to find that Jesus was often there. Luke tells us in fact that it was his regular custom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath day. If our Lord had made it his habit to regularly worship with others in this way then surely the Christian will want to develop similar habits, especially as the writer to the Hebrews subsequently urged Christians:
Heb.10:25 "not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
Jesus had visited other synagogues in the region and done some extraordinary things in their towns including healing a paralytic in Capernaum – the news about him spread and excited much interest.
And now he came to his home town – so it wasn't really surprising that he was handed the scroll and invited to read, nor was it surprising that he be expected to teach – after all that was what the crowds were hoping for that day. They all wanted to listen to this "local boy made good". Maybe he would have something special to say – maybe he'd do something special – how they hoped he would! Surely he would – after all this was his home town wasn't it?
Jesus has always fascinated and intrigued people: he did then and he still does today. Many folk speak positively about Jesus and will even at times say that they are interested in what he has to say. Maybe you are one of these. But interest and curiosity even when mixed with a certain amount of sympathy for this man Jesus do not make you a Christian. You can see that by considering with me the example of the people in Nazareth on that day when Jesus spoke in their synagogue.
The Service Progressed
Jesus was handed a scroll that contained the writings of the prophet Isaiah and he found a particular passage and read – whether this was the passage for the day or whether he deliberately chose the passage he wanted to read we can't be certain but it was an extraordinarily relevant passage because it was all about the Promised Messiah. The passage contained a description of what this Messiah would do and how he would do it – it was a great passage!
vv.18-19 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour."
The Messiah would minister in the power of the Spirit – exactly how Luke has described Jesus as he returned to Galilee. And his ministry would be very largely carried out in a powerful proclamation of liberating good news. The Messiah would:
Proclaim good news to the poor
Proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind (yes healing of those physically blind is included but spiritual sight is more in view)
Free the oppressed as he proclaimed the year of the Lord's favour.
And here was Jesus engaged in a preaching tour through the synagogues of Galilee doing just these things.
Jesus read the Scripture and sat down – that was normal, in those days a teacher usually sat to teach. The people eagerly awaited what would come next – the sermon – every eye was fixed resolutely upon him – what was he going to say?
So far there was nothing out of the ordinary but that was about to change!
"Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
What a message! The hope of the ages is there in their midst!! The promises given so long ago and for which the people had waited for so long are at that very moment being fulfilled as Jesus speaks to them! What a message!
And well yes, his hearers are impressed – heads turn and there are nods of approval as a positive murmur runs round the congregation. My, doesn't he speak well! Who'd have thought it? This is old Joseph's son isn't it?
The reaction seems warm and positive doesn't it?
And in our day the reaction of those who sum Jesus up by saying "He's a good teacher, isn't he?" also seems positive.
Of course, it's easy to be positive about a Jesus who fits in with our preconceived ideas and Jesus was just about to blow the preconceived ideas out of the water that Sabbath day in Nazareth.
Jesus unveiled the unspoken thoughts of the congregation as he continued to speak – they had expectations that they thought he should meet and they were quite simply wrong. But what were those expectations?
They wanted Jesus to do something dramatic amongst them as he had done elsewhere especially at Capernaum and what was more they thought they had a right to see it done – after all wasn't Nazareth his hometown? They thought they had a special relationship with him and that somehow he owed them – wasn't he their local boy made good?
In reality they were not really interested in him at all but thought they could make him perform for them!
The apostle John in the opening words of his gospel stated that the Incarnate Word of God came to his own and his own people did not receive him. Luke describes here just how that was done!
Do you remember in our studies last week when we considered how Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil? There the devil had tempted Jesus to perform and Jesus had resisted that temptation – now here in his home town of Nazareth the same temptation was being brought but this time by old friends and acquaintances. They wanted to see a mighty work, a miracle, and once again Jesus refused to give way – he would not perform.
He quoted a couple of examples from their history to show that there was no inside track to blessing, no special claims – no-one could maintain that they were worthy to receive blessing from God and God gave blessings where he chose – and that would often be in the most unlikely of places!
Neither must you think that you deserve anything good from the Lord – what he offers, he offers freely, a gracious salvation that meets your every need but grace speaks specifically of unmerited favour.
So don't think that because you live in a country with a Christian heritage that you're OK!
Don't think that because you speak well of Jesus that all is necessarily well!
Don't imagine that speaking of him as a good teacher is enough – you must heed what he actually says!
The folk in Nazareth had thought along those lines and they didn't like to be told that their ideas were wrong. Will you be like them and reject him or will you humble yourself and recognize that if you are to be saved by this Messiah that it must be by grace and by grace alone?
Church services don't normally end that way. The reaction to Jesus' preaching was certainly not indifference. No-one waited at the door to say "Nice sermon rabbi" all of their warm fuzzy approval was swept away in a rush of emotion and violence.
One moment it was a nice orderly religious meeting and the next a mad tumult had broken out and what had been a congregation was now a mob stirred and filled with murderous intent!
Offend the religious sensibilities of a person at your peril!! And Jesus in his loving compassion did just that! Of course he could just have conformed to his hearers wishes and effectively left them in their sinful self-reliance but no – he told them the truth but they didn't want to hear it, they didn't want to listen. Instead they turned from a sympathetic group of people mouthing platitudes about how good he was to a mob that was baying for his blood.
I wonder if you don't have strong feelings one way or the other about Jesus whether you've ever had a genuine encounter with him at all because the Jesus I find in the Bible divides people. And that of course is exactly what he said he would do:
Mt.10:34-36 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household."
The folk in Nazareth thought of Jesus as one of theirs and that that fact alone would be sufficient – but it is not mere acquaintance with Jesus that counts, the folk in Nazareth were certainly acquainted with Jesus but they allowed that familiarity to breed contempt in their lives and they tried to destroy him. That reaction showed up the emptiness of their earlier plaudits when they spoke so favourably about him.
What of us? What of me and what of you?
How do we react to Jesus when he won't do what we think he ought to do? How do we react when we simply can't confine him in our comfortable little religious boxes? Are we prepared to rethink, to bow the knee and recognize his sovereign rights as the Divine Messiah? We could, of course, react strongly against him and throw over all pretence of discipleship and actively fight against him – that was the path the folk of Nazareth in the synagogue chose that fateful day. Or we could simply withdraw from following him and try to back quietly away. But neither of those two ways will lead to us enjoying any of the benfits of salvation this Wonderful came to secure.
Do not back away from Jesus! Stay and find out what he is really like. Stay and find out what he really teaches. Stay and put your faith and trust in him – he is the Only Saviour able to save your never-dying soul and what is more he is willing to do so!
The crowd that day had begun with a certain complacent smugness but they ended the day utterly opposed to the divinely appointed Messiah. But what hope had they of succeeding in their opposition and rejection of Jesus? They pushed him towards the cliff; their intention was to thrown him off so that he might die – but what actually happened to their plans? Were they able to succeed? No, of course not. Jesus simply walked through them all and off to his next port of call. Nor would this be the last time that he would escape the murderous intent of his enemies.
My friend, if you reject Jesus Christ you won't end up victorious in your rejection. Oh for a while you might seem to be getting away with it – a bit like the crowd as they seemed to have the upper hand as they pushed Jesus along. But in the end you'll lose just as the crowd was frustrated that day – only your loss will be a dreadful loss, and everlasting loss.
Come to Jesus Christ today and live!