Photo: Sea Thrift flowers at Inchydoney, on the side of the small cliffs there.
Sermon for Sunday 27/1/13. Text Luke 4:14-30
Many of you have I’m sure lived away from home for a time and if you have, can you remember what it was like coming home? Perhaps you were nervous, perhaps you were excited about seeing your family and friends again and revisiting those places that were so much a part of your upbringing. Think too of what it was like going back to the church in whose pews you sat as a child…
The Lord Jesus had been away from His home town for a while; He had been down in the south of the country and there he had been baptised by John in the river Jordan and then he had been in the desert wilderness and Samaria. Now he was back in the North, back in Galilee and was returning to His home town of Nazareth, to his Mother and family and to the houses and streets and Synagogue with which He would have been so familiar from his growing up years.
Luke tells us that Jesus was ‘filled with the power of the Spirit’ (14) There was something different about Jesus now, of course, he had always been different, he had after all never sinned (2 Cor.5:21), and as fully man and fully God, he had always been full of the Holy Spirit. Now though there is a new power about him, his ministry has fully begun – He has been baptised and filled anew with the Spirit and he has overcome the devil in the desert. He has a new focus, a new passion and commitment. He has been going around the synagogues in the area and everyone has been really impressed with him and sung his praises.
So, the Lord is back in Nazareth and on Saturday morning, the Sabbath, he goes to church (I mean synagogue, but it really was quite like church). The Synagogue in Nazareth would have been small, it would have been traditional, they wouldn’t have had the latest worship songs. I think it’s safe to say that Mary and perhaps Jesus’ younger brothers and sisters would have been there and it’s not hard for us to imagine the anticipation in the air as the Lord stood up to read from Isaiah. He unrolls the scroll and reads the words:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (from Isaiah 61:1,2).
As he rolls up the scroll and hands it back to the attendant you would have been able to hear a pin drop, all the eyes are fixed upon Him. This is Jesus, the local boy made good.
It all starts off very well. Jesus says in response to the reading from Isaiah:
‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (21)
Now this is a very bold statement, these words from Isaiah are part of a prophecy about the Messiah, that He will be the one sent to Israel to set them free from oppression and captivity and to usher in a new era of God’s blessing and favour. Jesus’ audience like what He has to say; Luke tells us that, ‘All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.’ (22)
But the honeymoon doesn’t last long. The awe of the people in the ‘pews’ doesn’t linger, they say, ‘hang on a minute, isn’t this Joseph’s son, we’ve known him since he was knee-high to a grasshopper?’ It is always easier for the outsider to be listened to; we take them at face value and give them the benefit of the doubt. But when it is one of our own, one whom we have known since they were a child then it is much more difficult for us to accept them and what they have to say. So for these people of Nazareth it is a difficult thing to accept that this child of Joseph as they thought, (see 3:23) is the Messiah.
The people are confused and that confusion will very soon turn to anger. They had heard about the miracles that Jesus had been performing and His reputation was growing all the time, but could He really be the Messiah?
Perhaps any ordinary preacher would have snuck out the back door by now, but Jesus is no ordinary preacher, and He will certainly not let anyone get in the way of God’s Word. There is more to say and He is going to say it:
‘…there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine all over the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.’ (25, 26)
The citizens of Nazareth were just like their fellow countrymen and women throughout Israel, they were a proud people. As far as they were concerned, they had the monopoly on God. Their history showed that they were God’s chosen, special and blessed people. They would have treasured the promise of Deuteronomy 7:6, which says:
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
The Lord Jesus is saying that God also loves the other nations; Jesus will die not just for the sins of Israel but for the world: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (John 3:16) Jesus reminds them of how God sent the prophet Elijah to a foreign widow for food and shelter when he was on the run from king Ahab (1 Kings 17,18). In case the point has not hit home, Jesus gives them another example, of the Syrian army commander Naaman, who was healed of leprosy through the ministry of Elisha. In other words yes God loves Israel, but He also loves the rest of the world and He wants to reach out and save them too.
For the people of Nazareth this was a great insult, it wounded their national pride and conceit. It would be like God saying to the flag-waving Unionists that He also loved and deeply cared about their Roman Catholic neighbours and wanted them to do the same. How outrageous, how insulting, how blasphemous! We don’t mind hearing that God is great and just and holy and pure, but when we are told that he will have mercy on people who we don’t like and with whom we strongly disagree, we cannot stand it. To find out that God loves those whom we hate will make us furious and so it was with the people in church that morning.
‘They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.’ (29)
What drove the people to fury was that God was rescuing the wrong people. It would be someone in Britain or France during world war two speaking about God’s healing and restoration for Nazi Germany.
One of the beautiful things about the unity service we shared in the Roman Catholic Church last week was the joy of just being able to be together, free of the past, the past where we were suspicious of each other, the past where each saw themselves as the ‘real’ church and the other somehow not part of God’s true church on earth. The joy was not ours alone but a joy that, I believe, was and is a gift given to us by God. Generations of mutual suspicion and mistrust are, all over the country coming to an end. None of us know what God has in store for His united Church on this Island, but the Spirit is leading us and it is wonderfully exciting. Yes, there will always be those who will cling on to the past, who are able to give lots of reasons and examples as to why this cannot be God’s will, but so long as we keep focusing on the Lord Jesus, we will not fall into that trap. We don’t want to find ourselves unwittingly in that angry mob as they bundled Jesus out of the church and marched Him to the cliff edge. Jesus had returned to the town and to his home church full of the Holy Spirit and they did not like it. God was in their midst, it should have been the start of a wonderful revival, there should have been many conversions and healings, it should have been a time of wonderful blessing and joy. But what did they want to do when God showed up in power? They wanted to kill Him, to kill God! No longer was God in the box they wanted to keep Him in, so they wanted to hurl Him off a cliff.
What on earth must be going through Mary’s mind at this point? Luke doesn’t tell us; instead we are left to ask ourselves the question, ‘What would I have done had I been there? Would I have gone along with the crowd, would I have tried to stop them? Am I angry at Jesus for loving the people that I don’t like, the people I disagree with and the person I can’t forgive?’ It’s OK to be angry, but in that place of rage let’s not push Jesus away, rather let us fall on our knees and surrender. Remember that He loved us even though before we gave our life to Him, we were God’s enemies (Colossians 1:21). Let us surrender ourselves now and always to the one who loves even us, loves us so much that He gave His life in our place. Not only does He love us, He loves our enemies too and He wants us to do the same (Matt.5:44)… Amen.