Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jesus’s charged Nazareth sermon

16¶ And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?
23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.
24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.
27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way,
31 And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. (Luke 4:16-31)
Here are some questions I have about this story that I have tried to answer for myself.

Why does Jesus start with the Isaiah scripture? I think it is because it announces who He is and what He can do for the people. I notice that verse 22 says that “all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.” This makes me think that He further expounded on the scriptures and His role to the people.

Why do the people say “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” It seems to me that they wonder what power Jesus has to fulfill the scripture that He says is about Himself. They know His upbringing, so they think He is Joseph’s son, not God’s Son. If they believed He was God’s Son, they would not doubt that He could do what He said. They also take refuge in a strategy (which happens to be the favorite strategy of all anti-Christs), which is to find fault with (or manufacture fault against) the messenger as an excuse to ignore the message.

Jesus responds to this in kind of a strange way. He doesn’t make a direct defense based on argument; He makes a prediction about what they are going to say to Him in the future. Why does Jesus predict what they will say to Him? First, His prophecy is a demonstration that He is who He says He is. (Do they notice this or not? I don't know.) Second, I think He understood the spiritual implications of their doubting question and He was pointing out that if they couldn’t grasp that little bit about His divinity, it would get in the way of them understanding the power that He would demonstrate so they would make all kinds of inaccurate assumptions about what He would do. He gives them a sample of two inaccurate assumptions they would make:
  • “Physician, heal thyself” - The people would think that Jesus was just a powerful healer, rather than understanding that He was using the priesthood power of God that came as part of His divine identity as Son of God. They would also see Him becoming subject to all manner of diseases of mortality and they would think that He should just use His healing abilities to benefit Himself. (If Jesus were just a healer, He could, but because He used the power of God, He wouldn’t use it in a self-serving way because the power of God can only be controlled or handled in principles of righteousness.)
  • “whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country” - The people would think Jesus was some sort of magician who did miracles regardless of need or the faith of others. It shows they would not be willing to believe what good they heard about His works or what they knew of His early life and character. They would demand to see it themselves. They expected that being of His homeland should give them privileges above all others.
Why does Jesus refer to the stories of the non-Israelites? Is this an expansion on proclaiming liberty to the captive? It seems no. They already disbelieved that part, so He couldn’t go any farther. It seems it is a warning about unbelief. He cites two important examples from the Old Testament to illustrate. He points out that no widows in Israel were miraculously fed during a famine, only a widow of Sidon. (He was highlighting how Israelite widows’ unbelief in Elijah hurt them and kept them from being fed.) He points out that no Israelite lepers were healed, only a Syrian. (He was highlighting how Israelite lepers’ unbelief in Eliseus hurt them and prevented them from being cleansed.) Jesus cites these examples* to teach that just like belief in the living prophets was required for feeding and cleansing healing, belief in Jesus was necessary to be healed, delivered, to see, be liberated, and taught, according to Isaiah's prophecy. If they didn’t believe in Him, none of them would enjoy any of those miracles and they would stay in captivity.

What does this story teach us? In it Jesus seems to make it pretty clear that if we do not believe Jesus Christ can save us, we will not be saved, even if we are a member of the church. (This charged message had to have been exactly what angered the hidebound Nazareth people to the point that they tried to kill Jesus.)

* Jesus’s perspective of these stories and the lesson He drew from them also gives us an insight into His character and spiritual penetration. Think of how many times He must have heard those stories read in the synagogue and discussed in a certain way. Usually when those stories are discussed in our Sunday school classes, we focus exclusively on the people who were the beneficiaries of those miracles. But it seems that Jesus also thought very carefully about those who DIDN’T experience those miracles (yet needed them badly) and realized that the stories were an indictment on the Israelites for unbelief just as much as they were instructive about the belief of those who were blessed by the miracles. He also must have decided that the only thing that could make those stories truly applicable to the lives of the people in His day was if those miracles were within reach of anyone who would believe. Otherwise, why talk about them over and over again if they are only for a chosen few? I think it is the same for us today. If we really believe that the priesthood power is the same power that Jesus has, then we may be healed of all manner of diseases and be cleansed from our sins and escape captivity. We may enjoy the same miracles manifested to believers in all ages of the world.


Kimberly said...

That's the key isn't it? Believing in Christ-really believing in Him is what brings us the joy of the gospel, what allows us to enter into his rest, and what will eventually lead to our salvation. It's so simple-just have faith-and I think that's why it's so hard.