Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up
Luke 4:22-30 audio (3MB)
One of the comments you often hear from non-Christians is that they quite like Jesus but they’re not so keen on God. Jesus is all loving, sacrificing, etc, while God seems so judgmental, so angry. People are happy to have a saviour. They’re happy to have someone who always forgives; who’s longsuffering and patient and kind. But they don’t want a God who wants to rule over their lives; to keep them accountable; who demands obedience and commitment.
The people of Jesus day were like that weren’t they? They were quite impressed with Jesus. He spoke so well. Perhaps they didn’t quite get what he was on about when he suggested that the words of Isaiah were being fulfilled in their midst that very day. But they were amazed at how well this son of a carpenter spoke.
That, of course, was the problem. When they looked at Jesus all they could see was the son of Joseph. Here was the proverbial “local boy made good!” You can imagine them turning to one another and asking “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Isn’t this the little boy we watched growing up all those years ago?” But of course the answer to their question is a resounding “No!” Not even close. Luke has already made that clear several times over. The Angels tell the shepherds: “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11). Simeon Tells Mary: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed -- and a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:34-35) When he’s taken to the temple at the age of 12 he himself explains: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” (Luke 2:49). Then at his baptism the voice of God rings out: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22). Finally, in case you haven’t worked it out yet, Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to God himself.
No this isn’t just Jesus the carpenter’s son. This isn’t even Jesus the great teacher, the wise speaker of parables and wise sayings. And it certainly isn’t “Gentle Jesus, meek & mild”.
This is Jesus, the son of God. Even Satan acknowledges that. And the things that he’s come to do go far beyond the small town vision of these small town people.
It’s amazing, isn’t it, how self-centred human beings can be. Here they are face to face with the greatest person that ever lived and all they want is to get a buzz from seeing a miracle take place, a healing perhaps. All they want is to feel that they’re important enough for him to do something spectacular in their home town.
If you ask someone who they’d like to have come to dinner, most people would name some famous person wouldn’t they? Someone they look up to? Someone well known. Perhaps a sporting hero or a media star. And why would they choose that person? Not because they think they’ll be good table company. Not for their scintillating conversation. No, I suggest they’d do it so they can tell their friends later that they had that famous person to dinner. Most people’s motivation will be self-serving. And that’s the case here. Jesus points it out in a fairly blunt, even unkind way.
See how he answers them. He points them to their own history as a warning that God is interested in the whole world, not just this Jewish nation. It’s almost as if he’s giving them a warning isn’t it? He reminds them of how Elijah was treated by his own people. Do you remember the story of Elijah - we studied it just last year didn’t we? Elijah started out in Israel, proclaiming God’s word to the people and especially to Ahab the king but it soon got to the stage where it wasn’t safe for him to stay in Israel. Ahab and Jezebel were out to kill him. And so God sent him to a place called Zarephath in Sidon, over by the Mediterranean, outside the borders of Israel. And while he was there he provided not just for Elijah but for this Gentile widow and her son as well.
Similarly, in the time of Elisha, Elijah’s successor, he says, there were many lepers in Israel, as indeed there still were in Jesus’ day. But there’s only one leper who’s healed by Elisha, Do you remember who it was? It was Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, at a time when Syria and Israel were involved in running battles.
I guess a certain amount of racism is inherent in every culture. Every culture thinks of itself as inherently better than all the others. We’re more civilised; more advanced; more technologically developed; more honest; less cruel; less corrupt; more adaptable; you name it. And that was particularly so of the Jews at this point in time. They saw themselves as God’s special people. They knew their history. They’d read the words of Isaiah that we looked at a few weeks ago where God said “Fear not for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.” This self identity was etched into their thinking. God had a special plan for their nation.
But now Jesus comes along and reminds them that God cares for all his creation. Every person and tribe and nation is precious in God’s sight. If God could send Elijah and Elisha, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, to people outside Israel then he could certainly send his Messiah to those people as well.
Well, That was too much for the people of Nazareth. They change from admiration to anger. How dare he suggest that God would prefer a Sidonian woman to the people of Israel. How dare he cast aspersions on the people of his own home town? Who does he think he is? That of course is the big question isn’t it? But they don’t have time to stop and ponder the answer. They rise as a mob and drive him out of town to the top of a cliff where they figure they can throw him off and be done with him.
But as I said, this isn’t just Joseph’s son. This isn’t an ordinary human being who can be manhandled at will; disposed of when his demands become uncomfortable. No, this is the Son of God. They wanted to see a miracle and he performs one, though ironically they don’t actually see him do it, because he just disappears from their sight. He passes through their midst and is gone. They had their chance but they’ve blown it. They’ve rejected the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord, and now he’s lost to them, gone on to Capernaum.
But of course he isn’t lost to the rest of the world is he? The message that he brings, that salvation is now available to people of every nation is a good thing isn’t it? The people of Nazareth may not have liked hearing it, but the rest of the world rejoices. Listen to how John summarises these events at the beginning of his gospel: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:11-12)
Jesus comes as the new Adam, as the perfect son of God, so that people everywhere might receive the perfect righteousness that he gives to those who believe in his name.
Last week we saw that Jesus came to bring good news, freedom for those imprisoned in some way, sight to those who are blind, freedom from oppression, an experience of the Lord’s favour. And now we see that that freedom, that good news is for all people throughout the world.
When I look at my life I see failure and sinfulness at every turn. But when I look at Jesus I see the one who came to offer righteousness to all who believe in him.
Jesus was not just a great teacher and healer. He’s the risen Lord and Saviour, the Son of God who died and rose so we could be made righteous in God’s sight.
I pray that this year you might hold tight to that gift of eternal life and that you might want to share that good news with those you know who haven’t yet received it.