Monday, October 19, 2020
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.
A few years ago, after a week on mission in the Dominican Republic, I had the unexpected, yet welcome, luxury of receiving an exit row seat on the flight from Santo Domingo to Atlanta. Instead of being surrounded by sleeping members of our exhausted mission team, this time I sat next to several strikingly large young men who all wore University of Wisconsin Football apparel. Curious as to what members of a football team might be doing in the Dominican Republic, a country internationally known for its passionate love of baseball, we struck up a conversation and, as it turns out, they were just returning from a Spanish-language study abroad program. We spent much of the flight talking and I was able to share about the outreach work our church was doing through medical clinics, construction projects, and training local pastors. As a Pittsburgh native and Steeler’s fan, I was also interested to get their assessment of one of their teammates, the Steeler’s recent first-round draft pick, linebacker T.J. Watt. While they were extremely complimentary of Watt as a person, they also made it clear that they were slightly doubtful of his ability to enjoy extended success as a pro, specifically mentioning another teammate that they thought was clearly better, although drafted much lower. They thought that, even though T.J. had enjoyed a productive junior season, he was over-hyped because of his famous brother, J.J. Watt, a superstar defensive end for the Houston Texans and 3-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Now, for those of you who don’t follow professional football, let’s just say that the last several years has seen T.J. more than answer that criticism and make quite a name for himself with his own play.
After a memorable time in Capernaum, Jesus and the disciples headed north to His hometown of Nazareth. While we might expect Jesus to be welcomed back triumphantly—“Local Boy Does Good!—the last time Jesus visited the synagogue in Nazareth, back at the very beginning of His time in public ministry, things did not exactly end on a positive note. Luke 4 records that back then Jesus was given the customary treatment of a visiting rabbi, being invited to share a word with the congregation. He chose to read from Isaiah 61 and subsequently proclaimed Himself as the fulfillment of the promise of the Lord’s Anointed Messiah.The people marveled at the power of His words, but they quickly began to question His identity—wasn’t this the son of Jospeh, a common carpenter?—and discount His authority. Jesus warned that their rejection fell in line historically with the people of Israel, who notoriously refused to listen to the prophets the Lord sent to them. The service abruptly ended with an enraged congregation rising from their seats intent on throwing Jesus over the cliff at the edge of town.
While Jesus had escaped with His life, the rejection of His former neighbors and church family lingered as He returned home to Nazareth, now as a distinguished rabbi, bringing the twelve disciples with Him. Once again, He was invited to teach in the synagogue and, once again, the people were astonished at His teaching as well as the reports of His many mighty works. Once again they questioned His identity, noting His former occupation, widowed mother, and even His skeptical brothers and sisters. It is striking that on this occasion the congregation focused on Mary rather than Jospeh, and commentator R. Kent Hughes writes “Sons were always identified by their fathers, not their mothers, even when the father was dead.” Following the Immaculate Conception of Mary, rumors of her infidelity, perhaps even with a Roman soldier, had persistently dogged their family. The people of the small town of Nazareth knew everyone’s dirty laundry and did not hesitate to bring what little they could dig up on Jesus out into the open.
Jesus recognized that the congregation’s erroneous “familiarity” with His story only served to stoke their smug arrogance and open hostility for Him. As they had initially marveled at Jesus’ unworldly power, so Jesus was amazed at their lack of belief, knowing that even a miracle performed in their presence would be nothing more than an exercise in futility.
Just as it is often difficult to asses the true abilities of a family member or close friend, there is a reason for the old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Often times the people we would do anything for are also the ones we are most likely to harm and bring out the worst in us. Similarly, there is grave danger in being “familiar” but not intimate with God. The people of Nazareth believed that they knew everything there was to know about Jesus so they were unable to receive the news that He was the one they had been waiting for all of their lives.
Similarly, those who grow up in the church often face the very real danger of what we might call gospel inoculation, knowing just enough Bible narrative to be familiar with it but never having fully accepted it as their own or believed it to be the very true Word of God. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith that God is who He has revealed Himself to be, it is impossible to please God. So where do so many of us get the gospel wrong? More often than not, people who think they know what God wants for them live as nothing more than moral deists. They think that God wants people to be good, not bad, and if we do more good than bad then we will get to go to heaven when we die.
The problem with this idea, however, is that it is not found in the Bible. The Bible teaches that none of us can be good enough to work our way to heaven, no one is righteous, and on our own merits we are fully deserving of the wrath of God. But the Bible also teaches that even in our brokenness, God loved us enough to do something about it, the only thing that could be done. He sent Jesus into the world to take our punishment, to satisfy the wrath of God for all who believe. Only by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus, can anyone be saved. And not only does Scripture promise that those who believe in Jesus will be with Him in heaven, but they can actually live with Him and for Him now here on earth. Our life can have a greater meaning and purpose than we ever imagined, but we must first acknowledge Jesus for who He truly is.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we confess that at times we completely miss out on Your true identity and desire for our lives. You have not called us to a life of misery or slavish obedience, but instead You have invited us to find life and joy in Your name. Help us to see You as You have revealed Yourself to be in Your Word, and root out every erroneous thought we have about You. May we behold Your mighty words and works anew today. We pray in Your marvelous name, Amen.