No Hometown Hero

Luke 4:22-24, 28,29
And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'”
And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.
And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things;
and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.

This is how every priest, preacher, prophet, and shepherd dreams his ministry would begin, with enraged listeners rushing him to the top of the nearest cliff to heave him over. This scenario would be a little less incomprehensible had it occurred among strangers, but in your home town, among your own family? Those with whom you grew up? What a bizarre response from the congregation!

Here Jesus comes back to Nazareth to start His ministry and begins reading from Isaiah and somehow some of the things He says angers the crowd. Just prior they were quite impressed. They initially flattered Him. He had not yet said anything to them though that challenged their lifestyle, their behavior, their mindset, their practices. He just quoted a fabulous verse from Isaiah, the promise of the culmination of prophetic history, and He told them it was completed in that very hour! That would have got their attention.

But He knew what was in their hearts. It isn’t revealed in the text what exactly that was. We aren’t shown just what got Him riled up, what initiated the verbal attack, though the hints are there with the references to their wondering how He could speak so graciously, and their knowing He was merely Joseph’s son. But sternly upbraids them Jesus does in verses 23 and following. “Physician, heal yourself.” “You think you’re better than we are, we know you, we’ve known you since you were in diapers, you want to heal us? Heal yourself!”

There is a related saying, “familiarity breeds contempt,” and some of this may have come into play in Nazareth. But in speaking before family and friends the tendency of many may be to tone down, moderate, not offend. But Jesus was not about to coddle. He was not on this earth to mince words. He was going to speak the whole truth in love. To His family, to strangers, to royalty, to everybody. They were all just His creatures. All in need of healing. All in need of His love and needing to hear the words that would bring salvation to the broken soul. He couldn’t afford to mince word, their eternity hung in the balance.

Jesus knew He was going to be a rock of stumbling, that people would take offense at the things He was going to have to say. People were doing things that, should He say it, were not Godly. Just read the Scriptures. All throughout the Old Testament, His own people never failed to do the wrong thing. Now He finally came to Earth, to walk among them to show them how it is done, to tell them how it is done. Of course these things are not going to be easy to hear. That’s why He so often said “he who has ears to hear.” To everyone else the Gospel was offensive. He preached the word anyway. It didn’t mean He hated the sinner, far from it. No one felt compassion like Jesus. But even though strangers or family did not understand and took offense at His message He still told them God’s message per chance they might be saved. And some did come around. James, His brother became the leader of the Jerusalem Church. But for now they were quite puzzled.

Shortly after, His family came to Him, still not understanding Him or his objective, thinking He had lost His senses, Mark 3:20, 21 but He told His listeners, “whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35 So He continued day after day to speak the words the world needed to hear. He never minced words. He spoke directly when it was required, in parables when needed, the Scribes and Pharisees understood His barbs and jabs perfectly clearly. The poor understood the power of His miracles more than words could show. The hypocrites remained confused by His parables. But sadly He was never able to go back home. He had another Home waiting, in Glory. Where He is going to receive many, many of His mothers and sisters and brothers. And they won’t be misunderstanding anything He will be saying in that Hometown.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Confronting Christ as Accuser

Mark 14:61-64
Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses?
“You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.

We’ve all made mistakes in our professions. Even major mistakes. Some massively major mistakes. In a book manufacturing job I bought 65,00 sheets of book cover material that were too small to use on the book for which they were ordered. In my defense the layout was drawn and approved by someone on the floor and given to me to order, but it was my name on the purchase order. I could mention other blunders but you too can recall some embarrassing errors that you and your company would just as soon forget ever happened. These professional lapses are, in today’s jargon, learning opportunities, everyone has them. In fact I remember one time letting my temper get the best of me when my boss advised me that management wanted employees to walk in the painted lines outside the buildings and I commented that my mother taught me how to walk when I was an infant. I immediately apologized for this minor outburst of of rudeness. This is what you do when you know you make a mistake.

There are mistakes, and then there are moral judgments that are diametrically opposed to one’s profession. Would you talk to your CEO or the President of your company with supreme contempt and malevolence for no justifiable reason? Would you publicly slap him and spit in his face and abuse him? I very much doubt it. You would most likely accord him the respect he deserves unless he was some diabolical son of Satan or something.

But I keep reading these verses above and am baffled. These leaders are the board of directors of the Jewish institution and they knew full well who they had standing in front of them! They had seen the miracles Jesus performed the last few years. They heard His wisdom and His teachings and knew of His power. They must have known in their hearts He was from God. I’ll bet during this interrogation the words of the parable of the vineyard were ringing in their ears,

“This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours!” Mark 12:7

because they knew at that time this parable was spoken that it was directed at them.

But they did have a fear. Afraid of what they would lose. They knew the end game was very near. They knew they would lose all their power and authority and standing as teachers of the Law before the Jewish people and before the Romans in Jerusalem if they allowed Jesus to continue living. Curiously they had no concern for the things of the Spirit, their concern was all about the things of the earth. And they want Him removed from the earth. It’s their audacity that amazes me. They knew in their hearts who He was and they could still look Him in the eye and say these things and act this way!

Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers received Him with slaps in the face. Mark 14:65

Who would have the temerity, the fearlessness, the recklessness, the insanity, to do such things to the Creator of the universe! Did they think they would actually somehow get away with this? This is just beyond crazy! But the insanity continues, and no one stops it, the ball keeps rolling and picks up speed and it gets only more wild and crazy until the whole thing blows up in train wreck of horrible torture and a public, ugly, brutal death.

But of course we now know that stopping this wasn’t the plan. From the beginning Redemption was set on this exact hinge-pin described in all its gore above and continuing. As far back as Abraham who mentioned God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice (Genesis 22:8) which John the Baptist said was Jesus for taking away the sins of the world (John 1:29). For those who faced Jesus with such hostility in that initial interrogation that Last Supper night, they will have some explaining to do and there will be no words for them then.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Noah, Man, Myth or Lie

Isaiah 54:9 “For this is like the days of Noah to Me, When I swore that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you Nor will I rebuke you.

Speaking of Noah, he has a Blockbuster film released in theaters this Spring starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. It struck me when reading this verse a month or so ago that how ironic that so many Christians think of Noah and a mythological person like Bigfoot or elves, even when reading his story out of Genesis. (Kudos to the movie producers to try to keep as close to the Biblical story as possible.) What I found ironic when reading the above verse was that some Christians have little confidence in the veracity of the flood story itself and the person of Noah. Certainly God has no such qualms as seen in His quote.

How nice that God could remember His relationship with Noah so many years ago and not forget His old friend and could use the flood story as an example of how merciful he could be to those who possessed His covenant.

So you skeptics, be smug about who this guy is, just legend like the ogres, someone to fill out bedtime stories to your young ones to help then go to sleep, or keep Sunday School children amused for a class period. Go ahead, wink at the rest of us gulables. We can see that God was able to remember him, calling the event to mind so that He could console Israel that they had some remarkable final days to look forward that they might keep this hope in mind no matter what might come. But using fake history to promise a fake future simply doesn’t work and people see right through that and historically there has never been any successful outcome using it. So for God to talk about “these are like the days of Noah” if there really had never been any days of Noah, well, how could you put any trust in what He said?

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Blindness of Hate

Mark 3:1-2 [Jesus] entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.

How would you react if you saw something so amazing your eyes would grow large, your skin would crawl, and you’d be frozen in your tracks. That’s about what would have happened if you witnessed someone standing near you who had a withered hand all gnarled and deformed from birth, and then with no one touching it just saw it straighten out into a normal hand all by itself. You’d pinch yourself, thinking you were dreaming. But if it was the person of Jesus that was standing in front of the man, and you’d been hearing for weeks that He had been doing this kind of thing and this was your first eye witness event, you would still be amazed, right, but at least you could attribute this awesome power to the glory of God, right, since this was something good?

Imagine then your surprise when those pastors and teachers whose sermons and religious instructions you had been listening to for so many years had a completely different reaction to this event.

Mark 3:6 The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

What shock! Did they just see the same thing you did? Why didn’t they glorify God at this amazing miracle? A man’s deformed hand had been made completely normal and what did they want to do? They wanted to destroy Jesus! This is not a normal reaction to witnessing a miracle. This is completely abnormal. The correct response is one of joy because this is a good thing, someone was, in a sense, not well, and had been made well. So this was a great event! But this reaction is one of destruction and hatred! Who do you know that would stand before a person and call his healing something negative and attack the healer? No, this is Satan’s work at full power.

It’s amazing the way so many of Jesus’ contemporaries looked at Him and His work, seeing Him yes, but looking right through Him, Viewing with their eyes the wonderful things He did and at the same time not really seeing them. Just a few paragraphs later when He comes home His family wants to take Him into custody, for they were saying, “He has lost His senses”, and others of the religious called Him possessed by Beelzebul. Such phenomenally dark hearts, not to be able see the obvious, or choosing not to. The power of hate is amazing, too bad they couldn’t see that it really had nothing on the overwhelming power of love that finally conquered it all.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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From World’s Most Wise to Most Stupid

There are many examples in the Bible of people making bad judgements. Just start in Genesis with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and their choice of fruit. Or of King David and his choice of women concerning his adultery with Bathsheba resulting in the murder of her husband.

But to me the most stunning example of bad judgement is surprisingly found in the life of Solomon since he is reported to be “the wisest man on earth.” Even the queen of Sheba came from her realm with a bountiful retinue to see for herself and she said “Nevertheless I did not believe the reports, until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. You exceed in wisdom and prosperity the report which I heard.” 1 Kings 10:7, Solomon took his father’s kingdom upon David’s death and God asked him what He could give him and the his request was for wisdom and understanding in order to rule God’s people rightly. And God honored his request plus gave him that which he did not ask, wealth and honor. 1 King. 3:5-14

So Solomon ruled Israel with glory like no other king before or after and his fame spread far abroad and God’s glory followed after for years. But Solomon clearly understood God’s favor was conditional because God told him, “If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days.” v.14 But toward the end of Solomon’s reign we find that he strayed widely from God’s ways. It is not until we get to chapter 11 that we read

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the sons of Israel, “You shall not associate with them, nor shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.” Solomon held fast to these in love. He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away. For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 1 Kings 1-4

Its astounding that the most wise man in the world could become the most stupid in just a few short decades! And the only reason given is that he married a lot of pagan, godless women. He did exactly what he knew was forbidden. It is true that the allure of a women can be overwhelming and a man disregards that to his peril; Solomon proves that. He is so out of control. The creatures of this world made a wedge between him and his relationship with the LORD. He went so far as to built all kinds of pagan temples for his wives around Jerusalem and the kingdom became divided. Basically, he abandoned God, his toys became his god. It is supposed to be when you get older you have a much more broad exposure to life and the world that you gain the wisdom to know what really matters. But here we see that Solomon abandons all wisdom in his old age!

If this could happen to the wisest man on earth how easily can it happen to the rest of us with lesser mental acumen? The answer is, it can happen all too easily, probably as imperceptibly as it may have happened to Solomon if we are not careful. How can we guard against this? There are many verses in the New Testament to help, even all of Scripture! Ephesians 6:11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. or Philipians 2:13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. or Hebrews 12:2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, etc. But knowing God’s Word fully from Genesis to Revelation, reading the Word daily is one of the surest ways of keeping focus on God and knowing Him better and understanding what can happen in our lives, and what He can do, because we see what has happened in the lives of those who have gone before. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.” Colosians 3:16 The emphasis is on “richly” and “dwell.” “Dwell” as in actively working and moving and stirring, not as a lump causing a stomach ache. And “richly” as in causing much profit spiritually, not as in wrapped in a handkerchief and buried in the dirt in your backyard.

After Solomon came a string of kings most of whom followed the Lord but who, toward the end of their reigns, made tragic mistakes rather than relying on the Lord. But there is one standout I’ll talk about next who is a brilliant example for us in out daily lives to give us hope in those “against-all-odds” occasions.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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