31 January 2016
The new teacher asked one toddler “How old are you, Brian?” Brian answered, “I am four.” Then the teacher asked, “When will you turn five years old?” The boy answered, “When I’m done being four.”
I guess we all like clever children, and today’s readings from Psalm 71 (.6, 17), Jeremiah 1 (.5-6), 1 Corinthians 13 (.11) and the Gospel of Luke 4 (.22) all remind us of youth who represent God. But the Gospel also shows us the problem of a person trying to represent the Lord in his hometown. I understand that, and maybe you do also. I grew up as an Orthodox Jew in Kansas City, in the middle of the US, and when I came to believe in Jesus, most who knew me ‘back then’ wouldn’t have anything to do with me nor listen to what I had to say about God. Sometimes the people closest to us, who knew us when, are the ones with whom we have the most difficulty in sharing what we believe about God and Jesus.
That said, let me thank Father Steven for welcoming me back here to the parish and thanks to each of you who is listening to me, both here live, and those who will hear this online or read the sermon there later. Thanks because you are listening to someone whom you might otherwise disregard. Also I hope you will fill out that white card which is inside the newsletter, which allows us to continue to communicate with you down the proverbial road through our email or print newsletter, your choice.
The scene at Nazareth
Let’s turn in our Bibles to the Gospel reading, Luke 4, and see what it has to say to us, as 21st Century people, both about our Messiah, who was chosen and rejected, and about our mission in the world, where we will probably receive similar response. And as I represent Jews for Jesus here in Australia, I hope you will consider sponsoring our mission as well, today and in the months to come. Back to Luke 4.
Verse 16: Yeshua came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, his hometown, and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and read: THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED,TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.”
He closed the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. Everyone was watching. Then Yeshua said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
This reading is almost an entire quote from Isaiah chapter 61. Either Luke or Yeshua leaves out the phrase about ‘the healing of the brokenhearted’ which Isaiah prophesies. The reading of a portion of the Bible from the prophets or other writings is a custom in the synagogue even to this day. Yeshua has been teaching in the area, and has been performing miracles in the Galilee, which is his diocese, if you will. He was busy in Capernaum, which is 32 kilometres away which obviously was well known to the people of his Nazareth synagogue and home.
Yeshua says the hope of the Jewish people, for someone who will bring the jubilee to the people, who will free us from Rome, that hope…it is Himself! Even the word ‘anointed’ in verse 17 is the verb form of Messiah. The Messiah would heal us, bring good news to us. He would not only proclaim God’s favor, He would actually set people free.
And Yeshua says the wait is over. He is the Chosen One, whom God anointed to fulfill the prophecy. The fulfillment is literally “in your hearing” because it consists in the words from Isaiah being spoken by the One for whom they were prophetically destined.
Now look at the people’s response. “Everyone spoke well of Him, and wondered at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
Keith Green was a musician who died in 1982. He was a rock and roller who came to believe in Jesus in the early 1970s. One of his songs that became a favorite for me was the “Song to my parents.” (Click to hear the Keith Green song)
The song ends with “It’s only that I care, I really only just want to see you there” about going to heaven. He urges them to consider eternity even though they often got into an argument about religion. The ending of the song however, is well worth our noting. After the appeal to his parents yet one more time, he says, “Isn’t that Jesus? Isn’t that Joseph and Mary’s son? Didn’t he grow up right here? He played with our children. What? He must be kidding. Thinks he’s a prophet. Prophets don’t grow up from little boys, do they? Do they?”
The question of course is begged in verse 22. Didn’t this man who just read to us the Bible passage and point it to himself… isn’t that the guy who used to fix our furniture in his carpenter shop? He’s just like us, so he cannot be the fulfillment of the Scriptures. And Yeshua knows that. Like we read in other passages of Yeshua’s awareness of what people are thinking. Verse 23 says, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself!” Yeshua knew what people were thinking. And it wasn’t good what the locals were thinking. No wonder Yeshua says, in verse 24. “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.”
Being chosen does not necessarily produce natural cheerleading from the locals. In fact, Yeshua seems to be saying the exact opposite is in view. In fact, we are unwelcome. We will be rejected. That’s a guarantee from the One who copped this rejection Himself. And it’s historically accurate in the biblical record, too. Each of the prophets was dismissed as wacky and irrelevant, or too close to the bone to hear. Each prophet was rejected. That’s the lot for Yeshua, too. And for each of us who chooses to follow Him. You will need more than luck to accomplish this-- you need God's grace, amen?
Two Older Testament examples
Back to our story. Yeshua tells two stories which changes their reactions from acceptance to rage. What two stories? One about Elijah going to the woman, the widow of Zarephath, and second, about Naaman the leper.
From verse 25: “But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel ain the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
You might remember those two Bible stories. The first from 1st Kings chapter 17, and the second from 2nd Kings chapter 5. I encourage you to read these later, even today. The stories are great and demonstrate many things then, and to the people today, and certainly to the people of Jesus’ day. When He references each, the widow and the leper, he’s highlighting several things. 1) Neither took place in the land of Israel, or distinctly that is, among Jewish people in our land and territory. 2) Both involved healings, and a picture of life from the dead and 3) Both involved the provision of God’s promises of substance and health. And finally 4) each was unique in the area. And that’s the clearest takeaway from the Lucan account. Yeshua says, “none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman”
In other words, God didn’t go to the leper colony, He didn’t attend the hospital gala and later walk through and heal everyone. He only healed Naaman. Similarly, in the famine in the Land, He didn’t specifically provide for everyone, nor visit each person, but went only to one place, and to one person. God not only selects; He deselects.
No wonder the people were enraged. It appears that they might be sidelined also. Even though the benefits should be theirs, naturally.
And one more thing about these two episodes. Zarephath is in Sidon which is in Phoenecia, that is, in modern Lebanon. The widow of Zarephath is not living in Jewish quarters. The prophet goes outside Israel to provide for anyone. The blessings of God are not limited to Jews.
Wait, you mean Yeshua wants people to go to foreigners and share this message? Yes. Yeshua wants us to go to those who are not yet believers to make His name known? Yes, sirree.
Naaman the Syrian is an outsider, too. And he even originally rejects the prophecy to wash in the river seven times, because the rivers in Syria are much cleaner than the Jordan. But his associates help him understand that he should obey the prophet and voila he is healed. Awesome.
But wait a minute, going outside your comfort zone, going to Gentiles, going to enemies, going away from the ‘insider’s place’…who does that?
What! You must be kidding. Prophets don’t grow up from little boys, do they? Do they? And then prophets are not really welcomed back home, are they? So what’s going to happen to me when I join your evangelism team? Rejection? Ha! Who wants that?
So what do the people of Nazareth do to Yeshua? In verse 29 we read that they formed a mob. They evicted him from town, and seemed to chain deliver him to the brow of the hill overlooking town. Yeshua is in trouble. He will definitely be tossed over to his death. Have you seen a place like that in Tamworth or Townsville, where the big crosses adorn the highest hill? Over in Auckland there is one-tree hill to which they might have gone. In our days, they would have taken him to the top of the Sydney tower in the middle of the CBD or the top of the Eureka Tower in Melbourne. Wherever they took him there in Nazareth, the end was near for our hero. But since He had not yet taken on the sins of the world (which He took at Gethsemane), death could not have impacted Him. In other words no one could take His life from Him just yet. So what does the Bible say? We read in verse 30, that Yeshua “passed through their midst and went His way.“
Wow. Mobs don’t let the enemy out of their sight. But this one did. Mobs don’t let the convicted one escape. But this mob did. Because no matter what, Yeshua is Lord of the situation. And He will choose when and where He will die. And He did.
What do we learn?
We learn from this episode at his hometown a few things.
1) Yeshua declared Himself to be the Messiah
2) That declaration was not welcomed by all Jewish people
3) His intention to set people free was not limited to Jewish people, but also included Syrians, Lebanese, and probably a few folks from the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Even as Jeremiah was told to be “a prophet to the nations.”
4) When He demonstrated His power in the past, in the Older Testament, He did not choose to make a major production out of it, but chose a single example so that women and men would understand that He can perform wonders.
5) No one can take His life from him. He will eventually lay it down of his own initiative and die on the Roman cross for our sins and take our sins on Himself so as to truly liberate us from bondage, and give us eternal life.
6) Finally, as He was chosen and rejected, so we are to be as well. God chose us in the beginning to walk with Him, (2 Thes. 2.13, Col 3.12) and as such we will suffer the same fates as our Messiah. (Rev. 17.14, John 17.18). If we want to rise with him, we must go to the cross with him. I know it’s early but next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and the way of Lent begins in about 10 days. So it’s right to ponder this deep truth a moment longer.
If we suffer the rejection from others, don’t be surprised. That’s how they treated everyone sent from God to them. Romans chapter 8 says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” If you can’t bear the cross, then you can’t wear the crown.
We learned today that a prophet is not without honor, except in his own home turf. And maybe you find it most difficult to witness to those closest to you. May I recommend that you each one of you, understand that, and try to be involved in each others’ families? Ask the parents or children of parishioners who visit, “Are you a follower of Jesus?” When you meet someone’s family here or at the church picnic, ask the hard questions. Invite response. Some cannot possibly ask those of their own families any longer. But you can.
Just now into Sydney is arriving my old university roommate. We’ve been friends since 1969, a mere 47 years ago. And we will spend some time together later today and tomorrow for sure. He’s only here for a few days. And you know, he will find it easier to hear the Gospel again from someone not-so-close, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself just now. You never really know, do you? But at least we can be more sensitive to each other’s concerns. Please pray for Mike.
Chosen doesn’t always mean ‘received’, and more realistically those who are chosen by God receive more knockbacks than praises. Is that what you signed up for? If you are a believer, then that IS what you signed up for.
Thanks be to God for His strength, and His power to keep us, and to keep using us, for His purposes. Amen?
A bit about JFJ
Now let me say a few words about Jews for Jesus for whom also I’m here. Two days before Christmas our office received an initial email from a confused Jewish man out in Perth. He didn’t string his sentences together the way I’m used to and I wondered if he were having a go at us. But he said he was Jewish and curious about God, so I wrote him back straightaway. He replied. I replied. It kept going and a phone call ensued. And on Christmas Eve, Allen prayed with me to accept Jesus as his Messiah and Lord. And his darkness is going away. God is saving him daily by His priestly ministry. I hope you will join many in praying for him, his wife and children, and his finding rest in Messiah.
And we have loads more stories I want to tell you, from Budapest and Tel Aviv, from London and New York, to here in Sydney. I love our story. I have many others I want to tell you, but I’ll let the newsletter do that. Would you please fill out the white card you received on entry, tear the stub off, and begin to fill out the larger card. I won’t think it rude for you to write while I finish speaking. Please fill out the card completely, especially your email, so we can tell you stories quickly and you can pass them on via forward to many like this one. (For those online, just send an email will you please?) firstname.lastname@example.org will be happy to receive your contact information and anything you want to let us know about yourself.
If you are giving financially to Jews for Jesus today, please put the amount on the front of the card when you fill it out so we can receipt and thank you. I really appreciate that. (to donate, using PayPal, click on this link Link to donate Thanks.
Our book shop and ministry centre in Bondi Junction welcomes people all week, and every week for a decade unsaved Jewish people come in, like this week when Sebastian from Chile and Nick from Russia and Ariel from Israel all came in, to talk, to learn, to discuss.
I have a resource table up the back, and really want you to get some books on messianic prophecy like this one, or messianic music and many other items on the table.
By the way I also have a credit card machine, so you can use your card, a cheque, or cash to pay for things. Father Steven, thanks for letting me come today. Thanks to each of you here at St John’s who make this such a good place in a dark world. Remember, be His spokesmen to the world that so needs to know Him. Keep doing what makes Yeshua happy, no matter if others reject you, and have a blessed February, Lent, and a joyful Easter season.