HOMETOWN BOY Luke 4:22-30

A communion meditation at Grenville Christian College, Brockville, Ontario, January 28, 2001

by Robert Brow

In our Gospel reading we have the result of the first sermon Jesus preached in the synagogue of Nazareth. Some time back he had moved away, and begun his ministry in the synagogues around Capernaum on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. Now he was invited to preach in his own home town.

He preached from a text in the Old Testament. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor" (Isaiah 61:1). At first they were very impressed. "All spake well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth" (Luke 4:22). Then there was a sudden change of attitude. Someone said "look, isn't this Joseph's son? You remember he worked in the carpenter's shop. And his mother and brothers and sisters still live in the village" (Matthew 13:55-56). In a few minutes there was an uproar and his hearers were ready to lynch him.

Such sudden changes of mood happen very easily. They can occur between good friends. Between parents and their children. And husbands and wives can suddenly fall out. Many divorces begin like that. A church can be disrupted by a few angry words. And I hope you are all praying that your college family here will be kept from that kind of disaster.

Now imagine if you had come to this service this morning, and were expecting a preacher from Kingston. You would of course know that someone who came specially from near Queen's University must be an expert! There was a great sermon, but suddenly you wake up and realize that this preacher is one of your fellow students here at Grenville Christian College. "Hey, this is Joe, what does he know?"

So the people in the synagogue turned on Jesus "What right have you got to preach to us? Show us some credentials. Why don't you do some of the miracles they reported you did in Capernaum?" There was a proverb that said "Doctor, cure yourself" (Luke 4:23). If you have the flu, you are not impressed if your doctor is half dead coughing and with a high fever. And Jesus knew they were thinking he was in no better spiritual health than they were.

Then he explained that "No prophet is accepted in the prophet's home town." And he went on to point out the serious implications of unbelief. You don't get miracles among a prophet's friends.

Elijah was one of the greatest of Old Testament prophets. During a terrible famine he stayed at the home of widow who lived in Canaanite territory (just north of present day Israel near the city of Sidon). The prophet told her to bake him a cake, and she said that was her last bit of flour and olive oil. The next day she and her son would begin dying of starvation. Elijah said "Don't worry, the jar of meal did will not be empty, nor will the jug of oil fail for many days till the rains come (1 Kings 17:8-16).

Elijah was succeeded by his servant Elisha. And while he prophesied in Israel, the commander in chief of the Syrian army arrived demanding to be cured of his leprosy. The five star general was not only a foreigner, but the Syrians were Israel's ruthless enemy (as they still are to this day). Elisha sent him to wash seven times in the Jordan. And when the general came out of the water his leprosy was not only healed but his skin "was restored like the flesh of a young boy" (2 Kings 5:14).

The two stories were very familiar. But Jesus pointed out a very unexpected conclusion. There were a huge numbers of widows in Israel at the time of Elijah, but not one of them experienced a miracle. And there were hundreds of lepers wandering around the countryside and not one of them was healed (Luke 4:26-27). The point was obvious. The local people all thought "Oh this is Elijah, he was raised among us, what can he do? And we know Elisha. He was just Elijah's personal servant. We wouldn't expect a miracle from him." Scornful unbelief always prevents God's healing power.

But Jesus hearers were furious at the suggestion that God cared about foreigners from among the despised Canaanites and the hated Syrian enemies of Israel. So we read "All in the synagogue were filled with rage." It was a totally irrational reaction. They were so angry that they dragged him out, and tried to throw him down from a cliff outside the town, but he slipped away from them (Luke 4:28-30).

What can we learn from this account of such a mood change? Well for start it is very dangerous to assume that our own nation is privileged. That is the sect mentality which imagines "We are of course better than others, and we deserve God's favor."

There was an army captain who came to Jesus and asked for healing for his personal servant who was paralyzed and in great distress. The officer was not only a foreigner but part of the ruthless occupying Roman army. To everyone's astonishment, not only was the servant healed, but Jesus added "Many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness" (Matthew 8:11). As Jesus prophesied, the temple and city of Jerusalem would be destroyed within the lifetime of his hearers (as happened in AD 70). And since then churches have mushroomed unexpectedly among all sorts of foreigners all over the world. Only now, after 1900 years, Jewish people are beginning to see that Jesus, their hometown boy, may have had a message for them from God.

Secondly we should never despise a message from God which might come from an unexpected direction. The psalm writer said "The heavens declare the glory of God." Balaam got a message from his donkey. God uses the Bible to speak to us, and God loves to use very ordinary people. The Lord might even try to get through to you by the words of a fellow student. Or that teacher you think is such a pain. You never know when God will speak to you, and when he does better listen. You wouldn't want to join in a lynching of Jesus the Light of the world.

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