Nazareth

Jesus, the Nazarene

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. – Matthew 2:19-23 ESV

Matthew provides us with no timeline for the events recorded in this chapter. We only know that Joseph was warned by an angel to take his wife and child to Egypt. And sometime later, the angel gave Joseph permission to return to Israel because Herod the Great had died. The dates surrounding these events seem less relevant to Matthew than do the details concerning the return of Jesus to the land of Israel. Just as God had released the descendants of Jacob from their long stay in Egypt and restored them to the land of Israel, so Jesus was allowed to return to the land of promise.

There is an interesting parallel between Jesus and Moses. Both were presented as deliverers of their people. Moses was a Jew who had grown up as an Egyptian, but due to his murder of a fellow Egyptian, he had become an exile and a fugitive, living in the land of Midian. Yet God called Moses and sent him back to Egypt so that he might lead the people of Israel out of captivity and into the land HE had promised to their forefather, Abraham. And God called Jesus out of Egypt, sending Him back to the land of Israel, where He would become the deliverer of His people. Jesus Himself would later proclaim that His God-ordained mission was to provide release for those who were held captive. 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free…” – Luke 4:18 NLT

But Jesus was not talking about release from physical slavery. He did not come to deliver those held captive by some political or military power. No, His mission was to set free all those held captive by sin and death. The author of Hebrews describes the role of Jesus as the deliverer of Israel in the following terms:

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT

There is a second parallel between Moses and Jesus, and it involves the killing of the innocent. In the opening chapter of Exodus, we are told that the Pharaoh feared the growing number of Israelites living in the land of Egypt, so he came up with a diabolical plan to manage the exploding birthrate of the Jews. He gave a command to the Hebrew midwives, designed to limit the number of male births among the Jews and so eliminate any future threat of an insurrection.

“When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” – Exodus 1:16 NLT

And Herod had issued a similar command in Jesus’ day, ordering the execution of all Jewish boys under the age of two.

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. – Matthew 2:16 NLT

In both cases, God spared the lives of Moses and Jesus. One was hidden by his mother in a basket made of reeds and rescued by the daughter of Pharaoh. He would grow up in the wealth and opulence of the royal palace, living like a prince and enjoying all the benefits that come with being part of Pharaoh’s household. Jesus would be hidden by God the Father in the land of Egypt, only to return to the land of promise where He would grow up in relative obscurity and lacking any of the royal perks that Moses enjoyed. Interestingly enough, Moses was a Jew from a poor household who became a prince in the palace of Pharaoh. Yet, Jesus was the Son of God, who left behind His royal rights and privileges and took on the likeness of a man, being born into a nondescript Jewish household with little in the way of wealth or fame.

The apostle Paul describes the entrance of Jesus into the world in terms that express His humility and selflessness.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:8 NLT

Matthew later records the following statement by Jesus concerning His far-from-comfortable lifestyle.

“Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” –  Matthew 8:20 NLT

There are several similarities shared by Moses and Jesus, but the author of Hebrews points out that any comparison between them falls far short. Moses was just a shadow of the one to come. He provided an incomplete picture of the

Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God.

Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ. – Hebrews 3:3-6 NLT

Moses had been faithful, but not perfectly so. While he had managed to do God’s will and deliver the nation of Israel to the border of the land of Canaan, he would be denied entrance into the land because he had failed to be fully obedient and had treated God with disdain and disrespect. Yet, Jesus was able to confidently assert His full submission to the will of His Heavenly Father.

“I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” – John 17:4 NLT

Jesus was the true deliverer. And He came to offer a rest unlike anything the people of Israel had ever known before. The land of Canaan was supposed to have been a place of rest for the people of Israel. But the first generation of Jews who had escaped captivity in Egypt had refused to enter the land when given the opportunity. And while the next generation had finally obeyed God and crossed over the Jordan and taken possession of the land, they had never fully experienced the rest God had offered, because they had refused to live in obedience to His will.

The author of Hebrews points out that Joshua was able to get the people into the land, but they had never enjoyed all the blessings God had promised, because they had refused to keep their covenant commitment to Him. And yet, God’s promise of rest was not eliminated or invalidated. He would still keep His covenant promise.

Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. – Hebrews 4:8-9 NLT

And as the author of Hebrews points out, the offer of rest still stands.

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. – Hebrews 4:6-7 NLT

Jesus would return from Egypt, settle in the land of Galilee in the city of Nazareth. This was the actual hometown of Joseph, so, in a sense, they were returning home.

Matthew seems to state that Joseph’s decision to settle in Nazareth was the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. But the problem is that there is no Old Testament passage that speaks of Nazareth as being the home of the Messiah. Bethlehem is mentioned, but never Nazareth. So, is Matthew making this up? Is he playing fast and loose with his facts? It seems that he is tying together a variety of Old Testament passages that speak of the Messiah being despised and associating them with the city of Nazareth. At the time Jesus was born, neither Galilee or Nazareth was held in high esteem. Even Thomas wondered how Jesus, the Messiah could hail from such a lowly place as Nazareth.

Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him,  “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” – John 1:45-46 NLT

Matthew seems to be suggesting that all the Old Testament passages that predicted the suffering and ignominy of Jesus were directly tied to His hometown of Nazareth (Psalm 22:6-8, 13; 69:8, 20-21; Isaiah 11:1; 42:1-4; 49:7; 53:2-3, 8; Daniel 9:26). Jesus would be referred to as a citizen of Nazareth, a designation that would be viewed with scorn and derision, not respect and honor. He would be born in the backwater town of Bethlehem and raised in the lowly environs of Nazareth. He would not be impressive in appearance, renowned for His pedigree, or admired for His roots. And yet, He would be the anointed one of God, the deliverer of His people, and the Savior of the world.

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. - Isaiah 53:2-3 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Christ

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. – Matthew 1:1-17 ESV

Matthew, as one of the original disciples of Jesus, was out to present a first-hand account of His life and ministry. But Matthew’s Gospel was intended to be much more than a historical record of Jesus’ earthly ministry. At the heart of his Gospel is his belief that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews. To establish that claim, Matthew opened up his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus, and, unlike Luke’s version, Matthew began with Abraham, not Adam.

Establishing the Jewishness of Jesus was essential to Matthew’s account. So, he tied Jesus to the patriarchy and the monarchy of the Jewish people. Matthew describes Jesus as the son of Abraham and the son of David. And, as we saw in yesterday’s post, Matthew considered Jesus the fulfillment of the promises made by God to both of these men.

By highlighting these two great legends of the Hebrews, Matthew was tying Jesus to God’s promise to bless the nations of the world through the seed of Abraham, and His promise to establish a permanent kingdom ruled by a descendant of David. Jesus was the fulfillment of both promises. And Matthew provides this truncated genealogy as a way to prove that Jesus was a descendant of both men and, therefore, was the only person who could legally and credibly claim to be the Messiah.

For generations, the Jewish people had anticipated the coming of their long-awaited Messiah. They were familiar with the Old Testament promises concerning his coming and were eager for him to appear. But when Jesus had arrived on the scene, He was not what they were expecting. The Jewish perception of the Messiah was that of a warrior-king, someone like King David, who would reestablish Israel as a major force in the region and remove the yoke of Roman oppression under which the nation struggled.

But Jesus had been born in relative obscurity and under questionable circumstances in the backwater town of Bethlehem. He had grown up in Nazareth, the son of a common carpenter and with no apparent pedigree that would warrant His consideration as the Messiah. After all, Jesus had been little more than a peasant. And even when He began His earthly ministry and began calling His disciples, at least one of them expressed reservations about His less-than-impressive upbringing.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” – John 1:45-46 ESV

But Matthew goes out of his way to trace Jesus’ roots all the way back to King David. And he divides the genealogy of Jesus into three concise sections, each comprised of 14 generations and culminating on the arrival of “the Christ.”

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. – Matthew 1:17 ESV

The term, “the Christ” is the Greek equivalent of Messiah. Matthew is insisting that Jesus was the one for whom the Jews had been waiting. He was the Messiah. And yet, John records in his Gospel that the Jews refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

From all outward appearances, Jesus appeared to be anything but the fulfillment of God’s promises. He was not kingly in appearance. He had not shown up riding a white horse or leading a massive army. He lacked the trappings of royalty and the obvious signs of success. In fact, long before Jesus showed up, the prophet Isaiah had predicted the unexpected and unimpressive nature of His arrival.

…he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. – Isaiah 53:2-3 ESV

The Jews were looking for a conquering king, not a suffering servant. They were expecting and demanding a contemporary version of David the king not David the shepherd boy. They were seeking liberation from Roman rule, not deliverance from the tyranny of sin and death. But little did they know that the one they rejected and scorned as an imposter, was actually their long-awaited Messiah.

Even the disciples whom Jesus chose would wrestle with their understanding of who He was and what He had come to do. Later on in his Gospel, Matthew records an encounter between Jesus and the mother of James and John. She approached Jesus and delivered the following demand: “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV). She was thinking of an earthly kingdom, not a heavenly one. Reflecting the understanding of her own two sons, she saw Jesus as the Messiah, but was hoping and counting on Him setting up His kingdom on earth, by releasing the Jews from their Roman oppressors and reestablishing the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem.

But Jesus had a different agenda. He had come to do the will of His Father in heaven. And while a kingdom was part of God’s future plans for His Son, Jesus was going to suffer humiliation and execution long before He experienced glorification and exaltation. And Matthew records that immediately after the mother of James and John shared his maternally-driven request with Jesus, He had responded:

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

The genealogy found in the opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is intended to prove the claim of the early Christians that Jesus was the Messiah. And the rest of his Gospel will chronicle the somewhat surprising and unexpected record of Jesus’ life. What Matthew describes in his account will contradict every expectation the Jews had regarding the Messiah. His life will not seem to match His lineage. His actions will not track with their assumptions. But Matthew wanted his readers to know from the start, that the one He was about to describe was the one for whom they longed. Jesus was the son of David and the son of Abraham. He was the God-ordained fulfillment of the Davidic and Abrahamic covenants. And while the Jews had failed to recognize Jesus as such, it did not change the fact that the Messiah had come. Jesus was who He had claimed to be. And the details of His life, while not what the Jews expected, would provide proof that Jesus was and is the Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Impressive, Yet Offensive.

53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. – Matthew 13:53-58 ESV

After completing this series of parables, Jesus left Capernaum and made the 20-mile journey to Nazareth, the place where He had spent His childhood. By all accounts, Jesus would have been returning to familiar territory, where He would have been known and well-received. But things did not turn out that way. In this little section, which ends chapter 13, Matthew provides an important transition that brings his description of Jesus’ rejection by His own to a close.

Upon His return to Nazareth, Jesus made His way to the synagogue. This was not the first time Jesus had visited the synagogue since leaving Nazareth. Luke records that Jesus went back to Nazareth not long after His temptation in the wilderness.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. – Luke 4:16-17 ESV 

And Jesus had read the following passage to those in the audience that day:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

And Jesus had followed up His reading of this familiar Messianic passage by stating, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). This was an unapologetic claim by Jesus to be the Messiah. And Luke records that the people “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22 ESV). But they had a difficult time reconciling who they knew Jesus to be with what they heard Him saying. They couldn’t help but ask, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” They remembered Jesus growing up in Nazareth, along with his brothers and sister. They viewed Jesus as just another one of the sons of Joseph. They had no concept of the virgin birth or of Jesus’ deity. He was just another son of Joseph the local carpenter.

Luke makes it clear that Jesus knew that, despite their marvel at what He had to say, they would never accept who He claimed to be. In fact, Jesus compared Himself to the Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha, who were also rejected by the people of Israel. During the famine that God had decreed on the nation of Israel, there were many widows in the land, but Elijah had ministered to only one, and she happened to be a Gentile from Zarephath. And while “there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27 ESV). Jesus points out that, because of the stubbornness of the people of Israel and their refusal to listen to the words of God’s prophets, the mercy of God was shown to Gentiles.

28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. – Luke 4:28-30 ESV

The Jews didn’t like what Jesus had to say. Their marvel turned to violent hatred and they actually attempted to kill Jesus.

So, here was Jesus speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth yet again. And the people are still wrestling with their perception of who they believe Jesus to be with all that they had heard He had done since leaving Nazareth. They respond:

55 “Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. – Matthew 13:55-57 ESV

Jesus, like Elijah and Elisha, was a prophet without honor in His own hometown. This was in fulfillment of the words of John, recorded in his Gospel: “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had faced rejection elsewhere in Israel, particularly by the religious leadership. But if there should have been a place where Jesus found receptive ears and a willing acceptance to His message, it should have been Nazareth. But He found the residents of His hometown to be just as resistant to His claims as anyone else in Israel. As a result, Jesus “did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58 ESV). They would have loved to have seen Jesus perform some of the miracles for which He had become famous. They weren’t opposed to Jesus healing the sick or casting out demons, but they were not willing to accept His claims to be the Messiah.

John records that even the half-brothers of Jesus struggled with doubt concerning His claims. They were more than happy for Jesus to become famous as a miracle worker, but they could not bring themselves to believe that He was their Messiah.

3 and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! 4 You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” 5 For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. – John 7:3-5 NLT

Unbelief. That was the problem. The people of Israel refused to believe who Jesus claimed to be. They could not accept this version of the Messiah because it did not reconcile with their preconceived notions. Jesus did not look like what they were expecting. The kingdom of heaven Jesus preached about was unlike the kingdom on earth they expected the Messiah to bring when He came. And so, they rejected Him.

At one point, they had been impressed with Jesus, but ended up being offended by Him. And it all hinged on their unbelief. They could not accept His claims to be the Messiah. But they also refused to tolerate His claims that they were in need of a Savior. Jesus had come to open the eyes of the spiritually blind so that they could see their true condition. He had come to preach a message of good news to the spiritually impoverished. He had come to tell those held captive by sin how to be set free. But the Jews did not like hearing that they were poor, blind, enslaved or in need. They were offended by Jesus’ accusations that they were sinners in need of a Savior.

“The world can’t hate you, but it does hate me because I accuse it of doing evil.” – John 77 NLT

So, rather than being redeemed by Him, they simply because offended with Him.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Too Close For Comfort.

Matthew 9:27-34, 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6

“Then they scoffed, ‘He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers — James, Joseph,Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?’ And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.” – Matthew 13:55-57 NLT

Jesus was on a roll. The crowds keeping coming and the miracles just kept happening. The woman with a 12-year old health problem was healed just by touching His robe. Jairus, the synagogue leader, had his recently deceased daughter brought back to life by a word and a touch from Jesus. Two blind men received their sight. A man possessed by a demon and, as a result, mute, was given back his freedom and the ability to speak. The crowds were amazed, saying, "Nothing like this has ever happened in Israel!" (Matthew 9:32 NLT). But the Pharisees, increasingly desperate to discredit Jesus, attributed His power to Satan.

After all these events, Jesus returned to Nazareth, His hometown. It was quite a journey away from Capernaum, but news regarding all of Jesus exploits had preceded Him. Upon arrival, He made His way to the local synagogue where He taught. His neighbors were amazed at what they heard and wondered among themselves, "Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?" (Matthew 13:34 NLT). Their problem was that they had known Jesus since He was a little boy. They knew His family. He was intimately familiar to them. His reputation for performing miracles, His growing fame, and His "sudden" increase in intelligence and wisdom didn't seem to gel with their memory of the common carpenter's son they had grown used to. They had grown too close for comfort. “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers — James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” (Matthew 13:55-56 NLT). They thought they knew all there was to know about Jesus. But their intimacy had produced a certain spiritual incapacity. They couldn't see past their own preconceptions. They had become as blind as the two men who had begged Jesus, "Son of David, have mercy on us!" (Matthew 9:27 NLT). But unlike those two desperate men, the people of Nazareth couldn't see their own need or recognize their own Savior. Their preconceived notions of who Jesus was kept them from seeing Jesus the Messiah. Rather than be drawn to Him, they were offended by Him. And their reaction to Him diminished their experience of Him. Matthew tells us Jesus did "few miracles there because of their unbelief" (Matthew 13:58 NLT).

They were so close, yet so far. They thought they knew Jesus, but they really didn't know Him at all. And the same could be said for so many who call themselves Christ-followers today. Raised on a steady diet of Bible stories and simplistic images of Jesus that seem to come straight out of a children's picture Bible, far too many Christians today have an incomplete and one-dimensional view of Jesus. They know about Him. But they fail to recognize His power and see Him for who He really is. When Jesus does not comfortably fit into their preconceived notions of who He is and how He should act, they begin to doubt. And in doing so, they limit His power in their lives. And so He does only a few miracles there because of their unbelief. Familiarity really does breed contempt. Just when we think we haveJesus figured out, we run the danger of missing out on His power in our lives. He cannot and will not be boxed in by our desire for familiarity and easy explicability. The people of Nazareth thought they knew Him, but they ended up too close for comfort. They would miss out on His power. They wouldn't get to witness His miracles. Their blind would remain so. The sick among them would never feel His healing touch. Their ears would no longer hear His words of wisdom. All because they thought they knew Him.

Father, it is so easy to become so familiar with Jesus that we miss out on the power He offers. Don't let the stories of His life become old and so familiar that we miss out on who He really is. Don't allow us to put Him in a box and attempt to limit Him by our own ability to explain Him. May Jesus continue to be revolutionary in our lives. May we continue to be surprised by His power, blown away by His grace, transformed by His presence, and shocked by His love for us. Amen.

Fishing For Men.

Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11

“Don't be afraid! From now on you'll be fishing for people.” – Luke 5:10 NLT

Some unwanted advice from an unlikely source. That's what Simon received that day when Jesus instructed him to "go out where it is deeper and let down your nets to catch some fish" (Luke 5: 4 NLT). Think about it. Here was Simon, a seasoned fisherman, who had fished the waters of the Sea of Galilee all his life alongside his brother, Andrew. Along comes Jesus, a thirty-year old carpenter from Nazareth who had never fished a day in His life. But He gives Simon some well-meaning advice on how to fish. At first, Simon attempts to offer up an excuse as to why he can't follow through with Jesus' tip, but he thinks better of it and decides to do as Jesus suggests. The result is, well, overwhelming. They find their nets so full of fish that they are literally ripping apart at the seams. They have to call for another boat to assist them and eventually, both boats are so full of fish that they are about to sink from the sheer weight of their catch. Suffice it to say that Simon and the other fishermen had never seen anything like this before. They were shocked. So much so, that Simon fell to his knees before Jesus and fearfully confessed his sinfulness and unworthiness to be in Jesus' presence. He knew that something miraculous had just taken place. He was aware that Jesus was more than just an ordinary man. At this point, it's not exactly clear just who Simon believed Jesus was. But he knew enough to know that he had just witnessed a supernatural event that was like nothing he had ever seen before, and it was all the result of the words of Jesus.

The next words out of Jesus' mouth had to have been confusing and cryptic to Simon and the others. "Don't be afraid! From now on you'll be fishing for people!" Of course, because we're looking back on the story and know how it ends, we get it. But for Simon and Andrews, this statement had to be a bit perplexing. What did Jesus mean by "fishing for people?" What kind of career path was He suggesting? But in spite of any questions or doubts Simon may have had, he followed. Not only that, he left everything and followed Jesus. That means he not only walked away from all he had ever known – his career, family, and friends – he also walked away from the single largest economic boon he had ever experienced. He walked away from two boats filled with fish that represented a sizable boost to his income.

It seems, that at times, Jesus gives us advice and counsel that appears illogical and a bit ridiculous. He tells us to do something that makes no sense and goes against our better judgment. Like Simon, we want to rationalize and reason our way out of doing what He says. We want to make excuses. But obedience brings blessing. And obedience requires faith. Simon had no guarantee that anything would happen when he pushed his boat back out into the water. If anything, he expected more of the same – empty nets and wasted effort. But this time out was going to be different, because it was under the direction of and in obedience to the Son of God. And what Simon was able to witness was not only an eye-popping haul of fish, but the power of God unleashed in daily life. The mundane suddenly became miraculous. The ordinary became extraordinary. And as a result, Simon's life would never be the same again. Catching fish became unimportant to him. Following Jesus and obeying His commands became the calling of his life. While he might not have know what Jesus meant for fishing for men, Simon was willing to do whatever Jesus told him to do. He had witnessed a miracle. He had seen the power of God revealed in his life through this man, Jesus. And so he followed Him. A move that would change his life forever.

Father, I want to witness Your power in my life more often. But I know that it requires obedience and faith. I have to listen to what Your Son is calling me to do, and then do it, even when I feel like it makes no sense. Too often, I want to figure out if it makes sense first, or try to determine if it will work before I step out. But that's not faith. Give me the strength and determination to respond as Simon did, "But if you say so." Amen.

 

Quite the Mood Swing.

Luke 4:16-30

“Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips … jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff…” – Luke 4:22, 29 NLT

Jesus has made His way back to the village of Nazareth, His hometown. He is back among His neighbors and those who knew Him best. News of His travels and all that had happened in Jerusalem had probably made its way there. In fact, Luke tells us, "Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region" (Luke 4:14 NLT). So when Jesus arrived in town, He made His way to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He was invited to read from the Scriptures and the passage for that day was from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus calmly read the words that those in His audience had heard many times before. But Jesus was going to instill them with significantly new meaning that day.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come." – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Nothing new here. That is, until Jesus sat down and announced, "The Scripture you've just heard has been fulfilled this very day!" (Luke 4:21 NLT). Amazingly, Jesus was claiming this passage to be about Him. The Spirit of the Lord was upon HIM. God had anointed HIM to bring Good News to the poor. HE had been sent to proclaim release to those in captivity. HE had been commissioned to bring sight to the blind and freedom to those being oppressed. HE was the manifestation of the Lord's favor – He was the long-awaited Messiah. The people were amazed and a bit confused. They saw sitting before them, Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph. They had watched Him grow up in their midst. He was one of them. He didn't exactly fit their concept of what the Messiah would look like and, knowing His family history, they didn't picture Him as possessing the qualities of leadership a king would require. They naturally ask, "How can this be? Isn't this Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:22 NLT).

Jesus knows what they're thinking, not just what they're saying. He knows they want Him to prove who He is by performing a few miracles in their midst. After all, He's one of their own. He's a hometown boy and they deserve to have Him do a few miracles for their benefit. But Jesus shocks them by His response. He tells them that the prophets of God were rarely ever received well by their own people. Sent by God as His mouthpieces to warn of coming judgment and call them to repentance, the prophets and their messages were rejected by the people. The same would prove true for Jesus, and He uses two stories from Jewish history to prove His point. One involved the prophet Elijah, who prophesied during a three-and-a-half year drought in Israel. The other story involves Elisha, also a prophet to Israel at another point in their history. The interesting thing is that both of these men, while prophets of God chosen to give the message of God to the people of God, were used to minister to non-Israelites. In both cases, there was a famine in the land, part of the judgment of God against the people of Israel for their stubborn refusal to honor His prophet and heed His call to repentance. Jesus reminds His listeners that Elijah was sent to the widow of Zarephathin Sidon, and Elijah was sent to Namaan, a leper from Syria. Both were Gentiles.

Jesus' point was not missed on the people in the synagogue that day. They knew exactly what He was saying. Just as in the day of the prophets of old, the people of God were about to stubbornly refuse the God-anointed, God-appointed spokesman standing in their midst. Jesus was bringing Good News to the spiritually impoverished, release to the spiritually captive, sight to the spiritually blind, and freedom to the spiritually oppressed. But they would refuse to believe it or receive it, because they would refuse the messenger, just like their forefathers. And they react to Jesus in anger. Mob rule takes over as they force Jesus from the synagogue and to the edge of a nearby cliff where they intended to push Him to His death.

What had Jesus said that angered them so much? He had inferred that they were just as rebellious and sinful as their ancestors had ever been. He also suggested that God's message and His messenger, the Messiah, because of their rebellion would end up focused on the Gentiles, their enemies. Yes, the time of the Lord's favor had come, but it would not do them any good if they refused it. The Good News, release from captivity, restored sight, and freedom from oppression where useless unless they repented and accepted God's assessment of their need and His solution to their problem. But Jesus, "passed right through the crowd and went on his way" (Luke 4:30 NLT). They had missed their opportunity.

Father, what a sober reminder of what takes place everyday among those we know who refuse to believe in the message of Good News regarding Jesus Christ. They stubbornly refuse to acknowledge their own sin and their desperate need for a Savior. But yet, those of us who know Jesus, can also refuse to believe in Him and trust Him to provide us with daily hope for our spiritual poverty, release from our spiritual captivity, sight in place of our spiritual blindness and freedom from the spiritual oppression in which we stubbornly live. Help us to turn to Your Son each and every day for salvation. Amen.