Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hometown Boy Makes Good

3rd Sunday of Advent, 1998

A crabby lady had been suffering with a bitter heart for years. God decided to send an angel to cheer her up and teach her how to love. When the angel appeared she was very pleased to learn that she had been selected for a special blessing. She could ask for any good thing she wanted - as much money or wisdom or influence as she could think of. She would receive exactly what she asked for and her enemy would receive a double portion. In this way she was supposed to learn about love.

When she heard this, the smile left her face and she returned to a sullen darkness. But a moment later she brightened up. "Whatever you give me, you'll give double to my enemy?" The angel confirmed her question. "Good. Poke out one of my eyes."

For some people it is difficult to be happy when their enemies or competitors are happy too!

Do you have an enemy? A less than friendly competitor? An ex-friend or spouse? What is your Christmas wish for them? Can you pray that they come to know Jesus and all of His blessings?

Read: Luke 4:14-42

Luke has placed this episode in a logical order rather than a chronological order near the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. Luke has just reported on Jesus' private battle with Satan and temptation. When Jesus leaves the wilderness setting, it is to begin His ministry.

Luke places Jesus' visit to Nazareth first - not because it is the first thing he did - but because Jesus gave such a clear statement of His purpose.  This sermon is Jesus' mission statement.  Why did God take on flesh and blood?  Jesus gives a detailed answer in his first sermon back in Nazareth.

According to Mark 6 we know that Jesus had been in town at least a couple of days.  He had already established his headquarters in Capernaum (20 miles northeast) so this was a visit.  In Capernaum he had accomplished some very dramatic healings, but in his home town the skepticism made significant miracles impossible.  Faith is an eternal principle.  The writer to the Hebrews wrote, "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him."

These Nazarenes had a kind of anti-faith, and so "He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them" (Mark 6:5).  Their open mindedness went far enough to withhold final judgement until they heard him preach on the Sabbath.

They got an ear full!  Jesus identified himself as the long awaited Messiah.  The passage Jesus read from in the prophecy of Isaiah had been considered one of the more clear Messianic passages.

Jesus says He is the anointed one referred to in the passage.  Anointing with oil was an inaugurating ritual for both kings and priests.  Oil was a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  The ceremony was an acted prayer that God would give the king or priest a portion of his power and wisdom.

Isaiah prophecies that one would come who was especially anointed.  It is also significant that the Hebrew word for anoint is the word we get Messiah from and the Greek word we get Christ from.  The prophecy refers to the anointed - the Messiah and His ministry.

What specifically is the Messiah's mission?  First, it is to evangelize the poor - put another way - it means to declare victory for the impotent or helpless.  Evangel means good news.  The verb means declare the good news of victory.  The powerless and helpless dream about victory, but can never pull it off unless someone gives them the resources.  Jesus brings victory to the defeated.

Second, His mission is to proclaim release to those entangled in sin.  "Proclaim" is the work of a herald, the person who informs us of current events.  Put it on the evening news:  Those trapped in death-inviting addictive behaviors have someone who will set them free.

The NIV's use of "freedom" (for the prisoner), is the same word Jesus uses in Matthew 26:28, "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the release of sins."  The trap of sin is disabled by the blood of Jesus:  Forgiveness, release.

Third, His mission is to bring insight to the unaware and misinformed.  In the spring of 1996 a seventeen year old high school senior from Fremont made national news when she did something remarkable. She achieved a perfect score on both sections of the SAT, and a perfect score on the tough University of California acceptance index.  Never in history has any one student accomplished this intellectual feat.  At her high school, she was known as "Wonder Woman" because of her brains.  But what was interesting in the news story about this young woman was a little exchange between her and a reporter.  He asked her, "What is the meaning of life?"  She replied, "I have no idea."

This very bright young lady's intelligence can't compare to the One who does know the meaning of life.  The One who knew how to turn water into wine, change the atmosphere from hurricane to utter calm, and give sight to a man born blind.  He brings His insight.

Fourth, Jesus' mission is "to release the oppressed."  The word "oppressed" comes from a word describing a piece of pottery that has been broken because someone stepped on it.  The oppressed are the down trodden and Jesus has come to restore their broken places.  All the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again, but Jesus can put you together again.

Jesus offers the best news the disadvantaged could ever hope to hear - and they promptly go out and try to throw him over a cliff.  "Good News Brings Violent Rejection" might be Nazareth's Sunday morning headline.

Jesus troubled the Nazarenes for two reasons.  First, He stopped reading the prophecy too soon.  If He had finished, it would have gone " . . . to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God."  The Nazarenes were sure their day of favor would correspond with God's wrath on their enemies.

For centuries the Jews had been persecuted in their own land.  Horrible things had been done to them.  Sometimes the thing that kept them going was the thought that God would crush these cruel overlords.

Not only did Jesus not mention this sweet revenge - He suggested some of these enemies would receive the same favor and blessing promised to Israel.  Jesus was asking them to give up their prejudices and juicy thoughts of vengeance.

This is a very important part of Jesus' agenda.  He invites us into the rule of God (Kingdom of God), but among the things we have to give up to step in are vengeance, bitterness and prejudice.

For this the Nazarenes promptly rejected Jesus.  As far as we know Jesus never returned to Nazareth.  Rejection of Jesus can be final.  It is bad enough to be rejected.  Sometimes it is even worse to know you are the one rejecting, because we find out too late who it is we've rejected.

Gary Inrig tells the story of parents on the east coast who got a telephone call from their son during the Korean War.  They were thrilled because they hadn't heard from him for many months.  He said he was in San Francisco on his way home.

"Mom, I just wanted to let you know I'm bringing a buddy home with me," he said.  "He got hurt pretty bad, and he only has one eye, one arm, and one leg.  I'd sure like him to live with us."

"Sure, Son," his mom said.  "He sounds like a brave man.  We can find room for him for a while."

"Mom, you don't understand.  I want him to come live with us."

"Well, OK," she finally said.  "We could try it for six months or so."

"No, Mom, I want him to stay permanently.  He needs us.  He's only got one eye, one arm, and one leg.  He's really in bad shape."

By now his mother had lost her patience.  "Son, you're being unrealistic about this.  You're emotional because you've been in a war.  That boy will be a drag on you and be a constant problem for all of us.  Be reasonable."

"OK, Mom, I'll try."

A couple of days later the parents got a telegram:  Their son had committed suicide.  A week later the parents received the body.  They looked down with unspeakable sorrow on the corpse of their son -- who had one eye, one arm and one leg.  They had rejected the one they loved and the one who had loved them.  Their rejection had been final.

The Nazarenes thought Jesus would be too big a problem, and in rejecting Him, they rejected the loving heart of God.  The God who would've given them victory in place of impotence, given them release from a sin tangled life, given them insight for ignorance and given them healing for brokenness.

This is why Jesus has come.  His birth was the beginning of this all-important mission.  For that reason it is well worth celebrating.  But we must do more than celebrate the beginning.  You and I are invited to participate in the whole process by opening our hearts to the Lordship of Jesus.  If the baby born in a barn is the Lord of your life, you can celebrate victory, release, insight and healing of spiritual brokenness.  It is a choice between acceptance and rejection.

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