Monday, March 3, 2014

A Synagogue Full of Wrath

 Life of Christ 35 

          Today's post finds Jesus in the first full bloom of His ministry. In Judea, He had been baptized by John the Baptist, tested with 40 days of fasting, tempted personally by the devil, and gotten His first few disciples from John. Coming home to Galilee He attends a wedding in Cana, helps out with their wine problem, and then returned to Judea to attend Passover in Jerusalem. There He drove the moneychangers out of the Temple, witnessed to Nicodemus, and stayed in Judea for a while doing miracles and preaching. After a short period He returned to Galilee, and along the way went through Samaria and won the woman at the well outside of Sychar. Upon arriving in Galilee He heals a nobleman's son from Cana, and this begins many months of ministry in that region.
      On a typical weekend, Jesus would enter into a town and prepare to attend a local synagogue on Saturday. In that synagogue service, which was run more loosely than modern church services, any man might stand up and speak if he chose to, and Jesus often chose to do so. One of the very first, if not the first, synagogue in which Jesus chose to attend and speak  was his home synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4.14-30). He is borderline famous at this point, and the place was surely packed with people who had known Him all of His life and greatly wondered at what He was reported to have been doing lately. Taking part in the prescribed public Scripture reading, He was handed the scroll of Isaiah, and He chose to read what was clearly a messianic passage in Isaiah 61. He then probably spoke about it at some length for they marveled (Luke 4.22) at His speaking ability.
          Did you ever stop to think what it must have been like for Jesus to sit, Sabbath after Sabbath, for decades, in His local synagogue, not saying a word? To hear the Scripture read and commented upon, often in an ignorant fashion, and just to sit there, respectful and quiet? His hometown synagogue obviously had no clue that He was the world's greatest preacher (literally). After all, He was just the guy around the corner who built really good picnic tables. How in the world does this guy suddenly become a pulpiteer of the first order? He's just Joseph's oldest boy, right? No wonder they marveled!
          In His message Jesus publicly and plainly claims to be Israel's messiah, saying, 'This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears' (Luke 4.21). This was obviously hard for many of them to accept easily for they had watched Him grow up from a very young age. At the same time, they had also heard reports that a few miraculous events had happened in His presence, and they pressed Him to furnish proof of His claims by doing a miracle right there in front of them. Jesus refused, and gave as His reason that in prior days of miracles those miracles had not been done everywhere. He did not come to be a genie, popping out of a lamp to happily grant the bearer three wishes. No, Jesus came looking for belief.
          Both of the miracles He had done so far in Galilee had been prompted by people exercising belief in Him. Now Nazareth was demanding a miracle out of unbelief. Later, on His last visit to Nazareth, Scripture would say, 'And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief' (Matthew 13.58). It wasn't that He couldn't, for God is not dependent upon us to exercise His own power, but rather that He wouldn't. Belief is that important to Him, and you will hear much more in reference to this as this blog series progresses.
          In telling His lifelong friends and neighbors that He would not do a miracle from them for these reasons He was essentially telling them that they were included in unbelieving, apostate Israel. Think about that for a moment…

          "A young man has lived near me in Nazareth all of His life. He is a quiet but capable fellow, one that perhaps needs to get a wife and settle down, but a good guy nonetheless. He is faithful in attendance at synagogue, and really, nobody has any call for complaint about Him whatsoever. He is stable, dependable, responsible, teachable, kind, and rather unremarkable. Yes, His mother seems to think the sun rises and sets on Him, but what mother doesn't? Suddenly, and for no good reason that I know of, He vanishes for a couple of months and comes back trailing a handful of men, like a posse or something, with apparent pretensions of being a rabbi. Well, when did this happen? When did He decide this? With whom did He train? Whispers are that perhaps He even was baptized by that weird guy out in the wilderness, John. Clearly, He must have had some emotional experience or something, but it looks like He is taking it a bit too far. I hope this won't ruin His skill for He really does make the best picnic tables around. Next thing I knew there were wild rumors rumors going around, something about a wedding over in Cana and a whole bunch of wine, but He isn't around to ask because He went down to Jerusalem for Passover like any sensible young Jew should do. Then, what tale should make the rounds but that there was some kerfuffle with Him and the moneychangers in the Temple. What was all that about? And He actually traveled through Samaria on the way back? Horrors! What has gotten into the guy? And what's this about supposedly healing some high muckety-muck's kid from Cana? I mean, c'mon, the kid wasn't even in Cana; he was 25 miles away in Capernaum. I'll tell you one thing, the next time Jesus shows up here I'm going to ask Him a question or two, for sure. What's that? He's in town and He says He'll be at synagogue service Saturday? You bet I'm going. Maybe He'll make fire fall out of the sky or something. Yeah, right, lol.
          "Why is He reading that passage in Isaiah; that isn't on the rotation, is it? Whoa… listen to this guy preach. He sure is better than our rabbi. Where in the world did He learn to do that? That's the same kid, isn't it, or do my eyes deceive me? Yep, that's Joseph's oldest, all right. Wait a minute. What's this now? Is He saying what I think He's saying? That He's the Messiah? Really? Of all the nerve! I've known Him all my life. He built my picnic table. Messiah, my clavicle, that's just Jesus. Hey, let's ask Him to do one of those miracle thingies. After all, if He is He shouldn't have any problem producing on demand. Oh, and He says He won't. Thought so. What's this? Is He really saying that this is our fault? Of all the unmitigated gall! I'm not an apostate! I've been sitting in the same pew in this synagogue since He was in diapers. Who does He think He is! Why, I've got half a mind to teach this young whippersnapper some manners. Who here is with me? You guys in on this? Really, this is just appalling. It is completely unacceptable and I'm just furious right now. How dare He? He's going to get it!"
          'And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong' (Luke 4.28-29). Of course, He did not die, for it was not His time to die, and the manner of death was not that prophesied, but the larger point is that they wanted to kill Him. This is the first corporate rejection of Jesus' claims to be the Christ, and it happens in His own hometown. It happens in the synagogue He had attended all of His life, amongst His friends and neighbors. It is heartbreaking to me when I think about it. All He had ever done was everything exactly right for 30 years in that town, and they repaid Him with a public assassination attempt.
          What a great sadness there is in the display of a synagogue full of wrath.

If you would like to hear the audio version of this blog you may find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 16, 'A Synagogue Full of Wrath'.

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