Life of Christ 71
As I look at the ministry of Jesus Christ I see it in two distinct halves. They aren't necessarily equal, chronologically speaking, like a football game, but there is a clear shift between them. To me, Matthew 12 and the events surrounding it are the dividing line between the two. Thus we find Him now beginning the second half of His ministry, which occupies a little more than a year.
In the first half of His ministry, in fact, toward the very beginning, He had visited Nazareth and preached in her synagogue on a Sabbath, and proclaimed Himself to be Israel's Messiah. They marveled at His preaching ability and wondered where in the world it came from for they had seen no hint of it in His life as He grew up. That visit didn't end well, to put it mildly. '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).
On His first visit there as Messiah when He showed up to preach there had been some vague reports making the rounds of miracles and such. They demanded that He do one for them. He refused, as He came looking for belief, not doubt, and likened them to apostates, which led to them trying to throw Him off the cliff. This time, when He shows up, things are different. There was no doubt, any longer, anywhere in Israel that the miracles which He did were authentic. This was why the Pharisees had to come up with the unforgivable theory that He did them possessed of Satan. This time, in Nazareth, they freely admit that 'mighty works are wrought by his hands' (Mark 6.2) though sadly this admission brings them no nearer to belief.
I've said before in this blog that those in His lifetime who refused to believe on Him did so, not because of a scarcity of evidence, but in spite of a plethora of it. Israel's unbelief was a blatantly rebellious refusal to accept Him for what He claimed to be. This was precisely the problem, in miniature, in Nazareth. They refused to believe that this Man, whom they'd known all His life, this Man whose family still lived among them, was the Messiah. 'And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief' (Matthew 13.58).
The first time they had clung, for an excuse, to the idea that He hadn't done any miracles that they could actually verify. This time they must come up with some other excuse. The one they latch upon, for lack of a better term, is accreditation. The idea of accreditation is one of being officially recognized as having credentials. It is often used in our day in reference to educational institutions, and I can see why. I wouldn't want, for instance, a doctor who had graduated from Fly By Night University to be treating me.
I use this term accreditation to refer to Nazareth's new excuse for not accepting Christ because that is what it was. To the Jew of Jesus' day a rabbi, to be respected, needed to show he had been trained by a reputable rabbi. For this reason various schools were established, and the Talmud is full of references to these schools, such as the opposing schools of Hillel and Shammai. When you add into this mix the exaggerated veneration in which the Jewish people held tradition we can already see the problem with Jesus. He had no rabbinical training. Jesus spent almost the entirety of His life in their town, and if He had ever left it to study at the school of some rabbi or other they would have known it. Which means, in their eyes, that no matter how amazing the miracles are that He did, or how wonderful His preaching, His life and ministry could not be accepted because it hadn't been accredited. This is precisely what they mean when they use the phrase in Matthew 13.56, 'Whence then hath this man all these things?'.
So we see, then, that Jesus' last attempt to reach those whom He knew so well and loved so much in Nazareth largely came to naught.
I draw from this today two lessons. First, let us be careful of being overly enamored with credentials. I'm for pastors, et al, being educated, but the startling truth is that the New Testament nowhere requires it. Church history is replete with examples of men being used of God in a wonderful way who had received little, if any, formal training, from D. L. Moody to C. H. Spurgeon to G. Campbell Morgan, for instance. I am not saying that pastoral education is bad. It isn't. I am saying that we should take a balanced view. A man doesn't necessarily need a divinity degree with an emphasis in original languages from an Ivy League college in order to adequately preach the Gospel to God's people.
Jesus had an unquestioned purity of life. He paired that with a warm heart of compassion for His people. He mixed into that a deep knowledge of the Scriptures. You give me any man, with or without formal training, who has these characteristics and I will give you a wonderful preacher of the Gospel.
Secondly, let us realize that Satan is always in the business of offering us the next excuse. An excuse is simply the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie. In Nazareth, their first excuse was that He hadn't done any verifiable miracles. When He took that excuse away they had another one.
In my time I've heard all kinds of excuses from people why some particular command of God doesn't apply in their personal situation. Tithing? 'But, pastor, you don't understand my financial situation.' Marriage? 'But, pastor, you don't understand how horrible he is.' Church attendance? 'But, pastor, you don't understand how busy I am.'
I've noticed that very often, even if you can solve the so-called problem or address the so-called reason for their difficulty, they still never get around to obedience. Why is that? Because it wasn't really a reason; it was just an excuse that allowed them to justify the disobedience they really wanted to do in their own heart. If you take the excuse away the devil just gives them another one.
Beloved, let us not look for excuses, though they will be easy to find. Let us accept the Lord, what He brings to us, and what He is, in simple faith. That is the hard earned lesson that Jesus' last trip to Nazareth brings us.
If you would like to listen to the audio version of this blog you will find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 40, 'They Were Offended in Him'.