One of my favorite classes in Seminary was a course in feminist ethics. Now you have to understand that this was an incredibly liberal class. It was liberal in its theology and understanding of God and it pushed our traditional views of God to the limit. It was liberal in its politics and world view and it was very liberal in its social agenda. Now if you know me, you might be surprised that this was a favorite class of mine because I’m probably more conservative in my views than those on the far left and believe me this class was filled with people on the extreme far left. By the end of the first week the professor had discovered that I was the only person in the class who held a different view. So during class discussions there would always come that moment when the professor would say, “Andy, I know what every person in this class thinking, but you, so why don’t you tell us your views on…”
Now here’s the thing, she really wanted to know. She valued my point of view and was interested in what I had to say. She was open to new ideas and wanted to find common ground from which we could build conversation and community. That semester we actually began to discover that classic evangelical Christianity and many of the ideas in far left feminist movement were actually very similar. There were many, MANY things that were different, but there was also common ground which made conversations and discussions about how to be the church really interesting.
We don’t have much of this kind of communication in our society today. We live in a very polarized nation. The left doesn’t want to work with the right, conservatives don’t want to talk with liberals, the young don’t see things the same way as those who are older, the rich and the poor seem to demonize each other. Muslims and Christians can’t live together, and neither can the Jews and the Arabs. Whatever the issue is: gun-control, birth-control, government-control, we set ourselves against each other which means that no problems ever get solved. Forget solving problems, many times we aren’t even willing to listen to those who hold different views than we do.
Now for those of us who are followers of Jesus, this kind of thinking is dangerous because it closes us off to what God might want to say to us or even do among us. When we think our view is the right view and our way is the only way, we close ourselves off to God and the ability to hear God say, wait a minute, I want you to see MY way. That is what had happened to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth.
While Nazareth was the hometown of Jesus, it was not where he chose to begin his ministry. Jesus began his ministry along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and then he made his home in the city of Capernaum. Now what is important to know about Capernaum is that it had a very large Gentile population. While several of the disciples came from Capernaum and there was a Jewish synagogue there, it was a city known for its diverse population which meant that many Jewish people looked down on those who lived there. Good religious people from Jesus’ hometown didn’t understand why Jesus would chose to live with “those” people and why he had chosen “that” community to share God’s love and power.
When Jesus finally returned to Nazareth, the people were excited. They had heard about his preaching and his miracles and they were excited to experience all of God’s power for themselves, but even more importantly I think they were just glad that Jesus has come back to a more respectable city. Nazareth was primarily, if not exclusively, a Jewish community so many of the people there would have seen it as more appropriate for Jesus to teach and preach and perform miracles there than in Capernaum, after all, Jesus was on their side. He was one of them.
In many ways the people who gathered in the synagogue to hear Jesus that day were a lot like people today. They held strong views. They believed that they were right and the other side was wrong, and they didn’t want to associate with anyone from the “other” side. They didn’t even see the other side as worthy of their time, energy, interest or love. They wanted nothing to do with them.
When I think about that crowd, I fear that is where we are headed today and I don’t just mean among the Raven’s and 49ers! We are so divided and work to demonize the other side instead of listening to them openly. We have gotten to a place where we don’t even want to talk to or associate with anyone who disagrees with us, but as the people in the synagogue show us, that attitude can cut us off from the presence of God. That attitude can keep us from seeing what God wants to do in our world today.
Jesus stood up in the synagogue that day and read a section from the prophet Isaiah. Luke 4:18-19. In so many ways this passage sums up everything Jesus had been doing. He had been preaching to the poor and healing those who had been held captive by sickness, sin and Satan. Jesus had been opening the eyes of both Jews and Gentiles to the amazing grace and love of God and he was teaching them all that the kingdom of God, this year of jubilee, was coming for all of them. In many ways what Jesus read that day was a summary of what He had already been doing, but then he added this, Luke 4:21.
When Jesus said “today” this scripture is fulfilled the first thing he was saying was that the people in the crowd listening to him were the ones who were poor, captives, blind and oppressed. In other words Jesus was saying that it was the people in the synagogue, those good religious people of Nazareth, who were sinners in need of God’s mercy and this was not something the people wanted to hear. They saw themselves as being righteous and others as being sinners.
So the first thing Jesus says to the crowd is that they were sinners in need of God’s grace, but then he goes on and says, “just to be clear – this grace is available to everyone”. Jesus makes sure that the crowd understands that the grace and love of God is being extended to everyone. To emphasis this point Jesus reminds the people of two stories from their own history. The first is the story about the prophet Elijah. A drought had settled over the entire region and God had been providing water for Elijah through a brook, but then the brook dried up. Now God had once provided water for his people from a rock, so God could have just given Elijah water from the dry ground, but he chose not to do that. God could have used one of the faithful people in Israel to provide water for Elijah, but God chose not to do that either. Instead God sent Elijah to a Gentile woman in the city of Sidon and used her to provide Elijah with both water and food.
Now think about this, God chose a woman to help Elijah who was not one of God’s chosen people and who lived in the city of Sidon which was both the hometown of Jezebel the sworn enemy of God’s people and the center of Baal worship and then we find out she also had a sinful past. This was the most unlikely person in all the world that God could have used. She had four strikes against her. She was a gentile, a woman, from Sidon and a sinner! She was absolutely the least likely person that God would use, and yet God not only used her, but God saved her and her child. The message God was sending to Elijah and now to the people in the synagogue of Nazareth is that God’s grace and salvation is for everyone.
Jesus then reminds the people about the story of Elisha. Elisha was the prophet who followed Elijah and he healed a leper named Naaman, but Naaman was also not one of God’s chosen people, he was, in fact, the top official in the army that fought against the people of Israel. Naaman even turned away from Elisha when Elisha told him how to be healed of his leprosy. Again, this man had everything going against him. He was a gentile, he was an officer in the army that was attacking God’s people and he thought God’s way of healing was crazy. And yet, when Naaman agreed to go and wash himself in the river 6 times, God healed him. The message God was sending to Elisha and now the people in the synagogue of Nazareth is that God’s grace and salvation is for all.
So the good religious people went to the synagogue that day hoping that Jesus had come to his senses and was now going to spend all of his time and energy with them, but instead he had come home and basically told them that like everyone else in the world they were sinners far from God and they were the poor, blind and oppressed people who were in need of God’s salvation. None of this went over well. The people didn’t want to listen to Jesus. They weren’t open to this new idea of God’s grace being for everyone and they didn’t want to humble themselves and see how they needed to be forgiven. They just got mad and forced Jesus out of the city where they intended to throw him off a cliff. What caused such a strong reaction? Why did they reject Jesus so completely when others were willing to embrace him so completely? What was the difference?
There is one clear answer – repentance. As we heard through the out-of-control sermon series, the word” repent” simply means to turn. It means we stop going in one direction and we stop thinking, speaking and living one way so we can turn and go in a new direction and live God’s way. Many people in Capernaum and throughout Galilee were willing to repent. They were willing to not only see their need for God’s grace but they were ok thinking that God’s grace was for everyone. They were willing to embrace new ideas and consider a different way of life. They were willing to open themselves up to the word and will of God seen in Jesus.
While they were willing to repent, many people in Nazareth were not. The people in the synagogue that day didn’t want to consider that God’s grace could be for anyone but them and they didn’t want to admit that they were sinners who needed God’s mercy. Because they didn’t see any need for change, they weren’t open to Jesus working in them or through them. Because they weren’t willing to repent, they weren’t able to see the presence of God in Jesus or accept God’s gift of grace and life that Jesus offered them.
So the key to salvation is repentance. The key to being able to see God is understanding that we are the ones in need of God’s grace and that we are the ones who need to go in a new direction. And this means that we need to be open to all the ways God might want to work among us. As long as we think we have all the answers and that our ways are the right ways – we will be like the people in the synagogue of Nazareth who missed out on the grace of God and the new life offered to them through Jesus. But when we humble ourselves and begin to see that God has come for all those who are poor, held captive by pride, blind to our own sin and failures and oppressed by our own self-righteousness – then we begin to experience the freedom and life Jesus offered to us.
Humility and a willingness to repent, a willingness to turn and live life a different way, were what the people in the Nazareth synagogue refused to do that day and it is this same attitude which is in short supply today as we set ourselves against those disagree with us. May today be the day that we open ourselves up to all that God is saying to us and may today be the day we hear the message of Jesus which says, “repent. May today be the day we stop, turn and begin to live life God’s way, for the kingdom of God is here.
Next Steps ~ Repentance
1. In what areas do you struggle to listen to opposing views:
How can you still hold strong convictions in these areas, not compromise fundamental principles, and yet still be open to the opinions of others? Pray for an open spirit to listen.
2. Humility in one area of life can lead to humility in every area of life. How can you be more humble in your day to day activities:
With Civic Groups:
3. In humility, confess your sin to God:
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart and I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. Have mercy on me, a sinner, and forgive me so that I may experience Your grace and mercy, walk in Your way and experience Your life. For it’s in Jesus name I pray. AMEN