Jesus was constantly becoming a living illustration of those paradoxes that God seems to love. For instance, even though He was the eternally established Prince of Peace, the atmosphere around Him was often anything but peaceful. He embodied God’s very definition of love, yet some hated everything He said and did. He was Wisdom personified, yet people who heard Him often had a hard time understanding what He said.
Unpredictable Responses ~
He was the living, breathing resolution to every basic question about life and human relationships, but He rarely presented the kinds of solutions some wanted to hear. He held the answer to life’s deepest and most profound questions, but His answers weren’t always what people expected. When confronted with direct inquiries that were disingenuous, Jesus often responded with challenging questions of His own. To some, Jesus represented deliverance and freedom beyond anything they had ever imagined, but to others, He represented a threat that had to be silenced.
For many, Jesus could definitely be hard to deal with, and though He may have left the earth physically, He is still alive and active here and now, and we, too, find ourselves confronted with Him. To God, it’s always ‘now’, and the lessons woven into the incredible things Jesus did and the principles He taught are intended for us, as well. While that’s an incredibly encouraging thing to know, there’s another facet that we shouldn’t overlook . . . The things Jesus did and said can be just as difficult to deal with now as they were then.
The Challenges Continue ~
We can still unexpectedly discover that something He said or did doesn’t fit well with our chosen lifestyle. His words are still capable of exposing some area of our life that we’d rather leave hidden, His opinions are still able to contradict our own, and His values can still turn our priority list upside down. Something He said back then can compel us to re-examine and extensively edit a fictionally enhanced social media profile. His words can highlight our flaws, unveil our secrets, torpedo our favorite excuses, and vaporize our fantasies. To say that Jesus can be challenging is, to many, an understatement of epic proportions.
Initial responses to Jesus sometimes end up being adjusted when the meaning of His words is considered in a larger context. An episode that took place in the synagogue in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth serves as an interesting example. It’s a rather long passage, and though it crowds our space for comments, we need to include it. It illustrates how the lessons embedded in Jesus’ teaching may not always be so obvious on the surface, and that changes can occur when the message is seen on a personal level. Luke’s account begins like this:
So He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Isaiah 61:1-2a)
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:16–22 NKJV)
Attitude Adjustments Begin ~
So, having heard some opening comments followed by the prophetic words of Isaiah, the initial reaction of the crowd was welcoming and positive. Initially, they were astonished by the gracious words that He spoke and were amazed that this man who had grown up around them could be so spiritually powerful. No one expected that the son of a local construction worker would have such incredible communication skills. But then, as Jesus had more to say, and as the implications gradually sank in, their attitudes began to change.
He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’ ” Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way. (Luke 4:23–30 NKJV)
Perhaps a negative assessment of His background was affecting their judgment. Maybe they began to think that He didn’t deserve the recognition He had gotten in Capernaum. Regardless, their astonishment of His gracious words made a radical turn as they began to consider that maybe there was more to His words than they realized at first. Perhaps their reaction included something like, “Wait… He said what?… Is He talking about us?”
Changing Perspectives ~
Maybe the mood in the synagogue began to change when they pondered what He meant by reading the Isaiah passage. In addition to the allusion to Himself as the Messiah, could it also be that He was talking about them? Was He saying that they were the spiritually impoverished ones, or that they were the ones held captive or somehow blinded?
Jesus’ reference to the familiar incidents involving the prophets Elijah and Elisha illustrated another disturbing realization. God chose to bypass rebellious and unbelieving Jews and send redemptive provision and healing to despised Gentiles in Zarephath and Syria. As the truth of what He was saying became clearer, their warm reception morphed into homicidal rage. When they realized that He was talking about them, they couldn’t take it. They wanted Him not only out of their synagogue and out of their town, they wanted to rid the earth of Him altogether.
The Cost of Unbelief ~
All in all, we might say that it was a tough day for the Prince of Peace. There was definitely no shalom around when they dragged Him out of town to throw Him over the cliff, and certainly no affection was expressed toward the living embodiment of God’s love. But if it was a bad day for Him, it was a worse day for those who rejected Him. They refused to admit or accept the truth about who they were, and it blinded them to the truth about who He was. The denial about their imprisonment to sin ensured that their captivity would continue. Ignoring the moral maladies infecting them guaranteed that the disease would progress to its lethal conclusion. The One who was anointed and empowered to deliver and restore them sat within touching distance, but their unbelief blocked the healing and redemption He could so easily have provided Matthew’s comment says it all:
…He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:58 NKJV)
So, as we pick up our Bibles, or gather in church to hear what Jesus has to say, maybe our response should begin with something like, “Wait… He said what? … Is He talking about me?” Even if the truth gets personally painful, my suggestion is to believe everything Jesus has to say and to receive everything He has to offer. Then it’s time to go throw the devil and his lies off the cliff.
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- “As the truth of what He was saying became clearer, their warm reception morphed into homicidal rage. When they realized that He was talking about them, they couldn’t take it. They wanted Him not only out of their synagogue and out of their town, they wanted to rid the earth of Him altogether.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The One anointed and empowered to deliver and restore them sat within touching distance, but their unbelief blocked the healing and redemption He could so easily have provided.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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