Simeon had prophesized that the Messiah would be a sign that would be “spoken against.” This is the first strong hint in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus’ identity and mission wouldn’t be universally accepted by the nation of Israel. In fact, as it turned out, the exact opposite was true: Most people within the nation would reject him and later suffer the consequences. And here we have the first example of that rejection.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem but was raised in Nazareth. Most of the people in attendance at the synagogue had seen him grow up. They knew his parents and his brothers. They'd heard of his miracles in Capernaum, so this was the “hometown boy making good.” He was visiting, so they of course invited him to do the reading from Scripture and speak on it—Synagogues routinely allowed itinerant rabbis to do this. They probably thought they were in for a reading and then a short sermon which they could feel good about. Boy, were they wrong!
Jesus read from the book of Isaiah, and the passage he picked was universally understood to refer to the coming of the Messiah. This was the mission of the Anointed One: preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for prisoners, give sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the “year of the Lord’s favor.” If you read the original verses from Isaiah, however, you might notice something. Jesus stopped in the middle of verse 2 and ended his quote before he got to the part about proclaiming “the day of vengeance of our God.” The reason for this is pretty simple—The first part of the verses was fulfilled upon his first arrival. The part he left off will be fulfilled when he returns.
And that was the punch line of the entire reading. Those verses in Isaiah, which you heard multiple times and said “Amen” to? They’re being fulfilled right now, as I’m speaking to you. In fact, the fulfillment of those verses is standing right in front of you.
At this the people wondered about this. We know this boy! I held him on my knees and bounced him up and down! My kids used to play with him! But notice that they “spoke well of him.” At this point in time, they were not rejecting him wholesale. They seemed a little skeptical, but at least they were predisposed to think well of him.
But then an amazing thing happened. Jesus took whatever good will he had gained in his hometown and threw it away. He brought up two examples from Scripture: the widow in Zarephath and Naaman from Syria. What did these two have in common, and why would Jesus bring up these people?
There’s one answer that satisfies both questions. Both of them were Gentiles, and God specifically bypassed Israel to bless them. He sought them out, they responded to him, and he showered them with grace. And in both times Israel was bypassed purposefully because she was being unfaithful to the Lord.
Jesus’ point? You’re supposedly God’s people. You’ve been blessed beyond measure with a greater amount of revelation and truth than any Gentile could ever dream of. And if you squander it, I’ll take it to someone who’ll accept it. Because. . . wait for it. . .God loves Gentiles as much as he loves Jews.
And the people heard this stinging truth and said among themselves “I guess he’s right. Why wouldn’t he love them like he loves us? It’s not like we’re born better than they are. We’ve been given more in blessings, but there’s no reason why the Lord can’t and shouldn’t reveal himself to outsiders. The more the merrier! There’s plenty enough of God to go around!”
Um, no. That’s not how they responded. They responded by trying to throw Jesus off a cliff, prevented from doing so only by miraculous intervention.
Just off the top of my head, here are three possible applications. First, we need to be open to God working in ways we don’t anticipate. Second, we need to have a broader view of God’s love and concern for people we tend to look down upon. And third, we need to pray for America. God has blessed her soooooooooo much, and if we don’t make wake up now, we might have an even ruder awakening someday to realize that his blessing has passed us by. Just a thought.
Father God, I love this country and what it’s stood for in the past. With all her flaws, she’s still my country. Whatever it takes, please bring her back to your side. And let it start with me.
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