Was Jesus Universally Beloved, Except by the Religious Leaders? #329
Happy Friday, friends! Today we will be reading 1 Chronicles 15, Amos 9, Luke 4 and James 2. It will not surprise you that our Chronicles passage is absolutely filled with names like Kushaiah and Shemiramoth and Eliphelehu that are really quite difficult for this old boy from Alabama to pronounce properly. Sometimes I think the Chronicler is just messing with, and throwing in a few tongue-twister names on purpose. Probably not.
Our discussion today is centered around Luke 4. As we have discussed recently, there are some definite opinions about who killed Jesus. Some think the Jews killed Jesus, some think the Romans killed Jesus, some think the religious people killed Jesus, and some think the privileged or the 1% killed Jesus. They are all right, but not totally, as we’ll find out today when a surprising group of people try to kill Jesus. And when I say they tried, I mean they would have absolutely succeeded had God not miraculously rescued Jesus. Let’s read Luke 4, and as I read, see if you can picture this astounding scene in your mind.
Your first question might be similar to mine: Given that “all the people were speaking well of Him,” why did Jesus push the Israelites hard. I pondered that one for awhile, but I think Luke gives us the answer without spelling it out completely for us (so consider this speculation.)
22 They were all speaking well of him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from his mouth; yet they said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
What does this mean? I think it means that they were taking Jesus to be a mere human – a good teacher with a surprising knowledge of Scripture, but merely human – Joseph’s the carpenter’s son – untrained, unschooled, unremarkable except for His knowledge of Scripture. They clearly thought well of Him and thought He was a good teacher…and Jesus confronted them for that, for Jesus was not MERELY a good teacher – He was far beyond that, and He knew that them viewing Him as merely a good teacher would avail them nothing, so Jesus strongly challenges them, revealing sinful racism and nationalism in their hearts, which absolutely enrages those good, salt of the earth, patriotic people who were of Jesus’ hometown. How do they react to this? Well, violently and with extreme anger. As mentioned earlier, I am a child of the south – living over 40 years in Birmingham, Alabama, which was one of the epicenters for the civil rights movement in the United States. I was raised in the kind of atmosphere where my parents got phone calls of alarm and complaint when an African-American friend from school came home and played with me in my front yard. I think Birmingham is doing better and better – especially among younger people, but I would never presume to speak too authoritatively about the racism situation in the south, because I can’t see it clearly enough, not being a person of color. One thing I can speak confidently of: when racist people get called out for their racism, they get angry – sometimes violently so. Almost nobody thinks they are racist, because almost everybody knows somebody more racist than themselves, and they assume that the worse person is the real racist. I don’t suggest you do this, but you can find dozens, if not hundreds of videos online of people saying horrible and blatantly racist things to people of color, and (in the same breath) vehemently denying that they are racist. This dynamic should make all of us examine our hearts.
It would appear that Jesus saw some level of racism here amongst the people of His hometown, and He challenged them on it. Not by calling them racist, by the way, which is almost always not going to bring about change, but by sharing things from the Word of God that revealed their racism and hatred.
25 But I say to you, there were certainly many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months while a great famine came over all the land.26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them except a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.27 And in the prophet Elisha’s time, there were many in Israel who had leprosy, and yet not one of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
Why do this? Well, I think part of the answer is that Jesus was preparing His fellow countrymen for the expansion of the Kingdom of God through the gospel that would spill way out beyond the borders of Israel, because while Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, He would send His disciples to the ends of the earth. Notice the reaction of those who had previously spoken so well of Jesus:
28 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. 29 They got up, drove him out of town, and brought him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl him over the cliff. 30 But he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.
I would love to have seen this in person – what a dramatic escape that Luke downplays just about as much as you possibly could – sort of revealing that he would be an excellent historian, if not an excellent Michael Bay-esque movie screenwriter.
I have this book written by a guy named Dan Kimball called, “They Like Jesus, but not the Church.” It is a very insightful book, and one of my favorites. It is built on the premise that everybody likes Jesus, but lots of people struggle with religious and churchy people, and that is true, up to a point. It is absolutely true that Jesus drew the kind of people that the church repels, like prostitutes and criminals…but here we see something that should challenge the view that every common person loved Jesus, it was only the elites and the religious leaders that didn’t. Here we see an episode of common, everyday, blue-collar, salt of the earth kind of ‘country people’ being confronted over their sin and they became ENRAGED at Jesus so much that they literally tried to kill the person that preached in their version of church that morning. Why?
Because Jesus called them out on their sin, and they hated Him for it. And here’s the thing: Jesus is all loving, kinder than any person ever born. Gentle. Meek. Humble. Absolutely and utterly amazing in every way…but He is not a cuddly teddy bear. Jesus is bursting with love and bursting with holiness, and He called people – both the elites and the poorest of the poor…the religious leaders and the least of these that were despised by the holier than thou’s….He called ALL people to repent of their sins, take up their cross and follow Him. And that is still His call.
So, what’s the point? I guess the point of today is that we are all guilty of the crucifixion of Jesus, because He died for our sins – to pay the price for us. The point is also that Jesus confronts all of us bidding us to turn away from our sins and turn to Him as Lord and Savior. We definitely want to be saved, but most probably don’t want to surrender all, nor do most want to be confronted by Jesus for our sins. Jesus came as prophet, priest and king. As priest, His death on the cross reconciles and brings us together with God the Father, opening the door to eternal life in Heaven. This is a wonderful and welcome thing. As prophet, He points to our sins and calls us, both lovingly and powerfully (with all authority) to turn away from those sins and turn to Him. This is for our ultimate good, but it can be difficult, to say the least. And yet, He is also King. Not just any King, either – He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And He’s not safe – calling us to follow Him to places we might not always want to go, and calling us to lay down thoughts and actions that we may want to hang on to. But He is the King. I’ll close with the barest snippet from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Today hasn’t been a sermon with a quick and easy point that you can take away and remember. It has been more of a rambling meditation that I think is (at least hopefully) good for us to hear, and good for us to remember. Jesus is both a friend of sinners and a confronter of sinners. All Hail King Jesus!