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First sermon, three points and a thwack

Luke 4:14-30 recounts the story of Jesus who, immediately following his victory over the temptation in the wilderness, went back to preach in his home town.  At first, the Bible says he was “glorified of all,” meaning everybody liked him.  I don’t know what he preached, but whatever it was pleased the crowd.  At first.

And then came the day in the synagogue when he announced himself as the Messiah.  He spoke from Isaiah 61 about the acceptable year of the Lord and set forth his own arrival as the fulfillment of it.  “This day,” he said, “this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears.”  Nobody missed his meaning.  It’s common today for people to say Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah, but that’s exegesis from the Oort Cloud.  In actual fact, it would be all but impossible to contrive a bolder and more assertive claim to messianic status than this.

The second point in Jesus’ message was a prediction that people would challenge him to prove himself.  “Physician, heal thyself!”  Of course, this taunt would involve a profound misunderstanding of just what needed healing.  If anyone doubted Jesus could do physical healing, he was shortly to squelch that doubt (Luke 4:40, Luke 6:19) to such an extent that the demands for this kind of healing began to interfere with his primary ministry (Mark 1:41-45).  His ministry would center around other matters, but his nation would persevere in missing the point until the hour of their deliverance was past.

Third, Jesus then opened up the idea that the Lord had extended grace to the Gentiles in the past and would do so again.  The two examples of Naaman the Syrian and the widow of Zarephath (Luke 4:25-27) showed that God would extend grace to the Gentiles even when the Jews were suffering under the rod.  I’m thinking this last point might excite some irritation if it were updated to modern times.  To put things closer to the way they were, imagine it’s 1943 and he’s saying God might bless the Japanese while punishing America for her sins.  Or closer still, imagine the reaction in Gaza if you preached that God would punish the Moslems and bless the Jews.  You think that might get a crowd response?

Putting all this together and pressing the “zoom out” button, what was the whole message?  He said, “I am the Messiah, but you will dispute this and reject me until the grace sent your way is given instead to the Gentiles.”

This is certainly what came to pass in his earthly ministry, and Israel eventually felt the reproach of it.  Now that the wheel has turned for twenty centuries, it’s time we consider whether his warning to the Jews might have any bearing upon us.  On this very subject, Paul warns that we should not boast against the natural branches.  “If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.”  (Rom 11:21)

There is such a thing as the arrogance of the elect, or I should say people who presume they’re elect, and all who claim to be God’s people are subject to it.  At the first sign of a reminder that God is the ultimate judge,  our psychic defense mechanisms switch to full intensity.  Our inward thought is that our houses shall abide for ever (Psalm 49:11), so any mention of judgment that could impact me must be way off  (Ezek 12:27).  It’s my evil twin standing in the need ‘o prayer, not me.  But as Jesus warned his countrymen, even so we should be reminded: every tree not put there by the heavenly Father shall be rooted up in due time.  (Matt 15:13)  So let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Heb 12:28).

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