Never the same – Two churches

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Series – ‘never the same’ – about encounters with Jesus that changed the people who met him

Today’s passage is a tale of two churches (or synagogues)

  • two groups of people who gathered to worship God, to learn from him to be spiritually fed by his presence. Very much like us this morning.
  • they were both bible-believing, Sabbath-keeping, prayer-saying churches but they were radically different
  • and it begs the question about our ability, ou capacity, our hunger to meet with the Lord when we come to meet with His people.

The first was Nazareth where Jesus had grown up, the second, Capernaum (about 20 miles away)

Story so far

Baptism

Jesus identifying with people who came confessing their sin.

Testing

Jesus faced fierce temptation in the desert. He returned to Galilee where he started going from town to town teaching in their synagogues

He was ‘led by the Spirit into the desert.

  • Don’t assume that times of temptation and testing are Satan’s intrusion into our lives. As if he’s sneaked in through the back door and evaded God’s protection over you.
  • Whatever their origin God’s grace is big enough to use event the most testing times to make us better people, not bitter people.

Popularity

He was amazingly popular and very powerful as a speaker. The word got out and people began to flock to hear him.

One of the places he visited was Capernaum where he performed some remarkable miracles –

  • even healing Peter’s Mother-in-law (which we assume was a blessing for Peter – !!!)

The church in Nazareth

Now Jesus is going home to Nazareth where he was a kid.

  • this is his return home! This is the local boy made good!
  • Like the athlete who wins gold in Rio coming back to his home in Polegate!

He turns up at worship on the Sabbath. Being a celebrity, He’s given scroll to read and asked to share something about it

  • in their weekly worship event there was normally one reading from the law and a reading from the prophets.
  • It seems that the law-reading had already taken place and Jesus, as a guest, gets asked to read the portion from the prophets.

Whether by accident or design (we don’t know for sure) Jesus unrolls the scroll to a passage in Isaiah 61 – written about 700 years previously

  • Most people in that room would know that this prophecy speaks about the coming messiah
  • God’s special envoy to planet earth who they expected to bring liberation and a new kingdom

I expect they anticipated hearing something like this:

(monotone) Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, etc.

But my guess is that what they actually heard Jesus say was ..

Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and [He has commissioned me to bring] recovery of sight for the blind,

(you can hear the difference)

And they knew that in Capernaum he had already been doing that!

  • So, shockingly, Jesus was reading it in such a way as to say “you want to see the messiah – look no further!”
  • so no wonder everyone’s eyes were glued to him as he sat down

We might read ‘sitting down’ and assume he went back to the congregation and resumed his seat. Actually he didn’t he sat on the platform, because the traditional place from which a rabbi taught was from a seat at the front.

He would sin in ‘the seat of Moses’ and speak, as it were, with Moses authority. Sitting was the position of the teacher.

He began his talk with this phrase (v20)

“This very day, this very scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”

And as he went on the people were amazed at the power of his message

v22 “They all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words which came from his lips.”

Not forceful or bombastic words, but word that built and didn’t tare down. Words that encouraged and didn’t condemn.

So vital question for today …

What clogs communication with God?

Something happened. Cynical voices started to be heard. Criticism was being mumbled.

God word was going to fall on deaf ears. Why?

Familiarity v22

“Isn’t this Joseph’s lad?”

He’s only the local boy! Why should we take any notice of him?

Imagine pastor Pete (I encounter pastors who feel like this. Scenario is simple: Pastor Pete has been preaching to his congregation for years, then a visiting preacher turns up – preaches as normal – and is treated with adulation “That’s fantastic!”

Pastor Pete is a bit bemused “I’ve been saying this for years! Why has no-one taken any notice of me?”

The people have become over-familiar. In fact in Matthew’s account of this incident

Matthew 13:57-58 “They took offence at him. Jesus said to them “Only in his home town and in his own house is a prophet without honour” and he could not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”

Taking God’s word for granted will clog God’s blessing!

spectator culture v23

“Surely you’ll quote this proverb to me ‘ Physician, heal yourself’ Do here in you own town what we heard you did in Capernaum,”

They wanted Jesus to act miraculously so they could spectate – be impressed.

There is an enormous difference between a spectator and a follower, between an observer and a participant.

Just observing will clog God’s blessing!

Superiority (v24)

Jesus said ‘no prophet is accepted in his own town! Familiarity breeds contempt!

  • And to show this he used two OT illustrations they would all have known well.

First is Elijah – One of his miracles was performed to help a widowed lady in Zarapheth. Why her? Weren’t there thousands of widows in Israel? Yes, but only the outsider in Zarapheth was open to God

Second was Elisha – Healed Naaman the general from Syria, from his leprosy – But weren’t there thousands of lepers in Israel at the time? Yes, but only the outsider called Naaman was open to God

In both cases God restored people who were outside Israel!

The insiders had assumed that God would favour them over others

  • they saw themselves as God’s ‘chosen ones’ who came to expect his favour and blessing
  • I cannot avoid the conclusion that there were people in his home town who felt deeply envious of Jesus and that superiority hardened their hearts against his message

My friend – beware thinking we’re OK and we’ve got it all – beware the hard heart!

29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

The church in Capernaum (v31-37)

If Nazareth illustrates things that clog up God’s blessing, Capernaum illustrates how God’s blessing and flow freely.

What opens up the communication channels with God?

V31 “on the Sabbath he began to teach the people”

Conspicuously the same phrase Luke used in the previous chunk of the story. This is the same scenario!

Teaching that is authoritative.

v32 “They were amazed at this teaching (like they were initially in Nazareth) because his message carried authority”

Matthew’s comment at the end of Jesus’ sermon on the mount

Matt 7:28 When Jesus completed saying these things, the crowd were amazed at his teaching because he taught as one who had authority and not like their teachers of the law.

I am bothered by the standard and the depth of preaching I hear in the UK at the moment.

I hope I’m not just being a grumpy old man, but I genuinely observe that preaching with authority is less common than it was.

Preaching that leaves me feeling ‘This is God speaking to me or to my situation’

Too many of us preaching (and I am subject to this temptation along with all my bothers and sisters who preach) want to make the message easy, soft, acceptable, nice and unchallenging. But Jesus never did that.

How did he manage that? Very often he spoke for people on behalf of God, before he spoke to them. Jesus spoke for the poor, the eploited, the widow,

He showed he identified with Zaccheus’ (say) before he even hinted that change was necessary.

There is world of difference between preaching with authority and being authoritarian

The authoritarian preacher looks down his nose and pionts “Do this or else!”

The preacher with authority may never raise his voice, but it’s clear he’s done his homework. He knows his people’s struggles and hurts. He knows the challenges they face and the jobs they do, and he empathises with them.

In parallel with empathy, it’s clear he’s done his theology. He knows his Bible and he can explain it clearly. And in order to explain something clearly you must understand it profoundly.

Then the preacher’s authority comes from unpacking the Bible so you can see how God’s word overlaps your situation. And therefore how God’s power can make a difference.

And that was Jesus.

Teaching had an impact

v33-36

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. This spirit cried out at the top of his voice, 34 ‘Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’

It’s significant that the evil spirit instantly knew who he was dealing with here.

So Jesus puts on his authoritarian voice and said sternly:

35 ‘Be quiet! And come out of him!’ Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, ‘What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!’

He didn’t need to present a case, argue a point, preach a sermon – the evidence was there in front of everyone – Jesus changes lives.

That was an encounter they never forgot. And the good news spread:

37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.

There was a church pastor who was also chaplain to a famous football club. He taught a weekly Bible Study in the complex where they trained. “One player used to walk past the door, shake his head, wink at the pastor and move on.

  • One day the pastor caught up with him and said “You’re on top of the world right now. You’ve got all the money and fame you could ask for. So you go by and wink, and think I and the rest of the guys in there are fools.” He just smiled.
  • Then the pastor said “I’m not trying to be a prophet of doom, but sometime the roof on your world is going to cave in. All of a sudden you’re going to realise you don’t have it all. When that happens, call me.”
  • Three weeks later he called. “My only brother just had his first child. It was born deformed. My brother’s devastated, and so am I. I don’t know what to do or what to say. Can I talk to you?”

(Mastering contemporary preaching, p120)