"The Home-Town Stumble"
(Delivered Sunday, January 21, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
Most of the attention in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew's Gospel has been on the parables that our Lord spoke concerning the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. In these parables, He teaches us about His kingdom's beginning through the preaching of the gospel, its nature, its growth in the world, its immeasurable value, and its final and complete establishment at the return of Jesus Himself to earth.
And now, we come to a final story at the end of this chapter. It gives us a dramatic and surprising example of how Jesus—the King of the Jews—would be received as He presented His kingdom to the Jewish people for whom it was promised. It tells us what happened when this mighty King—whose kingdom had just been taught about and explained in such a remarkable way—went back to His old home-town Nazareth. It was a stunning illustration of the truth expressed in John 1:11; that “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Jesus has a way of demolishing people's expectations of Him. He always turns out to be far greater and far more wonderful that people's preconceived notions of Him.
People so often have it in their minds that Jesus “should” be a certain way. They themselves, after all, are a certain way; and they have it in mind that He must be like they themselves are. And yet, when they finally encounter Him for themselves—either as the people of old did in the days when He walked upon the earth; or as they do today, in the reading of the pages of Scripture—He always proves to be something quite different from their narrow expectations of Him.
I can testify to that personally. I used to have certain conceptions about Jesus; but many of those conceptions were radically transformed after I became convicted of my sins, heard the gospel, and believed on Him and trusted Him as my Savior. Many more of those conceptions were further altered as I read about Him in the Bible. I have no doubt that my understanding of Jesus will continue to be altered and matured for the rest of my life. I expect my view of Jesus will be even more expanded when I—at last—behold Him in heavenly glory; when “I shall know just I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). And I believe that, even then—even after ten-thousands times ten-thousands of years in His glorious presence—there will still be an endless supply of new discoveries to make about Jesus.
I have been a follower of Jesus for over thirty-three years now—hardly a point on the line of eternity. And in that short time, I hope I have grown to be humble and teachable in my approach to Jesus; because He just doesn't fit into the nice, tidy little boxes that I have made for Him. He has always burst through the boundaries I set for Him in my thinking—and I'm sure He always will.
There is no other appropriate way for us poor, fallen sinners to approach the subject of our wonderful Lord Jesus but with a sense of humble teachability and with repentance of our pride. Often, when I think of the prospect of learning more about Jesus, I'm reminded of what it says in Isaiah 55:6-9;
That describes the sort of humility with which we are to approach the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be prepared to turn from our sins and forsake our wicked ways if we would learn of Him. We must not come to Him as we would if we were to study some famous figure from history. Rather, we must come “personally” and “experientially”—with a deeply humble, personal sense of “seeking”; and with an hunger to be shown mercy as a sinner.
And why is this so? God—in this passage from Isaiah—explains why:
* * * * * * * * * *
It is a terrible thing to lose our sense of wonder over Jesus. We need to come to Him prepared to have our whole world-view transformed. We need to come to Him prepared to be shocked, and surprised, and amazed, and awestruck. We need to come to Him prepared to bow before Him and admit that He is greater than we thought!
Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation! It was by Him that all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. It was by Him that all things were created, and for Him that they were created. He is before all things, and it is by Him that all things consist (Colossians 1:15-17)! How then could the Son of God in human flesh fail to astonish us? How could He live among us and not challenge all our presuppositions? How could we truly meet Him and not find that He infinitely exceeds our weak and beggarly expectations of Him?
* * * * * * * * * *
Well; I think I know one way—and that is if we refuse to come to Him in humble faith, and with a willingness to be saved by Him from our sins.
Just as I have been amazed at the way He exceeds my expectations, I've also been amazed at how He compels no one to believe on Him who, in hardness of heart, refuses to do so. It seems to me that there is enough wonder about Jesus to justify the sincere, humble faith of anyone who turns to Him for salvation from sin. But it seems to me that He also embraces enough common humanness to Himself to satisfy the disbelief of anyone who wishes to reject Him and cling to their sin.
In the end, people who reject Jesus do not do so because the arguments for faith aren't compelling enough. Nor is it because the things the Scripture say about Him are not intellectually sound. When you really get down to it, people who hear the truth about Jesus reject Him because of an unbelieving heart of disobedience toward God. So long as someone has—with pride and hardness of heart—set themselves to go their own sinful way, then they will not hear, nor will they believe, nor will they be in awe of the testimony that God gives of His Son.
Jesus Himself said,
Many people simply will not come to Him on those terms. They will not have it confirmed to themselves that His words truly were from God, because they are unwilling to do God's will. And as this morning's passage shows us, those are the very people who come away most disappointed with Jesus when they encounter Him. He is not what they expected; and because they are set in their expectations, they are offended by Him and reject Him.
This final story of chapter 13 teaches us that Jesus can be the least appreciated—even in the place where He is best known—if unbelief abides in the heart. How important it is that 'church-going people'—'religious people'—heed this warning!
* * * * * * * * * *
First, note . . .
1. THE VISIT THAT WAS GRANTED BY HIM (vv. 53-54a).
This story occurred when Jesus had finished teaching all that He had been teaching in the first 52 verses of this chapter—that is, after He had revealed the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. He then departed from the place where He was teaching and went to “His own country.” That place—as Luke tells us in his Gospel—was Nazareth, where Jesus had spent His growing-up and early adult years.
Think of what an advantage the people of Nazareth had over everyone else. The disciples had only been with Jesus for a short time. The people of Galilee had only heard His teachings for a brief while. The town of Capernaum had beheld His miracles; but only for a little span. But the people of Nazareth had Jesus among them—walking among them, working among them, living with them—for almost three decades!
Nazareth was a very small and humble town. The people who lived there would have seen Jesus up close and personal for a long, long time. The families of Nazareth would have grown up along with the members of His earthly family. Many people would have had children who played with Jesus, and with the other children of Mary and Joseph. He would have worked in the community in Joseph's trade as a carpenter; and there were, no doubt, many people in that town who could have pointed to things that Jesus had made for them. It had been His custom, as Luke tells us, to go to the synagogue of Nazareth and worship. If anyone would have had a sense that they had a right to call Jesus one of their 'own', it would have been the people of Nazareth. Jesus was called a “Nazarene”.
And what's more, you can be sure that the people of Nazareth were hearing the things that were being said about Him. They would have heard about the things He had taught in His “Sermon on the Mount”. And they would have heard about the things that He was doing and the miracles He had been performing in Capernaum. When He came back to His home-town, we would expect that it would have been a cause for celebration. We would expect that He would have received a 'hero's welcome'. We would expect that there would have been banners strung across the streets that welcomed Him home. We would expect there to have been a sign on Main Street that said, “Welcome to Nazareth—home-town of Jesus, the miracle-working Prophet!”
In our passage this morning, we're told that Jesus came to the synagogue and taught. No doubt, He was welcomed in that role. What a packed-out synagogue that would have been! What would Jesus—one of their own!—have to say? And when it was all over, you would have thought that everyone would have applauded Him. You would expect that everyone would have lined up to shake His hand, and touch their own home-town hero!
But you would have been wrong. Jesus always surprises people. He isn't what they expect Him to be. If they had approach Him with a teachable spirit and a humble heart—believing what the Scriptures tell us about Him; ready to be delivered by Him from our sins; ready to be changed—they would have found Him to be higher and more grand than their weak and meager preconceived notions of Him had been. But if they approached Him with disbelief—clinging proudly to their self-sufficiency; denying their sin; denying their need; demanding that He conform to them rather than they to Him—then they would have become deeply offended at Him.
* * * * * * * * * *
And the people of Nazareth were very deeply offended at Him. The word that is translated “He taught” is in the imperfect tense; which suggests a progressive action—that is, that He was in the process of teaching them, or that He had begun to teach them. And the word that is translated “they were offended” is also in the imperfect tense. This suggests that He had begun to teach and they had begun to listen; and that the more He taught, the more offended they became at Him.
That leads us, then, to consider . . .
2. THE OFFENSE THAT WAS TAKEN AT HIM (vv. 54b-57a).
What was it that He said that was so offensive? I believe that what was offending them the most was what He was telling them about Himself. As I read the New Testament, and the many times that Jesus offended people—and there are surprisingly many—it was usually what He says about Himself that offended them the most. It put them at the point of decision. They either had to believe what He said about Himself, turn from their sins, and trust Him; or they had to refuse to believe what He said, and reject Him out of a hardness of heart.
Luke, in his Gospel, gives us an example of what He was telling them. He writes,
Jesus had read from a passage that the people of Nazareth would have known and loved. It was a passage from Isaiah 49 that spoke of the coming of the Messiah—the promised King of the Jews. But Luke goes on to say that something remarkable happened.
No doubt, you could have heard a pin drop! He didn't say these things in a harsh or defiant way. He was compelling. Luke tells us that “all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth”.
But there was disbelief in the hearts of those who heard Him. They said, “Is this not Joseph's son?” They wondered where this “carpenter's boy” got all of this learning. He was from a small town. They knew that He didn't go off to some big city and attend some great school. And besides; if He's so wonderful, why doesn't He perform some of the miracles that they have heard He had performed elsewhere?
Now, Jesus knew what they were thinking. He knew that they had pride in their hearts. He knew of their disbelief in Him, and of their unwillingness to receive Him for who He said He was. And that's when He really demolished their expectations of Him.
No wonder that—as Matthew tells us—the more that He taught them, the more offended they became at Him! Look at our passage in Matthew, and you can see how that offense grew.
First, they didn't believe in who He was presenting Himself to be. He was presenting Himself to be the Messiah—both in the things that He taught about Himself and in the things that He did. His teaching and His works were authenticating Him as their long-awaited King. But they wouldn't receive Him as the King sent from God. They said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty miracles?” And people do the same today, don't they? They refuse to make a connection between His divine words and divine works, and draw the conclusion about His divine identity.
Second, they wouldn't accept His authority. They didn't appreciate that His words placed Himself above them. They focused on His human-family as reason to believe that He was no better than them. They said, “Is this not the carpenter's Son?” (and I like what one old preacher, Harry Ironside, said about that; “The answer is, No.” The people of Nazareth ignored the fact that He was born of a virgin.) Mark reports that they said, “Is this not the carpenter . . .?” (Mark 6:3). They said, “Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?”
It was as if they were asking, “How can this mere Man be what He claims to be? We know who His family is. He grew up here in Nazareth. He's no better than the rest of us.” People do something similar today when they insist that Jesus was just a man—a wonderfully profound teacher and a brilliant religious reformer; but in the end, just a man. And as a mere man, they say, He has no real authority.
I say that what people do today in limiting Jesus to “just a man” is “similar” to what they did in Nazareth. But but its only “similar”, because the people of His home-town were not even willing to say that He was a great teacher and religious reformer. “'Great teacher' nothin'!” they thought. “Just who does this mere Nazarene think He is? Just where does He get off?” There is the definite feeling of contempt for Jesus in their words.
Third, they were offended at Him. The word “offended” literally means that they stumbled at Him. As Paul put it, “. . . they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame'” (Romans 9:32-33). Even Jesus would say later on of Himself, “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:44). It's the same today. Jesus is not what people expect Him to be; and they either must be changed by Him, or they will take offense at Him. They ether fall on Him, or He falls on them.
And finally, they disbelieved in Him. The verdict is given in verse 58—that they responded to Him with “unbelief”.
* * * * * * * * * *
So; the people of Jesus' home-town did not welcome Him. This leads us, next, to . . .
3. THE PROVERB THAT WAS SPOKEN BY HIM (v. 57b).
We read, “But Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”
It's tempting for preachers to sometimes say, “Amen to that!” Every preacher knows something about the experience when he goes to family gatherings or high-school reunions. But we need to remember that the focus is primarily on Jesus in these words. He is the prophet who is not receiving honor from His own country and in His own house. Those who have had the most exposure to Him may still refuse to come to Him as they should—that is, humbly as to the Son of God who today stands as their Savior but tomorrow sits as their Judge. They try to cut Him down to size and keep Him from being who He truly is. They reject Him when He consistently fails to conform to their expectations; and they become offended at Him and reject Him.
The Bible tells us that “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:11-12). This story teaches us a great danger we all face—especially in the church! Jesus can become the least appreciated in the place where He is the best known . . . if He is greeted by those who have sin in their lives and unbelief in their hearts.
* * * * * * * * * *
We've seen the visit that was granted by Him, but also the offense that was taken at Him. And then, we saw the proverb that was spoken by Him—one that revealed their unbelief in Him. And this, finally and sadly, leads us to . . .
4. THE BLESSING THAT WAS LOST FROM HIM (v. 58).
We're told, “Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” Mark, in his Gospel, tells us that Jesus laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them (Mark 6:6); but that was all. He didn't do in Nazareth—His own home-town—the sort of mighty works that He did elsewhere. They wouldn't believe on Him, nor trust Him; and so, they didn't receive very much from Him.
He wouldn't be the “miracle-worker” they wanted to see. And yet, He disappointed their expectations because they wouldn't receive Him for who He is. And just think of how many people have the same experience of Him. They say that they tried to turn to Him; but He didn't work for them. And the truth is that they wouldn't receive Him as they should. They didn't come to Him for deliverance from their sin. They came to Him pridefully—with their own preconceived notions of what He should do.
What a tragedy! How much we lose when we won't—by faith—receive Him as He truly is!
* * * * * * * * * *
The lesson to be learned from this, then, is to beware of becoming so 'familiar' with Jesus that you no longer hold Him in awe—nor allow Him any longer to change your expectations of Him. We must never come to Jesus thinking that we have Him all figured out. We must never think that we no longer need to be changed by Him down to the core of our being. We must never think that we have no sins to be delivered from by Him, or that there is nothing more that we can learn from Him.
He is the Teacher, and we are the ignorant ones. He is the Healer, and we are the sick ones. He is the Savior, and we are the lost ones. And so, let's never lose our sense of awe and wonder at Him. Let's make sure that we always come to Him in humble, teachable faith. Let's always welcome Him for who He truly is.
Missed a message? Check the Archives!
Copyright © 2007 Bethany Bible Church, All Rights ReservedPrintable Version
Bethany Bible Church, 18245 NW Germantown Road, Portland, OR 97231 / 503.645.1436