Would we Get Angry with Jesus?

Telling the truth about the Church’s mission is not always popular. We would rather believe smooth things. That is also true about everyday life. We believe the myths about the wars our country fought, fabrications about our beloved sports team, fantasies about our favorite political party, self-delusions about our best-loved foods and stories about our own generation.
For a moment let’s set aside our natural tendency to be fearful of the truth. Let’s courageously face the facts, no matter where they lead.
Let’s examine Luke 4:21-30 and see how Jesus got himself into trouble simply by preaching the truth.
Luke 4:21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. 23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” 24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 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 off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
(Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.)
1. Why were Jesus’ Townspeople so Angry at Him? (vs. 23-29)
In his hometown synagogue Jesus announced that the good news preached in Isaiah 61 of freedom, sight, delivery and the year of the Lord’s favor was fulfilled in their hearing. Did Isaiah’s prophecy only apply to Zion? Jesus corrected any such parochial attitudes. “Physician heal yourself” implies healing only neighborhood people, like people who only give to local charities. Jesus reminded them of Elijah and Elisha, where God provided for a foreign widow and a diseased foreigner before their own people. Did they want God’s favor just for them? Did Jesus’ words sound like national betrayal perhaps contradicting their understanding of Isaiah? Is that why they wanted to kill him? Does it offend us that God’s plan includes all people?
2. Is Hatred of Foreigners Christian?
Xenophobia is a fear of strangers. It is a cheap and cowardly way to win votes in an election. The Nazis used similar tactics. Fear is not Christian. There is no fear in love (1 John 4:18). Christians are brave and bold in their love for strangers. Cowardliness paves the way to hell (Revelation 21:8). There is no place for ignorant prejudice and fear. It is that precise attitude that Jesus challenged. One common thread runs through all cultures worldwide: people just want to live, love, laugh and have happiness. Cowardly bigotry and hatred stops us from experiencing the delightful variety within God’s wonderful creation and hinders the message of the Gospel which must go to all people.
3. Can Telling the Truth be Dangerous?
Why are scientists who criticize macroevolution discredited? Why is anybody who contradicts popular beliefs disparaged? Why do political parties continually attack each other? Why do journalists stir up politics and public debates to make them worse? Why does the media only seem to report right to life supporters in the negative? Why are those who tell of our national sins, military mishaps, political and industrial corruption, our terrible treatment of the poor, numerous ethnic groups, the sick and immigrants vilified. Why, when people are brave enough to address such themes are they hounded off the air, boycotted, falsely accused and made to look stupid. Could it be that, like Jesus’ home crowd, most of us don’t like hearing the truth?
4. Do we want a Church that Just Panders to Us?
Does the church just exist to cater to us? The people of Nazareth seem to have thought that because Jesus was a hometown boy, he would cater to them. Were they disappointed! What is our mission? In commissioning the apostles, Jesus would later tell them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on them. They would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Church is not an inward-looking club. It has a mission that first begins locally, and expands to the region and from there to the whole world. If that offends us too, then do we need to allow the Holy Spirit to realign our thinking?
Telling the truth may never be popular. Hatred of foreigners is as popular now as it has ever been. Let’s set aside our natural tendency to be fearful of strangers. Let’s courageously embrace them and boldly accept the Church’s mission which has never has been just local or even national but has always been worldwide.

Good News, Freedom & Recovery

Some church mission statements sound silly to outsiders and others sound self-serving or trite. What is a good mission statement for a church?
Let’s examine a wonderful mission statement for any church directly from Jesus, a statement that summarized his purpose on earth in different words than usual.
Let’s look at Luke 4:14-21 and Isaiah’s summary of Jesus’ mission.
Luke 4:14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
1. Who are the Poor?
We think of the poor as people with inadequate money or perhaps the poor in spirit. When Jesus quoted Isaiah’s “good news to the poor” it had a broader meaning, anyone who was marginalized. They might be foreigners who were not accepted as belonging. They might have a disease or handicap which put them on the outside. They might have some other social status relating to “education, gender, family heritage, religious purity, vocation, economics, and so on”1 which marginalized them. Thus Jesus’ message was directed towards those who for any reason were outsiders to the rest. In our society who could we think of that this applies to? Is it really good news for them if nobody takes action?
1 Joel B. Green. NICNT. The Gospel of Luke. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1997. 211.
2. Who Needs Release?
Freedom or release is expressed twice in Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4:18-19. Captives or the oppressed being released is central to Christ’s mission. Counterfeit Christianity makes people captive to burdensome rules and religious oppression. Sadly, the false religion, of touch not, taste not, of lording it over people, is all too common. Release is often used in the context of forgiveness or release from sins. It signifies full admission into the community of believers without restriction. This parallels the release from debts granted in the Jubilee year, the year of release, redistribution back to Israel’s original land grants. Jesus proclaims this Jubilee theme as “the year of the Lord’s favor,” foreshadowing our eternal inheritance in God’s kingdom.
3. What did Jesus say About the Poor?
Jesus preached good news for the poor (Luke 4:14-21). He told a rich man to sell everything and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21), that we always have the poor but not him (Matthew 26:11), the poor are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is theirs (Luke 6:20), giving to the poor cleans us on the inside (Luke 11:40-41) providing us treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33). We should invite the poor to our parties (Luke 14:13) and the poor can be more generous than the rich (Luke 21:1-4). Is our version of Christianity just warming a pew and praying for a blessing or is it being good news to the poor?
4. How was Isaiah Fulfilled the Day Jesus Read?
Obviously, all oppression and captivity to sin did not end the day Jesus read Isaiah in the synagogue. He announced that a new era had already begun. As Mary composed in the Magnificat, God has lifted up the humble and he has filled the hungry with good things (Luke 1:52-53). This fulfillment is found in the person of Jesus. The words “in your hearing” refer to the presence of the one who would fulfill the promises of Isaiah. Jesus had quoted Isaiah 61. Is it also our primary purpose to preach, heal, deliver, give sight, freedom and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the Jubilee? Does today mean that we can’t put it off, but must act today?

This summarizes our mission very well. It is a mission that begins with empowerment of the Holy Spirit, being sent, proclaiming and actively setting the oppressed free. It is not a mission we can think about putting off, but one that Jesus challenges us to join in today.

Your First Miracle

What do a Jewish wedding and fine wine have to do with an epiphany, a surprise divine appearance?
Let’s encounter the kingdom of God as pictured in a marriage and God’s abundant provision.
Let’s examine the description of a wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11 and how it portrays an epiphany of the kingdom of God for us.
John 2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” 11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
1. What was a Jewish Wedding?
Jesus and his disciples were invited to a marriage feast at Cana. Weddings then were family arrangements, not state or church weddings. The parents approved the marriage and the engagement was as binding as a marriage contract is today. Once agreed to, the groom may have taken a year to build a house or addition onto his parents’ home. Then he came for his bride. With great celebration they entered their new dwelling to consummate the marriage. Only then did the festivities begin, and lasted a week. The whole community celebrated. A large amount of food and wine was needed. That’s why Jesus’ first sign of turning water into wine needed to supply perhaps as much as 120-180 US gallons.
2. What Hour had not Yet Come?
At Cana Jesus provided abundantly for a relatively trivial need. He reminded his mother that his hour had not yet come. What hour? Later, authorities could not arrest Jesus because his hour had not yet come (John 7:30; 8:20) and much later Jesus said that his hour to be glorified had come (John 12:20-24). It was his hour to leave this world (John 13:1). He prayed about that hour of great difficulty and yet also glory (John 12:27-28; 17:1). The wedding wine at Cana reminds us of the communion cup in remembrance of his death. This miracle reminds us how Jesus is able to do immeasurably more than we ask (Ephesians 3:20).
3. What does Wine Symbolize?
Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek, the priest of God, serving wine and bread (Genesis 14:17-19). Wine is a blessing (Genesis 27:28; Deuteronomy 33:28, Isaiah 36:17) from God (Deuteronomy 11:14), an offering (Exodus 29:40) which pleased God (Numbers 15:7), imbibed at festivals in his presence (Deuteronomy 14:23, 26, Proverbs 31:6). It gladdens the heart (Psalm 104:14-15) and life (Ecclesiastes 10:19). New wine ferments, needing new wineskins (Matthew 9:17). John abstained from wine, but Jesus did not (Luke 7:33-34), turning water to wine (John 2:3-9). Paul encouraged Timothy to take a little wine (I Timothy 5:23). Mountains dripping with sweet wine symbolize God’s kingdom (Amos 9:13-14).
4. How is Cana an Epiphany?
The wedding at Cana was the first of Jesus’ signs. That sign was an epiphany, a revelation of who Jesus Christ was. Turning water into wine was the first sign through which he revealed his glory. The result was that the disciples believed. The water turned to wine is an epiphany of the waters of baptism turned into blessings that will appear when Jesus comes again to set up his kingdom. The water which was regularly used for symbolic purification and symbolizes our baptism, becomes a Christian ritual performed only once as Jesus’ sacrifice was once and for all. Like that water, the water of baptism is miraculously changed into the power of the Holy Spirit and fire of Pentecost.
Grace is potentially dangerous, like guns and wine. If used rightly, they can all be blessings. If grace is used to continue sinning without repentance, or guns are used for murder and wine is used for drunkenness, their potential for good becomes abuse. Jesus said that he will drink wine with his disciples in his kingdom. At Cana, we have a foretaste of the great wedding feast of the Bridegroom who comes for his Holy Bride, the Church. This epiphany is made more obvious by God’s abundant and miraculous provision.

Remember Your Baptism

Is it important to remember your baptism?
Let us examine history’s most important baptism and see some relevant lessons for our own baptism.
We will look at Luke 3:15-22 and the baptism of Jesus.
Luke 3:15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. 19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison. 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
1. How is the Messiah Different? (vs. 15-16)
John the Baptizer explained three distinctions1 of the Messiah. 1) He would be more powerful. 2) John said that he was not even worthy to perform essentially a slave’s task for the Messiah. John’s attitude was not the feigned humility of polite company, but the genuine self-assessment of a man honest enough to face the truth of our weak human condition. Perhaps that is one of many reasons why Jesus’ description of John was that in his brutal honesty about self was true greatness (John 7:28). Compare that to the boasting of politicians and the pretentiousness of the elite. 3) The Messiah would baptize very differently to John. Christ’s is a baptism with the Holy Spirit (wind2) and fire.
2. Is the Winnowing Over? (vs. 17-18)
Did John the Baptist indicate that the winnowing process was already over? The only thing left to do seemed to be clearing the threshing floor, gathering the wheat and burning the chaff. Was John saying that his ministry was the winnowing and that Jesus’ ministry finishes the task? Is there an expectation of imminent judgment by Jesus in John the Baptist’s preaching? As we explore the ministry of Jesus, we discover that judgment, while it may begin with our response to Jesus’ first coming, will not take place until his second coming. The discussion here leaves us with a couple of questions. When and how will the judgment take place? For partial answers to those questions, we must look elsewhere.
3. What did Jesus’ Baptism Mean?
The Bible does not tell us how Jesus was baptized, but Luke points out three important things. 1) Heaven was opened, 2) the Holy Spirit descended and 3) a voice came. These things occurred after Jesus’ baptism while he was praying. The Holy Spirit descended like a dove. In a Bible where the words of Jesus are in red, let us not forget the voice of God the Father who declared Jesus as his Son. Reminiscent of Isaiah 42:1 Luke writes that God is well-pleased with his Son, Jesus. We might say that we are proud of a son. Pride can be misunderstood as a wrong attitude, pridefulness. God uses a much better word, well-pleased, unmistakably a positive emotion.
4. What Did Origen3 Believe about Baptism?
Origen was born around 184. At 17 his father was murdered for his faith. His mother hid his clothes, preventing Origen from going to die with his father. The government confiscated the family’s assets, forcing Origin to support younger siblings. He became the Church’s first theologian. Origen taught literal and allegorical interpretations of the Bible. In 250 Emperor Decius imprisoned and tortured him. Origen subsequently died at age 69. In his life he produced perhaps 6,000 separate writings. His famous comment on baptism was, “The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles… knew there are in everyone innate strains of sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit”
5. What did Maximus4 Teach about Christ’s Baptism?
Ancient bishop Maximus wrote of Jesus’ baptism, “At Christmas he was born a man; today he is reborn sacramentally… When he was born a man, his mother Mary held him close to her heart; when he is born in mystery, God the Father embraces him with his voice when he says: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased: listen to him... The mother holds the child for the Magi to adore; the Father reveals that his Son is to be worshiped by all the nations… Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, and ...when the Savior is washed all water for our baptism is made clean…”
Let us remember our baptism, the importance of being in prayer and our anointing by the Holy Spirit.
References: 1Green, Joel B. NICNT. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, Mich. W.B. Eerdmans. 1997. 2Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at crossmarks.com/brian/ 3Origen. Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248] 4Maximus. Sermo 100, de sancta Epiphania 1, 3: CCL 23, 398-400

A Different Path to Christ

What is an epiphany?
Let’s examine the glorious and surprising manifestation of God’s power to the Magi, who took a different path to Christ.
Sermon Plan
We will look at Matthew 2:1-12, the epiphany that the Magi saw and its relevance for us today.
Matthew 2:1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: 6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” 9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
1. Who were the Magi?
Who were the wise men that visited Jesus? The Greek term is magoi. Friberg [1] defines this as wise men. Louw-Nida [2] adds that they studied the stars. Herodotus [3] called them Persian priests who were interpreters of omens and dreams. Eastern traditions [4] recount that the Magi were eventually baptized by the apostle Thomas. The carol “We Three Kings” erroneously calls them kings based on Psalm 72:11, a prophecy that may be completely fulfilled when Christ returns. They were pagan advisors to kings who were led to Christ via their own religion. Could God use other religions to lead people to Christ today? Most Jews chose not to be interested in the birth of their Messiah. What about us?
[1] Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000. BibleWorks, v.3 [2]  Louw-Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. United Bible Societies. 1989. [3] Herodotus 7.19, 7.37, 1.107, 1.108, 1.120, 1.128 [4] Brent Landau. Who were the Magi? 11/29/2011. biblicalarchaeology.org
2. What were the Magi’s Gifts?
The gifts given to Jesus were gold, frankincense and myrrh — three gifts. There could have been twelve or more Magi according to eastern traditions. Gold was a gift for royalty. Frankincense and myrrh are aromatic herbs with healing properties. Frankincense comes from the sap of Boswellia trees and used for incense, perfume and anointing oil (Exodus 30:32-34). As a gift it possibly symbolized Jesus' high priestly office. Myrrh comes from the sap of Commiphora trees, is bitter and another ingredient of anointing oil. As a preservative is was used to anoint the dead and possibly foresaw Jesus’ death on the cross. The gifts may have been prophetic and symbolic of Christ as king, high priest and suffering savior.
3. Why did the Magi Worship a Child?
When the Magi inquired about Jesus they said that they had come to worship him. This made Herod feel threatened, so he plotted to kill Jesus. When Jesus was tempted by Satan he was told to bow down and worship the devil. But Jesus replied that worship is something reserved only for God (Matthew 4:10), and he told the devil to leave. In Greek, the same wording is used for when a leper, a synagogue leader, the disciples, a gentile woman and Zebedee’s wife also worshiped Jesus (Matthew 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9, 17). Although it is popular for people to think of Jesus as merely a good man, he was “God with us.”
4. Why is Western Christianity so Weak?
The Magi innocently inquired about Jesus but had no idea of the politics involved. Worldly power is threatened by the Messiah. The more corrupt that power is, the more it is threatened by a Savior who teaches that we must love our neighbor instead of oppress them, feed the poor instead of criticize them, and courageously welcome strangers instead of fearfully building walls. Historically, power brokers have either tried to destroy the Gospel or water it down, making it ineffective. Roman and Jewish leaders had profited greatly from a corrupt system. Zealots potentially revolting to free Judea were a threat to the system. True Christianity is a threat to modern greed. Is that why western Christianity is weak and insipid?
God is everywhere. We don’t need to look far. His presence is obvious to people no matter their religion. As he did with the Magi, God can use other religions to bring people to Jesus. Let’s take time to look at God’s omnipresent epiphany.