Luke 4:16-30 – Good News for “Those” People

Jesus went back to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and as usual he went to the meeting place on the Sabbath. When he stood up to read from the Scriptures, he was given the book of Isaiah the prophet. He opened it and read,

“The Lord’s Spirit
    has come to me,
because he has chosen me
to tell the good news
    to the poor.
The Lord has sent me
to announce freedom
    for prisoners,
to give sight to the blind,
to free everyone
    who suffers,
and to say, ‘This is the year
    the Lord has chosen.’”

Jesus closed the book, then handed it back to the man in charge and sat down. Everyone in the meeting place looked straight at Jesus.

Then Jesus said to them, “What you have just heard me read has come true today.”

All the people started talking about Jesus and were amazed at the wonderful things he said. They kept on asking, “Isn’t he Joseph’s son?”

Jesus answered:

You will certainly want to tell me this saying, “Doctor, first make yourself well.” You will tell me to do the same things here in my own hometown that you heard I did in Capernaum. But you can be sure that no prophets are liked by the people of their own hometown.

Once during the time of Elijah there was no rain for three and a half years, and people everywhere were starving. There were many widows in Israel, but Elijah was sent only to a widow in the town of Zarephath near the city of Sidon. During the time of the prophet Elisha, many men in Israel had leprosy. But no one was healed, except Naaman who lived in Syria.

When the people in the meeting place heard Jesus say this, they became so angry that they got up and threw him out of town. They dragged him to the edge of the cliff on which the town was built, because they wanted to throw him down from there. But Jesus slipped through the crowd and got away. (Contemporary English Version)

Jesus was the hometown boy of Nazareth, the rising star who was putting the small village on the map. He walked into the synagogue on the Sabbath with the people all watching with pride, their chests puffed with delight over one of their own making it to the big time. 

It just so happened that on that day the Old Testament reading was from the prophet Isaiah – a prophecy of grace and healing that fit the budding ministry of Jesus. Here was the hope of Israel. It was all bunnies and butterflies, until Jesus decided to say a few words to them all….

Jesus took the prophecy of Isaiah about proclaiming liberty to captives and the oppressed and then applied it, not to his fellow Jews who were present, but to, of all people, Gentiles! 

Jesus just had to open his mouth and point out that in the days of Elijah, the prophet was sent to a Gentile woman. In addition, Jesus let everyone know the prophet Elisha cleansed a Gentile. The gathered synagogue worshipers understood exactly what Jesus was doing – claiming to be the ultimate prophet, sent for “those” people. 

Are you ready to throw Jesus off a cliff?

It was too much for the people gathered for worship. All hell broke loose as the “worshipers” became so angry and insolent that they drove Jesus out of town and tried to kill him. Jesus had that kind of effect throughout his earthly ministry by saying and doing the unexpected. 

The people of Nazareth seemed to have always interpreted the message of Isaiah and the prophets as being for themselves, not others. This is a probing story for today’s Christian Church. Whenever we lose sight of a biblical message and re-interpret it as being for only us, then we end up like the Nazarenes of old who did not recognize Jesus for who he really is and what he really came to do. 

The burning question for individual Christians and all churches is this: Are you ready to throw Jesus off a cliff?

Take some time alone with God today and think about whether you have made Jesus into the image of what you want him to be, or whether you accept him as he is. 

One clue to this is if you believe some person or people group should not have Jesus – he belongs to people like us. Perhaps today some soul-searching repentance is in order so that Christians will be true worshipers of Jesus, and not just a fan of him.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

John 16:16-24 – There Must Be Suffering Before Glory

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born, she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So, with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (New International Version)

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come with patience and equanimity.”

Carl Jung

An Unpopular Message

Jesus often said things that were neither expected nor wanted. Jesus consistently told his disciples there must be suffering before glory. The disciples either could not or would not hear of it. They didn’t sign up to follow Jesus into suffering! Trying to get people to pay attention to suffering is like trying to get a bunch of Baptists to put their names down on a sign-up sheet at church.

Christ was speaking to his disciples in the Upper Room, the last meal he had with them before his death. When they were called by Jesus three years earlier, the disciples were not expecting all the gibberish about leaving and grieving. To put this in contemporary terms, the disciples’ response was akin to saying, “I only think positive. I don’t listen to things that are negative.”

Suffering, death, and grief were far from the disciples’ expectations of how things would and should shake-out. They had such a hard time understanding what the heck Jesus was saying because his words were out of alignment with their assumptions. Yes, there would be glory and joy. First, however, there must be suffering and grief.

A Real Message

Just as a woman experiences terrible pain in childbirth, then ecstatic joy over seeing her child for the first time, so the Christian’s excruciating pain in this life points to the inevitable joy at the end of that suffering. In the scope of eternity, adversity and pain last only a moment. Glorious joy, however, will be forever.

In talking with his disciples about their disappointment, even depression, about Christ’s words of leaving and grieving, Jesus graciously gave them the gift of joy. Yes, there can be and is joy even in the mourning. Not every story has a happy ending.

I can say, however, that the grandest story of all – Jesus Christ’s suffering and death – has resulted in resurrection and ascension. It will all be complete when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Then, the grand narrative of redemption will realize its conclusion of no more crying, tears, or pain. There will be only unending joy.

For now, however, we still experience heartache along with the great joy of resurrection and new life. It can be confusing, living in the awkward state of simultaneous grief and joy. Yet, keep in mind, the grief is temporary. The despair will not last. Joy, on the other hand, has staying power and will be the permanent state of the believer. It is only the smaller stories which may or may not end well. The big story of redemption already has the ending written – joy without grief.

A Good Message

Christians serve a risen and ascended Lord. Therefore, we need not wait to be happy, and we need not expect everything must go our way. The good news is that there are always fresh opportunities to be happy through asking and receiving. Imagine a Partridge Family sort of bus coming around to all the bus stops of life. Happy times and music arrive around the clock. Chances are the opportunity to be happy has already arrived. Often, it is right in front of us; we just missed the bus because we were daydreaming about a future state of joy.

We are living days of constant change followed by ever new normal. Just as there was no going back to a three-year hiatus of walking with Jesus for the disciples, so we need to embrace new and different ways of life together here on planet earth. We have the gift of joy. Its just a matter of unpacking it.

Now to him who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

1 Timothy 6:11-12 – How to Fight the Good Fight

But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so, run from all these evil things [the love of money]. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. (New Living Translation)

Today’s New Testament lesson is a pertinent message for contemporary Christians. These verses come as the conclusion to the Apostle Paul’s letter to a young pastor in Ephesus, Timothy. The epistle is filled with encouragements, exhortations, and warnings of how to go about conducting ministry. 

Paul left Timothy with some pointed instruction to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. These are the qualities which ought to inform every practice in the church and the Christian life. 

The Apostle gave Timothy a sacred trust, to hold tightly and guard the message of faith in Christ given to him. This good news of forgiveness and grace leading to eternal life through Jesus must be continually upheld. Because there will always be other individuals and groups distorting and diluting this wondrous salvation.

Two Exhortations

These two exhortations – pursuit of a godly life and grabbing hold of Christian good news – needs to be always held together. To only pursue virtuous practices apart from grasping the message will cause slow erosion and compromise the faith entrusted to us. To only embrace the gospel without trying our best to live a virtuous life will lead to ornery and combative attitudes, as well as behavior which undermines the very gospel we seek to uphold.

So, then, competing in the arena of spiritual warfare is useless without knowing why we are in that arena to begin with. We are striving for the hearts, minds, and souls of people who need the life-giving message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. We are to carefully apply the poultice of grace to the incredible need of the world’s people, using all the virtues of righteousness and godliness at our disposal. 

Badgering, bullying, and bludgeoning people with the truth are unbiblical because it ignores the virtuous practices integral to our faith. On the other hand, loving others without careful proclamation of the gospel misses a central thrust of Paul’s letter to Timothy.

Ensure you are putting your energy into the right things. Uphold the faith delivered to us through sacred Scripture. Use love and gentleness in everything said and done. Seek after righteousness and godliness. Clutch eternal life and hold it tightly. With both hands, uphold the sanctity of the Christian message through the sacredness of holy living. We are to pursue the following:

Righteousness and Godliness

Being right with God comes through the justifying work of Jesus. This right standing then is to work out itself in practical daily living. We are to strive toward having right relationships with others.

Once you’re convinced that Christ is right and righteous, you’ll recognize that all who practice righteousness are God’s true children. (1 John 2:29, MSG)

Desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. (Matthew 6:33, CEB)

Like righteousness, godliness is given to us so that we are viewed as godly. Yet, living a godly life is a skill which requires much training. Since God is One and Love, so we are to work at unity and loving others with the divine power given to us.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. (2 Peter 1:3, NLT)

Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8, NRSV)

Faith and Love

Faith is also a gift of God. Once given, we are to hold onto it, lean into it, and rely on it throughout our lives. We pursue our faith through being above board on all things and listening to our inward conscience, even and especially when outward circumstances are troublesome.

Love is the actionable means of meeting another’s needs. Armed with a robust faith in God, we are to confidently love the world, knowing the Lord has our back.

Cling to your faith in Christ and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. (1 Timothy 1:19, NLT)

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Timothy 1:13-14, NIV)

Perseverance and Gentleness

We contend for the faith delivered to us by having the long view of Christianity and the Christian life. A daily walk of faith is rarely glamourous. The growth of our spirits and the construction of our souls is tedious and patient work. It requires a great deal of endurance.

Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,

“In just a little while,
    he who is coming will come
    and will not delay.”

And “But my righteous one will live by faith. (Hebrews 10:35-38, NIV)

The practical working of perseverance in one’s life is marked by gentleness. When we take the long view, we can be gentle, not rushing or hurrying people to be godly beyond their own personal growth capacity.

Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5, CEB)

Holding tight to the gospel message is a very practical affair. It isn’t an abstract doctrinal or dogmatic defense but a righteous, godly, believing, loving, enduring, and gentle application of truth in daily life.

King Jesus, Lord of all, help me to keep your commandments in ways consistent with the gospel of grace so that your church is encouraged, and your world is blessed with both the message and the medium. Amen.

Psalm 51:1-12 – Facing Our Darkness

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Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
    and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. (NRSV)

David experienced a lot of hard things. Through it all, he held fast to walking with God. Eventually, David became king. He used his power and authority to do exactly what God likes – showing grace and kindness to those in need. Except in the case of Bathsheba, another man’s wife. He made one unwise decision, which led to a bad decision, and then to another and another – until the prophet Nathan came and called David on the carpet.

Whereas King David began his reign using his royal position to show kindness, he ended up acting like any other worldly king by giving orders and using his authority to get what he wanted. Just as David sent others to do his personal bidding, God finally sent Nathan for a divine intervention.

If we confess our sins, God will forgive us. We can trust God to do this. He always does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrong things we have done.

1 John 1:9, ERV

Nathan wisely helped David see his sin for what it really was. Irresponsibility, adultery, and murder are serious matters. The mental and spiritual gymnastics people make to justify their poor decisions always ends up devaluing what is right and making sin less heinous than it really is.

Good news can only be properly understood considering the bad news.

Without seeing our true predicament of being held in the vice grip of sin and unable to move, we will go on wondering why nothing ever goes like we want. A person who is lost, and doesn’t know it, is in the worst of situations. Calamity is just around the corner.

Like a restaurant owner who fails to see the health violations all around him, the business is about to be shut down with him scratching his head or blaming others for his misfortune. Only when the owner comes to recognize and agree with established health standards will there be a turn around and a renewed existence for the establishment.

We must agree and comply with God about how bad things really are without sugar coating any of it.

Only then can best practices be put into place which help everyone to be safe, healthy, and happy. To King David’s credit, he saw his terrible decisions and actions for what they were and faced them squarely with a repentant heart and a renovated life.

Thus, we have today’s psalm, crafted by David as a response to his own egregious wandering from how God wanted him to reign as king. David’s sin was mercifully outdone by God’s grace. The main event to the psalm is not David’s wrongs but God’s forgiveness. Prayer is the mechanism which accesses divine pardon to even the most awful of transgressions.

The appropriate posture of the devout Christian is to pray.

Specifically, to confess our great and many sins, shortcomings, and moral failures. This might sound negative and a major downer. Yet, to not look evil square in the face and call it out for what it is, is at best denial, and at worst, allows a bitter seed of unforgiveness to gestate in the depths of your soul. 

I believe one of the best ways to confront the darkness within is by using the ancient prayer book, the Old Testament Psalms. Sometimes when we pray apart from considering the psalms, our prayers go along the lines of something like, “Change my situation so I can praise you, God.” Rather, the psalms guide us toward a shift in direction by praying:

“Change me, God, because I am the problem.”

I encourage you to pray Psalm 51 out loud, slowly, with a generous amount of emotional flavor – even, and especially, if you don’t feel like it. Pray it over more than once, and perhaps several times punctuated throughout the day today. In doing so, you will be joining the faithful across the world who today offer God a prayer of subversion against the blackness on this earth.

What places in your life allow you the freedom to confess your sins?  What places seem to keep you from confession? How might a regular practice of repentance help you beyond this season of Lent?

May almighty God, who has promised forgiveness of sins to all who turn in faith, pardon you and set you free from all your sins, strengthen you for right living, and keep you in eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.