The Unpopular Message of Jesus: An Inclusive Gospel

jesus-fulfillment-isaiahs-prophecy-949039-galleryI don’t know what your memories of school were like but I was bullied at school and as a consequence I have a low tolerance of bullying when I witness it – and intervening gets me into trouble sometimes. And having helped raise three lovely daughters, I have a low tolerance of discrimination against women as well. The Bible says we are created in the image and likeness of God. This means that it is sub-Christian to mistreat, abuse, or denigrate any person, irrespective of their race, colour, age, religion, or gender. When Christians are a minority, or society is volatile, there is great pressure on us to avoid offending other people. The temptation therefore is to soften or compromise the exclusive claims of the gospel. How can we avoid being offensive in witnessing for Jesus? How can we share our convictions with compassion? In our Gospel reading we observe Jesus doing so and showing us how.

Last week, in Luke 4, we learnt about Jesus’ manifesto.

“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, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” 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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)

Jesus message had three points based on the reading from Isaiah 61: He claimed to be the Messiah, the Jubilee had arrived, and he had come to liberate them. Jesus had not come to usher in a year of Jubilee. Jesus was in fact the Jubilee personified! And the Messiah promised so long ago by Isaiah was sitting right in front of them.

How do they respond? In different ways. As people reflected on the words of Jesus, different kinds of faith were exposed. Lets consider each and ask which best describes yours.

1. A Doubting Faith: People are Amazed by Jesus

“He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 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. (Luke 4:21-22)

They were amazed at his teaching. But they also knew him. They knew his family. He grew up among them.
 How could such a humble figure, the carpenter’s son, be the Messiah promised by Isaiah? Now, it is not wrong to have doubts or ask questions. From the moment we are born, we are all doubters. The first sound we make is a cry of terror. “What is this strange world I am entering?” we cry. “Will my needs be met? Why has my warm secure world changed? Who will care for me?” The baby wants proof now. Those secure arms, that gentle voice and eye contact provide assurance. Then and only then will a baby begin to trust and smile.

Underneath everything we are, and everything do lies the need for trust. From friendships between small children to agreements between entire nations, we depend on trust. Counting on people is trust. Sharing your personal thoughts is a sign of trust. A cry for help is someone seeking trust, a hug, a kiss, shaking hands are signs of trust. Relationships depend on trust. 
There are no more important questions in life than, “Who can I trust?” And none more than the ultimate.
“Can I trust God?”

The search for answers will lead a person in one of two directions. The facts will either drive you to a saving faith, or an unbelieving faith. For Jesus demands a response. Jesus calls us to repent, to trust and obey and follow him. Jesus calls for a whole change of lifestyle from what we want, to what he wants, and that isn’t popular. A Doubting Faith: The people are amazed by Jesus.

2. An Unbelieving Faith: The People Rebuked by Jesus

“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.’” Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 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. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 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.” (Luke 4:22-27)

What was the problem? Why were they unable to trust Him? Because like many today, they thought they knew who Jesus was, when in fact they didn’t know him at all. They asked the right questions but had already made up their minds. Their presuppositions rejected the facts.
How does Jesus respond? He cites a proverb about a physician healing himself. He knows they expect the local boy to entertain them with some miracles as he had performed elsewhere. He reminds them that the Old Testament prophets were invariably not well received. Their message was often met with rejection. He illustrates this from the days of Elijah and Elisha, when, because God’s people did not listen, they only heal a few Gentiles.

Jesus is suggesting that the Gentiles were more responsive to his message that the Jews. In Nazareth, just as in Heliopolis, there were some who had, a doubting faith: Some people were amazed by Jesus. Many however, had an unbelieving faith: And they are rebuked by Jesus

3. An Fundamentalist Faith: People Enraged at Jesus

“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 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. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:28-30)

The people are enraged. He must be a false prophet. He deserves to die. They try and push him over the cliff on the outskirts of Nazareth. But, led by the Spirit he walks right through the crowd. There is an important lesson here. This shows us that it is futile to argue with someone who will not face the facts, or has made up their mind. They’re no longer looking for an answer but for an excuse. The response of the people in the synagogue confirms Jesus assessment. They were proud and arrogant. They thought they had an exclusive God. They looked down on the Gentiles, on sinners, on anyone who was not like them. Prejudice overruled the evidence. Mark tells us the people were “offended at Him.” That literally means “they stumbled over Him.” The Greek word gives us our English word scandalize. They could not explain Him, so they rejected Him. This is where skepticism becomes cynicism and cynicism becomes fanaticism. Mark records Jesus as saying of them:

“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ” ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ (Mark 7:6-7)

A Doubting Faith: The People are Amazed by Jesus.
An Unbelieving Faith: The People are Rebuked by Jesus.
A Destructive Faith: The People are Enraged at Jesus.

4. A Saving Faith – The Disciples Followed Jesus

Where is the evidence of genuine faith in this passage?

Following Jesus Inspires a Saving Faith
How do we know this event took place? Because it as written down. By whom? The Gospel was written by Luke. Luke had become a follower of Jesus and collected the sayings of Jesus.

Following Jesus Intensifies a Deepening Faith
“Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two.” (Mark 6:6-7)

Faith is never static. It is either growing or shrinking depending on how close we stay to Jesus. The disciples followed Jesus and saw his wise teaching and compassionate miracles transform the lives of those who trusted in Him. Jesus challenged them to test his claims.

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 
(John 8:31-32)

Following Jesus Ignites an Infectious Faith

“Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits… They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” (Mark 6:7-13)

Jesus began to train them, instruct them, trust them, delegate authority to them, and share his ministry with them. What did Jesus commission them to do? Demonstrate in word and deed that the Kingdom of God had arrived – preaching repentance, driving out demons and bringing healing and wholeness to the sick and disabled, the marginalized, the poorest and oppressed from sin, from sickness and from Satan. A foretaste of heaven. Does following Jesus ignite your desire to share your faith? Today we have considered different kinds of faith. Only one will do. A doubting faith is a good place to start but an unbelieving, hypocritical or fundamentalist faith will not do. Make sure yours is a saving faith, a deepening faith, an infectious faith. A faith that is placed firmly and securely in Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Let us pray.