Rejected

I. Introduction

I think sometimes we just coast through our own lives without thinking much about it. I got up, I went there, I came back, I ate this, I went back to sleep.

But along the way, we constantly make choices. What to wear, what to eat. Who to vote for, who not to vote for. At some point in our lives, we chose whether to believe in Jesus, or whether not to believe in Jesus. And if we choose to believe, we choose a view of Jesus we want to believe. One only of love and compassion? One of deliverance? One of obedience?

Our entire lives are a series of related decisions. Already today, we have made decisions that impacted where we are right now or what we are wearing. Even the color of our shirt or dress might be influenced by another decision made earlier in the day. Some decisions have very little importance. Some have life or death consequences.

How and why and when we choose or reject Jesus impacts so many other areas of our lives. Sometimes it affects what we wear. Sometimes it affects who we vote for.

Today we are studying the early life of the ministry of Jesus, and the people of Nazareth faced a decision about Jesus. That decision will lead to consequences.

II. Context Luke 4:1-44

At this point in the life of Jesus, Jesus had been affirmed Spiritual highs often precede spiritual tests. At His baptism, Jesus was affirmed by John the Baptist, the voice of God from heaven and the Holy Spirit on Him as a dove.

Jesus was led to the desert, fasted without food or water for forty days and nights, and tempted by Satan with three tests. You are probably not surprised Jesus passed with flying colors, and immediately after, Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth. This may be an even bigger challenge than the devil. Jesus is challenged by people. Prideful, sinful, fallen, free-will people.

These people had known Him since he was a small boy. Jesus’ synagogue was full of familiar faces. Jesus made two broad statements we will study in more detail. First, Jesus read messianic text from Isaiah 61 and declared the prophecy to be fulfilled. The people reacted to that statement with amazement and approval.
And then Jesus reminded them that God did not accept people based on their religious heritage but by their faith. How did the people react? They flew into a furious rage and tried to kill Jesus. Sometimes people want God in their lives, as long as God is on their terms. So let’s get into the details.

III. True Identity Luke 4:16-21

Luke 4:16-17,

And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding region. And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him. And He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

We will get the actual Isaiah scripture soon but let us examine what Jesus was doing. In Nazareth, His childhood home, during the Sabbath, Jesus as a good Jew was there. The scripture says, “as usual” or “as was His custom.” He was there with people He probably knew since He went every week.

Now in the synagogue, members of the synagogue or sometimes visitors would be invited to read Scripture and offer any comments. These were not books like we have today; usually scripture was copied onto sheets of papyrus or parchment that were joined to make a scroll.

These scrolls were often stored in clay pots like this (***). The famous Dead Sea Scroll were stored in similar pots.

Our scripture says Jesus stood up to read, as was the custom, and the scroll containing the words of the prophet Isaiah were handed to Him. Since the scroll was given to him, we might assume this Scripture had already been designated for this week. On the other hand, He could have requested the book of the prophet Isaiah specifically. Either way, Jesus unrolled the scroll to Isaiah 61 and it says “He found the place where it was written” so Jesus is purposefully looking for this next scripture.


“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

These verses are from Isaiah 6:1-2, and the Jews at the time recognized this as a well-known messianic text. When we get to Luke 7, if you recall, John the Baptist later sent messengers to Jesus and asked,

Are You the Coming One, or are we to look for another?

And Jesus answered with words from this prophecy,

Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: people who were blind receive sight, people who limped walk, people with leprosy are cleansed and people who were deaf hear, dead people are raised up, and people who are poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is anyone who does not take offense at Me.”

In Jesus’ day, Isaiah was where people turned to hear the “good news” of the Kingdom of God – a kingdom where God will:

1. Comfort His people (Isaiah 40:1, 2, 11: 51:5; 52:9; 54:7-8; 55:7; 61:2-3),
2. Help the poor and needy (Isaiah 40:29-31; 41:17; 55:1-2),
3. Heal the sick and broken (Isaiah 42:18; 43:8-10),
4. Forgive sins (Isaiah 44:22; 53:4-6, 10-12),
5. Judge the wicked, and
6. Renew all things (Isaiah 42:9-10; 43:18-19; 48:6; 65:17; 66:22).

Moreover, Isaiah is clear that this good news will be accomplished through God’s chosen, humble, spirit-filled Servant . (Isaiah 42:1-4; 45:4; 49:3-5; 52:13-53:12).

The Isaiah prophecy is written in the first person; the pronoun “me” does not refer to Isaiah. This is the future Messiah speaking, and there are multiple prophecies filled by Jesus.

• First, the Spirit of the Lord was on Him. John the Baptist in John 1:33 testified that God had told him he would see the Holy Spirit resting on the One who was coming. And then at Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended on Him as a dove. This verse is also one of the verses than mention God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit at the same time. The Father anoints the Son in the presence of the Spirit.

• Second, the Isaiah Messiah declares that the Holy Spirit’s work included anointing the Messiah. The word Messiah, or Christ in the Greek language, means “Anointed One.” The sentence structure implies that the Messiah is appointed, was appointed, and will continue to be appointed. God anointed Jesus at His baptism and from that point on He was the Christ.

• Jesus’ anointing involved God’s empowerment to preach good news to the poor. The gospel would not be complete until Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, the good news of God’s initiation of salvation har arrived with Jesus and His ministry.

• While the message had special application for the poor, it was not limited to the poor. Both Old and New Testaments testify to God’s concern for the poor. In the Old Testament, God gave numerous commands in Leviticus and Deuteronomy to protect and care for the poor. Likewise, Jesus and the apostles cared for the poor throughout their ministries.

• And it says in Isaiah 61 that the purpose of the Messiah is to set free the oppressed and then again proclaim release to the captives. It is good news and a proclamation. Those who are held captive by force can find release in Christ. Those who are oppressed by hardship and shattered lived can find hope in Christ. Each of these phrases can refer to physical or spiritual conditions, and it also proclaims the way Christ sets us free from sin and its penalty. These are truly gracious words for anyone who hears them. If you are surrendering to sin, God sent Jesus to win your forgiveness. If you are oppressed, God sent Jesus to liberate you. If you are poor, blind, in debt, or have been defrauded, God sent Jesus to assure you that He will make things right. This is an undeserved gift that God, rich in mercy, had been promising since Genesis 3:15. And with the coming of Jesus – in the power of the Holy Spirit – God has kept His promise.

• The Messiah also has a ministry of recovery of sight to the blind. Jesus literally caused the blind to see on several occasions, but this ministry also has a metaphorical application related to people who were spiritually blind. Nothing illustrates this metaphor more clearly than John 9:39,

And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

• The Messiah announced the year of the Lord’s favor, good news indeed. This phrase stands in contrast the next verse in Isaiah 61:2b, “day of our God’s vengeance” which Jesus omitted in this reading. Jesus’ first coming proclaimed God’s favor. When Jesus returns a second time, He will accompany God’s judgment. That time is also called “the day of the Lord.”

Luke 4:20-21 –

And He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all the people in the synagogue were intently directed at Him. Now He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The people must have been astonished. Jesus had performed miracles recently in Capernaum, then he arrives, reads a piece of scripture that proclaims He is the Anointed One, and then sits down, finished. No wonder they stared at Him intently. And it says in the next verse, the people were encouraged and positive about these gracious words. Scripture has been fulfilled. The Messiah had arrived and come to offer salvation.

IV. False Understanding – Luke 4:22-27

But… you knew there was going to be a “but”, didn’t you? Verse 22,

And all the people were speaking well of Him, and admiring the gracious words which were coming from His lips; and yet they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”

Up to this point, all the people were speaking well of him, but they did not understand what He meant by the prophecy being fulfilled. They thought Jesus was just a local hometown boy. The question – Isn’t this Joseph’s son? – was rhetorical. Of course this is Joseph’s son.

The absence of any reference to Joseph’s presence here or in future gospel narratives strongly suggests Joseph had died by this time. Most likely, the phrase Joseph’s son simply was a point of reference to Jesus’ family background.

Verse 23,

And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! All the miracles that we heard were done in Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’”

Jesus responded to the congregation with a popular saying: Doctor, heal yourself. This proverb is not found in the Book of Proverbs but was a common saying among the Jews and other cultures, even today. The statement means the people wanted Jesus to do miracles here in Nazareth first, because He was local. The people had heard about the miracles that took place in Capernaum. From Nazareth in central Galilee to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee was just over twenty miles. News spread quickly. They wanted Jesus to perform a miracle in His hometown so they could see for themselves.

Verses 24-27,

But He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a severe famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many with leprosy in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Jesus would not allow their misunderstanding of His nature or purpose to push Him into doing the very thing Satan had tried in vain to make Him do. He would not misuse His divine powers for personal advantage. He understood that no prophet is accepted in his hometown. They’re likely thinking, “that’s not God, that’s just Jesus from down the street.”

But Jesus went on to give two examples of how God worked outside of popular expectations. He reminded them of Elijah’s days. Elijah prophesied during the ninth century before Christ. His ministry was primarily in the Northern Kingdom under Ahab and Ahaziah. The famine that came over all the land resulted from God’s word through Elijah to King Ahab. You can read about this in 1 Kings 17. During the three years and six months that followed, no rain fell as the sky was shut up. Jesus pointed out that there were many widows in Israel during this time. But God did not send relief to the widows in Israel.

After declaring the coming catastrophe, Elijah fled from Ahab for fear the king would kill him. At first, the prophet hid by the brook Cherith. He drank the water and was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:3-6). When the brook dried up due to drought, God sent Elijah to a widow at Zarephath. This small town was on the coastal area near the Mediterranean Sea near the larger city of Sidon. The point of Jesus’ statement was that God did not send Elijah to the widows of Israel but directed him north, beyond the borders of Ahab’s kingdom. This statement was received as an insult to the Jews’ national pride.

Then Jesus offered an even stronger analogy by referring to the healing of Naaman. Naaman was commander of the Syrian armies during the ministry of Elisha, who followed Elijah as prophet in Israel. You can read about this in 2 Kings 2. A Hebrew slave girl told Naaman’s wife about the prophet’s power to heal. After being humbled and submitting to Elisha’s direction to wash in the Jordan River, Naaman was healed. There were many in Israel who had leprosy, but not one of them was cleansed. Jesus’ pointed out that God chose to heal a Gentile while not healing Jewish lepers. This story was also received as an insult to the Jews’ national and religious pride.

The Nazarenes basically ignored God’s grace as Jesus announced it. Now Jesus confronts them with the full truth of the situation: they are rejecting Him, and His salvation blessings will go to others. It is not a truth they want to hear.

As God’s humble Servant, Jesus knows He will be “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). He had come “to his own, and his own people did not receive him” ( John 1:11). One of the ironies of Scripture is that Jesus’ rejection at home opens the way for God’s salvation for gentiles like us. Indeed, this was God’s plan. Jesus understood this, He taught it to his apostles, and they preached it continually (Luke 9:22; 24:7; Acts; Romans 9-11).

Through His rejection, death, and resurrection, Jesus is the “cornerstone” of God’s Kingdom, which consists of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation (Revelation 5:9). It matters not where a person comes from, only whether they receive Jesus. For some people, Jesus is a stone of stumbling and offense (Luke 20:17-18; Romans 9:32-33; 1 Peter 2:8), for others, He is the rock on which a new life is built (Luke 6:47-48; Acts 4:11-12; Psalm 118:22; 1 Peter 2:6-7).

We all have to examine what we think we believe about Jesus. When churches teach only part of the character of Christ, they’re not teaching Jesus. Yes, Jesus is love, and Jesus is forgiveness, but he’s also judgement and obedience and righteousness. These hometown Jews thought they knew Jesus. They had watched Him grow up. Even if He had become some kind of miracle worker, they probably thought He should know His place and show some respect. Jesus’ sermon shook their ideas about His identity. They didn’t understand that Jesus did not come to fulfill their purpose – Jesus came to fulfill God’s purpose.

V. Misguided Response, Luke 28-30

Luke 4:28-30,

And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and brought Him to the crest of the hill on which their city had been built, so that they could throw Him down from the cliff. But He passed through their midst and went on His way.

Everyone in the synagogue was enraged when He challenged their prejudices. People who are emotionally invested in a belief often become enraged if that belief is opposed. The people were indignant, wrathful, their emotions were fierce. The people did not get mad when Jesus claimed that He fulfilled Isaiah’s messianic prophecy. That was good news to them.

Instead, they became enraged when they heard the two stories about Elijah and Elisha. They liked having a miracle worker for the Messiah as long as this Messiah did what the people wanted, to fulfill their national and religious ambitions. Jesus said God’s favor would come to people outside of Israel. It struck at the deepest core of the Jews’ bigotries.

They rushed at Jesus. They wanted to destroy Him. They drove him out of town. They possibly grabbed His arms to force Him out.

Nazareth was located in the Galilaen highlands which make up the southern ridge of the Lebanese mountain range. The town was built on a hill that had a steep slope. From there, the mob was intending to hurl him over the cliff. Their religious fervor was leading them to do a very ungodly deed.

Similarly, in today’s world, many religious zealots use their religious beliefs as an excuse to impose their faith by violence and to attack anyone who challenges them.

This was not to be the time, place, or manner for Jesus’ death. He did not fear death, but His mission had only begun. Many miles lay ahead. He miraculously escaped from them and went on his way.

And Jesus went back to Capernaum, where He continued His miraculous ministry of healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom.

Rejection of Jesus does not change who Jesus is. People may refuse to believe in Christ, but their lack of faith affects them, not Him. Sometimes we feel rejected by people because we follow Jesus. He warned His disciples that in doing so, such people are not really snubbing us, they are rejecting Him (Matt. 10:22). We should not expect any better treatment. Like Paul the apostle, we can count it joy to suffer for Christ’s sake (Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:41). We can go on in faith, trusting to see His victory (1 Pet. 3:14).

VI. Conclusion

There are three major takeaways from Jesus’ Sabbath proclamation in his hometown. Choices along our way in this life –

First, reject the “Nazareth Way.” Jesus’ hard-hearted Nazarene neighbors had several major problems, including

1. They think Jesus is just like them. They know him as “Joseph’s son,” a local boy. But Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). Modern people sometimes make the mistake of thinking Jesus is a slightly better version of themselves. That’s Nazarene thinking. Jesus is God in the flesh.

2. They think they deserve VIP treatment from Jesus. Because they have known Jesus for years, they expect Him to do special miracles for them. In their hearts, they exalted themselves before Jesus and as a result they are humbled (Luke 14:11). The best title anyone will ever claim before God is not VIP, but “unworthy servant” (Luke 17:10).

3. They care more about external signs than internal realities. The Nazarenes miss the meaning of Jesus and the Scriptures because they keep everything on the surface level. They ignored the perilous condition of their hearts because they are looking for a spectacle. We should guard against this temptation too. No external sign can accomplish what God’s word can do in a human heart (Luke 16:31).

4. They are quick to anger, judge, and condemn. It is astonishing how quickly the Nazarene’s go from speaking well of Jesus to attempted murder. Human hearts are fickle, and people who are prone to “fits of anger” live in a dangerous place. They will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21). This is why Scripture commends not judging others harshly (Luke 6:37) and being slow to anger ( James 1:19) – this is Godly character.

Second, do not reject Jesus! As bad as the Nazarene’s problems appear, God can forgive them all through Jesus Christ. This is possible because the “day of God’s vengeance” is still “not yet.” We live in the “year of the Lord’s favor,” when forgiveness is offered to everyone, and salvation is announced around the world! Salvation is a glorious reality of hope, peace, purity, and joy in the present, with an even greater expectation for the future. Someday, Christ will return to bring God’s vengeance on everyone who rejects Him, but as long as it is “today” we must “not harden” and reject Jesus (Hebrews 3:7-19)

Finally, do not fear rejection – from God or from people. Here is why:

1. God does not reject you. He sent Christ to pay for your sins so that you could be united to Jesus (Romans 6:5), adopted into His family (Ephesians 1:5), chosen, holy, loved, and forgiven (Colossians 3:12-13). Moreover, Jesus himself promised that whoever comes to Him He will never cast out ( John 6:37). Finally, the Holy Spirit is given to every believer as a sign and seal of God’s acceptance (Ephesians 1:13). If you have called Jesus your Lord, you need never fear His rejection (1 Corinthians 12:3).

2. Jesus endured human rejection on your behalf. As we have seen, Jesus was rejected by people. He did it to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). The Apostle Peter also argues that Jesus’ rejection and suffering gives us an example for our own trials which lead to greater holiness and the spread of the Gospel (1 Peter 4:1-6).

3. The Holy Spirit will empower you to withstand human rejection. Jesus promises that His followers will sometimes be rejected for His name’s sake (Matthew 5:11; John 16:33). He gives Christians the Holy Spirit so that they will be able to stand boldly in the face of all opposition (Acts 4:13; Ephesians 6:10). If you have a Bible, then you have God’s Holy Spirit inspired words. That is the perfect weapon for answering all human rejection (Luke 12:12; Ephesians 6:17-18).

To God be the glory.

Matured

I. Introduction

Well. I’m glad that’s over. I want to put 2020 in the history books. Then I want to take the history book and buy it. Then I want to plant a tree on top of it, just so I can burn it down. Then I want to salt the ground so it never returns.

For much of 2020, Diane and I were mostly unscathed by this tumultuous year. I had changed jobs in October of the previous year to a far more secure position, and I held out hope that even if business turned severely down, it’s unlikely to lay somebody off in their first 3 months.

But then my Mom started to decline. We visited her in March and she was great but having some early dementia issues. By June the dementia had become severe. By October she was gone.

Then when we returned home, we found a plumbing leak in the walls. Insurance only covers a small portion of the repairs. We’ve torn out sheetrock, the bathroom vanity, the bathroom tub, and it’s partially repaired, but tomorrow they begin tearing out the wooden floors. I think on Tuesday somebody is supposed to come shut off our oxygen. We’re experiencing the ongoing joy of living in a continuous state of remodel since my mom passed, digging into savings to pay for it, and we still have several more weeks to go.

I’m ready for a new beginning. Come on, 2021. Let’s see what you’ve got.

As I’m prepping this first bible study lesson for me in about 3 months, I think about that scripture from Hebrews, verses 4:15-16 –

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need.

I am so thankful Jesus identifies with us, lived a life like us, and everything in life we experience – loss, hardship, hunger or thirst – Jesus also experienced and identifies with our sufferings. Today, we’re going to dive into the book of Luke and see the impact that suffering and persecution had on the early life of Jesus.

II. Book of Luke

The author of the book of Luke is named… um, Luke. He was a historian and a physician who travelled extensively with Paul, and was likely a gentile. Luke wrote this book and the book of Acts likely when Paul was in prison in Rome, and was possibly writing the book of Luke and Acts while Paul was writing his letters to the Colossians and to Philemon and to Timothy.

Many seem to believe that Luke was one of the original 12 apostles, but he was not. Luke says in Luke 1:
Since many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting to me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in an orderly sequence, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Luke chronicled the life of Jesus from birth to death so thoroughly and accurately and guided by the Holy Spirit that his letters to Theophilus are cannon, scripture, included in God’s Holy Word. And Luke, like none of the other synoptic gospel writers, captures the seasons in the life of Jesus.

III. A Season – His Birth

We just finished with the Christmas season and I enjoy driving around and looking at the Christmas lights. I couldn’t help but notice driving around yesterday that it’s 356 days until Christmas and some people already have their Christmas lights up.

Christmas sermons and candlelight services teach and remind us that the arrival of Jesus brings us hope – hope in this life, hope for our future, hope in Him, hope in eternal life, hope in our relationships with one another and that we will see our loved ones again.

And we probably heard in one of these sermons the story from Luke 2 of the birth of Jesus in a Manger, sweet child of hope that Jesus is as He comes to us as the Son of Man and the Son of God. But I want to focus today on the trials and tribulations that were going on in the life of Jesus at the same time. Luke 2 describes the miracle in verses 1-7 –

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all the people were on their way to register for the census, each to his own city. Now Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was betrothed to him, and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

We often remember the beautiful parts, but there were a lot of hardships. Joseph and the pregnant Mary had traveled at least 4 or 5 days to answer the census call. It may have been longer; it was common for Jews to detaour around Samaria. Obviously, I’ve never been pregnant, but it seems to me pregnancy has enough challenges without having to ride at 9 months pregnant over rocky hillsides on the back on a donkey.

And the scripture doesn’t mention the donkey. While traveling on a donkey was common, it was also a luxury. Most poor people walked. We know that Jesus and Mary were poor; after giving birth, as written in Luke 2:23-24, they sacrificed a pair of turtledoves in accordance with ceremonial laws of Leviticus 12:8, but Leviticus says that a lamb should be sacrificed, unless they could not afford it, then turtledoves were acceptable. The wise men with their expensive gifts hadn’t arrived. So it’s unlikely they could afford a donkey. It’s possible they borrowed a donkey, but they stayed in Bethlehem for up to two years, so it’s unlikely somebody would loan an expensive donkey for that long.

I can imagine how completely worn out Joseph and Mary were when they arrived, and they just needed to rest. But the scripture says all the inns were full. Nine months pregnant, travel-weary and dirty, and no place to sleep and give birth. The Greek word for inn here is καταλυμα “kataluma” and isn’t a hotel room like we may think of today. The inns would have had a large communal room and everybody just picked a spot on the floor to sleep, but even these large rooms had no space.

Instead, they made their way to where the animals slept. Usually manger scenes show a cozy little barn, but Jews back then used caves – cold a damp caves – to keep their livestock in at night. And then, Mary, exhausted form traveling, gives birth to our Lord and lays Him in a trough that animals eat from.

Joseph and Mary were having the B.C. equivalent of our year 2020. Cold, damp, poor, away from home, sleeping with the animals, and giving birth in a trough.

Yet even in these difficult circumstances, God is at work. God is in the business of creating and fulfilling promises, and He promised we would know His son by the fulfillment of prophecies. From the town of Galilee, into the town of David, and born of a virgin, God is fulfilling prophecy.

IV. A Season – Egypt

Now that Jesus is born, all is easy, right? That’s what many new Christians believe – that if they give their life to Christ, their life will be blessed and there will be no more hardships. No more job losses. No more living room plumbing leaks. No more moms passing away. Everything will be hunky-dory.

God never promises us that. God promises He will be with us, but He never promises us we will be free of trouble. Some people think the “abundant life” Jesus promises implies good fortune forever, but that’s not what Jesus means. Later in Jesus’s life, he is led to the desert without food or water and tempted by the devil for 40 days. And later again, Jesus is scourged, tortured, and crucified. God did not spare His own son from these troubles. He doesn’t spare us, either. He promises He will never leave us during our struggles.

No, Jesus’s like didn’t miraculously become easy after His birth. Let’s pick up two years later – our Christmas stories place the 3 wise men bearing gifts at the birth of Christ, but that’s not likely. We don’t know how many wise men there were – μαγοι (magoi), the original Greek word actually means “astrologers,” or “sorcerers.” There may have been 2 or 3 or 30. We probably get the number 3 from the gold, frankincense and myrrh they brought. The magi had successfully followed the star to Jerusalem, but they believed the newborn king of the Jews would be born to the current king reigning over the Jews, Herod. When Herod started asking questions about the star, the magi realized it wasn’t Herod’s child they were looking for. In fact, the magi realized the newborn king would topple Herod’s kingdom, a threat to Herod. The magi continued on their way to Mary and Joseph and presented their gifts, and then went home a different way.

Herod was likely furious, threatened. Someplace in the city of Bethlehem, born within the last 2 years, was the newborn king of the Jews, a threat to Herod’s lavish way of life. Matthew 2:16 –

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

No, the life of Jesus wasn’t easy. Not even 2 years old, and men were out to kill Him. But God is still at work, fulfilling prophecy. We continue in Matthew 2:17-18 –

Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Mary and Joseph had to flee Bethlehem. An angel tells them to flee to Egypt. How would the very poor Mary and Joseph who could only afford 2 turtledoves for their sacrifice afford to travel such a journey?

Where the Lord call, the Lord equips. Mary and Joseph had the gifts of the magi. And God is still fulfilling prophecy – in Hosea 11:1 God says,

When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

I don’t know how long the family was in Egypt. Herod died only a few months after the family fled, but I’m not certain the family returned immediately. It could have been as long as 6 years before Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Israel, Luke 2:39-40,

And when His parents had completed everything in accordance with the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. Now the Child continued to grow and to become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the favor of God was upon Him.

I take heart from this scripture – even though it describes the life of the Lord, I think it can apply to all of us when we experience the difficulties of life. We continue to grow and become strong, we increase in wisdom, and the favor of God is upon us.

V. A Season – Passover

We’re going to fast forward now to when Jesus is older, 12 years old. We know nothing else about the childhood of Jesus except what we learn about Jesus from other scripture – He was sinless and followed the Jewish law.

According to Jewish law, Jewish adults were to attend three major feasts annually in Jerusalem – Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. And Luke 2:41 says that Jesus’ parents fulfilled Jewish law by attending the feast of Passover. Many left after 2 days, but verse 43 says Mary and Joseph attended the full number of days required. At the conclusion of the festival, it was time to head home.

Most pilgrims would join a caravan for safety and mutual support, as did Mary and Joseph. In these caravans, men usually traveled in one group, women in another. I find it interesting in verse 43 –

and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days required, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but His parents were unaware of it.

Jesus is no longer described as a Child but not a Man, He is described as a boy, and I think that may have led to confusion on Joseph and Mary’s part. At the age of 12 or 13, Jewish boys go through a bar mitzvah to become a child of the covenant, and then they are considered men. If Jesus is a man, he would caravan with the men, but if he’s a child, He would caravan with the women. Verses 44-45,

Instead, they thought that He was somewhere in the caravan, and they went a day’s journey; and then they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. And when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for Him.

A day’s journey out before they noticed He was missing. A day’s journey back to go look for Him. They must have been frantic – they lost not just a son, but the Son of God.

And yet, God still uses this misfortune for His glory. Verse 46-47,

Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.

I’ve once heard it said that if you feel like you’ve lost Jesus, you don’t feel Him in your life, then maybe you should turn around. Where was the last place you saw Him? I think this verse illustrates that perfectly.

Some significance in this verse, in the synagogues, usually a rabbi sat and the listeners stood. Jesus is sitting. And it’s unlikely Jesus needed additional information about the scriptures, He is probably asking questions to engage, to challenge the rabbis to go deeper in their understanding.

Then in verses 48-49,

When Joseph and Mary saw Him, they were bewildered; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You!” And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”

Mary spoke to Jesus first, asking why He had treated them in this way. Jesus needed no discipline, since He had not done anything wrong. It was the adults’ responsibility to ensure their child was with them when they left the city.

Another interesting thing here is the transition from Joseph the father to God the Father. This is the last reference to Joseph anywhere in the bible, and Mary references Joseph when she anxiously says “your father and I have been anxiously looking for you!”

And Jesus’s response indicates He is aware of His deity. He may be a twelve-year-old boy, but Jesus understood that God was His Father and this temple was His Father’s house. When Mary referred to “your father and I,” Jesus posed His question in a way that corrected her gently. While Jesus no doubt appreciated Joseph and treated him with respect, Jesus understood His true nature.

Jesus did not apologize for doing something wrong, for He had not sinned. But then Jesus questions His mother. He wondered why they had found it difficult to locate Him. When they couldn’t find Him, they should have known exactly where He would be. When Jesus uses the phrase “had to be” in Greek doesn’t mean “necessary” or “required” or “essential.” A better word would be “inevitable” as in “Didn’t you know that I would naturally be found in my Father’s house?” Being in the temple, which represented the presence of God to Israel, was the obvious place for God’s Son to be. Jesus was patiently waiting for Mary and Joseph to return for Him. Instead of wandering around the city, He remained at the one place they should have come.

A short clip on the life of Jesus as a boy: https://arc.gt/o37kw

VI. Conclusion – Maturity

The life of Jesus was anything but easy. It had plenty of drama. Born of a young woman away from her home in a cave and placed in an animal’s food trough, then having having to flee the country at the age of two because the King Herod was trying to kill you. Then being left behind at Passover in another city. Jesus indeed experienced the equivalent of our 2020 and then some.

And how did Jesus grow after all this? Luke 2:52,

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and people.

God has used the events from this last year to teach us, guide us, grow us in wisdom and stature with Him and with each other. Let us give God praise and glory for the year we had and the year yet to come.

To God be the glory.

Acts 3-4, The Power to Stand

  I.      Introduction

Interesting lesson for me to study this week.  This month, we’re in the book of Acts, and we’re up to Acts 3 & 4.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but the church usually assigns a range of scripture and a suggested title for the lesson. This week’s lesson from Acts 3 & 4 is called, “The Power to Stand,” and when I first read the scripture, I didn’t see a message that spoke to me.  It’s about Peter healing a lame beggar.   Let’s get our first scene, Acts 3:1-8,

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon.  Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.  Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!”  So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

Now, I believe in miracles.  In fact, I did an entire lesson once on the miracles that God still provides for His people.  But I think in Old Testament times, God did his miracles primarily to demonstrate his power and to pave the way for his Son appearing and fulfill His prophecy.

Today God still does miracles, but he seems a lot more selective about when and where He does those miracles. I know Pastor Samara when he has taught here at the church has story after story of miracles that God still does today in the Middle East.  Here in America, I hear many stories of miracles of God healing cancer.  Saving people from certain death in an automobile accident.  I myself have personal miracles I’ve seen in my life that can only be contributed to God.  I believe in miracles.  I don’t believe in coincidences.

But God doesn’t provide miracles on demand.  I know we all prayed for a miracle for our sister Teresa, but as we know, God did not answer our prayers with a miracle so that we could still have Teresa with us today.  Instead, we will have to wait to see our sister Teresa someday in the future.  Nothing focuses our prayers more than when we are powerless against overwhelming obstacles. 

As y’all know, I’ve been asking for prayers for my mom.  She’s been in physical pain as well as a significant decrease in her mental faculties recently.  Two weeks ago I had planned to get a Power of Attorney from her and had a meeting with her lawyer setup, but her decline was so rapid, we lost the opportunity to get a power of attorney while she had the competency to sign it.  We may yet get a miracle and Mom’s mental state improve, but for now, we’re just muddling along without it.

She has another issue that seems attached to our lesson today.  Her ability to walk has been impaired for some time; she has curled toes.  Some curl up, others down, two of her toes crossed over.  She even had a toe surgically removed because it was difficult getting shoes on.  She had a cane and then a walker.  Now that she’s transitioned to a memory care facility, she’s in a wheelchair. 

Like the lame man at the temple gate, I’d love to give hope to my mother that she can walk normally.  So as I’m studying, I see Peter say,

“Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk.

Wouldn’t I love to be able to say that to my mom?  “In the name of Jesus, walk?”

This man in our scripture was born lame.  Never played freeze tag or kick-the-can as a boy.  Never ran a race.  And in those days, he really had no occupation available to him except… begging.  But then one day, God stepped in, in the form of John and Peter who gave him more than he needed.  More than physical healing, but spiritual healing.

Do you know how we know God loves us?  Because God sent His only Son to take the place of our punishment.  Belief in this sacrifice brings salvation from eternal punishment for the sin nature we all know we have. 

But what is this salvation?  Salvation is a rescue and it’s ongoing.  Imagine a lifeguard jumping in to save a drowning swimmer, and then says, “I saved you!”  And then tosses him back in.  “Now you try!”  That doesn’t make any sense.  Either you are saved, or you are not.

There are actually two different words used for salvation in the bible.  In the Old Testament, the word salvation is “yesha.”  It means freedom from what binds or restricts and thus effects deliverance.  It is the root word for the very name of Jesus, Yeshua.

In the Greek, in the New Testament, the word translated as salvation is “soteria.”  It means to provide recovery, to rescue, to provide for one’s welfare.  The word for “salvation” is used 45 times in the New Testament.

Salvation is the work of God whereby He transforms a soul from the grip of eternal wrath and condemnation to one of eternal life. God provided this option from His great mercy and provided everything necessary to make it possible.  Scripture says that salvation is of the Lord.  And salvation is only from the Lord. 

II.      Salvation is from the Lord

This concept is important to understand.  Salvation as a gift from the Lord is part of the Five Solas that define the Protestant faith –

  • Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.  It is in the holy word that we find the basis for the remaining solas.
  • Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
  • Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
  • Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
  • Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone, and this is the complete summary of all five solas.

All of these are completed by Christ.  Man contributes nothing.  All main branches of Christianity – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant – all agree that Jesus is central to our salvation.  But what separates us is that little Latin word, “sola.”  Alone.

Catholics would say that our salvation is in Christ “and.”  Baptism, the sacraments, confession, attendance at mass, penance, and other good works are necessary to salvation.  Catholic theology places equal weight on church and tradition which are contributed by man.  Human additions to the five solas which are all accomplished by God, in Christ alone.

Jesus + nothing = everything.

So in Acts 3, Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the time of prayer – three in the afternoon.  There was a man who had been lame from birth that begged at the gate called Beautiful.  When we asked Peter and John for money, they responded in a way that changed his life.  “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Lots of things happened suddenly.  All the people were astounded and rushed to Solomon’s colonnade, a porch on the east side of the Jerusalem temple.  Peter began to explain the Gospel to them.  Members of the ruling council, the same ruling council that had Jesus flogged and crucified, were there and became highly agitated.  They had Peter and John arrested and thrown in jail.

The next day, Peter and John were brought before the religious rulers and asked, “By what power or what name did you do this?”  And Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said in Acts 4:7-12,

“Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed,  then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Peter tells the Pharisees that it is in the name of Jesus, whom you crucified but God raised from the dead, that this man was healed.  Then he quotes Psalm 118:22 to let the religious leaders know they fulfilled prophecy, “the stone you builders rejected, has become the cornerstone.”

And then, the fourth sola,

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The Priority of Salvation

Peter is an uneducated fisherman, but he stands fearlessly in front of the most important religious leaders of his day and says that salvation is the greatest need of their soul.

In many ways, man hasn’t changed over the centuries.  We seek self-esteem or money or popularity or power.  But our greatest need is salvation.

We are dead in our sins, we are defiant in our souls, and we are doomed to hell.  Romans 3:22b-23 says

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We are separated.  We are hopeless.  We are helpless.  We are lame and we cannot walk.  And our holy God will not tolerate our sin in His presence.  The perfect good will destroy evil, no matter how slight in our eyes.

God gave the Israelites a sacrificial system to atone for these sins, to atone for their evil.  When they sinned, an innocent lamb would die in their place.  But was temporary and had to be renewed every year.

The prophet Isaiah declared that one day a Messiah would come, to take away the sins of the world as a final sacrifice.  Centuries later, John the Baptist paved the way with his announcement in John 1:29,

“Behold, the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”

Our debt of sin was so great that only God could pay it.  And Jesus satisfied the wrath of God by dying on the cross.  For us, forever.  Romans 5:9-11,

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

So how much does God love us?  1 John 4:9-10,

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

And Hebrews 9:11-15 elaborates,

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God. For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

Our sins separates us – we cannot stand before a Holy God that will destroy sin in His presence.  We needed a mediator – someone to step in between us and God.  1 Timothy 2:5-6,

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

How many mediators qualify for this position?  Who can identify with our sins * and* identify with a Holy God?  There is only one mediator.  Not two, or three.  Just one.  Mother Mary is not a mediator.  The catholic saints are not mediators.  Solus Christus.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

By His death on the cross, He reconciled us to God completely. Our sins, past, present, and future were paid for.

By his perfect life, keeping the Law perfectly, His righteousness was given to us.  2 Corinthians 5:21,

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Solus Christus.

The Exclusivity of Salvation

So how many other ways are there to salvation?

I’ve tried to sign up for websites the promote Christianity, but a lot of times I get religiosity instead.  The site tries to appear to appeal to many beliefs and not offend anybody, and call all these beliefs “Christian.”  They are not.  Sometimes, God is described as being at the top of a mountain, with many paths leading to the top.  Other times, it’s described as a wheel with God at the center, and different beliefs are the spokes.  In the end, they say, as long as we are sincere, we all get to the same place, regardless of what we believe.

That’s a terrible misunderstanding of what Christ teaches.

First, we can be sincerely wrong.  I sincerely believed 2020 would be anything other than what 2020 turned out to be.  Hurricane Delta because we finished the alphabet and had to start over at the beginning.  Day 225 of 24 days to flatten the curve.  And what happened to the murder hornets, anyway?  I think I missed the attack of the murder hornets.  So I sincerely believed 2020 would be something awesome, but I was wrong.  We can be sincere and we can be wrong.

And second, Jesus didn’t leave us any other option.   He said that His way is the only way and all the other ways are wrong.  If His way is the truth, then everything else is false.  Peter emphatically says in Acts 4:12,

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Salvation is found in “no one else.”  Peter says our salvation is through a single person that was crucified and raised from the dead.  Jesus and only Jesus bore our sins, and by his wounds we are healed.

Last month when we were working through the seven “I AM” statements of Jesus, at the end of the book of John, Jesus starts talking about His death.  Jesus reassured His disciples that Jesus would prepare a place for them.  But then John 14:5, Thomas spoke up and said what everyone was thinking,

“We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus’ answer to this question removes all other options  Jesus’ answer gives an answer that points the disciples along the correct path.  John 14:6,

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus didn’t say, “I know a way.”  He didn’t say, “There are lots of ways.”  He said He was THE way.

Imagine you wanted to go to a World Series baseball game.  To get in, you need a ticket.  You can’t just walk up and say, “I’m a good guy, let me in.”  They would look at you like you’d lost your marbles.  But then a guy walks up and says, “I bought a ticket for you.”  Then can you enter? 

Others may say, that doesn’t seem fair.  That seems so exclusive.  Heaven should be a place for everyone.  Everyone is welcome, right?  Well yes, everyone is welcome… as long as you have a ticket.

God doesn’t send anyone to hell.  The most favorite verse in the bible is John 3:16,

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in shall not perish but have eternal life.

The entire world is welcome, but they must accept this gift of the Son.  But not choosing Christ or rejecting Christ outright, most people choose hell.  In saying, “that’s not fair,” or saying “that can’t be the only way” or even “what about all those non-Christians, are they going to hell?” that is a choice * not * to accept Christ as the only way, which is the same as choosing hell.  Matthew 7:13-14,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

It is only through Christ alone, our only Savior, our only Hope, our only Mediator, that we are saved.

The Necessity of Salvation

What if I don’t want to be saved?  Is it really necessary?  Don’t good people go to heaven somehow?  That seems fair, doesn’t it?  Acts 4:12 –

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

It’s interesting to me that this verse doesn’t end with “by which we can be saved.”  The verse says “by which we * must * be saved.”  Is the bible translation correct?  Let’s look at the Greek word for “must,” “dei”.

necessary, in need of, behooves, right and proper, necessity brought on by circumstances or by the conduct of others toward us.

It doesn’t matter where you live.  Europe.  Africa.  China.  California. New York City.  Austin.  Houston.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or red or yellow or purple.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, or even if you don’t know if you’re male or female.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter if you’re capitalist or communist.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat.  You must be saved.

We cannot do it on our own.  In fact, I believe that’s one of the biggest obstacles to accepting the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, is believing somehow we can work our way to heaven, using our earthly efforts.  We cannot save ourselves.  Drowning people drown without a lifesaver.  Or as Hebrews 2:3 puts it,

“how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?”

III.      Conclusion

Returning to more personal experiences, in our sister Theresa’s last days, everybody prayed for a miracle.  She’s too young to be taken from us, that’s what I was thinking.  But we were unable to save her.  Doctors were unable to save her.  Theresa was unable to save herself.  She needed a lifesaver.

My mom cannot walk without assistance.  I wrote that sentence two weeks ago, she cannot walk without assistance, and revised it twice, but now she cannot walk at all.  She wants to.  But she can’t.  And I can’t help her.   Doctors cannot restore her ability to walk.  She needs a lifesaver.

Our verse started with Peter saying,

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 

My whole lesson came together in my head with the direction of the Holy Spirit this week in an unconventional matter.  His miracle is still true today when we are seeking hope.  It’s like Peter said, “Theresa, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  It’s like Peter said to my mom, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 

Philippians 3:20-21,

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Revelation 21:4,

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Our scripture today should resonate with us and give us hope.  Peter said,

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The power to walk, to have new resurrected bodies, to live in eternity with no more tears and no more pain, awaits all those that accept Jesus Christ.  And this salvation is found nowhere else.  Sola Christus.  Scripture alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, to the glory of God alone.

To God be the glory.