Sunday, January 31, 2016

Not the Messiah You Wanted?

[This is essentially the sermon I delivered today. I try not to do this often, but several commented and have asked for me to make it available. Of course it can be heard as it was given here.]

Tomorrow the real presidential race begins: the Iowa caucuses. It already seems like the race has been going on forever. I'm old enough to have seen many campaigns. Some things never change. In primaries candidates offer “red meat” for the base. Red meat: rhetoric about those issues the base wants to hear most, like the favorite, main-course food everyone really wants at a dinner. I like salad, but when I go to Ruth's Chris, I go for the steak. Not the dessert or the sides, the red meat!

May I use stereotypes?

For Democrats red meat issues include promoting government aid to the underprivileged and the rich paying their fair share. A key word is "inequality." The frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, in a town hall this week said the word "inequality" some 14 times in less than a minute-and-a-half to the delight of the attendees!

For Republicans red meat issues include cutting taxes, strong defense, free-market capitalism, & traditional values. This season, however, there’s a new phenomenon: frontrunner Donald Trump. He’s offering a different kind of red meat in his, "Making America Great" campaign. It's military and economic domination ("make America win again") and stopping illegal immigration ("building a big beautiful wall that Mexico will pay for"). At his rallies, the red meat is served up in generous portions to those who are (perhaps understandably) angry, as he tells them what they want to hear, whipping people into a frenzy. I get the attraction, particularly after years of waffling, politically-correct, ineffective, self-preserving, & dishonest politicians. His brash and direct style is refreshing for many. After years of economic and moral decline, foreign policy disasters, and out-of-control illegal immigration, many voters are craving strength. And he’s no fool. He has stepped into the void to tell people what they want to hear.

The Donald has done this with issues Christians care about, too. Last week he spoke at Liberty University and quoted TWO Corinthians. He’s saying “I’m pro-life” but a few years ago he said, “I’m very pro-choice.” As the Iowa caucuses are looming he's touting his protestantism saying that he will “protect Christianity” and telling how much he loves the Bible. Now well-known evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Robert Jeffress are publicly supporting him.
Let me be clear: I'm not advocating for or against any particular candidate or party—I don't do that. I just want you see how politicians offer red meat, and how susceptible we are to it…for a reason: I want to show how different Jesus is.

Some scholars call Luke 4:14-30 Jesus’ inaugural address. But I think it's more like Jesus' launch speech at the beginning of his campaign. A campaign not to merely rule the world—that'll come one day without a campaign—but to save the world. And as Trump kicked-off his campaign at Trump Tower in Manhattan, and as Bernie did so in Vermont, Rubio & Jeb in Miami, Martin O’Malley in Baltimore,  Kasich in Ohio (among others), many candidates launch before their home crowd with red meat. But NOT Jesus. Oh, he went home...but there was no red meat. Look:

Luke 4: 14And Jesus returned [from 40 days of wilderness fasting and Satan's temptations] in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 
We know by reading the other gospels that Jesus did a lot during this time that contributed to this report that spread about him. He cleansed the temple (which he would do again before his death), he met some who would become his disciples, he had conversations with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well. He turned water to wine in Cana, and did some miracles in other Galilean towns.

15And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. 
He’s quickly gaining fame. No doubt word about him had reached his hometown.

16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.
Finally the local rising star has come home! I’m sure there was a buzz!

And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. Obviously the synagogue leadership gladly appointed this favorite son who was now making a name for himself in the region to read and speak. Perhaps word had spread that John Baptizer—the Billy Graham of his day—had singled Jesus out as being greater than he was—perhaps some had even heard about the voice from heaven at his baptism! I’m sure there was a full house that day at worship!

17And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 
    18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, 
      because he has anointed me 
       to proclaim good news to the poor. 
    He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
       and recovering of sight to the blind, 
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 
   19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” 

This is from Isaiah 61, a passage scholars say was not often taught by Jewish rabbis. It was confusing. It seemed to be speaking of a prophet, perhaps Isaiah himself, yet it was clearly Messianic. But it’s no accident that Jesus chose it. Interesting too that he stopped where he did. The next line from Isaiah 61 is: “and [proclaim] the day of vengeance of our God.” Clearly Jesus was focusing on the first phase of the Messiah’s ministry: the teaching/healing/saving phase. By picking this passage, Here's what Jesus was forecasting about his earthly ministry: It would...
  1. Be anointed by the Holy Spirit,
  2. Proclaim good news/God’s favor,
  3. Be to the “poor” (the economically poor, and especially, the poor in spirit),
  4. Proclaim liberty for captives & oppressed (not by Rome, but by sin),
  5. Give sight to the blind (physically, but especially the spiritually blind).

20And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 
Can you feel the expectation?! “What’s he going to say? Wonder why he left out "the day of vengeance” part? Is he claiming to be a prophet, or the Messiah?” Luke seems to indicate that Jesus let them consider it…

21And he began to say to them,

…wait for it…

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Wow! He’s absolutely claiming that this prophesy is about him! I can feel the electricity in the room as these people, so weary of Roman rule, so ready for a Messiah to come kick tail, are considering the implications. They had heard that a Messiah would come out of Galilee—no doubt, Isaiah 9:1-7 is what they’re all thinking!

Luke 4: 22And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. 
That indicates he must have said more than what Luke summarizes here. I wish I knew. All we know is he spoke words of grace and that they were impressed. But the claim was so huge! “Are we to believe he is a prophet anointed by God? Or the Messiah?!” Here is Jesus' big opportunity to begin an incredible campaign for king of Israel in front of his home crowd! Here's when he should deliver large quantities of red meat!

 And they said, “Is not this Joseph's son?” 
There is not agreement among scholars about whether this was complementary or skeptical. Perhaps it was both! Some were saying, "I know him, we went to school together!" Some, "He's not special, he's Joseph the carpenter's boy." Some might be saying, "Hey, isn't Joseph from David's family?" Everyone is whispering during his speech. Jesus knows this is what the murmuring was all about. And this is where Jesus offers—NOT red meat—but broccoli!

23And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” 24And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 
What? That's no way to excite a crowd. Now, listen closely to how he ends his “Messiah campaign launch” speech:

25But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
Did you catch that? Do you get what he was saying? He's saying in effect, “Listen y’all, God’s not always for who you think he’s for. He shows mercy to your enemies—even the gentiles.”  Talk about a lead balloon! No, worse! In fact, it would be worse than if Trump said to a crowd of Texans: "I’m going to build a wall, you're going to pay for it, and I'm going to kick you out and give your land to the Mexicans!" Or if Hillary said in a campaign speech, "I’m going to take your welfare and social security and medicare checks and give them to the wealthy and then tax you for them." ONLY WORSE! This was the last thing this Jewish home crowd expected to hear from their prospective Messiah. He’s saying that God’s “good news” of liberty and healing and favor isn’t intended just for Israel (as they believed) but for their enemies the gentiles!

So while they were excitedly considering whether he was really the Messiah, he said (in effect), “It doesn’t really matter what you think or whether or not you choose me. What matters is whether God chooses you! And the truth is, he’s chosen different people than those you expect. God is sending me to people other than you!”

How’d that go over?

28When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 
The church crowd became the lynch mob! "If he's wanting to be that kind of Messiah, we'd rather end his campaign right here!"

Don't think that Jesus didn't know this would happen. I'm imagining him allowing them to grab him up in a rage with proverbial torches and pitchforks and he, never feeling panicked, let them bring him to the cliff's edge where they had probably ended the lives of other criminals and blasphemers over the town's history. But then, at the climatic moment before they ended his life...

30But passing through their midst, he went away.
He just said, "That's enough." and walked through a stunned and helpless crowd. It's fun to think of what happened here. Was he Frodo Jesus, slipping the Ring of Power on his finger? Was he Jedi Jesus, waving his hand and saying, "You will not throw me off the cliff"? Was he Ninja Jesus? Bewitched (the TV show) Jesus (who froze them all in time with a wiggle of his nose)? Probably not—we just can't know. I think perhaps they all just suddenly stopped in their tracks as God's Spirit decreed, emphasizing the point: They were blind. But they didn't want to face their blindness. Therefore Jesus didn't come for them. He came for those who know they are blind. One has to wonder what those in the mob thought of their inability to finish the job of killing the offensive, self-proclaimed Messiah. "Whoa, what just happened? He just walked away!"

This passage is, of course, a great introduction to the big characteristic themes that would mark Jesus' ministry (as we will see as we continue to study Luke). But what does it mean to me TODAY? I've got four things:

•Beware of Red Meat. Whenever you sense someone saying what they think you want to hear, whether a politician, salesman, lawyer, mechanic, coach, or preacher…Beware!

•Meet Jesus on HIS terms. He is no panderer. He doesn’t come to us on our terms, desiring our approval, wanting our votes. We come on HIS terms or not at all. He does not abide the self-centered. This is something WE better hear. A Jesus for everyone? Yes. But if that bothers you, perhaps not you. He is Savior only to the broken who by faith surrender to him. Have you?

•Make sure you’re not blinded by your own narrative. Scholars have pointed out a chiasm in Luke’s telling of this event. A chiasm is an ancient middle-eastern literary device that reveals a climatic emphasis. This is hard for westerners to understand because we tend to save the climax for the ending of a story, poem, or song. Here's the Chiasm in Luke's account of Jesus' reading in the synagogue:

he went to the synagogue 
     he stood up
          scroll was given to him 
               he unrolled the scroll,
                    to proclaim good news  
                         liberty to the captives
                              recovering of sight to the blind
                         liberty those who are oppressed
                    to proclaim the Lord's favor
               he rolled up the scroll 
          gave it back to the attendant 
     and sat down.
all in the synagogue

The emphatic phrase in Luke's chiasm is “recovering of sight to the blind.” Point: they were blind! The Messiah's task was to offer sight, as Jesus was offering to them, and they refused! They loved their FALSE vision of a FICTIONAL messiah, more than the REAL messiah himself WHO WAS THERE BEFORE THEIR VERY EYES.

As John told us in the introduction of his Gospel:
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:9-12).

But they didn't want to see the light. They wanted red meat. They wanted Jesus to say (imagine your favorite politician speaking): “The Romans and Gentiles are evil oppressors! I’m going to drive them out and together we Jews will rule the world. And Nazareth will be famous ‘cause I’m from here!” (Imagine the crowd going wild) Yeaaaa!!! JEE-SUS! JEE-SUS! JEE-SUS!
But God's plan was much different—much better. But they couldn't see past their narrative.

Let me ask you a question: What’s your blinding narrative? Is it "Everybody’s going to heaven"? or "God will love you if you're good enough"? Or "God loves America more than others"? Or (here's one that's all too common) "If I pray a prayer, I'm saved, even if my life doesn't change. I can justify my sin—God gives grace." Let me tell you: all those narratives indicate blindness. The truth? We are all sinners and must repent, believe, and receive God’s gift of salvation through faith in Christ. Then our lives will show change as we grow in him by the power of the Holy Spirit. That's the truth. All other narratives are blinding false gospels.

•Make Christ and his kingdom your ultimate allegiance. Where do you place your highest hopes? In your own abilities? In wealth? In government solutions? Do you obsess over politics and candidates? I urge you to trust and seek the One who rules all things and who is bringing about all things according to his will. MAKE HIM FIRST. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…(Matthew 6:33). From that priority, let all other things flow. Then make your political decisions and support your candidates. Don’t let your faith be driven by your politics! Let Christ drive your politics and ALL your actions. How does Christ want me to treat others? How does Christ want me to live life? How does he want me to eat, drink, help people, spend money, tip the waitress, raise my kids, do my job…? Imagine: If Christians did this, we might not NEED government to care for poor, or do healthcare, or rebuild after disasters, or many other things…And as the Gospel is shared and lives are transformed, sin is diminished and the culture is changed profoundly. That's called "revival."

[I didn't have time Sunday to conclude as I wanted to. Here's what was left out...]

When we realize who Christ really is and surrender to him, we have a Christ-centered view about everything—including government. Meditate on what Peter said to a first-century Christian audience living under Roman rule (1Peter 2: 4-17):
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: 
    “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,       
          a cornerstone chosen and precious,      
     and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, 
     “The stone that the builders rejected          
         has become the cornerstone,” 
    “A stone of stumbling,          
         and a rock of offense.” 
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
As believers, we are "sojourners and exiles" as we live in this world. Our first allegiance is Christ and our home is heaven. When we keep this firmly in mind, we are better, involved citizens of our country and we make this world better!

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