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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Jesus Warns Us Not to be Legalistic


Jesus Warns Us Not to be Legalistic

Matthew 16


The religious leaders never gave Jesus a break.  Those Pharisees and Sadducees followed Him everywhere He went and criticized his every move.  We read in Scripture that on one occasion the religious leaders followed Jesus to the town of Magdala, hoping to trap him.  Bible scholars tell us that they don’t know the exact location where the ruins of the ancient town of Magdala are but they believe it was a town near the Sea of Galilee. 


Anyway, Scripture says that the Pharisees and the Sadducees came together and found Jesus in Magdala.(Matt.16:1)  They came to test Him and trick Him if they could.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees were enemies and usually had nothing to do with one another, but this time they joined together because of their common hatred of Jesus.  And when they found Jesus, the angry Pharisees and Sadducees stormed up to Him and demanded that He show them a sign from heaven in order to prove to them that He was from God. 


For several years now Jesus had been healing thousands of people all over Israel.  You might think that the religious leaders would consider these many healings a sign.  But the haughty Pharisees refused to consider the possibility that since Jesus brought healing and joy to so many people that He might have been sent from God!  Their minds were closed to such ideas!       


On several occasions Jesus had fed thousands of people with just several loaves of bread and fish.  Twice crowds had followed Jesus into the wilderness to listen to his teachings and watch him heal the sick.  And each time when the crowds had gotten hungry Jesus would pray and bless several loaves of bread and fish that He or the disciples found and somehow the few pieces of bread and fish seemed to gradually grow or multiply.  Then as the disciples would be passing out these few pieces to the hungry people, the food would just never run out! There would always be enough to feed the thousands and with leftovers! .No one ever needed to worry about going hungry when they were with Jesus.


 But did the religious leaders stop and wonder if possibly God could be with Jesus since He always fed the hungry?  No, instead the religious leaders criticized Jesus because they caught Him healing and feeding people on the Sabbath!  He had broken their laws.   


Jesus told the religious leaders that they were very good at forecasting the weather.  The religious leaders had learned how to tell from the appearance of the sky what the weather would be like in the near future. But then Jesus told them that they had never learned how to interpret the signs of the times.  I think Jesus was saying that if they had learned how to interpret the Scriptures then they would have known to look for their coming Messiah.  If only the religious leaders had been as good at recognizing the signs pointing to their coming Savior as they were at recognizing the signs in the skies pointing to a coming storm! 


But if the religious leaders had learned to interpret the prophecies in Scripture that pointed the way to their coming Savior, they would have had to change their ways. And the strict Pharisees were set in their ways and were not about to change!  Why should they?  They had it all –they were so pious –so holy –so proud - with their many laws and rituals and burdens and traditions and fasts and ceremonies.  Their religion was so much hard work.  And they held so much power over the people –laying burdens on them in the name of God - and why should they give any of that up?  No wonder they refused to see their Savior even when He was right before their eyes!


The hypocritical Pharisees were determined to keep all of their forms and ceremonies and fasts exactly the same forever.  This was their way of approaching God.  What more was there?  And this Jesus was messing up all of that!  So they did not recognize their Messiah because they did not want to recognize their Messiah! They stood there hunching over Jesus fuming and fussing and again ordered Him to immediately produce a spectacular sign in the skies to prove to them that He was from God.


So Jesus turned to the angry Pharisees and Sadducees and quietly answered that He would not give them a sign.  Jesus would never do anything to show off.  He told the religious leaders that the only sign they would have would be the sign of Jonah.  This was the great sign to which Jesus always pointed to when He was pressed.  (Jn.2:18-22, Mt. 12:38-40.)  Jonah was in the stomach of the whale for three days and nights and then came out alive and Jesus would be in the grave for three days and nights before He rose from the dead.  So Jesus was referring to his bodily resurrection when He told the religious leaders that they would be given the “sign of Jonah”.


Jesus left the religious leaders and hurried to catch up with his disciples.  The disciples were traveling on foot and when Jesus re-joined them they had just realized that they had forgotten to bring bread along for their trip!  What would they do?  As they walked along they were upset and grumbling about having no bread and at the same time Jesus was walking along with them still thinking about his run in with the religious leaders.


 So Jesus spoke up and warned the disciples to “Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”  (Matthew 16:6)  Since the disciples were still worrying about bread and how hungry they would get on the trip, they figured when Jesus mentioned the word “leaven” that since leaven is a part of bread that He was talking about bread!  It was a crazy mix up!


Jesus was surprised that his disciples were still worrying about running out of bread and going hungry. And He was concerned that they still had so little faith. The disciples had been with Jesus several times when Jesus had blessed a few small loaves of bread and these loaves had expanded and grown to feed thousands of people.  Didn’t they remember these times?  Jesus asked his disciples why they worried about bread when He was with them.  He challenged his disciples to learn to trust Him more –encouraged them to have more faith.  And Jesus would also challenge us to learn to trust Him more and to have more faith.  Especially when He promises to always be with us all along our way.


And then Jesus warned his disciples again to “Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” (Matt. 16:11)  Their “work your way to heaven” lifestyle never failed to anger Jesus.  What was it that Jesus was warning his disciples (and us) against?  What is this “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” anyway that we should stay away from?


The Pharisees were into tradition (some of their traditions invalidated God’s laws) (Mark 7:12) and they were proud of themselves for being purer and more pious than others.  In Jesus’ time they controlled the synagogues and schools and were revered by the masses.   A Pharisee believed his prayers were more pious – more effective-more special -  than the prayers of ordinary people. .So it would seem that pride and traditionalism were part of the “leaven” that Jesus warned against. 


 And the Sadducees were rationalists and materialists who did not believe in life after death or in the existence of anything that cannot be explained naturally.  (Acts: 23:8)  In Jesus’ time the Sadducees were made up of a small group of wealthy aristocratic families who controlled the temple.  (Acts 4:1)  Many did not believe that God cared whether humans were evil or good and many did not believe what their prophets wrote in Scripture.   


 The Sadducees refused to believe in anything that they could not see, touch or explain.  They prided themselves on being sophisticated and worldly and smart enough not to believe the Scriptures.  They laughed at all the people who weren’t as bright as they were -- all those people who believed in life after death.. There are Sadducees in the Christian church today who are too intellectual to believe that the Bible is the Word of God.  They will tell you that they believe in Christ even though they don’t believe the Bible is worth much.  Jesus would warn us today, as He did his disciples back then, to stay away from their “leaven”. 


Part of this dangerous “leaven” is legalism and a judgmental spirit.  The Pharisees had hundreds of little man made laws they burdened the people with in the name of God.   Legalistic religion is an enemy of the loving “life” quality of the kingdom of God.  And God is calling us to take our part in the loving “life” of His kingdom.  The Pharisees used God’s Word – the Scriptures - as a weapon, rather than a message of God’s love.  And we must be careful not to become modern day judgmental Pharisees.   


Another part of the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Sadducees was their heightened sense of ambitious pride, which kept them from recognizing their Messiah.  Scripture says that “Pride comes before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)  Jesus calls us, his followers, to be humble – to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him. (Matthew 16:24)  The Holy Spirit will lead us into humility but we will need to follow.  And then we will be able to “see” spiritual truths that we could not have been able to see until we put on the spirit of humility.


Recently Pope Francis preached a sermon calling for all Christians to obey Christ and follow in the ways of peace.  The words sound nice – they have a good ring to them - but they are harder to follow than you might think!  It can be difficult to follow in the ways of peace because in this world we are carefully taught to argue and pick fights.  Before we are very old we learn how to show the world that we are in the right and the other person is in the wrong.  We are “good” and the other person is “bad”.  It almost seems to come naturally to fight - to battle –and to go to war.  Part of the leaven of the religious leaders who hated Jesus was their ability to fight religious battles with one another and to judge one another.


But Jesus calls us to leave all of that and learn to be gentle and kind.  Gentleness is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We are to love and pray for those who dislike or hate us.  Our Lord insists that we forgive one another, turn the other cheek, never retaliate and reconcile with those who disagree with us, if we possibly can.  He commands us to give up our anger and stop having to be right.  And to go about building good relationships.  


We will need to make a break with the prejudices we have been taught and with the fighting spirit that comes so naturally.  And we will need to keep on breaking our habits of putting others down and not forgiving them.  Keep turning our backs on legalism and hate again and again.  Keep on giving up our rights to be right.  And learn to deny ourselves and take up our cross if we are to follow Jesus.  We have been given the Spirit to show us the way, to help us along, but we alone will have to decide.  Can we do it? 













Friday, April 18, 2014

Paul Preaches About Easter

  Paul Preaches About Easter

1 Corinthians 15



Paul was having more trouble with those pesky Corinthians in the church he had started in Corinth!  The new Corinthian Christians had been so excited about following Jesus when Paul first came to them preaching the gospel.  So many in Corinth had rushed in and become Christians and then formed a dynamic Spirit filled church that was changing and influencing the whole surrounding area for Christ.  But even though these new Corinthian Christians started out so well in their Christian faith, so many of them kept falling back into their old sins.  And Paul, like a frustrated spiritual father worried and prayed over them and lectured them and kept coming back to Corinth time after time to straighten things out in their struggling church... 


And now an upset Paul was back in Corinth again!  Evidently there was a group in the Corinthian church that had decided that they didn’t believe that Christian people would go to heaven after death.  Had some enemy of the faith crept in and planted that doubt in their minds?  And now they were teaching this heresy to all of the others!  In fact, they had decided that when a person dies that that is the end of him or her.  No life after death.  They said they would continue believing in Jesus as Savior and Lord but just not believe in eternal life!  Isn’t that silly?  


Well Paul had a fit!  He said that Jesus wouldn’t be the Savior if He hadn’t saved them for eternal life after death.  He rushed back to Corinth to get them back on track!  Paul knew that what these new Christians believed – their theology- was all important.  And what you and I believe – our Christian faith - is all important today.  There will always be enemies creeping in and trying to plant doubt.  Trying to undermine our precious faith.  Let’s listen to what Paul said to his new church in Corinth about the heresy of the false belief that there is no life after death! 

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised!  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead.  But if He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile: you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep (died) in Christ are lost, if only for this life we have hope in Christ we are to be pitied more than all men.”  (I Corinthians 15:12-18)


Paul is saying that if Jesus did not rise from the dead (conquer death) then the Christian faith is empty of all content!  Paul tells his beloved Corinthians: “If there is no resurrection of the dead for us, then not even Christ has been raised!” (I Cor.14:13)  If you are a Christian, then when you die you will rise from the dead because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  And because He rose from the dead, you will also rise from the dead.  Scripture says: “Because He lives, we shall live also.” (John 14:19)  We are tied together with Him in this rising from the dead!  That is the “good news” – the gospel!  Paul was emphasizing this truth. That is the message of Easter!  


Paul was on a roll.  He went on explaining that because Adam sinned, sin has been passed down to all of his children. -that’s us.  Remember Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command in the Garden of Eden.  Paul preached on: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”  (1 Cor. 15:22)  Paul continues: “But each in his own turn, Christ, the first fruits: then when He comes, then those who belong to Him.”  The order of resurrection is discussed here by Paul.  The “first fruits” are the first ripened part of the harvest furnishing actual evidence that the rest of the harvest is on the way.  Jesus’ resurrection (first fruit) comes first and the rest of us (our resurrections) will follow.  


Paul continues fussing at his beloved Corinthian Christians for even thinking that death was the end- that the promise of Easter is not there.  He is angry at the people who came in and lied to his new church and tried to ruin their Christian faith.  He tells them not to keep company with these false teachers.  “Do not be deceived, evil company corrupts good habits.”  He tells them. (1 Cor. 15:33)


Paul tells his beloved church, “”If the dead do not rise, let us eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!”  (1 Cor.15:32b)  I think Paul is saying that if there were no resurrection from the dead why should we live a Christian life of sacrifice?  Instead we maybe should just live a life of self indulgence since there would be nothing to live for..


Paul continues preaching to his beloved Corinthians about life after death.  He says: “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  When you sow you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed …But God gives it a body as He has determined…” (1 Cor. 15:36b-37)   Paul seems to be explaining a life-death principle here.  A seed must give itself up to a death process so that new life can emerge from it in the form of fruit or grain.  Liked the seed, our present physical bodies potentially contain the resurrection body that shall be.


Paul continues: “So it will be with the resurrection of the dead.  The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable:  it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory:  It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power, it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”  (1 Cor. 15:41-44) 


Paul continues:  “Listen I tell you a mystery:  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.  In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed. (1 Cor.15:51-52)   


He continues: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:  “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  Where O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting? “  (1 Cor.15:53-55) 


And Paul closes his sermon with these words:  “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm, let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.  Because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  (1 cor. 15:56-58) 


Paul challenges his new church: “Let nothing move you” In other words, “Stand firm.”  We have such an amazing Christian faith – and the very heart of that faith is the resurrection of Jesus which is tied to our future resurrection.  But there are so many who would try to take that away from you or water that down!  Even in the name of Christianity!  Two thousand years ago the Corinthians followed Paul’s advice and learned to “Let nothing move them.” And today we must do the same and let nothing move us from our glorious faith!  “Because He lives, we shall live also.” (John 14:19)       




Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Divine Servant Took Our Place


The Divine Servant Took Our Place

Isaiah 52:13-53:12



God does not keep silent.  He finds many creative ways to speak to his children.  Scripture says: “He guides his people with his eye.” (Psalm 32:8)   Back in ancient times one of the ways God spoke to the people of Israel, was through the prophets.  The Israeli people understood this and they recorded the prophecies (or messages) that God spoke to them through their prophets.  And now those prophecies can be found in the Old Testament and are there for all of Gods’ children to read.  A prophecy is a message from God. 


A prophet was a man or woman who God chose to speak out His message (or prophecy) to the people of Israel.  God would speak to the person and tell him that he had been chosen to be a prophet and deliver God’s Word to the people.  Then God would pour His Holy Spirit out onto the prophet and give him the ability to see and hear the words and messages that God wanted given to the people.  God would often give the prophet visions and allow the prophet to see events that would be happening far off into the future. 


God gave his people many prophecies about the Messiah or Savior that He had promised to send to save them.  And most Bible scholars agree that the prophecy found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the most sublime messianic prophecy in the Old Testament.  This passage relates to Jesus’ dying to save or redeem us and then rising from the dead.  Matthew and Peter quoted from it.  This passage in Isaiah was written eight centuries before Christ.  And Isaiah, with the Holy Spirit speaking through him, in this prophecy and others, made incredibly accurate statements concerning the facts of Jesus’ crucifixion.  Isaiah also spoke of how the Servant Savior would die for the sins of the people.  Isaiah was a major prophet in Jewish history.   


The prophecy in Isaiah 52-53 begins by introducing a “Servant” to us.  It reads: “Behold, My Servant will act wisely.  He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.  Just as there were many who were appalled at Him, his face and appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness”: (Isaiah 52:13-14) Christ’s amazing victory through humiliation is presented here.  The “disfigurement” of Jesus’ face and appearance could have come from His maltreatment at the hands of Pilate’s soldiers.  Scripture says that Jesus was beaten so badly that He fell under the weight of the cross while He was carrying it.  And Simon of Cyrene was ordered by the Roman soldiers to come along side and carry the cross part of the way for Jesus. 


 These verses in Isaiah show the “Servant” going through astonishing humiliation. But after that - an astonishing exaltation!  Jesus went through this humiliation on the cross for us.  And Jesus’ exaltation came when He was resurrected and then we will all see Him exalted when He comes again at the end time.  Scripture says that Jesus will come again in glory at the end time and He will be highly exalted and every knee will bow before Him.  Philippians 2:9-11 reads: “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.  That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those in heaven and of those on earth, and of those under the earth.  And that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”


Isaiah’s prophecy continues with: “So He will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of Him.  For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.”  (Isaiah 52:15)  The phrase “sprinkle many nations” means that the Servant’s atoning sacrifice on the cross – his blood - will cleanse many Gentile nations.  Scripture says: “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin.” (Hebrews 9:22)     


 Gentile kings would be astounded at the forgiveness offered with the gift of eternal life. That which had not been told to the kings of the Gentile nations would now be the Gospel message of salvation through the cross.  Perhaps when scripture says that the gentile kings had not been told but were now amazed and surprised with the gift of salvation, it may mean that the gentile nations did not have the law and the prophets to tell them ahead of time that God would send a Messiah or a Savior.  All of God’s Word (the Old Testament) had been given to the people of Israel before Jesus came.


Next we read: “Who has believed our report?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”  (Isaiah 53:1)  Even though the Jewish people were given the report – and many prophecies concerning the coming Servant who would suffer for them, it still defied their imagination.  “The arm of the Lord” is a phrase always used in Scripture to designate God’s intervention into human affairs.  When the Israelites were suffering terribly as slaves in Egypt, God performed miracle after miracle to free the Israelites from their Egyptian captors.  When these miracles took place in Egypt for the Jewish slaves and on their way to the promised land , Scripture stated that “the arm of the Lord” performed them.  So when Christ freed us from the slavery of sin and Isaiah states that “The arm of the Lord has been revealed” this would be God’s greatest miracle being done for humankind!  .    


The next verse of this Isaiah prophecy reads: “For He (the Servant) shall grow up before God as a tender plant.  And as a root out of dry ground, He has no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,: and when we see Him, there is nothing in his appearance that we should desire Him.  He is despised and rejected by men.  A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him: He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”  (Isaiah 53:1-3) 


“A root out of dry ground” I believe expresses the obscurity of Jesus’ origin.  Instead of being born in a king’s palace, He was born in a stable for animals.  In other words, the Servant (Jesus) would lack the earthly grandeur or the trappings of royalty that attracts the admiration of the world.  If Jesus had been born into a wealthy prestigious family and if He had known all of the important people of the day, most likely the religious leaders would not have rejected Him.  But Jesus grew up as a poor boy in the little town of Nazareth, and when He became a man He spent His time with ordinary sinners.  He was humble and the men of distinction were not his supporters.  Did God send Him into the world as a humble servant so that we would not to be attracted to Him for the wrong reasons?


We continue on with Isaiah’s Servant song.  Jesus’ work here as a Servant is to take away our sins.  Isaiah’s prophecy describes this: “Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:  Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our sins and He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:4-5)


Everyone’s sins were laid heavily upon Jesus. Isaiah foretold that the Servant would suffer terribly and die for our sins.  Isaiah uses the word “pierced” when he writes that Jesus will be “pierced” for our sins.  Indeed, Jesus’ hands and feet were pierced all the way through by the nails when he was so cruelly nailed to the cross.  Peter writes: “Jesus, who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree (wooden cross), that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes we are healed.  For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd (Jesus) and Overseer of your souls.  (1 peter 2:24-25)


This magnificent prophecy from antiquity continues:  “All we like sheep have gone astray:  We have turned, every one, to his own way:  And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  (Isaiah 53:6)  Each of us has preferred our own way to God’s way: this is the essence of sin or of “going astray.”  And our sins along with all the others have been laid on Jesus who took it on Himself and carried the burden and paid the price. 


Isaiah’s prophecy continues:  “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth.  He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  By oppression and judgment he was taken away.  And who can speak of his descendants?  For he was cut off from the land of the living: for the sins of my people he was stricken.  He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”  (Isaiah 53:7-9) 


These passages in Isaiah say that the Servant Savior will not open his mouth and argue or stand up for himself when he is being judged and sent away to be killed.  And this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus was put to death.  Jesus did not speak up in his own defense when he was brought before Herod or Pilate.  When the Isaiah prophecy foretells that his grave will be “assigned with the wicked and with the rich in his death,” this passage was looking forward to when Jesus would be murdered on a cross between two criminals (the wicked) (Matthew 27:32-56) and then after he died, his body would be placed into a rich man’s tomb. Both of those prophecies were fulfilled.


And this magnificent prophecy ends with these last thoughts:  “Yet it was God’s plan to bruise Him, God has put him(the Servant)  to grief.  When You (God) make His soul an offering for sin.  He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days.  And the will of God shall prosper in his hand.  He (the Servant) shall see the labor of his soul and be satisfied.  By his knowledge my righteous Servant shall justify many.  For He shall bear their sins.  Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great.”  (Isaiah 53:10-12) 


These last verses of Isaiah’s prophecy say that all along it was God’s plan to allow the Servant (Jesus) to suffer for the salvation of sinners and to triumph over death.  Verse 10 says: “When You, God make His soul an offering for sin.”  This is addressed to God directly, as the One who alone has the prerogative of appointing Jesus’ life to be an offering for sin.  Next Isaiah prophesies:  “He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days.  And the will of God shall prosper in his hand. He shall see the labor of his soul and be satisfied….” 


His (Jesus’) seed is believed by Bible scholars to refer to his children by faith, - born-again Christians- the Church.  And Isaiah goes on to prophecy that “He shall prolong his days.”  What does this mean?  Does this not refer to a time after his death and burial?  Only his bodily resurrection could serve to fulfill such a prediction as this! 


This prophecy from Isaiah about the suffering Servant and Savior, written back in antiquity some 2,800 years ago, was one of God’s descriptions or pictures of what our Messiah and Savior would be like or look like.  For the Jewish people and for all Christians in every age this prophecy and many others were signs along the way pointing us to Jesus as the promised Messiah..  It is just one more proof that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.  One more piece of evidence that we can rely on.  And one more confirmation that He is our Redeemer!  .      

















Saturday, April 5, 2014

Jesus' Hometown Rejects Him


Jesus’ Hometown Rejects Him

Parts of Matthew 14 and 16


Jesus grew up in the little town of Nazareth near the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Because Jesus was from Nazareth He was often called a “Nazarene”.  Since their families lived in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph had settled there to raise a family and Scripture tells us that Jesus had several younger brothers and sisters.  Joseph worked as a carpenter and Jesus spent many happy years as a boy and young man in Nazareth surrounded by family and friends.  Finally as a young man Jesus left Nazareth and began his ministry.  And the day came when Jesus wanted to go back to Nazareth and see his friends and relatives.


But when Jesus returned to Nazareth He was no longer the little boy his neighbors remembered.  Time had passed and Jesus clearly was not an ordinary man!  He preached with power and authority and He performed wonderful miracles!  Everywhere He went He was healing people and even raising the dead!  It was becoming obvious that Jesus  must be very close to God to be able to do these things!


Wouldn’t the citizens of Nazareth be wondering if Jesus might be a prophet from God or even the Son of God since He could heal the sick and raise the dead?  You would think that the people in Nazareth would be asking these questions, wouldn’t you?  And you would hope that they might be keeping an open mind to all of the good that Jesus was doing in their midst.


But it seems that Jesus’ relatives and friends in Nazareth were determined not to have open minds!  They were enraged at His claim to be the Messiah and they closed their minds to even the possibility of it being true.  If Jesus were from God they figured that He would have been rich and powerful and He would know all of the important people.  But Jesus grew up in humble circumstances and was friends with the hated Roman tax collectors and sinners.  In their thinking they believed that God would not be associating with ordinary people!  Jesus simply didn’t fit what they thought the Messiah should be, so they weren’t interested.


 The Nazarenes hardened their hearts and didn’t want any part of this humble Jesus!  Some were afraid of losing their wealth or power if Jesus became popular.  Others hated Him because He exposed their sins and they did not want to change their ways.  The people from Nazareth didn’t ask questions about His miracles and they didn’t want to hear about His healings!  And when He raised the dead they looked the other way and refused to see.


When Jesus visited Nazareth He stood up and taught in the synagogue and his astonished neighbors listened to Him and asked: “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?  Is this not the carpenter’s son?  Is not His mother called Mary?  And His brothers James, Joses, Simon and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us?  Where then did this Man get all of these things?” (Matthew 13:54b-56)  Since they had trouble understanding how the Son of God could come out of their little town, they used that concern as one more of their excuses not to believe. 


And so Jesus’ own people rejected Him.  There is a steep cliff just outside of Nazareth and the town’s people even tried to throw Jesus off the side of the cliff to kill Him. As He walked away from His town Jesus was heard commenting: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”  (Matthew 13:57)  And sadly Scripture says: “He did not do many mighty works there (in Nazareth) because of their unbelief.”  (Matthew 13:58)  Their rejection and unbelief prevented them from receiving the healings and good gifts that Jesus wanted to give them. And more than that, they were rejecting the gift of salvation!


Unfortunately there were others out to get Jesus besides the folks in His hometown.  Soon after He was thrown out of Nazareth, a group of religious leaders gathered around to attack and harass Him.  Surprisingly the God fearing church folk were the ones who hated Jesus the most it seems!  The Pharisees and scribes watched Jesus eating with His disciples and began criticizing:  “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  They do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”  (Matthew 15:2) 


In the past when I would read this passage I would wonder why Jesus and His disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate.  Everyone today knows how important it is to wash your hands before a meal for the purpose of hygiene.  But Biblical scholars explain that the religious leaders back then were not referring to washing with soap and water so that hands would be clean.  They were talking about applying a drop of oil to the top of each hand on the wrist for the sake of “ritual purity”. The Pharisees were not referring to one of God’s laws.  They were quoting their own religious tradition or law.  They had burdened the people of Israel with hundreds of these legalistic traditions that they insisted were equal to the laws that God had given them in the Mosaic Law written in the Old Testament! 


Jesus told the religious leaders that many of their man made (traditional) laws transgressed God’s laws.  In those days grown children often took care of their elderly parents when they were too old and sick to care for themselves and too poor to hire help.  There was no social security or safety net for the sick and the elderly and it was the responsibility of family members to take care of one another.  The religious leaders made up a law that said that a person could give money to God (or give money to the religious leaders) and get out of his responsibility for helping his elderly parents in their time of need. Jesus was angry about this and reminded the Pharisees that God commanded his people to honor their fathers and mothers.


 Jesus was also upset with the religious leaders for teaching the people that their man made traditions were the same as God’s commandments. (Matt.15:6)  And of course this made the religious leaders even angrier at Jesus since they didn’t want to change their way of doing religion.  And that made them all the more determined to find a way to have Him put to death. 


If we had been a citizen in Nazareth two thousand years ago when Jesus visited that town, would we have gone along with the crowd and rejected Him?  Turned our back on Him and refused to consider His miracles and healings?  Would we close our minds to Him because He didn’t come to us in the way we expected He would come?  


And could we make those same mistakes today?  Do we follow our own man made  traditions today even though sometimes those traditions go against God’s laws?  Do some of our modern religious leaders lead us away from Jesus and away from the Truth like the Pharisees and scribes mislead the people back then?  Do the teachings of Jesus expose our sin and we don’t want to repent and change? Are we afraid today of losing wealth or power or influence if we were to open our hearts to Jesus? 


Just like the religious leaders and the citizens of Nazareth had many excuses for why they rejected Jesus back then, we too can come up with many reasons to reject Him today!  Scripture says: “He came unto His own, but His own received Him not, but to as many as receive Him, to them He gives the power to become the children of God, even to those who believe on His Name.” (John 1:11-13)  Let’s not let any reason or excuse get in the way!