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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!      






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