Let’s go back over the last couple of weeks. Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. John the Baptist has witnessed the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus and has told his followers that the Son of God is among them. Jesus then goes into the wilderness alone where he fasts for 40 days and nights. Satan then appears and tries unsuccessfully to tempt Jesus three times. Satan left, probably not too happy, and angels came down and tended to Jesus.
Today’s scriptures take place after Jesus returns from the wilderness. In beginning his public ministry of delivering the good news, he first goes home … to Nazareth.
That makes sense, right? He’s got life-changing information that can truly make a huge difference in people’s lives. Wouldn’t home be the first place you’d want to share it? Wouldn’t the people you know and care about be the first people you’d want to share it with? Of course, it would!
He reads them a section from the scroll of Isaiah that he’s been handed, the section in the scroll that is our Isaiah 61, verses 1 and 2, a section many of our modern translations title “The Good News of Deliverance”, rolls the scroll back up and hands it back to the attendant.
And at first, his hometown folks seem to appreciate it, nodding in agreement, even noting, “Hey, wait a minute … isn’t that Joseph’s kid?” They seemed cool with it. Jesus was being gracious enough – odd – but gracious, so they “spoke well of him”. But … instead of telling them what they want to hear … what they think they should hear … what makes them comfortable … he tells them a home-truth: that prophets are rarely recognized in their hometowns and he follows that with a reminder that Elijah and Elisha weren’t sent to heal their own people, because healing their own people would have been a waste of time. He essentially told them they had the same problem as their Old Testament relatives, and they lost it. They were outraged … so much so, that they no longer cared if this was the son of their friend or neighbor, Joseph … they just wanted Jesus dead. Now. So badly that they literally chased him out of town and up a hill so they could throw him off a cliff. They were fully prepared to murder Joseph and Mary’s boy.
Was their reaction extreme? Absolutely. Was it unexpected? No, not at all. It was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy … the same Isaiah that Jesus had read to them earlier … Isaiah 53:3 in our bibles … that the Messiah was indeed coming, but that he would be “despised and rejected.”
It’s rather sad, isn’t it? A prophecy these people had been reading over and over for 800 years and they didn’t recognize their part in fulfilling it. All of God’s power and authority so clearly displayed in Jesus, in this man they knew, and they were not the least bit in awe of it or Him … Why not? He was the carpenter who grew up with them, had been in their community for around 25 years by this time, he was now preaching and healing all over the areas around them, and yet they were angry at what he said.
Yes, it’s incredibly sad … but it’s not surprising. People tend to reject anything or anyone that represents a big change in understanding or perspective, even from someone familiar … especially from someone familiar. The very idea that what they thought they knew could be wrong was as incomprehensible as the notion of changing your mind in a political discussion, a Facebook argument, or a committee meeting where someone suggests doing something a new way. So they hardened their hearts, hated Him, and tried to push Him off a cliff.
And in doing so, they actually fulfilled that prophecy from Isaiah and proved He was who He claimed to be. What wondrous irony!
How often in our own day-to-day lives do we do the same thing as the people of Nazareth? How often do we get the urge to kill the messenger? How often do we harden our hearts and refuse to consider the perspectives of another because it requires us to leave our comfort zone … a zone that, in large part, includes the comfort of not having to admit what we think we know is wrong?
Standing there on the edge of that cliff and without saying anything, Jesus simply walked back down the hill right through the middle of that angry mob and, I suspect, didn’t look back.
How many times in our own lives have we been one of the crowd hearing Him that day? So comfortable in what we think we know, in our traditions, in the way things have always been or … worse … so set in our own will … that we, without even thinking it, drag Him to the cliff and prepare to toss Him over?
Jesus left Nazareth that day and went to Capernaum there by the sea. It was there in Capernaum that he would make his home, fulfilling yet another part of Isaiah’s prophecy. From there he would travel out to other cities, preaching the Good News of the kingdom of God in the synagogues throughout Judea, healing the sick and the demon possessed along the way.
It was during one of his trips about the area at the Sea of Galilee. He was speaking to a group and looking for a way to be better heard, so he asked a local fisherman named Simon if he could speak from Simon’s boat. He asked them to move the boat out from shore a bit, then sat down in the boat and continued to speak to the people. When he was done, he told Simon to move the boat to deeper water and cast his nets again. Simon explained they’d been fishing all night with no success. They were tired. They just wanted to go home. But there was something about Jesus … So Simon agreed and cast his nets. And the catch was so great it weighted down and nearly sank not just Simon’s boat, but Andrew’s as well and they had to call for help. Simon fell at Jesus feet and confessed that he was a sinful man unworthy of Jesus. But Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid. Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Jesus went on to call others after Simon and Andrew. He called James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Phillip and Nathaniel. To all of them, he said, “Follow me” and they dropped whatever they were doing and followed.
Again, I have to wonder about what we would do today if Jesus walked in the door, stood here where I’m standing, delivered the message, and then said to all of us, “Come and follow me.” Would you go? Would you drop everything, stand up and follow? Or would you sit, content and comfortable in the pews you always sit in? If he stepped down to this first row, would you meet Him there? Or continue to sit, content and comfortable in the pews you always sit in? If He looked at you and said, “I want you to go and spread the Good News, go out and make disciples” would you go?
This is the purpose of the church. To prepare the way for Him to come into our lives and for us to take Him into our lives, to truly reach Christ in us, but it can’t happen unless we each accept and embrace the need to give up our comfort zones, to get up out of our pews, to go out those doors and make disciples. To rebuild this church to truly become His church and to fill it with HIS people.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats so that they began to sink.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be fishers of men.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”