by Richard Laster
Being a prophet must have been a thankless job to start with. It must have been tough to go to people who wielded tremendous authority and say "hey you all I've got a better way and a more important message." So was the challenge of so many throughout Biblical history. Prophets of God were often met with threats, with criticism, with ridicule, even with death.
And on the other hand can we blame those to whom the prophets spoke for the motivation for their actions. In the case of the disciples of Jesus, and even Jesus himself, the target audience was people who "knew" they were good with God and o.k. over all. Anybody who challenged their position and anyone who presented himself, heaven forbid, as one of God, or as God himself, better be double ready for scrutiny plus.
Jesus found this out in a major way. He and his disciples went home to Nazareth. Jesus wasn't just going back for a family reunion, he was going back with all the signs and trappings of a holy man of God, of a rabbi. He had, for example, a long line of followers, at least twelve we know of. When a rabbi came in such a way he meant business. He came to teach and most probably to shake up the complacency in the synagogues in which he spoke. I picture this like the old tent revival preachers who came with a great show of faith to augment the message of repentance and forgiveness of sin. Anybody who went to such a revival knew what to expect. The people of Nazareth expected the visiting rabbi to lay the message upon them, perhaps to instruct them in the error of their ways; at least they came to hear the prophet that day in the synagogue because they wanted an extra dose of "guilt" that would help them feel better in the long run.
When they did gather it was not as they had expected. The rabbi was a home boy. It hadn't been so long that he had left the family business. For thirty years prior to that time he would be seen around town carrying tools of the trade of a carpenter. The carpenter of the day was a skilled and talented laborer who could build just about anything. Jesus was, one of whom many were too familiar. How, some must have asked could a guy like that even think about claiming to be a rabbi, much less the messiah? End result is that Jesus had the power to do much for his friends and former neighbors, he would freely and willingly do the same, but he couldn't because in order for a miracle to truly work the recipient must be open to it and ready to go with the change, the blessing and challenge presented.
Part of the problem was plain old prejudice coming from disbelief that this common laborer could be anything else. They were not open to revelation or to the opportunity to accept anything from one of their own. Surely God's spirit also gave their minds and hearts a try, but as the scripture tells us, "Jesus could do no might works there."
So what does this first glimpse of scripture set before us? Often times we, who are always in need of a good and saving word from God, are not open to the word at all. We are not like the people of Nazareth. We are not prejudiced against Jesus, we do, however, have a thousand and one things going in life that keep us from being attentive to the word of God in all of its forms and presentations. When we do not put God's word first in our lives and hearts we will miss the glory of the message. The people of Nazareth missed it because they were unwilling to accept Jesus as he was even standing and teaching right before them. They certainly missed being blessed at the least and saved at the most and more. Let us not be hesitant to be open to God's word. Let us pray for it and give God's word a hearing, give God's word first place in our lives. Let us not miss the message. May we pray for the ability to see with our hearts.
There is an old preacher's story that fits here. A fellow with a great hunting dog wanted to show the dog off to a friend. So he invited the other man to tag along for a demonstration of the dog's unique ability. The owner took a large hunting decoy and flung it out as far as we was able. His dog jumped on top of the water and walked on the water all the way out to its destination and carried the fake duck back. Three times this exercise was performed. The friend seemed to be unimpressed. Finally the owner asked the question, "Well, what do you think of my dog?" His friend replied, "I wouldn't be so proud of a dog that cannot swim." Obviously the friend was looking at the situation without seeing what was right in front of him.
Such in a far greater way was the attitude of those of Nazareth and of countless others from that time forward who would have benefited from God's power but were unable to see beyond their own impressions, or prejudices, or priorities. Those who were not open to the promises for whatever reason, those who were affronted that a common laborer could have anything to say, missed the greatest opportunity in human history.
And there is here a message for the disciples. They saw over and over how Jesus' words fell on deaf ears. Jesus changed many lives, he brought health and healing to body, and spirit, yet even Jesus couldn't reach everybody. This must have given the disciples courage in the months and years to come. They were sent out to the world with the message of the Gospel. They were given the challenge to go and to be diligent with the truth. But, as we read here also, there were those who wouldn't respond. Jesus told the disciples concerning these to "shake the dust off your sandals." Yes, it was to stand as testimony against those who would not listen, however it almost might well have been a symbolic way of saying to the disciples, "don't dwell on those who do not respond, don't leave the failures on your person, shake the dust of those who don't receive and move on."
Of course the disciples also knew many successes. Testimony to this is the church today. We would not be here, the church would not exist without their diligence. As their heirs of faith we also are given the challenge to go and to share the Gospel. We are to pray for those around us in specifics, we are to offer words of kindness and Christian love, we are to bear the message of salvation in all ways, including words, we are to realize ourselves that there are those who are in need of the Gospel and therefore we are challenged ourselves to open our eyes to what is around us, to those whom we can touch, and to be always faithful. Remember again that there are those who will not know of Christ unless we bear his love.
I had some years back a fellow in one of my very small churches who was what could be called a "mover and shaker." He was a "self made man," one who had a fairly comfortable life style for himself and his family plus a little extra. During his earlier years unfortunately, he was past forty when I came to know him, he was not so productive. He had been in and out of jail, he had a minor criminal record, but these weren't the biggest problems he remembered. He shared that his primary challenge was his lack of respect or love of anything or anybody, including himself. Right before I came along he had a quality real life conversion. A family in that little church had taken him under their wing and had literally prayed him into life. Even though his past wasn't exemplary he had a secure presence and a bright and eternal future because of faithful disciples, ones who wouldn't give up on him.
Here is what the disciples knew. They knew not to give up and obviously they didn't give up. Even Jesus was ineffective sometimes when there were those who couldn't understand and were not open. Remember the scripture tells us that Jesus marveled at their disbelief and that he could do no might works there. What a shame.
There is one more part of this scripture that I want to highlight before we move on today. I think this is an important section of the passage even though the part about shaking the sandals and about the denial of Jesus' message gets more press. Remember from the passage how the disciples were instructed to go about their work? They were "to take nothing for their journey except a staff, no bread, no bag, and no money or collection belt." They were "to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics."
What does all this mean? The disciples were to do their work with simplistics, they were to completely trust in God. To be generous with their time and faith, to give without expecting anything in return, but to know in faith, that God will provide what they need and more. And sure enough from what we know of the work of the disciples, God did provide.
Such a message of challenge this is to us. We, who have so much need to hear the testimony of those who live more by faith as their only security. The message to us is this, when we trust in God, we won't be let down, we will be satisfied. Those who live in the light of God's word, those who go through life bearing the message of salvation with confidence in God's power and love, will face the tough times as well as the high times and will have all that they need to make life work. The disciples were told to go with little because God would give them much. They did not receive the things of earth, but had before them the things of heaven on earth.
So where have we been? The message is one of perseverance, of steadfastness. Even when it seems like failure is around, there is always the chance for another opportunity. The scripture encourages the hearer to listen and then receive the Gospel's challenge to forget what is past, to have your eyes open to those whom you can invite and influence with the word of the Gospel through the telling of God's salvation. Keep faithful always and trust God to fill in the details.
Nobody in fairly recent times has exemplified this message more than our own John Wesley. Mr. Wesley, who we recognize as the Anglican Priest who established and was the heart and soul of the Methodist movement in England, spent his nearly ninety years as traveling preacher. Early on his challenging preaching caused the stagnating churches of England to cast him out of their pulpits. Wesley didn't let that detain him. He preached everywhere he could, in prisons, in mines, in public places of all sorts, even on his father's grave, which was family property in the midst of one of the churches which had barred his presence. Wesley's influence changed England during the eighteenth century and has since been the inspiration for millions the world over, even today.
There are many quotes which are attributed to Wesley. I share only two. I know one to be true because of a multitude of testimonies, the other may or may not be so, but it fits his character. This one comes in response to a friend who was trying to get John to remain in one place for a while to regain his health after a brief incident. His friend was worried that Wesley was wearing out quickly. Wesley is said to have replied, "I'd rather wear out than rust out." If it wasn't Wesley somebody certain must have said it.
The second is recorded by many. When Wesley was near death he was asked if there was anything that he needed. His response involved his confidence that God had given him all that he would ever need in life and would at that point near the end of this life. Some time passed and the end did come. Wesley's last words were these: "Best of all, God is with us."
And so God is. God is with us to empower us all to be witnesses. God is with us to give us strength to persevere when we give serving God our best and nobody responds. God is with us opening up the possibilities. And, as Jesus reminded his disciples, God is with us to give us all we need in life and more.
So, as we depart let us be thankful and challenged to life because we are in God's midst, and "best of all, God is with us."
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by Deacon Matthew Thomas (Sujit)
Jesus with Unbelievers
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril
Offended by the Nice Little Kid from Nazareth
by Edward F. Markquart, Seattle, Washington
God Wants You to Walk by Faith
by Pete Benson
I Know That Boy
by The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
by Larry Broding
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the 4th Sunday after Denaha (Baptism of our Lord)
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