When Church is Over

I suppose just about everyone can relate to the story of Jesus returning to his home town of Nazareth (Luke 4:14ff), but especially those who have been away from the place where they grew up for a significant amount of time. Just as it’s hard for us not to think of our hometown in the way it used to be, I suppose it can be a challenge for the people in our hometown not to see us as who we used to be.

This is all in the backdrop of Jesus’ return to Nazareth. He comes back to the synagogue where He grew up and speaks to the people there. The congregation’s response to His reading of Isaiah 61:1-2 and the application of it to Himself is initially kind and gracious. You can hear their words of praise about Joseph’s son and see the pats on His back. This is His home church acting like His home church.

But things are stirring below the surface. For all of their positive responses some are wondering how He could possibly be claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. They’ve known him since He was young, watched Him grow up — they’re convinced they know Him better than He knows Himself, that they can see things about Him that He can’t. And though they’ve always liked Him and His family, there is a limit to how much they can be asked to believe. Does He think He can just show up and claim this sort of thing? Who does He think He’s speaking to? They know Him. They know His family. If things really are different, then all He has to do is the kind of things they’ve heard about Him doing in Capernaum. Until then, He’s still just the son of Joseph who’s forgotten where He came from.

Israel had a well established record of rejecting the prophets God raised up from among them. The people of Nazareth (as self-unaware as they supposed Jesus to be), were simply repeating this pattern. This is why the great prophet Elijah went to the widow of Zarapheth during the time of the drought. It wasn’t that there weren’t plenty of widows in Israel, but that Elijah’s message and mission were more likely to be embraced by a Gentile heart than a Jewish one. It is why his successor, Elisha, healed the commander of the Syrian army of his leprosy rather than a leper in Israel.

It is a ringing indictment of Israel and absolute blasphemy to the people of Nazareth who are enraged by it. Their sense of spiritual entitlement is so ingrained that they can’t fathom such a reality. Yet they prove Jesus’ assessment to be true by the way they respond to His words. Church ends not with a closing song or prayer, but by them driving Jesus out of the synagogue and to the edge of town where they try to murder Him by throwing Him off a cliff (4:28-29)!

No matter what your religious tradition might be, no matter how far back faith goes in your family, no one has an inside track with God. He reigns now as He did then and as He always has — in the humble heart that is willing to be taught by Him.

Makes me wonder what we do with Jesus when church is over.

Opening the Bible


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