Message: Sunday, January 23, 2022 “Embracing God’s Plan”
Gospel: Luke 4:16-30
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
The story is told of an American tourist in Paris who once purchased an inexpensive amber necklace in a trinket shop. Upon his return to the United States he was surprised at the amount of duty he was asked to pay in order to clear customs in Now York city. Curious, he decided to have the necklace appraised, and after looking at the object under a magnifying glass the appraiser at the jewelry shop said, “I’ll give you $25,000 for it.” Greatly surprised, the man decided to have it examined by another expert, who offered him $10,000 more. Astonished, he asked, “What do you see that’s so valuable about this old necklace?” The appraiser replied, “Look through this glass”. There in the magnifying glass he saw the inscription, “From Napolean Bonaparte to Josephine”. All this time, the tourist had no idea of the value of what he had in his hand.
How well do you know Jesus? Well enough? Very well? Not well at all? What does this question make you think about?
The people of Nazareth thought they knew Jesus. After all, He grew up there. For many of those in town, they remembered Jesus as one of the neighborhood kids, He had played with their children when He was younger. They knew He was the son of Joseph, the carpenter. He worked with His father in the carpenter shop. He was older now, but still they recognized who He was from their memories of Him as a boy. They had also heard the stories of what He had become, a well-known Rabbi with a growing reputation as an amazing, and sometimes controversial teacher who had gathered a group of Disciples that traveled with Him from town to town. There were rumors of certain unusual events some called “miracles” that were associated with Jesus and His teaching – healings, restorations, feedings of thousands with just a few loaves of bread and some fish. But who knows what you can believe? People talk, and stories get inflated all the time. This was Jesus, the carpenter’s son. We know Him!
To a degree, there was a certain pride being associated with Jesus “of Nazareth”, kind of a “Home-town boy makes good” situation. In their region, their town had a bit of a backwater reputation, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and Jesus was the exception to that criticism. There were a lot of reasons for people to celebrate His return.
As a Rabbi, it was customary for the visiting teacher to be invited to share His wisdom at the local synagogue. And so, when the Sabbath Day came during His visit, as was His custom, Jesus went to the synagogue, and He was invited to read the scripture appointed for the day. They handed Him a prophecy from the scroll of Isaiah. And that is when everything changed. Jesus stood up, took the scroll and read these words…
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then He sat down, and everyone waited for His next words. All right, Rabbi, let’s see what new thoughts you have to add to this old scripture that we have read and discussed among ourselves dozens of times over the past few years. What are you going to tell us about this word of prophecy that we don’t already know? Nothing could have prepared them for what they heard next.
What Jesus said in the next 5 seconds was perhaps one of the shortest, but most game-changing sermons ever preached – nine unprecedented words: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. And it’s interesting the next thing our Gospel text records, it says that all spoke well of Him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from His mouth. It’s like they didn’t actually register right away what Jesus had said. It was kind of one of those moments where the hometown boy returns as a Rabbi and gets his first chance to teach in the synagogue, and everyone just reacts to the moment with congratulations and “atta-boys”, “so good to have You back, Jesus”, “well look at You go, Jesus”, “good for You, Jesus”…and then the gravity of what Jesus had just said hits them, and everything stops. “Wait…WHAT!?!” “What did You just say!?!”
What Jesus had told them in one short sentence was that God’s plan to redeem the world, described in this centuries-old prophecy, was being put into motion right then, and right there, in their midst. The promised Messiah, the Savior of the world, for whom God’s people had been waiting hundreds of years, had just landed in front of them. God’s promise to send a Savior was fulfilled in that moment, and Jesus was the one.
In an instant their congratulations turned to confusion and outrage. “How can You possibly be the Messiah? You’re the carpenter’s son?” “You grew up here in this town, we played together as children, You are Joseph’s son, how is it that You now claim to be the Son of God?” You see, their idea of Messiah did not fit at all with who Jesus was and what He had just said about Himself, and so they refused to even consider the possibility that He could, in fact, be the promised Savior. And because they had developed such a specific criteria for the Messiah they were expecting God to send, they were not willing to allow Jesus to be the Messiah that He was. And that attitude didn’t change anything for Jesus, but it changed EVERYTHING for them. The people of Nazareth thought they knew Jesus, but it turns out that they didn’t know Him at all. And because they chose to relate to Him on the basis of what they thought they knew, rather than on the truth, there was very little that Jesus could do there among them at that time.
So what do you think? Is it possible for us to actually hinder Jesus’ ability to work in our lives? According to the rest of today’s Gospel it seems that we can. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that we ever have the power to stop God from doing what God will do – God’s plan will always move forward and nothing can stand in the way of what He wills, the only thing that changes is who God will be able to use in the working out of His plan, and who will be sitting on the sidelines. In other words, either God’s plan will move forward with us, or it will move forward around us.
For the people of Nazareth, in response to their resistance to the truth He was trying to share with them, Jesus went on to point out several other times in the history of God’s people when God had a plan, but His own people refused to participate, and so God continued to move forward among those whose hearts were more open. In Elijah’s day there were many widows in Israel, but God worked through a widow in Sidon, because her heart was open to Him.
In Elisha’s day there were many Lepers in Israel, but God worked His healing miracle through Namaan, a Syrian. Jesus was simply trying to point out that there is always more blessing to be found for those who embrace God’s plan, than for those who reject God’s plan in favor of their own. And so the real question is, both for the people back in Jesus’ home town, and for us today, where do you want to be in that process? Is God’s plan working in you and through you, or is it working around you?
So I’ll go back to my original question – How well do you know Jesus? Well enough? Very well? Not well at all? What does this question make you think about?
For that matter, why does Jesus want to be “known” by us anyway? Why does He go to so much trouble to explain to us who He is? What is His goal? Well…think about this with me…
- We are, none of us, here by accident – He has a plan for your life, and for mine.
- He alone understands the real scope and purpose of human existence.
- He alone fully comprehends the challenges we face each day in living life on this side of heaven
- He alone has the answers to all of our questions – ALL of them. Think about that.
- He alone has given us His Word to study and digest and learn from
- He alone is capable of knowing exactly what we need, exactly when we need it
- He alone is aware of and invested in each moment, of every life, of every child of His, on planet earth
In light of all that, here is something to consider…Is Jesus where He wants to be in your life, where He NEEDS to be in your life? Or is Jesus only where you have decided to ALLOW Him to be in your life? And what is the difference between those two things for you? Are HIS plans for you and YOUR plans for you on the same page, or are they at odds with each other?
Maybe you think that you have little value in God’s kingdom, and because of that you believe you are not someone whom God can really use. Maybe you have decided there are others more capable, more qualified, more gifted, for God to work in and through. The truth is, very often we don’t recognize who Jesus really is or wants to be in our lives – like the necklace, we don’t comprehend the value of what we have right here in our hands.
But we make the same mistake with ourselves – too often we don’t recognize the gifts, the capabilities, the possibilities, for deep and meaningful ministry that exist within each of us, things that God Himself has placed there, and that He wants, and NEEDS to use to bless this world – things He desires to develop and grow in us, and then put into practice both for ourselves and for the sake of those around us who need what we have to offer. Sometimes the value we fail to see is the value within ourselves. But if you look closely, you will discover the inscription God has written on each of our hearts – “Gifted child of God”. Remember, you are not here by accident – God has a plan for you.
So, here is the final question: Are you willing to let Jesus be Messiah for you? Are you willing to embrace the plan Jesus has for your life, even if it doesn’t match up with your expectations for where YOU think He should be leading you at the moment? Jesus knows who you are, and He knows who He has gifted you to be. And Jesus alone knows and – if we are willing – can teach us, show us, encourage us, empower us, lead us, convince us that we are, in fact, more than we think we are, just as Jesus, on His return to Nazareth, was far more than they thought He was.
May you trust Jesus to be your Messiah, the Messiah that He NEEDS to be in your life. May He embolden you, and empower you to embrace the plan He has for you – to live in the promise of your inscription to be, and to continue becoming, the “Gifted Child of God” you have always been, and will always be.
God grant it, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.