Embracing Grace: Passing the Test

A 365 Day Devotional Journal

Day 89

Scripture: Isaiah 61, Luke 4:14-32, John 14:11-12, 15:4-5; Hebrews 10:26-27, 31; James 5:17-18; 1 Corinthians 10:11-12. 

Ruins of the synagogue in Sardis, present day Turkey. Photo courtesy of Atilim Gunes Baydin. Public Domain.

Jesus was praised and honored throughout the region long before He declared His mission publically. That was when He went into the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth and read from Isaiah 61. After He finished speaking to them, however, Scripture records that all the people in the synagogue were enraged. It wasn’t that He was rude to them, nothing like that. In fact, even when He had finished reading from Isaiah 61 and had told them that these words were fulfilled in their hearing, they still praised him.

“And all spoke well of Him and marveled at the words of grace that came forth from His mouth; and they said, Is not this Joseph’s Son?” 1

I’ve never heard anyone point to anything in this verse except in terms of derision. But if you examine it closely, the tone appears more to be one of marvel, not condescension. So if it wasn’t a result of Jesus reading from the book of Isaiah, and if it wasn’t His saying that HE fulfilled these verses, thereby declaring Himself to be God, then what was it that caused this group of apparently devout homeboys to go from speaking well of Him to being so enraged they tried to hurl Him headlong off a cliff?

“Then Jesus went back full of and under the power of the [Holy] Spirit into Galilee, and the fame of Him spread through the whole region round about. And He Himself conducted [a course of] teaching in their synagogues, being recognized and honored and praised by all. So He came to Nazareth, [that Nazareth] where He had been brought up, and He entered the synagogue, as was His custom on the Sabbath day. And He stood up to read. And there was handed to Him [the roll of] the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened (unrolled) the book and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon Me, because He has anointed Me [the Anointed One, the Messiah] to preach the good news (the Gospel) to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send forth as delivered those who are oppressed [who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity], To proclaim the accepted and acceptable year of the Lord [the day when salvation and the free favors of God profusely abound. Then He rolled up the book and gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were gazing [attentively] at Him. And He began to speak to them: Today this Scripture has been fulfilled while you are present and hearing. And all spoke well of Him and marveled at the words of grace that came forth from His mouth; and they said, Is not this Joseph’s Son?”2 

According to Luke, on the day of this FIRST miracle, Jesus was preaching near the Lake of Genesareth (Sea of Galilee), when he saw two boats. Boarding the boat of Simon (Peter), and moving out a little from shore Jesus preached to the people from the boat, and said to Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” To this, Peter answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” But to everyone’s surprise, “they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break,” and they had to seek help from another boat. Seeing the huge haul of fish which filled both boats almost to the sinking point, Peter fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Jesus advised Peter and his partners James and John, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men,” after which the men left everything and followed Jesus. Painting by Raphael, circa 1515.

Jesus was widely accepted as a man with great wisdom and authority from God. So when He declared the words of Isaiah to be fulfilled in their hearing, they must have already sensed a Divine exchange going on. This was a much loved passage of Scripture. Isaiah was most likely speaking of himself when he wrote it, not a coming Messiah. But it is the nature of prophecies to be applicable in more than one way or timeframe. So when Jesus read this passage and then sat down (as was the custom before teaching in a synagogue) to speak, declaring the prophecy fulfilled, the people there probably still did not get it. Scripture does state that they regarded Him well, while marveling at His words. So what was it that created the sudden change in their attitude and subsequent behavior?

I’d like to interject that it is obvious as the story progresses that the people did not in their hearts really believe Jesus, but even disbelief was not the cause of offense. Their offense came when Jesus stated that both Elijah and Elisha, great prophets of old, were men who performed great miracles for people who were not of the house of Israel – people who were Gentiles. The widow lived in Sidon, and Naaman the leper was a Syrian. The unspoken extrapolation they got from Jesus listing these examples was a loud “I, too, will perform miracles for the Gentiles, not for you.”

Photo courtesy of Travel Space. Public Domain.

The reason they were suddenly enraged was because they took Jesus’ words as a rejection of them personally. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. He was trained as a young man there. He grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with both God and man in Nazareth. Pointing out that Elijah and Elisha performed their miracles for Gentiles, rather than Israel, was taken as a taunt. It was as offensive as if Jesus had thrown his sandals at them, which is a Middle Eastern tradition to this day whereby you publicly shame someone by declaring them beneath you. After all, news had already reached Nazareth about His miracles performed in Capernaum. They surely had hopes He would impress them with signs and wonders also in Nazareth.

I imagine their thoughts ran something along these lines…

Why, I never!  

 
 

 

Photo courtesy of Caroline Steinhauer. Public Domain.

He behaves like this after all we’ve been through together – our fellowship, our breaking bread together, our friendship to Him for over thirty years?

What an ingrate, after all we’ve done for him!

Who does He think He is? He’s just a carpenter. There’s nothing special about that.

 

No doubt this was the context of these next remarks in Luke. And it most assuredly was in this context when the mob taunted Jesus at His crucifixion.

“So He said to them, You will doubtless quote to Me this proverb: Physician, heal Yourself! What we have learned by hearsay that You did in Capernaum, do here also in Your [own] town. Then He said, Solemnly I say to you, no prophet is acceptable and welcome in his [own] town (country). But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were closed up for three years and six months, so that there came a great famine over all the land; And yet Elijah was not sent to a single one of them, but only to Zarephath in the country of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. [I Kings 17:1, 8-16; 18:1.] And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and yet not one of them was cleansed [by being healed]–but only Naaman the Syrian. [II Kings 5:1-14.] When they heard these things, all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage.” 3

Tycho Brahe drew the construction of his two person sextant (SEXTANS ASTRONOMICUS TRIGONICUS PRO DISTANTHIIS RIMANDIS) used for measuring the angular distances between celestial objects. Circa 1598

It might well be said that anyone who steps out into something dramatically new, such as a new direction in ministry, school, business, or life change, will be opposed by those who find them too common or too familiar to respect what God is doing in them.

I know. It sounds ridiculous when I put it in black and white like this, but we do it all the time.

We hang out with our friends and enjoy their company until they decide that God has called them to do something bold, something dramatic, something new. That in and of itself doesn’t bother us. We are glad to see them walk in faith. This is what Jesus said we are to do. So we offer encouragement and praise them for daring to step out.

Until they make us uncomfortable.

Case in point, an old friend of mine some time ago stepped out in faith and wrote to me that she believed God was calling her into a healing ministry, asking me to pray with her about it. But I, in my shortsightedness, simply could not see her doing this. She and I were best friends in college, and I knew her. I knew her well. We were roommates. I got to see her humanity up close and personal. The problem came when I still viewed her through the lens of our past together. Because I was seeing her with eyes that looked backward, I failed to see the hand of God on her today, let alone what God may be leading her into tomorrow.

She was too familiar, too common, in my eyes for me to see how God could possibly move through her in such a wonderful, miraculous way.

The truth is I was jealous.

Ah yes, the green-eyed monster, the frequent ruination of friendships.

See, I have held close to my heart since childhood a deep and abiding hunger to move in the miraculous. But I did not need to be jealous, for God loves me just as much as He loves my friend. This kind of reaction stems from an insecurity that believes God will always do more for others than He will ever for me.

This is a lie straight from the pit of h – e – double – toothpicks. It is in God’s nature to be generous to ALL who call upon Him! The trouble for me came when I could not accept that God could move through my friend in this way.

Do you see the problem with this thinking? God wants to move mightily through each of us, but if we refuse to accept the reality that God in His wisdom may choose to promote our friends before He promotes us, how can we possibly expect Jesus to move through us?

Only the proud in heart judge another’s competence in Christ. The Doctrine of Grace has been so drummed into our western minds that we rarely think of the consequences of not walking in holiness before a Holy God who also is just:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES… It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” 4

Man shaping pottery in Cappadocia, Turkey. Photo taken by Randy Oostdyk, and released under GFDL / CC BY 3.0

The simple truth is that Jesus works through imperfect earthen vessels. This is a mystery: Christ in us. We have no reason to fear He will not move in and through us, if we are willing to wait for His timing.

On the flip side, we also are all guilty of placing on pedestals people we admire from a distance but do not know well, people such as famous singers, preachers, or speakers – you fill in the blank. The problem here is two-fold: one, we place unreasonable expectations upon the idolized person which ultimately falls when we finally see their humanity, and two, we assume everyone else, who we are most familiar with, are incapable of having God move through them because we do see their humanity.

This is another fine example of FBC Syndrome, Familiarity-Breeds-Contempt Syndrome.

We call it “the old man,” but this is the human condition in its natural, fallen state.

We are called to go higher.

Elijah Raising the Son of the Widow of Zarephath, by Louis Hersent (1777-1862)

We are called to be sons and daughters of the King. The naysayer at this juncture might point out that only great men and women of God are capable of having God move through them in mighty ways. This, too, is a lie from the pit of hell that Satan has used against the Body of Christ for millennia:

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.” 5

Everyone who desires to be used mightily of God must pass these two tests, and they come in this order:

  1. The test of success and advancement of others.
  2. The test of success and advancement of myself.

Both tests contain unique qualities found in every man or woman God chose to elevate in the Bible: true humility before God and genuine trust in God.

Jesus said that greater works than these (what He had done) we would do because He went to the Father. This statement of Jesus nixes the long held belief taught by many in the west today that all signs and wonders, including healing, tongues, miracles, etc., died with the apostles. If I truly believe the words of Jesus, I must accept that this, too, is true. And if I am not walking in signs and wonders, the fault lies with me.

“Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” 6

Want to be used of God like Elijah or Elisha, or, dare I say it, Jesus?

Photo courtesy re PublicDomain.com

A good place to begin is by dealing with the heart.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” 7

~     ~     ~

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” 8

Read: Isaiah 61, Luke 4:14-32, John 14:11-12, 15:4-5; Hebrews 10:26-27, 31; James 5:17-18; 1 Corinthians 10:11-12. Journal your private thoughts.

God, Your love is so amazing! You are the kindest person I know. Thank you for keeping your goodness before my eyes so that I walk life of repentance. I choose to live every hour of every day focusing on You, trusting in You. Your unquenchable, passionate desire to see me become more like You in every way while in this life is all that matters. Thank you, Jesus, for paying the redemption price for me! Thank you for declaring the final Jubilee! Amen.

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1 Luke 4:22. Luke 4:14-22. Bold emphasis mine. Scripture quotations taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.lockman.org
2 Luke 4:14-22. Bold emphasis mine. Scripture quotations taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.lockman.org
3 Luke 4:23-28. Bold emphasis mine. Scripture quotations taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.lockman.org
4 Hebrews 10:26-27, 31. Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.lockman.org
5 James 5:17-18. Bold Emphasis mine. Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.lockman.org
6 John 14:11-12. Bold emphasis mine. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.nelsonbibles.com
7 John 15:4-5. Bold emphasis mine. Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.lockman.org
8 1 Corinthians 10:11-12. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.nelsonbibles.com

Copyright © 2011, Érin Elise

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