GOOD PREACHING GONE BAD
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 26, 2017
14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph's son?”
23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.
— Luke 4:14-30, ESV
Throughout His public ministry, Jesus was primarily a preacher. Our Lord did other things, to be sure, cool things, like heal the sick and raise the dead, but mostly He just preached. Christ’s sermons fulfilled the Old Testament and inspired the New Testament. They pointed people to Himself as the promised Messiah. They offered the kingdom of God to all who would repent, believe, and follow Him. But, instead of a megachurch or a best selling book contract, Jesus’ sermons earned for Him rebuke, rejection, and ultimately death.
Jesus’ first preaching gig in His hometown of Nazareth is a prime example of His overall ministry. It began well with expectation, promise, and truth. It ended, however, with insult, aggression, and an attempt at Jesus’ life. It is a classic case of what happens when good preaching goes bad.
The setting for this sermon by Jesus is a typical synagogue worship service in Nazareth. Remember that Christ’s ministry is both redemptive and exemplary, and one of the finest examples Jesus set during His earthly journey was His commitment to public worship. If anyone was too good, too busy, or deserved to be too critical of the church, Jesus was and is. Yet He attended regularly, and still does, whenever two or more gather in His name.
Public worship from the synagogue period through the current church era has not changed much (with the exception of some of our so-called seeker-sensitive churches). God’s requirements seldom do. There is to be prayer and praise, offerings and sacraments, and primarily the reading and preaching of the word of God. On this stellar occasion in Nazareth, the word was preached by the Word Himself.
A scroll containing the words of the prophet Isaiah has always been a best-seller in Israel. A complete copy dating back to the fourth century before Christ was among the first and foremost discoveries among the Dead Sea scrolls. Isaiah is perhaps the most messianic and gospel-oriented book in the Old Testament.
It is fitting, therefore, that as the Messiah launched His gospel and made His first appearance in His hometown synagogue, He selected a scripture from Isaiah for the service. We now refer to the passage as Isaiah 61:1-2, which is also quoted here in Luke 4:18-19. It is a prophetic prediction and graphic description of the ministry of the Messiah.
Jesus’ exposition was quite simple and pointed. He said in essence, this is who the Messiah is, this is what the Messiah does, and I am the Messiah. He elaborated of course, with words not recorded by Luke, as He sat down in typical rabbinical fashion to discuss the text with the congregation.
By the time Jesus' circuit brought Him back around to Nazareth, He had built a reputation. At first the Nazarites “marveled” and “spoke well of Him.” Jesus had indeed preached the gospel primarily to the poor, offered a true freedom to folks suffocating from the iron fists of Roman politics and Pharisaical religion, healed blind eyes and other infirmities, and pronounced emphatically that the favor of the Lord, the grace of God, has arrived through the person and work of Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s one thing to preach a great sermon. It is quite another to be a great sermon. Jesus is both preacher and the one preached, God and man, man and Messiah, Lord and Christ. On this occasion, there He sat in the synagogue, in the midst of people who had known Him nearly from birth. Perhaps familiarity was the problem that caused the good preaching to go bad, as the sermon soured into sarcasm.
The worm turned on the words of an unnamed Nazarene who said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Was this a friendly familiar reference? Was this some kind of compliment, since Joseph, although believed to be deceased by this point, was known to be a righteous and just man? Or, was this bitter sarcasm?
Remember the context of Luke and the Gospel writer’s emphasis in the early stories. Gabriel’s promise to Mary is that she would give birth to the “Son of God.” The genealogy provided by Luke traces to Jesus, “the Son of God.” The voice of the Father in Heaven at Christ’s baptism proclaimed Jesus to be “My Son.” Even the devil in the wilderness addressed Him with the proposition, “If (or since) you are the ‘Son of God.’”
What this mean-spirited man meant in the synagogue that day was a declaration of disrespect and unbelief. Jesus knew it. Christ heard his words and read his mind, along with the many other small minds in the synagogue that day. According to their pea brains and tiny hearts, Jesus could not be the Son of God, God incarnate, the Messiah. He could only be the son of Joseph, a common man, one of them, who had no authority to preach to them or to suggest that He was their leader and Lord.
To be fair, Jesus was quite sarcastic to them in return. The pithy proverb He quoted painted them as the unbelievers and hypocrites that they were. The mentions of the ministries of Elijah and Elisha exposed the racism in them as well. The sermon was rejected and the Lord was ready to leave, even before they showed Him the door.
That was fine with them. They decided they did not want to hear Him ever again. They decided He needed to be put out of the synagogue. They even decided that Jesus needed to be put out of this present world, and ushered Him out in order to through Jesus off a cliff and stone Him to death.
A cliff is nothing but a big stone, and capital punishment in Jewish custom often included a toss off a big rock, followed by a shower of smaller rocks. This was their conclusion to a wonderful worship service featuring a sermon from the very Savior of the world.
Luke is not specific about the steps Jesus took to escape. It would not have been difficult for the omniscient God to outsmart a dimwitted mob. And though the shadow of the cross loomed large over the episode, the time for the cross had not yet come. Jesus would continue to preach for another two years or more, but hardly, if ever, in His hometown of Nazareth. When people let good preaching go bad, the bad news is that they often never get to hear good preaching again.
To put this story into a modern context is relatively easy, even though the times have changed. While synagogue attendance was virtually compulsory for first century Jews, only about a quarter of confessing Christians attend public worship with any regularity in our day. Most of these hardened hypocrites never get the chance to hate a sermon, for they hardly ever hear one in the first place. Good preaching goes bad when it is never heard.
Good preaching goes bad, too, just as it does in this text when the hearers don’t like the message and attack the messenger. I can personally attest to the fact that biblical preaching does indeed stir up hatred among many church members. If it had been legal and acceptable, I would have been lynched a hundred times over by bands of Nazarenes in Baptist churches where I have preached.
Don’t let good preaching go bad. Ask yourself what you would honestly do if Jesus showed up in your church today? What if He came and told you who He is, what He has done, and what that demands of you? What would you do?
You’d better decide, for He is here. Christ inhabits the praise of His people. He hears and answers our prayers. The offering is for Him. He is the bread and the wine. And remember, Jesus is a preacher. When the word of God and the gospel is heard, it tells us who Jesus is and what Jesus has done and what it requires of us. This is the way, even today, God truly speaks to you.
So don’t let good preaching, the preaching of Jesus, go bad. Don't pick up a rock and put it in your hand. Put your life in God’s hands as you listen to the gospel. God will make you rich in faith. The Lord will make you see and set you free. Don’t throw Jesus off a cliff, but remember His walk to the cross. Listen to the Lord and He will preach into your life grace, mercy, peace, and love.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org