Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 16, 2014
And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
— Matthew 13:53-58, ESV
We are now about two thousand years removed from the public ministry of Jesus Christ. Thousands witnessed it in person. Millions have believed in Him. Billions have not. It seems the farther we get away from the setting of the Gospels, fewer and fewer people believe in the gospel. Surely if we could send everyone back in time, let everyone hear Jesus speak and watch Jesus work in person, more and more would believe, right?
Wrong, I’m afraid, at least if we examine the testimony of the people who knew Jesus best during his life on earth. Let’s go back to the town of Nazareth in Galilee, two thousand years ago, and see first hand how people in His home town experienced the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Trouble At Home
The brief accounts of Jesus’ public ministry in Nazareth are disturbing. Nazareth was Joseph’s and Mary’s home town, where they grew up, where they got engaged. A required census took them to Bethlehem where Jesus was born, then providence led them to Egypt for a short time, away from Jerusalem for the time being, and back home to Nazareth to raise Jesus, along with the other children that were later born of the normal union between husband and wife.
The people of Nazareth had the high privilege of watching Jesus grow up. It is not unacceptable to think that ladies of the synagogue in Nazareth may have changed Jesus’ diapers on occasion. As a boy, Jesus would have sat at the feet of the Elders when they read Scripture and led in prayer. By implication, we have come to believe that Joseph died after Jesus entered adolescence and the Christ worked as a simple carpenter to support His family until the approximate age of thirty. The people of Nazareth knew Jesus, and they knew Him well.
This makes the scant accounts of His ministry there puzzling. Luke tells of an occasion very early in the ministry of Jesus in which the Lord preached in Nazareth (ref. Luke 4:16-30). He read from the book of Isaiah, proclaimed Himself as the Messiah, and prophetically predicted that at the end of the day, Jews would largely reject Him and Gentiles would flock to Him in droves. For this, they tried to kill Him right then and there!
He easily escaped, however, and apparently tempers settled. Jesus would return again to minister in His home town (ref. Mark 6:1-6 and our text at hand, Matthew 13:53-58). Again He taught in the synagogue. Again He explained the Bible with authority and helped people with miraculous power. And again, the people, His people, His home boys and girls and men and women, treated Him with contempt. The text tells us they were offended, literally scandalized, by Jesus’ claims. Our Lord’s ministry in Nazareth is a story of trouble at home, serious trouble.
Business As Usual
But why was it this way? What did Jesus do to make the people of Nazareth so hostile to their most famous citizen? For Jesus, trips back home to Nazareth were business as usual, doing there what He did in every town He visited during His three-year messianic tour.
It is important to note that as imperfect as the synagogue was in Jesus’ day, and none were more imperfect than the one in Nazareth, Jesus always found Himself there on the Lord’s Day and other days. He went, He worshiped, He prayed, He sang, He spoke and heard and applied the word of God to His life and others. The gatherings of churches in our day are just as imperfect as the synagogues in Jesus’ day, but it is the height of disrespect and unbelief to fail to publicly worship God when one has the opportunity.
So business as usual for Jesus was attending the synagogue. Since He was respected in certain circles as a rabbi or teacher, He was often invited to speak. When He did, He not only preached and taught God’s word, He preached and taught as God. What did He preach and teach about?
This text does not say, but the context would indicate He taught parables and principles about the kingdom of God. It is the principal kingdom of which Jesus Christ is king. He had expressed this on his first recorded ministry there, as we learn from Luke, and He no doubt expressed it here, even though Matthew and Mark do not expressly say so.
The kingdom of God exists where Jesus Christ is king, over country, family, congregation, and especially the human heart. The kingdom of God exists where Jesus Christ is Lord, where Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, where Christ is the Head of the New Testament church, where the Lord Jesus Christ is accepted as God incarnate and Savior extraordinaire.
But if Jesus is the God and King of your heart, your life, your family, your church, etc., then you are decidedly not. This is hard for most people to take. It is an offensive, scandalous claim that violates our sacred human freedom. It was especially hard for the Nazarenes to take, precisely because they were the people who knew Jesus best.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Aesop’s fable of the fox and the lion gave us the expression, familiarity breeds contempt. The more you know someone, the more you find fault. It is an all too true proverb that shines a light on the depraved and often negative human heart. It makes friendships hard to sustain, marriages hard to maintain, churches hard to unify, and God hard to glorify.
It seems as if the Nazarenes knew Jesus so well, they did not know Him at all. They were astonished at the perfection of His biblical exegesis, but they did not believe what He was teaching. They were amazed at His miraculous power, but would not accept that it was divine. They believed in everything about His life and ministry, but did not believe in Him as Lord and Savior. They did not honor Jesus, they did not trust and obey Jesus, so they were not saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Christianity is so meshed with Western and American society that all of us have grown up with Jesus as our neighbor. Churches meet on every corner and Bibles abound in every house. We have watched Jesus grow up, listened to Him talk, and seen His good and godly works. We know all about Him, but the vast majority of us do not really know Him at all.
What If God Was One of Us?
I suppose the haunting question that scandalized the citizens of Nazareth during Jesus’ public ministry was this: What if God was one of us? This question was set to words and put to music by Eric Bazilian and Joan Osborne in 1995. It was quickly panned by Christian leaders as out of touch at best and blasphemous at worst. The part of the song that most caught the ire of critics asked, “What if God was one of us, Just a slob like one of us, Just a stranger on a bus, Trying to make His way back home?”
I do not like to think of God as a slob, although I would like to think that the term in the song referred to humanity, not necessarily a person that was particularly dirty or sloven. But a knee-jerk reaction to the chorus can blind you from the best line: “If God had a face, what would it look like? And would you want to see, If seeing meant that you would have to believe.”
I confess I am often entertained and always intrigued by rock musicians. They all wear Christian crosses, and neither they nor I know why. They can be blasphemous, they are often crude, they are definitely over-sexed and under-loved. But they are almost always honest.
What if God was one of us? He was. Would you want to see His face? Everyone would. But what if it meant you had to believe, in the way God’s word and God’s Son define belief?
When it comes to Jesus and the people of first century Nazareth, God was one of them. They saw His face. They heard Him speak. They watched Him do some miracles, albeit not many. They knew Him, but they did not know Him. They needed salvation, but they were not saved, because they would not worship Him and confess Jesus as Lord and Christ.
They synoptic Gospel writers tell the narrative, but John puts it into total theological focus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (ref. John 1:1,11-13).
God was one of us. Just a human being like all of us. At the same time, He remained fully God. What He did was real. What He said was true. What He offers is the only way to have abundant and eternal life. God became one of us so that we could be one with Him. Believe in Him and follow Him in your home town.