Hometown Hero (2): Run Out of Town on a Rail
Intro – Luke 4:16-30. A cartoon shows some people approaching their pastor with a signed document. The leader says, "Pastor, we want to give you this petition requesting you change ‘sinner’ to ‘person who is morally challenged.’" It’s tough to admit being a sinner, isn’t it? But that failure will cause many, including some of Jesus’ own neighbors to be eternally lost.
Jesus demonstrates what a good sermon is about. He reads the text, explains the text and applies the text. He did that with Isaiah 61 and things went well through the reading and the exposition. The exposition is stunning. Notice v. 21, “And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Imagine hearing a preacher say, “This 700 year-old prophecy? It’s happening – Now! I have come to release the captives to sin. To forgive those oppressed by guilt. I’ve come to reconcile you to a holy God.” Wow! What a sermon! “ 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.”
I. Exposition – So, the exposition went fine.
II. Exhortation – But now the exhortation – application. It unravels!
Mid v. 22, “And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Wops! A question develops. Mark gives additional insight into this rapid change of heart in Mark 6:2-3, “And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” They love His exposition, but then it dawns on them that He is claiming to be Messiah. But that can’t be. He’s the carpenter. Nice guy, sure. Trustworthy, precise. Smart as a whip and faithful. But Messiah? Come on. They are thinking and perhaps whispering, “He grew up with our children! If he’s a prophet, I’m Isaiah. Let Him prove it like He did in Capernaum. Let’s see the goods. Prove yourself. And that stuff about blind? Poor? Prisoners? Oppressed? I think He’s talking about us. Who does He think He is?” And with that the tide turned. And Jesus, sensing their thoughts, made convicting application contrasting their hard hearts with hearts of true faith.
A. Heart of Unbelief (It says, “Prove Yourself”)
V. 23, “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.” They had heard about the many miracles done in Jesus’ new home in Capernaum, 25 miles away. And their thoughts were exactly what ours would have been. “Hey, why not here? What’s wrong with us? If you do it there, why not here?” They felt like the cobbler’s kids with holes in their shoes. You fix others, why not us?
They are greatly impressed by His gracious words about setting captives free and giving sight to the blind – but they didn’t realize they were the blind. Jesus was saying, “It’s you who need salvation – not someone else, but you need me.” And they’re thinking, “Prove it. Prove you’re Messiah. You’re saying we need you?! No way! Give us something spectacular and then we’ll see about your claims.” Luke included this account right on the heels of Jesus’ 3rd temptation to do something spectacular to prove God. Jesus refused. These people insisted. Hard hearts always want a miracle to prove God. But Jesus knew one always requires another! So – Jesus never performed a miracle to produce faith. He was never “on demand.” Never. Check it out. Faith always comes first. Blessing results from faith, not the other way around. Imagine a drowning man insisting on seeing the life guard’s certification! You’d say he was crazy. To insist that God demonstrate Himself is equally crazy. Only those who have no sense of their desperate situation would ever do such a thing.
B. Heart of Belief (It says, “Save Me”)
Now, sensing they would not believe without the spectacular, Jesus makes a brilliant transition. In essence he says, “Speaking of unwelcome prophets, what about Elijah and Elisha?” The people revered these prophets -- and particularly because both came from their region. But both had bypassed huge populations of need in Israel to minister to some pagan Gentiles. Why? Because they found unbelief in Israel and belief elsewhere.
Elijah and the Widow. First -- Elijah and the widow in Sidon on the Mediterranean coast of Phoenicia northwest of Israel. I Kings 17:1:“Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” Ahab was one of the worst kings in Israel’s history. Imagine Elijah’s courage to walk in one day and say, “King Ahab, I have a word from God. It’s not going to rain again until I say the word – and I’m not talking.” With that, he went into hiding. But he suffered right along with everyone else, and in time Elijah faced a dire situation. V. 7, “And after a while the brook (Cherith, east of the Jordan) dried up, because there was no rain in the land.” But God had a plan. He sent Elijah to a widow woman in Sidon who was preparing a last meal for herself and her son, after which they would die. She was at the end of her rope and her means.
V. 13, “And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’ ” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days.” Elijah asks for her last meal. And she gives it to him on the outrageous promise that there will be more. It’s a preposterous promise. And she doesn’t know him from Adam! Yet – she gives him the food. What faith! Now, what comes first – the miracle or the faith, blessing or belief? The faith, doesn’t it?
Jesus adds to the account. He tells us in v. 25, “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah.” There was no lack of Jewish widows. But Elijah was sent to Sidon – a Gentile place – a place made even more abominable as the home of King Ahab’s devilish wife, Jezebel! This is “in-your-face” theology to the hometown folks! Why was Elijah sent to Sidon? That’s where the faith was! He went outside the chosen people to find faith. It was a place that hatched the evil of Jezebel, but it was also the place where faith lived in the heart of this widow. God goes where He finds faith. He does not perform on demand to produce faith. Blessing follows faith. The blessing may or may not look like we think it ought – but it will inevitably follow, like night follows day.
Elisha and Naaman. Jesus’ second story is from II Kings 5. It’s in your face again. This account features Naaman – hated in Israel because he was Syrian, because he was commander of the Syrian army that defeated Israel and most of all because he was an outcast leper. What Jesus did was a bit like making a hero of Osama Bin Laden to an American audience. But Jesus had a point to make. Naaman had leprosy. But a little slave girl in v. 3 “said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” This spurred Naaman to action.
Long story short, he got permission to go to Israel to find Elisha. But he got the brushoff! V. 9, “9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” (He sent a messenger to the door – a servant? Naaman was insulted from the start. People cow-towed to him. But even worse was the remedy. Go wash in the dirty Jordan?!) 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” What came first, Beloved – the miracle or the faith, blessing or belief? And again, Jesus adds to the account. He says in Luke 4:27, “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed.” What’s the point? Faith was in short demand in those days. Not one Israelite came to Elisha in faith – only Naaman the despised Syrian. And God honored Naaman’s very fragile, very Gentile faith and cleansed him.
Now, Jesus used these stories for a reason. They demonstrate the nature of true faith. It shows the world of difference between the self-righteous but lost people of Jesus’ hometown versus the saving faith of those they looked at as pagans. Jesus’s stories show us three things about saving faith.
1. The Reason for Faith (personal poverty)
True faith comes from a realization of personal poverty. Faith does not result from miracles. That kind of faith takes another miracle tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. That kind of faith puts me in judgment of God. Saving faith recognizes my extreme poverty – it comes only from a heart that has seen that it is hopelessly and helplessly lost apart from Christ.
The widow had no reason to trust Elijah. Yet she gave him the last that she had. Why? Because she realized her poverty. That is Jesus’ point. If the widow had refused to trust, she and her son would have eaten their last and died. If she gave her last handful to Elijah based on God’s promise, even if it turned out to be a fraud, what would it matter? She would die a few hours sooner, that’s all. BUT – if she trusted him and his word was true, she would be saved. By seeing her extreme poverty, she saw reality – that there was nowhere else to go. She was in no position to bargain – to ask for guarantees, to ask for the miracle first. That was saving faith.
That’s what Naaman had. Where else might he find relief from leprosy? It was a death sentence in his day. There was nowhere else to go. He was in no position to demand terms, though he wanted to. He finally saw himself as lost and throw himself on the mercy of the Word of God in order to be saved. And that was exactly what Jesus’ neighbors would not do. They were Jews, after all. God’s chosen people. They had been taught that was enough. Be born right (a Jew), do the right rituals (be circumcised), be good (do the minimum sacrifices) and you’re in. They missed the OT emphasis on the need for a changed heart. Jesus is telling them – your hard heart is saying to me, “Prove yourself.” A soft, believing heart would say, “Lord, save me.” They were not poor in their own estimation, so they hated His application.
The great NE senator, Daniel Webster, got in trouble during his school days and was called forward to have his hand caned by the teacher. He tried to rub dirt off as he went up, but the hand was still very grimy. The appalled teacher said, “Daniel, if you can find another hand as dirty as that in this schoolroom, I’ll let you off.” So, he pulled his left hand from behind his back and said, “Here it is, Sir.” He found his own poverty and it saved him. And the same is true of us, Beloved. Until we know our guilt, we cannot receive his pardon. Don’t you want His pardon? Then you must confess you need it.
2. The Response of Faith (personal commitment)
The second thing we see about the saving faith of a repentance heart is that it involves a personal commitment – a response. It is not, as it is so often represented, a mere belief in certain facts, it is a commitment of the life. The widow might have believed Elijah, but had she not given him the food he requested, she would not have been saved. Saving faith acts. The same was true of Naaman. He might have believed all day that God could heal his leprosy, but had he not bathed 7 times in the Jordan, he would not have been saved. Saving faith acts. It commits even if it doesn’t make sense.
So, you believe that Jesus came. You believe He was God. You believe that He died on the cross. You believe that He took your sins upon himself there. All well and good. But the question now is, have you committed your life to Him. Is He not just the Lord, is He your Lord? Do you seek His will in His Word? Do you pray? Is there a relationship? Saving faith commits. A man named William Matix was a self-proclaimed born-again Christian who regularly gave his testimony in church. He was profiled as a model family man in Christian Home Life magazine in 1986. A month later two FBI agents were killed and 3 others wounded in a shootout with Matix and his partners in a bank robbery. He claimed one thing and lived another. But, Beloved, you don’t have to be a murdering bank robber to be lost. People do religious things all the time on Sunday and live selfish, Godless lives the rest of the week. They have no heart-felt commitment to Christ as Lord whatsoever. Just like the hometown crowd that Jesus met in Luke 4. Is yours a saving faith, or is it the surface faith of a hard heart?
3. The Reward of Faith (personal blessing)
Saving faith results in a clean heart and in whatever blessing God chooses to bestow beyond that. Such was the case with the widow and with Naaman. But we must never lose sight of the real reward. The real reward of true faith is a relationship with God through Christ. Nothing compares to that. Asaph in Psalm 73 tells how he was crushed by watching the prosperity of the wicked compared to his own trial, but he got to the house of God and the Word of God and he concludes with Psa 73: 26) My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” That’s the reward, Beloved – to have Christ. Do you have Christ? The heart of belief says, “Save me” and it gets Christ. I pray that is your experience.
III. The Exasperation
The people in Nazareth – they had Jesus for 30 years. And they had Him present to preach the gospel to them – the greatest preacher of all time – the Savior of the world. And they ran Him out of town on a rail – because they had hard hearts. Hard hearts may know a lot about Jesus, but they never let Him in. Figuratively speaking they run Him off every time He knocks on their heart’s door. Imagine – they lived with Him for 30 years, but they will spend eternity apart from Him. What a tragedy. Look at their reaction. Vv. 28-30, “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.” They got the message. He was saying to His hometown friends, “Folks you are the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed that I have come to save. You are the ones.” But they would have none of it. Their hearts were hard. Mark 6:6 tells us, “And he [Jesus] marveled because of their unbelief.” They were amazed at His speech and His person, but He was equally amazed at their unbelief. Beloved – you can know all the facts and be as lost as sin, running Jesus out of town every time you hear Him say, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Is your heart soft toward Him today? Or are you throwing Him off the cliff of unbelief?s
Evangelist R. A. Torrey who helped found Biola University had a man approach him after a service one time. He said, "I am not a Christian, and I have no intention of becoming one. But I do lead an upright life. I do my duty by my wife, children, father, mother, employer, neighbors and everyone I know. And yet you seem to preach that leading such a life, if I do not accept Jesus Christ I will go to hell?" Torrey replied, "You most certainly will." He said, "That just isn’t fair." Torrey said, "Think for a moment. Suppose your mother was the best women that ever lived. Suppose that she loved you so much that she would give her life for you if necessary. Now suppose you do your duty by everyone else, by every man and woman you know except that one, your mother. When she is old and broken down, you turn her out in the street to starve and die. What would you say of yourself?" He replied, "I would say that I was a scoundrel." Torrey said, “A scoundrel – just because of the way you treat one person?" “Yes," he replied. Torrey said, “Don’t you see that is exactly what you are doing with the most noble, wonderful person who ever lived – who not only would, but did give His life in your place. The Bible says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6) All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:5-6). You’ve done your duty by all but that one. What do you say for yourself?” The man honestly replied, “Dr. Torrey, I am a scoundrel.” He at last saw his poverty, and he turned from running Christ out of heart on a rail and invited Him in to take control. How about you? What have you done with Christ? Are you running Him out or inviting Him in? Let’s pray.