LUKE 4 - Why they ran Jesus out of town. Listen to sermon podcast by CLICKING HERE
I remember when American Idol, the TV talent show first came out. It was the first of its kind. People lined up on the streets of various American cities to get an audition to sing their way to being famous. Countless people whose parents had told them they could sing had their dreams crushed on prime-time television.
Perhaps it was a little misanthropic, but I took great joy watching the really bad auditions more than the good ones. Perhaps you did too.
Since then, shows like this have taken off and there are all kinds. “Britain’s got Talent” “The X-Factor” “The Voice”
All of them have one thing in common – everyone on them wants to be famous.
A researcher at UCLA recently conducted a study on what young people want to be when they grow up. Where once upon a time the answers might be “fireman, doctor, nurse, teacher” the top three in the study were sports star, pop star, or actor” with fame in general being the trend overall.
It perhaps is no surprise that children feel this way given what our culture values.
Today in the Western world we live in what has been described as a “culture of celebrity.” There are people who are famous not for doing anything particularly wonderful but just for the sake of fame.
In one way this is nothing new to humanity – the ancient Greeks told stories of various gods and heroes in their epics which were celebrities of their day.
What we celebrate holds up a mirror to our cultural values and inherent in today’s celebrity culture is a celebration of the self-made individual. Image, appearance, success beauty, are all values held in high esteem and reinforced by the kinds of people who are famous in our world.
We now even have our own platforms for self-made fame. We can self-publish on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
In the world of social media particularly, popularity and likes are the measure of success.
Like I said, none of this is new or just relevant to social media. A popular American Academic Christopher Lasch wrote a book called “A culture of narcissism” in 1979 describing the cultural climate of the late 70s.
His title references a much older Greek Myth about a bloke called Narcissus who caught a glimpse of his own reflection and was so overcome by the beauty he died at the riverbank staring at himself.
It’s tragically funny really.
What might Jesus say to all of this? What would he speak into our celebrity culture and obsession with fame? What would he speak into our well crafted personal kingdoms and agendas?
In today’s story from Luke’s Gospel we hear Jesus preach. He stands in the Jewish Synagogue, their place of worship, essentially the equivalent of our Sunday gathering here and he reads from the Scriptures.
In Luke 4:14 we are told that Jesus returns to Galilee and a report spread about him through all the surrounding country. In other words – Jesus is becoming famous. We hear that he teaches, and he was “praised by everyone.”
At this point we might think – great, Jesus has it made. He has the peoples attention, they are into what he is saying, his ministry is going just great. It all sounds good.
But then by the time we get to the end of today’s story the whole thing is a PR disaster. Never mind the tabloid gossip, the people of Nazareth go much further, they want to throw Jesus off a cliff. In verse 29 we hear that “they got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was build, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”
There was no “thanks for the sermon today Jesus”, there was no “critical feedback form”. The people instead violently drive Jesus out of town.
This sounds a bit over the top doesn’t it? What could he say that would cause such a violent reaction amongst them? How could he upset the people that much?
What did Jesus say?
Jesus shares his vision with them, and it is a vision of the kingdom of God.
He unrolls the scroll at the prophet Isaiah and he reads:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The Good news that Jesus brings is:
-GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR.
In Jesus’ world poverty wasn’t just about how much money you had but also about social status. Jesus’ good news to the poor is good news to those that for whatever social or religious reason found themselves excluded or on the margins.
-SIGHT FOR THE BLIND is good news for those who receive physical healing as part of Jesus’ ministry but it there is also a metaphorical element in the Gospel of Luke that points to a revelation or receiving salvation.
-RELEASE FOR THE CAPTIVES and THE OPPRESSED SET FREE points to political freedom and freedom from evil as evidenced by Jesus’ ministry exorcising demons.
-THE YEAR OF THE LORD’S FAVOUR refers to the practice of Jubilee, which was a season when debts were cancelled.
So here in Luke 4 we see a BIG PICTURE of what God’s salvation looks like. We see a BIG PICTURE of what Jesus has come to do. It has personal implications, economic implications, social implications, political implications, spiritual implications.
And Jesus says to them that today it has been fulfilled in their hearing. He is the one carrying it, he is the one embodying it all and making it possible.
This is a huge claim, a beautiful one, but probably not what made them want to drive him off the cliff.
After all the people were longing for and expecting a Messiah. They wanted someone who would come bringing news of liberation and freedom, they wanted a saviour, a leader, and someone who would turn their hopes around.
But it’s what comes next that causes the trouble.
The people do have some doubts, after all this is Jesus whom they know as Joseph’s boy, what is so special about him they think?
So, Jesus sets out to explain to them and in doing so he shakes all of their own personal agendas and visions.
Jesus talks about what it looks like to respond to his kingdom. And the two examples that Jesus uses of those who were responsive to God’s prophets are both Gentiles. Remember, here is Jesus in a Jewish synagogue preaching to Jewish people and Jesus uses two non-Jewish examples as people who were truly faithful to God.
We hear about
1) A widow at Zarephath
2) A Syrian army commander.
These two unlikely examples upset everybody.
I think it has something to do with verse 22: “They were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”
Jesus was insisting that God’s grace is for everybody, not just some religious or ethnic elite. In saying this he burst the personal agendas of the crowd at the synagogue who were perhaps hoping that God would be as selective as them in whom he favours.
Remember the story of Jonah? God is so good he decides to spare and save Nineveh because they were repentant of their sins. Jonah was outraged! Why? Because God is much more loving and gracious than humanity, his will is much more merciful and kind.
At the very heart of Luke 4 what we see happening is a major confrontation that happens in the hearts of all of us when we meet Jesus.
It is the confrontation between the “kingdom of God” and the “kingdom of self.” It is the confrontation between our agendas for our life and what God is calling us to.
What Jesus calls us to is much bigger than we could ever imagine. It is a life that is much more expansive and loving and fulfilling than our own plans and visions ever could be.
And sometimes that makes us feel like we would rather just either ignore Jesus or try and drive him out of town.
If we honestly let this story speak to us we might just see a little of ourselves in the people in the synagogue.
Our culture encourages us to craft our own kingdom, to cultivate our own agendas, to seek our own fame and develop our own projects. But what is God’s plan and will for us? Have we asked that question recently?
Some Christians I know get into a stew about this question. They ask God about every little detail in their life and they agonize about big decisions, but the point isn’t the specifics, rather it is a willingness to follow where God leads.
David Benner, psychologist and Christian writer says:
“…the problem is that when we think of God’s will we normally assume that the challenge is how to know it rather than how to choose it. The focus on God’s will is thus misplaced – limited to major points of decisions. We fail to recognize that our own problem is not so much knowing God’s way as being utterly convinced that choosing God is choosing life.” 
The point he makes is that what Jesus calls us to is to align ourselves with God’s kingdom project, to choose God’s will over our own.
Today we have celebrated the baptism of William. Baptism is a choice to submit ourselves to God, to give ourselves to him in response to his love and grace.
The opposition to Jesus that we encounter in Luke 4 is an unwillingness to submit to God’s will and his vision. The people want to retain their own wilfulness. They want to keep hold on “the kingdom of self” rather than the “kingdom of God.”
Our culture values fame, success, beauty, and wealth. It has its own cultural markers and agendas that are different from the protests of the people in Luke 4. They were concerned with maintaining religious purity and ethnic pedigree. But the same issue is at the heart of it all – the focus of self and the agenda of self vs the focus on God and his kingdom.
Benner in his book paints a helpful picture of what these two kingdoms look like side by side:
Kingdom of self Kingdom of God
Ruled by self-interest Ruled by love
Clenched fists and closed heart Open hands and heart
Hard and brittle Soft and malleable
Today the invitation for us I believe as we hear Jesus’ vision in Luke 4 is to open our hearts and minds to Jesus who gives us a picture of what God wants to do in our lives. God’s will for us is loving, it has our best intentions at heart. God seeks to transform us and make us more whole and fulfilled. His kingdom is good news for all of us.
The invitation is to let go of our “tiny kingdoms”, our own agendas and hang ups, to seek God’s will first and embrace his vision for our life.
May we pray St Augustine’s prayer “Put salt on our lips Lord, that we may thirst for Thee.”
 David G. Benner, “Desiring God’s Will: Aligning our Hearts with the Heart of God.”
 Adapted from St Augustine quote.