I am at that age of life when I will sometimes spend several minutes searching for my sunglasses only to find them on top of my head or to look frantically for my keys only to find them in my hand. Those are embarrassing times that provide amusement to those who are watching.
I’m also at that stage of life when I see a number of names in prominent places in the Christian world and recognize those names as people who were my college classmates. I hate to admit the fact that most of these people I paid little attention to while I was at school. I was so wrapped up in my life that I failed to see the rich treasure that was there right in front of me.
I suspect some of you have had similar experiences. You have perhaps gone to class reunions and been shocked to discover that the quiet kid that you ignored and maybe tormented with wedgies and other brutal behaviors turned out to be a very successful person, while that classmate you spent all your time fawning over turned out to be the person who is twenty years later still living as an adolescent trying to re-live those glory days of the past. We often miss the blessings that are right in front of us.
Some of you have walked your little ones to school (or driven them to college) and wondered what happened to your baby? How many parents have bid good-bye to their child as they moved off with their new spouse wishing they had enjoyed the time they had together more fully? How many children have bid a parent farewell in a cemetery wishing they had taken more time to get to know them? How many times have we stood at the gravesite of someone and wished we had taken advantage of opportunities to share our faith with this one who must now face the Judgment seat of God?
This morning we are going to go with Jesus to the church of the day. We are going to see a normal worship service that is transformed by the King of Kings. But we are also going to see something more. In fact, it may be something you never thought about before. Jesus is going to try to keep us from living lives of regret.
The Church Service
Luke 4:14 begins by telling us that Jesus returned to Galilee and to Nazareth, the place where Jesus had been brought up. You may remember from the Christmas story that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Because of the attempts of Herod to kill Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled toEgypt until Herod died. When they returned, they lived in Nazareth, which is where Jesus spent the majority of his early years.
Even though this passage comes right after the temptation of Jesus in Luke, this account actually takes place later in the life of Jesus. It is apparent from the context that Jesus is returning home and has already made a little bit of a name for himself. We are told, “news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.” (14)
The synagogue was the local church in Judaism. No sacrifices took place in the synagogue. These only took place at the Temple in Jerusalem. The local synagogue was the place for prayer, the reading of Scripture, and instruction. It was very similar to what we think of as the local church. It was common for any visiting teachers to be invited to teach.
Don’t miss the fact that Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth because “it was His custom”. He did not go there because of the music or because He was looking for some good teaching, or because he had a great need . . . He went because this was the discipline of His life. Jesus had the opportunity to teach and to share this day because he was where he was supposed to be because it was the habit of His life. Don’t miss the obvious application.
Jesus (as the visiting Rabbi) was invited to speak. Don’t miss the drama conveyed by the action verbs. He stood up. Then He was given the scroll. Then He unrolled the scroll. When he came to Isaiah 61:1-2 he read the passage. We don’t know if he chose the text or whether this was, in God’s providence, the text of the day. Jesus most likely translated the text from the Hebrew into Aramaic. It was a passage often applied to the anticipated Messiah. Notice what it said,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
In this passage the Messiah is described as one who would help people in trouble, would set free those who were imprisoned in various ways, and would mend those who were broken. The Year of the Lord’s favor referred to what the Old Testament called the Year of Jubilee. In the Old Testament Law (book of Leviticus) God prescribed that every 50 years all the prisoners and slaves were to be set free, all the land was to be returned to its original owners, all debts were to be canceled. It was to be a new beginning. The Year of Jubilee was designed to eliminate any permanent class distinctions and oppression. There is no record in the Old Testament that the Year of Jubilee was ever observed.
Jesus rolled the scroll back up and then sat down (the common position for the teacher). We are told all eyes were fastened upon Him. Everyone waited for His exposition of the passage. Jesus let the silence build some suspense and then he basically said, “This passage was talking about me.” Jesus was saying the time of the promised renewal had come. There may have been more to his message, but the only point people remembered, or needed to remember, was this one: Jesus was claiming to be the One that Isaiah was pointing to.
The Reaction of the Crowd
The first reaction of the crowd is that they spoke well of Him and marveled at the gracious words that came from his mouth. In other words they were impressed with him as a speaker. They agreed that He spoke with power and authority . . . HOWEVER, they dismissed his words because they knew him. They knew the parents of Jesus. They had watched Him grow up. They knew He had, up until just recently, been making his living as a carpenter. What in the world could this kid have to teach them?
Jesus knew what they were thinking so he confronted their thoughts:
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ”
24 “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.
The people thought, “If Jesus was such a hot-shot he should do some miracles and then maybe they would believe.’ Jesus refused. He knew that people who come only for the show eventually get bored and move on.
Instead Jesus declared: “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” Jesus is stating a general principle that he illustrated with the lives of Elijah and Elisha. These two prophets performed some of their greatest miracles outside of Israel because the people of Israel had rejected them.
Don’t miss this simple principle Jesus is giving us: We often miss the blessings and the way of God because we don’t see what is right in front of us. It is only in Heaven where we will truly learn how many opportunities were squandered, blessings were overlooked, lessons were ignored, and special people were missed even though they were right in front of us.
So, let’s ask the obvious question: why do we so often miss the way of God that is right in front of us? I come up with three reasons. First, we miss what is right in front of us because we don’t want to see it. Think about a class reunion. Do you really want to hear about the great success about your classmate? Not for long. When we hear about the success of someone we know, it makes us feel like a loser by comparison. We don’t really wish other people ill . . . we just don’t want them to do better than us and if they are going to do better, we don’t want them to do a LOT better. If they do a lot better, we don’t want to hear about it.
Sometimes we don’t want to see something (and this is often the case with the Lord) because if we see it (that is, grasp it) we will have to DO something. Just as some people refuse to see abusive behaviors because they don’t want to have to address them, so people often refuse to see that Jesus is really God because then they will have to either stand with Him or stand against Him. It is easier to simply pretend that we don’t see what is there right before us.
Second, sometimes we miss what is front of us because we are too close to see it. How many spouses do not appreciate their partners until after the divorce or after their spouse has died? How many parents do not appreciate their children until they are gone . . . or until they have to take care of the children of someone else? How many of us fail to appreciate what we have been given until we lose it all or move or serve someplace where the people have much less than we do? People who live in small town don’t appreciate the blessing of what it means to live in a small town until they move away.
The problem with the people of Nazareth was that they were too close to the situation. In Mark we are told the people grumbled: “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Jude and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us? They knew him as the Carpenter’s son and couldn’t see beyond this. They had already put Him in a box; they had labeled him; and they couldn’t see beyond what they believed Him to be. There is a warning here for all of us: we must never underestimate what God can do in the life of someone. We should never write someone off or conclude that they will never amount to anything. God can change ANYONE.
Third, we sometimes miss what is in right in front of us because we are looking past it. Have you ever been out shopping and while you were thinking about what you were going to do next you walked right by your best friend or neighbor? You missed them because you were looking past them.
It happens in life all the time. We become so focused on making a big impact in one place that we miss the significant impact we can make in another place. Sometimes we miss a ministry opportunity because we are looking for something in the spotlight rather than recognizing that sometimes the most significant and lasting ministry takes place in the shadows.
- In our desire to change the world “out there” we sometimes miss our chance to show kindness to our next door neighbor
- In our rush to get our name on a door or on a trophy we can miss the impact that a life of character and kindness can imprint upon a life.
- In our push to expand our client base we may neglect to appreciate the loyal customers we already have.
- In our desire to copy what successful people are doing we may lose that which we do better than anyone else.
Ultimately it boils down to this: If we are truly going to see the blessings, opportunities, lessons, and warnings of God we must be always tuned to the whisper and guidance of the Holy Spirit. If our attention is anyplace other than here we will be in trouble.
What It All Means to Us
Draw Comfort. First, draw comfort and realize that if you have missed opportunities, lessons, blessings, and warnings in life, you are part of a very big club. Instead of moping around, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, confess your preoccupation and ask God to refocus your attention of His direction and leading in your life.
Draw comfort also as you try to share your faith with others. Some of you are faithfully trying to share with people how Jesus is changing your life. However, your friends are not listening. They knew you “when…” Don’t give up! Even Jesus was rejected by those who knew Him. Continue to live faithfully before your family and friends. SHOW THEM that Jesus has changed your life. Be patient. Give God time to work in them just as He has worked in you.
Pay Attention. Open your eyes to what is in front of you . . .God may be working, teaching, providing and opportunity, or extending a blessing. Be alert for
- People you may have overlooked (especially notice children and older people)
- Family members you may have taken for granted
- Acts of service you can perform
- Blessings you may take for granted (like living in a small town)
- Ministry you may be able to extend (like listening to an AWANA child recite their memory verses, or taking a turn in the Nursery during worship, or helping to plan special events, or helping with publicity . . . look around.)
Take His Hand One of the areas where we are most prone to look past what is right before us is in the area of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Deep down most people want to be right with God. They want to have a personal and vital relationship with Him. However we become overwhelmed by the steep mountain in front of us. We see how far “behind” we are and recognize know how much bad we have done. We can’t imagine doing enough good to pay for it all. It’s easy to be discouraged. But when this happens you are missing what is right in front of you!
The Bible tells us that if you will turn to Jesus, be honest about your failures, desire to turn from your sinful ways, and put your confidence in what He has done for you, then He will change your life. The Bible tells us that when Jesus died on the cross He died to pay for our sin debt. He died so we could have a relationship with God. He died so we could be made new. It is so plain that most people look right past it.
Please, heed His invitation today. You can begin by saying, “Jesus, I know that I need to change a lot of things in my life. I know that I’ve done things that aren’t pleasing to you, but I also know that you offer forgiveness, and I want to ask you to forgive me today. I want to start living my life for you from this point forward.” His extended hand offering forgiveness and a new beginning is right in front you….take it.
Get in Gear. We are great at gathering information; not so good at doing something with that information. I encourage you this morning to deliberately work to see what is right in front of you.
One of the things I have done in my life is to try to contact and write notes to people who have made significant contributions to my life that I took for granted. I have had to track some people down. Some have been many years after the fact. But when I have found them I have asked forgiveness from some and said thank you to others. In every case the note has been received with appreciation. As long as a person is living it is NEVER too late to tell someone they are or have been appreciated.
I try to use birthdays as a reminder to stop and truly appreciate people. I use that time to conscious enumerate how cherished that person is. I not only want to notice people . . . I want to let people know that I notice them. I encourage you to do the same.
Second, I encourage you to dare to engage others in conversation. Ask a question. Say hello. Watch and see what God does. God may open a door for you to minister to that person. He may use that person to correct you or direct you. He may use you to plant some seeds for the future that you may see or you may not. If nothing else, God may use you to show someone else that they are valuable.
Let me take it a step further, dare to engage someone in a spiritual conversation. Share something you learned in church, Sunday School, or Bible Study. Ask someone if they ever go to church. Share a favorite Bible verse or quotes on Facebook. Interject a spiritual perspective to a conversation. Ask someone what they think of Jesus. Text your friends (not while driving or sitting in church or school) and invite them to church with you. Through just these simple things God may open a door for you to do something life-changing. Instead of spending all your time dreaming about some great evangelistic endeavor in the future. . . start sharing the gospel with those closest to you now. Talk to your kids, your spouse, and your other family members. Like a person looking for a job, knock on some doors. You never know what door God will open.
One more thing, don’t overlook what God can do through this church. I want to encourage you to really believe that God can and pray that God will use this church to make a difference in surrounding communities; that he can work through us to impact Illini West High Schooland West Prairie High School, West Central High School and even into Iowa. Let’s believe that God can use us to plant seeds even throughout the world by our own short term mission trips and our support of missionaries. The key is not to believe in OUR potential or our strength but to remember God’s strength. As God took 12 common men and used them to change the world, so God can take a small town church and impact a community, a region, and who knows . . . .He is a great, powerful, wise, and resourceful God. He will lead us on a great adventure that will be filled with wonderful surprises if we will follow where He leads us. The way to begin is to start by loving the people and taking advantage of the opportunities, lessons, and adventures that are right in front of us.