Finding Jesus Outside the Box
by Jack Wald | August 4th, 2019

Luke 4:14-30

When I was in sixth grade I tried out for a school musical and played the part of Santa Claus. I had a solo to sing, “I am old man Santa Claus; I come from far and near,” and then something about bringing Christmas cheer. We rehearsed. I knew my lines. My aunt tried to help me sing with a deeper voice. I had a Santa Claus suit with a white beard and a pillow to give me a Santa stomach.

There were two performances. The first was with the school, the second was in the evening with parents. One of those performances went well and one was a disaster. My beard was falling off and the pillow was falling out of the suit. The audience laughed and I was miserable. It would have been bad at either performance but it was especially painful that it happened in front of my classmates at the school performance.

We all want to look good and we especially want to look good in front of our friends. If strangers reject us, we can deal with it. But if our hometown, our friends and family reject us, that is more painful.

This is the story of this morning’s text from Luke 4 where Jesus was rejected by the people of his hometown. To put this in a time line, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist who saw the Holy Spirit descend on him like a dove. Jesus went into the wilderness to fast and pray and reflect on what he had heard his father in heaven say, (Matthew 3:17)
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Luke tells us that Jesus left the wilderness and began his public ministry in Galilee, the region he grew up in.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

In the power of the Spirit, Jesus returned to Galilee. We know the ministry of Jesus included teaching and miracles but in this story of Jesus, Luke wants to emphasize the teaching of Jesus. After Jesus left Nazareth, his hometown, Luke tells us, (Luke 4:31–32)
Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. 32 They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.

Jesus spoke with authority. His teaching was impressive and powerful. And, his teaching was backed up with miracles of healing and deliverance. Although there are no miracles recorded before Jesus spoke at Nazareth, they are implied when Jesus tells the people of his hometown what they are thinking.
“Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.”

So when Jesus left the wilderness full of the Spirit and began his public ministry, his teaching and miracles made people talk about him. There were no television stations, no radio stations, no internet, no social media, but people in one town talked to people traveling from town to town who passed on the stories about Jesus who passed it around so that before Jesus returned to Nazareth, his hometown friends and neighbors had heard all the stories.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.

Jesus arrived and the people of his hometown honored him by having him stand to read the scripture and make comments on what he read. Expectations were high, but they were also curious. They had known Jesus for many years. There were men who had played with Jesus, studied in the synagogue with Jesus. The people of Nazareth had bought bowls and plows and tables from his carpentry shop. There were probably mothers who hoped he would marry one of their daughters. We don’t know what Jesus said or did during the years before his public ministry, but we expect that he was a man of high character. We expect that the local rabbi was impressed with him. If the teachers in the temple in Jerusalem were amazed at the insights of Jesus, the local rabbi would also be amazed. We expect that he was respected.

But the reports that made their way to Nazareth indicated that something had changed with Jesus. The reports revealed that Jesus was not the same person he was when he was growing up and working in Nazareth. So there were high expectations and a strong curiosity.

Jesus was handed the scroll of Isaiah and as he unrolled it he found this passage from Isaiah 61. Chapters were not added to the scriptures until the 13th century and verses in the 16th century so Jesus had to know Isaiah well enough to know where in the scroll this passage could be found.

There are 66 chapters in Isaiah and of all these chapters Jesus chose Isaiah 61. This was deliberate. The scroll was given to Jesus but he looked for the text in the scroll he wanted to read. Jesus chose one of the Messianic passages found in Isaiah.

Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
because he has anointed me 
to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to set the oppressed free, 
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

Jesus stood to read the scripture, to show respect for the scripture, and then sat down, the traditional pose for teaching.
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

This is not all Jesus said. Whenever we read about what Peter or Paul or anyone else preached or taught, we get only a very condensed version of what they said. But Luke wants us to hear the opening of what Jesus said. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus went on to explain what he meant by this. We don’t know what more he said but the people seemed to be impressed with his words and insights.
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.

They were impressed and then we read,
“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Either Jesus heard them saying this or, as we read later in the gospels, he knew in his heart what they were saying. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” led him to respond.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ”

Jesus spoke amazing words, had amazing insights, was articulate, showed why there had been so many glowing reports about him that had made their way to Nazareth. Now, it was time for Jesus to produce the miracles they had heard of. “Physician, heal yourself!” was their way of saying, back up your words with some miracles. More explicitly, “Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.”

Jesus never responded well when people demanded a sign from him. I said last Sunday that Jesus was not at all interested in promoting himself. The miracles that were part of his ministry came from seeing someone who was suffering, being indignant that what does not exist in the kingdom of God exists in this world, having compassion, and then healing or delivering someone.

The miracles that were part of his ministry were not a show, not a performance, not done to promote his ministry.

The people of Nazareth wanted a show and Jesus rebuked them.
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

During a low point in Israel’s history, at the time of Elijah and Elisha when these prophets were rejected by Israel, they were sent to do miraculous things to foreigners. The threat Jesus presents is that those closest to him may miss God’s blessing.

The mood of the people changed so quickly. One moment they “were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips,” and the next they tried to kill him.
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

This is a stunning reaction. How could the mood of the crowd change so quickly? What made them turn so violently against him? There must be more to the story than we are told.

Jesus left Nazareth and went northeast to Capernaum, located by Lake Gennesaret. Jesus gathered his disciples and preached the kingdom of God to Israel. Capernaum, not his hometown, became his ministry center.

Here is the problem I take from this event, the people of Nazareth put Jesus in a box and when he stepped out of their box, they rejected him. They knew Jesus, were prepared to accept Jesus if he conformed to their expectations of him, but could not accept him when he told them he was more than they understood about him.

Jesus’ family had the same problem. In John’s gospel the brothers of Jesus taunted him, daring him to show himself in Jerusalem where the Jewish leaders were trying to kill him. John writes, (John 7:5)
For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

Because John’s gospel is a literary gospel, unconcerned with chronology, it is difficult to know where to place what we read in the time line of Jesus’s ministry. But after John records the miracle of feeding the five thousand, Jesus speaks about being the bread of heaven. John writes: (John 6:41–42)
At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

The family of Jesus must have been present when the people of Nazareth tried to kill Jesus. In an honor/shame culture, they were shamed by what Jesus said. Jesus brought shame on the entire family. There was already the hint of scandal about Mary getting pregnant before she and Joseph were married. There was the strange exile in Egypt before they returned to Nazareth. They moved back with Jesus and other children who were born while they were in Egypt but I wonder if they ever were fully accepted in this small community of just a couple hundred people.

Now they were deeply shamed by what Jesus said and how the village reacted. It seems they concluded he was crazy, out of his mind, and tried to rescue him and bring him away from all the madness of his ministry. (Mark 3:20–21)
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

There is an expression, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

When you grow up with Jesus you have a way of understanding Jesus and when Jesus acts in some way that is out of line with your expectations and understanding, it can be upsetting. We all work to keep Jesus in the box we have grown up with. We know who Jesus is and reject any view of Jesus that does not fit with our understanding.

This makes John the Baptist a most remarkable man. John and Jesus first met when they were both in their mothers’ wombs. Given the relationship between Elizabeth, the mother of John, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, it is likely John and Jesus spent a lot of time together growing up. There would have been family visits and when everyone made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the three annual festivals, John and Jesus must have played together.

John ended up in the desert eating locusts and wild honey. He gathered disciples and was considered to be the first prophet in Israel in four hundred years. There is a convincing argument to be made that Jesus, along with Peter, James, John and others of the disciples of Jesus were all disciples of John before Jesus was baptized, went into the wilderness, and began his own public ministry.

Whatever you think of that possibility, Jesus and John knew each other and had known each other for about thirty years. John thought he knew who his cousin Jesus was but… (John 1:32–34)
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

John thought he knew who Jesus was but then, amazingly, when he understood that it was his cousin who was the promised Messiah, when Jesus stepped out of the box John had placed him in, he did not reject Jesus, he submitted to him.

John writes of an argument between the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus. More people were flocking to Jesus than to John the Baptist and his disciples were concerned about this. John responded by saying, (John 3:30)
“He must become greater; I must become less.”

I look forward to getting to know John the Baptist in heaven. I want to hear more of his story.

None of us grew up in a small town with Jesus. None of us have that kind of familiarity with Jesus. But all of us have a box we put Jesus in.

We know Jesus from the church culture we grew up with. Our church culture teaches us who Jesus is and how we relate to him. I became a follower of Jesus when I was twenty years old and stepped into an evangelical church. This is the church culture that influenced me.

I tell my Pentecostal friends that I used to move into a town and drive by the Assemblies of God church and say to myself, “That’s where all the crazy Christians go.” But then I moved to Rabat and these “crazy Christians” became some of my closest friends, people I have greatly admired. I have been positively influenced by Pentecostals in our church community. I have learned to expect the Holy Spirit to work in my life.

After three years in Rabat I was on vacation, the only winter vacation I have had in my twenty years here. I would get up early, go out cross-country skiing for a couple hours, come in and make a cup of hot cocoa, and sit by the fire reading the gospel of Mark in preparation for preaching from Mark as well as some other related books. Because of jet lag, I was up early and had time for all this before the others awoke. It was glorious.

But as I sat by the fire reading Mark I was amazed. I had read the gospel of Mark many, many times. I had preached from Mark when I was a young pastor. But this time as I read it I was amazed how often Jesus healed people and delivered people from demons. I knew Jesus had done these things but I had not realized how much a part of his ministry this was. I had read the gospel of Mark with evangelical eyes and missed out on all the miraculous things Jesus did.

The evangelical culture puts Jesus in a box, just as the Pentecostal culture puts Jesus in a box. But Jesus will not be contained by any box. There is not any Christian church culture that can claim to have Jesus nestled neatly in a box.

There is a divide between reformed theology and Arminian theology. At its simplest level, there is a divide between reformed theology that says everything is predestined and Arminian theology that says we have free will and can choose. There have been bitter debates about this and followers of Jesus separate because of their different understandings of how we are saved.

Both sides quote scripture to support their position and both sides end up having to twist and bend some scripture to make it fit in their box.

I wrote a paper in seminary on the doctrine of perseverance. This is a doctrine that argues that once we give our lives to Christ we cannot lose our salvation. When you look at all the relevant scriptures, about half support this doctrine and half argue that we can lose our salvation. Each side has to bend and twist scripture to make it fit their argument. (The conclusion of the paper, not original with me, was that there is enough scripture to encourage us when we need to be comforted and enough scripture to give us a kick in the butt when we need to be motivated.)

The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is so much more than we are able to comprehend. Even in heaven we will be learning more about who God is. For an eternity we will be learning more and we will never arrive at a complete understanding.

God breaks out of every theological box we put him in. Every theological system limits God in some way.

It is not that doctrine is unimportant. Paul wrote to Timothy, (1 Timothy 4:16)
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

I have this verse on the wall in front of my desk. I am not trying to diminish the importance of doctrine; I am trying to encourage you to hold tightly to core theology and have a loose hold on peripheral theology. We hold tightly to Jesus who is the Son of God, fully human and fully divine. We hold tightly to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We hold tightly to the promise of Jesus to return and take us into his eternal kingdom.

But it is really not that important, for example, how we are baptized, by sprinkling or by immersion. The Didache is an early church document that contains the teachings of the disciples of Jesus. The early church considered the Didache to be part of the New Testament.

This is what the Didache has to say about baptism.
And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19) in living water. But if you have not living water, baptize into other water; and if you can not in cold, in warm. But if you have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

We are told in the bible that it is important to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but how that is done is not so important.

It is not important if we think Jesus will return before the millennium (a thousand years of peace) or after the millennium. It is not important if we think there will be a seven year tribulation (seven years of intense persecution) before or after the millennium. It is not important if we think that Jesus will return before, after, or in the middle of the tribulation. It is not important is we think the tribulation and millennium are allegorical. What is important is that Jesus promised to return and he will keep his promise.

The benefit of being part of an international church is that we are weaned from dependence on the peripheral theology of our church cultures and focus more intently on the core of what we believe. That is what matters. That is what is important.

I like to say that over my twenty years at RIC I have become less Presbyterian and more Christian. I have observed the same transition with others who spend some years at RIC.

Jesus and the way Jesus works in the world will not be contained in any theological system or church culture.

John Fischer wrote a song titled, “The Only Way.”
Jesus is the only way
But there’s more than one way to Jesus
Jesus is the only way
But there’s more than one way to Jesus

A Buddhist calling on the mercy of God
When he finds there’s no Nirvana
A Hebrew hearing the Messiah’s voice
When he prays on Rosh Hashanah
A guilty man on the witness stand
A gambler losing on seven
A thief on the edge of paradise
Who will take his next breath in heaven

Jesus is the only way
But there’s more than one way to Jesus
Jesus is the only way
But there’s more than one way to Jesus

Don’t let people put Jesus in a box. One of the problems is that when Christian leaders tell people how to come to Christ and how to grow in Christ, what they preach, what they teach, and too often what they write is based on how they came to Christ and how they grow in faith. When someone writes a book telling people how to come to Jesus, what they really are writing is how they came to Jesus. But Jesus will not fit into a box.

Jesus is the only way, but there’s more than one way to Jesus.

There is a spiritual temperament available this morning. This is taken from Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. You can pick up a copy on the way out of church. There are 54 questions to answer and the result will reveal how you best relate to God. There are nine categories. Let me run through them. As I read through brief descriptions of the nine spiritual temperaments, listen to see which one or ones you most resonate with.

  1. Naturalists: Loving God Outdoors
    The naturalist seeks to leave the formal architecture and the padded pews to enter an entirely new “cathedral,” a place that God himself has built: the out-of-doors. Anyplace that has some trees or a stream or, at minimum, open skies, can be God’s cathedral. Naturalists have found that getting outside can literally flood parched hearts and soften the hardest soul. Naturalists often learn their best lessons in the out-of-doors. Three particularly come to mind: they visualize scriptural truths, they see God more clearly, and they learn to rest.
  2. Sensates: Loving God with the Senses
    Sensates are moved more by a sensuous worship experience than by anything else. By sensuous we are referring to the five senses: taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight. When we embrace the use of the senses—which God created, after all—we open up entirely new avenues of worship. God created our senses, enjoyment through the senses was his idea. Sensates experience God in concrete, visible, palpable symbols. They see God in beauty, are creative and artistic and enjoy God’s creation.
  3. Traditionalists: Loving God through Ritual and Symbol
    Religious practices are the way men and women use the physical world to embody (non-physical) spiritual truths. There are three elements of the traditionalist pathway: ritual (or liturgical pattern);symbol (or significant image); and sacrifice. Through ritual and ceremonies traditionalists in turn make order out of chaos.
  4. Ascetics: Loving God in Solitude and Simplicity
    The ascetic temperament gravitates toward solitude, austerity, simplicity, and deep commitment. It’s the “monastic” temperament, so to speak, representing believers who aren’t afraid of discipline, severity, and solitude—indeed, believers who find that these elements awaken their souls to God’s presence. Ascetics experience God away from worldly distractions and have no need for anything other than God and the Spirit.
  5. Activists: Loving God through Confrontation
    Activists love God by standing up for righteousness and justice. Activists need to find the right balance—indeed, the balance modeled by Christ who regularly interspersed times of spiritual refreshment with intense ministry. Activism can take the form of Christian activism, social reform, or to confront error and evil. Writers, preachers, politicians, academics, artists, and homemakers can all be activists, faithful in their own sphere to stand up for the truth. Activists will never be satisfied playing it safe. They need to experience the exhilaration of seeing a miraculous God come through in miraculous ways.
  6. Caregivers: Loving God by Loving Others
    For caregivers, acts of mercy are a very practical way for them to show their love for God, but also to grow in their love for God. Caregivers may hear God more clearly when caring for someone than when they sit quietly in prayer. Caregivers have found that one of the most profound ways they can love God is to love others. For caregivers, giving care isn’t a chore but a form of worship.
  7. Enthusiasts: Loving God with Mystery and Celebration
    Enthusiasts enjoy a celebratory form of worship as well as many of the more supernatural forms of faith. People with this spiritual temperament like to let go and experience God on the precipice of excitement and awe. Enthusiasts long to preserve the mystery of faith. They understand that there are certain things about God and Christianity that we simply can’t fully understand. They are open to the spiritual world and believe in a God who is powerful and who acts.
  8. Contemplatives: Loving God through Adoration
    The contemplative seeks to perform the first work of adoring God. God is known and described as the heavenly spouse in whom all the contemplative’s delight is met. While some seek to serve the Lord, others seek to celebrate him, and still others seek to explain him, the contemplative seeks to gaze lovingly into God’s face and be caught up in the rapture of a lover’s experience. Contemplatives live for the love of God. They want nothing more than some privacy and quiet to gaze upon the face of their heavenly lover and give all of themselves to God.
  9. Intellectuals: Loving God with the Mind
    Intellectuals fee that to be growing in Christ, they need to have their mind stimulated with Scriptures and other reading materials and intellectual pursuits. They need to be challenged, if they are not learning new things about God then their relationship with him feels stagnant. Intellectuals remind us of the high calling of loving God with our mind.

Jesus is the only way, but there is more than one way to Jesus.

As I read through this list you probably resonated more with some than others. You probably thought that the ways you resonated with were clearly the best ways to relate to God. But the best way for you to draw near to Jesus is not what someone tells you to do, it is to discover the way God designed you to find him.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of the spiritual temperament on the way out of church. Take time to fill it out and then Elliot and I would love to look at the result with you. You can share this with friends or a bible study or prayer group and discuss it together.

Which is the best way? The best way is the way that works for you. One way is not better than another.

Jesus bursts out of every box men and women have tried to put him in. Seek God in the way God created you to seek. Grow in the way God created you to grow. Don’t be limited to your church culture, your church tradition, your theological culture. The goal is not to support your church culture. The goal is to draw near to God in an intimate relationship.

Jesus is the only way, but there is more than one way to Jesus. Find the way God designed you to draw near to him.