January 11, 2012 Devotion Sharing (Luke 4)

Submitted by James K. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

SELF-STUDY FORMAT

Here, we have Jesus coming to the temple, reading from the scriptures and identifying himself as the one sent to proclaim freedom.  The people’s response to him is interesting, as the text says, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.”  Yet, they asked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  They were impressed by what he had to say.  But their question (in other words) spoke, “That was a great message. But a bit bold to be spoken by a carpenter’s son, isn’t it?”  By the end of the passage, they no longer speak well of him or are amazed at his gracious words, but furious with his words and ready to throw him off a cliff.  What happened?

Jesus references two instances in the scriptures where God worked through a prophet to a Gentile (non-Israelite) rather than any Israelite at that time: Elijah to the widow at Zarephath (cf. 1 Kings 17), and Elisha to Naaman, an Aramean military commander (2 Kings 5).  In both cases, the Gentile was told to do peculiar things in order to help them in their predicament.  And both ended up obeying the message, which led to an incredible experience of God and his provision.  For both of these Gentiles, they didn’t have much to do with a prophet from Israel.  But they heard what words God had for them, and they obeyed them, as strange as they may have been.  And God worked powerfully through that.

Jesus message to the people at the synagogue is that when God’s words come to a person, these words need to be responded to as the truth that they are. God’s word was always there for Israel, and yet his work moved forward to a non-Israelite.  And it went forward outside of the nation of Israel because there were people there (e.g. the widow and Naaman) who were actually willing to hear it and obey it, and so to experience God’s work.  Perhaps Jesus message to them was, “So, what’s going to be your relationship with the truth that you are all too familiar with?  Are you going to allow your predisposition towards me bring you to forfeit receiving God’s message to you and experiencing him?”

This text is a lesson on “how to not hear.”  At one level is familiarity. For the people at Nazareth, their familiarity with Jesus and his family (since they were from that area) predisposed them to being skeptical or guarded toward what words Jesus would have to say.  They believed in the prophecy, they believed that God is good, and will make good on his promise.  But their response was, “but we know this guy…”  It’s really sad that they would pass him off in this way, and that their familiarity with Jesus would prevent them from hearing from God.  They identified his words as good and true at that level, which brought them to be amazed at his gracious words.  But that was it.  It was just a “good message.”

For me, having been Christian for 17 years now, and having attended church since before I was born, there is a “familiarity” with church and listening to messages.  There’s a “familiarity” with even devotions and bible reading.  And I know the experience of being amazed at the gracious words that come from those things.  But that could very much be simply at the “familiar” level.  Messages from God are all around.  And how much of it is caught, or how deeply it’s caught depends on how much I’m actually listening, how much I’m wanting to hear them.

I spoke at the High School retreat last month, and one thing that was very noticeable by Jeff and me was the level of attentiveness and hunger from the students.  I could tell that they wanted something out of the retreat.  These teenaged students didn’t come with the attitude of “Oh, I’ve heard this before. This is a nice one…” but with that level of interest of “What is this going to mean for me today?” Many of them were very churched, having heard messages before on the texts that I taught on that weekend.  I need to have the attitude of hungering for what messages God has for me.  We’re about to have our own winter retreats in the coming days.  And I want to hunger for what God wants to say.  When that sense of “I’ve heard this before” enters my mind that needs to raise a red flag, alarms should go off and tell me, “I need to pay extra attention right now, or else I’m just forfeiting what work God wants to do in my own heart in a fresh new way.”  And this not just for retreats, but through the regular times, when familiarity can all too easily settle in.  Sunday worship services, bible studies, prayer meetings, DTs.  I need to make the most of those opportunities to not “not hear”.

And another level of “not hearing” is allowing my ego and pride to dictate whether I’m going to accept what I’m hearing or not.  Why would what Jesus said cause the people to want to throw him off a cliff? It’s because the message he was speaking moved on from simply being “gracious words” that they could be amazed at to rather offensive uncomfortable truths that they needed to respond to.  “God’s word will move past you if you don’t hear it from me, and will find those who will actually hear it and respond and obey”.  And that was more than their nationalistic pride could handle.  And maybe some of that familiarity for the people in Nazareth translated into “who does this guy think he is?” when Jesus spoke the truth they didn’t like it.

The “problem” is that truth is always truth, and truth always wins.  And that is a “problem” for my pride that doesn’t want to hear that kind of truth.  It’s a problem for the ego that only wants to hear the truth that says nice things about me, and recognizes me for the good things that I’ve done, and wants to discount or discard the ugly truth about my sinfulness: my irritability and moodiness, my selfishness and thoughtlessness.  Then enters the “who does this person think he is?” tactic.  Sure, I read that I’m a sinner from the pages of the bible.  But when the ways that I’m a sinner gets pointed out to me by somebody, a real flesh and blood messenger, all of the sudden that truth isn’t so easy to stomach anymore.  “You’re a sinner” shouldn’t be any different from “You were being insensitive when you said this,” or “You were being unreasonable when you expected this and that,” or “You overreacted, and I think it’s because you were already a little irritated at something really petty.”  Those shouldn’t be different from “You’re a sinner,” but when protecting my ego is more important than truth, those statements are worlds apart from the “general truth” that I’d readily accept.  To the ego that is more important than truth, if truth always wins. Then the ego says, “Get rid of the messenger.”  And that’s a tragic place to be in.

It’s a little ironic that they would be so amazed at the message that Jesus declared about freeing the prisoners, giving sight to the blind and releasing the oppressed, yet they violently reject the form in which it would come.  In Jesus’ message that was offensive to them was an invitation to put away their biases, so that they could receive sight, and be freed and released from the oppression of their own stubborn and proud hearts and receive riches of blessing from the truth Jesus had for them.   And every time offensive or uncomfortable truth comes to me about myself, therein is that same invitation for me to respond, as well.

PERSONAL PRAYER

·       Please write out a prayer of commitment or confession either based on today’s text, or upon reflection over recent events in your life.

Jesus, thank you for continuing to speak truth to me, even though I know that I’ve so often rejected it or wanted to reject it.  You provide for me people who love me enough to keep bringing it to me.  Please forgive me for so often pushing away truth by simply ignoring it due to familiarity, or even worse so, protecting my ego and elevating it as more important than the truth that you would have for me.  Ever since I started to learn to kill my ego and accept the uncomfortable truth about myself, that’s when I’ve experienced freedom.  That’s when I started to truly receive the good news and be released from the oppression of my own sin.  That’s when I started to take hard looks at myself in truth, rather than remaining blind to myself and my sins that you so very much wanted me to be free from.  Thank you for the gospel that tells me that on the other end of accepting truth and confession is a loving heavenly Father who forgives me and accepts me with open arms.  That truly is good news for a sinner like me.  I pray that as I enter into another year, that every time I come across your word, be it through the retreat we have coming up, or Sunday worship services, prayer meetings, daily devotions, discipleship training, etc. that I would come hungering for your word. I don’t want to be in a place where everything has become so routine that I’ve forfeited hearing what messages you have for me.  And there be found within me an attitude of “I’ve heard this before” that you would remind me to fight against that to open the gates again.  I also pray that when uncomfortable truths about me come to me, that I would have the humility to accept the truth, so to receive the good news, freedom and sight all over again.  Amen.

Submitted by Ander C. from Berkeley

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

Luke 4:18 

Note that Jesus says that he has come to preach good news to the poor.

  • What characteristics about the poor make them conducive to responding to the Gospel? 

Consider the following passages:

Matthew 5:3 

3   “Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

James 2:5 (NIV84)

5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?

The main characteristic about the poor that make them conducive to responding to the gospel is their humility. They are as Matthew 5:3 describes “poor in spirit.”  It is the poor who do not own anything, do not possess anything, and who are disregarded. It is because of this state in which they have nothing, and as a result, they have nothing to lose. The gospel is something that makes a claim on a person’s life. To accept the gospel means to give one’s life to Christ, and not just one part either but one’s totality.  It makes claims on how one lives, acts, thinks as well as how one develops character and values that pleases God.  It also makes claims on how ones spend time and spends money.   For someone “rich” in life—for someone who has many skills, has a lot of wealth—he has a lot to lose. Consequently, by relying on these “riches,” he becomes easily proud, thinking he knows what life is about and how to live it.  He does not heed to advice and is unwilling to listen. So Jesus says it is the poor who will respond because they are humble, with nothing to lose and nothing to rely on this earth (wealth, status, abilities, etc.), and thus willing to listen.

What implication does this have on those who are not literally poor?

The implication is that we have to cultivate an attitude of humility. Doing this requires that I recognize the things I take pride in. What are the “riches” of my life that I value and treasure and have a hard time letting go of. I think about my life and how I have built up my career. I’ve worked a few years now and have a prominent role in my company. I think about my role as one of the older ones in our college ministry here at our church. It’s my status that I realize I take great pride in and treasure. In order to cultivate an attitude of humility means that I need to daily come to God and give thanks to him. Acknowledging that it was by God’s will, by his hands and not mine, that I am where I am today. It was not anything that I did and it was not by my effort. Giving thanks for my life helps me to remember that my life didn’t have to be this way. The reality I see around me is something God has provided for me and blessed me with:  my friends, my spouse, my church, etc.  I get humbled when I give thanks to God and acknowledge his ownership of my life.

Luke 4:18-19

  • What was Jesus sent to do?   

Jesus was sent to preach the good news of the gospel. He game to proclaim freedom and recovery from their imprisonment and ailments caused by sin in their lives. He came to release those who are ruled by their sinful desires and those oppressed by their addictions. Jesus came to tell the world that there is hope, freedom, and healing from the sin that oppresses and burdens our lives.

  • What are the strongholds in my life that Jesus wants to free me from? 

One of the strongholds in my life that Jesus wants me free me from is the stronghold of pride. The stronghold of pride keeps me from listening to others, it keeps me from acknowledging my sins and tells me that I have complete control over my life. It is my pride that disregards the advice of others, judges others, looks down on people and as a result alienates me from others. It is my pride that keeps me independent, unwilling to ask for help. It is my pride that keeps me from being honest because I am afraid of feeling ashamed and for people knowing the truth about me. My pride keeps me in the darkness.  It tells me that I have too much at stake, too much to lose, such as my status and my respect. It is my pride that keeps me hidden and thus unknown to others. It is a stronghold that I struggle with every day, and I’m so encouraged by Jesus proclamation of freedom and release. As I’m reminded that Jesus came to free me from a stronghold that without him I cannot break this down on my own.

Luke 4:28-29 

  • Why were the people furious at Jesus? 

The people were furious at Jesus because he told them the truth about themselves. Jesus told them that he was the one whom the scriptures talked about. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” But because they doubted and questioned his claim, saying “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Jesus compared them to the people of Elijah and Elisha’s day. They too were without faith and that was the truth. It was upon hearing this comparison that they became furious.

  • Compare their original response to Jesus in v. 15 to their violent response in vv. 28-29.  How can one explain the townspeople’s change of heart? 

Jesus went from being praised to being thrown down a cliff. One can explain the townspeople change of heart because Jesus confronted them with the truth about themselves. He pointed out their unbelief and lack of faith. And because these people didn’t view themselves this way, they took great offense at his words even though they were true. They were unwilling to accept the truth and so their anger turned to Jesus.

  • Have I ever suddenly grown cold or hostile toward someone even though they did nothing wrong?  What causes my heart to shift swiftly against someone? 

The times in which I have suddenly grown cold or hostile towards someone even though he did nothing wrong is when I am being confronted about some truth about myself–character flaw, the way should not have acted or a mistake that I had made.

What causes my heart to shift swiftly against someone is my pride. My pride begins to rationalize and defend my actions and tells me that I’ve done nothing wrong. My pride and ego refuse to be bruised, and so I immediately look at the person as someone trying to attack me. Like a clam that closes up in order to defend itself, I close up my heart to the truth.  It’s unfair because this person is doing a loving thing by helping me to see the truth about myself, and yet I belittle them in my heart. My pride tells me that he knows nothing of what he is talking about and that what he says is not true. My pride immediately comes up with perfectly good reasons for acting or doing the things that I did. It is this sinful aspect of pride and fear of the truth that alienates me from others and what caused the townspeople to turn against Jesus.  Daily I need to die to my pride and ego so that when the truth is exposed I can be quick to accept, quick to learn and therefore mature as a Christian. I think about the response of the townspeople and it really is very sad that in the end they missed out on experiencing the freedom and release from sin Jesus came to offer.

PERSONAL PRAYER                                                           

  • Please write out a prayer of commitment or confession either based on today’s text, or upon reflection over recent events in your life.

Heavenly Father, I thank you for your words of truth that so aptly depict reality and the truth about who I am. Thank you for sending your son Jesus to bring the truth into my life and who promises to release me from the bondage and oppression of sin. Lord, I confess that I am a proud person who gets defensive and cold towards those who bring the truth. I confess and repent for the ways that I hold onto my status in this world and how much I value my ego. I pray that I can let go of these things and learn to treasure your word. Father, I pray that I can daily learn to die to this stronghold of pride in my life that tells me I know what’s best for my life, that keeps me from the light. Help me to be a person of the truth and to come into the light that you offer. I confess that I am a person who is still living in the darkness of sin, fears and insecurities. I pray that I can be quick to accept the truth of who I am, and I pray that I learn to cultivate that heart of humility and so experience your power at work through my life. In your name I pray, Amen.

Submitted by Mike H. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

SELF-STUDY FORMAT

When Jesus came onto the scene, he came with a purpose and with a message.  He came to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to recover sight for the blind, and to release the oppressed.  These words speak of dramatic good news, and yet so many in Jesus’ hometown could not receive these words because of the prejudice, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  In fact, the people in the synagogue were furious and wanted to throw Jesus off the cliff.  This kind of reaction against Jesus revealed the level of outrage and venom in the people.  It didn’t matter how good or truthful the words were.  What mattered was that this was Joseph’s son posturing not just as an authority but also as the Messiah himself.

So often, I react similarly with the people in Jesus’ hometown because I am prejudiced.  I close myself from truth because I think I know someone already.  As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.”  Even if the person is speaking truthful words, I can dismiss that person and the message by reacting along the lines of, “Isn’t this just a freshman?”  “Isn’t this a new Christian?”  Or, “Isn’t this my peer?”  I am essentially saying, “Who does this person think he is?”  When someone is trying to open my eyes to some truth, rather than listening to the truth, I get fixated on the person’s character and personality.  I judge a message not by its content, but by its messenger.  When Jesus spoke the amazing words of God, the passage reads, “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.”  The listeners missed the message because they latched on to the speaker.  They were already suspicious and judging of Jesus.  I acknowledge that I follow the same pattern.  When I hear a message, I sometimes become a critic of the speaker’s level of experience to delivery style.  I easily distract myself with these thoughts and miss the substance of the message, even to the extent of driving the message out of my heart.

The other difficulty in grasping Jesus’ message was that it was good news directed only to the poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed.  This was why Jesus came.  Jesus’ message is only good news to such people who recognize their condition as poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed.  Do I agree that this is my condition?  The older I get, the more I agree with Jesus’ assessment of my true condition.  Indeed, I agree that I am a person who is poor.  As much as I like to boast or believe in my own hype, I know that I am nothing.  My career and my achievements are simply ornaments on a dying Christmas tree.  Apart from God, I have no relationships, no purpose, and no joy.  Left to myself, I am simply a self-centered, proud sinner bent on satisfying my hollow self, and with nothing good to offer to God.  Furthermore, I am a person who is imprisoned.  I examine my heart and see how I am still imprisoned to many fears and insecurities.  So many times in life I stumble again through old sins and habits, seeing once again that I am not free of so many sins in my life.  I also acknowledge that I am a person who is blind.  There’s so much that I don’t know about myself, especially about my character.  They are the blind spots that the Word of God and other people need to point out in my life.  It should not be a surprise when I am corrected because I have many character flaws and blind spots.  And finally, I admit that I am a person who is oppressed.  I think I have my life under control, but the truth is that I cannot even control my own desires.  In fact, my unruly desires control and oppress my life.  I easily give in to my desires, convincing myself that I can slow down, pamper myself, and be selfish.  The voices of my fleshly desires oppress me so that “what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do.”  (Romans 7:15).  Jesus accurately depicted my life.  If I want to receive good news, then it starts with confessing my true condition as poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed.  Only by this confession will I be able to experience freedom from imprisonment, recovery of sight, and release from oppression.

PERSONAL PRAYER                                                          

  • Please write out a prayer of commitment or confession either based on today’s text, or upon reflection over recent events in your life.

Heavenly Father, I ask that you help me to receive your message.  May I not deflect your truth from my heart by distracting myself with trivial judgments, suspicions, and prejudice.  And your truth is what I need to know about my true condition.  Grant me the strength and courage to acknowledge that I am poor, knowing that I have nothing good in me; that I am imprisoned, knowing that I am still not free from old sins and insecurities; that I am blind with many blind spots in my character; and, that I am oppressed with many unruly desires controlling me.  Only you have the power to bring good news to the poor, to free the imprisoned, to restore sight, and to release the oppressed.  Amen.

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