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Heroes and Zeros
February 1, 2004
21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph's son?
23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.
24 And he said, Verily, I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.
27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way.
The American Film Institute recently released its list of the one hundred greatest heroes and villains in film history. Who were the greatest good guys in the movies, and who were the meanest bad guys? Hannibal Lechter, otherwise known as Hannibal the cannibal, was the number one villain followed closely by other cinema baddies like Norman Bates, Darth Vader and the Wicked Witch of the West. The good guys were characters like Indiana Jones, James Bond, Robin Hood and some strong women like Norma Rae, Marge Gunderson from Fargo and Erin Brockovich.
Some of the characters in the list, however, could go either way. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were bank robbers, but still make the heroes list. The shark in Jaws makes the villains list, though you could argue that a shark eating whatever it can was just doing what sharks do.
Perhaps the most interesting choice is that of the top movie hero of all time. He is not your typical superhero type. Atticus Finch is the southern attorney played by Academy Award winner Gregory Peck in 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a movie based on Harper Lee’s novel about racial tensions in the South during the Great Depression. In the movie, Finch defends Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Finch defends him first from a lynch mob and then from a biased jury, risking his reputation and even the lives of his children in the process.
Finch is a different kind of hero. He was an outsider, a “bad guy” to many of the people in his community, and he was willing to be the outsider, the bad guy, to do what was right. His heroism was that all the social pressure, and even the violence, of his own community could not force him to do wrong.
Which brings us to Jesus. In Luke chapter 4, we find him at the beginning of his public ministry. He came back to his hometown, to Nazareth. He had already gained a reputation as a itinerant miracle worker, so there was anticipation in the community that he was going to do something special at the synagogue that day. Had there been a Nazareth Enquirer, the headlines would have read, “Hometown Hero Returns: Jesus, Son of Joseph, to Appear in Synagogue.”
The town was a buzz, the crowd anticipated something big, perhaps they were thinking that he might even be the messiah—that is a hero in the style of David. The crowd gathered there in Nazareth was filled with people who had long been looking for a hero. After generations of occupation and oppression by foreign powers, the latest conquerors being the Romans, the people of Israel were looking for someone with the powers of a Superman, the daring of an Indiana Jones, and the wisdom of an Obi Wan Kenobi to lead them into a new era of freedom, prosperity, and justice. But is Jesus the One? How can he be? Isn’t he the boy down the street, the carpenter’s son?
Still, when Jesus stood up to read, there was probably a hush. Carefully unrolling the scroll, he turned to Isaiah 61:1-2a — “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.”
These were familiar words, they had to do with the messiah, with God’s promises of a better day. Heads were nodding in the congregation, eyes closed dreaming of a new future where the oppressed would be free of the Roman legions patrolling their streets, taking their taxes, and insulting their God.
Then Jesus abruptly stopped reading in mid-verse, rolled up the scroll, handed it to the attendant and sat down. And, as if to add an exclamation point, Jesus said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Eyes popped open, and faraway looks turned to puzzled stares. He had stopped reading.
Where was the rest? After all, was not that sentence supposed to end (Isaiah 61:2b) with “and the day of vengeance of our God”? That’s what a true hero, a true messiah, is supposed to be about — about vengeance, power, the destruction of infidels and enemies. A true hero is supposed to be the man on horseback with the sword.
But Jesus defies their expectations. He has another mission, to save all humankind, and he is not going to change that no matter what his own community may want of him.
Now verse 22 requires a bit of thinking about. It reads that, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But the context of what follows indicates that the “amazement” of the synagogue crowd at Jesus’ words of grace rather than vengeance is really more in terms of surprise and disgust than admiration. They are amazed that he can speak so graciously and be so foolish. They do not want to hear talk of God’s grace to all humankind. They want to hear about standing over the smoldering bodies of their enemies.
Jesus does not give them the ending that they were expecting to the story that they were playing out in their minds, and they do not like that at all. Sensing their indignation, Jesus adds a dramatic twist by reminding them of two times in their own history where God extended mercy to outsiders — to a Gentile woman (the widow of Zarephath) and even a staunch enemy of Israel (Naaman the Syrian). And of course, that is exactly what Jesus is about to do. He is about to embark on a mission of bringing grace to those who most desperately need it regardless of race or national affiliation, or heritage or status.
But the local folks were not having any of that. In a few minutes, Jesus went from hometown hero to just plain zero.
And this is the way it would be for the next three years. Jesus called people back to God, but they did not want to go back to God, they wanted to kill Romans. He told them about love, they wanted to hear about hate. He talked about peace and harmony, they wanted war and destruction.
So Jesus found himself suddenly alone, surrounded by an angry mob of his former friends and maybe even family. Like Atticus Finch, who faced an all-white jury that had earlier tried to lynch his black client, Jesus was in a no-win situation. They were all set to lynch him, or more literally, to throw him off the cliff.
And so he left. We are intrigued by v30, ”But he passing through the midst of them went his way.” He just walked through the crowd and left. How did that happen? There is an angry mob trying to kill him, and Jesus says, that is not going to happen. I’m out of here. We wish that Luke had filled in the gap for us on v30. All that we can say for sure is that when Jesus did not want to be killed, it did not happen. Yet we can see similarities in what happened at Nazareth to what happened three years later in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, Jesus offered love and reconciliation to God, and they crucified him. In Nazareth, they would have done the same thing, but Jesus was not ready for that to happen yet. We can see then how they reacted to Jesus, which brings the question around to us, how do we react to Jesus?
We see what the mob from Nazareth wanted to do. They began by thinking good things and saying good things about him, but when they developed some inkling of what he really was, they were outraged. They wanted nothing more to do with Jesus.
Over in ICR1, the apostle Paul talks about reactions to Jesus. He says, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness (1:22-23). At Nazareth, they wanted a sign from Jesus. Do some miracle, like you did in Capernaum. They had their expectations, which Jesus did not fulfill, and they were so tied up in their expectations that they could not see Jesus at all. They were looking so expectantly for a miracle man, a carnival show, that they could not see that God had sent them his only-begotten son. They could not imagine that God would do such a thing. It was crazy. Interestingly enough, the Apostle Paul does not deny that to worldly eyes, the gospel is so much foolishness. Thus he says , “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1:27); And Paul goes on to tell us why God has done this. V29, “That no flesh should glory in his presence.” That in the matter of redemption no human being will exalt or honor himself or herself, and say, look at me I have saved myself. So how then shall we come into God’s presence? Paul says in the next verse, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1:30). The source of our life in God is Jesus Christ. Paul says that Christ is four things to us: “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”
The crowd at Nazareth, thought at first that they saw wisdom in him. But then when they realized that he was not saying what they wanted, they sought to assault him. But to God’s people, Christ is indeed our wisdom. The Prophet Jeremiah says, “Thus says the LORD: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the LORD; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the LORD” (9:23-24). In other words, Jeremiah says that true wisdom is spiritual wisdom. The greatest knowledge is knowledge of God. That is what Christ gives us. Now we may obtain some knowledge of God is other ways. We may see God in a sunrise, or in a mountain top or in an ocean wave, for God is everywhere and in everything. Having said that however, when it comes to our standing with God, when it comes to my sins being forgiven and me being reconciled to God, then Christ is my wisdom, Christ is my knowledge. I depend upon Christ alone for salvation.
That leads us to the second thing Paul mentions: Christ is our righteousness. It is by being in Christ that we are justified, that is, we are made right, we have our sins pardoned and are received into God’s favor. Thirdly, God made Jesus our sanctification. Sanctification is the process of living more and more unto God and dying more and more to sin and the devil. Sanctification is that desire that is planted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit to draw us nearer to Christ every day. Paul’s point is that the desire does not originate in us but in Christ. When we come to Jesus, he plants in our hearts the desire to live holy lives.
Lastly, Paul says that God made Jesus Christ our “redemption” the Greek word here is “apolutrwsis” It means literally “release from payment or ransom.” The picture is that our souls had been kidnapped by the devil and a ransom was demanded for our release. We could not ourselves pay the ransom, so Christ paid it and delivered us from bondage to the devil. Christ is our redeemer. He is not only of God as the second person of the Trinity, he is from God to us. He is the mediator between God and me. That is to say, he is the means by which I receive God. He is my connection to God.
With these four words then, Paul shows us what Christ should be to us. He is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption.”
And yet we see that the crowd at Nazareth, and the mob in Jerusalem wanted none of this. So it seems natural to ask, why did they refuse? Christ is offering reconciliation with God. Why did they refuse it, and more than that, why were they so outraged by the offer that they sought to kill the one who made the offer, the redeemer. And this is a question that we can still ask today. Why would anyone refuse Jesus? Why would anyone refuse righteousness or redemption?
Because we are all different people, there is no simple answer to that question. Christ works with each of us where we are, and if we look at it from our side, from our point of view, we make our own decision to accept or reject him. In my own case, I remember when I came to the point in my life when I accepted Christ. I was not raised in the church. I was outside the church, was even hostile to the church. There was a time when I would have stood with that group at Nazareth and said push him off the cliff. I would have stood with that group at Jerusalem and said, crucify him. Christ was not a hero to me. He was a zero, a nothing.
That was long ago. Almost forty years ago, as a young soldier, I waded through my skepticism and agnosticism, and knew that Christ was my redemption. From the practical human point of view, I was lonely, I was away from home and unsure of my direction in life, and I was reading the New Testament for the first time. With all those factors coming together, I suppose that an objective observer would say that it was not at all surprising that I would become a Christian. But if we look at it from God’s point of view, in so far as we can, we can see all those factors as God’s predestinating hand at work.
One thing is for certain, I am absolutely sure that I did not save myself. Not only that, I did not deserve to be saved. I was outside the church. I did not listen to the word being preached. I had only the most casual connections with any Christians. No one ever witnessed to me. I would not have accepted it if they had. I certainly did not listen to any TV or radio preachers. But as I read that New Testament, God showed me that my wisdom is Jesus Christ. I am made right in Christ. I am saved, I am redeemed, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and only that and nothing else. I am well aware that but for the grace of God I would still be over there with the people at Nazareth who wanted to push Jesus off the cliff. God took me from there and put me over here, with his people. Again let me emphasize, this was God’s doing. Before I was a Christian, my idea in life was to do my job in computers and be an atheist. I never imagined accepting Christ, and eventually becoming a minister in his church. But that was in God’s plan and that is what God did. He gave me Jesus, and I say praise God now and forever.
And God has given you Jesus. Have you accepted him? Is Christ your hero. Is Christ your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption? Amen.
“AFI’s 100 heroes and villains.” Filmsite.org..
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 03/23/04