To Follow the Crowd

Pastor's Pen

Yesterday the sermon was on Luke 4, where Jesus offends a fawning hometown crowd by highlighting Elijah’s visit to the widow at Zarephath and Elisha’s healing of Naaman the Syrian.  In the sermon, which can be found elsewhere on this website, we looked to see if we would find our own reflection in that hometown crowd.  Do we also wish that Jesus would do for us what he did in Capernaum?

And more importantly, what is behind that wish?  Surely there is nothing wrong with desiring a miracle.  But miracles are signs, so what kind of sign is behind such a wish?  A sign that points toward me or a sign the points toward God?

Given Jesus’ strong reaction, it is clear that the signs the hometown was looking for were signs that pointed toward them rather than toward God.  The miracle in Nazareth would put Nazareth on the map.  The miracle in Nazareth would have made us proud that Jesus was one of us.  The miracle in Nazareth would have reduced Jesus to another exhibit in the Nazareth talent show.  Someone to be proud of, but not followed.  Come to Nazareth home of Jesus the Healer!

Jesus doesn’t want to be a part of the local advertising campaign.  Yet, he does offer them a miracle; a rather odd miracle.  He parts the crowd that is trying to throw him over the cliff and goes on his way.  The mission of Jesus to find more widows at Zarephath and more Naamans who need a dunk in muddy Jordan, will not be hindered by a hometown crowd’s desire to pat their own backs.

Jesus shows that Nazareth crowd both then and today, that his miracles are signs of the kingdom, a kingdom that can’t be patented or trademarked, a kingdom that is not always invited and may not stay invited for long, but comes anyway.  Jesus sets his own agenda, and goes on his way.  Perhaps some in Nazareth followed him, tired as he was with the shameless self promotion all around.  The Gospel writer Luke invites us to follow Jesus, for Jesus shows the way out of the region of self-centered, self promotion and leads the way into the dark world he came to save.

There is another sermon in this text, that tackles these themes from another angle.  Rather than preach it, I thought I would outline it here.  The beginning of Luke 4 is the famous story of the three temptations of Christ.  There is the temptation to turn the stones into bread, the temptation to worship the Devil, and the temptation to ‘throw yourself down’ in some spectacular way.  Jesus, like the blessed one in Psalm 1, defines himself in response to these three temptations as the one who does not.

Jesus does not live on bread alone, but on the Word of God.  Jesus does not worship anything, but God alone.  Jesus does not put the Lord God to the test.

As we continue reading in Luke 4, we can see again the pattern of temptation and Jesus stating that he does not.  This time the source of temptation is not the devil, but the crowd.  And this time, like so often happens in our lives, the temptations are not divided into neat little categories with clear little responses.  The temptations come rather in a storm of activity and flattery.

All the temptations are there though.  There were sick and dying in Nazareth, so the temptation to turn stones into bread was clearly there.  The crowd’s praise and amazement surely offered a temptation to appease and render service to its desires.  So the temptation to worship the Crowd, not God was present in Nazareth too.  Finally, they wanted Jesus to do for them what they had heard he did in Capernaum.  The final temptation to test God, to do something marvelous for its own sake, was there too.

As Jesus responded to the devil, so Jesus responds to the crowd.  He quotes not one passage but three.  The passage from Isaiah explaining who he is, and two passages from Kings explaining what prophets like him could be expected to do.  Then Jesus does not and goes on his way.

From this perspective, we see Jesus tempted in every way that we are, yet with out sin.  We see Jesus showing again that temptation is resisted by the power of God’s word and that the blessed one does not.  And like Joseph fleeing the clutches of Potifer’s wife, Jesus leaves Nazareth, preferring his mission over the tiresome temptations of the crowd.

The place you find yourself on your walk with Jesus will probably determine which of these two perspectives meets you more where you are at.  Some will relate to that crowd, longing for Jesus to do what I want! Some will relate to the tempted Jesus, trying to resist the urge to give in to what everyone else wants. Both can learn from the blessed way of Jesus who does not.  Disciples do not demand what “I want” in prayer, they trust that their Father knows what they need and they let Jesus teach them to pray.  Disciples do not give in to the demands of crowd but follow Jesus on his way.

(The image is of the CRC Synod 2014)