Many of you are aware of the amazing miracle that took place in a Church last week. The powerful and successful prophet Alph Lukau, surrounded by tens of thousands of his followers in his big and successful Church raised a dead man to life.
This great man of God – this general in God’s army – did what no other pastor in the country has yet claimed to do. And how can you doubt him? He drives a Rolls Royce and has a private jet.
Of course, all it took was a few lawyers’ letters for him to go back on his statements and his playacting and admit it wasn’t as they had attempted to make it appear.
And despite all that – how many people will be in his Church this morning? More – or less – people? Probably more! People are drunk with lust for rich and powerful leaders in the Church. The news is filled up often with news of the latest pastor’s fall from integrity and his ongoing trials; and what is the response from their followers? ‘Give us Truth!’ or ‘Let’s Have Justice!’, or ‘Help the Victims!’? No – ‘Hands off our prophet!’ Doesn’t matter how much he lies, doesn’t matter how much money he’s stolen, doesn’t matter how many little girls he’s molested and raped: Give us back our ‘Man of God’!
Now before you go too quickly to judging them, I’m going to show you tonight that you and I aren’t all that different from them. We want flash in the pulpit – we want sparks in the Word – we want success in the prayers – we want showy in the spiritual calls – and if doesn’t come: Forget it, God – go find someone else!
So, let’s read our passage for tonight. It’s short – next week will be a long passage, so come prepared for that. Matthew 13:53-58.
When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honour.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
There are a few things I want to point out in these verses. The first thing I want you to notice is:
1.The People’s Reaction
It says in verse 54 that the people’s reaction to Jesus’ teaching was that they were amazed – ekplhssesqai - the Greek word means to strike with panic or shock. I’ve heard of some preachers who spoke with such anointing that when they finished preaching, they’d step down from the pulpit and out of the Church and the congregation would just sit in silence for 10 minutes before anyone managed to whisper or stand up. Struck with amazement.
Jesus’ listeners were struck with amazement. ‘This guy’s not real! These things He’s saying – we’ve never heard anything like this before! He’s talking to something deeper than the other teachers do. He’s claiming bigger things.’
It’s the same reaction the crowd had after the sermon on the mount, you’ll remember from Barry’s sermon 20 or so weeks ago. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, not as their teachers of the law” (Mt. 7:28-29).
This man must be godly – no, more than godly. He must be divine! You see, learning in Proverbs of the unmatched treasure that wisdom is; what these Jews – who were well versed in the book of Proverbs – were saying was an enormous admission of Jesus’ godliness, if not divinity. ‘Where did He get this wisdom?!’ This must be the promised Messiah! The One who was to lead us to into the completed Kingdom of God.
But then there was a catch. ‘Ummm – but we know this guy! Hey, Jacob – wasn’t he in your class? Hey, Hannah – wasn’t this the kid you had a crush on until he laughed so hard, he squirted milk out his nose? Hey, uncle Reuben – didn’t this guy make the chair you sit on at Passover? Aunty Rebekah – you changed his nappies! Nothing divine about that! Isn’t he the one who sat on the hill behind the synagogue for hours most afternoons mumbling to the air like some weird lunatic? Come on! His brothers and sisters are still here – He’s as human as you and I are!’
And they took offense at him.
You see, it’s very easy to be impressed by what you don’t know, or what you’re unfamiliar with. But the familiar is less commanding. You or I would walk into Buckingham Palace with eyes like saucers and sweaty hands and shaking knees; but Prince Charles walks through the front door, throws his keys into the basin, kicks off his shoes and calls, ‘Mom – I’m home!’ while the Queen whispers under her breath, ‘Impertinent child – it’s your royal highness Queen Mum to you…’
The familiar is often less commanding, less moving, less stirring, less awe-inspiring. That’s why Bushiri carries the crowds – because none of them fly in private jets, none of them have bodyguards keeping the riff-raff away, none of them can demand that Botswana opens it’s borders for 24 hours so they and their friends can come and go as they please. Neither can he apparently.
But these people were familiar with Jesus, and they were offended by Him. What’s your reaction when you are offended? ‘How dare you?’ And you can imagine these people in the synagogue: ‘How dare you come and pretend to be something you’re not? Where’s your mighty miracles we’ve been hearing about, huh? I don’t see your angelic bodyguards, you aren’t floating above us, if we cut you, you’ll bleed, but you talk like you’re above us! How dare you!’
Sometimes we fail to see Jesus as He was. Let’s look at:
2. The Real Jesus
What was Jesus like? What did He look like? What did He sound like? Many of us have grown up with a particular picture of Jesus. Which of these pictures do you think is the closest to accurate?
I was blown away by a documentary that showed years ago, which was about finding what the real Jesus would have looked like. They took the skull of an approximately 30-year old Jewish man and using some forensic sciences reconstructed what his face would have looked like, tanned it as Jesus’ face would have been from many years spent outside doing physical labour, and this is what they came up with.
Maybe you’ve seen this picture before. When I first saw it, I was astonished. That’s what Jesus would have looked like? He looks like a simple road-maintenance worker; a quiet electrician; a cleaner; a gardener; a carpenter. Where’s the long, flowing locks? Where’s the shining, angelic eyes? Where’s the halo – for goodness sake? I wouldn’t follow this guy anywhere! He looks so unimpressive!
And that’s exactly what these citizens of Nazareth were thinking. Look at him. So…forgettable, so…unimpressive, so…bland, so…uncommanding.
This can’t be the Son of God.
I want to read you two passages; one from Daniel, and the other from Isaiah. In these two passages you have two seemingly contrary prophecies concerning the Son of God: the one depicting great power and majesty – and this is probably what the people of Nazareth expected; but the other shows us that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and this experience was proof of that matter.
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened…
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
You see if Jesus looked like this: Pure, white skin, long flowing hair, skinny and tall, looking more like he came from an alien race than human – and of course, sporting a shining, floating halo above his head – who wouldn’t follow him? But that’s not how He presented Himself to the people of His day.
And that’s not how He presents Himself to us today.
Take a look at how Churches promote themselves today – take note: promote themselves – and you’ll see words like ‘victory’, ‘abundant’, ‘conquerors’. But take a look at how Jesus appeared to men: no beauty, no majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
Yet He was desirable – and is; not because of how He appeared, but because of who He was!
The Jesus of Isaiah 53 is not a different person from the Jesus of Daniel 7. I want to say again that we need to get a clear picture of who Jesus was, and of what Jesus calls us to. Because we are a people who naturally want flash and impressiveness. And the devil feeds off of this. Life is becoming faster and more remarkable. Entertainment is becoming more engaging and awe-inspiring. Even Churches are trying for more amazement: smoke-machines and lights, dramas and shows. All these things that distract us from the person of Jesus.
And there stands Jesus – not about the show; not about the appearance. Yet He is life. He is authority. He is majesty. He is God.
Let me ask you something: How many of you find reading Scripture boring? How many of you struggle to sit down to a quiet time of Bible study and prayer? Let me ask you something: How many of you are waiting for a more flashy Jesus or a more sparky experience of the Spirit before you’ll hear and believe and obey the instruction that He gives?
How many of us have thought, ‘If only I could have a supernatural revelation from God in my quiet time, or if only God would do something supernatural to show me His plan that I may trust Him and go forward.’
‘Sure, Jesus – I’ll pastor a Church of 10,000. Sure, Jesus – I’ll heal the sick. Sure, Jesus – I’ll be a millionaire who tithes big money to the Church.’
But often Jesus’ call to us is to be like Him – to the less impressive, the less imposing, the less visible, the less commendable, the less striking, the less notable.
I’m reminded of the story of Naaman and the Jordan. 2 Kings 5
We often, like Naaman, want greater show, greater experiences, greater callings – but who is the centre of those desires? God – or me?
I know many of us would like to be awesome – awe-inspiring – the star of the show. We’d like acclamations heaped on us for something great we’ve done – and then spiritualise it by adding, ‘for the Kingdom, of course’. But meanwhile, in our hearts, what we really want is the applause and admiration of those around us. We want people to be attracted to us, to celebrate us, to respect us.
Not so with Jesus. There was nothing impressive about Him. There was no majesty to attract us to him.
In fact the Bible tells us in Philippians 2 that though He had all that, He “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”
When will we – like our master – be willing to humble ourselves to inglorious existence, humble obedience, quiet service? We want flashy, and if the worship isn’t exactly as we want it, we’ll leave the Church. We want impressive, and if the sermon isn’t spoken as if directly to our souls, we’ll regret attending Church. We want glorious, and if the Bible reading isn’t heart-rending on Monday, it might be 3 days or 3 weeks before we bother to pick up our Bible again. We want successful and if God doesn’t call us to a remarkable ministry or a respectable field, we’d rather go our own way.
Not so with our Lord. He humbled Himself, and simply said: ‘Father in heaven – if You direct, that’s good enough for me.’
These people of Nazareth wanted something more – more flashy, more impressive, more unfamiliar, more startling, more miraculous, more glorious – and they missed the Lord of glory.
And what did it cost them? Their lack of faith in the real Jesus cost them the work of Jesus in their midst. And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
Will you recognise the real Jesus? Will you seek Him out? Not the one your worldly heart longs for, but the One who truly IS. Who is Jesus? Who is the real Jesus? He is not easily recognised. He does not come barging in – forcing His way into your life. He wants to be sought out and accepted as He is. He wants to be trusted as He is. Not everybody will recognise Him. The Bible says in John “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”.
Do you know the Real Jesus? Do you follow Him where He leads? Do you trust what He says? Do you obey what He instructs? Do you live according to His example?
Don’t miss out on the blessing and favour God has for you because Jesus isn’t who you think He ought to be. Find out who He is, and follow Him where He leads.