Before Advent and the mission we were looking at the parables of the Kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13. One of the major themes of these parables is people's response to the preaching of God's Kingdom and the consequence of that response, ultimately heaven for those who believe in Christ as Saviour and Lord or hell for those who reject him. And now we come to the conclusion of the chapter in vv.53-58. Look at v.53:
When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there.
This verse both concludes that section of Jesus' teaching and leads into the following verses down to Peter's confession of Christ in 16:20, verses which describe a mixed response to Jesus and to his teaching and miracles, verses which therefore illustrate much of the teaching in the preceding parables about people's response to the Kingdom of heaven. The first of these reactions is the rejection of Jesus by the people of Nazareth, his home town, which is our focus this morning in vv.54-58.
First, HIS HOME TOWN WERE AMAZED YET TOOK OFFENCE AT JESUS
Look at vv.54-57:
"Coming to his home town, 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 offence at him. But Jesus said to them, 'Only in his home town and in his own house is a prophet without honour'".
The people of Nazareth were amazed at Jesus' teaching. They were not the first to be amazed. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Matthew records in 7:28-29 that
"the crowds were amazed at Jesus' teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law".
They were not the last to be amazed either. Today many people still agree that Jesus' teaching is impressive. But many of them think that Jesus was just a good religious teacher and they reject the real Jesus who is fully man and fully God and his teaching. They say he was no more than a man just as the people of Nazareth believed.
However that assessment does not fit with the facts, the facts that Matthew's Gospel has been setting out so far. Jesus claimed to be the unique Son of God. He assumed the authority to forgive sins (Mt 9). He said that one day he would judge the world and that what would matter then would be how we had responded to him in this life (Mt 13). It was C.S. Lewis who wrote that:
"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn't be a great moral teacher, he would either be a lunatic - on a level with a man who says he's a poached egg - or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse…but don't let's come up with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He hasn't left that open to us. He didn't intend to".
And C.S. Lewis goes on to conclude that: "It seems obvious that Jesus was neither a lunatic nor a fiend; and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that he was and is God. God has landed on this enemy occupied world in human form". But it wasn't obvious to the people in Jesus' home town of Nazareth. They asked, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" They were astonished that this man, note this man, could teach with such wisdom and could do such miracles. They recognised that Jesus could do these things, but there was no seeing who Jesus really is, no recognition of his more than just human identity. "Isn't this the carpenter's son?" they asked, again unable to see that Jesus is God'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?" they continued, not knowing that his true mother, brother and sister are his disciples. Jesus has just been teaching at the end of chapter 12:48-49:
"Who is my mother, and who are my brothers. Pointing to his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'".
Teaching again which points to who he really is. "Where then did this man get all these things?" What was the source of Jesus' authority? Their question and concern was not unlike the response of some in a modern scientific age. Well the folks in his home town were not as extreme as the Pharisees in Mt 12:24 who said of Jesus that,
"It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow (this man) drives out demons".
But they don't believe or trust in him. They boggled at attributing Jesus' wisdom and powers to a divine source. They were offended or stumbled at such a possibility. They see what he does, they hear what he says, but instead of turning to him, they reject him. They were amazed at his teaching but their hearts were unmoved. They took offence at him. They stumbled in unbelief. Why? Specifically here in Nazareth they despised him because they were so familiar with him. Familiarity had bred contempt as it had among his own physical brothers mentioned here, who failed to believe in him till after the resurrection (Jn 7:5 & Acts 1:14). He'd grown up in their midst. It was a case of knowing him after the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16) and not having the spiritual discernment that God gives to those who will yield to him (Mt 11: 25-27). They, to go back to Mt 13:14-15 are:
"ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them".
And Jesus said to them, "Only in his home town and in his own house is a prophet without honour".
So what can we learn from this? Well here we see the rejection of Jesus in his home town where he was a boy which is always the hardest place to witness as everyone knew him and the family. That can be true for us too as we go home to our family if they're not Christians or if our spouses or children are not Christians. They know us so well. Perhaps some of us will be going home this Christmas and New Year to non Christian homes. Well let's not be surprised if it's difficult or that they take offence at Jesus or that your faith is rejected. How are we to act in that situation? 1 Peter 3 tells us that we are to set apart Christ as Lord, live godly lives and to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us when asked and to do so with gentleness and respect. And we should remember that some Christians round the world face total rejection from their families for converting to Jesus Christ.
As JC Ryle asks, "Do we wonder that the relatives and neighbours of godly people are not always converted? Do we wonder that the parishioners of eminent ministers of the Gospel are sometimes their hardest and most impenitent hearers? Let us wonder no more. Let us mark the experience of our Lord at Nazareth and learn wisdom".
Certainly I know of a few people who will not come to Carols by Candlelight because the Bible is preached here. Some of them are even amazed by the numbers of people who come to JPC but fail to see that God is at work. Others will be amazed as they come to the carol services but will reject God's Word. Let's pray that they will have ears to hear and hearts to obey. Sometimes we might think if only those who still do not believe had seen and heard Jesus in the flesh they would be his followers. That if we and they had only lived near Jesus and been eye-witnesses of his ways, that we should not have been undecided, wavering and half-hearted about the Christian faith. Again let us learn from the people of Nazareth. And those of us who do believe and are disciples of Christ. We are to learn and be careful too. As Ryle points out, "we are all apt to despise mercies if we are accustomed to them".
We can easily take for granted the Bible, the church fellowship and the teaching. "It is sadly true, that in religion, more than in anything else that familiarity breeds contempt. Men forget that truth is truth, however old and hackneyed it may sound, and despise it because it is old. Alas, by so doing, they provoke God to take it away!".
Well let's move on. Jesus would be known as 'Jesus of Nazareth', and his followers would be called 'Nazarenes', but Nazareth would not receive him. Which leads us into our second heading:
Secondly, ONLY IN HIS HOME TOWN AND IN HIS OWN HOUSE IS A PROPHET WITHOUT HONOUR
The implication of a prophet only not being recognised in his own town and country is that he is recognised outside it. And of course Jesus was and is. Let's be praying this Christmas time and at the Millennium that Jesus Christ is recognised as who he is: Lord and God. That he is the reason for the season. We can thank God that the prayer that Jesus taught us is number 1 in the charts after being rejected by the radio stations and that schools such as West Jesmond and Benton Park Primary have agreed to give out Christian literature for the Millennium. He is the Saviour of the World. The gospel or good news is for everyone. In the Great Commission at the end of Matthew's Gospel Jesus commands all his followers to go and make disciples of all nations. The rejection of Jesus in his home town leads forward to his ultimate recognition throughout the world. Nazareth rejected him as did many Jews. They crucified him. Many Jews still rejected him after his resurrection (cf Acts 28: 23-27)as many Jews still reject him today. John in chapter 1:11 of his Gospel states that:
"He came to his own home, and his own people received him not".
But in the very next verse of John's Gospel we read,
"But to all who received him (whether Jew or Gentile) and who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God".
However sinful we are, if we come to Christ in repentance and faith then we can have forgiveness and new and eternal life.
Perhaps there's someone here this morning who needs to do that for the first time and let's all be praying for all those coming to Carols by Candlelight that God by his Spirit would be drawing many to himself and that they would receive the Lord Jesus. Some will come and take offence. Some will reject Jesus. Some will take offence at the preaching of the gospel here and not come in the first place but let's be inviting and praying, for those coming, for the choir and musicians and for David as he preaches seven times.
Some take offence and some reject Jesus and to go back to the parables of the Weeds and the Net in Mt 13 if they never repent they will be thrown into the fiery furnace on Judgement Day. But many throughout the world are coming to faith. The parable of the mustard seed in Mt 13 says that the Kingdom of God is spreading and we praise God for those who came to faith here last week. Yes there are serious problems in the Church, especially in the West where in some places Christ and his teaching are being rejected and we must pray and act about that but we are also to continue to preach Christ crucified to a needy world.
Thirdly, and lastly, THEIR LACK OF FAITH AND THE LACK OF MIRACLES
Look at v.58:
"And Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith".
That doesn't mean Jesus was incapable of doing many miracles there. He was and is the Sovereign Lord remember (cf. Mt 8:23-9:34). But Jesus' power is neither magical nor automatic, and the importance of faith in this connection has already been stressed in Mt 8:10 and Mt 9:2 for example. So since Jesus was approached by unbelief, he chose not to do many miracles there. To go back to the beginning of Mt 13:12:
"Whoever has (faith) will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have (faith), even what he has will be taken from him".
It's interesting to note here that Jesus doesn't do more miracles to make Nazareth believe. Miracles feed faith with further revelation; they do not create or compel faith. Unbelief can always see them and come up with an alternative explanation to the explanation that Jesus is Lord and God. Mark's account of this section closes with the words: "And Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith". He who was astonished at the faith of the Roman centurion (Mt 8:10) was also astonished at the lengths to which unbelief could go in his own people.
Is Jesus our Lord? Have we repented and believed and put our faith in him as our Lord and God? Do we understand the consequences of not doing so? Do we lack faith? Do we believe that God answers prayer? How are we walking - by sight or by faith? Ryle believes there are 3 great enemies against which God's children should daily pray: pride, worldliness and unbelief. Of these three none is greater than unbelief.