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25 March 2017 — Libertad en Cristo

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Introducción

The commentators were ecstatic after the game. ‘He played like a man inspired,’ they said. What images does that conjure up for you?
The commentators were ecstatic after the game. ‘He played like a man inspired,’ they said. What images does that conjure up for you?
A sports star, perhaps, running rings round the opposition and scoring a brilliant goal.
Or, from a different world, a musician: eyes closed, fingers flying to and fro on an instrument, filling the air with wonderful jazz.
‘Inspiration’: we use the word loosely. We imply that ‘it just came over them’, that they suddenly became someone different. Of course we know that it didn’t happen like that. The brilliant athlete has been training and practising, hour after hour and week after week. The musician has been playing exercises, perfecting technique for long hours out of the public eye. Then, when the moment comes, a surge of adrenalin produces a performance which we call ‘inspired’—but which is actually the fruit of long, patient hard work.
When Jesus said ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me’, Luke has already let us into the secret. His years of silent preparation. His life of prayer leading up to his baptism. The confirmation of his vocation—and then its testing in the wilderness. Then, at last, going public with early deeds in Capernaum (as the exchange in the Nazareth synagogue makes clear, people had already heard of what he’d done elsewhere). Now, with years of prayer, thought and the study of scripture behind him, he stands before his own town. He knew everybody there and they knew him. He preached like a man inspired; indeed, in his sermon that’s what he claimed. But what he said was the opposite of what they were expecting. If this was inspiration, they didn’t want it.
What was so wrong with what he said? What made them kick him out of the synagogue, hustle him out of the town, and take him off to the cliff edge to throw him over? (Note the irony: the devil invited Jesus to throw himself down because God would protect him; Jesus, having refused, found himself in a similar predicament. Perhaps Luke is telling us that God did protect him, because it came about not through self-advertisement but through commitment to his true vocation.)
The crucial part comes in Jesus’ comments to his hearers. He senses that they aren’t following him; they are ready to taunt him with proverbs, to challenge him to do some mighty deeds for the sake of show. Perhaps they, too, appear in Jesus’ mind like the devil, suggesting that Jesus should do magic tricks for the sake of it. ‘Heal yourself, doctor!’—the challenge is not too far removed from the taunt, ‘He saved others, but he can’t save himself’ (23:35). But why? What was so wrong with what he was saying?
By way of defence and explanation for the line he had been taking, Jesus points out what happened in the days of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha, and in doing so identifies himself with the prophets. Elijah was sent to help a widow—but not a Jewish one. Elisha healed one solitary leper—and the leper was the commander of the enemy army. That’s what did it. That’s what drove them to fury. Israel’s God was rescuing the wrong people.
The earlier part of Jesus’ address must have been hammering home the same point. His hearers were, after all, waiting for God to liberate Israel from pagan enemies. In several Jewish texts of the time, we find a longing that God would condemn the wicked nations, would pour out wrath and destruction on them. Instead, Jesus is pointing out that when the great prophets were active, it wasn’t Israel who benefited, but only the pagans. That’s like someone in Britain or France during the Second World War speaking of God’s healing and restoration for Adolf Hitler. It’s not what people wanted to hear.
What, then, was the earlier part of his address about?
Luke says that the people ‘were astonished at the words of sheer grace that were coming out of his mouth’. Sometimes people have understood this simply to mean, ‘they were astonished at what a good speaker he was’. But it seems more likely that he means ‘they were astonished that he was speaking about God’s grace—grace for everybody, including the nations—instead of grace for Israel and fierce judgment for everyone else’. That fits perfectly with what followed.
Why then did Jesus begin his address with the long quotation from Isaiah (61:1–2)?
The passage he quotes is about the Messiah. Throughout Isaiah there are pictures of a strange ‘anointed’ figure who will perform the Lord’s will. But, though this text goes on to speak of vengeance on evildoers, Jesus doesn’t quote that bit. Instead, he seems to have drawn on the larger picture in Isaiah and elsewhere which speaks of Israel being called to be the light of the nations, a theme which Luke has already highlighted in chapter 2. The servant-Messiah has not come to inflict punishment on the nations, but to bring God’s love and mercy to them. And that will be the fulfilment of a central theme in Israel’s own scriptures.
This message was, and remains, shocking. Jesus’ claim to be reaching out with healing to all people, though itself a vital Jewish idea, was not what most first-century Jews wanted or expected. As we shall see, Jesus coupled it with severe warnings to his own countrymen. Unless they could see that this was the time for their God to be gracious, unless they abandoned their futile dreams of a military victory over their national enemies, they would suffer defeat themselves at every level—military, political and theological.
Here, as at the climax of the gospel story, Jesus’ challenge and warning brings about a violent reaction. The gospel still does this today, when it challenges all interests and agendas with the news of God’s surprising grace.
Body
Luke 4:14–17 RVR60
Y Jesús volvió en el poder del Espíritu a Galilea, y se difundió su fama por toda la tierra de alrededor. Y enseñaba en las sinagogas de ellos, y era glorificado por todos. Vino a Nazaret, donde se había criado; y en el día de reposo entró en la sinagoga, conforme a su costumbre, y se levantó a leer. Y se le dio el libro del profeta Isaías; y habiendo abierto el libro, halló el lugar donde estaba escrito:
Lucas 4:14–17
14Y Jesús volvió en el poder del Espíritu a Galilea, y se difundió su fama por toda la tierra de alrededor. 15Y enseñaba en las sinagogas de ellos, y era glorificado por todos.
Jesús en Nazaret
(; )
16Vino a Nazaret, donde se había criado; y en el día de reposo* entró en la sinagoga, conforme a su costumbre, y se levantó a leer. 17Y se le dio el libro del profeta Isaías; y habiendo abierto el libro, halló el lugar donde estaba escrito:
The events recorded in took place at this time, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not record them. They moved right into the Lord’s ministry in Galilee, and Luke alone reports His visit to His hometown of Nazareth. By now, the news had spread widely about the miracle-worker from Nazareth; so His family, friends, and neighbors were anxious to see and hear Him.
Reina Valera Revisada (1960). (1998). (). Miami: Sociedades Bı́blicas Unidas.
The events recorded in took place at this time, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not record them. They moved right into the Lord’s ministry in Galilee, and Luke alone reports His visit to His hometown of Nazareth. By now, the news had spread widely about the miracle-worker from Nazareth; so His family, friends, and neighbors were anxious to see and hear Him.
It was our Lord’s custom to attend public worship, a custom His followers should imitate today ().
Hebrews 10:24–25 RVR60
Y considerémonos unos a otros para estimularnos al amor y a las buenas obras; no dejando de congregarnos, como algunos tienen por costumbre, sino exhortándonos; y tanto más, cuanto veis que aquel día se acerca.
He might have argued that the “religious system” was corrupt, or that He didn’t need the instruction; but instead, He made His way on the Sabbath to the place of prayer.
He might have argued that the “religious system” was corrupt, or that He didn’t need the instruction; but instead, He made His way on the Sabbath to the place of prayer.
He might have argued that the “religious system” was corrupt, or that He didn’t need the instruction; but instead, He made His way on the Sabbath to the place of prayer.
A typical synagogue service opened with an invocation for God’s blessing and then the recitation of the traditional Hebrew confession of faith (; ). This was followed by prayer and the prescribed readings from the Law and from the Prophets, with the reader paraphrasing the Hebrew Scriptures in Aramaic.
This was followed by a brief sermon given by one of the men of the congregation or perhaps by a visiting rabbi (see ). If a priest was present, the service closed with a benediction. Otherwise, one of the laymen prayed and the meeting was dismissed.
Jesus was asked to read the Scripture text and to give the sermon. The passage He read included , and He selected it for His “text.” The Jewish rabbis interpreted this passage to refer to the Messiah, and the people in the synagogue knew it. You can imagine how shocked they were when Jesus boldly said that it was written about Him and that He had come to usher in the “acceptable year of the Lord.”
Luke 4:18 RVR60
El Espíritu del Señor está sobre mí, Por cuanto me ha ungido para dar buenas nuevas a los pobres; Me ha enviado a sanar a los quebrantados de corazón; A pregonar libertad a los cautivos, Y vista a los ciegos; A poner en libertad a los oprimidos;
Jesus was “anointed … to preach good news to the poor” (italics added). The word “poor” can cover poverty of every kind. But the emphasis here is on a conscious moral and spiritual poverty, which often is the lot of the financially poor. The rich are less likely to be aware of their spiritual poverty (cf. ). The Greek word here (ptochois) is the same word Jesus used in the first beatitude,
Matthew 5:3 RVR60
Bienaventurados los pobres en espíritu, porque de ellos es el reino de los cielos.
Often the poor are especially open to receiving Jesus’ teaching as good news because they realize their desperate spiritual straits.
Jesus was “anointed … to preach good news to the poor” (italics added). The word “poor” can cover poverty of every kind. But the emphasis here is on a conscious moral and spiritual poverty, which often is the lot of the financially poor. The rich are less likely to be aware of their spiritual poverty (cf. ). The Greek word here (ptochois) is the same word Jesus used in the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (). Often the poor are especially open to receiving Jesus’ teaching as good news because they realize their desperate spiritual straits.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (). Often the poor are especially open to receiving Jesus’ teaching as good news because they realize their desperate spiritual straits.
Similarly, “prisoners” has a spiritual application because the word technically means prisoners of war. No prisoners were attached to the congregation in Nazareth, but the word broadly includes many forms of spiritual bondage—bondage esclavitud to money (cf. 19:1–10), bondage to Satan (cf. 8:26–39), bondage to guilt (cf. 7:41–50), bondage to sensuality, and bondage to hatred. To all in the prison-house of sin, the truth about Jesus’ ministry is:
He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
—Charles Wesley (1739)
The next element that Christ’s ministry offers is “recovery of sight for the blind” (italics added)—a mighty spiritual promise. In fact, Jesus used it again in explaining Paul’s ministry to him:
Acts 26:17–18 RVR60
librándote de tu pueblo, y de los gentiles, a quienes ahora te envío, para que abras sus ojos, para que se conviertan de las tinieblas a la luz, y de la potestad de Satanás a Dios; para que reciban, por la fe que es en mí, perdón de pecados y herencia entre los santificados.
().
“I am sending you to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” ().
Lastly, the root idea of “oppressed” is “broken in pieces” or “shattered” or “crushed.” Jesus comes to those squashed by life’s circumstances, who can see no way out, who find living itself an oppression opresión—and he gives them freedom. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, after coming to Christ in his later years, “All other freedoms, once won, soon turn into new servitude. Christ is the only liberator whose liberation lasts forever” (Jesus Rediscovered).
Can you imagine the exhilaration of hearing the Savior himself explain and apply his message in terms of the four metaphorical groupings of ? The congregation was enthralled. Such insight! Such logic! Such command of language! Luke says, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (v. 22a). They were captivated by the grace and charm of his words.
Lucas 4:19
Luke 4:19 RVR60
A predicar el año agradable del Señor.
Here Jesus is finishing his quote from Isaiah, but notice something:
Isaiah 61:2 RVR60
a proclamar el año de la buena voluntad de Jehová, y el día de venganza del Dios nuestro; a consolar a todos los enlutados;
Isaias
He omits the last line. By omitting that last line, Jesus got their attention! All were silent and motionless.
By omitting that last line, Jesus got their attention! All were silent and motionless.
Lucas 4:2
Luke 4:20–21 RVR60
Y enrollando el libro, lo dio al ministro, y se sentó; y los ojos de todos en la sinagoga estaban fijos en él. Y comenzó a decirles: Hoy se ha cumplido esta Escritura delante de vosotros.
Jesus was obviously saying two things. First, the consolation of Israel promised long before by Isaiah found its ultimate expression in Jesus and his message. And second, while “the day of vengeance of our God” would come (), it was not being fulfilled on that day. What was being fulfilled that day was “the year [i.e., the season] of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus was obviously saying two things. First, the consolation of Israel promised long before by Isaiah found its ultimate expression in Jesus and his message. And second, while “the day of vengeance of our God” would come (), it was not being fulfilled on that day. What was being fulfilled that day was “the year [i.e., the season] of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke 4:22 RVR60
Y todos daban buen testimonio de él, y estaban maravillados de las palabras de gracia que salían de su boca, y decían: ¿No es éste el hijo de José?
Can you imagine the exhilaration of hearing the Savior himself explain and apply his message in terms of the four metaphorical groupings of ? The congregation was enthralled. Such insight! Such logic! Such command of language! Luke says, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (v. 22a). They were captivated by the grace and charm of his words.
Can you imagine the exhilaration of hearing the Savior himself explain and apply his message in terms of the four metaphorical groupings of ? The congregation was enthralled. Such insight! Such logic! Such command of language! Luke says, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (v. 22a). They were captivated by the grace and charm of his words.
But that is as far as it went. They had all known him since he was a mere boy. They had known him as the nice little lad down the street, or a playmate, and later as “the carpenter.” Their admiration apparently degenerated into cynicism: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (v. 22b). They admired his words, but they were totally unmoved and unaffected by their meaning. They did not see themselves in any of the metaphors, and did not want to. Within themselves, they were saying, “We need to see some sign here. We need more than these pretty words.”
Jesus had lived with them for thirty years. He could read them like a book. He didn’t need his omniscience to know that he was in fact being rejected.
Jesus Rejected (vv. 23–30)
In response, Jesus assaulted their “acceptance” of him: “Jesus said to them,
Luke 4:23–24 RVR60
Él les dijo: Sin duda me diréis este refrán: Médico, cúrate a ti mismo; de tantas cosas que hemos oído que se han hecho en Capernaum, haz también aquí en tu tierra. Y añadió: De cierto os digo, que ningún profeta es acepto en su propia tierra.
Lucas 4:23–
Jesus said exactly what the pious worshipers, the good people of Nazareth, were thinking. “If he’s a prophet, I’m Isaiah! How about a few tricks? It’s not to much to ask of a real prophet. Blind? Poor? Prisoners? Oppressed? Who does he think he is?”
“Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your home town what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.” I tell you the truth,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his home town’ ” (vv. 23, 24). Jesus said exactly what the pious worshipers, the good people of Nazareth, were thinking. “If he’s a prophet, I’m Isaiah! How about a few tricks? It’s not to much to ask of a real prophet. Blind? Poor? Prisoners? Oppressed? Who does he think he is?”
‘Surely you will quote this proverb to me: “Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your home town what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.” I tell you the truth,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his home town’ ” (vv. 23, 24). Jesus said exactly what the pious worshipers, the good people of Nazareth, were thinking. “If he’s a prophet, I’m Isaiah! How about a few tricks? It’s not to much to ask of a real prophet. Blind? Poor? Prisoners? Oppressed? Who does he think he is?”
The fact is, they already had enough evidence to believe in him—the objective evidence of the miracles in Capernaum Jesus had alluded to. All Galilee, which was only twenty-five by forty miles, was talking about what had happened. Their difficulty in accepting him did not come from the lack of objective evidence. As David Gooding writes:
It was an irrational—or at least non-rational-instinctive, emotional bias parcialidad. It would be difficult for them to overcome this emotional bias; but the difficulty was on their side not on his. They would have to recognize its existence, and overcome it, if ever they were going to be fair to the evidence.
But the debate over evidence aside, Jesus went right to the heart of the matter, which was their spiritual self-sufficiency and pride. To make his point, he cited two famous Old Testament examples.
Elijah and the Widow
The first involved the prophet Elijah and a starving widow.
Luke 4:25–26 RVR60
Y en verdad os digo que muchas viudas había en Israel en los días de Elías, cuando el cielo fue cerrado por tres años y seis meses, y hubo una gran hambre en toda la tierra; pero a ninguna de ellas fue enviado Elías, sino a una mujer viuda en Sarepta de Sidón.
Lucas 4:25
The story, recorded in , tells how Elijah encountered a woman gathering sticks to kindle a fire so she could bake a meal for her son and herself so, as she put it, “we may eat it—and die” (v. 12). Elijah’s response was surprising:
“I assure you,” said Jesus, “that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon” (vv. 25, 26).
The story, recorded in , tells how Elijah encountered a woman gathering sticks to kindle a fire so she could bake a meal for her son and herself so, as she put it, “we may eat it—and die” (v. 12). Elijah’s response was surprising:
1 Kings 17:13–14 RVR60
Elías le dijo: No tengas temor; ve, haz como has dicho; pero hazme a mí primero de ello una pequeña torta cocida debajo de la ceniza, y tráemela; y después harás para ti y para tu hijo.Porque Jehová Dios de Israel ha dicho así: La harina de la tinaja no escaseará, ni el aceite de la vasija disminuirá, hasta el día en que Jehová haga llover sobre la faz de la tierra.
Amazingly, the starving woman obeyed Elijah’s strange words, and for as long as the famine endured, she had flour and oil. Why did she trust Elijah? If she had been like the people of Nazareth, she would have demanded a miracle first. But Elijah insisted that it be otherwise, and without any evidence, this Gentile woman gave her last meal to him. Why? Very simply, she realized her absolute poverty and fatal lack of resources. Perhaps if she had had a barrelful of flour when she met Elijah, she might have put her faith in her barrel rather than in God. Her blessing was that she was desperately poor, and she knew it.
“Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.” (vv. 13, 14)
“Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.” (vv. 13, 14)
Amazingly, the starving woman obeyed Elijah’s strange words, and for as long as the famine endured, she had flour and oil. Why did she trust Elijah? If she had been like the people of Nazareth, she would have demanded a miracle first. But Elijah insisted that it be otherwise, and without any evidence, this Gentile woman gave her last meal to him. Why? Very simply, she realized her absolute poverty and fatal lack of resources. Perhaps if she had had a barrelful of flour when she met Elijah, she might have put her faith in her barrel rather than in God. Her blessing was that she was desperately poor, and she knew it.
The application to the congregation in Nazareth was obvious. If they wanted evidence that Jesus’ claims to the poor, the blind, the captives, and the oppressed were true, all they had to do was trust him and there would be ample evidence. Of course, that was the problem, because in their own eyes they were not poor. They were the good, respectable, synagogue-attending, family-oriented, solid citizens of Nazareth. The comparison with the Gentile woman in Elijah’s day was a massive insult.
Elisha and Naaman
If the people were insulted by the widow’s story, the next example brought even greater anger. Jesus continued,
Luke 4:27 RVR60
Y muchos leprosos había en Israel en tiempo del profeta Eliseo; pero ninguno de ellos fue limpiado, sino Naamán el sirio.
Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army and was sent by the king of Syria to be cured of leprosy. The Israelite king thought Syria was simply creating a pretext for war. But Elisha calmed him, directing that Naaman be sent to the prophet. Upon Naaman’s arrival, Elisha sent a messenger instructing him to go wash seven times in the Jordan and he would be cleansed.
“And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (v. 27). Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army and was sent by the king of Syria to be cured of leprosy. The Israelite king thought Syria was simply creating a pretext for war. But Elisha calmed him, directing that Naaman be sent to the prophet. Upon Naaman’s arrival, Elisha sent a messenger instructing him to go wash seven times in the Jordan and he would be cleansed.
Naaman went away angry and said,
2 Kings 5:11–12 RVR60
Y Naamán se fue enojado, diciendo: He aquí yo decía para mí: Saldrá él luego, y estando en pie invocará el nombre de Jehová su Dios, y alzará su mano y tocará el lugar, y sanará la lepra. Abana y Farfar, ríos de Damasco, ¿no son mejores que todas las aguas de Israel? Si me lavare en ellos, ¿no seré también limpio? Y se volvió, y se fue enojado.
Why, then, did Naaman change his mind? Because his servants convinced him to, arguing that if he had been asked to do a great thing, something he could have been proud of, he would have done it. So why not do the humiliating thing and be cured?
“I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. ()
Why, then, did Naaman change his mind? Because his servants convinced him to, arguing that if he had been asked to do a great thing, something he could have been proud of, he would have done it. So why not do the humiliating thing and be cured?
The fine citizens of Nazareth had heard enough. It was bad enough to be told that they were poor and blind and captive and oppressed, but now to be told they were less spiritual and less wise than the Gentiles, both Naaman and the widow, was just too much! In fact, they did not even sit through the rest of the synagogue service—the Aaronic benediction and the Amens. Rather,
Luke 4:28–29 RVR60
Al oír estas cosas, todos en la sinagoga se llenaron de ira; y levantándose, le echaron fuera de la ciudad, y le llevaron hasta la cumbre del monte sobre el cual estaba edificada la ciudad de ellos, para despeñarle.
Lucas 4:28
“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff” (vv. 28, 29).
Think of it! They had seen Jesus grow from infancy to manhood. Even though they had never dreamed he was God, they certainly knew his character firsthand. They had never seen him do anything wrong. He had never lied, never disobeyed, never been unkind. In fact, he was the most loving, thoughtful, winsome person they had ever known. He was undoubtedly locally famous for his acts of mercy. He was the most lovely being they had ever encountered.
But when Jesus cut through their comfortable religious façade, they tried to lynch him—and on the Sabbath too! He would have been tossed off the cliff and then stoned had he not “walked right through the crowd and went on his way” (v. 30).
Luke 4:30 RVR60
Mas él pasó por en medio de ellos, y se fue.
Lucas 4:
This was divine protection.
This was divine protection.
If there ever was proof of Paul’s later dictum,
Romans 8:7 RVR60
Por cuanto los designios de la carne son enemistad contra Dios; porque no se sujetan a la ley de Dios, ni tampoco pueden;
“The sinful mind is hostile to God” (), this was it!
“The sinful mind is hostile to God” (), this was it!
Closing Reflections
Closing Reflections
Luke the theologian placed this story at the very beginning of his biography of the Messiah to show Theophilus, and all future readers, what the gospel is, to whom it comes, and the kinds of reception it is given. Sometimes it receives Galilean Spring. Other times, especially when it comes to the religious, it brings a Nazarene Winter.
Hear the gospel from Jesus’ lips:
Luke 4:18–19 RVR60
El Espíritu del Señor está sobre mí, Por cuanto me ha ungido para dar buenas nuevas a los pobres; Me ha enviado a sanar a los quebrantados de corazón; A pregonar libertad a los cautivos, Y vista a los ciegos; A poner en libertad a los oprimidos; A predicar el año agradable del Señor.
But hear also the warning:
Luke 4:27 RVR60
Y muchos leprosos había en Israel en tiempo del profeta Eliseo; pero ninguno de ellos fue limpiado, sino Naamán el sirio.
Naaman was saved because, knowing he was a leper and that there was no hope for him apart from God’s grace, he trusted God. There are many lepers in the church today—many starving widows. But they do not know they are spiritually poor, spiritually captive, spiritually blind, spiritually oppressed. Upright, religious, family-focused, they become furious at the thought that they need God’s grace. Their enviable heritages and fine church traditions insulate them from their spiritual poverty. In effect, they cast Jesus out. Those most in need of mercy and grace often know it the least.
But hear also the warning: “There were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (v. 27). Naaman was saved because, knowing he was a leper and that there was no hope for him apart from God’s grace, he trusted God. There are many lepers in the church today—many starving widows. But they do not know they are spiritually poor, spiritually captive, spiritually blind, spiritually oppressed. Upright, religious, family-focused, they become furious at the thought that they need God’s grace. Their enviable heritages and fine church traditions insulate them from their spiritual poverty. In effect, they cast Jesus out. Those most in need of mercy and grace often know it the least.
“There were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (v. 27). Naaman was saved because, knowing he was a leper and that there was no hope for him apart from God’s grace, he trusted God. There are many lepers in the church today—many starving widows. But they do not know they are spiritually poor, spiritually captive, spiritually blind, spiritually oppressed. Upright, religious, family-focused, they become furious at the thought that they need God’s grace. Their enviable heritages and fine church traditions insulate them from their spiritual poverty. In effect, they cast Jesus out. Those most in need of mercy and grace often know it the least.
A large prestigious British church had three mission churches under its care. On the first Sunday of each new year all the members of the mission churches would come to the parent church for a combined Communion service. In those mission churches, located in the slums of a major city, were some outstanding cases of conversions—thieves, burglars, and others. But all knelt as brothers and sisters side by side at the Communion rail.
On one such occasion the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England—the very judge who had sent him to jail where he had served seven years. After his release this burglar had been converted and became a Christian worker.
After the service, the judge was walking out with the pastor and said to him, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?” The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.” The pastor nodded in agreement. “A marvelous miracle of grace indeed.” The judge then inquired, “But to whom do you refer?” “The former convict,” the pastor answered. The judge said, “ I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.” The minister, surprised, replied, “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.”
“You see,” the judge went on, “it is not surprising that the burglar received God’s grace when he left jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he understood Jesus could be his Savior, he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help. But look at me—I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman, that my word was to be my bond, that I was to say my prayers, go to church, take Communion and so on. I went through Oxford, obtained my degrees, was called to the bar, and eventually became a judge. I was sure I was all I needed to be, though in fact I too was a sinner. Pastor, it was God’s grace that drew me. It was God’s grace that opened my heart to receive Christ. I’m the greater miracle.”
All who bow to him, acknowledging their need and hopelessness, receive eternal life. Miracles of grace!
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