On a recent study tour to Israel/Palestine we walked up the hill to the place called Mount Precipice, the traditional site where an angry mob of people tried to throw him off the cliff. Early in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus gave a sermon in his hometown of Nazareth. By the time Jesus arrived in Nazareth, the people were buzzing about his teaching in synagogues around Galilee and the performing of healings and miracles. So when he stood up in the midst of the congregation and was handed the scroll of Isaiah to read, all eyes fell on this newest local celebrity. He shared the following passage: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then Luke records that he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. He told them: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
For those of us who are pastors, we love it when there is visible response to one of our sermons, whether it’s a tear shed, a face enlightened by God’s presence, or a simple prayer uttered. It delights us that God uses us, as unworthy as we are, to impact the transformation of lives week after week. But I don’t think we’d like to get the kind of response Jesus got to his sermon. His words were so powerful that the people of Nazareth just couldn’t handle it. They ran him out of town and tried to throw him off the cliff. Why?
They had no idea how radical God’s love is. When he came to his hometown synagogue to read the Scriptures, they were proud. When he read God’s plan for salvation and freedom, they were excited. When he said that these things were fulfilled “in their hearing” they were amazed and began to nudge each other. So far, so good. But when he brought up examples of prophets who showed God’s favor for Gentiles over the Jews, implying the radical love of God for people who they deemed unlovable, it was too much for them to bear. The hometown preacher boy got kicked out of town.
I wonder sometimes if we were really aware of how radical God’s love is, how undeserved and overwhelmingly and ridiculously unfathomable it is, would we kick Jesus out too? Maybe so! We live in a culture where we’re taught you have to earn what you’ve gotten. How odd it is to think of God’s love, the most valuable thing in the universe, as something beyond the grasp of our control. There’s nothing we can do to make God love us anymore, and there’s nothing we can do to make God love us any less. It’s bigger and more powerful than we can imagine. And yes, it crosses the boundaries and the walls that we construct to keep people different than we are out of our lives. Do we really understand how radical and powerful God’s love is? Unfortunately, the church doesn’t even live it out in the places where we are called to live.
I remember reading a book by Philip Yancey entitled, “What’s So Amazing About Grace.” Set against a society where liberal and conservative Christians are too often publicly at each other’s throat, Yancey argues for the need to show more love and less judgment. He writes, “I’ve been in politics long enough to expect criticism and hostility. But I was unprepared for the hatred I get from Christians. Why do Christians hate so much?” Jesus refused to hate. In fact, his love was so radical that people hated him for it. I pray that we will discover the depths of that kind of love.
In a collection of letters from various Christians and Jewish children, one writes: “Dear God, I bet it is very hard for You to love all of everybody in the whole world. They are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it – Nan.” Yes, God’s love is radical. It’s powerful, it’s unexplainable, and it’s what the cross and the resurrection are all about. Sometimes it is hard. But most of all, it’s life giving. Give yourself to love someone today.
Wayne Van Regenmorter
21: Meeting/Grand Rapids, Michigan
22: Meeting/Faith Church/Dyer, IN
23: Coaching Cluster Confab/Lawndale Conference Center/Chicago, IL
24: Ridley Assessment/Kalamazoo, MI
25: Commissioned Pastor Video Conferencing Meeting
26: Missional Cafe Event/Calvary Reformed Church/Orland Park, IL
27: Preach/Beecher Campus/Beecher, IL
28: Church Multiplication Webinar
29: Synod Staff Meeting/American Reformed Church/DeMotte, IN
30: Synod Executive Team Conference Call Meeting
4: Sunday Worship
Wayne’s contact information:
10088 Prairie Knoll Ct.
St. John, IN 46373
Mobile: (941) 302-1281