Yesterday I wondered about the scene surrounding Jesus’ return to Nazareth to begin His ministry. Luke 4 says that He “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all,” (v. 14-15). When He came back to His hometown of Nazareth, those who had known Him as a child must have heard the reports, and must have been curious to see what all the fuss was about. I wonder if the synagogue was extra crowded that Sabbath day, full of curious relatives and acquaintances who, hearing the fame surrounding Him, remembered His days as a child, when Mary scolded Him, or when He tagged along with Joseph to help with a building project.
I think of our oldest son, Jordan, who now serves in ministry in the city where he was born. When he first returned, I imagine some of those who had known him as a baby just wanted to pinch his cheeks and comment on how tall he’d grown. On a much smaller scale than Jesus, certainly, I think Jordan had to overcome some challenges before people saw him as an adult, and as a leader. Did those from Nazareth only see Jesus through their memories of Him as a child?
But on this day, “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (v. 20). I can picture the hush that fell upon the synagogue as they waited for Him to comment on the words from Isaiah that He had read. Curious, watchful, interested eyes must have surrounded Him from the stone seats of the synagogue.
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” He said. Maybe a rustle of robes and some whispers among the people before Him as they “spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth,” (v. 22). I can just hear some of the older women whispering “such a good boy he is!” Or “His mother must be so proud!”
But then He went on to scold them. Were they only interested in what He could do for them? Were they only there to hear him so that they could boast of knowing little Jesus? I don’t know. But He did – He knew their hearts. And in just a few minutes, the people of Nazareth went from speaking well of him to being “filled with wrath,” (v. 28). Why?
I’ve wondered before if it was because He was challenging them to take a step outside their comfort level, and to get busy proclaiming His glad news, to heal the broken hearted and help the oppressed. And I think He was challenging them to do these things – but I don’t think this is what angered them. I heard Gary and Jon talking about this yesterday and it clicked for me.
After Jesus read from Isaiah, He went on to mention two people: the widow of Zarephath, who was not a Jew, and Naaman, who was also not a Jew. Jesus said there were many Jewish widows who lived during that time of drought and famine, but Elijah was sent to the woman from the land of Sidon. There were many Jewish lepers who needed healing, but Elisha was sent to the “captain of the army of the king of Aram” – a Syrian territory (2 Kings 5). What did these two people have in common? In addition to neither being Jewish, they both were obedient to the servants that God sent to them. The widow gave the last of what she had to Elijah, willing to sacrifice her meager possession to God’s servant. Naaman, a man of high stature, was first insulted by what Elisha told him to do, but he humbled himself and listened to his servants, and followed Elisha’s instructions from God. In the synagogue that day, Jesus was challenging their own faith and humility and the pride they took in their heritage. And they were extremely offended that Jesus commended the faith and humility of Gentiles rather than their own.
The rustles and whispers and admiring glances from the Jews in Nazareth’s synagogue must have changed into much deeper, angry rumbles, gasps of shock, and stares of indignation. They rose up and drove Him out – drove Him out! to the hill on which their town was built. Were they pushing Him with their fists and poking Him with their walking sticks? Then they tried to push Him over the side. But He walked through them, and left Nazareth for Capernaum.
I wonder about Christians. Would we be offended if Jesus came into our assembly and praised the faith of a new babe in Christ – who may lack wisdom because he is still learning and growing – instead of praising one of us who is more seasoned? Are we too full of pride to be able to hear Jesus’ hard truth and see corrections we need to make in ourselves? Something to think about.
Our day yesterday: John taught an introductory class about the “land between” and how the geography, topography, elevation, soil and climate is important to the Bible story. It helps so much to understand why certain Bible accounts took place where they did!
We started early and headed north from Netanya to Caesarea and saw the Roman aqueduct right on the shore of the Mediterranean. It is an engineering marvel and carried water to Caesarea from ten miles away. Using the slope of the land and the height of the arches to control the gravity, they managed to keep the water flowing. (I’m sure there are some technical details there that I got wrong…but you get the picture!) They were well preserved because they were covered in sand for such a long time before they were excavated. I’m always amazed how we can walk and climb around on these ancient sites – back in the states, the government would have them covered up and roped off and untouchable.
We had a short devotional between the ocean and the aqueducts – John pointed to the magnificent archaeological marvel of the aqueduct and said “Do we stand in awe of this?” Then he turned and pointed to the ocean and continued… “or do we stand in awe of the magnificent design of the ocean that God created?” We sang “I Stand in Awe of You”. I could’ve stayed there all day – the sounds of the gulls and the crashing waves and the fresh, salty breezes were wonderful.
From there we went to the Muhraqa Carmelite monastery on top of Mt. Carmel. Though it was a clear day, it was hazy again like last year. John and I talked about what a blessing it was that the day we came to Muhraqa on the 2015 filming trip, it was absolutely clear and perfect for filming. With the haze, it is difficult to see far. The view was still spectacular, and it was easy to picture Elijah surrounded by the hundreds of false prophets. The countryside is already hot and dry, and during his devotional talk, Gary talked about the fire that came down from heaven. During a terrible drought – how did it not start a raging fire over the entire mountain? I’m sure it was because God was in control of the “contest” and He was in control of the outcome.
I heard several languages from many tour groups while we were there: Russian, English, Chinese, and (I believe) Nigerian. I was told two years ago and again yesterday that the Nigerian government provides a free trip for all of their citizens to travel once to the “Holy Land” – because they want Nigeria to stay a Christian nation. They had gathered under some trees and began singing and clapping. They were all dressed in the same fabric – bright greens and royal blues – though in different styles. Debbie Mitchell made a beeline to listen to them, and she later told me that she had traveled with her late husband, Loy, to Zimbabwe numerous times, and the sound of the singing took her back in her memory. A few minutes later the Nigerians began speaking in tongues. All very…interesting!
Next we went to Megiddo. Some call it Armageddon – for Har (Hill) Megiddo – Hill of Megiddo. It was a very important location militarily…high on a hill, it was defensible. Once again, I cannot speak intelligently about things like this, but John explains it this way: “If you control Megiddo, you control the valley below. If you control the valley below, you control the highways. If you control the highways, you control the land.” It is thought to be one of Solomon’s chariot cities (mentioned in 2 Chronicles 9 and 1 Kings 10), which would make these particular ruins over 3000 years old. Tsvi said “theenk about a cream cake, with chocolate layer, cream, chocolate, cream…with each layer being a civilization.” Each layer would be created when a city was conquered, leveled and burned, making a layer of ash, upon which another civilization would build their city.
John talked about the “Har-Magedon” mentioned in Revelation 16, and how it was written in language that the early Christians would understand. He said that John (the apostle) saw a picture of victory for Christians. He said “God has a different perspective on current crises – He says we will win! And thankfully the greatest battle has already been won.”
We went out through Megiddo’s water cistern – this is how they brought water into the city from underground – without having to go out of the city. We walked down 183 steps, some of them very narrow and steep, out of the heat and into the cool, damp air underneath. I am super claustrophobic, but I’d done this two years ago and knew it wasn’t hard. And you know what they say about going down…eventually you have to go back up. So we went back up 80 steps, back into the heat, and then we went and had lunch at the restaurant at Megiddo (roast chicken, rice, potatoes, pita bread, hummus, and vegetables – yum!) This is also where John befriended a Muslim tour bus driver, and they shared pictures of grandkids!
Next we went to Nazareth Village. Two years ago, this had quite an impact on me emotionally. Last year, not as much. Last year, we had a different guide who seemed “bored” giving his tour, and I was disappointed when I saw that we had him again this year. They had added a couple of new rooms with photos and displays, and as he talked, a couple of times he pulled his phone out of his pocket, and he just sounded monotone. He would sound just like this – with no expression on his face – “over here you see the Roman sword was short and straight in these days they had two ways of execution I will tell you these ways stoning and crucifixion.” However, the further we went through the tour, he came out of his shell a little more. He told us he’d been there since the inception of Nazareth Village 17 years ago. I love the little village, as the city of Nazareth is such a bustling and noisy place – honking cars and people shouting. The city isn’t at all what I hoped to see as Jesus’ home town, but the little village has high fences and is a little haven of grass, olive trees, stone buildings, a re-created synagogue, and actors portraying first century people. Nazareth Village is managed and staffed by “Christians” (rare in Israel, which is 70% Jew, 25% Muslim, and 5% “Christian and other”).
Our last stop was Mount Precipice, supposedly where Jesus was taken by the mob to be thrown over the edge. Many think it was elsewhere, but this is the “traditional” location. Very, very windy on top, about 1000 feet above sea level, it has views for miles and miles around, especially of the big city of Nazareth (by the way, our Nazareth Village guide said that today, there are “80 thousands peoples” in Nazareth, but in Jesus’ time there were only about “four hundreds peoples”. Looking at the view of the city, I was slightly intimidated knowing that we will be driving here alone and worshipping here during July and August. We will miss our familiar church family!) Jon spoke a few words on top about Jesus – he mentioned how he could see Jesus playing on this mountain as a child, tossing rocks and climbing to the top, and how the people of Nazareth probably had trouble seeing him as anything but a boy. Jon said that to be followers of Jesus, we must understand rejection like Jesus did, and we must be humble and a servant in all things.
Then off to our Galilee hotel. We had stayed here two years ago and I remembered Micah getting stuck on the Shabbat elevator here – on the Sabbath, this particular elevator stops at every single floor going up and every single floor going down, because touching the button to change floors would “kindle a fire” and go against the Sabbath law. Micah had a pretty long elevator ride that night. J
Funnies and incidentals:
Lauren said “so are we going to have some armadinner at Armageddon?” 🙂
Some have wondered why, after a long flight and not sleeping for more than 24 hours, we still hit the ground running and see a full day of sites. We arrive mid-morning, and if we did what we wanted to do and just went to bed…we’d miss out on a whole day of touring, plus – for the sake of jet lag – it’s best to push through the exhaustion and keep going for the rest of the day until local bedtime.
Tsvi mentioned that there is a difference between the Arabs in the West Bank and Israeli Arabs. In the West Bank they are not citizens, but he didn’t elaborate any more on this – he said “we weel deal weeth thees issue which is hot potato not on your first day, okay?”
He also mentioned the Israeli air force and the training that they do over the country. It takes only four minutes for an F-16 to fly from north to south, and only a minute and a half to fly east to west, because the country is so small. Because warnings would come with very little time to prepare for any attack, there is always, 24-7-365 a pilot in full gear in the cockpit of an F16 ready to take off at a second’s notice.
Talking to a friend yesterday who came with us – she said their elders were afraid for them to come. I mentioned it to John and we both had the same thought – since we’ve been here, we haven’t thought once about safety. Israel has a great security force and measures. It’s just that they (as our guide last year said…) “we are just a little country in a bad neighborhood!”
Having said THAT…we ARE having some issues with Trump’s visit next week. I mean, who invited him to come along?? He’s messing with all kinds of things on our schedule. They’re blocking roads and closing museums and shutting down historic sites! Our tight, to the hour schedule is no longer tight and to the hour. If someone could give him a call and ask him to come the week after next instead of next week, that would be GREAT! Thanks!
And thanks to all of you back home who keep sending all of us pictures of your bacon wrapped pork loins and pork roasts. We may not be having bacon, but we got to see the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee this morning!
Sorry for being so wordy! Hope all is well at home.