Psalm 62:1-12, Luke 4:31-44
January 22, 2012
I often try to picture in my mind what it was like when Jesus walked the earth. Do you? As you know, it’s my belief that we all have mental images of whatever we read or hear. And those images are an important part of the meaning and understanding of the words we read. That’s how people think. We think in images.
The computer people “got that” about 30 years ago. And that’s what created the explosion in personal computers we have today. Computer designers realized that people think in images and icons, so they made computers that worked using those things. Instead of DOS, you now had “Windows.” Instead of requiring people to think like computers, they invented computers that think like people. And overnight computers became user friendly.
Well, I believe we always need to be doing the same with sermons. We need to make them “user friendly.” And in order to do that, we have to realize the same thing. When we hear words, we get images in our minds. And the better the picture, the better the understanding. As I’ve said before, I rarely talk about Moses without mentioning Charlton Hesston. That’s what’s in everybody’s minds!
So when I read these stories of Jesus’ life, I try to pay attention to the mental images they create. I often try to imagine Jesus walking by the sea, calling his disciples, standing on a hillside teaching the crowds, strolling through the Temple plaza, with little Jewish children running around the area playing.
I’m sure there were scenes in his life that fit those images. I’m sure there were times of almost idyllic happiness and simple pleasures. And there’s nothing wrong with those images. I remember the picture over the fireplace in my home church parlor. It’s a picture of Jesus walking with two men down a country lane. The path is dirt, the trees are shady, the grass is green, and the sun is shining. It was a simple scene. It may have been the road to Emmaus. And I see that image a lot when I think of Jesus walking the earth two thousand years ago. But, does that mental image match up with what it was like then? What about your images?
My friends, I think this is where we miss the mark in understanding these stories. The true images of what it was like when Jesus walked the earth are, I think, are beyond what we might imagine. As I said last week, there has never been a time like it, before or since. And as we think ahead to the time of Lent, and as we go through that time, I would like to invite you to re-think – to “tweak” – those images. I’d like you to consider seeing it differently. You might find it’s like changing TVs. All of a sudden, the same images you’ve always had are now bigger and in High Definition. Maybe even 3D!!
I also hope that as we do that, the same thing might happen with the meaning of all this. I hope the meaning of these stories will become deeper, and more powerful. Because I think it’s too easy for these stories to become “trivial.” It’s too easy to miss the real depth of what was happening in those days, and how it impacts our world and our lives.
So let’s think about these scenes, now and in the weeks to come. But as we do so, consider this. Sometimes our mental imagery is inadequate because we are content to keep it so! Sometimes we don’t want the life of Jesus to mean too much to us, because it might threaten the normalcy of our lives. Friends, let’s get this out in the open. Let me assure you that Jesus does threaten the normalcy of our lives! He certainly threatened the normalcy of the world in which he walked. And he still does today.
So, last week I asked you to picture the scene where Jesus came to his home synagogue in Nazareth. Remember that? It was a scene that didn’t end up so well. In the end, the people tried to throw him off of a cliff. There was a place in the Bible where we can easily miss the emotion of the moment. How mad do you think the people had to be that they would decide to kill Jesus? It’s easy to miss that. Do you see their anger? Do you see them all grabbing him and dragging him out? Do you see what I mean?
This week I invite you to get a mental image of the crowds that followed Jesus. I hope you see the High Def, Wide-Screen version of these images. Because this is pretty amazing! I want you to get some idea of the “buzz” Jesus created when he was here. I want you to picture the people following him around in huge crowds, “mobbing him,” as I suggested last week. We talk about how Jesus often needed to have “alone time” with God, and how that’s a good model for us, because of the busyness of this life. And that’s all good. But the fact is that Jesus may well have needed “alone time” simply as a sanity issue. He needed to get away from the huge, mobbing crowds from time to time, just to have a break!
The more I think about it, the more I realize that Jesus was like a “rock star.” Andrew Lloyd Weber may well have helped that imagery by entitling his play “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He called it a “Rock Opera,” if you remember. You may or may not have liked that play, or the music. And that’s ok. But the image of a rock star is one I think we need to consider. The way the crowds – his fans, if you will – followed him around, is very much like the crowds that would follow celebrities today. That’s the image I’d like you to consider.
As we pick up this reading from Luke, Jesus has left Nazareth and moved his “base of operations” to Capernaum. That was his “adopted” home town. (Maybe the modern day “Nazarene” church needs to consider changing it’s name to the “Caperna-ene” church!) And as we pick up the story in Capernaum, Luke tells us that “he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word was with authority.”
There are two words that are important in that sentence. First there’s the word “astonished.” I like that word! Can we even imagine what these people were thinking? “Astonished?” Could it have been “Shocked?” How about “dumbfounded?” And then that word “authority.” That word was also often used to describe Jesus’ teaching. So they weren’t just thinking. “Hey, this guy knows his stuff.” He was giving them the word as though he had written it! And to punctuate that authority, look what happens next!
“And in the synagogue, there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon. And he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ah! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God!’” Notice, that throughout the ministry of Jesus, we are given glimpses into the “spiritual realm.” I hope you realize that this life, what we see, is not all that there is. There is a spiritual realm along with this physical realm. (If you’re not sure about that, maybe we need to have a talk!) Because it’s impossible to read the story of Jesus without acknowledging that fact. And in that spiritual realm, there is never any doubt who Jesus is. In his ministry, the people weren’t sure. They were trying to figure it all out. But there was never a doubt in the spiritual realm. Think about it. Who always knows who Jesus really is? The demons!
Well, Jesus commands the demon in this man, and the demon throws the man down, and leaves him. Try to imagine this! Think about your mental picture here! Is Jesus standing there, the man’s on the ground, and everybody’s calm? This is quite a dramatic and powerful scene!! These people were amazed! I think that word is a bit inadequate. They were shocked. They were maybe even frightened. I would have been! They say, “With authority (there’s that word) he commands even the unclean spirits!”
When we think of the depth and power of this scene, when we have a good image of what happened, verse 27 then becomes the focus of the passage. It says, “And reports of him went out into every place in the surrounding region.” Yes! And can you imagine what those “reports” said? The fame of Jesus spread. Fame that we only get glimpses of in our minds, but I hope we will try. Because your next image comes when you get to verse 40. “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases, brought them to him.”
Before that first day was out, they were bringing Jesus all the sick. And the crowds were growing! Picture this! See all these people coming to Jesus, him healing them. Imagine what kind of “buzz” that would have created! Can you imagine the way people were talking? No wonder the crowds continued to grow!
Well, the final image I want you to consider is how the crowds acted. They didn’t just come to hear him, and stand there all calm, listening, and then go home amazed. They went looking for him! Verse 42 says, “And when it was day, he departed and went into a lonely place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them.” Do you see this image? And it would only get worse! The crowds gave Jesus no rest at times!
So, as you consider yourselves followers of Jesus, two thousand years later, I hope you will imagine these scenes. Jesus created an excitement in his world, that I think has “softened” over the years. And so I invite you to “re-think” all those images. I invite you to know once again the power of these stories so that you can know their power in your lives. Otherwise, this is all just some nice history lesson. …And I don’t want it to be just a history “lesson,” because that might “lessen” the history!
So as we move forward, as we think about these scenes in the story of Jesus’ ministry here on earth, may we see their power and their importance. And may we know that we are part of that story!
Eternal God, we ask for a new vision of your hand in our lives. Help us to feel more keenly the touch of your spirit, that we may grow in our faith and seek to follow more closely Jesus Christ, our Lord. For we pray in his name, Amen.