A couple of weeks ago, Jennifer and I went back to Wisconsin to visit family. We saw her family first then mine. Usually, these are the kinds of trips involving a bunch of bouncing from one place to another. You know the kind where miles and miles are put on the car trying to go see parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and everyone in between. But actually this trip was okay. Turns out we only stopped at each of our childhood homes briefly. We passed through our hometowns, but we didn’t spend much time there.
I’m not sure it would’ve mattered. When I go back to my hometown, if my trip doesn’t include a Sunday at church, no one in town will care I was there. That’s in a town of 1400 people. Jennifer is noticed less, her hometown has 100,000. No one welcomes us at the town entrance. No one throws a big celebration just because we’re back. Do they when you go to your hometown? Does anyone outside of your immediate family even know you’re there visiting?
It’s different when we see family and friends in our hometowns. Years may have passed since we lived there. Yet when we see friends we grew up with or family members we know really well, we fall back into familiar patterns. Our language patterns adapt. Like calling it a bubbler instead of a drinking fountain. Like saying soda instead of Coke. Like drawing out the “o” or “a” sounds. But it’s even more. These are people we share stories with. Stories of growing up and the things we did to get into trouble and get out of trouble. We’re familiar with their stories and they’re familiar with ours.
The people of Nazareth thought they knew the stories about Jesus too. They remembered him as just like all the other young boys growing up there. How he ran with the other kids. Played in the streets. He knew the names of his neighbors, and they knew him. Nazareth wasn’t that big. They were so familiar with his family, his parents, his brothers and sisters. Familiarity meant they thought they understood who Jesus was when he came back. He had taken up the family business and gone into carpentry. They thought they could joke with him like the old days, trade stories of growing up. Talk about what they were doing now. Ask the Nazareth carpenter what he’d been making, crafting, and where he’d been working.
Except Jesus wasn’t a carpenter anymore. “Jesus went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.” Jesus had followers. He preached. Yet they were familiar with him. They couldn’t dispute the wisdom he spoke with. The miracles were real that he had performed. To the residents of Nazareth, including Jesus’ own family, it was all so amazing. Unfortunately not in a good way. It didn’t lead them to want to hear more. It didn’t lead them to ask him for miracles. It led them to unbelief. “Where did this man get these things? Isn’t this the carpenter?” In their minds, Jesus couldn’t be more than the carpenter from Nazareth. His wisdom must have come from someone else, and he was just parroting it. His miracles were magic they wanted to see more of for themselves. Sadly they were familiar with him as Jesus, boy they grew up with, man they knew as a carpenter. Just a woodworker and nothing more.
Familiarity with Jesus can bring us to the same place. Like if someone we knew well came back to our hometown with a big fancy car and sporting fancy clothes. Portraying themselves as bigshots, we’d look at them with suspicion. How’d they make it big, when we screwed around with them in school? They didn’t pay attention. They always led everyone else into trouble. Now they’re successful. Familiarity doesn’t allow us to see them any other way. To us, Jesus says he’s got all these great things to give. But we might look on him with suspicion. What’s his angle? Can he really make good on what he’s promising? We may even be asking why he waves his success in our faces? Can’t he see we’re struggling? He should be doing more to help us. He should be here with us.
If we grew up in the faith, went weekly to church, we’re familiar with Jesus. With time though he may be more like just another guy. Maybe we were pressured into accepting the truths of the Bible even though we really didn’t want to, now we’ve stopped listening to Jesus. He’ll always be there. We might be relying on the past for the eternal future. Mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, or someone else believes, so that’s good enough for us. God likes them, he’ll like us too. Isn’t this a Christian nation? God will accept anyone who at least makes a passing claim of Christianity, even if it’s from the past. No need to sit in church. No need to do anything more than be one in name only, or go only at the high holidays.
None of that brings honor to the Nazareth carpenter. He wouldn’t want it that way. Jesus wasn’t in Nazareth so people could throw a parade for him, shower him with gifts, or give him a key to the city. Jesus doesn’t want your honor from familiarity. He also doesn’t want you rejecting because of familiarity. Jesus wants you to listen to his wisdom. Listen to his Word. Consider if what he proclaimed was true. Apply that truth to your life. Hear about the miracles and match them with what Jesus taught. Like if Jesus declared he could forgive your sins and would do so by his life and death, then any miraculous healing proved he could back up what he promised. The one who could heal by miracles absolutely forgives sins. The authority Jesus spoke with was unique. It was his, not anyone else’s.
Jesus showed up in Nazareth with power, amazing wisdom, and still, the people of his hometown rejected him. They stumbled over who Jesus claimed to be compared to who they knew him to be. “Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us? And they took offense at him.” On their own, with their own reason, they simply got offended at Jesus and refused to believe. The facts, the reasonable argument, didn’t add up for them. Couldn’t add up for them. Reason can’t believe in the Savior. Can’t make the decision to be saved.
Truth is Jesus is a stumbling block for us too. Reason says we’re Lutheran, that’s good. We’re in the right church, that’s good. Our family is a church-going family, we’ve heard the stories, we know the promises. All that’s good. We put all these things together and say we believe. But Jesus doesn’t want faith built on reason, decision, or familiarity with him. Jesus wants you to hear his Word and believe. That’s the Holy Spirit’s work. “It is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Hear the wisdom of the good news Jesus proclaimed. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The Nazareth carpenter cut right through the wooden heart of unbelief and let you see him as the Promised Savior.
That was his clear teaching. Though he didn’t look it, it was all part of why Jesus was here on earth. To look like you. Jesus needed to experience life as you do. Know the hurts, feel the sorrow when someone dies, look into a tomb or on a casket and cry. Jesus came here because to take away your sin he needed to carry your sin. He would proclaim his gospel even when people rejected him,
even if you would reject him. His love went that deep. He cared for you even when you’ve been apathetic or stumbled on your familiarity to him. With wisdom and power, Jesus solved the world’s problem of sin, your problem of sin.
His miracles backed up his Word. They confirmed who he said he was. Only the Savior could experience the suffering he did and go through it willingly. He didn’t have to, that’s what makes it miraculous. He chose to out of love for you. When you hear of his suffering on the cross, that’s a miracle. Jesus hadn’t done anything wrong. Yet he made sure it happened. Worked out all the details to arrive on that cross at exactly the right moment, when he could be carrying the sins of the world on himself, when God his Father in heaven could forsake him like he should be forsaking you. That miracle is Jesus backing up his claims. When you hear of Jesus alive, out of the grave, seen by witnesses, you know that’s a miracle. The greatest sign of God’s love, that God accepted the payment Jesus made. Your sins aren’t held against you anymore. Jesus is alive, and your sins are gone. That miracle backed up the greatest promise. He spoke his Word with all its promises. Because he kept them, you believe in him. That faith that comes by the Word of God is a great miracle too.
Jesus deserves the honor you give him. He deserves it not because you grew up in the faith or because you sit in these rows. Jesus deserves your honor because you’ve heard his Word, listened to the promises, and the Holy Spirit has worked faith. That faith acts on those promises. You honor Jesus when you live according to God’s Word. When you struggle against your sin. When you seek to serve others. You honor Jesus when you talk about him in your daily life. Continue to honor Jesus, continue to get familiar with him, grow your faith in him through his Word.