Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Would you agree that we are living in a world that is more and more characterised by unbelief? It might seem obvious, but people can and do reject the message of Christianity. People take offence at it. People mock it and laugh at it. People close their ears and minds to it,. Some literally walk out of the church and shut their Bibles. Christianity is viewed as backward, intolerant, bigoted, and colonial. We can despise and reject the Word of God. It doesn’t take much looking to discover that we live in a Nazareth-world — a culture that is, at best, disinterested in Jesus.
Our readings from Ezekiel and Mark this morning testify that the Word is rejectable. God forces Himself on no one. The two readings share the idea that God’s voice is not always heard.
Notice Their Rejection
God sent the prophet Ezekiel to preach to the exiles. He didn’t give him any miracles, just visions. Ezekiel had a call no preacher would want. In our day, many pastors want calls where success is assured, and congregations want pastors who will succeed. Ezekiel shows us that rebellion is a weed that grows freely in the soil of our hearts. The people of Israel, in Ezekiel’s time, were hardened in sin. The evil had become deep-rooted by long centuries of vicious habit. Both the kindness and severity of God could not bring the people to repentance. Even though they were in exile and disgrace, the rebellious spirit continued “to that very day.” They were not even ashamed of the past. No blush tinged their cheeks. All right feeling seemed petrified within!
Ezekiel was sent into to a rebellious, impudent, stubborn nation whose hearts were hard, bitter, and turned away from God. They were a people in revolt. In the face of “impudence” and “stubbornness,” Ezekiel is called to say, “Thus says the Lord” (Ezekiel 2:4). He is armed simply with the authoritative Word of God. What he hears from God, that, and that alone, he can speak! He is not allowed to elaborate from his own opinion. He is not to rely on the latest philosophy. He is to proclaim everywhere, “Thus saith the Lord!” The authority on which he has to rely is not human authority but God’s. Ezekiel is not to be afraid of them, no matter their words of rejection, no matter their looks of disapproval and disdain. He is to be simply the mouthpiece of God. His call is to speak God’s truth and not his own ideas or words.
The People choose their response. And sometimes, they decide not to heed the words of the prophet. “You preach to them, son of man,” God says to Ezekiel. “And whether they listen or not, and don’t expect them to listen, because they are a stubborn and rebellious house, you preach them anyway. And they will know that a prophet has been among them.” God insists on being heard; He wants His Word go out and he wants people listen to it. But He forces no one.
Surely, we think, Jesus should have been different? After all, he was Jesus, the son of God, the most outstanding teacher the world had ever known! Well, Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth, the place where He grew up. They knew Him there. They remembered when He was just “knee-high to a grasshopper.” He’d played with their kids in the streets. He attended their synagogue. They knew Mary and Joseph. They’d contracted for his carpenter’s work. And now here He is, an itinerant preacher come home. And do they throw a party and celebrate? No! They’re offended. Where did He get His wisdom? We went to the same synagogue school as He did. Where did He get this power to work miracles? He’s a carpenter. We know His family. Who does he think he is? They were offended.
What offended them was how ordinary Jesus was. Just plain old Jesus, the guy next door with the calloused hands who built their tables and chairs or whatever it was He made. They knew His folks, His family, and all about Him. He lived in their neck of the woods for thirty years, and no one thought anything out of the ordinary. He didn’t glow. He didn’t have a shiny gold nimbus hovering over his head that said: “Jesus the Christ” like you see in the icons. He was just plain old ordinary Jesus. Mary’s boy. The carpenter. The plain old ordinary Jesus offended and scandalised the hometown crowd. Yet God was hidden in an ordinary everyday man. Imagine that – the sinless Son of God in human flesh goes completely unnoticed.
They attached no value to him. “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” To honour Jesus would have been to esteem him a prophet, pay attention to his words, believe them, and act upon them. What was scandalous then and now is the ordinary everyday, Jesus. When God appears to save the world, we expect Superman, or some larger-than-life extra-terrestrial, something out of this world – not a carpenter from Nazareth. That’s too ordinary, too much like us, too much a part of everyday life.
Avoid Their Example
Do you see a pattern here? Can you connect the dots? Stubborn. Impudent. Rebellious. That was Israel. That was Nazareth. And that’s us: you and I. Do not think for a minute that we are any better than the Israelites or those in Nazareth. We are just as stubborn, impudent, and rebellious as they were. That’s why Jesus tells the apostles that there will be those who will not receive them, but still, they go out to do what Jesus sent them to do: They proclaimed that people should repent.
But people do not like to hear that. They chafe because it goes against the grain. People do not want to hear that what God calls sin is sin. That is a danger for us. Like the people in the Scripture, we are all too familiar with Jesus. We’ve grown up hearing about Him. There’s a danger that we won’t take Him seriously. We’re so familiar with those who call themselves His followers and their poor representation of Him that we can be scandalised. It’s all so ordinary. That splash of baptismal water. The spoken Word that says, “I forgive you.” That bread that is with the body of Christ, the wine that is with His blood. That worn Bible of humble origins. The ordinary pastor preaching. Like Jesus it’s too plain old ordinary.
And we Christians are not that thrilled about repentance either. We don’t want to hear that some of the things we want to do go against God’s will–that these things are sins or that we are guilty, and that we are called to acknowledge our sins, confess them, and give them up. We love our sin, and we don’t like to hear this message. Like Israel, we don’t want to listen to those whom God has sent to preach to us. So how about you? Will you follow the example of Israel and Nazareth? Will you continue to stubbornly, impudently rebel against the Creator? What areas of your life do you find yourself rebellious? Or, will you repent of your sins? Will you listen to his word? Will you humbly turn to God for forgiveness?
Mark says that Jesus was shocked at their unbelief. But I suppose what is more astonishing, what is more shocking, is the lengths to which God went to save a pack of stubborn, impudent sinners like us. Although each-and-every one of us is rebellious, we are not without hope. God holds out hope that we will hear and respond. God does not neglect his rebel children. The Son of God came into this world to rescue outright rebels. Although he came into this world, Jesus faced rejection. He encountered unbelief, time and again. He met unbelief and rejection from the chief priests and the Roman soldiers, with fatal consequences. The good news is that Jesus willingly came to die for people he knew would reject him. Jesus knew he would be rejected by his hometown, his family, his own disciples, the nation, end even you and I. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Yet he came anyway. When he was rejected, he stayed the course and willingly went to the cross. God used the stubborn, impudent rebellion of his own people to bring salvation to the world.
On the cross, Jesus was rejected so that God may accept you. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, was hung on a cross. He was cancelled because his culture couldn’t tolerate him any longer. God’s voice is not always heard, but he does not stop inviting sinners like us to repent. Our Lord knew he would be rejected but came anyway—came to earth, came to Israel, came to Nazareth, came to a bloody cross on calvary. And he came for you, to call you out of your rebellion back to faith in God. Forgiveness, life, and salvation is guaranteed are God for those who trust the Christ who was rejected for them.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.