Not a Plastic Jesus

Luke 4:20-32 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked. 23 Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'" 24 "I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed-- only Naaman the Syrian." 28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. 31 Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. 32 They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.

The residents of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth thought they knew better than the Son of God who was standing in their midst. Jesus had come home. The Nazarenes had heard about all the great miracles Jesus had been doing in the surrounding country and how He was preaching with authority. They filled up the synagogue on the Sabbath. During the Divine Service the hometown boy read from Isaiah 61. A big time Messianic prophecy! It’s where God promises to send a Savior. He would be the anointed Messianic preacher of the Gospel for the spiritually oppressed, freedom for those under spiritual captivity and spiritual sight for the spiritually blind.

At first the people were impressed. They liked what He had to say. But then Jesus preached some specific, brutal, attention-getting Law. He talked about how they and their ancestors had always been stubborn in their unbelief, deafness and blindness. They heard the words, but they didn’t listen. If you are a parent of any teenager or the wife of a husband watching football, you know there is a big difference between hearing and listening!

Jesus pointed out that because of their hard-hearted unbelief, God took His grace and miracles to the Gentiles – Elijah gave unending flour and oil to the widow in Zarephath and Elisha cured Naaman the Syrian of his leprosy.

The Nazarenes had heard how Jesus had been healing folks, driving out demons, and changing water into wine. That’s what they wanted. They wanted Jesus to be a nice guy. Compliment them. Praise them. Wow them with free things. Instead they heard stinging words of rebuke. They heard specific Law … and it hurt. They didn’t like His message. They didn’t appreciate it.

Everything went downhill fast. In fact, that’s what the crowd wanted to do – throw Jesus down a hill … fast. Instead of allowing God’s Word to work, they wanted to reshape God’s message and His messenger to their way of thinking.

Truth be told – we are all guilty of such blindly selfish behavior. It is all too easy for us to make Jesus what we want Him to be. It is all too common to worship a plastic Jesus that can be shaped into whatever image we desire. And isn’t it strange how the Jesus we up with bears such a striking resemblance to ourselves? Our Jesus thinks like we think, acts like we act, and speaks like we speak. He supports our causes. He cheers us on if we are the winning team. He is behind our dreams.

Rather than challenging us, our Jesus coddles us. Rather than calling us to repentance, our Jesus calls us to revel in whatever we enjoy. If we’re white Americans, our Jesus is a white American, too. If we’re conservative Republicans, then our Jesus is, too. If we’re anti-this or pro-that, then our Jesus is, too.

What’s really going on? Nothing more than this: we’re making Jesus into what we think He should be instead of what He really is. We make Him into a soft plastic statute – like one of those you used to get in the mold-making machines at the Milwaukee County Zoo. We can shape and form and mold Him however we want. The same thing happened with the Jews in the Nazareth synagogue. They didn’t like what Jesus had to say, so they wanted to change it.

So that’s what we do, too. We reshape Jesus to fit our wants; our desires; our decisions; our needs. Our Jesus won’t accuse us. Our Jesus won’t look down on us. Our Jesus will support our lifestyle choices. It doesn’t matter what the Lord says elsewhere in Scripture, our Jesus backs us up no matter what.

But a plastic Jesus is an imitation Jesus. He promises us what we want Him to say. He makes us feel better about ourselves because He never says scolds. He allows us to feel comfortable in the darkness because He never shines His light into our world. He permits us to wallow in our filth because that’s where we want to be. And our Jesus would never dare to say “no.”

All of us do this – from the children to the adults; from the person in the pew to the pastor in the pulpit. That’s why we need to learn a lesson from negative example of the Nazarenes. Their spiritual deafness produced spiritual blindness. It is tragically ironic that in their anger over Jesus’ proclamation they marched Him out of town to kill Him. Instead, Christ miraculously passed right through the crowd. A great and miraculous thing was done in their midst … and they failed to see it!

But notice what Jesus did not do that day. In response to their rejection and violence, Jesus does not lash back; He does not berate the people; He doesn’t call down a legion of angels to drive the people off the cliff. He could have done that. He had the divine right to do that. But He doesn’t. Instead He simply walked away. Calmly. Quietly. Not because He wanted to leave them, but to continue His work. To continue teaching. For He had a job to do. It wasn’t time for Him to die yet. That would come three years later – not on a hill outside of Nazareth, but on a skull-shaped hill outside of Jerusalem. Not by falling off a cliff, but by being raised up on a cross. To lay down His life for these very people. To bear the punishment for their sins, for their anger, for their rejection, for their murderous intent against Him, and for a whole host of other sins. So that they could be forgiven. That they could believe – not in His miracles – but in His sacrifice.

That is what Jesus also does for us. Instead of giving us what we deserve, He gives us the opposite of what we deserve. Instead of punishment He gives peace. Instead of anger He gives grace. Instead of abandonment He gives love. Instead of throwing us off the cliff, He went quietly and purposefully and intentionally to the cross. He said, “Father, throw me off the cliff. Throw me to the serpent. Punish me instead of them. Father, forgive them.”

Sometimes – many times – we do not like to hear what God has to say. We don’t like our sins being pointed out to us. We don’t enjoy being told we are wrong. We don’t appreciate the constant reminders that we are sinners in need of God’s grace. But it is the height of arrogance to say that we know better than the omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing) God of the universe.

You must lose your false, plastic Jesus in order to find the real, divine, flesh and blood Jesus. And the real Jesus won’t be thinking and acting and speaking as you do. The real Jesus cares about you. He cares enough to not let you wallow in your sin and unbelief. He cares enough to tell you the truth. He cares enough to get you upset you by sending your pastor or your parents or your friends to scold you. He cares enough to hurt your pride and damage your tender feelings. He cares enough to warn you that unbelieving heathens are making better lifestyle choices than you are right now.

Jesus is not the nice guy that you make Him out to be. He is so much more! He is your God and Savior. That is the truth.

Jesus’ message has not changed one bit since that Sabbath in the Nazareth synagogue. Christ does not reinvent Himself to fit with the times. His message has been the same throughout the ages. He doesn’t change it … and we dare never change it.

The greatest of our hymnwriters wrote during times of personal tragedy and deep sorrows. But they wrote about love and grace and forgiveness in Christ. The recurring call of every faithful sermon is the same tired old invitation to repentance and faith. But it is the call to leave hell and enter heaven. The liturgy we use for worship is eminently predictable. With several variations, it is pretty much the same every week. But it is God’s gift to us so that we might speak and sing of the awesome mysteries of our God who comes to us in Word and song and sacrament.

Jesus said that in their anger, the Nazarenes would claim the old proverb, “Physician, heal yourself.” What they didn’t realize is that Jesus is actually the Great Physician. Jesus gets to the heart of the problem by getting at your heart … which is the problem. Through His baptismal waters He makes your dead heart alive again. With the scalpel of the Law, He cuts away at the anger, the gossip, the venom that you pour out on others. With the salve of His Gospel, He replaces those sins with peace, forgiveness and healing that you can then share with others. Through His Word, He breathes life into your dead soul. He opens your eyes to see the forgiveness He secured.  He breaks through the blackness of your heart with the penetrating light of His love. He reconciles you to God and unites you as members of one faith in His Holy Supper. This is also the truth that we need to not only hear, but listen to, believe and apply to our lives.

Instead of trying to change Jesus, let Jesus change you. You have sins. Own up to them. Confess them. Repent of them. That means asking Jesus to help you change your life around. Jesus removes those sins. He forgives them. He washes your slate clean with His baptismal waters. Your personal history of bad choices is purged. He nourishes you with His body and blood. He strengthens you with His Holy Supper to depart from your previous life and live for Him – for Him who lived and died and lives again for you. Instead of conforming His words to your life, Jesus conforms your life to His words. His words are eternal. They convert you in the temporal. His words are powerful. They take you from your empty way of life to a life of joy and peace in Him. His words are divine. They shape you from a hell-bound sinner who likes things your own way to a heaven-bound saint who loves things God’s way.

Isn’t the point of Christianity that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us? We really are terrible sinners – whether we think our lifestyle choices are pure or poor. We are all judgmental and stingy and selfish and egotistical and self-centered. That’s why the real Jesus is so vital. Instead of throwing the real Jesus off the theological cliff so that we can create our own Jesus, let’s beg Him to stay. Like the Samaritans in John 4. Like the Emmaus disciples in Luke 24. Like St. Peter who said in John 6:68-89, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Being a Christian is not about us. It is all about Jesus. The real Jesus. Amen.