Is The Grace Of God Irritating [To You]!?
January 23, 2011
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
The Coming Of "The Year Of The Lord's Grace"
1. The part that was read for today was the one where Jesus went back to his hometown of Nazareth. That day was a Sabbath. Like always Jesus went into the synagogue. And when he read aloud the scroll of Isaiah that was handed to him, he made the following announcement. "The words of this scripture have been fulfilled today when you heard them," (verse twenty). And then when Jesus began to speak, "Everyone praised Jesus and they were amazed at the gracious words coming out of his mouth and they said, 'Isn't this man the son of Joseph?'" That's what the scripture says.
2. They were amazed at Jesus' words. They were amazed at his gracious words (translated literally it is "words of grace"). What in the world were these "words of grace" that they had heard with their own ears and with such amazement!? We are only told the first portion of what's said. [I'm] not [going to try to unpack what's unsaid], but I think, in a certain sense, there is enough there; because the words from the scriptures that Jesus read aloud and the announcement of a portion of what he said clearly show the contents of "the words of grace" that Jesus had spoken.
3. "The words of this scripture have been fulfilled today when you heard them." That's what Jesus said. "The words of this scripture," which Jesus was speaking, are the words that Jesus had read aloud just a few seconds before, and they end as follows. "It is for the purpose of announcing the year of the Lord's grace." That's right. He is saying they had been fulfilled. In other words, "the year of the Lord's grace" had come. He was letting them know right now "the year of the Lord's grace" had come at last. That is the contents of "the words of grace" that Jesus had given.
4. "The year of the Lord's grace" has arrived. He was informing them of "the year of the Lord's grace." What could that possibly mean? When we read Leviticus in the Old Testament scriptures, it becomes clear. When we read Leviticus chapter twenty-five, a stipulation is written there about a special year called "the Year of Jubilee." It is a certain special year which God had commanded to Moses for observance. "Jubilee" stands for "a ram's horn, the shofar." On New Year's of the [fiftieth] year, a ram's horn was blown throughout the nation, it was called "the Year of Jubilee." "The year of the Lord's grace" fundamentally means the word that points to this "Jubilee Year."
5. Details about "the Jubilee Year" are written in Leviticus chapter twenty-five, but simply put, it is "the year of redemption" which came once every fifty years. By way of example, let us consider how there were people who sold themselves into bondage as slaves because of [their] poverty. When the year of Jubilee came around, they were set free unconditionally and their debts were set back to zero. Also, [another example], let us consider how there were people who had handed over [their] lands [to lenders] because of [their] poverty. Those people would get their land returned to them for free. This was stipulated in the law of Moses.
6. (It appears that it probably was never actually practiced in Israel, but yet such a year had been appointed by God.) Thus, the Year of Jubilee was the year in which the poor were set free and restored not because they could do something for themselves, not because they had some capabilities or authority, but totally as a gift of grace; that was the Year of Jubilee. This is "the year of the Lord's grace."
7. The Lord is saying [to them] that the above described "year of the Lord's grace" has arrived, and that "the year of the Lord's grace" was being announced [to them]. Of course, it was not merely a speech about the cancellation of debts that was supposed to come around every fifty years. It was, after all, about things between one person and another. On the ultimate level the most important thing is not things between one person and another but things between God and the individual. What is truly needed for human beings is for [their] indebtedness towards God to be cancelled, to be forgiven by God, and to be saved by God. Aren't these very matters of significance for all eternity? Jesus is announcing the arrival of the same kind of "year of the Lord's grace" but yet a final one. Just like in the "Year of Jubilee," forgiveness and salvation from God are being given as gifts of [his] grace. It is not because of [their] capabilities, it is not because of [their] authority, it is not as a reward for the deeds of humankind, but like that "Year of Jubilee" the forgiveness and the salvation that comes from God are being given but only as the unilateral one-way grace [of God], as the free and without charge grace [of God]. This kind of "year of the Lord's grace" has arrived with Jesus Christ.
8. That is the good news. We call this "the gospel." There is no news greater than this, there is no gospel greater than this for humankind. However, please think again with me at this point in time about "the Year of Jubilee." If "the Year of Jubilee" were actually put into practice, wouldn't everyone through out the country be happy? No, probably not. The only ones who would be happy when the year of Jubilee came would be "the poor." The only ones who would be happy at the grace of God would be the poor. It would only be the poor who understood that they would never be set free unless it had come via the unilateral grace of God alone, the free and without charge grace [of God]. It would only be the poor who could only accept grace as grace, and who could only cling to and rely on grace. For the rich, the grace of God was only something irritating to them. Also in this passage that Jesus read aloud is written, "For, the Lord has anointed me with oil in order to make the gospel known to 'the poor.'"
9. It is only "the poor" who can hear as "the gospel" the words of grace that were coming from the mouth of Jesus. It is not a talk on economics. It is a speech about salvation. "The poor" understand that they cannot be saved unless it comes via free grace, and they only accept grace as the gift of grace [that it is]. It is these "poor ones" who are able to live in the world of reality with joy over "the year of the Lord's grace" which Jesus had announced [in that synagogue that day]. Therefore, the issue comes down to where do we, who are here in this place right now, stand? Are we "poor," or not [poor]? Truly then, the very words of Jesus that follow next will ask us that question.
Good News To The Poor
10. The folks were amazed at the words of grace which Jesus was speaking. They wondered if it were really so, probably because they knew him since he was little, as some son of Joseph [and here] he was announcing the arrival of salvation that comes through the free grace [of God], and [announcing it] with divine authority, as the messiah anointed by the Lord. They must have been amazed at that. But so far though the reactions of the people have been mostly favorable. "Everyone praised Jesus," says the scripture.
11. But then from there the words of Jesus gradually become challenging. I will read again the words the Lord said to them. "Jesus said ,'You will undoubtedly quote the proverb, O physician, heal yourself!, and say, 'We heard that you did various things in Capernaum, so do something here in your hometown!' And, he said, 'I truly say to you. A prophet is not welcome in his own town. I do say with certainty. When it did not rain in the days of Elijah for three and a half years and a great famine took place in the entire region, there were many widows in Israel, but Elijah was not sent to anyone among them, but only to the widow in the Sidon area was he sent. Also, in the days of Elisha the Prophet there were many people suffering with leprosy, but nobody except for Naaman the Syrian was cleansed of it.'," (verses twenty-three through twenty-seven).
12. [Jesus is giving] these "comments from the days of Elijah and of Elisha." These words are more radical and acrimonious to the people who heard them than we [can] imagine; because whether the mention of Elijah or the mention of Elisha, they both were, after all, about "The [people] who accepted the grace of God were not the Israelites who bore the charge of being the people of God, but the Gentiles." Of all people and of all places, he was giving this kind of speech to the Jews who were assembled in the synagogue. Jesus is saying, "'The year of the Lord's grace' has come, however, it is not you who will receive the grace of God, but the Gentiles whom you call defiled, whom you scorn and despise." The ones who are saved are not you, but the Gentiles whom you think are not ever supposed to be saved, [he] said.
13. When he said this they got fired up. All the members who were there got so mad they wanted to kill Jesus. They brought Jesus to the outskirts of the town and wanted to push him off the cliff. They were that mad. But Jesus surely had seen it all coming, knowing, "When I say this, if somebody is a typical Jew, they will blow their tops." Why did Jesus say such a thing then?
14. [He said it] because they were not "the poor." Indeed, [he said it] because even though they might be poor, they did not understand being poor. Since they did not understand being poor, they were unable to accept grace as grace. Even though "the year of the Lord's grace" had come along with the coming of the long awaited messiah, they were unable to accept grace. When God had truly revealed his grace, that grace was not accepted as grace, but instead became something irritating to them. Jesus understood to the degree that their sad state was painful.
15. The Lord said, "You will undoubtedly say, 'We heard that you did various things in Capernaum, so do something here in your hometown!" I think he was saying to them you think that the great works of God revealed through Jesus, the miracles of God revealed in other [places] should by all rights be revealed among you as well. If somebody says Jesus is messiah, then you think, "He is supposed to do something for us, isn't he?" And Jesus saw it all coming, that they would not ever say the same thing regarding Gentiles. If God ever revealed miracles to Gentiles, they were set in their ways to presume, "What foolishness!" "God is saving Gentiles? He is saving those dirty dogs? That's preposterous!" That's what they would have said, they were so set in their ways. That's why Jesus brought up the stuff about the days of Elijah and Elisha and said to them, the ones who receive the grace of God are not you but the Gentiles.
16. They did get mad, just as he thought. They got violently mad. The narrative is telling all about it. What was inside them came out to the open this way. As they are told "You do not receive [it]," they get angry because they think that "[We] receive it by nature." As they are told "It is someone else who is receiving it," they get angry because they think that "We are more fit for it than they are."
17. This figure of theirs in a fit of rage is really a question for us to answer, which is, "Are you the same as them?" Do you entertain the thought that you are [more] fit [to receive the grace of God] as you compare yourself to other people? Do you entertain the notion you deserve to be given it by all rights? Or [maybe], you are here as someone who can only cling to God's mercy one hundred percent like those who have lost land because of poverty, like those who have sold themselves into slavery because of poverty? Are you someone who is aware that you are only saved by the unilateral grace that comes just from [God] on the other side [of grace]? Are you that kind of "poor person?" The scripture is asking us that question.
18. The messiah has come. "The year of the Lord's grace" has arrived. Salvation is being given as free grace. As pardoned persons, as persons given grace, we should begin to live "the year of the Lord's grace." In addition, we should believe that we are ultimately being given perfect salvation in the kingdom of God. However, it is the poor who know by experience that salvation of God. It is the person who just clings to grace, not bringing up whether one is capable, not bringing up whether one is [more] fit and deserving [than others]. It is the person who receives grace purely as grace. The Lord informs the poor of the gospel. The person who accepts the gospel as the gospel and accepts grace as grace is blessed.