About a month ago, I received my first ever dental crown. Unbeknownst to me, I had recently chipped one of my teeth, and my dentist noticed my periodontal problem during a routine cleaning. Unfortunately, before he placed a crown on my chipped tooth, he first had to do some drilling. Following a couple of injections of Novocain, he assured me that I need not worry. I would feel only "a little discomfort" in my mouth. If by "a little discomfort" he meant searing shots of pain, I suppose he was correct. Apparently, Novocain doesn't work quite as well on me as he had hoped. He even gave me an extra injection, but to no avail. The pain continued. Thankfully, the procedure didn't take long.
Although the pain I experienced that day in the dentist's chair was certainly uncomfortable, at least it wasn't utterly unbearable. Perhaps what was most disheartening about my experience is that I was hoping for one thing, but got another. I was expecting only "discomfort." What I got was actual pain.
In our reading for today from Luke 4, Jesus, who is now an adult, returns to his hometown of Nazareth. As a pious first century Jew, Jesus attends synagogue on the Sabbath where he has the privilege of sharing Scripture reading and the message for the day. He reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. (verses 18-19)
Luke then gives us an important note following Jesus' reading: "Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down" (verse 20). In this day, it was customary to proffer and authoritative teaching while sitting down. Indeed, we still have vestiges of this practice in the Roman Catholic Church today. When the pope makes an official announcement, he does so ex cathedra, a Latin phrase meaning "from the chair." Thus, when a teacher sat down in this day, everyone was to listen closely because he was getting ready to say something important. That is why "the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Jesus" (verse 20). For everyone knew that an important proclamation was on Jesus' lips. And indeed it was. Jesus announces, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (verse 21). With these words, Jesus declares himself to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 61.
At least at first, everyone is delighted with his declaration: "All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips" (verse 22). But just seven verses later, we read that the people "got up, drove him out of town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was build, in order to throw him down the cliff" (verse 29). Interestingly, the Mishnah Sanhedrin, a compendium of ancient rabbinical teaching, explains that pushing someone over a cliff is the first step in stoning him to death. Thus, the intention of these people is clear: they want to kill Jesus.
But how can this be? How can this crowd go from "speaking well of Jesus" to desiring to stone him within the scope of a mere seven verses? Jesus gives us this answer: "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have beard that you did in Capernaum'" (verse 23). Apparently, the residents of Nazareth only thought well of Jesus because they thought that he could magically solve their problems. As soon as Jesus refuses to engage their superstitious penchant for miracles, the people turn on him. Thus, we find that the people's expectations of Jesus and their actual experience of him do not match up. People were expecting Jesus to heal them of their sicknesses. When Jesus instead explains that these words from Isaiah do not mean free healings for all but instead that he is the very Messiah of God, the people are stirred into a fury and try to kill him.
Not much has changed since the first century. People's expectations of Jesus still do not always match up with the reality of his stature as God's Messiah. People are fine as long as Jesus remains in his safe and inoffensive position as a great teacher or a moral example or a highly enlightened individual. But Jesus is much more than these. He is the Messiah.
So today, ask yourself: What are my expectations of Jesus? Are they biblical or are they of my own making? Do I lean on Jesus as a crutch to solve my problems or do I trust in him as my Savior to ransom my soul? Whatever your expectations, remember that what Jesus actually gives is always greater, better, and more needed than what we would or could ever expect. As the apostle Paul writes, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21). Jesus doesn't meet our expectations, he shatters them. Praise be to God!