They rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. Luke 4:29
All of us have been deeply moved by the awful violence in a school in Connecticut last Friday. Our hearts go out to the parents of children, and the loved ones of staff whose lives were cut short on what began as a normal school day.
The familiar Christmas reading says that the “people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” On Friday, we felt the depth of this darkness.
We come to the threshold of Christmas, and find ourselves staring again into the mystery of evil. Why do men do these things? Why are we living in a world like this? What power has possessed the human mind and heart that a man can take the lives of 26 people on an Advent Friday morning?
I planned this short series some weeks ago, and chose as our title for today: “Hidden Hatred in the Human Heart.” I remember thinking, “Will this be appropriate for a weekend so near to Christmas?” It seems very appropriate for all of us today.
I chose the title because it sums up what we find at the end of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth that has been our focus through these weeks of Advent. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but he was raised in Nazareth.
At the age of 30, Jesus left his home town. He was baptized in the river Jordan, and began his early ministry in Jerusalem and in Galilee. News about him and his miracles spread throughout the region.
All of this would have been of great interest in his home town of Nazareth, and about a year into Jesus’ public ministry, he returned to this town where he’d been raised…
Good news for all people
“They marveled at the gracious words that were coming from His mouth.” Luke 4:22
We’ve been following the story of what happened on that day. There must have been a special “buzz” in the synagogue on that Sabbath: “The eyes of all were fixed on Jesus,” and what struck them about him could be summed up in one word—grace!
Jesus told the people of his hometown that he had come to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19). God has good news for all people:
He is ready to cancel the debts we owe to him. He is able to free us from all that keeps us from him, and he is willing to restore the lost inheritance of a life we will share with him.
God is ready to give us these priceless gifts at his own expense. He is ready to bear in himself the cost of all that he offers to us. Nobody had heard anything quite like this before. The sermons they heard were a call to duty and to morality. They were used to hearing what God demands from us, but Jesus spoke of what God offers to us, and “they marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.”
Today, we will look at their response. I invite you to open your Bible at Luke 4. We take up the story at verse 28: “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath” (Luke 4:28).
The response to Jesus was that they were angry. Wrath was their response to grace. More than that, they were filled with anger, and this was true not just of a few, but of all: “All in the synagogue were filled with wrath.”
And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. Luke 4:29
How did the people respond to the grace of Jesus? They were filled with anger, and they hounded Jesus out of their town. They wanted to be rid of him altogether.
I want to make four observations from the Bible—1. anger towards Jesus is a consistent pattern, 2. anger towards Jesus brings painful consequences, 3. anger towards Jesus is ultimately futile, and then we will look at 4. the only cure for anger towards Jesus.
A Consistent Pattern of Anger Towards Jesus
- i. It begins in the Christmas story
Christ is born in Bethlehem. When Herod hears the news, he is filled with He orders a purge of all the infants in the town. The children of Bethlehem are killed because of one man’s rage towards Jesus Christ…
“A voice was heard in Ramah… Rachel weeping for her children. She refused to be comforted because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18).
- ii. It continued at Nazareth, as Jesus is rejected in his home town
They… drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill… so that they could throw him down the cliff. Luke 4:29
Those who knew Jesus best were angry enough, after hearing him speak, that they wanted to put him to death.
iii. You see it when Jesus went to the Gerasenes (Mark 5:17)
The people were terrorized by a man who was possessed by many demons. He lived among the graves outside the town. The whole region was under a constant threat of violence because of him.
The good folks in law enforcement had tried to bind him with ropes and even chains, but he was too strong for them. Nothing the authorities did could bring this evil under control.
Then Christ came and delivered this man from the evil spirits that possessed him. When the people from towns came out to see what had happened, they saw this man dressed and in his right mind. Do you know what they said to Jesus? “Please leave!” “They began to beg Jesus to depart from their region” (Mark 5:17).
- iv. You see it again when Jesus comes to the temple in Jerusalem
“They picked up stones to thrown at Him.” John 8:59
Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” He gives wonderful promises: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (8:36), but the people at the temple respond to him with violent anger.
- You find the same response to Jesus’ teaching…
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11
What did the people do? They “picked up stones again to stone him” (John 10:31).
- vi. Hidden hatred of the human heart given full expression at Calvary
Pilate said, “What shall I do with this Jesus who is called ‘Christ?’ They all said “Let him be crucified.” Matthew 27:22
What happened at Nazareth was not an isolated event. It was part of a consistent pattern of hostility towards Jesus: “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7).
No human being is born neutral towards God. By nature we are hostile to God. We resent his claims, we doubt his Word, and we evade his call. By nature we are always resisting the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51).
Why is Christ hated? Why this unique hostility towards Jesus Christ. The answer is quite clear in the story of what happened at Nazareth… “He will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel” (Isaiah 8:14).
To some, Christ becomes a sanctuary. To others, he is a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling. The people of Nazareth took offense at Jesus.
People stumble over three doctrines that are central to the Gospel…
PEOPLE STUMBLE OVER CHRIST’S TEACHING ABOUT…
- His unique glory
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives…” Isaiah 8:18
The message is about Jesus; we want it to be about us. W. G. Blaikie points out that our culture has inverted the angels’ Christmas message…
The angels said, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.’
We want it the other way round: Glory to man in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards God. i
Man is prepared to show goodwill toward God so long as he recognizes our sovereignty: Glory to man in the highest and on earth peace goodwill towards God! Man snatches at the throne of God and wants it for himself.
We see this great reversal in which man assumes the right to give commandments to God:
- Thou shalt keep thyself out of the public square and our private lives.
- Thou shalt give us what our hearts desire.
- Thou shalt bless and affirm us all.
The unique glory of Christ stands at the center of the Gospel. Christ comes to us as the only Son of God. He offers himself as the only sacrifice for sin. The sinful heart hates his unique glory—it always has; it always will.
PEOPLE STUMBLE OVER CHRIST’S TEACHING ABOUT…
- Our desperate need
When Jesus came to Nazareth, he said the good news was for the poor, the blind, the captives and the crushed (Luke 4:18). He was not speaking about a particular group of disadvantaged people; he was describing the spiritual condition of us all.
The hopeless plight of guilty sinners stands at the center of the Gospel.
Christ did not come into the world to affirm us. He came into the world to save us.
“You shall call his name Jesus because he shall save his people from their sins.” There’s a double offense in that: First, that we need saving, and
second, that we are incapable of saving ourselves. That cuts the root of our pride and it causes many to stumble.
PEOPLE STUMBLE OVER CHRIST’S TEACHING ABOUT…
- God’s sovereign freedom
Grace means that God has no obligations and no limitations. None of us is in a position to tell God there is something he must do. None of us is in a position to tell God there is something he cannot do. “Grace” means that God is obligated to save no one and free to save anyone.
Jesus made that very clear from two stories he told—about the widow of Zarepath and Namaan the leper. Luke records, “when they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath,” (Luke 4:28).
No obligations and no limitations? That would make him …God. We can’t have that! We want a god who evolves with our culture and our desires, a god who changes with us and conforms to us. We want a god we can control, a god who did not create and who will not judge.
The Painful Consequence of Anger Towards Jesus
He came to his own and his own received him not. John 1:11
Jesus left Nazareth and he never returned. Poor Nazareth! No mighty works were done there. No peace with God was found there. The people who were angry with Jesus spent the rest of their lives without him.
Think about the people in this town. Their debts to God were not cancelled. Their lost inheritance was not restored. They remained in the grip of their own hostility—angry with a distant Jesus.
That’s the Nazareth story. And it is the story of our world. You can’t make sense of the Christmas story or of our world today without this piece: “He came to his own and his own received him not.”
Growing levels of anger are a defining mark of our fragile culture. You see it is our politics, on our roads, and in our courts. You see it between children and parents, wives and husbands.
A lady in our congregation spoke to me during our series on the Beatitudes. She had found the message on meekness helpful and she said, “I lead a women’s Bible study, and there is so much anger.”
Once in a while the hostility that lies in the human heart erupts in a spree of violence, as it did on Friday, and we all say, “How in the world could that have happened?”
The sinful nature is hostile toward God, and if you are hostile to God you will be hostile to others as well. Only when we have peace with God
can we begin to experience the peace of God.
The people who became so angry with Jesus were people who knew him well. Some of you are students. Your parents bring you along to church.
They love Christ but you don’t. In your heart you are angry with God. Your heart is hostile towards him. If you follow your present path, your whole life, and your whole eternity will be outside the blessing of God.
Some of you are parents. You have a son or a daughter, or a spouse who loves Christ. But you don’t. In your heart you are angry with God. Your heart is hostile towards him. If you follow your present path, your whole life and your whole eternity will be outside the blessing of God.
Christmas comes and Christmas goes, and you remain resistant to the claim of Jesus Christ on your life. There is a real consequence to this.
Christ came to Nazareth, but no mighty works were done there. Don’t let it that be said of your life!
The Ultimate Futility of Anger Towards Jesus
And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill… so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away. Luke 4:30
The rejected Christ moves on undiminished. Jesus walked right through the middle of this mob without anyone laying a finger on him. God placed a miraculous restraint on these people. We are not told how.
The Bible tells us about God laughing: “The kings of the earth set themselves… against the Lord and against his anointed… He who sits in the heavens laughs” (Psalm 2:2, 4).
I suspect the Almighty was laughing as they went to the brow of the hill. The idea that they could destroy the Lord of glory by pushing him off a cliff… They cannot take his life, even when they nail his flesh to a cross…
“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” John 10:17-18
And that is precisely what he did: A larger crowd than the one in Nazareth was gathered in Jerusalem, and they drove him outside the city, not to a cliff, but to a cross.
The hidden hatred of the human heart was fully exposed on that day as we crucified the Lord of glory. Men were done with him and his unique claims, but on the third day he rose from the dead. Now he sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. And soon he is coming in power and glory.
Here’s what that means for us: No one who fights against God ever wins.
You may reject Christ and live your life without him. You may fight him, hate him, and loathe him. It is a fight you cannot win.
Listen to what Jesus says to those who stumble over him: “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:44).
If you stumble over Jesus, if you take offense at his unique glory—your desperate need and God’s sovereign freedom—you break yourself in pieces. The one who falls on this stone will be crushed to pieces.
But there’s more: One day this stone will fall on you. Christ will come in power and glory, and the weight of the Sovereign Lord with whom you are angry, will crush you.
The Only Cure for Anger Towards Jesus
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Matthew 21:42
Jesus is speaking about himself. He is the rejected stone, and he speaks of something that God would do which would be marvelous in the eyes of faithful people: The rejected stone would become the cornerstone.
This rejected Jesus, hunted in Bethlehem, hounded out of Nazareth, ejected from the Gerasenes, threatened with stoning in Jerusalem by the officials and by ordinary people, and ultimately crucified outside the city…
This Jesus is the center piece of all the redeeming work of God. God has exalted this rejected Jesus to the highest place. The only cure for anger towards Jesus is to make the stone over which you have stumbled, the cornerstone of your life.
That means that you have to repent. You have to do a complete 180 with regard to Jesus, instead of taking offense at what Jesus says about his unique glory, your desperate need, and the sovereign freedom of God. Make these truths, over which you once stumbled, the cornerstone of your life.
Once you resented the unique claims of Jesus Christ. Now you bow before him like Thomas and confess him as your Lord and Savior.
Once you took offense at being called a “sinner.” Now you confess your need and ask him to cleanse you and give you peace with God.
Once you resented God’s claim over your life. “It’s my life!” Now you yield that life gladly and freely to him, as you ask him to save you and redeem you.
The stone you once rejected becomes the cornerstone of your life… “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).
Christmas tells us that God has come into the world in Jesus Christ. He is the stumbling stone to some; he is the cornerstone to others. Either way, the life and the eternity of every person is ultimately determined by our response to him.
He came to his own and his own received him not, but to as many as received him, to them he gave the right to be called children of God.
© Colin S. Smith
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