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Thursday
December 05th, 2019

gary damronMY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron

 

There were two more places we visited while on a recent trip to Israel and Jordan, both near the Sea of Galilee. One was a living history museum in Nazareth (www.nazarethvillage.com). The not-for-profit organization funds a hospital and other humanitarian efforts, and features characters in costume, in a picturesque setting. There we saw a man threshing wheat by hand, two women spinning wool, and we toured a synagogue, olive garden and learned about a winepress. Our guide pointed out that many New Testament parables likely came from everyday events and activities Jesus witnessed as a boy growing up in the small village of Nazareth (400-800 people). 

After his birth in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph had taken Jesus and fled to Egypt where they lived until the death of Herod (Matthew 2:15). But Nazareth was home to his extended family, and there he spent his formative years. 

Last week’s article was about Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, when the Spirit descended like a dove and God’s voice from heaven affirmed who He was. After a miraculous event, one might expect that something glamorous would happen. Instead, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus was immediately “…led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Matthew 4:1 and Luke 4:1) and tempted by Satan. 

Then, after forty days in wilderness across from Jericho on the east side of the Jordan River, his next days were full. “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside” (Luke 4:14). He called his first disciples (John chapter 1); attended a wedding in Cana and performed his first miracle; traveled to Jerusalem for Passover and drove out the moneychangers from the temple (all in John chapter 2). 

In each village, a synagogue was the center of worship and community. We sat on stone slabs which lined the walls of the Nazareth synagogue. There on the Sabbath, the oldest son of each family was responsible for memorizing a portion of the Prophets and taking turns leading a service. Scrolls were kept rolled in a pot, and during gatherings, these were placed on a table for reading. 

A typical Jewish service began with prayer and a reading of the Shema, the creed from Numbers 15 and Deuteronomy 6. Then came the “amens” and affirmations, more prayers, reading of the Law, a section of the Prophets, and a sermon. When Jesus entered the synagogue, he was already famous, as word of his miracles and preaching had spread back to his hometown. The passage he read was from Isaiah 61: “‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’” (Isaiah 61:1,2). 

The words were the same the congregation had heard before, but they differed that day in that he spoke with authority, as the author, and even indicated the words were about himself. People were in agreement until he gave the short explanation at the end, but from there they turned against him and his first public recorded sermon became a “disaster”. Jesus had proclaimed that the Spirit of God is upon ME … he has anointed ME … he has sent ME, and the people were incensed enough that they force him from the synagogue and tried to throw him off a high place to kill him. 

The second location we visited that day was a windswept top of a nearby mountain, the Precipice, overlooking the Valley of Megiddo. It’s not certain this is where Jesus was taken, but it would have been a likely spot. He would later be put to death by angry religious leaders, but it was not yet his time so he slipped through the crowd. 

The ministry Jesus was called to perform involved preaching the gospel to the poor – those in spiritual poverty who come humbly to God. He will heal the broken-hearted, preach deliverance to those enslaved by sin and Satan, and bring sight to the spiritually blind. And though many of his former neighbors rejected him as the Messiah - like the Jewish Year of Jubilee, Jesus brings a renewed period of grace for all who believe. 

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