Summary: 4th Sunday after Epiphany: Jesus is amazing! He amazed people by what he taught and what he did. Does he amaze you?
Many years ago – in the confines of a barracks room a young sailor decided not to go out partying with his friends. He invested that evening reading the Bible - very specifically – reading the Gospel of John. The room was mostly dark except for the light of the little study desk in the room. Up until that time, religion and church had not occupied much of this young fella’s time or energy. In fact, up until then, reading the Bible had been only about finding the contradictions and the problems in it so that he could throw these in the face of a Christian friend.
Well, if you haven’t guessed it by now – that young sailor was me. I read the entire Gospel of John that evening. When I got to chapter 20 and read about Mary Magdalene going to the tomb and finding it empty and then Jesus appearing to her and talking to her -- something happened. Jesus finally became real to me. He was no longer just a story or some fairy tale or fable or Sunday School lesson. It finally sunk in that Jesus was alive. In fact, that reality became so overwhelming that it seemed to me that Jesus was in that dimly lit barracks room. That night – in that mostly dark barracks room, I was amazed by Jesus and He made me one of his followers.
Being amazed by Jesus is quite the norm. We find all sorts of people being amazed by Jesus. Sometimes that amazement is an awestruck recognition of Jesus’ identity. – Like when the disciples were absolutely stunned when He calmed the seas just by saying, “Be still.” Or when they witnessed him transform into a radiant being on the Mount of Transfiguration. Or when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
But sometimes that amazement isn’t because people are thrilled with Jesus. Case in point - today we read about Jesus going to the synagogue at Capernaum – a city more than 20 miles away from his home. Anybody remember why He was going to church so far from his hometown? Jesus was in Capernaum because the people from his own hometown had run him off. You see, a little earlier Jesus had gotten up to read this prophecy at his hometown synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to aproclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And when Jesus said, “Today these scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing,” the townspeople were amazed – but not in a good way. They were amazed that Jesus had the nerve to claim to be Messiah. Isn’t this the son of Joseph and Mary? Haven’t we seen this boy grow up here among us? When Jesus showed his true identity, they couldn’t handle it. They got in a tizzy and ran Jesus out of town - in fact, they tried to throw him off the side of a cliff. And so we find Jesus in Capernaum – in a synagogue far from home – teaching and amazing people.
Let me ask you something: Does Jesus amaze you? [Read page 233 from Blue Like Jazz] What was it about Jesus that so overwhelmed Dr. Bright?
Remember when Jesus first called Peter into ministry? Peter and his companions had been fishing all night and caught nothing. Jesus said, “Throw your nets over and when they did, the haul was so large that the nets were straining and the boats were almost swamped. Peter fell before Jesus and said to him, “Lord, go away from me for I am a sinful man.” Does Jesus amaze you that way?
You know, sometimes I’m scared for those who get to know church from behind the scenes. If you have had to fight the battles; if you have had to be there when the brethren argue; if you’ve had to square off with somebody over the budget; if you have gotten involved in the worship wars – like the folks at the Nazareth synagogue who ran Jesus out of town because they were defending the traditions; if you’ve been involved in or witnessed the power struggles – I’m concerned for you. I’m concerned because when we see that side of the church – it’s so easy NOT to be amazed by Jesus.
Have you been there? Have you been at that place in life when everything seems so plain and mundane that even the Lord of all creation seems to blend into the scenery? So I ask you again dear brothers and sisters – does Jesus still amaze you?