READ : Matthew 13:53-58
Is it possible to be too familiar with Jesus? Matthew tells about an incident where Jesus went home again, only to find that his old friends and neighbors were unimpressed with him. In their case, familiarity bred contempt. Don’t let that happen to you.
Had he done nothing else in all his public life but speak, Jesus would still be remembered as one of the greatest religious figures of all time. Again and again in the New Testament we read of the astonished reaction of the crowds who thronged to listen to Jesus’ teaching. “They were amazed at him,” the gospel writer Mark reports. “The large crowd listened to him with delight” (Mark 12:17, 37). Adds Matthew, “The crowds were amazed at his teaching” (Matthew 7:29).
Of course, Jesus’ powerful public teaching also earned him the enmity of some. The Jerusalem authorities were envious of his popularity. But even they indirectly attest to his greatness. On one occasion the chief priests sent out their armed security force with orders to seize Jesus as he was teaching in the Temple. But the guards returned empty-handed, and when asked to explain their failure to arrest a single, unarmed man in a public place, they said simply, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46).
Or consider this incident from earlier in Jesus’ ministry. In the closing verses of Matthew 13, the great chapter of parables about the kingdom of God, we read about what happened when Jesus decided to return after his teaching to his hometown of Nazareth.
And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
What amazed the people of Nazareth was not just the miracles Jesus did, though they were certainly astonished by these powerful demonstrations of God’s kingdom. But the first thing they mentioned was his teaching: “Where did this man get this wisdom?”
Nazareth was a small town. These folks would have known Jesus since he was a boy. They knew his family, his parents, brothers, and sisters. And the thing they found mind blowing was the fact that Jesus spoke with such eloquence, such insight, such wisdom. It left them astonished, incredulous.
After all, Jesus was one of them, they had watched him grow up, he had gone to the local synagogue and school. He had probably spent years among them working quietly in his father’s carpenter shop. So where in the world, his old neighbors wanted to know, had he learned to talk like that, to declare the word of God with such authority? It was like the kid that you played with on the school team growing up to become the world’s greatest athlete.
Jesus’ Astonishing Wisdom
Before we try to answer the question about the origin of Jesus’ wisdom, let’s stop and recall what it was that made Jesus’ teaching so special. Several things stand out. First there was his style. Jesus had a special gift for putting the deepest truths in the simplest way – even as we’ve been seeing in this chapter full of parables. And that’s why common people listened to him so eagerly. Unlike many teachers, Jesus didn’t need to use big words and complicated sentences to express his ideas.
A university professor wrote a new book that was supposed to be the latest thing in religious philosophy. When one of his colleagues was asked about it he said, “I’ve read the book but I must confess I don’t know what he’s talking about.” Well, you never have that problem when you’re listening to Jesus.
Jesus drove home his message with vivid, unforgettable word pictures. On the need to react to personal insults with patience and humility, Jesus said simply, “turn the other cheek.” When urging his followers to be agents for good in their societies, Jesus told them they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. When Jesus was asked what he meant by “love your neighbor as yourself,” he answered with a story about a Good Samaritan who went out of his way to help a wounded enemy.
But Jesus was more than just a master communicator. It wasn’t only how well he spoke but what he said that really astonished people. The most important thing about Jesus’ teaching was the specific message he proclaimed and the miraculous signs with which he illustrated that message. Jesus’ principal theme was the kingdom of God, and its arrival in him, and the shocking impact that ought to have on business as usual in the world. When Jesus taught it was to show how things should be under God’s rule, how they would be if we really did put God in charge of our lives.
Jesus’ message was that God’s way of thinking needs to invade our lives and replace it. Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Christian theologian, once made up his own modern parable to try to explain what Jesus’ teaching was like. He said this, “Imagine people breaking into a department store one night, but not stealing anything. Instead, they just go around rearranging all the price tags. The next day everything is in an uproar as customers arrive to find diamond necklaces on sale for pennies and junk with price tags in the thousands.”
Well, Jesus’ teaching is just like that. It creates an upheaval in our lives as it overturns our values. What we think important he dismisses. What we despise he prizes. What we hold precious he counts worthless. What we call failure he judges to be success. Those whom we admire he condemns, people whom we scorn he lifts up and honors. Everything is turned upside down when we stop accepting the world’s values and embrace the kingdom’s values. That’s what Jesus’ teaching is all about.
The Carpenter’s Son?
And this is what dumbfounded Jesus’ old neighbors and friends in Nazareth. Where did it all come from? they wondered. How did Jesus – Jesus, the kid from down the street – ever come up with all this stuff? “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?” That’s the question they ask one another.
So back to it. Where did Jesus’ wisdom and power actually come from? If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, the gospels suggest, you will know that they could only have come from God, because Jesus comes from God. In fact, Jesus is God. So it’s no wonder if his words and deeds are unique.
But, you see, the people of Nazareth just can’t accept this. Others may be impressed with Jesus, they say, strangers may believe in him, but we know better. We aren’t taken in. He doesn’t fool us. “Isn’t this just the carpenter’s son?” they scoff. Don’t we know his brothers and sisters? In their case, familiarity bred contempt. The Bible says, “they took offense at him” (v. 57). They couldn’t believe, they refused to accept, that there was anything special or mysterious or supernatural about Jesus, so they rejected the evidence of their own eyes and ears.
How tragic to be so familiar with Jesus Christ that you can’t see who he actually is. As Jesus himself put it, in yet another of his sayings that became a proverb: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country.”
A lot of people are still living in Nazareth, I think. “What’s all the fuss about?” they ask. “Oh, Jesus, just him? Christianity again? Yes, we know all about that. You needn’t bother us with it. Isn’t Jesus just a nice person, a good example? Didn’t we learn all there is to know about him in Sunday school? Go peddle your message someplace else. After all, I’m not a fanatic, a religious nut.”
But that doesn’t really answer the question. Where did this amazing wisdom and these wonderful works come from? Where did Jesus learn it all? Go even farther, past the proverbs and the parables, and listen to what else Jesus says about himself.
Before Abraham was, I am. . . . I and the Father are one. . . . I am the bread of life. . . . I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me has eternal life. . . . I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me.
And it isn’t just that he said these things; it’s what he did to back them up. Who ever healed the sick, opened blind eyes and deaf ears, treated the lowly with honor, tenderly welcomed the outcast, the way Jesus did? Who ever loved as he loves? Who suffered and died and then rose again? Where did all that come from? If the Bible is telling the truth (and if it isn’t, let’s all just close up shop and forget about religion) if the Bible is telling the truth, I say, then Jesus could only have come from one place: heaven.
So you answer the question. Who is this man, who can say and do such things, and then have billions of people in every corner of the earth believe in him? Where did he come from? How do you explain him? What do I – not anyone else, but I – what do I make of him? What will I do about him? You can dismiss him. You can try to ignore him. But if he said what he said and did what he did, then you need to do something else. You need to fall in behind him and follow him to the end of your life, and beyond.