– Meaning in the Transitions –
While in Seminary, one of my professors remarked that I had a gift for finding meaning even in the transitions. This will be a case in point. Our passage transitions Jesus from his early ministry to the beginning of his popularity. He left Galilee as an unknown and returned as a celebrity highly sought after to preach in the local synagogues.
Mar 1:14b, 15, Luke 4:14-15, John 4:43-45 (NIV84) 43 After the two days he left for Galilee.14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, 44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, 14proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come ,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near . Repent and believe the good news !” and everyone praised him.
In our travels with Jesus, he had left Judea near Jerusalem and travelled through Samaria to get to Galilee. These are regions with different political realities and ways of worship. The people of Judea were under the authority of the Roman procurator and the influence of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council ruled from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Perhaps the growing crowds made both the Romans and Sanhedrin uncomfortable; regardless Jesus left and travelled through Samaria.
While the Procurator Pilate also ruled in Samaria, the Sanhedrin had no influence since Samaria had its own temple and religious system. As we learned in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, both the Jews and Samaritans believed that a messiah was coming, but argued over the proper place to worship. While there for two days, Jesus convinced the Samaritans in the town of Sychar that he was the Savior of the World.
Galilee was a different place both politically and religiously. Rome’s reach was not as stiff in the less sophisticated, back country of Galilee. This region was controlled by Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch and the people here only worshipped at the Temple one to three times a year. Devout Jews in this region attended synagogues and were taught by travelling teachers often from the conservative Pharisees.
Historically Galilee was not Jewish, but part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel prior to the Assyrian invasion and subsequent mass deportation of the people of Israel. It was not until a few centuries later that Jews relocated in Persia began migrating back to traditional Israel. While in Persia, the Jews without access to the temple and the inability to offer animal sacrifices gathered together in assemblies they called synagogues. It was this new structure that sustained the dispersed Jews and allowed for its dispersion throughout the Roman Empire known as the Diaspora. Judaism was established in the previously Northern Kingdom by the Hasmonean Dynasty who attempted to reunite the Davidic Kingdom a century or two before Christ.
Therefore, while Jesus taught in the Temple and gathered people outside the city of Jerusalem during His time in Judea, He taught the Galileans in their synagogues, the center of religious thought and community throughout the countryside. The typical Synagogue service included an invocation of God’s blessings, recitation of faith, prayer, readings from the Law and from the Prophets, followed by a sermon given by a local layman or a visiting Rabbi. Afterward the Priest would offer a Benediction or a lay leader would end in prayer. (Bible Exposition Commentary) The tradition of allowing a guest Rabi speak in the synagogue gave Jesus, Paul and the early church a forum to take the Gospel.
When reading this passage from our viewpoint, one might wonder what “Good News” could Jesus teach, since the Gospel is God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ by his sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin and the subsequent gift of eternal life demonstrated at the resurrection. However, the cross still was in the future. We are told here (Mark 1:15) and it is demonstrated in Luke 4:16-21 that Jesus taught that the time of the Kingdom was both now and soon. The coming of the promises of God was imminent and in their midst.
“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “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.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)
The parenthetical phrase in John 4:44 indicates that Jesus was not respected in his own country. It appears to me that this statement is here because something had changed from when they were in Galilee previously and upon their return. Honor was a big deal in that culture; without honor one could not influence others. Honor was usually ascribed by your family and social group affiliations; but, it also could be acquired by performance of significant deeds or bestowed by challenging the honor of another. Since Jesus was popular in Jerusalem when they went to the Passover thereby challenging the honor of the Pharisees, Jesus was now a celebrity Rabi that every synagogue in the countryside would want him as a guest speaker. Jesus took advantage of this new found fame in a place where he was previously not accepted.
IMPORTANCE: Often God will use transitions in our lives to accomplish His will.
MEANING: Jacob left Palestine pursued by his brother and returned as the heir of the Abrahamic promise and Moses left Egypt as a murderer and returned as an instrument of God’s power over Pharaoh. Likewise, this passage’s key idea is that Jesus left Galilee as an unknown, but returned under the power of the Holy Spirit as a celebrity. Jesus translated his celebrity into an opportunity to preach the Gospel in the Galilean synagogues and gain the favor of the people.
PIVOT: It would have been natural for Isaac and Moses to feel that their best days were behind them and that they could not be used of God. But God used their experiences in the transition to prepare them for His future plans. In each of these examples God used the time of change, transition, even apparent failure to prepare them or the circumstances to accomplish His will. He can do the same for us.
Currently in my life, I am also in transition. Having finished seminary and my wife retiring; we have been waiting on what God would have for us next. Many of our friends also find themselves in times of change due to job losses, health changes and new circumstances. I am encouraged that God is using this time to draw me closer to him and to teach me more about Him. I am looking forward to how he will use this time to prepare me for my future.
ACTION: Instead of fearing change or feeling defeated in failure, consider that God is redeeming this time to change you or prepare the future for the working of His will.
CHANGE: By trusting God in all things regardless of the current circumstance, we remain open to His work in our lives.
TRANSFORMATION: God will provide meaning even to our transitions!