A Mic Drop Moment in First Century Galilee

Inside of ancient synagogue in Capernaum – Israel

If the phrase, “mic drop”, had been coined in the First Century, Jesus would have cornered the market. One of those mic drop moments occurred the day his ministry began.

Picture this. Jesus walks into the church (synagogue) where he grew up. Everyone knows him well. They all knew him because he grew up in the community. Nazareth was a small-town place, so they knew him very well.

Jesus wasn’t a stranger to the church. It was the church where he grew up and went to Sunday school. He was still very much part of the church community as an adult. When he attended church on that Sunday morning and stood up to read, he was doing what he had done before. Only this time would be different.

Jesus had been making quite the stir lately. His cousin, John the Baptist, was well-known for his unrelenting, uncompromising message about the coming of the one, the Messiah. (Luke 3:4-6)

Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.

Cousin John was literally quoting Isaiah 40:3-5 as if it were coming true out there in the countryside, outside of town where he spent most of his time. Crowds of people made their way out to hear him, but he wasn’t very popular among the church leaders. In fact, they rather despised him, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. He even called them a “brood of vipers”!

Until recently, Jesus seemed more respectable than that. Though they were cousins, it wasn’t like they hung out together. They were each keenly devoted to their Hebrew lessens, Bible reading and participation in church from a young age, but John seemed to “go off the rails” as he got older.

John the Baptist was out there in the countryside baptizing people. Lots of people. He was attracting quite the crowd talking about one who was coming who was more powerful than he.

Not that he had any power, really. That was the crazy part: he lived like a homeless person, eating bugs and shunning even the modest comforts that most people had become used to.

And John was attracting a less than reputable crowd too, including tax collectors. Tax collectors were sell-outs to the Roman occupiers, collecting Roman taxes from their own people, often collecting more than they should to line their own pockets. They were an unsavory and despised lot. Tax collectors were worse than the Romans.

The fact that John was attracting tax collectors didn’t speak well for his efforts, but the common people loved John. They practically worshiped him. This was particularly galling to the faithful leaders in the churches who had given their lives in service to the Lord. Who did he think he was?!

Of course, many were the so-called modern prophets who came, claiming to be the Messiah spoken of old. They stirring up crowds of disgruntled, marginalized Jews for a short time before the Romans got tired of the charade and put an end to it.

John seemed just like the ones who came before him, though his message was different. He was bold like the others, but in a different way. He wasn’t stirring people up against the Romans, like the others did. In fact, John seemed more interested in criticizing the religious community than the Romans, which hardly endeared him to them.

When Jesus attended church that day, the word was all over Galilee that Jesus had gone out to meet John. It was apparently quite a meeting by the reports that were circulating. Jesus even let John baptize him. In fact, he insisted on it, and this is where things got a little sideways, if you could believe the reports.

People said they heard a loud voice. Some said it was the voice of God. Others said they saw a dove swoop down and land right on his head. People were saying Jesus was a prophet. Some seemed to think he was the Messiah that John had been talking about. It seems that Jesus had gotten caught up in John’s delusion, and he was starting to believe it.

When Jesus stood up to read that day, these things were going through their minds. They knew something was up, but they weren’t at all prepared for what he was going to do.

When Jesus stood up that day, he was looking for a specific text in a specific scroll – the Isaiah scroll. The Isaiah scroll was full of Messianic messages.

More modern skeptics long thought that the Isaiah scroll was edited after Jesus was born to fit the claims that Jesus was the Messiah, but that all changed when a Bedouin throwing rocks broke a pot in a cave one day.

That Bedouin was throwing rocks into a cave at Qumran, and the pot he hit contained scrolls. The discovery led to the finding of many scrolls in many caves in the Qumran region of the Dead Sea, including a completely intact Isaiah scroll.

That Isaiah scroll was dated using the best scientific methods to a couple of hundred years before Jesus stood up that day in church. Until Qumran scrolls were found, the oldest known copy of the Isaiah scroll in Hebrew dated to about 1000… after Jesus was born.

Amazingly, the Isaiah scroll found at Qumran dated a couple hundred years before Jesus was born, and it was almost word for word the same! Thus, when Jesus found and read from that scroll that day in church, he was reading an ancient text in his time.

He carefully found the place in the scroll he was looking for while the attendees and leaders of his hometown church waited in somewhat nervous anticipation. This clearly was not like any other day, given the recent reports of Jesus being baptized and the insistence by some people that Jesus was “the one” John had been talking about.

When Jesus found the place he was looking for, he looked up for a moment. All eyes were on him. He paused, perhaps not so much for affect, but with the deep understanding of the significance of what he was about to read and the change it would mean in his life… and for the history of world and of God’s interaction with His creation.

With a deep breath, he read these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim 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.”

This event, and the words Jesus spoke, are recorded in the Gospel of Luke (4:18-19 ESV). These words would have been much on the minds of the people there that day, as the Messianic texts were the theological talk of the day. Messianic anticipation was high, with numerous Messianic claimants coming and going in that approximate period of time. Jesus, no doubt, might have seemed like just another idealistic zealot with delusions of grandeur.

Thus, when Jesus rolled up the scroll, handed it to the attendant and sat down, what he said next probably wasn’t a shock, and yet it was. Everyone knew him. He was the boy everyone wished their own sons were like. He was the young man who never said an unkind word, who respected his elders and lived an exemplary life.

Jesus wasn’t a bug-eating, self-proclaimed prophet with wild eyes and wilder hair. Jesus was respectable. But the news of his recent anointing by his cousin, John, had them a bit on edge. All eyes were still on Jesus as he sat, silent for the moment, after reading the text. And then, Jesus said:

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

… mic drop….

At first, the people were amazed…. They truly wanted to believe it. Word of the coming Messiah had been around for many generations. If anyone had impeccable character, it was Jesus.

Still this was Jesus, Joseph’s son. They knew him since he was young. They knew his parents and siblings. What was he thinking?

They might have forgiven him, if he hadn’t pressed further. That’s when Jesus accused them of things they hadn’t even done … yet. Jesus said they would taunt him: “Physician, heal yourself!”; and, “Do here what you supposedly did in Capernaum!”

Now Jesus seemed to be provoking them! His words weren’t fair. They weren’t like that, and Jesus, of all people, should have known it! But he wouldn’t stop. He just couldn’t leave well enough alone, they would later say.

Jesus said,

“Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown.”

Then he spoke about Elijah passing up all the widows in Israel to visit the widow in that pagan worshiping town of Sidon. To make matters even worse, Jesus spoke of Elijah healing the pagan general, Naaman, from Syria – the one who killed and plundered the Israelites. Elijah passed up all the lepers in Israel to heal a pagan worshiping enemy of Israel.

It was bad enough that John was baptizing those traitorous tax collectors. Now Jesus had joined him in the insult. He was not just equating himself with the great Prophet, Elijah; he seemed to be suggesting that God was passing up good and faithful people of God like themselves.

He seemed to be accusing them of being traitors toward God!

They were furious! Full of righteous indignation, they rose up in the passion of the moment, driving him out of the church and out of town. They kept going in their rage, driving Jesus right to the edge of a cliff with every intention to throw him off.

Jesus managed to walked free. Luke doesn’t tell us how he managed to escape their wrath that day. Imagine: this was the beginning of his ministry! It began with a mic drop moment that didn’t go over well in his hometown.

I described Jesus doing these things taking place in church, though obviously it took place in a first century synagogue in a small town in Galilee. I did this because I get the distinct impression that we would not respond much differently today if this happened in a church we attended, as enlightened as we think we are.

Yes, we have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story. We know that Jesus died on the cross, and he rose again. He came to save us all, Jew and Gentile alike, from our sins. He left us the Holy Spirit who led the first Christians into all truth and remains with us still.

But people are people. The nation of Israel continually rejected God who demonstrated Himself with fire, and clouds, and wondrous signs on a regular basis right in their very midst. The presence of God was not a vague, abstract personal experience to them. God was more or less “in their faces”! Yet, they continually strayed.

I think it is dangerous for us to think that we are different then they.

With that introduction, I am going to continue the theme of this article in a subsequent piece. I am going to dive into the substance of what Jesus said in that mic drop moment that changed everything. What Jesus said is as relevant today as it was when read it from the scroll in the synagogue and told those people listening that it was fulfilled by him. And, it’s no less radical or controversial.

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