Standing in the Synagogue

I have spent the week traveling through South Asia with Love146 seeing first-hand the horrors of human trafficking, meanwhile the Advent season of rejoicing at the coming of baby Jesus is upon us. Reading through the Christmas story, I am forced to reconcile the two, and I am reminded of when Jesus first presented Himself publicly in his role as Messiah.

img_2967Jesus was in Nazareth, his home town, and as was his custom, he went to synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read, and he was handed the scroll of Isaiah. He read, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim liberty for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind. He sent me to set free the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19). And then Jesus sat down. If this was the end of the story, it might well had been enough, for all who were listening understood the prophecies about the coming Messiah, and they understood that Jesus was implying He was the one the passage was speaking about. But, as if to remove any ambiguity, Jesus adds, “Today this prophecy is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).

The people sitting in the synagogue that day had been waiting for the king who would come inaugurate God’s kingdom. They weren’t expecting that one of their own, from Nazareth, would be that king. Instead, what God initiated with Jesus’ ministry was the overturning of the existing power system. He came to redeem the world, but not in the way that they had been expecting. Instead of a powerful ruler, He chose to reveal his character as Restorer and Deliverer, and eventually as a Suffering Servant. God understood that proclamation of His new kingdom wasn’t enough, but in love, He chose to demonstrate it by liberating captives and giving sight to the blind. This would be no ordinary human kingdom.

However, that year of the Lord’s favor He spoke about, the jubilee, has still not been fully accomplished. There will come a day when Jesus will finish the work that was begun and make everything right again, and this in between time is where we exist. We live in tension between what has begun and what will be. Russel Moore, in his book, “Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel” explains, “So if Jesus does not yet rule over the world, where does he rule? He rules, in the present age, over his church (Eph. 1:22–23). The church is a signpost of God’s coming kingdom (Eph. 3:10), a preview to the watching world of what the reign of God in Christ is to look like, a colony of the kingdom coming” (Moore pg 59).img_2968

And so, the question for us becomes, what do we do with that gap, the intermittent time when the kingdom has begun but isn’t fully accomplished?

Rob Morris, founder of Love146, asks us to imagine taking the synagogue that Jesus stood in and placing it in the middle of the red light district of Bangkok. What would it look like to overturn a power system of brutality and abuse that is the lucrative industry of trafficking? What would it look like to stand on the streets of Bangkok and declare all captives free?

img_0358Just as Jesus was rejected in Nazareth, you can imagine the outcry. But, this is the mission of the church. As the body of Christ, we are called to proclaim the new and righteous Kingdom of God. We must be willing to stand in the synagogues of the red light districts, the synagogues of the slums, the synagogues of the elite and powerful, and like Jesus, declare that we have come to inaugurate a new and a better way. We declare a way that is filled with love and mercy and justice and freedom and goodness and life. We demonstrate a Kingdom that values each and every life, where there is forgiveness and release from the darkness. We bring to fulfillment a Kingdom where broken hearts are healed, mourning is turned into dancing, where the blind can see and all tears are wiped away.

If we believe in this Kingdom, we must, like Jesus, be willing to be Restorers and Deliverers, and if we believe in this Kingdom, we must be courageous enough to demonstrate this gospel message in the synagogues of this world’s dark places. And finally, in this Christmas season, we must embrace His story as one that goes well beyond that of the simple nativity.

Rob Morris will be speaking at Parkway Fellowship at all three services on December 11th. If you would like to learn more, come and hear him speak.

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