This is Labor Day weekend. Labor Day became as a federal holiday starting in 1894 and was intended to be a day of recognizing the contribution of millions of laborers across the United States. While Labor Day still carries the distinction of celebrating workers, the day has also come to serve some other purposes as well. Fashion conscious people say today is the last day of the year to wear white and seersucker. Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer. And, Labor Day, has been commercialized. Aside from the Christmas season, Labor Day is the biggest shopping day of the year.
Sometimes we forget that Jesus was a worker, laborer, a carpenter. Like every carpenter, Jesus’ hands would have become callused and rough from working with wood and stone. Jesus would have had cuts on his hands from splinters, jagged edged materials, and from tools. Jesus created things such as places to live, furniture upon which to sit, or tools to accomplish other tasks. These skills, Jesus learned from his earthly father, Joseph, who was also a carpenter. Jesus labored alongside Joseph and would have come home at night tired and worn from the day’s work.
In Jesus’ day, there were no paid holidays, personal days, sick days, or vacation days. Daily work was needed for daily subsistence. The only exception, of course, was that Jews did not work on the Sabbath. Jesus understood and participated in the labor markets until he had reached the age of about 30 years old. We know this from the Gospel of Luke which says, “23 Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry” (Luke 3:23). Thirty was age that Jewish men were considered spiritually and morally mature enough to become rabbis and to teach.
Very early in his ministry, from his transition from laborer to rabbi, Jesus returned to Nazareth where he had been raised. While in Nazareth, “16b And on the Sabbath day he [Jesus] went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He [Jesus] stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he [Jesus] found the place where it is written: 18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ 20 Then he [Jesus] 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 He [Jesus] began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16b-21).
Jesus had shared with his hometown friends and extended family that he had laid down the tools of his earthly father Joseph and instead his labors from that moment forward were to be done as the Messiah of God, in obedience to Jesus’ heavenly father. For generation after generation, the people of Israel prayed that this prophesy, the coming of the Messiah, would be fulfilled. Jesus’ words were thus a shocking announcement and one that should have been cause for a joyous response. Jesus said this prophesy was being fulfilled by and through the person of Jesus, and that Jesus was blessing the people of Nazareth to hear the news.
Luke wrote of the reaction to Jesus’ announcement by the townsfolk. “22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (Luke 4:22). Luke’s description here sounds like the people were polite and attentive to what Jesus had to say but there is no indication the people have believed Jesus’ words. In fact, rather than belief in Jesus there was disbelief. Luke continued, the people said to one another, ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ (Luke 4:22b). The people were saying, “Isn’t this the kid from down the street! Messiah, indeed!” The Nazarenes had rejected Jesus and his announcement.
But Jesus did not need the acceptance of the Nazarenes to be who he was, the Messiah. Jesus acknowledged the reaction of his neighbors observing that, “24 No prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Luke 4:24). Then Jesus reminded his neighbors that in the past when the people rejected God, God reached out beyond the borders of Israel to the Gentiles, the non-Jews, to reveal his purpose. Jesus was suggested that the Nazarenes’ rejection of him would only lead to the good news, the healing the sick, and the proclaiming freedom to be extended and displayed to the Gentiles. The labors of God’s Messiah would not be thwarted by unbelief.
Luke wrote, “28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard [Jesus remind them of Israel’s previous hardhearted response to God] this. 29 They [The people] got up, drove him [Jesus] out of the town, and took him [Jesus] to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him [Jesus] off the cliff. 30 But he [Jesus] walked right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:28-30). Jesus’ neighbors moved polite unbelief to a hate filled and murderous rage. Anyone who dare point out their disobedience to God would be killed. This is still the way of the world. Polite unbelief by others today can turn vicious when that unbelief is pointed out as disobedience to God. Despite the rage of the Nazarenes, they had no power over Jesus. Instead, Jesus walked through the crowd because no one could take Jesus’ life without Jesus first laying down his life. The time for Jesus to lay down his life had not yet come. There was still much labor for Jesus to do.
The labor of Jesus was to proclaim the good news, proclaim freedom, give sight, and set the oppressed free. Jesus left the Nazareth hillside to continue his labors.
Jesus next arrived at the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus began proclaiming the word of God and people crowded around him. So large had the crowd become that Jesus got into the boat of a man named Simon and asked Simon to put out a little from shore. “Then he [Jesus] sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he [Jesus] had finished speaking, he [Jesus] said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ 5 Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets’” (Luke 5:3b-5). In response to obedience to Jesus, Simon and his partners, James and John, and Simon’s brother Andrew caught so many fish that their nets began to break, and their boats began to sink. The men were shocked and fearful believing that in Jesus the fishermen were in the presence of God’s holiness. “Jesus then said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ 11 So they [Simon, Andrew, James, and John] pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him [Jesus]” (Luke 5:10b-11).
The contrast between the scene in Nazareth and the scene along the Sea of Galilee could not have been more different. In the solemness and learnedness of the synagogue Jesus taught the word of God, he proclaimed the good news, and was thoroughly rejected by an entire town, first politely, and then with a seething murderous hatred. Then, along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus taught the word of God, he proclaimed the good news, and four men of hard labor acted in obedience to Jesus and believed they experienced holiness in the presence of Jesus. So committed were these four men to what Jesus stood for that the men willingly gave up their livelihood to follow Jesus. Jesus was rejected by many who were driven by hatred and anger and followed by few who saw in Jesus’ a holiness that breaks the power of hatred, anger, and gnashing of teeth. This contrast tells us that the labor of Christ is hard work, rejected by many and accepted by few.
Jesus would say, “13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13). The many in Nazareth rejected Jesus. The few along the shore of Galilee found it.
Jesus and the four fishermen then left the shores of Galilee and entered one of the local towns. “12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he [the leper] saw Jesus, he [the leper] fell with his face to the ground and begged him [Jesus], ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean’” (Luke 4:12). Luke offered no explanation for the leper’s behavior toward Jesus in expressing his faith in Jesus to heal the leprosy. Somehow the leper must have seen, heard, or experienced something of the holiness of Jesus and saw the holiness of Jesus as able to break through the leprosy and societal chains that had banished this man from the community.
In response to this leper’s belief in Jesus, “13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man [the leper]. ‘I am willing,’ he [Jesus] said. ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him [the man]” (Luke 5:13). Jesus, God’s Messiah, was laboring in his mission of freeing the prisoners, not in some massive sweeping action over all the lands of Israel but intimately, but by one person at a time. Jesus was personally freeing each man or woman from their unique set of shackles.
A bit later, Jesus was teaching, proclaiming the good news. The religiously gifted people of Israel, the Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting among the crowd listening to Jesus. People from all over the region were bringing their sick to be healed by Jesus. “18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20 When Jesus saw their [the men carrying the paralyzed man] faith, he said [to the paralyzed man], ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’ 21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (Luke 5:18-21). Anger, bitterness, bigotry, and envy were rising into the throats of the religious men. The politeness of these men to listen to Jesus was being replaced with that Nazarene spirit. “The very idea. Forgive sins? Who does this man think he is?” the religious leaders thought. The rage was growing within them and that rage was blinding them from seeing the holiness of Jesus.
“22 Jesus knew what they [religious men] were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he [Jesus] said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ home.” 25 Immediately he [the man who had been paralyzed] stood up in front of them [Jesus and the religious men], took what he had been lying on and went home praising God” (Luke 5:22-25).
The labor of God’s Messiah would not be thwarted by blindness, prejudices, envy, and bitterness of anyone, including the religious people of the day. The labor of God’s Messiah was being offered to free the oppressed and Jesus did that for this paralyzed man in two ways. First, in response to an expression of faith and to demonstrate the holiness of God, Jesus forgave the paralyzed man’s sins giving him the freedom of salvation. This was the greatest blessing Jesus could have given this man. Second, to demonstrate the authority to free the oppressed and to display the holiness of God, Jesus healed the man of his paralysis.
The pattern of Jesus’ ministry would continue for another three years. Proclaiming the good news, freeing the prisoners, giving sight to the blind, forgiving sins, and freeing the oppressed. A few people followed Jesus while many others seethed in anger, jealousy, and hatred conspiring to find the right time to kill Jesus. Attempts were made to take Jesus’ life, but none were successful until Jesus chose to lay down his life in obedience to God.
As God’s Messiah’s work was coming to an end, Jesus had one more labor of love to perform. Jesus would go to the cross for the sins of all humanity. Jesus was creating an intimate and personal connection on the cross with everyone who would come to believe in him, including you and me.
Jesus had you and me personally in mind when he went to the cross because he took your sin and my sin upon himself when he went to the cross. Because Jesus labored to take our sins, we are forgiven and released from the bondage of sin. By faith in Jesus and his labor of love upon the cross, we are freed from our own religious and spiritual leprosy and paralysis.
Jesus would say, “28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29 NKJV). Jesus ended the need for us to labor in the hopes of being good enough to please God. We are not on our own, but we are made right with God through Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Amen and Amen.