Why should I follow Jesus?
“Area of Idiots.” That was the old name of a town in northern Nigeria. Now they’re celebrating their new name, “Area of Plenty.”
The village, in Kano state in Nigeria, gained its initial name about 70 years ago when people settled close to a river known as the Idiotic River. It is not clear why the river has that name.
Consider some unfortunate names of towns here in the United States. What if you and I lived in Nothing, Arizona? Or Nowhere, Colorado? Or Hell for Certain, Kentucky? Now, that’s descriptive! Or Satan’s Kingdom, Massachusetts? Or Boogertown, North Carolina? Or Knockemstiff, Ohio?
By the way, the name Knockemstiff doesn’t refer to fighting, but is thought to be a reference to the strength of the local moonshine. Knockemstiff.
Then there’s Slapout, Oklahoma. Apparently, Slapout’s unusual name comes from the local store having low inventory-of being “slap out” of whatever customers wanted.
That, of course, brings us to John 1:43-51, and a man named Philip who has just encountered Christ and has been won over to him. He, in turn, reaches out to a friend, Nathanael, and tells him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote-Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth!” Nathanael asked. “Can anything good come from there?”
Obviously, Nathanael wasn’t impressed with Nazareth. While it doesn’t have an embarrassing name like Boogertown, there’s obviously nothing impressive about Nazareth. And yet, Nazareth was chosen by God as the village where His own Son would spend his childhood and youth. It’s so like God to take an unimpressive village and unimpressive people and do extraordinary things through them?
Certainly, Nazareth somewhat deserved its poor reputation. Jesus preached his first sermon there right after he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Luke tells us Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
But then he returned to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and 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 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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. Says Luke, “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.” He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Well, the townsfolk were impressed. All spoke well of him, Luke tells us, and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Then Jesus’ message took a twist that riled up his listeners. Jesus said, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’
“Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed-only Naaman the Syrian.”
People in the synagogue were furious at what he had to say. They drove him out of the town and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built to throw him off a cliff.
Luke tells us, “But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”
Luke didn’t include details to explain why this confrontation occurred, but it’s hard to feel sorry for Nazareth. There were obviously some hotheads there. Attempting to throw Jesus off a cliff over an unpopular sermon is a little extreme. Still, there must have been some positive things about Nazareth that caused Mary and Joseph to make their home there.
We don’t know why Jesus was so harsh with his words, but the fact that they’re ready to throw him off a cliff tells us he hit a nerve.
It also tells us even Jesus didn’t please everyone. If you and I think we can sail through life with no one criticizing us, no opposition, no one making catty remarks about us, we are going to live disappointing lives.
Consider an aspiring dancer whose sole dream was to dance on Broadway. She practiced for hours, hoping someday she would grace the stage. One day, though, some of her friends got together and discouraged her so badly that not only did she give up dancing, but she also decided to commit suicide.
She went to the Golden Gate Bridge. Before she jumped off, she wrote a suicide note. It began like this, “They said . . .” After writing the note, she jumped to her death. When the police got there all they found was a note that read, “They said . . .”
The San Francisco Chronicle headline said, “Young aspiring dancer jumps to her death; cause unknown, but something they said made her do it.”
“They said . . .” Possibly her friends thought they were doing her a favor by discouraging her dream. Perhaps in their estimation, she would never make the grade. She might as well give up before she wasted any more of her life. Maybe their words were meant as a kind of intervention.
But who knows? Maybe she would’ve had a satisfying life living in a small New York City apartment and picking up a part in a minor production occasionally. Let’s be careful not to step on someone else’s dream.
“They said . . .” Even Jesus had his critics. Remember his own family was concerned he was going off the deep end. As people learned some of his views as a young adult, he faced a great deal of criticism. It’s important for us to see that even Jesus couldn’t please everyone.
The important thing is he stayed true to his values. Do you think everyone in town agreed with him when he said to turn the other cheek? Do you think people liked it when he used Samaritans-the very people his neighbors despised most-as heroes in some of his teachings? Do you really think that racial and religious bigotry are a new phenomenon? And his teachings on wealth? Do you think the upper middle-class people liked hearing that the rich man ended up in Hades and the poor beggar Lazarus ended up in heaven? After all, the only goal that some of his neighbors had was to climb the social and economic ladder.
There are many churches even today where many of Jesus’ teachings cannot really be taught. They clash too much with our culture’s views on life.
But Jesus stayed true to his values-even when people got upset, even when they threatened to throw him off a cliff, even when they threatened to nail him to a tree.
Now we expect that of Jesus. We expect him to stay true to his values. Do we expect it out of ourselves? That’s the real question.
Jesus stayed true to his values. He was sent by the Father to demonstrate a new way of living which he called the Kingdom of God. His goal was to plant that kingdom in every heart. And he never wandered from that path. And because he stayed true, today one-third of the world’s population call him Lord. Nathanael did. Nathanael discovered just what can come out of Nazareth.
Philip found Nathanael and said, “We’ve found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote-Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
Jesus realizes that Nathanael is a person who is also true to his values. He’s a quality young man. Jesus always appreciates people of character and integrity.
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael takes a step that goes even beyond integrity. He finds a purpose. He declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
And Nathanael becomes a follower of Jesus. He discovers who Jesus is and follows him. Jesus already knew everything about Nathanael. Just as Jesus knows everything about you and me. We may not have it all together as Nathanael did-except for his prejudice against people from Nazareth. Still, Christ wants to have a relationship with us.
Are you and I willing to take that step? It makes no difference where we come from-even if it’s Hell for Certain, KY. It doesn’t even matter what we’ve done with our lives up to this point-even if we’ve been terribly prejudiced toward residents of Boogertown, North Carolina. It’s not too late to change. He wants an eternal relationship with us. All we have to do is say, Yes, we want to follow Jesus.
Rev. Charles Eldredge is pastor of Maitland Church of the Brethren, Lewistown, PA where he is currently serving in his 28th year. He graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in S. Hamilton, MA.