I think sometimes we just coast through our own lives without thinking much about it. I got up, I went there, I came back, I ate this, I went back to sleep.
But along the way, we constantly make choices. What to wear, what to eat. Who to vote for, who not to vote for. At some point in our lives, we chose whether to believe in Jesus, or whether not to believe in Jesus. And if we choose to believe, we choose a view of Jesus we want to believe. One only of love and compassion? One of deliverance? One of obedience?
Our entire lives are a series of related decisions. Already today, we have made decisions that impacted where we are right now or what we are wearing. Even the color of our shirt or dress might be influenced by another decision made earlier in the day. Some decisions have very little importance. Some have life or death consequences.
How and why and when we choose or reject Jesus impacts so many other areas of our lives. Sometimes it affects what we wear. Sometimes it affects who we vote for.
Today we are studying the early life of the ministry of Jesus, and the people of Nazareth faced a decision about Jesus. That decision will lead to consequences.
II. Context Luke 4:1-44
At this point in the life of Jesus, Jesus had been affirmed Spiritual highs often precede spiritual tests. At His baptism, Jesus was affirmed by John the Baptist, the voice of God from heaven and the Holy Spirit on Him as a dove.
Jesus was led to the desert, fasted without food or water for forty days and nights, and tempted by Satan with three tests. You are probably not surprised Jesus passed with flying colors, and immediately after, Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth. This may be an even bigger challenge than the devil. Jesus is challenged by people. Prideful, sinful, fallen, free-will people.
These people had known Him since he was a small boy. Jesus’ synagogue was full of familiar faces. Jesus made two broad statements we will study in more detail. First, Jesus read messianic text from Isaiah 61 and declared the prophecy to be fulfilled. The people reacted to that statement with amazement and approval.
And then Jesus reminded them that God did not accept people based on their religious heritage but by their faith. How did the people react? They flew into a furious rage and tried to kill Jesus. Sometimes people want God in their lives, as long as God is on their terms. So let’s get into the details.
III. True Identity Luke 4:16-21
And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding region. And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him. And He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
We will get the actual Isaiah scripture soon but let us examine what Jesus was doing. In Nazareth, His childhood home, during the Sabbath, Jesus as a good Jew was there. The scripture says, “as usual” or “as was His custom.” He was there with people He probably knew since He went every week.
Now in the synagogue, members of the synagogue or sometimes visitors would be invited to read Scripture and offer any comments. These were not books like we have today; usually scripture was copied onto sheets of papyrus or parchment that were joined to make a scroll.
These scrolls were often stored in clay pots like this (***). The famous Dead Sea Scroll were stored in similar pots.
Our scripture says Jesus stood up to read, as was the custom, and the scroll containing the words of the prophet Isaiah were handed to Him. Since the scroll was given to him, we might assume this Scripture had already been designated for this week. On the other hand, He could have requested the book of the prophet Isaiah specifically. Either way, Jesus unrolled the scroll to Isaiah 61 and it says “He found the place where it was written” so Jesus is purposefully looking for this next scripture.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
These verses are from Isaiah 6:1-2, and the Jews at the time recognized this as a well-known messianic text. When we get to Luke 7, if you recall, John the Baptist later sent messengers to Jesus and asked,
Are You the Coming One, or are we to look for another?
And Jesus answered with words from this prophecy,
Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: people who were blind receive sight, people who limped walk, people with leprosy are cleansed and people who were deaf hear, dead people are raised up, and people who are poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is anyone who does not take offense at Me.”
In Jesus’ day, Isaiah was where people turned to hear the “good news” of the Kingdom of God – a kingdom where God will:
1. Comfort His people (Isaiah 40:1, 2, 11: 51:5; 52:9; 54:7-8; 55:7; 61:2-3),
2. Help the poor and needy (Isaiah 40:29-31; 41:17; 55:1-2),
3. Heal the sick and broken (Isaiah 42:18; 43:8-10),
4. Forgive sins (Isaiah 44:22; 53:4-6, 10-12),
5. Judge the wicked, and
6. Renew all things (Isaiah 42:9-10; 43:18-19; 48:6; 65:17; 66:22).
Moreover, Isaiah is clear that this good news will be accomplished through God’s chosen, humble, spirit-filled Servant . (Isaiah 42:1-4; 45:4; 49:3-5; 52:13-53:12).
The Isaiah prophecy is written in the first person; the pronoun “me” does not refer to Isaiah. This is the future Messiah speaking, and there are multiple prophecies filled by Jesus.
• First, the Spirit of the Lord was on Him. John the Baptist in John 1:33 testified that God had told him he would see the Holy Spirit resting on the One who was coming. And then at Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended on Him as a dove. This verse is also one of the verses than mention God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit at the same time. The Father anoints the Son in the presence of the Spirit.
• Second, the Isaiah Messiah declares that the Holy Spirit’s work included anointing the Messiah. The word Messiah, or Christ in the Greek language, means “Anointed One.” The sentence structure implies that the Messiah is appointed, was appointed, and will continue to be appointed. God anointed Jesus at His baptism and from that point on He was the Christ.
• Jesus’ anointing involved God’s empowerment to preach good news to the poor. The gospel would not be complete until Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, the good news of God’s initiation of salvation har arrived with Jesus and His ministry.
• While the message had special application for the poor, it was not limited to the poor. Both Old and New Testaments testify to God’s concern for the poor. In the Old Testament, God gave numerous commands in Leviticus and Deuteronomy to protect and care for the poor. Likewise, Jesus and the apostles cared for the poor throughout their ministries.
• And it says in Isaiah 61 that the purpose of the Messiah is to set free the oppressed and then again proclaim release to the captives. It is good news and a proclamation. Those who are held captive by force can find release in Christ. Those who are oppressed by hardship and shattered lived can find hope in Christ. Each of these phrases can refer to physical or spiritual conditions, and it also proclaims the way Christ sets us free from sin and its penalty. These are truly gracious words for anyone who hears them. If you are surrendering to sin, God sent Jesus to win your forgiveness. If you are oppressed, God sent Jesus to liberate you. If you are poor, blind, in debt, or have been defrauded, God sent Jesus to assure you that He will make things right. This is an undeserved gift that God, rich in mercy, had been promising since Genesis 3:15. And with the coming of Jesus – in the power of the Holy Spirit – God has kept His promise.
• The Messiah also has a ministry of recovery of sight to the blind. Jesus literally caused the blind to see on several occasions, but this ministry also has a metaphorical application related to people who were spiritually blind. Nothing illustrates this metaphor more clearly than John 9:39,
And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
• The Messiah announced the year of the Lord’s favor, good news indeed. This phrase stands in contrast the next verse in Isaiah 61:2b, “day of our God’s vengeance” which Jesus omitted in this reading. Jesus’ first coming proclaimed God’s favor. When Jesus returns a second time, He will accompany God’s judgment. That time is also called “the day of the Lord.”
Luke 4:20-21 –
And He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all the people in the synagogue were intently directed at Him. Now He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The people must have been astonished. Jesus had performed miracles recently in Capernaum, then he arrives, reads a piece of scripture that proclaims He is the Anointed One, and then sits down, finished. No wonder they stared at Him intently. And it says in the next verse, the people were encouraged and positive about these gracious words. Scripture has been fulfilled. The Messiah had arrived and come to offer salvation.
IV. False Understanding – Luke 4:22-27
But… you knew there was going to be a “but”, didn’t you? Verse 22,
And all the people were speaking well of Him, and admiring the gracious words which were coming from His lips; and yet they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
Up to this point, all the people were speaking well of him, but they did not understand what He meant by the prophecy being fulfilled. They thought Jesus was just a local hometown boy. The question – Isn’t this Joseph’s son? – was rhetorical. Of course this is Joseph’s son.
The absence of any reference to Joseph’s presence here or in future gospel narratives strongly suggests Joseph had died by this time. Most likely, the phrase Joseph’s son simply was a point of reference to Jesus’ family background.
And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! All the miracles that we heard were done in Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’”
Jesus responded to the congregation with a popular saying: Doctor, heal yourself. This proverb is not found in the Book of Proverbs but was a common saying among the Jews and other cultures, even today. The statement means the people wanted Jesus to do miracles here in Nazareth first, because He was local. The people had heard about the miracles that took place in Capernaum. From Nazareth in central Galilee to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee was just over twenty miles. News spread quickly. They wanted Jesus to perform a miracle in His hometown so they could see for themselves.
But He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a severe famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many with leprosy in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
Jesus would not allow their misunderstanding of His nature or purpose to push Him into doing the very thing Satan had tried in vain to make Him do. He would not misuse His divine powers for personal advantage. He understood that no prophet is accepted in his hometown. They’re likely thinking, “that’s not God, that’s just Jesus from down the street.”
But Jesus went on to give two examples of how God worked outside of popular expectations. He reminded them of Elijah’s days. Elijah prophesied during the ninth century before Christ. His ministry was primarily in the Northern Kingdom under Ahab and Ahaziah. The famine that came over all the land resulted from God’s word through Elijah to King Ahab. You can read about this in 1 Kings 17. During the three years and six months that followed, no rain fell as the sky was shut up. Jesus pointed out that there were many widows in Israel during this time. But God did not send relief to the widows in Israel.
After declaring the coming catastrophe, Elijah fled from Ahab for fear the king would kill him. At first, the prophet hid by the brook Cherith. He drank the water and was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:3-6). When the brook dried up due to drought, God sent Elijah to a widow at Zarephath. This small town was on the coastal area near the Mediterranean Sea near the larger city of Sidon. The point of Jesus’ statement was that God did not send Elijah to the widows of Israel but directed him north, beyond the borders of Ahab’s kingdom. This statement was received as an insult to the Jews’ national pride.
Then Jesus offered an even stronger analogy by referring to the healing of Naaman. Naaman was commander of the Syrian armies during the ministry of Elisha, who followed Elijah as prophet in Israel. You can read about this in 2 Kings 2. A Hebrew slave girl told Naaman’s wife about the prophet’s power to heal. After being humbled and submitting to Elisha’s direction to wash in the Jordan River, Naaman was healed. There were many in Israel who had leprosy, but not one of them was cleansed. Jesus’ pointed out that God chose to heal a Gentile while not healing Jewish lepers. This story was also received as an insult to the Jews’ national and religious pride.
The Nazarenes basically ignored God’s grace as Jesus announced it. Now Jesus confronts them with the full truth of the situation: they are rejecting Him, and His salvation blessings will go to others. It is not a truth they want to hear.
As God’s humble Servant, Jesus knows He will be “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). He had come “to his own, and his own people did not receive him” ( John 1:11). One of the ironies of Scripture is that Jesus’ rejection at home opens the way for God’s salvation for gentiles like us. Indeed, this was God’s plan. Jesus understood this, He taught it to his apostles, and they preached it continually (Luke 9:22; 24:7; Acts; Romans 9-11).
Through His rejection, death, and resurrection, Jesus is the “cornerstone” of God’s Kingdom, which consists of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation (Revelation 5:9). It matters not where a person comes from, only whether they receive Jesus. For some people, Jesus is a stone of stumbling and offense (Luke 20:17-18; Romans 9:32-33; 1 Peter 2:8), for others, He is the rock on which a new life is built (Luke 6:47-48; Acts 4:11-12; Psalm 118:22; 1 Peter 2:6-7).
We all have to examine what we think we believe about Jesus. When churches teach only part of the character of Christ, they’re not teaching Jesus. Yes, Jesus is love, and Jesus is forgiveness, but he’s also judgement and obedience and righteousness. These hometown Jews thought they knew Jesus. They had watched Him grow up. Even if He had become some kind of miracle worker, they probably thought He should know His place and show some respect. Jesus’ sermon shook their ideas about His identity. They didn’t understand that Jesus did not come to fulfill their purpose – Jesus came to fulfill God’s purpose.
V. Misguided Response, Luke 28-30
And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and brought Him to the crest of the hill on which their city had been built, so that they could throw Him down from the cliff. But He passed through their midst and went on His way.
Everyone in the synagogue was enraged when He challenged their prejudices. People who are emotionally invested in a belief often become enraged if that belief is opposed. The people were indignant, wrathful, their emotions were fierce. The people did not get mad when Jesus claimed that He fulfilled Isaiah’s messianic prophecy. That was good news to them.
Instead, they became enraged when they heard the two stories about Elijah and Elisha. They liked having a miracle worker for the Messiah as long as this Messiah did what the people wanted, to fulfill their national and religious ambitions. Jesus said God’s favor would come to people outside of Israel. It struck at the deepest core of the Jews’ bigotries.
They rushed at Jesus. They wanted to destroy Him. They drove him out of town. They possibly grabbed His arms to force Him out.
Nazareth was located in the Galilaen highlands which make up the southern ridge of the Lebanese mountain range. The town was built on a hill that had a steep slope. From there, the mob was intending to hurl him over the cliff. Their religious fervor was leading them to do a very ungodly deed.
Similarly, in today’s world, many religious zealots use their religious beliefs as an excuse to impose their faith by violence and to attack anyone who challenges them.
This was not to be the time, place, or manner for Jesus’ death. He did not fear death, but His mission had only begun. Many miles lay ahead. He miraculously escaped from them and went on his way.
And Jesus went back to Capernaum, where He continued His miraculous ministry of healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom.
Rejection of Jesus does not change who Jesus is. People may refuse to believe in Christ, but their lack of faith affects them, not Him. Sometimes we feel rejected by people because we follow Jesus. He warned His disciples that in doing so, such people are not really snubbing us, they are rejecting Him (Matt. 10:22). We should not expect any better treatment. Like Paul the apostle, we can count it joy to suffer for Christ’s sake (Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:41). We can go on in faith, trusting to see His victory (1 Pet. 3:14).
There are three major takeaways from Jesus’ Sabbath proclamation in his hometown. Choices along our way in this life –
First, reject the “Nazareth Way.” Jesus’ hard-hearted Nazarene neighbors had several major problems, including
1. They think Jesus is just like them. They know him as “Joseph’s son,” a local boy. But Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). Modern people sometimes make the mistake of thinking Jesus is a slightly better version of themselves. That’s Nazarene thinking. Jesus is God in the flesh.
2. They think they deserve VIP treatment from Jesus. Because they have known Jesus for years, they expect Him to do special miracles for them. In their hearts, they exalted themselves before Jesus and as a result they are humbled (Luke 14:11). The best title anyone will ever claim before God is not VIP, but “unworthy servant” (Luke 17:10).
3. They care more about external signs than internal realities. The Nazarenes miss the meaning of Jesus and the Scriptures because they keep everything on the surface level. They ignored the perilous condition of their hearts because they are looking for a spectacle. We should guard against this temptation too. No external sign can accomplish what God’s word can do in a human heart (Luke 16:31).
4. They are quick to anger, judge, and condemn. It is astonishing how quickly the Nazarene’s go from speaking well of Jesus to attempted murder. Human hearts are fickle, and people who are prone to “fits of anger” live in a dangerous place. They will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21). This is why Scripture commends not judging others harshly (Luke 6:37) and being slow to anger ( James 1:19) – this is Godly character.
Second, do not reject Jesus! As bad as the Nazarene’s problems appear, God can forgive them all through Jesus Christ. This is possible because the “day of God’s vengeance” is still “not yet.” We live in the “year of the Lord’s favor,” when forgiveness is offered to everyone, and salvation is announced around the world! Salvation is a glorious reality of hope, peace, purity, and joy in the present, with an even greater expectation for the future. Someday, Christ will return to bring God’s vengeance on everyone who rejects Him, but as long as it is “today” we must “not harden” and reject Jesus (Hebrews 3:7-19)
Finally, do not fear rejection – from God or from people. Here is why:
1. God does not reject you. He sent Christ to pay for your sins so that you could be united to Jesus (Romans 6:5), adopted into His family (Ephesians 1:5), chosen, holy, loved, and forgiven (Colossians 3:12-13). Moreover, Jesus himself promised that whoever comes to Him He will never cast out ( John 6:37). Finally, the Holy Spirit is given to every believer as a sign and seal of God’s acceptance (Ephesians 1:13). If you have called Jesus your Lord, you need never fear His rejection (1 Corinthians 12:3).
2. Jesus endured human rejection on your behalf. As we have seen, Jesus was rejected by people. He did it to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). The Apostle Peter also argues that Jesus’ rejection and suffering gives us an example for our own trials which lead to greater holiness and the spread of the Gospel (1 Peter 4:1-6).
3. The Holy Spirit will empower you to withstand human rejection. Jesus promises that His followers will sometimes be rejected for His name’s sake (Matthew 5:11; John 16:33). He gives Christians the Holy Spirit so that they will be able to stand boldly in the face of all opposition (Acts 4:13; Ephesians 6:10). If you have a Bible, then you have God’s Holy Spirit inspired words. That is the perfect weapon for answering all human rejection (Luke 12:12; Ephesians 6:17-18).
To God be the glory.