Today I want to share with you some points about the message Jesus shared with the people in his home town. We see the most detail about this encounter in the book of Luke. Matthew and Mark, both mention the encounter briefly. John makes reference to it but even less so than Matthew and Mark. Luke though goes into detail, being the historian that he was. Remember that Luke was not a Jew nor a disciple. Luke never even met Jesus personally. He was a Gentile and a physician and a servant to Paul during much of his ministry. Luke wrote the Gospel account which bears his name as well as the book of Acts which is written as a sequel or continuation of the book of Luke. Luke spent the majority of his adult life researching and writing these inspired words of God and serving Paul.
The focus passage for today is from Luke 4:14-30. Please open your Bible or app and read this passage as we go through this encounter today.
After Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, Luke tells us that “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to the Galilee region, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all” (vv. 14–15). Considering we just spent seven weeks looking at the Holy Spirit through these weekly notes, I want to highlight what Luke says here with the comment “in the power of the Spirit” before proceeding with the rest of the passage. Luke had just shared in the prior verses, Luke 4:1-13, about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness immediately after His baptism by John the Baptist. It was John the Baptist who proclaimed that He saw the Spirit of God literally descend upon Jesus and remain, the same as a dove descends to the ground fluttering to slow itself when it lands (John 1:32-34). A dove descends and lands the last part of its descent slowly and purposefully. John visually saw a slow, purposeful descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ and the Spirit remained upon Him. Jesus now at some 30 years old will begin His earthly ministry.
Some period of time passes, we do not know how long, and Jesus returns to His hometown of Nazareth (verse 16) which was about twenty miles from one of the main cities in the Galilee area, Capernaum. At some time during His visit to Nazareth, Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was His custom”. Did you catch that statement? Jesus, as busy as He was and knowing more than any of the other teachers or preachers at the synagogue, still attended regularly.
It was common for synagogue leaders to invite visitors, especially visiting rabbis as most considered Jesus to be, to read during the service and then to elaborate on what they had just read. The leader of the Nazareth synagogue welcomes Jesus and hands Him the planned reading for that particular Sabbath. This planned reading was from the prophet Isaiah.
Jesus opens the scroll and finds the place we refer to as Isaiah 61:1-2:
Luke 4:18 (NIV) 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 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.
This prophecy which Jesus reads from Isaiah was written around 750 years before and is about the Messiah. Isaiah declares the one coming to be “anointed”. This means that the Messiah would be anointed by the Holy Spirit in the sense of being set apart or consecrated for a sacred vocation. Kings were anointed. Prophets were anointed. Ministers and elders in the church were anointed. Anointing is an act of consecration. Isaiah’s prophecy was even more though. The anointing Isaiah prophesied was saying that the Messiah would be endowed with power from God. Jesus here reads that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He (the Spirit) has anointed me.” John literally saw this occur after Jesus’ baptism as we noted above. What is it that He has been anointed to do? He has been anointed or endowed with the Holy Spirit to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recover sight for the blind, set the oppressed free and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, meaning the year of Jubilee.
The first point of the anointing was for Jesus to proclaim, meaning to preach. Jesus was the most powerful preacher to ever walk the face of the earth. He had the full anointing promised to the Messiah. He was anointed to proclaim good news to the poor, not just to the physically poor as we see in His teaching on the Beatitudes (see Luke 6:20–22), but also to those who are poor in spirit, who are numbered among the brokenhearted, those who are poverty stricken spiritually. You can be a person of great wealth and still be spiritually poor, desperately needing to hear the preaching of the Gospel. Desperately needing to hear the Gospel which Romans 1:16 tells us has the power to change lives. Desperately needing to hear the Word which John 1:1 tells us is Jesus.
Try to imagine yourself here at the synagogue in Nazareth on this day. Your eyes are fixed on Jesus. You anxiously await what He is going to say. You know this man. You played in the street with Him when you were young. You went swimming with Him in the creek down in the valley. His brothers and sisters may even be here today (Matthew 13:55-56), and maybe even His mother. Jesus has been gone for a while but He is back home. You have heard He was living in Capernaum and heard the many stories of His incredible ministry preaching, performing miracles and healings many places but especially in this area of Galilee as alluded to in verse 14 and 15. He has not been back home though, but now, here He is and He is going to preach in His hometown for the very first time. You are on the edge of your seat, awaiting His coming teaching. What you hear though must be one of the shortest sermons to ever be delivered. He stands and reads these two verses from Isaiah and then goes and sits down. Your eyes remain fixed upon Him as He sits there. You could hear a pin drop. Jesus looks across the crowd and looks even at you and then opens His mouth again. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (verse 21). You say to yourself, “Wait a minute, is He saying the “anointed one”, the one we have been waiting on for centuries, is now here?” You are still holding your breath to see if He will elaborate further.
This is where Luke’s account struck me. Beginning in verse 22 we see where Luke tells us next that “all spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips.” I had never seen that part before in the order of events as Luke records them. I had always jumped to the shorter versions of this encounter and not fully appreciated this initial reaction by the crowd. They then say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son”. What causes them to go from speaking well of Him and being amazed at His gracious words to just moments later, as we will see, become so angry they want to harm this hometown young man by throwing Him down from the top of a hill at the edge of town? Let’s look at what Jesus says next that flips the switch in these from His hometown, turning them into a raging mob.
Jesus reminds them that miracles are occurring and would later continue to occur in Capernaum. He tells them that they are going to want Him to do the same things here in Nazareth (verse 23). Jesus then starts getting even more personal with them. He tells them in verse 24, “Truly I tell you that no prophet is accepted in his hometown”. When the Bible records Jesus as saying “Truly I tell you”, or “Very truly”, the writer is telling you that Jesus is in essence saying “Look at me. Let me be as clear as I can be with you”. He is calling for your fullest attention. They are thinking “Isn’t this Joseph’s son” and He follows that with the statement about a prophet not being accepted in his hometown. His words may have seemed gracious but were they listening to Him as a prophet or, simply as Joseph’s son?
Luke now includes detail not included in the other Gospel accounts. Jesus continues to speak by covering two historical events which the people there would know well from their history. He tells a story of two of the greatest prophets from the Old Testament, Elijah and Elisha. He spoke first of Elijah and said, “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow” (vv. 25–26). If you read the original account in 1 Kings, chapter 17, you will notice that Jesus adds some detail to the story in His summation of that passage. Nowhere in the passage in the OT does it say that “there were many widows in Israel”. While people would know that to be true, Jesus adds this specific point that is not a part of the historical written account. Jesus wanted to emphasize something they may not have considered before. He was emphasizing the fact that God sent Elijah out of Israel, to Sidon, which was a Phoenician city. He was emphasizing God sent Elijah to a Gentile widow. He was emphasizing “God sent” Elijah to go and to minister to only whom God wanted Him to minister, completely bypassing all those needy widows of Israel.
In the second example, He said, “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them were cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (v. 27). Jesus again adds some detail to the story that is not specifically called out in 2 Kings, chapter 5. The only mention of being healed of leprosy in all of 2 Kings is this one account. There are other accounts of leprosy in 2 Kings but there are no further accounts of healings from leprosy. The only healing from leprosy occurs to – you guessed it - a Gentile. Jesus again is emphasizing something by drawing attention to this non-printed fact from the holy scriptures.
Why did Jesus use these examples and why did these specific examples make the people so angry as we see in verses 28-29? Jesus has struck a nerve and we know Jesus does nothing by accident. He does and says only what the Father tells Him to. The hearers are definitely offended now after His teaching when they were not offended just moments earlier.
There are things that are preached or should be preached that will offend the hearers. Some preachers try to avoid offending the congregation at all cost, often avoiding preaching deep truth. They continue to feed milk to their congregations as 1 Corinthians 3 and Hebrews 5 tells us instead of us advancing on to the meat of the Word. Sadly, many today still only can handle milk and are not ready or even desirous of meat. They remain infants in Christ as the passages referenced tell us. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:19-20 – “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly as I should.” A dear friend of mine has prayed those verses over me for several years. My uncle Rufus back in Alabama says that “The true Word of God when preached or taught produces one of two reactions. It either attracts / draws OR, repels / offends”. Jesus preached something that day which was considered offensive to the majority of these from His hometown, people He grew up with, people He played with as a child and with friends and relatives present. Exactly why the offense occurred, the Scriptures do not explicitly spell out. I believe a hint is back up in verse 23.
If you read verse 23 carefully you notice that before they got mad, Jesus told them they would one day say “please do here in your hometown what you did in Capernaum”. Jesus did many miracles in Capernaum. You can read Mark, chapters 1 and 2 and get a great feel for these early miracles and the choosing of the first disciples. You can also look just a few more verses down in Luke 4:40 and see where it says in Simon’s (Peter’s) home town, everyone that needed a healing came to Jesus and He healed them all, each and every one. It appears Jesus may be telling them that all of the great signs and wonders done elsewhere will not be done here, just as they were not done in Israel for fellow Jews as was highlighted with the examples Jesus gave with Elijah rescuing the Gentile widow and Elisha healing the Gentile Naaman. When considering this remember Luke is himself, a Gentile. He wrote Acts which goes into great detail outlining how the Gospel was for the Gentiles also. Considering that, you appreciate more why Luke included this detail of the sermon by Jesus that day and why Matthew, a Jew, did not include that point. Even before these in His hometown can openly reject Him as we see a few verses down, He is telling them that He knows they will reject Him and not receive the same benefits as those in other areas. So, were they offended by inferring He was simply not going to do miracles there? Or, were they offended because He was declaring some deeper truth such as declaring God’s sovereignty and opening up the message to other nations by what occurred with Elijah and Elisha? A hint as to the root cause or impetus of the offense is given in the account of this same hometown message from Matthew 13:58 where it says “Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief”. Their offense at what Jesus preached led these whom knew Jesus personally, having grown up with Him, to rejection and unbelief, (the key overall point Matthew did include), regarding anything else He might say or do. Do you get offended at truth from God’s Word or does your spirit rejoice when it hears truth and crave for more? Are you drawn to more or are you repelled?
We see in verse 28-30 that the crowd was so angry they rose up immediately and basically pushed Jesus toward the top of a hill in the town and sought to push Him off that hill. Jesus somehow, by the Spirit of God, walks right through their midst and goes on His way, leaving the town where His brothers and sisters and mother lived. The people have now displayed their full rejection of Him.
The scroll of Isaiah spoke elsewhere of the future One who would come as the sin bearer and the suffering servant of Israel saying; “He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isaiah 53:3). The Apostle John writes; “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:10–11). Let’s apply what John says to Jesus’ hometown in this message. John 1:10-11 would read like this; “He was in Nazareth, and Nazareth was made through Him. But Nazareth did not really know Him. He came to His own Nazarenes, and His own Nazarenes did not receive Him.” This same thing happened throughout Israel. He came to Israel. He made Israel. Israel was His own, but they received Him not. Or, let’s go beyond the scope of Nazareth, beyond the scope of Israel, to the whole world. He came to the world, as John says, and even though the world was made by Him, the world did not know Him. That is as true today as it was true that day in Nazareth. The people of Nazareth saw Him as the son of Joseph and never saw Him or better said, “did not know Him or receive Him” for who He really was.
The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that with Jesus, there is no neutrality. Those who are not with Him are against Him. If you are not His disciple, you are His enemy. Your natural state, the state in which you were born, the Scriptures tell us, is a state of enmity toward God. You were born in sin due to that original sin of Adam we covered several weeks back. By nature, God is your enemy, which means that by nature, God’s Son is your enemy. Only a supernatural work of grace can change the disposition of your heart from one of antagonism and offense to one of devoted love and religious affection. The Holy Spirit must come to kill the grass and flower of goodliness, Isaiah 40:6-8. The Holy Spirit must come and regenerate your dead spirit and change the disposition of your heart. He must rid you of your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh, Ezekiel 36:26-27. Unless the Holy Spirit, this same Spirit that was upon Jesus does this, you will ultimately reject and disavow Jesus.
Here in NE Texas and where I grew up in Alabama, people mostly say, “I accepted Jesus or I believed in Jesus” for salvation. Perhaps a better term to consider is “I received Jesus”. To receive Jesus is not exactly the same as accepting Him. To accept somebody, in our modern American vernacular, can mean simply to tolerate them. You may accept who your elected officials are but you really only tolerate them. You may accept who your boss is but you really only put up with them because you want a pay check. To receive Jesus though, in biblical language and description, is to embrace Him.
The language of the New Testament is not one of acceptance; it’s of embracing. In fact, when the Bible speaks of “believing in Christ”, it literally means welcoming Him, receiving Him, trusting Him, embracing Him with all of one’s heart. We focus on the word believe, as from John 3:16 and many, many other places in the New Testament, often not recognizing how that word is used fully in our present culture. “Believe” in our present culture is often understood by many as acknowledging Jesus was who He said He was with some preachers even stating it that way. “Believe” though in that context applies equally to another passage from James 2:19 where the half-brother of Jesus and leader of the first church in Jerusalem tells us, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that ---- and tremble”. James, someone who may have even heard his brother preach that day in Nazareth and someone who did not come to recognize Jesus as the Son of God until after the cross and resurrection, was saying salvation was more than is simply characterized in our modern culture by the English word “believing”.
We read in the great prologue to the Gospel of John (chapter 1 and verses 1-14) that “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but born of God” (John 1:11–13).
John focuses on “receive” twice in this passage to help better introduce the word believe here in this first chapter of his Gospel. He would later use the word believe in many places in his Gospel, more in John than in any of the other Gospels. John’s prologue sets the stage for everything else he is going to write in the following chapters and verses. Because you received the Lord Jesus Christ, you are a born-again new creation. We are not by nature the children of God; “we are by nature, children of wrath (Eph. 2:3)”. The only thing that changes our status ultimately from hell to heaven is “receiving the Lord Jesus Christ”, which the people of Nazareth did not do. They had “unbelief”. They did not “believe”, or better said, they did not “receive” Jesus. They did not receive His difficult message. They saw Him with their eyes. They knew of the miracles He had done. They recognized He had a gift upon Him for preaching. With all of these factual things they saw, they still did not “receive Him” for who He truly was. They kicked Him out of town. You can believe with your mind only. Biblical “receiving” though occurs in the heart, a heart that is changed from one of stone to one of flesh.
The day comes for every man and woman, when you will stand before the throne of Almighty God. He has appointed the day on which He will judge the world through the One whom He has appointed judge, whom He has vindicated by the power of the resurrection. On that day, Jesus will either be your judge, (Acts 17:31) or He will be your defense attorney, your Advocate, (1 John 2:1), because you are literally “in Christ” as we saw in our lesson eight weeks back titled “Our Advocate”. If you reject or do not receive Jesus now, He will reject you then. Luke tells us this is how it started in Nazareth, and all of the rejection or lack of “receiving” that happened in Nazareth was a foretaste of what was waiting for Jesus later in Jerusalem, just as it had been prophesied hundreds of years before.
Are you with Him or are you against Him? There is no middle ground. Please receive Him today. Embrace Him, welcome Him, and trust Him with all of your heart.