By Andrew E. Courtis
The experience of rejection can be really tough. Perhaps you received a rejection in a job application, in not being selected in a sports team, or even in a relationship. Though there will be varying levels of rejection, it is never nice and it always hurts.
There is a particular kind of rejection that has been around throughout Biblical history, and it is the rejection of faithful preachers. Many preachers throughout history have faithfully preached God’s Word and to then have been confronted with rejection by the people. An example of a faithful preacher that was rejected is Jonathan Edwards. Edwards faithfully preached the Word of God to his congregation in North Hampton, Massachusetts for twenty-three years. Then problems occurred when he insisted that those who come to the Lord’s Table demonstrate evidence of salvation. This did not go down well in the church, so much so that 207 of the 230 members voted for his dismissal. At the age of 46 America’s brightest theological mind was rejected by his congregation. He then ministered to the American Indians for eight years with financial struggle. He was then called to be the president of Princeton. After only a few months of being in this role, small pox had swept through the region. Edwards received a vaccine to be inoculated against this disease but died soon later at the age of 54.
An interesting observation is that many times the ones who rejected faithful preachers of God’s Word and caused much controversy are those within the church. What is it that causes such rejection, and to be pointed, what is it that causes us to reject the clear and faithful preaching of God’s Word? With this question we arrive at our passage in the Gospel according to Luke.
Between the temptation of Christ in the wilderness (4:1-13) and the events found in our present passage (4:14-40), there were many things Jesus did. He called His first disciples (John 1:35-50). Jesus attended a wedding and turned the water into wine, and this was His first miracle (John 2:1-11). He cleared the temple of the religious hypocrites (John 2:12-22). He conversed with Nicodemus and told him that he must be born again (John 3:1-12). He gave good news to the woman at the well (John 4:1-26). And He healed the official’s son (John 4:46-54). About a year has now passed and Jesus returns to His hometown Nazareth. The opportunity arises for Him to preach at the local synagogue. How did the people of Nazareth respond to His message? Initially it was positive, but in the end it was devastating.
Of all the things that Jesus had done in His first year of ministry, it is interesting that this occasion is the first thing Luke reports concerning Jesus’ public ministry. Why is that? This passage demonstrates to us what the priority of Christ’s ministry was. It teaches us that Jesus Christ alone has the remedy to the world’s sin problem, and unless you see your need for Christ and for your sin to be forgiven, there is no hope. This gift of salvation is not just for the Jew it is for the Gentile. Jesus provides hope for the poor, broken, captive, blind, and oppressed.
This passage firstly recounts the Direct Message of the Lord (4:16-21) and then the Devastating Response of the People(4:22-30).
1. THE DIRECT MESSAGE OF THE LORD (4:16-21)
Jesus has now returned to Nazareth, the town where He was raised. There would have been many memories in His mind of His years spent there, and the people of the small town of Nazareth knew of Him. Once He arrives, in keeping with His custom, Jesus goes to the local synagogue to give a public reading of the Scriptures followed by a sermon (4:16). It was customary for the reader to be given a scroll of the Scriptures to read. Jesus receives it, unrolls it, and then selects His reading. Jesus chose two passages from the prophet Isaiah, 61:1-2 and 58:6. His reading is as follows,
“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 liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (4:18-19).
After He gave this reading, He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant of the synagogue, and sat down. This was the position a teacher would take when he taught the people. Now as the people were seated, their eyes were fixed on Him as they waited to hear His sermon (2:20). Luke doesn’t record the entire sermon, but gives a summary statement of what Jesus said at the beginning. He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21). This is a striking and significant statement to make, especially at the beginning of His sermon. This passage describes the activities of the promised Messiah, and Jesus is saying that the Messiah is here, and I am the Messiah. He is announcing the good news that He has arrived and He can deliver people from their helpless condition.
Let’s unpack the significance of the words Jesus read. He begins by saying, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (4:22). This means that human authority did not drive His mission because He has come with Divine power. The individuals that Jesus Christ comes to bring salvation to are described as poor, captives, blind, and oppressed. These include physical and social realities, but the emphasis is on the spiritual condition. The reality is, every person outside of Jesus Christ is in this condition, but most people don’t recognise they are.
Those that Jesus is coming to save are those that recognise their spiritually impoverished and morally bankrupt condition. The “captives” are those in bondage to sin and unable to free themselves. To be “blind” refers to the spiritual darkness each sinner is in and their inability to see God’s light. The act of healing the physically blind pointed to this reality (cf. John 9). The “oppressed” are those who are broken and shattered. They are left without any hope and need restoration from outside themselves.
It is important to note that Jesus deliberately leaves out the last line of this reading from Isaiah 61:2b. That line says “and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn”. The Jewish people were expecting the Messiah to come and deliver them from the hands of the Romans and rule as their king. He will come and deliver His people from their enemies and issue vengeance, but this won’t occur until His Second Coming. In His first coming Jesus has come to seek and save the lost (cf. 19:10). Jesus makes it clear that in His first coming His mission is one of salvation. In this sermon Jesus is telling them that this is why He is here and this is what He has been doing.
As a side point, there are three noteworthy characteristics of the preaching of Jesus in these verses, and they are also seen throughout the gospels. These characteristics ought to mark all true preaching of God’s Word. Jesus preached, powerfully, plainly, and precisely. It was powerful because He is the Son of God, the Spirit anointed Him, and it was according to God’s Word. It was plain in that He didn’t communicate in a way people didn’t understand and His message was clear. It was precise because He said what was right and what was according to God’s Word.
2. THE DEVESTATING RESPONSE OF THE PEOPLE (4:22-30)
After such an amazing sermon, how did the congregation respond? They heard the clear teaching of God’s Word and they were amazed by it. But then they refuse to obey God’s Word by raising ridiculous talking points that take attention away from their sin. It is as if they heard the powerful, plain, and precise style in which Jesus preached and they were impressed. Then when the main point of the sermon was stated, they begin to question Jesus. Due to pride and self-sufficiency, the people refused to see themselves the condition of being poor, captives, blind, and oppressed.
We miss out on joy in the Lord when we allow ourselves to focus on things that distract from our need for God’s grace. When we cover up our sin and focus on petty and trivial things we very easily become bitter, touchy, and then angry.
They began to ask, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (2:22b). The reality of what Jesus is saying begins to sink in, and they raise the topic of Jesus being the son of a local small town carpenter. Their point is, “He is not the Christ, He is a carpenter!” This is undermining the claim Jesus made concerning His identify. Because Jesus is the Sovereign Son of God, He is aware of what the motives and thoughts are behind this statement. He goes right to the heart of the matter and says, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” (2:23). In other words, Jesus exposes their unbelief and arrogant presumption. They thought that because they are synagogue-going Jews this message is not for them. So they question whether Jesus can even do the things that the reports say and that Jesus claims. Jesus now goes to the heart of the matter in a way only He can. He tells them that it is not strange when God’s sovereign grace bypasses the proud Jew and is extended to the repentant Gentile. Jesus gives two illustrations of God extending His grace to outsiders.
The first is Elijah and the Widow (4:25-26). God had sent a three and a half year famine on the land. Though there were many widows in the land, God sent Elijah to a Gentile widow to work a miracle. She only had a small portion of flour and oil. Elijah asked her to bake a meal for him, and then afterwards makes something for herself and her son. He assured her that the Lord would allow the flour and oil to last until the famine is over. She did exactly what she was told and God worked this miracle. This widow understood her condition of poverty and trusted the Lord (1 Kings 17:18).
The second story is of Elisha and the Leper (4:27). The leper was a Gentile military commander of one of Israel’s enemies. Clearly, this is an outsider in the eyes of the Jews! Yet God used Elisha to bring healing to his leprosy. After his initial refusal, he then humbled himself and washed himself in the river seven times as he was told. After he was healed he praised God.
These two stories illustrate that at a time of widespread unbelief in Israel, God sent two of His prophets to work miracles in the lives of Gentiles. They experienced the blessing of God’s sovereign grace when they saw their helplessness and believed the message.
After Jesus said this “all in the synagogue were filled with wrath” (4:28). Then they drove Him out of the town to a cliff with the intention of throwing Him off. It is never a good sign when people leave a worship service wanting to kill the preacher. In fact, they didn’t even make it to the final hymn and benediction! In this case it says a lot about their pride and unwillingness to submit to Christ. Luke tells us that Jesus passed “through their midst” and went on His way (4:30). There was no way they could take His life from Him at this time because He hour has not yet arrived. Luke would have his readers know that the Sovereign Seeking Saviour is on a mission, and nothing will get in the way of that.
This crowd responded with rage because they did not want to deal with their sin. This anger came as a result of their distrust of Jesus Christ and their rejection of Jesus will end in God’s rejection of them.
The well-polished synagogue going people of Nazareth rejected Jesus that day. In their very midst He announced to them the arrival of the Messiah. Even though Jesus announced this message with power, plainness, and precision, they did not want to admit that they are poor, captives, blind, oppressed and in need of Christ. For this reason they lost the opportunity to experience true joy in the Lord. As I bring this message to a close, I would like to conclude with two powerful lessons.
Hearing and enjoying the preaching of God’s Word is good, but heeding and embracing it is greater. The people of Nazareth sat in the synagogue and commented on how amazing Jesus’ preaching was. That is nice, but being amazed does not benefit. We must hear the Word with the view of heeding the Word. We must enjoy the Word with the view of embracing the Word.
When we refuse to see our sin, we go down a dark pathway leading to destruction. The people of Nazareth’s refusal to see their blind spiritual condition caused them to reject Jesus. This led them to go down a pathway in which Jesus rejected them. They were so set on throwing Jesus over a cliff; they lost the opportunity of Jesus curing their helplessness. We are to be warned that when we refuse to see our sin and go to Christ, we are going to experience destructive outcomes in our life. Due to stubbornness the people attempted to throw Jesus off a cliff, but as an outcome, they ended throwing themselves off the cliff spiritually.
We learnt how the people of Nazareth responded to the direct message of Jesus Christ, the question for you is, how will you respond to His message? With offence or obedience?