Pastor Scott Andrews | December 31, 2023
I love the New Year’s holiday. There’s just something refreshing, even revitalizing about entering a new year. It’s almost like we get to hit the delete button on last year and start over. I know it’s not that easy, but the New Year affords opportunities to make new commitments and begin again. For example, consider these New Year’s Resolutions as they progress through the years:
2018: I will read at least 20 good books this year.
2019: I will read at least 10 books this year.
2020: I will read 5 books this year.
2021: I will finish The Children’s Bible.
2022: I will read some articles on the internet this year.
2023: I will read at least one article this year.
2024: I will try to read a recipe this year.
2018: I will get my weight down below 180.
2019: I will watch my calories until I get below 190.
2020: I will follow my new diet rigorously until I get below 200.
2021: I will try to develop a realistic attitude about my weight.
2022: I will work out 5 days a week.
2023: I will work out 3 days a week.
2024: I will try to drive past a gym at least once a week.
2018: I will not spend my money frivolously.
2019: I will pay off my bank loan promptly.
2020: I will pay off my bank loans promptly.
2021: I will be totally out of debt by 2024.
2022: I will begin making a strong effort to be out of debt by 2025.
2023: I will try to pay off the debt interest by 2026.
2024: I will try to be out of the country by February.
Okay, that has nothing to do with my sermon, but I thought I should at least give you some good resolutions. Now, if you’ve been with us, you know we are in a study of the gospel of Luke.
- The Prologue (1:1-4)
- The Birth Narratives (1:5-2:52)
- The Preparation for Ministry (3:1-4:13)
- The Galilean Ministry (4:14-9:50)
- The Travel Narratives (9:51-19:48)
- The Passion of Jesus (20:1-23:56)
- The Exaltation of Jesus (24:1-53)
We’ve made our way through the Prologue, the Birth Narratives and Jesus’ Preparation for Ministry. The last time we were together in Luke two weeks ago, we began His Galilean Ministry, which goes most the way through chapter 9. Is this section, Jesus is teaching, along with supporting miracles, throughout Galilee, the northern district of Israel. Now Luke just summarily mentions His early ministry in a couple of verses, “And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district. And He began teaching in all their synagogues and was praised by all.”
So at this point, Jesus has been in Galilee for a little while, surely long enough for news about Him to spread. Remember, He actually began His ministry in Judea after His baptism and temptation in the wilderness – meaning, He’s been in His messianic ministry for up to a year by now. He’s become a headliner – quite the news sensation. He’s the lead story every day. His teaching is unlike anything they’d ever heard, and His miracles were amazing.
Now, don’t miss that. He was indeed healing people, driving out demons. Interestingly, no one ever denied the reality of His miracles – not even the religious leadership who opposed Him. They were obvious miracles – the sick made whole, the lame walked, the blind saw, the deaf heard, lepers restored – eventually, even the dead will be raised. Not only that, He will soon calm storms, walk on water and feed thousands with a few loaves and fish. Clearly, this Man was something special – people were amazed. His miracles were undeniable – so eventually, those opposing Him just ascribed His power to Satan – you know, the one whose works Jesus came to destroy. Driving out demons by the power of Beelzebub – don’t you know a house divided against itself will not stand. Seems our congress ought to hear that message.
So the news spread, and one day, He showed up in Nazareth. Now, while it is true Nazareth was a nothing, backwater town, it is where Jesus grew up. He’d spent almost thirty years there – the illegitimate son of Joseph and Mary – or so it was thought. He’d followed in His father’s footsteps – taking on the family trade of carpentry. But then, eventually He disappeared for a while – made His way to the Jordan, like many, to be baptized by John the Baptist. Spent 40 days in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil – well, they didn’t know that part. But then, He didn’t come back home – He spent time in Judea, then in Galilee. But now, finally, the now celebrity rabbi had returned. He showed up at the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was His practice. The synagogue ruler asked Him to read from the prophets – He was handed the scroll of Isaiah. He opened to Isaiah 61 and began to read:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
Great start, Jesus – that’s one of our favorites. It tells of the coming Messiah, and what He will do when He arrives. This is great stuff. Can’t wait to hear some teaching on it. But wait, you left out the best part – the last line of verse 2 says He will mete out God’s vengeance on our enemies. But that’s okay – good choice, Rabbi Jesus – so far so good.
But then, He handed the scroll back to the attendant, who carefully wrapped it, replaced it in the sacred cabinet. Rabbi Jesus sat down on the raised dais, the place of teaching. Everyone sat down, their eyes fixed on Him, tell us something good. And He looked at them, and said some incredible, albeit confusing words, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Wait, what? Perhaps He said a little more. Perhaps it was simply the way He read one of their favorite texts – we’re not sure. But let’s read their response in our text today – Luke 4:22-30.
I know of few texts more appropriate for the world, and our culture today, than this one. The truths contained in this story seem to have been written for us. Maybe for you. Jesus, in all He said, and all He did – proved who He was, and what He came to do. But such truth is offensive to most – and causes opposition, even rage. (’96 Olympics) And I won’t believe it, unless I see it. And Jesus will in essence say, you won’t see it, if you don’t believe it. Well, let’s outline the text as we jump into it:
- The Crowd’s [Initial] Response of Wonder (22)
- Jesus’ Response of Truth (23-27)
- The Crowd’s Response of Rage (28-29)
- And Jesus [Simply] Walking Away (30)
Again, we don’t know if Jesus said more, or if it was what He read and the way He read it from Isaiah 61, but at first, we see all were speaking well of Him, perhaps whispering to one another in the synagogue that day, wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips. Some no doubt suggested, I’m a friend of the family. Others were astonished; some said, I knew it all along. They, like synagogues across Galilee, were amazed. And remember, He was filled with the Spirit. I believe something spiritual was happening here – if they would receive it. No man ever spoke like this man. And they were hopeful – maybe He would do some miracles, like He’d been doing elsewhere. And therein lies the problem. To be impressed with Jesus and not recognize His deity and bow to Him as Lord is not enough – in fact, I would suggest it is dishonoring.
You see, it’s interesting. Many today will acknowledge that Jesus was an amazing man with some incredible teaching. Isn’t that what many say – clearly He was a good man, with some paradigm-shifting teaching. Many will even agree that through His life and teaching, He changed the world. But that’s it – let’s not go too far.
And that’s what was happening in Nazareth. They were willing to welcome home the famous rabbi. They were willing to allow Him to read from Isaiah in their synagogue. But to accept that what He read applied to Him and to them – they were the poor, the needy, the captives, the blind, the oppressed? No way. They were too proud. So also today, many will accept some of the teachings of Jesus. Turn the other cheek. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Don’t judge – we especially like that one. Care for the poor and the marginalized.
But to suggest that we might be the poor – the needy – the captive – the blind – the oppressed? To suggest that we might have a need, that only He can meet? To suggest that He was the divine Messiah, and that through Him alone, we can find salvation? You’ve just gone too far. That’s too exclusive. It offends sensibilities. People are too proud to acknowledge their need, their sin, their altogether spiritual poverty. You mean I bring nothing to the table? Don’t tell me that. I can always think of someone worse. I’m pretty good if you stop to think about it.
They were amazed at His words until they hit too close to home. No one likes to be told they have a need – least of all, sinners.
And so they were saying, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Commentators are divided on the nature of that question. Some take it positively, looking at each other, winking at each other, Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Why, He’s one of us, and look at the name He’s making for Himself, and for us, throughout Galilee. And in a moment, hey, if He’s one of us, maybe He’ll do some self-serving tricks for us like He’s done throughout Galilee. All said with hopeful and proud glee.
Others, however, see it as negative – wait just a minute – what do you mean, this Scripture is fulfilled in our hearing? Three times the passage spoke of the Messiah – the Spirit is upon Me, He anointed Me, He sent Me. And now you say, as the reader, this is fulfilled, it applies to You? And they were offended – is this not Joseph’s son?
Either understanding misses the mark – He was not Joseph’s son. It was precisely because He was God’s Son that this passage could and would be applied to Him. Yes, He could throw a few miracles their way, yes, He was more than a carpenter’s son. But their understanding stopped short.
Again, the same can be said of people’s view of Jesus today. Hey, maybe Jesus will do some self-serving miracle for me? He will, actually. He will forgive your sin. Or some will say, He was simply a man – the son of a carpenter. Yeah, He said some good things, but the minute He claimed to be the divine Messiah, He took it too far. And despite His teaching and supporting miracles, people set themselves up as judge and jury on the claims of Jesus – the Son of God.
Bringing us to our second point. Jesus read their minds and had a lot to say to them. He starts with two, seemingly well-known proverbs. No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, “Physician, heal yourself.” Lots of discussion about that, but most agree it likely had something to do with the next sentence, “Whatever we heard was done in Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” Meaning, physician, you’re doing miracles elsewhere, do them here among your own people – heal yourself.
But why? Well, for one, they wanted some of the goods. Come on, do something for us. Isn’t that what many want from Jesus today? I’ll accept you, Jesus, if you meet my needs. You claim to be the Son of God – You did some great things once – do it now, for me. And people approach Christianity as a kind of get rich quick scheme – materially, physically, relationally, economically. And if Jesus doesn’t do that for me, well, I won’t follow Him.
Which leads to the second problem. They wouldn’t believe it unless they saw some miracle. And so false teachers capitalize on that understanding even today. Plant a seed of faith and see what God might do for you. Believe God for a miracle – maybe one of healing – and see what God might do for you. And if He doesn’t perform, I won’t believe. And we remember the words of Jesus to Thomas, blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.
The second proverb is in verse 24 – Truly [the word is amen] I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. Familiarity breeds contempt. That was true throughout the OT – prophets were often opposed by their own people – as was Jesus. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. It’s interesting to note – we just came through Christmas, where we celebrate the incarnation. The word became flesh and lived awhile among us. He became one of us – they celebrate His birth of sorts, and yet, most do not believe Him, receive Him.
Jesus went on from there to cite two OT examples as proof of the proverb – and it is these two stories that enraged His listeners in Nazareth. The first was of the prophet Elijah in the reign of wicked King Ahab and wicked Queen Jezebel. Because of their wickedness, at the word of Elijah, God sent a drought for three and a half years, resulting in severe famine. I King 17 tells of the time, during the famine, Elijah traveled to Sidon, to a widow of Zarephath. You may remember the story – she was gathering sticks for fire to use the last of her flour and oil, to bake a cake, so that she and her son could eat and die.
Elijah told her to continue, only to give the cake to him – and if she did, then her flour and oil would not run out. She did – he ate – and her flour and oil continued to sustain her through the famine. Two significant points to be observed here. First, she believed Elijah and acted in faith on his promise, before there was miracle. In other words, you have to believe in order to see. Jesus was calling out the people of Nazareth.
Secondly, Jesus pointed out that there were many widows in Israel during the famine, but Elijah was sent to none of them. No, he was sent to a widow in Sidon – north in modern-day Lebanon – meaning, outside Israel, to a Gentile. Oh, and by the way, that’s where wicked Queen Jezebel was from. Elijah, when rejected by his own people, went to the Gentiles.
The next story is found in II Kings 5. Naaman, a commander of the Syrian army – one of Israel’s most despised enemies – was told by a Jewish slave girl about Elisha. You see, Naaman had leprosy. You remember the story – he went to find Elisha, was told to dip in the Jordan River seven times, and his leprosy would be healed. He was resistant at first, but agreed. Notice, he was not healed until he dipped seven times – there was no miracle until he acted in faith. Oh, and so also, there were lepers in Israel at that time – but Elisha went to none of them – but rather to a Gentile enemy of Israel.
Bringing us to our third point. You see, the religious people in the synagogue of Nazareth that day knew what Jesus was saying. He was saying, you won’t believe until you see a miracle. And so, just like Elijah and Elisha were not accepted by their own, so I will not be accepted here in My own hometown. I will then go to those who will accept Me. It’s one of Luke’s favorite themes – as the only Gentile author of Scripture – that the good news of the Gospel is not just for Jews, but for Gentiles who would believe.
And this was too much for the people of Nazareth. It was one thing for Jesus to suggest that they were poor and needy and captive and blind and oppressed – it was over the edge when Jesus suggested, since they would not accept Him and His message, He would go to those who would – Gentiles.
So, the people in the synagogue – don’t miss that – the religious people like, in church – were filled with rage as they heard these things. Their prejudice boiled to the surface. Can you believe it – racism as old as time. If there is one problem in our world today, it is unmitigated prejudice – and yet we find, Jesus came for people – all people – red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.
The people that day got up and drove Jesus out of the city, led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down from the cliff. You see, it was a shortcut to stoning. Nazareth was built on hill with cliffs around it. There is a traditional site called Mt. Precipice which is thought to be the place, or one very much like it, to which Jesus was led.
You do notice – they wanted to kill Him because they didn’t like what He was saying. Had He stolen from them, killed one of their own, lied to them, hurt them, mislead them? No. They didn’t like what He said. And so today, people hate Jesus, and they hate His followers. Why? Because we steal, we’re mean, we lie, hurt them, mislead them? No. They don’t like being told truth. And so they will oppose us, just like they did Jesus, and just like Jesus said they would.
Finally, a very enigmatic verse 30 – But passing through their midst, He went on His way. This was an enraged, unruly mob of people, and He simply walked away. This happens several times throughout Jesus’ ministry. The crowd wanted to throw Him off the cliff, and He walked away. You want a miracle – try this one on for size.
There were times they picked up stones to stone Him – like in John 8 when He claimed to be I Am – and He walked away. What’s going on here? Several quick thoughts. First, it was not the way He would die. His death – pierced hands and feet – had been prophesied, and that’s the way He would die. Second, He’d really just begun His ministry – He wasn’t done yet. It was not yet His time. He would die how and when it was time to die.
Very interestingly, later, during His last Passover when Judas betrayed Him, the Sanhedrin said, let’s not take Him during the Passover celebration – there might be a riot. And yet, Jesus said, that’s exactly when you’ll take Me. After all, I am the Passover Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. You’re not in charge of My death – I am. I will die when I say, and how I say. I will lay down My life for the sheep – no one takes it from Me. And when I lay it down, I will take it up again. And He did – three days later. Do you see that? Jesus – the Son of God, and God the Son, was in charge – not the puny Romans, not the corrupt Sanhedrin. Not the enraged people of Nazareth. Jesus was.
Notice – they didn’t believe, so Jesus walked away. And if this was indeed the same visit as Matthew 13 and Mark 6 – and I think it was – then there is no evidence Jesus ever returned to His hometown. They heard the good news – the Spirit of God was upon Jesus to preach the gospel to the poor – and they rejected it. So He walked away.
What will it take for you to believe, and to continue believing? Philip Ryken writes, “Some people respond to Jesus in trusting faith. The more they listen to his teaching, the more they want to do what he says. The more they see his miracles, the more they want to worship him. The more they watch how he cares for people, the more they want to have a relationship with him.” Ryken goes on to note that Jesus doesn’t take you to heaven to see its glories – He requires that you believe before you’ll ever see it.
Has Jesus done enough – in His amazing teaching and miraculous works – in His death and resurrection for sinners – for you to believe, and to continue believing? We are living in an increasingly hostile and unbelieving culture. Don’t get swept up in it. Don’t fall into the Nazarene trap of seeing is believing. The gospel is true. Jesus is who He said He was. Believe and continue to believe.