Series: The Ministry of Jesus in Galilee (4:14–9:50)
Jesus Christ is the most divisive person in the history of the world. Our text shows this clearly—those who should have accepted him (his hometown “aunts” and “uncles” and “grandmas” and teachers and friends and family) instead rejected him. They even tried to kill him!
Why? Why were they so against him? Let’s look at the text and find out.
JESUS’S STARDOM (4:14-15)
Luke 4:14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.
Luke 4:15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.
Jesus went around the region of Galilee (in towns like Capernaum), preaching and teaching “in the power of the Spirit.” His teaching was unlike that of the teachers of the day. At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew writes—
28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: 29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:28–29)
Because of his spiritually powerful teaching (and miracles), “there went out a fame of him through all the region…being glorified of all.”
That’s the key point we need to pick up: Jesus was well thought of by people wherever he went. Now, he was going to go back to his hometown. How would they receive him?
JESUS’S SCRIPTURE READING (4:16-19)
Luke 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
Synagogue worship was largely a time of study and prayer. Much of the service was reciting from scripture.
For example, the Shema was recited each time, which begins, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4).
Then there were prayers, especially from the Psalms. Then the “Eighteen Benedictions” were recited.
Then came the reading of Scripture. An officer went to the holy ark, took out the Torah scroll, removed its cloth covering, opened it to its designated place, and placed it on the table where it was read from by various attenders [any male could read scripture].
The Torah was then returned to the ark, and a portion from the prophets, the Haftarah, was read. This was followed by a sermon. The service was closed with the Aaronic benediction, with the people pronouncing “Amen” at each of its divisions: (Hughes, 140)
24 The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: 25 The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: 26 The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. (Numbers 6:24–26)
Jesus was part of this synagogue, so it wasn’t unusual for him to read the scripture, as any male could.
Luke 4:17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written [Isaiah 61:1-2, 58:6],
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he hath anointed me
to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me
to heal the brokenhearted,
to preach deliverance to the captives,
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty them that are bruised [i.e., oppressed],
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
First, notice that Jesus didn’t finish reading the passage, which was allowed when reading from the prophets, but not from the Torah—the law. Isaiah 61:2 continues and says, “And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all that mourn” (Isaiah 61:2).
The “day of the vengeance of our God” hadn’t come yet. It still hasn’t. That is something for Christ’s second coming. God’s focus is now on grace, calling people to repent, and forgiving them when they trust in Christ.
This is the era that’s about preaching the gospel, which, while it includes something about sin and death and hell, has an emphasis on the good news—not the bad news.
Several words are used describing the condition of people that the gospel would help: poor, brokenhearted, captives, blind, and bruised. Who are these people in our society?
They aren’t the rich or the comfortable middle-class. We’re well aware that those folks have a hard time responding to the gospel. Jesus’s encounter with the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-27 proves it’s hard for the rich to accept the gospel.
That’s why we pray that when a crisis in their lives happens—the death of a loved one, for example—that it will turn them to Jesus.
That’s why we have to focus so much on explaining the bad news to the typical American, because they have a hard time believing anything is wrong in their lives.
But the poor, brokenhearted, captives, blind, and bruised folks are more open to the gospel. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
These are the people that Jesus focused the most on, much to the chagrin of the religious folks—
30 But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? 31 And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. 32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:30–32)
Who are the poor, brokenhearted, captives, blind, and bruised folks in your life? In your community? In your country? They aren’t the people who are like you. They are the ones who are in jail, who struggle with mental illness, those who you might consider the deviants.
Now, of course, we are to share the gospel with anyone and everyone we can. But I wonder if we are missing a large, ripe part of the harvest field because we’re uncomfortable going into that part of the field.
A friend of mine told me about how, when he was a kid, they had this large, thorny raspberry patch.
He was given the job of going into the middle of the patch to pick the berries that the birds hadn’t gotten off from the edges and top.
He was dressed in heavy clothes to protect himself, but it was still difficult, but the reward was a five-gallon pail of raspberries that they would eat for breakfast.
Maybe the reason that we see so few conversions is because we are focused on the part of the field that has poor, unprepared soil.
Maybe, instead, we should look for the parts of the field with good soil and go there more often, even if it’s not comfortable for us to be there.
JESUS’S SERMON (4:20-22)
Luke 4:20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
After the scripture reading came the sermon, and since there were no permanent rabbis, the job was given to a traveling rabbi coming through, or some male in the synagogue who had given time to study of the text (LaSor, 683).
Jesus had been selected to give the sermon that day, so everyone looked in anticipation what the boy who grew up in Nazareth would say to them.
Luke 4:21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
With these words, Jesus declared himself to be the Messiah promised by these verses. He was the “anointed” or chosen one by God.
This is still as stunning today as it must have been to the people gathered there that day. Jesus really is the Christ, the Savior, that can save you from your sins. The only question left is: will you receive Jesus or reject Jesus?
The people at Nazareth were faced with the same decision.
Luke 4:22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?
At the first, they were amazed with Jesus. The term “gracious words” may refer to the manner in which Jesus spoke, that is, in a persuasive manner.
Or “gracious words” may refer to the content of his message—a powerful message about God’s grace. Either way, it’s a positive term, indicating that the people liked what he said.
But then the last statement in the verse, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” seems to have doubt and rejection written all over it. All over Galilee, Jesus was a star, but they could not shake their impression of him as just being a hometown kid—the son of the local carpenter.
It’s as if a few people interrupted the amazed wonder of the group and said, “Wait a minute! This is Jesus, that carpenter’s son, we’re talking about. The Messiah can’t be him… he’s just Jesus…he grew up here!”
And so, as quickly as Jesus was received, he was rejected. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11).
JESUS’S SCOLDING (4:23-27)
Jesus responds to their rejection with a good old fashioned scolding.
1) The Proverb Scolding
Luke 4:23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.
The proverb, “Physician, heal thyself,” basically means, “Prove it, buddy” or “Put up or shut up.”
Jesus knows that they are going to want him to prove himself with the works that he performed in and around “Capernaum.”
He follows up with a second proverb,
Luke 4:24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
The prophets that God sent to Israel were routinely rejected and even killed. But then there’s Jonah, who angrily goes to the pagan capital of Nineveh, and everyone repents!
This incident of his hometown rejecting Jesus would be magnified on a large scale when Israel—as a whole—rejected their Messiah.
Jesus continues with examples from the Old Testament:
2) The Widow Scolding
Luke 4:25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
Luke 4:26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.
This event is recorded in 1 Kings 17:7-16. Elijah was directed by God to go to a city outside of Israel, “Sidon,” which was about 60 miles straight north of Nazareth.
He found a widow and her young son about ready to eat their last meal and then die. God provided a barrel of flour that would not empty until the famine in the land was over.
Jesus’s point was pretty clear. There were plenty of widows of their “own kind.” Israelite widows. Why didn’t God send Elijah to one of those?
Then he refers to another Old Testament event—
3) The Leper Scolding
Luke 4:27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
Naaman’s story is recorded in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was a captain in the Syrian army (again, a non-Israelite). He had leprosy. One day a Israelite girl they had taken as a prisoner of war told them that Elisha the prophet could help him.
Naaman went to see Elisha and, after initially doubting Elisha, he was indeed healed by washing in Jordan river seven times.
Again, Jesus’s point is clear: there were plenty of Israelite lepers. Why did God send some of those to Elisha?
The answer to this question and the one about the widow comes back to what Jesus said in verse 24, “No prophet is accepted in his own country.”
Israel (the northern kingdom) was under the influence of idols in those days. By and large, they had rejected the Lord and the Lord made a statement by sending Elijah and Elisha to a foreign nation. If his people wouldn’t accept him, the Lord would go elsewhere.
I suspect those Old Testament stories always had that hidden sore spot for the Israelites, because when Jesus brought them up, the reaction from the good old hometown folks was violent—
JESUS’S SLIP AWAY (4:28-30)
Luke 4:28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
Luke 4:29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
Can you imagine? Jesus was their hometown boy. Just think if Noah or Nathan or Daniel would go away to Bible College for a year and then come back here and preach. These boys have grown up in this church.
What could they preach that, being true, would make you want to take them up Tank Hill and throw them off the water tank?
Why did the folks in Nazareth get so angry? Because Jesus said to them that the Lord could get better results from other people than God’s own people! How dare he say that the pagans were better than they!
They are so angry that they go off to kill him. It’s the Sabbath day, so they choose the least offensive method they can think of. They go to throw him off a cliff—maybe they think they can claim that he slipped or something.
At any rate, it’s less “hands on” than stoning, which would have been the standard method. But somehow—
Luke 4:30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way,
We aren’t told how he managed to slip away, but we don’t have to assume that it’s a miracle—like God temporarily freezing all the people in place or making Jesus into a ghost.
The text simply says that he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. Maybe he was able to say something, that made them all pause. His time at Nazareth was done. There is no record of him going back to Nazareth.
What will you do with Jesus? You only have two choices, each with vastly opposite consequences and results.
One, you can reject Jesus. This is the default response. If you claim that you’ve done nothing with Jesus, you’ve actually rejected him.
When you reject Jesus, the consequences are dire—you will spend eternity in Hell. It’s not a fun place…Jesus said:
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:46)
Two, you can receive Jesus as your Savior. You can place your faith in him and be saved. When you do, you become part of his family and will spend eternity with him.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (John 1:12)
When you receive Christ as your Savior, your sins are forgiven and your life begins to change. Those changes—like dropping bad habits and having the fruit of the Spirit growing in you—are the evidence that your faith is real.
Will you receive Jesus today? Or will you continue to reject him?
Hughes, R. Kent. Luke: That You May Know the Truth. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998.
LaSor, W. S., and T. C. Eskenazi. “Synagogue.” Edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988.