Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 05/22/1994

Luke 4:14-30

Prophet Without Honor

4:14 And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through all the surrounding district. 15 and he began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all. 16 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. 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. And he opened the book and found the place where it is written, 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 downtrodden, 19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." 20 And he closed the book and gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon him. 21 And he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22 And all were speaking well of him and wondering at the gracious words that were falling from his lips, and they were saying, "Is this not Joseph's son?" 23 And he said to them, "No doubt you will quote this proverb to me, 'Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your home town as well.'" 24 And he said, "Truly I say to you, a prophet is not without honor save in his home country. 25 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 and a great famine had come over all the land; 26 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. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleanse, but only Naaman the Syrian." 28 And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things, 29 and they rose up and cast him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But, passing through their midst, he went his way.


Two weeks ago we saw Jesus at his Baptism accept the role of sin bearer, in response to which he was officially anointed as Messiah by the Holy Spirit. We saw last week how that commitment was tested by Satan at the Temptation in the Wilderness. Now Luke will show us that commitment being tested in another way, by the response to Jesus' preaching, in which he proclaims himself to be the Messiah in a way that doesn't exactly fit his audiences' expectations. We must realize that Luke is not giving us a strict chronology here. Lots of encounters, including the wedding at Cana, which happened during this Galilean ministry, and much of the content of Jesus' preaching, have been omitted (compare Mat. 13:53, etc.) so that Luke can focus our attention on this theme of testing, which confirms Jesus' commitment to being the kind of Messiah God actually wanted to send. Luke cuts to this scene at Nazareth because it was an extreme case of what was typical of Jesus' whole ministry: acceptance and popularity at first, which turns into rejection when people realize that Jesus is not quite what they were expecting, not quite what they were hoping for. As John says, "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." It must have cut especially deeply here, in Jesus' own home town. But neither devil nor man can deflect him from what he has come to do. Today, then, we look at the role of rejection in Jesus' life and ministry. What does it tell us about him? What does it tell us about his mission and his kingdom? And what does it tell us about ourselves and our relationship to him?


It is not hard to imagine the high anticipation with which the Nazarenes must have awaited Jesus' visit to their town--and how it quickly turned into a disappointment just as fierce. They had known him growing up. They had probably liked him. They knew he was precocious, they knew he had promise--but miracles? They had never seen anything like that. He had seemed quite ordinary in that way. But now they were hearing astonishing things about him from places like Capernaum. So I think they were excited and probably prepared to be impressed. Local boy makes good! They were no doubt sticking their chests out rather absurdly as they filed into the synagogue. And at first things seemed to go really well. Their initial reaction to Jesus' sermon was quite positive (vs. 22). So what went wrong between vs. 22 and vs. 23? Why does Jesus suddenly seem to start going out of his way to insult them?

The custom in the synagogue at this time was that the speaker would read the passage and then give a short explanation and exhortation based on it, which was followed by a question-and-answer period between him and the congregation. Jesus' discourse is summarized in vs. 21. It is a forthright claim to be the very Messiah Isaiah was predicting. And the Nazarenes were at first quite ready to accept it. Hey, this will make people shut up with that stupid proverb, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"! It will really put us on the map. We'll probably all get cabinet posts, or at least lucrative contracts, in the new regime. The Messiah is our boy! I can't help thinking of Shakespeare's Falstaff when his friend Prince Hal becomes king Henry V. "We are made men. Take any man's horse! The laws of England are at our disposal." Falstaff was in for a bitter disappointment: "I know you not, old man!" I wonder if Shakespeare wasn't echoing Jesus' "Depart from me; I never knew you!" delivered to the Goats when they are separated from the Sheep--after assuming that they were of course going to be accepted on the basis of all the things they had done in Jesus' name. The Nazarenes are an acute instance of this very type of presumption.

Vs. 23 and following then belong to the question-and-answer session, where undoubtedly these false assumptions on the part of Jesus' audience had begun to come out. It had become obvious that the home town folks thought they deserved special treatment, favoritism, partiality, because of their position in Jesus' life. And they were wondering when they were going to get it. They were wondering why they were not getting it. What about all the miracles that had happened in Capernaum? When were they going to all get healed? Probably there were some early advocates of the "health-and-wealth" theology present who expected to "name it and claim it" then and there. When Jesus started trying to explain that it didn't work that way, it was not something they were prepared to hear. Look, there were lots of widows and lepers in Israel in the old days, but who got healed? Not the people you would have expected; actually, it was people you would least have expected. Naaman the Syrian? Give me a break! Being from my home town does not give you an inside track.

Nothing is harder to take than disappointed expectations. The surest way to get somebody really angry is to have them perceive that you have promised them something and then refused to deliver it. Well, Jesus had not in fact promised any special treatment to the Nazarenes, but that fact was quickly lost in their reaction. They felt they had it coming, and here was Jesus letting them down. Who did he think he was? Isn't this Joseph's boy? Why, we knew him when he was a young whippersnapper underfoot in the carpenter's shop! Let him remember who he's talking to! And so their disappointed expectations turned into such anger that they were ready to throw him off a cliff.


Rejection by the world--sometimes even by our loved ones--is something that happens to all God's people at some point, beginning with their Master himself. What matters is how we respond to it, for that will tell us where our true loyalties lie. So how did Jesus respond to this reaction on the part of his old friends and neighbors? There is real sadness in the proverb he quotes: "A prophet is not without honor save in his own country." Maybe the people of Nazareth weren't the only ones with disappointed hopes here. So the first thing we learn is that it is OK to be hurt by rejection, and to admit that it hurts. Even Jesus did not pretend that it did not matter. If he was affected, he gives us permission to be as well. And when we are, he gives us the assurance, just as he did at the Temptation, of a Master and a Friend who will truly be able to understand.

But, just as he had done at the Temptation, Jesus in spite of his hurt resolutely refused compromise; indeed, here he chose a very painful rejection over compromise. In fact, he even refused to gloss over the conflict; he went out of this way to force the issue. Are you going to accept me as a sin-bearing Messiah or not? Are you going to put your faith in me so that I can perform miracles here, or make the miracles a condition of your acceptance so that I cannot because of your unbelief? His brief Old-Testament history lesson has a sharp theological point to it. Who can expect the Messiah's favor, who has a right to special treatment, who deserves an exclusive place in the kingdom? How about his family? No. How about his home town? No. How about the Jewish nation? No. As John the Baptist had said, God is able to raise up children to Abraham out of these vey stones! There is only one group that can have such an expectation: those who do not think of it as a right or as something they deserve. The poor in spirit, he would call them in the Sermon on the Mount. They will inherit the kingdom! Or, to put it in another way, consonant with the preaching of John the Baptist that is still ringing in our ears at this point in Luke's narrative, we could say it is repentant sinners.

I'm afraid we are still all too prone to the same error committed by Jesus' townspeople here. Have you not heard it in too many believers' voices? We are Bible-believing Christians! We are separated believers! We are fully immersed Baptists! We preach the full Gospel! We've been entirely sanctified! We belong to the one true Church! Some of these are good things; some are things we should be. But they confer no special status in the kingdom. They do not entitle us to any special spiritual privileges. There is only one way to be part of that kingdom, and that is to come together at the foot of the Cross as people who have no claim whatsoever to be there except the Lord's gracious pardon proclaimed to repentant sinners. Sinners saved by grace! Beggars telling other beggars where to find bread! If you want to be anything in the kingdom, you had better start by being that. The moment you think you have become something more, you show yourself to be something less. There is no principle that is closer to the heart of this kingdom than this. It is for sinners who have no claim to be there but their need and God's grace. If Christ was not willing to compromise this principle for his aunts and uncles and neighbors and boyhood friends, what makes us think he will be willing to compromise it for us? Sinners saved by grace! Beggars telling other beggars where to find bread! That is who we are. If we come with other expectations, will we not be in danger of rejecting the real King and the real kingdom? Come as a repentant sinner and you may get incredible miracles and healing and provision for this earthly life--along with temptation and trials and persecution--thrown in. Come for the miracles, thinking your "faith" gives you a right to them, and you may end up as disillusioned as the citizens of Nazareth.

This rejection also raises the issue of the Lordship of Christ. The people of Nazareth would all have said that they accepted the Messiah's authority. But the moment his agenda didn't match theirs, they were ready to throw him off a cliff. God was not sending a Savior who was here to advance our agendas. Often the best thing he can do for us is to replace them. He offers us the fulfillment of being part of his agenda, which is to do the will of the Father. Many people react positively to Jesus as long as they don't face the issue of his Lordship. Maybe that is why they expend so much energy in putting ti off as long as possible. But when the real Jesus, the Messiah God actually sent, comes into your life, he brings the issue of his Lordship with him, and sooner or later you are going to have to face it. It is as Lord that he has the authority to issue the pardon that we have been speaking of. If we want him as anything less, we are still playing the same game as the Nazarenes in this passage.


And so what of us? On what basis do we presume to come to Christ? Let us not forget the only one that gives us access to him. Sinners saved by grace! Beggars telling other beggars where to find bread! Let us remember whence we come and to whom we are coming. Why? Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams

Updated 9/19/2004 10:23 AM