Luke 4:14-30 Rejected at Nazareth
So here we are at the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. In all the gospels Jesus emerges from the wilderness and straight into mission – and some sort of confrontation soon follows. We will be thinking about the temptations Jesus faced nearer to Easter. We tend to focus on the temptations, but during that forty days, I think there was more than just testing going on. I think that it was a period of preparation – if you like the fitness training before the action. Just as soldiers don’t go into battle without rigorous training, so I think this time was spent in praying and preparation; seeking God the Father and drawing strength from Him, as well as going through the time of trial. It is from that time, which must have included refreshing and strengthening, that Jesus launched straight into ministry.
Clearly from the wilderness accounts there was a lot of wrestling that went on, but Matthew tells us Jesus was also ministered to once the temptations had ceased. However, Luke also tells us there would be future occasions – v.13. So as we begin to consider Jesus’ ministry and this particular excerpt, let’s recognise the need to spend time in seeking, wrestling with and being refreshed by God our Father. If Jesus needed it, then how much more do we. There will be prayer and reflection days during this year for the whole church. Don’t dodge them.
This is an interesting excerpt from the gospel coming right at the beginning, because it seems almost to be a summary of what is to come.
- There is adulation: everyone is amazed and impressed by Jesus and they come to hear him.
- There is a tough message: in this small town the message was as unpalatable as it was going to be in Jerusalem. People were offended.
- Jesus is rejected under threat of death.
These things alone foreshadow what is going to be played out in the life of Jesus. But we also get a summary of the gospel Jesus is going to preach and practice. The passage quoted from Isaiah tells people who is coming and what the message will be. This is what we will explore for a few moments this morning.
The quotation from Isaiah is not exact, but a mixing together of 61:1-2 and 58:6. If you read both those passages you will see the sort of gospel that Jesus was going to be bringing. It is also interesting to note that he doesn’t finish with the last part of 61:2 and proclaim the day of vengeance. His emphasis is on the mercy and grace of God, as he begins his ministry. It is open to all who see themselves as fitting the groups mentioned in the quote.
- Now let’s try to understand something of the context of the quote from Isaiah.
- It was spoken into the lives of an oppressed and exiled people: they have lost everything, including hope. Perhaps a comparison can be made with those who have experienced the total war carried out in Syria. For many not only have they lost home, livelihood, family, their way of life; they have also lost hope for the future. The prophet speaks into the lives of the people of Israel who are in exactly the same situation and he says the day of salvation is coming.
- The exiles are poor, prisoners, blind and oppressed. The shocking thing is that Isaiah 6 tells us that God is the cause of it, because he sent his messenger to the people. They are already in this condition, because they have strayed from YHWH to other gods and have become slaves oppressed by prosperity and material possessions. And God knows that the message Isaiah is going to bring will not enlighten them.
- The condition of being poor, blind, bound and oppressed is not just an economic and physical one, but a spiritual one concerning their right relationship with God and one another in the world.
- However, the era of salvation, the day of the Lord’s favour would come.
All well and good. This was what the people liked to hear and although they weren’t as economically destitute as the exiles; although they were in their own country, they were living under occupation and oppression and the rules of the invader. The problem will come later as Jesus makes clear that the day of the Lord’s salvation was not is not just for them.
- The quotation from the prophet also spells out what kind of saviour. This is where things begin to unravel, because Jesus recasts the prophecy, just as he re-interprets the law through his ministry. He re-casts it in Nazareth and then lives it out up to and beyond his passion. So what kind of saviour?
- He will be prophetic. Prophecy is more about speaking God’s word into situations than predicting gloom and doom. It is more about calling people back to God than predicting destruction, because that was the purpose of sending the prophets. Jesus in taking on this prophecy for himself is claiming that role and lives it out.
- His character is defined: here will be someone who comes in compassion and mercy to lead people back to their God. The prophecy for those in exile was about restoration of the nation, but that went hand in hand with restoring their relationship with YHWH, which was and is fundamental. Already Jesus is introducing the idea that his ministry is not about restoring the nation according to the traditional understanding of Isaiah.
- His work will be on the personal level. We see this in the gospels. Although Jesus spoke to groups and crowds, the calling was to each person, perhaps represented by the contrasting situations of the woman from the crowd and the rich young ruler.
- The message of salvation extends beyond the borders of Israel. This is illustrated by the examples Jesus gives of God at work with individuals from different nations. This seems to be the tipping point: the prophecy and the prophet were and are for all peoples and all nations. As John said in his preaching, it is no good just saying I am a child of Abraham or my parents were Christians. The people of God are those who hear and respond to the call of God.
The subsequent rejection Jesus experience foreshadowed the ultimate rejection of the cross. Jesus has not only made himself the one who will bring fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, he has also completely recast traditional understanding.
- What we see is the bringing together of the practical and the spiritual. As I have said so many times, the gospel has never been just about getting a ticket to heaven. The bringing in of the Kingdom is here and now, and to be fully experienced in the return of Jesus. The restoration of Isaiah was both physical and spiritual. Jesus showed this in his ministry.
- Jesus emerges from the desert in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is seen in the miracles as evidence of who is, in his teaching and in his compassion.
- That the year of the Lord’s favour included the despised and extended beyond the boundaries of Israel is illustrated in the accounts in Luke’s gospel.
- Jesus calls Levi the tax collector, eats at his house with Levi’s friends and then makes him one of the twelve.
- When he encounters the Roman centurion, Jesus declares that he has shown greater faith than any Israel.
- The woman washing his feet at Simon the Pharisee’s house is accepted and she is told she is forgiven and saved.
- Jesus eats with Zacchaeus and declares that he is a son of Abraham.
- The only leper out of ten who were healed, who came back to worship Jesus, was a Samaritan.
The prophecy is recast in word and practice and this caused offence and rejection. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions for us as a church.
- What is the relevance for today?
- People still see this as a call and inspiration to mission and compassion, combining the two as Jesus did. It has happened down through the centuries and still people hear the call of God in this way.
- As a church our working out of the gospel needs to combine the spiritual and the physical, practically demonstrating how the gospel is good news. That is why Steve and the team run the bootfair each month. That is why Wanda and the team run Make Lunch. That is why Basil and Glynis and others are Street Pastors.
- We live in a society that is spiritually poverty stricken and anchorless. On what basis do we claim ‘rights’ for people? What is right and wrong and how do we decide? On what basis do we claim that this is good and that is evil?
- We live in a society that is blinded, oppressed and captive to an entertainment and consumer culture. Life is just about enjoying yourself, throwing off constraint for freedom, and having lots of fun and stuff before you die.
There is a hymn written after the 2nd WW which says:
We have a gospel to proclaim
Good news for all throughout the earth
The gospel of a saviour’s name
We sing his glory tell his worth
The gospel of Jesus Christ can bring good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, sight to the blind, release from oppression, salvation to everyone who will hear and receive. The message may cause people to remain in their blindness, poverty and oppression, because they will not hear and like the Israelites of old, harden their hearts. But there will be those who receive the gospel and believe in the name of Jesus and will be saved.
The gospel is for here and now, but also for eternity. We all face mortality, no matter what the advances in medicine. Judgement will come, but the year of the Lord’s favour is open to anyone who will receive him.