Sermon preached on Luke 4:14-30 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 08/15/2021 in Novato, CA.
Last time in Luke we talked about the start of Jesus’ ministry in terms of his baptism and testing in the wilderness. But that start of his ministry was really in terms of equipping him and then proving him. He was equipped for ministry by the Holy Spirit falling upon him in bodily form like a dove. And then the Spirit immediately brought him to the wilderness to undergo temptation by the devil in order to prove his righteousness as the Lord’s anointed one as the Second Adam. He passed that probation and so now we see his ministry really begin in terms of his teaching the people as the Lord’s Christ. Verse 14 records this. After the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, he then returned in the power of that same Spirit to Galilee and began to go through the whole region of Galilee. Remember, Galilee was the northern part of Israel, with Judea the southern region and Samaria the region in between. There in the region of Galilee, he was teaching in the synagogues and as we see later in verse 23, he was also doing miracles in various places. Things are going very well in this early Galilean ministry as it says in verse 15 that he is being glorified by all. But then he comes to his hometown of Nazareth, which was also a city in Galilee. There we see a glimpse of the kind of early ministry he was doing. But there we also see that his reception is quite different there. So then, today we will have a chance to consider both of these two main things. First, we’ll get a glimpse about this early ministry of Jesus by looking at what he taught and said here in Nazareth. Then second, we will see how the people of Nazareth did not properly honor and receive him as he was received elsewhere, showing the proverb to be true that no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.
So then we begin first by observing Jesus’ profound teaching ministry there at Nazareth. It is nothing short than a grand pronouncement that Jesus is the Lord’s anointed one to declare the long-awaited restoration of God’s people. We see beginning in verse 16 that it was a Sabbath and Jesus was at the synagogue in Nazareth. He gets up and reads from the book of Isaiah. Specifically, we see that he reads from chapter 61. That is an amazing chapter to read from on any church assembly. There, in Isaiah 61, is a beautiful chapter that prophesies of how one day God would restore the fortunes of his people. Remember, that Israel in the Old Testament had been conquered in the north by Assyria and in the south by Babylon. The people had been led away in exile. The land was in ruins, including the King’s palace and the LORD’s temple, with the walls of Jerusalem destroyed. This was due to their sin that God brought such chastening upon them. The prophets had warned them, but they disregarded those many warnings. The prophets then declare the judgment was coming upon them and even then they ignored them. Finally, the judgment did fall on them. But the prophets also then prophesied that one day God would gather up his fallen and exiled people and bring them back to the land and restore them.
This passage in Isaiah 61 is one of those restoration prophecies. For example, the prophecy goes on to say, “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” The prophecy in that chapter goes on to say how all God’s people will then be a nation of priests to the LORD. It goes on to speak of how the people then will know great prosperity. God says there that will at that time make an everlasting covenant with them – in other words, he’ll then make a new better covenant with them. Ultimately it will be a time where righteousness and praise to God continually flows from the people. What a wonderful and eschatological picture of what the ultimate glory for God’s people will look like.
So then, Jesus reads here in verses 18-19 from the start of that prophecy in Isaiah 61. He read it and then climactically pauses, rolls up the scroll, and sits back down. All eyes are on him. And that’s when he says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The Isaiah prophecy foretold someone coming with this announcement. Jesus reads the announcement and says that by him reading it, it has now come to pass. Prophecy fulfilled – that very moment as Jesus read it. What a bold statement. Jesus is declaring that he was the one spoken of in advance there in Isaiah 61. Jesus is saying that he is the one whom the Spirit of the LORD has anointed to pronounce this. Jesus is the LORD’s anointed one – this prophet to proclaim that this glorious restoration is at hand with his coming. That would be a presumptuous statement if not true. But it would be an exhilarating and joyous statement if true. And it was true!
This is why we say the end is inaugurated with the first coming of Jesus. All the promised restoration prophesied to God’s people is inaugurated with the coming of Jesus. Here’s a proof text for that right here. Jesus says this finds fulfillment right then and there that day. Yet, we know that all the glorious details have not yet come to a full from that chapter. Some clearly have. Jesus has enacted a new everlasting covenant by his blood. In Jesus, we have the good news of salvation from sin and he lifts us up from our humble state in many ways. In Jesus, there is now a universal priesthood of all believers. In Jesus, he gathers his people together and promotes righteousness and praise of God. So much from Isaiah 61 has begun to be realized already with the coming of Jesus. Yet we recognize that the glory and prosperity in all its consummate kingdom fullness has not yet arrived. We are promised later that it will yet come upon Christ’s return. But it’s not here yet in all its glory. So then, passages like this tell us at that end of all things is inaugurated but not yet consummated. It’s is already but not yet here. This is semi-realized eschatology and we see a beautiful proof text right here in this initial ministry of Jesus in Nazareth.
Look with me then at a few more of the details of this Isaiah prophecy that he read here. I’ve spoken more time talking about the rest of the Isaiah prophecy so far, but let’s spend a little time actually looking at the part he read. We see in verse 14 that the anointing is described for the purposes of proclaiming this message. There we find four categories of people that are referenced and something that will be proclaimed to each. You have the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. To the poor, good news is being proclaimed to them. To the captives, liberty. To the blind, recovery of sight. To the oppressed, liberty. Here we find a theme repeated throughout Jesus’ ministry, not to mention the Old Testament prophets. It’s the idea of God reversing the fortunes of Israel. He is taking the lowly and humbled and lifting them up and exalting them. Some of this he did very literally, like how he healed some people of their physical blindness so they could see again. But we know that so often he looked beyond simple outward concerns to deal with greater spiritual matters. So, for example, he liberated people who were held captive and oppressed by demons, so they would no longer be in affliction. Or even when he healed blind men, he spoke of how he also was the one to take away people’s spiritual blindness so they could properly see the things of the Lord. Don’t get me wrong, ultimately, the full extent of the reversal Jesus will bring his afflicted people will address all their woes, both body and soul. But in his earthly ministry he would often use miracles to help the body in order to teach a lesson of how people especially needed him to help their soul. Jesus’ quote of Isaiah here has this pronouncement which is good news of healing, and deliverance, and salvation from all the afflictions God’s people have faced. And we should especially think of how those afflictions were in many ways because of their own sins and failings.
This pronouncement is then summarized in Isaiah and here in verse 19 when it says “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Teachers of the Bible have long recognized that there seems here an intentional echo of the year of jubilee idea. The year of jubilee was an old covenant practice in Israel described in Leviticus 25. Every fifty years in Israel would be a year of jubilee where everyone’s ancestral land in the Promised Land would be restored to them. In other words, if someone had to sell their inheritance of land in the Promised Land, usually due to poverty, at the year of jubilee it would be restored to him. The idea was that God had given a special inheritance of land to each of his people and it would not be lost forever. Every fifty years it would be restored to the family. Isaiah then seems to be picking this up and saying that the principles of God’s gracious redemption involved in the year of jubilee would find a wonderful realization when the Lord’s anointed one comes and proclaims this momentous restoration. The day of God restoring his people would be one of a mighty redemption and recovering of that which was lost. Jesus then is proclaiming that day had come!
With this review of Jesus’ amazing teaching and proclamation here at the start of his ministry, let us now turn to see how the people of Nazareth rejected him. We see in verse 22 at first a positive response. They marveled at the gracious words he had spoken. We shouldn’t be surprised that the initial reaction would be one of marveling. We just reflected on these words and in and of themselves they are worthy to be marveled at. But then verse 22 takes a quick turn. They then say, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Based on how Jesus responds, they obviously were asking this with incredulity. They are basically, saying, isn’t this just the ordinary son of that ordinary carpenter Joseph? Who does he think he is to make such a bold claim? They are apparently asking this as an expression of unbelief. I remind you here what I noted in a previous sermon in Luke. The previous sections kept emphasizing that while Jesus is a human son of Joseph and David and Adam, that he his ultimately the Son of God. That is something that even Satan had eyes to see. But not the people of Nazareth. They discount Jesus after they’ve had a few moments to reflect on his claims. They are not ready to believe Jesus is anyone more than that little boy and son of Joseph that they’ve known all his life. Yes, a commendable and godly young man, but not any special messiah or prophet.
In verse 23 Jesus anticipates that they will quote him a proverb that says “Physician, heal yourself.” Based on the explanation, we see that he anticipates this to mean that they will want Jesus to prove to them his claims. Apparently, word was out that in other places in Galilee Jesus had been doing various signs and wonders. Jesus anticipates in their unbelief that they will demand he do such signs for them too. But Jesus is proactively letting them know that he will not perform for them, so to speak. In a parallel passage in Mark 6:5, we see that it was because of their unbelief that he did not do many signs or wonders there at Nazareth. Time and again we see Jesus in his ministry performing miracles for those who believe. But to such hard-hearted people who did not believe, he wouldn’t cater to perform a sign to try to convince them otherwise.
Jesus then goes on to explain that their rigid unbelief stems from the fact that Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown. Verse 24, he tells them, “No prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” This is the interesting dynamic of the familiar. Jesus was familiar to them, they had seen him grow up, and they knew his family and his business. They thought they knew Jesus. But of course, they didn’t know Jesus as well as they thought. But Jesus acknowledges the challenge of the hometown prophet not being honored as he is elsewhere.
To understand Jesus’ comment about a prophet not being accepted in his hometown, we need to appreciate it in light of the two examples he then gives. He mentions the prophets of Elijah and Elisha. These were the most well-known prophets sent to the northern kingdom of Israel, particularly under the time where the nation was ruled by the most infamously wicked house of Omri and Ahab. That was a great period of apostasy for that northern kingdom of Israel. Elijah’s ministry and subsequently Elisha’s ministry largely fell on deaf ears among Israel. And something that stood out in both of their prophetic ministries is that God performed various supernatural miracles through them. Yet, look at whom Jesus highlights as especially the recipients of their miracles. They were Gentiles. Elijah goes to the widow at Zarephath among the wicked Sidonians and stays with here during the horrible famine and miraculously keeps her jar of flour and oil from running out during that famine. Likewise, Elisha heals the Syrian captain Naaman, of all people. The Syrians were Israel’s number one enemy at that time, and he heals the captain of their army! And Jesus points out that Elijah and Elisha did this not just for Gentiles, but instead of Israelites. There were many hungry Israelite widows during the famine of Elijah’s day, but he blessed a Gentile hungry widow. There were many leprous Israelites during Elisha’s day, but he healed an enemy Syrian army commander leper.
Not if you remember, our church studied Elijah and Elisha not that long ago. That was when we were going through 1 and 2 Kings. At the time, I pointed out the Elijah and Elisha blessing Gentiles over Israelites as a fulfillment of the Song of Moses where Moses in Deuteronomy 32 said that God would bless Gentiles over Israelites as a form of chastening for their idolatry. There God spoke of how Israel would go after gods that weren’t really gods, making God jealous and angry. So, God would go after other peoples that aren’t a people, to make Israel jealous and also angry. That’s Deuteronomy 32:31. By Jesus referencing Elijah and Elisha like this, its referencing this dynamic. Jesus as a hometown prophet won’t be accepted by his own, so God will send him to others who will accept him. The result will be that the people of his hometown will miss out on the good things he just announced while others begin to enjoy these blessings.
It’s interesting this idea that this dynamic is something that the Song of Mosses said would bring forth both jealousy and anger. Because when Jesus speaks of this dynamic with Elijah and Elisha, it definitely makes the people of Nazareth angry. Verse 28 says that when they heard this, they were filled with wrath! They get angry and try to kill him, but somehow ironically apparently miraculously he escapes them. So they here at first get angry. But no reference yet to jealous. The Apostle Paul in Romans would later quote this same concept and speak of how the jealousy, should it come, would be to get them to yet come unto Jesus. But for these here who were just angry, sadly for them it meant rejecting Jesus out of a incorrect presumption of who he was.
Speaking in broader terms, we can remember that Jesus ultimately would submit himself to being killed by his own that rejected him. The Jewish people in general, under their religious leaders, rejected Jesus as Messiah and called for him to be crucified. He then allowed himself to be put to death, that he might be a ransom for many. That he might be able to bring that good news to the poor and that liberty to captives. That he could usher in the jubilee of a mighty redemption of God’s elect. And in fact, when the Jewish people rejected him, God ultimately sent the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. That made many Jews at that time angry. It did bring jealousy to some and brought them in repentance to Jesus. That dynamic continues yet today.
In conclusion, we see in this passage a truth and dynamic that is so common to redemptive history. Yes, there are certainly times when God’s people fall into difficult places and good news then comes and they with great joy welcome it. Yet, there are many other times, when God’s people can be so used to his promises and blessings that are held out to his people that they can take them for granted or even just forsake them entirely. It can be the dynamic of the “familiar” that becomes the context for a sinful disregarding of God’s grace and mercy and his Word. This can be such that outsiders, Gentiles so to speak, end up embracing and receiving what some in the church might end up effectively throwing away like garbage.
For example, I think of how too often covenant children might reject their wonderful spiritual heritage in apostasy, even while some pagan boy grows up and later comes running to the church in faith. We hope such a convert might spark a renewal in that wandering covenant child, though sadly we know that sometimes those wayward covenant children become some of the most outspoken critics of the church. Or maybe it is someone who has been in the church for many years, grown old in the church, but later in life begins to grow cold in his faith. Sometimes they need to see the zeal and vibrance of a young convert to rekindle that first love. My point is, that we need to be reminded of this temptation to let the familiar lead us astray.
Take even for example this announcement in verses 18-19 from Isaiah. This is an amazing joyous proclamation. The first time you here it in faith, it probably makes you just want to jump for joy. But has it become so familiar to you over time, that it doesn’t warm your heart any more like it should? May we heed this warning found in this passage today and pray that God would rekindle that first love within us and that he would excite us fresh at the good news of the year of the Lord’s favor that has been inaugurated with Christ and will yet soon be consummated in the full. Come quickly Lord Jesus, our anointed prophet, priest, and king! Amen.
Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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