Sunday, January 29, 2012

Luke 4:14-30 - Jesus Rejected

Jesus Unrolls the Book, (James Tissot 1894)
A lot of big announcements are being made these days with a lot of fanfare and hype and big money behind them and with a lot of grandiose promises about hope and change and fixing the world we know, but there was an announcement two millennia ago in a small synagogue in a tiny, overlooked community in the Middle East that changed the course of human and cosmic history. What happened there teaches us a lot about life’s priorities and the importance of believing in something worthwhile. The announcement, found in Luke chapter four, however, did not turn out like we might have expected.

Pray and Read:  Luke 4:14-30
Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 4:14-30 to teach believers that we must embrace Jesus and his mission and not reject it; we must operate in belief and not in unbelief.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about believing in Jesus and his mission.

Sermon Points:
1.   Embrace belief in Jesus and his mission (Luke 4:14-23)
2.   Reject unbelief in Jesus and his mission (Luke 4:24-30)

Contextual Notes:
Luke begins his gospel with a birth narrative showing that Jesus is the Coming Messiah who fulfills God’s promises both to Abraham and to David (Luke 1-2), and our job is to trust in Him. That trust begins with repentance, proclaimed Messiah’s Forerunner John the Baptizer (Luke 3:1-20). With Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:21-23a), Luke shows us that Jesus is the promised Messiah, who will be God’s suffering Servant through his sacrificial death. With Mary’s genealogy, Luke reminds us that Jesus fulfills not only the Davidic and Abrahamic Covenants, but unlike fallen and sinful Adam, he is also is a completely obedient Son of God (Luke 3:23b-38). So clearly is Jesus the ideal Man, that he defeats Satan himself in a test of every sphere of human temptation: body, mind, and spirit (Luke 4:1-13).

Now Luke opens Jesus’ Galilean ministry (Luke 4:14-9:50) and begins to present the essence of the gospel.[1] This section of the Galilean ministry will climax at Luke 9:20 when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. The work of Jesus’ ministry here at Luke 4:14 begins in the power of the Spirit, and his initial press is great (Luke 4:14-15, 22). Oh, but things come to a screeching halt in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. Here, Jesus encounters the prejudice, rejection, and anger of his own neighbors and family at what had been his big announcement, the launching of his ministry. What was their problem with him? That is what this sermon is about. Let’s read Luke 4:14-30 and explore this passage together.

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   Luke 4:14 – Jesus went into the desert in the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1) and he departs in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14), having defeated the devil at his own game. So far, Jesus’ conception (Luke 1:35), baptism (Luke 3:21-22), temptation (Luke 4:1) and now his ministry (Luke 4:14) are all linked to the work of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.
b.   APPLICATION: Jesus is modeling for us the dependence on the empowerment of the Spirit. If he did it, how much more do we need the Holy Spirit’s empowerment?
c.   Luke 4:16-17 – Luke has been meticulous about his gospel, but this passage is not in chronological order. Since the time of Augustine (5th C), it has been thought that this event is the same as that “prophet has no honor in his own hometown” event in Mark 6:1-6/Matt 13:53-58.[2] Why would a meticulous Luke do that? Luke is beginning his presentation of what the Gospel is all about, and he is setting a synagogue of unbelief (Nazareth, Luke 4:14-30) over against a synagogue of belief (Capernaum, Luke 4:31-44).
d.   The first century synagogue service began with prayers and blessings, then a number of readings from the Hebrew Bible.[3] Readers were designated for each passage, and if a visiting rabbi or someone of distinction was present, it was courteous to invite him to read from the Prophets.[4] Jesus was reared by Joseph and Mary in Nazareth (Luke 2:4, 39, 51; 4:16), and was already being called a preacher in Capernaum and Galilee (Luke 4:23). In accordance with custom, as a man of thirty, Jesus is invited to read and comment on the scroll of Isaiah.
e.   Luke 4:18-19 - Jesus chooses to unroll and read from what we know today as Isaiah 61. Jesus reads from none other than Isaiah’s identification of the Messiah Himself and his work as a King (Isa. 11:1-2), a Prophet (Isa. 61:1-2) and a Servant (Isa. 42:1). It is a launch pad for his ministry, what he will do, and how he will bring true Jubilee (Lev 25). Jesus sits to expound the text as is customary. He has no hesitation saying that He is the fulfillment of this Messianic passage, even though saying so is a political statement that not too many years earlier (AD 6) a messianic-style revolt caused the Romans to level the city of Sepphoris, only four miles away.
f.    Why is it so significant that in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus chose this passage of Scripture to read (Luke 4:14-30)? The passage from Isaiah 61 where the Messiah Himself speaks for himself. He does just that in the synagogue in Nazareth.
g.   Isaiah 61:1 – The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon Me - In a Trinitarian reference, the Messiah speaks saying the Father sent him with the power of the Holy Spirit. “He has mashach-ed (anointed) me,” here a direct admission that He is the Messiah that Isaiah has described (also Isaiah 11:2; 42:1; 48:16; Psalm 45:7). And indeed the Spirit was upon him at birth (Luke 1:35); at baptism (John 1:32; 3:34). And he is to set prisoners free, the Hebrew text making sure we understand it is complete liberty, from slavery of blindness (Isaiah 6:9-10; 35:5; 42:7; 49:9; Psalm 146:8)
h.   Isaiah 61:1-2 The Year of the Lord’s Favor: This is a reference to the 50th Jubilee Year (Leviticus 25). Israel never seems to have observed a Jubilee year, but the Lord proclaims one here. The messianic prophecy was quoted by Christ in the synagogue in Nazareth, but only in part. He closed the scroll after reading the proclamation of the Lord’s favor and made no mention of ‘the day of vengeance of our God’ (Luke 4:17-21). This incident is significant for several reasons.
                    i.    First, Jesus was announcing publicly that He was the Messiah promised by the prophets, and he chose the passage where the Messiah speaks for himself. The Servant is Christ
                  ii.    Second, it suggests two comings of Christ here, the first to save, and the second to judge. This ‘day of the Lord’ that other prophets talk about – Jesus and the Apostles did too (Matthew 12:36; Luke 21:22; Romans 2:5; 2 Peter 2:9). The Judge will be Jesus (50:11; John 5:25-30).
                iii.    Third, it reveals how Jesus viewed the Old Testament (as the gospel) and illustrates interpretation of the OT. Predictive passages typically are not clear as to time and may link events separated by many years.
i.    Luke 4:22 – “All spoke well of him” - He announces that the Messianic promise has now become fulfilled in Him. His hearers are deeply impressed. It is Jesus’ gracious words (literally, his words of grace), that win immediate approval (cf. Acts 14:3).
j.    There is a note of perhaps unbelief, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22), but on the other hand with the public knowledge of Joseph’s direct lineage to David, perhaps caused some to wonder if indeed this son of David was One to come. In this little town of around 1,600 people, everyone knew Jesus, and because they know him and where he comes from, they are less open to thinking about him in new ways. Jesus knows that. He quotes a proverb known in both Greek and local Aramaic which probably means, “prove your worth as a physician” or “Heal your own people rather than outsiders.”
k.   APPLICATION: Jesus is clear that he has come and his mission is to go to those whom no one else wants, those who are beneath, who are on the margins, who are poor, who smell bad, who are oppressed of the devil, who are not like us. When we come to Christ and we submit to His regime, we submit to his priorities. His priorities are to minister to those whom no one else wants to deal with and to take his Name to all the nations, whether they live here in Bend of the River community or the Tri-Counties or whether they are in New York or South Asia or the Horn of Africa, we are called to spare nothing, to hide behind no excuse, to proclaim his name to the nations for His Name’s sake and for the Glory of His coming Kingdom.
a.   Luke 4:24 – Jesus uses the Hebrew word Amen, a word usually used at the end of a saying to confirm that it is true and valid (Deut 27:15; Psalm 41:13). To confirm his authority, Jesus uses it at the beginning and in doubles (Amen, Amen; Verily, Verily; Truly, Truly). He tells them that if they do not believe, then it is because no prophet is accepted (favored) in his hometown (Luke 4:24; Jeremiah 1:1; 11:18-23). Just as Isaiah 61 is to bring favor, so the people do not favor the One who brings them favor. He came to his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:11).
b.   Jesus’ rejection here foreshadows his coming rejection by the whole nation. This is why, Jesus says, God had to send his prophets to be cared for by Gentiles (and the socially weak (a poor widow) and marginalized (a leprous Syrian oppressor) at that) because of the unbelief in Israel (Elijah & widow of Zarephath, 1 Kings 17:1, 7-24; 18:1; Elisha & Naaman the Syrian, 2 Kings 5:1-19, 30; Syria and Sidon were particularly despised by Jews). God’s favor to the Gentiles here in Luke 4 foreshadows the mission of God in Luke’s book of Acts. The question here is this: Will Israel receive her Messiah in faith? Will they accept a Savior who has come with grace for all who believe – Gentile as well as Jew?
c.   His commentary changes the crowd’s attitude. Jesus was saying that those who believed God’s Word were not Israel, but instead Gentiles.[5] Hated Gentiles, who have persecuted and oppressed them for centuries, trampling the Holy Land and stealing its wealth. They were outsiders. Jesus is saying that they were in fact, superior in faith to them! When they understood Jesus’ point that God’s grace extends to all the nations, the anger boiled over. They honestly felt that they had a right to God’s special favor over and above others who were not Jews, who were outsiders, who were on the other side of the world, of whom they had never heard, on whom they looked down as being beneath them.
d.   APPLICATION: Let’s guard against this attitude that we have some special position or favor with God, that we deserve him to save us and bless us. If we live in Christ because of God’s grace, let’s not be upset if He displays grace to someone we think is less deserving than ourselves.
e.   APPLICATION: At Nazareth, Luke says that the congregation at first  “spoke well of him” and were “amazed at his gracious words” (Luke 4:22). They were polite. They were properly religious. But when he explained to them the text which he had read in the scroll at Isaiah 61, that God’s grace extended even to the Gentiles (Luke 4:24-27), their polite religiosity evaporated before the heat of their fury at the truth (Luke 4:28). Jesus had dared violate their religious prejudice, their long-time way of doing things. Didn’t he understand that “we’ve never done it that way before,” or thought that way before? You mean that you are going to sit there and tell us that the Word of God is supposed to tell us how to think? Their anger turned to violence and attempted murder. But their offense was rooted in self-centeredness. They had not submitted to his authority. They spoke well of him only so long as he did as they expected him to, as long as he towed their line, as long as he was loyal to them and the way they did things. And Jesus? How did he handle that furious response? Jesus didn’t defend himself. He didn’t fight back. He walked away.
f.    Our congregations respond to Christ’s authority in similar fashion. We know how to be polite and courteous. We know the correct religious platitudes and pseudo-gracious words and tones to use. The Chinese have nothing on us. We have our own religious tonal language. But don’t cross the line, or the fury will explode. Don’t offend our religious prejudice or we will remove you, you vile speaker of truth. The root of course is the same as what plagued the Nazareth synagogue  -- disdain for Christ’s authority. Some of us have been in church so long that we actually begin to believe that the church belongs to us, and that we are in charge. In fact we aren’t. Jesus is the one who sits in authority, not you and me. Jesus walked away from the synagogue at Nazareth. He’s a gentleman. He will not force himself on those who reject his Word. And then we sit and wonder why our churches are dying.
g.   APPLICATION: And how often do we react the way these Nazarene Jews did? How often do we insolently demand that God follow our agenda, meet our needs, satisfy our desires, and proceed according to our schedule. There’s a little children’s song that matches this attitude, “If I had a little blue box to put my Jesus in, I’d take him out and (kiss, kiss, kiss) and put him back in again.” Instead, our calling as believers is to seek His face humbly and submit ourselves to Him (He is called Lord for a reason, after all), to understand His priorities and then follow His will for His glory, not for our own. It may be that what God intends to do in our lives is something we find unthinkable at first. When Christ makes His will known, we must resist the impulse to rebel.
h.   Luke 4:28-30 - Their anger was such that they tried to lynch the Lord Jesus at his first (and probably last) sermon in his hometown. Not only that, they didn't mind breaking both civil and moral law. The Roman government alone had a legal right of execution and it was the Sabbath, and killing someone was not only immoral but work! They were so angry that they were going to break both civil law and moral law to kill him. It wouldn’t have bothered his hometown that Jesus quoted Scripture to the devil in the desert (Luke 4:1-13), but when he quoted it to challenge unscriptural traditions and prejudices in them, they were enraged. Their plan was to throw him off a precipice and stone him to death. Whether the Lord hides him (Jer. 36:26) or they somehow just stop for a moment, Jesus walks through the crowd unharmed. His hour had not yet come.
i.     APPLICATION: Every rebellion in our lives of sin is a symbolic effort to force Jesus off a hill and cast Him from His rightful place on the throne of our lives.
But a day was coming when they would press in on him and be willing to break civil and moral law to have him crucified. That day sealed his death and brought us freedom. That day at Calvary He gave his life for every one of us who would receive Him. Will you receive Him now?

[1] Just as Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 gives his thesis there for Acts.
[2] N.B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Luke to Christ, 70-76. Some see this event as Jesus’ first trip to Nazareth and Mark 6/Matt 13 a second trip. Others see this event as out of chronological order (cf. Luke 4:23b) but key in showing the difference between unbelief (Nazareth synagogue) and belief (Capernaum synagogue). 
[3] The strict lectionary readings were not yet set, most think, but no one really knows how exactly a first century synagogue was conducted, and they may have been unique to the synagogue. Thus, he “found the place where it is written,” i.e., from my reading, Jesus chose what he wanted to read. 
[4] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:430-450. 
[5] Remember the Jewish priest Zechariah’s unbelief in the Temple (Luke 1:18)?