"No Prophet is Welcome in his Own Hometown"
Luke 4: 16 — 30
Chapter 4 of Luke opens with the account of the temptations of Jesus. From that he emerged triumphant and headed North to more familiar countryside. By all accounts he was very well received. However, our reading opens with Our Lord daring to revisit his hometown. Again, he was exceptionally well received, until he ventured to tell them some truths they did not want to hear.
Notes On Our Text
"As was his custom". When living at Nazareth, our Lord had been accustomed to reading the set Sabbath lessons as an ordinary member of the congregation. Even boys under age were allowed to do this.
The Law and the Prophets were read (or chanted) standing, in Hebrew of course, but translated into the vernacular Aramaic.
With the approval of the Archisynagogos, President of the Synagogue, the Hazzan (Attendant) handed Jesus the Sacred Scroll ready at the prescribed reading for the day. The word "book" (sefer) was used synonymously with the term for scroll. Jesus rolled open the scroll and checked that he had the correct reading.
Verses 18 and 19
We note that the reading was very short (2 verses) perhaps because a sermon was to follow. Interestingly the quotation follows the Greek Septuagint translation. In other words Our Lord inserted from Isaiah 58: 6 "to set at liberty them that are bruised", as was common custom.
Verses 20 and 21
The Lord did not go back to his place but sat at the centre of the Synagogue signalling he was ready to speak. Not much of what he said is recorded but they got the message. "The Spirit of the Lord is stirring again; salvation is coming to those who are not only physically but also spiritually blind, lame and oppressed, that is, to those humble enough to admit that left to themselves they cannot even stumble into the Kingdom of God. For the sake of these, Jesus was anointed at his baptism to proclaim an eternal jubilee year". (Stuhlmueller)
"All bore him witness" (or similar in most translations). The Nazarenes present could not deny the truth, correctness and reasonableness of what he said. They praised his "words of grace" — a Semitism for charming, rhythmical eloquence, but rejected his teaching. They considered themselves worthy of salvation, not in need of it!
It is interesting, how they remark, "Fancy Joseph's son talking in this way!" This gives us insight into how our Lord was regarded at Nazareth and how little of the miraculous circumstances of this conception and birth was generally known.
Jesus perfectly aware that behind the polite words of his hearers there is the attitude:
"After all," goes the logic, "if he really is sent from God (verses 18 and 19) where is the evidence to prove it?"
So our Lord gets right to the point "I know what you're thinking. Physician heal yourself. Show us you can do it!"
Not to be out-foxed, our Lord in typical delightful Jewish custom answers one proverb by another. "No prophet is welcome (acceptable) in his hometown". That is, the blessings at our doors are those we value least!
Verses 25 — 27
So, because he has to go this far, he decides to go the whole course with them, and not leave unsaid what they need to hear.
"No," he implies, "you are not going to see any display of miracles. Yes, where faith is present, broken hearts are healed as by Elijah of old, and lepers are cleansed, as was Naaman by the word of Elisha. "But among you, here — now — No!"
This is altogether too much for his listeners. "Who does this young upstart think he is? He's only one of us! We'll soon sort him out!"
(Before we let ourselves get too indignant, we had better consider how we would fare under scrutiny).
Verses 29 and 30
In their anger, the men in the synagogue turned on Jesus and drove him out of town towards a cliff. This was a violent way to show disapproval. However, the Lord "passed through their midst" and carried on with his plans. We do not know how he did this. It is our first indication that no one lays a hand on this man unless he is willing to allow it.
We close with some very fine teaching on the above text from the pen of Bishop John Charles Ryle, written around AD 1900.
"Three great lessons stand out on the face of this passage. Each deserves the close attention of all who desire spiritual wisdom.
1. We learn, for one thing, how apt men are to despise the highest privileges when they are familiar with them. We see it in the conduct of the men of Nazareth when they had heard the Lord Jesus preach. They could find no fault in His sermon. They could point to no inconsistency in His past life and conversation. But because the Preacher had dwelt among them thirty years, and His face, and voice, and appearance were familiar to them, they would not receive His doctrine.....
We shall do well to remember this lesson in the matter of ordinances and means of grace. We are always in danger of undervaluing them when we have them in abundance. We are apt to think lightly of the privilege of an open Bible, a preached Gospel, and the liberty of meeting together for public worship. We grow up in the midst of these things, and are accustomed to have them without trouble. And the consequence is that we often hold them very cheap, and underrate the extent of our mercies. Let us take heed to our own spirit in the use of sacred things. Often as we may read the Bible, let us never read it without deep reverence. Often as we hear the name of Christ, let us never forget that He is the One Mediator, in whom is life. Even the manna that came down from heaven was at length scorned by Israel, as "light bread." (Num. 21: 5.) It is an evil day with our souls, when Christ is in the midst of us, and yet, because of our familiarity with His name, is lightly esteemed.....
2. We learn, for another thing, how bitterly human nature dislikes the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. We see this in the conduct of the men of Nazareth, when our Lord reminded them that God was under no obligation to work miracles among them. Were there not many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah? No doubt there were. Yet to none of them was the prophet sent. All were passed over in favour of a Gentile widow at Sarepta. — Were there not many lepers in Israel in the days of Elisha? No doubt there were. Yet to none of them was the privilege of healing granted. Naaman the Syrian was the only one who was cleansed. — Such doctrine as this was intolerable to the men of Nazareth. It wounded their pride and self-conceit.....
Of all the doctrines of the Bible none is so offensive to human nature as the doctrine of God's sovereignty. To be told that God is great, and just, and holy, and pure man can bear. But to be told that "He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy," — that He "giveth no account of His matters," — that it is "not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy," — these are truths that natural man cannot stand; they often call forth all his enmity against God, and fill him with wrath. Nothing, in short, will make him submit to them but the humbling teaching of the Holy Ghost.....
3. We learn, lastly, from this passage, how diligently we ought to persevere in well doing, notwithstanding discouragements. We are doubtless meant to draw this lesson from the conduct of our Lord after His rejection at Nazareth. Nothing moved by the treatment He received, He patiently works on. Thrust out of one place, He passes on to another. Cast forth from Nazareth He comes to Capernaumn, and there "teaches on the Sabbath days.".....
Such ought to be the conduct of all the people of Christ. Whatever the work they are called to do, they should patiently continue in it, and not give up for want of success. Whether preachers, or teachers, or visitors, or missionaries, they must labour on and not faint. There is often more stirring in the hearts and consciences of people than those who teach and preach to them are at all aware of. There is preparatory work to be done in many a part of God's vineyard, which is just as needful as any other work, though not so agreeable to flesh and blood. There must be sowers as well as reapers. There must be some to break up the ground and pick out the stones, as well as some to gather in the harvest. Let each labour on in his own place."
Thank you Bishop Ryle.
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