Luke 4:16-30 (Matthew 13:54-58, Mark 6:1-6)16So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:18“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,Because He has anointed MeTo preach the gospel to the poor;He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,To proclaim liberty to the captivesAnd recovery of sight to the blind,To set at liberty those who are oppressed;19To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”[Isaiah 61:1-2a]20Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 22So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”23He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.'” 24Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. 25But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; 26but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”28So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. 30Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.
Luke begins his narrative of Jesus’ ministry with this story about Jesus reading in the Nazareth synagogue. This event is also reported in the other two synoptic gospels, but comes much later in their narratives. Why Luke chose to bring this particular story to the beginning is unknown, but we can discern from the narrative itself that this event must have taken place after Jesus performed miracles in Capernaum, which Luke reports on later.
The first thing we note in Luke’s narrative is that Jesus made it His Sabbath habit to read from His Word in the local synagogue wherever He happened to be. None of the gospel writers gives us an indication whether Jesus Himself chose the scroll of Isaiah to be read here at Nazareth, or whether it was chosen for Him by the ruler of the synagogue.
Whichever is the case, it is clear that Jesus then purposely sought out this specific Messianic prophecy we read here from Isaiah 61:1-2a. It is clearly pertinent, and all the more so when Jesus proclaims – “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus would later refer to this same prophecy in answer to John the Baptist’s question – “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). In their gospels, Matthew and Mark give us a much more detailed picture than Luke of how the men of Nazareth reacted to this…
Matthew 13:54-5754When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? 56And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” 57So they were offended at Him.
Mark 6:2-32And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! 3Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.
Isn’t it curious that the men of Nazareth rejected out of hand the idea that the promised Messiah might be one of their own, despite Moses’ Messianic prophecy during his farewell address to the nation of Israel…
Deuteronomy 18:15“The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear,
Indeed, when told of Jesus’ fulfillment of this prophecy, Nathaniel would later remark to Phillip…
John 1:45-4645Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”46And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Here we get a glimpse into one of the prejudices in ancient Hebrew society. As we see in this story, Nazareth is set high on a fairly steep hillside. It was a dwelling for shepherds and other country folk, well off the beaten path of the coastal highway from Egypt which passed through the Jezreel valley below, making its way from the Mediterranean coast toward Damascus. In contrast with Capernaum near the busy junction of the coastal highway with the Kings’ Highway coming north along the eastern bank of the Jordan valley, Nazareth was a sleepy backwater, and its people were considered backward and ignorant by the people of the coastlands, the Jordan valley, and Jerusalem. In fact, this prejudice extended to all the people of Galilee who were considered by the city dwellers to be uninteresting and untrustworthy.
Matthew and Mark also give us here a deeper insight into Jesus’ earthly family, which included at least six (half) brothers, and sisters. Two of these brothers who John tells us did not believe in Him until after His resurrection (John 7:5), went on to write epistles of the New Testament. According to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, both of these later died for their faith. Jude was crucified in Edessa about 72 AD, and James, who eventually became the elected head of the church in Jerusalem, was beaten to death by the Jews of Jerusalem at about the age of 94 (sometime right around 100 AD). Notice that Mary’s husband, Joseph, is not mentioned in any of the gospels during Jesus’ adult ministry. It may well be that Joseph had died sometime between Luke’s report of Jesus in the temple during the Passover when He was 12 years old at the end of Luke 2, and His teaching in the Nazareth synagogue when He was about 30 that Luke reports here.
Although Luke chose to relate this story first after Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, he was clearly aware that Jesus had performed miracles previously in Capernaum. We see this in the account of Jesus’ reaction to His rejection by the men of Nazareth…
Luke 4:23-2423He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.'” 24Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.
Luke leaves it to his readers to infer that Jesus did not perform many miracles in Nazareth because of the residents’ unbelief. Mathew and Mark both make this point more explicitly…
Matthew 13:57b-58But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” 58Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
Mark 6:4-64But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” 5Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.
Jesus constantly proclaimed His Gospel throughout every waking moment of His earthly ministry. He seized every opportunity to teach His listeners. Jesus even used the rejection by the people of His own home town as a means to witness the Gospel to them using two illustrations from the Old Testament scriptures which they had been taught since childhood…
Luke 4:25-2725But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; 26but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
Here in these verses, we see a lesson that was hard for the men of Nazareth to hear, and continues to be a hard pill to swallow even today – that the salvation of God in Christ is not universal, but rather dependent upon our own will to either accept or reject His call to make Him our Lord…
Matthew 22:2-142“The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, 3and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. 4Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”‘ 5But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. 7But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ 10So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. 12So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’14“For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Jesus uses two Old Testament stories of miracles of God as illustrations, relating them to His own miracles. It is important for us to be familiar with these in order for us to understand how radically the people of Nazareth reacted to this teaching. Clearly Jesus was placing Himself and His God-ordained ministry on an even level with the ministries of the Old Testament prophets. Let’s take a quick look at these two stories…
1 Kings 171And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these [3-1/2] years, except at my word.”2Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 3“Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. 4And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”5So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. 6The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook. 7And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.8Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 9“Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” 10So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.” 11And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”12So she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”13And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. 14For thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.'”15So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. 16The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke by Elijah.17Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him. 18So she said to Elijah, “What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?”19And he said to her, “Give me your son.” So he took him out of her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. 20Then he cried out to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?” 21And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.” 22Then the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived.23And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives!”24Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth.”
Notice that the widow of Zarephath had to make a leap of faith in the words of God’s prophet, Elijah, before God could perform the miracle of continuing to feed the three of them, and subsequently the resurrection of her son. By human reckoning, no purpose could be served by feeding Elijah from the last of her provisions. Notice also that her faithful act was not a monumental sacrifice. After all, she herself expected to soon be dead of starvation along with her son. What difference would it have made if she used her provisions to also feed Elijah one last time? Yet God worked two amazing miracles in response to just a small act of faith.
2 King 5:1-161Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. 2And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife. 3Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.” 4And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus said the girl who is from the land of Israel.”5Then the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”So he departed and took with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. 6Then he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which said,Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy.7And it happened, when the king of Israel read the letter, that he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy? Therefore please consider, and see how he seeks a quarrel with me.”8So it was, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.”9Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” 11But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ 12Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.15And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.”16But he said, “As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused.
God doesn’t often perform His works in the ways we expect Him to. God is willing and able to heal us in response to our prayers of faith. Here we see that although Naaman came to Elisha in hope of healing, he also believed he would be expected to provide something himself to obtain it, so he brought with him a great treasure with which he expected to pay for the healing. Indeed, God chose to heal him, but not because of the payment he brought. Why did God heal Naaman? Was the healing something Naaman deserved, or could obtain under his own power? Certainly not! Rather it came by the grace of God for His own good pleasure, and as a testimony to us even today that God wishes to heal us if we simply come to Him in faith and obedience.
Nor was there anything magical or mystical about the washing in the Jordan, or in the number seven for that matter. We need to beware that we don’t fall into the trap of reading too much into this instruction from God. In this Naaman was correct. If God had directed him to wash once in the rivers of Damascus rather than seven times in the Jordan, God could have chosen to heal him in that way as well, provided that Naaman was willing to obey God’s direction. It was not the washing in the Jordan which healed him. It was his (eventual) obedience to the Word of God.
Notice also the role of Naaman’s servants. Clearly, they risked their own lives in urging their master to obey the Word of God spoken by Elisha, especially given Naaman’s anger reported in the story. Yet, out of love for their master, they chose to risk his displeasure in urging Naaman to take the salvation offered to him through obedience and faith. This is a great admonition for us as well. We are called by Jesus to this same ministry…
Acts 1:7-87And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Luke 4:28-3028So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. 30Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.
Clearly Jesus struck some nerves through His teaching in the Nazareth synagogue on this day. Not only had He proclaimed that He Himself was the fulfillment of the Isaiah 61 prophecy, exposing their prejudice against one from their midst being the promised Messiah. He had also proclaimed that the salvation found only in Him would not be granted to all by virtue of their position, but that it requires faith and obedience. Their reaction was swift and intense, as we see here. As Paul said to the Corinthians…
1 Corinthians 1:18-2518For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”20Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.