Jesus at Nazareth (Part Six)

Luke 4:16-30

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (4:23-27 NIV).

Words, especially spoken words, are not always clear in their meaning, when you see the latter in written form. Words that seem to be a simple statement of fact might actually convey other meanings. It appears that this is what Jesus discerned in his hearers in Nazareth. The hometown crowd had remarked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (4:22). Taken out of context, the words could be taken as admiration for the skill that a carpenter’s son had acquired in teaching God’s word. But they had a context in which Jesus had declared that he was the fulfillment of Scripture. For this reason, Jesus saw them as a challenge to his claim to be God’s Anointed One. This provided him with an opportunity to tell them more about the grace of God.

Jesus detected that his hearers were not interested in him as a teacher of God’s word but as a miracle worker. Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” They had heard that Jesus could preach, but they were more interested in his ability to do signs and wonders in his hometown. Shouldn’t Jesus heal people that he had known from childhood? Where was his concern for his longtime neighbors?

They failed to consider the plan of God.

People share this failing. We suppose that God ought to do things that are “nice” for people. If the Lord did signs, wonders, and miracles in Capernaum, then “obviously” the Lord should do the same thing in Nazareth. Otherwise, the Lord is “not being fair”. It is like God “owes it” to us, to do nice things to people, at least to people we like. If we can concoct a reason why God owes special treatment to us, we do not hesitate to put such reasons into how we look at the world.

We are not told if anyone responded to Jesus’ remark. Perhaps they were caught off-guard and didn’t know what to say. Regardless, the Lord Jesus followed up with a statement that would make them feel more uncomfortable. “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” We might assume otherwise, because there are enough signs on the outskirts of towns that boast about it being the home of somebody known for their accomplishments. However, Jesus spoke about prophets.

While people might be interested to listen to someone from their hometown preach God’s word out of simple curiosity, they do not want to be confronted by the word from that preacher. It goes something like this, “Oh you’re little David. I remember you when you were a boy. I recall all the stuff you used to do.” And so they dismiss the hometown preacher with indifferent words and by the snarky tone in which they say them. Jesus never did anything wrong in his hometown, and they still rejected him.

However, Jesus never walked away from teaching opportunities. God his Father had sent him to preach and teach the word (Mark 1:38), and our Lord seized such occasions, even at the risk of a hostile reaction. His theme would answer their unspoken demand for “fair treatment”. He would boldly proclaim God’s sovereign grace. He would review God’s plan of action.

Next time in this passage, we will consider what Jesus told them. However, now is the time to ask ourselves, to examine ourselves about this matter of “fair treatment”. Do we suppose that God is obligated to give to us what he gives to others? Clearly, if we really expect God to do that, we will be constantly disappointed. And deeply frustrated, and even worse, conducting a silent war with God. My friend, don’t fight that war. Don’t live in anger against God. The Lord God requires us to walk humbly before him (Micah 6:8), and humility only prospers in an atmosphere of trust. So then, have faith in God and his wise and righteous ways.

Grace and peace,