This is the story of a preaching mission that started in Jesus’ hometown and home country of Galilee. And, from one perspective, it didn’t start well! It is based on Luke 4:16–30, in The Passion Translation of the Bible.
When Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been raised, He went into the synagogue, as He always did on the Sabbath day.
Synagogue worship was like a free church or chapel service today with prayers, readings from the law and the prophets, and a sermon. Anyone considered competent could be invited to participate.
When Jesus came to the front to read the Scriptures, they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
The reading from the Law, i.e. Genesis to Deuteronomy, was usually a set reading, but there was free choice for the reading from the prophets (later books). Each book would be in the form of a continuous handwritten vellum attached to two rods so it could be unrolled to the right place. No chapters and verses yet!
He unrolled the scroll and read (in our Bible the first two verses of Isaiah 61) where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and he has anointed me to be hope for the poor, freedom for the brokenhearted, and new eyes for the blind, and to preach to prisoners, ‘You are set free!’ I have come to share the message of Jubilee, for the time of God’s great acceptance has begun.”
After He read this He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the synagogue minister, and sat down. Everyone stared at Jesus, wondering what He was about to say.
Then He added, “These Scriptures came true today in front of you.”
(At this point) everyone was impressed by how well Jesus spoke, in awe of the beautiful words of grace that came from his lips. But they were surprised at His presumption to speak as a prophet, so they said among themselves, “Who does He think He is? This is Joseph’s son, who grew up here in Nazareth.”
Elsewhere the Bible tells us that Jesus spoke with an unusual spiritual authority e.g. Matt. 7:29, Mark 1:22. But His hearers on this occasion had also seen Jesus grow up, and follow the family trade as an ‘ordinary’ carpenter-builder.
In the sharply-separated social divisions of that time, people were expected to know their place!
Jesus said to them, “I suppose you’ll quote me the proverb, ‘Doctor, go and heal yourself before you try to heal others.’ And you’ll say, ‘Work the miracles here in your hometown that we heard you did in Capernaum.’
“But let me tell you, no prophet is welcomed or honoured in his own hometown.
“Isn’t it true that there were many widows in the land of Israel during the days of the prophet Elijah when He locked up the heavens for three and a half years and brought a devastating famine over all the land?
“But none of them looked after Elijah’s needs, or received from him, during that time; he wasn’t sent to any of the widows living in that region. Instead, he was sent to a foreign place well outside Israel, to a widow over in the coastland area, in Zarephath of Sidon.
“Or have you not considered that the prophet Elisha healed only Naaman, the Syrian, rather than one of the many Jewish lepers living in the land?”
It was confrontational to remind His Jewish hearers how the two of Israel’s prophets most renowned for their signs and wonders associated with ‘unbelieving’ foreigners — and ministered to them! When everyone present heard those words, they erupted with furious rage.
They mobbed Jesus and threw him out of the city, dragging him to the edge of the cliff on the hill on which the city had been built, ready to hurl him off.
And probably to stone him, as was their custom when they were offended by presumed ‘blasphemy’. There are several steep banks around Nazareth.
The language now makes clear, there is a clearly supernatural intervention.
But He walked right through the crowd, leaving them all stunned.
And the message for us?
Carrying out what God has called you to do has a cost. Any move that extends the kingdom of God, or the rule and realm of God, is likely to bring spiritual opposition. Jesus’ message — the headline to His life’s message — was one of freedom for people who were in various ways bound up by Satan whether through infirmity, emotional difficulty, a sense of inferiority or spiritual blindness.
Spiritual attack often comes through people and sometimes, like in this story, it comes through those closest to us who we would imagine to be our natural supporters or at least, those who would treat us with understanding. The synagogue attenders were friends and neighbours and ‘business colleagues’ of Jesus’ family.
The enemy of our souls will usually try to divide people and damage relationships as a way of trying to negate the Gospel and retain control.
The story, as it continues in Mark’s gospel, tells us that following this, Jesus sent His disciples out ahead of him to the villages He would visit. Sometimes they were received well. At other times, as He warned them, they had to handle rejection and ‘shake the dust off their feet’.
The same message today is received well by some, and rejected by others. That ‘goes with the territory’ as the saying goes. We are not to take rejection personally.