Luke. 4:16-32; Jesus Rejected at Nazareth
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. 
Jesus’ Public Ministry Begins (Luke 4:14–32)
Luke tells us in 4:14 that after Jesus endured the temptation in the wilderness, he returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee and news about him spread through the whole countryside. And verse 15 says: ‘He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him.’
Jesus appears in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:14–19)
Imagine turning up at church one Sunday morning, only to discover that the guest preacher was Jesus himself. That happened regularly in a small town in Palestine: ‘He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read’ (v. 16). This marks a very important moment in the public ministry of Christ. In fact, it is interesting that when Luke selects the material for his gospel, he moves directly from the temptation account to this appearance of Jesus in Nazareth. From the other gospel writers, we know that Jesus had a ministry that was already significant in Judea before he moved into Galilee and came to Nazareth. Luke gives us only one verse on that. But now Jesus is coming home. The people who saw him grow up are going to witness him in his public ministry for the very first time.
We read in verse 17: ‘The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.’ We don’t know why the scroll of Isaiah was chosen, whether this was the assigned text of the day, or whether Jesus had earlier suggested they use this text. In all probability Jesus himself had not selected the book of Isaiah, but had simply been invited to read it and then offer a sermon comment on it. And Jesus being well versed in all scripture, full of The Holy Spirit, and only saying the words that the Father told Him to say, thus unrolled it and found the place where it is written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ (4:17–19).
That text is from Isaiah 61. It is a future prophecy that Isaiah had recorded centuries earlier, looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. And here is the Messiah, standing up in the synagogue, reading that prophecy to the people of his home town.
Jesus is rejected in his home town (Luke 4:20–32)
After Jesus reads the scroll, what happens? In verse 20 Luke says: ‘Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.
What Luke records of this sermon is a portion Perhaps it was very short, but it was certainly one of the most dramatic and undoubtedly one of the most controversial sermons ever preached: ‘he began by saying to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. “Now again, that is all Luke tells us of what Jesus said. He hints in the next verse that Jesus said other things, but this is the line he focuses upon. What a powerful statement! The people listening to him had watched him grow up. They heard him read a description of the mission of the Messiah, and then claim that this prophecy had been fulfilled in their hearing!
What was the response of the crowd? They were obviously very volatile; their opinions changed rapidly. Verse 22 says, ‘All spoke well of him, and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.’ They were obviously impressed by Jesus’ command of language, his articulation and style of exposition. But then they said, ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your home town what we heard that you did in Capernaum.’ I tell you the truth … no prophet is accepted in his home town” (vv. 22–24). Jesus anticipated something very normal and basic to human nature: that the people who knew him, who had seen him carrying out the ordinary tasks of carpentry and taking care of the family, who had rubbed shoulders with him in the market-place, at the well and at the synagogue, would not believe his claim to be the Messiah. Jesus reminded them that a prophet is never without honor except in his own home area.
The word, Messiah, messiach in Hebrew, is translated by the Greek word Christos, which comes across into English as the word Christ. So often when we think of the name of Jesus, we think that his name is Jesus Christ, but properly speaking his name would be Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus bar Joseph—Jesus son of Joseph. The word Christ is actually a title that means Messiah, which in turn means One anointed by God for a special task. Therefore, anybody in the Old Testament who had a special anointing of God for a prophetic ministry or a priestly ministry or even a king who was anointed, was in a certain sense a messiah, an anointed one. But in Jewish theology the prophets taught of the coming day when not just a messiah would come, but the Messiah. One who was ultimately and uniquely endowed by the Holy Spirit and anointed of God for the special task of redeeming his people. It is that Messiah, that Christ, that is being described in this scroll of Isaiah. Jesus outlined the agenda of the Messiah, ending with, ‘To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ In Jewish terminology, the ‘year of the Lord’s favor’ meant the age of the Messiah.
After those words, however, he goes on to give the people of Nazareth a very important warning which explains why Luke selected this narrative to introduce Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus says in verse 25 (nasb): ‘But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.’ Jesus is reminding them that when God chose a widow to be blessed by the ministry of Elijah, he chose a woman of Sidon, not a Jew, but a pagan Gentile.
Then he continues his illustration in verse 27 (nasb): ‘And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.’ When Elisha was anointed of God and given supernatural powers, he did not heal the lepers of Israel. He healed a Syrian Gentile. Remember Luke’s gospel was written to communicate the life of Christ and his benefits to a Gentile world, and his writing contains more of Jesus’ statements about reaching out to the Gentiles than any other gospel writer. Here Jesus is calling attention to God’s acts of mercy in the Old Testament to those outside of Israel.
What was the people’s reaction? ‘All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff’ (4:28–29). They were so incensed that they cast him out of the synagogue and wanted to kill him.
This is the stone which the builders rejected. Jesus came to his own, but his own would not receive him. He came home to preach and first they were impressed, then they were incensed, and the congregation rose up in rejection of Christ. They sought to take his life, but miraculously he just walked through their midst and away from the town of Nazareth. It would seem from what we can discern from the rest of the New Testament that Jesus never set foot in Nazareth again.
If he preached in your church, would you marvel at the power and the grace of his speech? Would your soul be thrilled? Would you be hanging on every word that came out of his mouth? Or would you be filled with fury and want to destroy him? Would he be accepted or rejected by your congregation? Only you can answer that question.
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 favor of a Gentile widow at Sarepta. —Were there not many lepers in Israel in the days of Elijah? 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.
Many celebrate this emphasis on Christ-as-example, rather than Christ-as-Redeemer, as a new kind of Christian; but is it really an old kind of moralist?
Regardless of whether Christ’s death is regarded as a vicarious sacrifice, (an act performed by an outside party on your behalf) discipleship; our cross-bearing, becomes the more interesting topic. When the focus becomes “What would Jesus do?” instead of “What has Jesus done?” We are a ship on the rocks without our guide. Our lives are to be poured into The Word, and the gospel of Christ is to be radiated back through us so that it is not we that live but Christ living through us doing the Fathers work in our present time just as Christ did the Fathers work in His time. “WE” are not able to interpet what Christ would do, we must surely learn what Christ has done and continue in His ways.
Nobody will raise a fuss if you find Jesus helpful for your personal well-being and relationships, or even if you think he was the greatest person in history—a model worthy of devotion and emulation. But start talking about the real crisis—where our best efforts are filthy rags and Jesus came to bear the condemnation of helpless sinners who place their confidence in him, rather than in themselves—and people begin shifting in their seats, even in churches.
Discipleship, spiritual disciplines, life transformation, culture-transformation, relationships, marriage and family, stress, the spiritual gifts, financial gifts, radical experiences of conversion, end-times curiosities that seem to have less to do with Christ’s bodily return than with matching verses to newspaper headlines, and accounts of overcoming significant obstacles through the power of faith. This is the steady diet we’re getting today, and it is bound to burn us out because it’s all about us and our work rather than about Christ and his work.
That the trial of Jesus was a travesty of justice simply reinforces the point. It was not before the bar of human justice that he suffered. He faced something immeasurably greater. He faced the curse of God against the lawbreaker. He endured the holy judgment of God against the unrighteous. He was made sin. He experienced the fearsome fate of falling into the hands of the living God, who is a consuming fire. He took our place as the guilty, the accursed, the covenant breaker. He was abandoned. He cried ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And he did so willingly because he did it for us.
Three lessons stand out in Luke 4: 17-31;
First, the human race is prone to reject the highest privileges when they are familiar to us. The men of Nazareth having heard the very voice of God expressed openly in their presence with authority, rejected the Messiah because He was one of their own.
They could point to no inconsistency either in life or teaching, but because Jesus lived with them for thirty years, and they knew His face, voice, and appearance, they would not receive His doctrine. Is this not the son of Joseph? How can He be the messiah?
We should be mindful of the things that are very familiar to us, how we view them as common things. Sacred things such as reading the Bible, attending church, the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God… Even the Mana from heaven was scorned by Israel as light bread (Num. 21:5).
Second, how bitter the hatred of man burns against the sovereignty of God: We see this in the men of Nazareth when Jesus tells them God is not obligated to perform medicals among them. Elijah passed over many widows of Jewish decent and lighted on a single gentile widow. And passed over many over many leppers of Jewish decent to heal Naaman the Syrian alone.
This type of abuse at the hand of God was intolerable, it wounded their pride and self conceit. It cried out to them God was no debtor, and if God passed over them to shed His grace and mercy on strangers, they could find no fault with God. The men of Nazareth could not bear it, they were filled with wrath. They pushed Jesus out of the Temple, and out of the city, and would have thrown Jesus from the cliffs, had it not have been for the Father’s deliverance through the angry mob.
To be told that God is great, and just, and Holy, and pure, man can bear. But to be told that God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens: And He will give no account of His Matters, that it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God who shows mercy. God’s word is truth but man will not have it told to him. Mans nature is in ways more wicked than the devil himself. Satan believes God, but man will believe Satan over God and choose to be willfully ignorant of the wrath to come. Let man be thankful for the light that shines into the darkness of this world while we have it, and not doubt that the last day is coming when the whole world will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. The saints will testify that God has done all things well, according to the councel of His own will.
Third, we ought to be diligent to preserve in doing good without being discouraged:
Jesus was rejected at Nazareth, He moved on to the next place of service. Patiently trusting His Father, and the Holy Spirit, to order His steps, and the work of His hands. We must labor and not grow weary. There must be sower, and reaper, one must get discouraged if the fruit of his labor seems little or not at all. It God who gives the increase. And there must also be those who plow the earth and remove the stones, without which the seed can not take hold. There must also be those to pour out the water on the dry ground, their work seems to evaporate, but when the harvest comes in, their reward will be gathered with the produce and offered to Jesus.
 Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), 26.