Jesus returned to Galilee. The power of the Spirit was with him, and the news about him spread throughout the surrounding country. He taught in the synagogues, and everyone praised him. (Luke 4:14-15)
This scripture happens right after Jesus is tempted by the devil in the desert. He must have been really excited and feeling empowered. There is a mountaintop feeling when you accomplish something really hard. He made it through 40 days of not eating, and didn’t give into temptation! Even yesterday, I rode the bike somewhere because the car was in the shop. It was a challenge, but I felt so great when I had ridden the bike up hills 30 minutes each way and arrived back home.
So Jesus is feeling exhilarated about what he is going to do. AND he has the power of the Spirit with him. We all know the Spirit descended upon him like a dove when he was baptized, but I think the power of the Spirit was in him in extra measure because he had fasted and prayed so much. Spending extra time with God makes me feel so much more clearheaded, so much stronger, inspired, decisive.
One of the first things Jesus does is travel from synagogue to synagogue in his home region. This is where rabbis would legitimately begin their ministries. He establishes himself as a new teacher. He starts a buzz. I can imagine what that must have been like. Here you have these sort of country hick synogogues in Galilee. A new teacher comes in, someone local. They’re all like, “Who’s the new guy? How does he compare with the other teachers?”
And when they heard him, everyone praised him. That must have been unusual, because I doubt people have changed over the years. The old joke is that people have preacher for Sunday lunch — they criticize the message. But the people who heard Jesus weren’t criticizing, they were liking it, they were all talking favorably about what he said. “Have you heard the new rabbi?” They might have been asking one another. “I really like him. What he says makes sense. It’s true.”
Notice that Jesus didn’t go to Jerusalem first. He didn’t go to the learned religious scholars who would question his origin or pick apart what he was saying. He went to the common people, and they were excited about the things he had to say. He started his ministry with words that fell upon receptive ears.
So for Jesus, this must have been gratifying, to at least start out, after the big trial in the desert, to feel like the Spirit was with him powerfully, and to feel like he was being well received. The good news he preached spread, and the good news that a new preacher was in town spread. This wasn’t just another teacher, it was someone people were talking about, someone they were positive about. As I said, there was a buzz of excitement in the region.
Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As usual he went into the synagogue on the day of worship. He stood up to read the lesson….They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” ….Then Jesus added, “I can guarantee this truth: A prophet isn’t accepted in his hometown….So they got up, forced Jesus out of the city, and led him to the cliff. They intended to throw him off of it.
Jesus must have known what kind of reception he would get in his hometown. But just like in Ezekiel, where God says everyone must hear the message, Jesus wants these people to hear the message as well. I am sure he looked around the room and saw dear faces, people he had loved since the time he was little. People who had given him a piece of bread when he was a child. People who had laughed and played with him. People who had bought carpentry items he had made. People who were married to his sisters or brothers.
And he looks out on these beloved faces, and he sees they are amazed at his words, but they can’t believe that these words would come out of an ordinary carpenter they saw every day for years and didn’t seem to be a prophet. When Max did really well in nursing school, I was amazed. Isn’t this the same kid who was just an average student all growing up? I believed in his potential, but there was a feeling of unreality because I had mostly seen him as an ordinary student.
Jesus sees the faces of those he loves, and he sees they can’t get past the picture they have in their head of him. So he said to them, “You’ll probably quote this proverb to me, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ and then say to me, ‘Do all the things in your hometown that we’ve heard you’ve done in Capernaum.’ Where Jesus was used to seeing the faces of people who got it, who were excited about his message and knew he was something special, he sees skepticism. He sees that he would have to prove himself.
It’s like when the Israelites came to the Promise Land and sent out 12 spies who brought back a bad report. Ten of the spies, and all the people couldn’t see past this bad report to believe God would give them the land. Is God supposed to prove himself again, when he has already done so many miracles, helping them cross the Red Sea, giving them manna every day?
Jesus isn’t going to prove himself. He is looking for receptive hearts. He quotes two stories, There were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time. It had not rained for three-and-a-half years, and the famine was severe everywhere in the country. But God didn’t send Elijah to anyone except a widow at Zarephath in the territory of Sidon. There were also many people with skin diseases in Israel in the prophet Elisha’s time. But God cured no one except Naaman from Syria.”
I was reading yesterday how God described the Israelites as hard headed and hard of heart. This must be what Jesus saw when he looked at them. Who would respond to his message? Whose face would light up? Who would have the heart to see the wonderful truths he was telling?
And it is amazing how he says these provocative words to the people he has been close to. I would want to be easy on them. It’s like the time that comes later when Jesus says his mother and brothers are the ones who do God’s will. Jesus is so focused on finding the open hearts. The eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (II Chron 16:9 Jesus is looking for the sheep who will listen to his voice. The ones who will be able to go and make disciples.
Jesus deliberately stirs the people up. Does he hope that this will wake them up, or is he just pronouncing their judgment? It does remind me of the passage in Ezekiel where God says He will make Ezekiel as hard as flint. Because Jesus has the Spirit in power, he can say these things.
What is the lesson for me in all of this? I must preach to everyone. I must expect that there will be hard hearts. But I must still tell the truth. Would anyone have changed if Jesus didn’t speak the hard truths, no matter how many miracles he did? Would I have changed?
And I am very thankful that people taught the hard truth to me. My life got better. Christianity worked. Ken taught last night how everyone who left everything gained 100 fold. (Mark 10)
If I hold back in telling the truth, am I making disciples? Will people become those who teach others the truth and make disciples?
Jesus didn’t just teach, spreading good philosophy. He made disciples.