204. REJECTED BY HIS HOME TOWN—NAZARETH
"Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country"
Jesus journeyed on from Samaria till he arrived at "Nazareth, where he had been brought up". What a welcome Jesus of Nazareth should expect here, especially since his fame had spread so much in Galilee and he was "being glorified of all". However, his own people did not respond to his message and when he declared them to be unfaithful, it became too much for them and they rejected him out of the synagogue and city. Because they were familiar with Jesus and his family, they were not able to recognise that He was more than the son of Mary. Their prejudice stopped them from receiving his message.
Luke 4:16-38 NAZARETH.
A traveller in Israel once described Nazareth: "You cannot see from Nazareth the surrounding country, for Nazareth lies in a basin; but the moment you climb to the edge of this basin . . . what a view you have. Esdraelon lies before you, with its twenty battlefields — the scenes of Barak's and of Gideon's victories, of Saul's and Josiah's defeats, of the struggles for freedom in the glorious days of the Maccabees. There is Naboth's vineyard and the place of Jehu's revenge upon Jezebel; there Shunem and the house of Elisha; there Carmel and the place of Elijah's sacrifice. To the east of the valley of Jordan, with the long range of Gilead; to the west the radiance of the Great Sea . . . You can see 50 km. in three directions" (Smith, Hist. Geog., page 432).
Nazareth, however, was held in disrepute in Israel, probably because of the people's lack of culture. The people were quite poor in material goods, but much, much worse than this, they showed themselves to be spiritually poor. As Nathanael said: "can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (Jn. 1:46).
THE RETURN TO NAZARETH.
Jesus knew Nazareth well — the streets, the people, the rabbi's school, the well, the familiar carpenter's shop, the hills round about, and the synagogue. He had lived as a youth in this small town and had worked as a carpenter. Doubtless, many of the townsfolk knew him for he had not been gone from the town for so very long. Yet the people did not really know him because his way of life, his aims and goal in life were far beyond their understanding. They were curious to see if all the rumours they had heard of the fame and power of "Joseph's son" were true.
THE SYNAGOGUE SERVICE (Lk. 4:16).
The synagogue at Nazareth, the place where the people of Nazareth gathered for instruction in the scriptures and for worship, was probably a simple rectangular building. On entering, there were seats on one side for the men and on the other side, behind a lattice, seats for the women (who wore veils). Out at the front was an ark containing the scriptures which were handed (by the "minister" or attendant) to the person reading them. Included in the synagogue service were prayers, a reading from the Law of Moses, a reading from the prophetic writings and comments on the reading.
As was his custom, Jesus entered the synagogue on the sabbath day. The chief of the synagogue gave Jesus permission to read from the Prophets, and he was therefore at liberty to add his own comments on the reading. The attendant gave him the scroll of Isaiah which he unrolled to the place which we now know as Isaiah 61:1-2. He read only two verses and then, as was customary, sat down near the reading stand to instruct the people.
No doubt there was an air of excitement as the common townsfolk prepared to hear the words of the carpenter's son. Every eye was fixed on the one about whom strange and exciting rumours had been spreading.
Jesus spoke, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears". He had read of the Spirit of the Lord being upon him, to preach, heal and deliver. His reading had closed with the gracious words about his mission, "To preach the acceptable year (or blessed era) of the Lord" (v. 19).
This astonished the people, because Jesus, the carpenter's son, applied the great words of the prophet to HIMSELF. There could be no mistaking the meaning of what had been said (but they were doubtful about his claim). In their disbelieving minds the people could not see beyond the fact that Jesus had once been one of their number. This proved a hindrance to their believing him to be the son of God. They were offended at him.
As Jesus proceeded, the wonderment of the congregation turned to indignation. The people were aware of the importance of his words and they wanted proof of his powers in their midst. Jesus said: "No prophet is accepted in his own country", referring to the fact that they would not accept him no matter what he did. Sensing this attitude to him, he gave two examples from the prophets of old, to illustrate that although a greater prophet than Elijah or Elisha was in their midst, it did not follow that the power of God would be demonstrated by him. They were not worthy of that, just as Israel's unworthiness of old had caused Elijah and Elisha to go to a Gentile widow and a Gentile leper respectively, although there were many widows and lepers in Israel. Jesus was telling them that they were no better than their ancestors who rejected the prophets and, in fact, were no better than certain Gentiles who had witnessed the power of the prophets. It was too much for the people. They were filled with wrath, and turned him out of their synagogue, and led him to the edge of the steep hill on which Nazareth was built, intent on throwing him down head first. But almost miraculously, Jesus calmly passed through the midst of them and went his way. No doubt he wondered and sorrowed at the lack of faith showed by the people, which prevented him doing miracles there.
THE SECOND ADVENT:
In the synagogue service Jesus read the following words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." He left out the next words in the quotation from Isaiah: "and (to proclaim) the day of vengeance of our God".
If he had included these words he would not have been able to add: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing". Jesus had not come then to condemn people, but to preach repentance, salvation and the Kingdom of God (Jn. 3:16-17). To help people to believe he performed miracles such as healing the blind and curing many of their diseases.
However, when he comes a second time it will be the "day of vengeance". He will carry out the judgments of God on those who do not believe, "in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess. 1:8). By this means, the earth will be cleansed and man will be able to glorify God as He intended from the day of creation.
LESSON FOR US.
Jesus gave two examples of how Gentiles received prophets of old. The widow of Zarephath was saved from dying because of her belief, and obedience to Elijah's command. Naaman, the Syrian leper, was healed by submitting to the humbling act of washing himself seven times in the dirty river of Jordan in an act comparable to that of baptism. In both situations belief and obedience were necessary.
On the other hand we have the people of Nazareth, who refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah promised in Isaiah. They showed human nature at its worst by being prejudiced against one of their own number. Because of their rejection of him then, they would be rejected by him in the day of vengeance to come.
We all must make a choice sooner or later, because God is calling us and He requires an answer. So while we are young, we should learn all we can about the Word of God in order that when we reach a mature age, we can choose wisely the way in which Jesus would want us to go. If we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God then we can be cleansed from our sins (like Naaman was from his leprosy) and can be confident that He will provide salvation. The story of the widow of Zarephath who believed and obeyed Elijah, is a type of the salvation offered to those who believe and obey the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ.
''Story of the Bible" (H. P. Mansfield)—Vol. 8, pages 138-143
"A Life of Jesus" (M. Purkis)—pages 91-94
"Nazareth Revisited" (R. Roberts)—Chapter 15.
What was wrong with the attitude of the people of Nazareth when they listened to his words in their synagogue?
Why did Jesus not finish Isaiah 61:2 when he read at Nazareth?
Why did the people of Nazareth try to kill Jesus by throwing him over a cliff?
Describe what happened in the synagogue at Nazareth when Jesus stood up to read.
Why did Jesus mention the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian to the Jews of Nazareth?