Luke 4:22-30 (click to display NIV text)
Feb. 3, 2013
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ they asked.”
Luke tells us that Jesus began his ministry by teaching in the synagogues of Galilee and everyone praised him. We then learn in verse 23 that the people in Nazareth heard of what he did in Capernaum and wanted him to do those things in Nazareth as well. That probably meant teaching along with healing miracles, a ministry of word and deed.
People have always loved a good teacher. News gets around fast when a well respected teacher comes to a university or to a high school or to a church. People are eager to take a class. Whether it is moms registering their children for kindergarten or college students registering for classes, it does not take long to find out who the good teachers are and which ones to avoid. That news travels about as fast as any. We value a good teacher.
So as Jesus traveled around Galilee teaching in their synagogues, news about him spread rapidly and everyone praised him. So far in his gospel, Luke has introduced Jesus as the Son of God, the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord and the teacher of the Word of God. The people of Nazareth however, only know him as the son of Joseph, the teacher who has come to Galilee. They are quite happy with him.
Now Luke reveals to us Jesus the prophet. This is a significant designation for Jesus in Luke, especially when Jesus is called “a prophet, mighty in word and deed.” For instance, in chapter 24, some disciples are walking on the road to Emmaus and Jesus joins them. He asks them what they are talking about. They reply, “About Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.” So Jesus was not just a teacher and healer, but he was also a prophet, and that was a significant role in his ministry.
As long as they see Jesus simply as a teacher, the people of his hometown are pleased with him. Joel Green writes, “The people of Nazareth respond with admiration. They are impressed with this son of Joseph. They see themselves as the beneficiaries of the Lord’s favor. Jesus is ‘one of us.’ ” They even seem to accept the description of his call that he reads in Isaiah. He is the one who proclaims good news to the poor, who sets captives free, who gives sight to the blind, who sets the oppressed free and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. This all sounds good to them and they hope to see all this take place in their own town. It is when Jesus begins to function as a prophet that they have difficulty.
Jesus sees into their hearts, and this is the first indication that he is a prophet. A prophet is not so much one who sees the future as he is one who is able to bring God’s Word directly into the hearts of individuals and of nations. The prophet sees what is hidden and exposes it. That may be hidden sin, it may be a lack of awareness of what one is doing, and it may also include what is hidden in the future. Seeing the future is part of seeing the heart. You can read the Word of God and it seems like just words, part of a story of another time and place. But the prophet takes the Word of God and applies it to the heart, so that there is clarity, conviction, so that it comes alive in a particular situation. That can bring life, or it can bring rejection and denial.
Jesus tells them what they are thinking. He says they are about to quote him a well-known proverb, but not one found in the Old Testament. It is, “Physician, heal yourself.” It means, if you are going to do something good for others, begin with your own family, your own people, before you move beyond them. They are upset that Jesus did not begin his ministry in Nazareth, that the first miracles were done in Capernaum. They feel they deserve to be first in the Messianic blessings. “The Good News is first of all for us, the blessings of Jubilee are ours first, the freedom from the Romans starts here as the Messiah throws out the Roman encampment in nearby Sepphoris.” It is human nature to always see ourselves as being in the center of God’s blessing.
Jesus sees what is in their hearts. He tells them that no prophet is accepted in his hometown. It is dangerous to be a prophet. People do not try to kill their teachers. But prophets have always faced anger and persecution. Yet the prophet must go where the Lord sends and he must speak what the Lord commands. His words are not always received well. So Jesus refers to Elijah and Elisha, two prophets who lived at a time when Israel was most distant from God, when idol worship was at its peak, when faith was all but lost. In that time no miracle could be done in Israel, but the prophets brought to life the son of a poor Gentile widow in Zarephath, and cleansed the Syrian soldier Naaman of leprosy.
Jesus the prophet sees in the hearts of the people of Nazareth a demanding attitude for miracle and blessing, a lack of faith as in the time of Elijah and Elisha and a hardness of heart towards the outsider. Faced with this convicting word, the people become angry, they refuse to accept what Jesus is telling them. Instead of listening and repenting, they accuse Jesus of being a false prophet, and try to throw him off a cliff to stone him, just as it is written of false prophets in Deuteronomy 13 and 18.
We know that Jesus is our friend, our Savior, our teacher and our healer. He is also a prophet to us. His words are often convicting. He sees our hearts. He knows where we hide in the darkness of our souls. That is where he shines his light. The words of Jesus sometimes go against what we like to think of ourselves. We can resist him, we can become angry that he knows even those things we do not recognize in ourselves.
But we also can choose to listen to Jesus. We can receive his words, and confess the truth of our lives, and repent. If you are insecure or if you are proud, then you will feel like resisting the prophet Jesus. You may become angry at the conviction you feel when he speaks to your heart. You may be looking only for blessing, only for a surface healing, only for Jesus to make your life go well.
If you know the love of God, then you will have courage and faith to listen to the prophet’s words in your heart. You will embrace Jesus who is your friend, the friend of sinners. You will look to Jesus as savior, and allow him to make changes in your life. He will remove your need to hide, to live with secrets, to pretend who you are.
Jesus the prophet is your friend. The fact that he knows all about you, the fact that he convicts you, does not lead to punishment or condemnation, but to a deep experience of love and grace.
The friend is the Savior. The prophet is the one who gives his life on the cross. His heart is filled with the love of God. The Savior knows your heart and is your friend. He holds you while you hear the truth about yourself, holds you while he takes away the darkness you hide in. He is the one who gives you new life.
Open your heart to Jesus the Savior, the teacher, the Son of God, the Messiah, the prophet. Open your heart to the friend who loves you.