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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

Rejection at Nazareth

Luke 4:16-31

(Note before beginning: discussion re: Graydon preaching on this passage two weeks ago).

Sometimes I do not know when I’m well off. One of the joys of taking an English class at UCLA is that it’s full of girls. I picked out a pretty one; asked her out and (for an interesting reason) was rejected. Good thing, too. God had something much better in store for me.

To the Scripture:

(Luke 4:16-31 NIV) 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. {17} The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: {18} "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, {19} to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." {20} 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, {21} and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." {22} 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. {23} Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'" {24} "I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. {25} I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. {26} Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. {27} And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed--only Naaman the Syrian." {28} All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. {29} 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. {30} But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. {31} Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people.

There is every bit of evidence (which shall shortly be produced) that Jesus knew he was going to be rejected. Indeed, he practically states so in his sermon. Why then did he go home?

·         Some scholars see this as a fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1-2, as indicated in Matthew 4:13-16 (read)

·         Others simply see it as an obligation: he owed it to the “home folks” to start there. It’s a principle of Scripture (first the Jew, then the Gentile).

Whatever the reason, he knew he was to be rejected. And of that rejection we must learn what we can.

Prophetic Aspects

That the Messiah was to be rejected when he came was well established in the Old Testament, in at least these five passages:

Ever Hearing, Never Understanding:

(Isa 6:9-10 NIV) He said, "Go and tell this people: "'Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' {10} Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."[1]

The point is clear: the Jews would listen to the Messiah -- but would not understand.

(Psa 118:22-23 NIV) The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; {23} the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.[2]

The “builders” in this are the Jews; the capstone, Christ. But note the phrasing, “the Lord has done this.” This implies that God intended for the Messiah to be rejected -- so that he would become the “capstone” of something greater. That greater something is the church, of course.

(Isa 8:13-15 NIV) The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, {14} and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. {15} Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured."[3]

Perhaps even prophetic of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, this passage shows us that the “stone” is God himself; hence, an early indication of the divinity of Christ.

(Psa 2:1-4 NIV) Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? {2} The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. {3} "Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters." {4} The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.[4]

(Recall that “Anointed One” = “Messiah”). Here it is clearly shown that kings and rulers will conspire against him. This is specifically said to be Herod and Pilate. It is also a forerunner of the principle that church and state must be in opposition as long as the state claims to be supreme.

(Isa 53:1-4 NIV) Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? {2} He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. {3} He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. {4} Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.[5]

Here we have a striking prophecy of the pain and suffering inflicted upon Jesus at the Crucifixion.

Side Note: Christ’s acceptance of prophecy

This is the first, and by no means the last, instance where Jesus confirms the authority of the Old Testament as being inspired by God. Indeed, he takes these prophecies to himself quite readily. The reference here is to Isaiah 61:1. Note that here, as in other places, Christ ties the prophecy to himself as he explains its meaning.

One example of this is the reference to the Year of Jubilee (“year of the Lord’s favor.”). It is an example of how indirect prophecy can be. There are three primary aspects of the Year of Jubilee:

·         Rest for the land (it was not planted)

·         Restoration of the land to original owners, with some exceptions

·         Redemption and release for slaves.

All these are part of Christ’s ministry:

·         Rest from our struggle with sin

·         Restoration to our relationship with God

·         Redemption from the slavery of sin.

Rejection establishes the character of Christ’s Ministry

Far from being an accident, or something unfortunate, the rejection of the Messiah is essential to establishing the character of Christ’s ministry. There are three aspects to this:

·         It is a rugged ministry. It is not a ministry in which Christ sits as guru in a temple, expounding the meaning of life. It is a ministry on the road, with physical hardship punctuated by moments of deep meaning. Indeed, as Christ put it to one would-be follower:

(Mat 8:19-20 NIV) Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." {20} Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

·         The miraculous aspect of the ministry is directly related to the faith of the listener. Somehow, the faith of those who listen is used by Jesus to work miracles. A prime example of this is given here:

(Mat 17:14-20 NIV) When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. {15} "Lord, have mercy on my son," he said. "He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. {16} I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him." {17} "O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me." {18} Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. {19} Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" {20} He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

·         This is a ministry of God’s sovereignty. Nothing that man can do can stop it; Jesus will do nothing that is not commanded by God. As He puts it,

(John 5:19 NIV) Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

Rejection as model for the disciple

Much of our Lord’s life was exemplary; that is, it is to be an example for us. If they persecuted him and rejected him, they will do so to us as well. There are, however, some lessons to be learned in this rejection:

God’s power is made perfect in weakness

We often feel that as Christians there should be a sense of exaltation and power to our work. After all, we are the ambassadors of the most high God. There should be dignity and character to our work. But see how Paul puts it:

(1 Cor 1:18-25 NIV) For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. {19} For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." {20} Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? {21} For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. {22} Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, {23} but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, {24} but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. {25} For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

God has chosen to work through weakness rather than through strength. He is sovereign; He will prevail; we must endure it, knowing it to be his will.

Failure will be frequent in our family circle; success outside it.

Although the Scripture has several examples of one member of a family (often the head of the family) bringing the others to Christ, Jesus here points out the examples of Elijah and Elisha. These are forerunners of the fact that the Gospel would be rejected by the Jews and thus brought to the world. Indeed, as the Scripture says,

(Mat 10:34-36 NIV) "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. {35} For I have come to turn "'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- {36} a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'

I know this is disconcerting to many, but there it is.

Just who is being rejected here?

We do take rejection personally -- which is usually how it is intended! But understand the word of the Lord on the subject: it is not you and I that are being rejected, but the one for whom we are ambassadors:

(Luke 10:16 NIV) "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."

Dealing with rejection -- Christian style

Much has been said about dealing with rejection. I know of no magic formula which makes it less painful; but the Scripture has some definite advice on the subject.

Shake dust

We are not to court continuous rejection. When rejected for the sake of the Gospel, we are to leave it at that. This sounds like a hard saying -- and it is. But hear what our Lord told his disciples:

(Mat 10:14 NIV) If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.

As Graydon mentioned it the other day, no one has the right to hear the Gospel twice until everyone has heard it once.

This bothers a lot of people; it brings up the classic pygmy in Africa argument. But understand as we explained last week, the test is simple: when exposed to the light, men judge themselves. They run to it, or run from it.[6]

Finality of rejection -- for Christians

One of the hardest rejections is from those who are in the church, and decide to leave it. It seems so cruel to us that we should ever make a final separation between the church and anyone. But hear what the writer of Hebrews has to say:

(Heb 6:4-6 NIV) It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, {5} who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, {6} if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

and

(Heb 10:28-31 NIV) Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. {29} How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? {30} For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." {31} It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

This is the most cruel of rejections; to have someone whom you knew loved the Lord turn his back on Jesus. Give this one to God; vengeance is His.

Know the blessing

Why would anyone court rejection? Because it is commanded (the Great Commission) and because it is rewarded.

(Luke 6:22-23 NIV) Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. {23} "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

The rejection is now; the blessing is forever. “He is no fool if he would choose to give the thing he cannot keep to buy what he can never lose.”


[1] Confirmed in Matthew 13:14-15

[2] Confirmed in 1 Peter 2:4-8

[3] Confirmed in Romans 9:31-33

[4] Confirmed in Acts 4:25-28

[5] Confirmed in Romans 10:16

[6] See also Romans 2:6-8

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