Read Luke 4:14-21
Jesus returns to his home town ‘in the power of the Spirit’ with his preaching in the temple described as 'inspired' , by all accounts. Trouble is what Jesus said ended up with him being dragged out of town and almost thrown over a cliff (and this just a short time after being tempted by the devil to jump off a cliff and let the angels rescue him!).
Not a very enthusiastic start to his public Ministry!
What did he say to provoke a response such as that?
Well, you have to go back to what the Jews were expecting, because the passage from Isaiah that Jesus quotes was seen by the Jews as a Messianic text, one pointing the way toward the Messiah coming (even when it was written to a different time and place). The Jewish vision of the Messiah was someone to rescue them from oppression. He was a Jewish Messiah!
There was also an in-bred suspicion that God would never choose someone like a poor carpenter as the Messiah, certainly not one from a backwater place such as Nazareth. Far more likely to come from a better class of family!
When we look at what Jesus say we find that he sees the Messiah’s role as something radically different to what the Jews were expecting.
But in Jesus’ inimitable fashion he doesn’t state that out loud, he gets them to think it through logically based on the scriptures they knew so well.
So in Luke’s account we have Jesus, spiritually refreshed after his encounter with the devil in a 40 day desert retreat, heading back to his home town much as he must have done every day for many years, except now he goes into the synagogue not only to participate in worship but to take up the scroll and teach.
And he goes straight to the heart of the Messiah story in Isaiah where, in the power of the Holy Spirit (we’re told) he explains to those gathered how this passage finds its fulfilment in the person sat in front of them reading it.
He speaks so well and so convincingly that the ordinary people are amazed, particularly as they know Jesus so well as the son of Mary and a carpenter, not as a trained teacher. But the Priests and those in authority, amazed though they might be, were not about to acknowledge this carpenter as the Messiah. In fact they were so incensed that they kicked him out of town!
Well, Jesus knows that these folk are not going to accept him, just as the Jews made life a misery at times for most of the Prophets. They’d have been happy for him to do magic tricks or miracles – just like the devil temped him in the desert – but Jesus challenged them at the heart of their belief in what the role of Messiah actually was.
Jesus had probably been telling people in the synagogue that God’s grace was not confined to the nation of Israel but extended to all nations, including those who were currently oppressing the people. That the Messiah comes to bring light to the world, not just the Jewish people, and the mercy of God was to all who heard the message and believe, because you cannot confine the love of God. And if the Jews thought about it, they’d see that this had always been God’s aim, to bring the world to himself through his chosen people, not to destroy the other nations so that the Jews could rule over them.
He starts by identifying himself with two of the great prophets, Elijah and Elisha. Elisha was sent by God to help a widow. There were plenty of widows in Israel at that time, but this one was not a Jewish one. Elisha healed a solitary leper in his time as a prophet, or at least that’s all we’re told, and despite the fact that there were plenty of lepers in Israel, it is Naaman, a Syrian army general, the enemy (!) who was cured. It’s almost like God is rescuing the wrong people!
The Jews wanted their Messiah to liberate the nation from their pagan enemies. God was going to condemn these wicked nations and pour out his anger and destruction upon them. Jesus points out that when the prophets were around in the past, it was often pagans who benefitted, rather than Israel. What would the reaction have been in the UK during the 2nd World War if someone got up and started talking about God’s healing and restoration for Adolph Hitler!
To the authorities, this was what Jesus was proposing!
But this explanation of the Messiah’s role is the very same one that Paul was preaching to the Corinthian church around 25 years after Jesus’ death – still very much within the memory of those who had either seen Jesus or heard from relatives about this enigmatic carpenter’s son preaching, teaching and working miracles in the homeland.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 And so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Paul must have had Jesus’ words in mind when he wrote those words.
And just as that message got Paul into trouble with the authorities, so it did with Jesus. The Church might try its hardest to water down the Gospel message to make it more palatable for the modern generation, but that wasn’t what Jesus and the apostles were interested in doing.
If you are introducing radical thought into peoples’ minds, then you don’t do it apologetically in the hope that you won’t offend. You tell it as it is, and it’s up to the hearer to make their own mind up.
We forget at our peril that Jesus and those who followed him suffered persecution and death that we might be inheritors of the Gospel message. It has survived, more or less intact 2000+ years later and still has relevance today. But if we insist on making it fit to the common culture of the day then we’re no better that the Jews who were insisting that their Messiah was totally different to Jesus.
Jesus’ words have the power to upset the status quo even 2000 years after his death. They challenge people far more than the Church seems to today, and it all boils down to God’s Grace, that undeserved mercy that brings people out of captivity, to whatever has them in its grip, opens eyes that were blind and gives a new-found liberty to be the people God always intended us to be.
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.