Upon His return to Galilee, Jesus enters his hometown of Nazareth and stands up in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus identifies Himself as the one who will accomplish the things written. The Jews, in utter disbelief, attempt to throw him off of a cliff. This episode develops the importance of Jesus' words and actions in this scene.
Hey I'm Josh Hawkins and this is Episode 54 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 53 we looked at a summary of Jesus' Early Galilean ministry. I began to lay a framework for the events that transpire from Springtime to Fall of the first year of his ministry. Last time I talked about one of the most significant ways we can better understand the timing of the events in Jesus' ministry, and that's the Passover feasts. Because of the way John's Gospel carefully mentions them, it helps us to arrange a general chronology of events from all of the other Gospels. The Passovers are significant markers that I'll continue to mention as we move forward through the narrative. Now according to John 4:45, Jesus had returned to Galilee and the people had received Him after seeing everything that He had done in Jerusalem at the Passover feast. Remember, He had cleansed the Temple, met with Nicodemus, and the crowds had come out to Him because of what John the Baptist had been saying about Him. But after John had been arrested, Jesus returned to Galilee through Samaria and it seems like the one of the first places He stops in Galilee is Cana, the same place where He had turned water into wine. We looked at that back in Episode 47. This time in Cana, Jesus heals a nobleman's son from a distance, just by speaking a word. Think about that - He didn't lay hands on Him, He didn't ask the Holy Spirit for miraculous power, and John doesn't give any indication whatsoever that He had to pray and ask the Father for power to heal. Don't forget the one we're looking at here - Jesus Himself is the One true living God who gives life and breath to every creature. And this particular healing is an awesome display of who He is. Well, today I want to look at a very specific event that happened in this period, perhaps in the mid summer of 27AD, and that's Jesus' rejection in Nazareth. Luke narrates this scene in Luke 4. Before we read the story, I want to emphasize that this scene here in Luke 4 is very different from the rejection Jesus experiences in Nazareth later in His ministry. That second rejection is what Mark 6 and Matthew 13 recount. But this event in Luke 4 is very different. Let's read that together: “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.” (Luke 4:16–22 ESV) Looking at our map, you can see we're now up on Galilee again in Nazareth, which is westward of the Sea of Galilee. Nazareth was set above the valley of Jezreel, which contains an area mentioned in the Book of Revelation called Megiddo, or more commonly known as Armageddon. As we'll see in a moment, this is really significant to what Jesus is saying. So here's Jesus in the same synagogue He grew up going to, familiar faces all around. His sisters still lived in town, and it's plausible they were married by this point, though the Gospels don't mention that directly. Jesus was ministering alone at this point - His disciples weren't with Him. Why? This event happens before the official calling of His disciples who had probably returned to their own homes in Galilee after traveling back with Jesus. And there Jesus is, standing up and reading from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet. And in it, he finds the portion that we would call Isaiah chapter 61 and says "today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Let's look at a little bit of the context in Isaiah so we can get a better feel for what those in the synagogue would have understood when Jesus was speaking. Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 61, but His scroll didn't have chapter and verse numbers. For us, chapter divisions often times inadvertently cause us to compartmentalize what passages are saying. Isaiah 61 is in context to Isaiah 60, and Isaiah 62 and 63 are contextually rooted in Isaiah 61. All of these chapters, in fact, are describing God's promises to restore Jerusalem and deliver the people of Israel from all their enemies. Isaiah 60 is all about God's promise to restore Jerusalem where even the nations will bring their wealth and glory to build up the city. Isaiah 61 continues that theme where a specific person announces the good news of Jerusalem's restoration. Isaiah 62 describes the restoration even more fully, speaking about people on Jerusalem's physical walls who would continually remind the Jewish people that God would fulfill His promise to restore. Then Isaiah 63 is about Yahweh, the man of war, trampling down Israel's enemies with ease, and saving the Jewish people according to His abundant love and mercy. Now, with context this in mind, what is Jesus saying when he reads the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue and then says "today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing"? Well, I'll start with he is NOT saying. Nobody was sitting in the synagogue that day thinking that Jesus was radically reinterpreting Isaiah 60 through 63 and saying "whoa, Isaiah prophesied things that are happening now in Galilee and through Jesus' ministry! All those healings and miracles and everything else he's doing, he's freeing the captives, restoring our nation, destroying our enemies, rebuilding Jerusalem, and setting up His kingdom! That's what he means!" Well that's not what He was doing at all and nobody in the synagogue would have thought He was doing the things that Isaiah prophesied - Jesus was in Galilee, not in Jerusalem - they had just rejected Him there and had just thrown John the Baptist in prison. There's no way the Jews would have thought that Jesus was reinterpreting or redefining what Isaiah had prophesied. Sadly, that's what we often do with scripture - we radically reinterpret what the prophets were saying and embrace an entirely new hermeneutic and way of viewing the story. In particular, some say that Jesus was reinterpreting the events described in Isaiah 60 through 63 as an inauguration of some spiritual kingdom where everything Isaiah said was redefined by Jesus and His first coming. When you overlay that hermeneutic with the narrative of what's going on in the Gospels, it's totally incompatible. All we have recorded in the Gospels is one miracle in Galilee so far, and the passage in Isaiah is about the restoration of Jerusalem, not Galilee. So Jesus isn't doing Isaiah 61 right before their eyes and "in their hearing" in the synagogue. But you might say "well, Jesus did say that the scripture was fulfilled, so surely he's redefining something". Now it's extremely important to see that the word "fulfilled" is not so narrow in its meaning that it just means that "everything about Isaiah 61 was brought to total completion." It's actually a lot simpler than that - the idea that Jesus was communicating was that this portion of scripture from Isaiah and the meaning of it was being "filled up in their understanding", or as other translations say, "in their hearing". What does that mean? It's so simple - it means that by hearing Jesus speak and by looking at Him, those in the synagogue were understanding the meaning of the passages more clearly, and specifically, they were seeing the One whom Isaiah had spoken about, the One who would bring Jerusalem's restoration to pass. They were looking at the God of Isaiah 60 through 63. I imagine Jesus saying "Do you understand these passages from Isaiah? Well, they've been made full in your understanding because I am the one who's going to do all that." Now I'm sure they didn't fully understand what Jesus was saying. But remember, just a chapter before in Luke 3, Jesus is introduced by John the Baptist as Yahweh Himself. And Isaiah 60 through 63 is talking about Yahweh coming to restore Jerusalem, not the Messiah. So do you see the sequence of what Luke is presenting here? Jesus is introduced as the LORD in Luke 3, now here in Luke 4 He's come back from Jerusalem and this is His first sermon appealing to the Galileans because Jerusalem has already rejected Him. Wow. Let's keep reading in Luke 4: “And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land,and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.” (Luke 4:22–30 ESV) So Jesus has just said that He is the one who will restore Jerusalem as Isaiah has prophesied, and what do his hometown neighbors and friends do? They say, "NO! We know you! You grew up here! You're not the one Isaiah was talking about!" And how does Jesus respond? Well, he talks about the days of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, that there were widows and lepers in Israel, but it wasn't an Israelite that God had mercy on - it was Gentiles. See that? Elijah was sent to Sidon and Elisha was sent to Syria. So in response to their unbelief, Jesus immediately addresses Israel's rejection and God's mercy towards the Gentiles because of that rejection. Do you remember how we looked at this very theme back in Episode 36 with the message of John the Baptist? Israel would be cut off and only a remnant would remain and Gentiles would be included in God's family and obtain the promises made to Abraham. Well this is exactly what Jesus is saying here. The people of Nazareth are rejecting Him as the One who will restore Jerusalem and establish God's kingdom, and so they bring Him to the edge of Nazareth and want to throw him off the cliff into the valley of Jezreel. Now how ironic is that... Isaiah 63 talks about Yahweh, the man of war, coming up with his clothes covered in blood. The prophets tell us that God's massive slaughter at the end of the age will take place in the Valley of Jezreel. And the people in Nazareth are saying "no, don't tell us that we'll be thrown in that valley. We're going to throw you in there!" And of course Jesus says "no" and just slips away. And that's how His Galilean ministry begins. Well, we're out of time for this episode. I'd encourage you to go back and prayerfully ponder this scene - what was in Jesus' heart as He looked down over that cliff into the Valley of Jezreel? If you've missed any of the episodes in this series, you can find them all on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Join me again in the next episode where we'll continue looking at Jesus' Early Galilean ministry. God bless.