Luke 4 is a familiar passage for many. The quote, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown.’ is one I have known for years now. What I had forgotten was the context. Here is Jesus preaching in his hometown of Nazareth. He’d previously left his town for Capernaum and began his Earthly ministry. But here he is back home and the people can’t wait to see what Joseph’s son has to say. He stands up in the synagogue to do the daily reading and he begins to speak from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,Luke 4:18,19
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.”
The people love it! Their attention is fully on him and they are pleased with his words. In their minds Jesus is reading these good promises of God over them: his people. But then something changes. Jesus addresses the thought on their hearts and minds by reminding them of the saying ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ And with it he leads the next part of his teaching:
“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 4:24-30
The people of Nazareth become so angry that they are ready to stone Jesus, taking his life. And remember: Jesus was no stranger here. They knew his father Joseph, his mother Mary, and had likely watched him grow up from the time he was a baby. So what could possibly make them willing to kill the little neighbor boy, grown up and turned into a teacher of the Word?
It wasn’t his claim that he was the Messiah: the fulfillment of the promises of Isaiah. It wasn’t the miracles he had performed in other places. It was because Jesus told them that these great works of God and promises from Scripture weren’t meant just for little Nazareth. Or even for her nation, Israel. The thought of others being freed, healed, and given liberty instead of them was simply infuriating for these Nazarenes. How dare Jesus proclaim God’s best for other towns and other nations while withholding the full power of his miracles from them. These people were willing to kill one of their own to keep God’s blessing within their own borders.
Perhaps we may feel this passage has little relevance for us today. But to see the truth, we need only think about the hearts of the Israelites that were in the synagogue that day. They had been God’s chosen people sitting under the teaching of his word for centuries. They had been waiting for God to send a powerful Savior who would overthrow the Roman Empire and oppressive political powers around them. They expected God to bless their nation while the rest of the world remained the same. They were totally blind to God’s real heart for the world and his true intentions to take the Gospel- and his salvation- to those who were ready to receive it. His priority wasn’t on the ones who, despite being his people, had hardened their hearts towards him.
And doesn’t this sound a lot like the church these days? We have spent years, decades, centuries sitting under the preaching and teaching of the word. But we are blind to the hardness of our hearts. Unable to see that we are no longer doers of the word because we have ceased to be true hearers. We think we know God’s heart and his intentions. But we are not obeying his commandments. We live lives of comfort and think that this is a sign of obedience and God’s blessing over our lives. But what if our comfort and these ‘blessings’ are actually the greatest barriers between us and Him?
And how often do we get upset when someone comes and shakes things up in our little town of Nazareth? Imagine that Jesus said to you, to your church, to your town: my priority right now is not to bless and heal you who have long sat hard-hearted under my Father’s words, but to bring the good news, sight, healing, and liberty to the poor and needy beyond these walls. Beyond the walls of your church, of your city, of your nation.
The harvest is plenty but the laborers are few. This would not be so if our churches were not full of hardened hearts and those looking to bring God’s goodness to their own kingdoms, nations, and families first. So let this be a challenge: If we consider our hearts and lives to be home to the One True King, then let it not be said that ‘no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.’