12. Rejected!

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You would think that, being God, Jesus would have had an easy time of it especially in his own hometown. I mean what town wouldn’t want to be known for having been the place where God lived? Just think of the income from all the tourists let alone receiving special privileges from Jesus, right? Yet, this is exactly the opposite of what actually happened. Yeah, at first things were cool between Jesus and the people of Nazareth but things quickly turned south after a day at the local synagogue. Let’s read:

 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

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.

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 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. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 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.”

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 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 off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (Luke 4:16-30)

Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:13-16)

First of all, I want to point out that we are looking at passages from two separate books. The first part comes form Luke 4 and the second from Matthew 4. As we do these Bible studies, I am going to try to go in chronological order of Jesus’ ministry. That means that we may jump around from Gospel to Gospel but the story will follow in order as it happened For example, this time we will study about Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth in Luke and then about how Jesus left that area in Matthew.

I don’t know about you but when I study the Bible, I like to learn about the background of the text. In this case, I want to discuss what the synagogue was, where it came from, what it may have looked like and what did a Sabbath service look like. The word synagogue means “meeting place” and that’s exactly what it was. Originating from the time of the Babylonian captivity when Jews couldn’t worship in the temple, synagogues were built as local places of worship. Although this was their primary function, synagogues were also used as religious schools, for religious gatherings and for community meetings. The building itself was usually small and built on an area that was on higher ground than the surrounding houses.

Outside the entrance there would have been a bowl of water for the purpose of ritualistic cleansing. Jews would symbolically wash their unrighteousness away before entering the house of God. Opposite the entrance would have been a portable ark, reminding the Jews of the original Ark of the Covenant. In it would be the scrolls of the Torah (the first five books of our Bible) and the prophets. Men and women could both attend the synagogue but they were separated by a screen so that they could not see each other.

Devout Jews would meet every Sabbath at the local synagogue. There was no specify clergy so to speak but any Jew who felt qualified could ask permission of the elders of the synagogue to read and/or teach on the reading of the day. The reader would stand to read the word of God and the teacher would sit to comment on the Scriptures. The Sabbath service was held every Saturday and had five basic parts: prayer time, blessings proclaimed, Scripture reading, teachings and commentaries or basically, a sermon. It is during one of these Sabbath meetings that we meet up with Jesus. We don’t know if Jesus was asked to read or volunteered to read on this particular occasion. What we do know is that he faithfully went to the synagogue on the Sabbath because it says, “on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom,” (verse 16). The other thing we don’t know for sure is did someone instruct Jesus which passage to read or did he, himself, pick it. I would say that from the text, it sounds like Jesus picked it himself. It is something to note that either way, Jesus would have had to been extremely familiar with the Scripture to be able to find this passage. They didn’t have chapter and verse numbers back then so he would’ve had to known where to find it.

He reads from a section of the Bible that we know as Isaiah 61:1-2,

“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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

He is in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. He grew up here and everyone knew him. It is reasonable to expect that at this time the other townspeople would have at least heard something about the miracles he and his disciples were doing in other areas. So it’s no wonder that after he reads this particular passage, in the way that only Jesus could, that everyone was staring at him as he sat down. I imagine you could’ve heard a pin drop. Then he says I am the one this Scripture is talking about, I am the Christ, or Anointed One. One by one, the people start to whisper, “Isn’t this the dude from down the street? This guy is one of us and he is the Christ!?” Just think for a second what you would be thinking if you were one of these people. I would probably be thinking, “Hey, this guy is one of us; if he is doing all of this great stuff in other places, surely he will do even greater stuff for us.” Some of them were seeing dollar signs as they tried to figure out how best to market this Messiah from Nazareth. As of right now Jesus is by far the most popular guy in town. Everybody wants to be his friend… until Jesus opens his mouth again.

If only Jesus had kept his mouth shut life would’ve been a little smoother for him and his disciples. But Jesus never goes with the flow just to take the easy way out. Instead he says, “I know y’all are thinking that if I am doing all this great stuff elsewhere, then I should be doing even greater stuff here, but that’s not how I work. In fact, I won’t even be welcome here.” In my personal opinion he wasn’t trying to offend the people. I think he was issuing a warning of what could happen if they aren’t careful to remember the past because then Jesus gives two examples from Israel’s history. These were prophets who were rejected by their own people and instead helped out Gentiles, or non-Jews. Well, this was viewed by his fellow townsfolk as a slap in the face! How dare he say that he would leave his own people and help the Gentiles. They viewed this as blasphemy! They didn’t care about the Gentiles so surely God didn’t either! They forgot the promise given to Abraham that God would bless “all peoples on earth” through his lineage, (Genesis 12:2-3). The funny thing is that all peoples on the earth means all peoples, Jews and Gentiles. The people were furious! They chased him out of town and they nearly pushed him off a cliff! Then they witness the only miracle Jesus will do there, just like Moses parting the Red Sea to escape Pharaoh and his army, Jesus just walks through the crowd and goes on his way.

Next we see Jesus leaving Nazareth and going to live in Capernaum which was in the lands of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. Why is this worth mentioning in the Bible? Because it fulfills a prophesy about the Messiah. It is proof that Jesus is the one promised in the Scriptures:

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:15-16)

Yeah, it says that the Messiah would live in the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali but do you know what else it says? It makes a point to say “Galilee of the Gentiles.” He was promised to the Gentiles even way back in the time of Isaiah which is where this prophesy comes from (Isaiah 9:1-2). I think he is referring to the Gentiles when he says here, ” the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” I don’t know if you realize this but he is talking about you and me here. Yes God came for the Jews first, but when they rejected him he opened salvation up to the rest of us. The very act of the Jews trying to suppress Jesus is what furthers the kingdom of God and fulfills the promise made to Abraham! God’s plan can not be thwarted no matter how hard people try. It’s the overall message of the Joseph story. Remember? His brothers allowed their jealousy to grow into hatred. The sold him into slavery and through a series of God-ordained events he became second in command only to Pharaoh. What man intended for evil, God turned into good. The Jews meant to kill Jesus that day and instead they ended up enabling Jesus to go to the Gentiles that day.

While I am glad that Jesus came for us Gentiles, I can’t help feeling sorry for the Jews. Like Joseph’s brothers, they allowed their self-righteousness to breed hatred towards us. I can’t imagine hating someone I don’t even know so much that I would want to kill over it. Imagine the angst that must have eaten away at the Jews of Nazareth. I don’t know this for a fact, but it is my guess that most of them never accepted Jesus as the Messiah or even if they did recognize Jesus as Messiah, they rejected him anyway because of his mission for the Gentiles. I think this is even worse- to know Jesus is God’s son and still reject him because you don’t like his mission. I think this is the danger many people face today. There are many people out there who think Jesus is real, that Jesus is God, yet reject him because they don’t like what he teaches. It’s like having a curable disease and not doing anything about it because you don’t like the taste of the medicine. It’s ludicrous and yet this is what Paul means when he says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “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.” Jesus seems like pure foolishness to people who haven’t accepted him as Lord, and yet, once you do accept him it seems foolishness to not believe.

Lord, Forgive us for the times we have rejected you. Forgive our hardened hearts. Please soften them so that we accept you and all of your teachings. We pray for those who have not yet believed in you. Soften their hearts and open their eyes to the wisdom found only in you. Thank you for working all things for our good. Amen.

The End.

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