As Jesus made His way through Galilee to tell the people of the region the Good News of the Kingdom of God, He traveled to His home town of Nazareth. They had waited for so many years through history for the Kingdom of God to come. Would they believe in it now that it was here?
On the Sabbath, the Lord went to the synagogue as usual. When it was time to read the Scripture, a large scroll was handed to Him. He opened it to the place where Isaiah 61:1-2 was written and read it to the people;
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because He anointed me to proclaim release to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are downtrodden,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord”
When Jesus was done reading, He handed the scroll to the attendant and went to sit down. Everyone in the synagogue watched Him the whole way, wondering if He would say something more. These verses were given to the ancient Jews by the prophet Isaiah over seven hundred years before the time of Jesus. They were about the Messiah. His coming would bring the year of the Lord’s favor. That year was not really supposed to mean a year with twelve months the way we normally use that word. It was a symbol of a very special period of time in history when salvation would come to the world. God would send a Messiah to bring liberation from the powerful grip of sin. He would bring freedom from the terrible shame and consequences that sin brings into the world. It was the time when God would begin to work in a powerful new way against the terrible curse that Adam and Eve brought into the world. A new era was coming, and the Messiah was the One who would bring it!
Everyone in the synagogue probably knew that Jesus had been healing the sick. They had probably heard how He turned over the tables at the great Temple and called it His Father’s house. They probably knew that He was the cousin of the great John the Baptist and that Jesus had been baptizing people in the Jordan River before He came to Galilee. Was this the man Isaiah had foretold? Was He the One?
In the silence of the stares, Jesus spoke. “‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” Wow. Jesus was claiming to be the Anointed One from the prophecies of Isaiah!
Everyone heard about the things Jesus said and did, and everyone said wonderful things about him. They were amazed at His teachings. They were so full of grace! Yet these people had also grown up in Jesus’ hometown. How could He be the Messiah when He had always been so…normal? “‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’” they asked. How did the son of a carpenter become so wise? Who had trained him? He hadn’t come from a family of rabbi’s or received special teaching in the Temple. How did he know so much? And why did He think He had the authority to say what He said?
The people of Nazareth were not asking these questions with sincere hearts. They were not asked to show respect. These questions were a way of putting Him down. Who did this son of a carpenter think He was? Some of them might have heard the story about how Mary had become pregnant before her wedding. They would have thought the name of Joseph was stained by this mistake in his early past. Surely the Messiah couldn’t come from such sin!
The people of Nazareth could have heard the words of God’s own Son with the faith of the Samaritans or the Roman official. Instead, they questioned, insulted, and doubted. They used the common station of Jesus’ family against him. Had they forgotten that Joseph was from the line of King David? But the Jewish people that grew up with Jesus had hearts of stone. So 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. I tell you the truth, 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 half years and there was a severe famine in 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.’”
When the people of Nazareth heard Him say this, they were enraged. They knew exactly what He was trying to say! In the Old Testament, two of God’s most powerful prophets were Elijah and Elisha. The Lord sent them to Israel at time when the rebellious kings of their nation were leading the people into terrible idolatry. God moved in great acts of power through Elijah and Elisha, showing the nation that they were the true messengers of the Lord. They humiliated the kings and false prophets and priests who served the demonic idols. They were mighty men of God, and for the people of Jesus’ day, they were great heroes. Everyone wanted to believe that they would have been on the side of Elijah and Elisha. But Jesus was saying that He was on the side of Elijah and Elisha, and by rejecting him, the people of Nazareth were like the evil idolaters that were the enemies of God!
Then Jesus said something that really offended them. He pointed out that in the stories of Elijah and Elisha, when the Jewish nation rejected them, the Lord sent His prophets to people of foreign nations. It was foreigners who gave those great prophets aid in their time of need, and it was Syrian foreigners like Naaman who received powerful miracles of healing!
Jesus was declaring that the people of Nazareth were just like one of the most hated kings in Jewish history. And He was proving through the Old Testament that the good news of the Messiah was not only for the Jews. If they rejected Him, the Anointed One, He would go to the Gentiles with the message of salvation.
This message did not make the Jewish people of Jesus’ hometown very happy. Their hearts were not in line with the heart of God, but they didn’t want to know about it. In fact, as they sat and listened to the claims of Jesus, they went out of their minds with rage! How dare He say such things! Who did He think He was?
Imagine the furious people rising up as a mob against the Lord Jesus.
They crowded against Him in the synagogue and physically forced Him out. They drove Him along the road, all the way to the edge of town. Filled with utter malice and hate, the crowd pushed the Lord all the way up the high hill that stood above their town, right up to the edge of a cliff. They were going to kill Him!
Can you imagine the fierceness of their shouts and rage? Can you picture Jesus in that hostile crowd, being thrown around and treated like some kind of shameful liar?
Yet in the midst of the anger and chaos, Jesus remained calm. His life was in the hands of God, His heavenly Father. In spite of the gripping fury of the crowd, when it was time for Him to leave them, the Lord Jesus just walked away. He cut right through the center of the impassioned crowd. He journeyed on His way, leaving behind the foolish mob who had rejected their King and Savior to consider what the day had revealed about their hearts. He went on to the town of Capernaum, a city that sat right on the edge of the sea of Galilee and made his home there. It is in a region called Zebulun and Naphtali.
When Jesus moved there, he fulfilled another prophecy from Isaiah. It was written:
“‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along 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.’”
Would the people of Galilee understand that amazing privilege that had come to them? Would they show honor to their God? Would they have the faith of the Samaritans? Or would they harden their hearts against their Messiah like the people of Nazareth?
The book of Matthew says, “…from that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’” (Matt. 4:17). Can you hear Jesus, the King, declaring the coming of his Kingdom? The light had dawned! God’s kingdom of light was breaking into this cursed, dark world in a whole new way!
Does Jesus’ message sound like anything we have heard before? It is almost the exact same message that John the Baptist preached with one slight difference. At this stage in the story, we are entering a new phase of God’s work. John’s message told that the Kingdom is coming. His job was to prepare the hearts of Israel for the Messiah. Now the Messiah was here, and He brought the Kingdom with Him. The Kingdom had come! The people of Galilee were going to see firsthand what it was like when God the Father moved in perfect power. Jesus was His Son, and He did the exact will of His Father in Heaven at all times. It will be beautiful for us as we read what happens to a broken world when it is invaded by Perfect Love. Diseases are healed, sinners repent and are set free from their bondage, evil, demonic spirits are driven away from those they torment, and lies will be confronted with God’s perfect, wonderful truth! But God’s reign was most truly established when it took place in the human heart. It happened as each person repented of their sin and gave their hearts over to the rule of God.