The Lord's Day Morning
April 26, 2009
“An Unwelcome Prophet”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you’ll open your Bibles to the the Gospel of Luke, the fourth chapter. I remind you that when we were in this chapter last, we were looking at the temptation of the Lord Jesus Christ. We saw parallels between Adam's temptation in the garden and Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Adam was tempted once in the garden, failed immediately, and three curses followed against the serpent, against Eve, and against Adam. Here Jesus is tempted not in a garden in an unfallen world, but in a desolate wilderness — a desert in a fallen world filled with sin; He's tempted not once, not twice, but thrice–Adam once, Jesus three times. Jesus never failed. He passes every temptation, and blessing follows to all who trust in Him.
In another sense it's a parallel between Jesus in the wilderness and Israel in the wilderness. Israel is tested repeatedly in the wilderness and she fails every time. She comes into the Promised Land only by the mercy of God, but this Jesus, who is Israel summed up in one man, passes every test in the wilderness so that by His obedience we are made whole and accepted in Him and justified. And so there's a glorious parallel between Jesus and Adam: the first Adam who failed, and the second Adam who was perfect and who lived obediently and died perfectly on our behalf; and, the parallel between Israel that fails and Jesus who does not. That's important for us to remember because as we enter into a different scene here in Luke 4:14-30, we have another parallel with what was going on in the Old Testament.
Let me just remind you of two things before we read this passage. We’re told that the Spirit leads Jesus from the wilderness into Galilee. Now you need to remember two things about Galilee. The first thing you need to remember is that Galilee is a part of the old Northern Kingdom. You remember that after Solomon, because of Rehoboam's rashness, Rehoboam became the king — not of all of Israel like Solomon and David and Saul before him — but only of the Southern Kingdom, and that Jeroboam became the king of the Northern Kingdom. And you remember that whereas some of the kings of the Southern Kingdom followed the Lord and were good kings, that from the time of Jeroboam all of the kings of the Northern Kingdom were bad and the Northern Kingdom was characterized by idolatry and unbelief; and so, there were prophets that God kept sending to the Northern Kingdom to call them back to the Lord. But did the people of the Northern Kingdom believe? Mostly, no. There are some glorious exceptions, thank God, but mostly no. Mostly the Northern Kingdom was characterized by unbelief. It's important for you to remember that in the back of your mind.
The other thing you have to remember is that in this passage Jesus is going to quote from the book of Isaiah, and He's going to quote a passage in the book of Isaiah that refers to the bringing of the children of Israel out of captivity or bondage. Now what would that refer to? Would that refer to Egypt? No, Isaiah's speaking much later than that. He's speaking — what? Many centuries after the exodus…nine centuries, eight centuries after the exodus, Isaiah is speaking of this deliverance from captivity. What captivity is he talking about? He's talking about the captivity of Israel when she's carried off into exile, right? When Israel gets carried off into bondage in Babylon and remains for over two, three, four generations…over seventy years in bondage in captivity, and Isaiah's prophecy in the minds of Israel views the time when Israel is going to be brought back out of her captivity and into the land. Jesus quotes from that passage, but He applies it not to the children of Israel being brought back from Babylon (which happened about 500 years before Jesus was born), but He talks about a new release from captivity. It's important for you to remember those two things. We’ll tie them in as we read this passage together. Let's look to God's word now in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this passage. We thank You for its truth. We also sense that You are uniquely speaking to us. Jesus in this passage is speaking to church-goers. Jesus is speaking this passage to people who think of themselves as moral and upright, and not like the heathen around them —to believing people, godly people, people that go to church every week. And yet He is speaking to them about their sin and their unbelief, and so we feel, Lord, as if You have us in Your bull's eye. Lord, we need to recognize when we're in Your bull's eye, because You never have in view in Your words of conviction the purpose of hurting us. Your convicting words are always designed to turn us from our folly and to help us flee to Christ for grace. So, Lord, instead of self-protection, instead of blame-shifting, instead of denial, instead of indifference, instead of boredom, shake us from our spiritual slumber with Your word today and open our eyes to see ourselves, our sin, our plight, and our Savior. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the word of God:
“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about Him went out through all the surrounding country. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
“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 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. 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.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
What would happen if Jesus came to preach at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson? How would you respond? Well, Jesus has come to preach at First Presbyterian Jackson through His word, and His word is for us just as surely as it was for this synagogue in Galilee 2,000 years ago. Jesus is back in His hometown. He is in the church, He is in the synagogue, He is in the assembly that He grew up attending every Sabbath day, every week. And He's got a word for them. How would you have expected them to respond? If you hadn't read this passage in a while, were you shocked (as Luke meant you to be) by the response of these people who had grown up knowing Jesus, and who had heard about His deeds and wonders and His proclamation, and who were impressed with His speaking? Were you shocked at their response to what He had to say? What in the world did Jesus say to them to make them so mad? And how in the world could anybody have dealt with Jesus in this sort of way?
Now in this passage there is so much rich material…I'm so tempted to go with you to verse 16. Take a look at verse 16:
“He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day….”
I'm so tempted to just go there and stay for a little while. Here's Jesus, and what's His habit? What's His pattern? What's His practice of religion? What's His custom? It's to be in the Lord's house every week. Now if Jesus needs to be in the Lord's house, what does that say about us? I'm so tempted to go there.
Or I'm tempted to…. Follow me down to verses 24-25, where you’ll see the words in your translation — it may come out as truly, or as verily, or as truly, truly, I say to you. Now you’re used to that language. If you read the Gospels a lot, you’re used to especially seeing that language in the other Gospels. Luke doesn't use Jesus’ formula amen, amen — truly, truly — verily, verily I say to you. Luke doesn't use that formula very often when he records the teaching of Jesus. In fact, in Luke's Gospel he only uses that formulation six times, and when Luke uses that formulation it is his way of saying, ‘Watch out. Something huge is getting ready to be said here.’ I am so tempted to go to that passage and work with you on the huge thing that Jesus is declaring here.
But instead I want to draw your attention to three things that Jesus makes clear in this passage about Himself, about our sin and need, and about the good news. Because I believe that Jesus’ words to these church-going Jewish folk in Nazareth are particularly applicable to us well-scrubbed, well-heeled, church-going folk that care a lot about looking religiously good…even when inside our lives tell a different story. And I want to suggest to you that it's precisely that, it's precisely Jesus putting His finger on that that enrages the people in this synagogue.
Now let's walk through the passage together. The first thing I want you to see in this passage is what it teaches us about Jesus himself. (Or rather, I could put it this way: what Jesus is teaching about who He is.) I want you to see Jesus’ self-identification in this passage because it is monumental. Look at what He says (verse 17). They hand Him the scroll of Isaiah, and Jesus unrolls it and He deliberately finds the place where these words are 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,
the 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 rolls up the scroll, He gives it back to the attendant, and He sits down. He stood up for the reading of God's word (just like Ezra), and He sits down. Why? Because that's what rabbis did. When they were getting ready to teach you, they sat down. You stood up.
And you can feel the drama of this. This young man — this thirty-something-years-old man — shows up at His hometown church and He reads from this passage which had huge significance for these people because this passage spoke to them of…it spoke of the return from exile, coming back to the land of Israel from Babylon. And yet there was something in every Jewish heart that they knew was just not right. What was not right? Well, the old kingdoms of Judah and Israel were not reunited; there was no king from David's kingly line on the throne; and pagan polytheists were in charge of their country — Romans, for crying out loud! Filthy, uncircumcised Gentiles were in charge of their land, and every Jewish person was yearning for the day when everything was put right. And so Jesus reads from this scroll a passage that's about everything being put right, and He sits down, and all eyes are on Him…and what does He say?
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
What is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying, ‘People, I am the Man that God has sent to do this, and I will do this. I can set captives free. I can give sight to the blind. I can bring relief to the oppressed. I can bring help to the poor.’ Jesus is saying, ‘I am the one that God has anointed. I am the anointed one.’ In other words, Jesus is saying, ‘I am the Messiah. You've been waiting for 600 years to see the restoration of the line of David and the flourishing of the kingdom of God. I've come here to do it.’
And the people are astonished! They are blown away! Look at the language that they use: “They all spoke well of Him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming out of His mouth.” But…some of them start saying, ‘Isn't this the carpenter's boy? I mean, I remember Him playing with my kids when He was growing up. Isn't this Joseph's son? That's the Anointed of the Lord? Come on!’ And then even in Jesus’ words…look at what He says in verse 23. Jesus says, ‘I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking,‘What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in Your own hometown as well.’ Now Jesus is saying, ‘I know what you’re thinking.’ And notice how Jesus puts it. He doesn't even say, ‘I know you’re thinking this: “Do here what you did there.”’ He doesn't even say it that way. He says, ‘I know what you’re thinking. What we heard you did in Capernaum, do here.’ (In other words, we're not so sure you did it. We've heard reports of what you did there, but we're not so sure.) In other words, the people in Nazareth do not believe Jesus is who He says He is, and has done what He has done. In other words, they are gripped with unbelief. They’re impressed with His speaking, they are hopeful at His message, but they don't believe who He is and what He's done.
And so Jesus tells them a story: ‘Let me tell you a couple of stories. When Elijah was a prophet in these parts…’ [Now it's coming back — Northern Kingdom, just remember! Elijah and Elisha ministered not down in Judah, but up in the Northern Kingdom.] ‘When Elijah was in these parts, there were lots of widows, and he didn't raise any of their sons back to life. Instead, God sent Him to a pagan woman in Sidon, of all places, and he stayed in her house and he raised her boy from the dead. Didn't do that for anybody here in Israel.’ And then He said, ‘Let me tell you another story. When Elisha was a prophet in these parts, there were all sorts of lepers here. But he didn't heal a one of them. Instead, a pagan, a heathen Syrian named Naaman, came to him and said, “Heal me, Elisha!” And God granted that Elisha would heal Naaman as he was dipped seven times in the muddy Jordan River.’
Now what's Jesus’ point? Two pagans — one a widow, one a Syrian general — both blessed by God with miraculous signs and wonders, one that raises a son back to life, one that heals a man from leprosy. What's different about them and the people in Nazareth and the people in Israel around them in their own time? They believed the prophets’ words. And Jesus says, ‘You know, you people here in Galilee, you haven't learned much in the last 800 years. You’re just like your forebears before you: you don't believe. God sent His anointed to you, and His word's not enough. You want to see a miracle, and you don't even think that I've done the miracles that I've done in the other parts of this place.’ And He says, ‘So guess what? God's going to do you just like He did them. He's not going to give you the miracles. There will be no miracle-doing here in Nazareth because you've got hard hearts. You’re laden with your sins, and you don't believe My words.’
And suddenly the happy homecoming turns into a mob lynching. Their plan is to take Him out to the edge of town and literally to throw Him off a cliff. The town was built on a hill and on the outskirts of town there was a pretty good cliff, and their plan was to throw Him over and kill Him.
Why? Because instead of being convicted of their sins that He had uncovered and discovered in these stories about Elijah and Elisha, what did they decide to do? They’re going to “protect themselves.” They’re not going to admit what their hearts are like. They’re not going to grapple with their unbeliefs and they’re not going to repent of their sins. They’re not going to allow the convicting work of the Holy Spirit to show them what they’re really like. No, they’re going to get rid of the problem, and the problem's not their sin — the problem is Jesus! “Not going to have anybody speaking truth into our lives.”
And, my friends, maybe you wouldn't grab Jesus today and take Him out to the outskirts of town and try and kill Him if He were here preaching, but if Jesus is meddling in your heart and showing you your sin and you reject His conviction, you’re no different from that crowd that tried to kill Him that day.
And He's got a word for us here. He's got a word for us. You see, Jesus says He's come to proclaim good news to the poor. That must mean that there are some poor that need good news. He says He's come to proclaim liberty to captives. That must mean that there are some people here that are captive that need liberation. He says He's come here to give sight to the blind. That must mean that there are some good church-going folks that are spiritually blind. He says He's come to give liberty to those who are oppressed. That must mean that there are some who are under the oppressive bondage of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and they need to be set free. But there are a lot of people that are working really hard to believe that they’re free when they’re not. Some people are so committed to acting as if they’re free when they know that they’re not, that they’re ready to kill people who tell them that they’re not free. And that's what happened to Jesus.
Now here's the good news. Jesus said He had come as the Anointed of the Lord to proclaim good news to people who are sinners like this — blind, and poor, and oppressed, captive and sinful. But until we admit who we are, until we admit our need we play the game of denial. We play the game of blame-shifting. Or, if we play the game [and aren't we plagued with this, dear, dear friends, brothers and sisters?]…if we play the game of appearances, then we miss the gracious hand of Jesus reaching out to us with good news.
And you say, “Ligon, I hear what you’re saying. Everybody around me, we're about appearance. We’re about looking better than we are. And there's no way that I'm going to own up to the deep, deep sins of my heart.” My friends, if you do that you’re cutting yourself off from the good news. You’re cutting yourself off from this free offer of grace from the Lord Jesus Christ. You’re a church-goer, but you’re abusing your wife. You’re a church-goer, but alcohol or prescription drugs or illegal drugs are wrecking your world. But you’re going to keep up the appearances. You’re a church-goer, but you’re having an affair. You’re a church-goer, but you are worshiping at the altar of money or ambition or pleasure, and a thousand other things. And you’re going to keep up appearances, because that's what we do. But Jesus just showed up at church this morning, and He said, ‘I came not so that people could continue to paper over their sins and look good. I came to deal with those sins, and I came with good news for those sins. And My good news is not straighten up and fly right. My news is not you’re sinning — stop it! My news is not here are nine things that you need to do to get yourself right with God. My news is I'm here to do something about where you are.’
Have you ever seen a little kid…you know, it's Easter Sunday, and Mom has dressed him up and he's got a new vest and he's got a white button-down shirt, and he's got white bucks, and he's got white trousers. He's white for Easter! He's like a little Easter egg! And Mom says, “Now look, we've got 45 minutes before we go to church. Do not get that outfit dirty.” Mom is getting her hair fixed, and he heads to the kitchen cabinet, and out comes the Hershey's chocolate syrup and some milk! And he's going to make himself some chocolate milk. And the first squirt goes right down his sleeve. And then the second two or three squirts go into the milk, and he starts mixing it up. And he takes that first sip, and he misses! And right down the front of his white shirt and vest it goes, and then down onto those trousers…and he's thinking, “Uh-oh!” So he grabs a rag, goes to the kitchen sink, gets some water, and he starts cleaning up. [And it works, doesn't it?] The chocolate stain just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And when Mother walks into the room ten minutes later…well, I can't repeat it.
But there are a lot of you that are trying to do that with your sin. You can fix it up. You can clean it up. You can get that outfit clean. You can be ready to stand before the Lord. But it just gets bigger and bigger. And you see what Jesus is saying to you? He's saying, ‘That kind of stain, my friend, only comes out with one thing: it comes out with My blood. And here's what I'm going to do. Church-goer, you’re abusing your wife…because My Father wants to save you from your sin, because He set His love on you, and because I love you, I'm going to ask My Father to treat Me like a wife-abuser needs to be treated. You’re abusing alcohol and drugs…I'm going to ask My Father to give Me what one who's abusing alcohol and drugs deserves. You’re having an affair? I'm going to ask My Father to treat Me like an adulterer deserves to be treated.’
You see what Jesus is saying: ‘I am going to absorb what your sin deserves, so that in My blood you are really washed and made clean. You’re not going to be papered over; your sin is going to be liquidated in Me.’
“He who knew no sin became sin so that you might know the righteousness of God in Him. At the right time, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” Jesus is saying, ‘Do not play games with your sins. Appearances…appearances before your contemporaries are not going to stand you before My Father, My blood is. So here's what you do. You run to Me, because I'm here to proclaim good news to wretched hypocrites…wretched hypocrites who for the first time in their lives have realized that they’re wretched hypocrites and that they need something more than their hypocrisy to cover them. They need blood. And I'm here to give it.’
And, my friends, it's that message that made the synagogue in Nazareth hate Him! Why? Because they couldn't bear the shame and the humiliation of admitting what they were, and what they needed, and what He was so ready to give. Do not join them! I beg you, do not join them.
Let's be a congregation that's ready to be done with appearances, that's ready to admit who we are, and admit how much we need Jesus. And let's find grace that we never dared hope existed, offered to us freely in Him. I guarantee you He will do this thing. Listen to what He says: “He has anointed Me to proclaim good news….” Why? Because He was going to shed His blood so that that good news would be real. It is…it is.