Why is a prophet without honor?

jesus-portraits-001-03If you have ever read Mark 6 or Luke 4, you have come across the story of Jesus preaching in the synagogue that He grew up attending. Jesus spoke well and the people were impressed with his oratory skills. They agreed with Him for a time but, something happened that caused them to attack Him and try to throw Him off the side of a cliff. They chased His out of town. I have always wondered why. I knew about this story even before I became a born again Christian. Have you ever wondered what Jesus said that upset them so much? Let’s turn to the Scriptures and discover why the people were so angry, even though He was an eloquent speaker.

I. Jesus visits a synagogue

In order to understand the story, we need a little context. Jesus has been teaching publicly for about a year. Luke chooses to start telling Jesus’ story of His public ministry here, as He speaks in the synagogue He grew up attending. This is not the official beginning of His public ministry. He had already turned the water into wine at the wedding feast. He had been preaching and teaching repentance, faith in Him, and following Him in the villages and towns. Jesus already had a reputation of a healer and preacher. This is important because when a Rabbi or teacher came to a new city of village and visited the synagogue, he was given the podium and was allowed to teach a message to the attendees. This is why Jesus was allowed to teach when He entered His home town and visited the synagogue.

16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.

This was a tradition/custom/plan that Jesus had. Israel was full of synagogues so Jesus had a plan. Everywhere that He went, He would attend the synagogue and teach. There was a captive audience. The people were seeking to please God. They were there to learn and so Jesus took advantage of it.

17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

II. Jesus reads a Biblical text

The synagogues had a reading plan that they followed throughout the year and it seems that the reading of the day was from Isaiah. It seems that Jesus chooses the passage to read because He opens the scroll to Isaiah and reads Isaiah 61.



20 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.

This is Messianic prophecy that the Jews were very familiar with from their synagogue attendance. Jesus does not read all of the text. He only reads verse 1 and half of verse 2. Why? Jesus does this because the part that He reads deals with the Messiah’s first coming to the earth and the part that Jesus did not read deals with the Messiah’s second coming to this earth. Since Jesus is the fulfillment of the first coming, there was no need to read the rest of verse 2. That was future for them and is still future for us.

III. Jesus explains the Biblical text

Jesus does not end with the readying of the passage. He is a Rabbi. He is a teacher so He wants to explain this passage to the people.

21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

This was a bit of a shocker because He just called Himself the Messiah. He also just called the people in the audience:

  • people who are utter destitute when it comes to spiritual things
  • people who are held captive by their sin nature
  • people who are spiritually blind, without understanding
  • people who are oppressed by the consequences of their sinful lifestyle

Jesus tells these good, religious synagogue attendees that they are blind to who they really are and that their spiritual needs are great. People who see their spiritual state as it really is when compared to who God really is, when they see what Jesus says here, their answer is “Yes, that is who I am, guilty”. On the other hand, a proud person who does not want to admit who he really is, when he stands face to face with what Jesus just said, he gets angry and wants to shut the messenger down. The statement went right over the audience’s head.

22 And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”

Jesus knows this and like a great Teacher, engages them to try and help them understand that they are in dire need of Him for salvation.

23 And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'”

24 And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.

Jesus knew the buzz about Him. He knew that many people were seeking Him, not for spiritual guidance, but for the opportunity to be entertained with a miracle. Jesus does not beat around the bush. He calls them out on their real desires because He wants to turn them from the physical to the spiritual. He sets the stage with the saying about not being welcome in His hometown. That got their attention. Once He got their attention, He went right to the Old Testament and used two well known accounts to illustrate His point that the audience in the synagogue that they are:

  • people who are utter destitute when it comes to spiritual things
  • people who are held captive by their sin nature
  • people who are spiritually blind, without understanding
  • people who are oppressed by the consequences of their sinful lifestyle

Let’s discover what this illustration meant to the audience and why is infuriated them.

25 “But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land;

26 and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only  to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.

27 “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only  Naaman the Syrian.”

Jesus tells the audience that they are in more need of spiritual help than a Gentile widow. To the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, this was an insult. Jesus is not insulting them. He is simply stating a reality that they do not understand. In antiquity, women were considered second class citizens. Widows were considered unlucky, maybe even cursed. What could be worse than a Gentile (pagan) widow? God rescued a Gentile widow via the prophet Elijah because she understood reality and her need for help. She accepted God’s mercy and grace. The audience in the synagogue were in need just as the Gentile widow yet, they did not realize it and therefor, they did not accept God’s mercy and grace. It gets worse. The second example was another pagan who had to humble himself tremendously in order to receive God’s mercy and grace. The example is Naaman. He was a warrior. He was a leader. He had wealth and respect. His problem was that he had a disease that had no cure. Naaman learns of the Lord and the Lord’s prophet Elisha. Naaman seeks out help and Elisha shares something that will cause Naaman to have to humble himself greatly. At first, Naaman is prideful and refuses but, he comes to his senses, humbles himself and receives God mercy and grace. Jesus just told the audience that they are worse off spiritually than Naaman was.

IV. The people’s response to the Word of God

Keep in mind, these are people off the Book, people who claim to be good, moral citizens. They just had their sin nature pricked by the power of the Word of God. There is usually one main response to this, that is, when the Word pricks man’s sin nature. One of the reactions that people have when they are pricked is that they lash out at the messenger. This will come first and foremost from the religious people who trust in themselves as being good and without any need of help to connect with God. Jesus had their full attention now and they made the connections, realizing finally what He was trying to explain to them. Jesus did not do this to make them angry. He wanted them to see reality so that they could experience God’s mercy and grace like Zarephath and Naaman. Let’s see how they responded to having their sin nature exposed.

28 And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things;

29 and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.

30 But passing through their midst, He went His way.

Notice, no one tried to refute the message or offer a rebuttal. Earlier, they all mentioned how well Jesus spoke. They cannot contradict the message or the messenger so, in order to stop the message from being taught, they decide to silence the messenger. They could not murder Jesus at this point because His time had not yet come. Religious Jews similar to these people were going to murder Him later, all according to God’s plan for the salvation of mankind, to show His mercy and grace. This was not the time. This is why many people hated Jesus, especially those who did not want to see reality as it really was. They preferred to keep their heads buried in the sand of their own religious reality. It was sad then and it is still very sad today.

What about you my dear friend, have you ever seen the reality of your spiritual state before God? Have you ever humbled yourself to cry out to God for mercy and grace? When your sin nature is pricked by the Word of God, how do you respond? Do you just try to avoid the message all together? Do you attack the messenger instead? May the Lord help all of us to face the reality of our spiritual state, cry out to God, and receive His mercy and grace!

One comment on “Why is a prophet without honor?

  1. Pingback: The Gospel spreads to the Gentiles | Erik and Elena Brewer's Weblog

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