In the Year of Jubilee, debts were forgiven; captives were set free; land would lie fallow. (You can read all about it in Leviticus 25.)
Jesus is declaring that in Him, the Year of Jubilee has come. In fact, it has been fulfilled. The debt of sin and guilt and shame is being lifted. We no longer have to be slaves to fear and doubt — because our Liberator has arrived! When Jesus said, Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing, people understood EXACTLY what He was saying.
He was claiming to be the Messiah, the One who would usher in God’s Kingdom once and for all.
Understandably, people loved the first part of this sermon. Luke says that everyone was speaking well of Jesus; they marveled at His gracious words. They understood these to be words of good news.
They also said, “My, my, this is Joseph’s boy! He’s the next big thing!” But in doing so, they completely miss His identity. He’s not really Joseph’s boy. He’s someone else’s Son. Furthermore, Nazareth was the kind of backwater place where nothing ever happened. But with this new hotshot rabbi, some of the people of Nazareth were surely thinking that this might finally put them on the map. I’m sure the members of the Nazareth Chamber of Commerce were seeing dollar signs as Jesus was preaching! They had heard about the ministry of Jesus, how He had been doing great things in Capernaum. “Now it’s time to spread some of that magic around your own hometown, son.”
But Jesus had other plans. And the next part of His sermon does not go over as well as the beginning.
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.Luke 4:23-30
What makes for a good sermon? Some might think a good sermon is one with a funny story or one that affirms everything we already believe. But if we take Jesus as our example, we see that the best sermon is one that gets under our skin a bit. The best sermon might actually upset me if it is a proclamation of the truth of God. So the best sermon is one that might challenge what I believe. And that’s exactly what Jesus does in the application portion of this sermon.
Jesus says to the people of Nazareth, “You’re probably thinking of the old proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ You’re probably wanting me to put on some awesome display of power, to heal someone or to feed a crowd or perform some miracle.” And honestly, could you blame the people of Nazareth for wanting to see a little of that power? Like we said, Nazareth is the kind of town where nothing ever happens. So, yeah, if I’m sitting in the synagogue that day, I’d probably want to see a little magic, too.
But Jesus refuses to give in to that expectation. In fact, he subverts that expectation with some really radical, even controversial statements. And when he makes these controversial statements, the hometown crowd becomes an angry mob — and they take him to the highest point in town so they can throw him down and kill him.
Now, every preacher I know has to deal with a little bit of criticism from time to time. You make a statement in a sermon that someone doesn’t agree with or you say something that is a little too controversial or whatever. It happens. You can’t have something to say week after week without this sort of thing coming up occasionally. It’s happened to me; it’s happened to every preacher I know. And people are usually kind about it; they’ll send an email asking if we can talk or they’ll kindly wait around after the sermon to ask for some clarification.
But in all my years of preaching, I’ve never had anyone take up to Monte Sano (highest point in Huntsville) on a Sunday afternoon so they could murder me for something I said in my sermon! But that’s what they try to do to Jesus here! Just look at how quickly things change: in the first half of the sermon, the entire crowd was speaking well of Jesus; but by the end, they want to have him executed.
If we’re reading Luke carefully, our question ought to be, “What does Jesus say that makes these people so angry that they want to kill him?” How is it that the same people who changed his diapers in the church nursery all those years ago now form a posse to have him executed?