Luke: An Unwelcome Prophet

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on April 26, 2009

Luke 4:14-30

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The Lord’s Day

April 26, 2009

Luke 4:14-30

“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
. 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

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,
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

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

to set at liberty those who are

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
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
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

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

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.

Let’s pray.

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