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The Jews had been waiting for the Messiah for centuries. When he finally came, we would expect them to recognise him and flock to him. At times Jesus did have a large following, but in the end, the general response was rejection, especially on the part of the religious leaders (see John 1:11). We have an example of this rejection in the synagogue in Nazareth. We turn now to consider Luke 4:14-30 The Messiah rejected.
1. Early acceptance
A considerable period elapses between v13 and v14, perhaps as much as a year, with events such as John 1:19-4:42 fitting into this time. Each Gospel writer selected and arranged events for particular purposes, as the Holy Spirit guided them (see 2 Peter 1:21). The crucial statement is v14 – Jesus returns ‘in the power of the Spirit’, following on from his baptism and temptation. Though much remains mysterious to us, we know Jesus was fully equipped by the Spirit for his ministry. To begin with, as he became known, ‘everyone praised him’ (v14-15). Initially there was a period of acceptance, even popularity, as people try to understand who he is. Note ‘All spoke well of him’ (v22), but the response is temporary.
2. Present fulfilment
Synagogue attendance was part of Jesus’ life (v16). The synagogue was mainly a lay organisation and someone like Jesus could be asked to bring a message to the congregation. He reads Isaiah 61:1-2, a passage of great importance for his understanding of his mission. Isaiah’s words, given by the Lord, are programmatic for the Messiah’s ministry. Note:
(i). Who: ‘he has anointed me’ (v18) – it is the Lord’s doing (Isaiah 61:1). The Messiah is ‘the Anointed One’, anointed not with oil but with the Holy Spirit. The sovereign Lord has brought history to this moment.
(ii). What: the Messiah’s work is ‘to preach good news to the poor’ – to those who realise their spiritual poverty. Those imprisoned by sin will be freed. All the forces that oppress and destroy life will be defeated. The ‘year of the Lord’s favour’ is the fulfilment of the Jubilee Year in the OT. The Messiah will give new life, the blessings of God’s covenant.
(iii). When: the crucial statement is in v21 ‘today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’. The prophetic vision is already being fulfilled, with the exception of ‘the day of vengeance of our God’, which is still to come. The Messiah brings salvation: their response?
3. Violent hostility
The initial response seems favourable (v22) but Jesus knows their hearts are unmoved. He is challenged to repeat his miracles elsewhere. He will not be accepted in his home town, and Jesus responds with examples of Gentiles in the OT who did believe. His hearers are furious (v28) and try to kill him, but he escapes miraculously, and it seems he never returned. It is a serious mistake to reject the God-given Messiah who is our only hope of salvation.