On Wednesday nights, our church has been going through the Gospel of Luke and studying it diligently. We are on the story where Jesus announces his ministry to his hometown congregation in his local synagogue. Luke twice in chapter 4 tells us that all men were speaking well of Jesus up until that point. They loved his gracious words, his ability to read the word of God and teach it, his powerful preaching, but then he said the famous words after reading Isaiah 61:1-2 - “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus basically was saying that what Isaiah had prophesied 600 years before that very moment was now being fulfilled before his own hometown’s congregation. Needless to say, the compliments began to stop, and people begin to whisper to one another, “Isn’t this Joseph’s Son?”
I guess they didn’t get the memo about the virgin birth. I guess so much time had passed that most of the people in Nazareth didn’t know the story or didn’t believe it. I’m sure Mary spoke about it some, and maybe while Joseph was alive he told it as he had opportunity, but for the most part people didn’t believe there was anything supernatural about Jesus. But in Capernaum just a few weeks before, the folks of Nazareth had heard stories that their Jesus was doing miracles, casting out demons, healing the sick, and preaching that men and women should repent for the kingdom of heaven was coming. Jesus spoke to the crowd there that day at the synagogue, “I bet you’re gonna tell me, ‘Physician Heal Thyself!’ because you want me to do a miracle here like I did in Capernaum.” The reason for that was they didn’t believe that he was anything more than Joseph’s son. They doubted him.
Today a lot of people doubt the power of God, they doubt the church, and they doubt Christianity. They doubt organized religion, and they doubt the authority of the Holy Bible. They doubt there is any power in prayer, and they doubt there is any hope in salvation to transform a life. They say, “Once a sinner, always a sinner. Once a cheater, always a cheater. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” You can fill in the blanks as you wish, but what it comes down to is that people don’t believe in miracles, or that Jesus can change people from the inside-out. I guess faithlessness isn’t anything new. It’s been around for a very long time.
Jesus tells a couple of stories about two prophets that the people would’ve been very familiar with — the stories of Elijah and Elisha. The point of both of those stories is the same. If you live in rebellion and faithlessness towards God, he will not quit doing miracles, but he just won’t do one for you. He will move on to a people who will believe, and who will place their faith in him. It infuriated the people that Jesus would say God would pass up the Jews to help Gentiles, and to do miracles for those horrible people. That was their nationalistic pride talking. They couldn’t believe that God would pass them by because they saw themselves as God’s children even though they couldn’t believe in God’s son because to them Jesus was “Joseph’s son.” They were too close to him to be able to see who he really was. “A prophet is without honor in his hometown.” Both Matthew and Mark record that Jesus marveled at their unbelief.
It was finally at the end of Christ’s stories of Elijah and Elisha that the people had had enough. They were upset because Christ had taken the Old Testament, and had shown them how God could pass up his own people if they remained faithless. Luke tells us they drove him outside to a cliff where they were ready to throw him off. Luke tells us (without much explanation) that Christ just walked right through the crowd without being harmed. It was not his time, and they had no power over him. He just walked right through them even though they wished to kill him. It is amazing to think how a few minutes of speaking had changed their opinion of him so much. They were praising him in one moment, and a moment later trying to kill him. People will love you if you tickle their ears, and say what they want you to, but if your message of truth offends them - God help you, and he just might.
The lesson of this story is simple, but profound. God gives people the opportunity to place their faith in his son, but there is a time limit on that grace. You can be passed by, and the opportunity God affords you to believe can be granted to another. When I was in college, I taught myself guitar by playing through some old hymns. One of those old hymns was “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior.” The message of that old song still rings in my ears, “Savior, Savior hear my humble cry, while on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by.”
Brian Taylor began his ministry as young man on the foreign mission field of Togo, West Africa serving with the International Mission Board of the SBC. He spent almost a decade serving as a Music and Youth Minister in the Panhandle of Texas. For the last 5½ years he has served as pastor of Forest Avenue Baptist Church in Sherman, and loves preaching and pastoring on the Southside of Sherman. He has been married to his wife Sarah for 17 years, and they have five children.