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Home Groan

Luke tells us that after Jesus' time in the wilderness, He returned to Galilee where He "taught in their synagogues, and gained a great reputation all around" Luke 4:15. That being the case, what was it that suddenly turned the crowds against him (Luke 4:22)? I have been puzzling over this question because it seems that Luke doesn't give us much about Jesus' message to know what it was that triggered the negative reaction. Luke remarks that everyone was "astonished at the words coming out of His mouth--words of sheer grace." Luke 4:22. But that is exactly when the crowds turn against Jesus. Being astonished at the words of sheer grace sounds like a good thing, so why the negative reaction?

Jesus in the Temple in Luke 4

I think that the negative reaction did not have as much to do with what Jesus was teaching but with the claim He was making when He said "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus had just read from the prophet Isaiah and was applying Isaiah's words directly to Himself: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon announce the year of God's special favor." No doubt grace itself can be very offensive because it attacks our pride and let's our enemies go free. That may well have been offensive. But what really set this crowd off against Jesus, I believe, was the fact that He was claiming Messiahship without seeking the approval of the official leadership of Israel nor the approval of the unofficial national purity watchdog group known as the Pharisees. This claim would warrant the response "Who does He think He is?!" Or "isn't this Joseph's son?!" So what about Jesus' counter-response? Jesus says, "I know what you are going to say to me. You are going to tell me that old riddle: 'Heal yourself, doctor!' We heard of great happenings in Capernaum; do things like that here in your own country!'" Luke 4:23 Why doesn't Jesus give them what they want? Why doesn't He perform a miracle and be done with it? Why does it appear that He is being ellusive? This is because the crowds were not asking for a miracle but for submission. That particular crowd wanted Jesus to submit His Messianic claim to the proper authorities so that they could determine whether or not He really was the Christ. They were saying to Jesus, in effect, "if you want to be the Messiah, you will look and sound the way we have already imagined the Messiah to be like. Submit yourself to the scrutiny of our leadership before you make audacious claims about yourself! But you are a renegade making up your own definition of Messiahship and we aren't so sure we like it. So either play by the rules or we will run you out of town or even throw you over that cliff!" (Luke 4:29). Jesus' response is merely to remind the crowd that there were other times in Israel's history when the wrong people received ministry from a prophet because the people whom the prophet was sent too rejected him. That is, I think, the sum of what is taking place here in the rowdy synagogue of Luke 4. Jesus is wrestling in this passage with an issue He will face throughout His entire ministry: the Jewish expectation of the Messiah. The very next passage in Luke shows Jesus again wrestling with this issue. A demon shouts out that Jesus is "God's Holy One" and Jesus tells it to shut up (Luke 4:35) because He knows that if He isn't careful about the way He goes about His Messiahship, there are many who will want to squash Him into the shape they envisioned (i.e. Forcing Him to become King in their own fashion ala John 6:15) and others like Rome and Herod who would have Him arrested and killed. It is worth noting that even if Jesus had already determined that crucifixion was in His future, it was not something He was willing to experience without first accomplishing all that He came to do, not least of which one was redefining what Messiahship and Kingship looks like when God Himself is the one filling those shoes. The home crowd was having a hard time understanding these things. And we are much the same today. The hometown crowd is usually the last to embrace the innovations of its own.

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