Flashback Episode — Loving Gentiles: Luke 4:16-30

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As Jesus began His public ministry, we discover that one of the places He begins is right in His hometown of Nazareth. While Nazareth was not the first place Jesus had performed a miracle or done something significant, before stepping onto the public scene in a big way, we learn that He went back home to Nazareth, and when the Sabbath arrived, He headed to the synagogue to worship.

This event is significant because it is one of the first places where Jesus clashes with the religious leaders in His ministry. All this happens because of a powerful message Jesus shares about His ministry to His hometown synagogue.

Our passage is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 4, and we will be reading from the New International Reader’s Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 16, we learn that:

16 Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. On the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue as he usually did. He stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. Jesus unrolled it and found the right place. There it is written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me.
    He has anointed me
    to announce the good news to poor people.
He has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners.
    He has sent me so that the blind will see again.
He wants me to set free those who are treated badly.
19     And he has sent me to announce the year when he will set his people free.”

20 Then Jesus rolled up the scroll. He gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were staring at him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this passage of Scripture is coming true as you listen.”

22 Everyone said good things about him. They were amazed at the gracious words they heard from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

If we were to stop reading this passage right here, we might assume Jesus was welcomed back into His hometown spiritual community with open arms. However, I believe that Jesus could tell that at this point, the “praise” of those in the Nazareth synagogue and the good things they said about Him were shallow compliments. I believe Jesus knew the hearts of those present and that there was an unspoken sense of jealousy for what Jesus had done in a neighboring town.

I also believe Jesus knew that these Jews living in Nazareth, which happened to be one of the most secular towns in the nation of Israel, were among the guiltiest of racial arrogance. This meant that these Jews looked down on the gentiles that lived all around them, and this also meant that they didn’t love their neighbors like God had instructed His people to do through Moses’ writings.

So while Jesus heard their compliments, He knew their hearts, and He knew what message they really needed to hear.

Picking back up in verse 23:

23 Jesus said, “Here is a saying you will certainly apply to me. ‘Doctor, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me this. ‘Do the things here in your hometown that we heard you did in Capernaum.’ ”

24 “What I’m about to tell you is true,” he continued. “A prophet is not accepted in his hometown. 25 I tell you for sure that there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah. And there had been no rain for three and a half years. There wasn’t enough food to eat anywhere in the land. 26 But Elijah was not sent to any of those widows. Instead, he was sent to a widow in Zarephath near Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel who had skin diseases in the days of Elisha the prophet. But not one of them was healed except Naaman the Syrian.”

Pausing our reading again, Jesus challenged all those present with very strong words that cut straight to the core of their racial arrogance. First, Jesus tells them clearly that while they may have said nice things about Him, they weren’t the least bit likely to accept Him for the prophet He was – not to mention the Messiah that God sent.

Next, Jesus pulls two of the most widely respected prophets in Israel’s history, and He draws the illustration that these prophets, under God’s direction, helped gentiles while appearing to ignore the Jews.

It is in this message where we find a powerful truth about God and about Jesus: Jesus came to help those people who are most in need who are also seeking and accepting of Him. In Elijah’s case, God directed the prophet’s steps to that secular, gentile town, but the widow placed God first by first helping Elijah and then she welcomed him into her home.

In Elisha’s case, I wonder if any of those living in Israel actually came to Elisha to be healed? If none came because they believed their situation hopeless or a punishment, then God would have been unlikely to have reached down to heal them. However, a gentile was willing to try the God of the Hebrews out and because of this, he was healed – even if he was doubtful at first about the instructions he received.

The undercurrent of this message is clear: God loves gentiles as well as Jews. This truth was challenging to those present in this synagogue because they lived in a religious culture that looked down on those who were not on the inside. The last portion of this passage tells us how they responded. Starting back up in verse 28, we learn that:

28 All the people in the synagogue were very angry when they heard that. 29 They got up and ran Jesus out of town. They took him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They planned to throw him off the cliff. 30 But Jesus walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Those present were unwilling to accept Jesus’ message, and they would rather kill Jesus and face the consequences of murder than accept the reality that God loves gentiles too.

This is powerful to think about because this means that any “Christian” who does not love someone from another worldview, another political party, or even another denomination, is not acting as Christ instructed us to.

This also means that regardless of how someone identifies themselves as, as Christ’s ambassadors to the world, we are to love them for who they truly are. Everyone living and breathing today is a descendant of Adam who is a descendant of God, which makes everyone, regardless of what they say or think about themselves, a child of God. Even if we dislike someone else, we are called to love them because Jesus loved them and because Jesus died for them too.

Jesus came to fulfill a bigger mission than the Jews believed God would send His Messiah to do. The Jews believed the Messiah would come to build them up as an independent nation like they were centuries before. Instead, God’s Messiah came to make the way for everyone who accepts Jesus to be adopted into God’s family and God’s kingdom in the new heaven and new earth.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Intentionally take time to seek God first in your life and choose to look at those in your life as people who God loves. Regardless of what they do, know that God loves them because of who He is and not because of who we are or who they are. God loves you, me, and them enough to let Jesus come and die for us, and this is because God really wants all of us to be with Him in heaven!

Also, always be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself. A pastor or podcaster can definitely give you things to think about, but never let your personal relationship with God slide to the sidelines while feeling spiritual because of a church service or audio recording. God wants a personal relationship with you, and one aspect of this relationship is time with you spent in prayer and in the Bible. If you need help with this, I’m happy to help you get started, or restarted, on your walk with Him.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or be tricked into leaving where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 6: When Jesus returns home to Nazareth, discover how those in the Nazareth synagogue first welcome Jesus, before wanting to throw Him off a cliff. Discover why they did this, and why this is important for us living over 2,000 years later.

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