The Popularity Context
Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers
1. Jesus’ preaching & popularity (4:14-15)
2. Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled (4:16-21)
3. The positive response of the people (4:22)
4. "Prophets are never popular" (4:23-27)
5. From praise to the precipice (4:28-30)
Everybody wants to be popular.
"Not me," you say. Yes, even you. Oh, maybe you don't want the public fame and popularity that many are seeking after today - having your name on billboards, and on magazine covers. But even still, you do want to be popular. If you are married, you want to be popular with your spouse. You want your spouse to pick you over other things. If you have children, you want to be popular with your children. You want them to like you. And beyond that, you have a certain circle of friends that you want to fit in with and be popular among. If you love horses, you want to be known by other horse lovers as the one to go to for advice and ideas on raising and training horses. If you love gardening, you want to be popular among other gardeners as the one who has a green thumb and knows how to get the ripest, reddest tomatoes.
I don't care who you are, there is somebody you want to be popular with.
Now, being popular is not necessarily a bad thing. Wanting to be popular is not a bad thing. But we must always watch very carefully who we are trying to be popular with, and what we are doing to become popular. To keep popularity in context, we must always focus on being popular with God first and foremost. We must always please him above everybody else. We must make sure that we do what He wants the way he wants it done rather than do what people want the way they want it done. Whatever we do, think or say, it doesn't matter too much what other people think about it. The only thing that really matters is what God things. We should always be asking ourselves one question: "Am I being faithful to God?"
Jesus is the perfect example of this. He set out in His earthly ministry to please God rather than men. Previously in Luke, we looked at Luke 4:14-15. There we learned about Christ's first year of ministry, and during that time, He did gain some popularity. But now, in Luke 4:16-30, Jesus puts that popularity in context. In Luke 4:16-30, Jesus' popularity with people comes into conflict with His popularity with God, and so Jesus has to make a choice between the two.
This all begins to develop in Luke 4:14-15. We looked at these two verses earlier, but just for context, let us look briefly at them again. We see in Luke 4:14-15 Jesus' preaching and popularity.
1. Jesus’ preaching & popularity (4:14-15)
14Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. 15And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
As Jesus went about preaching in the power of the Spirit, we see in these verses that news of Him spread and He was being glorified by all. Jesus was gaining in popularity because of His teaching. People were talking about him over dinner. Rather than talk about what was happening on their favorite television show, they were talking about what Jesus was teaching. People wanted to be with Him. They wanted to hear Him. He was gaining quite a following. He was growing in popularity.
Now remember, verses 14-15 summarize a whole year of ministry. During that year, Jesus had performed some miracles, he miraculously fed a lot of people, he healed some others, he preached some parables in the countryside, and as we read there in verse 15, He taught in their synagogues. Every week, Jesus could be found in a local synagogue, a local church, teaching the Word of God to those who had gathered to hear it. It is all of these things together that gained Him His popularity, and it will be all of these things which will later make enemies for Him also. But it is His preaching that makes enemies the quickest. Everybody loves a good miracle. You'll bring in the crowds for a free meal. Interesting stories and parables never offended anybody. But when you open up the Word of God and teach it, when you state the uncompromising, simple and clear message of God's Word, when you preach the Bible, people begin to get upset. This is what happened with Jesus.
On this particular Sabbath, He goes to His home town of Nazareth to preach the Word, and He preaches a message from the book of Isaiah. He tells them that this prophecy from Isaiah is fulfilled in Him.
2. Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled (4:16-21)
16So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.
Verse 16 says that it was His custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath to teach the Word. The synagogues, you remember, were like a Jewish church. They only needed ten men to faithfully attend and support a synagogue in order to start one, so nearly every town had at least one synagogue. Some of the larger cities had quite a few synagogues. For example, Jerusalem had over 400 synagogues at the time of Christ.
The main purpose of the synagogues was for the education of the people in the truths of God's Word. When they gathered, they basically did only two things, they prayed and they taught the Bible. They gathered at least three days a week - on the Sabbath, which is Saturday, and then also after work on Monday and Thursday. The goal of all three meetings was to teach the entire Word of God. On the Sabbath, they taught the Bible in such a way so that the Pentateuch, which is what we call the first five books of the Bible, was taught straight through every three and a half years. Generally the selection for the day was divided up into at least seven sections, and each passage was assigned to a different men.
During the service, the man would stand up and read the text, then sit down and explain the text. And as I said, there would be at least seven of these sermons. You say, "They must have been short, if there were seven sermons." No, actually, they didn't have short sermons, they had long services. The Sabbath day was for rest and reflecting on God's Word. And so, the services could take up much of the day. Now sometimes, if they had time, along with the study of the Pentateuch, they might take some time to study additional passages of Scripture that were related to the passages from the Pentateuch they had studied that day.
This is why Jesus, when He teaches on this Sabbath, is teaching from Isaiah. Look at verse 17.
17And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
18"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
19To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."
Jesus sermon text comes primarily from Isaiah 61:1-2. Now this was certainly not the whole text that Jesus taught from that day. But Luke records here the highlights, or maybe the portion of the text Jesus focused on the most. Jesus taught from this passage and explain to the people in Nazareth what he came to do. The six statements in this passage very aptly summarize Christ's earthly ministry and what He came to do. In the Hebrew, which Jesus was reading from, the word Messiah means "the anointed one." And so when Jesus reads of the anointing in the first part of verse 18, that is a clear reference to the Messiah. The rest of verse 18 and on into 19 tell us six things that the Messiah would focus on.
First, To preach the gospel to the poor. The Gospel, the good news is that God has provided a Savior from sin, and that those who believe in Jesus Christ will be delivered from death, and given eternal life. The reference to the "poor" is not a reference to those who lack money and material goods. It means those who are spiritually bankrupt, the poor in spirit, as Jesus says in His Sermon on the Mount. And since all of us are sinners, all of us are spiritually bankrupt, all of us are poor in Spirit, this good news of eternal life through faith in Christ is for all of us.
Second, Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted. Now, I know this phrase is not in some of your Bibles, but it is in the majority of the ancient texts, and it is also found in Isaiah 61:1, so I think it belongs there. And I'm thankful it is there, because all of us are brokenhearted at times, and Jesus came to comfort us and help us through our sorrows. Jesus constantly proclaimed throughout his ministry that there is a God who cares about you and is ready to help you. So keep praying and trusting. And even if things don't all work out in this life, remember that there is a life to come in which everything will be set straight, and every tear will be wiped away, and there will be no more pain or death. Do you need comfort today? Jesus is there to heal your broken heart.
Thirdly, Jesus came to proclaim liberty to the captives. This is liberty from spiritual bondage to sin. All of us, even when we are Christians, find ourselves in bondage to certain sins. In Christ, you have been set free. There has been an "Emancipation Proclamation" so that you are a free man. A free woman. But too many of us keep walking around as if we were still slaves. But as we get into the Word of God, as we pray, as we attend church and fellowship with other Christians, we not only become positionally free from sin, but practically also. That Setting Captives Free Ministry which we watched a short video of this morning is a great help to being set free from whatever sin you might be in bondage to - whether it is overeating, alcohol, smoking or pornography. Jesus came to set you free.
Fourth, His ministry was one of giving sight to the blind,. He did this physically by healing blind people, but more importantly, He came to give sight to those who are spiritually blind. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelieving. Jesus came to give sight back to those who were blind. He gives spiritual understanding to used to walk in darkness.
Fifthly, He came to set at liberty those who are oppressed. The word oppressed could also be translated "bruised." It has the idea of being crushed, shattered, broken down, mistreated in life. Is that how you feel? Broken, mistreated, shattered, overlooked, lacerated by life, distressed, downcast, exhausted, ready to quit? He came to set you free too. To heal your wounds, and set you free, and give you liberty and joy and peace. It is all found in Jesus. He said, "Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Finally, in verse 19, Jesus' ministry was one in which He proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord. This is first of all a reference to the Jewish Year of Jubilee. It was a year when all debts were forgiven, all land was returned to its original owner. Everybody got a brand new start. A fresh beginning. And that is what we get in Jesus Christ. He makes everything new. We are a new creation in Christ. The old is gone, the new is come. The old is washed away, the new is put on. This is why Paul tells us to forget the past, and press on toward the future. In Christ, we have no past mistakes and bad decisions. Everything is brand new.
But verse 19 also is a reference to the Jewish expectation and hope for a Messiah. The Jews had been praying for the Messiah for years, and the timing was never quite right in God's time frame. But now, after hundreds of years of praying and waiting and watching and looking, now was the acceptable year of the Lord. Now was the time when God's promises would begin to be fulfilled. Now was the time when Israel's Messiah had come. And we see this also throughout the ministry of Jesus. God's timing is always perfect. It may seem at times like He waits too long for something, but when He acts, we see that He was not too soon or too late. Are you waiting for something? Praying for something? Trusting in God's promises for something? But nothing seems to happen. Well, wait on the Lord, He will fulfil His promises and answers your prayers in His time.
These are the six things Isaiah 61 talks about, and the six things that Jesus fulfilled in His first coming. And there's really nothing here that is too offensive, right? Nothing to get worked up about. Nothing to get mad at Jesus, over. Maybe what the people of Nazareth got mad over is what Jesus did not say. You see, Jesus stopped reading mid sentence. He stopped reading right at a comma right in the middle of Isaiah 61:2. Look at verse 20.
20Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
Some of them are thinking, "Hey, wait. You missed the best part. Hey, wait, you didn't read the last part of the verse." They are wondering why Jesus didn’t read the last part of Isaiah 61:2.
Do you want to know why He didn't read it? Because the rest of verse 2 and on into verse 3 talks about His Second Coming. It talks about the day of vengeance. It talks about setting Israel back in her rightful place among the nations. It talks about giving them beauty for ashes. Jesus did not come to do all of this in His first coming. But He will fulfill the rest of the verse in His Second Coming. We are right now living in a comma. The comma in the middle of Isaiah 61:2 separates Christ's first coming from his second coming. That comma is the church age. Jesus said that the Word of God would be fulfilled, down to the very jot and tittle, and here we see it being fulfilled down to the very comma. Now, so far, this comma has lasted about 2000 years, but a time is coming, very soon I believe, when God will pick back up with the second half of Isaiah 62:1 and resume with His plan for Israel. That is why we must be ready. God's plan is only half completed, and the rest is coming soon.
But the Jews in Christ's day wanted it all. And they wanted it now. They didn't want to wait. They not only wanted Isaiah 61:1, but they wanted all of verse 2 and all of verse 3 also. But Jesus stopped in the middle of verse 2, and look what He says in Luke 4:21.
21And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Now understand, verse 21 is not the entire sermon. His sermon was not just eight words long (actually nine in the Greek). Have you ever heard the song called, "This song is just eight words long"? Well, this sermon was not just eight words long. It says that He began to say to them. This statement was simply the attention grabber, the hook, the introduction to His sermon. Here is what happened.
He read the passage. Then he began His sermon with an attention grabber. He said, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." This was just the beginning of His sermon. Following this introductory statement, He went on to explain to them how this passage was fulfilled in Him. He explained in much greater detail some of the things I explained to you as we went through verses 18-19. And He probably explained to them why He stopped half way through Isaiah 61:2.
The custom was that they would let the teacher finish his lesson before any questions were asked or comments were made. So Jesus finished his teaching, and when He was done, look at how the people responded in verse 22. The initial response was very positive.
3. The positive response of the people (4:22)
22So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, "Is this not Joseph’s son?"
They were amazed at his teaching. They marveled at the words which came out of his mouth. The reason they marveled at His teaching was because He taught as one who had authority, and not as the scribes and teachers of the law (Mt. 7:28-29). You see, the scribes and teachers of the law, when they got up to teach the Bible, most often said a bunch of nothing. Oh sure, they would read a passage from Scripture, just like Jesus did, but then, instead of explain it, they would just start quoting other teachers.
They would say things like, "Now, Rabbi Hillel says such and such about this passage, but Rabbi Shimei says this. And over in the Targum, we read this." And basically, when they were done, all they had done was tell people what the various big name teachers and commentators had said about the passage. Oftentimes these teachers and writers contradicted each other, and so nobody ever really learned what the passage truly meant. All they got were a bunch of manmade opinions on the passage which conflicted with one another. But Jesus didn't really care what Rabbit Hillel or Rabbi Shimei said about a certain passage. He just wanted to simply explain the Word of God simply. He said, "Here is the passage, and here is what it means, and here is how it applies to you." And the people were astonished at this teaching because they understood it. They marveled at it, because it was so simple. It was authoritative because it was the unadulterated Word of God. And they loved it. And they wanted more. At least, some of them did, initially.
You see, there were others, at the end of verse 22, who realized who Jesus was. And they became critical of who He was, and maybe even how young He was. Remember, Nazareth was His hometown. Although they were amazed at His teaching, they said, "Is this not Joseph’s son?" They all remembered Jesus as a boy. They remembered Him growing up. And they had a hard time reconciling their memories of Jesus as a boy, and this great teacher that sat in front of them now who was just 30 years old. They had trouble seeing Him as One who was sent by God to teach the Word of God to them. Many of them had probably been attending the synagogue before Jesus was born. And now, He wants to come and teach them? They wondered how He could have learned so much and yet be so young. They wondered how a son of a carpenter could have become so wise and strong in the Word and become such a great teacher. And aside from all of this, some of them, we can be sure, were a bit offended by the content of the sermon. They were looking for a ruling Messiah. A Messiah who would lead Israel to be the leading nation in the world. A Messiah who would throw off Roman rule.
But Jesus left all that out of His sermon and instead, indicated that He had come to be a light and blessing to the Gentiles. This definitely would have offended their Jewish pride. The average Jew viewed the Gentiles as the scum of the earth. As dogs only fit to be kicked around. Some Jews in that time thought that the only reason God created Gentiles was to be fuel for the fires of hell.
And so some of them must have challenged Him. Some of them must have started muttering. Some of them maybe thought about getting up and leaving the synagogue. At first, they thought Jesus was here to usher in the kingdom. They were proud that a local boy was going to be the Messiah. But now, after hearing Him preach about God's love for the Gentiles, they began to question whether Jesus was even a prophet. They began to wonder if He truly was the promised Messiah or not. Jesus, knowing what they were thinking, tells them in verses 23-27 that prophets are never popular in their own country. Especially not in their hometown.
4. "Prophets are never popular" (4:23-27)
23He said to them, "You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’"
Apparently, some of them wanted proof that Jesus was a Prophet of God and not just the son of Joseph that they remembered. They wanted to see some of the signs and miracles that He had performed elsewhere. They say, "So, you're really this prophet and teacher we've been hearing so much about? Alright, prove it to us. Show us. Give us a sign. Give us a miracle." That's what the proverb is meant to convey. Physician, heal yourself, is like saying, "Never go to a sick doctor" or "Never trust a skinny cook." They are saying, "prove to us that you are a prophet."
Now understand. This was not really an unreasonable request for a Jew to make. Signs were meant for the Jewish people to be able to discern between true and false prophets. God told them that if two prophets came into town, and one said one thing, and the other said something different, the way to tell who was the true prophet was by which could perform signs and wonders and give genuine predictions about the future. This is why the prophets of the Old Testament performed signs. This is why Jesus and Peter and Paul performed signs. To prove to the Jewish people that they truly were from God. Today we don't need such signs because we have the entire Word of God. We judge a teacher to be true or false by whether he agrees with Scripture or not. Signs and wonders play no part in the proclamation of the Word today.
But in Jesus' day, they did. So the request of the people of Nazareth was a very theologically correct request. He claims to be a prophet, yet He has some teachings about God's love for the Gentiles that they are not sure they agree with, so they ask for a sign. They want proof. And does Jesus give it to them? Well, let's see. In verses 24-27, Jesus first responds by doing exactly what all of us should do. He turns to the Word of God first and foremost for proof of His teaching.
24Then He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. 25But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; 26but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."
Here were two prophets of Israel. Elijah and Elisha. Jesus says, "Look, these were two prophets, and they came with the Word of God, but they did not perform miracles or signs among the Israelites. Why not? Because your hearts were too hard; you were hardened in sin and unbelief. The only people these two prophets did go to were two Gentiles. A Gentile widow in Sidon, and to Naaman the Syrian, who was a leper." In the eyes of the average Jew, Gentiles were bad enough. But the lowest of the low, the bottom of the barrel, were the Gentile widows and Gentile lepers. Yet these two prophets of God, Elijah and Elisha, went to them rather than to all the sick and needy of Israel.
Jesus is not telling them He can't do miracles there. Jesus is not telling them He won't do miracles there. For He can, and He does. What Jesus is doing is going right for the root of the issue. He is going for the jugular. He sees through their silly request for miracles and healings, and gets right to their heart condition - their hardness of heart and their hate for the Gentile people. And He tells them that unless they deal with their heart issues, unless they repent of their hate, they will miss out on the blessings that Jesus brought with Him, and He will turn to the Gentiles just as Elijah and Elisha turned to the Gentiles. If the Israelite people did not accept Jesus for who He was and what He was here to accomplish, they would miss a great blessing. Jesus said, "People of Nazareth, God loves your enemies, just as much as He loves you. But if you don't turn from your sin, God will bless your enemies, and not bless you." There is a always such a choice when we are confronted with Jesus.
Do we choose Him by believing in Him, or do we continue to selfishly choose ourselves and reject Him? Blessings follow trusting in Jesus, punishment follows a rejection of Him. But He leaves the choice up to us. Jesus hints to His hometown crowd that if they reject Him, the blessings that were due them will go the Gentiles, and the judgments that they all felt belonged on the Gentiles, would fall an their own heads instead. You can imagine how this went over with His audience. A message like this doesn't make many friends. It doesn't make a prophet popular with people. And the people respond in verses 28-29 by trying to kill Him. He goes from praise to the precipice.
5. From praise to the precipice (4:28-30)
28So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.
Their actions here show how deep-seated their hate really was. Jesus had grown up in their town, and now they were trying to kill Him because He told them something they didn't like to hear. It says that all those in the synagogue…were filled with wrath and tried to throw Him off a cliff outside of town. There's nothing like a good murder after church.
I wonder how many of you murder somebody after church? I'm serious. How many of you go home and say things like, "Can you believe what so and so said during Sunday school? I don't know why they ever open their mouth." Or, "Did you see what she was wearing in church? God couldn't have been pleased with that." You know what these are? These are hateful comments, and Jesus said in Matthew 5 that hate is basically the same as murder.
These churchgoers in Nazareth came to the synagogue on the Sabbath. They sat there looking holy and pious. They prayed. They listened to several sermons from the Word of God. Then they went out to murder Jesus because they didn't like what He said. The order of events is ludicrous to think about, but I fear it happens all the time in churches across America, and even in this church here. We come. We sing. We pray. We smile and shake hands. We listen to a sermon. Then we go home and murder people with our words.
Well, the people in Nazareth tried to physically murder Jesus. They hated what He had said so much, that they took Jesus outside of town to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, where they tried to throw Him off from the cliff. What they were probably trying to do was stone him. There were two different kinds of stoning. One was the type we think of where they throw stones at a person until he or she dies. But another kind was what they were attempting to do to Jesus here. They would take the person out of the town to a cliff, and throw him off of it so that the legs broke. Then they would throw stones down on top of the person until they were crushed. That is what they were trying to do to Jesus here. To stone Him.
But why? Why are they trying to kill Jesus in this way? Because they thought he was a false prophet. He came into town. He preached a sermon. They disagreed with his sermon, so they asked for a sign to prove He was a prophet. Rather than give them one, He used the Word of God to correct their thinking. Well, they didn't like this very much. Nobody likes to be corrected. Nobody likes to be told they are wrong. In their minds, Jesus was a false prophet. And what do you do with false prophets? You stone them. So they took him outside of town to throw Him off the cliff.
But look what happens in verse 30.
30Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.
Do you see the humor here, the irony? What is verse 30? It's a miracle. It's a sign. The Jews in Nazareth had asked for a miracle, and now Jesus is giving them one when they are trying to kill Him. A mob of people take him up to kill Him, to stone Him, and somehow, miraculously, He simply passes through the midst of them. They get up to the brow of the hill and say, "Where's Jesus?" "I thought you had Him." "You were the one who had Him by the arm. Why'd you let go?" It's an amazing miracle that Jesus performed here. To show them that everything He had said was true.
I see two truths from this miracle. First, we previously saw three temptations of Christ. The third one was for Jesus to tempt God by throwing himself from the pinnacle of the temple. Satan had twisted Scripture, remember, and told Jesus that God would not allow Christ's foot to touch a stone. But Jesus stood His ground against the devil.
But here, now that Jesus is doing God's will in God's way, God does protect Him in an almost identical situations. The people are going to cast Jesus from a cliff, but God keeps Christ's foot from touching a stone. God performed a miracle, and Jesus passed through the midst of the mop unharmed. God works when we do His will in His way.
But do you know what else is interesting about this miracle? Later in Christ's ministry, about two and half years later, another mob comes to arrest Jesus with the intent of killing Him. But rather than escape from them, as He does here, He gives Himself up to them. He lets Himself be arrested and carted off. What is the difference? The reason He escaped here is because His time had not yet come, whereas at the end of Christ's ministry, the time was perfect. You see, to be popular with God, we not only have to do His will, in His ways, but also in His time.
This is the lesson Jesus shows us, and the lesson He tried to show the people in His hometown of Nazareth. Life and ministry is not about getting the blessings and honor you think you deserve. God may give those to someone you hate with the hope that you may learn to love them. Life and ministry is not about getting fame and popularity among men. You may not get these at all - especially if you are trying to be popular with God. Like Jesus, we should not care about our latest popularity poll among men. Rather, if you were to die today, when you stood before God, would you hear Him say, "You pleased me. You obeyed me. You were popular with me. Well done good and faithful servant"?
You've heard the story before, but let me tell it again.
A missionary couple who had been gone from the US for years on end were finally coming home. They had faithfully served God and ministered among the poor, and had seen many lives brought into the kingdom of God. When they got off the airplane, there was a crowd of people cheering and waving "Welcome home" banners. At first, the missionaries were overwhelmed that so many had turned out for their homecoming. But then, they realized that the banners and crowds of people were not for them at all, but for somebody else on the plane. As a matter of fact, nobody at all had turned out to welcome these old missionaries home. Nobody was there to thank them or even shake their hand. But then the husband turned to his wife and said, "It doesn't matter. Remember, although we've come back to the United States, we are not truly home yet. There will be a wonderful welcome and a great reception when we enter our eternal home in heaven." That couple had it right. Like Jesus, their goal was to be popular with God.