In every place that Jesus has been, crowds flock to him to hear him teach or see him perform miracles. But not everyone is impressed by Jesus. In verse 1 we see that he had been working in the town of Capernaum, but has now returned to Nazareth, his hometown. In verse 2 he is given permission to teach in the synagogue. This is a testament to Jesus’ reputation, and perhaps the people were interested in hearing ol’ Jesus teach since he had developed such a reputation as a great teacher. Typically, after people hear Jesus teach, they are amazed or marveled by what he says and how he says it. Here in verse 2 it says these people were “Astonished” but not by the wisdom or his miracles, but rather by the fact that this is Jesus, not some great teacher. This isn’t the great teacher and miracle worker they’ve heard about, this is Jesus, the carpenter. They think “Who does he think he is? We know his mom, his family”. Verse 3 says, “They took offense”. In Chapter 5, the man possessed by an army of demons bows down before Jesus, the woman with the incurable disease bows before Jesus, Jairus the synagogue leader bows before Jesus, but the people he has known his whole life “took offense at him”. The word “offense” connotes the idea of denial and rejection. These people are not responding to the Good News of God the proper way. Jesus comes saying the Time is fulfilled and God’s kingship has come so they should believe and repent but instead, they are offended. They come up with plenty of reasons to avoid believing and repenting.
If you haven’t realized it yet, there are going to be lots of people who are not as thrilled about having Jesus in their life as you and I are. In fact, for some, it’ll be downright offensive that you might even suggest they need him also. There are truths about the Gospel that make it offensive. People don’t like to hear they we are sinful or that with our thoughts and actions we have offended God. It doesn’t give us warm, fuzzy feelings when we realize that we can do nothing to make ourselves acceptable to God, which is why we need Jesus. The Gospel can be offensive enough, so in our communication of it, we don’t need to be offensive. Attempting to add the Gospel to affiliation with a political party is a sure-fire way to offend a lot of people. A judgmental tone or berating someone who believes differently than you causes people to be offended by us before we even get to the Gospel. Offending people is different from seeing them offended by the Gospel. This is how the church and church people are often perceived – offensive. There is no doubt that some will be offended by the Gospel, but we have work so we don’t offend people before they even have a chance to hear about Jesus. For many people the church has become a barrier to hearing about Jesus rather than a conduit for hearing about him. As our culture changes rapidly, the authenticity of our relationships has become such a high priority for people to hear the Gospel. It is a church proverb (perhaps cliché?) that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care and today this has never been more important. In my experience, it’s a rarity that people will listen to you talk about the Gospel unless you have some type of relationship with them. Try to do this without the necessary foundation of a friendship and people are easily offended and unlikely to listen. Even then, the Gospel may be Good News, but it can be offensive. This shouldn’t deter us from speaking it but should direct our way of speaking it. Jesus’s message is Good News, but just like in our day, the people in the synagogue that day were offended by him.
In verse 4 Jesus speaks one of his famous proverbs, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his relatives.” This is akin to our proverb, “Familiarity breeds contempt”. Jesus refers to himself as a prophet in this proverbial saying, but this doesn’t mean he is only a prophet. He was spoken of popularly as a prophet as we’ll see in a few verses, and we should understand this as at least a prophet rather than only a prophet. Verse 5 says “He could do no mighty work there” why? Unbelief. Verse 6 says “he marveled because of their unbelief”. This doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t God because he couldn’t do something here, it means that God works in certain ways and that meant that here at this time and place, Jesus did next to nothing. The means by which God moves greatly is the faith of his people. God works actively amongst and within his people by faith. The sovereign care of God for his creation overshadows creation, but when his people turn to him in faith he acts specifically and differently. It is not that faith limits God, rather that God works through faith so when faith is absent, so is God’s specific working. We should be challenged by this in our lives individually and in our churches.
Let it not be said of us that he could not work mightily in our midst because of our unbelief. I expect God to move greatly in our church because we are at a place where God’s great message and humanity’s great need intersect.
In Nazareth, they respond without faith, so Jesus’s miracles are taken elsewhere. Remember that Jesus says the proper response to the message of the Gospel is belief and repentance, and again we see the Gospel met with a response of unbelief and accusation. Jesus is accustomed to the crowds coming to him when he teaches, but this doesn’t happen in Nazareth. So, he moves on, and presumable teaches in surrounding villages rather than Nazareth. The scope of his ministry is broadening. He has been in Capernaum up to this point, and now it’s time to expand the territory, so Jesus goes to Nazareth, where he’s met with the response of unbelief and rejection. Rather than laboring there trying to convince people, he moves to the next place. He spends little time on people who don’t respond in faith, but works to expand his ministry in spite of it. In order to expand it even more, he enlists his disciples to participate in this expansion.