Posted On December 19, 2021

Why was Jesus being from Nazareth Derogatory

by | Dec 19, 2021 | Featured, Knowing Jesus the Hope of the Ages

Why was Jesus being from Nazareth Derogatory 1

Luke 4:24 gives a general principle of human relationships. We often envy the success of those who come from the same circumstances that we do. Indeed, the people of Nazareth seemed to resent the fact that rather than staying at home, Jesus went off and became a success elsewhere. This is especially a problem for prophets, who get less respect than almost everyone else. People love their hometown heroes, but not their local prophets. Prophets have a way of confronting sin and unbelief, as Jesus did, which is hardly the way to become popular.

To prove His point about prophets without honor, Jesus used two examples from the lives of two of the greatest Old Testament prophets: Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4:25–27). Like Jesus, these men often went without honor in their home country. Yet God used them to share His grace with two outsiders: the poor widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper. Jesus emphasizes that these needy people were not from Israel: the widow lived in the land of Sidon; Naaman came from Syria. Since both of them were Gentiles, they came from somewhere outside the family of God.

Two Who Believed

The first story came from the ministry of the prophet Elijah (Luke 4:25–26). This woman was desperate: she was down to her last meal. But God sent Elijah to meet her and ask for a drink of water and a morsel of bread. At first, the woman refused (1st Kings 17:12). Elijah told her not to be afraid, but to go ahead and bake him a cake, then to feed herself and her son. He told her this based on a promise from God (1st Kings 17:14). Amazingly, the widow did what Elijah said. She went home to bake him some bread, and God miraculously provided for her. Her supplies did not run out, just as God had promised.

Why did Jesus use this story for one of His examples? Partly because the widow lived in Zarephath, which was outside of Israel, and therefore confirmed what He said about prophets being without honor at home. But Jesus also used her story for another reason: the widow had to believe God’s promise before seeing God’s miracle. If she had waited for God to prove Himself, she would have died of starvation long before she ever ate another mouthful of food. God would perform the miracle of the flour and oil only if she acted in faith by first making the bread. Only then would she see what God could do. In other words, she had to believe it before she could see it. And she did believe it! There were many widows in Israel, but this was the woman who had faith. She knew her need, recognizing her extreme poverty and fatal lack of resources. And she believed that God would do what He said.

The story of Naaman teaches the same lesson (Luke 4:27). Again, like the widow of Zarephath, Naaman was an outsider—a commander in the army of one of Israel’s most hated enemies. Unlike the widow, Naaman was extremely wealthy; nevertheless, his leprosy made him just as needy. So, he traveled down from Syria to see if God’s prophet Elisha could do anything to heal him.

Elisha had just the remedy that Naaman needed. All he had to do was bathe in the Jordan River seven times, and his skin would be restored. But to do this, Naaman had to trust God’s word, and at first, he was skeptical. Elisha’s instructions made him angry because he was looking for a miracle that worked more like magic (2nd Kings 5:11). But eventually, Naaman’s servants persuaded him to do what Elisha told him to do. After all, his need was desperate, and all he had to do was wash and be clean (2nd Kings 5:14). Naaman acted in faith on God’s word, and when he did, he witnessed God’s saving power in his life.

With these two stories, Jesus was calling the people of Nazareth—and us—to faith. If they refused to believe, He would give His grace to those who would believe, just as He did in the days of Elijah and Elisha. But if only they took Him at His word, they would see the salvation of their God. This is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith. If we want to receive eternal life, we need to believe the promise of the gospel. God does not take us to heaven first and then ask us if we want to go there. Instead, He invites us to believe in Christ, promising that we will be saved forever when we do. We have to believe it to see it.

An Angry Response

The people of Nazareth still couldn’t see it, and they were not ready to believe it. The longer Jesus preached, the angrier they became until finally, they were ready to put Him to death (Luke 4:28–29). No prophet receives honor in his hometown, but even so, this was an extreme reaction.

Whenever Jesus said that His gospel was for the world, it always touched a raw nerve of Jewish patriotism, not to mention prejudice. Later the Apostles faced the same kind of hostility (Acts 13:46–50; 22:21–22). People in places like Nazareth wanted to believe that God was only for them and not for others. They were offended by the idea that God would share His grace with people who did not even deserve it. So, when Jesus started talking about lepers and foreigners, it made them angry. They resented the implication that Gentiles would receive something that they did not have the faith to believe.

And so, they tried to stone Him, executing the ancient penalty for blasphemy. In those days, there was more than one way to stone someone. Sometimes the guilty party was tied up so people could throw rocks at him. But sometimes, it was easier to throw someone off a cliff, dashing him against the stones below. This is what the Nazarenes wanted to do with Jesus, so they dragged Him up a steep slope and tried to push Him over the edge. It was a clear case of mob violence.

This was not the first time someone tried to kill Jesus, and it would not be the last. Herod tried to kill Him when He was still a baby. When He was a full-grown man, many people plotted against Jesus, until finally, they put Him to death. What happened at Nazareth was a premonition of the cross. Already we can tell that something horrible will happen to this man. We see what kind of Savior He will become: someone “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). No prophet was ever dishonored like Jesus, not only in His hometown, but also by the very world He had made.

This time God delivered Him. Luke tells us that “passing through their midst, he went away” (Luke 4:30). This mysterious verse does not explain quite how Jesus escaped. Jesus came to suffer and die for sinners. But it was not yet time for Him to die. When it came time, He would do it of His own accord (John 10:18), but the hour of His greatest suffering had not yet come.

As far as we know from the Gospel of Luke, this was the last time that Jesus ever appeared in Nazareth. He went away and never returned. As John comments in his Gospel, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). For some of them, it must have been the last opportunity they ever had to hear Jesus preach, to believe that He was the Christ, and to worship Him as their Savior and their Lord. They missed their chance! Rather than receiving Him by faith, they demanded more evidence, and when He refused to give in to their demands, they tried to kill Him.

Luke tells us these things to confront us with the claims of Christ. The question comes back to us: Who is Jesus, and what does He want with me? As we see how people responded to Jesus, we start to realize that we need to make a response of our own. We do not wish to kill Him of course, but if Jesus is who He says He is, then even an indifferent response will condemn us. We have heard the same gospel that the people heard in Nazareth, preached by the same Christ. Jesus says that He can rescue us from our debt and bondage to sin and restore our spiritual sight. This is precisely what we need, if only we will admit it. If we trust in Him, He will release us and rescue us.

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