“And all [in the synagogue] were speaking well of [Jesus], and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from his lips” (Lk 4.22a-b).
“And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff” (Lk 4.28-29).
Jesus’s public ministry began with a whirlwind itinerary of preaching the arrival of God’s kingdom. He eventually toured back to his hometown synagogue where his Sabbath text was Isaiah 61.1-2 (cf. Lk 4.18-19). His preaching thrilled the hometown crowd. Joseph’s son has made it big and would put Nazareth on the map.
Six verses (four Greek sentences) later, Nazareth wanted nothing to do with Jesus. In fact, we find them responding Satanically to Jesus. In Lk 4.9, Satan ushered a beleaguered, haggard, famished Jesus to the tippy top of the temple. It was a sonship test. God promised that his Son would always be protected by the angelic cohort. If Jesus was indeed God’s son then he could hurl himself off the temple mount and watch angels swoop in to his rescue. Jesus’s sonship, however, would not be proven by silly, superstitious games but by resurrection from the dead. Satan would have to wait “until an opportune time” (v13).
Jesus’s encore sermon in Lk 4.23-27 was not received as well as his first one. What do we find the townsfolk of Nazareth doing to their visiting preacher? They led him to the top of their hill in order to chunk him down the cliff to his death. At least Satan gave Jesus the choice of doing it himself! These hard-hearted Nazarenes wanted to lynch Jesus. Unbeknownst to them, they were in league with Satan just as Jesus spent Lk 4.23-27 implying.
Like any upstanding Jew in Jesus’s day, the Nazarenes assumed they were part of God’s kingdom for external reasons. They had Torah, temple/synagogue, sacrifices, Jerusalem. They awaited their Messiah who would finally put the rest of the world to rights and restore Israel’s fortunes. Jesus had a different agenda. Just as Elijah bypassed all the Israelites to bless a Sidonian (Gentile) widow and just as Elisha snubbed all the Israelites to cleanse the Syrian Naaman, Jesus brought God’s kingdom to the nations.
God’s kingdom would not be recognized according to borders, walls, temples, armies or kings. It would be recognized by repentance and faith in Jesus. Messiah would not change the world around them, but change the world inside them. Jewishness was irrelevant now that the new creation had dawned in Jesus. So, whereas the Nazarenes thought Jesus to be making much of them, he was actually making much of himself despite them. And those were fighting words.
How we like preachers who make much of us! We love those who praise our external religion. But if ever a word pierces through the veneer of our superficial religiosity, we turn quickly from friend to enemy. Any suggestion that we are unfit for God’s kingdom because of our sin opens the floodgate of rage. With a religious résumé like mine, how dare anyone question my Christianity! Where is the nearest hill on which our city has been built?
How well do you receive God’s word? Do you consistently consider a threat against you? Do you regularly feel condemned by it and therefore enraged at it? Do you direct your anger toward the preacher rather than the message? Is your spiritual disposition fickle like the Nazarenes, who are happy one minute and livid the next? Can you not receive difficult, confrontational, pride-killing messages from God? Do you react impulsively as though God (or the preacher) is picking on you, or do you seriously meditate on God’s word as a means of grace for salvation and sanctification?
For those of us who are preachers, we should take great comfort from Jesus’s ministry. In fact, Jesus ended his ministry the same way he began. He was welcomed into Jerusalem on Monday with cries of “Hosanna!”. By Thursday, those same folks cried, “Crucify Him!”. God’s word is indeed a two-edged sword which wounds as well as and as quickly as it heals (Heb 4.12).
If you are faithful minister of God’s word, the very people who praise you today might very well turn on you tomorrow. Last week’s “great” sermon may be this week’s death wish. This week’s “gracious words” may not last long. Folks may speak well of you this week but incite a riot the next. We must take neither excessive praise or excessive criticism to heart, but take all evaluation to Christ who alone is faithful and qualified to judge our cross-bearing (1 Cor 4.3-4).
We must remain faithful and impartial. Our only partiality is toward Christ. It is with him we must do. And though we may be thrown off the cliff, God’s angelic cohort will indeed welcome God’s servants in the joy of Christ himself. Let us not be tempted by food, glory or vindication but rather rejoice to be both loved and hated for the sake of Christ (1 Cor 10.18).