This message from Luke 4:14–37 titled Hometown Disadvantage from Kevin DeYoung was given at The Gospel Coalition’s 2019 National Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. The three-day conference was titled Conversations with Jesus and urged participants to be faithful in their efforts at evangelism and gospel proclamation.
The following is a lightly edited transcript; please check audio/video before quoting.
Thank you to my brother, David. He’s a kind, humble man for his introduction. Yes, last I checked, just eight children. I love my eight children, I do, though not always at the same time and that’s why you have eight. We have been well fed already in these days together. I said to H. B. Charles, after he got done preaching, “I would gladly yield my time for you to keep going and keep preaching such a wonderful, powerful word.”
And last night, as Ligon was preaching and dipping into my text—and stealing all of my “Dumb and Dumber” material—I just thought, “Lig, save something for me!” He did, and we are going to turn our attention now to Luke 4:16–30.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
This scene in Nazareth represents the first close-up picture of Jesus’ public ministry. Just to remind you where we are in Luke’s Gospel, you know in Chapters 1 and 2, we have the prediction of Jesus’ birth, his miraculous conception, the incarnation and his boyhood, and then we move in Chapter 3, John the Baptist comes on the scene and prepares the way.
And then if you look in Luke 3:23, we have the beginning of his ministry when he was about 30 years of age. And uniquely, for Luke, he goes from that initial declaration of Jesus’ public ministry immediately into a genealogy which traces Jesus back to the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the Son of God.
Why? Well, because he moves in then, in Chapter 4, to show that this Jesus, the son of Adam, is now going to be successful in the very venture in which Adam failed—namely, being tempted by the devil. So there is a connection between the genealogy in Chapter 3, at the beginning of his public ministry to lead the way into Chapter 4, to show that this new son of Adam is going to succeed where Adam failed.
Incidentally, I remember a few years ago, seeing on a very nice church website, they had a very nice-looking banner which had Luke 4:7 on it, but failed to mention that it was from the devil and not from the Lord. So, just make sure your digital marketing folks are in line with your biblical, theological folks so you don’t let the devil give your mission statement.
So we know from Luke 3:23, Jesus has already been involved in public ministry. In Luke 4:14, we read that he returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee. So there has already been a public ministry in Galilee and we read in verse 23 that, “What you did in Capernaum, did here in your hometown as well.” So there’s already a ministry that Luke has not gone into detail with in Capernaum and in Galilee, but rather he chooses, when we come to verse 16, to highlight as the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in close detail—this first day in Nazareth.
Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not begin with the scene in detail in Capernaum but rather in his hometown. This is a paradigmatic first day of ministry meant to show us the sort of things that Jesus would be doing and the sort of ministry he would undertake.
I want you to notice three things in this paradigmatic ministry in Nazareth:
- What Jesus came to do
- Whom he came to reach
- How he would be received
So we will walk through each of those three points and then we will finish more briefly with three lessons from these verses as it relates in particular to evangelism.
What Jesus Came To Do
So first then, notice what he came to do. He came to do, in these verses, two things: to fulfill prophecy and to proclaim the gospel. So we see that he came to fulfill prophecy. We don’t know exactly what the synagogue service would have looked like in the early part of the first century but we know: there would have been a reading from the Torah, there would have been a reading from the prophets, and then any qualified male in the audience could give instruction on one of those passages.
We read that Jesus stood up to read the passage. We read later that it was his custom to do so. Later in Acts when Paul will go into a new town and there are Jews there, he will begin his ministry by teaching in the synagogue. There was an open door given the way that the services unfolded and so Jesus is there and he indicates that he will volunteer.
They give to him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:17). So that was chosen for him but then we read, “He unrolled it and found the place where it was written.” So Jesus, in particular, wants to read from this text in Isaiah 61. Keep a finger in Luke 4 and turn back in your Bible to Isaiah 61 for context.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Isaiah 61:1–2)
And then notice in Isaiah’s passage, it reads, “And the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus leaves out that portion, not because he’s playing fast and loose with Scripture and not because there isn’t an element of judgment in Jesus’ ministry, but because the accent in Jesus being sent by the Father was not one of condemnation (John 3). Rather Jesus was sent into the world that he might be the means of salvation.
And so the note to be sounded is—in distinction to the message of John the Baptist—one of good news, of salvation, of comfort. “To comfort all those who mourn,“ Isaiah continues, “to grant to those who mourn in Zion.” I will refrain from mentioning anything about Michigan States victory over Duke at this point.
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. In other words, this figure of Isaiah 61 brings a message of deliverance to exiles. (Isaiah 61:3)
He brings a message of deliverance to exiles. And Jesus, knowing this passage, seeking it out in particular, understanding that those in the audience would too understand where he was going, that this was one of their messianic prophecies, part of their expectation of the one who was to come, who would remove—for the exiles—all sadness and gloom and would give to them comfort and hope and good news.
And Jesus has the audacity to say, “Today, this is fulfilled in your hearing.” You want to talk about the ultimate mic drop, there it is. Fulfilled. Now we think, “Well that’s what Jesus does. That’s who he is.”
Of course he’s Jesus, but you have to remember: the people hear things about him. They’ve maybe heard of some miracles and he’s spoken well to them but this is still a man that they know. This is one who grew up with them in their hometown. Jesus was a common name. Scholars have looked at ancient artifacts and ossuaries and receipts and the like and have determined that Jesus was probably one of the top five or six most popular male names in 1st-century Judaism. It didn’t have an aura about it.
It’s like saying this is Mike. Mike has a word for us. Come on up, Mike. Mike’s going to read from Isaiah. Mike reads from it and he says, “This is about me.” That’s a bit audacious.
Jesus has the audacity to say this passage is not simply about one who is to come but is about the one standing here in front of you. Jesus never thought of himself as merely a pointer but as, centrally, the point: “I am the Messianic one. I am the servant that Isaiah foretold. I am the one to bring this message of deliverance to the exiles.” So he comes to fulfill this prophecy.
He comes also to proclaim good news. Now this text is one that gives us an indication of what Jesus’ mission and ministry were about. I have often heard over the years and, in particular, I think about the denomination I was previously a part of, people would often say, “Look to Luke 4, his ministry in Nazareth. There we see the very heartbeat of Jesus’ ministry,” and it’s true. It’s wonderfully true. And then I would often have people say to me, “What we see there is Jesus’ ministry was one to focus upon the poor and the oppressed and the downtrodden; to bring God’s creation back to shalom and to transform social structures.”
This is a key text for Gustavo Gutierrez and others in the tradition of liberation theology. Just because this passage is a key text for some that we disagree with, doesn’t mean it should not be a key text for us. However, it does mean that we must not settle on our interpretation of this text—or any text—for general themes to override specific exegesis.
So what does it mean that Jesus identifies his ministry with the aims of Isaiah 61? One author argues that in Luke, the gospel is “of revolutionary consequence, socially, economically, and politically here and now.” Well, there’s certainly a way in which that is true but how is that true?
Another book says that, in Luke 4, we see that Christ’s mission is “to extend the kingdom by infiltrating all segments of society with preference given to the poor and allowing no dichotomy between evangelism and social transformation.” That is how this passage is often understood and how it has been explained to me over the years. Yet, I want to suggest to you that it is not the most careful way to exegete this passage.
When we look at the verbs that are used in this declaration from Isaiah 61, we see that there are 4 verbal infinitives: You have euangelizasthai (you can have Dr. Carson clean that up later), kerygai, apostellai, and (again) kerygai.
You recognize euangelizasthai, which is a verbal form of to evangelize—that is to announce the good news; kerygai, a keryg was a herald, that is to preach; and then apostellai meaning “to set free” or “to loose.” These are the four verbs. You don’t have to know any Greek to see these verbal infinitives in the English.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, He has anointed me,” to do what? Number one, to proclaim good news to the poor; number two, proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind; number three, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; and number four, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Three of those four verbal infinitives are verbs of proclamation.
So, yes, this is a key text for defining Jesus’ mission and the methods of his ministry, but what do we see here? We see that the Spirit has anointed him chiefly to be a preacher—to proclaim a message of good news. I had mentioned that one of those four verbs is not a verb of proclamation and it’s there at the end of verse 18: to set at liberty those who are oppressed.
Well, it’s certainly true that Jesus healed the sick and gave sight to the blind as pointers to his deity—as ministry of compassion, as signs of the kingdoms in breaking. This messianic mission statement in Luke 4 highlights the announcement of good news.
If Luke 4 sets the tone for Jesus’ mission and indeed the mission of the church, then the very center of the church’s mission should focus upon the announcement and the proclamation of good news. Jesus did bring sight to the blind. He did help those oppressed by demons, but, this is where it’s interesting, there is no record of him setting literal prisoners free. Remember I mentioned that one of these four verbs is not a proclamation verb (to set at liberty those who are oppressed), but curiously, this is the one of these things he didn’t literally do.
He did bring sight to the blind. He did set at liberty those who are oppressed (if we understand it spiritually) but, if we are thinking Jesus is setting literal people free from literal bars, it’s the one thing here that Jesus didn’t do—which gives you some insight into John the Baptist’s confusion.
Turning back to Luke 3:20, Herod the Tetrarch, who had been reproved by John The Baptist for being with Herodias (his brother’s wife) and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all: he locked up John in prison. So John the Baptist is in prison; he is a literal captive waiting to be set free.
Isn’t that what Isaiah 61 foretold? That’s what the Messiah would do. Well, it helps you understand what we find in Luke 7:18,
“The disciples of John reported all these things to him and John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?’ And when the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you saying, “Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?”’ In that hour, He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits and on many who were blind, he bestowed sight and he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard, the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them, and blessed is the one who is not offended by me.’”
And John was still in prison.
“The Spirit is upon me,” Jesus says, “Anointing me to proclaim good news to the poor.” We’ll say more about what the poor means in just a moment. But here we see strong hints that the language of Isaiah 61 that Jesus adopts is, on one level, the literal returning of sight to the blind, and the literal freeing of demons for those who were oppressed; but it was not—in the case of John the Baptist—the literal release of prisoners.
We are, in other words, to understand that whatever Jesus might have done as a ministry of compassion (and in order to speak to his own identity), that the activities foretold here in Isaiah were—first and foremost—on a spiritual plane: the recovery of sight to the blind was spiritual sight for those blinded by sin and, those acts (of casting out demons) were ultimately a pointer to the spiritual freedom that we find only in Christ.
In other words, we see that the mission of Jesus was, first and foremost, one to proclaim the good news of the gospel of salvation for sinners. Now, if you go back to Luke 4, you notice in the two sections that follow: Jesus heals a man with an unclean demon, and Jesus heals many of various diseases.
If you look in Matthew, Mark, and Luke for Jesus’ ministry, you find him chiefly doing these three things: preaching, casting out demons, and healing the sick. That’s the three-pronged attack of Jesus’ ministry and, yet, they are not all of equal ultimacy. One clearly has priority for Jesus.
Do not miss this fact. There is not a single example of Jesus going into a town with the purpose of healing or casting out demons. He never ventures out on a healing or an exorcism tour.
He certainly does a lot of both along the way. He is moved with pity at human need but the reason he came out in public ministry was to preach. Look at Luke 4:42-44:
Jesus had been healing all night and “when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’ And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”
If ever there was a temptation to let something else override the centrality of the preaching of God’s word, it was this. Jesus is 100% effective in this ministry. People are coming to him, people with real needs, real hurts, real physical pain and he can heal them with a touch, with a word, with a look, with an anointing.
“Jesus, just stay another day. There’s a long line, think of all the people that you could do this good for, all the people that you could heal, all the compassion you could sow.” And Jesus says, “That is not the reason I came out in public ministry.”
Yes, he does it. He does it gladly. He does it out of love. He does it to point to his own identity and yet it was not his purpose. That’s why in Mark’s Gospel, he frequently commanded silence of those he helped and why, in the passage in Mark 6 when he comes to Nazareth, we read that he could not do many works in that town because it was filled with unbelief—not meaning that they robbed Jesus of some spiritual mojo, but rather, “this was not the point I came here.
I did not come to put on a show. I am not in town to set up a healing clinic.” In Luke, there are plenty of miracles and acts of service to celebrate but they are not the main point.
Luke 19:10, “Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.” The focus of his ministry is on teaching, the heart of his teaching centers on who he is, and the good news of who he is culminates in where he is going (that is the cross).
So the mission of Jesus is not liberation broadly conceived but rather: the proclamation of the gospel through teaching, the corroboration of the gospel through signs and wonders, and the accomplishment of the gospel in death and resurrection.
That’s what Jesus came to do in this first paradigmatic day of ministry in Nazareth: to fulfill prophecy and to preach good news.
Whom He Came to Reach
Second, I want you to see whom he came to reach. He came to reach the poor. Luke 4:18, “…to proclaim good news to the poor.”
We have the imagery of the year of Jubilee from Leviticus, “proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor to those who are in bondage or debts.” The Greek word, ptochos, in verse 18, is not without some reference to material poverty.
There’s a reason that the Gospels use the language of the poor to indicate spiritual receptivity rather than the rich. It is with the poor, and more often so with material poverty, that there is an accompanying spiritual receptivity. And yet, we would be wrong to think that ptochos in this passage is mainly an economic term.
If the poor are the literal material poor, then it would stand to reason that the captives and the blind and the oppressed should also be taken exclusively literally, and yet there is no instance—as we’ve seen in the Gospels—of Jesus setting a literal prisoner free.
Quite naturally then, we understand captivity and oppression to include spiritual bondage. It is not inappropriate then to see a fundamental spiritual aspect to this word “poor.” It means something like the humble poor, the spiritually broken. Think about it: how could Jesus say, “Today, this is fulfilled in your hearing,” unless at the heart of what Jesus was communicating was a message of good news for sinners that had been fulfilled in that moment.
The transformation of social structures had not been completed in that moment. Context is key, when we’re trying to exegete a passage, right? Here the context indicates for us that the poor to whom Jesus preached were not exclusively the materially poor, but rather, something like the spiritually brokenhearted. Those who recognized their weakness.
Why do we know that? Because of the two examples that Jesus gives of the poor in this passage. One is the widow of Zarephath. She was materially poor (1 Kings 17). She is described as being in a position of absolute destitute poverty. You could not find someone who was lower on the social ladder and in more dire economic straits; she was a widow.
There was a drought. She only has a handful of flour and a little oil. She has a child to care for by herself. So she says that she’s going to prepare one last meal so they can eat and die. It is a picture of absolute material destitution.
Of course you know that Elijah says the jar of flour will not be spent, the jug of oil will not run out, and a miracle is worked and she is provided for. That’s one example of the poor to whom the good news reached.
But the second example is Naaman, the Syrian general (2 Kings 5). and this story is, in some ways, almost the opposite. If the widow was at the very bottom of the social ladder—absolute material destitution—the description of Naaman, the general, is being nearly at the top of the social ladder and much wealthier than his peers.
He is a commander of the army of the king of Syria. He’s called a “great man.” He is highly favored by the king because he had just been victorious in battle. He is called a mighty man of valor. He has the king, himself, seeking out his healing and the king sends a letter and accompanying the letter: 10 talents of silver, 6000 shekels of gold, 10 changes of clothing.
When Naaman finally shows up on the doorstep of Elisha, he shows up with horses and chariots. In other words, this is a man of great wealth. And Jesus uses both as a description of the poor. Why?
Because the widow knew her need and Naaman, despite all of his material wealth, also knew his need—humbling himself by dipping seven times into the meager Jordan River. So if these are the examples of good news for the poor, the poor has more to do with the poverty of spirit than strictly with material destitution.
Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’Brien writes in their book, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth,
“The poor to whom the good news is announced are not to be understood narrowly of the economically destitute as most recent scholars have suggested. Rather, the term refers more generally to the dispossessed, the excluded, who are forced to depend upon God.”
Luke is in many ways an evangelist to the rich. We think of Luke as having some of the harshest language toward the rich (and he does). From the very beginning of his gospel is a depiction of a great reversal: where those who have a lot in this life will be left out in the next and those the underside in this life will be greatly rewarded in the next.
“Woe to the rich,” Jesus says, the Sermon on the Plain. Luke, of course, records some unique episodes that the other Gospel writers don’t: “the rich man and Lazarus,” “the rich fool” in Luke 12. And then in Acts, “May your silver perish with you,” when Simon wants to buy the gifts of God.
Luke has some of the harshest things to say about the rich, and yet, have you noticed that Luke also contains more rich people getting it than any other gospel writer? He goes out of his way to talk about the women—the wealthy women who supported Jesus out of their means. He mentions Joseph of Arimathea—a wealthy man who took Jesus from the cross and buried him. We read about the shrewd manager who uses, even worldly mammon, for gospel good. We read in Acts, Barnabas—the son of encouragement who was also a well-to-do man sold a field and gave the proceeds and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Luke, in other words, writing to “most excellent Theophilus,” (who is probably some sort of high-ranking Roman magistrate or official) wants to issue a warning to people like him. People like most of us. Here’s how you can get it dreadfully wrong and here’s how you can get it right.
The poor are often the economically poor because God tends to use material hardship, more than material plenty, to cultivate spiritual sensitivity in the desperation that gives ears to hear God’s voice.
There’s a reason Jesus says blessed are the poor instead of blessed are the rich. The poor are more apt to see their need for help than the rich. But this word ptochos in Luke 4 refers to all those who are open to God, responsive to God, who see their dependence upon God. It is to these that Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor.
Jesus’ mission, laid out in Luke 4, was not, first, a mission of structural change or transformation, but a mission to announce the good news of his saving power and merciful reign to all who are brokenhearted enough to believe.
How He Would Be Received
So then, finally, how would he be received? Nazareth was a little town of 500 people, 25 miles southwest of Capernaum. It’s his hometown. Jesus returns there and they recognize his wisdom. They recognize he’s done mighty works (no one can deny those facts) but what they can’t figure out is how this man, this Jesus from this small little town, could speak like he did. So you notice the question they ask immediately after declaring in Luke 4:22 that they spoke well of him, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
“So, wow, that’s a really good speech. Isn’t that Tom’s boy? Gracious words, good speaker, a bit audacious. Stay in your lane, bro.”
The folks in Nazareth had a hard time accepting that this man who grew up among them, who pounded nails for them, ate meals with them, attended synagogue with them, looked just like one of them, could ultimately be something beyond any of them.
They were too familiar with Jesus to be overly impressed with him. This is Mary’s son, a carpenter, a boy who grew up with us. Joseph’s son. It was a familiar saying, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown,” or we might have the aphorism, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” or maybe we could tweak it to say, “Familiarity breeds unbelief.”
Sometimes, the closer you are to Jesus, the harder it is to really see him for who he is. Years ago when I was applying to get into college and had to take some basic medical tests. They did one of those tuberculosis skin tests and. lo and behold, it turned up positive.
No, I’m okay. If you’re a doctor or something you can explain how the medical stuff worked, but as I understood it, they said, “You have a latent form of TB and we need to give you this medicine. You need to take it faithfully every single day. Don’t miss it because we’re going to give you something that helps encapsulate it so you never get the active strand of TB that makes you (and everyone around you sick). You have to take it every day because we’re giving you a little bit of the real thing so that your body can respond to it and inoculate yourself against it.”
We understand how inoculations work. Often it’s like that with vaccines or you take allergy shots, “Hey, you’re allergic to everything. Well, just come on in and give you a shot every week of this stuff you’re allergic to.” Great idea. But it works because they give you a little bit in measured doses so that, when you encounter the real thing in real life, it doesn’t bother you anymore.
Isn’t that the danger many of us, maybe especially people like us have with Jesus? Just enough Jesus to be inoculated against the real thing. Just enough church, just enough songs, just enough Christian music on the radio, just enough conferences, just enough Christian books.
We have a familiarity with Jesus but we’ve not really come face to face with this Jesus. They grew up with Jesus. They knew him. They saw him. They could touch him, they could eat a meal with him. He was this boy that grew up in the little town just like the rest of them.
Some of us are so familiar with Jesus, we’re no longer impressed by him and this is a scary place to be. There are many people in this country, perhaps some even here this morning, who confess faith in Christ and you go to church but there is nothing going on in your life spiritually. There will be people who will show up at all of our churches in two weeks on Easter and they have no beef with Jesus, but they have no relationship with him either.
They’re like the people of Nazareth. They appreciate the show, they recognize some special things about Jesus, and if he can help solve a few problems, great. But familiarity can breed unbelief.
The New Testament is not interested in a kind of wow, Jesus-is-cool sort of faith. No. They want a faith that is more than simply marveling. They want a faith that is worshipping. Notice that by the end of this chapter, they have moved from, “He speaks well,” to, “Is He really that special? He’s Joseph’s son,” all the way down to “Everyone in the synagogue hated him and they wanted to kill him.”
So what are the lessons for us in closing? Let me give you three. As we think about our ministry: we think about the mission of the church, how might the mission and ministry of Jesus connect with our mission and ministry? Three things and they relate to each of these three points.
First, we see that Jesus’ ministry and mission tells us something about preaching. Think about it: Of all the methods that Jesus could have employed to conduct himself in his earthly ministry, he chose this method—to announce, to speak, to preach.
And you remember what they said about him at the Sermon on the Mount? They marveled when he was done. Why? Because Jesus spoke as one who told such great stories, they marveled because he was so funny. They marveled because of his dizzying intellect or his great compassion. No, they marveled because unlike the scribes, he spoke as one who had authority. He preached.
The parables of the kingdom so often are about this strange miracle of preaching. The farmer sows his seed, goes to sleep, wakes up, and (not knowing how) there’s a harvest. Why?
Because it is not based upon the ingenuity, and ultimately the intellect of the farmer, but the germinating power inherent in the seed. Great movements of God have always been sparked by great preaching about God. We must not—in an effort to do all manner of good things that we are commanded as Christians to do—lose sight of what uniquely makes Christian mission and ministry Christian: the announcement of good news, the proclamation of Jesus Christ—son of man and son of God who died for sinners according to the scriptures, was raised again and is coming again to judge the living and the dead. Preach Christ.
Second, this passage tells us something not only about preaching but about people, and in particular, the sort of people for whom this preaching will be receptive. I said that the widow of Zarephath and Naaman were opposites. And they were in terms of social strata and economic prosperity.
But, as Lig pointed out last night, they had this in common: they were both outsiders. Outsiders from the perspective of Israel. They were unlikely people to have received the blessing of God. Are you prepared? Let me make it personal. Am I prepared for those to receive the gospel that they will be people not like us? whatever you think of as “us.”
Maybe it’s the elites— the sort of people that you think are safe to make fun of because they’re people and they deserve it. Maybe it’s rural. Maybe the people not like you are the people who wear red MAGA hats. Or maybe the people like you are the people who don’t think Trump is a very good president and he’s dangerous.
Maybe the people not like you are immigrants. Or maybe the people not like us are those who think that there ought to be a wall on the border. Maybe the people not like us are the artsy hipsters. Or maybe they’re the people who seem so unhip that they only watch television shows (on network television) and they like the Christian movies. People not like me; not like us.
It’s not saying that there are no important differences between all of those examples, and no important policies to discuss and debate and better or worse answers, but it is to say, are we prepared, as we preach the gospel, that it is for all who are brokenhearted enough to believe and say, “I need that Jesus?”
And then finally this text is something not only about preaching and about people, but about perceptions. You and I are not prepared to do ministry in this world, in this day, unless we are prepared to be misunderstood. Sometimes by people honestly trying to understand and sometimes by people willfully misunderstanding.
Jesus was misunderstood. Jesus was not always successful as we might define success. Surely, he was the best preacher, he was the best man. He had the best miracles. He had the best deeds. If anyone would win a hearing, if anyone had the right person and the right message, it was Jesus and yet they hated him.
They wanted to drive him off a cliff. I know as I preach Jesus, the ideal for me is “they like Jesus and they like me.” Can we do both of those things? Don’t always work that way. Maybe they like one or the other. Well, let it not be this, that they don’t like Jesus because you give them good reasons for them not to like you. That’s not the aim. But let us also be prepared that they may not like you because, in fact, they don’t really like Jesus. Prepare to be misunderstood, pray for the poor to have ears to hear, and keep preaching Christ.
Our Father in heaven, we thank you for your word, for all that you mean to teach us by it. We pray that you would give to everyone here, in whatever capacity you have given us to speak of Christ—Bible study leaders, women’s ministry leaders, we’re standing behind the pulpit on Sunday morning— that the banner that we’re flying and the flag that we’re waving above our ministry and above our church, it’s not a political platform, not a political party, not a nation-state, not even a tradition or a confession or a catechism, but is Christ, and him crucified, for Jesus will draw all people unto himself. We pray in his name. Amen.