Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s boy, had been out making a name for Himself, but now He was coming back home. Nazareth was abuzz. The excitement was palpable. The people were whispering to each other and the synagogue was packed to the brim. Standing room only.
Everyone had piled in to hear from Jesus. The service began with the traditional reading from the Torah, the Law, what we know as the first five books of the Old Testament today. This was a prescribed reading; the reader did not choose the text they wanted but instead read from the assigned portion. The reading happened and people listened politely and nodded their assent respectfully to the law of their God. And, that’s when a hush fell over the crowd, because then it was time for the reading from the Law and the Prophets.
This reading was different; it was not prescribed, but instead was chosen by the reader. He would find his text in the scroll and then read, following it with some of their own comments and teaching. This was what they all came for, because Jesus was the Rabbi in town. And, he started walking toward the scroll.
Now, let’s just pause for a second here and grasp the immensity of what’s happening. Jesus, the Living Word, is going to read a portion of the written Word, and He is choosing that passage. So, what will He choose? And then, what will He say?
Of any passage He might have chosen, Jesus opens the scroll and reads from the prophet Isaiah. It’s a messianic prophecy, one the people would have been familiar with. It was one of the promises they had clung to about God’s coming chosen one, through all the years of oppression, through the destruction of the temple, through the occupation by the Romans. It’s a passage of hope, one that talked about giving sight to the blind, freedom to the captives, and bringing in the year of the Lord’s favor.
And then, best of all, in a true “drop the mic” kind of moment, Jesus says, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled” (Luke 4:21). In other words, I’m Him. I’m the one you’ve waited for. And, you’re bearing witness to the fulfillment of these very words.
And, the crowd LOVES it. They look at each other in pride. They nod approvingly. This is Him, the Messiah we want, and he came from our town. But, here’s the thing about the smug agreement we find in their mist: It’s built on assumption. And, Jesus is the Savior who challenges our assumptions.
They are assuming Jesus is the Messiah they expected. They are assuming He is the Savior they wanted. They are assuming that He has their priorities, their preferences, and their goals. That’s what they are doing, and we are guilty of the same.
We tend to imagine, just like the crowd, that Jesus thinks like we do. That He is the kind of Savior we want. That’s why many times when we do something like pray, we aren’t really willing to bend our will to that of Jesus; instead, we are expecting Him to nod His head in agreement. We are looking for the Savior who agrees with us; a rubber stamp Savior. But, when we find a Savior who won’t bend His will and might disagree with our personal preferences, goals, and aspirations for our lives, we get angry, just as these people did. It seems that Jesus is not only the Savior who challenges our assumptions; He’s not even the Savior we wanted.
It’s amazing how quickly the events turn in Nazareth. One minute everyone is nodding in pride at Mary and Joseph’s boy, the One who is going to put Nazareth on the map and the One who has come to do, think, and say everything they expected Him to. But at the moment of their highest pride of assumption, Jesus flips over the tables in their minds and hearts.
As He goes on to speak, He references instances from the Old Testament where God worked not in Israel but outside of it; He talked about people of faith not of their bloodline but outside of it. This, it seems, is not exactly what the people had in mind for their Savior. And, when they come to that realization, slowly at first, but then all together as a mob, they are absolutely livid. Angry enough to kill. The same crowd that was only moments ago filled with pride and approval are bent on death and destruction.
Another amazing detail. These people didn’t want a Savior like this—not a Savior who would be as much for those other people as He was for them. They wanted a Savior who would put those other people in their place and who would commend them for their righteousness and faithfulness. That strikes home with me, and maybe it does for you, too.
Because here’s the implication for the crowd and then also for us—we are not better than those people. This is a constant reminder throughout the entire Book of Luke, because it’s filled with “those” kind of people.
Oftentimes, these are the surprising heroes in the passages we find here. Take the Good Samaritan, for example. That name has become a catch-all phrase for us, calling anyone who does something sacrificially good for someone else a “Good Samaritan.” But, for Jesus’ original audience, who had a racial and cultural bias against Samaritans, it was scandalous. It would be similar to Jesus preaching today in downtown Jerusalem and making the hero of His story “The Good Palestinian.” Or, think about the fact that in Luke 15, Jesus tells a series of stories about things that are lost. In two of those three stories, the protagonist is someone the people would have never expected. In one, it’s a shepherd—someone on the lowest rung of the social ladder of the time, who leaves the 99 sheep to go after the one. In another, it’s a woman—someone who had virtually no rights and was at best a second-class citizen, that goes on a wild and crazy search for a lost coin. The fact that Jesus puts these people at the center of His stories is shocking and surprising, but that’s the nature of the Book of Luke. It’s that Jesus did not come to save the good people; the righteous people; the people who had it all together. This is a Savior for the entire world, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, man and woman alike.
Jesus was not saying that He is not the Savior of the good and upstanding citizens of Nazareth; He’s saying that there are no good and upstanding citizens in Nazareth. The same lens that these people on the fringes are seen with should be applied to them as well. And, that is the uncomfortable thing for all of us. It was uncomfortable enough for the people that day to want to throw Jesus off a cliff:
When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove him out of town, and brought him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl him over the cliff. But he passed right through the crowd and went on his way (Luke 4:28-30).
So the question comes to us today—what do we do with a Savior who challenges our assumptions? Will we realign our heart with His, or will we, too, march Him to the edge of a hill?
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua, Andi, and Christian. He serves as director of Groups Ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources. Find him on Twitter: @_MichaelKelley.