Read This Page in My Language
We are going to focus on verse 4 of this text because verse 4 is the heart of the story. Jesus quotes this proverb to the people of Nazareth: “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.” In other words, the place that knows the prophet the best ends up treating him the worst. “Oh, that’s just so and so.” Other towns that hadn’t known Jesus would see him and say, “Oh, that’s so and so!” But in Nazareth it was just Jesus “the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon” (v. 3). Hence the proverb, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.”
I also thought of a proverb while preparing this sermon. “Don’t let familiarity breed contempt.” Think of purchasing a new car. How long does it take until the new car is old to you and you want another car? Or, how about a new cell phone for those of us who are younger. Can you wait two years before you replace it? Or does the look, feel, and familiarity of the operating system soon breed contempt for $1,000 device in your pocket?
We might hope that familiarity would breed greater devotion as in a marriage that lasts 40 years and beyond. But all too often, we grow tired with what we deem as old and have an insatiable appetite for what is different, fresh, exciting, and unknown. This is why adventure is so appealing. To the foreign exchange student from Shanghai, the cornfields of Nebraska are a different world. Most of us in the Midwest don’t take vacations to Nebraska.
How long have you been familiar with the stories of the Bible? Are they still exciting to you? Or have they long since become ho-hum?
Mark records this visit of Jesus to Nazareth in chapter 6 of his Gospel. Luke records it in chapter 4, and Matthew in chapter 13. They all refer to the same visit and the same synagogue, namely, the place where Jesus grew up as a boy and worshipped every Sabbath. That the people are familiar with Jesus and he with them is obvious. “He’s the carpenter’s son. We know his mother and his brothers and sisters.”
And so, the manner in which they listened to Jesus was different than the way other people listened to Jesus. Indeed, verse 6 says that Jesus “was amazed at their unbelief”. Shocked. Of all the people on earth that should welcome and believe his teaching it should be his relatives and friends. But familiarity breeds contempt. That’s what the proverb says, and a proverb is a “wise saying”. The proverb proves its veracity in Nazareth’s rejection of Jesus.
Well, what was it that offended the people so much? Mark doesn’t give us the contents of Jesus’ sermon, but Luke’s Gospel informs us they were the opening words of Isaiah 61. I read from Luke: “The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him, and unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:17-19).
So far so good. But then Jesus goes on to say, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled” (Luke 4:21). In other words, “what Isaiah said would happen—that is taking place right now in this synagogue. I am the Messiah. Now is the time of the Lord’s favor because he sent me, and I am here. And the way you can be sure is because I preach good news to the poor. I have given sight to the blind. I have healed men and women from the oppression of demon possession and released them from the captivity of Satan.”
And this is what the people could not accept. Says Mark, “… and many who heard him were astonished. ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they said. ‘What is this wisdom that has been given to him, and how are these miracles performed by his hands?’” But then, “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” So they were offended by him” (vv. 2-3).
Familiarity breeds contempt.
How about with you? Is the church service a bore because you’ve done it so many times? Are the sermons tedious because you’ve already heard sermons preached on these texts? Did you get it all in confirmation class, and so, “What’s the point of hearing Jesus’ teaching on Sunday, since I already know it all?” Why is it that so many who start out on fire for the Gospel go through a cooling period at some later point? It is because the devil uses familiarity with God’s Word as a trap. That’s what word “offense” means in the Greek. Literally, what the end of verse 3 communicates is that the townspeople of Nazareth were “on their way to being trapped and caught” in connection with what Jesus was saying. How so?
Because they didn’t combine their listening with faith. They heard Jesus’ words and then concluded, “This cannot be true. He cannot be the Messiah. We know him better than that. Who does he think he is saying that he is the Messiah?” “So they were offended by him.” They became angry with him for having the audacity to even suggest such a thing.
I was speaking with a woman at a funeral after a funeral. I said, “if you ever need a pastor, let me know.” To which the woman replied. “Oh, no. I’ve got it taken care of. I’ve got my grandmother in heaven that I talk to, and now I have [the person who died] in heaven that I talk to.” Well, apparently in her mind, Jesus is just the carpenter. So, why talk to him?
This is what I am saying. When God’s Word is spoken, it is very important that we listen to it with an attitude of humility and faith—whether we happen to like what is being said or not. God is speaking. And Jesus is God. So, forget about the messenger for a moment. People say, “Well, I don’t like the messenger, so I won’t listen to what he says. I don’t like that Pastor so I’m not going to listen to him.” Who cares about the pastor? It’s God’s Word that he speaks.
In the case of Jesus, the man and the messenger were one and the same. Jesus is the Word incarnate. That’s not true of the local pastor. Nor is it true of the father or mother who speaks God’s Word to their child. Nor is it true of the friend who shares God’s Word with another friend. Nor is it true of the parishioner who reaches out to a brother or sister and says, “Can we talk? Can we talk about what God says?”
The human conveyer of God’s Word is flawed. But God’s Word is without any flaw. So, when we hear God’s Word—whether it is from a child, a preacher on the radio, a stranger, or an elder in the congregation—we listen. And we listen with a humble spirit. God is talking. And we listen with a heart of faith.
I’m not talking about listening to false prophets. Jesus’ sheep know his voice and they follow him. As believers, you and I know the voice of Jesus. We know what God says. And because we know, we do well to sit up and pay attention, for who am I that God should speak to me?
Right? That’s the astonishing part of this text as well as the encouragement. Verse 6 says that Jesus “was amazed at their unbelief.” Well, of course, he was! How privileged do you have to be for God himself to come to you and talk to you in person? That is what was going on in Nazareth. God was present among them. And the people rejected him! Astonishing!
Or think of Jesus’ own siblings. How privileged does one have to be to be able to grow up with the Son of God and know him so well, to be so close that his ear hears your every word? And yet, they didn’t believe in him! Not until after the resurrection at least.
And how fortunate do you and I have to be to grow up in a believing household, be baptized into the family of God, to learn the stories of the Bible in Sunday school and worship—you see, to then reject Jesus as a teenager or as an adult would be astonishing!
But what is even more astonishing is that Jesus continues to preach and share his teaching to people whose eyes grow heavy and whose ears become plugged because of familiarity. As long as the world exists, Jesus continues preaching to this world. As long as the world exists, he continues preaching to you and me! And he actually comes to you and me!
You see, Jesus went to the synagogue of Nazareth. What an honor! And he comes to you and me every week in this house of worship and prayer. He comes to us in his Word! He comes to us in the Lord’s Supper! And despite the offense that we often take at his Word he still keeps on preaching and teaching! Verse 6: “And he was amazed at their unbelief. He was going around the villages teaching.”
What an encouragement for you and me! He continues speaking, even when he is met with yawns and fidgeting. Why? Because he knows that some will listen. They will listen with faith. And he knows that some who previously never cared to listen, will one day have a change of heart and believe—like his own brothers and sisters. And he knows that since his death on the cross was for all people, that all people need to hear it, whether they listen or fail to listen—because it is true!
So, Jesus doesn’t despair of preaching. And neither do we. Jesus has forgiven all people, and all people need to know it, so that one day rather than take offense, they might truly hear what Jesus is saying and embrace him as the Messiah and Savior sent from heaven. Amen.