This is part seven of the Lost Gospel of Jesus series. I'm trying to show you the Gospel, the message, that Jesus preached. It is a message that is supposed to change everything. In part one we saw that Jesus preached the Gospel. In part two we saw that when Paul and the disciples and Jesus preached the Gospel miracles, healings, supernatural manifestations happened. In part three we looked at what it was that Paul preached. In part four we saw what Jesus preached and what he taught his disciples to preach. In part five we looked at the actual words that Jesus and his disciples used when they preached the Gospel. In part six I showed you a longer version of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God as Jesus preached it. Now I want to show what happened when Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in Nazareth.
I like to imagine Jesus on the road to Nazareth thinking about what was getting ready to happen in his hometown. It hadn’t been that long since he left, months maybe or even weeks. I imagine him remembering all the people in Nazareth who needed God’s help, who needed God’s power to show up in their lives. Old Mrs. Matityahu whose son had been blind from birth… Mr. Gedalya who’d been laid up in bed since he fell and injured himself while doing construction work up in Sephoris… The Shimon family, they’d never had anything, they were so poor they thought poor was normal … today was going to be their day…today God’s power was going to deliver them … today was the day God’s promises were going to be fulfilled … good news, good news, GOOD NEWS!
Unfortunately the people in Nazareth weren’t as thrilled at Jesus' good news as you might have expected, though pretty much every translation gives the impression that Jesus was well received:
Luke 4:20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. 22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?
The translation seems a little odd given the context. In the very next verse Jesus responds as though the people of Nazareth are doubting his ability to do what he said, and in the verse after that he suggests that the saying, “no prophet is accepted in his own country,” is true of them, and at the end of the passage the people of Nazareth attempt to throw Jesus off a cliff.
Luke 4:28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
That hardly sounds like the people loved his sermon.
From the context, it seems clear that that verse 22 is being mistranslated. The problem is the word “gracious.” As Joachim Jeremias pointed out, the words translated “witness” and “wondered” are ambiguous:
“Both verbs are ambiguous: martyrein with the dative can mean either ‘give witness for’ or ‘give witness against,’ and thaumazein can mean either ‘be enthusiastic about,’ or ‘be shocked at.’”
So the verse could mean that the people of Nazareth were for or against Jesus and were enthusiastic or shocked:
Luke 4:22 And all bare him witness/all bore witness against him, and wondered/were shocked at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?
But that would still leave us with the phrase “gracious words,” an indication that the words were pleasing to the crowd.
Lindsey, without any apparent reference to the work of Jeremias, solved this problem by translating the Greek back into Hebrew and in the process clearly illustrated how failing to take the Hebrew language into account when translating the Greek copies of the New Testament can lead to shockingly erroneous results, results that sometimes even contradict the original meaning. Here’s Lindsey’s story:
Let me remind you that we were studying this story in Flusser’s seminar and that meant we were looking into every possible problem connected with the text. There was always the possibility that the Greek translator had misunderstood some Hebrew word or phrase and mistranslated it…
As the seminar proceeded week after week, one young woman who was studying early rabbinic literature at the university grew more interested with each hour of seminar. For one thing, she pondered the fact that this episode ends with the people trying to throw Jesus down from the cliff Nazareth was built on. This reminded her of some of the suggestions of the Mishnah: when punishment was to be that of stoning (for whatever reason) it was thought kinder to push the condemned off of some high place — often a house — with the hope that he would die from the fall and the stoning be without agony when it followed. Perhaps, she reasoned, the people of Nazareth planned to throw Jesus down from the cliff as a preliminary act before actually stoning him.
She then looked at the expression “they were astonished at the gracious words which issued from his mouth.” Translating back to Hebrew she noted that the Greek “words of grace” are literally in Hebrew “divrei chesed.” This expression could easily be understood by a Greek writer translating to Greek as “words of grace.” But the word “chesed” in Hebrew can also mean “a wicked thing” or a “disgrace.”
- In Leviticus 20:17 we read, for instance, “If a man takes his sister...and they remove their clothes and see each other naked, it is a wicked thing (chesed hu).”
- In Proverbs 14:34 we read, Righteousness exalts a nation But sin is a reproach (chesed) to any people.
Perhaps, said she, the people were not astonished at the “words of grace” coming from the mouth of Jesus but at what they interpreted as “words of disgrace,” or “words of apostasy.”
This suggestion led me to look at the word in Greek translated into English as “spoke well.” Here the word is martureo and while in Greek it normally has the meaning of “testifying in favor” of someone the moment you translate it back to Hebrew you find it means “testify against” (heidu b., compare 1 Kings 21:10). Thus the passage may easily mean:
- “And all of them spoke critically of him and were astonished at the words of apostasy coming out of his mouth. Then they said, ‘After all, this is Joseph’s son!’”
To put it more popularly the people in the synagogue said something like, “Good heavens, this is Joseph’s son!”
When I suggested this kind of translation the young woman — let us call her Gerda — mentioned the fact that in the Mishnah the reasons for stoning varied but that it seemed the people in Nazareth were thinking of various strictures against false prophets or would-be-prophets in the Torah. In Deuteronomy 13 the people of Israel are warned against anyone who does signs and wonders or indeed anyone who tries to lead the people to worship another God than that of Israel. They are to stone him with stones “until he dies” (v. 10).
“I would have expected,” said Gerda, “that the people would have demanded some proof of Jesus’ claims, a thing the rabbinic considerations would suggest…” Robert L. Lindsey, Jesus Rabbi and Lord, PDF edition pgs. 44-47
Here’s my suggested paraphrase for that verse:
Luke 4:22 And all bare him witness shouted him down, and wondered were shocked at the gracious heretical words which proceeded out of his mouth And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son? who does this guy think he is?
The people of Nazareth rejected Jesus and in so doing rejected God’s delivering power. They didn’t believe he was messiah, how could he be, he was Joseph’s son. They didn’t believe the time was fulfilled. They knew the scripture would be fulfilled someday…, but obviously today wasn’t that day. They knew, as most Christians know, that someday the Kingdom of God would come, but someday far away. They didn’t believe his message. They demanded proof. But nothing happened.
Jesus later told his disciples that they too might have a Nazareth experience. In the cities where they were received they would be able to heal the sick and they were to announce that the Kingdom of God had arrived. But in the cities where they were not received they too would be unable to heal but nevertheless, they were still to announce that the Kingdom of God had arrived.
Luke 10:1 After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.…8 And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: 9 And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. 10 But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, 11 Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.
In his few word summary of the Gospel, the Apostle Paul says the faith of the hearers is a necessary condition for the triumph of the Kingdom of God:
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
The announcement of the presence of the Kingdom of God only produces results, “to every one that believeth.” The rescuing power of God (The phrase “righteousness of God” in verse 17 is synonymous with “salvation” in verse 16. More on that later.), shows up “from faith to faith.” The preacher must have faith, he must preach the message in faith, and the hearer must have faith, he must allow the message to enter his heart and produce faith. From faith to faith the Kingdom of God is manifested, the authority of the messiah reigns, the salvation of God shows up. That is the key to the Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God: The Kingdom of God can be present and still nothing happen if the message of the Kingdom of God is not believed.
Jesus, the son of God, God manifested in the flesh, can come to your hometown, declare that the power of God to deliver and set free is present and still nothing happen. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God is thwarted by unbelief!
Jesus doesn't place the blame for failure of the Kingdom of God on the will of God, but on the unbelief of the people of Nazareth.
Luke 4:23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country. 24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
Jesus knows he is not being accepted as a prophet, the people of Nazareth are not receiving his message. Their attitude is, show us, do miracles here like those you supposedly did in Capernaum. He knows they don’t believe, he knows they want proof, and he knows that as a result of their unbelief nothing is going to happen. Jesus knows the unbelief of his hometown people will keep them from experiencing the kingdom of God. But he doesn’t just walk away saying, ‘Que sera, sera,’ ‘Inshalla,’ or ‘the will of the Lord be done.’ Instead, he puts the blame for failure squarely on them. Jesus points them to the example of their ancestors.
Their ancestors had lived in a time of powerful prophets, Elijah and Elisha, prophets now highly revered in Israel but less so in their own day.
Luke 4:25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias (i.e. Elijah), when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; 26 But unto none of them was Elias (Elijah) sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.
We tend to read, “…unto none of them was Elias (Elijah) sent…,” as though Elijah is being sent to do something for the widow of Sarepta, but God is sending Elijah to the widow so that the widow can do something for Elijah.
1 Kings 17:8 And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, 9 Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.
God sent Elijah to the widow so she could sustain him. There were many widows in Israel but God didn’t send Elijah to any of them, why? Why didn’t God send Elijah to an Israeli woman? I suppose God tried but couldn’t find anyone willing to sustain Elijah. I imagine God spoke to some Israeli widows about it and their response was something like, “Sustain the prophet who? Don’t you know there’s a famine in the land.” That’s the point Jesus is making, no prophet is accepted in his own country.
I imagine that God went through all Israel with no luck and finally had to settle for the widow woman of Zidon, a woman who had no covenant with God, an idol worshipper. When she heard what God commanded she must have thought something like, “ A prophet of the LORD in our house? How could you starve with a prophet of the LORD in your house.” The widow woman of Zidon was open to hearing from God. God could command her to take care of the prophet and she would do it. She was ready to receive Elijah as a prophet. I know many times I've had a much easier time praying and getting results for people who aren't even Christians, or are nominal Christians at best, than for the typical religified, church going Christian, who has been throughly indoctrinated with unbelief.
So Elijah went to Zarephath.
1 Kings 17:10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. 11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. 12 And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth,
Notice the widow woman uses God’s name, (The King James Bible uses an all uppercase, LORD, for the name of God, which in Hebrew is spelled YHWH.) and recognizes Elijah as his representative. She knows God.
I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.
If Elijah was at all like me when he heard “widow,” he imagined some rich widow, living in a beautiful chateau overlooking the beach. But this widow had something Elijah could work with, not the flour and oil, but her faith, her confidence in the prophet of God.
13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. 14 For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.
Elijah doesn’t pray, he decrees what will be, but the widow must do something as well.
15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. 16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.
The widow woman did something absurd. Acting on the incredible proclamation, of a man she didn’t know, that, “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry …,” she took her last bit of food and gave it to this stranger instead of saving it for herself and her son. Her words and actions attest to her faith. She perceived (Spiritual perception is the starting point of faith.) that Elijah was a prophet, she perceived that he was a representative of the LORD, that he was authorized by the LORD. She then acted on what he said in spite of how outrageous it may have seemed to her reason and emotions. The widow woman had great faith.
Elijah didn’t just conjure food out of the air. He knew that the one who had commanded the worlds into existence had commanded the widow woman to sustain him, so sustain him she must. Elijah had faith to work an ongoing continuous miracle but the faith of the widow woman was also required. From faith to faith the Kingdom of God is manifested.
There are no reports of other widows being helped by Elijah. There are no stories of any of the children of Israel asking Elijah for deliverance in the time of famine.
Luke 4:27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus (Elisha) the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
Naaman, whose story begins at 2 Kings 5:1, was the very successful commander of the armies of King of Syria, but he had leprosy. During a Syrian raid a young Israeli girl was captured who ended up as a servant to Naaman’s wife. The girl tells them that there is a prophet in Samaria, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who could heal Naaman of his disease. Naaman communicates this to the King, who then sends Naaman to the King of Israel, with a letter requesting that the King heal Naaman of his leprosy. The King of Israel despairs after reading the letter, saying:
2 Kings 5:7 And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.
Elisha hears what has happened and sends word to the King:
2 Kings 5:8 And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.
What chutzpah. Elisha is bold. He is full of faith. Because he perceives, he knows what will come to pass, he knows what he will do. Faith knows.
2 Kings 5:9 So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.
Elisha doesn’t pray for Naaman, at least not how we normally think of prayer. He doesn’t even go out of the house to see Naaman. Elisha just gives a command, do thus and so, “…and thou shalt be clean.” He decrees what will be. This is how his master, Elijah, prayed when he decreed it would not rain, and when he decreed that the oil and meal would not cease. This is how the Talmud describes the prayers of Honi the Circle drawer. It is how Jesus often ministered and, as we’ll see, one of the ways he taught his disciples to pray.
The great General expected Elijah to do it all, he expected more of a show, he was expecting a more flamboyant prayer:
2 Kings 5:11 But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.
The prophet’s decree puts Naaman’s faith to the test. Naaman must do something if he wants to receive.
2 Kings 5:13 And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? 14 Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 15 And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.
There are no other reports of lepers being healed by Elijah. There are no stories of any of the children of Israel coming to Elijah to be healed of leprosy.
Jesus said, many widows were in Israel but unto none of them was Elijah sent but to a widow of Sidon, and many lepers were in Israel but none of the Israeli lepers were cleansed only Naaman the Syrian. Why? Jesus tells us why, “Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.” Elijah wasn’t sent to an Israeli widow, no Israeli lepers were cleansed because Elijah and Elisha weren’t accepted as prophets. Jesus was telling the people of Nazareth that if they wished to receive from him, if they wanted what happened in Capernaum to happen here in Nazareth then they must relate to him the way the widow woman related to Elijah and the way Naaman related to Elisha. But if they related to him the way their ancestors related to Elijah and Elisha you’ll receive what your ancestors received…nothing.
In the synagogue of Nazareth Jesus proclaimed the scripture fulfilled, he said the authority of the anointed was come, that the kingdom of God had at last arrived, the same message that had produced such tremendous results in Capernaum and throughout Galilee, but in Nazareth nothing happened. There were no miracles in Nazareth, no demons cast out, no eyes given to the blind, no lame walked. The kingdom of God had indeed arrived but the unbelief of the people of Nazareth hindered Jesus’ authority to deliver them. Unbelief prevented God from reigning in their circumstances. Unbelief thwarted the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God has been here and people have been not believing and not receiving ever since. Matthew and Mark sum it up:
Matthew 13:57 And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. 58 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
Mark 6:5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.
Nobody expects the Kingdom of God.
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