In the last essay we studied Jesus’ Temptation. In this essay we begin a lengthy section that tells us about Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (4:14-9:50). Thus we see that Jesus had an extensive ministry in Galilee. What Luke and the other Synoptic writers do not tell us is that Jesus had a ministry in Judea prior to his ministry in Galilee.
In the first four chapters of the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus ministered in Judea for an unknown period of time (1:19-4:2), with one trip to Galilee in the middle of it (John 1:43-2:12). John tells us that Peter and Andrew became disciples of Jesus, at least in a preliminary way, in Judea (1:35-42). Then during Jesus’ trip to Galilee, he called Phillip and Nathanael as disciples (1:43-51) and attended a wedding at Cana, where he turned water into wine, his first recorded miracle (2:1-11). Next, Jesus returned to Judea where he cleansed the temple (2:13-22), had his conversation with Nicodemus (3:1-15), and did some baptizing (3:22). Now these events took place before John the Baptist was imprisoned, because John also was ministering in Judea at that time (3:23-24). The Gospel of John goes on to tell us about Jesus’ return to Galilee, which included a time of ministry in Samaria (4:1-43). Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not record any of this material.
All right, we are ready to take up Luke 4:14-44. Verses 14-15 simply announce the fact that Jesus returned to Galilee and began to minister in the synagogues. Next, in verses 16-19, we see Jesus’ attempt to minister in his hometown of Nazareth.
When Jesus came to his hometown of Nazareth, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, which Luke tells us was his custom. In other words, Jesus regularly attended the synagogue as he grew up. The reason Jesus was given the Isaiah scroll probably was because he asked for it. He then looked up Is. 61:1-2 and read it. Those verses in Isaiah prophesy the ministries of the Messiah. However, as Luke records the verses, there are some changes. You might want to compare the two. First, both Isaiah and Luke tell us that the Messiah would proclaim good news to the poor. Second, Isaiah mentions that he would bind up broken hearts, which Luke (following the Greek, rather than the Hebrew, Old Testament) does not mention. Third, both say that the Messiah would release the captives. Fourth, Isaiah mentions “release to the prisoners.” which the Greek Old Testament interpreted metaphorically as “recovery of sight to the blind,” I suppose because “release of the prisoners” is so similar to “release to the captives.” Finally fifth, they both say tat the Messiah would “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” which in the New Testament context is a metaphorical reference to the year of salvation.
The story continues in verses 20-21. Notice that Jesus stood to read and sat down to preach. It is safe to assume that Jesus had more to say than what is recorded here. But it is summarized in the words, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” I believe the only way Jesus’ listeners in the synagogue that day could have understood his words was as an announcement that he was the Messiah.
Next, in verses 22-30, we see the reactions of the people, which seem to me to have been progressive. Notice that at first the people were amazed. They were astonished that such gracious teaching could come from this young man who had grown up among them. But the amazement quickly turned to unbelief, for that very reason: “Is this not Joseph’s son?” The people could not get past the fact that they knew Jesus so well. Verse 23 suggests that there may have been some jealousy in Nazareth towards the city of Capernaum, because they had heard about some wonderful things that Jesus had done that he had not done in Nazareth. Another possibility is that they were expressing skepticism about what they had heard.
At any rate, Jesus reacted to their unbelief with a proverb: “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” Then Jesus illustrated his situation with two Old Testament stories. First, he told the story of the time during a severe famine when God sent Elijah to help a Gentile widow instead of an Israelite widow (1 Kings 17:8-16; vv. 25-26). And second he told the story of how Elisha healed a Gentile leper named Naaman rather than an Israelite leper (2 Kings 5:1-19; v. 27). The point of the stories seems to be that although Jesus was being rejected at Nazareth, he would be accepted elsewhere.
The response of the people of Nazareth escalated to rage, and they determined to kill him (v. 28). But Jesus escaped (v. 30).
We see in 4:31-37 that Jesus went from Nazareth to Capernaum and began to teach in the synagogue there. Capernaum is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The city has been completely excavated by archeologists. The original streets and the foundations of the buildings that were there are exposed. Much of the walls of a later synagogue still stand where the synagogue that Jesus taught in stood. For these reasons, when I was in Israel, Capernaum was the one place where I really felt that I was walking where Jesus walked.
The people of Capernaum, like those of Nazareth, were amazed at Jesus’ teaching, because unlike the scribes he taught with authority (v. 32). Then suddenly “a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon . . . cried out . . . Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (vv. 33-34)
Jesus responded immediately, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the demon came out without harming the man. Notice that once again the people were amazed at Jesus’ authority (vv. 35-36). He taught with authority, and he authoritatively commanded demons, which immediately obeyed him. That truly was an awesome day in Capernaum!
In verses 38-39 we see that on that same Sabbath day, after synagogue service, Jesus and his disciples went to Simon Peter’s house. The Gospel of Mark tells us that Andrew, James and John were present as well as Peter (Mk. 1:29-31). Archeologists have identified a particular house in Capernaum as Peter’s. As I recall, the basis for the identification was evidence found that it had been the home of a reasonably “well-to-do” fisherman. At any rate, the main meal on the Sabbath normally would have been eaten after the synagogue service.
When they group arrived at the house, they discovered that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever. This information tells us that Peter was married and had financial responsibilities. This fact, along with the size of the house, may indicate that the family fishing business was large enough to support Peter’s family, even if he wasn’t working himself.
As you know, a fever is a symptom, not a disease. So we have no idea what the mother-in law’s sickness may have been. But whatever it was, Jesus healed her so completely that she immediately had full strength and was able to serve the meal.
Verses 40-41 seem to be a kind of summary report. The Sabbath ended at sunset; and because of the fast-spreading reports of Jesus’ healing miracles, the people brought their sick and demon-possessed to him, and he healed them. Notice the careful distinction between sicknesses and demonic activity. They definitely knew the difference, and certainly Jesus never confused the two.
Ministering to crowds is very wearying, so verses 42-44 tell us that the next morning, Jesus sought some solitude. Notice that in contrast to the people of Nazareth who wanted to kill Jesus, the people of Capernaum wanted him to stay and continue ministering to them (v. 42). Jesus’ reply in verse 43 indicates that they didn’t understand his mission. Their mistake was a common one in Jesus’ day, and people today sometimes make the same mistake. They wanted to keep him for themselves. But Jesus mission was to “proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other cities also.” And he went about the cities of Galilee doing just that. The healing miracles never were Jesus’ primary mission. They merely were messianic signs to Jesus. That is, they demonstrated that he was the Messiah. Though the miracles obviously helped people, Jesus never made any attempt to heal everyone who needed it.
Turning to application, I want to point out two things. First, this scripture is a crucial one, because it shows us Jesus making a direct claim to be the Messiah, the Christ. A scripture like this requires a response. Either we believe that Jesus is the Christ as he claimed, or we do not believe it. I have chosen to believe that he is the Christ, the Son of God, and I have committed my life and my all to him.
Second, I don’t want us to make the same mistake as the people of Capernaum. We must not try to keep Jesus for ourselves. Rather we must help him to spread the good news of the kingdom of God to others. That was his mission, and it is our mission.