Epiphany 3 • Luke 4:16–30 • January 24, 2016
By David Peter
This text is appropriate for reflection early in the Epiphany season for several reasons. First, it reports one of Jesus’s first acts of his public ministry. Second, it is one of the first times that Jesus publicly identifies himself as the Messiah. Third, it sets him clearly on the path to rejection by the people, ultimately leading to the cross.
An exposition of this text can be organized into three foci:
• The Proclamation of the Messiah: Revelation.
• The Purpose of the Messiah: Restoration.
• The Path for the Messiah: Rejection.
The Proclamation of the Messiah: Revelation
Jesus is introduced to the people as a preacher and a teacher. Proclamation is a key component of his public ministry, and through this proclamation Jesus reveals who he is and what he has come to do.
He begins his ministry of proclamation, appropriately enough, in his hometown of Nazareth. On the Sabbath he enters the synagogue and is extended the opportunity to expound on the sacred writings. Jesus opens the scroll of Isaiah to chapter 61 and reads (Is 61:1‒2). This passage was recognized as a messianic prophecy (v. 18 refers to one who is “anointed”) and was associated with the series of messianic Servant Songs in Isaiah.
It is significant that this passage emphasizes the role of the Messiah as one of proclaimer: “to preach the good news” (v. 18), “to proclaim release” (v. 18), and “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v. 19).
But what is most remarkable is Jesus’s comment on this passage: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21). By this radical statement Jesus identifies himself as the fulfillment of this scripture and thereby claims to be the Messiah.
Thus his proclamation becomes robust revelation; Jesus reveals himself to be the promised deliverer and Servant of Yahweh.
The Purpose of the Messiah: Restoration
Jesus announces that he fulfills this scripture. But since the passage in Isaiah describes the mission of the Messiah, Jesus in effect is announcing the purpose for which he has come. And that mission is one of restoration.
The Messiah is “anointed” and “sent” to deliver these ends:
• “Good news to the poor,” which is the restoration of wellbeing to those impoverished by the debt of sin.
• “Release of captives,” which is restoration of freedom from the bondage of the broken law of God.
• “Recovery of sight to the blind,” which is the restoration of the beatific vision by faith.
• “Deliverance of the downtrodden,” which is the restoration of dignity to those who were debased by Satan.
• “The year of the Lord’s favor,” which is the restoration of the eternal inheritance realized in the ultimate Jubilee.
It is to deliver each of these blessings that the Messiah has come. That is his purpose. That is his mission. But walking that path which will cost much.
The Path for the Messiah: Rejection
The response of the townsfolk to Jesus’s announcement at first is one of confusion. “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (v. 22) they ask. In other words, they wonder: “We know who he is! How can he make such a claim?”
Jesus diagnoses their reception of his words as nothing less than unbelief: “No prophet is welcome in his town home” (v. 24). Just as Elijah and Elisha were not recognized as true prophets from God by the Israelites of their day, so also Jesus is not recognized as being the One sent by God by the Jews of his day. And so, like Elijah and Elisha, he will deliver his message of revelation and restoration to the Gentiles (vv. 24‒27). The epiphany of the Lord will be manifested to others in foreign lands who will welcome it with faith.
The response to these words by the residents of Nazareth changes from ambivalence to anger. They demonstrate an intention to harm and kill Jesus. Nevertheless, he passes from their grasp and out of their midst, for his time had not yet come.
But it would come three years hence. This rejection by the hometown crowd portends the final rejection by the crowds who will cry “Crucify him!” That is the pathway which Jesus now trods. Appropriately, the text concludes with the words, “He journeyed on his way” (v. 30), which will be the way to the cross.