A Prophet Without Honor

Credibility, Matthew, Witnessing

Some of the most difficult people to talk to about a relationship with Jesus are the people who are closest to you. It is tough to share your faith with family and longtime friends. Why? Because often, “a prophet is without honor in his own country”. We are going to talk about what that means this morning.

We read the account in Matthew earlier but I want to focus on the account as it is shared in the gospel of Luke. We find it in Luke 4:16-30. I turn to the Luke account because it is the fuller of the two accounts.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,

that the blind will see,

that the oppressed will be set free,

19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

23 Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ 24 But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.

25 “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.”

28 When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. 29 Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, 30 but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.

There is some question as to when in the ministry of Jesus this visit took place. Matthew places it later and Luke places it earlier in his gospel. It seems to me that the Matthew 13 account may be more accurate chronologically.

If this is so, then Jesus was already somewhat of a celebrity. He had a reputation for his miracles and the crowds he drew. It is a story of “a Local Boy Does Well”. So, I suspect the people flocked to the synagogue to hear Jesus speak.

Jesus arrived at the synagogue (as was His custom) for worship. The format of the worship according to the Jewish document called the Mishnah, would have included,

  • Singing from Psalms 145-150
  • Reciting the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9 “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One . . . “)
  • Some other recitations (called the Tefillah)
  • Reading of Scripture (from the Law and a portion from prophets)
  • A sermon
  • Close with the blessing of Numbers 6:24-26 (“May the Lord bless you and keep you . . . “)

It was common to allow distinguished guests to give the sermon of the day. Jesus took the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read. This seems to be a combination of Isaiah 1:1-2 and Isaiah 58:6). The text says there is one coming who will carry the Spirit of the Lord. He will come to make things right in the world.

Jesus put down the scroll and said He was the fulfillment of these words of Isaiah. In other words, Jesus is the One who came to give good news to the poor, release for captives, sight to the blind and freedom for those who are oppressed.

It is likely that what Jesus means by poor, captive, blind and oppressed also carried a spiritual connotation (spiritually blind, captive to sin, blind to the things of God and those oppressed by demons). The point was: Jesus claimed he was who Isaiah was referring to. I am sure no one missed what Jesus was saying. He was claiming to be the Messiah they had been waiting for.

They Were Amazed

The first response of the people was amazement. When Jesus spoke He tended to captivate his audience. People recognized a unique authority in His Words, they recognized His wisdom. There was something about what He said that pierced the soul and seemed to have the power of God.

At first they probably wondered if He was indeed the Messiah But, that soon changed.

They Dismissed Him

The reason they dismissed the words of Jesus was because they knew his family (who were “common folks”). They watched him grow up and they didn’t see anything special in him. To them, he seemed like just a common boy. They concluded that a person of such background could not be the Messiah.

Jesus responded to his critics,

23 “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ 24 But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.

Jesus knew the people wanted a special demonstration of His power. But Jesus also knew that the miracles would not impress them. They would find ways to dismiss the miracles just like they dismissed His words. Besides, He did not come to do “miracles on demand” He came to point people to a new life.

The words, “a prophet is without honor in his hometown” are words frequently quoted today. It is the idea that it is hard for people who know you to ever see you as a prophet. You may hear people say you need to go 50 miles from home to be considered an expert in something. This is because people who know you will tend to dismiss you. I think this is true for several reasons.

 

Jesus knew the people wanted a special demonstration of His power. But Jesus also knew that the miracles would not impress them. They would find ways to dismiss the miracles just like they dismissed His words. Besides, He did not come to do “miracles on demand” He came to point people to a new life.

The words, “a prophet is without honor in his hometown” are words frequently quoted today. It is the idea that it is hard for people who know you to ever see you as a prophet. You may hear people say you need to go 50 miles from home to be considered an expert in something. This is because people who know you will tend to dismiss you. I think this is true for several reasons.

First, sometimes it is simply out of prejudice. In this case, they knew Jesus’ family background and concluded that someone from such a common family could not possibly be the One promised by God.

We are filled with these kinds of prejudice. We dismiss people because of

  • Their family background (this is especially true in small towns)
  • Their skin color or ethnic background.
  • Their gender
  • The job they hold. For some reason, we conclude certain jobs are demeaning and apparently signify a “lesser person”.
  • The mistakes they have made. I wonder how many people, as adults, still have to overcome a mistake they made when they were younger. We hold people hostage to their past even though we claim to believe in the grace of God.
  • Their education or their lack thereof. Interestingly we tend to measure people by the amount of education we have had. People with more education are “educated beyond their intelligence” and those with less are dismissed as “uneducated”.

Prejudice has its roots in arrogance. It is a form of idolatry because we conclude that we are qualified to serve as Judge over someone else. People get a picture in their head of what “people like you” are like and they can’t seem to see past it.

Do you ever wonder how come people at the Daily Planet could not figure out that Clark Kent was Superman? These people were supposed to be investigators! Clark was never around when Superman was on the scene. He looked like Superman but with glasses. How could that happen? It happens because they had a stereotype of the kind of person Clark Kent was and were blinded to the truth. Obviously, this is a fictional account but it happens all the time for a number of reasons.

Sometimes we dismiss people out of competition. We hate it when a classmate is honored above us. For some reason, we feel we have been “cheated” when someone else is honored. I am sure there were some people in the hometown of Jesus who thought, “Jesus, can’t be the Messiah because I am better than he is.”  We naturally compete with each other.

We also do this as churches. We conclude another church is not doing a good work because we feel we are in competition with them. If we concede they are doing something good, then it feels like we are losing points.

Sometimes it is out of hurt or a sense of abandonment. This is especially true in marriage. You marry believing you both share the same view of life and the world. When one of you finds Christ, all the rules change. The other person feels cheated.

Lee Strobel in his book (and now film) tells how his wife became a follower of Jesus and it angered him. It almost led to a divorce. In fact, the book was the product of Strobel’s desire to prove Christianity wrong!

Like any other witnessing, hardness of heart comes into play. Sometimes when you talk to people about God’s forgiveness and grace people will attack you. Why? Because they don’t like the idea of admitting that they are a sinful person in need of saving. They want to believe they are good enough or can save themselves. They don’t like the message so they reject the messenger. That is easier to do when you know the weaknesses and failure of the one sharing with you.

They Became Enraged

Jesus knew what they were thinking and saying to each other. He saw how closed their minds were to the truth. He responded,

25 “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.”

28 When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. 29 Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, 30 but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way

Jesus uses a couple of illustrations to show them that when Israel resisted what was true, God gave His blessing to those outside of Israel. Elijah was a prophet of God in Israel. He ministered during the time of King Ahab and wicked Queen Jezebel. Ahab built altars to other Gods and God sent Elijah to tell him that God was angry and there would be a drought in the land for several years.

God sent Elijah to Zarephath which was a Gentile city. The woman there provided for Elijah by the miraculous provision of God. The implied message is this: God found faith in the land of the Gentiles rather than in Israel.

Elisha followed Elijah. Elisha met a prophet by the name of Naaman from the land of Aram. Naaman was a soldier who suffered from leprosy. Elisha told the man to wash in the Jordan River seven times. When he did so (he was little put off at first) he was healed of his leprosy. The implication was clear to the people: God healed the foreigner when there were many lepers in Israel because the foreigner had more faith than those who were “the chosen of God”.

R.C. Sproul writes,

This does not mean the people’s lack of faith somehow hindered His power. He simply refrained from performing signs because He knew they would be wasted on these people. Sadly, the people of Jesus’ hometown missed the treasure, the pearl of great price, when He stood before their very eyes. (Sproul)

The people of Nazareth had heard enough. They were so angry that they wanted to push Jesus over a cliff! Jesus just walked through the crowd and went on His way. They were powerless against him.

What Should We Learn?

First we must be aware of how easy it is to miss what is right in front of us because of our prejudices. Sometimes we look past those who are right in front of us..

Think about how easy it is

  • To notice the gifts of other children are and miss how talented and special your own children are.
  • To see the beauty and attractiveness in others and overlook the beauty and faithfulness and treasure of your own spouse.
  • To envy what others have and miss the abundant blessings God has given to us.
  • To see the vibrant program and great advantages of another church while failing to see, invest in, and appreciate the programs of your own church.
  • To dream about how wonderful a different job would be, all the while missing how great the job is that you currently have.
  • To complain about those who disagree with you instead of talking with and learning from those people.
  • To ignore what children are saying because we have concluded they won’t say anything of significance

The familiar does sometimes breed contempt . . . but it shouldn’t!

When it comes to the church and all relationships with those who share their faith with us, William Barclay wrote,

In any church service the congregation preaches more than half the sermon. The congregation brings an atmosphere with it. That atmosphere is either a barrier through which the preacher’s word cannot penetrate; or else it is such an expectancy that even the poorest sermon becomes a living flame.

Again, we should not judge a man by his background and his family connections, but by what he is. Many a message has been killed stone dead, not because there was anything wrong with it; but because the minds of the hearers were so prejudiced against the messenger that it never had a chance.

When we meet together to listen to the word of God, we must come with eager expectancy, and must think, not of the man who speaks, but of the Spirit who speaks through him. (The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, p. 92.)

Second, we must not give up on people who have dismissed us. Unfortunately, it is often the case that we are more diligent in sharing our faith with strangers than we are with our own family members. We will travel on mission trips and never talk to our neighbors. We may spend hours talking about faith with members of the youth group but not spend any time talking to our own children!

There is an opportunity to reach the people closest to you. You will need to be honest about your failures and weaknesses. You will need to be patient with their initial resistance. But there is no testimony more powerful than that of a changed life or life lived consistently. The people who know you best are the very ones who should recognize (if they are open to it) the change that is taking place in you.

And even if they know you are NOT consistent, you have an opportunity to demonstrate to those you know what the power of God looks like. You can say with humility and the wonder that comes from grace: “If God can change me . . . He can also change you.” These are great times to point out that Jesus does not come to perfect people . . . He comes to broken people. He comes to people with problems – just like us. And the miracle is that even people like us can know His grace.

It may be harder to win a hearing with those who know you, but we must not give up. We must patiently build a bridge and try to open doors. Because, when we are successful; when God uses us to touch the life of someone we know and love . . . the joy is well worth the effort.

Scripture:

Matthew 13:53-58; Luke 4:16-30