This text reminds us that Jesus was a preacher. He also healed and worked wonders, delivered from danger and forgave sins. But here, immediately following his baptism, Jesus came to his own people in the synagogue of his hometown, and he preached. The reaction was mixed. At first, the people marveled at his gracious words and spoke well of him. But then things changed. By the time he finished speaking, they tried to run him off the cliff. A sermon on this text might take a close look both Jesus’ message and the extreme reactions it caused.
Let’s start with his message. There were two parts, corresponding to the two different reactions among his hearers. Part one began with a reading from Isaiah. The prophet had promised the coming of an anointed one who would proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives and the oppressed, sight to the blind, and the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus finished this part of his sermon by identifying himself as the fulfillment of this prophecy. The reaction was smashing. They marveled at his grace and spoke well of him (ἐμαρτύρουν). And why wouldn’t they be pleased? Anyone who suffers would be thrilled to hear that help has arrived.
But that’s when the mood began to shift. Before they could celebrate, Jesus continued speaking. He foresaw their expectation that he should be doing more for them, his own people. “Physician, heal yourself” (ἰατρέ, θεράπευσον σεαυτόv) in verse 23 is more self-serving than most English renderings suggest. “Physician, take care of your own” might be more to the point. That is, take care of us. Jesus had been active in Capernaum instead of his home town. Perhaps he sensed envy in their hearts. Without waiting for their response, Jesus proceeded to remind them of two episodes in Israel’s history in which foreigners received God’s favor. The message was clear—Jesus was fulfilling these promises to people outside of his own. This changed their marveling into madness as they sought to destroy him.
How might you preach this text to your hearers? Emphasizing Jesus as preacher is a good place to start. He proclaimed the promises of God, much like the prophets of old. But he also proclaimed himself as the fulfillment of those promises. You might take a cue from him and proclaim those same promises. You’ll want to note that their fulfillment began in Jesus’ ministry of healing and liberating, and that these promises will be fulfilled in full when Jesus returns. In the meantime, the body of Christ on earth does its best to make good on God’s promises as they are able. This happens as the church forgives sins, but it also happens as the church serves the poor (in spirit and in body) and works to liberate those who are living in captivity of many kinds.
Three additional observations about this text might give some direction to your proclamation of God’s promises in Christ to the present-day people of God.
First, Jesus continues to reach beyond his own people to draw outsiders to himself. Among the original hearers it was the Gentiles from Zarephath and Syria. (You might want to reread those stories.) Because most contemporary congregations are made up of Gentiles, you shouldn’t speak to your people as the members of Jesus’ Jewish hometown. But the movement of our Lord to those on the outside is a recurring biblical theme that is always appropriate.
Second, the reactions of the people moved quickly from marveling to madness. That temptation remains for us. We are very grateful for God’s “blessings” when things seem to be going well. But when things go south, it is tempting to presume that we know better than God. Sometimes this involves turning away from Jesus because he doesn’t provide what we think he should provide. It’s best to equip your hearers for that temptation ahead of time so that they don’t follow Jesus’ hometown to the precipice.
Third, Jesus’ reign over all things comes out at the very end. Despite their efforts to destroy him, it was not yet his time. Verse 30 may be easily passed over, but it might hold some potential for proclaiming Christ as Lord. He passed through their midst and went away. But to where? The immediate context shows that he went to Galilee and continued exercise his gracious authority. But he didn’t stop there, of course. He went on to Jerusalem, through death into resurrection for our redemption and new life. This final verse reminds us that Jesus remained (and remains) in charge despite appearances to the contrary.
Concordia Theology: Various helps to assist you in preaching Luke 4:16-30 from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO.
Lectionary Podcast: Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary offers assistance in preaching Luke 4:16-30.