The identity of Jesus has been firmly established for Luke’s readers and hearers by the time we get to 4:16-30, but it is not yet public knowledge. Jesus is the Son of the Most High, descended from David who will reign as an everlasting King (1:32-33). He is the very Son of God (1:35). This child of Mary is the very Lord Himself (1:43). Gabriel, Elizabeth, and the angel of the Lord with the heavenly multitude (1:11) have consistently revealed who Jesus is: Christ the Lord, David’s son, Mary’s son, God’s Son.
He is the consolation of Israel for whom Simeon had been waiting (2:25). But more than that, Simeon also reveals Jesus is God’s gift of salvation prepared in the presence of all people, for both Israel and the Gentiles (2:29-32).
The Father then speaks directly to Jesus at His baptism. In the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Father affirms Jesus’ identity: “You are My beloved Son” (3:22).
Having been baptized, Jesus begins His ministry. It is interesting how Luke marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry at 3:23 just before the genealogy and the temptation, whereas most Bible publishers add the heading, “Jesus Begins His Ministry,” after those scenes at 4:14; but that is another sermon for another day.
For the sake of this week’s text, there are three key pieces of context from Luke’s opening chapters which inform our proclamation of 4:16-30. First, Jesus has been revealed to us as God Himself in the flesh. Second, Simeon has shown us Jesus is God’s gift for all people, Jews and Gentiles. Third, the time has come for Jesus to begin His public ministry and mission. These three truths come crashing together in this week’s text. Jesus’ identity, God’s plan for all peoples, and the shape of Jesus’ ministry are laid out in this first and programmatic episode.
Will Farrell’s character Ron Burgundy famously said, “Well, that escalated quickly.” That is the sense I get from this reading. In verses 16-22, everything seems to be going pretty well. But by the end of verses 23-30, they are ready to kill Jesus! Where this scene pivots is around Jesus’ identity and God’s plan for all peoples, and these two questions will define Jesus’ ministry.
It is all going well in the first half. Jesus is in Nazareth, where He was brought up. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath as usual. He is honored by being handed the scroll to read from. He reads a beautiful section from Isaiah about God’s Anointed One who will bring good news and restoration to the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. And even when He makes His bold declaration about these words of Isaiah being fulfilled that very day in their own hearing, everything still seems to be going smoothly.
Jesus’ identity, God’s plan for all peoples, and the shape of Jesus’ ministry are laid out in this first and programmatic episode.
Verse 22 is the pivot point. Everything is still good in the first half of the verse: “And all spoke well of Him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from His mouth.” That is great! It is a preacher’s dream response! But then in the second half of the verse, they begin to question Jesus’ identity: “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
It is a fair question, and based on the first half of 4:22, it does not necessarily have a negative connotation. It could be read as, “Wow! This Jesus speaks wonderfully. And to think, He is a local kid! I bet Joseph is proud of his boy.”
But then Jesus speaks, and I picture Ron Burgundy sitting back in his blue suit, saying, “Well, that escalated quickly.” Jesus’ response is almost antagonistic, and I find myself thinking, “Come on Jesus, a little more patience and tact. They were with You. Why did You have to go and rile everyone up?” Clearly, there was something more at stake here, something which seemed to almost compel Jesus to push back with some force.
After naming the crowd’s hidden wish to see Jesus put on a show here at home and replicate whatever it was He did in Capernaum, Jesus makes a rhetorical move connecting the crowd’s hometown expectations with the deeper problem of their misunderstanding of the scope of God’s grace. They misunderstood the Lord’s favor (4:19). They assumed they would be favored and receive a special show from Jesus since He was their hometown hero. But God does not have favorites or show partiality. His grace and gifts are for all. So, Jesus highlights two scandalous moments from Israel’s past in which God worked through a chosen Israelite to bless an undeserving outsider with God’s favor.
The crowd at the synagogue liked the Isaiah quote when they were the special ones receiving good things from the Lord. And to some extent, they were even willing to go along with Jesus identifying Himself with the Lord’s Anointed (again, notice the positive response in 4:22a). But Jesus is the Lord Himself in the flesh who is beginning His public ministry to bring grace to all people, so He cannot let their misunderstanding stand.
During this season of Epiphany, we experience more than the revelation of who Jesus is. We certainly do celebrate Jesus making Himself known as fully God. His signs and miracles accomplish that. But we also celebrate how Jesus makes God fully known. This is what Luke 4:16-30 accomplishes. Here, we do not come to know Jesus as God through His works. We come to know God through Jesus through His Word. The words of Jesus (from the scroll of Isaiah, the narrated history, and the extemporaneous teaching) reveal God’s character and favor for all.
The conclusion of this scene foreshadows the conclusion of Jesus’ public ministry. His identity as the One who reveals God and God’s favor equally for all is not received by all. There is an attempt on His life, but it was not yet time, but His time would come. And in that hour, God’s favor and good news for everyone would be enacted once and for all.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 4:16-30.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 4:16-30.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 4:16-30.