Confronting Power and Expectation

Read Mark 1:14-15, 6:14-29, Luke 3:19-38, 4:14-30
& John 4:43-54

The climate is cooler in the Galilee region than down in the Jordan Valley, so the crops mature for harvest later in the year.  The barley harvest was now underway up here and the wheat crop was beginning to ripen. (1)

After the two days He left for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honour in his own country). John 4:43-4 NIV

Interestingly, the Jewish priest author of the fourth gospel thinks of Judea, where Yeshua was born and where his ancestral land as a descendant of king David lay, as being “his own country“, whereas the gentile Luke refers to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, as “his own country“. The author of the fourth gospel often contrasts the rejection that Yeshua received in Jerusalem and surrounds (the likely hometown of this author) with the eagerness of the people of Galilee to receive Him. The Galileans may have been looked down upon by those in Judea as unsophisticated and spiritually inferior, but they were faithful in travelling the long distance to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivals commanded by God and they were open to receiving the Son of God.

When He arrived in Galilee the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that He had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they had been there. Once more He visited Cana in Galilee where He had turned the water into wine.   John 4:45-46a NIV

Significant numbers of these pious Galileans had made the long journey to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival in obedience to Torah. There, like Nicodemus, they had witnessed Yeshua do many miracles and knew that the power of God rested upon Him. As Yeshua travelled around the Galilee region, teaching in their synagogues, He came again to Cana where He and His early talmidim had attended the wedding and His first miracle had been performed.  

Yochanan the Immerser Imprisoned…

Map of John the baptiser's travels

Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) was arrested by Herod Antipas, who ruled over Peraea and Galilee.  Speaking truth to power is rarely welcomed by those in power, and Herodias, Herod Antipas’ wife who had been married to his brother Philip when her affair with Herod began, was so angry she wanted Yochanan killed.  Herod tried to appease her by imprisoning Yochanan, but was drawn to his words like a moth to a candle:

But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things which Herod had done, added this also to them all, that he shut up Yochanan in prison.  Luke 3:19-20 HNV

For Herod himself had sent out and arrested Yochanan, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for he had married her. For Yochanan said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias set herself against him, and desired to kill him, but she couldn’t, for Herod feared Yochanan, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he did many things, and he heard him gladly.   Mark 6:17-20 HNV

Like the prophets before him, Yochanan (John the Baptist) now suffered for his message, imprisoned and threatened with death. Yochanan’s imprisonment effectively ended his public ministry.  The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus stated that Yochanan the Immerser was imprisoned in Herod’s palace of Macherus (Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII, V, 2), which was located in the furthermost corner of his realm, about 24 km southeast of where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea (see the map above). (2)

None of Yochanan’s remaining talmidim had his gifting or calling, and they were rather at a loss for what to do when he was imprisoned.  It was the task of every talmid (disciple) to become just like his rabbi, but these young men had not yet spent enough time with Yochanan to be like him, and now the best they could do was occasionally visit him and talk with him for whatever little time they were allowed.  They were not able to continue on his ministry without him.  The crowds did not come to them as they had come to Yochanan, none of them carried the presence that Yochanan carried, nor could they ‘nail it’ with their preaching as he did.  Yochanan had been imprisoned before he had been able to invest enough in his disciples to pass his baton on to them. He had been ministering for less than a year.

Yochanan‘s Success…

Contrary to the usual practice of that time, Yochanan’s call had not been to raise up disciples to follow in his footsteps, but to prepare the way for the people to come to Yeshua so they could be raised up to follow in His footsteps.  Yochanan’s baton had been successfully passed on, not to his talmidim as was traditional, but to the One to whom he had been attesting. What Yochanan could no longer do now that he was imprisoned, Yeshua continued and this reformation gained momentum:

From that time, Yeshua began to proclaim, and to say, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”   Matthew 4:17 HNV

After Yochanan had been arrested, Yeshua came into the Galil proclaiming the Good News from God: “The time has come, God’s Kingdom is near! Turn to God from your sins and believe the Good News!”    Mark 1:14-15 CJB

Healing, but not according to expectation…

When an officer of Herod Antipas’ court heard that Yeshua had returned to Cana he came across from Capernaum where he had been nursing his dying son and:

“…went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.”             John 4:47 NKJV  

Word had just spread through the area that Herod had arrested Yochanan, and this officer of Herod’s court comes and asks Yeshua to go with him.  What would you think?

Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.”   John 4:48 NKJV

Yeshua’s response initially appears harsh towards a man anguishing over his son’s impending death, but its purpose was not so much to rebuke as to challenge to a deeper level of faith so that even greater could be done for him:

The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!”     John 4:49 NKJV

This man was used to walking in power and authority.  He expected to be obeyed, and had become accustomed to exercising control over others. But he had no control over the terrible sickness ravaging his poor son’s body, and no control over this man who was his only hope for the life of his son.  All his wealth and power were suddenly meaningless, it could not provide what he most desperately needed – healing for his son.  

Yeshua paid no more respect to the wealthy and powerful than to the lowliest servant.  He was not after their influence in high places or generous donations to help his ministry flourish. His only concern was the Father’s will, and it was the Father’s will to set things right in this nobleman’s heart and challenge the Galileans to step up to the level of faith shown by the Samaritans in the city of Sychar, who had been willing to believe on Him simply on the basis of a woman’s testimony, and then having heard Him themselves boldly declared that He was “indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” 

Desperation filled the nobleman’s voice as he pleaded for the Son of God to obey him and come immediately before it was too late and his son was dead.  The kingdom of God manifested on earth is not limited to how we think things need to be done in order to get a good result.  We do not get to order God to do things our way anymore than this nobleman was able to successfully order the Son of God to follow his instructions for healing his son.  God is good and He does good and His ways are perfect, but they are so often different to how we imagine they need to be.

Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.”
So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.  John 4:50 NKJV

The tables were turned, and things set in right order.  Yeshua did not obey this officer of the Tetrarch’s court, but rather answered his heart’s cry by speaking a word for him to obey: “Go your way; your son lives.”   It was a word that required the faith to obey.  It was an interaction that engendered such faith.  It was the promise of a miracle greater than the nobleman had imagined, a simple word from Christ penetrating his son so far away, dispelling the terrible sickness threatening his life and bringing health and wholeness to the boy.

 And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!”
Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 
So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household. John 4:51-53 NKJV

The news of Yochanan the Immerser’s arrest had shaken all of Israel, and especially Yeshua’s talmidim, who had first been Yochanan’s talmidim.   Often such news is accompanied by rumour and speculation – ‘who is going to be next?’  ‘Had Herod imprisoned his talmidim as well?’  It appears that Yeshua sent his young talmidim back to Capernaum with this nobleman so they could witness the miracle with him and be encouraged by this display of God’s power and the need that even the mightiest have of Him, and encouraged them to go from there back to their homes to spend some time with their families, even as He was going to spend some time in His own hometown.   The account in the fourth gospel suggests first-hand knowledge of the conversation between the nobleman and his servants, and Luke’s account of Yeshua’s travels from there to His hometown of Nazareth suggests that He made this journey alone.

The indications in the text are that the author of the fourth gospel returned home to Jerusalem after this, even as Yeshua’s other disciples were returning to their homes in Capernaum and Bethsaida, for we hear no more from this author until Yeshua next goes to Jerusalem for a religious feast (John 5:1).

Yeshua rejected in Nazareth…

From Cana Yeshua walked to Nazareth, where He had grown up, where he had learnt to memorise the Torah and all the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures), where he had played with the village boys and where he had learned Yosef’s carpentry/craftsman’s trade.    By this time almost all the boys he had played with would be married with families of their own, as young men were expected to marry between the ages of sixteen and twenty four in order to fulfil the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, although some sages at this time delayed marriage in order to focus on Torah study and teaching. (3)  (4)

The evidence of the gospels suggests that on this occasion Yeshua travelled to Nazareth alone.     It is interesting that the following account is only found in Luke’s gospel, as the historian sort to piece all the parts of Yeshua’s life together, it was not part of Yeshua’s training of his talmidim at this time.  It is likely that His mother and brothers were still living in Nazareth, and present in the synagogue on this Shabbat – from them Luke would later learn of these details and record them for us.  Yeshua’s talmidim were not yet ready for this lesson, so they had been released back to their families and their trades for a season. Such was not unusual, as both Rabbi and talmidim had to support themselves.

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.   Luke 4:16 NKJV

Since His earliest childhood Yeshua had spent every Sabbath in the synagogue, partaking in His community’s worship of God and discussions on the meanings of the scriptures.  For years the people in His hometown had heard Him reading the Torah and the Prophets, and expounding on their meaning.  That wisdom which had been evident in the Temple in Jerusalem when Yeshua was just twelve years old had joined with the other voices teaching the people of Nazareth each Sabbath since that time.  These people had received years of preparation for the revealing of Messiah through true and accurate teaching right there in their own synagogue.   They enjoyed hearing Yeshua read the scriptures and preach – but there was something different about Him now, the first time He had been back home since His baptism by Yochanan.

On this day in Nazareth Yeshua was appointed to read the Haphtarah (a short reading from the Prophets which follows the reading from the Torah in a Jewish synagogue) and the reading scheduled was a messianic passage from Isaiah 61: 

And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor (those bent over like a beggar, deeply destitute, completely lacking resources); He has sent (apostéllō) Me to heal the broken-hearted to proclaim liberty (remission / forgiveness, releasing someone from obligation or debt) to the captives (those who have been conquered and taken captive) and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty (send forth in a state of forgiveness and with purpose) those who are oppressed (bruised, broken down emotionally, psychologically shattered, suffering the ongoing effects of past sins); to proclaim the acceptable (received favourably because it is pleasing) year of the Lord.”
Then He closed the book (ie rolled up the scroll), and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.                                               Luke 4:17-20 NKJV

It was customary in the synagogue to stand when reading the scriptures, then sit to preach on them.  Everyone listened eagerly to hear what this home-town boy, who had done such miracles during Passover in Jerusalem, would say now.  What derashah (sermon) would He bring from this passage that elicited such hopes and longings in the people?   Yeshua’s words were sweet to His hearers as He expounded on the literal and prophetic meanings in this passage.   Hungry hearts longed for such Good News to be proclaimed to them, to know that they could be the recipients of God’s favour and that their past failures did not have to determine their future.  His words brought reassurance that God had not forgotten them, nor been blind to their sufferings.  Indeed the favourable year of the Lord was at hand.

And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21 NKJV

How would the people respond to so bold a claim?   The woman at the well had readily believed Him.  The whole Samaritan city of Sychar had been so quick to confidently declare: “we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”   His home-town people’s first reaction was positive, as had been everyone else’s in Galilee.   These pious Nazarenes were hungry for the word of God, and eagerly awaiting their Messiah with much anticipation that surely the time was ripe for his coming.   Yeshua’s words penetrated their hearts with such grace and hope.

So all bore witness to Him, and marvelled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”   Luke 4:22 NKJV

A positive response indeed to Yeshua’s declaration of being the Messiah, the fulfilment of Isaiah 61.  These people had been taught well, and they had seen and heard of the miracles that Yeshua had been doing, both in Jerusalem and around Galilee, which confirmed this claim.  

But He knew their hearts.  It is one thing to accept, even rejoice in, a declaration about the Kingdom, but quite another to live as citizens of that Kingdom.   These people knew all the theology, were strong and passionate in their doctrine, but their hearts were not open to the very nature of the Kingdom of God.  All the truth they had heard and believed had been filtered through a lens of spiritual pride and racist nationalism.  Yeshua was about to confront this. He went on to begin to hint at how He would be treated by them when He did.

He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in  Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’ ”  
Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.”  Luke 4:23 NKJV

Yeshua knew the barriers they had formed in their hearts against living the truth, and so now started exposing these.   It seemed that He could not just leave people in their nice, comfortable feel-good religion.   Like Yochanan the Immerser, He had to rock the boat, to expose those things hiding in their hearts.   Yeshua was not satisfied with a lukewarm complacent acceptance of His words, and kept pushing until He had pressed all their buttons and elicited a strong reaction that exposed the real condition of their hearts.

 “But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region  of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.   And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”  Luke 4:25-27 NKJV

This struck deep into their national and religious pride, exposing the bitter anger, fears and hatred that lay below the surface of their initial ‘bearing witness’ to Him:

So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.  Luke 4:28-29 NKJV

It was not Yeshua’s messianic claim in Vs 21 which stirred such vitriol, they had born witness to Him in response to that.  He was their Messiah, their deliverer, and they expected to be the chief beneficiaries of His ministry.  Here was one of their own who had surely been anointed by God to throw off the shackles of their heathen oppressors and restore their national pride.  Nazareth would see the birthing of the re-establishment of the glory of Israel.  All their pious religious observance had earnt them this right. This was the “favourable Year of the Lord” for them.

Yeshua’s next words had undermined and threatened all that.   He paralleled His ministry with that of Elijah and Elisha, both of whom heralded judgment on Israel for their unfaithfulness to God, and performed miracles for foreigners.  Yeshua went so far as to highlight that God sent each of them to minister miraculously to a foreigner instead of anyone in Israel who was suffering with the very same need (Vs 25-27).  And these were not deserving foreigners, if there could be such a thing, Elisha had healed the captain of the enemies’ army who had inflicted terrible losses on Israel.  Yeshua was presenting himself as a Messiah who would do likewise, take what they thought rightly belonged to them as God’s chosen people, and give it to despised foreigners and enemies.  Had He not just restored the son of an officer of Herod’s court, right after Herod had imprisoned Yochanan the Immerser?   That nobleman was not the only one who had wanted God to do things his way. As far as the members of this pious, nationalistic synagogue were concerned, such was NOT the task of the Messiah! His task was to redeem Israel and raise them up above all other nations and peoples. His task was to destroy their enemies, not do miraculous healing for their enemies.  Every racist sentiment cloaked in national pride, and fuelled by religious fervour, was stirred up and all those in the synagogue became filled with murderous wrath. 

Such nationalistic pride and despising of others as inferior to themselves was common in their neighbours as well, and taken for granted in their Roman overlords. The devaluing of “those who are different to us” is deeply rooted in the heart of man, but totally unacceptable in the kingdom of God.

Regardless of how much murderous rage Satan could insight in the good people of Nazareth, it was not Yeshua’s time to die.  Nor was this the means by which He would take our sins, being pushed over a cliff on an ordinary day of the year.   God’s prophetic word would be fulfilled, nothing could hinder that.

Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.      Luke 4:30 NKJV 

Reference List

1. Morrison, Michael. Harvest Seasons of Ancient Israel. Grace Communion International. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.]
2. John the Baptist’s Doubts. Never Thirsty. [Online] [Cited: 11th Oct. 2016.]
3. McArthur, Harvey. Celibacy in Judaism at the Time of Christian Beginnings. Andrews University. [Online] 1987. [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.]
4. Bivin, David N. Was Jesus a Confirmed Bachelor? Jerusalem Perspective. [Online] 19th September 2012. [Cited: 5th November 2019.]

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* Why do you think Jesus was accepted as a teacher in Synagogues throughout Galilee?
* What impact do you think it had on the disciples to hear that John the baptist had been imprisoned?
* The officer of Herod Antipas’ court had come to Jesus with expectations of what He had to do to meet his need. What sort of expectations do we come to God with? Can you think of a time when God did not do what you were asking, but did something better that you had not even imagined before?
* How did the people whom Jesus grew up with in Nazareth respond to His messianic claim “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”?
* What was it that changed their response from bearing “witness to Him, and marvelling at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth” to thrusting him out of town and trying to throw him off a cliff? Do your people have anything that they react to with such anger?
* If Jesus was to come to your church now, what do you think He would say to expose the hidden hatreds in your people’s hearts?