One of my favorite passages about Jesus is Luke 4:14-30. It is the account of his return to his home town of Nazareth after his temptation in the wilderness, beginning his public ministry in Galilee. The passage begins by saying, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.”
Galilee wasn’t a big place in those days. It was a small province, made up mainly of rural Jewish peasants, separated by Roman political divisions from the more cosmopolitan Jewish religious and cultural center of Judea and the city of Jerusalem by the province of Samaria, which most of them avoided in their travels. So it was that most of those who practiced their faith and gathered in the synagogues were quite taken with this man who performed miracles and taught “in the power of the spirit.”
Word had obviously reached Nazareth about Jesus. The result of that word was that he was handed the scroll to read the scripture in the synagogue as they gathered for worship on the day that he came back home. I’ll bet that was an interesting morning. He read a passage of messianic prophetic significance from Isaiah and then declares, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
At those few words, coming from the lips of a man that they thought they knew so well, and whom they identified as the son of Joseph, the carpenter, in spite of the fact that he was filled with the Spirit, they grew disturbed. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus went on to point out what the problem was. The end result was that they got angry at hearing the truth, and instead of repenting, they grabbed him to carry him out and throw him over the cliff at the edge of town. Miraculously, this man who was known by the entire community walked through the crowd and went on his way.
There are two things of note in this passage. First, Jesus came to Nazareth in the power of the Spirit. He was fresh from his temptation experience in the wilderness, and quite different than he had been as a boy and a young man growing up in Nazareth. The people in his home town had heard of his ministry and accorded him the honor of reading the scripture in the synagogue on the sabbath. But they didn’t fully grasp the concept that he was filled with the Spirit. How could he be more spiritual than they? They knew him well.
The second is that he declared the passage he was reading from Isaiah to be fulfilled. He imparted spiritual knowledge and insight that they had not previously known. In essence, by declaring that he was proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, he was telling them that the Messiah had come, and in that statement, that he was the Messiah. Since they did not recognize him in the power of the Spirit, and because he had not yet performed any healings or miracles, they took this as blasphemy.
We live in the year of the Lord’s favor. We’ve been singing a chorus in worship over the past several weeks that is drawn from this passage, “This is the year, this is the day, of the favor of our Lord.” But I sometimes wonder, in church, with people we know, in a setting which is quite routine, and with which we are very familiar, what would happen if we experienced the power of the Spirit. What do we do, when people among us have a spiritual breakthrough, and exhibit enthusiasm or excitement, or humility and brokenness, or show signs of being gifted by God in some special way? Do we embrace it and celebrate it, and let it inspire us? Or do we, like the people of Nazareth, dismiss it as being some kind of impossible abberation because we are so familiar with the way things should be, we don’t recognize the power of the Spirit when it visits us?