WRESTLING AGAINST Luke 4.2 Jesus at Nazareth

Luke 4:14-27

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day, he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. 23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” 24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time when the sky was shut for three and a half years, and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.


It is very easy to only think about the last part of the story to answer our question. Jesus made a provocative statement accusing his fellow Nazarenes of errant unbelief by comparing them to the Israelites at the time of Elijah and Elisha. When the whole congregation became furious to the point of wanting to put their hometown “son” to death it is natural to assume the presence of the adversary.  The level of anger going way beyond reasonable is consistent with the nature of wickedness. In fact, wickedness is always trans-rational, indiscriminate and destructive. We also know that it comes from a hierarchical order of spiritual personalities: the devil and the hosts of demons. We should not, however, limit our focus in Nazareth to the end of the story.  We need to see what led to this outburst.

The town that Jesus called home for almost thirty years was totally insignificant according to the records from that time. Researchers have estimated its population to be approximately 200 people. When Nathanael is told by Philip that they have met the Messiah and that he comes from Nazareth, all he can say is, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”[1] When historians provide lists of Galilean towns, Nazareth never gets a mention. How ironic that this town stands out for two reasons:  first, it was the home of the Messiah for all those years.  Second, it was the only town to react violently to the idea that Jesus was the Messiah (apart from Jerusalem of course).

The first visit of Jesus to his hometown was poignant, to say the least.  He had been baptised by John and commissioned by his Father at the Jordan River.  He spent forty days in the wilderness being challenged by the devil.  On his return to Galilee he made Capernaum the operations base for his ministry.  The miracles done there immediately became known throughout the province and beyond.  He also visited other Galilean towns where he also performed miracles and taught in synagogues. By the time he decided to return to his hometown, his reputation as a teacher and miracle worker had arrived ahead of him.

What happened in Nazareth may seem extreme, but it is quite common in Christian experience. We could call it “familial resistance.” Familial, because it happens in families but also because it comes about through over-familiarity. The saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt” refers to the same thing. Having lived in a small country town of around 300 people for the first twenty years of my life, I am well aware of it. Everyone knew everything about everyone. Sometimes they knew a bit more than everything. When you think about the fact that Jesus spent thirty years in the company of 200 people and never once gave any indication that he was the Messiah that, in itself is amazing. He did such a good job of becoming incarnate that no one suspected for a moment that he was anything other than the son of Mary and Joseph. And Mary and Joseph were not notable for anything famous except, perhaps, for the scandal associated Mary’s pregnancy which small town gossip tends to perpetuate.

There is a much bigger back story to Jesus’ visit to Nazareth than any other place he visited.  He was well known there, but not for any of the things for which he became known in every other place.  It was this back story that allowed the enemy to hinder what God wanted them to know.  This identifies a very important aspect of the devil’s work everywhere.  He uses what has become familiar to stop us from seeing the unfamiliar.  He uses the past to rob us of the future.  He uses our long term compromises to blind us from discovering truth.  This story from Nazareth highlights all of these.  The presence and work of the enemy here escalated through a number of identifiable stages.

1. They responded to Divine Presence with Indifference

When Jesus came to Nazareth, he arrived before the Sabbath. We are not told how many days he was there, but it was more than one. Jesus had been performing notable miracles in Capernaum, and the news of it has spread quickly. He had also visited other towns and spoken in their synagogues. In all cases the reception was enthusiastic. But when he came to his own town, the initial impact was …… nothing. Later in the sequence of events, Jesus pointed to the fact that they were waiting for something to happen, but no one came to him for healing. No one asked him any questions or called on him to teach or preach. It was like old times. He was back in town, but nothing more was going on that Mary and Joseph were hosting their otherwise becoming-famous son. Small towns note those things in their weekly newspapers. When I was in Dorrigo (Mid-North Coast NSW) the eight-page Don Dorrigo Gazette used to include about a quarter of a page reporting significant social events: “Rodney and Karen Smith were pleased to receive their eldest son, John, visiting from Brisbane.”  Everyone already knew about it of course, but it still got a mention. When I was growing up in Gunning, I was hardly ever referred to as Brian. I would be introduced as “Terry Medway’s boy.”

When Jesus came home for a visit, the reception was not like Capernaum or other towns and villages of Galilee. There, Jesus’ reputation and a preacher and healer attracted immediate attention. People gathered to hear and brought their sick to be healed. But in Nazareth there was nary a ripple on the social let alone spiritual level. The former status quo rose up to challenge whatever they had heard about from other places. In Nazareth it was a case or, “Joseph and Mary were pleased to receive a visit from their son, Jesus.”  They were wondering about the stories they had heard, but it was kept well under wraps. The social status quo prevailed. Even though Jesus was now performing signs and wonders that should have alerted them, they totally rejected the idea that Jesus presence was Messianic.

I think this kind of enemy work is common to kingdom ministry no matter which part of the world you live and regardless of which century you belong to. In recent years we have begun to hear the term “presence” as referring to God tangibly engaging with people. I have heard people talk about going to a Christian gathering and saying, “God really showed up tonight.” They were referring to the ‘manifest presence of God.’ We all accepted the idea that God was omnipresent. But if someone fell down as they were receiving prayer, we would be told that God did something that could be seen or heard. When Jesus returned to Nazareth his presence was the presence of God. The apostle, John described it in this way,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth……. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”[2]

God showed up in Nazareth. No longer was he travelling incognito. No longer was the incarnation limited to mere human ability and capacity. God said things and did things through his Son. They were things that everyone could see and hear. They were things that required a response.

As far as the people of Nazareth were concerned nothing was going to change. The mould that had taken thirty years to construct in their minds and hearts was just too strong.  But the enemy was using that to push back against what they had heard from Capernaum and other places.  For those days this was definitely the “elephant” in the room.” We have to realise that we often fail to go looking for the presence of God, even though we are told that he dwells within us and will never leave for forsake us. He says he will be with us always. That means we have to discover his presence, not just hold it before us as an empty proposition. We often need to seek him in order to find him. Like the people of Nazareth, we often settle for the words but have no real expectation of the reality.

Remember, we are looking at this incident to see how the enemy made his intentions and presence felt. The truth is that he had been doing a good job at it for a long time in Nazareth. It was always going to be a shock for Jesus to leave home as Joseph and Mary’s boy and come back as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Their conclusion that Jesus was nothing than a small town boy of no special status was demonic. When the evidence came to their ears by way of the stories about him in Capernaum and elsewhere, they were apparently set aside. When Jesus showed up the shutters were up, and the doors were closed. It was, perhaps the only village in Galilee that reacted in this way.  Think about it. There is a special kind of enemy work that uses the familiarity and culture of our close perimeter relationships to block us from seeing the heart and purpose of God.  Jesus was warning us about this when he made statements like this one:  “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”[3]

The people of Nazareth made no response to the fact that Jesus was in their midst.  Like the people of Jerusalem that Jesus wept for, they missed their opportunity.  That this began with a polite silence is no less a sign of the working of demonic purpose than someone lying on the ground frothing at the mouth.  It is the more heinous because of its false air of respectability.

2. Responding To Revelation with Denial

The second manifestation of the enemy occurred when Jesus was given the scroll and chose to read words from one of the fundamental passages in the Scriptures referring to the long-awaited Messiah. As he was reading, I am sure everyone’s heart was being stirred. I have been in congregations that place high-level emphasis on the second coming of Jesus.  Every time it is spoken about excitement stirs because of their heightened anticipation.  It could be any day!   What a day that would be.


Just think about that situation and then read what Jesus said to them. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  These words cannot be easily misunderstood. He was telling them that he WAS the Messiah. I don’t have any trouble understanding what he meant by those words, nor do I have any problem accepting the fact that Jesus was the very Messiah promised in those words. Not so, the people in the synagogue at Nazareth. Their lack of understanding shouts at us. In their minds it was unthinkable that Jesus could be that Messiah.  He had lived up the road for all those years and there was nothing to warrant such an idea.


Instead of getting upset because he made such a preposterous claim or asking a question as to how this could be, they met this revelation with complete denial.  They talked about his capabilities as an orator. He has just announced that the waiting time for the Messiah to come is over, but all they can talk about was his elegant diction. He was the son of Joseph and Mary, nothing more.

We only have to compare this situation with what happened a long way to the north when Jesus and the disciples visited Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked them to tell him who they thought he was. Peter was quick to respond, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[4] They were looking at the same person but what they saw was totally different. Sadly, their history of seeing and knowing Jesus as a local became a demonic weapon powerful enough to block what Jesus was plainly telling them.

It is important to see that their reaction was not just people having a different viewpoint. There is only one entity committed to stopping people from recognising the Messiah, and that’s the devil. He doesn’t show up as a man in a red suit toting a pitch fork; he shows up by convincing the people of Nazareth that Jesus is nothing more than the son of the local carpenter.  This is a dark presence having a profound impact on the people from Nazareth. It is not a demonic manifestation where someone screaming out obscenities or curses. These people are not demon possessed. They are under demonically inspired bondage. More to the point, this kind of demonic presence is not something that will be resolved by an exorcism. This presence has been building over the years or even decades. It so locks people into a cultural set of expectations that the idea of the Messiah growing up in their midst is wildly preposterous to them. It causes them to immediately disregard what Jesus has just said – and move on quickly.

When people respond to revelation with denial it isn’t because they haven’t heard what was said. They could hear okay. They also knew the language and the meaning of the words. There were no complicated philosophical concepts. “Today” means today. This “Scripture” refers to the Messianic passage from Isaiah he had just read. “Fulfilled in your hearing” meant everyone within earshot in the synagogue. No problems there. The problem was a demonised set of attitudes and previous experiences that caused them to hear but not accept what Jesus had said. They didn’t argue about it either.  They didn’t ask questions.  They just ignored it and changed the subject.

Again, this is a universal experience. Jesus told a parable about the devil coming and stealing the word from heaven that they have received.[5] It was the devil who came and stole, not a person lacking understanding. It was demonic presence, right there. How many sermons have been listened to, Bible portions read and prophetic words given by the Spirit that have had a clear and straightforward meaning only to be met with a demonic wall of resistance. There is no fanfare and no outburst. Just a polite change of subject. We need to be alert to this – both for our own sake and for the sake of those for whom we have responsibility before God.

3. Responding To Conviction with Retaliation

It is easy to see that there is a progression here. Things are heating up in the old hometown synagogue. First Jesus comes to town and people ignore his presence. Then he goes to the synagogue and reads a Messianic portion from the Scriptures and tells them plainly that he is their Messiah. I think Jesus loved these people. In fact, I am certain he did. He knew all of their names and everything about them. If the Messiah had a mission to proclaim and do the works of the kingdom of God he would have definitely had a desire for the two hundred or so people from this backwater village in lower Galilee. There are only a few occasions where Jesus speaks so directly about his identity, and this is one of them. Very often when we engage with people in some way for them to see the goodness and love of God we experience push back and then we just back away. On this occasion, with this group of people, his reaction to the first manifestation of the presence of the enemy was to wait for an opportunity to make a clear statement. What happens when they ignore the counter-attack from Jesus?

As you get to this part of the story, Jesus shifted attention from the prophecy of Isaiah to their quiet but stubborn unbelief. He chooses two events showing that God needed to go to a couple of Gentiles to find anyone with faith because the unbelief of his own people was non-existent. In the presence of demonised denial, Jesus refused to back off; such was his heart for the people of his hometown. He exposed their quiet and polite resistance by comparing it to two events recorded in First and Second Kings. A woman from Sidon had faith to believe Elijah, and a Syrian army commander had faith to go to Elisha for healing. This was undoubtedly a fierce conversation, but its purpose was to allow them to see what was happening. They were immune to the loving gesture of their God.

The response seems to have been immediate and extreme. They were angry. They rushed forward and jostled him out of the synagogue to a nearby cliff and intended to throw him to his death. Such a level of opposition would not happen again until Jesus went to Jerusalem before his crucifixion. The people who had become prisoner to a seemingly benign but incredibly stubborn resistance to previous overtures now got totally out of control. This is what happens when we continue to do deals with the devil. His efforts are silent and sombre at first, but lurking beneath is a torrent of violence and aggression. It’s not generated by the people themselves, but spurred and breathed upon by the forces of evil. I doubt that these people knew why they overreacted as they did. Such is the outcome of politely courting and accommodating darkness.

And the response of Jesus? That was quite a feature in itself. Its a bit hard to tell exactly how far they had to jostle him to get to the edge of the cliff. There are a number of different possibilities, according to the archaeologists. The point is that he didn’t resist, perhaps until the last. At that point, the power of God came and enabled him to walk through the middle of them. The last weapon of war used was his faith. If you ask why this was allowed to happen, we can only speculate (which is always a bit dangerous). I guess that he was waiting for them to realise what was going on, perhaps to change their minds, perhaps to realise that what he had said and the stories they had heard was from God. Grace and love are mighty rivers from the heart of God, and they flow in volume until the opportunity for change has evaporated. I love the sentiment of Peter found in his first letter, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”[6]  His capacity for non-retaliation was not the dutiful steeling of his will. It was the overflow of his trust in God the Father.


  1. WORD FROM GOD   When there was no response to his presence in the town as there had been in other places he waited without making any direct counter attack. I am not at all expert in waiting, but it is a weapon. He could have stood on the street corner and shouted to everyone that he was here now as the Messiah, but not; he waited until the gathering in the synagogue. Although it isn’t immediately obvious as representative of one of the seven Ephesian weapons, I think the deliberate waiting was because he was “doing what he saw the Father doing.”[7] In this case, the Father didn’t initiate, so Jesus waited. In Ephesians 6 we call that “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”[8]
  2. TRUTH    When there was no initial response, Jesus waited for the synagogue meeting and either deliberately chose the passage from Isaiah or, as some suggest, by the providence of God it was the lectionary reading for that particular Sabbath. Either way, the one-line sermon was a classic case of the Ephesians weapon of truth. Jesus made known reality that couldn’t be otherwise seen.
  3. FAITH    My way of describing faith is taking an action that shows you are trusting God to do something. We have all heard the famous phrase from the Letter of James: “Faith without works is dead.”[9] When the whole congregation of his hometown rose up in anger and began to push him toward the cliff he allowed it to happen (see above). Then, even though his life was in danger, he didn’t cry for help or begin to berate the crowd for their unwarranted vexations. At a certain point God intervened and, without so much as a retaliatory push or a harsh word, Jesus was able to walk through (not around or away from) the crowd. There would come a time when he would embrace death but, like Aragorn,[10] it was not going to be this day.


Not every work of the enemy rises suddenly and obviously. The work in Nazareth was a long slow process. Remember, any work that opposes or hinders recognition and response to the presence and work of God will only ever be demonic. There is no neutral territory, persons or circumstances. The religious teachings, lifestyles and expectations had built over the centuries. When Paul describes the presence of the enemy in 2 Corinthians 10, he talks about “strongholds.”[11] Before we start speculating about what a ‘stronghold’ might look like, he provides clarification. He talks about ‘arguments,’ ‘pretensions’ that hinder people from embracing the knowledge of God and then, ‘thoughts.’ I don’t think I will ever be able to forget a definition of strongholds explained to us by Argentinian, Ed Silvoso.[12] He said a stronghold is “a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes us to accept as unchangeable situations we know are contrary to the will of God.”

If you think about Nazareth or the rest of Galilee and Judea for that matter, it is easy for us to see the mindsets that had developed over the years of traditional religious legalism. When Jesus described the impact of the religious leaders of his day[13]He is describing this very phenomenon. It took a long time. It was based on a progression where human traditions were given more authority than what God had said. In the conservative, small, almost forgotten village of Nazareth, these traditions would have shaped the lifestyle of generations. Their presuppositions would have stood unchallenged. Jesus spent thirty years living in that environment.

We have our own brand of human traditions: Greek philosophies, rampant rationalism from the Enlightenment and then a host of uglies that have taken root as moral values were jettisoned in the sixties and seventies. It isn’t just values themselves. They are the effect. The cause is an underlying intention to reject God and substitute an idol. Different detail but the same old problem.

So the challenge is to maintain an awareness of what comes from God and what is derived from human wisdom that denies God. I would love you to spend half a day of normal life just thinking about the ideas behind what people say and do: news items, workplace, marketplace, family etc. You will be amazed at how subtle the accepted values are those who have nothing to do with what God has lovingly said or graciously intends. They are “arguments, pretensions and thoughts” locked down as strongholds. And they are hard to resist. Some of them intimidate us and cause us to live out our own values and beliefs secretly to avoid being regarded as weird or worse.

Jesus saw and felt these strongholds in Nazareth. When he came back to visit he knew the only loving thing to do was to challenge them. He needed to give them a shot at realising what was going on and therefore the opportunity to embrace what God was doing in their midst. That strategy involved saying nothing at first but then lovingly trying to lift the lid on their polite unbelief. On the surface, it was exactly that. Underneath it was much more sinister – as we have seen. The same hearts who were willing to say nice things about Jesus’ ability as a speaker were, a few minutes later, willing to throw him off a cliff. Such was the ensconced demonic presence.

We are left in no two minds about the outcome of Jesus’ ministry to Nazareth. It appears that no one became a believer or follower that day. Just think about the pressure on Jesus NOT to DO and say what he did and said. He could have had a nice few days at home and say and do nothing. In the synagogue, he could have stopped after the nice comments and said nothing more. We face such pressures every week. If all Jesus was concerned about was hoping his hometown people would think nice things about him, then he could have done so. But Jesus knew the havoc that had been wreaked over the decades and maybe centuries. He was all too aware of there religious bondage that was locking down his family and friends. Even though his mission to Nazareth may have seemed like a failure in some respects, at least the people had been given a clear opportunity to see and respond to the presence of the Messiah. Even though their unbelief became violent, it was out in the open. Nothing is going to happen until the covert work of Satan is uncovered and then resisted. In that sense, it was a success.   This will be the crossroads decision that we will have to make week by week if the strongholds around us are going to be challenged at all.

[1]         gives an insight into the village chosen by God for the beginning of his Son’s life journey. See John 2

[2]         See John 1:14-18

[3] See Matthew 10:34-36  “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law —  a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”

[4]         See Matthew 16

[5]         See the Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13

[6]         First Peter 2:23

[7]         See John 5:19,20 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all, he does.”

[8]         See Ephesians 6:17

[9]         See James 2:26

[10]       Aragorn was a lead character in the Tolkien trilogy, Lord of the Rings: “A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.”

[11]       See 2 Corinthians 10:3-6     For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

[12]       page 155, “That None Should Perish,” Ed Silvoso, Regal Books 1992

[13]       See Matthew 23

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About Brian

Passionate follower of Jesus. Member of a family that keeps on growing because I keep on meeting up with more great people from every nation and background who I belong to because of Jesus. Husband of an amazing woman, father of four forgiving kids and eight almost perfect grandkids. And loving it.