We come to the question – Why? Why is the Christian Church here in the United States and around the world under such severe attack today? What did we do to make so many people so angry?
Two-thousand years ago this month, Jesus was a teenager in the little town of Nazareth. He was obedient to His earthly parents and “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:51-52).
Jesus was well aware during His teen years about why He was on earth. He went to the Temple in Jerusalem when He was 12 years old to talk with the teachers who were there. Mary, Jesus’ mother, asked Him why He had gone to the Temple instead of going home with her. He said to her – “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them” (Luke 2:49-50).
That was an interesting statement for many reasons, one being that Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, was standing with Mary in the Temple. Joseph was a carpenter. So, what was the “Father’s business” Jesus mentioned?
Jesus explained His purpose years later by reading from the Book of Isaiah in his local synagogue on the Sabbath.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19
Jesus then closed the Book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. Everybody was watching him closely to see what He would say next. They knew Jesus well. They were members of His synagogue. It was Jesus’ custom to read Scripture and share words of wisdom with them on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). They had heard what Jesus had done in other cities (Luke 4:14-15) and wanted to see what He would say to them. They may have expected Jesus to say something extra special to them since He was one of their own.
“And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The people marveled at the “gracious words” which Jesus spoke and said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Instead of glorifying God as Jews in other synagogues had done, they questioned His authority. How would Jesus respond to their question?
“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. 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 4:20-27
Jesus knew their hearts. He told them the truth, but it was not a truth they wanted to hear. So, how did the congregation of Jesus’ own synagogue respond to what He said?
“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
Jesus told the truth and hit a nerve. He had come from God with a great message of good news for the people of Israel, but in the same way the people of Israel rejected God’s message through Elijah’s preaching – they would reject God’s’ message through Jesus the Messiah. Who then would God bless? Jesus reminded them that when Israel rejected God’s message, God sent the prophet Elijah to a widow in the region of Sidon (1 Kings 17) and the prophet Elisha to heal a Syrian soldier (2 Kings 5).
But, you say, that’s in the Hebrew Bible. Why would people in Jesus’ synagogue become violent when He simply quoted from their own Scripture? Quoting a Bible story was not the issue. Applying those truths to the people in His synagogue was the issue. Jesus made it personal – “You will surely say this proverb to Me … Assuredly, I say to you … But I tell you …”
Jesus accused the people of His own synagogue of being just like the Jews of Elijah and Elisha’s day. They refused to listen to God’s prophets and God blessed Gentiles instead of them. The Jews of the Nazareth synagogue rejected Jesus and tried to kill Him because they knew He was accusing them of doing the same thing their ancestors had done.
The Source of Rejection
If you’ve been involved in evangelism for awhile, you know about rejection. It’s easy to take rejection personally and look at people rejecting the Gospel as the problem. I rejected the Gospel for many years before believing it to be the Truth and remember how many people were upset with me and what I said about God being a “fairy tale.” You may have done the same. But are unbelievers the problem with evangelism? Are they the ultimate source of rejecting God?
The Bible teaches that rejection of God began with Satan. It was Satan who spoke to Eve in the Garden of Eden and questioned her about God’s Word.
Genesis 3:1-7 — “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’? And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.”
Notice carefully how Satan spoke to Eve. She knew God and what He had said, but rejected the Truth and believed a lie. She was deceived (1 Timothy 2:14). [Interestingly, in that same verse, Paul revealed that Adam was not deceived.]
God’s response was a promise to defeat Satan through the “Seed” of the woman (Genesis 3:15). When the time was right, God sent His Son into the world to save humans from their rejection of Him (Galatians 4:4-5).
What did Jesus do immediately after He was baptized? The Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness to face Satan, the source of humanity’s rejection of God. What happened there was monumental and vital for us to understand.
Luke 4:3-13 — “And the devil said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’ But Jesus answered him, saying, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’ Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.”
Satan was familiar with Christ as the Son of God in Heaven, but Christ in the flesh on earth was a different experience. Satan tested Jesus and Jesus responded by speaking the Truth. Satan ended the testing and departed “until an opportune time.”
In the next part of our study we’ll look at that “opportune time,” how Jesus responded to it and what we can learn from what He did to improve what we do for God now.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”