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encouragement theology

Jesus at His Hometown

Thoughts from Matthew 13…

I had a difficult time trying to find an appropriate picture for this post. I couldn’t find a suitable picture of Nazareth, especially the way Jesus would have seen the town in the first century. I like this picture of the road through the trees because it reminds me of my own hometown. There is also a lot of symbolism with the road, the trees, the branches, and the roots, which reminds me of coming back home.

I originally worked on this study several months ago, but I am publishing this after a recent visit back home. It is amazing how quickly we fall into our traditional routines when we return home, and how we tend to expect the same from each other. This passage in Matthew 13 reminds me that I need to watch and listen more, even when I return back to a comfortable place.

Jesus had concluded one of the longest days of His ministry. He healed a demon-oppressed man, earning both skepticism from the crowds and accusations from the religious leaders. He accused the Pharisees of a blasphemy which could not be forgiven (see here). He was confronted by the scribes and Pharisees, demanding a sign (Matthew 12:38), and was interrupted by His mother and brothers (Matthew 12:46). He taught the series of parables (see here and here). And in the evening, He crossed over the Sea of Galilee, passing through a storm, and healing two violent men on the other side.

Perhaps it was simply exhaustion that then led Him back to his hometown of Nazareth. He had met violent rejection in His earlier visit, but something brought the Lord back again to the town where He grew up.a It may have been as simple as family business or the need to see familiar faces that drew Him back, but the most likely reason is that He came to give them one last chance to believe.

“And the sands of thirty years had buried the tale which the shepherds had brought; the wise men from the East had returned another way; the excitement which their arrival in Jerusalem and its object had caused, was long forgotten.” – Alfred Edersheim5

Matthew 13:53-58
And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

Mark 6:1-6
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

There is no violent opposition to Jesus this time. Instead, their reaction is nice — too nice! They are astonished at His teaching, and His mighty works. He amazed them! This was the local hero! They all knew His family and saw Him grow up!b c

They were amazed at Him, but they would not believe. The Gospel accounts simply say that “took offense at Him”. They liked His fame and were happy to bask in the light that He brought to their town. But this local boy could never be their king!

This word, “took offense”, can also be translated as “fell away”. It is the same word used to describe the stony ground in the earlier parable of the sower. In the parable of the sower, the seed that fell on the stony ground was too shallow for true belief, and so “fell away” as soon as trouble came. Just like the stony ground, the people of Nazareth had no root. They wanted to believe when everything seemed fun and nice, but they left Him as soon as things became difficult. 

Sadly, for the people of Nazareth, they chose not to believe. The passage concludes with the same judgement that He gave with the parables. They refused to believe, so He refused to show Himself to them. For those who sought to learn from Him, He gave them parables so that only the believers would hear. For those who sought to see His power, He would do no miracles for those who would not believe.

A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown”. With this common phrase, Jesus explained the difficulty with the people.d Jesus the man was too familiar to them. They knew Joseph, His earthly father, before his death.e They knew Mary, His mother, and they knew His brothers and sisters. They saw Him grow up. How could they now worship Him as their King and Master? They saw so much of His humanity that they could not believe His deity.

Yet this is what Jesus asked of them. It doesn’t matter what you think you know. It doesn’t matter if you can be nice. What matters the most, is the most important question:

Will you believe Jesus Christ?

“Where one is determined to go contrary to what he knows to be right, he will continue in unbelief and refuse to submit to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.” – H.A. Ironside2

“When people don’t believe, it is not lack of evidence but love of evil.” – John MacArthur7

Previous post: The Parables of the Kingdom


References

[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 13:53-58, pages 187-188

[2] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 13, The Mysteries of the Kingdom

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 13:24-58, pages 37-40

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Mark 6:1-6, pages 105-106

[5] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book III, CHAPTER XXVII: SECOND VISIT TO NAZARETH, THE MISSION OF THE TWELVE (St. Matthew 13:54-58; 10:1, 5-42; 11:1; St. Mark 6:1-13; St. Luke 9:1-6.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.viii.xxvii.html

[6] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 8. https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/17-the-collapse-of-the-galilean-campaign.html

[7] John MacArthur, The Power of Unbelief, Part 1, Matthew 13:53-54, May 16, 1982

[8] John MacArthur, The Power of Unbelief, Part 2, Matthew 13:55-58, May 23, 1982


Notes

[a] Some Bible commentators combine the gospel accounts into a single visit to Nazareth. However, the events of Jesus’ visit in Luke 4:16-30 do not easily match the visit in Matthew 13:53-58 (and Mark 6:1-6). Luke’s account describes His prophetic message in the Synagogue and the reactions of the people, moving from friendly comments to murderous violence when He mentioned the Gentiles. However, Matthew and Mark’s accounts only mention that they took offense. They are best understood as two separate occasions.6

[b] Why did the people of Nazareth have Jesus speak again after the earlier disaster (Luke 4:16-30)? We see the following possibilities:

  • At least a year had transpired between these two events.4 Tempers had cooled. 
  • Jesus was still a certified rabbi, complete with disciples. Synagogue tradition still permitted a visiting rabbi to speak. 
  • We have no record that they were angered by His words this time. 
  • Jesus came to Nazareth as an unknown preacher the first time. Now, He was a national sensation! Many commentators propose that the Nazarenes wanted a piece of His fame. 

[c] John 2:12 tells us that Jesus moved His mother and brothers to Capernaum at the start of His ministry. However, this passage in Matthew 13 also refers to His sisters, which were “with us”. Therefore, it appears that Jesus had half-sisters who had married and remained in Nazareth during the time of His ministry.5

[d] This phrase, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown”, is quoted in all four gospels and in two other occasions. Luke 4:16-30 shows that Jesus used the same quote in an earlier visit to Nazareth. Matthew 13:53-58 and Mark 6:1-6 both show the quote also in the later visit to Nazareth, and John 4:44 is an indirect quote, showing that this phrase was part of Jesus’ reason to come and minister in Galilee.

[e] Joseph is absent from Jesus’ adult ministry and most Bible scholars agree that he must have died by this time. He is absent from any family references and in Mark’s account, and the Nazarenes have now given the title of “carpenter” to Jesus Himself (Mark 6:3). Even among close family friends in this passage, Jesus is called the “carpenter’s son”, and Joseph is not mentioned by name.

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