A Christian Guide to Luke by R. David Pogge

Chapter 2

A Rough Start

Luke 4

Jesus began his ministry suffering temptation and rejection.

Section 2.1 - Temptation in the Wilderness

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’ 1

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ 2

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
   to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ 3

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ 4

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. [Luke 4:1-13]

Jesus met every temptation with a quote from the Old Testament.

If bread were the only thing keeping you alive, you could live forever eating bread. The truth is that it is God who really keeps you alive. God makes your stomach digest the food and distribute the nourishment all through your body. If God didn’t do that, it would not matter how much bread you eat. If you have to choose between God or bread to keep you alive, the wise choice is God.

What is your purpose in life? Is it to become rich, powerful, and universally loved? I’ll always remember one particular meeting at work many years ago. At one point during this tough negotiation one of my co-workers, John Denson, said, “I didn’t come here to be liked.” That has always stuck with me. He was at that meeting to do a job, and he was going to do that job no matter the cost to his popularity.

Jesus didn’t come here to be liked. He didn’t come here to become rich. He came here to save as many souls as He could. He had a single-minded vision of what He came here to do, and was not distracted.

You were put on Earth for a purpose. I don’t know what that purpose is—but I’m guessing it wasn’t just to be liked. It is good to be liked; but only as far as being liked helps you to achieve a higher purpose.

Many people wonder, “Why am I here?” You may be one of those people; but even if you don’t know what your purpose is, you DO have a purpose. You will find that purpose if you look for it. It might be obvious to your friends what that purpose is, even if you don’t see it yourself. Ask your friends to tell you what they think God has put you on Earth to do. More importantly, pray that God will show you what His plan for you is. He has probably opened doors which you either went through or walked past without realizing it. Pray for awareness so you don’t waste time taking too many detours.

Jesus knew He did not have to put His Father to the test to see if His Father could be trusted. He had faith in God. Jesus didn’t need to test His faithfulness. You can trust Him, too.

They sell miniature trick guillotines in magic shops. Once, at Vacation Bible School, I used one to cut several carrots. Then I asked the children for a volunteer to put his finger in the guillotine. Naturally, there were no volunteers. So, I asked my son to put his finger in the guillotine. He wasn’t too keen on the idea, but he trusted his father, and did it. I activated the secret switch and the blade seemed to go right through his finger. After that, every kid wanted to put his finger in the guillotine.

It just takes a little bit of faith to trust for the first time. Sometimes that little bit of faith can come from watching the faith of someone else. Sometimes that little bit of faith comes from being a position where you have no choice but to have faith. In any case, exercising a little bit of faith gives you enough faith to take a bigger leap of faith. Eventually, you will have enough faith to jump the Grand Canyon.

What does Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness have to do with you? God gives everyone life, purpose, and faith. Jesus quoted Holy Scriptures to prove those three things to Satan, and more importantly, to prove them to you.

You can get strength and power in the Old Testament; but sadly many modern Christians don’t read the Old Testament. They think it is obsolete, and has been replaced by the New Testament. They don’t realize that the Old Testament is the foundation for the New Testament. Without the solid rock of the Old Testament foundation, the New Testament rests on shifting sand. You need to know what the Old Testament says to be able to resist Satan’s temptations.

Section 2.2 - Rejection at Nazareth

Jesus had been in the wilderness for 40 days, fasting, praying, and resisting the temptations of Satan. He had been strengthened by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Old Testament scriptures.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

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, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“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,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
5

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. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4:14-21]

Jesus was preaching the good news: Freedom, healing, and the Lord’s favor are here right now. The message was well received because they thought he was talking about freedom from Rome and material prosperity. In fact, He was talking about freedom from sin and spiritual blessings for all people, not just the Jews. He knew this message would not go over well, but he said it anyway.

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.

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.’”

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 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. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 6 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. 7

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 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. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. [Luke 4:22-30]

The story about the Gentile widow in Zarephath was still remembered about 890 years later when Jesus told the story. Zarapeth was about 50 miles north of Nazareth in what was Syria at that time (but is now in modern Lebanon). It was outside the northern boundary of Israel when Ahab was a bad king reigning in Israel. Because of the rampant disobedience of Jews and Gentiles alike, God sent a drought throughout the land.

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” … Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah. [1 Kings 17:1,7-16]

We know the widow was not a Jew because she said, “As surely as the Lord YOUR God lives.” She knew Elijah was a Jew, and she knew Elijah’s God lives—but she didn’t realize Elijah’s God was her God, too. She was a Gentile who worshipped one of the many other gods worshiped in Syria at the time. In those days, every place had its own god. Where you lived determined who your god was. Even though she knew the God of Abraham was a living, mighty god, she thought He could not be her God because she wasn’t a Jew.

The widow had great faith. Elijah asked her to give him food and drink before God miraculously gave her all she needed—and she did it!

That’s not the end of the story.

Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

“Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”

The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”

Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.” [1 Kings 17:17-24]

Did the widow finally realize that God was her God, too? Well, she did say, “the word of THE Lord from your mouth is the truth,” and not “YOUR Lord,” so perhaps she did.

Regardless of whether or not the widow realized that God is the God of Gentiles as well as Jews, the Jews in Jesus’ audience were very offended that their God would do so much for a Gentile at a time when Jews were suffering.

Then, offending the Jews even more, Jesus brought up the story of Naaman. The Jews were well aware that, about 880 years earlier, during the reign of the bad king Joram of Israel, Israel had been at war with the king of Aram.

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. [2 Kings 5:1]

The fact that the Lord had given victory (against Israel) to Naaman was galling to the Jews. God is always supposed to be on Israel’s side. But, during the reign of Joram, Israel was deep into apostasy, and God was punishing them, hoping they would reform. (Spoiler alert! It didn’t work. God later had to send the Assyrians to capture and deport all of Israel.) The only silver lining in this black cloud (from the Jew's perspective) was that God had afflicted Naaman with leprosy.

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria [northern Israel]! He would cure him of his leprosy.” [2 Kings 5:2-3]

Slavery was a lot more civilized in those days. This young girl had been separated from her family and made to serve a foreign commander’s wife against her will; but she was treated well enough that she cared about the health of her master. Talk about loving your enemies!

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents [750 pounds] of silver, six thousand shekels [150 pounds] of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” [2 Kings 5:4-7]

Of course Joram, king of Israel, wasn’t God and could not cure leprosy. Joram knew his army was no match for the king of Aram because Joram could not stop Aram’s raiders from plundering Israel. Naaman must have had many armed men with him—he certainly wasn’t carrying 900 pounds of precious metal in a backpack all by himself. It is no wonder that Joram tore his robes as a sign of grief and despair.

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

The prophet answered, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused. [2 Kings 5:8-16]

When Jesus referred to these two stories about blessings given to Gentiles rather than the Jews, it made the Jews so mad they wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff. They thought God’s blessings should be reserved for the Jews, despite the Old Testament stories about how God blessed faithful, obedient servants, regardless of race.

Decades later, nothing had changed. When Paul returned to Jerusalem after his Third Missionary Journey, Paul told about his conversion.

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” [Acts 22:21-22]

It caused a riot because the Jews just could not accept the idea that God is the God of everyone—not just the Jews.

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Footnotes:

1 Deuteronomy 8:3
2 Deuteronomy 6:13
3 Psalm 91:11-12
4 Deuteronomy 6:16
5 Isaiah 61:1,2 (see Septuagint); Isaiah 58:6
6 1 Kings 17:7-24
7 2 Kings 5:1-14