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  • « Studies in John (Lesson 1: Introduction and Prologue) | Main | "Semper Gnosticism!" »

    Images of the Savior (10 - His Rejection as Messiah)

    Luke 4:21-22 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph's son?

    From the circumstances of the last event in the life of our Savior, his healing of the nobleman’s son, we recognized that Christ’s own people were ready to receive him as a miracle-worker whose ministry held forth many substantial benefits to the seed of Israel; but they stumbled at his person, refusing to acknowledge him as the true Son of God, who contained within himself every spiritual blessing, and through whom was the only hope of acceptance with God. In the account at hand, we find this disposition strengthened, to such a point that his claim to be the long-awaited Messiah aroused in his hearers a murderous rage and unyielding rejection. To this event, what precisely Christ was claiming for himself, his forecast of the effects that his claim would have upon Israel, and the reaction that in reality transpired, we now turn our attention.

    At the juncture of his ministry with which we are presently concerned, Christ had already denoted his willingness to take upon himself the sins of his people, giving witness to his firm resolve by his vicarious submission to John’s baptism of repentance. He had demonstrated his unique fittedness for this task by the successful issuance of his probation in the wilderness. He had already foreshadowed the universal scope of his ministry by his gracious dealings with the Samaritan people, in stark disagreement with the prevailing Jewish opinion as to the ethnic exclusiveness of the coming Messiah’s work. And now he had turned the focus of his ministry once again to the people of his own kindred; but the results of this specifically Jewish focus, as he already knew from the beginning, would prove to fall out to precisely the opposite effect as may have been imagined. In substantiation of which truths, we now turn our attention to the watershed sermon with which he commenced his renewed ministry among the people with whom he had been raised from childhood.

    Before we even begin to analyze the import of Christ’s own words on this occasion, it is strikingly apparent that he could not have chosen a more apt passage by which to extend his startling claims than this manifestly messianic prophecy of Isaiah, which he read in the hearing of all the people. This passage, from the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, was universally recognized to be a description of the Messiah’s future ministry: a ministry that would hold forth unspeakable blessings to those who were destitute of spirit and despairing of any hope in themselves. To those who were, by confession, poor, brokenhearted, held captive by sin and the devil, and miserably blind, the promised Christ was sent to provide the good news of true freedom, healing, and sight. This gracious ministry, while evidencing itself in physical deliverances from the maladies of the body, was fundamentally inclusive of the spiritual deliverance to which those physical blessings merely pointed, as signs and seals of the eternal, life-giving authority of the Lord’s anointed Servant. He was to be the great Savior who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, would bring the gospel to the neediest of people. His ministry was to be, in summary, the antitype of the Year of Jubilee, that long expected year of the Lord’s favor, in which all who called upon him would be saved (cf. Joel 2:32). As we have already observed, the crassly physical appetites of the nation as a whole were willing to welcome the physical blessings which Christ so obviously had to offer; but they were unable to discern by these signs that Jesus was indeed the anointed Servant of God, who possessed the exclusive spiritual authority to grant forgiveness and true life. And this stiff-necked unbelief was to be brought to a head by the unmistakable intent of Christ’s application of this prophecy to himself.

    When Christ announced to the people that the words of this prophecy were even then being fulfilled in himself, he was making a claim of such magnitude that the overtly religious Jewish people were no longer able to accept him as the mere doer of good that they had supposed him to be. His doctrine is now apparent: either they must fall at his feet in worship, or attribute his works to Satan. They must accept him as true God and true man; or else denounce him as the greatest fraud and imposter who ever lived. By this bold exposition, Christ was cutting off forever the legitimacy of the position that would embrace him as one who held forth certain good things, but was in essence no different from any other inhabitant of Nazareth. The time had now come in which those who were not for him could only be against him, and those who were against him could not at all be for him (Mark 9:40; Matthew 12:30).

    From the outset, Christ knew full well which of these options should be generally embraced. Had not the prophets themselves made that much apparent? Had not God enjoined Isaiah to “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed...Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate...” (Isaiah 6:10-11)? Was Christ not to be “despised and rejected of men” (Isaiah 53:3)? Was not Isaiah “very bold, to say, ‘All the day I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contradicting people.’” (Romans 10:20-21)? Indeed, Christ knew from the beginning that his people would reject him, simply because they were in fact his people. He understood that “a prophet is not accepted in his own country” (Luke 4:24), and he anticipated the challenge which was already boiling up in their hearts: “Physician, heal yourself” (Luke 4:23); by which they intended to demand the authentication of his message by the display of such signs as he had already done in Galilee. But Jesus, knowing their underlying unbelief, had already determined to refuse, choosing instead to employ their rejection as a means through which to extend salvation to the Gentiles.

    It may be asked, was not Jesus’ sermon then a failure, in that it resulted in his own people’s denouncing him and turning away? Not at all, for this rejection was part of a divinely ordained plan which should issue in the acceptance of the Gentiles. And this is indeed the conclusion which Jesus draws, reasoning that, because of the true faith of Gentiles in times past, the salvation of Israel was extended to them; as could be demonstrated in the case of Naaman the Syrian and the Sidonian widow. So also now, through the lack of faith in Israel, the blessings of Israel were about to be poured out upon the Gentiles, through faith in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, who saves the world of the poor and needy, even as many as have faith in his name. Israel, by divine counsel, was about to stumble, so that, “through their fall, salvation should come to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11). Christ was proclaiming the good news to those who were indeed poor; but he recognized that, because of the self-proclaimed richness of his own people, those who were poor indeed, the despised and hopeless Gentile dogs, were about to enter into the joy of Jubilee. This was Christ’s message to his people on that Sabbath day: that he was indeed the promised Messiah; that he knew that he would be rejected by his own people; and that, by means of this rejection, he was about to become the Savior, not just of the Jews, but of the whole world. And this was a message that the Jewish people could not bear to hear.

    How accurate Christ’s expectation of the people’s reaction soon proved to be! For he had no sooner finished his sermon than his audience, filled with rage, attempted to cast him down from the brow of a high cliff; and thus they displayed their spiritual blindness and hardness of heart. They had been willing to accept him for the physical benefits that he had often displayed; but they could never accept him as the Son of God, and the Savior of the world of needy men, Jew and Gentile alike. Hence, from the outset of his ministry to the Jewish people alone, he had already begun to realize the Father’s universal plan of redemption that, through Israel’s unbelief, the Gentiles would be saved; and that ultimately, through the salvation of the Gentiles, the Jews would be stirred to jealousy, and moved to seek salvation in Christ alone. And thus, even through rejection and hatred, Christ was shown to be all and in all, the One in whom it pleased the Father from all eternity to gather together all things (Colossians 3:11; Ephesians 1:10).

    Now, from the import of Christ’s sermon, and from the reaction of the religious people of his day, we may glean much sober instruction. How many of us who are, by outward appearances, the people of God, are willing to accept Christ only by reason of the earthly blessings which we hope to find in him? How many of us ask the Father, in Jesus’ name, for gifts upon which we may indulge our earthly lusts, without finding our true and ultimate satisfaction in the person of Christ alone (see James 4:1-4)? How many of us are willing to accept Christ as the one who grants our physical desires, without embracing him as our Lord and our God, our true portion and exceeding great reward? If our lives display such tendencies, are we not as the Jewish people of Christ’s day? If he rejected their faith, which, as Esau’s, rather sought earthly good than spiritual life (Hebrews 12:16), then he will certainly reject ours when it is offered in the same spirit. Let us be instructed that, the heart which seeks the blessings of Christ without delighting in the person of Christ, is a heart of idolatry, and cannot be pleasing to him. Let us learn to find our joy in the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Messiah. Let us be thankful that, by Israel’s unbelief, we have found salvation, even the salvation which consists of knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God has sent (John 17:3). And let us never be high-minded, but fear, knowing that, if God broke off his own people for unbelief, he will break us off as well, who were grafted against nature into his good olive tree (Romans 11:18-21).

    For those who have found themselves to be desperately poor, hopelessly chained, blind, downcast, and brokenhearted, Christ is riches and freedom, sight and healing, joy and peace and life! Let us acknowledge our brokenness and poverty before him, and find in him alone our lasting and comprehensive good. For if we are such a needy people as the prophecy of Isaiah describes, then Christ is to us such a bountiful Savior as he proclaimed himself to be in the synagogue of Nazareth so many years ago.

    Posted by Nathan on December 6, 2006 06:12 PM

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