Matthew: The Parables of the Kingdom, Part 7: No Honor in Nazareth

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on June 23, 1998

Matthew 13:53-58

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If You have your Bibles Id invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 13.  In this great passage we have seen seven kingdom parables of our Lord in which He teaches us about unexpected qualities of the kingdom.  Now in this final passage in Matthew 13, beginning in verse 53, Matthew records the Lord Jesus’ movement to the town of Nazareth, His hometown, to preach the gospel there, and we see the response of the people, or rather the lack of response of the people to the gospel that was preached.  It is a sad living illustration of many of the truths which He had just taught the disciples in these kingdom parables.  Let us hear, then, the word of the living God in Matthew 13, beginning in verse 53:   

“And it came about that when Jesus had finished these parables He departed from there.  And coming to His hometown He began teaching them in their synagogue so that they became astonished and said,  ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?  Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not His mother called Mary and His brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us?  Where did then 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 miracles there because of their unbelief.” 

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word.  May He add His blessing to it.  Let’s look to Him now in prayer.   

Our Father, we thank you for the truth of this word and we ask especially for spiritual eyes to see, to apprehend and to embrace the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ, who He is, what He’s done on our behalf, the significance of His saving death.  That we might embrace Him as Lord and Savior and live in fellowship with Him both now and forever more.  Help us to understand the truth of Your word and apply it to each of us in our own circumstances.  We ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.   

When we come to Matthew, verses 53 to 58, we come to a turning point in Matthew’s presentation of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is at this point that the indifference which had characterized some who had heard the Lord Jesus turns into open opposition to His gospel preaching.  There had always been some who were indifferent and even hostile to what the Lord Jesus was teaching and preaching.  Now, however, the crowds in general are befuddled and opposed to what Jesus is saying. 

Matthew’s telling us this story at this point is designed to do two or three things for us.  First of all, it’s designed to remind us why it was that Jesus was focusing His instruction on the disciples.  The crowds in general were now opposed to the Lord Jesus and so He focuses His teaching ministry on His own disciples who are receiving what He’s saying.  Matthew is also wanting to remind us why Jesus is preaching in parables.  He had told us before He starting recording for us the parables of Jesus the reasons why Jesus used the method of parables to teach the multitudes.  That those whose hearts were hardened would remain hardened, and that those whose hearts were tender towards God would be drawn to Him through the teaching of the parables.  But Matthew is also recording this to tell us why it is that Jesus is going to soon leave the region of Galilee and move out of the area controlled by Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee.  Now Herod isn’t introduced at this point in the passage.  We won’t find out what Herod is up to until Matthew, chapter 14, but Matthew is wanting to tell us ahead of time that the unresponsiveness of the people in Galilee is part of the equation in Jesus moving from Galilee and now moving into the Judean region to preach the gospel.  Where the gospel is rebuffed the Lord Jesus is ready to cast off and move on to preach the gospel where people will hear it. 

And so it is a warning to all those who are hard towards the gospel.  We never know whether this will be the last time that we will hear the gospel and we can never presume that we will have the opportunity to respond to it again.  It may be that this is the last day of the Lord for any single one of us and so we must make sure that we are responding to the gospel. 

Now in this passage Matthew, through the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, teaches us two or three very important things and I’d like to direct your attention to them for a few moments.   

I.  Even people who Jesus perform miracles reject Him as Messiah and Savior.
First of all, in verses 53 through the first part of verse 57, we see the response of the people in Jesus’ hometown to Jesus’ preaching and deeds.  And it’s not a pretty picture.  And in that passage we learn that there are some people who will not believe in Christ no matter how clear the testimony is to who He is and what He is.  There are some people who will not believe in Christ despite the clearest evidence that He is the Messiah, that He is the only way to God and that He is the purveyor of the gospel of salvation. 

After Jesus has finished preaching His parables He goes to Nazareth and He begins to preach in the synagogue on the Lord’s day, both Mark and Luke remind us.  And as He speaks there the people are amazed at His teaching.  They are absolutely struck with wonderment.  They’ve never heard the like of the preaching that the Lord Jesus is giving.  And in fact, many of them have seen His miracles or at least heard of the miracles that He’s been doing in the region.  And they are absolutely dumbfounded by it, they are struck with amazement at the way this man teaches and what He does.  But they do not believe in Him.  They are in fact, we are told in this passage, offended by Him.  In verse 57 we are told they are offended by what the Lord Jesus says. 

Now, Matthew does not give us a description of what Jesus preached.  If you wanted to turn over to Luke, chapter 4, verses 16 to 30, Luke gives us a longer account of what the Lord Jesus preached when He was there.  And in fact Jesus’ message was very ‘in your face’ with the people of Nazareth.  He was very clear that the prophet’s words applied to them and that they themselves had hardened their hearts against the word of truth.  And so it was a very strong message, calling them to repentance and condemning them for their unbelief.  And so we can understand why they might respond negatively to what the Lord Jesus says. 

But Matthew doesn’t record that message for one very clear reason.  He wants to focus our attention on the hearts of these people who have rejected Jesus.  It’s not Jesus’ word, it’s not Jesus’ method, it’s not Jesus’ preaching style, it’s not that He raised His voice too much, it’s not that He looked mean, it’s not that He pointed fingers, it’s not that He called names.  It’s the fact that their hearts are hardened that makes them respond to the Lord Jesus like they do.  And Matthew wants to highlight that point by not even telling you what it was that Jesus preached.  He only tells you about the response of the people to the Lord Jesus’ message.  And so this story is included at the end of a chapter which had recorded many parables of Jesus about the kingdom and it is a sad but true living illustration that what Jesus had said about hearts in the parable of the sower was true.

There are some hearts which are so hard that even the good word of the kingdom of heaven falls on that heart and it has absolutely no impact.  The heart is not moved at all.  The heart may be impressed by Jesus’ message, its content, its delivery.  The heart may be impressed by the miracles that Jesus does but the heart does not embrace Him, the heart does not believe Him.  Isn’t it amazing these people are struck with wonder at Jesus’ preaching but they do not believe in Him?  In fact, Luke and Mark tell us that they throw Jesus out of Nazareth after He had preached.  And Matthew himself tells us that they were offended by Jesus’ presence and His claims and His preaching.  The townspeople were impressed with His wisdom and with His miraculous powers but they were befuddled that an uneducated tradesman from Nazareth should preach like the rabbi or do miracles like a prophet.  They couldn’t put those things together.  They couldn’t understand how this man who grew up in this town, and whose father was a carpenter in the town, and whose mother still lived in the town, and whose brothers were still there in the town, and whose sisters had married and were still there in the town with their husbands, they couldn’t understand how this man who had never gone to rabbinical training school, who had never been a follower of a great prophet, could preach like He did and could do the miracles that He was doing.  They couldn’t put those two facts together.  He grew up with us, He was just like us, He was trained as a carpenter, and now He’s preaching like a rabbi and doing miracles like a prophet.  Those things wouldn’t gel and they determined not to believe in Him.  They were impressed with Him.  They were amazed by Him.  They wondered at Him.  But they did not believe in Him.

R.V.G.  Tasker says this, “It seems strange to those who had known Him all His life, that one who had been trained solely as a carpenter and who had had no further education, should not only be teaching as though He were a qualified rabbi, but displaying what was clearly supernatural power.”  And William Hendriksen says, “As these people saw it, Jesus was not supposed to reveal such wisdom and such power.  For He had not enjoyed any higher education and besides, He was merely one of them.”

That was precisely the response of the people to Jesus.  The people of Nazareth were blinded to Jesus’ teaching and claims because they were preoccupied with His origins.  They remembered Him when He lived there before and they couldn’t put together His claims, His teaching, His power, those things didn’t go with what they knew before about the Lord, Jesus Christ.    

Let me say in passing that we have here both a testimony to Jesus’ humanity and deity.  This passage makes it clear that Jesus was fully human.  Isn’t it amazing that Jesus lives for maybe 30 years in this town and no one ever guesses that He’s the Messiah, the Son of God, until He comes back and proclaims that in His public ministry?  He was fully human.  He was just like them.

There are many gospel infancy stories or childhood stories of Christ that float around in spurious books today.  You’ll see them occasionally advertised in book catalogs as ‘lost books of the Bible.’  They’re really not lost books of the Bible, they’re stories circulated by people who were interested in what happened to Jesus between the time He was 12 and the time He was 30, because the gospels themselves don’t give us much information about those times.  And there are all sorts of fanciful stories in those lost books. 

One story tells that when Jesus was a boy, as a carpenter’s son.  “He fashioned birds out of wood in His father’s carpentry shop and then He threw them into the air and they became living birds and flew away.  This amazed everyone in Nazareth and they all fell down and worshiped Him.”  Well, it’s very interesting that nothing of the kind is recorded here in this story.  There’s nothing about Jesus to make the people of Nazareth suspect that He’s not really human because He was fully human. 

Now that’s important for us today, because, interestingly enough, in the early church, unlike today, in the early church, no Christian struggled with the divinity of Christ.  You will find no Christian in the first three centuries denying the divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  But, you will find professing Christians denying His humanity.  There was a group called the Gnostics and they could not believe that the very Son of God could inhabit a frail, human body like ours.  And so they denied that Jesus was fully human.  In fact, they said that He only appeared to be human.  That He was, in fact, some sort of a phantasm or a ghost.  And so they denied the full humanity of Christ.  The early Church responded to that with vigor denying that because they recognized that if Jesus Christ was not fully human our salvation was at stake.  He could not be our great high priest.  He could not be our substitute.  Well, the Nazarenes would have stood up and said to the Gnostics, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. We lived with Him for 30 years.  He was fully human.”

But it’s also interesting to note that the Nazarenes’ words make it clear that Jesus is divine as well.  The Nazarenes do not quibble with Jesus’ preaching.  They are amazed by it.  Nor did they deny His miracles.  They openly professed that He does things that only God himself could do.  They just didn’t believe that the Jesus that they know could do these things.  They don’t deny that they happen.  They just say, “Well we don’t understand it and we’re not going to believe what He is claiming about Himself.  We’re not going to take the logical implication of what He’s doing here.” 

And so the very people who respond to Jesus by being offended by Him and who eventually run Him out of their town, testify by their own admission of His power of preaching and His power of miracles that He was who He claimed to be, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  They do not dispute His acts even though they discount His acts and by not disputing His acts even those who do not believe in Him remind us that Jesus Christ is the very Son of God.  So that’s the first thing that we see in this passage.  There are some people who will not believe in Christ despite the very clearest of evidences.  That reminds us, my friends, that we ourselves must be careful in our response to the gospel.  It is not a lack of truthfulness or proof or evidence that keeps us away from Christ, which keeps us from embracing Him.  It is something far more serious.  And Jesus shows that to us in verses 57 and 58. 

II. Familiarity breeds contempt.
The second thing I’d like you to see in this passage you’ll see in the second half of verse 57.  Here Jesus responds to the people in Nazareth and what they’ve said about Him.  He says, “A prophet is not without honor except in His hometown and in His own household.”  Not only does this passage teach us that some people will not believe in Christ despite the clearest evidence, but this passage teaches us that in spiritual things, as in other things, familiarity often breeds contempt.  These people had grown up with Christ.  They were amazed at what He was saying in the synagogue, they were amazed at the miracles that they had seen and heard about, but their hearts were unmoved. 

Why?  Matthew gives us two reasons in this passage why their hearts were unmoved.  First of all, because of their familiarity with Christ.  They knew Him, they knew His family, they knew His father who was now apparently already dead, they knew His mother who was still living and there, they knew His brothers and sisters and that was a stumbling block for them.  His humble origins, an uneducated carpenter’s Son, His humble origin was for them a sufficient reason to reject His claims, to reject His preaching and to not draw the obvious implication of the miracles that He was doing.  But Jesus responds with a proverb against them.  He says to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in His hometown or in His own household.”  Jesus’ words indicate that not only His townspeople, His own hometown folks, but even some of His own family at that time, were not believing in Him as Lord and Savior.  They were not believing Him as the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  His claims were not being received even by those in His own hometown and by some in His family. 

Many skeptics today comfort themselves with thoughts like this, “You know, I would be in a much better position to decide for or against Christ if I had lived with Him in His own earthly ministry.  You know, if I could have been there and seen Him feed the 5,000, well then I would have believed on Jesus.  If I could have seen Him raise Lazarus from the dead, well then I would have believed in Him.”  But, don’t fool yourselves friends.  The problem, you see, is not being close enough to Christ to actually see those miracles with our own eyes because there were hundreds and hundreds of people in the Lord Jesus’ life who saw those miracles and who heard Him preach and who rejected Him utterly.  Listen to the words of the good and godly Bishop Ryle, “Do we fancy that if we had only seen and heard Jesus Christ that we would have been His faithful disciples.  If we do, let us think not so.  Let us observe the people of Nazareth and learn wisdom.  They saw Jesus’ miracles, they heard Him preach and they rejected Him.”  You see, the problem with our own belief today is not that we have to depend upon the testimony of the apostles and if we’d have seen it with our own eyes we would believe it.  The problem with unbelief is not a lack of truth, a lack of proof, a lack of evidence.  The problem of unbelief is moral and spiritual.  It is the heart that rejects the truth.  It is not a lack of evidence which makes us insecure about trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

We ourselves at First Presbyterian Church ought to draw a warning from this particular teaching of the Lord Jesus that familiarity breeds contempt.  We are blessed with many, many teachers who are faithful and excellent in their abilities to convey the gospel in this congregation.  I rarely go to another place when I am not stopped by someone who is complimenting some teacher or professor or preacher that they have heard who regularly preaches or teaches in our congregation.  I’ll be off somewhere and someone will say, “You know we just had a Bible conference.  It’s the first Bible conference that our church has ever had and we had this wonderful professor who came from Jackson.  His name was Ralph Davis and I’d never heard anyone who was so good at explaining the Old Testament. He was just incredible.  Have you ever heard Him preach?” I said, “Yes, he preaches regularly at our church and teaches Sunday School.  He teaches Sunday School at your church.” 

Well I could repeat that story over and over.  People that we are just regularly used to hearing preach the gospel other people respond to them with great appreciation for the rarity of their gifts and their ability to explain the truth of the gospel.  We must not be complacent about what is familiar to us.  We must not be complacent about the faithful teaching that occurs in the classrooms of our congregation.  And we must not waste that gospel truth or presume to have that forever.  Who knows how long the Lord will give us that kind of faithful ministry.  We must make of it what we are able while we have it.  And thank the Lord every day He has given us that kind of faithful ministry.   

III. Unbelief is a poison.
In verse 58, Jesus teaches us a third thing.  Here Matthew says, “And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.”  Here we learn that unbelief is a deadly spiritual poison.  It’s not only that we learn in this passage that some people will refuse to believe in Christ no matter how clear the teaching, no matter how clear the evidence.  It’s not only true that in spiritual things familiarity breeds contempt, but it is also true that unbelief is a deadly spiritual poison.  Matthew, in this verse, gets to the very root cause of the people’s offense at Jesus.

You may recall, I said there were two reasons why these people rejected Jesus’ teaching in Nazareth.  The first was that they were overfamiliar with Him and their familiarity bred contempt.  But this is the second, and really the more profound reason why they rejected Him; because their hearts were captured by unbelief.  They were infidels in their hearts.  They were unbelievers.  They were hardened in their hearts.  That is their basic problem.  It’s not a lack of evidence.  It’s not a lack of the clarity of Jesus’ claims or His exposition of Scripture.  It’s not that He hadn’t done impressive enough miracles.  It’s their hearts were hardened. 

Now it’s very interesting, if you’ll turn with me briefly to Mark 6:5, Mark puts this even more straight-forwardly, and says, “Jesus could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands upon a few sick people and healed them.”  Matthew, of course, tells us that He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief. 

Now that phrase, “Jesus was not able to do a miracle there” or “Jesus could do no miracle there” has been very frequently appealed to by faith healers.  You know, someone goes up to a faith healer and the faith healer says, “I’m going to heal you of your cancer and three weeks later the doctor checks and the cancer is twice as large as it was before.  And you go back to the faith healer and say, “Well, I thought you were going to heal me,” and what does the faith healer say?  Well, it’s the great fall-back of all time.   “You didn’t have enough faith.  You see, your faith or your lack of faith prevented me from healing you.”  So they will often appeal to these passages as proof of that position. 

That’s wrong! That’s dead wrong! We need to understand that the people of Nazareth were not doubting that Jesus could do miracles.  They believed that He could do miracles.  They were doubting that He was the Messiah.  Faith is not faith that Jesus can do’ hocus pocus.’  Faith is not faith that Jesus can do miraculous and supernatural things in Your life.  Faith is that you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of sinners and you receive and trust in Him alone for Your salvation as He is offered in the gospel.  That’s the kind of faith that’s being spoken of here and it is that kind of unbelief, that kind of lack of that kind of faith which causes Jesus not to do miracles in their midst.  People came to Christ all the time who were trembling and wondering whether He could do amazing things in their life, but the key was they trusted in Him as Lord and Savior.  And great things were done. 

You see, this is not an excuse as if the unbelief of these people was thwarting the power and the purpose of God.  The point is, the hardness of the hearts of these people kept them from going to Christ for healing and caused Christ to judge them by not doing great signs and wonders except. 

And isn’t it interesting, that even in this unbelieving context, there are a few that believe in Him.  Is this not a living illustration of the parable of the mustard seed?  Not many respond to the Lord Jesus here, but a few do.  One might be tempted to despise this small response, but who knows what the Lord did out of those few that did believe there in Nazareth. 

You see, this verse shows us that it is our unbelief which prevents God’s saving blessings from coming down upon us.  It is not that God’s heart is not good.  It is not God who does not desire to see sinners converted to Him.  It’s sinners who don’t desire sinners to be converted to God.  You know, as Calvinists we’re always questioning, “Why is it that there are people that don’t believe?”  Well the biblical and the Calvinistic response to this is that “It is because people are hard of heart!”  It’s not God’s fault that people do not respond to Him.  It is their own sinful heart of unbelief.  Listen to what Calvin says, “Our own unbelief is the only impediment which prevents God from satisfying us largely and bountifully with all good things.”  And what He means by that is not that God’s purpose and power are thwarted.  He simply means that because faith is always the alone instrument of our receiving the grace of the gospel, because faith is always the along instrument of our receiving the gospel.  Where there is no faith we can see that as a sure sign that there is no work of grace in the heart.  And all those who do exercise grace do not exercise that grace because they are better than other people, they exercise it because God in His goodness has drawn them to Himself. 

Believers, today you need to realize, to remember again that if you have trusted on the Lord Jesus Christ, it is only because God has opened Your eyes spiritually.  And He has wooed you to Himself.  He has shown you the beauty of the Savior and your heart has been wed to the Savior.  Richard Sibbs says that “Faith is marriage of the soul to Christ.”  In other words, just like a woman finds a good man she can trust and then she commits her life to that man, so also in faith our souls are wed to Christ.  We see that we can trust Him and so we commit ourselves to Him.  Faith is the marriage of the soul to Christ. 

Believers you would not have been able to make that step of trust and commitment had not the grace of God been at work in Your heart.  For all of our hearts are dead in sin!

Now, unbelievers, if you are sitting here today saying, “The reason I don’t trust in God is that there’s not enough evidence.  The reason I don’t trust in God is it’s not reasonable, it’s not intellectual.”  All of that is wrong.  You are standing right with the people of Nazareth who are saying, “I will not believe what I cannot understand.”  Well, Augustine says back to you, “You will not understand if you will not believe.”

It is not something intellectual that keeps us off from Christ.  It is something moral and spiritual.  And that means that the only place that we can go when we are struggling for belief in Christ is to our knees.  To beg of God to open our eyes that we might be embraced by the love of God in Christ.  May the Lord meet you there if you don’t know Him.  And if you do know Him may you be reminded afresh that His grace first reached out to you.  Let’s look to the Lord in prayer.   

Our father, we thank you for Your word, Your rich word.  Make it a living reality in our lives by the grace of the Holy Spirit.  We ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen

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