Reasons People Reject Jesus

Posted: June 25, 2012 in Matthew

Matthew 13:53-58, “Reasons People Reject Jesus”

It had all the makings of a great newspaper headline.  The local hometown boy made good, and returned home to a hero’s welcome.  We see it happen with celebrities, war heroes, politicians, and more.  But it didn’t happen with Jesus.  Of all the local kids who achieve fame, there was no one who did it like Jesus!  People all over the nation were talking about Him, and this was in the days before internet, before the telephone, before even the pony express!  Yet Nazareth didn’t welcome Jesus home as a favorite son; instead they were offended by Him & rejected Him.

Of course it’s no surprise that people reject Jesus today.  We see it all of the time in examples ranging from people who sneer at the gospel message, to the more extreme cases of physical persecution of believers around the world.  As in the case of Nazareth, Jesus is clearly proclaimed to them, but they reject Him out-of-hand & want nothing to do with Him.

Why?  What makes the difference?  How is it that Jesus can be so warmly received by some, yet totally rejected by others?  Those of Nazareth were “offended” by Him (just like many people today), and ultimately that comes down to a matter of the will.  Offense shows an unwillingness to believe – and that unwillingness costs them the gift of grace offered through Christ.

Matthew 13:53–58 (NKJV)
53 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there.

  • Transition verse.  Fills in the gap of the context.  Most of Ch 13 had taken place over the course of one day. (Mt 13:1).  In fact. It was the same day during which Jesus had been accused of being in league with Satan. [context: blasphemy of the Holy Spirit] 
  • It was in response to this accusation that Jesus taught the Kingdom parables.  Obviously the Pharisees (supposedly experts in the law) had no clue about the nature of the Kingdom, so Jesus proceeded to teach them (and all of the rest of the crowd) about it.
    • Parable of the Soils.  The seed of the word is the same, but the soils of the lives into which it is received are all very different.
    • Parable of the wheat & tares.  God knows who belongs to Him; one day there will come a separation.
    • Parables of the mustard seed & leaven. God can do a lot with very little.  The kingdom will start small, but grow.
      • All of these had been taught to the whole multitude that had been gathered.  After Jesus sent the crowds away, He continued to teach the disciples (vs. 36)
    • Parables of the Hidden Treasure & Pearl of Great Price.  The kingdom is worth everything to give, and Jesus gave everything for the kingdom.
    • Parable of the Dragnet. Pulls up everything & good is separated from bad.
    • Parable of the Householder.  Brings out things old & new.
    • That’s a busy day!  Now Jesus moves on and the narrative picks up again…
  • Where had Jesus been?  Although we’re not told the exact location, it’s obvious He was somewhere in the region of Galilee.  The town of Capernaum had served as His home base for much of the time Jesus was there, but we know He moved around from town to town.  We also know He was definitely still by the lake, as Ch 13 began with the description of Jesus teaching from a boat that was kept close to the shore.  (Too many people had been crowding around Him.)  Wherever He was within Galilee, now He left the area.  Where did He go?  See vs. 54…

54 When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?

  • He went “to His own country.”  Jesus was born in Bethlehem due to the census order from Caesar Augustus, but His family home was Nazareth. [MAP]  Whereas Jesus had been doing ministry by the towns on the lake, now He headed inland again for Nazareth.  There’s no doubt about His hometown has He was known almost universally as “Jesus from Nazareth” and even His own disciple Nathaniel was amazed that God would bring anything good from Nazareth.
  • What did Jesus do when He arrived?  He “taught them in their synagogue.” (Notice the singular.  It gives us an idea to the size of the town!)  Jesus may have completed the kingdom parable teaching by the lake, but His teaching ministry wasn’t over.  He continued to work as an itinerate preacher, teaching the Jews at every given opportunity.
    • Jesus kept doing ministry (His Father’s will).  No matter where He was, or how difficult the area, Jesus kept at it.  There’s never going to come a time when we can sit back, kick up our heels, and say, “I’ve done my part!  There’s nothing left for me to do for the Lord.”  To be sure, we may go through different seasons in life.  We may come to the end of certain projects – we may even take some time off every now and again to rest.  But there’s no expiration date to the Great Commission.  There is no end to our service of the Lord.  People are still lost, dying, and going to hell every single day.  Our impetus to continue sharing the gospel won’t end until there are no people left to be saved, or until we see Jesus face to face.
    • Jesus did all kinds of ministry, but in Nazareth the focus seemed to be teaching.  Doctrine plays an important role in the Great Commission!  It’s impossible to help someone become a disciple of Jesus Christ if we’re not teaching them about the word of God.  (Mt 28:18-20)
  • What exactly did Jesus teach?  We don’t know.  Matthew recorded much of Jesus’ teaching for us (the Sermon on the Mount & the Kingdom parables, for example), but we’re not even given a theme or one word regarding what Jesus taught in Nazareth.  (Luke seems to indicate that Jesus taught about the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the Messiah bringing good news to the poor & brokenhearted.  Yet that was likely a much earlier occurrence in Jesus’ ministry.)  Obviously it could have been something Jesus taught earlier, or something brand new…the only thing we do know is that the Holy Spirit did not inspire Matthew to preserve it for us.  The Biblical accounts are certainly accurate, but they are by no means comprehensive.  John tells us that Jesus said and did so much, that if every single thing were recorded, all the libraries in the world would not be able to contain the writings. (Jn 21:25)
  • What Matthew points out here isn’t so much the subject matter of Jesus’ teaching, but the crowd’s reaction to it.  They were “astonished,” but not in a good way.  They were incredulous that Jesus could be the one teaching and doing these things.
    • They had a problem with His “wisdom.”  This is a reference to His doctrine.  They certainly didn’t deny the truth of what Jesus said (in fact, they don’t debate it at all!), but they don’t understand how it is Jesus acquired this kind of education.
    • They had a problem with His “works.”  Matthew doesn’t record any miracles in Nazareth (though Mark does – Mk 6:5-6), but apparently there were at least a few there.  Either the crowd questioned what little Jesus did in town, or they questioned the reports of Jesus doing miracles elsewhere.  By this time, Jesus’ reputation preceded Him everywhere He went, and in the process He had very publicly attracted the attention of the ruling class of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees.  It isn’t hard to imagine the town reacting to even the reports of what Jesus had done elsewhere.  Already Jesus had healed the sick, given sight to the blind, cleansed the lepers, and even raised the dead.  He already had quite a track record to which the town could respond.
  • Ultimately it seemed the crowd had a problem with Jesus’ authority.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom.  He is Himself the King, and as the King, He can offer reconciliation with God.  That’s a BIG claim, and Jesus backed it up with huge demonstrations of His kingly authority: doctrine and miracles.  He had the authority to teach as the King, and He had the authority to do the work of the King. … This is what the people of Nazareth were incredulous/astonished at.  They simply couldn’t believe this Man had this kind of authority.  It’s not that they had a problem with His basic teachings (showing the heart of God in the Scriptures), nor did they have a problem with the miracles (who wouldn’t rejoice at the dead being raised?).  They had a problem with Jesus being the one to do these things.

55 Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?”

  • The people knew Jesus’ family.  It’s not as if Nazareth was a huge metropolitan city.  It couldn’t even qualify as a small town by our standards today.  It was more like a tiny village.  Today, there are around 60,000 people there, but at the time of Jesus there were only a few hundred.  Some of us had graduating classes in high school larger than the entire town!  People from small towns often complain how everyone knows everyone else’s business.  Imagine the case for someone who grew up in a village of 400 people in Nazareth!  They knew all about Jesus.  They knew all of the questions and controversies that surrounded His birth (which likely tainted His credibility with them from the get-go).  They were with Him as He grew up – went to classes and synagogue with Him.  Sure, He had impressed the scholars in Jerusalem when He was 12, but what else had He don’t?  (Scripture is virtually silent regarding His childhood.  There are some accounts in extra-biblical sources, but they are highly untrustworthy.)  They knew that Jesus was not trained to be a rabbi; He was trained as a carpenter.  Where were this Man’s qualifications?  He might have been accepted as authoritative elsewhere, but the residence of Nazareth knew better.  Right?  Wrong.
  • The people looked for qualifications that were acceptable to them, and found none.  The problem was that Jesus had already provided all of the qualifications necessary: His wisdom and His mighty works.  Of course Jesus fulfilled all sorts of prophecy as well, but even if they only listened to what Jesus taught and did, it was more than enough proof to establish His qualifications.  Jesus told the same thing to the Jews elsewhere. [fourfold witness of Jesus: John the Baptist, Jesus’ works, God the Father, the Scriptures… John 5] The people of Nazareth were looking for qualifications that matched their own idea of what the standard ought to be, and Jesus didn’t make the cut.  Where was His seminary degree?  Who did He study under?  Jesus hadn’t done any of these things, so in their mind He was completely unacceptable.
    • What are our standards aren’t always the standards of God.  If God only used the “acceptable” people for His purposes, then NONE of us would be used!  God is the One who qualifies us.  God is the One to make us acceptable.  That any of us would be used by God is a clear work of His grace!
    • The people didn’t recognize Jesus’ authority because they were too busy asserting their own.  Jesus had already provided proof in abundance.  But that wasn’t enough for the people.  They wanted Jesus to meet their standards.  Like King Herod who would later attempt to get the Son of God to perform cheap parlor tricks for his amusement, the people wanted to try to show Jesus who was boss.  He came in with all this proof of Kingly authority; they wanted to put this upstart preacher back in His place.  They were the ones (in their mind) with the authority, and Jesus had better recognize that if He wanted an audience in that town.
    • How many people today act the same way?  Maybe you’re guilty of doing exactly the same thing.  Instead of recognizing God as God, people tell Him, “Just do ____ first, and then I’ll follow You.”  It doesn’t work that way.  Either we surrender to His authority over us, or we’re in essence telling God that we have authority over Him.
  • Not only did they rebel against Jesus’ authority, they also made the mistake of assumption.  They assumed they knew Jesus better than they actually did.  They assumed they knew His family history and everything about Him.  Certainly they did know His parents & siblings – they knew what happened to Him as He grew up, etc.  They knew much about His earthly heritage…but they didn’t have a clue about His eternal heritage.  They knew He was the carpenter’s son, but they did not recognize Him as the Son of God.  Jesus had come into the world 30+ years earlier as the adopted son of Joseph, but Jesus had always existed.  From eternity He had always been the only begotten Son of God – God Himself.  As God, Jesus has always existed.  Long before the creation of the world, God the Son simply “was.”  The people of Nazareth didn’t have any idea about this. … Not that they had any excuse.  If they had listened to John the Baptist, or Mary, or Joseph, they would have known there was far more to Jesus than what met the eye.  But they weren’t willing to see.  They assumed they knew everything there was to know about Jesus, and that was enough.
    • This is exactly the same mistake so many people make today.  They’ve heard a little bit about Jesus – they’ve had their experience with the church & they didn’t like it.  Based off of their knowledge, they think they know all they need to know about Jesus & they reject Him out-of-hand.  If they did understand Jesus, and if they did understand their own sin, there’s no way anyone would reject Christ!  The problem is that people say they understand, when in reality they don’t.  Their rejection of the truth is proof they don’t understand.  They make the assumption that the Bible is wrong, but that’s an assumption that is going to come back to bite them tragically!
    • And again, there’s no excuse.  People ignore the testimony of the creation…  The testimony of the prophecies…  The testimony of eyewitnesses, and present-day changed lives…  There’s no lack of evidence!
    • Don’t ignore the testimonies!  Don’t assume you know everything you need to know about Jesus!
  • Note how Jesus’ earthly family is described here.  Joseph is never mentioned by name, though he’s mentioned by trade.  Otherwise, Mary is mentioned as Jesus’ mother, His brothers are mentioned by name, and His sisters are mentioned as a group.  Why name the brothers?  Possibly Matthew names them because of their later standing in the Church.  At this point, Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him, but later they would come to faith and rise to respected positions of leadership within the Church. (Epistles of James & Jude)  The question that so often comes up is whether or not these men and women are actually Jesus’ brothers & sisters.  Many branches of Christianity (not only Catholics) believe that Mary was perpetually a virgin, never having any children after giving birth to Jesus.  They claim that passages such as this show Jesus’ cousins; not His brothers.  The problem is that this contradicts the plain text of Scripture.  The words used for “brother” and “sister” are the normal words used for this.  To be sure, “brother” can have a larger meaning, but it is completely dependent upon the context.  (We can be brothers in Christ, brothers-in-arms, etc.)  There is absolutely nothing in the context here that would indicate anything other than a reference to a regular brother or sister.  In fact, the context demands a plain interpretation.  The argument of the townspeople is that they saw and knew the immediate family of Jesus.  No other uncles, aunts, or other far-off relatives are mentioned.  The plain reference is regarding those who are a part of Jesus’ household.  Thus they must be talking about Jesus’ actual brothers and sisters.

57 So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”

  • Offended” = to shock/cause anger in someone.  Gk: σκανδαλίζω ~ “scandal”…we might say that Jesus ‘scandalized’ them.  This was a BIG deal.  Simply the fact that Jesus showed up and had the audacity to teach them in Nazareth made the people angry & offended.  Question: were they offended or were they jealous?  Probably both.  They didn’t know where this Man thought He had received His qualifications, but they knew Him (so they thought).  In their minds, they grew up alongside Jesus doing the same things He did, so they must be equal to Jesus.  Certainly He was no better than them.  Right?  Wrong.  Again, they failed in their assumptions.  And it cause them great grief and offense.
  • Jesus is still an offense to people today.  In fact, the Bible guarantees as much. 1 Peter 2:7–8, "(7) Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,” (8) and “A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed." [] Why do people get offended by Jesus today?  Several reasons:
    • They are offended by His Lordship.  Like the ancient Nazarenes, they are offended by His claim to absolute authority as God.  They want to be their own god & king and serve themselves.
    • They are offended by His exclusivity.  Jesus makes it plain that He is the way, the truth, and the life – no one comes to the Father except through Him. (Jn 14:6)  Some people are offended because they think Jesus is limiting their choices; in reality He’s showing them which ways are poison & which way is salvation.
    • They are offended by His truth.  Again, as in Nazareth, people get offended by Jesus’ doctrine.  What the Bible teaches goes at odds with someone’s personal preferences, and it causes them great offense.
    • They are offended by His love.  This might sound strange, but it’s absolutely true.  How often have you heard someone complain, “I can’t imagine a God that could possibly forgive ____!”  God’s grace is too expansive for some because it means that they are no better than certain sinners they know they don’t like.
    • Sadly, they are sometimes offended by His followers.  It’s natural that people are offended because of Jesus – that’s the result of their sinful nature being brought into the light.  Any time people come from the dark into the light their eyes hurt & it’s the same thing regarding the light of Jesus being shown upon our sin.  But it’s not OK when Christians are simply offensive.  We ought to live our lives in such a way that people see Jesus; not so that they wonder how a person like us could claim Christ as Lord, giving one more example of hypocrisy within the ranks of Christianity.
    • Do you know someone offended by Jesus?  Or perhaps you are one who is offended by Him.  The solution to offense is humility.  We’re offended because we’re not getting our way, or because God’s ways do not agree with our own.  The way to solve that is not by attempting to push our own agenda through; that’s just kicking against the goads and causing ourselves more pain.  Instead, humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.  Surrender your will to Jesus’ will in repentance and faith.
  • Jesus responds to the offense with a proverb.  This isn’t a quote from the Old Testament – perhaps it’s something that Jesus made up on the spot.  What He says makes a lot of sense.  It’s like our proverb: “familiarity breeds contempt.” A prophet might be used mightily of God all over the world, but when they come back home, it’s always just the place where they grew up.  As when Saul began to prophesy after he was anointed king, the people asked, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”  Or when David went out to go fight Goliath, his brothers accused him of simply being a glory-hound.  It didn’t matter what else David had done in the past, or how God had publicly chosen him to be king in the future – to his brothers, he was still just the little ruddy-kid David.  This is what Jesus experienced.  Nazareth knew (or thought they knew) His family.  They didn’t give Him any respect because they thought they knew it all. 
  • Jesus recognized this.  The people may have been offended by Him, but He doesn’t seem to have been offended by the people.  Surely it saddened Him (Scripture doesn’t say), but it certainly didn’t surprise Him.  There was no doubt that Jesus was going to be rejected by ALL of the Jews; Nazareth was only first on the list.  Prophets may not be honored in their own country, but it doesn’t stop the prophets from going there.  Neither did it stop Jesus.  It did have an effect on His ministry (as we’ll see), but it didn’t stop Him from going to Nazareth to teach there.  They received exactly the same opportunity to hear the gospel as anyone else.
    • There are going to be people who don’t recognize your new life in Christ.  There are going to be family members who don’t believe that you’ve changed & who want to act as if everything was the same it was before.  Don’t be surprised, but don’t let it dissuade you either.

58 Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

  • This (to me) has got to be one of the most shocking and difficult verse in all of the NT.  Even the parallel account in Mark’s gospel is no better (“Now He could do no mighty work there…” Mk 6:5) .  What it says is plain: Jesus didn’t or (couldn’t) do very many miracles there because they didn’t believe.  For all of the explanations we can do with this verse, the one thing that we can’t do is escape the link with Jesus’ lack of miracles in Nazareth to the people’s lack of faith.  Obviously Jesus is omnipotent – we’ve already seen there is not lack to His power.  Yet what we’ve seen is Jesus working in accordance with people’s faith.  Jesus never forced someone to be healed, nor to come to Him for forgiveness.  He seems to extend this same grace to Nazareth.  He is available to them, but He’s not going to force anything upon them.
  • Could Jesus have healed apart from faith?  Certainly our faith adds nothing to the equation.  After all, it’s not as if God needs the “gasoline” of our faith in order to get His supernatural engine to work.  God forbid that we’d imagine such a thing!  We are the ones in need of Him; not the other way around. … At the same time, it seems that Jesus willingly limited Himself to work miracles primarily in situations of faith.  (With some exceptions: casting out demons, for ex.)  The general rule was that someone showed faith in Christ when He worked miracles.  Perhaps it was the faith of the person, or the faith of their friends, etc., but there was typically some kind of expressed faith involved.  That’s not a restriction of Jesus’ power so much as it is an invitation for us to be engaged with it.  God invites us to be a part of the process (it’s part & parcel of having the gift of free will), and that happens through faith.
  • With all that said, this verse has been much abused by those who claim to work signs & wonders.  If someone comes forward at a healing crusade & still isn’t healed, oftentimes the supposed “minister” claims that the individual simply didn’t have enough faith to be healed.  It’s claimed that their lack of healing is their own fault, because they harbored unbelief.  Not only is that idea a complete lie – not only does it rip this verse completely from its context – that line is nothing less than a form of spiritual abuse. Any kind of teaching that puts the power of the supernatural into the control of our own hands rather than under the control of God is dangerous, and rife with possibilities of long-term harm. 
  • So what’s going on here?  Let’s look at the possibilities.  CAN God heal the skeptic?  Yes.  Just look at Naaman the Syrian.  CAN God even use the unbeliever?  Absolutely.  Examples range from Balaam to Pharaoh, to Nebuchadnezzar, and many more.  Does God usually heal people without faith being involved? No…but that’s a big difference from saying that He can’t.  In fact, look at the opposite.  Does God always heal those who believe?  No.  Paul is the classic example with his thorn in the flesh.  If God always healed everyone who had true saving faith, no Christian would ever get sick & none would ever die.  That’s simply not the case. 
    • The bottom line is that we can’t say why God heals in some cases and doesn’t in others.  All we can say from this one passage is that Jesus didn’t do many miracles in Nazareth because of their lack of faith.  We can’t really say much of anything beyond that.
    • In this case, unbelief was an obstacle to the work of God.  It was a rejection of Christ, and thus a rejection of the gracious gifts He had to offer.  In every case, a rejection of Christ is a rejection of His grace.  Be careful that a supposed insufficiency of belief (not having “enough”) isn’t merely an excuse for a complete lack of faith & rejection of Jesus Christ!  It’s one thing to doubt – even the disciples had doubts from time to time.  It’s another thing to reject Jesus entirely.
  • The ultimate application here is to salvation.  Nazareth missed out on Jesus’ offer of grace because they refused to place their faith in Him.  That said, is there any application here to the believer?  Yes.  Many Christians have their faith in Christ for their eternal salvation, but they are unwilling to believe the pages of the Bible when it comes to life in the present.  They read of forgiving one another 70×7 times (i.e. never-ending), and think that applies to “other” people.  Or they read of fleeing sexual immorality and they promise themselves they’ll do it “next time.”  Or they read of the promises Jesus offers regarding the peace that passes understand, or grace sufficient for the moment, or about the availability of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, etc., and they simply don’t believe it as they continue to trudge along in life thinking that the only thing Jesus offers is heaven & nothing on earth.  Make no mistake: unbelief causes us to miss out on the blessings that Jesus offers in His grace.  It’s not that Jesus is unwilling to give us those blessings; it’s that we’re unwilling to ask Him for them.  We have not because we ask not. (Jas 4:2)  Where’s the peace that passes understanding?  We didn’t ask Jesus for it & we didn’t believe He could provide it.  Where is the power to endure/escape temptation?  We didn’t ask God for us because we were unwilling.  Where is the grace needed to forgive our enemies?  We didn’t want it, so we didn’t ask for it.  Our unbelief hinders our walk with the Lord.  May God make us aware of the areas of unbelief in our own lives!

Why did Nazareth reject Jesus?

  • They rejected His authority
  • They assumed they knew everything there was to know about Him
  • They were offended by His work and presence.

Ultimately, this comes down to a matter of the will.  They rejected Jesus because they didn’t want Jesus.  They wanted to assert themselves to be equal to Him or above Him.  And in doing do, they missed out on the wonderful things Jesus had to offer them in His grace and His presence.

The same thing happens today.  People reject Jesus because they want to assert themselves to be equal with Him.  “He was just a man – just a good teacher,” they claim, while ignoring all of the vast evidence that shows He provided incredible proof that He was far more than just a man.  Yet if they can convince themselves that Jesus was just a man, that means He was no better than them & someone who can be ignored or rejected.  People are offended at the idea that God has the right to be their God, and that Jesus is His Son.  They are offended by the truth of the only thing that stands between them and an eternity in hell…and they will miss out on the incredible gift of grace that Jesus offers.

The solution to offense is humility.  Instead of rising up in anger thinking about all the ways in which we can’t have the last word, we need to humble ourselves and recognize Jesus for who He is.  Someone can assume they know everything there is to know about Jesus.  They can assume He is a nice guy, or an ancient philosopher, or even a myth – but assumptions can be tragically wrong.  We can’t assume anything about Jesus; we have to look at Him for who He is in truth.  He is God, and He makes that perfectly clear.

Today, humble yourself before Jesus Christ, recognizing Him as the Lord God Himself.  Leave your offense behind, and see Jesus for who He really is.

As a believer, this means that we must look at Jesus as far more than just our Lord for future heaven, but as our Lord and King today.  The gospel isn’t just for later; it’s for right now.  Perhaps you’ve asked Jesus for forgiveness, but you haven’t truly surrendered your life in the present in humility.  May I suggest that if you haven’t, you probably don’t have the relationship with Christ that you think you do. 

For others, you know that you don’t have a relationship with Jesus because you’ve never wanted a relationship with Him.  You’ve been offended by Him and refused to believe.  Surrender your offense today.  See Him for who He is & what He has done. 

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