Matthew mentions three features of the response – they were astonished, offended and unbelieving. They were astonished at his ability, but were offended by his message, and the root cause was unbelief. In one sense, those responses are not unique because we could imagine listeners being impressed by a politician’s speaking ability but opposed to his message because they did not believe in what he was advocating. Of course, there is a huge distance between Jesus and his message and a politician with his message.
One factor that made the response of his hearers serious was that they ignored the evidence of his miracles that pointed to him being the Messiah. During his message on the previous occasion mentioned in Luke 4 he had told them that the Holy Spirit was upon him in order to do the work of the Messiah and Jesus had been engaged in that ministry for over a year. They refused to believe in him despite the evidence that was causing others to believe in him.
Most people who refuse to believe in Jesus do so despite the evidence that has been shown to them. They ignore the evidence of those who say that Jesus has changed them through his grace. They ignore the evidence of fulfilled prophecy, both with regard to what happened at his first coming and what has taken place in the worldwide growth of his kingdom. They ignore the evidence that comes from recognising the superiority of the teaching of Jesus over any other form of teaching.
Jesus may have cited a proverb to explain the situation: ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his hometown and in his own household.’ Perhaps the townspeople took their lead from what his household – his brothers and sisters – were doing at that time. Why should the villagers believe in Jesus if his own family refused to do so? Jesus has used a shorter form of this possible proverb against them during his previous visit (Luke 4:24) and at least the repetition would remind them of their ongoing hostility.
The people of Nazareth could not accept that Jesus was sent by God. They did not know that this was the last time Jesus would visit them (it is also the last time he is said to be in a synagogue). Their blindness was caused by their prejudices, and prejudices are a frequent cause of spiritual blindness. They had made up their minds beforehand as to what kind of Saviour God would send, so when the real Saviour was with them they could not see who he truly was.
Matthew says that Jesus ‘did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.’ Sometimes that statement is regarded as implying that somehow human faith enables Jesus to do something, which is a wrong deduction. Jesus does not need any help in performing a mighty work. Whose ‘faith’ helped him when he raised Lazarus from the dead? Rather he refused to do any further mighty works in Nazareth because the previous ones had not caused the people to accept he was the Messiah. In an act of judgement, he removed from them the evidences that indicated who he was. He never went back to Nazareth before he died. The day of their opportunity had passed and they had not profited from it.