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. 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” (Luke 4:23-27 NIV).
Next, we should listen carefully as Jesus taught the truth of sovereign grace, that the salvation of people depends on the Lord (cf. Jonah 2:9), and not on anything in the individual or in groups of people. Admittedly, this is hard teaching, because we like to assume that “we’re something special”. We see ourselves as basically loveable and that God should do us favors, in spite of the clear teaching of the Scriptures that God does not show partiality. For God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11 ESV). It humbles our proud hearts to hear that salvation, and all benefits we enjoy, are completely from God’s grace. God does not owe us anything; instead, all comes from him and is for his glory. And who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:35-36 CSB).
Jesus taught this truth to the people of his hometown of Nazareth by two examples from the narrative of the Old Testament. The Lord Christ has been speaking about prophets not being accepted in their hometown, and these two incidents would have provided the hometown of the two prophets (that is, Israel) enough from their biased viewpoint to reject both Elijah and Elisha. These men were the greatest of the miracle working prophets in Israel’s history. The Lord God did signs and wonders through them to testify that he was again speaking to Israel through the many prophets that would follow them.
God did not send Elijah to help any widow in Israel. Instead, Elijah helped a widow from a nearby nation, a Gentile! We read the Bible too casually, which is the reason we overlook such actions by God. To the people of that time, Israel was God’s favorite people, so he would surely care for them, not a Gentile. The concept was repulsive to their minds.
Jesus doubled down with the next example to make sure they got the point. Israel had many people sorely afflicted with leprosy in Elisha’s time. However, none of them were healed by Elisha or by anyone else. The only one healed was a Syrian, another Gentile, named Naaman, who also happened to be a general in the Syrian army that was oppressing Israel. It was twice as nauseous to people who thought that God owed them care and healings and other goodies. Their hostile reaction in the next paragraph in Luke was easy to predict.
The sovereign God is not in debt to anyone. He is not obligated to give us and our people group nice things. We cannot demand healings or financial bailouts or new cars or fabulous vacation trips or a multitude of other pleasures. Everything good is a gift from God (Acts 14:14-17). Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created (James 1:16-18 NIV).
The people of Nazareth could not demand signs and wonders from the Lord Jesus. Neither can we. God is sovereign, in control of grace, and he gives grace to whomever he chooses to do. Let us humble ourselves before the Lord.
Grace and peace,