Lessons from Nazareth

Early Experiences

“And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of
his mouth” (Luke 4:22).

— Tom Ruggirello

Lessons from Nazareth

After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, he was led by the spirit into the wilderness of Judea. There he spent 40 days and nights praying to his Father and contemplating the great work that lie ahead. After faithfully enduring the temptations of the Adversary, he departed for Galilee and began to teach in the synagogues.

As he taught, his fame began to spread. On his return to Nazareth, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and was handed a scroll from which to read. He opened the scroll and read from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18, 19).

After returning the scroll to the attendant all eyes were fixed on him. Jesus then said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (ESV).

The people’s initial response seemed favorable. They spoke well of him and marveled at his words (verse 22). They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

Jesus responded, saying, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well. Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown as well” (verse 23 ESV).

Jesus was raised in Nazareth. The initial response of those who knew him seemed very positive, yet Jesus’ reply seemed antagonistic. The phrase, “physician, heal yourself” was a Jewish proverb. Jesus was applying it to their desire that he perform miracles for them. In other words, physician, heal your own people. Do good things for us.

Many Widows in Israel

Jesus continued. “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and the great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (verses 25-27 ESV).

“When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away” (verses 28-30 ESV).

Jesus chose the specific examples of Elijah and Elisha to illustrate why only certain people received the Lord’s blessings. The two examples that Jesus shared were both about Gentiles. The widow was from the land of Sidon, capital of the Phoenician Empire. Naaman was a Syrian general.

The Widow of Zarephath

The Prophet Elijah actually performed two separate miracles for a poor widow (1 Kings 17:8-16). Elijah was told by God to find a widow in Zarephath and that she would feed him. When he arrived in Zarephath, he found her collecting sticks and asked her for water and then “a morsel of bread.”

But the woman was down to her last handful of flour and some oil. She was preparing a final meal for herself and her young son before dying. Elijah assured her that the flour and oil would not be used up and encouraged her to make his meal.

For many women, Elijah’s request would have conflicted with their motherly instincts. Why would anyone believe a stranger and obey his request? But this poor widow agreed and prepared the meal. The account then says that “she and he and her household ate for many days” (1 Kings 17:15 ESV). Remarkably, there were others in her household who benefited from her faith and were blessed by Elijah’s miracle.

The first miracle done for this poor Gentile widow happened only after she exercised faith in God’s prophet and followed his instructions. Jesus did not see such simple faith in the people of Nazareth who wanted physical evidence of Jesus’ power before believing in him.

A Greater Miracle

Elijah’s miracle was only a precursor for a greater one to come. Some time later, the woman’s son died. After finding Elijah she said, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” (1 Kings 17:18). Recalling a past sin, she attributed her son’s death as a punishment from God. But a remarkable scene was to follow.

Taking the dead boy from his mother’s arms, Elijah carried him to his room and laid him on his bed. He then stretched himself on the child three times and cried, “O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child’s life come into him again” (verse 21 ESV). With this, the boy revived. Elijah picked him up and delivered him to his waiting mother.

This is the first mention in Scripture of someone being raised from the dead. It was not done for some royal official, nor someone who could pay handsomely. Rather, it was performed for a destitute widow who was earlier preparing to die with her young son. She was unrecognized by worldly standards, living on the fringe of society. But God read her heart and rewarded her faith. Her desperate need had prepared her to receive God’s blessing on two separate occasions.

Elijah and Elisha — A Type

The first mention of Elijah is at the outset of a 32 year drought. He was then fed by ravens by a brook, until the brook dried up. Elijah was then told by God to go to Sidon where he met the woman. Elijah’s experiences with her may represent the spiritual drought of the Gospel Age. The miracle suggests that those of faith would be sustained in the time of spiritual drought during Papal dominance.

At the end of his ministry, Elijah was separated from Elisha by a chariot of fire and taken up in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Elisha then took Elijah’s mantle, and became God’s prophet in his place. He then smote the waters of the Jordan River, which parted and allowed him to cross to the west side of the Jordan River. As he ministered there, he performed 13 additional miracles. His connection to his predecessor suggests that Elisha is a type of the Ancient Worthies as they inherit the authority as God’s earthly representatives. His miracles done west of the Jordan represent the work of the Ancient Worthies as leaders of the earthly kingdom. They will receive God’s authority after the Elijah class is off the scene.

These two prophets represent the two ages of salvation and is likely the reason Jesus chose them as examples. He wanted to illustrate, first, the required heart condition of those who would receive the benefits of God’s blessings. But he was also indicating that God’s blessings and healing power would be poured out during two ages, the present Gospel Age and the earthly kingdom.

Image of a Cross

2 Kings 4:34, 35 describe one of Elisha’s miracles, a similar act of raising a young boy. “Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm.”

Elisha then repeated the same action of laying on the boy. The boy became warm with Elisha’s first act, and then sneezed seven times and awoke with the second. It appears he was brought back to life in stages. Laying on the boy, and putting his eyes to the boy’s eyes, his mouth to the boy’s mouth and his hands to the boy’s hands brings to mind the image of Jesus on the cross, with hands outstretched. If this is the intended symbolism, it indicates that the resurrection of mankind will come as a result of Jesus’ death on the cross (see Isaiah 53:4, 5). It may also demonstrate how Israel will be revived by the teaching of the Ancient Worthies (see Ezekiel 37:12-14, Zechariah 12:10). Bringing the boy back to life in two stages indicates the gradual restoration of life in the kingdom. People will be raised from the tomb with the same sinful propensities they previously possessed. As they develop characters pleasing to God, they will be granted eternal life at the end of the Millennium.

Naaman the Syrian

Jesus then selected Naaman as a second example of one receiving God’s blessing. Naaman was not a poor man, nor was he on the fringes of society, as was the widow. Rather, he was a famous general, a man of high regard and position. However, besides being a Gentile, Jesus used him as an example for another reason.

Naaman was an honorable man who suffered from leprosy (2 Kings 5:1). After seeing him suffer from the debilitating disease, a young Jewish servant told him of a prophet in Samaria that could heal him (verse 3). The girl undoubtedly appreciated Naaman as a good man and wanted to help him.

Despite Naaman’s good heart, he carried a measure of pride. When he arrived in Samaria, the prophet Elisha refused to see him. Instead, Elisha simply sent instructions that Naaman should wash (H7364) himself seven times in the Jordan River. Initially, Naaman was insulted and, at first, refused to obey. But his servants offered him wise advice. They suggested that had the prophet given some “great thing” for him to do, Naaman would have complied. If these simple instructions could cure his dreadful disease, it was reasonable to obey (2 Kings 5: 13). With this, Naaman finally agreed. He then dipped (H2881) himself the prescribed seven times and after the seventh dipping his skin became, “like the flesh of a little child.”

Elisha had instructed Naaman to bathe seven times, but Naaman only dipped himself. This word distinction is interesting and may indicate that he was skeptical that Elisha’s instructions would cure him.

Prophetic Kingdom Work

Having this miraculous healing occur in the Jordan River is significant. This is where Jesus would later symbolize his consecration. Now, a Gentile noble was required to bathe himself before being healed of leprosy. As a prominent Gentile, Naaman may represent the Gentile nations. Their complete healing from sin and its effects will occur only after their consecration to God. Like Naaman, many may experience some initial skepticism. Some may only go through the mechanics of obedience. But as the kingdom progresses and people begin to understand its true goodness, they will dedicate themselves fully to God and their cleaning from sin will be complete.

Naaman was a good and honorable man. Still, there was some pride he had to overcome. The world is also filled with many noble people, but they too will have obstacles to overcome. With the correct guidance and their abundance of need, most will overcome all their challenges and be fully blessed.

When Jesus chose the miracles of Elijah and Elisha as examples of healing, it was done to foreshadow the great work of salvation to come through two special classes, pictured by these two prophets. Their combined ministries did more miracles than any other prophet of Israel.

People of Nazareth Respond

After hearing about the two healings, the people in Nazareth were incensed. Just a few minutes earlier they had wondered at his gracious words, but now, they were “filled with wrath.” They thrust Jesus out of the city and were ready to cast him down from a hilltop (Luke 4:28-30). Rather than appreciate the miracle done for a poor starving widow whose son later died, and a man afflicted with leprosy, they saw only that they were Gentiles. As Jews, they were insulted and realized Jesus was not going to perform any miracles that day. Still, Jesus avoided their evil intent and simply passed “through the midst of them went his way” (verse 30).

A Roadblock to Blessings

Our Lord’s words to the people of Nazareth may initially seem harsh. However, their reaction proved that he had correctly read their hearts. Pride is a quality God hates (Proverbs 6:17). It acts as a roadblock to His blessings. Anyone who desires to have, or maintain, a relationship with God must understand the debilitating effects of pride. There may be times that the Lord points out some deficiency in our characters, some quality we lack, and it may hurt our sense of pride. But, unlike the Nazarenes, the blinding power of pride must not prevent us from accepting whatever lesson the Lord is teaching. Naaman humbled himself and it opened the way for a great blessing. The widow recognized she was undeserving, and God responded by feeding her and her family and raising her son from the dead.

God’s blessings often depend on our attitude and willingness to change and grow. That is the key lesson from Jesus’ interaction with the people of Nazareth. It is the underlying principle of the words he read from Isaiah. “He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor … to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18, 19).

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