22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”23 And he said to them, “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.” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 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 a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29And 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. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.
We are in Luke 4:22–30. If you’re new, one of the things we like to do is go through books of the Bible.
Today, you’re gonna get to learn about Jesus as a prophet. He is God and he came into human history as a man, and he came to preach and to prophesy. That’s part of his ministry. So I want to give you a bit of information about the prophets. The Bible has a succession of prophets. They are, in fact, the authors of Scripture.
And a prophet is someone who is hand-chosen by God. Unlike a priest who has to come from a certain family line and go through certain training and pass certain exams, prophets are just appointed by God, the Holy Spirit is upon them. They oftentimes don’t walk out of institutions. They walk out of the woods. They serve God alone. They are often fearless. Some of them do have massive depression because of the rejection they suffer. The call in a prophet’s life is very intense.
They say hundreds of times in the Old Testament, “Thus saith the Lord.” They speak on behalf of God. They’re communicators for God. Some prophets were preaching prophets and they had scribes to record their words. Others were writing prophets. Some were both. And these men were rejected because they would come to God’s people and they would say, “You’re in sin. You’re in rebellion. You need to repent.” And the old Puritans were fond of saying that the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay. And the prophets would thunder God’s Word and some people’s hearts would melt: “I am in sin. I am in rebellion. I am in folly. I do need to repent. I do need to return to the Lord.” And others, their hearts would harden. They’d become more religious and contentious and self-righteous, ultimately putting the prophet to death.
And so Jesus, in the tradition of the prophets, comes preaching. He is loved by some, hated by many, and ultimately would be put to death. The great prophet of the Old Testament is Moses. And what we see in Deuteronomy chapter 18 is a section of Scripture where it speaks about prophets and prophecy. And there, God reveals to Moses that there is a way to test true and false prophets.
And you need to know this, that there are false prophets. They prophesy lies. They’re empowered by Satan, not the Holy Spirit. They found religions. They found ideologies and spiritualities and they lead people astray.
The question is, well, how do you know who is true and who is false for those who claim to speak and serve on behalf of God? And the qualifications in Deuteronomy 18, I’ll summarize them for you, but you can read them for yourself and discuss them with your community group. Part of it is that a true prophet always preaches that which comes to pass. A true prophet is 100 percent correct all the time. And a false prophet is hit or miss.
And so, as we come to the Scriptures, we learn that we need to be very judicious and discerning. Can’t believe every teacher, every preacher, every book. Some are true, some are false. Some are true prophets, some are false prophets. Some are sent by God, some are sent by Satan. And so Moses lays out, or God through Moses lays out this criterion between two true and false prophets, and then he says, “I’m sending another prophet, a capital P Prophet. The Prophet. The Messenger. The Spokesman. He’s coming.” He’s talking ultimately about the Lord Jesus Christ. And that he is coming into human history and he will proclaim the truth.
And so from that moment forward, there was this anticipation and expectation for the coming of Jesus. God would come into human history as a prophet himself. And in the meantime, there were a succession of prophets, major and minor prophets in the Bible. They were sent on behalf of God as ambassadors of God and spokesmen of God and representatives of God so that if you rejected the prophet, you were rejecting God because it was in fact God who sent them. And Jesus comes, and we’ve learned in Luke’s Gospel that he’s God become a man. He’s Emmanuel, God with us. He’s the capital P Prophet. He’s the messenger. He’s the spokesman. He’s the one.
JESUS PREACHES IN NAZARETH, HIS HOMETOWN
We learn that he grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with men and God, that he loved the Scriptures, that he grew up in a small, rural town called Nazareth, that he was baptized in the Jordan by his prophet cousin, John, that the Holy Spirit descended on him, anointing and appointing him for public ministry that included preaching and teaching the Scriptures. He was led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by Satan and tested for forty days and he never sinned. In Jesus’ whole life, alone of all human lives, is without sin.
And then Jesus begins his public ministry. We read that he is preaching and teaching. We saw in the first half of Luke chapter 4 that he is—not to be disrespectful, I’ve got to be careful—but Jesus is a bit of a rock star. He is this young, fiery evangelist, preacher, prophet, teacher; winsome, authoritative, compelling. And so he goes on tour. And he is going from synagogue to synagogue. These are like the old covenant churches, where God’s people would gather for Scripture and preaching and teaching and song and prayer. And the synagogues are full in this rural area. It’s around Galilee. It’s a rural area, small towns, farmers, simple folks, illiterate people. He’s not in the big city yet. That’ll come later in Luke’s Gospel. And he’s going from synagogue to synagogue and the crowds come. And these towns were not big; dozens, hundreds of people. And so the synagogues are small. But they’re packed and everybody’s captivated by this young, fiery preacher, Jesus of Nazareth.
And the tour continues and the fame spreads and he heads toward Nazareth, his hometown. The town where he grew up. Small, little town. People living in 400, 500, 600 square foot homes, animals living under part of that dwelling, one well for the whole town. Not a big place, not a big deal. But here comes the favorite son. Here comes Jesus. He’s coming home to Nazareth. And he’s going to show up at the synagogue and he’s going to preach on the Sabbath day. It’s going to be a Saturday for them. And as was his custom, we are told in Luke 4, he opened the Scriptures, he unrolled the scroll of Isaiah, he reads from Isaiah 58 and 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me. He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to bring sight to the blind, to set the captives free. This is the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolls up the scroll and he looks them in the eye and he says, “Today, these Scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing. I’m here.”
THE RESPONSE OF THE PEOPLE
And then there’s the response of the people. We pick that up in Luke 4:22–24. “And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ And he said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb,’” or proverbial saying from their town. “‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ And he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.’”
At first, Jesus is well received, as the prophets often are before they’re rejected, exiled, and executed. And they said, “Jesus, this is amazing. You’re such a great communicator. What an amazing communicator Jesus is.” Everyone’s held captive, hanging on his every word. And then it dawns on them, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Didn’t we see him grow up? Didn’t he play on our kid’s little league team? I knew Jesus when he was just a little guy. Saw him go through puberty.” These are people who grew up with him. They’ve known him. These are family, friends, relatives, neighbors. They’re gonna have a very hard time receiving him as Lord, God, Savior, Christ, and Prophet. How many of you, you understand that?
It’s amazing how Jesus tells them, “I’m not done preaching my sermon. Don’t get all excited yet. I haven’t offended you.” Every good sermon has a point of offense. A really good sermon has multiple. Jesus says, “Oh yeah, you love that I’m home and the synagogue’s full. But a prophet is without honor in his hometown. You’re going to reject me.” Now let me say this. This is principally true. Prophets are without honor in their hometown. Every time I do consulting at another church or organization, I always ask them, “Hey, do you guys know what an expert is?” They say, “What?” I say, “A guy from out of town.” That’s always an expert because you tend not to listen to the people that are closest to you or respect the people that you know the best. The old adage is true that familiarity, indeed, does breed contempt. And it happens.
Now, sometimes it’s reasonable. Like, if you hung out with me a lot, you would respect me less because you would see I’m a work in progress and it is obvious and evident. And what I would say is when you’re dealing with spiritual leadership the closer you get to them, the proclivity will be for you to respect them less. Now, if you see some big sin in their life, let us know. But if it’s just because they’re a work in progress, don’t think that they’re Jesus. They just work for him. Alright? They’re not perfect. They’re a work in progress.
And we all need to be humble, repentant servants being honest about our failures, faults, and flaws and our shortcomings, but people still need to respect spiritual authority because what can sometimes happen is that disrespect is to your own destruction. And what can happen is you don’t want to repent because spiritual authority will say, “You know, I love you and I see this in your life and I need you to work on this or acknowledge this or do this or stop doing that.” And the first thing is, you get religious and defensive and say, “Well, you’re not perfect and I know you well enough that I see things in your life.” And you become very critical trying to find ways to reject their service of you. That’s to your own destruction. Need to be humble, receptive, teachable, submissive.
And with Jesus, there’s no excuse at all. It’s not like they can look at him and say, “Well, who are you to tell us what to do?” “I am the maker of Heaven and Earth. That is my resume.” Alright? And they can’t look at Jesus like they would look at me, or you might look at me and say, “Well you know, here are these things I have with Mark or whatever elder or leader it is. I see these imperfections, quirks, sins, eccentricities.” You can’t look at Jesus and say, “You know, I just don’t trust the guy ‘cause I see, I see things that are not right.” All you see is the glory of God.
So the rejection of Jesus is indicative that sometimes it’s not just that you can’t respect certain spiritual authorities, but sometimes even if it’s good and godly authority, you could still reject them. And sometimes it’s just a reflection of your own heart, that you’re stubborn, hard-hearted, religious, self-righteous, or simply don’t like the counsel you’ve been given so you’ll push back. And Jesus says, “That’s what’s going to happen because familiarity breeds contempt. A prophet is without honor in their hometown.” Be gracious with those in spiritual authority. They’re not perfect. They’re not Jesus. And if people are going to criticize him, imagine how easy it is to take a crack at them.
ELIJAH AND THE WIDOW (1 KINGS 17)
He continues. The tone in the room is changed at this point. “Yay! Jesus is here!” Huge crowd, big day, celebration. “Oh, he’s getting kind of stern with us.” What next? We read in Luke 4:25–26, “But in truth,” that’s “amen.” That’s in agreement with God. “I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut for three years and six months,” a famine and a drought, “and a 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.” Jesus looks at them and says, “I’m going to take you to the Old Testament.” He’s a Bible teacher. Jesus is a Bible teacher.
Now, some of you are going, “Who? What? Where?” It’s in 1 King 17. So we’ll go there. We’re going to read a lot of Bible. Isn’t that great? ‘Cause faith comes by hearing the Word of God. We love the Bible. We’re really excited about the Bible. It’s all true. It’s all good. It’s all from God through the prophets. And if it’s in there, it’s for us. We don’t worship the Bible, but we learn about the God we do worship from the Bible. So I’m gonna have this great pleasure today. I get to read a lot of Bible. I had somebody after the last service say, “That’s really cool. You get to read a lot of Bible.” It is. It is. I’m actually very excited about that. So, 1 Kings 17:8. Do you love the Bible? [Congregation: Yes!]We do, don’t we? We like this book. This is the book that God wrote, so this one’s our favorite.
So here it is. 1 Kings 17:8: Drought and famine. God is judging his people. They’re being horrible and God’s like, “Well, how about no rain, no food? Will that cause you to pay a little bit of attention to me?” And here’s what happens. “Then the word of the Lord came to him.” And this is how the prophets work. The word of the Lord comes to them. The Holy Spirit comes upon them. It’s a revelation miracle. God’s going to speak through him. God says, “Arise. Go to Zarephath,” same place Jesus is talking about. Here we are, “which belongs to Sidon.” Are those friends of God’s people or enemies of God’s people? Enemies. This is not a people group that loves the God of the Bible, worships the God of the Bible. They have a different God named Baal.
Just so you know, different religions have different gods. Baal is different than Yahweh. Mohammed is different than Yahweh. We worship the God of the Bible, Yahweh. Jesus Christ. That’s who we worship. Some people say, “No, all religions worship the same God.” No, they don’t. Some religions worship this demon, some religions worship this demon, and we worship the Creator of Heaven and Earth. And I don’t say that arrogantly, I say that truthfully, that demons will masquerade with spiritual power, empowering false prophets, false teachers, false apostles to create false religions and to teach false doctrines to lead people astray into destruction in this life and eternal death and damnation in the life to come. We are not spiritual relativists and pluralists. We’re Christians. And when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me,” we agree with him. We say, “He’s not a liar. He’s a truth teller.” And he’s not just a religious leader, he’s a savior.
And here, Jesus is disorienting his hearers, saying, “They worship Baal. Remember the story of Elijah?” He’s telling God’s people, “They worship Baal. That’s the wrong god. That’s a demon god. That’s a false god. That’s another religion. That’s the other team.” Very disorienting to these religious people. Where could he be going with this? “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon,” the worshipers of Baal, “and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”
Just so you know, a widow is as low as it gets on the socioeconomic order. Husband dead, she’s got a little kid. You’ll meet him in a moment. This means she’s destitute poor. She doesn’t own land. She can’t own land. She can’t vote. Earning an income is almost impossible. She’s dependent on charity, the equivalent of the Old Testament food bank just for survival. And when you get your food from the food bank and it doesn’t rain for three years and there’s a famine and a drought and you’re last in the provision line, you are in dire straits. She’s the lowest of the low and she’s a pagan and she worships the wrong god and she’s on the other team and she lives in the wrong nation. This gal has nothing going for her. But you’re going to see that God loves her and he’s gracious. See, God’s always the hero.
We’ll keep reading. “So he arose and went. And there he came to the gate of the city and behold.” See, the Bible’s funny. Oh, behold! A widow! Haha. Because God said, “Go there. There’ll be a widow.” And you get there, there’s a widow, ‘cause God’s in control. And he says funny little things like “Behold.” [Laughter] That’s pretty cool right there. “Behold.” Oh! A widow. “Was gathering sticks.” You know you’re poor when you don’t even have your own sticks. “And he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a little water in a vessel that I may drink.’ And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’” Bring me bread? What’s she got? Nothing. “And she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives.’“ She agrees with my previous statement. She says, “Your God.” See, that’s not her God. She doesn’t say “Our God.” Your God. Her god is probably Baal. Your God is the God of the Bible. So she says, “You want me to bring you water and food? I will do that out of respect for your God, but your God is not my god.”
“I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks,” obviously to make a fire, “that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” How poor is this woman? I want to thank you for being really generous on Haiti and God’s opening our hearts to be more generous, I believe. My trip to Haiti was amazing, life changing. Definitely want to help people. The world is a totally different perspective to me.
Here’s the one big idea. We’re the rich people. When you read the rich people in the Bible, don’t say, “I’m not rich. I only have a 2G connection and I take the bus.” [Laughter] You’re rich. You are rich. Her issue is starvation. Our issue is obesity. We’re the rich. See, we say, “But I live in an apartment.” It beats the tarps that I saw in Haiti. You’re rich. We are the rich. We are the fat consumers of the world. Okay? And the most struggling among us still live at a very high level compared to those in the world. Compared to those in the world, when the Bible speaks of the rich, that’s us. We always think of somebody else. Doesn’t matter how much you make or how well you live, you always think “Yeah, rich? That’s that other guy.” The truth is, we’re the rich to whom much is entrusted, much is expected.
We see our lives in perspective here to this woman. No husband. Destitute poverty, pagan nation, worships a demon god. Hasn’t rained for years. Famine and drought cover the land. Her small son is very skinny. He’s starving to death. He’s malnourished. Do you see him? She is skin and bones. Anything that she has, she gives to her young son. She is down to a bit of oil, a bit of flour. That’s all she has. She has no food. She’s going to make the equivalent of a bit of bread or a few crackers and the prophet shows up and says, “I would like to eat that.” [Laughter]Right. How many of you at this point would be like, “No. You are a foreigner from a different country. You are of a different religion. And I am a widow and he is an orphan. Get a job.” [Laughter] “And bring us something to eat.”
It seems like he’s being rude, isn’t he? I mean, this is seemingly rude. He’s not being rude, he’s inviting her to faith. And faith requires believing in what we do not see, trusting in the promises of God. “And Elijah said to her, ‘Do not fear; Go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the Earth.”’ And she went and she did as Elijah said.”
You know what faith is? Obeying God. And see, here God is speaking through Elijah. The word of God is coming through the servant of God. Faith is obeying. Does she have any reason to believe that if I give him my food, I’ll have food forever? How many of you, if I told that to you right now, you’re starving to death, you’re homeless, you’re living in the park, devastation has come, famine has come, you’re down to a Lunchable and I come up to you and say, “Give that to me and the Lunchable will magically reappear itself by the Lunchable fairy forever.” How many of you would eat the Lunchable and not share the Lunchable? What she says is, “You can have it.” She’s generous. She’s kind. You know, statistically, the most generous people are the most poor people. Do you know that the poorer you are statistically, the more you give to church and charity? The richer you get, the greedier you become, statistically. This woman is giving almost everything she has. She’s very generous.
Verse 14. God promises that her oil will magically—not magically—miraculously. Get the word right. That’s another team. Ours is the miraculous team. Miraculously, the oil and the flour would, by God’s provision, just like the manna in the wilderness for the Israelites, it would just keep appearing. “And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and her household ate for many days.” This gal started putting on weight. She’s on a high-carb diet. It went really well for her. “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.” This gal started to believe in the God of the Bible, that God is loving and gracious and compassionate and kind. And that even if you’re a poor widow in a foreign country, worshiping a demon god, he still knows you and he loves you and he cares for you and he comes for you. What a wonderful God that is.
And some of you would say, “I love these stories where it’s hard and then it’s good.” And you know what it is? It’s then hard again. And that’s life. “After this, the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.” Her son died. It’s all she’s got. Can you see him? Little boy. Dead. I’ve got a four-year-old, an eight-year-old, a ten-year-old son. One of those boys dies, part of me dies. He dies. This is all she’s got. She’s got no affluence, she’s got no husband. She’s got this little boy.
“And she said to Elijah, ‘What have you against me, oh man of God?’” See, she doesn’t understand God yet. Something bad happens and she immediately blames God. “Why did God do this to me? What do you have against me?” The answer is that not everything that happens is God punishing you. “‘You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son.’” See, she doesn’t understand that ultimately a savior is coming and that he will die in her place for her sins and that God will punish him and not her. She doesn’t understand God yet. Some of you still don’t understand God. God corrects and chastens and disciplines us, but if we are in Christ, He does not punish us. He punished Jesus in our place for our sins. That punishment has already been taken care of. She doesn’t understand the God of the Bible yet.
“And he,” meaning Elijah, “said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ And he took him from her arms.” Can you see it? This is a little boy. My ten-year-old son, buddy Zac. He’s big enough to carry. Calvin, who’s eight, he’s big enough to carry. Gideon, four, old enough to carry. I can’t fathom carrying a dead son in your arms. She is devastated and distraught and discouraged.
And Elijah carries her son “into the upper chamber where he lodged.” Isn’t that amazing? She allowed Elijah to live with her. She gave him a room. I want you to see the generosity of this woman. She houses the man of God, feeds the man of God.
“And laid him on his own bed. And he cried out to the Lord.” Elijah loves the Lord and he’s devastated at the death of the boy. “He cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord, my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?’”
Here’s what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t accuse God, but he inquires. I was praying with a couple. Their son’s diagnosed with— I think it was epilepsy. Don’t accuse God ‘cause we’re not God and we don’t know what God’s thinking or doin’. But it’s okay to ask God, “God, what’s going on? I don’t understand. I’m totally confused here. God, I thought you loved this woman and her son and you sent me here and, you know, she’s been very kind to me and she’s been very respectful of you and she gave me food to eat. She gave me a room to sleep in. She did that because she wants to honor you. God, why is her son dead? I just don’t understand.” This is not accusing God. This is inquiring of God.
“Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.’” And the Lord what? That is an amazing word right there. “And the Lord,” what? “Listened.” See, we love that about our God. He listens. He listens. Why talk to God? Because he listens. “And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.”
The child came back to life. Do you know that we believe this, that God can actually do this? He doesn’t do it all the time. That’s why we call it a miracle. It’s unusual. We admit that. But we believe that God can raise the dead. In fact, he’s going to do it with Jesus and he’s going to do it with you. That whether it’s now or later, the dead rise. We believe that all the little boys and girls who die will rise. We believe that those who love Jesus will rise to eternal life, to never suffer or get sick or hungry or die again. We believe that the world as it is, is the result of sin and rebellion and Satan and death. And we believe that Jesus is the hero and that religion is a problem. You will die. Your sons and daughters will die. And in Christ, they will rise as this little boy rose, giving us a foretaste of the kingdom and the resurrection and the healing that is coming.
“And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother.” Ladies, can you feel her joy? There’s my little boy. He’s just going to run outside and play. He’s going to do what boys do. He’s fine. “And Elijah said, ‘See, your son lives.’” This is God’s way of telling all of those people: God, the God of the Bible, the real God, he knows you. He loves you. He pays attention to you. He cares for you. He does for you what the demon gods can’t do. “And the woman said to Elijah, ‘I know that you are a man of God.’” Wow! “‘And that the word of the Lord is in your mouth.’” What you say is true. She converts. She gives her life to the God of the Bible. She becomes a worshiper of the God of the Bible. The kingdom of God breaks in. The presence and goodness of God breaks in through the prophet to a people who are far away from God.
Jesus is saying this to what people? A bunch of religious people in a synagogue in Nazareth. What he’s telling them is, “You are more needy than that widow. And you are farther from God than she was, because at least she had faith and did what she was told.” Now, he told them, “You will hate me by the time this sermon is done.” And he’s well on his way. Religious people don’t want to hear that they’re in worse condition spiritually than a pagan, demon-god worshiping, starving widow. And he’s not done.
ELISHA AND THE LEPER (2 KINGS 5)
He proceeds on with his sermon. Luke 4:27: “‘And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha,’” he was the successor to Elijah, “‘and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.’” Lepers. They occupy an interesting place in Scripture. This is the disease you definitely don’t want to get. It’s a debilitating skin disease. Your limbs just become cankerous and seeping with sores and stench and filth, and flesh is falling off your body, and you lose touch so you burn yourself and cut yourself and limbs are falling off, and your face is disfigured, and you’re a grotesque mess. You’re exiled. They considered you cursed of God. It was a horrible condition.
He’s here speaking out of 2 Kings chapter 5. We’ll read more Bible. Here’s the story. Gonna meet Naaman. Second Kings 5:1: “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria.” Commander of the army of the king of Syria. That is an introduction. “Hi, I am Naaman, commander of the king of Syria’s army.” This guy is a big deal. He is a warrior. He has conquered nations and foes. He has treaded enemies underfoot. He is a man in authority. And you read Syrian—do they love God’s people or not so much? Well, even if you’re not up on history, current events would say—some things never change—Syrians tend not to be real friendly of Israelites. We were up in Israel this summer. We climbed up to where Jesus apparently transfigured, and we were right on the border of Syria and all their guards were there with sniper rifles, keeping us in scope. It didn’t feel welcoming. Alright? The Syrians here are like that. They’re not real friendly toward God’s people.
“He was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria.” He conquered God’s people. God allowed him to do that to teach them a lesson that they were a bunch of rebellious, stiff-necked, hard-hearted, self-righteous religious people. And so sometimes God will even use a godless person to discipline a godly person. That’s what God does ‘cause he loves his kids. “He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.” He can rule a nation, but he can’t cure his own condition. He’s in desperate need. “Now the Syrians on one of their raids—” You just— We don’t have guys like this. Guys are too busy, you know, playing video games and watching television to go on raids, but in the olden days, guys would use their free time to go on a raid. What that means is, we’re gonna go into that nation, and we’re gonna take all their stuff, and we’re gonna take their people, and we’re gonna make ‘em ours. These are dudes.
They “had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife.” Imagine, hypothetically—this, of course, will never happen—but the Canadians come down… [Laughter] and if they did, we could handle ‘em. I met ‘em. They’re not scary. If the Canadians came down and they took all our junior high kids, some of you’d be like, “See? The Lord answers prayer.” But some of you would be very sad. You’d be like, “They took all our junior high kids.” The Syrians came down and they took all the junior high kids.
So, here’s what happens. Verse 3: “She,” this junior high gal who loves the God of the Bible, “said to her mistress, ‘Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria. He would cure him of leprosy.’” This little gal’s a nice gal. She says, “Oh, we worship the God of the Bible. He heals people. He’s got a prophet named Elisha. Maybe we could send the guy who took me captive in war over there to get healed. And he could go meet with the prophet.” She’s a sweet gal.
“And the king of Syria said, ‘Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.’” So this is international diplomacy. Everybody knows about this. It’s in the news. It’s a big deal. The Syrians are sending one of their leaders to Israel to meet with the prophet to be healed. This is a global issue, right? Larry King is updating this and it’s on the bottom of the feed for Fox News and the Twitter account’s gone kookoo for Cocoa Puffs— I mean, this is a big, big deal. Everyone’s paying attention. So this guy who’s going with leprosy, he’s in a potentially very humiliating situation. “Hi, I come from your enemies. I’ve got leprosy. I—you know, hey, thanks for the junior high kids. Where’s the prophet? I’d like to be healed.” This is very humbling. Very humbling.
“So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver.” Seven hundred and fifty pounds. “Six thousand shekels of gold.” A hundred and fifty pounds of gold. “Ten changes of clothing.” One commentator I read said this might be upwards of a billion dollars. This guy really wants to get over leprosy. And this is a powerful man. This is like Bill Gates walking into some Baptist church with his credit card saying, “I need help. Take whatever you want. There’s a billion dollar limit.”
See, at this point he doesn’t understand God at all. Because ours is a God of grace. He gives generously because he’s good. The difference between Christianity and religion is religion assumes God is bad and you gotta make him good. You gotta pray, give, serve, tithe, manipulate God. See, the Bible teaches that God is good and he’s gracious and he’s generous. We don’t need to make him be good. He is. We don’t need to make him be generous. He is. So this guy rolls in, thinking he’s going to buy God. “I want God to heal me. How much?” You know. “Where’s the menu? How much is a leprosy healing?” And people do that even to this day. They roll into the church, think, “Okay, God. Help. I need you to. How much?” Answer? Grace. It doesn’t mean we don’t give to God and his purposes, but we don’t give to manipulate him. We give because we love him. Because he loved us first.
I’ve seen this. I had one guy a couple years ago literally write out a $250,000 check and say, “Can you save my marriage?” No. Because I didn’t create the Heavens and the Earth. There are certain things beyond my job description. Here what I can do, though, I can give you the $250,000 back and I can meet with your wife, and we can love and serve your family, and we’re gonna talk about Jesus, and he’s a God of grace, and the Holy Spirit changes hearts, but you can’t pay for this. Maybe after it’s all said and done, and you love Jesus and you know something about him, then you can give generously. But right now, let’s not turn this into you paying God so that he works for you. That’s not how it goes.
“And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, ‘When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of leprosy.’” The king got the letter. “And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.’” The king’s like, “You gotta be kidding!” Dear Hank. Cure leprosy. Love, James. What? I totally missed that class in college. I don’t— How many of you community group leaders, this would bum you out? Somebody shows up, “Hi. I have AIDS and a letter from Pastor Mark. He says to fix it.” You’d be like, “Come on. Come on! I do what I can, but this is totally beyond my scope of training. I don’t have the magic wand. I can’t just: ‘Be healed.’” Alright? So the king’s like, “This is not good.” Right? This is a big, international incident. “If I don’t heal him, then they’re gonna come and take more junior high kids.”
“But when Elisha,” verse 8, “the man of God—” You know, don’t you love this? You see, one of the reason I know the Bible’s true? Nobody’s writing this. Nobody’s making it up. There’s no committee somewhere going, “Okay. Leprosy, international incident, billion dollars, ten changes of clothing, his whole wardrobe, entourage thing.” I love the Bible. The Bible is amazing because it shows us history and it shows us in such a way that we know that it’s factual. This is not stuff that people make up.
“When Elisha the man of God heard the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying ‘Why have you torn your clothes?’” What, you can’t handle that? “Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” Elisha raises his hand. “I’ll take the leper.” I’m sure the king’s like, “Good. I’m glad somebody volunteered.” Elisha said, “Hey, I trust that God can do whatever. If he sent him here, send him to me.” I don’t think he’s saying this arrogantly, “I’m a prophet.” Prophet usually means you’ll be exiled and murdered. So it’s not the thing you put on a t-shirt, you know? But he accepts his position from God. He welcomes the leper.
“So Naaman came with his horses and chariots,” full entourage. I mean, this guy’s rolling with a massive posse. “And stood at the door of Elisha’s house.” And this is awesome. I love this! “And Elisha sent a message to him.” Did Elisha come out? No! He’s like, “Tell him…” [Laughing] He already came from another country with diplomatic immunity, full military guard, happens to have upwards of a billion dollars, and Elisha’s like, “Look, man. It’s lunch and just tell ‘em what to do. I’m totally tied up with nothing.” I love that!
Because sometimes the truth is, you don’t need to meet with a man of God, you just need to obey the Word of God. I’ll say that again. It just came to me. And that was pretty good. You don’t need to meet with the man of God, you need to obey the word of God. Elisha doesn’t need to come out. “Hi, I’m the holy, spiritual man. You can tell by the big hat and the ring and the robe and, you know, and the wafting incense and the magic wand. It’s me.” He doesn’t need to meet with Elisha. Elisha’s like, “You know what? God’s gonna tell you what to do. You just need to go do it. You don’t need to meet with a magic holy man.” There’s only one holy man. His name’s Jesus. I’m not saying that it’s not good to meet with a pastor, it’s not good to meet with a spiritual leader, but sometimes you know what? God already told you what to do. Just do it. Or you read the Bible and through his prophets, he tells you what to do. Just go do it. You don’t need to meet with anybody. You need to do what you’re supposed to do.
So here’s what Elisha tells him. “Go and wash in the Jordan.” How far away is that? About forty miles! He’s already come across a country. “Go another forty miles and wash in the Jordan.” How many times? Seven times. “And your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” How many of you, if I said, “Okay, look. You want to be cleansed of whatever ailments you have? Go to Mexico. Find a river. Bathe yourself seven times. Go in, scrub, scrub, scrub, get out, dry off, scrub, scrub, scrub—seven times.” How many, if I told you right now, “God wants you tomorrow to take seven showers.” Just that, you’d be like, “Nope. Not gonna do it.” ‘Cause it’s silly. Even if nobody’s lookin’, I feel weird. Shower, dry off. Shower, dry off. Shower, dry off. Shower, dry off. What about the salmon? I mean, there’s all these reasons… [Laughter] You totally had it coming. You go, “No, I’m not going to do that. Even if nobody’s lookin’ and it’s not on TV and it’s not a diplomatic international event, it just feels weird and I don’t like feelin’ weird.”
So, yeah, this is great. “But Naaman was…angry.” “I don’t like it.” See, we do this with God a lot. God’s like, “Do this.” We’re like, “No.” God’s like, “Well, guess who’s in charge? We don’t negotiate.” “Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord—’“ “Do some holy magic stuff, maybe hit me in the head and wave his hand over me and cure the leper and do the voodoo stuff.” See, and that’s what some people want. “Where is the holy man doing the holy stuff?” God’s like, “Trust me. I’m gonna make you do something a little goofy. Hey, thanks for traveling across the country. Nice letter from the king. Go find the river, the river of God’s people, the river Jesus will be baptized in. Not one of your rivers up in your pagan nation. Go there in front of all the people who love and worship the God of the Bible. Publicly humiliate yourself and don’t just take one bath, take seven.” Now, if you’re a leper, do you think that feels good? I’ve never had leprosy, but I’m thinking seven baths—that’s not so comfortable. He’s angry. “God didn’t meet me on my terms. He didn’t do it the way I think he should do it.” It’s ‘cause he loves you. And he wants you to be humble and trusting, and learn to obey, even if it doesn’t seem very wise.
“‘Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?’” “Why do I gotta go to this country? Why not that country? Why with these people, not those people? We have our own rivers. We have our own gods. We have our own religion.” God says, “I know, and that’s all wrong. So go to the Jordan. That’s the river I’m picking.” “‘Could I not wash in there and be clean?’” See, it’s not about the water, it’s about the faith and the humility and the obedience. “So he turned and went away in a rage.” See, this guy’s used to being in charge, not taking orders. “But his servant,” the low slave. The guy on the journey carrying the bag. “Came and said, ‘My father.’” Nice way to start. “‘It is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it?’” He’s like, “Hey! He said to go in the river. Maybe we should—I mean… go in the river. You are a leper.” Like some of you come here and you say, “I don’t want Jesus!” You’re going to hell! You say, “Well, I don’t want Jesus!” Well, you’re going to hell. Like, you should probably look at your option. “I don’t want to go to the river!” “You have leprosy.” “I don’t want to go to the river!” “Back to my first point, you have leprosy. And he said that’s the only way to get rid of that problem, just like Jesus is the only way to get rid of sin. This is how it works. Either do it that way or it’s gonna go bad for you.” “‘Has he actually said to you, “Wash, and be clean”?’” That’s what he said.
“So,” this is repentance. It’s like, “Alright, fine. I don’t understand, but I’ll submit. I’m used to giving orders. I’ll take a few. I’m going down to the river to take seven baths in the Jordan.” “He went down, dipped himself seven times.” Think he was feeling silly around five? Crowd’s there. “Hey, aren’t you that guy who took the junior high kids?” “Yeah…” “According to the word of the man of God,” that’s Scripture, “and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a baby and he was clean.” He had baby-smooth skin. Totally healed. Totally healed.
How much of the money did Elisha take? Nothing. As he was leaving, heading home—the rest of the story, and you can read it or read it to your kids tonight—one of the servants followed him, said, “Hey, hey, that billion dollars, I’d like a little bit.” And he took it and he got leprosy and his whole family got leprosy because it was greed. It was greed.
THEIR SIN IS RELIGION
Back up. Who’s Jesus telling this story to? The religious people in Nazareth in the synagogue. How would they respond to the story of the widow and the leper? “When they heard these things in the synagogue, all were filled with wrath. And they rose up and they drove him out of the town and they 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.” Jesus, are you saying that us decent, moral, heterosexual, Republican, tithing, community group attending,ESV Bible reading, home school co-op joining, decent, upright, moral citizens—that in the sight of God we are as needy as the widow and our sin is as horrific as the leprosy and that we need provision and cleansing? It can’t be. We’re the good guys. How could you possibly say that the bad guys have something to teach us? He goes after their religion. And as religious people often do, they would rather kill Jesus than kill their religion.
And the difference between Jesus and religion is this: religion is about what you do for God. Jesus is about what God does for you. Religion is about how you earn favor from God. Jesus is about how God gives you righteousness as a gift. Religion is about you becoming very proud of your performance. Jesus is about becoming very proud of his performance in your place. And some of you are deeply religious. And one of the reasons that we continually hammer on religion is religion is the enemy of Jesus. It leads to arrogance and pride and self-righteousness and judgmentalism. And some of you love religion more than Jesus. One of the reasons that we always talk against sin and religion is because both are enemies of Jesus. And here their sin is religion.
And they decide they’re going to kill Jesus. This is what happens to the prophets. They’re killed. There’s two ways you would kill by stoning. One, you would throw the rocks at the person. Or you would throw the person off the cliff onto the rocks. They try to do that here. Somehow, he escapes. Question. Is there any record that Jesus ever returned to Nazareth? There is no record that he ever returned to Nazareth. He is gone forever. He is the prophet without honor in his own hometown. Nazareth lost the opportunity to be the headquarters for the worldwide ministry of Jesus Christ. Tragic moment in the history of Nazareth. Tragic moment. Today, it is largely a Muslim town. It still rejects Jesus. Still very, very religious, but rejects Jesus. I’ve been there and seen it. It’s one of the most religious places I’ve ever seen and the rejection of Jesus is overt.
WHAT WOULD COMPEL YOU TO REJECT JESUS CHRIST?
Now, here’s my concern. As we read this story, we can act in such a way or respond in such a way that we think, “Thank you, Lord, that I haven’t rejected Jesus.” Okay. I want to take from the story eight ways that you could reject Jesus to make you aware of them in closing. Because I don’t want you to reject Jesus. What would compel you to reject Jesus Christ? You can discuss this in your community group this week.
Number one: For some of you, it is theology. They love Jesus as a teacher and a healer and a feeder and a defender of the poor. But when he said, “I’m God, and I speak on behalf of God,” they said, “No, you’re Joseph’s son. You’re just a really good guy, but you’re not God.” Some of you do that. “Jesus is a good man, but not the God-man. He’s a good teacher, except for when he lies, saying things like ‘I’m God and savior.’” Don’t reject him theologically.
Number two: You can reject him because of control. This was the real conflict in Nazareth. He showed up and they said, “Here’s what we want, Jesus. You grew up with us. You know that we’re poor and she’s sick and he needs a job, and we’ve got a dumpy, rural hick-town nobody comes from, to, or through here, and you—you’re a rock star. You draw huge crowds. You can heal and feed people. We’re gonna set up a tent. You’re gonna be the circus act. People are going to come from miles around. You can feed us, heal us, bless us, make us headquarters. We’re gonna use you for our own mission. We wanna get rich and famous.” It was a control issue. Jesus said, “I’m not going to do any miracles here in Nazareth. Not ‘cause I can’t do any miracles, but because if I do, you will think that you controlled me. And your motives are disgusting, and you don’t love God.” And for the widow, she got her miracle after she trusted the Lord. For the leper, he trusted the Lord and he got his miracle. “You guys don’t even love me, you don’t even trust me. You just want miracles. You want me to be the magic genie who jumps out of the bottle and answers all the requests. No.” And, see, some people are like that with Jesus. They come in to church or ministry. “Okay! Here’s what I want. Jesus, give it to me. He didn’t give it to me? Well, then I reject you. I’m post-Christian, anti-Christian. Find another religion or go my own way.” It’s how to reject Jesus.
Greed. Again, there’s a lot of money to be made in Nazareth. If you could get Jesus to stay there and all the crowds to come to him, and you could build a huge synagogue, and you could take an offering after you heal people, you’ll be doing well. They wanted to use Jesus for the money, so he uses the analogy and the illustration of the widow. What he says is she had nothing and she allowed the servant of God to live with her and to eat of her final meal before she starved to death. You don’t use God for money. That’s idolatry. You love God because he’s God. You love Jesus because he’s God.
Sometimes it’s just selfishness. The people in Nazareth, when he showed up they didn’t say, “Jesus! This is amazing! We could reach the nations. We could spread the good news that God has come. How could we help you and serve you? How could we give our lives so that others would come to know you?” It was just all about me. “Where’s my miracle? Where’s my healing? Where’s my food? Where’s my provision? What about me?” Complete selfishness can cause you to reject Jesus.
Familiarity. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? He says he’s God, Lord, Savior, Christ, King, and Prophet, but we saw him grow up. We know who he is. That’s not who he is. We know who he is.” The truth is, you can become so familiar with Jesus that you don’t even know who he is. You can grow up in church, be around Bible teaching, go to camp, go to Christian school, have Christian family, friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors.
You can even go to Bible college and get some goofy, dinky Bible college prof that gives you some weird, funky new liberal insight on Jesus and all of a sudden, you feel like you got it all nailed down and covered, and you reject him and move on and get into spiritism and get into demonism and get into false teaching. Why? Because you’re like, “I know Jesus. I know the stories. I know the doctrine. I got it all nailed down, you know. But I’ve kind of moved on to some other things as well, in addition to or in place of him. Because I know him really well.”
And the truth is, you don’t. You don’t. You don’t know him at all. You’re like the people in Nazareth. They’ve become so familiar of him that they’re really not aware of his true identity as God among them. I really worry about this with the church kids.
See, I’m a fired up, full tank of gas kinda guy when it comes to Jesus. And part of that is, I didn’t grow up knowing a lot about Jesus and reading the Bible. We were marginal Catholic, but I wasn’t payin’ any attention. And I woulda said, “Oh, I know who Jesus is. Yeah, he did something with fishes and loaves and, yeah, he can water-ski without a boat and stuff. Yeah, I know a few things about him.” But I didn’t really know much about Jesus and I wasn’t that familiar with him. When I start meeting Jesus and readin’ the Bible and being with God’s people, it’s like I’m fired up because it’s all pretty fresh and new to me.
For those of you that are like my wife and now like my kids, and you’re gonna hear the name of Jesus and you’re gonna hear Bible teaching and Bible reading and be around God’s people for a long time, don’t get too familiar with Jesus. Still be amazed and shocked and continue to be astonished by this man.
Comfort. It’s where he uses the example. Do you think it was comfortable for the widow to give what she had and her house to the prophet? No. Do you think it was comfortable for Naaman to go to another nation and another God and go down to the river and publically humiliate himself? No. Some of you, it’s just comfort. You’re like, “I would give, but it’s not comfortable. I would serve, but it’s not comfortable. I would pray, but it’s not comfortable. I would whatever, but it’s just not comfortable.” Because you worship convenience instead of Christ.
And sometimes it’s just embarrassment because being a Christian does not get you cool points anywhere. Okay? You just—this was my big thing as a non-Christian. All the Christians would come to me and they’d be like, “Okay, you need to give your life to Christ.” And I’m like, “I don’t want to join the team, man. The Ned Flanders society. I do not want to join the team.” And it was always the kids with the bumper stickers and the t-shirts and the permagrins and the parted hair and the wristbands, and they’re like, “We love Jesus! We love him, we love him.” I was like, “Aaaargh! Seriously, is there another team that he has? Maybe wearing black, you know? Could I join that team?” It was just embarrassing. “I love Jesus.”
You know how weird it is to get converted in college and your philosophy class, when they’re like, “How many of you are Christians?” “Oh, here we go.” You know. History class. “Yeah, I love Jesus.” Sociology class. “I love Jesus.” Women’s studies class. “Oh yeah, I love Jesus.” You know? You’re just a piñata for your whole undergrad degree. It’s embarrassing.
And then every time any Christian says or does anything stupid, myself included—I am not beyond this capacity—it’s like, “You Christians.” You’re like, “There’s billions of us! Just ‘cause one duffed it doesn’t mean we’re all doing it.” But it’s embarrassing.
Do you think it was embarrassing for Naaman to go down to the river? “Hi, I’m the mighty man, leper, help.” It’s kind of embarrassing. For those in Nazareth, it’s like, “You’re the bad guys.” “Really? That’s kind of embarrassing, ‘cause we took a vote. We thought we were the good guys.” Some of you just need to be humiliated for Christ.
And lastly, sometimes it’s just good old-fashioned religion. Me? That was me. Before I met Jesus at age nineteen, I was a religious guy. I thought, “Okay, I believe in God. I’m a good person. Good enough.” Didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t do drugs, most likely to succeed, student body president, four-year letterman, man of the year, holier-than-thou, “Da da dada, I’m here. You’re welcome.” Just kind of that attitude. Better than everybody. And you know what? That’s religion. And sometimes it’s just religion. I mean, religious people don’t think they need Jesus ‘cause they think they’re doing fine without him and they don’t realize that they’re in worse shape than the widow and the leper. The truth is, we’re as needy as the widow. We’re as hopeless as the leper. We’re sinners by nature and choice.
DON’T REJECT JESUS
And they didn’t kill Jesus on this occasion, but eventually they did. And you know what he did? It was the most amazing thing in the world. He took our sin upon his sinless self and he died to forgive us of all of our sin. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. You know what Jesus is? He’s good to the end. He provides for us like he did the widow. He heals us like he did the leper. He does that as we murder him, and he loves us. Some of you are going to reject him as they did in Nazareth. I would beg you not to do that. Some of you would reject him like the soldier rejected God, and then he had a change of heart and mind, and he received God. See, there’s still hope for you. You’re still alive. Just ‘cause you’ve rejected Jesus doesn’t mean you can’t receive him today. That some of you will be like the widow and you will just receive the Lord into your life. That’s what I want for you, because I love you, and I want good for you. And I want you to enjoy the gift of Jesus Christ. Amen. I’ll pray.
Father God, thank you for the Bible. God, we love the Bible. We don’t worship the Bible, but we worship the God of the Bible. We thank you for the prophets, who were filled with the Holy Spirit to write the Scriptures. We thank you for Jesus, the capital P Prophet, the fulfillment of all Scripture. God, we thank you that we do read in Scripture of places that you were received, like the widow’s home. May our home be like that. A place where you, Lord Jesus, are received. We read of people who receive you even after being angry and upset and independent and self-righteous, like the commander and the soldier. God, may our hearts and our minds and our lives open as his did to receive you, Lord Jesus. We welcome you, Lord Jesus. And we ask you to be with us because you are good, and we need you more than a leper. And our condition is worse than the widow. And apart from you, we have no hope. But in you, we have much joy, and so we rejoice in your good name. Amen.
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Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.