“And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:24-27).
This wonderful sermon is contained in four short verses of Scripture, and states but two striking facts of sacred history, the mere narration of which so filled the audience with wrath that they led the Preacher to the brow of the hill on which their city was built that they might cast Him down headlong.
Now what were these two pregnant facts?
The Lord had gone, as He was wont, into the synagogue at Nazareth on a certain Sabbath day, and had read from the book of Isaiah as follows:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, 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.”
He quoted a passage which had direct reference to the Messiah—the Christ—and having done so, the eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on Him. His hearers were astonished at the boldness of His assertion and at the claim He made to this dignity. And yet as they listened they could only bear witness to the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth. What these gracious words may have been we are not told. They were surely in full harmony with the quotation He had just read. The acceptable year of the Lord had come, and along with it the Anointed One—its Blessed Inaugurator and Herald! His words were words of grace, and fell sweetly on ears wholly unprepared for such a sound.
What of the Preacher? God had anointed Him by the Spirit who, in dove-like form, had descended from heaven upon Him, while a Voice thence had declared: “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased.” Thus the passage quoted had its fulfilment in Him. He was the Anointed—the Messiah—the Christ. And the words He spoke in explaining this were marked by grace, that is, by the absence of arrogance and self-assertiveness. They stated the truth. We shall see their effect. How much depends on divine preparation of heart for the reception of any light which God may be pleased to give! Apart from this, there is no moral foundation on which to build. And so in our present case the people in the synagogue heard the words, admitted their grace, but, alas! could only say: “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Thus, and thus only, did they recognise Him. They were unable to put together a parentage so lowly and a claim so high. Their ideas of the advent of the Messiah of Israel were very different from those now presented to them. Joseph was their neighbour, their fellow-countryman, and said they, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” It was to an audience in this incredulous frame of mind that the Lord addressed His first recorded discourse.
Nor was it merely that they failed to appreciate the testimony of His words, for they had heard of the things—the mighty works—He had done in Capernaum, but had, like that city, turned a blind eye to them, and had refused to repent. All this lay behind their depreciatory remark: “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
Now we turn to His sermon.
He speaks, first, of a time when there was a great famine in the land of Israel, and many widows as well; but He adds, with great significance, that to none of them was Elias sent, but to Sarepta—a city of Sidon—to a woman that was a widow. Israel was passed over by this notable prophet, who gave his benefaction to a poor, despised Gentile. The question arises, Why, a famine in the land that flowed with milk and honey, and why so many widows therein? Again, How came the prophet to visit, in such grace, a Gentile?
Second, there were many lepers in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet none of them were cleansed save Naaman the Syrian. Again, there is grace for the Gentile! The lepers of Israel are passed over in favour of a man whom the Lord had used as a scourge of His people! Had it not been said that, on certain conditions, the diseases of Egypt would not be put on the people? and here, alas! are many lepers.
Then why was Elijah not accepted in his own country? Why not Elisha? Did the fault lie with the prophets? Could they have been indifferent to the primary claims of their own country? Nay! but the moral condition of the people was such—their forgetfulness of God so appalling—that in the ways of holy government the people who held the outward place of privilege were passed over, and grace, which can never be inactive, sought out, in a Sidonian widow and a Syrian leper, suited objects for its gratification.
The place of privilege is very full of responsibility at all times.
Now, without doubt, as these two historic facts were simply placed before this captious audience, their moral must have been readily perceived. Application and explanation were unnecessary. The present bearing of such parallel instances (of prophets being not accepted by their own country) must very quickly awaken intelligence in the dullest mind. The situations were identical, and their force irresistible.
Two courses lay before them, either to accept their Prophet, or to treat Him as all other true prophets had been treated. They chose the latter. They led Him, to the brow of the hill in order to cast Him down headlong, and thus extinguish, were it possible, the light that exposed their unbelief. But His hour had not yet come, and so, passing through the midst of them, He went His way—a Prophet not accepted in His own country indeed, but none the less bent on the fulfilment of His mission of grace to the poor, the broken-hearted, the blind, the captive, and the bruised; for “God,” we read, “anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power, who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). He went His way—He went about doing good. Such was His life; and if His rejection at Nazareth was but the prelude of that at Calvary, it only declared that at all costs He would finish the work given Him to do of the Father, and in death to atone for the sins of all His believing people. But be it carefully noted that the place of privilege, like the prophet’s own country, is one of exceeding danger because of its very great responsibility.