Our question for Luke 4 is: “What’s up with Jesus’ references to Elijah and Elisha in his conversation with the folks in his hometown?”
In Luke 4:24-27, Jesus refers to stories of two Old Testament prophets. One of them, Elijah, was already referred to in Luke 1:17. He was known as Israel’s greatest prophet. You can find the story Jesus references here in 1 Kings 17 (and the following couple of chapters, if you want the rest of the story about the drought). Elisha followed Elijah as his successor, and you can find the story about Elisha that Jesus mentions in 2 Kings 5.
The widow at Zarephath in Sidon is a non-Jewish widow to whom God sent Elijah during a 3-year drought. (Actually, she’s Lebanese!) Naaman the Syrian was the commander of an enemy army whom Elisha healed of leprosy (although Syria and Israel seemed to be at peace at the time of the story).
It’s obvious that Jesus is bringing up these particular stories to make a very specific point: God’s heart has always been for people of all nations.
(As a side note: I’ve often heard people say they believe there’s a “God of the Old Testament” who is angry and is only the God of the Jews, and a “God of the New Testament” who loves all people. It’s good to remind ourselves that Jesus’ heart for the outsiders and other nations is not a new thing about God’s character. The stories Jesus references are smack dab in the middle of the Old Testament!)
But Jesus is making another very specific point also: Sometimes the people who most think of themselves as “God’s people” reject the very God they say they serve.
The folks in Jesus’ hometown were initially ready to make him the hometown hero. The guy they grew up with! The guy who was always so kind and smart! I mean sure, he about caused his parents a panic attack that one time (Luke 2:41-52)… but overall he was a great guy! They marveled at the gracious words coming from his mouth. (v. 22)
But after he threw that conversation grenade, the response of his home folks changed drastically. They were “furious“! They “drove him out of town” and literally tried to throw him off a cliff.
We’ve been talking in our study of Luke on Wednesday nights about the expectations that the Jewish people had for the promised Messiah. He’ll bring a new exodus! Deliver the Jews from their oppressor, Rome! Re-establish Israel as a powerful nation!
But here’s Jesus making the claim to Messiahship, and not doing what they expected him to do. If he wasn’t delivering them from Rome, then he must be a false prophet. He must be speaking blasphemy, falsely claiming to be the Messiah. Hence throwing him off the cliff.
What they don’t see is that he’s doing something even better than what they expected.
Oh, this is telling for us too. What are your expectations for God? And how do you respond when He doesn’t do what you expect Him to do in your life?