And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up fro three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” (Luke 4:24-26)
I’m often asked why there seems to be a much wider occurrence of the miraculous in far away lands like India and China. Having been privileged to be involved in missionary church planting among formerly unreached people groups, I have personally witnessed miracles of New Testament proportion, including a boy born blind being healed immediately after arising from the waters of believer’s baptism. I have sat among first generation Christians in remote regions where more than one-half of the converts testified of coming to Jesus because of a miraculous healing or deliverance.
I have wrestled with the question of why these types of testimonies are so rare in our land. After almost twenty years of pondering this issue I’ve concluded that there is not a single answer. There are many reasons. But there is probably no greater reason than the issue Jesus Himself confronted in His hometown of Nazareth.
In the Gospel of Mark we read, “And He could work no miracle there…And He wondered at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:5-6) Their years of familiarity with Jesus had “inoculated” them, making them “immune” from expecting anything special from Jesus and thus leading to a general attitude of dishonor and unbelief. God Himself, in the person of His Son, lived among these people in Nazareth for 30 years…and they never perceived who He truly was. Even when He was mightily anointed by the Holy Spirit after His baptism by John, the people in His hometown seemed unwilling to view Him beyond their previous experiences.
Jesus compared His apparent lack of miracles in Nazareth to the experience of Elijah several hundred years earlier. Elijah was also a man anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit and who worked numerous miracles. In the days of the famine, Elijah was sent to help a Gentile widow (this in spite of the fact that there were thousands of widows in Israel). This comparison deeply angered Jesus’ contemporaries. They got the point. He considered them backslidden and unrepentant just like the people who worshiped Baal during the days of Ahab and Jezebel. Nazareth would largely miss God’s miracles because they were sinning against great light.
This does not mean that every widow in Elijah’s day or every person in Nazareth was equally guilty. Even in Elijah’s day there was a holy remnant that had not bowed the knee to Baal (at least 7,000 people). Nonetheless, because of God’s chastisement upon the nation as a whole, even the holy remnant suffered to some degree.
OK, so what’s my point? I believe America is very much like the Israel of Elijah’s day. We have sinned against hundreds of years of Gospel light. We have turned our back on the God of our forefathers. We claim to be a Christian nation but are the most materialistic on earth. We are the greatest exporters of moral filth in our world. God have mercy on us. The moral standards in God’s Law are not welcome here. We put the Ten Commandments out of our Courthouses. Even when religion is tolerated, the exclusive claims of Jesus are either laughed at or openly ridiculed. Any “Elijahs” among us often must go to far away places to minister God’s power among those who are humbly coming to Christ.
And if America is like Israel, then the Church in America is like Nazareth in Jesus’ day. Jesus was right there in the midst of the synagogue for 30 years, but not truly recognized and not worshiped. There was traditional religion and cultural religion and social happenings going on. But even when the anointing of the Holy Spirit was upon Jesus and available for great blessing, these people found supposed fault with His claims!
A number of years ago while establishing a new church in my hometown I was criticized by a professing Christian man who was a leader in that community. He said that I was “too charismatic”, apparently referring to our practice of free worship and praying for the sick. The man had never attended any of our meetings and this was before online audio. Yet somehow he felt he had the authority to make such a judgment. A very sad thing happened several years later. After his wife contracted terminal cancer, and traditional medicine had failed, they unsuccessfully sought the help of a psychic healer in a distant city.
While I can understand that desperate conditions require desperate measures, I find it sad that the man would ridicule Christians who practice biblical healing prayer as being “too charismatic”, and then when facing a terminal disease seek supernatural help outside the church only. I am not claiming that the lady would have been healed if she had been brought to the church for prayer. Many people we pray for are not immediately healed. I am not promoting some triumphalistic faith doctrine here. I suppose I am simply grieving over the state of apostasy even among Evangelical Christians.
Things around the church in America are not much different than in Nazareth. May God help us realize that the Mighty One is in the midst of us. And may there again be a testimony of great purity and power in the Lord’s church here as well as abroad. Amen.