Today we began exploring the northern side of Israel—what many people have been saying is the most beautiful side, too. And I understand why. Our first stop was in Caesarea, a coastal town with ancient ruins that tell stories from Herod the Great all the way to the Crusades. These ruins hang on the very edge of the city, as bright turquoise water slowly washes over some. Archeologists are still excavating the area, but you can walk past Herod’s old theater and hippodrome (horse track) as you come away from sticking your feet in the sand.
Our next few stops consisted of Muhraka, Megiddo (also called Armageddon), Jezreel (the spot Jezebel perished), and then Nazareth (the hometown of our boy Jesus). Each stop was on a hilltop, so the views just kept getting better and better. These places are important because they look out over the very same cities the prophet Elijah and his successor Elisha practiced their ministries. Elijah called down fire from heaven to prove God is the one true God, and Elisha had his fair share of miracles too.
Actually, Elijah and Elisha had many parallels to the ministry of another prophet from God, a very famous one at that: Jesus of Nazareth. For example, Elijah purified water just as Jesus had turned water into wine. Elisha raised a widow’s dead boy back to life, the same way Jesus raised both Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus back to life. Elisha also healed a man called Naaman of leprosy, while Jesus healed ten! Elisha uses twenty barley loaves of bread to feed a hundred people, while Jesus uses five to feed five thousand. The parallels are just uncanny. In fact, some might say divinely inspired…
Our guide, Chris, made a very important point as we stood on a cliff overlooking the now booming city of modern day Nazareth. He read a passage from Luke 4:14, in which Jesus is rejected by his hometown Nazareth. As Jesus was teaching in the synagogues on the weekly Sabbath of the Jews, He stood up to read this passage of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The interesting part of this is that Jesus stops reading. He actually stops mid-sentence in the passage, purposefully not completing part of Isaiah’s sentence. He stops there to make a very important point: that day the scripture read aloud was being fulfilled. And, strangely enough, the Nazarenes were amazed. His words seemed gracious towards them so they didn’t make a fuse. That is, until he kept speaking.
“Truly, I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the tie of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian,” he said. Then the Nazarenes got so angry they tried to chase him off the edge of a cliff!
As we stood having just visited the places of Elijah, Elisha and Jesus, AND also seeing their proximity to one another, it was hard not to see the connection. Jesus had grown up reading the Old Testament just like anyone else would today if handed a Bible, but he also grew up beside the very places the miracles of these two major prophets occurred.
We forget that Jesus has a whole 30 years of life before the New Testament even begins, in which he grew and read and did devotionals. Jesus, being fully man, had the experience of growing up like a man as well. There was a time in which Jesus had to figure out he was the Messiah, and there was a time Jesus had to read and learn the meaning of biblical passages. There was a time Jesus had to learn to speak, and to write, and to build things. Jesus knew the stories of Elijah and Elisha because he grew up in them! He walked around these very places and read the very same text as us. Jesus had to grow in his stature and wisdom as a human being, just like you and me.
When we neglect to see Jesus as fully human in addition to his divine nature, we don’t get all of Jesus. Walking on his streets and in his neighborhood has shown us that Jesus really can be our full representative on the Cross.