As the world hurries toward the next promise of happiness, we should stand in the old ways, for that is where we shall hear our Savior’s voice (Jer. 6:6). He said that if we hear his voice and believe upon his name, we shall live (John 5:24-25). Nothing is more important for us than to hear the voice of Jesus Christ, and not one time only, but each day and especially when he proclaims his Father’s name among us through the preaching of the gospel (Ps. 22:22; 40:9; Heb. 2:12). His words alone are Spirit and life (John 6:63); the flesh profits nothing. By flesh is meant all that swirls about in our brains, all that man thinks he needs. No, we must hear the words of Jesus Christ, for his name is the Word of God. If he has not said it, it is no good, unhealthy, and unworthy of our thoughts. All our joy and strength in this world is to be renewed in our minds by the indwelling word of God. This is what we have when we hear Jesus Christ preach to us. He reigns on high, but he sent his apostles and all that build upon their doctrine to us. When they preach to us, it is the same as Jesus preaching to us. When we hear them preach his word to us, we hear the voice of the Son of God. We shall live by faith in him.
14 Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. 15 And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. 16 So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: 18 "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 brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." 20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." 22 So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?" 23 He said to them, "You will surely say this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.'" 24 Then He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. 25 "But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; 26 "but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 "And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28 So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29 and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. 30 Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.
In the Power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 14-15)
After Jesus overcame the wicked one, the same Spirit that led him into the wilderness led him out again, to minister to men the grace and truth that conquers sin and Satan. His first kingdom foray was into Galilee, where he traveled, preached, and healed. John 2-4 records some of his exploits during this time. His usual practice was to teach in their synagogues, and from there to minister where man’s need and God’s will led. Jesus was well received during this time – bookended by the turning of water into wine at Cana and the healing of the nobleman’s son, he made one trip down into Jerusalem also. It was a busy season of preaching and healing. Crowds were drawn to him, to hear from his lips gracious and life-giving words, but he preferred perhaps the private interviews, like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. The kingdom of God does not depend upon the fickle mob, and conversion at sword point or by royal fiat is a poor and dangerous substitute for sincerely converted souls.
By Opening and Reading the Scriptures (vv. 16-17)
Luke chose to record one instance in his hometown of Nazareth. Matthew records the same in our chapter 13, and it occurred later in his Galilean ministry. Luke brings it forward first, for it gives us a clear picture of his ministry throughout this time. Is it not compelling to watch our Savior going to synagogue and standing up to read the Scriptures? Any man of the covenant could do so. Jesus’ reputation was already known in the area. Many who knew him by sight would have been gathered that morning. What would he say? Is what we have heard true? He cannot be the Messiah. Odd according today’s canons of the way to reach men, even already churched men, Jesus took the Bible in his hand. It was a scroll, which was more cumbersome than our bound Bibles, but he found where Isaiah 61 was written.
Did not those pages tremble as he held them, as he who spoke them to Isaiah, he whom Isaiah saw in his glory (John 12:41), stood and read their venerable lines? Here was the eternal word holding the written word, accounting it an authentic and uncontestably reliable witness of his person and work as the incarnate word. We cannot take in the splendor of this. It must shape our assessment of the reverence Jesus had for the written Scriptures, the way he would have us reverence and use them diligently as true and reliable records of God’s word. Our own faith will be more solid against the hurricanes of skepticism simply by thinking of him standing and holding the Bible, reading it, and then proclaiming himself to be the true fulfillment of it. By this one action, Jesus gave his imprimatur upon the entire Old Testament revelation. And that he found where it was written – what a world of glory Luke so quietly reveals – that Jesus had learned his letters, learned to read, learned where to find things in the Scriptures he had learned by heart, and thought it important that the Scriptures have the first and final say about him. Those who say we do not need the Scriptures or that they are an impediment to faith and gospel progress are far from the heart of Jesus.
By Preaching Himself as the Promised Redeemer (vv. 18-27)
Jesus Preaches Comfort and Deliverance (vv. 18-19)
Again the Holy Spirit is brought forward as being intimately tied to our Savior. To fulfill his mediatorial office and bring salvation to dead sinners, Jesus Christ received the Spirit “without measure” (Ps. 45:7; John 3:34). This endowment he received not for himself but for us, in order to quicken us out of spiritual death by uniting us with himself that we might partake of his life and grace. When speaking of the Spirit and of himself as the Spirit’s Giver, deepest delight filled his soul, for he knew that the Spirit indwelling us would make us God’s temple, unite us to him forever, and bring into our lives real power to mortify sin and practice righteousness. And thus, it is not surprising that in his sermons, he would speak of his endowment with the Spirit, of being filled with him. He appeared before his townsmen in outward weakness; why should they listen to him? Would his words be more transformative than the prophets of old? Yes. David, Isaiah, Joel, Ezekiel, and all the prophets spoke of a new day of life that the Messiah would inaugurate by his coming (Ps. 45:7; Isa. 11:2-4; Joel 2:28-32; Ezek. 36:27). It was not a national work of a Jewish state or an external work of types and ceremonies that the Savior of the world would bring with him. He would perform a universal work of spiritual renewal and quickening.
Jesus Christ speaks of his saving work as inseparable from the Spirit of holiness and truth (John 16:13; 2 Cor. 3:17). The words Jesus speaks will result in a quickening to new life, by faith created by the Holy Spirit in formerly dead sinners. Jesus’ preaching comes with power to give what he promises and perform what he says. Wherever the word of God is truly preached, Jesus preaches. When Jesus preaches, the Holy Spirit applies the word to the hearts of men and women. Jesus preaches the gospel to the poor, not because he is a social leveler or an egalitarian, but because the world’s poor need hope in Jesus Christ. The deliverance the gospel gives to the poor – like the humbling it performs upon the rich – is not first a change of circumstance, but a change of heart to endure hard circumstances with patience. You can thus always tell someone who is using the gospel for their own political ends when they speak first of social justice untethered from God’s law, or of Jesus as the great social revolutionary. He was nothing of the kind, at least not directly. He was revolutionary because he commanded the rich to give freely and seek heavenly riches, and the poor to endure patiently and set their affections on their heavenly inheritance.
Many of the dangerous abuses associated with generations of zealots, social crusaders, and liberation theologians would have been prevented had men kept reading Isaiah, like Jesus did. His gospel heals the brokenhearted by giving them renewed hope and uniting them to him who bore all our sorrows and grief. The captives to sin, and sometimes to men, need deliverance – from fear and hatred so that master and slave, jailer and inmate, can serve one another with humility and love. The blind need sight, not only the Bartimaeus’ of this world, but also all the spiritually blind, whom Jesus constantly addressed. Every blind person he healed was a type of the healing he gives to blindness worse than of the eyes, but of the soul and mind. And his gospel sets free those laboring under crushing burdens, for Jesus gives a different burden and yoke, that of his fellowship and love and grace, so that men and women in the worst imaginable circumstances can wait patiently for his deliverance, and sing while they wait.
There are outward and inward aspects of the gospel Jesus preached. His gospel was this worldly and other worldly, giving men and women hope for the life that now is, and for the one to come. But the inward must be given prominence, not only because he said, “The kingdom of God is within you,” but also because he understood better than anyone who ever came before him that all the earthly troubles that men experience, all the brokenness in their families, relationships, callings, all the horrors and tyrannies of wars and thieving among men and governments, are due to a fundamental captivity to sin that he alone can break. Had he not just come from the wilderness, where he warded off Satan’s every temptation by the word of God? The devil tempted him at every point to prove himself and change his circumstances by throwing off the yoke of submission. Jesus Christ overcame because he was inwardly yielded. He came to preach that gospel to us – deliverance from fear, sorrow, sin, and death – so that filled with his Spirit, we can lead joyful and quiet lives of obedience to God, whatever our outward circumstances.
Jesus’ Proclaims the Day of Salvation (vv. 20-21)
Jesus’ preaching of Isaiah 61:1-2, with beautiful echoes of 58:6, are important messianic prophecies. Jesus declared them fulfilled – not provisionally or possibly, but that day fulfilled, fulfilled in his person and work, fulfilled by his preaching of the everlasting gospel to them. The “acceptable year of the Lord,” the day of salvation, had arrived in him. It was a different day than the Jews had expected – not military parades and the revival of the glory days of Solomon or even of the Maccabees, but of true salvation from heaven, the new birth, deliverance from sin, and the restoration of fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit. Then as now, men might be excited to hear these things – for about five minutes. But then as now, there have always been zealots, giddy spirits who cannot see past political upheaval and pressing earthly crises. Our Savior’s word and kingdom certainly addresses these, but we are usually so immersed in our earthly cares that we cannot clearly hear his voice and thus lose their way amid the many trials of life. Let us hear what Jesus said to the men of Nazareth – this day. The fulfillment of the day of salvation is in the preaching of his word. Get this right first, yield your mind, heart, and life to be governed by him, then guided by his Spirit we can navigate the temporary distresses of life in this world.
Jesus’ Anticipates Rejection (vv. 22-24)
If we could only be convinced that the fault of our woes is not in our stars – or our circumstances, the people around us, the cabal of evil men – but in ourselves first, then we would receive our Savior’s gospel with eagerness. We would rush to embrace him and to learn more about his deliverance of us from sin and Satan, but also his deliverance from ourselves – our sinful responses to trouble, our sinful inclinations and feelings, our fear, worry, and hate, our craving after worldly things. No wonder he constantly preached, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself.” In effect, he says that being a Christian is the opposite of seeking anything for oneself, or making earthly good the true good, or hating those who oppose the way you want things to be. Jesus knew that the people of Nazareth would not cherish his words. He heard their murmurings against him – O, he is treating himself quite well. Their wonder was not that of faith but of incredulity tinged with ridicule. Yes, the carpenter’s son, Jesus, we know him well. He made my table or fixed my chair. He cannot be the Servant of the Lord Isaiah promised.
Knowing their thoughts – for he knew what was in every man, even as he knows what is in each of us this morning (John 2:23-25) – he quotes a proverb we still use – “Physician, heal yourself.” Yes, I could do mighty works here to prove my claims, as I have done elsewhere, but you do not believe me (Matt. 13:58). He did not do many works there, for his mightiest works were done to confirm faith and answer love, not to elevate himself. He added that a prophet is never received in his own country. Even his own brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5). And many preachers today have found it quite difficult to be heard by their family members, unless it is out of some sense of family honor and prestige. Jesus Christ and his true preachers do not seek that kind of family loyalty and listening. They seek to be heard, as Paul said, as the stewards of God’s gospel. His true family, Jesus once said, are those who do God’s will (Matt. 12:48-50). Let us hear our Savior’s voice and join his family!
Jesus’ Pressure and Warning (vv. 25-27)
In the course of Jesus’ sermon and interaction with the Jews, he does something we might consider surprising. If it looks like someone is rejecting us, we normally try to make it easier for them to accept us. If it is a doctrine, many modify or stop preaching it altogether – consider the mainline denominations. It is a constant temptation to change one’s theology or ethic if it is necessary in order to accommodate a serious breach of faith in one’s family. If my child suddenly announces that he is a homosexual, then for me to hold to what God’s word has always taught upon the subject will put me at odds with my child. God would never have me at odds with my child, therefore, Scripture must be altered, in its essence or interpretation. Conversions away from Scripture happen with increasing regularity. Why? Men have forgotten our Lord’s teaching upon this subject: “A man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36-38). The more God’s truth presses upon us, the more we must allow it to press upon us, and those around us, for this is God’s sure crucible, our Savior’s refining fire.
Imagine how easy it would have been for Jesus to do a great work at this moment or tone down what he was teaching. He might have simply explained it more clearly or fully to them. He did nothing of the kind. He knew that if men are humble before God’s word, such extras are unnecessary. If other men are hardened against it, miracles and new theology will not break their hearts but only confirm their rebellion. Thus, he simply gave a warning. When the prophet’s countrymen do not accept the prophet (v. 24), God sends the prophet to people who will listen to God’s word. He did this in Elijah’s day, whose prayers brought a drought upon Israel for its rebellion. Elijah was sent to a Sidonian widow’s house; none of Israel’s widows received like consideration (vv. 25-26). In the days of Elisha, there were many lepers in Israel, but only Naaman, a Syrian, was cleansed (v. 27). Jesus’ point is brilliant and humbling. We had better receive God’s word with meekness. Israel, God’s professing people, rejected God’s word, and they lost its blessing. God sent his prophets to foreign lands, and they received Israel’s blessings.
This warning was very pertinent to Jesus’ generation. The Light and Wisdom of God was among them. They loved the miracles and healing, but they hated the gospel he preached. He would not join their social crusades and nationalistic hatred of their conquerors. Whenever the people tried to make him fit into this mold, he walked away from them. They thought the enemy lurked behind Roman shields or Sadducee hypocrisy. The real enemy was their own self-love and hatred, and their utter unwillingness to recognize their own need of deep repentance and renewed faith in God’s covenant and gospel. The warning is equally pertinent to our generation. It will prove pointless to modify the gospel to suit either the social justice warriors or the nationalist crusaders who are responding with such hatred, as we saw last week in yet another evil shooting. As a people, we do not want God’s word as much as we want our American way of life, for other people to look upon us as God’s chosen ones, and for those whom we think do not belong here to leave as quickly as possible. Yet, most of our countrymen have rejected God’s word, and now God is sending his word to other peoples. We have forfeited our national blessings, like the Jews did, because we have forsaken our national faith. There is no other way to obtain these blessings but national repentance, confession of our wickedness against the God of heaven, and humiliation before him, if perhaps he will forgive the iniquity of our national heart.
His Preaching Pointed and Dividing (vv. 28-30)
The people of Nazareth could not bear such a warning. How dare this carpenter condemn them! They were God’s chosen people – such a wicked and rough lot as they were noted for being. When Jesus began his preaching with the Beatitudes, he undoubtedly was describing the opposite of the average inhabitant of Nazareth. No, we are proud and worthy men, not blind and sinful. Throw this man off the cliff. In the synagogue, they rose as one with great wrath, and began forcing him out of the city, up the nearby hill, intending to throw him off to his death. Whether by the force of his character or the restraining exercise of his power, he passed through them unscathed. His hour was not yet come. He knew they would not receive his preaching with humility, but he could not change the truth. Sometimes, God does not send his word to a people to save them but to judge and condemn them (1 Cor. 2:16). We do not know his mind, but we must be persuaded that man’s acceptance does not define truth. Most often, what men highly esteem is an abomination to God (Luke 16:15). Our responsibility is not to find a truth that will suit men, but to speak God’s truth in the power of the Spirit, trusting that he will reform men by the sword coming out of our Savior’s mouth.
Today Hear Jesus Preaching in his Church
Make no mistake: Jesus Christ has not stopped preaching. Millions are now with him in heaven because they heard the voice of the Son of God through the men he has sent into the world to proclaim the everlasting gospel. The only way men are saved from sin, released from captivity to hatred, fear, and lust, healed from the effects of their corruption, is because Jesus Christ calls them by name from the tomb, as he did Lazarus. He does this by the power of his Holy Spirit working through the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). Hear his voice today. Today remains the acceptable time, a visitation from heaven to break your chains and set you free from sin to serve the living God. Come to him for comfort, deliverance, and healing. You need it, as do I.
We not know what awaits us this week. Perhaps it is a new and unexpected battle, or the old battles returning to overthrow our faith or swamp us with bitterness and doubt. Come to Jesus Christ for comfort. Ask him to strengthen you with power by his Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:16). He offers his Spirit to us today. He said, “Ask in my name, and you will receive.” He died for our sins and rose again to secure eternal life for us and the indwelling Spirit of God. Come to Jesus, even if you feel yourself to be a reject of hell, and the holy God will take up residence in your life and transform you by his power. If you love Jesus Christ and believe upon his name, come to him for spring cleaning in your heart – fresh joy, hope, and zeal, renewed commitment to offer yourself to him as a living sacrifice. Whatever your state, hear the voice of the Son of God, and live. Do not drive him out of your life like the men of Nazareth did, because he steps on your toes. Tell him to walk all over your toes, your idols and pet sins, if only he will make a solid Christian out of you.