After Christ had vanquished the evil spirit, he made it appear how much he was under the influence of the good Spirit; and, having defended himself against the devil’s assaults, he now begins to act offensively, and to make those attacks upon him, by his preaching and miracles, which he could not resist or repel. Observe,
I. What is here said in general of his preaching, and the entertainment it met with in Galilee, a remote part of the country, distant from Jerusalem; it was a part of Christ’s humiliation that he began his ministry there.
But, 1. Thither he came in the power of the Spirit. The same Spirit that qualified him for the exercise of his prophetical office strongly inclined him to it. He was not to wait for a call from men, for he had light and life in himself. 2. There he taught in their synagogues, their places of public worship, where they met, not, as in the temple, for ceremonial services, but for the moral acts of devotion, to read, expound, and apply, the word, to pray and praise, and for church-discipline; these came to be more frequent since the captivity, when the ceremonial worship was near expiring. 3. This he did so as that he gained a great reputation. A fame of him went through all that region (Luke 4:14), and it was a good fame; for (Luke 4:15) he was glorified of all. Every body admired him, and cried him up; they never heard such preaching in all their lives. Now, at first, he met with no contempt or contradiction; all glorified him, and there were none as yet that vilified him.
II. Of his preaching at Nazareth, the city where he was brought up; and the entertainment it met with there. And here we are told how he preached there, and how he was persecuted.
1. How he preached there. In that observe,
(1.) The opportunity he had for it: He came to Nazareth when he had gained a reputation in other places, in hopes that thereby something at least of the contempt and prejudice with which his countrymen would look upon him might be worn off. There he took occasion to preach, [1.] In the synagogue, the proper place, where it had been his custom to attend when he was a private person, Luke 4:16. We ought to attend on the public worship of God, as we have opportunity. But, now that he was entered upon his public ministry, there he preached. Where the multitudes of fish were, there this wise Fisherman would cast his net. [2.] On the sabbath day, the proper time which the pious Jews spent, not in a mere ceremonial rest from worldly labour, but in the duties of God’s worship, as of old they frequented the schools of the prophets on the new moons and the sabbaths. Note, It is good to keep sabbaths in solemn assemblies.
(2.) The call he had to it. [1.] He stood up to read. They had in their synagogues seven readers every sabbath, the first a priest, the second a Levite, and the other five Israelites of that synagogue. We often find Christ preaching in other synagogues, but never reading, except in this synagogue at Nazareth, of which he had been many years a member. Now he offered his service as he had perhaps often done; he read one of the lessons out of the prophets, Acts 13:15. Note, The reading of the scripture is very proper work to be done in religious assemblies; and Christ himself did not think it any disparagement to him to be employed in it. [2.] The book of the prophet Esaias was delivered to him, either by the ruler of the synagogue or by the minister mentioned (Luke 4:20), so that he was no intruder, but duly authorized pro hac vice—on this occasion. The second lesson for that day being in the prophecy of Esaias, they gave him that volume to read in.
(3.) The text he preached upon. He stood up to read, to teach us reverence in reading and hearing the word of God. When Ezra opened the book of the law, all the people stood up (Neh. 8:5); so did Christ here, when he read in the book of the prophets. Now the book being delivered to him, [1.] He opened it. The books of the Old Testament were in a manner shut up till Christ opened them, Isa. 29:11. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to take the book, and open the seals; for he can open, not the book only, but the understanding. [2.] He found the place which was appointed to be read that day in course, which he needed not to be directed to; he soon found it, and read it, and took it for his text. Now his text was taken out of Isa. 61:1, 2, which is here quoted at large, Luke 4:18, 19. There was a providence in it that that portion of scripture should be read that day, which speaks so very plainly of the Messiah, that they might be left inexcusable who knew him not, though they heard the voices of the prophets read every sabbath day, which bore witness of him, Acts 13:27. This text gives a full account of Christ’s undertaking, and the work he came into the world to do. Observe,
First, How he was qualified for the work: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. All the gifts and graces of the Spirit were conferred upon him, not by measure, as upon other prophets, but without measure, John 3:34. He now came in the power of the Spirit, Luke 4:14.
Secondly, How he was commissioned: Because he had anointed me, and sent me. His extraordinary qualification amounted to a commission; his being anointed signifies both his being fitted for the undertaking and called to it. Those whom God appoints to any service he anoints for it: “Because he hath sent me, he hath sent his Spirit along with me.”
Thirdly, What his work was. He was qualified and commissioned.
1. To be a great prophet. He was anointed to preach; that is three times mentioned here, for that was the work he was now entering upon. Observe, (1.) To whom he was to preach: to the poor; to those that were poor in the world, whom the Jewish doctors disdained to undertake the teaching of and spoke of with contempt; to those that were poor in spirit, to the meek and humble, and to those that were truly sorrowful for sin: to them the gospel and the grace of it will be welcome, and they shall have it, Matt. 11:5. (2.) What he was to preach. In general, he must preach the gospel. He is sent euangelizesthai—to evangelize them; not only to preach to them, but to make that preaching effectual; to bring it, not only to their ears, but to their hearts, and deliver them into the mould of it. Three things he is to preach:—
[1.] Deliverance to the captives, The gospel is a proclamation of liberty, like that to Israel in Egypt and in Babylon. By the merit of Christ sinners may be loosed from the bonds of guilt, and by his Spirit and grace from the bondage of corruption. It is a deliverance from the worst of thraldoms, which all those shall have the benefit of that are willing to make Christ their Head, and are willing to be ruled by him.
[2.] Recovering of sight to the blind. He came not only by the word of his gospel to bring light to them that sat in the dark, but by the power of his grace to give sight to them that were blind; not only the Gentile world, but every unregenerate soul, that is not only in bondage, but in blindness, like Samson and Zedekiah. Christ came to tell us that he has eye-salve for us, which we may have for the asking; that, if our prayer be, Lord, that our eyes may be opened, his answer shall be, Receive your sight.
[3.] The acceptable year of the Lord, Luke 4:19. He came to let the world know that the God whom they had offended was willing to be reconciled to them, and to accept of them upon new terms; that there was yet a way of making their services acceptable to him; that there is now a time of good will toward men. It alludes to the year of release, or that of jubilee, which was an acceptable year to servants, who were then set at liberty; to debtors, against whom all actions then dropped; and to those who had mortgaged their lands, for then they returned to them again. Christ came to sound the jubilee-trumpet; and blessed were they that heard the joyful sound, Ps. 89:15. It was an acceptable time, for it was a day of salvation.
2. Christ came to be a great Physician; for he was sent to heal the broken-hearted, to comfort and cure afflicted consciences, to give peace to those that were troubled and humbled for sins, and under a dread of God’s wrath against them for them, and to bring them to rest who were weary and heavy-laden, under the burden of guilt and corruption.
3. To be a great Redeemer. He not only proclaims liberty to the captives, as Cyrus did to the Jews in Babylon (Whoever will, may go up), but he sets at liberty them that are bruised; he doth by his Spirit incline and enable them to make use of the liberty granted, as then none did but those whose spirit God stirred up, Ezra 1:5. He came in God’s name to discharge poor sinners that were debtors and prisoners to divine justice. The prophets could but proclaim liberty, but Christ, as one having authority, as one that had power on earth to forgive sins, came to set at liberty; and therefore this clause is added here. Dr. Lightfoot thinks that, according to a liberty the Jew allowed their readers, to compare scripture with scripture, in their reading, for the explication of the text, Christ added it from Isa. 58:6; where it is made the duty of the acceptable year to let the oppressed go free, where the phrase the LXX. uses is the same with this here.
(4.) Here is Christ’s application of this text to himself (Luke 4:21): When he had read it, he rolled up the book, and gave it again to the minister, or clerk, that attended, and sat down, according to the custom of the Jewish teachers; he sat daily in the temple, teaching, Matt. 26:55. Now he began his discourse thus, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. This, which Isaiah wrote by way of prophecy, I have now read to you by way of history.” It now began to be fulfilled in Christ’s entrance upon his public ministry; now, in the report they heard of his preaching and miracles in other places; now, in his preaching to them in their own synagogue. It is most probable that Christ went on, and showed particularly how this scripture was fulfilled in the doctrine he preached concerning the kingdom of heaven at hand; that it was preaching liberty, and sight, and healing, and all the blessings of the acceptable year of the Lord. Many other gracious words proceeded out of his mouth, which these were but the beginning of; for Christ often preached long sermons, which we have but a short account of. This was enough to introduce a great deal: This day is this scripture fulfilled. Note, [1.] All the scriptures of the Old Testament that were to be fulfilled in the Messiah had their full accomplishment in the Lord Jesus, which abundantly proves that this was he that should come. [2.] In the providences of God, it is fit to observe the fulfilling of the scriptures. The works of God are the accomplishment not only of his secret word, but of his word revealed; and it will help us to understand both the scriptures and the providences of God to compare them one with another.
(5.) Here is the attention and admiration of the auditors.
[1.] Their attention (Luke 4:20): The eyes of all them that were in the synagogue (and, probably, there were a great many) were fastened on him, big with expectation what he would say, having heard so much of late concerning him. Note, It is good, in hearing the word, to keep the eye fixed upon the minister by whom God is speaking to us; for, as the eye effects the heart, so, usually, the heart follows the eye, and is wandering, or fixed, as that is. Or, rather, let us learn hence to keep the eye fixed upon Christ speaking to us in and by the minister. What saith my Lord unto his servants?
[2.] Their admiration (Luke 4:22): They all bore him witness that he spoke admirably well, and to the purpose. They all commended him, and wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth; and yet, as appears by what follows, they did not believe in him. Note, It is possible that those who are admirers of good ministers and good preaching may yet be themselves not true Christians. Observe, First, What it was they admired: The gracious words which proceedeth out of his mouth. The words of grace; good words, and spoken in a winning melting way. Note, Christ’s words are words of grace, for, grace being poured into his lips (Ps. 45:2), words of grace poured from them. And these words of grace are to be wondered at; Christ’s name was Wonderful, and in nothing was he more so than in his grace, in the words of his grace, and the power that went along with those words. We may well wonder that he should speak such words of grace to such graceless wretches as we are. Secondly, What it was that increased their wonder and that was the consideration of his original: They said, Isa. not this Joseph’s son, and therefore his extraction mean and his education mean? Some from this suggestion took occasion perhaps so much the more to admire his gracious words, concluding he must needs be taught of God, for they knew no one else had taught him; while others perhaps with this consideration corrected their wonder at his gracious words, and concluded there could be nothing really admirable in them, whatever appeared, because he was the Son of Joseph. Can any thing great, or worthy our regard, come from one so mean?
(6.) Christ’s anticipating an objection which he knew to be in the minds of many of his hearers. Observe,
[1.] What the objection was (Luke 4:23): “You will surely say to me, Physician, heal thyself. Because you know that I am the Son of Joseph, your neighbour, you will expect that I should work miracles among you, as I have done in other places; as one would expect that a physician, if he be able, should heal, not only himself, but those of his own family and fraternity.” Most of Christ’s miracles were cures;--“Now why should not the sick in thine own city be healed as well as those in other cities?” They were designed to cure people of their unbelief;--“Now why should not the disease of unbelief, if it be indeed a disease, be cured in those of thine own city as well as in those of others? Whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, that has been so much talked of, do here also in thine own country.” They were pleased with Christ’s gracious words, only because they hoped they were but the introduction to some wondrous works of his. They wanted to have their lame, and blind, and sick, and lepers, healed and helped, that the charge of their town might be eased; and that was the chief thing they looked at. They thought their own town as worthy to be the stage of miracles as any other; and why should not he rather draw company to that than to any other? And why should not his neighbours and acquaintances have the benefit of his preaching and miracles, rather than any other?
[2.] How he answers this objection against the course he took.
First, By a plain and positive reason why he would not make Nazareth his headquarters (Luke 4:24), because it generally holds true that no prophet is accepted in his own country, at least not so well, nor with such probability of doing good, as in some other country; experience seals this. When prophets have been sent with messages and miracles of mercy, few of their own country-men, that have known their extraction and education, have been fit to receive them. So Dr. Hammond. Familiarity breeds contempt; and we are apt to think meanly of those whose conversation we have been accustomed to; and they will scarcely be duly honoured as prophets who were well known when they were in the rank of private men. That is most esteemed that is far-fetched and dear-bought, above what is home-bred, though really more excellent. This arises likewise from the envy which neighbours commonly have towards one another, so that they cannot endure to see him their superior whom awhile ago they took to be every way their inferior. For this reason, Christ declined working miracles, or doing any thing extraordinary, at Nazareth, because of the rooted prejudices they had against him there.
Secondly, By pertinent examples of two of the most famous prophets of the Old Testament, who chose to dispense their favours among foreigners rather than among their own countrymen, and that, no doubt, by divine direction. 1. Elijah maintained a widow of Sarepta, a city of Sidon, one that was a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel, when there was a famine in the land, Luke 4:25, 26. The story we have 1 Kgs. 17:9 It is said there that the heaven was shut up three years and six months; whereas it is said, 1 Kgs. 18:1; that in the third year Elijah showed himself to Ahab, and there was rain; but that was not the third year of the drought, but the third year of Elijah’s sojourning with the widow of Sarepta. As God would hereby show himself a Father of the fatherless, and a Judge of the widows, so he would show that he was rich in mercy to all, even to the Gentiles. 2. Elisha cleansed Naaman the Syrian of his leprosy, though he was a Syrian, and not only a foreigner, but an enemy to Israel (Luke 4:27); Many lepers were in Israel in the days of Eliseus, four particularly, that brought the news of the Syrians’ raising the siege of Samaria with precipitation, and leaving the plunder of their tents to enrich Samaria, when Elisha was himself in the besieged city, and this was the accomplishment of his prophecy too; see 2 Kgs. 7:1, 3 And yet we do not find that Elisha cleansed them, no not for a reward of their service, and the good tidings they brought, but only the Syrian; for none besides had faith to apply himself to the prophet for a cure. Christ himself often met with greater faith among Gentiles than in Israel. And here he mentions both these instances, to show that he did not dispense the favour of his miracles by private respect, but according to God’s wise appointment. And the people of Israel might as justly have said to Elijah, or Elisha, as the Nazarenes to Christ, Physician, heal thyself. Nay, Christ wrought his miracles, though not among his townsmen, yet among Israelites, whereas these great prophets wrought theirs among Gentiles. The examples of the saints, though they will not make a bad action good, yet will help to free a good action from the blame of exceptious people.
2. How he was persecuted at Nazareth.
(1.) That which provoked them was his taking notice of the favour which God by Elijah and Elisha showed to the Gentiles: When they heard these things, they were filled with wrath (Luke 4:28), they were all so; a great change since Luke 4:22; when they wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth; thus uncertain are the opinions and affections of the multitude, and so very fickle. If they had mixed faith with those gracious words of Christ which they wondered at, they would have been awakened by these latter words of his to take heed of sinning away their opportunities; but those only pleased the ear, and went no further, and therefore these grated on the ear, and irritated their corruptions. They were angry that he should compare himself, whom they knew to be the son of Joseph, with those great prophets, and compare them with the men of that corrupt age, when all had bowed the knee to Baal. But that which especially exasperated them was that he intimated some kindness God had in reserve for the Gentiles, which the Jews could by no means bear the thoughts of, Acts 22:21. Their pious ancestors pleased themselves with the hopes of adding the Gentiles to the church (witness many of David’s psalms and Isaiah’s prophecies); but this degenerate race, when they had forfeited the covenant themselves, hated to think that any others should be taken in.
(2.) They were provoked to that degree that they made an attempt upon his life. This was a severe trial, now at his setting out, but a specimen of the usage he met with when he came to his own, and they received him not. [1.] They rose up in a tumultuous manner against him, interrupted him in his discourse, and themselves in their devotions, for they could not stay until their synagogue-worship was over. [2.] They thrust him out of the city, as one not worthy to have a residence among them, though there he had had a settlement so long. They thrust from them the Saviour and the salvation, as if he had been the offscouring of all things. How justly might he have called for fire from heaven upon them! But this was the day of his patience. [3.] They led him to the brow of the hill, with a purpose to throw him down headlong, as one not fit to live. Though they knew how inoffensively he had for so many years lived among them, how shining his conversation had been,—though they had heard such a fame of him and had but just now themselves admired his gracious words,—though in justice he ought to have been allowed a fair hearing and liberty to explain himself, yet they hurried him away in a popular fury, or frenzy rather, to put him to death in a most barbarous manner. Sometimes they were ready to stone him for the good works he did (John 10:32), here for not doing the good works they expected from him. To such a height of wickedness was violence sprung up.
(3.) Yet he escaped, because his hour was not yet come: He passed through the midst of them unhurt. Either he blinded their eyes, as God did those of the Sodomites and Syrians, or he bound their hands, or filled them with confusion, so that they could not do what they designed; for his work was not done, it was but just begun; his hour was not yet come, when it was come, he freely surrendered himself. They drove him from them, and he went his way. He would have gathered Nazareth, but they would not, and therefore their house is left to them desolate. This added to the reproach of his being Jesus of Nazareth, that not only it was a place whence no good thing was expected, but that it was such a wicked, rude place, and so unkind to him. Yet there was a providence in it, that he should not be much respected by the men of Nazareth, for that would have looked like a collusion between him and his old acquaintance; but now, though they received him not, there were those that did.