The Synagogue at Nazareth
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
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. And there was delivered to Him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written, "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 broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."
And He closed the book, and He gave it again to the minister and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on Him.
And He began to say unto them, "This day this scripture is fulfilled in your ears." And all bore Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth!
If our Lord Jesus Christ had not said, "This day this scripture is fulfilled in your ears" — we would not have known for certain that those words from the 61st Chapter of Isaiah referred to Him; but now we are sure that they did. Sometimes, it is true, prophecies have more meanings than one; many of the prophecies of Isaiah have; and perhaps this prophecy is one of them. Isaiah may have been speaking in part of himself and of the good news which he was appointed to bear to the Jewish nation. But certainly he spoke also of Christ. And what he said was much more fully made good in Christ than in himself.
How much the people in the synagogue must have been surprised when Jesus, after reading the passage, said, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears!" Some of them perhaps had never taken the words to refer to any one but Isaiah himself; but many no doubt had thought, and thought truly, that they pointed to the promised Messiah. How surprised they must have been, when Jesus said that the words were fulfilled that very day, and that He therefore (for that was His meaning), was the promised Messiah!
They knew Him well — for this took place at Nazareth, where He had been brought up. He had grown up among them, and they had looked on Him as only the son of Joseph and Mary. Yet now He came into their synagogue, or church, and said that He was the person meant in the prophecy — the great Deliverer that was to come.
All were struck with what He said. But it does not appear that any believed. For though they "wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth" — yet immediately after they were so angry with Him, that they tried to kill Him. They heard His words, but they did not receive them as "gracious words" to themselves. But they were gracious words, and are so still, to all who humbly receive them.
The Lord Jesus said that He was anointed, or solemnly appointed, to preach the gospel to the POOR — that is, to carry good news to the poor. We know what the good news is — the tidings of free pardon and salvation through Christ. This is made known and offered to the poor — the poor in every sense: the poor of this world, the humble, the unlearned; but also the poor spiritually, as having nothing which they can offer to God in order to find favor with Him — no goodness, no righteousness, no merit. No one is so poor, so humble, so unworthy, so bad — but that the gospel comes to him offering him pardon and salvation through Jesus Christ. Are not these "gracious words"?
He said also that He was sent "to heal the BROKEN-HEARTED." Perhaps He meant especially those who are contrite for sin. But none of the broken-hearted are beyond His healing. He . . .
heals the wounded conscience,
comforts the sorrowing heart, and
speaks peace to the troubled spirit.
There cannot be a stronger word for describing the sad and afflicted than this word "broken-hearted," yet He can comfort even the broken-hearted. No one else can. If one is smitten with a sense of sin — then none but Jesus can give him peace. If one is in very deep trouble — then none but He can bring comfort. Kind friends may comfort us in smaller troubles — but a broken heart is beyond their power. He, and He only, can "heal the broken-hearted."
He also has come "to preach deliverance to the CAPTIVES." This must mean captives spiritually, those who are under the power and bondage of sin. And the words that come afterwards, "to set at liberty those who are bruised," have much the same meaning.
A lost sinner is like a miserable prisoner in a dungeon, who has been buffeted and bruised and cannot escape. Sin and Satan hold him fast. Many a sore fall has he had. Many a scar has sin left on him. The Lord Jesus Christ comes to such a one and sets him free. He invites him to repent and seek mercy, offers him hope, and promises him forgiveness and acceptance. By His blood He has made atonement for sin, and in the gospel He offers to every sinner the benefit of that atoning blood. Happy are those who hear and obey His voice! Happy are those who turn at His call and humbly accept the offered mercy! Then their chains, as it were, fall off, and the prison-doors fly open, and they go forth free. Not free to sin — but free to serve. Free from the burden of guilt and from the yoke of Satan, but bound by gratitude and love to a new Master, whose service is perfect freedom.
He also gives sight to the BLIND. When He was on earth, He made many blind people to see — Bartimaeus and others. But blindness of heart is even worse than blindness of the eyes, and Jesus Christ cures this sort of blindness too. He came to preach, or proclaim, "recovering of sight to the blind."
For instance, a poor ignorant creature, who has never thought or cared for his soul and has never known of Jesus and His salvation — is like a man who cannot see — he is spiritually blind. But Jesus can make him see. Many such have learned to know and to love Him, and have been brought by His grace to light and life and salvation.
Again, though a man may have more head knowledge of the gospel than this last person — he may still be blind in heart. For many are blinded . . .
by the god of this world,
by the love of sin,
by the darkness of an unrenewed heart.
But Jesus can enlighten these also. Many a time perhaps have they listened to man's words, and yet gone away unchanged. Their reason was convinced, but their heart was not affected — they were blind still. But the grace of God can soften the hardest heart and convince the most obstinate person. The Lord Jesus Christ, by His Spirit, enlightens not only the understanding, but the heart. Thus He gives sight to the blind — not merely showing them good things, but enabling them to see them; not only telling them glad tidings, but inclining their hearts to hear.
One thing more He said that He was come to do: "to PREACH the acceptable year of the Lord." He came to open the way by which sinners might be reconciled to God, and to tell them of it. "The acceptable year," means gospel time, the time in which God will accept or receive returning sinners. This very time in which we are now living is "the acceptable year."
The blood of Jesus has been shed for sinners; mercy is offered to us through Him; the throne of grace is open to us. "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). How blessed a thing it is, to live in the accepted time, the day of salvation! How happy that now, even this very day — any poor sinner may lift up his heart to God through Jesus Christ and ask for mercy, and that God has promised to hear him!
But any such word as "day" or "year" means a time that has a limit, or an end. It is so with this "acceptable year of the Lord." It will not last always. It will have an end. The time will come when the day of grace will be past, and when those who would not listen to the voice of mercy — will find it too late to cry to God.
"We, then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that you receive not the grace of God in vain." Our day of grace will soon be gone; let us lose no time; let us not delay. Now, at once, in this accepted time — let us turn and seek God in Christ Jesus.
When He closed the book, "the eyes of all those who were in the synagogue were fastened upon Him." Even so let our eyes be fastened upon Him — not our bodily eyes, but the eyes of our understanding. Let us look to Him by faith, truly and earnestly, as our only Savior. He is the promised Deliverer. He will deliver us, heal us, enlighten us, and save us!