By J.R. Miller
Christ never forgot the place where He had spent His childhood years. We are not given many facts of His life there. Nothing indicates that there was anything unusual in the story of the thirty years He spent there. The more we think of His life at Nazareth as simply natural, without anything unusual--the nearer shall we come to the true picture of the boy and young man--who grew up in the lowly village of Nazareth. Our passage today tells of His visit to His old home after He had been away for many months.
"He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up." It was not an easy place for Jesus to visit. Everybody knew Him. He had lived there for thirty years. He had been playmate and schoolmate with the children of His own age. He had been a carpenter, doing work for many years in the shop and about the town. The young men of Nazareth thought themselves as good as He was, and were not in any mood to receive instruction from Him. It is easy for us to understand the prejudice and envy with which people listened to Jesus, as He spoke to them that day in their synagogue.
There are some lessons to be taken, however, from our Lord's example in thus going back to Nazareth. One is that we ought to seek the good of our own neighbors and friends. Many young men go away from plain country or village homes, and in other and wider spheres rise to prominence and influence. Such ought not in their eminence, to forget their old home. They owe much to it. It is pleasant to hear of rich men giving libraries or establishing hospitals or doing other noble things for the town in which they were born. Among our first obligations, is that which we owe to our old friends and neighbors.
Another lesson is, that as young people--we ought to live so carefully that when we grow up--we may be able to go back to our old home and, in the midst of those who have know us all our life, witness for God. There are some men, good and great now; who's preaching would have but small effect where they were brought up--because of the way they lived during their youth. Sins of youth--break the power of life's testimonies in later years. A blameless youth-time, makes one's words strong in mature days.
"And 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" (Luke 4:16). Here we have a glimpse of our Lord's religious habits. From childhood, His custom had been to attend the synagogue service on the Sabbath. Here are good shoe prints for young people to set their feet in. The time to begin to attend church-is in youth. Habits formed then--stay with us all our life. If our custom is to stay away then from church services, we will be very apt to keep up that custom when we get older. On the other hand, if we go to church regularly from childhood, the custom will become so wrought into our life--that in after years we shall not incline to stay away. And the value of such a habit is very great.
"He opened the book, and found the place where it was written." The book was part of the Old Testament. Some people have the feeling that the Old Testament is dry and uninteresting. But we see here what precious things Jesus found in it, that day in the synagogue. The passage which He quoted drips with the sweetness and tenderness of divine love. It is a great honeycomb of gospel grace!
Some men were about to tear down an old frame house, long unoccupied. When they began to remove the outer boarding, they found a mass of honey. As they removed the boards at different points they discovered the whole side of the house, between the weather boarding and the plastering, was filled with honey. People regard the Old Testament as an old, worn-out book, a mere relic of old ceremonial days. But when they begin to open it--they find honey, and as they look into it at other points they find that all the passages, in among the histories, the chronicles of war, and the descriptions of ceremonial rites--are full of sweetest honey! Here is a bit of dripping honey-comb, and there are hundreds more, which are just as rich. We do not know what we lose--when we do not study the Old Testament.
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed." These are the special classes of people--to whom Jesus was sent. What a picture this is of humanity! Some people ridicule what the bible says about Adam and Eve's FALL. They tell us there never was a fall, and that the world is all right. They talk eloquently about the grandeur of human life. But this eighteenth verse certainly looks very much like the picture of a very bad ruin. Read the description--poor, prisoners, blind, oppressed. There is not much grandeur in that. Anyone who goes about and looks honestly at life--knows that the picture is not over-drawn. On every hand we see the wreck and ruin caused by sin. Then suffering and sorrow follow, and hearts and lives are crushed and bruised!
But there is something here a great deal brighter than this sad picture. Light breaks on the ruin--as we read that it was to repair such moral desolation as we see here that Jesus came. He came "to preach good news to the poor; to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed." He saw in all these ruins of humanity, something that by His grace--He could make beautiful enough for heaven and glory. Christ is a restorer. There are men who take old, dimmed, effaced, almost destroyed pictures--and restore them until they appear nearly as beautiful as when they first came from the artist's hand. So Christ comes to ruined souls, and by the power of His love and grace--He restores them until they wear His own beauty in the presence of God!
"To preach the acceptable year of the Lord." For the Jews this "acceptable year" closed with the condemnation of the Messiah. Jesus stood on Olivet and looked down upon the city and wept over it and said, "If you had known, even you, the things which belong unto your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes!" (Luke 10:42). When He spoke these words, amid the rush of tears and with loud outcry of grief, "the acceptable year" closed. After that--the doom hung over the beautiful city, which in forty years burst upon it in all its woe and terribleness. This is history.
But there is another way to look at this matter. There is an "acceptable year" for each soul. It begins when Christ first comes to us and offers salvation. It continues while He stands at our door and knocks. It closes when we drive Him away from our door by utter and final rejection--or when death comes upon us unsaved and hurries us away forever from the world of mercy. Since the past is gone and there is no certain future to anyone, the "acceptable year" to us all is NOW. Shall we allow it to pass and close--while we remain unsaved?
"Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Seven hundred years before, had the words been written. Now Jesus reads them and says to the people: "I am the One to whom the description refers! I am the One the prophet meant!" The whole Old Testament was full of Christ; and the New Testament is full of fulfillments of the Old Testament.
It is pleasant, too, to take this particular passage and show how Christ indeed fulfilled in His life and ministry--the mission which the prophet marked out for Him. He preached to the poor, He healed the broken-hearted. Wherever He went, the sorrowing and the troubled flocked about Him. As a magnet draws steel filings to itself--out of a heap of rubbish; so did the heart of Christ draw to Him the needy, the sad, the suffering, and the oppressed. He was the friend of sinners. He brought deliverance to sin's captives, setting them free and breaking their chains. He opened blind eyes; not only blind natural eyes to see the beautiful things of this world--but also blind spiritual eyes to see spiritual things. Then He lifted the yoke off the crushed and oppressed, inviting all the weary to Himself to find rest. His whole life was simply a filling out of this outline sketch!
They "rose up, and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill... that they might cast Him down." Their envy grew into murderous rage. We see first, the danger of allowing envious feelings to stay in our hearts; they are sure to grow into greater bitterness, and may lead us into open and terrible sin. We should instantly check every thought or motion of envy, anger or hatred--and cast it out of our heart.
This act shows also the natural hatred of God which is in human hearts. We talk severely of the Jews' rejection of their Messiah--but this opposition to God is not exclusively a Jewish quality. Is it not the same with all of us? So long as the divine teaching runs along in lines that are pleasing to us, we assent, and applaud the beauty of God's truth. But when the teaching falls against our own tendencies and dispositions and opinions--we wince, and too often declare our disbelief. They tried to kill Him; is not the rejection of many people now just as violent? They would kill Him if they could!
His word was with authority. His words are always with authority. We remember how all things hearkened to His words and obeyed them. Diseases fled at His command. The winds and waves were quieted and hushed at His word. The water changed to wine at His bidding. The dead in their graves heard His call and answered. Evil spirits owned His lordship. Nothing for a moment resisted His authority. Shall we not take Christ's Word as the rule of our faith and of our conduct? Shall we not yield to His authority?