“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 for to read. And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Esaias. 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 hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that 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” (Luke 4:16-20).
“Nazareth, where He had been brought up.” In connection with our recent tour of Palestine and the Near East, we awoke one beautiful Lord’s Day morning in early Spring and found that our ship was anchored in the magnificent harbor of Haifa. I suppose many of you know that throughout all the past centuries Palestine has never had a real harbor. Jaffa, or Joppa, as it was called of old, the port from which Jonah sailed, has been the recognized harbor for Palestine. It is really just a kind of roadstead. It is not possible for vessels to come close to the shore: they have to anchor some distance out, and then passengers and freight have to be transported to and fro by tenders. However, in late years since the British took over the mandate for Palestine, they have constructed a most commodious harbor at Haifa by building a great breakwater, so that at the present time it is possible for a vast number of ships to anchor inside the breakwater and thus be at perfect quiet while the sea may be raging outside. We had intended stopping at Jaffa, as a number of our passengers were to leave there, but the sea was so stormy that it was not possible, and so we went on to Haifa.
On this Lord’s Day morning, as we came up on deck about six o’clock, we looked for the first time upon the beautiful shores of Palestine. I confess it gave me a wonderful thrill. I had been reading this Blessed Book of God practically all my life, and the land where the Lord Jesus lived and walked, where He taught and wrought His works of power, where He suffered and died, and where He rose again from the dead, and from which He ascended to heaven, had always meant a great deal to me. In fact, it had been one of my dreams from childhood on, that some day I might see Palestine. But, as the years went on and no such opportunity presented itself in my busy life, I had about concluded that I never would see it until I came back with the Lord Jesus Christ, when He shall descend to that very land and His feet shall stand upon the Mount of Olives. However, in the providence of God, the way was opened for us to visit it, and so, as we looked out upon its shores that day, my wife and daughter and I were deeply moved. There before us rose Mount Carmel in all its majesty, where Elijah had his great controversy with the prophets of Baal. Nestling at the foot and climbing up the sides of that mountain we saw the beautiful modern city of Haifa; and then, as we looked as far as eye could see, we beheld the valley of Jezreel and the distant hills. We arranged to go ashore just as soon after breakfast as possible, and when we entered Haifa we learned that we could take a bus about twenty miles over to Nazareth. It was interesting to notice the signs on the bus, and, in fact, we found the same kind of signs everywhere, all printed in three different languages: Hebrew, Arabic and English. When our Lord was here three languages were used in Palestine: Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Since the return of so many thousands of the Jews to Palestine under the British Mandate, three languages are again recognized as official in that land: Hebrew, Arabic and English. They are found in the railroad stations; they are found on shop signs; they are found on the postage stamps and on the coinage of Palestine—telling us that a new day has indeed dawned for that land so long trodden down beneath the iron heel of the Turk.
You remember what God said of Israel: that because of its sins, He would sell the people and their land into the hands of the worst of the heathen; and I think you will all agree that the Turk proved throughout the centuries to be indeed the worst of the heathen; and the Jews of Palestine were subject to Turkish domination for many centuries until that wonderful day when General Allenby walked through the Jaffa Gate into the Holy City, at the head of his triumphant army.
We found we could get this bus for Nazareth, so we immediately set out. It was most interesting as we traveled across the plain. Remembering a little of the geography of the land from what I had learned in studying my Bible, I said to the driver, “We surely ought to be crossing the River Kishon soon,” and he replied, “It is just ahead;” and in a moment or two we were passing over the bridge of that stream which so often ran red with the blood of the foes of Israel. On we went across the Plain of Jezreel, the celebrated Valley of Armageddon where so many tremendous conflicts have taken place, and where the last great battle is yet to be fought. Far to the southwest we could see Mt. Megiddo, and to the west Mt. Carmel; and as we looked to the east we beheld Mt. Tabor in all its beauty and majesty. To the north Mt. Hermon stood in its grandeur and glory, snowcapped the whole year ‘round. On and on we sped. The ground was literally covered with the most beautiful wildflowers—just a splash of color—and the most prominent of all was the lily of the vale, which is not a lily after all, but a beautiful blood-red anemone found in millions over the Plain of Sharon and the Valley of Jezreel.
At last we came in sight of Nazareth, nestling on the hill-side, with its beautiful white buildings, the Franciscan monastery, churches and a number of hospitals towering above the flat-roofed houses. Soon we were actually in the city. The moment we got off the bus we were surrounded by a crowd of dirty, pinch-faced little children and older beggars, all screaming for buksheesh. We didn’t have time to learn much about oriental languages on this trip, but we learned one word, and that word is buksheesh, which means “a gift.” Everywhere you go in Syria and Palestine, you find people clamoring for buksheesh. We found the only safe plan was to have plenty of very small coins in our pocket and distribute them as sparingly as possible.
As we walked along the streets of Nazareth, we realized that the city was much more beautiful at a distance than it was when you came within its precincts. I happened to look at my wife, and I saw tears welling up into her eyes. I said, “My dear, what are you thinking of?” She replied, “I was thinking of the Lord Jesus Christ growing up in this dirty, squalid city.”
Oh, yes; it moved our hearts. The Holy Son of God had come all the way from Glory down to this poor world to die for our salvation, and He spent thirty years of His life in that city. Doubtless as a boy He wandered about to the villages around. Several times, we know, possibly once a year from the time He was twelve years old, He took the annual Passover journey to Jerusalem. He perhaps went three times a year to the different feasts. Oftentimes He wended His way to the Sea of Galilee, twenty-five miles away. But His life was largely spent within the precincts of that little city of Nazareth. He was called a Nazarene, and the early Christians in derision were called Nazarenes.
We saw many so-called holy places in the city, but there were none of them that we felt we could be absolutely sure of, so far as identity was concerned. We went down beneath the floor of the Franciscan church and we saw underneath the caves which were pointed out to us as the former dwelling-place of the Holy Family: the shop of Joseph, the kitchen of Mary, and the living-room of that stone dwelling. We could not be sure that that was actually the place where Jesus once lived; and yet it touched our hearts, for we know in all likelihood that He lived in at least similar surroundings and was brought up under similar circumstances. There was one thing that we could be absolutely sure of, of course, and that was the Well of the Virgin, where for thousands of years the women of Nazareth have come to draw water; and there they were still, a constant stream of them coming and going with their pitchers upon their shoulders or upon their heads. Thus they looked very picturesque indeed. The Standard Oil Company has rather spoiled the picture, I think, in some respects; for many of them, instead of bringing the old-fashioned Palestinian water-jars, had upon their heads five-gallon gasoline or petroleum cans. They looked rather prosaic, to say the least, as they walked along in their flowing oriental robes and these Standard Oil cans full of water on their heads.
Everything about Nazareth was eloquent of Jesus. We knew He walked those streets; we knew He entered in and out of the houses that had stood there years ago. Of course, the city has often been destroyed and rebuilt since, but always on the same site and with practically the same street directions; and our hearts were moved as we thought of that day when He came into the synagogue there in His own city, and we are told that He “stood up for to read.” It says, “And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue.” There is something very striking there. It was the custom of the Lord Jesus from His childhood on to attend the services where the Word of God was read and where prayer was offered, and as He grew in years and in stature, He was apparently selected by His towns-people to read the Holy Scriptures to them on the holy Sabbath Day. There was therefore nothing unusual in His going into the synagogue, walking up to the reader’s desk, taking the book of the Prophet Esaias and then reading from it.
But notice the words that He read. He applied them directly to Himself. He recognized the fact that now the time had come to proclaim His Messiahship to the people among whom He had lived all those thirty years. They must have felt a peculiar thrill that day as He uttered the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.” What a wonderful sentence! He came not looking for the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance. He came to preach the glad, good tidings of God’s infinite love and mercy to poor sinners. By the word poor I understand Him to mean not merely the poor in purse, but those who are also poor in spirit, for you remember He pronounced a special blessing on the poor in spirit, those who had no spiritual assets, nothing to offer God, who needed not a salvation which they could purchase by effort of their own, but a salvation which would be bestowed freely upon them—and that was exactly why Jesus came into the world.
He could say, “He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted.” How He declares His Deity in those words! Can you heal the broken-hearted? Did you ever know a minister, priest or rabbi so holy, so consecrated, that he could heal the brokenhearted? Did you ever know a doctor who, whatever his skill, could heal the broken-hearted? There is only One who can do this; and who is that? It is the One who made the human heart: God Himself. But Jesus said, “He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted,” because Jesus is God manifest in the flesh.
Then He read on: “To preach deliverance to the captives.” He was thinking, of course, of those who were captive in the chains of sin. You know, sin is such a dreadful thing that it binds for time and eternity those who persist in it. You have heard the story of the Greek tyrant who sent one day for a celebrated blacksmith and said to him, “I understand that you are the best chain-maker in all my dominions.” The blacksmith smiled deprecatingly and said that he always tried to do his work well.
“Well,” said the tyrant, “bring your forge, and bring the metal, and let me see you forge a chain right here in my presence.” And the blacksmith brought the forge and the metal, and link by link he forged a chain. When it was completed they tested it out in many ways, and found that it was impossible to break the links. Then the tyrant said, “Now take him who has made it, and bind him hand and foot with his own chain and cast him into prison, because he is a rebel against my authority!”
Sin is just like that. Every time you commit sin, you are forging a link in the chain that is going to bind your soul forever unless you find deliverance. But Jesus came to preach deliverance to the captives; and, thank God,
“The conquering Saviour can break every chain;
And give us the victory again and again.”
And next He read that He came for the recovering of sight to the blind. Oh, He not only opened, while here on earth, the eyes of those who were literally blind, but how many blind souls He made to see! Sin blinds men, you know; and because of sin we are born blind. All men are blind from their very birth so far as the ability to see into and comprehend eternal things is concerned. But then we add to our blindness when we deliberately reject the light that Jesus offers. But if subject to Him, if we are ready to turn to Him as repentant sinners, and believe His Word, He gives sight to the blind.
And, He read, “to set at liberty them that are bruised.” How many there are who are bruised by sin—and some, not because of any fault of their own. All around us we see the victims of other people’s sins: little children born into the world with defective bodies and defective minds because fathers or mothers have sinned; or it may go farther back, perhaps to a distant grandparent or great-grandparent who in the hour of temptation fell into sin and contracted thereby some dreadful, vile disease which was passed on to posterity. And so all about us are the poor, helpless victims of the sins of others. Sometimes it looks as though God hasn’t been fair, but, remember, God giveth not account of His matters. No matter how we have been bruised by sin, if we but turn to Him, He will set us at liberty and give us deliverance, and some day we shall thank God in eternity for all His ways with us.
If we notice again the scripture which Jesus read, we find that He closed the reading in the middle of a sentence. He read, “To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” Now, if you turn back to the prophet Isaiah, you will find that the sentence goes on like this: “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.” Why did our Saviour stop at that comma? Why did He not finish the sentence? Because of this: the Lord Jesus came to proclaim something which was just then beginning; but it was to go on for centuries, and the day of vengeance of our God has not yet started. It is still the acceptable year of the Lord. And so to everyone today the call goes forth as of old: now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation. “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart.” We do not know when the book will have to be opened again, and when the last part of that sentence will be read: “To proclaim the day of vengeance of our God.” But before that day of vengeance comes, avail yourselves, if you have never yet done so, of the riches of grace offered in the acceptable year of the Lord.
The Saviour put up the book that day in the synagogue of Nazareth, and then He began to preach. The people waited expectantly, hoping He would do some miracle or mighty work. They were far more interested in this than in the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth. They did not know that the fellow-townsman who had helped repair their stairs and builded their houses when He had worked with Joseph, could preach in such a wonderful way, and yet all the time they were saying within themselves, “Why doesn’t He do something marvelous? Why doesn’t He work a miracle?” And so Jesus said, “Ye will surely say unto Me this proverb, Physician, heal Thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Thy country… But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many-lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.” They immediately saw what was meant. They did not recognize their needs, and so He could not do anything for them. But they were so indignant because He disappointed their expectations that they rose up in the synagogue and they thrust Him out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill whereon the city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong.
We could not tell just where that synagogue was, but as we looked down over the city we imagined that we could see that angry throng hustling Him out of the building and hurrying Him through those narrow streets and down to the farther end of the city, and then up beyond to the hill, the Mount of Precipitation, which our guide pointed out. If His enemies could have done so, they would have hurled Him over that precipice on to the rocks of the valley below.
But His hour had not yet come. “But He, passing through the midst of them, went His way.” It was impossible that He should die until the appointed moment when He was to give Himself for our sins on Calvary’s cross. Our visit to Nazareth made it all so real to us; and I hope that the passing our experiences on to you will lead you to Him who was known as Jesus of Nazareth. May God bless His Word for His Name’s sake. Amen.