It may be that there are some here this evening who have not been with us through the earlier meetings of this conference. Therefore, for their benefit, I may say that we have been led in this season to give our attention anew to the great matter of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Divine anointing for the believer in Jesus Christ. We have looked at this matter from various standpoints, and pursued it along various lines.
And so this evening, in this closing gathering, we are coming back to this great basic passage, which has been read here, from the gospel by Luke chapter 4, Jesus visiting Nazareth, entering the synagogue, and the attendant, evidently knowing Him as belonging to and having been brought up in that town, passes to Him the roll with the Prophecies of Isaiah inscribed upon it. And He took it, and unfolded the roll, and working in the unfolding toward that point in those prophecies, which we know as chapter 61. And then He began to read: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach good tidings". And so this evening we are to be occupied with the anointing in relation to the "Good Tidings"; what we call "the gospel".
Now, as you see, Luke puts this incident very early in the ministry of Christ. It would seem that the Lord had visited Capernaum, perhaps He had taken in Cana of Galilee, but had come very soon to Nazareth. Luke in his record is wanting to make clear that the Lord Jesus, in His great ministry, preaching and teaching at the very beginning, the very first sermon that He preached, struck the note of grace. The whole subsequent score, the great harmony of the gospel, would be tuned to that key-note: grace!
It was Luke's particular object to record the gospel of grace. He differs from the other writers of gospels, particularly in that matter. Matthew will give us the gospel of the kingdom; it's not a different gospel, but it has that particular aspect of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven. Others will have their own particular object in writing, but Luke knew quite well what he was after. And so his gospel, in a peculiar way, is tuned to this great initial key-note - grace! It's Luke that alone writes of the Prodigal Son, a great, great story of grace; of the lost sheep, of the lost coin, and sets over the whole of this gospel, "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost". It's the gospel of grace. And so he puts the Lord Jesus here, as at the beginning, and gives us this: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach good tidings."
Grace is here - it's mentioned actually in that word once - but it is there in the original language covered by another English translation: "to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord", which many of you will know in the original text is: "the year of grace", the year of Divine grace, the grace of the Lord! That is what comes out here particularly. This is a sermon on the grace of God by Luke, made the foundation of all the ministry and work of the Lord Jesus, and declared to be the object of the anointing, the thing for which Jesus was anointed. The anointing of the Spirit then, has as the object: grace, grace! For this dispensation, which is "the year", the year which began when Jesus came, and will end when He returns. It's a long day; it is proving to be much longer than anybody expected! It is not a day of hours, but a day of centuries. Nevertheless, bounded by a beginning and an end, between those two. The character of this dispensation in which you and I live, this "day", is grace. Good news as to the grace of God.
Well, to begin with, Jesus said that He was anointed to preach good tidings. Grace is proclaimed and grace is proclaimed with a mighty context. There's a two-fold background to this declaration of the Lord Jesus, under the direction of the anointing Spirit. Firstly, there is the background of Isaiah chapter 56 [Editor's note: TAS meant chapter 61]. Now, if you turn back to that chapter from which this prophecy is taken, you will find that its connection there, its literal and actual connection that is of this very prophecy. And it is the prophet Isaiah, who in the first place is speaking of himself; he is not in the first instance thinking of the coming Messiah. He is saying of himself: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He" (the Lord) "hath anointed me to preach good tidings". Isaiah was the preacher of the gospel then. But you notice the setting. The setting there was the ending of the captivity of the Lord's people in Babylon. For seventy long, weary years, they had been in exile... because, because of their sin. After long pleadings, and entreaties, and warnings, and beseechings, they still went their way.
The prophet said: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way". Because of their persistence in that "own way", not the way of the Lord, at last the threatened judgement had fallen on them; they had been carried away into exile, into bondage. And there, according to the prescribed time, they languished for seventy years. And, whatever may have been true of some who may have settled down and sought to make the best of the situation, or even to have a good time with all that Babylon could offer, there were those who never did so. There was a considerable body of those exiles who longed for home, "This is not home; we are in a foreign country. This is not the place to which we belong. Yes, you may say that we are romancing about 'home', that it is not all that we, in exile imagine it to be, nevertheless, it's home! And we are away from home; this is not our life." A little glimpse into how they felt is given us in such words as these: "We hung our harps upon the willows, and said, 'How can we sing the songs of Zion in a strange land?'" No song, no song in a strange land. A people in bondage; a people in weakness. A people deprived and stripped of everything that was really theirs by the will of God; bruised in spirit, imprisoned in body, blinded by frustration and disappointment, with an eternal longing in their hearts: "Oh, to get back home!"
The day came. The dawn of a day broke and a sound is heard like a trumpet call. The prophet is crying, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me... the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings." What are the good tidings? "He's sent me to proclaim release to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the year of grace of the Lord!" And can you imagine what those captives felt like? As with that morning they heard the cry: "The day of your release has come - the day when you can go home! You can have all that for which your heart has longed these many years - you can go! You are free!" That's the first background that Jesus takes up, and says: "Yes, but My good news is even better than that! This world is like that - you men and women are like that; you are exiles from your heavenly home, far from your heavenly home, far from the Father's house. You are in bondage and captivity. The god of this age hath blinded your eyes. You're in a pitiable plight, more pitiable even than those exiles in Babylon. But listen! I have come with good news! I have come with good news! This is the year of the Lord's release; this is the year of grace!" That's the gospel that He was anointed to preach.
That's the first of the two backgrounds of this wonderful first sermon of the Lord Jesus. And before I pass from that, I want to remind you that He said: "This day, this day is this fulfilled" - this day! "In your ears, it's fulfilled". While no doubt literally He was referring to that particular Sabbath day in the synagogue at Nazareth, spiritually it ushered in the day of this thing, this very thing for mankind. The day has come for the release.
But there's a second background, familiar to many of you. It's the background of the great festival in Israel, known as the Year of Jubilee. Once every fifty years in the life of Israel, a great festival took place, and it lasted for a whole year. During the fifty years, many a tragedy had been enacted, many a dark shadow had come in to spoil and blight the lives of the people. Here is a poor family, unable to meet its liabilities and pay its debts, and so, under the law this thing could be exacted in some way, a mortgage could be taken on their property; their inheritance of fields could be taken away and used to raise the crops and pay their debts and they get nothing out of it. A son in a family could be taken and put to forced labour and get no wages, to pay the debt. Things like that, and a lot more things like that, could happen; people during the fifty years were having that sort of experience. And then, the fiftieth year!
The Year of Jubilee
What happened? With the first streaks of dawn, that first day of the Year of Jubilee the trumpets of Jubilee were sounded! And those who kept the sons in bondage, had to go and say to them: "You can go home! You can go home, I can keep you no longer; it's the Year of Jubilee. It's the year of release; I have no longer any power to keep you - go home!" Use your imagination - the family at home, on this festal morn, preparing the home, and scanning the horizon for the return of that son who'd been kept as a hostage against their debt. Many a home, many a broken family mended that day. And the lawyer has to write across the Deed of Mortgage: "Cancelled!" and send it to the poor people whose inheritance had been taken away. All that sort of thing was happening all over the land; it was the Year of Jubilee! All slaves must be released! All properties must be returned! Everything under judgment must be freed! And listen: what's that sound? The keys are turning in the cells of prisoners, and gates of the prison courts are being opened, and the jailers are saying: "You can all go now, it's the Year of Jubilee!"
That's the background that the Lord Jesus takes up, and says: "You think that was good news to the land, to those homes, to those people? Good news? When they heard those Trumpets of Jubilee, do you think they rejoiced? Indeed they did! But I've got a better gospel than that even! The gospel, the Good News that I have come to preach, to proclaim, is better than the return from Babylon's exile, and better even than the Year of Jubilee! It is the gospel of the grace of God, of eternal salvation. Yes, He's anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor." The poor... it was a bad thing to be poor in Israel; the creditor could come and take away your son, take away your home, take away your land. It was a bad thing to be poor... "to preach good tidings to the poor... He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the year of grace of the Lord." So it's proclaimed with a tremendous background, isn't it? But, and I don't think that I'm reading anything into this, what the Lord Jesus really did mean, and what it has proved to mean in this long-drawn-out day is, that what came with Him by the anointing was a better thing than Israel had in getting back to the land and leaving Babylon, and a better thing even than they had in their Year of Jubilee once in fifty years. Fifty years may be a life-time, but it's not eternity! What He came to give was eternal salvation.
We could dwell long upon the details, of course, the prisoners, and the blind people, and bruised people, and poverty - they all have a spiritual counterpart. But, the sermon is not finished. It's not finished. Suddenly, a strange, strange turn in the course of His discourse carries us away back, away back into ancient Israel to the days of the two great prophets Elijah and Elisha. And He says, as we have read: "Of a truth I say unto you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, and the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, when there came a great famine over the land. Unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Zarephath in the land of Sidon, unto a woman who was a widow". I wonder what Elijah would think about that? I don't know whether he knows about it now, he did appear with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration - he may know more than we think he does! But I'm quite sure, that if he knew, or when he does know, he will get a bit of a surprise that the Lord Jesus took up that incident and used it in this way. What would Elijah say? "Well, yes, it was a terrible day that followed my declaration, 'There shall be no rain upon the earth by the space of three years and six months' - a terrible time. And there were many, many poor widows in Israel, but the Lord would never let me go to any of those widows to help them! But one day, one day, the Lord told me to go right outside of the land of Israel altogether, to the land of Sidon, to a poor woman who was a widow. I had to go." Well, we know what happened there. Elijah would say: "I never realised what I was doing at that time! What was I doing? What was the meaning of it in God's mind?" Why, the Lord Jesus has uncovered the hidden meaning of this. In the land of Israel, in the land of Israel is the place where they think that they have a right to everything - of course they are the people! They are the people! They have the oracles. They have the revelation. They have the commandments; they have all that which God gave at Sinai... you see? They've got it all; they are the people who have a right to everything! Self-satisfied, self-important - under judgment because of their pride, their arrogance. They, therefore, are not suitable subjects for grace.
You'll never know the grace of God if you have any kind of spirit or mentality like that - you've got to be like a poor widow, a poor widow who is regarded as an outsider - and you will know grace then. Now that's a discovery for Elijah even, that he was enacting, under the direction of the Spirit of God, he was enacting the gospel of grace in this sense that it is to those who are aware of their need, really conscious that if they are going to get anything at all, it will have to be the grace of God! "Tis mercy all, immense and free." Only people who have no sense whatever of merit in themselves, of right to anything at all, can speak like that: "Tis mercy all, immense and free"! And it was a poor widow in the land of Sidon who came to know the gospel of the grace of God.
But the Lord Jesus doesn't finish there: "There were many lepers in Israel in the days of Elisha the prophet". Elisha had the anointing, he could, by the anointing, have cleansed all the lepers in Israel, but he wasn't allowed to go to one of them. It was in Israel, it was in Israel when Israel was not in a state to know the grace of God. But there was one man who was a foreigner, an outsider altogether; not in Israel: Naaman the leper! And just to him was Elisha sent; or he, alone, an outsider, was cleansed of his leprosy by Elisha.
You see, the Lord Jesus is putting enormous emphasis upon this! The gospel is the gospel of grace! On the one side, you have no place in this acceptable year of the Lord, this year of the Lord's release, this year of grace, with all that it means, you have no place in it. If you can still hope to find what you're after in any other direction than the grace of God, you're simply ruled out! On the other side, if you are such as the widow of Zarephath or Naaman the Syrian, who is led and governed by this sense of poverty and sinfulness, you're the candidate for the gospel, the good news of the grace of God. And I think Elisha would be a bit surprised if he knew what he did over Naaman the Syrian was going to be taken up by the Lord Jesus centuries after, and used as an illustration of the grace of God - that he was enacting the gospel of grace.
It's proclaimed; it is illustrated and set forth in this vivid and forceful way by the Lord Jesus. But such is the heart of man (and, dear friends, how, how it is borne out there in Nazareth... here it is) He is, by the anointing, proclaiming the good news, the gospel of grace, the Year of Jubilee, the Year of the Lord's release - they are not prepared to number themselves with the poor, and the blind, and the imprisoned, and the needy ones. They still stand on their religious dignity as the people, with the result that they reject Him who brought the good news of grace, and would destroy Him! Would destroy Him! Such is the heart of man... that's what men will do. They may go to church every Sunday, and in their religion say: "God be merciful unto us! God be merciful to me a sinner", and you meet them immediately afterwards, and you say: "Hello, you miserable sinner!" - see what will happen to you! Oh no... not having that! You see? That's what happened there.
He was trying to make them see on the one side, that they were
needing the grace of God - they were needing the grace of God. And
on the other side, that the grace of God had come to them that
very day in His Person. But, their blindness is so great,
and their imprisonment so strong... their exile from God so far,
that they will take the very Messenger of grace and destroy Him if
they can. Grace rejected.
I am not surprised, I am not surprised that Nathanael said: "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" That's Nazareth! That's Nazareth. But even there, marvel of marvels, He who knew His own native town, He who knew the state of things there, He who knew those people; He who knew their pride, their prejudice, and their bigotry - He who knew it... He had lived there thirty years - He knew it! He knew it. And this very sermon shows that He knew it, shows that He knew it - He made that the place of His first preaching of the grace of God. Marvellous, isn't it? Marvellous! We would say: "That's the place to be left. Never go there preaching good news; they won't have it, they won't have it! Indeed, you'll find that they will more than reject it, they'll reject you!" Nevertheless... the Son of God knew when He came into this world what a reception He would have: "He came unto His own, and they that were His own received Him not". He knew when He came here that He would not be received. But He came! But He came, "Tis mercy all, immense and free".
But that's not the end of the story. I'm sorry that it's broken up in this way. The end of the story? Oh yes, they led Him to the brow of the hill whereon their city was built that they might throw Him down headlong, "He came to Capernaum, a city of Galilee... He was teaching on the Sabbath day. And there was in the synagogue a man which had a spirit of an unclean demon..." you know the rest. You know the rest, how does this really finish? There? Like this: "There went forth a rumour concerning Him in every place of the region round about"!
Grace has been proclaimed. Grace has been illustrated. Grace has been rejected.... But that's not the end. Here, grace is triumphant at last! It is triumphant at last. There in Capernaum, grace triumphs. A poor devil-ridden, dominated creature, delivered! The people marvelling, marvelling at this. The fame, a rumour of Him went through all the region! What kind of a rumour do you think it was? Ah, if you look into this, you'll say: "You see, what they marvelled at was grace, grace. Coming from His lips: grace. Coming from His hands: grace. Coming from His presence: grace!"
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings to?" Those who need grace - that's what it amounts to! To those who need it? Ah, no, those who know they need it! Their only hope is the grace of God!
"The year of grace". "The year of release". "The year of Jubilee"!
Dear friends, that, that is the effect of the anointing, the effect of the anointing. The Holy Spirit has assumed the responsibility for that! The gospel of the grace of God. If you and I come under the Holy Spirit's action, we shall ourselves be children of the grace of God, and we shall be those whose supreme note, to which all life is tuned, is: Grace, grace, marvellous grace!