Rev. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, us 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.
This sermon preached by Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth is a significant sermon. It is significant because it is the first recorded sermon preached by Jesus. But for our purposes it is especially significant because it is a sermon about preaching. Jesus’ first sermon was a sermon about sermons. When Jesus came, He came preaching.
In this passage Jesus teaches several important truths about preaching.
Jesus makes plain here that He has been sent to preach. This is His first, this is His main, this is really His only, work.
He has not been sent to counsel, although He does give personal, pastoral counsel. He does meet with a troubled Nicodemus. He does comfort a weeping Mary Magdalene at the tomb. But personal counseling is not His primary work and calling. He has not been sent to perform miracles, although He does perform many mighty miracles. Nowhere is it ever recorded that Jesus baptized. There is not one reference to His having officiated at a funeral or a marriage.
Jesus’ main work was to preach. He makes that clear in this passage. “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 . . . . To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” The record in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry demonstrates that He was faithful to His calling. He was focused—He knew what His calling was. And He was faithful to carry that calling out.
It is striking that the first official act of Jesus’ public ministry recorded in the gospels is preaching. That is what He did in Nazareth. And what He did there in Nazareth set the tone for His whole ministry.
What was true of Jesus must be true of His servants today. If His calling was essentially and primarily a calling to preach, so is ours.
Not only has Jesus been sent to preach, but He makes plain here that He is THE Preacher of the gospel. That is what He says about Himself. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon ME.” “He hath anointedME to preach the gospel to the poor.” “He hath sent ME to heal the brokenhearted and to preach deliverance to the captives.”
Fundamentally there is one and only one Preacher of the gospel, and that one is Jesus Christ. He is the Prince of Preachers, the preacher’s Preacher.
That Jesus is THE Preacher of the gospel carries with it several implications.
First, since Jesus Christ is THE Preacher, it is Christ who is speaking to His people through the preaching office and through the man who occupies that office. The preacher does not merely bring a message about Christ. But in his preaching, Christ Himself is addressing the people of God. Jesus says that to His disciples inLuke 10:16, “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me.”
In the second place, since Christ is THEPreacher, we human preachers stand in dependence upon Him. Apart from Him, we cannot preach. Without His sustaining strength and grace, all our efforts come short. Our sermons are ineffective. There is no peace, no joy in the, work. Because Christ is THE Preacher of the gospel, we must stand in constant, daily dependence upon Him in our work of making and preaching sermons.
And, thirdly, since Christ is THE Preacher of the gospel, we human preachers are going to be called one day to give an account of our preaching to Him. As preachers we are answerable to Him who is THE Preacher. We had better remember His warning, especially sobering to preachers, that every idle word is going to be brought into judgment.
A third important truth that comes out in this passage is. Jesus’ certainty that He has beenSENT to preach, sent by God.
That is indicated in several ways. That is indicated when Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me;” That is indicated when He says, “He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” That is indicated when He says, “He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives.” He has been “sent” to do this. The word “send” is the Greek word apostello, the word from which we get our English word “apostle.” An apostle is one who has been sent out, one who has been sent out with a mission to accomplish, a mandate to carry out. Jesus has been sent out by God.
That Jesus has been sent out to preach is indicated by one of the two words that He uses here for preach. It is the word that He uses in verse 18 when He says that He has been sent “to preach deliverance to the captives,” and again in verse 19 when He says that He has been sent “to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” That word “preach” is the Greek word karusso. The meaning of this word is “to herald, to function as a herald.” Now in Bible times a herald was a special sort of person. He was the official messenger of the king. He brought the kings word to the people in the name of the king. The authority of the king stood behind the message that he brought. To reject him and his message was tantamount to rejecting the king. He did not come in his own authority, but with the authority of the one who had sent him. Just so, Christ has been sent.
It is of fundamental importance that the preacher of the gospel be conscious of the fact that he has been sent. So important is this that Paul says inRomans 10:15, “How shall they preach, except they be sent?” There can be no genuine preaching unless the one who is doing the preaching has been sent.
The importance of the preacher’s being sent is that he comes with authority, the authority of the God who sends him. This was the thing that impressed the people with the preaching of Jesus. A little later in the chapter, Luke 4:32, we read, “And they were astonished at His doctrine: for his word was with authority.”
In a similar way our people must be impressed with our preaching. They must not be impressed with our authority. But they must be impressed with the authority of the Lord God who sends us, on behalf of whom we speak, and whose Word we bind upon their hearts.
Jesus’ preaching was exegetical, expository preaching. Jesus preached out of the Scriptures. He read the Scriptures and then proceeded to explain the Scripture that He had chosen as His text. The portion of Scripture that He read wasIsaiah 61. The text of His sermon was the first two verses of this chapter.
Jesus’ preaching was NOT a forum for discussion of current social and political issues. He did not, in His preaching, simply use the Scriptures as a springboard to launch, into consideration of some other topic of personal or popular interest. His preaching was not a sharing of His own personal religious experience.
But His preaching was exposition of the Scriptures. Exposition means “to set forth.” In expository preaching the sermon “sets forth” or “exhibits” the truth of a certain biblical text. The sermon is designed to say what the text says. Though using different forms and different words, it really only repeats (with illustration and application added) what the text says. Expository preaching sets forth neither more nor less than the truth of the text.
Traditionally the science or art of sermon construction has been called “homiletics.” The word “homiletics” is derived from two Greek words: homo, which means “the same,” and lego, which means “to say or speak.” Thus homiletics is the technique of making the kind of sermon that “says the same thing” as the text says. The very word used to designates the science of sermon construction indicates that all genuine preaching is expository preaching.
The importance of expository preaching is that only when the preacher expounds the text of Scripture is the Word that he speaks the very Word of God. This is the biblical view of preaching. Preaching is not merely the word of man; it is the powerful, saving Word of. God. But preaching is the Word of God only if the preaching expounds the Word of God in the Bible.
One of the strangest paradoxes in evangelical and Reformed churches today is a very high view of the Bible, on the one hand, and on the other hand a very low view of preaching. On the one hand a vigorous defense of the Bible as the very Word of God, but on the other hand a low estimation of preaching as the Word of God for the salvation and building up of the church. Many preachers these days do not even like to think of themselves as preachers, much less have others view them this way.
Any view of preaching that comes short of holding that the preaching is the very Word of God to His people, the prophetic “Thus saith the Lord,” is less than the biblical view of what true preaching is.
But if the preaching is to be the very Word of God to His people, it must be Gods Word that is preached. The sermon can only be the Word of God if the sermon expounds the Word of God. The sermon as the proclamation of the Word of God is inextricably bound to the written Word of God in the Bible. Apart from the written Word of God and its exposition, there can be no sermon. If what the minister proclaims is human insights, however valid and perceptive they may be, what is happening is not what the Bible regards as preaching. To the degree to which this happens, God’s Word is silenced in the church and the pew is impoverished.
We ministers must be convinced of it that when we preach we bring Gods Word to Gods people. That is the seriousness of the calling we have. There are two sorts of doubts that ministers wrestle with. There is the minister’s doubt concerning his own personal call to the ministry. Anyone who has been a minister for more than a year has wrestled with this doubt. But there is also the doubt that in his preaching the very Word of God is heard, especially when there appears to be little or no results to his preaching.
We have to be renewed in our conviction concerning the deep, mysterious, powerful nature of preaching. We have to be renewed in our conviction that in our preaching God’s people do hear God’s own Word; through us God does speak to them. We have to be reminded, as Elijah needed to be reminded, that God is not in the strong wind, that God is not in the earthquake, that God is not in the fire, but that God is present in and God works through the still, small voice, the voice of the preaching of the gospel.
But then we must work at it that our preaching is expository preaching. In the preparation of our sermons we must labor with the text, so that we ourselves understand its meaning. We must pay attention to the words and the meaning of the words, the phrases, their position in the text and their relationship to each other. We must identify the main thought of the text and understand how everything else in the text is connected to this main thought. We must interpret the text in relation to its context—its immediate context, its context in the chapter and book of the Bible in which it appears, and ultimately in the context of the central message of the Bible as the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Then we must put this all down in a well-organized outline, logically developed, and present it clearly and forcefully to the congregation. This is expository preaching!
The fifth important principle about preaching taught by Jesus here is the urgency of preaching.
He teaches the urgency of preaching in His description of those to whom He has been sent to preach. They are the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, and the bruised.
Those to whom Jesus has been sent to preach are those who are poor, poor in spirit, spiritually poor, absolutely destitute of any spiritual good. They are the brokenhearted, that is, those who are broken in heart over their sins and the guilt of their sins. They are captives. “Captives” here does not refer to prisoners in a jail, but it refers to prisoners of war, dragged into exile by the conqueror. These are captives to the Devil, enslaved to his power, with absolutely no hope of escape in themselves. They are blind, blind to the Word of God, blind to the will of God, blind to the truth, blind to every spiritual reality, so blind that they cannot even see the kingdom of God. And they are bruised. Not only are they captives to the power of sin and Satan, but they are wounded and bruised from the awful consequences of their sins. They are broken, miserable, troubled, without peace, lacking all joy.
To these, the preaching of the gospel addresses itself and to these has the preacher of the gospel been sent.
He has been sent to preach to them because they are in need, desperate need of His preaching. And the point is that by means of His preaching their need is met. Jesus does not simply preach to the poor, but His preaching is the means for the deliverance of the poor from their poverty, the means to their spiritual enrichment. He does not simply preach to the brokenhearted, but His preaching is the means to the comfort of the brokenhearted. He does not simply preach to the captives, but His preaching is the means by which these captives are delivered. He does not simply preach to the, blind, but His preaching is the means by which the blind receive their sight. He does not simply preach to the bruised, but His preaching is the means to the binding up and the healing of those that are bruised. Thus, Jesus preaches the acceptable year of the Lord, verse 19, the year or time when sinners are accepted by the Lord. Hispreaching is the means by which sinners are made acceptable to the Lord.
The urgency of the preaching is that it alone is able to accomplish these things. The preaching is not one means alongside of other possible means, but it is the only means. The preaching is the only means to the relief of the poor. If the poor are not relieved by the preaching there is no place else to which they can go for relief. The preaching is the only means to the comfort of the brokenhearted; there is no other comfort to be found anywhere for the brokenhearted. The preaching is the only means by which enslaved sinners are freed from sin’s awful power; there is no other possible means of deliverance. The preaching is the only means by which the blind are given eyes to see; apart from the preaching there is only darkness and death. The preaching is the only means to the healing of the bruised; if the bruised are not healed by the power of the preaching of the gospel, they will not be healed. The preaching is the only means by which guilty sinners are accepted of the Lord; there is no possibility of acceptance with God outside of and apart from the preaching of the gospel.
This must bring home to us preachers the urgency of our preaching. The souls of our people are at stake; their eternal blessedness depends on the Word that we bring. We have to be convinced of that. No one is going to do the hard work of making and preaching good sermons, if he is not convinced of the urgency of preaching. Conversely, if we are convinced of the urgency of preaching, we are going to put forth the effort to make and to preach good sermons. God demands it of us and our people are in need of it.
It also comes out in this passage that Christ preached Himself. He did that in the synagogue at Nazareth. That was the very thing that so offended and angered the people.
It is plain that the passage that made up Jesus’ text that day refers to the coming Messiah, the Christ. The passage cannot be speaking merely of the prophet. Neither can it be speaking of God, since God is said to anoint and send the one who is spoken of. Isaiah 61:1, 2 is an outstanding Old Testament prophecy of Christ.
Jesus applies that prophecy to Himself in verse 21, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”
Faithful preaching of the gospel is preaching that centers in Jesus Christ, His person and work, His death and resurrection. Preaching that is gospel preaching, preaching that announces the “good news,” is the preaching of Christ. He is the One who sets free the captives, gives sight to the blind, and heals the bruised.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “I take my text and make a bee-line to the cross.” Every faithful preacher of the gospel ought to take his text and make a bee-line to the cross.
The late Prof. George Ophoff is reported to have counseled his seminary students that when they make their sermon outlines, they should put a cross in the upper right-hand corner of every page in order to remind them to preach Christ and His cross.
We must imitate Paul here and determine to know nothing among our people in our preaching except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Jesus’ preaching was effective. The preaching is always effective.
It is not the duty of the preacher to make his preaching effective. If it were, he would be faced with an impossible task. He can do many things in his preaching to place stumbling blocks before his hearers: by reducing the gospel to trite moralisms, by preaching obscurely, by poor sermon preparation, by turning the pulpit into a personal stage, by poor speaking and delivery, by disregard for organization and logic. But hecannot make the Word effective. God must and God does see to that.
That the preaching is effective does not mean that the effect of the preaching is always positive. The reaction to Jesus’ preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth was not positive but negative. They rejected His preaching and they rejected Him for His preaching. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” they asked in disdain. Then they tried to kill Him by pushing Him off the cliff. If Jesus’ preaching was met with a negative reaction, we should not be surprised that our preaching does also.
Even in that negative reaction, however, Jesus’ preaching was effective. Sinners were confronted with the gospel. The will of God was made known to them. And by that preaching they were hardened in their unbelief and made inexcusable before God.
But the preaching is also effective positively. That too is indicated by Jesus’ word here. The poor areenriched. The brokenhearted are comforted. The captives are set free. The blind do receive their sight. The bruised are healed.
That has to be the incentive to the preacher of the gospel. That makes all the hard work, the blood, sweat, and tears worthwhile. Then it is possible to face the setbacks and endure the negative reactions. God does use the preaching of His Word, and He will continue to use the preaching of His Word to gather His people, to build up His church, and to accomplish His saving purpose.