Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
16. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and entered, according to his custom, on the Sabbath-day, into the synagogue, and rose up to read. 17. And the book of Isaiah the Prophet was delivered to him, and, having opened the book, he found the passage where it was written, 18. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me: he hath sent me to preach the Gospel to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, 321 to preach forgiveness to the captives and sight to the blind, to loose by forgiveness those who are bruised, 19. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20. Then, when he had closed the book, he returned it to the minister, and sat down: and the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21. And he began to say to them, To-day this Scripture hath been fulfilled in your ears. 22. And all gave him testimony, and wondered at the discourses of grace which proceeded out of his mouth, and said, Is not this the son of Joseph?
16. And he came to Nazareth The Evangelists are very careful to show by what sort of proofs Christ became known, a striking instance of which is here related by Luke. By explaining a passage in Isaiah, and applying it to the instruction which was immediately required, he turned upon him the eyes of all. He entered, according to his custom, into the synagogue Hence we conclude, that not only did he address the people in the open streets and highways, but, as far as he had opportunity, observed the usual order of the church. We see also that, though the Jews were become very degenerate, though every thing was in a state of confusion, and the condition of the church was miserably corrupted, one good thing still remained: they read the Scriptures publicly, and took occasion from them to teach and admonish the people.
Hence also it is evident, what was the true and lawful method of keeping the Sabbath. When God commanded his people to abstain from working on that day, it was not that they might give themselves up to indolent repose, but, on the contrary, that they might exercise themselves in meditating on his works. Now, the minds of men are naturally blind to the consideration of his works, and must therefore be guided by the rule of Scripture. Though Paul includes the Sabbath in an enumeration of the shadows of the law, (Col 2:16,) yet, in this respect, our manner of observing it is the same with that of the Jews: the people must assemble to hear the word, to public prayers, and to the other exercises of religion. It was for this purpose that the Jewish Sabbath was succeeded by the Lord’s Day.
Now, if we make a comparison of dates, this passage will be sufficient to prove clearly, that the corruptions of the Papal Hierarchy, in our own time, are more shocking and detestable than those which existed among the Jews under the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. For the reading of Scripture, which was then in use, has not only grown obsolete under the Pope, but is driven from the churches by fire and sword; with this exception, that such portions of it, as they think proper, are chanted by them in an unknown tongue. Christ rose up to read, not only that his voice might be better heard, but in token of reverence: for the majesty of Scripture deserves that its expounders should make it apparent, that they proceed to handle it with modesty and reverence.
17. He found the passage There is no doubt that Christ deliberately selected this passage. Some think that it was presented to him by God; 322 but, as a liberty of choice was allowed him, I choose to say that, by his own judgment, he took this passage in preference to others. Isaiah there predicts that, after the Babylonish captivity, there will still be witnesses of the grace of God, who shall gather the people from destruction, and from the darkness of death, and restore, by a spiritual power, the Church, which has been overwhelmed by so many calamities. But as that redemption was to be proclaimed in the name and authority of Christ alone, he uses the singular number, and speaks in the name of Christ, that he may more powerfully awaken the minds of the godly to strong confidence. It is certain, that what is here related belongs properly to Christ alone, for two reasons: first, because he alone was endued with the fullness of the Spirit, (Joh 3:34,) to be the witness and ambassador of our reconciliation to God; (and, for this reason, Paul (Eph 2:17) assigns peculiarly to him, what belongs to all the ministers of the Gospel, namely, that he, “came and preached peace to them which were afar off, and to them that were nigh:”) secondly, because he alone, by the power of his Spirit, performs and grants all the benefits that are here promised.
18. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me These words inform us that, both in his own person and in his ministers, Christ does not act by human authority, or in a private capacity, but has been sent by God to restore salvation to his Church. He does nothing by the suggestion or advice of men, but everything by the guidance of the Spirit of God; and this he declares, in order that the faith of the godly may be founded on the authority and power of God. The next clause, because he hath anointed me, is added by way of explanation. Many make a false boast, that they have the Spirit of God, while they are destitute of his gifts: but Christ proves by the anointing, as the effect, that he is endued with the Spirit of God. He then states the purpose for which the graces of the Spirit were bestowed upon him. It was, that he might preach the Gospel to the poor Hence we conclude, that those, who are sent by God to preach the Gospel, are previously furnished with necessary gifts, to qualify them for so important an office. It is, therefore, very ridiculous that, under the pretense of a divine calling, men totally unfit for discharging the office should take upon themselves the name of pastors. We have an instance of this in the Papacy, where mitred bishops, who are more ignorant than as many asses, proudly and openly vaunt, that they are Christ’s Vicars, and the only lawful prelates of the Church. We are expressly informed, that the Lord anoints his servants, because the true and efficacious preaching of the Gospel, as Paul says, does not lie “in the enticing words of man’s wisdom,” but in the heavenly power of the Spirit.
To the poor The prophet shows what would be the state of the Church before the manifestation of the Gospel, and what is the condition of all of us without Christ. Those persons to whom God promises restoration are called poor, and broken, and captives, and blind, and bruised The body of the people was oppressed by so many miseries, that these descriptions applied to every one of its members. Yet there were many who, amidst their poverty, blindness, slavery, and death, flattered themselves, or were insensible to their condition. The consequence was, that few were prepared to accept this grace.
And, first, we are here taught what is the design of the preaching of the Gospel, and what advantage it brings to us. We were altogether overwhelmed by every kind of evils: but there God cheers us by his life-giving light, to rescue us from the deep abyss of death, and to restore us to complete happiness. It tends, in no ordinary degree, to recommend the Gospel, that we obtain from it inestimable advantage. Secondly, we see who are invited by Christ, and made partakers of promised grace. They are persons, who are every way miserable, and destitute of all hope of salvation. But we are reminded, on the other hand, that we cannot enjoy those benefits which Christ bestows, in any other manner, than by being humbled under a deep conviction of our distresses, and by coming, as hungry souls, to seek him as our deliverer: for all who swell with pride, and do not groan under their captivity, nor are displeased with their blindness, lend a deaf ear to this prediction, and treat it with contempt.
19. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord Many think that here the prophet makes an allusion to the Jubilee, and I have no objection to that view. But it is proper to observe, that he purposely anticipates a doubt, which might disturb and shake weak minds, while the Lord held them in suspense, by delaying so long the promised salvation. He therefore makes the time of redemption to depend on the purpose, or good pleasure, of God. “In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee.” Paul calls it the fullness of the time, (Ga 4:4,) that believers may learn not to indulge in excessive curiosity, but to acquiesce in the will of God, — and that we may rest satisfied with the conviction, that salvation was manifested in Christ, at the time which seemed good in the sight of God.
20. The eyes of all who were in the synagogue God touched their hearts, I doubt not, with astonishment, which made them more attentive, and induced them to listen to Christ, while he was speaking. For they must have been withheld from opposing this discourse at the commencement, or breaking it off in the midst, when they were sufficiently disposed, as we shall see, to treat Christ with contempt.
21. Today is fulfilled Christ did not merely affirm in a few words, but proved by a reference to facts, that the time was now come, when it was the will of God to restore his ruined church. The object of his discourse was, to expound the prediction clearly to his hearers: just as expositors handle Scripture in a proper and orderly manner, when they apply it to the circumstances of those whom they address. He says that it was fulfilled in their ears, rather than in their eyes, because the bare sight of the fact was of little value, if doctrine had not held the chief place.
22. And all gave testimony to him Here Luke draws our attention, first, to the truly divine grace, which breathed in the lips of Christ; and then presents a lively picture of the ingratitude of men. Using a Hebrew idiom, he calls them discourses of grace, — that is, discourses which manifested the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. The inhabitants of Nazareth are thus compelled to acknowledge and admire God speaking in Christ; and yet they voluntarily refuse to render to the heavenly doctrine of Christ the honor which it deserves. Is not this the son of Joseph? Instead of regarding this circumstance as an additional reason for glorifying God, they bring it forward as an objection, and wickedly make it a ground of offense, that they may have some plausible excuse for rejecting what is said by the son of Joseph. Thus we daily see many who, while they are convinced that what they hear is the word of God, seize on frivolous apologies for refusing to obey it. And certainly the only reason why we are not affected, as we ought to be, by the power of the Gospel, is, that we throw hinderances in our own way, and that our malice quenches that light, the power of which we are unwilling to acknowledge.
“Pour guarir ceux qui ont le coeur froisse;” — “to heal those who have the heart bruised.”
“Aucuns pensent que par la volonte de Dieu il l'ait recontre sans le chercher.” — “Some think that, by the will of God, he found it without seeking for it.”