The Surprising Savior (3): His Surprising Doctrine

You could have heard the proverbial pin drop in the synagogue in Nazareth that Sabbath morning. The gathering had begun like any other: the usual hebdomadal expressions of collective piety had taken their well-worn course, the prayers had been offered, and the Law and the prophets read. But now the sonorous solemnities had given way to an electric silence as a young Man rose and waited until the attendant brought the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to Him. Handling it with a reverent care that seemed to ill accord with His calloused carpenter’s hands, He dexterously unrolled the scroll until, the place found, He straightened His back and began to read: “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” (Luk 4:18-19 KJV).

The words of Isaiah’s great prophecy of coming deliverance were familiar to all, but as the reader rerolled the scroll, passed it to the attendant and resumed His seat, the audience waited with intense anticipation for the message that would follow. Everyone wanted to hear this local lad who seemed to be doing such remarkable things, gaining an unusual reputation, and attracting a following throughout Galilee. Some, with a parochial begrudgery not unknown in small towns before and since, wondered what a mere carpenter would have to say, as they mentally traced His familiar and undistinguished lineage: “From whence hath this man these things?” (Mar 6:2). They asked, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mar 6:3 KJV).

What could this untutored Teacher say about these well-known lines that had not already been said – and said, surely, with far greater oratorical ornamentation than a carpenter could reasonably be expected to command? The promise of a Deliverer seemed so familiar and so unlikely – at once so everyday and so improbable. How could this Jesus give fresh relevance to the familiar words? At best, perhaps, these Galilean Jews might have hoped for some word of encouragement, a little oxygen on the failing embers of the Messianic hope, a promise that some day, somehow, deliverance would come.

Scarcely could they have anticipated the simplicity and immediacy of the words they heard: “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luk 4:21). So unexpected, so daring was the claim that it took a few moments for its import to become clear. As the audience’s minds finally caught up with their ears, a gasp, rising to a murmur, ran around the synagogue as men and women marveled at the message of the Messiah.

No wonder that they wondered, for never before had they heard teaching like this. But there is something wonderful about the reason for their wonder. In the circumstances, they may well have wondered at what must have seemed like the audacity – even the arrogance – of the speaker’s words. Had anyone else uttered them they would justly have wondered at his presumption and egotism. How striking it is, then, that when they wondered, they “wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (v22 KJV). Again they asked, “Is not this the carpenter?” (Mar 6:3), not now dismissively, but with amazement, as they struggled to reconcile what they thought they knew with what they had just heard. Unknowingly, and perhaps unwillingly, they found themselves reiterating the thoughts of the psalmist concerning the Man who stood before them: “Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips” (Psa 45:2 KJV).

But the One who was full of grace was also full of truth (Joh 1:14). His speech was “with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col 4:6), and as He continued to speak, their wonder faded as they felt the sting of the salt in His rebuke for their unbelief. With a terrifying swiftness, amazement gave way to a murderous rage, as He reminded them that they had repeated history, disqualifying themselves from God’s blessing because of their unwillingness to believe and obey His word. Filled with wrath, they sought – as Israel always had, and as sinful man always will – to silence the voice of rebuke. Acting in unholy concert, they sought to slay the Savior, only to find that He had passed from their midst and returned to Capernaum.

In Capernaum they wondered too. Here, they were struck, not so much by the grace of His words, though His speech was never less than gracious, but by their “power” (Luk 4:32), better translated “authority.” That authority came not so much from the words that He used or the way in which He spoke them. Its source was deeper than that – it lay in the identity of the One who spoke. This was the authority of the ruler, an authority that hardly needed to be asserted, and that had to be acknowledged, because it was innate in who He was.

Even the demons recognized what the Nazarenes had denied. As they cried out “Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God” (4:34 KJV), they were acknowledging One they already knew, for they had worshipped Him once. Now, powerless, they pleaded unavailingly for His forbearance. Just a short time earlier Satan had offered Christ the authority and the glory of the kingdoms of earth (v6), but here was an authority greater than any that Satan could claim or confer. Rebuked and routed, the demons left their victim, and once more the people wondered – not now only at the authority of His words, but at their power – their dynamis – their miraculous and irresistible ability. With amazement, they asked each other, “What is this word?” (v36).

And what words they were – words of grace, authority, and power, spoken by the One anointed to “preach the gospel to the poor … [and] deliverance to the captives.” In truth, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (Joh 7:46 NET), and His words and His doctrine should still suffuse our souls with wonder and flood our hearts with worship, as we hear the voice of the Incarnate Word in the pages of the written Word.

“No one ever spoke like this man,” but His speech should be the model of ours. In a world awash with coarse and abrasive words, does anyone wonder at the gracious words that we speak? In society resounding with empty bombast and vainglorious “trash-talk,” do we ever surprise our friends and colleagues with words of real authority – the authority that comes from living in fellowship with God? Men were amazed when the Savior spoke; shame on us if we never surprise them with our speech.