The Third Sunday after Epiphany is January 23, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 4:14-21

4:14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.

4:15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

4:16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,

4:17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

4:20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

4:21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 4 opens with an account of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert, where the devil failed to tempt Him.

Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, left the desert to return to Galilee, where a report about Him spread throughout the whole region (verse 14).

The word ‘report’ is ‘news’ in some translations.

John MacArthur tells us:

The word “news” is phm from which the English word “fame” comes His fame was starting to go everywhere. His priority was to teach.  And so He began as Josephus [the Jewish historian of the time] tells us through those 240 towns and villages

Of the presence of the Holy Spirit, Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

After Christ had vanquished the evil spirit, he made it appear how much he was under the influence of the good Spirit; and, having defended himself against the devil’s assaults, he now begins to act offensively, and to make those attacks upon him, by his preaching and miracles, which he could not resist or repel.

Of Galilee, Henry has this observation:

Galilee, a remote part of the country, distant from Jerusalem; it was a part of Christ’s humiliation that he began his ministry there.

Jesus began to teach in the Galilean synagogues, and everyone praised Him (verse 15).

MacArthur describes His ministry there:

the Galilean ministry lasts for about a year and a half before Jesus makes a final move to the south If you look at chapter 8 verse 1 it tells us the nature of His Galilean ministry “He began going about from one city and village to another proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him.”  So that is the nature of the Galilean ministry.

Now historians tell us there were about 240 towns and villages in the area known as the Galilee, the northern part of Israel For a year and a half Jesus traversed those 240 towns and villages, along with His disciples and some other women who are noted there in the 8th chapter as well in what is the Galilean ministry And when you come, as I said, to chapter 9 verse 51, the scene shifts to the south.

So Luke moves right from Christ’s temptation to His long ministry in Galilee.  And, frankly, Jesus blanketed Galilee in that year and a half And that wouldn’t be hard to do.  Galilee is not a large area You can walk around it.  It’s not a significantly large area.  And He could have touched all the little places and the larger places there in that period of time And some scholars have suggested, interestingly, that in Acts 1:8 Jesus said to His disciples that when the Spirit comes upon you, you’re going to receive power and you’re going to be witnesses of Me in Jerusalem, in Judea area, in Samaria and the uttermost part of the earth And He never referred to Galilee at all and some have suggested that maybe that was because He did such a thorough job Himself May be a stretch, but it’s certainly a thought.

Henry points out that everyone admired Jesus at first:

Every body admired him, and cried him up; they never heard such preaching in all their lives. Now, at first, he met with no contempt or contradiction; all glorified him, and there were none as yet that vilified him.

When Jesus arrived in His hometown of Nazareth, He went to teach at the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was His custom; He stood up to read (verse 16).

MacArthur gives us the Greek word for ‘teach’:

The word “teaching” there in verse 15 comes from didask, a very familiar Greek term that you know, and it’s simply a word from which we get the English word “didactic.”  He was engaged in a didactic effort, that is an explanation of the meaning of things, and in His case it was the Scripture And so we see in verse 15 He began teaching, and that’s what He did all through His entire ministry. He was a teacher and a preacher.

MacArthur explains why Jesus chose synagogues to teach and preach:

Now you’ll notice the place where He was teaching, and it’s very important, He began teaching in their synagogues.  He went into Galilee and He had ready-made venues in which to teach.  Synagogues were perfect places for Jesus to teach, and I’ll explain why they were.  Every town and village had one All it took to have a synagogue was ten Jewish men If you had ten Jewish men in a town or a village, that was enough men to constitute a synagogue and they would build a permanent synagogue

Two hundred and forty towns and villages in the Galilee, certainly there may have been a town that didn’t have ten men but it would be a rare one Most of them would have at least ten men. Some of them would have populations of twenty, thirty, forty thousand people. They would have more than one synagogue.  There would be a number of synagogues that would be built in larger places

For example, according to the Jerusalem Talmud, and there are some scholars who debate this number, but according to the Jerusalem Talmud there were 480 synagogues in the city of Jerusalem alone Only to point out that there were many, many synagogues in larger population areas.  So Jesus traveling around the Galilee in 240 towns and villages would have more than that in the number of synagogues that He could teach in.  So there were plenty of places for Him to teach.  His priority was teaching the Word.  And Jewish history had so worked itself into a situation by the time He began His ministry, that He had available venues in which He could teach, namely these synagogues.

Now Philo, ancient Jewish writer, tells us that synagogues had a name They were called “houses of instruction.”  They were called “houses of instruction.”  And that is exactly what they were for.  They were for the teaching of God’s Word They weren’t for the teaching of anything else, they were for the teaching of the law, the Torah, the prophets, the haftorah and the holy writings, the hagiograph, as it’s often called, the sacred writings, all of the Old Testament.  That was what they were for.  They were houses of instruction and perfect places for Jesus to teach The Old Testament would be read there and it would be exposited there by someone who could explain its meaning.

By the time of Jesus, it was established in the land, synagogues were firmly established

Now the term “synagogue” is from the Greek word sunaggs, which simply means a gathering, a gathering or a gathering place And that’s exactly what they were.  They were not a temple. They are not to be confused with a temple. No sacrifices were ever made there, no altars are there, no lavers are there, no sacerdotal or priestly paraphernalia are there

The ruler of the synagogue was also responsible for the structure of the service It was his responsibility to set the structure of the service and primarily to select the preacher.  On each Sabbath occasion he would be the one who would approve the preacher, the one who was to preach the sermon. He would also select the Scripture readers Scripture was read by different people and he would be the one who would select who would read the Scripture.  He would follow the…lead the flow of the service and then he would have to approve the one who preached.

They did not have a full-time pastor.  They did not have a full-time rabbi They did not have a full-time teacher, as such.  In fact, in a local town there would be perhaps a number of men in the town who could teach and do the preaching and the sermon and they would take turns doing that And should a local teacher of some qualification or suitability or note come through town, he would always be invited to be the guest teacher The people would welcome that.  This was known as what’s called in history “the freedom of the synagogue,” the freedom of the synagogue.  It was a policy that developed early in synagogue life to allow for various teachers, and the ruler had the responsibility to determine who that teacher would be.

Now this becomes another thing that God in His wonderful providence has brought about so that when Jesus begins to teach, all the synagogues that He would go to were operating on the basis of quote-unquote “the freedom of the synagogue” and they gave over their sermon to any visiting rabbi which was perfect because no matter where Jesus went, He was a well-known teacher and rabbi and it gave Him immense opportunities to teach Everywhere there were ready-made venues for Him to teach and preach the gospel, to announce the good news that came from His lips.

The scroll of Isaiah was given to Jesus; He unrolled it and found the place where an important verse was (verse 17).

Henry makes an important point about today’s Gospel reading tying in with the first reading from Nehemiah 8. He also points out the prophetic significance of our Lord’s reading Holy Scripture:

He stood up to read, to teach us reverence in reading and hearing the word of God. When Ezra opened the book of the law, all the people stood up (Nehemiah 8:5); so did Christ here, when he read in the book of the prophets. Now the book being delivered to him, [1.] He opened it. The books of the Old Testament were in a manner shut up till Christ opened them, Isaiah 29:11. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to take the book, and open the seals; for he can open, not the book only, but the understanding. [2.] He found the place which was appointed to be read that day in course, which he needed not to be directed to; he soon found it, and read it, and took it for his text.

Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2. The Spirit of the Lord was upon Him, anointing Him as He brought the Good News to the poor; He was sent to proclaim the release of the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed (verse 18) and the year of the Lord’s favour (verse 19).

Henry notes the providential serendipity of Jesus reading aloud those two verses, which were appointed for that day:

Now his text was taken out of Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 61:2, which is here quoted at large, Luke 4:18; Luke 4:19. There was a providence in it that that portion of scripture should be read that day, which speaks so very plainly of the Messiah, that they might be left inexcusable who knew him not, though they heard the voices of the prophets read every sabbath day, which bore witness of him, Acts 13:27. This text gives a full account of Christ’s undertaking, and the work he came into the world to do.

MacArthur points out that Jesus did not read the second half of Isaiah 61:2:

Amazingly, by the way, verse 19 where Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:2: “To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” He stops in the middle of the verse because the rest of verse 2 in Isaiah says, “And the day of vengeance of our God.”  And Jesus leaves that out It’s not time to talk about vengeance.  It’s not time to talk about judgment.  It’s time to talk about salvation.

Jesus rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant and sat down, with everyone’s eyes fixed upon Him (verse 20).

Then, Jesus began to say to the congregation that, on that day, Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing (verse 21).

One can imagine the astonishment, which Luke tells us about in the conclusion of this account: next week’s reading.

MacArthur says the synagogue would have been full of people:

Crammed, jammed full of people, I’ll never forget staying in Tiberius next to a synagogue for several days and seeing the people crammed and jammed in there, just imagining that kind of scene here, and Jesus says, “Everything you’ve been waiting for is here, everything you’ve been hoping for stands before you.  Today, right here, right now, this scripture has been fulfilled,” perfect tense verb indicating an existing state of fulfillment You are seeing the fulfillment of this passage before your eyes. You are hearing it with your ears.

The prophecy of God through Isaiah is no more in the future It is now.  The Messiah is here.  Salvation has come.  The messianic age has begunHe was saying, “I am the Messiah.”

Note that Jesus did not just read the verses and sit down, as MacArthur explains:

… verse 21 says in the Greek, “And He began to say to them today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And the structure of that, “And He began,” indicates this was just a summary of a much more detailed explanation. But the sum of it was “today.” This is no longer future, it is present.

Last week’s reading was about the wedding feast at Cana. How does this fit in with the beginning of our Lord’s ministry in Galilee?

MacArthur explains the timeline, detailed only in John’s Gospel:

He was there for the duration of the wedding, which would have been a week or maybe a total of two weeks.  He started south again back to Judea, stopped and spent a few days in the city of Capernaum, which is right at the tip of the Sea of Galilee, not far east from Nazareth and then proceeded south.

He was in Judea for something short of a year Luke skips all that He skips the miracle at Cana.  He skips the visit to Capernaum.  He skips the nearly a year of Jesus doing miracles, cleansing the temple, giving the gospel to Nicodemus, meeting the woman at the well He skips all of that.  John writes all of that.  So in John chapter 1, 2, 3 and 4 we can fill in the gap of that part of Jesus’ ministry.

Luke goes right from the temptation of Jesus to the launch of His formal Galilean ministry Remember now, the land of Judea is divided into three sections, really, the southern part, the land of Israel, the southern part is Judea, the northern part is Galilee and in the middle to the east is Samaria.  And Jesus ministered in Galilee and in Judea The opening, as I said, the opening months of His ministry were in Judea with the exception of a few weeks when He attended the wedding in Cana The rest of the time was in Judea It was then that He cleansed the temple, made a whip, and threw all of those that were turning it into a den of thieves out It was there that He met Nicodemus who was there that He began to cement some of the relationships with His early disciples It was there that He did some of His early miracles that followed up the miracle of making water into wine.  But Luke skips all of that And, in fact, so does Matthew and so does Mark Only John fills in that period of time in the life of Jesus.

I found that explanation highly useful, as it can be confusing reading the Gospel accounts and tying a timeline together.

The Gospel story of our Lord’s time in Nazareth concludes next week.