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Dear friends in Christ,
There are times and occasions that are real special for a preacher to be able to preach. I have preached at our children’s confirmations and their installations into the ministry. I preached at the baptismal service for one of our grandchildren at my son-in-law’s installation. I got to preach at a district convention communion service. I have preached at the Seminary at a service as we began a mission seminar. But do you know where it was particularly thrilling to preach? At my home church where I grew up!
I have preached at my home church three times – once as I was graduating from the Seminary, once the day after a family wedding and for the 125th anniversary of the church’s founding. It was hot and humid day, but it was fun. What I remember is the presence of my former Sunday School teachers - Mrs. Schoenfeldt, Mrs. Tackmeier, Mrs. Polzin, Mrs. Rhode, Mrs. Bittner, Mr. and Mrs. Seefeldt and Mr. Grom. They were so good. I really enjoyed Sunday School. It was so much fun to talk with them after the service. They taught me about Jesus.
When Jesus returned to his hometown, he didn’t have as good a time. In fact, they wanted to throw him off a cliff. While many hated Jesus, make no mistake that is a most serious error. With Luke’s words to guide us, make no mistake about it “Stand with Jesus” 1) Because of what he says; 2) Because of who he is.
After Jesus began his ministry when he was baptized in the Jordan River, he spent a good deal of time in the area of Judea, near and in Jerusalem. But that changed; it needed to change. The Scripture needed to be fulfilled written by Isaiah. “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” The land in northern Israel was the land that Isaiah was referring to. So many foreign invasions had come through the north that heathen people often liked it and stayed. They were living in spiritual darkness. Yet they would see a great light. That’s where Jesus ministry would be concentrated and spend more time. Luke says, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.”
Jesus taught in the synagogues. I guess my definition is that a synagogue is a Jewish church. It literally means a “gathering of people.” When God gave the Law to Moses, he said that the only place his people were to gather was at the Tent of Meeting, Israel’s take-it- with-you-chapel they carried around in the wilderness. Eventually under King Solomon a permanent temple was built Jerusalem. In 605 BC the Jews were overrun by the Babylonians and Israel taken captive into Babylon. The temple was destroyed. Needless to say captive Israel could no longer worship in Jerusalem. That’s when the synagogues were developed - local congregations – in Babylon. When the Jews returned to Israel and settled all over the land, they retained the local synagogues except for three major church festivals during the year. Synagogues dotted the land with many cities having them. When Jesus began his ministry, that’s where he taught. “He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.” The leaders of the synagogues were not specially trained at a Seminary, so they got guests to come and preach. It didn’t take long for Jesus to get quite the reputation. He was a sought after speaker and teacher. He was different in a good way.
How was he different than other teachers? Other teachers got it wrong. Jesus once said about the religious establishment, “So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” You understand that, don’t you? They were demanders. They were saying do, do, do all the time. They were good at making people feel guilty.
Jesus was different. Listen to some of the things that were said about Jesus. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” He wasn’t about the guilt factor to create the fear factor with people. He spoke gracious words, words of grace and forgiveness. People said about him, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” Or “He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” Or “They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.”
He taught in parables about a lost son loved and a forgiving and loving father. He criticized a Pharisee, the crème de la crème of society who thought they were worthy enough before God who thought he was better than other folks and especially tax collectors. Yet Jesus said the hated tax collectors were forgiven when he called out in sorrow, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Those are the gracious words that gave hope and forgiveness. No wonder the downtrodden were moved when they heard how the burdens of their sins could be put on him, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” In other words it’s not about do, do, do, but about done, done, done – by Jesus! God’s free gift of forgiveness and life! Stand by Jesus and listen to what he says and believe what he says!
Don’t just listen but look at who he is too! Jesus grew up in Nazarethand decided to return to his hometown. By this time his reputation preceded him. He went to church and was asked to be part of the service. There is a phrase that is hardly perceptible. “On the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, AS WAS HIS CUSTOM.” Don’t miss that phrase. This phrase helps us understand more fully what Jesus did to save us.
Remember when Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect even as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Just reading that phrase burst your bubble, doesn’t it? It takes away hope! Not a single one of us has even been close to being perfect.
Let’s just talk about being faithful on worship days and at worship times. God says he is a jealous God and won’t stand for anything getting in between our fellowship time and worship time together. Yet how many times do you feel you need to be elsewhere? How much is it really our custom to be with him? If you stood before the Lord how would your excuses stand up? We have been more faithful to an employer than to our creator, redeemer and sanctifier? Yet it is hardly faithfulness to our God when we are here and our mind drifts to business or to the menu at IHOP or the desire to play that video game.
Yet Jesus went to church, “as was his custom.” He did so to fulfill the requirement that God made for all people to have a perfect worship life. He was always there not making useless excuses. When he was at worship so was his mind. All for us! There is a reason why the prophet Jeremiah prophesied that the Messiah would be called the LORD, our Righteousness. He is our perfection. His life was lived on our behalf. Stand with Jesus and see him for who he is - your holiness.
To have a synagogue in any particular place, twelve honorable and devout men with impeccable reputations needed to form a leadership team. One was the ruler of the synagogue who made sure that there was someone to preach weekly and read the Scriptures and pray. There was a Collector of Alms – a Barry Lakas and Dennis Frendahl who collected and dispersed offerings. There was a minister who took care of the copies of the scrolls. It appeared that the ruler of the synagogue in Nazarethlined up Jesus to read and the minister gave Jesus the scroll of Isaiah, “Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Even though there were no chapter and verse divisions then, (that didn’t come about until the fourteen century after Christ) Jesus knew exactly what he wanted to read. Today we can find them in the words of Isaiah 61.
Jesus wanted to make clear to the people of his hometown that the little boy that they saw growing up, the carpenter’s son, was much more than the carpenter’s son; he was Messiah who was promised and had come. Not bragging, just fact.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me.” That happened at theJordan when John baptized him. The Heavenly Father proclaimed him and the Spirit anointed him.
His job description was laid out. Messiah was not about armies and boundary lines. Messiah was about matters of the heart. “He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” These are the poor in spirit. These are the ones that needed spiritual food and received it. “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.” We are not trapped by sin; we are forgiven. We aren’t trapped by death anymore, heaven awaits us. The Devil can’t even bring accusations against us anymore. There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.
“Recovery of sight for the blind.” The pages of the Gospel are filled with all kinds of examples of people that Jesus healed. The blind saw; the lame walked; the deaf heard. Proof after proof that following Jesus is not foolish; he is the son of God. More importantly he causes our hearts to see. We know we are right with God. We know that he is the way to heaven. He gives us purpose in life, to live for him and share him with others.
He came “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In the Old Testament there was something called the Year of Jubilee. It occurred every fifty years. All debts people owed were to be forgiven. All land that had been sold or foreclosed was to be given back to the original owners. We don’t have to wait fifty years for our debt of sin to be forgiven. They already are. That was promised inEden and accomplished onCalvary by that Son of the carpenter who just so happened to be the Heavenly Father’s unique and one of a kind Son.
“Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus rolled up the scroll. I am sure that you could hear a pin drop. He gave them plenty to think about. If they didn’t believe what he said (which they didn’t from the rest of the story) all they needed to observe the next couple of years. If we have trouble believing, and everyone does have doubts, Jesus invites us to take a closer look. Listen to what he says. Look at who he is and what he did. When we do that, there is no doubt that we need to stand with Jesus.