A Riot in the Synagogue
“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as 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. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son? And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country. And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way, And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power.” (Luke 4:14-32)
When a small town boy grows up, goes out and makes a name for himself, and comes back home, all the old men extol him, the women admire him, and the children idolize him. He becomes the talk of the town. The local weekly, or bi-weekly newspaper runs a front page story about him, with huge pictures. The boy no one knew or gave much attention has become the town hero, and the town looks for a stage, so that they can show him off to the world. The poorer and more despised the town, the greater the hero.
That is just the picture we have before us in Luke 4:14. The Lord Jesus grew up in Nazareth. The common saying was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But here was a home town boy, a native son who had proved everybody wrong, in so far as Nazareth was concerned. — “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all” (vv. 14-15).
In a very brief time the Master’s doctrine and preaching had made him a very famous man. His miracles were talked about everywhere. Now he had come home.
Though the Lord Jesus Christ was and is the Object of all true worship, while he lived in this world as a man, as a child of God, our Master faithfully worshipped God in public and in private. Our Savior set before us an example to follow. In all things he is the pattern we are to copy.
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as 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” (vv.16-17).
He needed none of the blessings we gain from divine worship. Yet, he was always faithful in public worship. He came to the house of God for the glory of God and for the benefit of others, not for himself. He forsook not the assembly of the saints. At all appointed times the Lord Jesus was found in the house of God, worshipping with the people of God. Luke tells us it was, “his custom.” May God the Holy Spirit teach us to follow his example (Matthew 18:20; Hebrews 10:23-26).
One of the most blessed aspects of public worship is the reading of Holy Scripture. Even in their most degenerate times, the Jews retained and showed great reverence for the Word of God. Great emphasis was given to the reading of Holy Scripture.
It is a sad fact that most churches of our day place very little, if any, emphasis upon the public reading of the Word of God. That should not be. No part of the worship service is more important than the reading of the Word of God. When the Scriptures are read, we receive direct, verbally inspired instruction from God himself.
I have never conducted a public worship service without giving a special place to the reading of God’s Word, and I never intend to do so. I consider it to be as important as prayer, praise and preaching.
In the synagogue worship of the Jews a prominent place was given to the reading of Holy Scripture every sabbath day (Luke 4:16; Acts 13:15). The apostle Paul told the young pastor, Timothy, to give attendance to reading the Scriptures, exhorting the saints and teaching the doctrine of the Gospel (1 Timothy 4:13). That is the way preachers are supposed to conduct the services of public worship. The epistles of the New Testament were written to be read in the churches, and our Lord’s letters to the churches of Asia (Revelation 2-3) were to be read to the churches.
The importance of this practice cannot be overstressed. In every local church there are some who either cannot or do not read the Word of God for themselves, and some who read so poorly that they do not read correctly. Reason and common sense should teach us the usefulness of publicly reading the Scriptures to them. If men and women are to worship God, they must know what God says in his Word. God’s Word alone, not the preacher’s comments about it, is inspired and authoritative (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, prominence should be given to the reading of Holy Scripture in every assembly of the church. Hezekiah Harvey wrote…
“The omission of this would imply that the words of man are of higher moment than the words of God. The Scriptures should have a large and reverent use in the pulpit, as the fountain of all instruction and the sole standard of faith and practice.”
Primarily, it is the pastor’s responsibility to read the Scriptures to the congregation. When he does, he may choose a passage relating to his message for the hour and give a brief exposition as he reads. But such expositions should always be carefully prepared, so that he does no violence to the text. Spontaneous, unprepared comments are seldom either accurate or helpful and display a terrible lack of reverence for the Word of God.
The pastor may ask one of the men of the church to read the Scriptures. If anyone is asked to do so, he must not take the work lightly, for he has the responsibility of reading God’s Word to his people. The portion he chooses to read and the way he reads it will set the tone for the entire worship service. He must seek the direction of God’s Spirit with care. I make the following recommendations to anyone entrusted with this task.
Š Select a devotional passage, a portion of Scripture that will lead the hearts of God’s people to Christ. Select a brief passage. Generally, it is best to select just one passage. And always select a passage by which God has spoken to your own heart.
Š Familiarize yourself with the passage you plan to read. Read it carefully, prayerfully and studiously at home. Read it several times, noting the punctuation of the text. Be certain that you understand the portion of Scripture you read to the church. If you do not understand it, select another portion to read.
Š Read the passage carefully and distinctly. Remember you are not reading for yourself alone. You are reading to the congregation. Read loudly enough that everyone present can hear you distinctly! If you are not accustomed to reading in public, read the passage aloud at home. It is frustrating to try to follow a reading that cannot be heard.
Š Read the Word of God without comment. Leave it to the preacher to do the preaching. When the Scriptures are read, it is so that God’s people may hear God speak to their hearts by his Word.
“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” (vv. 18-19).
The portion of Scripture our Savior read on this occasion was Isaiah 61, one of the many passages describing the work of the Messiah and the salvation he would accomplish. Our Lord probably read the entire passage; but Luke simply refers to verses 1 and 2. This is what God declared the work of his Son would be, when he came to save his people from their sins. This is what Christ came to do. And this is what he has done and is doing.
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn” (Isaiah 61:1-2).
Our Master was, as a man, a preacher anointed for the work by his Father and prepared for the work by the special gift of his Spirit. Preaching, true preaching requires these three things: (1.) the Spirit of God, (2.) the anointing of God and (3.) the message of God. But our Master was more than a preacher. He is our Savior. We preach what he did. He preached what he himself performed! He preached the gospel, glad tidings and good news, not good advice. Modern preaching is nothing but advice given to sinners, telling dead sinners what they must do. The Gospel of Christ is the proclamation of good news, telling poor sinners what Christ has done.
Our Savior preached the Gospel to the poor. Without question, he preached to multitudes who were materially poor; but the word here translated “poor” refers to “the meek,” those poor sinners who are broken before God, meek, knowing that they have nothing to offer the holy Lord God, and have no ability to produce anything he might accept from them. They are poor, meek, humbled and broken by the weight of sin and guilt before God’s glorious holiness.
The Lord Jesus Christ heals, binds up, the brokenhearted. He makes blind eyes to see, and gives comfort and liberty to bruised souls. The Son of God opens prison doors and sets the captive free. All this grace he pours out to sinners upon the basis of justice satisfied by blood atonement, proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord, the day God’s righteous vengeance and justice was satisfied at Calvary.
“And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” (vv. 20-21).
Christ is the message of Holy Scripture! He was the fulfillment of this passage (Isaiah 61); and he was and is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Scriptures. All the law, all the prophets, all the types, all the psalms, all the proverbs and all the history of the Old Testament speak about the Lord Jesus Christ and find their fulfillment in him.
“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45).
This is not an invention or conclusion drawn from current theological understanding. The saints of God in ancient times knew that the Scriptures spoke of their coming Redeemer. It is a great mistake to underestimate the faith and knowledge of God’s saints in the Old Testament. God’s elect were saved in the Old Testament in exactly the same way we are saved today. God has only one way of saving sinners. That way, as you know, is Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. Christ was the Object of all true faith in the Old Testament, just as he is today.
What amount of knowledge those Old Testament believers had, I cannot tell. It is not clearly revealed. But those earliest saints were not morons, either mentally or spiritually. We know that they understood and believed the gospel.
Numerous other references could be given. These are truly only a few; and they were randomly selected. Yet, they will suffice to make my point irrefutable. Old Testament saints knew and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as their effectual, almighty, crucified, risen, reigning Savior. It is also clear, to even a casual reader of Holy Scripture, that the saints of the Mosaic era clearly understood and rejoiced in the doctrines of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ.
In a word, God gave faith to his chosen in the Old Testament, just as he gives us faith, by supernatural revelation, by revealing Christ to and in chosen sinners. Obviously, the Revelation of God in Scripture was not as full in Job’s day as it was in Moses’, or in Moses’ day as it was in Malachi’s, or in Malachi’s day as it was in John the Baptist’s, or in John the Baptist’s day as it was in Paul’s. But the Revelation was clear; and the faith of God’s saints was exemplary (Hebrews 11).
I must personally acknowledge that I have never begun to experience the quality of faith that Noah exhibited in building the ark, Abraham exhibited on Mt. Moriah, or Moses exhibited in dealing with Pharaoh and Israel. Those men believed God. They knew, worshipped and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the Scriptures of the Old Testament speak (John 5:39). The Book of God is all about the Son of God and the redemption he accomplished by his blood.
Everyone who heard the Lord Jesus preach was greatly impressed by his preaching. As we shall see, they were not impressed with what he preached, but with the way he preached it. What a danger! — “And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?” (v. 22) — “Take heed therefore how ye hear” (Luke 8:18). They heard with pleasure, but not with profit. They nodded their heads, but did not bow their hearts.
These fine, church going, Bible thumping, hymn singing folks were expecting the Son of God to entertain them with his wonders. Read verses 23 and 24.
“And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country. And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.”
In verses 25-27 the Lord Jesus declared to these proud Jews that God almighty is always sovereign in the exercise of his mercy, love and grace. In other words, he said, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”
“But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.”
This message of divine sovereignty was too much for proud, self-righteous men and women to endure!
“And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong” (vv. 28-29).
What did our Master say to enrage these people so? He used no obscenities. He did not ridicule them, belittle them or call them names. All he did was assert that salvation is of the Lord, God is totally sovereign in the affair of salvation, God almighty is no man’s debtor and no one deserves God’s grace!
How did our Master react to the enraged mob? He just went right on about his business as the servant of God. He was not their servant, but God’s. What an example!
“But he passing through the midst of them went his way, and came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power” (vv. 30-32).
What was the cause of this rage? We must never forget that the Gospel we preach is a savor of life to some and of death to others. The Lord Jesus preached that doctrine which always has, always must and always will enrage carnal men, though the Son of God himself be the preacher. The sweet Gospel doctrine of divine sovereignty (Matthew 11:25-26; John 17:2-3, 9; Romans. 9:6-33) is odious and offensive to lost religionists, to men and women whose hearts are enmity against God. The sovereign God, particularly his sovereignty in the exercise of his saving mercy, stands in glaring opposition to the pride of will-worshipping man and his idolatrous freewill, works religion. The preaching of the Gospel always raises bitter resentment instantly among such rebels.
We must not look for or labor for the approval of men. – Labor with your eye toward eternity. There is a time to dig and a time to reap, a time to sow the seed and a time to gather the harvest, a time to tear down and a time to build. — God alone determines the time! Our business is to serve him, with persevering faithfulness. He requires nothing more and nothing less than faithfulness from his servants. Oh, may he graciously give us that faithfulness, for Christ’s sake!
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