He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read (Luke 4:16 NIV).
I was born in a town in western Pennsylvania, but I never considered that place my home in any sense. It was more an item from a curiosity cabinet that a person looks at occasionally and quickly forgets. I grew up in northeastern Ohio. When I was three months old, I urged my parents to leave PA and move to Cleveland (just kidding), where we lived for a while and then out to the country suburbs. I was brought up in Streetsboro; its chief claim to fame when I was very young was Exit 13 on the Ohio Turnpike, one traffic light, and one truck stop. When I moved there, a couple hundred people called it home. When I graduated from high school, there were over eight thousand residents. It was a growing village in a very disorganized way. If I was named like many people in ancient times were, I would be David from Streetsboro.
Nazareth was an unremarkable little village. Its chief claim to fame was that Jesus grew up there, though he was born in Bethlehem of Judea. When he reached adulthood, he was known as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus worked with his adopted father Joseph as a construction worker. It wasn’t glamorous, but it helped pay the family’s bills. A family of at least nine would have its share of those. I imagine that Jesus did his fair share of “go fer” work during his first years on the job. He knew what it was to sweat, and… his hometown folks had seen him do all that stuff. He worked manual labor just like everyone else. He was nothing special in their eyes. Then one day he left it all and went to listen to a country preacher called John the Baptist. You can hear the middle-aged and older men of Nazareth talking in the village square, “There’s too many young men running off to Judea to hear that Baptist. You can mark it down today; nothing good is going to come of it. Jesus should know better. He’s about thirty years old. Should’ve had a wife and kids by now.” The opinions of people about Jesus in a rough, working-class town would not have been kind or polite.
After some time in Judea, Jesus returned to Galilee with a group of disciples (learners). The construction worker had become a rabbi (teacher). He went to a wedding in Cana with his family and disciples, and reports circulated about a miraculous sign that he had performed there (John 2:11). After a brief visit in Capernaum (John 2:12), he went to Jerusalem for the Passover where he performed several miraculous signs (John 2:23). Jesus toured throughout Judea and Galilee, and even Samaria, for a while, before he returned to his hometown. But now he is known as a rabbi (notice those disciples following him) and a miracle worker. We need to have these things in mind to comprehend what happened during this visit to Nazareth.
Luke placed this account after a summary statement about Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (4:14-15). Jesus had done many mighty works, and he had taught in the synagogues. Jesus made it his habit to attend the visible gatherings of the professed people of God. Knowing the response of the people to his message, it was not a requirement that those with him in attendance were spiritual people. (To answer a question before it’s asked, what about us? We ought to look for a place where Christ and the gospel are believed and preached, and love to God and one another are plainly seen. Don’t look for a perfect church. It only takes three visits or less to discover many imperfections in the best local assemblies.) Jesus went among the people of God to honor God and to seek to do good and to tell others the good news. He was sent by God to teach and preach.
Jesus took advantage of their custom that allowed visiting rabbis to read and to teach on a passage of Scripture. I can’t imagine this happening today for several reasons, some very good and some very bad. But Jesus stood up to read in the synagogue in the town where he had been brought up. This means that as a boy and young man and a man, he had sat in this same synagogue and listened to rabbis reach and teach. Finally, it was his turn. What would the “hometown boy” say? Having been in this situation, well… let’s simply say that it is not the easiest audience to speak to, if you want people to respond to God’s Word. The people have other things on their mind than the worship of God and their own repentance and faith.
Practically, how do we listen when we worship with others? Is the worship of God topmost in our desires? Do we want to be transformed by God’s grace as we listen? Do we want to encourage others in the faith? Or do we attend with a self-centered, critical, prideful attitude? Let’s examine ourselves, since joy in the Lord and in others should be our spiritual pulse.
Grace and peace, David