Jesus at Nazareth (Part Two)

Luke 4:16-30

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, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written… (Luke 4:16-17 NIV).

The Scriptures teach that the Lord Jesus Christ is both divine and human. In the above words we read of a very human Jesus. He had been brought up in Nazareth, which speaks of normal human development. He attended the synagogue, as he was accustomed to do. This means that he would walk to the meeting place, like everyone else. He would talk and exchange greetings with others. He and they would continue in their usual order of worship. (We do not have much information about first century synagogue services. What is usually written about them is actually information from a later century.) If things were similar to later times, they would read from a section of the Old Testament Scriptures called the Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve).

If so, by standing up, Jesus sought permission to read and speak from a passage from the Prophets. We do not know if the following passage was scheduled to be read for that Saturday or if they asked him to read it, or if Jesus selected it. Regardless of the reason, Jesus was involved in a very human action. He had to unroll the scroll of Isaiah to find the passage. (We all can pause briefly to thank God that we have books rather than scrolls, and that we have chapters and verses in our Bibles to enable us to quickly find passages. By the way, this is a very practical reason to memorize the order of the books of the Bible. It also helps to know the general content of the Biblical books.) Notice that Jesus was involved in the very human activity of finding a passage in the Bible. He didn’t command the scroll to unroll to the selected passage. He unrolled it. His very humanness set up the amazement by the congregation of which Luke later wrote (4:22). Though the hometown folks had heard of the signs and wonders he had done elsewhere, Jesus simply acted as an ordinary person as he stood before them.

Isaiah 61 is the fifth of what are called by scholars “Isaiah’s Servant Songs”. They are called this because of their poetic form and because they talk about the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah. These Songs are found in Isaiah 42, 49, 50, 52-53, and 61. When Jesus stood up to read that day, he read Isaiah 61:1-2a. He didn’t read the whole Song. He read what was important for his purposes that day. While I think it is profitable and wise to preach or teach through an entire book of the Bible for several reasons, this practice is not required of pastors and teachers by God’s Word. What is demanded is that we handle the passages properly.

Notice the verse in Luke’s Gospel after his reading. 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… (4:20 NIV). He read only what applied to the Servant’s ministry that day. Then he had to do a couple other human actions. He rolled up the scroll of Isaiah (taking care of a valuable copy of God’s word), gave it back to the attendant who was in charge of the scrolls of Bible books, and he sat down (taking the position that religious culture expected from someone speaking about God’s Holy Writings.) Again, these were all very human actions that displayed reverence for God and his Word. None of this would have prepared those in the synagogue for the teaching he was about to give.

God has communicated his Holy Word to us through people and he uses people to preach and to teach from it. The Lord Jesus himself demonstrated his humanity as he spoke. His human actions set the stage for the words of divine sovereignty he was about to speak.

Grace and peace, David