The gospels provide us with a number of snapshots of Jesus teaching in what we would consider informal situations. Most are outdoor. In one he is in a boat. His longest recorded sermon takes place on a plateaued section of land that earns it the title of Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) or Sermon on the Plain (Luke). One is in a location so remote that food for the crowd becomes an issue.
But we don’t see anything of Jesus teaching, as we would say it now, “in church.” Except of course for Luke chapter 4.
4 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 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. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.
Although the Biblical text doesn’t use ellipsis (or I suppose the plural should be ellipses) we get that dramatic moment when he says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled…” Then we get the oft-quoted line about a prophet not being honored in his own country (or county, or hometown). And then we get a hint in verse 26 and 27 of more of his message that produces the reaction in verse 28.
My point today is simply that in the only “church” sermon we have from Jesus, he began with text.
‘But;’ you are thinking, ‘That’s how they did it back then; that was the order of service so to speak in that synagogue.’
I’ll grant you that one.
But as someone who tries to prepare these daily devotionals drawing on the best of the Christian blogosphere, I am somewhat grieved by the volume of words produced each day that do not begin with any particular reference to Biblical text.
Some days, I spend upwards of 30-minutes scanning online for something that fits the albeit traditional Bible-based format here; without of course resorting to reblogging the same authors week after week; something I believe they would tire of eventually. (In nearly 1,000 posts; only once have we been asked to remove something.)
Instead, I find all manner of articles; many of which I enjoy; many of which inform me; many of which make it into the link list at Thinking Out Loud, but mostly all of which are inappropriate for what we’re trying to accomplish here.
Did nobody read a verse of scripture which impressed them in a new way or perhaps even for the first time? Did no one find that like “a word fitly spoken in the right time” a scripture verse opened up at a key moment in life held both deep personal meaning and broad general application? It has been said,
Of all the major religions of the world, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.
Perhaps we’ve been sufficiently offended by the bibliolatry of fundamentalists, that we’ve marginalized The Good Book somewhat. The general sense you get in the Christian blogosphere is that the traditional examination of scripture is somewhat passé and even a little boring.
I’m not trying to be a dinosaur here. On the ‘exegetical versus topical’ debate, I land clearly in the middle. I love edgy. I love refreshing. I love new forms.
But I clearly believe that most of the things being posted online today simply won’t matter much in five months, let alone five years.
Of course, Jesus had a special anointing on his ministry. Only he could have said the line that literally rocked the house, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
But you and I can do that on a different scale. We can mine the vault that is God’s word, we can examine the various refractions of light in the jewel that is God’s word, we can plot a course on the map and compass that is God’s word; and then we can say to the world, “This was written for you, today.”
For those who aspire to preach, the most powerful and authoritative words in any given church service are these:
“Take your Bible and turn with me to the book of…”
Read more about the transformative power of scripture.