Summary: Jesus comes to us with a message to reach out to those who are on the edge of society but also to realize that we are in need of his ministry of healing from sin.
I had arrived only a couple weeks before in the Czech Republic and was living with a retired Czech couple in a small village. Being the only American in the area I was somewhat a celebrity. One day a couple elders from a local church visited me to ask if I would preach in their church later that summer. I agreed. And so the Sunday morning finally came and I met early with my translator to go over what I would say. When the time came I got up, preached and made sure I stayed within the 20 minutes they had given me. After I sat down there was a great stir and the pastor looked very flustered. I didn’t know what was going on but he got up and began talking for another 20 minutes. We closed with a hymn. The leaders were visibly disappointed in me and I didn’t know what I did or what I said. Finally, I found out that I was supposed to preach 20 minutes which didn’t count the translation – in other words a 40 minute sermon. No, they didn’t try to throw me off a cliff like they did with Jesus in Nazareth but in some ways it reminds me of that story. What happens when expectations are not reality?
In Nazareth expectations were high. People from Nazareth had heard about a man from their town who had been doing some amazing things in the country. Not long ago he had attended a wedding in Cana, only seven miles away and had turned water into wine. Then only recently he had returned to Cana, met a nobleman and had healed his son who was lying sick by the seaside of Capernaum. They were amazing miracles.
And he had been traveling from village to village attending and teaching in the Synagogue services and being “glorified by all” according to Luke. People are even talking about him being the Messiah. Their own who has become famous is coming home at long last to worship in the Synagogue of Nazareth. People were excited!
The Synagogue was like a local congregation where believers worshiped. Normally they met twice during the week for worship and then on the Sabbath for a special service. On that day the Chief Ruler of the synagogue would ask a leader or a special guest to lead the service. He would be the one to not only lead the service but also to be responsible for one of the important Scripture readings: the reading of the prophets. Since Jesus was the honored guest this Sabbath, he was asked to be the leader according to custom.
A traditional synagogue service from that time had two parts. The first half was liturgical. It was filled with many prayers that were read and occasionally a free prayer. The people had their own “creed” which was called “The Great Shema” (Deut. 6…The Lord our God, the Lord is One…).
The second half of the service was not so different from the second half of our service. The main focus was on the Scriptures. Whereas we have two or sometimes three readings, they would have seven. First a priest, then a Levite, and finally five ordinary laymen would read.
The last reading would be from the prophets and as I mentioned before would be led by the service leader – in this case it was read by Jesus.