The Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 27, 2019
Make Worship Your “Custom”!
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 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, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Another Sunday, another church service. “Do I have to go? What difference does it make anyway? It’s the same thing Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.” Even if we never actually allow those words to come out of our mouths, that is exactly what our old sinful nature is thinking. That’s why we sometimes find ourselves dragging our feet when it comes to church. That’s why we find it so much easier to make a habit out of doing something else— anything else— on Sunday morning. That’s why we become satisfied with less Jesus, rather than more Jesus. You know your old sinful nature doesn’t want you to be here in God’s house this morning. But you also know just how foolish and just how dangerous it is to listen to or trust your old sinful nature! The sinful nature only knows what’s good for itself— keeping you out of God’s Word and away from Jesus! But what feels oh so good for your sinful nature is oh so bad for your soul. That’s why church can sometimes be such a struggle for us. What should be the most natural thing in the world for us, sometimes simply isn’t. Our old sinful nature sees to that.
How different things were for our Brother Jesus! Here in our text Luke reveals to us, “He (Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue as was his custom.” As we study this familiar portion of Scripture we first want to highlight those four critically important words, “…as was his custom.” Then we want to let those words motivate us to follow Jesus’ example and: Make Worship Your “Custom”! When you make worship your “custom” that will result in two blessings. First, when you make worship your “custom” you will hear about the wonderful things God has done for you. Second, when you make worship your “custom” your worship will keep you focused on Jesus.
“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.” Have you ever stopped to inwardly digest those words? Even as a very young child Jesus went to the worship services at the synagogue in Nazareth each and every Sabbath day. There in the worship service at Nazareth Jesus heard God’s Word read to Him and He listened as God’s Word was explained to Him— albeit by mortal, sinful, imperfect human beings. There in the synagogue at Nazareth Jesus studied God’s Word and learned God’s Word— to the point that when He was just twelve years old Mary and Joseph found Jesus “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:46, 47).
For thirty years Jesus had been worshiping in this synagogue each and every Sabbath day. For thirty years the members of this synagogue had watched Him grow from a very young boy into a very fine man. But this Sabbath day was different. This Sabbath day Jesus did not come to the worship service as a hearer of the Word. No, my friends, this Sabbath day Jesus came to the worship service as a Rabbi, as a Teacher of the Word. Luke tells us that after Jesus had read the opening verses of our Old Testament lesson for today ( Isaiah 61:1-6) that “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him and he began (that is, He began His sermon) by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”
The people in this synagogue had never seen this side of Jesus before. The people in this synagogue had never heard a sermon like this before! “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Astounding! Simply astounding! The Jesus whom they had known for thirty years not only not only reminded them of what the Lord their God had promised to do for His people, but the Jesus whom they had known for thirty years revealed to them that all of these wonderful promises are now fulfilled— in Him! It was as if the inspired words of the prophet Isaiah stepped right off of that sacred scroll and stood right there in front of God’s people! Astounding! Simply astounding!
Notice that Jesus did not give God’s people a list of ten steps to follow to become a “better” person. Notice that Jesus did not use this opportunity to rally people behind some social issue or some political cause. No, my friends, as Jesus sat in the front of that synagogue and proclaimed God’s Word to God’s people He emphasized what God has done for them! That’s what a worship service is designed to do— right down to this very day!
We come here to God’s house to worship our God for what He has done for us. And what has the Lord done for you and for me? Luke answers that question by highlighting those five beautiful pictures from Isaiah. First, in Jesus God “…preaches good news to the poor.” This means that in Jesus we who are “poor” in the eyes of the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, we who are so spiritually bankrupt in God’s eyes that we have absolutely nothing to offer Him, we hear the “good news” that Jesus freely gives us the priceless gift of forgiveness, new life and salvation.
Second, in Jesus God “proclaims freedom for the prisoners.” We have all learned from Scripture that by nature we are born as prisoners of war. We are held captive by sin, death and the devil and there is nothing we can do to set ourselves free. But in Him (Pointing to the cross) we are set free! We are free to live for Jesus while we are here on this earth. We are free to live with Jesus forever in heaven.
Third, in Jesus God “proclaims…recovery of sight for the blind.” Before we were brought to faith in Jesus as our Savior we were totally and completely “spiritually blind.” The message of the Bible seemed like utter foolishness to us. (1 Corinthians 2:14) We couldn’t even see that we were on that broad slippery road that leads directly to hell. (Matthew 7:13) Jesus gives us the ability to “see”— to see the beautiful message of the Bible, to see that Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life,” to see that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. (John 14:6)
Fourth, in Jesus God grants “release (for) the oppressed.” The unbelieving world in which we live goes out of its way to try and convince us that sin is “fun”! The unbelieving world emphasizes things such as: “YOLO! (You Only Live Once!) So go ahead and just try it! Don’t worry, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!”— and our old sinful nature agrees wholeheartedly! It’s not until we’re caught in that spider web of sin that we realize just how “oppressive” and just how deadly sin actually is. Ask anyone who suffers from an addiction to alcohol or an addiction to drugs or an addiction to porn. The burden is horrible. Jesus and Jesus alone “releases” us from both the oppression of our sin and from the guilt of our sin by taking all of our sins upon Himself, carrying them to the cross on Calvary’s hill, paying the punishment that we deserve and then declaring to us: “It is finished!” “Trust Me! The oppressive debt of your sin has been paid— in full!”
And finally, in Jesus God Himself “proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is a reference to the Old Testament Year of Jubilee. (See Leviticus 25) God commanded His people that every fiftieth year all slaves were to be set free, all debts were to be canceled and all property that had been sold was simply returned to its original owner. While we can only imagine the joy which overwhelmed God’s children in the Year of Jubilee, we don’t have to imagine the joy that Jesus brings to you and to me! Take the joy that you feel at Christmas, combine it with the joy that you feel at Easter and multiply it a million times over! That’s just a small fraction of the joy that Jesus gives to you— not only now, but especially in eternity!
Joy! That’s what worship is all about, my friends. We joyfully come here to God’s house to learn even more about the wonderful things that our Savior God has done and will do for us! But there is only one way for that joy to be ours. Luke reminds us of how that joy becomes and remains ours when he says in our text, “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him (Jesus).” We don’t come to worship here in God’s house expecting to be given a list of ten things that we can do in order to come a “better” person. We don’t come to worship here in God’s house to seek support for political causes or social issues. We come to worship here in God’s house with the goal of seeing and hearing Jesus as He continues to come to us through His holy Word and His holy Sacraments. When God’s Word and God’s Sacraments are the focus of our worship then Jesus Himself will come to us to “preach good news to the poor…to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Yes, my friends, Jesus is here for you! He’s here for the depressed and despairing. He’s here for the sinner and the sinned against. He’s here for all who have been taken advantage of and all who are suffering in any way. He’s here because His Word is here. He’s here because His “washing of rebirth” and His holy Supper are here. He’s here because He has given to us His solemn promise, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).
Why are you here? My hope and my prayer is that you are here because you are humbly and joyfully striving to follow the example your Brother Jesus has set for you, “…on the Sabbath day he went to the synagogue as was his custom.” Make worship your “custom” so that on a regular basis you can learn even more about all the wonderful things your God has done for you. Make worship your “custom” so that through God’s holy Word and through God’s holy Sacraments you will always be able to stay focused on Him! (Pointing to the cross)
To God be the glory!