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Hanging on to Every Word of Jesus

February 23, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 19:47-48 (NRSV)

Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.

Focus

People responded to Jesus in a wide variety of ways. Some rejected his teaching and wanted to get rid of him. Many others hung on every word of his teaching (Luke 19:48). In this season of Lent, may God give us a powerful desire for hearing and embracing the teachings of Jesus.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

In our previous devotion we saw that Jesus disrupted the worship of the temple in Jerusalem by driving out the vendors who sold sacrifices (Luke 19:45). He accused the temple leadership of having turned it into a “den of robbers,” a kind of hideout from accountability for their failure to lead according to God’s standards (Luke 19:46). By quoting the phrase “den of robbers,” which appears in the prophecies of Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 7, especially vs. 11), Jesus also implied strongly that the temple would be destroyed, something he later prophesied explicitly (Luke 21:5-6).

Yet, in spite of his disruption of the temple, Jesus returned there to teach “every day” (Luke 19:47). Given his opposition to the temple leadership, it’s not a big surprise that they “kept looking for a way to kill him” (Luke 19:47). Not only had Jesus condemned their leadership, but also he was acting in a way that might bring Roman wrath down upon their heads. Somebody who preached about the coming of the kingdom of God and received praise as the king who comes in the name of the Lord was surely in the center of Roman crosshairs (Luke 19:38).

The Jewish leaders were not yet able, however, to do anything to Jesus. Why not? Because “all the people were spellbound by what they heard” when he taught (Luke 19:48). Jesus, though immensely unpopular with most of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, was immensely popular with the vast majority of Jews there. Thus, the leaders could not have Jesus killed without risking a revolt against their authority, which also could have brought down the iron fist of Rome upon Jerusalem. So, for the time being, those who wanted to kill Jesus were stymied.

I find the description of Jesus’s widespread popularity among the Jewish people to be provocative. The NRSV says that “all the people were spellbound by him.” The NIV gets closer to the literal meaning of the Greek verb behind “were spellbound” with the translation, “all the people hung on his words” (19:48, NIV). That verb, which appears only here in the New Testament, literally meant to hang on something. It conveys the eagerness and attentiveness of the people in response to the teaching of Jesus.

As I consider this passage, I wonder about my own response to Jesus. I know I don’t want to get rid of him like the temple leaders. But am I like the people who hung on Jesus’s every word? Or do I let my familiarity with the teaching of Jesus dampen my enthusiasm?

Not to boast, but I would share with you that, in recent months, I have found my interest in the words of Jesus to be growing. I receive this not as something I have achieved, by the way, but as a gift of God’s grace. In particular, I have discovered a new hunger for memorizing the words of Jesus so I can carry them with me all the time, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. Scripture memory is, of course, a classic and well-known Christian discipline. I practiced it often when I was young, but set it aside for many years. Now, when I am, well, not so young, and when memorizing takes more effort than it once did, I find that I am more inclined than ever to hang on Jesus’s words. I really want to take them to heart in all senses of that phrase. I want them to shape my thinking, feeling, praying, and acting.

As we follow Jesus through the season of Lent, may God give us a deep and lasting desire for the teaching of Jesus. Along with those who heard him in the temple, may we also be spellbound, hanging on his every word.

Reflect

Do you sense within yourself a hunger for Jesus’s teachings? If so, why? If not, why not?

We want to know well what Jesus taught, but sometimes familiarity can breed a kind of lukewarmness in us. How can we know Jesus’s teachings well but continue to be passionate about them?

Act

One of the barriers to memorizing the teachings of Jesus is that there are so many. It can feel overwhelming to be faced with so many options. If you’d like to learn the teachings of Jesus by heart, you can start anywhere, of course. But you can never go wrong beginning with the Great Commandment found in Luke 10:27: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Pray

Lord Jesus, you experienced such a variety of responses to you and your message. Some were so distressed by you they wanted to kill you. Many others were spellbound by your message, hanging on your every word.

O Lord, I want to be like those in the second group. I want to be eager to learn from you. I want to read, meditate, memorize, and act upon you word. By your Spirit, stir up within me a greater desire for you and your teaching. May it shape my life no matter where I am or what I’m doing. Amen.

P.S. from Mark

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