October 10, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Luke 4:16-23 (NRSV)
When [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
The example of Jesus in Luke 4 reminds us of the centrality of Scripture in sabbath observance. As we stop working in order to rest, we open our minds and hearts to hear God speak to us through Scripture. We do this through both individual reflection and congregational worship. As we hear others read and interpret God’s written Word, we ask the Holy Spirit to teach, guide, and inspire us. And we set aside time for prayerful meditation on biblical truth.
Series: Unwrapping God’s Gift of Rest
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion we began looking at a passage from Luke 4, one that gives us a glimpse of what Jesus actually did on the sabbath. Verse 16 notes that Jesus “went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom.” For all faithful Jews in the first century A.D., the sabbath was a time for gathering together in the synagogue, in homes, and in similar venues. Community was central to sabbath observance.
Verse 16 also mentions that Jesus “stood up to read” (4:16). This was the common posture for the one who read passages from the Hebrew scriptures, including the Law and the prophets. The fact that Jesus read in the synagogue did not mean he was some sort of ordained clergy. Synagogues in this time of Jesus did not generally have trained, paid professional spiritual leadership, unlike contemporary synagogues with their rabbis (like most Christian churches with their pastors). In the first century, those who read in synagogues were usually local participants or honored guests. Jesus, in a sense, fit into both of those categories.
Jesus read from “the scroll of the prophet Isaiah” (Luke 4:17). In later Jewish practice, the Scripture readings were fixed in a standard lectionary (as is common today in liturgically-based Christian worship services). In the time of Jesus, however, the readings were not necessarily fixed. They might have been chosen by the leader of the synagogue or perhaps by the person reading or some combination of both. It’s possible that Jesus was given the scroll of Isaiah but was free to pick the passage he wanted to read.
The passage Jesus read was a stirring prophecy from Isaiah, one that focused on the mission of a person uniquely anointed by the Lord (Luke 4:18). This was one of many passages in the Hebrew Bible that were understood to be prophecies of the coming Messiah (which means “anointed one” in Hebrew). To hear this passage read in the synagogue would have, at first, inspired the hopes of those who had gathered with Jesus. Jesus’s exceedingly brief sermon based on this passage from Isaiah – “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” – would have intensified their inspiration. Was the Messiah really present today? (Yet, as we’ll see in next Monday’s devotion, the conversation that followed did not endear the people to Jesus.)
The example of Jesus shows us that sabbath is a time for Scripture. As we stop working in order to rest, we read Scripture and hear it read. We listen as others interpret and apply it. We set aside time for personal reflection and prayer in response to what we read and hear. And that’s not all, as we’ll see in next Monday’s devotion.
For me, my “sabbath” gatherings come on Sundays when I’m not preaching or traveling for work. I’m glad to join my local congregation for worship. Of course, as Presbyterians, we devote a good chunk of our time to the reading and preaching of Scripture. As my pastor preaches, I find it helpful to do two things. First, I take notes, a practice that helps me to focus attentively on what is being said. When I don’t take notes, my mind tends to wander. Second, I listen for something specific that God wants to say to me through the sermon. When I hear that “something,” I jot it down in my notes and highlight it by putting a big rectangle around it. This way when I return to my notes later, I am quickly reminded of what I sensed the Holy Spirit saying to me through the exposition of Scripture.
I’m not saying you should follow my example in these two practices. You need to find what helps you to listen well to the reading and teaching of Scripture. My wife, for example, listens best while doodling in her sketchbook. A whole row of people in my Irvine church found it helpful to knit while I preached. Some folks learn best when sitting in silence. On the other hand, I’ve been in Black churches where the sermon is more of a dialogue between the preacher and the congregation. I’d encourage you to identify what helps you hear God’s Word in Scripture and regularly engage in that practice (as long as it’s edifying to the other worshipers).
In summary, the example of Jesus in Luke 4 reminds us of the centrality of Scripture in sabbath observance. As we stop working in order to rest, we open our minds and hearts to hear God speak to us through Scripture. We do this through both individual reflection and congregational worship. As we hear others read and interpret God’s written Word, we ask the Holy Spirit to teach, guide, and inspire us. And we set aside time for prayerful meditation on biblical truth.
During your times of sabbath rest, in what ways do you engage with Scripture?
What helps you to pay attention when someone is teaching or preaching?
Can you remember a time when you heard the Lord speak to you in a direct and particular way as someone was preaching? If so, what happened? What was that like for you?
Take some time to think about what helps you to pay attention to the Spirit as you hear preaching and teaching. Then, do that thing (or those things).
Lord Jesus, thank you again for giving us glimpses of your sabbath practice. Today, we are reminded of the centrality of Scripture in our times of intentional rest. Help us, Lord, to read deeply, to listen attentively, and, most of all, to hear accurately what you want to say to us through the written and preached Word. Amen.
Banner image by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: He Has Set the Oppressed Free.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.