Fulfilled in Your Hearing

by Weylan Deaver
Imagine listening while Jesus himself explains a Bible passage. Some few blessed souls actually had the privilege of hearing him do just that. One such occasion happened in Nazareth, as recorded in Luke 4:16-21. (Luke provides details not found in other accounts in Matthew 13:53-58 and Mark 6:1-6.)
A Synagogue
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read” (v. 16, ESV).
The setting is Nazareth, Jesus’ unprestigious hometown (cf. John 1:46). Synagogues sprang up in Old Testament times, propelled perhaps by things such as captivity, the destruction of the temple and the distance many Jews lived from Jerusalem.
The emphasis at the temple was on offerings; the synagogue emphasized teaching. The synagogue’s ruler was at liberty to invite a suitable man in the audience to deliver a sermon. At this point in his career, either Jesus was respected enough to be asked to preach, or else he volunteered himself to speak.
Notice that attending worship was “his custom.” Is that an example worth following? What is your custom when it comes to attending Bible classes and worship hours (Hebrews 10:25)? If the whole church followed your custom, where would it be at assembly time?
A Scroll
“And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written” (v. 17).
An attendant would have handed Jesus the scroll, two wooden cylinders around which was wound a parchment. To get to a particular passage, one had to unwind the scroll from one roller as he wound it onto the other. Scrolls were precious items, stored in a chest close to the pulpit.
This particular one contained the book of Isaiah, a prophet who had much to say about the Messiah (cf. Acts 8:28).
Notice that Jesus was adept at locating a needed Scripture. He did not stumble and fumble as he searched frantically for the desired verses in the long book of Isaiah, with the audience growing impatient and embarrassed for him. Jesus knew exactly where the proper verses were located, and the gospel never suffered an embarrassment in his hands.
How well do you know your Bible? Can you find a needed verse, or a certain word? Do you know how to use a Bible dictionary and concordance? Could you improve and follow the Lord’s example in “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15)?
A Scripture
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (vv. 18-19).
The exact place whence Jesus read was Isaiah 61:1-2. Although the initial fulfillment of that prophecy likely rested in the Jews’ release from Babylonian captivity, the ultimate fulfillment came in the person of Jesus Christ.
The “Spirit of the Lord” descended on him at his baptism (Luke 3:21-22). Thus “anointed,” Jesus preached to “the poor,” the very ones often neglected or despised by the elite.
Jesus brought “liberty to the captives.” Just as Israel had been returned from captivity, in Jesus’ day he released many held captive by demons or sickness. Spiritually, he brought release from the captivity of sin (cf. 2 Timothy 2:26).
He brought “recovering of sight to the blind” by curing not only physical blindness, but, more importantly, spiritually blinded eyes (cf. John 9:39; Revelation 3:18).
Jesus “set at liberty those who are oppressed,” or, as Paul would write, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
In the context of Isaiah, the “year of the Lord’s favor” was the year of Jubilee, the fiftieth year in which a trumpet was blown and liberty proclaimed in the land (cf. Leviticus 25) as a precursor to eventual freedom in Christ. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
A Stare
“And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (v. 20).
Remember, Jesus’ fame was already spreading to the people in that room (v. 23). The suspense of the moment must have been great. Jesus had to live with the pressure of all eyes on him. This did not intimidate him. This did not make him hush. This did not make his voice quaver. He could handle a pressure-filled moment with the confidence that comes with knowing you’re right and on God’s side.
What of us? Can we stand the pressure when the world’s eyes are on us — even in a disapproving way? Are you willing to boldly stand for the truth in the presence of truth’s enemies? Or will you wilt under the gaze of opposition?
As Christians, we do not seek the limelight, but we often end up there by virtue of our lives being so different from the world. We may meet the questioning stare, the glaring stare, the hateful stare or the approving stare. Whatever the audience, Jesus could respond with dignity, love, courage and uncompromising truth.
A Statement
“And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing'” (v. 21).
All looked at him in anticipation, waiting to see what Jesus would say next. He does not allude to the glories of days gone by. He does not forecast great things to come.
Instead, Jesus rivets everyone’s attention to the moment at hand — the here and now. And right here and right now, Jesus says, a piece of Scripture is being fulfilled in their very ears.
What a statement! The wonderful blessings predicted by Isaiah over 700 years prior were finding their application in a moment of history, among a small group of Jews, in a diminutive synagogue of Nazareth. The messianic era was no longer a distant dream. It was here. It was him.
We can scarcely imagine being in a worship service with Jesus himself sitting a few rows away, much less hearing him stand up to speak.
Then again, wasn’t it he who said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20)?
Thinking of it that way, when we assemble to worship, Jesus is not that far away after all.
Weylan is the pulpit preacher for the Northwest church of Christ in Fort Worth, Tex.

We can scarcely imagine being in a worship service with Jesus himself sitting a few rows away, much less hearing him stand up to speak.

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