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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Jesus Reads Scripture

Luke 4:15-30
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church PCUSA
October 9, 2005

Jesus reads scripture. Take a minute to think about that. For just a minute, set aside all the other things happening in this passage.

Set aside the more obvious miracles. Set aside the miracles that Jesus has been doing in Capernaum, the miracles of healing the hometown Nazareth crowd wants him to do for them. Set aside the miracle of Jesus’ escape when the angry crowd runs him out of town and tries to throw him off a cliff. “He passed through the midst of them, and went on his way,” it says. George Lucas could make some cool special effects out of that one.

But not only the miracles; set aside the human dynamics going on here. Set aside the crowd’s praise of their little boy grown up so well. “Look, isn’t that Joseph’s son reading scripture and pronouncing those big words?” Set aside the crowd’s anger when he doesn’t put on a show.

And furthermore, set aside not only the miracles and the response, set aside even the scripture that Jesus reads, that he says is fulfilled in their hearing. If you set aside all those things, you get one central kernel of information: Jesus reads scripture.

When you stop and think about it, that’s pretty miraculous in itself. Jesus has an ability, and Jesus has a calling. Jesus takes his human ability – the simple ability to read – and combines it with a divine calling based upon the content of what he reads. If you take human ability, combine it with divine calling, and guide these with scripture, you’ve got the recipe for miracles.

Here’s what I think: If it works for Jesus, it’ll work for us, too. Now, not many of us are going to open our Bibles and announce that we’re the long-awaited Messiah who’s going to restore sight to the blind, release to the captives, and freedom to the oppressed. If we really do read our Bibles we’ll see pretty fast that putting ourselves on par with God is a bad idea. What I think the example of Jesus is saying is that miracles don’t come from some secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices that only God knows. What worked for Jesus, and what’ll work for us, is taking our human ability, combining it with the hint of divine calling, and then letting the words of scripture be our guide.

Jesus read scripture. And miracles started to happen. Prophesy started to happen. Jesus began to happen. You and I have this incredible gift of being able to read scripture, too. When we read scripture, what’s gonna happen?


Have any of you read the Bible cover to cover? Bless your hearts. Have any of you TRIED to read the Bible cover to cover? What happens? Well, most of us can make it through Genesis, because there’s creation and procreation, lots of action and violence. And a few of us can make it through Exodus, because there’s Moses and the Ten Commandments and entertaining plagues. But then, we get to Leviticus. “You shall offer a bull without blemish, cutting it into parts and washing its entrails and legs. The entrails and legs shall be washed with water….” You might get the feeling even God fell asleep during Leviticus. So you skip over to the New Testament. But the New Testament starts out with all those begats. “Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas… And Judas begat Phares… and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram….” Who knew begetting could be so dull?

So here we’ve got this amazing book, this book of life, this book of love – and most of us are afraid to do anything with it. We figure, if it’s boring, we must not be very smart. Or worse, if we doze off we’re scared we’ll be insulting God.

Or, we simply don’t have time. We’d like to sit down and read the Bible, but we barely have time to read the newspaper. We’ve got all this other stuff yammering for our attention, beeping, ringtoning, pop-up boxing… squealing, crying, and cell-phoning to tell us, “Hey! You’ve forgotten me!” And the Bible doesn’t do those things. Unless you have a version I don’t know about. “The iPod Bible,” or something like that.

We have this book of life, this book of love – and it just sits there, waiting. Books are like that.

I would imagine the people of Nazareth felt the same way. If not more so. For most of them, the Bible was kept so sacred it was untouchable. And even if they could get their hands on the scrolls, they had to be able to read, which was not a common thing. And then to read not in their native language, Aramaic, but in Hebrew, the language of their ancestors. For anyone to read scripture was a pretty amazing thing. But to interpret scripture, as if it didn’t bore you to tears or scare you to death – to apply it to your own life as if you knew what it meant – for someone to do THAT was a miracle.

And it’s still a miracle today.


Starting at verse 15: He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he 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 Jewish synagogue was designed to be a place of very unpretentious teaching. The kind of place anyone might listen and learn. And Jesus followed the traditions of the synagogue. When it was time to read scripture, he stood up, and the scroll was handed to him. He read the scripture in Hebrew. Maybe some of the people understood the old language, maybe some didn’t. He rolled up the scroll, handed it back, and then sat down to teach in the common language, Aramaic. So here’s Jesus, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Son of God, sitting in a circle on the floor, the way our kids do during Children’s Sermon. And he says…

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And all spoke well of him, scripture says, and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth, because his sermon was only one sentence long, and they knew they could beat the Baptists to lunch. OK, maybe that’s not exactly what it says. It wasn’t the length of the sermon the people of Nazareth were amazed about. It was the content. Jesus took the scripture, this scroll of words that had been so boring or frightening or time-consuming – Jesus took the scripture, this scroll of words, and literally declared that it had come alive, before their very eyes, in their very hearing. Jesus read scripture. Jesus read scripture and found out who he was. Jesus read scripture and the people of Nazareth found out who they were. Jesus read scripture, and lives changed. Miracles started to happen.


Fred Craddock, a teacher of preachers, tells his students, “The surest way to stop growing is to stop reading.” Go, visit the church Library during its open house today, and find something to read. Let the church help you grow in that way. There are Bibles in the library. There are books about the Bible. There’s all kinds of good stuff.

But whatever you choose to read, whether it’s the Bible or something else, if you treat it like a bunch of dead words on a page, that’s exactly what it’ll be. The words only come alive when they form a kind of triangle. At one point, we have the words. At a second point, we have our human gifts or abilities, whatever they might be. And at the third point, we have the hint of a divine calling from God.

Scripture says that God knew you and formed you, even before you were born. It says that God knows the number of hairs on your head. God knows when you rise up and when you lie down. You are a child of God. And as a child of God, you’ve been born with unique gifts and abilities. The fingerprints of your life belong to you, and nobody else has anything exactly like you do. God has given you a set of abilities and the capability for more.

Faith teaches us that our abilities are meant for more than our amusement. God has made you who you are for a reason. Your unique gifts are meant to glorify your maker, to be a channel for God’s love to flow through. The church sometimes talks about “vocation,” your Christian vocation. Some people are called to teach, to teach children to read (and God bless you teachers who are called to do that). Some people are called to grow flowers. Some people are called to sweep floors. How the world sees your vocation isn’t nearly as important as how you see it. Maybe one morning, you sat straight up in bed and declared out loud, “God is calling me to….” And your husband or wife said, “Not right now, God isn’t.” If that’s how clearly God has spoken to you about your purpose in life, you’re blessed. I think for most of us, there’s this sense of nudging, this hint that sticks in our minds and just won’t go away. Sometimes God shouts to us, and sometimes God whispers. Either way, it’s still God.

When you take that sense of what God’s calling you to do, when you combine it with your talents, and when you let the words of scripture guide you – that’s when the pages of scripture are filled full. Maybe you aren’t going to fulfill prophesy the way Jesus did. So what? That was his job. You’ve got your job. No matter how big or how small God’s job for you is, you can become alive in scripture, filled full with gracious words. You can live among those gracious words, and God’s gracious words can live in you.

Jesus’ ministry started with the simple act of reading a book and sitting down. When you read God’s book, what’s gonna start in you?