Thursday, August 31, 2017
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 4:23 NIV).
In the first century, the synagogue was second to the Temple in Jerusalem. After the Temple was destroyed by Titus’ army in 70 A.D., synagogues became primary in Jewish worship.
The worship at the synagogue usually included readings from the Torah (Law of Moses) and the Prophets (Acts 15:21). These or other passages would be interpreted or preached from (Acts 17:2). There were also prayers. Singing was produced by a “Levitical choir” in both the Temple and synagogue. Eight instruments: the harp, lyre, ram’s horn, trumpet, small drum, cymbal, bell, and flute are mentioned. Since women did not serve as Levite priests, the chanting was done by men. Four-part harmony was not found “in the church” for many centuries.
The worship in the Temple had a prayer taken from Deuteronomy 6:4. There was also the prayer of the heart, based on Deuteronomy 11:13. These prayers were also chanted. Purity was expected from those who came to make their monetary offerings as well as sacrifices (Mark 12:41). Levite singers performed in the Temple area as well as in the synagogues, being accompanied with the instruments.
Luke informs us, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52 NIV). As a Jewish boy, he would have attended and worshiped at the synagogue. As he became a man, he would go through the different ceremonies signaling manhood. Jesus went to the Temple’s Court of Women and sat near the treasury (Mark 12:41). We find six passages in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John where Jesus went to the synagogue where worship took place, taking his turn to examine the scriptures and preach. Due to his wisdom and authoritative teaching, he was referred to as a Rabbi or teacher (John 1:38, 49; 3:2, 26; 6:25).
Although Jesus had no sins, as a Jew he participated in paying the Temple tax of Exodus 30:11-16 (Matthew 17:24-27). There isn’t a passage specifically saying Jesus offered animal sacrifices through the Levite priesthood. Yet, he did keep the Law of Moses which includes that practice. If he refused to make any sacrifices, it would have been a weighty accusation to lay on his shoulders. He was never charged with that neglect. Jesus kept the Law perfectly as he worshiped at both synagogue and Temple. He even kept Jewish religious practices that originated from tradition rather than scripture.
Synagogue worship began with the Jews in Babylonian captivity. Those who returned to Palestine brought the practice with them. There is no biblical authority for the synagogue. It is the child of their transgression. Because of their sins, they were cut off from the Temple and Jerusalem. So, they substituted. God did not give them that authority. Yet, the practice was never condemned. In fact, Jesus accepted it and participated in it as if the silence of the scriptures authorized it.
When the Passover meal was commanded, nothing is said about a cup nor its content being included (Exodus 12). God did not authorize it. Its origin is not known. Yet, these changes which God’s word did not authorize were accepted. These additions became their religious tradition. Even Jesus accepted this cup, without a biblical background, and incorporated it into his memorial supper as representing his blood (Matthew 26:27-28). There are multiple articles attempting to extricate the Lord from these “unauthorized” actions. These traditions didn’t bother Jesus, who saved himself for more important things (Luke 22:44). The problem isn’t with Jesus’ acceptance, but rather man’s interpretative patterns.
Jesus’ actions don’t always fit our thinking. Some wish to eliminate John 8:1-11 because the Lord was supposed to condemn the woman. He didn’t. Jesus doesn’t always live up to our expectations. We are supposed to live up to his! He is the Savior, not us. We are to obey his words, he isn’t supposed to march to our thoughts. If salvation was left to our whims, each “way” would degrade to the ridiculous. It isn’t surprising that men believe God’s way is lacking. Different gospels are taught and bound. This was true, even in the first century in the church (Galatians 1:6-9; Acts 15:1; Galatians 5:1-4).
Some see patterns where there are none. Some see “church” actions which weren’t. Some fail to see some that are essential. Some want to make it impossible to be saved. Others want a follow a do nothing way that removes all responsibility. There is a biblical lesson for all from Jesus’ acceptance of religious traditions which we need to discover. There is also one from John 8. Jesus’ daily life was not one where he was attempting to find his way. It is one where he was teaching us how to find our way to him! Sadly, too many are looking in the wrong direction.