“According to His Custom”
“According to his custom on the sabbath day, he entered into the synagogue, and he stood up to read.”—Luke 4:16.
1. What message did John the Baptist have for the people in the first century of our Common Era?
IN THE fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar at Rome God’s declaration came to John, the son of Zechariah the priest. He came into the country around the Jordan River, “preaching baptism in symbol of repentance for forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:3) John the Baptist was telling his hearers what was written in the book of Isaiah (40:3), and he said: “Listen! Someone is crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of Jehovah, you people, make his roads straight.’” (Luke 3:4) It was because something marvelous was to happen! John was saying: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matt. 3:2) What news that was for the Jewish people! They were to prepare for the coming of their king. Hence, symbolically speaking, “every gully must be filled up, and every mountain and hill leveled down, and the curves must become straight ways and the rough places smooth ways; and all flesh will see the saving means of God.”—Luke 3:4-6.
2. (a) What did many who heard John’s preaching do, and who did they think he might be? (b) How did John reply to the question, “May he perhaps be the Christ?”
2 Throngs of people came out into the wilderness from “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the country around the Jordan” to see this prophet with “clothing of camel’s hair and a leather girdle around his loins.” Moreover, his food “was insect locusts and wild honey.” But what a message John was speaking! On hearing it many of his hearers took immediate action. “People were baptized by him in the Jordan River, openly confessing their sins.” (Matt. 3:4-6) The crowds were excited and in real expectation. As they heard John speak and observed his sincerity they wondered about John himself. They thought, “May he perhaps be the Christ?” (Luke 3:15) John gave the answer: “I, for my part, baptize you with water; but the one stronger than I am is coming, the lace of whose sandals I am not fit to untie. He will baptize you people with holy spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16) John referred to Jesus the Son of God, who was shortly to come to him for baptism in water.
3. What miraculous event occurred when Jesus was baptized by John?
3 When John the Baptist made this prophecy of the Jews’ being baptized with holy spirit and fire, the Messiah or Christ had not yet appeared. But in due time he did appear. “When all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized and, as he was praying, the heaven was opened up and the holy spirit in bodily shape like a dove came down upon him, and a voice came out of heaven: ‘You are my Son, the beloved; I have approved you.’” (Luke 3:21, 22) Jesus was now about thirty years of age. The people who were acquainted with Jesus were of the opinion that he was the son of Joseph. However, Jesus was the Son of God! It was just as the voice out of heaven said. Thirty-one years previously an angel had said to his virgin mother: “Holy spirit will come upon you, and power of the Most High will overshadow you. For that reason also what is born will he called holy, God’s Son.”—Luke 1:35.
JESUS BRINGS GLORY TO GOD
4. Outline the circumstances of the three temptations brought upon Jesus by Satan.
4 When Jesus came up out of the Jordan River, having been fully immersed under its waters by John the Baptist, he was full of holy spirit. The spirit of God led him off into the wilderness, where he stayed for forty days. Then the Devil tried very strenuously to turn Jesus, the Son of God, away from his Father in heaven by means of three temptations. One temptation was that Jesus, being a son of God, should be able to turn a stone into a loaf of bread, and so break his forty-day fast. However, Jesus wisely answered: “Man must not live by bread alone.” The Devil then tried something else. He showed him all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth in an instant of time and said to Jesus: “I will give you all this authority and the glory of them, because it has been delivered to me, and to whomever I wish I give it. You, therefore, if you do an act of worship before me, it will all be yours. In reply Jesus said to him: ‘It is written, “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.”’” The Devil failed the second time in his effort to turn Jesus against his Father. Then, after Jesus came to be upon the battlement of the temple in Jerusalem, the Devil said to Jesus: “If you are a son of God, hurl yourself down from here. . . . Jesus said to him: ‘It is said, “You must not put Jehovah your God to the test.”’”—Luke 4:1-12.
THE PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS
5. To what do all four Gospel writers attest concerning Jesus?
5 After these three temptations by the Devil, Jesus returned victorious to the country of Galilee. There in Galilee he began to teach in the synagogues and was held in honor by all. In course of time Jesus traveled to the city of Nazareth. “He came to Nazareth, where he had been reared; and, according to his custom on the sabbath day, he entered into the synagogue, and he stood up to read.” (Luke 4:16) Not only according to Luke but also according to Matthew, Mark and John it was Jesus’ custom to visit synagogues in the various cities in Palestine all his life. As a child with his parents and as a carpenter in Nazareth and after his baptism in the Jordan River, he was never lax in assembling with the Jews on the sabbath in the synagogue or at the temple in Jerusalem. Here was the place for him to come to worship Jehovah and hear what was written in God’s Word of truth.
6, 7. (a) How does Luke describe one sabbath-day visit of Jesus to the synagogue in Nazareth? (b) What was the reaction of those in attendance at the synagogue on that particular sabbath? (c) Why should they have known that Jesus was an unusual man?
6 On a particular sabbath day, about which Luke tells us, Jesus was in the synagogue at Nazareth. The attendant handed him the scroll of Isaiah, and Jesus opened the scroll to what our Bible lists as Isa chapter 61sixty-one and then read: “‘Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor, he sent me forth to preach a release to the captives and a recovery of sight to the blind, to send the crushed ones away with a release, to preach Jehovah’s acceptable year.’ With that he rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were intently fixed upon him. Then he started to say to them: ‘Today this scripture that you just. heard is fulfilled.’” (Luke 4:18-21) When Jesus said this, how the eyes of those within his hearing must have opened in amazement! All hearing these words of the prophet Isaiah believed that sometime these truths would be fulfilled. But surely not in this man! Why, this Jesus lived in Nazareth till thirty years of age and most of those in the synagogue were acquainted with him. Now they heard him say: “Today this scripture . . . is fulfilled.” That must have made them think. Here was a man who would bear watching.
7 Still, “they all began to give favorable witness about him and to marvel at the winsome words proceeding out of his mouth, and they were saying: ‘This is a son of Joseph, is it not?’” (Luke 4:22) The Jews of Nazareth here in the synagogue should have known that Jesus was an unusual man because, not far away, about seven miles north, in Cana of Galilee, he had performed his first miracle. Jesus had been invited to a marriage feast. The wine provided for the occasion ran out, and Jesus said to the men: “Fill the water jars with water.” And they filled six water jars to the brim. “And he said to them: ‘Draw some out now and take it to the director of the feast.’ . . . When, now, the director of the feast tasted the water that had been turned into wine but did not know what its source was . . . the director of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him: ‘Every other man puts out the fine wine first, and when people are intoxicated, the inferior. You have reserved the fine wine until now.’ Jesus performed this in Cana of Galilee as the beginning of his signs, and he made his glory manifest; and his disciples put their faith in him.”—John 2:7-11.
8. What other things must those in the synagogue that day have known about Jesus?
8 Those in the synagogue of Nazareth must have known, too, that when Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the preceding Passover he drove the traders from the temple. “He drove all those with the sheep and cattle out of the temple, and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he said to those selling the doves: ‘Take these things away from here! Stop making the house of my Father a house of merchandise!’” (John 2:15-17) They must have heard that exciting news about the money changers because the “Galileans . . . had seen all the things he did in Jerusalem at the festival.” (John 4:45) Then, too, they must have heard that Jesus was talking about the kingdom of the heavens as drawing near. (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:14, 15) And very likely they heard of the second miracle that Jesus performed at Cana, the healing of a boy in Capernaum when a certain attendant of the king had spoken to Jesus in Cana. At the very hour that Jesus said, “Your son lives,” to the father in Cana the boy in Capernaum became well again. Because of this miracle the attendant “and his whole household believed.” (John 4:46-54) News of this kind would spread fast, also to Nazareth.
9, 10. Describe the event that next took place in that synagogue, but what effect did this have on Jesus’ attendance at the synagogue?
9 Very likely on this sabbath day in the synagogue in Nazareth all these happenings were being mulled over in their minds while Jesus was speaking, and then they heard Jesus say: “No doubt you will apply this illustration to me, ‘Physician, cure yourself; the things we heard as having happened in Capernaum do also here in your home territory.’” (Luke 4:23) But Jesus told them: “Truly I tell you that no prophet is accepted in his home territory.” (Luke 4:24) After Jesus referred to the things that happened in the days of Elijah and Elisha, “those hearing these things in the synagogue became filled with anger; and they rose up and hurried him outside the city, and they led him to the brow of the mountain upon which their city had been built, in order to throw him down headlong. But he went through the midst of them and continued on his way.” (Luke 4:28-30) Even though the Jews of Nazareth tried to kill Jesus this time, he did return to Nazareth; and about a year later, according to his custom, on the sabbath he went to the synagogue. Matthew writes: “After coming into his home territory he began to teach them in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said: ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these powerful works?’ . . . But Jesus said to them: ‘A prophet is not unhonored except in his home territory and in his own house.’ And he did not do many powerful works there on account of their lack of faith.” (Matt. 13:54-58) Please note this, that, in spite of the previous attempt to kill him, Jesus went back to the synagogue at Nazareth, “according to his custom,” thus practicing what he preached, ‘Love your enemies.’—Matt. 5:44.
10 The weekly assembly place for the worshipers of God in Jesus’ day was the synagogue and that was where you would find Jesus on the sabbath, teaching. When he was in Jerusalem he would go to the temple and teach. Jesus spoke to great crowds, and his disciples were with him to learn. He was not hesitant in telling the truth to the Jewish religious leaders of his day either, and he proved them to be hypocrites.
11. Where else besides the synagogue did Jesus preach, and how did he answer the chief priest who questioned him about his teaching?
11 Of course, Jesus preached in many places besides the synagogues. He taught multitudes on the hillsides near the Sea of Galilee, and along its seashore. He did considerable talking to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, in private homes and at the temple. But on the sabbath day you would find Jesus teaching in the “house of our God.” (Neh. 10:39) In proof of this, when Jesus was brought before the chief priest shortly before being put on the torture stake, he unhesitantly said to the chief priest who questioned him about his disciples and about his teaching: “I have spoken to the world publicly. I always taught in a synagogue and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them. See! These know what I said.”—John 18:19-21.
12. (a) How do Jehovah’s witnesses today carry on with their preaching work? (b) How was the organization of early Christianity described by one historian?
12 Those people knew, and Jehovah’s witnesses today know, that the custom of Jesus during his three and a half years of ministering was to attend the meetings of God’s people regularly and to teach them God’s Word there. That is why Jehovah’s witnesses today meet regularly in their Kingdom Halls and preach and teach God’s Word, the Holy Bible, and make this their custom. They, too, “have spoken to the world publicly,” and the religious leaders of the day know it. More than 1,034,268 of Jehovah’s witnesses go from house to house customarily every month declaring the good news of God’s kingdom. You will find them going from house to house, studying the Bible in private homes with interested persons and in their Kingdom Halls. From the time a person dedicates his life to do Jehovah’s will and is baptized as Jesus was he must prove himself to be a minister of God as the early Christians did. In the book Outline of History* it says: “What is clearly apparent is that the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth was a prophetic teaching of the new type that began with the Hebrew prophets. It was not priestly, it had no consecrated temple and no altar. It had no rites and ceremonies. Its sacrifice was ‘a broken and a contrite heart.’ Its only organization was an organization of preachers, and its chief function was the sermon.”
A GOOD CUSTOM FOR US
13. What good example did Jesus set in his ministry that is beneficial today?
13 From the very time that Jesus began his ministry in the fall of 29 C.E. after his baptism, he never neglected his ministry, and he preached sermons in the house of God and in other public places. He set an excellent example for Christians today in that “we should not neglect the house of our God.” (Neh. 10:39) We, too, need to learn and to teach. It is in the house of God that we learn the truth from God’s written Word, and this equips us to give better sermons as we disciple people of all nations of the world to the true Christian faith.—Matt. 28:19.
14. How do Jehovah’s witnesses today make practical use of the time they spend together in congregation meetings?
14 Throughout the worldwide organization of Jehovah’s witnesses schools are organized, one in every congregation. This school is called Theocratic Ministry School. In it every one of Jehovah’s witnesses may be enrolled, as well as other people who wish to be. In this ministry school you can learn how to express yourself so as to teach. Each one takes his turn on the platform, men and women, and a brief sermon based on some Scripture text is spoken in the Kingdom Hall. Sometimes two or three people will have a Bible discussion on the platform as though it were in someone’s home. Bible sermons, public or private, are based on God’s Word. Using this manner of teaching, one can make disciples of people of all the nations. This is the way Jesus got his followers. Today Jehovah’s witnesses use the same method to turn the hearts of men to their Creator, Jehovah God.
15, 16. After learning how to preach and teach, what do Jehovah’s witnesses do?
15 Jehovah’s witnesses know that faith comes from hearing. If someone is going to hear, there needs to be a preacher. By making it their custom to assemble in the house of God, Jehovah’s witnesses learn how to teach and preach. From their Kingdom Halls they are sent forth to teach and preach, just as the apostle Paul said they would be. “How . . . will they preach unless they have been sent forth?” (Rom. 10:10-15) Paul here is emphasizing what Jesus said a few days before he ascended into the heavens: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them.”—Matt. 28:19.
16 Being a Christian minister of God today does not mean one has to stand in a pulpit and preach to an audience in some church building. It means every individual Christian’s letting light shine by speaking the truth of God’s Word at every opportunity. His light shines, not only in the customary meeting place, “the house of our God,” but when he delivers a Bible sermon to an individual or a small group of people anywhere in the whole world. Do you “let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens”?—Matt. 5:16.
17. What invitation do Jehovah’s witnesses extend to people of all nations?
17 All people of all nations are invited to associate with Jehovah’s witnesses at their Kingdom Halls and to take part in their five Bible study meetings, including enrollment in the Theocratic Ministry School. These instructive Bible sessions are held each week for upbuilding the mind and taking in accurate knowledge of the Word of God. Remember, Jesus never neglected “the house of our God.” It was “according to his custom” to be there to learn and to teach. We do well to make it our custom too. “We must not neglect the house of our God” either. We need to know the truth. Let us go where we can find it.
By H. G. Wells, Third Edition, Revised and Rearranged by the Author, pages 522, 523, September 1921.