by Pastor Matthew Bishop
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So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading (Nehemiah 8:8).
Last year, a good friend gave me his spare whipper snipper. No less than a Stihl. It hadn’t been used for a little while. As he handed it over, he pointed out the instruction book. Then he added what I really needed to know: I will need to buy a new spark plug and douse the spark plug housing with an engine starter before I try to get it going. A trip later to the auto parts supplier, and I was ready to go.
Having returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls, the former exiles gathered on ‘the festival of trumpets’, a day of rest. Thank the Lord for his law! They then asked that the law of Moses, think ‘God’s instruction’, be brought for them to hear. The priest Ezra duly obliged, and from early morning until midday, everyone listened. God’s appointed priests (verse 7) were faithful in that task to the point of helping the people understand through ‘interpretation’ and ‘giving the sense’. Just like the way my friend added how to really apply my whipper snipper instructions.
Applying God’s instruction is something I’m pretty convinced that all Christians struggle with. Too much, and wow, look at how good I am! Or bad! Alternatively, too little, not often enough – are we really taking the word of God seriously, and do we ask whether this idea in front of us originated in the word of God or the world?
In today’s gospel, Luke 4:14–21, Jesus gives the ‘interpretation’ and ‘sense’ of how to apply it all. Picture him in the centre of the synagogue, having just read from the scroll of Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1,2a) with its promise of deliverance from all that binds and its gift of entry into the Lord’s favour. Jesus proclaims, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:21). Jesus’ little sentence is a power-packed Christocentric ‘interpretation’ and ‘sense’ of how to understand all of God’s instructions. Christ fulfilled God’s instructions because we couldn’t. That’s release for the captive! Yet in his gift of new life to us, he also asks us to be devoted to him by sacrificially loving God and neighbour – the basis of Christ’s instruction being the Ten Commandments (Luke 18:18–30; Mark 12:28–34).
You can probably use too much engine starter. But we can never use enough Jesus in remembering our forgiven state before God through him. Then in Christocentric devotion, apply his command of sacrificial love to God and neighbour in all we do.
Thank you, Holy Spirit, that you make Christ known to us (John 14:25–27). Keep us Christ-centred: free from both self-condemnation and self-congratulation and free to serve in sacrificial love of you and our neighbour. In Jesus’ name. Amen.