Worship Helps for Epiphany 3

Artwork: Synagogue During Torah Reading
Artist: Edward Moyse

Worship Theme: Jesus’ “going public” should not have surprised his Jewish countrymen. They had known of the coming Messiah for a long time, dating back to the promise given Abraham (Genesis 12:3), even to Eden (Genesis 3:15). Yet, when Jesus finally arrived, “his own did not receive him” (John 1:10). He was not the kind of Savior that many were looking for. That too was foretold: “He was despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3).

Old Testament: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. 2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. … 5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. … 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, "This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep." For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10 Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

1. In today’s gospel Jesus opens the scroll of Isaiah and reads. In this lesson, from what books did Nehemiah read as he stood in Jerusalem and opened the scroll?

2. How did the people respond to what Nehemiah read?

3. Why were the people not to weep, but to celebrate?

Epistle: Acts 4:23-31 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: "'Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.' 27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." 31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

4. When Peter and John were released from imprisonment, the believers in Jerusalem responded with prayer. Why did they begin by reminding God of all he had made?

5. Why did the believers turn next in their prayer to what God had said in Psalm 2, about a thousand years earlier?

6. Were Herod and Pilate helpless pawns on God’s chessboard?

Gospel: Luke 4:14-21 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

7. What Scripture did Jesus read in Nazareth’s synagogue?

8. What amazing words did Jesus use to conclude his reading?

1. Nehemiah read from the law of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. (We are not sure whether he read from all the books, some of the books or perhaps just the book of Deuteronomy, the last book of Moses.)

2. The people responded by lifting their hands and saying, “Amen. Amen.” Then they bowed low. “They worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.”

3. Nehemiah told them to celebrate, not weep, “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

4. The believers did not need to help God with his forgetfulness; he is not forgetful. By mentioning all God had made, they were praising him and reminding themselves that God is all-powerful, so he could handle their frightening situation.

5. When the believers quoted Psalm 2, they were praising God and reminding themselves that God always keeps his promises. He fulfills his Word. What he had done in the past, he would do again in the future.

6. No. Herod and Pilate were not helpless pawns on God’s chessboard, though they did what God had decided ahead of time. They conspired against Jesus. (The fact that God runs all things, yet people are responsible for their own evil deeds, will always mystify us.)

7. In his hometown’s synagogue, Jesus read the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 61.

8. After Jesus read from Isaiah 61, he explained: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, Jesus was emphatically declaring that he was the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, that he was our long-foretold Savior. The people who first heard Jesus make this claim were furious (Mark 4:28-29).

Putting your faith into action
Jesus used Isaiah 61:1-6 as his sermon in Nazareth, recorded in Luke 4. After so many centuries the prophet’s words were finally being fulfilled! He is the Servant of the LORD that Isaiah foretold. He had come to free us from our sin. Instead of cowering prisoners, we are now towering oaks! Isn’t it sad that the people of Nazareth rejected him and even tried to kill him? How many countless millions have done the exact same thing? May we always take the prophet’s words seriously, so that we hold Jesus in our hearts as our one and only Savior.

A reading from the Book of Concord for the Third Sunday after Epiphany
Keeping of the Sabbath is not restricted to a certain time, as with the Jewish people.  It does not have to be just on this or that day.  For in itself no one day is better than another.  Instead, this should be done daily.  However, since the masses of people cannot attend every day, there must be at least one day in the week set apart.  From ancient times Sunday ‹the Lord’s Day› has been appointed for this purpose.  So we also should continue to do the same, in order that everything may be done in an orderly way.
This is the simple meaning of the commandment: People must have holidays.  Therefore, such observances should be devoted to hearing God’s Word so that the special function of this day of rest should be the ministry of the Word for the young and the mass of poor people [Nehemiah 8:2–3, 8].  Yet the resting should not be strictly understood to forbid any work that comes up, which cannot be avoided.
When someone asks, “What is meant by the commandment: You shall sanctify the holy day?”  Answer like this, “To sanctify the holy day is the same as to keep it holy.”  “But what is meant by keeping it holy?”  “Nothing else than to be occupied with holy words, works, and life.”  For the day needs no sanctification of itself.  It has been created holy in itself.  But God desires the day to be holy to you.  It becomes holy or unholy because of you, whether you are occupied with things that are holy or unholy. – Large Catechism, Ten Commandments (paragraphs 85-87)

Hymns for this Sunday: 353; 85; 310; 496

353  Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness

1  Praise the one who breaks the darkness With a liberating light;
Praise the one who frees the pris’ners, Turning blindness into sight.
Praise the one who preached the gospel, Healing ev’ry dread disease,
Calming storms and feeding thousands With the Father’s word of peace.

2  Praise the one who blessed the children With a strong, yet gentle, word;
Praise the one who drove out demons With the piercing, two-edged sword.
Praise the one who brings cool water To the desert’s burning sand;
From this well comes living water, Quenching thirst in ev’ry land.

3  Let us praise the Word incarnate, Christ, who suffered in our place;
Jesus died and rose victorious That we may know God by grace.
Let us sing for joy and gladness, Seeing what our God has done;
Let us praise the true Redeemer, Praise the one who makes us one.

Text: Rusty Edwards, b. 1955, alt. © 1987 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.


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