A Useful CustomBy Nathan Mates
"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." [Luke 4:16]
In the quote above, the "he" refers to Jesus. And while Jesus's words as to what he read are also quite interesting Luke records an interesting fact here: that it was Jesus's custom to be found in the synagogue. Jesus, of all people, didn't need to be found there-- he knew every scripture that would be spoken. [As an interesting side question, which I have no Biblical references to, is this: who was Jesus's rabbi/teacher? And how would it be teaching a true know-it-all (in the good sense)? That's something I've occasionally thought about.]
Jesus also knew that a large number of people that needed to hear what he would say were not to be found at the synagogue: "When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."" [Matthew 9:11-13]
And yet, despite these reasons, Jesus did find it his habit and custom to be at the synagogue on the Sabbath. Part of this was Jesus's perfect upholding of the Sabbath-- the fourth commandment, establishing that as a day to God says this: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." [Exodus 20:8-11]
Another reason that Jesus was there, that we can and should learn from, was this: he wanted to spend as much time with his heavenly father. As a boy of twelve, Jesus had already demonstrated a desire and need to do that: "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" [Luke 2:49] While Jesus's quote there was in reference to the temple in Jerusalem, while living in Nazareth (at least 50 miles away from Jerusalem), the local synagogue was the closest equivalent. Jesus also spent much time throughout the week (not just on the Sabbath) with his heavenly father: "But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." [Luke 5:16]
Jesus also was in the synagogue as a lesson to us as well. If Jesus, who certainly didn't "need" to be there was there, we should also follow in his footsteps. The early church certainly followed this advice: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." [Acts 2:42] This fellowship, while initially at the temples [see Acts 3:1-10, others], moved to home-based churches [Acts 16:15] as the local synagogues became more intolerant of the insistence that Jesus was the messiah.
The author of Hebrews later comments on the meetings, saying: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-- and all the more as you see the Day approaching." [Hebrews 12:25] Even though some were already falling away from the fellowship, the author calls on us to stay in fellowship. Why is this? One reason is given in the verse above: to encourage one another. Isolated from fellowship, we can fall into depression or loneliness.
Other reasons why fellowship is so important are these: we are (or at least should be) constantly reminded by one another to be strong in our faith, reading God's word, prayer, and worship. We are not to be "lone ranger" Christians, off away from the rest of the world. Staying with others helps us minister to those in need, and be ministered to when in need. We should also have in-depth accountability relationships with at least one other person in the fellowship to help keep us on the straight and narrow path.
From just a few shorts words in Luke, as Christians, we are to follow our leader's example and be in regular fellowship-- not just with each other, but also with our heavenly father as Jesus did.