As Jesus begins his ministry as the Messiah, Luke tells us that “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all” (4:14-15). Jesus returned, but where did he return from? If you go back and read the previous verses in the chapter, you see that Jesus is returning from the wilderness where he spent forty days in prayer and fasting. At the end of that time, Satan came at him, tempting him to forsake his mission and ministry as the Christ. Jesus emerged victorious and we are told that he is returning to Galilee—the region of Israel where he grew up—and he is returning in the power of the Spirit. Jesus was no stranger to the Spirit of God. Back in Luke 1 we saw conception took place by the power of God’s Spirit overshadowing Mary (1:35). When he is around thirty years old, Jesus begins his ministry at after being baptized, the Spirit descends upon him, encouraging Jesus, assuring him that he will be with him for his ministry. Then, as chapter 4 begins, the Spirit demonstrates his power by giving Christ victory in his battle with the devil. And now that empowering continues through all of Jesus’ ministry. Specifically, we see that he was empowered with God’s spirit for his ministry of preaching.
Where did he preach? “He taught in their synagogues” (4:15). Now, if you try to find out what a synagogue is by looking around in the Old Testament, you will be looking around in vain. There are no synagogues there. Though no one knows for sure, we believe that the tradition of the synagogues came about as a result of Israel’s exile when they were cut off from the temple as the central place of worship. By Jesus’ day, people would regularly gather together on the Sabbath to sing the psalms, hear Scripture read, and pray. Synagogues could be found wherever at least ten men were present. And this is where Jesus begins his ministry. If Jesus was on the defensive against Satan in the wilderness, now he is on the offensive against him. He is opening up the Word of God for the people of God, giving them comfort and hope, drawing them to a deeper faith in God. Jesus will do many things in his ministry as the Christ. He will heal diseases and cast out demons. He will train disciples and confront the false spiritual leaders in Israel. But this is where he begins. In fact, this is the very heart of his ministry: the preaching and teaching of God’s word.
Among other things, this should suggest to us the importance of seeking out solid, Bible-based, Spirit-powered preaching. Last weekend the men of my church and I got a taste of such preaching on a retreat. After the first session of the main speaker, a couple of us had our phones out, going on line to see if his church was posting his sermons. And that’s one way to find good preaching. But notice that Jesus didn’t begin like that. He didn’t begin with a ministry like John, his cousin. He didn’t just stand in the middle of the villages or cities and start preaching. He went to the places where God’s people were gathering together to worship. I think this sets a pattern that we will see as the rest of the New Testament will bear out: that the first and best to hear the preaching and teaching of God’s word is in the context of God’s church. God intends for congregations to hear the Word preached together, being transformed together, serving in light of the Word together (e.g, Eph 4:11-16).
Nevertheless, we cannot assume that every church has great preaching and teaching. Therefore, it’s always appropriate to be in prayer for whoever will be bringing the sermon on Sunday. Pray that they would study hard and be given a right understanding of the Scripture. But more than that, pray that they will know the power of God’s Spirit in the pulpit. And then come expecting to hear such preaching. Don’t come because it’s a habit, or tradition, or you’ll feel guilty if you don’t. Come hungry to hear the Word of God in the power of the Spirit of God.