As his custom was
R. Catchpole, London
If you were to make a list of the things that you habitually do, and the places you regularly visit, any who subsequently read it would be able to glean certain facts about you. Such a list would not only reveal what you do and where you go, but, along with that, the things that you give priority to, and the company you keep, providing the reader with an insight into your character and interests. In the Gospels there are a number of verses that draw attention to things that regularly featured in the life of the Lord Jesus.1
Christ and the synagogue, Luke 4. 16
‘And he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up; and as his custom was he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read’.
Even a superficial reading of Luke’s account of the visit of the Lord to the synagogue at Nazareth suggests at least three things about the Saviour, namely that He was a man of the Synagogue, ‘he went into the synagogue’, a man of the Sabbath, ‘on the sabbath day’, and a man of the Scriptures, ‘and stood up for to read’. It is the first of those that we are particularly concerned with, not only the fact that He went into the synagogue but also Luke’s additional comment, ‘as his custom was’.
While the temple at Jerusalem figured prominently in His life,2 and He would later say, ‘I sat daily with you teaching in the temple’, Matt. 26. 55, the synagogues of Galilee feature prominently during the years of public ministry. The Lord said, ‘I ever taught in the synagogue and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort’, John 18. 20, a number of His miracles were performed in connection with visits to synagogues.3
In Luke chapter 4, the evangelist notes that it was at Nazareth that the Saviour ‘had been brought up’, and, against that background, says it was ‘his custom’, on the Sabbath day, to be found in the synagogue, where the devout Jews would meet together. Thus, we have an insight into one feature of the earlier hidden years of the Lord Jesus, regular attendance at the synagogue. Is there a similar consistency with us in connection with the assembly gatherings? It is recorded of the early believers that, ‘they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers’, Acts 2. 42. Sadly, we are in days when it is not unknown for some believers to be present only at the Lord’s Supper, and for others to be spasmodic even in attendance at that. Such absenteeism isn’t usually something that happens overnight but is the outcome of an ongoing process over a lengthy period of time, the product of a diminishing interest in the word of God, and a decline in the priority that we give to assembly activities. Are we as keen now, as we were a few years ago?
Jonathan, anticipating the absence of David from a gathering for the Jewish feast of the new moon, said, ‘Thou shalt be missed, for thy seat shall be empty’. Is that likely to be said of us? Is it our ‘custom’ to be found gathered with the saints? Again, we should not miss the general setting in Luke chapter 4, the reference to the ‘power of the Spirit’, v. 14, and the words of the Saviour, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me’, v. 18. So, this attendance in the synagogue was the conduct of a Man moving in the power of the Spirit of God.
Christ and His service, Mark 10. 1
‘And he arose from thence and cometh into the coasts of Judaea, by the farther side of Jordan: and the people resort unto him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again’.
We have already seen that the Lord taught in the synagogues and in the temple, but His preaching wasn’t limited to these places. He taught by the seaside, Mark 2. 13, in the villages, 6. 6, and in desert places, 6. 34. It is a picture of One who took every opportunity to instruct the people in the truth of God.
Between the end of chapter 9 and the commencement of chapter 10, Mark omits several months in the ministry of the Lord. For details of those we need to refer to Luke chapters 9-18 or John chapters 7-11. The words of Mark, ‘he taught them (i.e., the people) again’, indicate that in those preceding months the Lord had spent time alone with his disciples, that he had avoided the crowds, in order to spend time in instructing them, but, in Mark chapter 10 verse 1, He returns to teaching the people. In His commentary on the Gospel of Mark, D. E. Hiebert4 observes that it is instructive to compare this verse with the parallel account in Matthew chapter 19 verse 2, ‘And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them’. Matthew, who in his Gospel focuses our attention upon the teaching of Christ, notes at this point that the Lord did miracles. Whereas Mark, who in his Gospel focuses our attention upon the works of Christ, not only mentions that He ‘taught’ the people, but also that this was a regular feature of His ministry.
Mark has already spoken of the character of the Lord’s teaching, that, in the synagogue at Capernaum, ‘they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes’, 1. 21-22. He has indicated the compassion that lay behind the teaching, ‘And Jesus when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things’, 6. 34. Now we see a continuance in teaching, as the people again resort to Him. Is that a pattern with us? When did you last speak to a person about the things of God? Peter wrote, ‘Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear’. ‘Meekness’ towards the one asking the question, ‘fear’ or reverence towards God, conscious that we do not deserve such a hope, 1 Pet. 3. 15. Is there such a readiness with us? Paul exhorted Timothy to ‘Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season’, and again, ‘Do the work of an evangelist (or evangelism)’, 2 Tim. 4. 2, 5. Do we seek to seize and make opportunities to speak for the Lord, speaking when it is expected and welcome, and also when it is not expected and not necessarily welcome? Or, is it that the opportunities come to us and we allow them to pass us by? The Lord Jesus ‘saw much people’; have we an eye to the mission field around us, the multitudes without Christ and in need of the gospel? The Lord viewed them ‘as sheep not having a shepherd’, helpless, without food, with no one to guide them. Is that how we view the multitudes? Mark tells us that viewing the multitudes thus, ‘He was moved with compassion’, His heart was stirred, ‘and he began to teach them many things’, 6. 34. Have we lost the vision for evangelism, no longer stirred by the plight of the multitudes? Have we become so cold and hard in heart that we lack compassion for those who are perishing? When did you last pray ‘lead me to some soul today, O teach me Lord just what to say’?
Christ and supplication, Luke 22. 39
‘And he came out, and went as he was wont, to the mount of Olives: and his disciples also followed him’.
No careful reader of the scriptures can fail to appreciate the position that the Mount of Olives occupied in the Lord’s life. It was here He looked out over the city and wept, Luke 19. 41. Here, He taught the disciples, Matt. 24. 3. From here, He ascended to heaven, Acts 1. 12, and it is to these mountains the Lord will yet return at His manifestation in glory, Zech. 14. 4. To this place, Luke says, the Lord Jesus was wont to come. Gethsemane, the location of which Luke speaks, was at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and a place of which John also says, ‘Jesus oft-times resorted thither with his disciples’, a place for fellowship with them and for communion with His Father, 18. 2. But of all His visits to that place, this occasion is surely to be numbered amongst the most sacred and touching, as He withdraws from the disciples in order to pray alone with His Father. The Lord had said to the disciples ‘when thou prayest enter into thy closet’, Matt. 6. 6, but there was no such ‘room’ for the Lord Jesus, He withdrew to a garden. What lessons for us as we view Him there, a place of separation, ‘withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast’, v. 41; of submission, ‘not my will but thine be done’; of sustenance, ‘an angel from heaven strengthening him’, and a place of sincerity, ‘being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly’, v. 44. Do we have a place to which we can withdraw for prayer and fellowship with God, one that bears witness to our submission to, and earnest pleadings with God? Wasn’t the parable of the Unjust Judge with the ‘continual coming’ of the widow spoken by the Lord to the end that ‘men ought always to pray and not to faint’, Luke 18. 1? Didn’t Paul write to the Thessalonians, ‘Pray without ceasing’, 1 Thess. 5. 17? Is there a consistency with us in regard to prayer? It is, we must admit, the easiest thing to neglect in our spiritual life even though we know how vitally important it is for our spiritual well-being and development. There was no such failure in the life of the Saviour. May there not be in ours either.
These, then, were regular features in the life of the Lord. Let us see to it that they are characteristic of us also.
- The writer wishes to acknowledge that the theme of this article was first suggested to him, many years ago, by a helpful paper, published in the Believer’s Magazine, November 1966, pp. 41-43, as part of a series entitled The life of Christ by James Naismith.
- Luke 2. 49; John 2. 15; Matt. 21. 12.
- See Luke 4. 33; 6. 6; 13. 13.
- D. E. Hiebert, Mark, A Portrait of the Servant, p. 236.