He’s thinner now,” whispered one of the synagogue’s worshipers to the man beside him.
“Much thinner,” the other said. “He needs His mother’s cooking again!”
A man behind them chuckled. “Hard work, that’s what He needs. His dad taught Him how, and He needs to get back to it. Woodworking gives you an appetite.”
“He builds a solid table,” someone nearby said. “I bought one. Where’s He been, anyway? Haven’t seen Him for a couple of months.”
“Well, they’ve invited Him to speak today,” said the first man. “Let’s hear what the Kid has to say.”
The young Man standing before the people reverently unrolled part of a huge scroll and began to read. However, He didn’t look at the words but at the worshipers. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” He quoted, “because he has anointed me . . .” (Luke 4:18).
The Woodworker, of course, was Jesus. And the synagogue was in His hometown of Nazareth. After Solomon’s temple was destroyed in 587 bc and the Israelites were deported to Babylon, the Jewish people created synagogues as places of worship and instruction, and they gathered in them on Sabbath mornings. Every village had at least one synagogue, and some had several. (Jewish sources indicate that a synagogue could be established where there were at least 10 Jewish men.) If you were a faithful Jew, you attended regularly. In other words, synagogues were much like the churches of today—places where believers went to study, pray, and worship.
“But is attending church really all that important?” some people ask. “Can’t I just remain at home and meditate? Can’t I worship God by taking a hike in the mountains? Is gathering with other Christians essential to my salvation?”
Here’s how important churchgoing was to Jesus.
Jesus went to church as a regular habit
“He went to Nazareth,” Luke 4:16 says “where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (emphasis added). The Greek word for “custom” is eiotha, which is a form of ethos, and basically, it means a regular habit. In other words, Jesus didn’t go to church only when He felt like it. He made it a habit—like lacing His sandals or combing His hair.
So if Christians respond to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, they’ll be walking through the doors of a church once a week. After all, Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). He didn’t say anything about mountain hikes or even personal devotions as substitutes for worship places. Occasional getaway vacations are appropriate, but for the Christian, those should be the exception, not the rule.
Jesus went to church in spite of the hypocrites
“The reason I don’t go to church,” someone might say, “is because it would make me sick to have to sit with a bunch of hypocrites.” But if this hypocrite reason were valid, Jesus would have had the best excuse of anyone to skip church! In every synagogue He entered—and He entered a lot of them—He found scowling clusters of Pharisees and teachers of the law who were listening for anything He said that they could twist into heresy. They were also watching eagle eyed for any “illegal” Sabbath miracles of healing He might perform.
But Jesus had no qualms about literally calling them out. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” He would tell them. “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matthew 23:13). These men claimed to be defenders of God, but they would eventually murder His Son. That’s the ultimate in hypocrisy, yet Jesus never stopped going to church with them! And He didn’t go merely to synagogues but to the temple itself, as John 7, 9, and 10 and many other passages tell us.
You see, Jesus didn’t reject organized religion—He participated in it! He spent much of the last week of His life teaching in the temple, and less than 24 hours before His death, He celebrated the Jewish ritual of Passover with His disciples.
God always works in groups
Jesus’ Father loves groups. He created Adam and then Eve and gave them the ability to create and gather about them a family of children. Abraham wasn’t called to Canaan as an individual but with his entire household. When God liberated the Israelites from slavery, He didn’t slip them over the Egyptian border one by one but marched them out triumphantly in tribes.
And when Jesus sent His disciples out to spread the gospel, the new Christians gathered in churches, and Paul and other apostles wrote letters to some of those groups. John sent his powerful “revelation from Jesus Christ” not to individuals but to “the seven churches in the province of Asia” (Revelation 1:1, 4). God calls individuals, but He always calls them to meet together in groups.
some spiritual benefits of going to church
Why go to church? Well, why do we gather at sports events, concerts, birthday parties, weddings, and even funerals? Each of these “gathering” opportunities satisfies something within us—and being part of a church even more so. Here are some real benefits of attending church regularly:
You’ll know you’re not alone. You don’t need me to tell you that being a Christ-honoring person in today’s society is often a lonely journey. At the end of a soul-bruising week, how wonderful it is to gather for mutual encouragement with others who believe the way you do.
You’re part of a support system. I’m a pastor, and if I had one bit of advice to give people who are facing chronic challenges—single moms, for example—I’d tell them to get connected with a church. Go every week. Get there a bit early (that’s when you’ll meet the “core saints”), and linger afterward. Enroll your kids in Bible classes. Get to know people, and let them get to know you. Gradually, you’ll become part of a group of people who will have your back.
You’ll thrive under the mentoring of others. Everybody’s human, right? Nobody’s perfect. But in a church, you’ll find some people who handle discouragement, conflict, and crisis better than you might. I’ve actually made it a practice to keep an eye out for people who are delightfully diplomatic, so I can copy their behavior and make it my own. Others know how to listen well, and that’s a valuable art to learn. Still others are experts at cheerful, kind confrontation, and I try to remember the ways they defuse tensions without starting fights or getting steamrolled.
You’ll learn stories of others’ spiritual journeys. For an absolute heart lift, you can’t beat hearing someone share the true, humble story of his or her conversion. When I conduct baptisms in my church, I always ask those who will be baptized to be prepared to tell the story of how the Lord brought them to this day. It’s always the highlight of the morning.
You’ll gain a better picture of god. Let’s face it, good or bad, we get our first view of what God is like from our parents. If Dad is a tyrant, God will seem like a tyrant. If Dad is absent, God will seem absent. But when you get to know other people at church whose life stories give us better views of God, you’ll gradually learn to relax into His love.
You’ll get a chance to use your talents to serve. Are you good with kids? As a Bible class teacher, you’ll change the lives of many youngsters as they learn about Jesus from someone who likes them. Are you good with numbers? Eventually, after several years of showing people you’re trustworthy, you might end up as a church treasurer. Are you good at yard work? The church campus will blossom (literally) under your ministrations. Do you sing or play the piano? Guess what: You’re needed!
Do you like to help people? Any congregation could begin a free-clothing ministry, starting small at first. Like to cook? You might end up organizing potluck teams if you’re also a leader. Do you love to pray? Join the prayer team, and eventually, take a turn at leading. Let me share with you a staggeringly powerful secret: using your talents to serve people will make going to church a joy.
Your Savior, the Nazareth Woodworker, was a server and servant. Let’s listen as He reads more of the passage from Isaiah “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19).
Jesus went to church—both to serve others and to let them serve Him. And He invites you to join Him and the others He has gathered there!
Maylan Schurch is pastor of the Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bellevue, Washington. He is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.