January 27, 2019
This story for today takes place twenty or so years after the one Mr. Harold had us look at last week. That was the story of Jesus as a boy in the Temple in Jerusalem. Here, we have the story of what happened years later, when Jesus first went into the local synagogue and spoke.
This was the beginning of his earthly ministry, and Jesus and his disciples were in the city of Capernaum. If you look at your Bible maps, you’ll find Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. And as I’ve said before, some scholars believe that Capernaum became an “adopted home town” for Jesus. At the very least it was a sort of “base of operations” during his ministry. He we there often, and I’m sure he was very well known there.
Now, don’t confuse this with a similar story we find in Luke’s Gospel. Luke tells u of the time Jesus first spoke in his actual home town, in the synagogue in Nazareth. That story came later. This one came first. And actually, Luke tells us about it
In Luke 4, we find the story of Jesus in the wilderness in his time of temptation. But then Luke says, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” (Luke 4:14-15) Well, the synagogue in Capernaum was one of those synagogues he taught in.”
After that, Luke tells us that he came to Nazareth. And he gives us that account. And you may remember that things didn’t go so well there! Oh, they liked him at first. “Home town boy does good” and all! But after a while they were ready to throw him off of a cliff!
Well, there is a common theme in both of these stories. And it is our theme for today. In both Gospel stories, the big, noticeable characteristic of Jesus, the thing that struck people the most, was that he taught them as “one who had ‘Authority.’” Not like the teachers they were used to. And, in both Gospels, the statement about his “teaching with authority,” is followed shortly thereafter by a demonstration of that authority. The people saw him do miraculous things! Here in Mark, he heals this man with an “unclean spirit.” And look at the people’s reaction! They said, “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” There’s that word again. “Authority!” Immediately, they recognized that Jesus commanded “authority” over the spiritual realm!
When I was in seminary, I had the privilege of studying the Bible under Dr. Bruce Metzger. Dr. Metzger was “elderly” at that time. And he has since gone to his “reward.” But in those days, we used to say he knew the most about the Bible because he was there when it was written!
Actually there is a little truth to that. Because Dr. Metzger was one of the original editors of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible – the RSV, which, you may know, is my favorite version. His name is on the page where you see all the copyright information. I’m not sure, but it may be in your pew Bible. (That might be a later version.) Well, one of the reasons the RSV is my favorite is because I was raised with it, and it’s “familiar” to me. But it’s also my favorite because of the ties I have to it through Dr. Metzger.
Well, the reason I tell you all that is that I believe Dr. Metzger to be one who could “speak with authority” about the Bible. And I imagine there was some feeling of that when Jesus spoke to the people in Capernaum. Mind you, I’m not casting Dr. Metzger in the role of Jesus! He would “turn over in his grave” if I did. Because he taught not just from authority, but also with great humility! He was an amazing guy!
But in the case of Jesus, it was even more than that! His was not just an “authority” as in a “great knowledge or understanding.” It was an authority in the sense that he had power. He had command. When he taught the people, they knew what he said to be true because of that kind of “power” and “authority.” He knew what he was saying because he “was there when it was written!”
That’s what struck these people that day! And I’m sure it was puzzling for them. They said, “Who is this?” Because, yes, he was an “itinerant preacher” as some have described him. He was a “rabbi” with no formal training we’re aware of. He was a rabbi who had chosen fishermen to be his disciples. He was a rabbi who would soon be looked on with disrespect by the other religious leaders of the day.
It makes me wonder how I would react if someone with no formal training came through town and began preaching and teaching – especially if he preached things I might question. Would I be gracious? What if I were one of those leaders when Jesus first came on the scene, “preaching with authority?” What would I have done?
That’s what happened here. And in the end, it was the way he spoke with authority that stood out to the people. And that is what has come down to us through the ages, through the Gospel stories.
So, what does this all mean to us? Dr. Metzger used to tell us, “Get to the application of the passage.” “How do we apply what we’ve learned to our everyday living?” Well for one thing, this helps reinforce something I said a few weeks ago, and something I think we all need to be reminded of, often – including me! That is, that Jesus is who he said he is, and that we have made the right choice in following him! We have “backed the right horse,” as the old expression goes.
Because we have doubts, don’t we? And we live in a world where there are many who would try to lessen the “authority” of Jesus. There are many in our world would question his deity. They would diminish the importance of his atonement. They would say that’s “nice.” And it’s fine for his followers. But there are other “spiritual paths” that we could follow. And I don’t mean to debate those things this morning. And I certainly don’t want to say I have all the answers as to how God works, or how he deals with all the people of the world. But such challenges to Jesus do cause us to question, don’t they? They do make us wonder. Have we “backed the right horse?” “Who is this man?”
Let this story be yet another assurance of who Jesus is. Let that be the “practical application” to our lives. Let it be yet another reminder to you that Jesus is indeed who he says he is! He is our hope! Through him, we are redeemed! We can know, from the Gospel story, that Jesus is “The only begotten Son from the Father. His deity is sure! His atonement is sure! We have made the right choice in following him!!
In our times of doubt – and we all have them! – we need to rely on the great promises of God! Our ability to believe those promises can be shaky at times, can’t it? And yes, our faith is partially based on our experiences of trusting God. And that’s the part we’re a little unsure of. But our faith is also based on our knowing and remembering God’s promises to us – promises we learn from his Word. And we need to remember, we need to be reminded constantly, that his promises are sure! So, like the man who came to Jesus, sometimes our best prayer can be, “Lord, I believe. Help thou, my unbelief!”
Like the people of Capernaum, we might find ourselves asking “Who is this? “What is this teaching? With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” The answer, we need to hear, again and again, comes from God himself. We heard the words the people heard at Jesus’ baptism. “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased!”
Eternal God, we believe. But help thou our unbelief! Help us to know once again that Jesus is who he said he is. Help us to know we are his followers. Help us to know forth in the world, confident in your promises to us through him. For we pray in his name, Amen.