Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents
21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
Mark 1:21-28 – NIV
In this passage we see Jesus in two roles that are essential to understanding him: teacher and exorcist. Certainly most people are comfortable with the image of Jesus as a teacher and this image influences a great deal of our conception of Christianity. We will discuss the idea of Jesus as exorcist in the next chapter.
Capernaum was a large and important city in Galilee, a headquarters of government and commerce and an international crossroads. Jesus’ choice of this city as his home base for his ministry in Galilee75 shows that he was not a “country” preacher or a recluse. There was a large synagogue in Capernaum and the remains of a later synagogue are still prominent for any visitor to view. Jesus lived in the time when synagogues were evolving from a secular and religious function as a “community center” to a more purely religious purpose.
Being invited to teach in a large synagogue in a prominent city was not something done without thought or significance. This is a clue that Jesus had already achieved considerable notoriety as a teacher and perhaps as a miracle worker. Jesus’ status as a teacher or rabbi is accepted even by his opponents, indicating that Jesus was well known in this regard. I am always intrigued by those aspects of the Gospels that we do not know about, for instance, how did a man from a tiny village with no formal education receive the respect and fame that Jesus did so quickly? It is an indication of what an extraordinary person Jesus really was from the outset.
This story introduces the teachers of the law or scribes who will be Jesus’ opponents throughout his ministry. These men were not copyists but scholars, experts in the traditions by which the Jews interpreted and lived out the Torah.76 As custodians of the interpretation of scripture, the scribes were fulfilling a good and serious function and we should never cast them in the role of “the bad guys.” Their passion was to construct an entire life built around the foundation of the law. In this they left no stone unturned and tried to leave no question unaddressed. Jesus does not oppose them for their function, but, as Matthew 23 stresses, for their misinterpretations and hypocrisies.
As scribes, these teachers based their interpretations on other interpretations of scripture. It was considered essential to place any practice on the clear statement of scripture and the proper tradition of interpretation.77 A modern day parallel to this would be the use of footnotes.
Before the age of computers I used a typewriter for assignments. My heart would always sink when a cruel and malicious teacher would say, “I want the footnotes at the bottom of the page.” In my experience you had to be Albert Einstein to be able to calculate how much space to leave at the bottom of the page for footnotes. I am not sure I was ever able to do that effectively.
But the point was that in the assignment the teacher wanted to know how you used other people’s material. So, every good research paper had footnotes that referenced the original source of the information in your report.
It was a very similar situation in the time of Jesus. It was considered inappropriate to stand up and proclaim, “This is what I say.” If you were a teacher you were expected to read the scripture and interpret it with other scripture. “As it says in Deuteronomy… as it says in the Law… as Moses said.” Alternatively you might quote Rabbi Hillel or Rabbi Gamaliel, or one of the other great Rabbis of the first century. If you taught in this fashion your listeners would nod in agreement.
To teach using an expression like “This is what I say” would have been shocking and rude. When you look at Mark and the other gospels you discover that Jesus did not use footnotes. Jesus taught as one having intrinsic authority. Matthew captures this in the Sermon on the Mount with his repeated use of “You have heard it said… but I say unto you.” :
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. – Matthew 5: 21-22, 27-28 (NIV)
That is the way Jesus taught. That is why Mark is able to say “The people were amazed at his teaching because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”
There are some places where our English language struggles to portray the reactions of people. Mark uses a word that is translated as “amazed” or “astonished”. I think an old descriptive term works best here: The people were flabbergasted! Here is an uneducated preacher, who has never studied with anybody, who has been working as a carpenter or stoneworker, and who has now taken upon himself the mantle of rabbi and teacher. Not only that but he has come into your synagogue proclaiming “This is what I say.”
This is why Jesus immediately was a controversial figure. The only way we can imagine the impact of this sort of teaching is if we picture what the reaction of Christians would be to someone who said: “Well, I know the Bible says such and such, but I say…” Yet, Jesus was able to make statements like this and “the people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority”.
However, Jesus did more than teach authoritatively, his actions demonstrated his authority as well. A demon possessed man suddenly arrives in the synagogue in Capernaum. I take scripture at face value that he was demon possessed, and we will discuss that aspect more in the next chapter.
While a lot of people didn’t know who Jesus was, the demons did, and they assumed that if Jesus Christ was in the world their time was up. Notice how demons react to Jesus: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” What did Jesus do? “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” Mark records that the “impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” Every time Jesus expels a demon he does it with a single command. Out.
The authority of Jesus. People heard Jesus speak with authority and they saw this authority as Jesus confronted the demonic realm. When you and I come face to face with Jesus Christ in our lives we need to understand something that the people of his time understood: This is no mere man. This is someone utterly and completely unique. This is someone who teaches with authority, like God himself. This is someone who confronts evil and it obeys him like God himself. As we will discuss in future chapters, this is someone who heals immediately, totally, and visibly because as Creator he exerts authority over his creation.
If we are followers of Jesus Christ, we are under his authority. That means we rejoice in the fact that evil has been banished, our sins are forgiven, and our life is totally under his protection. But it also means that in my life I can’t do as I choose and do as I please. To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to be a follower of the one who has absolute authority. I speak the way Jesus directs me to speak. He takes authority over my money and I say “Lord, how do I use my resources?” He takes authority over my time, and my relationships, and my decisions, so that I ask “Lord Jesus, what do you want?” The little formula, “What would Jesus do?” is pretty helpful. If we know the Jesus of scripture it allows us to ask, “What does the authority of Jesus Christ mean in this situation?”, and then act accordingly.
 Matthew 4:13 describes Jesus leaving Nazareth and dwelling in Capernaum.
 The Torah primarily refers to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, but can be understood more broadly to mean the religious teaching or instruction that is built around these five books.
 Among modern Christians, the role of tradition is well understood by the Catholic and Orthodox churches, but is generally denigrated by many Protestants. However Protestants should also recognize the role that tradition plays in our interpretation as we generally not only cite scripture, but our church statement of faith, favorite historical theologian, preacher or teacher as further authority for our beliefs.
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