The key to telling others about Christ is not having every intellectual argument nailed down – although you need to have answers (1 Pet. 3:15) The key is your own wonder and amazement over who Jesus is.
The Setting: The Jewish Synagogue at Capernaum
Jesus is found in two places today: the town of Capernaum and the Jewish Synagogue.
Capernaum is located on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee and is frequently where we find Jesus in the Gospels. It was the place He went to after performing His first miracle: turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana (Jn 2:1-12). There was also a prominent government official in Capernaum whose sick son was healed by Jesus (Jn. 4:46). Capernaum had the privilege, Jesus said, of being the location of many of His miracles. Unfortunately, Capernaum does not have a good future. This was a town that on the whole rejected Jesus. To understand their stubbornness and their peril listen to what Jesus said about their town in Matthew 11:23-24 “….”
Application: Tell people the Gospel message regardless of whether you think they will believe it or not. Our obedience to tell is not contingent on our certainty of “it working”. Jesus knew Capernaum would reject Him beforehand. But, He went. Who are we to not go?
The other aspect of this setting is a place we see so often in the Gospels: the Jewish Synagogue. Paul, also, later on would actively attend synagogue’s in his own apostolic ministry.
What is a synagogue? The word synagogue means “assembly of people” or “a place of prayer”. The development of synagogues in each town arose after the Babylonian exile. Now, a synagogue was not where the Jews gathered for full-fledged worship – that was Jerusalem. But as most Jews lived outside of Jerusalem throughout Israel and the Gentile nations, the synagogue became the weekly place of religious activity. The synagogue did not carry out sacrifices and it was not where the priests carried out their priestly duties. Instead, Synagogues were primarily places of instruction in the Scriptures. Every Sabbath passages from the Torah (the Law of Moses, the first 5 books of the Bible) and the Prophets were publicly read and explained.
Now, here was my question this week, and, I’m surprised I never considered it before: “How was Jesus even allowed to teach in the synagogue?” We see Him all throughout the Gospels teaching and preaching in the synagogues. Matthew 4:23 says “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues…” Again in Matthew 13:54, “Coming to his hometown he began teaching the people in their synagogue…” Mark 6:2, “When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue…” Luke 4:44 tells us, “And He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea”
How did He get in the pulpit? Well, this is where understanding the order of service in a synagogue sheds a little light on things. Similar elements are found in our worship services today as in the synagogues: public reading of the word of God, praying, teaching and instruction. However, whereas we are accustomed to one man, the pastor, responsible for expounding a message from the Bible, in a 1st century synagogue any competent man could give instruction on the Scriptures that were read. It is actually similar to the early church assemblies where Paul told the Corinthians to do things in an orderly way and let 2 – 3 men speak and in turn – not chaotically at the same time. There was not “one” man.
So when Jesus walked into a synagogue, He could read a portion from the Law or the Prophets and then give a teaching, as we see He did.
The Power of Jesus’ Preaching
Jesus distinguished Himself in many ways, not the least of which was His preaching. Verses 21-22, “….”
Now, again I emphasize that Jesus came to preach, not to put on a show of miracles. He said it Himself in verse 38, “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Our passage tells us several things about Jesus’ preaching and teaching career. We already looked a couple weeks ago about the message of the kingdom and the need for repentance and believing. Here, however, we see two (2) new features of His teaching: He was amazing and He was authoritative.
Jesus’ teachings are amazing. “The people were amazed at His teaching” (v22). Verse 27, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other ‘What is this? A new teaching…”
According to verse 28 the amazement of the people is what led the people to spread the news about Him. Did you catch that? Because they were amazed at Jesus they told others about Jesus.
Application: The fuel for evangelism is amazement. If we lose our amazement for Jesus our desire to tell others about Him will die off. The key to telling others about Christ is not having every intellectual argument nailed down. The key is your own wonder and amazement over who Jesus is.
How does a person recover their amazement? Simple, by returning to the very thing that caused the amazement in the first place: His words. Never forget that it was the words of Jesus that blew people away and made them marvel. That’s what we are seeing in our text – and all throughout the Gospels. If you find yourself becoming casual or apathetic towards Jesus, I would say its because you’re allowing more and more distance between you and His words. Get back into the Gospels and be amazed.
Now, how could we not be amazed? Jesus is the “Word” of God in the flesh! He is the God that said “let their be light” and light began. In other words, when God speaks things happen. Which is the second thing about Jesus’ preaching: it was authoritative. The people picked up on this all the time. It peculiar what they say in verse 22, “he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” What does that mean?
Well, Jesus distinguished Himself from everyone else they ever heard. He was unique in a superior way. In listening to Him they knew they were listening to someone more excellent than the whole pack of teachers of the law. Wuest says here, “The rabbis quoted from other rabbis and felt themselves to be expounders of tradition. The Messiah struck a new note here, and the people were quick to recognize it. They saw here was a Teacher who spoke on His own authority.”
The point here is that how Jesus taught and what He taught were so profoundly different than the rabbis and scribes. They relied on each other’s authority, they quoted each other, they explained what each other said, they kept expounding the words of men. The force of their teachings was found in quoting other men as authorities on their subjects.
But Jesus did not quote rabbis. Jesus did not explain the teachings of men. He spoke while considering Himself the authority of His own words. Don’t miss that, because in doing that Jesus was acting the way God would act if God were speaking. Who would God quote but Himself?! When God speaks He doesn’t quote men to make His point. When God speaks He doesn’t need to add the pithy or insightful words of any man to somehow add weight to what He is saying. God is God and when He speaks there is the ultimate authority in what He says because He is God.
So here is Jesus speaking with authority because Jesus has authority. In a sense it is a delegated authority too, for He came as a servant of God. He came to speak the words of His Father, not His own words. Again, this is profound and contributes to the amazement of the crowds because He spoke as someone who spoke directly from God. Like a prophet. Captial “P”.
Application: Do you acknowledge the authority of Jesus over your life? Before you say yes, think. Don’t think that your spouse or so and so in church needs to be listening right now. Look in the mirror. What commands do you ignore of His? What teachings do you downplay or neglect? How do you assert your own views or your own moral ideas and overlook what Jesus said? Christians do this all the time, don’t think I’m talking about unbelievers. We often want to believe that Jesus intended following Him to be as comfortable as possible, but, its not. Anything in us that wants to assert self, that wants to rationalize disobedience, that wants to make Jesus in our image, Jesus will come against it en force. One of the greatest dangers is to live on our own terms and get better with each day at justifying it, convincing ourselves more and more with every passing day that Jesus is consistent with the ideas we’re beholden to. But, faithful, fruitful disciples of Jesus are everyday abdicating themselves, humbly, so Christ wins in them everyday. The more submitted to Jesus you are, the more useful you are. The more self-asserting you are the less use you are to Him.