I’m not sure if you remember where you were a year ago today, but I do I was in Israel. To be specific I spent this day in Jericho, touring the ruins of Qumran where they discovered the Dead Sea scrolls
and standing in the rain on the Mount of Olives.
|Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives|
My morning began this way.
|Riding a camel on the way to Jericho.|
All week I’ve been thinking back to the amazing trip that all of you made possible and I just want to say once again – Thank You. On our first full day in Israel we traveled around the Sea of Galilee
|Sea of Galilee from Tiberius|
and actually stood in the place where today’s gospel reading took place.
This was the synagogue in Capernaum
|Synagogue in Capernaum|
and the actual stones that Jesus could have touched, walked or sat upon are the dark stones at the base of the wall.
Because it was one of the few areas where we saw the actual foundation of walls and homes that were there in the first century – this place had a very special meaning.
Capernaum was Jesus adopted home town. While he grew up in Nazareth, which is in the hill country outside the region of Galilee, as an adult Jesus chose to settle in Capernaum and so after he called some fisherman to follow him, this was the place Jesus began his ministry and what we heard today was the first official act of Jesus in ministry found in Mark’s gospel. The first official act of any person who enters into a new position or begins a new job is important. When a new congress is seated everyone looks to see what legislation they will take on first. When a new governor is sworn in everyone looks to see what their first act is going to be. When a new boss takes over at work everyone looks to see what tone they will set on their first day and this story of Jesus in the synagogue sets the stage for Jesus ministry and it teaches us what is important to Jesus and therefore what should be important for us.
After hearing the story read this morning, we might think the first act of Jesus was to cast out the demons from the man in the synagogue and so what is important to Jesus is the power of God working to overcome evil, injustice and all that is wrong in our world. We might think what is most important to Jesus is the power of God to set people free from demons or bring healing and wholeness to our lives. While those things lie at the heart of Jesus life, ministry and mission – they were not the very first thing Jesus did. So let’s go back to Mark 1:21.
So what is the very first thing Jesus did on his first day of ministry? That’s right, he taught. Jesus stood up in the synagogue as a guest teacher and began to teach people the word of God. Jesus would have used a reading from the Old Testament and after he read from the scrolls he would have taught the people what those words meant, what it meant for them and maybe how to live it out in their world and in their own lives. Jesus would have taught the people how to take the teaching of God and make it personal and apply it to how they treated their husbands and wives, parents and children. Jesus taught them how to live out God’s word at home and at work and how to use it to make Capernaum and the world a better place. The very first thing Jesus did was teach and it was his teaching that captured people’s attention not his miracles. Look at Mark 1:22.
So the people noticed that Jesus taught differently than the other religious leaders. The other teachers would only quote the religious leaders who came before them. They would lift up the law and then what all the teachers before them had said about the law. There was no personal reflection, no personal take on the word and no personal application of the word beyond what the officials of the day had said, but Jesus was different. Jesus taught as if the word was His – which it was – and He taught them with the authority of how to live it out in their lives. This was new for the people; it was different and refreshing and it showed them that Jesus not only knew the word of God but the real meaning and intent of God’s word.
So Jesus spoke to the hearts and lives of the people and they were amazed, but they weren’t the only ones who were amazed, the demons were as well. Look at Mark 1:23. The demons also heard something in the teaching of Jesus, but they weren’t amazed as much as they were terrified. The demons recognized the power of God and they knew that they were in trouble.
As I read this passage I wondered how often this demon possessed man might have been in the synagogue but neither he nor the demons ever cried out because what they heard never challenged them. Had they sat on the steps or leaned against the wall and listened to all the other teachers but realized their words were empty and hollow so they could just be ignored? We don’t know, but we do know that this day what they heard struck fear into their hearts because they recognize that Jesus teaching was from God and that teaching had the power to destroy them.
What happens next is important for us to think about because when Jesus actually drives out the spirit He takes his teaching from the abstract to the concrete. Instead of using words to teach people about God’s power and love, He used action. You could say this was a teachable moment. Let’s think about this scene. Jesus has just read part of God’s word, maybe he read the passage from Isaiah 61:1 which says in part, God binds up the broken hearted and sets the captives free. Jesus would then have talked about how God’s power can help us overcome all the obstacles of life and how God’s grace and love can really help us in a time of need, and then the spirits cry out. Jesus now goes from talking about how God’s power can help to using God’s power to help. Jesus is not just telling people that God can set them free he is showing them. The power of God to set captives free is not just words and a nice message, it is action. The love of God which binds up the broken hearted is not just words, it is action. The teaching of Jesus not only has authority to speak to our hearts and lives and encourage or inspire us it has the authority to change us.
So the first official act of Jesus in ministry wasn’t to heal a man or drive out spirits, it was to teach and it was His teaching that amazed people because it was personal and powerful. Jesus didn’t just speak God’s word and help people understand it, he made the word come alive in their hearts and lives. Teaching was the first priority for Jesus because the word of God has power. Jesus not only made it a priority the first of his ministry, He made it a priority on the second day as well.
The news of Jesus teaching and power quickly spread throughout the region so that by the end of the day all those who were sick and demon possessed showed up at the home of Peter where Jesus was staying. During the night Jesus was faced with a choice of what his ministry was going to look like. Was he going to spend all his time healing people and driving out demons or did God have another priority for him? Look at Mark 1:35-37.
The disciples and crowds were looking for Jesus because they wanted him to do more miracles, but Jesus once again sets down first things first. Look at Mark 1:38. Jesus’ first order of business was to preach and teach because He understood that the power for us to change and become free and whole comes from the word of God. Jesus knew that at some point in time he would not physically be present in this world as a man, but his word would remain here forever and it was going to be this word, God’s word, that would have the power to change people, so Jesus’ first priority was to share this good news.
That the teaching of Jesus is this important is made clear to us by a promise Jesus made near the end of his life. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come and help us remember all that he said, John 14:26. And part of the mission Jesus gave to the church was to teach people what He taught us because he knew that this teaching had the power of God. Look at Matthew 28:19-20. So the priority for Jesus was teaching which means that the priority in our lives needs to be learning what Jesus taught because that teaching still holds power to amaze us, speak to us and change our lives.
I’ve shared before that my faith came alive when I joined a Bible Study in college. It was actually reading the gospel of Mark with some friends when the teaching of Jesus spoke to me in a new way. God’s word started to speak to me personally and I found myself trying to figure out how to live the way that Jesus lived and apply the truth of his words to my life. It was learning God’s word that changed my life and the good news is that God’s word still speaks to me and at times it still amazes me and it can still change my life. Last year our Men’s Bible Study was reading the gospel of Matthew and as we went through a section of the book new insights jumped out each week. The teaching of Jesus once again amazed me and it was something that we all could share.
Today I want to invite you to put first things first and allow the teaching of Jesus to become a priority in your life. We all need to read the teaching of Jesus and I want to invite everyone to read through the gospel of Mark from now until Easter. It only involves reading 2 chapters each week which means we are going to go slow because I want to honor the breathing room I know we are all trying to create in our lives. If you take this on I not only want you to read slow but I want to encourage you to find new ways to hear the teaching of Jesus.
Read out loud. I know it seems kind of silly at first, but when we read out loud we read slower, we hear the words differently and maybe we hear a message we didn’t see before.
Read in a different translation. You can go to the internet to find dozens of different translations and we have several around the church that you could borrow.
Take notes or keep a journal. Each week challenge yourself to find something that you didn’t know before or never noticed before and write it down. Find one or two things you can apply to your life.
Read together. Maybe you can read as a couple or family, maybe use your child or teen’s Bible a week or two. If you are part of a small group or ongoing Bible study take a few minutes each week to share what you have learned. Take time to learn from one another and share insights with one another. This is what the people did when they heard Jesus in Capernaum – they told one another how much they were amazed at his teaching.
And let me share this as well, if you are not part of a Sunday School class, Bible Study or small group, we would invite you to think about joining one. We hope to start some new small groups in a few weeks that will run through Easter and what those groups are going to study is the teaching of Jesus on prayer. Here’s a great way to not only grow in our prayer lives but in our understanding of God’s word.
Small Groups are great places to learn and grow.
If we are willing to make the teaching a priority in our lives then we will begin to see the power of God coming through that teaching to help us, heal us and fill us with hope. That’s why Jesus put this first, because He knew that the word of God could help people and heal people and give them hope. Jesus knew the power to change our lives and families and our world comes from the word and truth of God. We just need to put first things first.
First Things First
Commit to reading the gospel of Mark from now until Easter.
Gospel of Mark Reading Plan:
Week 1 (2/1-2/7) Chapters 1 & 2
Week 2 (2/8-2/14) Chapters 3 & 4
Week 3 (2/15-2/21) Chapters 5 & 6
Week 4 (2/22- 2/28) Chapters 7 & 8
Week 5 (3/1-3/7) Chapters 9 & 10
Week 6 (3/8-3/14) Chapters 11 & 12
Week 7 (3/15-3/21) Chapters 13 & 14
Week 8 (3/22-3/28) Chapters 15 & 16
To hear the authority and power in Jesus’ teaching:
• Read slow
• Re-read passages
• Read out loud
• Read in different versions of the Bible
• Take notes on what you find important
• Find one way to apply what you learn
• Memorize a verse or phrase
• Share your insights with others
Join a small group that will study the teaching of Jesus on prayer. Small Groups will meet during Lent, Feb. 22 – April 5. Contact Cassie Marsh-Caldwell for more small group information. firstname.lastname@example.org