Teachings Like No Other

| Mark 1: 21-22; 10:17-22

The Point:  Jesus teaches us how to live and calls us to follow Him.

Teaching with Authority: Mark 1:21-22.

[21]  And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. [22]  And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.  [ESV]

The Authority of Jesus. According to Matthew 4:13, Capernaum became Jesus’ residence after leaving Nazareth. We are not told why He moved there, although it may have been because Capernaum was the home of His first converts. Capernaum was propitiously situated for a ministry in Galilee. It lay adjacent to the Via Maris, the main trade route between the Mediterranean coastal plain and Damascus in the north. It was also as distant as one could be in Galilee from the major Hellenistic cities where Herod Antipas made his capital, so that Jesus was able, as least initially to avoid interference from political and religious leaders. Capernaum was located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee and had a harbor. It was a border town between the tetrarchies of Philip and Herod, and hence the site of a customs office. Most of its inhabitants were Jews, who labored as fishermen, farmers, artisans, merchants, and officials, including tax collectors. The already mixed population was augmented by a small Roman garrison. Relations between Jews and Gentiles were evidently cordial since, according to Luke 7:1-10, a Roman centurion not only built a synagogue for the Jews in Capernaum, but on one occasion even found them pleading his case before Jesus. The commercial advantages of a location on a major trade route surrounded by fertile lands and plentiful fishing destined Capernaum to an enviable degree of economic prosperity. According to custom, Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath and begins to teach. Unlike the temple in Jerusalem where animal sacrifice was practiced by priests, Jewish synagogues were assembly halls or auditoriums where the Torah was read and expounded. There was but one temple in Jerusalem, whereas synagogues could be found throughout the Mediterranean world wherever ten or more Jewish males, thirteen years of age or older, were present. The only official in charge of a synagogue was the ruler of the synagogue, a position that included the responsibilities of librarian, worship committee, custodian, and perhaps schoolteacher. The ruler of the synagogue did not preach or expound the Torah, however, which meant that Sabbath teaching and exposition fell to the laity, and on this occasion to Jesus. The teaching the congregation hears from Jesus is unlike anything it has heard before. Reactions of those in attendance range from astonishment to incredulity. What is this? A new teaching with authority! [1:27]. The only possible standard to which Jesus’ teaching might be compared is to that of the scribes. In the first century, before the advent of universal education and literacy, there was a great demand for scribes throughout the ancient world, and especially in Judaism where the written code of the Torah regulated Jewish life. The Hebrew word for scribes has to do with counting, reckoning, and keeping written documents, thus providing an initial understanding of the functions of a Jewish scribe. In postexilic Judaism the word scribe came to designate an expert in the Torah. By New Testament times, scribes were, first of all, experts in the Torah who were capable of issuing binding decisions on its interpretation. With the growth of the synagogue, scribes became, secondly, teachers of the Torah, whose reputation was honored by the title “rabbi”, meaning “my great one”. Finally, scribes were legal jurists in the broad sense of the term. Scribe thus combined the offices of Torah professor, teacher and moralist, and civil lawyer, in that order. Their erudition and prestige reached legendary proportions by the first century, surpassing on occasion that of the high priest. Only scribes (apart from the chief priests and members of the patrician families) could enter the Sanhedrin. Commoners deferred to scribes as they walked through the streets. The first seats in the synagogues were reserved for scribes, and people rose to their feet when they entered a room. Henceforth in Mark both synagogues and scribes will, for the most part, play oppositional roles to Jesus. The distance between Jesus and the synagogue is already hinted in verse 23 with the reference to their synagogue. Synagogues will appear another half-dozen times in Mark as places where demons are present [1:39], and where there is antagonism from religious leaders [3:1; 12:39], hardness of heart [6:2], and persecution [13:9]. Likewise, there is but one positive reference to a scribe in Mark [see 12:28-34]; the remaining eighteen references portray scribes as antagonists of Jesus and His mission. The general antagonism of synagogues and scribes thus foreshadows the coming rejection of Jesus from both temple and religious leaders in Jerusalem. The narrative effect of this is to reinforce the parable of 2:21-22, that the new wine of the gospel cannot be contained by the old wineskins of Judaism. Mark’s statement that Jesus taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes [22] is less a disparagement of the scribes than an acclamation of Jesus. The word that Mark uses of Jesus’ authority is a preeminent term in his presentation of Jesus. In Mark the Greek word for authority appears nine times, six with reference to Jesus [1:22,27; 2:10; 11:28,29,33] and three with reference to authority conferred by Jesus on the apostles [3:15; 6:7; 13:34]. Every instance of authority therefore reflects either directly or indirectly the authority of Jesus. Mark’s use of this defining term at the outset of Jesus’ public ministry established His authority over the highest authorities in both the temporal realm, as represented by the scribes, and the supernatural authorities, as represented by the demon in 1:23ff. The scribes derive their authority from the tradition of the elders [7:8-13]; whereas Jesus receives His authority directly from the Father in heaven [1:11]. The authority of the scribes is contingent on the authority of the Torah and hence a mediated authority; whereas Jesus appeals to an immediate and superior authority resident in Himself that He received at His baptism. The amazement of the synagogue gathering at the teaching of Jesus is not solely owing to the fact that in Jesus they have seen a greater teacher than in the scribes. Rather, Jesus’ teaching is qualitatively different, not as the teachers of the law. Mark notes the amazement of the congregation at Jesus’ teaching, but he does not recount the content of the teaching. The accent falls rather on Jesus the teacher. The word for teaching occurs in various forms thirty-five times in Mark, and in all but one Jesus is the subject. In the synagogue of Capernaum, the teaching indeed amazes the congregation, but because of the authority of the teacher, which is so unlike that of the scribes. In the Gospel of Mark the person of Jesus is more important than the subject of His teaching. If we want to know what the gospel or teaching of Jesus consists of, we are directed to its embodiment in Jesus the teacher.”  [Edwards, pp. 51-56].

Teaching about Eternal Life: Mark 10:17-22.

[17]  And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" [18]  And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. [19]  You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’" [20]  And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." [21]  And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." [22]  Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.  [ESV]

“Jesus had been speaking about receiving the kingdom of God as a little child. While His words were still clearly embedded in His disciples’ memories an incident occurred which vividly illustrated what He had taught them. A young man ran up to Him and asked him on bended knee what he needed to do in order to have eternal life. Luke’s Gospel underlines just how remarkable this was by telling us the man was a ruler (that is, in the local synagogue, Luke 18:18). Here, surely, was a wonderful opportunity for Jesus to establish a bridgehead into a whole community by making this respected young man one of His disciples! But Jesus never pursued slick and easy methods of evangelism. In fact, the disciples must have thought His initial response to this man was frankly disappointing! He began to discuss theology with him! With apparent respect, this young enquirer had addressed Jesus as Good Teacher [18]. Jesus’ curious reply was to ask him why he had called Him good since no one was good except God. Only as we follow through the conversation between them does Jesus’ response to the rich young man begin to make sense. He had asked Jesus about eternal life in God’s kingdom. Painstakingly, Jesus led him, and later His own disciples, through a series of lessons which were (and are) vital for all who would enter into eternal life. Jesus teaches that eternal life consists of the correct knowledge of God and the correct knowledge of ourselves. Later, in His great prayer in John 17, Jesus distilled the essence of eternal life. It is to know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent [John 17:3]. Eternal life means knowing the Father and the Son. It means knowing the Father through the Son, because the Son is equal with the Father and is the One who makes Him known [John 1:1-2,18]. When Jesus said, Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone [Mark 10:18], He was pressing home the question: “Do you really know God? Your words suggest that you see an intimate relationship between God and myself. Do you really see that?” Then Jesus turns to the importance of the correct knowledge of ourselves. This is the point of Jesus’ apparently casual reference to the law of Moses [19]. Already He had taken the measure of the man. That is probably why the commandments He refers to would test whether his understanding of the law was outward and merely formal, or inward and spiritual. Would the young man see that these commandments revealed sinful motives as well as sinful actions? Would he see that Jesus had said nothing about his relationship to the living God – that this question was only ‘for openers’? The young man revealed the sad superficiality of his self-understanding. He volunteered the information that he had kept these commandments from boyhood. He was like Paul before the full force of the law showed him the real nature of his heart. He thought he was alive, when in fact he was spiritually dead [Rom. 7:9]; as to righteousness under the law, blameless [Phil. 3:6]. But he was blind to what he was really like inside. So you think for a moment that this young man was a rogue. The reverse was the case. He was an earnest, sincere, religious, devoted young man. As far as he understood his own heart he had kept the commandments. In every human respect he was the kind of man most of us secretly admire, but fail to imitate. That was why Jesus looking at him, loved him [21]. But something was missing – one thing which amounted to everything. His life was still centered on himself rather than on the kingdom of God. With a surgeon-like cut, Jesus expertly, and unexpectedly, exposed the man’s need: You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me [21]. One sentence was enough to teach this young man the truth about himself that had been hidden all these years. He had outwardly kept the commandments; but there was a god in his life which he prized more than the knowledge of the true God: he had great possessions [22]. Sadly, with his heart deception now unveiled, he turned round and went back to the idol worship from which he had almost escaped. Only, now he knew the truth about himself. Here was a man who had great wealth, and was not willing to take the ‘risk’ of faith by leaving it for the sake of greater wealth. What was his mistake? He made his greatest ever decision on the basis of this life rather than on the basis of eternal life. If only he had remembered the story of Moses which must have been read to him so often from boyhood. Moses considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward [Heb. 11:26]. Moses calculated on the basis of eternal arithmetic. This young man relied on the inaccurate calculator he had always used: wealth. He stands as a perpetual monument to the fact that if we have everything, but have not Christ, we ultimately have nothing. The special tragedy of his life – as he made his way home sadly – was that now he knew it.”  [Ferguson, pp. 164-166].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Describe the teaching of the scribes. How was Jesus’ teaching different from the scribes? Contrast the teaching authority of Jesus with that of the scribes.

2.         Describe the rich young man. What motivated him to come to Jesus? What was his mistake? Why does Jesus respond to the man the way He does? (Note how Jesus focuses on the one thing the man lacks which prevents him from receiving eternal life).

3.         The rich ruler is not an isolated case of riches which bring spiritual poverty. The New Testament often sees addiction to wealth or possessions as a major spiritual stumbling block. See such passages as: Mark 4:19; Luke 6:24ff; 12:21; Col. 3:5; 1 Tim. 6:9-10; James 5:1-6. But what principle does Jesus give us in this passage to help avoid this snare?


The Gospel According to Mark, James Edwards, Eerdmans.

Let’s Study Mark, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

Mark, Robert Stein, BENT, Baker.