“A Teacher Like No Other”

(Mark 1:21-28 – Epiphany 4 – January 31, 2021)

Mark 1:21-28 – 21Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. 22And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God!” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. 27Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.

Dear Redeemed in the name of Jesus Christ:

When it comes to learning, there are times when we are drawn to listen to a certain teacher. Of course, it is nice to have a teacher with a dynamic personality who can hold our attention. But there is more to it than that. When we need to learn important lessons for life, we need more than personality. We want a teacher who can instruct with authority, one who knows the subject very well; and therefore, who can teach it clearly and correctly in a way we understand. In addition, we want a teacher who not only knows the subject by the book, but by experience; and therefore, who knows how the knowledge applies to real life – our life. In short, we want a teacher who can speak with authority and apply knowledge of the truth in a life-changing way.

We find these qualities and much more in Jesus. In our text it says those who listened to Him “were astonished at His teaching.” They had sat at the feet of many teachers who came with impressive personalities and knowledge. But Jesus was “A Teacher Like No Other.” As they witnessed, 1) He taught with divine authority, and 2) He backed it up with saving power.

1) He taught with divine authority

On this Sabbath day, Jesus and His disciples entered a synagogue in Capernaum. According to the custom, the rulers of the synagogue would invite a rabbi or a scribe to read and teach the Scripture lessons. Jesus was often invited to address congregations this way.

“And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (vs. 22). The scribes were teachers of the Law. Their particular interest was interpreting the Old Testament Law of God, and expounding on all the ways it should be kept. Did you want to know the exact second the Sabbath began, or how many steps you could take on that day without breaking God’s holy will? Did you want to know just how much tithes you owed the Lord, even down to a fraction of an ounce of spices? Did you want to know the exact method for carrying out ceremonial washings so as to present yourself clean before the Lord? The scribes knew their subject; all this and more they could tell you with impressive detail.

But for all their knowledge, their teaching was empty of divine authority. As Jesus pointed out, they replaced the Word of God with the teachings and traditions of men (Mark 7:6-9). They loved to cite respected rabbis, basing their interpretation of God’s will on the authority of this or that expert teacher. But even in this, they could not agree. No wonder the people could tell their teaching lacked authority – especially in contrast to the teaching of Christ.

Jesus did not cite human authority. He cited Scripture. He taught by divine authority. As the eternal Word of God (John 1:1), He Himself had given the Holy Scriptures through His prophets. He taught the Word of God, not only as one who knows the subject by the book, but by experience. He taught by direct knowledge as the eternal Son of God. What other teacher could say as Jesus said in John 8:26-28: He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him… as My Father taught Me, I speak these things”? Unlike the scribes, Jesus spoke with divine authority and certainty as perfect as His knowledge of the truth.

And as the people could tell, there was something else that was different. The teachers of the law may have been very respectable men who lived upright lives, setting an example for all. They may have had great personalities and powerful speaking skills to hold the interest of all. Yet week after week, the teachers of the Law sent their listeners home spiritually empty.

What was missing? The central message of Scripture – the Gospel, God’s good news of salvation for sinners in Christ. All Scripture proclaimed God’s plan of salvation in the coming Messiah, the Savior God promised from the beginning. The Son of God would be born of woman to defeat the work of Satan and redeem fallen mankind. He was coming as the Lamb of God, to win forgiveness for every sinner by His own sacrificial death. The Savior was coming to replace the curse of death with His gift of eternal life. This Gospel is the the thread that holds all God’s Word together in one salvation history. Without Christ at the center, all preaching is in vain. Be it ever so skillful and powerful in the ears of the world, it leaves sinners empty.

Many teachers today follow in the footsteps of the scribes. They may know the Bible inside and out, they may hold to it as the authoritative Word of God. Yet they teach as if it were nothing more than a book of rules for holy living – a list of do’s and don’ts to follow to get right with God. Don’t drink coffee or alcohol, don’t eat meat, don’t dance, etc. But here things you must do: you must worship on this day of the week, tithe this amount of your income, wear this clothing, recite these prayers, etc. They burden consciences with legalistic rules – teachings of men that go beyond what God’s Word commands or forbids. They may preach in the name of Jesus, but they make Him into a lawgiver, an example you must follow to stay right with God. They may be praised for dynamic personalities and speaking skills; but finally, what have they preached? Having said their Amen, they send poor sinners home focusing on their own efforts at sanctified living, trying to find assurance of God’s favor by what they do or do not do.

What happens with those who follow such teachers? Invariably they fall into one of two categories. On the one hand, they become spiritually proud before God, feeling they truly can earn His favor by obedience to laws, feeling they truly can become worthy of eternal life in heaven. Or on the other hand, they despair before God, seeing that they can never fulfill the law of God which demands perfection, and that they can never become worthy of eternal life.

How very different was the teaching of Jesus – a teacher like no other. To be sure, He preached the Law of God; for the Law is good, declaring God’s holy will for our lives. But that Law reveals our sin and inability to live up to the glory of God; it reveals how all people deserve the wages of sin which is death. Therefore as the Savior, Jesus’ central message was the Gospel, the gift of salvation and eternal life He had come to win for sinners (Romans 6:23).

Jesus was not above associating with sinners, those who brought shame upon themselves by their wayward lives. He said in Mark 2:17: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” To those who confessed themselves to be miserable sinners, Jesus preached the sweetest gospel – freely forgiving their sins, sending them home fully assured of God’s grace and favor. To those who mourned in the face of death, Jesus preached the comforting Gospel – assuring them of the eternal life He had come to win, and raising the dead. To those who were oppressed by the devil and his lies, Jesus preached the liberating Gospel – setting them free by His saving truth and power, bringing them into His Kingdom of Grace by faith.

Like those who sat at the feet of Jesus that day in Capernaum, let us never cease to be amazed at the teaching of Jesus – a teacher like no other. Not only did He teach with divine authority; He also backed it up with saving power.

2) He backed it up with saving power

Here, before their very eyes, Jesus demonstrated His saving power by casting out a demon. We read in verses 23-26: “Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, saying, ‘Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God!’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be quiet, and come out of him!’ And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him.”

When it comes to an account like this, many modern teachers would like to get around the authority of Scripture and Jesus’ miracles. They contend that there is no such thing as demon possession, but perhaps this man was affected by a condition like mental illness or epilepsy. But Jesus did not address a mere disease or condition; He spoke to a spirit being who possessed this man. If Jesus had not rightly understood what He was treating, and recognize the enemy, He could not be a good teacher nor a true Savior.

Satan and his demons recognized Jesus for who He was. Already before this, Jesus had faced Satan’s temptations in the wilderness (Mark 1:13; Matthew 4:1-11). And as the sinless Savior, standing in the place of every sinner, and fulfilling all righteousness for us, Jesus had conquered every temptation of the evil one. Therefore Satan and his demons knew Jesus was the Son of God, who had come to destroy their hold over mankind. Jesus was the promised offspring of the woman whom God promised from the beginning, who had come to crush Satan’s head and redeem fallen sinners from his kingdom, death, and judgment (Genesis 3:15). They knew the Gospel Jesus preached was not meant for them, but that His coming meant their judgment.

Therefore the evil spirit possessing this man trembled with fear in the presence of the Lord. It caused the man to cry out and say things he could not have understood on his own. Though the spirit identified Jesus as the Holy One of God, Jesus did not want the testimony of demons. His words and deeds would speak for themselves. By His Word and command, filled with divine authority and power, Jesus cast the demon out. The man was now free. Jesus sent him home in peace of heart and mind, knowing his Savior’s power and new life.

Jesus would have many more encounters with Satan and his demons, every time demonstrating His power as our Savior. As He would tell the people in Luke 11:20: “If I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus was casting out this world’s evil ruler (John 12:21), bringing His Kingdom and salvation to sinners. Satan’s final desperate attack against Jesus would come at the cross. There Jesus would conquer Satan’s power over fallen mankind. Jesus would suffer and die in our place to take away our sin; and by redeeming us from sin, He redeemed us from Satan’s dominion. Now devil, the accuser, can bring no charge against us; for it is God who justifies us in Christ (Romans 8:33). Jesus’ death and resurrection powerfully proves that He has won our forgiveness and favor with God; He has redeemed us for eternal life.

Now Jesus has set us free from Satan’s kingdom and brought us into His Kingdom of Grace. He brings His redemption to us today, giving us the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life. How does He bring all these blessings to us?

He does so as a teacher like no other. Jesus applies the knowledge of His saving truth to us in a truly life-changing way. He instructs us with divine authority in His Word. He speaks to our hearts in His Gospel, backed with saving power. By that Word, He works faith in our hearts and casts Satan out of our lives. He gives us true freedom as the children of God, to live in the peace of His forgiveness and the joy of His salvation. He enables us to confess eternal truths with certainty, as we do in the Catechism (2nd Article of the Apostles Creed):

“I believe that Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary; and that He is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His inno­cent suffering and death; in order that I might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness; even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.