Teaching with Authority

Themes: Mark

Chris Topping


Teachers have been in the forefront of our thoughts over the last weeks and months haven’t they?

I suspect we will all know someone whose job it is to teach in some form or other. Kathryn and I come from families which have loads of teachers – we decided to break the mould! But then I have spent a long time teaching in my role as a Reader here at church and for many years trying to coach boys and girls in the noble game of cricket and for a short time Kathryn taught at Liverpool Poly as it was then.

Of course now almost every parent in the country with school aged children is learning what it is like to have to impart learning to more or less willing students.

As I read our reading for today it got me to thinking – what do we learn from teachers?

Was I a good at teaching cricket? Am I good at this teaching thing in church?

Now thankfully you are all on mute and therefore the last questions don’t get answered!

A Good Teacher

I had a number of teachers who seemed to make it their mission in life to make everyone miserable! The Chemistry and Geography teachers were particularly vindictive in their treatment of those who didn’t understand their subjects – me!

On the other hand my History teacher, Mr Collier, was a force of nature and a bit like the English teacher in the movie Dead Poet’s Society, totally inspirational. He was excited to teach his pupils about the things that had gone on in the Russian Revolution, the aftermath of World War I, the English Civil War. He taught me history for all but one of my years at secondary school and it was partly his wisdom and guidance that resulted in me being able to become a lawyer.

He taught with a passion that some of the other teachers never had. He was also as mad as a hatter – one time he decided that we should have a battle with paper pellets and we had to use our rulers to fire them at each other on opposite sides of the classroom in some kind of battle re-enaction. He was inspirational because he didn’t just talk at us but brought the lessons to life in a way that now, some 40 years on, I can still picture in my mind’s eye.

Jesus the Teacher

We are of course very familiar with the idea of Jesus as a teacher – much of the Gospel writers’ time is spent telling us what Jesus taught. We have lots of the teaching from which we can then seek to apply in our own lives.

This reading this morning is a bit different though. I don’t know what you were thinking as Pam was reading to us?

I wasn’t really sure what to preach about – as you may realise as you listen to me! However then it occurred to me that in this readings what is important is perhaps what is not said. This story seems to be designed to make us think and to be inquisitive.

Sometimes when I read the Bible I can end up treating it like a dry and dusty textbook and, perhaps unlike when we read a novel, I don’t necessarily conjour up a picture of what was happening. I suspect sometimes that is why we can find the Bible a bit dull.

Let’s think about this passage and for a minute or two use our imagination.

Let’s imagine that we could go back to the town of Capernaum in AD 30 or thereabouts to find out what was happening.

As we do perhaps we can learn together why the Gospel writer included this story and what they wanted us to learn from this account of Jesus’ teaching.

The passage throws up lots of questions :-

1. Who Was There?

The writer of the Gospel doesn’t tell us who was in the synagogue that sabbath.

The usual suspects would have been present. There would have been the stuffy old blokes who were the leaders – the Scribes, the Pharisees and the Saducees.

I suspect that there would be lots of men – and there would have been women and children but in a separate part of the synagogue.

It would have been a central meeting point for the people of the town. We are at the heart of the community where people would have gathered for worship on the Sabbath – a complete day off under Jewish law.

I get the impression that most if not all of the town would be there.

2. How did Jesus Get to Teach?

How was it that Jesus who wasn’t from Capernaum suddenly gets to teach? It sounds from the reading as though He just turned up.

Can you imagine if someone suddenly appeared in our Zoom church service one Sunday morning and said to Keith, Annette, or myself –

“You have the morning off I am going to preach”.

You might think that would be a good thing but it would be weird!

Apparently the president of the synagogue would arrange who would read and who would preach. Not sure if they really knew what they were in for and we don’t have any idea what the leaders thought about the sermon that day!

3. What did Jesus Say?

We don’t even know what Jesus said and yet the listeners were astounded by what was taught. Here was a teacher with authority. This rather suggests that the other teachers who they were used to hearing didn’t speak with authority.

Mark tells us

“He taught them as one with authority, and not as the scribes”

We are told elsewhere in the Gospels of other times when Jesus preached in synagogues in Nazareth, Galilee and Capernaum.

We don’t always get told what He said but we do know from Luke’s Gospel that on one occasion when He got the chance to preach in the synagogue at Nazareth – He took the book of Isaiah and referred that prophecy to Himself causing a right old stink so much so that as a result He ended up getting chased out of town!

But here we don’t know what the text was nor how many points He made whether He had an amusing story to start with or what His style was.

4. Was the heckler a regular?

Rather what seems to have happened in the midst of it all is an event that no one would forget.

In all this talk of preaching with authority I wonder if somehow we can miss the shocking impact of the interruption that happens here. A heckler.

I have been to hundreds of church services and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that the preacher got heckled! On one memorable occasion in our old church hall that was behind 1 Linnet Lane a member of the congregation disagreed so much with what the vicar was preaching that he told him so – it was great to watch but I was very glad I wasn’t the one preaching!

If we had been in Capernaum that Sabbath what would you have thought when this bloke started to shout?

Was he a regular visitor to the synagogue? Was he drunk? Did he regularly interrupt the preacher?


You see we don’t know the answer to lots of these questions but what is really remarkable to me is that no matter how eloquent Jesus’ words were in the synagogue the only thing we actually know for certain from that Sabbath visit to the synagogue is how Jesus dealt with the man with an unclean spirit.

We know that He treated that man with compassion, yes he is described as rebuking him but actually it is the spirits that are rebuked. He didn’t have him thrown out of the temple. He didn’t tell him to come back at the end of the service for prayer.

He met that man’s needs. He didn’t touch the man, He just spoke to the demons and told them to leave. What happened to the man afterwards is a complete unknown.

What is clear is that on that Sabbath morning in the synagogue in Capernaum the demon possessed man had an encounter with Jesus which would change his life for ever.

I don’t know about you but that seems to me to be a remarkable thing to have happened.

The authority with which Jesus preached was backed up by His actions.

Whatever Jesus’ message had been to the congregation that morning they would have gone to their homes knowing that they had been in the presence of God. They had witnessed first hand the power of God to change lives.


At one level our reading this morning appeared to be a bit of a dry and dusty story about one day Jesus preached at the synagogue in Capernaum. What lesson could we possibly take away from this today?

But actually in this account at the start of Jesus’ ministry Mark is laying down a marker – here is a different sort of preacher. A teacher who will inspire by preaching with authority and then by bringing the word to life.

Here in the person of Jesus is the living God, whose very words change lives.

We all know that great preachers can inspire us with their words but they have nothing on a real encounter with the living God.

As we leave our Zoom service later this morning my prayer is that like the demon possessed man we might, in our time together, have encountered the

living God because actually that will live much longer in our experience than mere words.

I suspect that a few weeks later the congregation in Capernaum might have forgotten what the passage was that Jesus preached from but I doubt they would have forgotten the life changing encounter they had been part of. It is the encounter with God that changes us and enables us to be part of the ongoing work of God to change the world around us.

Maybe that is why Mark uses this reading – a reminder that as we read scripture we need to be seeking the presence of God which turns the written word into a life changing experience.

When we come to our final prayer in a few minutes we are going to pray these word:

Creator God in a world beset by darkness and confusion, your love lights the way.
We have taken time today to come before you.
We come from the busyness of life, hectic homes and heavy burdens, and you give us hope.

My hope is that as we pray those words we will know them to be true and we, like the demon possessed man from our reading, will have met with the living God who transforms lives.