“They went into Capernaum, and right away he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to teach. They were astonished at his teaching because he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not like the scribes.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I’ve had the chance to sit at the feet of some pretty remarkable teachers over the years. From seminary to the various conferences I’ve had the chance to attend, I have gotten to learn from published authors, nationally recognized speakers, and world-renowned experts on a variety of topics. These men and women were all brilliant and absolutely deserving of the acclaim they received. Without exception, though, when they spoke, experts though they were, when they taught, they consistently made reference to other experts to back up what they were saying. That’s just how people teach. It’s how they have always taught. When you say something that you really want people to believe, you find some other widely recognized authority on the matter and cite their work for support. Anyone who doesn’t do this kind of thing is either incredibly arrogant, a genius of the first order, or Jesus.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading scientific journals before, but they all follow the same basic format. There’s an abstract telling you what the paper will be about, the paper itself, and then a laundry list of citations providing helpful support to the points made in the paper. In the whole history of academic publishing, this is how pretty much every paper has been approached. I know of only one exception.
In 1905, a young, Swiss physicist named Albert Einstein published a paper in the journal Annalen der Physik. It was titled, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies.” This paper would eventually change the world. It proposed what has become known as Theory of Relativity. What was so remarkable, even scandalous, about the paper at the time, was not first the ideas Einstein proposed, but the fact that the paper was published without a single reference. The ideas were all entirely original to Einstein. That, more than the ideas themselves, marked Einstein out as a genius head and shoulders above anyone else alive at the time.
When Jesus began His ministry, He started out by visiting local synagogues on the Sabbath, reading the Scriptures, and explaining them to the gathered crowds. This was not something unusual for the times. There were many itinerant rabbis and teachers of the Law in that day. They would go from place to place practicing their craft. Some were even recruited because of the prestige they had attained. Jesus had been doing this very thing for some time before this scene takes place. Luke mentions this kind of thing was His custom.
When He visited a new synagogue, most of the crowd expected to hear what they always heard. Some teachers were better than the others, but they were all basically the same. Just like teachers today. They read from the scroll of the Law and then began to interpret it by referring to what various other famous rabbis had said about it. The Scriptures say this. Rabbi X said this about it and I agree. Rabbi Y said this and I don’t agree. That’s how things went Sabbath after Sabbath after Sabbath.
And then Jesus spoke.
Jesus was different. Mark doesn’t give details of the difference here except to say that He spoke with an authority that the other teachers of the Law simply didn’t have. It was teaching in a way no one had ever heard before. Jesus’ approach was to say, “The Scriptures say this, I say this,” and then sit down. He didn’t cite anyone else. His teaching didn’t depend on anyone else. He didn’t interpret the Law based on what other teachers had written about it. He interpreted the Law all on His own. Sometimes He would even change up the formula: You’ve heard the Scriptures say this, but I say that. This kind of thing blew the minds of His audience and eventually got Him in hot water with the other leading religious authorities of the day. This trouble was not so much because the things He was saying were wrong as it was such a jarring departure from how things were done.
But the fact is, Jesus spoke with such authority, because He had such authority. He didn’t need to cite anyone else’s thoughts on the Scriptures because He was the one who inspired them. When Jesus was speaking to them about the Scriptures, they weren’t hearing from an interpreter, they were hearing directly from the Author.
So, what’s this mean for us? Well, Jesus hasn’t changed. He still has this kind of authority. In fact, post-resurrection, He has even more. His is the name at which one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess His lordship. What this means for us is that we can trust Him. We can take His word for granted. It is simply fact. What He says goes. Not only is it true, but it is also right. That means we should not only listen to Him, we should actively seek to do what He says. His are the words that will lead us to life. I wonder: Have you engaged with His words yet today? Take some time and do it. It’ll be worth your while.