Friday, August 31, 2007

One Day in the Life of Christ

In 1962 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published his work One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The story is set in a Soviet labor camp during the 1950’s; a time when Stalin maniacally ruled the Soviet empire. All threats, real and imagined, were either killed or banished to the gulags; in many cases the two were synonymous. Solzhenitsyn’s book, published after Stalin’s death, chronicles one day in the life of prisoner # S-854 – Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. It is an amazing tale, made all the more interesting when one considers that Solzhenitsyn had experienced gulag life firsthand from 1945-1953.

The gospel writer Mark chronicles an even more remarkable day in the life of the most noteworthy man in history. Mark 1:21-34 provides a snapshot of a day in the life of Jesus Christ.

After dropping their nets and following the compelling Christ the four former fishermen are led into the nearby village of Capernaum. Simon and Andrew lived in this village, and it is most likely that James and John did as well. This town would become the home base of Christ’s earthly ministry. This amazing day in the life of Jesus happens to be the Sabbath, and the story begins with the regular Sabbath synagogue meeting. “And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the Sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.” (Mark 1:21)
What is a synagogue? For starters, the English word is a transliterated Greek word (sunagoge – synagōgē) which means “to gather together”. During the Babylonian exile the Jews began to gather together for prayer and religious instruction. This was the genesis of the Jewish synagogue. By the time of Christ synagogues could be found, not only in Palestine but in Gentile cities, if there were at least ten Jewish men who were heads of households (MacArthur Study Bible, (Word Publishing, 1997), 1663). The Jews typically attended synagogue every Sabbath, feast days, and on the second and fifth days of the week.

Even though the Temple had been rebuilt, the local synagogues were the focal points of Jewish religious and social life. They were the principal places of worship, study, community fellowship, and even legal activity. Usually the services consisted of prayers, singing, reading from and an exposition of the scriptures. (Which sounds a lot like Christian church services and that should be no surprise considering all the apostles and most of the early Christians had been raised in synagogue.)

Regularly the synagogue’s ruler would ask a visiting rabbi to expound a portion of scripture. Jesus and Paul would often take advantage of such opportunities to explain, prove, and proclaim the gospel from the Old Testament (cf. Acts 17:1-4). Most times they would eventually be run out of the synagogues, but not before some hearers had embraced the truth of scripture and been converted.On this particular Sabbath synagogue service the attendees would experience something they would never forget. Christ and His cadre entered the meeting, and Jesus taught. Never before had the people heard teaching such as this.

He entered into the synagogue, and taught. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes…And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? – Mark 1:21b-22 & 27a

Christ's Doctrinal Authority

Why were the people amazed and astonished at the teaching of Christ? This was not the first time someone had exposited the scriptures. These people had been attending synagogue from infancy. Why did Christ’s teaching leave them thunderstruck?

You can be sure that the congregation was not what amazed by His preaching “style”. Christ was no show man. The people were not astonished at His illustrations, alliterations, gesticulations, or PowerPoint presentations. Remember, the people were not entertained they were astounded. Certainly, there has never been a preacher, before or since, who was able to preach as truthfully, accurately, and passionately as did Jesus Christ. But the style of His teaching was not the amazing factor in the equation; it was the substance of His teaching that astonished the congregation.

The people were blown away at Christ’s doctrine and the authority with which He taught. “Taught” in the Greek is “didaskō”; it is a verb meaning “to teach; to impart instruction”. The English word “didactic” is developed from this word. Didactic teaching is instructive; designed to impart information. Didactic teaching – Christ’s teaching – content focused. Truth is absolute, and the absolute truth was proclaimed. This style was opposite of the popular Greek method which centered on the debate of various ideas and opinions. The Greeks loved philosophy. They loved to hear new ideas, and nothing was too outrageous; except for absolute truth claims.

Still, the question of why the people were astonished has not been completely answered. This was not the first lecture they had heard. They were used to this style of teaching. They were familiar with the text from which Christ preached; the Law and the Prophets. Why were they amazed?

They were astonished because Christ taught them “as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.” Kent Hughes describes it best when he says:
“The scribes, who were largely Pharisees, were in bondage to quotation marks – they loved to quote the authorities. “Rabbi Hillel says…But on the other hand Rabbi Gamaliel says…Then there is Rabbi Eleazer’s testimony…’ It was secondhand theology. Their labyrinthine, petty, legalistic distinctions were boring, with no spontaneity, no joy…When Jesus spoke it was just the opposite. He preached God’s Word, not about God’s Word. He explained the Law and the Prophets. He was clear and simple, as all great preachers of the Word have been (and are) (R. Kent Hughes, Jesus, Servant & Savior (Wheaton: Crossway, 1989), 40-41.)

Jesus made no reference to any authority other than Himself and the text. His preaching was not a list of rituals, rules, and regulations handed down from one rabbinical generation to the next. The synagogue attendees heard that being descendants of Abraham was no guarantee of the kingdom. They heard the gracious gospel message of repentance from sin and faith in Christ.
Christ never diverted onto economical, social, political, or personal issues. His teaching and preaching was entirely focused on expounding God’s Word and proclaiming God’s kingdom. Which is a pattern that all will follow if they desire to be a faithful herald of the gospel. All truth claims, all ideologies and philosophies must be measured by the Word of God.

This was not only an amazing blessing to the people who were present at the Capernaum synagogue that Sabbath; it was also the instructional building blocks for the four former fishermen who were now training to be fishers of men. They witnessed firsthand how Jesus passionately cared for the people to whom He preached. They witnessed how He accurately handled the Word of God from which He preached. They witnessed how He clearly communicated the truths from the text. In order to please God and serve Him we need not so much to possess the message, but rather to let the message possess us. If we want people to see that our faith is real and not simply talk or tradition we need to be passionate about it and speak the Word clearly. Then there will be genuine power, authority, and life. Everything else is just painted fire; it is manufactured instead of authentic.

Christ's Authority over Demons

Jesus’ words were amazing and so were His works. Jesus spoke the Word(s) of God and performed the work(s) of God because Jesus was (and is) God! The Creator has authority over the creation; even those aspects which are in rebellion. That was made evident when the greatest sermon ever preached in the Capernaum synagogue was interrupted by the shouts of a man possessed by an unclean spirit.

And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, Saying, Let [us] alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine [is] this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him. – Mark 1:23-27.

The presence and preaching of the Holy One of God was too much for this unclean spirit to endure. That is no surprise. Those who love darkness hate the light. Reading this passage reminds me of the character Gollum from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Under the sway of the One Ring Gollum had become so twisted and evil that he loathed the sunlight and hated even the moon light. Darkness was his domain.

Gollum is a fictional character, this person in the Capernaum synagogue was not. There were those then, and there are those now who love the darkness and recoil from the light. They do not all appear as ugly and grotesque as Gollum. In fact, they may even be disguised as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) but that is only a ruse, for light is what they despise; especially the Light of the word. Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

Isn’t it amazing that one can know who Jesus is and hate Him just the same?! The darkness hates the light. Righteousness and the light have no fellowship with unrighteousness and the darkness. They are not just opposites, they are in opposition (2 Corinthians 6:14). Satan and his evil horde have always and will always oppose Christ’s work. Their efforts are destructive but ultimately futile. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the grave has spoiled their evil endeavors. They have been publicly put to shame, and Christ has triumphed over them (Colossians 2:15).

This victory is a future reality and a present truth. The shrieks of the unclean spirit were silenced by Christ: “Be quiet and come out of him!” Unable to resist the authority of Jesus the demon violently departed with inarticulate cries, having been forbidden by Christ to speak.
The astounded congregation had never seen anything like this before. They whispered in awe to one another, “What new doctrine is this? What is this new teaching with authority that even the unclean spirits obey?” The sad part is that this was not “new doctrine” at all. This was timeless truth stripped of traditionalism and error.

Churches today (or of any day) must be places where truth is stripped of traditionalism and error; places that give evidence of Christ in their midst. Ritualistic, rationalistic, pragmatic, hypocritical Christians and churches have no impact on a lost and needy world and are no threat to the adversary. Tired preaching, exhausted clichés, and trendy methods or styles are powerless alternatives to the plain, authoritative, dynamite of God’s word clearly preached and obediently followed. Look at what resulted. This man who had been blinded by the god of this world, kept from seeing the light of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, was made whole and Jesus’ name was on the lips of every man, woman, and child in the region.

Christ's Authority over Disease

Christ’s authority is evident in His miraculous preaching and His marvelous power, which extended over demons and disease as well.

And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. But Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her. And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him. - Mark 1 :29-34

After leaving the most memorable synagogue service in Capernaum’s history, Jesus and His cadre walked to Peter’s home. Upon their arrival Jesus learns that Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever. We do not know how sick Peter’s mother-in-law was, but Luke describes the fever as “great” (Luke 4:38). The woman was incapacitated because of her condition and Jesus lovingly healed her.

The natural response of the heart that has been touched by Christ is to minister to others and for Him. That is what this woman displayed, for as soon as He healed her she “ministered unto them”.
Christ was not finished, however, for as the evening approached and the Sabbath ended people from Galilee and all the surrounding regions descended on Peter’s house in Capernaum. Jesus healed them all. (cf. Luke 4:38-41)

Christ’s amazing preaching and the astonishing healings demonstrated:

  • His authority - Isaiah 35:5-10; 61:1-3
  • His deity - John 14:11
  • His compassion

This was irrefutable evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, just as John the Baptist had declared. The writer of Hebrews stated: “[the gospel] which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witnesses, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will” (2:4)

The Lord has lost none of His potency. He still has that same power and authority to completely heal, and He does miraculously heal as He sovereignly chooses. This does not guarantee that all will be healed; not even those who are His. God is in control, and to that truth we must cling when the wheels fall off. These healing miracles that are recorded in the NT were temporary authenticating signs to Israel that her Messiah had come. The scriptures are now the full and final verification of God’s work and His coming kingdom.

This text is a snapshot of one unforgettable day in the life of Jesus Christ; a life in which all the days were remarkable. Displayed is the almighty, astonishing authority of Jesus Christ over doctrine, demons, and disease. Christ is sovereignly in control of all things; even those things we do not completely understand.

Christ has authorized His church to continue His work until His return. Let us gladly possess it with humility and energy as we endeavor to carry His message with His spirit to this world.
Christ is also still in the healing business. Of all the marvelous miracles performed on this amazing day, the most fantastically profound miracle on that day and still today is the miracle of regeneration. Have you repented Christ and trusted Him as your Lord and Savior?

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