"They went to Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. They were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mark 1:21–22, MEV).
I will never forget my first attempt to deliver a sermon in a preaching class in seminary. Twenty of my fellow students were scattered throughout the 200-seat auditorium, all holding a legal size critique sheet—waiting to pounce on every weakness in delivery and any hint of weak content.
My idea of preaching at the time was to start high, loud, and fast. The more anointed you felt, the higher, louder, and faster you shouted. I reached full pitch by the end of my twenty-minute rant, thinking I had done rather well.
My professor stood by my side while my student colleagues came together and gave their painful analysis. My roommate said, "Who was that up there? I never heard that voice before." Another of my friends said, "Who did you think you were, the Pope, speaking ex cathedra?" I was devastated. When they were all done, my prof saved me by saying, "You leave my Ozark hillbilly preacher alone. At least when he gets up there, he has some fire. All some of you do is read your sermon with no emotion."
I have learned a lot about preaching since then. Volume doesn't equal anointing or authority. You cannot give others what you do not have yourself. Lack of preparation always shows. Prayerlessness produces dryness. Preaching must be rooted in the Word but made applicable to life. It is inexcusable that preaching should ever bore people.
Jesus' words have a way of getting inside people. That is what we notice when Mark tells us about the Lord's first sermon in the Capernaum synagogue.
Just a few days prior, Jesus had called two sets of brothers from Capernaum to follow Him. The first Sabbath after their call found Jesus in their town synagogue. Every ear was tuned to His commanding voice. Mark doesn't tell us His scriptural text that day or the content of His message, just the reaction of the audience—amazement that Jesus taught with authority and not as the teachers of the law.
The audience was used to being bored by religious leaders who read the lesson in monotone, quoting authorities from the past and present, and doing nothing to make the Scripture come alive in the hearts of the hearers. Their sermons were like term papers—fully footnoted.
Jesus didn't rely on the authority of others but on Himself. We see a sample of that later in the Sermon on the Mount when He repeatedly said, "You have heard it said ... but I say to you ... "
Two questions hit us for application.
1. Do you take the authority of Jesus seriously? In your moral and ethical behavior, do His words provide the direction for your life or do you feel free to disregard what Jesus says when it is inconvenient for you?
2. Are you amazed with Jesus? Oh, I realize we haven't heard Him audibly, but the gospels give us His words in written form. His words crackle with authority, amazing us with their clarity, revelation of God, and insight into human behavior.
I wish I could have been in the Capernaum synagogue that day and heard Him in person, but every day I can read again what He said and arrange my life accordingly. How about you?
A Prayer: "Lord Jesus, may I listen to You as I would to no other. May Your voice alone be supreme in my life. Bend my will and heart to Your authority."
Excerpted from Dr. Wood's forthcoming book, Fearless: How Jesus Changes Everything, available in September from Vital Resources. George O. Wood is the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God. For the original article, visit georgeowood.com.
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