June 24, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 4:31-32 (NRSV)
He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.
For more context, read Luke 4:31-37.
This devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Jesus taught with surprising authority. Those who heard him marveled at the clarity and power of his words. We who seek to follow Jesus today are called, not just to marvel, but to believe and obey. Even when Jesus says something that makes us uncomfortable – like “Love your enemies” – our challenge is to act in faithful obedience. In this way our lives are built on solid ground.
In some ways, Jesus resembled the Jewish teachers of his day, those called by the honorific title of rabbi. For example, like the rabbis, Jesus often taught in local synagogues, Jewish gathering places for teaching and prayer. (The photo shows a side of the ruins of a Jewish synagogue in Capernaum. Though this particular synagogue was built after the time of Jesus, beneath its floor you can see dark stones that were the foundation for the earlier synagogue in which Jesus taught.)
In other ways Jesus stood apart from his Jewish counterparts. For example, ordinary rabbis expended great effort in passing on the traditions of earlier teachers. They believed that God had revealed two kinds of law to Moses on Mount Sinai, the written Law, inscribed in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and the oral law, which had not been written down. This oral law, apart from which one could not correctly interpret the written Law, had supposedly been passed down from Moses to Joshua to the elders and prophets and on down to the first-century rabbis. A Jewish teacher’s top priority was to preserve and to pass along the oral tradition, being sure to cite past authorities in the process.
But Jesus didn’t do this, and that astounded his listeners. He spoke directly and confidently, as if he possessed in himself the very authority of Moses. Moreover, when confronted by demons that had taken control of people, Jesus expelled them with commands like “Be silent, and come out of him!” (Luke 4:35). Thus, the people who heard Jesus were amazed. They told their friends about this unique rabbi so that “a report about him began to reach every place in the region” (Luke 4:37).
Of course, you and I don’t get to hear Jesus teach in person. I rather hope this will actually happen in the age to come. But, in the meanwhile, we do have access to the teachings of Jesus that are recorded in the biblical gospels. We can listen as he instructs all who would follow him, including us.
Then we have a decision to make. Will we acknowledge the authority of Jesus over our lives by believing and obeying? Or will we find a way to evade his authority? Ironically and sadly, we who seek to follow Jesus are sometimes quite adept at explaining away his teaching. We hear Jesus say things like “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27), and rather than taking this teaching to heart, no matter how uncomfortable we may be, we rationalize. We say things like, “Well, what Jesus really meant was . . .” and then we come up with something much easier to do than loving our actual enemies.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t work hard to understand what Jesus meant when he taught. This is an essential endeavor for those who wish to follow Jesus. But I am challenging us – and I am including myself here, for sure – to accept the unique, surprising, and disruptive authority of Jesus. When things he says are troubling to us, we mustn’t rush to dismiss them. Rather, through prayer, study, and wisdom from other Christ followers, we should work on how to grasp their true meaning and put them in to practice (Luke 6:47-48).
Why do you think those of us who follow Jesus are sometimes quick to explain away his teachings?
Are there teachings of Jesus that you would rather avoid?
How has the authority of Jesus made a difference in your life?
See if you can prayerfully identify some teaching of Jesus that you need to obey. As this becomes clear to you, ask the Lord to help you in our obedience.
Lord Jesus, as I read the account of your teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, I am struck once again by your authority. Thank you for teaching in such a clear and powerful way. Thank you for exercising power even over demons through your words.
Lord, I confess that sometimes I try to evade your authority. Some of your teachings are hard for me, hard to understand, hard to obey. It is tempting to explain away what you have said so clearly. And sometimes I give in to that temptation.
So, I confess my failure to acknowledge your authority in a consistent way. And I ask for your help. Help me to understand your teaching and how it speaks to me today. Help me to obey, even when I am reticent or afraid. May I build my life on the solid rock of obedience to your teaching. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling Archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Teaching with Authority