What an Amazing Teacher!
A sermon based on Mark 1:21-28
Sunday, January 18, 2015 – Epiphany 4B
Every year the NTOY Award is given out to one dedicated person. NTOY stands for National Teacher of the Year. And the award is given based on these four criteria: The teacher must: "1) inspire students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn, 2) have the respect and admiration of students, parents, and colleagues, 3) play an active and useful role in the community as well as in the school, and 4) be poised, articulate, and possess the energy to withstand a taxing schedule." 
Sounds like some tough criteria to meet. Have you ever had a teacher that you think ought to have been nominated to receive such an award? Who was the best teacher you ever had? What made them so good? What criteria would you give to judge a "Teacher of the Year" contest? Certainly they must cared about their students, right? They ought to be loving and kind, even when it calls for tough love. I think they ought to know the material they're teaching pretty well—a criteria I thought was missing in the NTOY list. Perhaps some might add that they make learning fun?
As Jesus began his ministry in Capernaum (the city of comfort), Jesus made it clear that he was the best Teacher ever. Synagogue worship would welcome traveling preachers, often laymen, to expound upon the Scriptures and explain their meaning—to teach the people. And one Sabbath in Capernaum, Jesus took the pulpit. And though Mark didn't share with us the content of his sermon, he shared the reaction to his teaching. And we still see that Jesus is an amazing teacher! He had amazing teaching! He had amazing authority!
Our text for this 2nd Sunday after Epiphany is from Mark 1:21-28…
21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!"
25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
I. Amazing Teaching
Why was Jesus such a good teacher? Did he have a charismatic style that kept the crowds hanging on his every word? Maybe. Did he care for students and want the absolute best for them? Obviously. Did he have a mastery of the subject, knowing the Scriptures thoroughly? Definitely!
"Ask a question of 3 rabbis and get 5 answers," or so the expression goes. The teachers of Jesus' day were often so worried about the traditions of the elders and the man-made teachings, about the opinions of their audience and their potential loss of popularity, that they couldn't come to a final conclusion on any matter very often.
But not Jesus! He knew his material. And he didn't care about the opinions of men. He taught the truth as he knew it. And he taught the truth as only he could know it. How he must have amazed his hearers when he claimed to have authority over the Scriptures.
Over and over again Jesus said, "You have heard that it that it was said," and then quoted an Old Testament passage. But then, he would go on to say, "But I tell you…" and would offer his interpretation of that passage. (cf. Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44) In other words, Jesus claimed to have not just an opinion, but the only correct understanding of the Word of God. In a subtle way, it was his claim to be God. How amazing that must have been to hear!
Of course, it's no surprise to us that Jesus had a mastery of the subject and knew how to interpret the Scriptures. We know that he wrote them in the first place! Of course he had the authority to interpret them! He knew what he meant when he inspired Moses or David or one of the prophets to write what they did. He was God himself.
Which leads me to ask: How well have you listened to his teachings? After all, he's the one teacher we all ought to listen to. As one author put it, which teacher would you rather believe: the 6th grade science teacher who claims to know how the universe began? Or the one who claims to have actually been there when the universe began and then backs that claim by dying and coming back to life? For me, I'd rather choose the latter.
Yet, so often I don't listen to Jesus and to his teachings. Too often I find excuses not to read, to listen to, and to learn his Word. I'm too tired. I'm too busy. I have other things to do.
And it's even worse. You see I don't just neglect to listen to the word, but I also neglect to submit to Jesus authority and obey what I do know.
II. Amazing Authority
Jesus displayed his authority most clearly in Capernaum. No one doubted. The audience didn't. The demons didn't. And they not only heard him and listened to him, but submitted to his authority. They obeyed him when he told them what to do! They came out!
If the demons didn't doubt his authority or try to evade it, then why do we?
"We don't doubt Jesus' authority, pastor!"
No? Then why do we so often think we know better than he does? And we do or we wouldn't act contrary to his teaching as often as we do!
"Blessed … are those who hear the word of God and obey it," Jesus said (cf. Luke 11:28). But we don't obey even when we do hear. Satan is quiet when God's Word is absent, but when God speaks, he's quick to try to persuade us to disobey just like he did in the Garden of Eden.
"Did God really say that?" he asks. "God isn't really looking out for you," he implies. "Be your own authority," he tells us, "and throw off God's burdensome yoke."
Jesus tells us that a man's life doesn't consist in his possessions. But we think that money will buy us happiness. Jesus tells us that faithfulness brings blessings, but we're satisfied with laziness and apathy toward a job well done. Jesus tells us that we are more blessed when we give than when we receive, but we find more happiness in receiving and hoarding. And you know your own pet sits where satan suggests that you need not listen to God or at least you need not obey.
And like lazy students who choose not to listen and then choose not to do the work, we deserve to fail. We deserve to fail at life. We deserve to fail for eternity. For ignoring his authority, we deserve hell. We deserve to join the demons in the torment they endure.
But Jesus had authority over them. He told them what to do and they had to obey. What comfort we find in that truth that Jesus had authority over demons and over satan himself.
He soundly defeated satan for us when we belonged to satan. You see, we chose to side with him, to go over to his team, when we threw off Jesus' authority just like he did. 1 John 3:8 says it plainly: "He who does what is sinful is of the devil."
But Jesus won us back. By his perfect submission to the Father's authority (which is evidenced here by his love for the word and for worship as he set aside the Sabbath Day for that special purpose and kept the 3rd commandment). And he kept every commandment—perfectly and all the time!—as he submitted to the Law of God.
Jesus won us back from satan by his submission to the authority of the Scriptures which said he had to die to pay for the sins of the world—for yours and mine. And in his death, he crushed satan's head just like the Scriptures said he would do. (cf. Genesis 3:15) So satan lost. Jesus won! That's the authority he has—over satan, over sin, over hell.
Did Jesus care for his students? You bet! There's no doubt of that when we see what he's done for us! There's no doubt when we realize that we win too though him.
It's been suggested that the demon in Capernaum was trying to frighten Jesus' audience as he pointed out that Jesus was the Holy One of God. You see, he didn't say "You are the Holy One of God sent to rescue mankind," but "Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!"
He wanted the people to think they should fear Jesus, the Son of God, in his wrath—like Zeus ready to hurl lightning bolts from the sky. But Jesus told the demon to shut up! And he drove the demon away by the power of his Word because he didn't want the people to fear him, but to listen to him and rejoice in his grace.
And that's what he wants from us too: to hear the message of his power over satan, to believe the message of his power over our sin, to trust in the message of his power to rescue us from death and hell, and to be amazed at his gracious teaching!
Be amazed at his teaching, dear friends! And keep learning from the Master Teacher as you hear his Word often! Commit yourself to studying his Word and letting him teach you. Commit yourself to submitting to his authority and doing what he says in his Word, with his help, as you strive to thank him for rescuing you from satan's clutches.
And be amazed at his authority! Rejoice that he has authority over demons, over sin, over death, over hell, and over all. Rejoice that he used his authority to rescue us.
What an amazing teacher! He inspires us to learn more about his grace. He has not just respect, but love for students, parents, and for everyone. He has so much love, that he didn't just play an active and useful role in the community, but died to save the whole world. And he possessed the energy and divinity to withstand such a taxing schedule and such taxing punishment for our sins.
What an amazing teacher! He really is the "Teacher of the Year" and of every year! Let's rejoice in him and in his saving work for us and let's live for him in thanks in all that we do. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.