And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. — Mark 1:21-28
Jesus spoke in a way that his audience had never heard before. The scribes taught by buttressing every statement with citations and quotations from eminent authorities, for no scribe would dare to venture a personal judgement on an issue. They spoke from authority, not with it. Jesus did not teach like the scribes because he was the most eminent authority of all. He did not have to refer to past opinions, but was able to declare, ‘I say to you’ (Matt 5:21). He spoke with a positive certainty that astonished his hearers and brought deliverance to the demoniac.
When I was a high school teacher, my subject advisor for Religious Education was Dr Andre de Villiers, a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa. In later years he would moderate my students’ Biblical Studies examination papers when I joined the academic staff of a college of education. Andre de Villiers carried with him an aura of authority, and I well remember how my colleagues unconsciously acknowledged this by their attitudes and actions when he was among them. This authority was unmistakably demonstrated during one of the many tours that he led to the Holy Land. On one occasion, he and his group were stranded in the Masada cable car when it suffered a technical breakdown. Panic began to spread through the cable car, but Dr de Villiers restored calm by raising his voice above the terror-induced pandemonium and asserting firmly, ‘Calm down, God has everything under control’. The uproar ceased immediately and was replaced by a peaceful composure as the Lord was brought into the crisis.
However much we may have studied in the past, we must be diligent in continuing to add to the knowledge and educational expertise we already have. Our aim should be to attain ever higher levels of professionalism so that our students are left in no doubt that we know what we are talking about. However, our authority as Christian teachers should not only be based on our academic knowledge, but also on our ability to bring God’s presence to our students.
What are you currently doing to expand your knowledge and enhance your expertise?
How can you focus your teaching on those issues that are of the highest importance (as Jesus did) and minimise the time you spend on issues of lesser importance (as the scribes did)?
In what practical ways can you bring the delivering and calming presence of Jesus to your students?
Lord, we remember that our chief end should be to glorify you forever. Please strengthen us by your Spirit to grow in knowledge, understanding and wisdom so that we may more effectively glorify and serve you. Help us to teach with authority, as Jesus did, and may this authority be directed, not to ourselves, but to the benefit of those whom we teach and to the honour of your name. This we ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Image: View of Capernaum, by Avram Graicer, via Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:כפר_נחום_תצלום_אויר.jpg
About the author:
Robert W. Brodie, D.Phil., is a post-graduate supervisor for MTh and PhD degrees and an academic assessor for the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Living Word Bible College in Pretoria, South Africa. He and his wife Edna have recently relocated to New Zealand to join their daughter Patricia in Invercargill. Jennifer-Joy, their eldest daughter, lives in Australia, while Catherine, their youngest daughter, is still in South Africa. Dr Brodie continues to facilitate distance education courses for SATS and to supervise SATS post-graduate students on a part-time basis from New Zealand. He has edited three theological books in the past three years, contributed a chapter to a theological work and is currently writing two chapters for a further theological handbook.