THE SYNAGOGUE SITUATION

MARK 1:21-28

Brief intro: Previously, in my last posts, we discussed how Jesus had been prepared for His ministry (baptism and the temptation in the wilderness). We then observed Him gathering followers (2 sets of brothers who were fishermen) to become part of the “12” men that would make up His whole group of disciples. With these four by His side, they travel into Capernaum, “a prosperous fishing village on the NW shore of the Sea of Galilee,” and on the Sabbath, enter a synagogue where Jesus begins to teach.

I see two different aspects of this visit within this next portion of scripture that we will be meditating on, but they point to one thing! Mark shares this historical account for a reason; let’s go find out what it is!

21 They *went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and began to teach. 22 And they were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

FOCUS ONE: The first aspect: His teaching

Here is an idea of what the synagogue might have looked like in Jesus day.

We read that Jesus, along with Simon, Andrew, James, and John, travels to Capernaum in these verses. He (Jesus) went into the synagogue on the Sabbath and began teaching as will become His custom. Luke also shares this account in His writing (Luke 4:31-32). What is rather interesting about both reports is that they are very brief. Neither has seen fit to elaborate on what Jesus said in His teaching.

All we can gather from these testimonies is that:

  1. He went into the synagogue 
  2. It was the Sabbath 
  3. He taught them
  4. His teaching had authority, not like the scribes
  5. And, the results of His teaching: they were amazed (astonished)

So, what is the one central element of this short account that the reader, then and now, ought to observe? HIS AUTHORITY!

We do not know what He said, but it is apparent that He said it far differently than the scribes and Pharisees did. We do not know what facial expressions He made or what His body language might have conveyed. But, we do know all of it personified authority!

Jesus, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, had “authority” over all mankind, and that was given to Him by the father (John 17:2). This authority was not a secret or only perceived by those who heard Him, not at all; He verbalized it at times to those around Him (Matthew 9:6; John 7:16; Matthew 28:19-20). And as we will witness shortly, He manifested it to the people through miracles! His words, those given to Him from His Father, He gave to His disciples and others (John 17:8).

FOCUS TWO:  The results

What is apparent is that Jesus and His teaching were noticeably and radically different than the people were accustomed to. The people were “amazed” at His teaching. The verb used here in Greek for “astonished or amazed” has a powerful meaning. It is not used superficially, as we might express amazement today. Instead, Seeing that Jesus did not have to quote other rabbis as His authority to say what He was saying, the people noticed that what He said had behind it real, authentic authority. And why? Because His power came straight from God.

“His authority was inherit within Himself.”

Mark used two different Greek words for “astonished” (v.22) and “amazed” (v.27). This isn’t obvious in our various translations because most translate them both as “amazed.” So, there is no reason to elaborate on them here since there is no significant value in it for our understanding of the text.

BUT, by using them, Mark does emphasize an important reality: what they heard and witnessed was so much better and higher and impactful that the only response to it was utter amazement (great wonder)!

This contrast between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day is expressed elsewhere in scripture. Places such as Matthew 7:28-29; Mark 2:6-17; 7:1-13; 14:1- the ultimate contrast: Christ taught the truth, they rejected it and sought to kill Him.

23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24 saying, “What [a]business do you have with us, Jesus [b]of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are: the Holy One of God!” 25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 After throwing him into convulsions and crying out with a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding region of Galilee.

FOCUS THREE: The second aspect, rebuking the evil spirit

We read in these verses that a man appears in the synagogue who had an unclean spirit (morally and sexually impure). Notice how Mark relates it to his reader, “just then.” One commentator observes: “The spirit HAD control of this man. He was in his possession; He led him captive to his will. The man was there but not to be taught or to be healed!” He was there but not causing any disruptions until Jesus was present! His teaching and authority sparked this man, and he cried out.

The unclean spirit recognizes who Jesus is (holy one of God). Sad to say, that many in our day do not. This unclean spirit acknowledged Christ’s name and where He is from (humanly speaking v. 24). He also professes that “I know who you are-the Holy One of God!” Friend’s, not only do demons believe that there is one God and tremble (James 2:19), they also know that their time to do such things in this fallen world is short (Matthew 8:29).

Observations: 

  1. Jesus then rebukes him (personal pronoun), not an “it,” force, or illusion, but a created being with personality. 
  2. He commands him to come out of the man, and the spirit obeys, but not without causing distress in his victim (convulsions, loud voice)!
  3. The spirit despairs being saved by Him and dreads being destroyed by him!

And, in this encounter, we have the second aspect of our study. The first related to Christ’s teaching; the second to His ability to cast out demons. We see this in verse 27. 

The people in the synagogue were astonished at what had just happened. This “amazement” led to a debate among those in the synagogue regarding a new (not like the scribes) teaching with authority and His casting out unclean spirits. “What is this?,” is the response of many. These folks are stupefied at all that just transpired in the synagogue. “New teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him” (v.27). They do not know how to react to what they just heard and seen. 

So, the question posed at the beginning of our study was: what do the two aspects of the synagogue story point to? What do they teach us about Christ? What is Mark’s purpose in n sharing this?

  1. A signal that warfare on earth with the Son of God present has begun between the Son of God and Satan.
  1. Who are said to be hypocrites by Christ (Matthew 7:5), and add man-made rules to the Law. Jesus speaks from the core of His character and nature as God! As such, He has authority, which is very apparent to all. But, he teaches as “one sent from God,” He displays His deity by revealing His sovereignty over all things, including the spiritual realm! Unlike the scribes and the Pharisees who reference other scribes and the like as their authority.

The things that happened in the synagogue (both aspects) were meant to display the power, authority, and deity of this “Jesus of Nazareth!”

So, what were the results of this complete encounter? People started spreading the news about Jesus EVERYWHERE in the areas surrounding Galilee. Many concluded He was a teacher sent by God. It raised Christ’s reputation!

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CHRIST’S PREPARATION FOR MINISTRY 

BRIEF INTRO: In my last post, I focused on the overall context of verses 1-8, where Mark opened his writing with the words: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God,” and then introduced the “forerunner” for Christ, John the Baptist. In this post, I will place our attention on Christ’s baptism and temptation in the wilderness, not only because they follow our previous verses but because they are instructive in teaching us about how God prepared His Son for the earthly ministry that was before Him.

Mark moves through his gospel with urgency (“and it came to pass;” “and immediately,” and “just then,” are statements made throughout his writing). So we would be wise to discipline ourselves now, at the on-set, to stay focused, or we might miss his point altogether! 

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens [a]opening, and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came from the heavens: “You are My beloved Son; in You I [b]am well pleased.”

FOCUS ONE: The Baptism of Jesus (1:9-11)

Mark tells us that Jesus left His hometown of Nazareth in Galilee and submitted Himself to the rite of baptism that John was performing at the river Jordan. Mark lays out Christ’s baptism in straightforward language, unlike Matthew and Luke. He does not explain anything; he quickly states what happened.

The significance of the baptism lies in God’s public approval of His Son, which I will get to in a minute. First, we need to recognize that Jesus’ baptism does have some contrast related to all of those “from the country of Judaea” coming to John and being baptized.

In contrast with all the others, Jesus made no confession of sins (Mark 1:5), since He was without sin (John 8:45-46).  Mark did not state why Jesus submitted to John’s baptism; however, three reasons may be suggested: (1) It was an act of obedience, showing that Jesus was in full agreement with God’s overall plan and the role of John’s baptism in it (Matthew 3:15). (2) It was an act of self-identification with the nation of Israel whose heritage and sinful predicament He shared (Isaiah 53:12). (3) It was an act of self-dedication to His Messianic mission, signifying His official acceptance and entrance into it” (Bible Knowledge Commentary).

The Fathers public approval of Jesus (v. 11)

This voice from heaven both qualified and identified Jesus to those around Him. The words “you are my son,” affirm His unique relationship with the Father. “Beloved,” seems to stress the intensity of the love between the Father and Son but can also “be understood in the Old Testament sense of an ‘only son'” (Genesis 22:2, 12, 16). In either case or as a whole, it seems clear that Jesus “preexisted” and did not, at His baptism, become a son!

The whole trinity involved 

Don’t miss what Mark reveals in these following verses (v. 10-11). Mark states three things that set Jesus apart from all the others that he baptized:

  1. The heavens were opened or parted! The Greek uses a “forceful verb,” which signifies “being torn open, or split.” 
  2. He saw the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. This imagery takes us back to Genesis 1:2, where we read about the Holy Spirits’ part in the creation and His creative activity. In the Old Testament, we find passages telling us that the Spirit came on certain people and empowered them for a particular service (Exodus 31:3; Judges 3:10). It appears that Mark is telling us that the coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus empowered Him for His messianic mission (Acts 10:38).
  3. Jesus heard a voice from heaven (v.11). Words from the Father expressing His heavenly approval of the baptism that had just taken place! To put this simply:
  1. The Son submits to the ordinance
  2. The Spirit rests upon the Son
  3. The Father voices His “good” pleasure

12 And immediately the Spirit *brought Him out into the wilderness. 13 And He was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild animals, and the angels were serving Him.

FOCUS TWO: The Temptation of Jesus (1:12-13)

Here we feel the “urgency” in Mark’s writing again (v. 10). At once or immediately, Jesus is compelled by the Spirit to “go out into the wilderness.” Mark uses a pretty strong word, from the Greek verb (ekballo), meaning to drive out or send away. Mark used this word in other places to denote the expulsion of demons (vv. 34, 39; 3:15). Here “it reflects Mark’s forceful style. The thought is of a strong moral compulsion by which the Spirit led Jesus to take the offensive against temptation and evil instead of avoiding them.” 

So, Jesus is led by the Spirit further into the wilderness region. Some commentators believe that the site of Christ’s temptation was northwest of the Dead Sea immediately west of Jericho.

Mark, in his brevity, states:

  1. The Spirit compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness
  2. He was there forty days
  3. Satan tempted him
  4. He was with the wild beasts
  5. Angels were ministering to Him

Satan sought to lead Christ into sin (Matthew 4:1-11). Matthew relates just how Satan attempted to do this. The word “tempted” means “put to the test, make trial of” to discover the kind of person someone is.” As I was reminded of by my pastor this past Sunday in his sermon, and then again writing this post, Matthew’s use of such a word can be in either a “good” way or a “bad “way.

In a good sense, God’s testing (1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 11:17). Or in a bad sense of enticement by Satan and his minions to sin. One commentator points out that both meanings are evident here! “God put Jesus to the test (The Spirit led Him), to show that he was qualified for His mission. BUT also Satan tried to draw Jesus away fro His divinely appointed mission” (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).

Only mark makes use of the phrase, “he was with the wild beasts.” Most likely, he is using the words to stress the “hostile” environment where Christ was placed. Desolate, lonely, and full of danger! Pretty descriptive of Satan’s domain!

So, whereas the baptism resulted in the Spirits’ control, here the wilderness tempting, the extent of Christ’s submission to the Father’s will, we see this in the forceful guidance of the Spirit, one element of Christs’ self-humiliation, and also in His dealing with our arch-enemy, “the serpent of old.” Praise God Jesus, the God-man, put the enemy to flight (Luke 4:13) by using scriptures to expose the lies of the evil one (Luke 4: 4, 8, 12)!

Through all of these forty days, the “angels ministered to Jesus.” Whatever they supplied Christ, and to what extent they provided it, is not explicitly mentioned, but whatever it entailed, it was enough! The Fathers protecting care was ever-present in the ministry of the angels attending the Messiah.

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THE POWER OF GOD TO CHANGE LIVES!

EXTENDED READING: MARK 1:21-28

DEVOTIONAL READING: VERSES 27–28

27 And they were all amazed, so they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding region of Galilee.

During Christ’s earthly ministry He not only taught the people about God, their creator, sustainer, and savior, He also displayed the power of God in His many miracles and healings that He performed. This scripture displays one such time in the life of Christ when He and His disciples walked into a town known as Capernaum.

His teaching had authority behind it, unlike that of the Scribes and Pharisees. His authority extended into the realm of healing people from various diseases and demon possessions, as is testified to hear by Mark. The audience was amazed at what had just taken place, a man who was possessed by an evil spirit inside the synagogue, was freed from his bondage by Jesus Christ!

God’s power to change lives was on display then and is still active today! If this Jesus has the power to cast out demons, how much more able is He to free us of our bondage, our sins that so easily entangle us? 

John”s testimony was : “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Will you look to Him today and have have your sins forgiven?

PRAYER: Father, I pray for anyone reading this devotional that does not know Jesus and has not yet received His saving grace. Please draw them to yourself, grant them repentant faith and new life in Christ. Help them understand that you are able to remove the bondage of sin that they are under and replace it with thy righteousness thru Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Amen

EXAMINE YOURSELVES

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EXTENDED READING: 2 Corinthians 13:1-10

DEVOTIONAL READING: Verses 5-6

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you [a]fail the test? But I expect that you will realize that we ourselves [b]do not fail the test.

Just the other day I had to “examine” a particular tool that I wanted to use in my next remodeling project. It didn’t have power when I plugged it in and that was odd, I just used it the previous day. One day something works well and is acting as it should, but slowly, subtly, something or things change and what once was taken for granted now became an issue.

It can be like that in our Christianity as well. In these verses above Paul urge the Corinthian believers to engage in serious self-examination. He wanted them to assess the nature of their commitment to God by looking closely at their own lives. You and I need to do the same if we hope to uncover the problems that tear down our relationships with others and our Heavenly Father. 

I examined my power tool in every possible way to determine the problem that needed fixed. We need to examine our hearts in much the same way. It might be helpful to write your observations down and compare your notes. Paul warns that there are some who’s faith may not be genuine. Make sure that is not you.

Prayer: Father, we hear these solemn words of Paul and are at first fearful to test ourselves in this way for fear of what we may find. Please grant us the courage, faith, and resolve to make sure that our professed faith is genuine and that we are approved by You. Amen.