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“Amazed at His Teaching”
Mark 1:21-22


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany—January 2, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The hymn we just sang [“Jesus Sat with His Disciples,” Lutheran Service Book, 932] was specially written for our new hymnal, and I think it is going to become a favorite of Christians everywhere.  This new hymn is based on the well-known Beatitudes.  Last Sunday we began a new study in Adult Bible Class on the Sermon on the Mount.  Our Lord starts off that sermon with the Beatitudes, and you are invited to Adult Bible Class this morning, in the Fellowship Hall after coffee hour, as we continue our study by looking at the beautiful Beatitudes.

The Sermon on the Mount is the longest continuous teaching of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, taking up all of Matthew chapters five, six, and seven.  At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew concludes with the reaction of the crowd: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

You may recognize that’s the exact same reaction the crowd has in today’s Gospel Reading, as Jesus teaches in his hometown synagogue.  Over and over again, the Gospels report how the people who hear Jesus are “Amazed at His Teaching.” And they tell repeatedly us why, what it was about his teaching that was so amazing to them: “Because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

What does it mean that Jesus taught with “authority”?  The real significance of that testimony becomes clear in the next chapter of Mark, when Jesus uses the same Greek word to declares about himself, “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”  That’s what the people were so amazed to hear, that’s what Jesus focused on in his teaching: the forgiveness of sins.  That key ingredient was missing, in the other religious teachers of their day, and is still missing today, in all other religions except Christianity, and sadly even among some misguided Christian preachers and denominations.

When Terry and I were first married my cousin Bev brought a beautiful cherry pie to a family dinner at our house.  It looked absolutely delicious, until you bit into it.  Because, Bev had mistakenly used salt instead of sugar.

That’s why the crowds react to Jesus’ teaching the way they do.  It was such a contrast to the other religious teachers of their day.  Because, like cousin Bev’s pie, they were missing the key ingredient.  Instead of the sweetness of Gospel, the Good News of forgiveness of sins, they substituted the sour bitterness of the Law.

That meant they could offer only a conditional teaching: “If you do this, and if you don’t do that, then maybe God will love you, maybe God will forgive you.”  Such a legalistic, conditional teaching, predicating God’s love and forgiveness on what we do or don’t do, isn’t at all comforting.  It’s like salt instead of sugar.  Because, you can never be sure:  Have I done enough?  Does God love me?  Does God forgive me? 

Paul answers in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. . .  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.”  You can never do enough to earn God’s love and forgiveness, because God demands nothing less than perfection.  As Jesus says, also in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect, therefore, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” 

One quality control textbook says, “perfect quality is not just difficult, it is nearly impossible,” and goes on to suggest that 99.7% should be considered “perfect.”  With man, that is about as perfect as you can get.  But not with God.  As James declares, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

A conditional teaching of salvation, “If you do this, and if you don’t do that, then maybe God will love you, maybe God will forgive you,” can only lead to despair.  As Psalm 51 says, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. . .  I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.”

“The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”  What is so different, what is so unique about Jesus’ teaching, compared to all other religious teachers in the world?  “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”  That is the key ingredient in Jesus’ teaching which so amazed the crowds, the key ingredient missing in their other religious teachers: the sweetness of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus’ teaching isn’t conditional, it’s declarative:

“Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.”

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

“The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned.”

“I am the good shepherd . . .  and I lay down my life for the sheep. . .  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”

Paul beautifully sums up Jesus’ teaching in Ephesians: “He came and preached peace.” 

The crowds were amazed because Jesus’ teaching wasn’t conditional like their other religious teachers, “If you do this, and if you don’t do that, then maybe God will love you, maybe God will forgive you.”   Jesus’ teaching was so amazing because it is declarative: “Your sins are forgiven.  I give you eternal life.”

The word Gospel means “Good News.”  That’s what so amazed the crowds who heard our Lord preach, that’s what’s still unique about Christ and Biblical Christianity, compared to all the other religions and religious teachers throughout history.  Their false teachings might seem attractive on the surface, but when you bite into it, you find only sour bitterness of the Law, not the delicious, comforting, sweetness of the Gospel.

That is why the crowds are “Amazed at His Teaching,” because he declares to them the Good News, the same Good News he declares to you today: Your sins are forgiven.  He gives you eternal life.

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

Amen.

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