JESUS BEGINS HIS CAMPAIGN
So they came into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath day Jesus went into the Synagogue and began to teach; and they were completely astonished at the way he taught, for he taught them like one who had personal authority, and not as the experts in the law did.
Mark’s story unfolds in a series of logical and natural steps. Jesus recognized in the emergence of John God’s call to action. He was baptized and received God’s seal of approval and God’s equipment for his task. He was tested by the devil and chose the method he would use and the way he would take. He chose his men that he might have a little circle of kindred spirits and that he might write his message upon them. And now he had to make a deliberate launching of his campaign. If a man had a message from God to give, the natural place to which he would turn would be the church where God’s people met together. That is precisely what Jesus did. He began his campaign in the synagogue.
There are certain basic differences between the synagogue and the church as we know it today.
(a) The synagogue was primarily a teaching institution. The synagogue service consisted of only three things–prayer, the reading of God’s word, and the exposition of it. There was no music, no singing and no sacrifice. It may be said that the Temple was the place of worship and sacrifice; the synagogue was the place of teaching and instruction. The synagogue was by far the more influential, for there was only one Temple. But the law laid it down that wherever there were ten Jewish families there must be a synagogue, and, therefore, wherever there was a colony of Jews, there was a synagogue. If a man had a new message to preach, the synagogue was the obvious place in which to preach it.
(b) The synagogue provided an opportunity to deliver such a message. The synagogue had certain officials. There was the Ruler of the synagogue. He was responsible for the administration of the affairs of the synagogue and for the arrangements for its services. There were the distributors of alms. Daily a collection was taken in cash and in kind from those who could afford to give. It was then distributed to the poor; the very poorest were given food for fourteen meals per week. There was the Chazzan. He is the man whom the King James Version describes as the minister. He was responsible for the taking out and storing away of the sacred rolls on which scripture was written; for the cleaning of the synagogue; for the blowing of the blasts on the silver trumpet which told people that the Sabbath had come; for the elementary education of the children of the community. One thing the synagogue had not and that was a permanent preacher or teacher. When the people met at the synagogue service it was open to the Ruler to call on any competent person to give the address and the exposition. There was no professional ministry whatsoever. That is why Jesus was able to open his campaign in the synagogues. The opposition had not yet stiffened into hostility. He was known to be a man with a message; and for that very reason the synagogue of every community provided him with a pulpit from which to instruct and to appeal to men.
When Jesus did teach in the synagogue the whole method and atmosphere of his teaching was like a new revelation. He did not teach like the scribes, the experts in the law. Who were these scribes?
To the Jews the most sacred thing in the world was the Torah, the Law. The core of the law is the Ten Commandments, but the Law was taken to mean the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, as they are called. To the Jews this Law was completely divine. It had, so they believed, been given direct by God to Moses. It was absolutely holy and absolutely binding. They said, “He who says that the Torah is not from God has not part in the future world.” “He who says that Moses wrote even one verse of his own knowledge is a denier and despiser of the word of God.”
If the Torah is so divine two things emerge. First, it must be the supreme rule of faith and life; and second, it must contain everything necessary to guide and to direct life. If that be so the Torah demands two things. First, it must obviously be given the most careful and meticulous study. Second, the Torah is expressed in great, wide principles; but, if it contains direction and guidance for all life, what is in it implicitly must be brought out. The great laws must become rules and regulations–so their argument ran.
To give this study and to supply this development a class of scholars arose. These were the Scribes, the experts in the law. The title of the greatest of them was Rabbi. The scribes had three duties.
(i) They set themselves, out of the great moral principles of the Torah, to extract rules and regulations for every possible situation in life. Obviously this was a task that was endless. Jewish religion began with the great moral laws; it ended with an infinity of rules and regulations. It began as religion; it ended as legalism.
(ii) It was the task of the scribes to transmit and to teach this law and its developments. These deduced and extracted rules and regulations were never written down; they are known as the Oral Law. Although never written down they were considered to be even more binding than the written law. From generation to generation of scribes they were taught and committed to memory. A good student had a memory which was like “a well lined with lime which loses not one drop.”
(iii) The scribes had the duty of giving judgment in individual cases; and, in the nature of things, practically every individual case must have produced a new law.
Wherein did Jesus’ teaching differ so much from the teaching of the Scribes? He taught with personal authority. No Scribe ever gave a decision on his own. He would always begin, “There is a teaching that…” and would then quote aR his authorities. If he made a statement he would buttress it with this, that and the next quotation from the great legal masters of the past. The last thing he ever gave was an independent judgment. How different was Jesus! When he spoke, he spoke as if he needed no authority beyond himself. He spoke with utter independence. He cited no authorities and quoted no experts. He spoke with the finality of the voice of God. To the people it was like a breeze from heaven to hear someone speak like that. The terrific, positive certainty of Jesus was the very antithesis of the careful quotations of the Scribes. The note of personal authority rang out–and that is a note which captures the ear of every man.
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