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On your Mark

Power in the pulpit

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (Mark 1:21,22, NIV)

I’ll never forget my first attempt to deliver a sermon in a preaching class in seminary. Twenty of my fellow students scattered throughout the 200-seat auditorium, all holding a legal size critique sheet — waiting to pounce on every weakness in delivery and hint of weak content.

My idea of preaching at the time was to start high, loud and fast; the more anointed you felt then the higher, louder and faster you shouted. I reached full pitch by the end of my 20-minute rant, thinking I had done rather well.

My professor stood by my side while my student colleagues came together and gave their painful analysis. My roommate said, “Who was that up there? I never heard that voice before.” Another of my friends said, “Who do you think you were, the pope speaking ex cathedra?” I was devastated. When they were all done, my prof saved me by saying, “You leave my Ozark hillbilly preacher alone. At least when he gets up there, he has some fire, and all some of you do is read your sermon with no emotion.”

I’ve learned a lot about preaching since then. Volume does not equal anointing or authority. You cannot give others what you do not have yourself. Lack of preparation always shows. Prayerlessness produces dryness. Preaching must be rooted in the Word, but made applicable to life. It is inexcusable that preaching should ever bore people.

Jesus’ words have a way of getting inside people. That’s what we notice when Mark tells us about the Lord’s first sermon in the Capernaum synagogue.

Just a few days prior, Jesus called two sets of brothers from Capernaum to follow Him. The first Sabbath after their call finds Jesus in their town synagogue. Every ear is tuned to His commanding voice. Mark doesn’t tell us His scriptural text that day or the content of His message — just the reaction of the audience, amazement that Jesus taught with authority and not as the teachers of the Law.

The audience was used to being bored by religious leaders who read the lesson in monotone, quoting authorities from the past and present, and doing nothing to make the Scripture come alive in the hearts of the hearers. Their sermons were like term papers — fully footnoted.

Jesus relied not on the authority of others, but on himself. We see a sample of that later in the Sermon on the Mount when He repeatedly said, “You have heard it said … but I say to you …”

Two questions hit us for application.

First, do you take the authority of Jesus seriously? In your moral and ethical behavior, do His words provide the direction for your life or do you feel free to disregard what Jesus says when it’s inconvenient for you?

Second, are you amazed with Jesus? Oh, I realize we have not heard Him audibly, but the Gospels give us His words in written form. His words crackle with authority, amazing us with their clarity, revelation of God, and insight into human behavior.

I wish I could have been in the Capernaum synagogue that day and heard Him in person; but every day I can read again what He said and arrange my life accordingly. How about you?

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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