And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. (Luke 4:31 ESV)
And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (Luke 4:42-44 ESV)
Jesus was primarily a teacher. He came to preach the good news of the kingdom of God. It is easy for us, two thousand years later, to imagine that the good news is that Jesus died for us, rose again, and is still present in the person of the Holy Spirit. But when Jesus was preaching his early sermons he did not speak of such things. All that would come later, after Jesus had departed from the earth in bodily form. So what was the good news that Jesus preached?
Jesus’ good news
These few verses I have quoted do not answer that question, but perhaps the sermon that he preached in Nazareth, recorded just a few paragraphs earlier in chapter four, gives us some clues. First, he spoke about who he was – a prophet sent by God to speak God’s words to the people and to do his work: words and works of release, healing and favour. Such words were like water in the desert to people who felt poor, imprisoned and forgotten.
Second, he spoke about the people who were listening, saying things to his audience that showed he knew them to their very core, knew their deepest secrets, their hopes and dreams, their disappointments and pain, their self-centredness and pride, their loves and joys. He didn’t just speak about them, but spoke to them, personally and directly, with a knowledge and insight that they could not quite comprehend. He didn’t just speak generally to a group, he spoke specifically to individuals. He demonstrated the spiritual gift that we have come to know as “word of knowledge.”
Perhaps it was this intimate knowledge of his audience that gripped them most with wonder and amazement. All of us long to be known deeply and intimately and loved despite our failings. Jesus showed that he knew people in a way that no other ever had. But there were times when this deep, specific knowledge made people very uncomfortable, because they “knew that Jesus knew” and they felt exposed, naked, before him.
It was hard then and it is hard now to meet a person who knows our deepest secrets. It depends of course on what those secrets are, and the higher our standing in society, the greater our fear of being exposed, because it will mean a loss of status, embarrassment. Jesus’ knowledge, and his willingness to confront it publicly, made enemies for him. For in this way Jesus levelled people out, removing the established hierarchy, and showing that from the humblest to the greatest all were sinners and had the same need of forgiveness and restoration. This did not sit well with some, though for others they were words of life.
Third, Jesus spoke about God’s plans for the world, plans that were for Israel, but not limited to Israel. This too made many Israelites uneasy; they liked to think of themselves as special, God’s chosen people, and some were not at all sure that they wanted the blessings of God to be extended to the Gentiles and their enemies. Others were more open to those who were not like them, who spoke a different language or who had different customs and traditions. They did not feel threatened at all by Jesus’ willingness to include these others in the promises of God.
Speaking as God
So much for the content of Jesus’ preaching. But the verses quoted above say something about the quality of Jesus’ teaching. “His word possessed authority.” This was why people took notice. This was why people listened. This was what astonished people. He didn’t speak about God. He spoke like God. He spoke, frighteningly, as if he was God! He spoke words of knowledge, about the nature of things, and the nature of people, and the nature of God. He spoke in a way that left people speechless. He spoke in a way made people feel exposed, naked, and yet loved despite all their imperfections. Here was a man that knew them with all their failings and yet looked on them with tenderness and love, with a heart of compassion and inclusion. Many of us have put our faith in Jesus when he has spoken into our lives in just the same way.
For those who knew the poverty of their own spirits, who felt their need, who lacked the affirmation, acknowledgement and adulation of the world around them, Jesus’ words were words of life. They couldn’t get enough of him and what he had to say. They followed him wherever he went and didn’t want him to leave. But for those who had much to lose by having their true selves exposed, Jesus was someone they wanted silenced.
Preaching like Jesus
Those who have the opportunity to preach can be challenged to preach in the way that Jesus did. They need to preach the same good news, and they should seek to preach with the very words of God, by the power of God in them, the power of the Holy Spirit. How do we ensure such power and authority in our teaching? We are not Jesus. We do not have the same connection with God that Jesus had.
But that is what we must model our lives on: the same intimate connection with God and the same understanding of God’s purposes and strategies as Jesus had. Some of this can come through study – going to Bible College or just studying the Bible on our own. But to really preach in the power of the Holy Spirit requires more than study; it requires the Spirit giving us the same supernatural knowledge of people and things and the same supernatural ability to hear and speak out God’s specific word in different situations as Jesus had. Such gifts can only come through intimacy with God in prayer, and being continuously filled with the Holy Spirit.
Speaking into people’s lives
Christian doctors spend much of their time speaking into people’s lives, in the same way as preachers. They have the same kind of aims for their patients as Jesus had for all people: healing and freedom from suffering, freedom from various bondages – from tobacco to food to gambling, restoration of personality and self esteem and a hope for the future that comes from a knowledge that they are loved – what Jesus called “the Lord’s favour.” As such we too can learn much from Jesus and we would do well to seek to be like him.