Mark 6:1-6 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. ‘‘Where did this man get these things?’’ they asked. ‘‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’’ And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, ‘‘Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.
People were amazed when they heard Jesus’ teaching. Later, it was his turn to be amazed at their lack of faith. Have you ever been ‘‘amazed’’ at someone’s teaching? Although I have completed ten years of post-secondary education, I don’t believe that I have ever been ‘‘amazed’’ in the classroom. The first time I can remember being amazed by someone’s teaching was at a Sunday church service in Boston after having attended a ‘‘campus retreat.’’ The retreat had knocked down a great many of my defenses. Most, but not all, of my suspicions and fears about this particular church had evaporated because of the tremendous love and openness that I had seen at the retreat. But then again, it was only a retreat, and not the real world. Almost everyone at the retreat was young and idealistic. (At that time ‘‘young’’ for me was around twenty, for I was almost twenty-three myself.) I would be able to see what the rest of the congregation was like at the Sunday service. I would also be able to hear this man who people referred to as ‘‘Kip.’’ Many of the people at the retreat had spoken about him with great respect and admiration. It sounded like I was in for an exciting time. But what kind of minister would be called ‘‘Kip’’ anyway?
I will never forget my amazement that Sunday morning. The church was full of people of all ages and races. Despite their diversity, they exuded the same confidence and exuberance as the college crowd at the retreat. My first impression of Kip was that he was an intense but otherwise ordinary guy. He wasn’t wild, weird or overly formal (hence the nickname), instead he seemed gut-level honest and relatable. But let me tell you, there are very few men like Kip; his message, his frankness, his wisdom and passion ‘‘knocked my socks off’’ (my vernacular for ‘‘amazed me’’). I remember sitting in the back row thinking, ‘‘how does this man know about me?’’ No one had ever spoke so directly and so correctly about my life (misguided as it was), my attitudes, my motivations and my purpose (or lack thereof). No friend had ever said these things to me in private, and here was a man preaching them to twelve hundred people! I simultaneously felt like running down the aisle to shake his hand, and running out the back door as fast as I could. His message was practical: it told me what to do and how to do it. And his message was so very positive that I was inspired to live for God. I appreciated what Kip had done for me. Four days later, I was baptized into Christ.
We need to strive to speak and to teach in such a way that it will amaze our listeners. It is my strong conviction that God’s Holy Spirit was working on my heart that Sunday morning, and that He was using Kip to do it. However, there are practical elements of amazing speech that can be examined and imitated. Looking again to Jesus’ example,
I’ve compiled the following seven tips:
1. Deep Convictions. The amazing speaker will have deep convictions about his message. Undoubtedly, on a scale of one to ten measuring strength of convictions, we would have to give Jesus a ten. Jesus believed that how individuals responded to his words would determine their eternal destiny and lead them to either condemnation or eternal life. He was convinced that those listeners who put his words into practice were wise, and that those who did not were fools. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from a good friend a day before one of my first experiences of public speaking. I was petrified, and felt sure I would never get my message across because of my nervousness. When Joyce found this out, she asked me one question: ‘‘How convinced are you about what you’ll be saying?’’ She told me not to try to say things that sounded good. If I had deep convictions about what I was saying, I wouldn’t have to worry about how well I said it. My heart would show through. In fact, if I was thinking about what to say, I wouldn’t have time to be nervous about how I’d come across. That night I edited my message, throwing out whatever I thought I ‘‘should say,’’ and adding what I really felt ‘‘needed to be said.’’ The next evening when I spoke I found out that I could indeed muster enough conviction to overcome my fears. I amazed myself that night.
2. Passion. The speaker who has no passion for his message and his listeners should stay home. If the speaker isn’t moved by his own message, how can he expect to move anybody else? Jesus preached with great passion. To be convinced of this, one need merely read through the Sermon on the Mount out loud. Just try to say, ‘‘You have heard
that it was said… But I tell you… ’’ six times in a row without passion, and you’ll know how Jesus must have really said it. Try to imagine Jesus saying, ‘‘If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.’’ Passionate speech makes for powerful communication.
3. Integrity. The speaker must have integrity both in regard to the subject he is speaking about and in regard to the way he lives his life. Everyone loathes hypocrisy. Although we may not always be able to sniff out the two-faced speaker, we can usually discern the speaker who has integrity. One sure sign of integrity in a speaker is his or her openness about personal shortcomings. If a speaker is trying to take a sliver out of your eye, so to speak, yet does not acknowledge that he has a railroad tie that needs to be taken out of his own eye, he will fail to amaze his audience. Jesus was not able to lead the way for us in this one area alone, that of how to publicly reveal mistakes and shortcomings. He had no sin and no shortcomings to expose. In fact, he boldly and publicly challenged his opponents to prove him guilty of sin. He was able to completely open up his heart and his life for inspection. Jesus was a clean, fresh scent in a city stinking with hypocrisy. That’s why the people flocked to listen to him.
4. Person To Person. The speaker must speak to her audience ‘‘at their level,’’ while yet helping them to take several strides ahead. Speaking ‘‘at the level’’ of your audience means to not ‘‘talk down’’ to them and to not ‘‘talk up’’ to them. The person who apologizes without reason, belittles herself, and thinks she has no right to speak to a particular assembly is talking up to the audience. Jesus did not ‘‘talk up’’ to the Pharisees, the Teachers of the Law, or to Pontius Pilate. Even though they were educated and powerful he was not intimidated by them because of the moral authority he had from God. On the other hand, although Jesus is the Son of God, and although he was usually teaching with great authority and often rebuking the faithless spiritual leaders of the day, he didn’t come across as having an air of superiority. Although he was a patron, protecting his followers from those that opposed them, the gospels don’t portray him as patronizing. He often professed his deity, yet he wasn’t condescending. He is above us, but he came down to our level to talk to us. ‘‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.’’ The speaker should not think of herself as being greater than the people in her audience. Rather she should see herself as being alongside and somewhat ahead of the individuals in her audience, leading them and urging them onward.
5. Inspirational. The speaker must aim to inspire his audience. If he is conservative and low-key he will have no impact. If he doesn’t try to inspire people, he for sure will not. But if he tries to inspire them, he probably will. In our discussion of Mark 4:26-32, we have already seen how Jesus inspired his disciples by using examples of amazing and unexplainable growth to describe the kingdom he was building. He knew that people long to be and need to be inspired. We all want our lives to count for something.
6. Practical. The speaker must bring the message down to earth. She must make it practical and applicable. Otherwise there will be no changed lives. The most exciting events in life are soon forgotten. Yet a changed life continues to speak out, loud and clear. Jesus did not wander from place to place debating philosophies or formulating impressive arguments about the existence of God. He wasn’t esoteric or academic in his discussions. Jesus went around telling people how they had to change their lives. His message hit people right where they lived. He specifically addressed the sins in their lives. He gave them direction, and at times told them exactly what to do. If we do likewise, we will have an impact.
7. Meet The Need. The speaker must adapt his message to the needs of the group. To the proud, to the hypocrites and to the comfortable, Jesus issued stern rebukes and challenges. To the blind, to the lepers, and to the broken hearted, Jesus gave words of hope and comfort. A speaker who is out of touch with the situation and needs of his audience may actually make a bad situation worse.